Posts Tagged 'Paranormal & Urban Fantasy'

BSB Author Interview with Cameron MacElvee

by Connie Ward

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What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I’d tried to write fiction in my twenties while enrolled in undergraduate creative-writing courses, but my classmates and teachers told me in so many words my writing wasn’t any good. So I gave up and focused on my college studies and allowed that part of me to be forgotten. Twenty-some years later, I began fooling around with my daydreams and personal fantasies (and sometimes my nightmares) and writing them out for my own enjoyment. I started wondering if anyone else might like them, and on the advice of a friend, I revised my personal stories into fan fiction and began submitting them online. When I started hearing from readers that they enjoyed them, I decided I’d see if I could get one of my stories published. And now, here I am with my first published novel, something I’m proud of. And to be honest, when I signed with Bold Strokes, I felt a bit vindicated from those disparaging remarks I’d received when I was younger.

What type of stories do you write?  And why?

Every story I’ve written, including By the Dark of Her Eyes, focuses on the themes of personal growth and healing as well as overcoming the demons of mental illness, addiction, guilt, and shame. I also incorporate the paranormal, even subtly, in every one. For me the paranormal doesn’t necessarily mean ghosts. It can mean any level of spirituality as well as those things that are not easily explained. My grandmother grew up on the Cherokee Reservation in Oklahoma, and she came from a great tradition of storytellers. She enjoyed entertaining me and my sister with spooky stories, and those were the ones I remember best of all. She firmly believed in the supernatural, so I think I’ve inherited that trait from her. And, just as her stories were a gift to me, I think of mine as little gifts for my readers with the hope my message and themes about compassion and courage will comfort and encourage them to never give up, never give in.

What do your family/friends think about your writing?

I don’t think they thought much of it at first. In fact, I’m certain they thought it was a phase, maybe something like a midlife crisis without the red sports car and mistress. Actually, my partner was probably thankful I focused my free time on writing and not on some other nefarious activity. However, once I shared the news that my first novel had been accepted for publication, my colleagues, friends, and family were super-excited and proud of me for sticking with it and not giving up like I had when I was younger. I can’t help but feel my grandmother is proud of me, too.

Where do you get your ideas?

Mostly from paying attention to life. Actually, I read a lot of nonfiction as well as fiction, and I also watch a lot of documentaries and movies. Sometimes I happen across an idea or concept or dynamic between people that captivates me, and it starts me asking “what if” questions like how a story might change or events transform if the main characters were female or if the love interest were between women. I don’t keep an idea file per se, but I do store lots of bits and pieces away in my mind. I’m not sure when or how these ideas actually take root and lead me toward a story. My muse is mysterious and a wee fickle; she’ll ignore me for weeks or months before she decides to have a chat. But when she does want to talk, she demands my attention. I’ve learned it’s best to listen and take notes.

How do you write; do you plan everything out or just write?

I’m a huge planner. A germ of an idea will lurk around in my mind for ages before inspiration strikes and that idea begins to coalesce into a theme. From there I daydream and fantasize about some situation that would allow that theme to be realized. This process can take weeks or months and involves me playing out a movie in my head, particularly at night while I’m trying to get to sleep. I play the movie over and over, rewinding and editing, working out the characters, plot, setting, and point of view as I go. Once I have a good understanding of how I want the story to end, I write a draft of the last chapter. From there, I make a bulleted outline by working backward from the end to the beginning. Once I have this outline, I spend some time doing research and gathering facts. Then I set myself a schedule and start at the beginning of the outline with chapter one and usually write one chapter a week. That’s how I get a first draft written. The very first rough draft of By the Dark of Her Eyes took me about fourteen weeks to write. However, the process of imagining the movie in my head took much longer.

By the Dark of her EyesWhat makes By the Dark of Her Eyes special to you?

I began germinating the idea for this story over ten years ago, but when I learned my niece had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the idea took hold of me and I pursued it earnestly. As a mother myself, I didn’t know how my sister was going to face losing her daughter, who, even though an adult, was still her baby girl. My sister’s grief nearly consumed her, and I remember thinking that losing a child had to be the worst pain anyone could face no matter the age of the child. I wrote the initial draft of the novel not long after my niece passed in 2012. Then a month after completing the story, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary occurred. I was at work when I saw the news feed, and even though I was on the other side of the country from where the shooting had taken place, I left right then to drive to my daughter’s school. I had to see her, to hold her, and know she was safe. When I arrived at her school, I found mothers and fathers who, like me, had left work early to get to their children. We were all shaken by the news, all struck by the utter horror of the act. I couldn’t stop thinking about the parents of those murdered children. I couldn’t stop putting myself in their shoes. How does a mother come back from that? How can she not help but replay the last morning she kissed her little boy or little girl, packed their lunch, hugged them, told them she loved them? From this nightmare, I shaped and forged the revision of my story that became By the Dark of Her Eyes. This is why the story is special to me. I wanted to pay tribute to my sister, to all the mothers of Sandy Hook, and to anyone who’s lost someone precious and managed to find the strength to live another day.

How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

There are essences of real people in my characters. Sometimes from myself, from someone I’m close with, or from a mere acquaintance. Sometimes I anchor a character in an archetype from myth or memory. But I wouldn’t say any of my characters are solely based on me or anyone I know personally.

Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most?  Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?

Hands down, Cate Culpepper. River Walker is my favorite, the top of my list, and all her other titles are on that list as well. In some ways, I think of my first novel as an homage to her and her storytelling. I’m sad I never got to meet her in person and to thank her for her stories. She was a remarkable writer, and every one of her books a gift.

Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Read. Never go a day without reading. The link between reading and writing is momentous and is something I’ve experienced firsthand. When I was in the sixth grade, my teachers discovered I couldn’t read. It impacted me in many ways, one of which was that I wasn’t able to write. Even after remedial instruction, I still couldn’t read at grade level. When I went to college (something I wasn’t expected to do or encouraged to do), I started at a community college and found my poor reading ability was a huge disadvantage when it came to written assignments. However, I was fortunate enough to have a professor pinpoint my problem. He taught me how to read a text critically as well as for enjoyment and gave me a list of classics and told me to start reading. I still have that list, haven’t finished reading from it, but I discovered the more I read, the better reader I became. The better reader I became, the better writer I became, at least for college and academic work. However, I think because I’ve read so many imaginative works from all different eras and genres that I’ve become better at writing fiction as well. I would add, it’s important to take time to read poetry occasionally. Language is beautiful as well as functional. Appreciating its sound, its rhythm and cadence, its lyricism and figurative expressions can positively impact one’s style of writing.

When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

As I’ve said, I read a lot, all the time. I usually have three or four books (nonfiction and fiction) going at once, as well at one or two audio books for the treadmill and my drive to work. I also watch tons of movies. I’m the cliché of a Netflix addict and binge quite often. I also enjoy live performances and museums and consider myself a bit of a “foody” who likes to try new restaurants and attend food festivals. But mostly I spend my free time with my partner and our daughter and our dogs. We’re a foster family with a local animal-rescue group, and we work at training our foster dogs and getting them ready for their forever homes.

The Passion of the Rain Queen

BY FIONA ZEDDE

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All over the world, people have been gay forever. People have had strong relationships with their own gods and traditions forever. People have loved each other, consensually and passionately, in different incarnations forever. But so much of the history of that time and those people has been erased in favor of a white, heteronormative story of the past when religion and war ruled and everything else not falling in line simply didn’t exist.

 

When I go back to look for the vibrant past of pre-colonial African countries, it had been largely impossible to find. It’s both disheartening and heartbreaking. There are hints of us here and there. A word passed down through time, surviving pieces of a statue broken by invaders, a great-grandmother who sometimes remembers a couple or three existing peacefully within the community, couples who were married in the important ways and didn’t look like the typical gender pairings.

Truth: The last ruling Rain Queen (of the Lovedu or Balobedu tribe) died in 2005.

Creation: Rain Queens do not live for centuries.

When the Rain Queen’s story came to me, it wasn’t so much an idea as the memory of a piece of historical fact. After reading about the terrible things being done to LGBTQ people all over Africa and the world in the name of gods or guns or simple cruelty, I felt furious and helpless. With the bible in one hand and a sharp machete or gun in the other, monsters (because what else could they be?) were determined to rid the world of people they think shouldn’t belong. People who in reality have always been and have always belonged.

 

After feeling and crying and wishing for better, I soothed myself by diving into the past to search for signs of us. And I found them. In this under-documented past, there were non-pejorative names for us. There were safe places for us. And, like a certain quote hints at, people across the African continent still had their lands and their beliefs, and no foreign bible telling them their entire lives were wrong.

 

IMG_7649And so, my new novel, Rise of the Rain Queen, is both an imagining and a re-telling. A conflation of histories and mythologies. A universe of god-like beings, strong women, and people who love despite the rules or the odds.

 

In the novel, Nyandoro is a spoiled and well-loved daughter with big dreams that include wooing and marrying one of the most beautiful women in the village, a woman who is already married to a wealthy elder. Through the strength of her will alone, Nyandoro eventually gets what she wants, but these realized desires shatter her life in ways she never expected. Her life changes. She changes.

 

Though the novel is set in the 14th century Tanganyika region, Nyandoro’s aspirations—for wealth and companionship, to make a positive mark on the community—are things we can all empathize with. Who hasn’t seen injustice in the world and wanted to correct it? Who hasn’t yearned deeply and keenly for the unattainable? Who hasn’t loved?

 

I like to think Nyandoro’s story is both mundane and extraordinary. She wants, just like we do. She is impulsive, is awed by beauty. Gets taken in by temptation. Like any human placed on this earth, she deserves a chance to live and to make her world a better place. She is us.

I hope you enjoy her story.

 

To learn more about queer life in different African societies before now, read Boy Wives and Female Husbands by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe.

 

To learn more about Rain Queens of the Lovedu people, start here: http://bit.ly/297hQJW

 

To read more about Nyandoro, see her short story “Kiss of the Rain Queen” in my story collection, When She Says Yes.

 

My novel, Rise of the Rain Queen, is available now.

Strange Bedfellows: History and Horror

By William Holden

 

For the past two years, I’ve been involved with queer student life at Harvard University. It’s been a great experience to get to know these students, who come from every part of the world. I dine with them, have fun and fascinating conversations with them. It’s been a joy and privilege to watch them learn and grow. This past academic year, two queer Harvard Law School students approached me.  They asked if I would get involved in what they were calling, The Secret Court Committee. Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Let me shed some light into the darkness.

 

In 1920, the then president of Harvard University formed a committee, called “The Court.” It was formed to investigate allegations of homosexual activity running rampant through the campus. For two weeks the members of the court interrogated over thirty students. The students were asked about their sexual activities, and private lives. The members of the court even threatened the students with expulsion, outing, or public shame if they didn’t turn over the names of other men. At the end of the two weeks, eight students, one recent graduate, and a professor were removed from the university.

 

The records of “The Court” disappeared. No one knew or remembered what happened in May of 1920. It wasn’t until 2002, when someone working on a story for the student newspaper, The Crimson, discovered the documents. They were inadvertently given an unmarked box from the archives. Inside the box was the handwritten notes from “The Court.” After further searching, the library staff found more boxes of documents from “The Court.” It was the first time in eighty-two years anyone had ever seen these documents.

 

For those interested in learning more about this “homosexual witch hunt” there was a student group who used the records in the archives to recreate the interrogations. You can watch the one-hour film Perkins 28: Harvard’s Secret Court. A book has also been written about the events of 1920 and is worth reading. The stories that are pieced together from actual documents will haunt you. Harvard’s Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals.

 

Back to the Law School students, and the Secret Court Committee. Every few years a new student-led group comes together. Their goal? To convince Harvard University to honor the expelled students. Unfortunately, Harvard has refused to honor the students, or even commemorate their lives.

 

o-crimson-soulsSo what does all this have to do with my latest novel, Crimson Souls? It’s the heart and soul of the story (pun intended). People who have followed my writings over the years will be familiar with the name Nate, The Midnight Barker. Nate is a shadow demon. To survive, Nate and his follow demons need to feed off the souls of men. In Nate’s Netherworld, the souls of men come in the form of their orgasms.

 

Nate is a character I created seven years ago for a short story. A year later I found him narrating another story, then another. You get the point; he’s a character who has refused to let me go. So when readers kept asking me questions like, “Was Nate ever human?” or “How did he become a shadow demon?” I realized the reason Nate hasn’t left me alone was that he wasn’t done telling his story. It wasn’t until I began reading the history of the homosexual purge at Harvard did Nate’s background and history reveal itself. In his human existence he, Phineas Nathanial Trescott, was one of the interrogated students, and (like the real life student he’s fashioned after) believed to be the source of the perversion.  Nate (unlike his real-life counterpart) is murdered by the men of the Secret Court and vows to come back and seek revenge on the members of the court and their descendants. And so the story unfolds.

Did I alter historical facts of Harvard’s Secret Court? Absolutely, but only for the purpose of storytelling. I did not change the facts to minimize or lessen the harsh realities of what these students endured at the hands of Harvard’s hate and homophobia. Do history and horror make strange bedfellows? Perhaps, but in using history in this way, I hope to get more people aware of what happened during those two weeks of May in 1920. People who perhaps wouldn’t read a book about Harvard, but who may be interested in a horror novel. Through this book, I’m hoping to keep the memory of these students alive, and with that in mind, I have dedicated this book to them.

Next fall as a new academic year begins, the Secret Court Committee will once again reconvene. It is my hope this time, we can make a difference, and get these students the recognition they deserve.

Anatomy of a Table of Contents

By Tom Cardamone

 

I’ve not seen much discussion on how writers lay out their table of contents when it comes to ordering a short story collection, yet it is probably as equally important as the title and cover. Really, we’re talking about the alignment of singular pieces so the whole tells an additional story.

When I put together my first collection, Pumpkin Teeth, I followed the old advice of placing your three best stories at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. That way more experimental or unusual work would be able to stand on its own in between, the uniqueness would breathe, buttressed by the previously published, or what you just knew were stronger stories. Plus you get to “wow” the reader at the beginning and leave ‘em satisfied and wanting more at the end. So after that, I went with what felt organic in terms of each stories’ placement versus voice, content, theme. Since the goal is for the sum to be greater than the whole, what does a misstep look like? A sudden change in quality. That unpublished work has to stand on its own. The editor’s input here is really important. On its own, if the piece works, it can be more daring than what made its way into print, harder to place but somehow more solid. Though it’s essential that there’s not a too sudden shift it tone. It is okay to pivot, but something jarring can give the reader an excuse to put the book down or question the veracity of the collection.

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I was fortunate enough to place several of the stories that appear in Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe, prior to the book’s publication. The opening story, Owl Aerie, was previously published in the second issue of Chelsea Station. I was never able to find a home for the second story, MS Found in a Bookstore. A tribute to Poe, and a personal favorite, these stories go together as both have a New England location and youthful first person narrator. (I really gave this one my all, as Poe has been a lifelong obsession, from reading his poem, Alone, in the seventh grade and feeling that bolt of recognition, to further readings, visiting his homes in the Bronx and Philadelphia, his grave in Baltimore, reading biographies, obsessively collecting marginalia -finally paying tribute in a short story seemed overdue). To mix things up, I followed them with a brief tale of a dragon hovering over a park in Queens.

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The middle of the book contained two super hero stories (well, in one, Ice King, the villain is the more prominent character, but that’s kind of my thing –I edited a collection of gay super villain tales a few years ago. I’m always rooting for the bad guy). Though not overtly linked, they inhabit the same universe, one I’ve written short stories in before, and hope to return to again. The stories that follow include an epistolary tale between a Roman Emperor and a life-long friend that turns darker and darker. I’d always wanted to write something in an epistolary format; pleased with the results, I knew that I couldn’t open the book with a series of letters, but thought it would work better toward the end, the change in form hopefully refreshing/intriguing to the reader. Doubling down, I considered it a solid enough piece of writing to put between two shorter works, one, a tale of zombies in Japan, nearly flash fiction, the other derived from a dream I had in 1999 when I was living in Hell’s Kitchen where I realized I worked in beheading factory and woke up with a start. This let me end with two fully realized, previously published pieces. The last one, Halloween Parade, was in the running as the title of the collection, but I didn’t feel it flaunted the book’s gayness as much as Night Sweats. I did like that the story was such a New York tale –almost half the stories take place within New York City, the place where I found my voice, identified my fears, and then started using one to press the other to the page.

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Thirteen tales. Is that the rule of thumb with short story collections? I think I picked up the requirement from Nabokov’s Dozen (remembering/writing about this book makes me want to revisit the master’s shorter work again). I’m not sure if this is universal, though. But the number thirteen felt right and was aligned with the sinister themes throughout Night Sweats: Tales of Homosexual Wonder and Woe.

And to further support the title, I called the Table of Contents page Drops of Sweat.

Too Long for a Short

BY NATHAN BURGOINE

threeI’ve long been a lover of short fiction, and my path into writing came from that direction, too. My first published work with Bold Strokes was a short story, “Three,” that was accepted in an anthology of gay vampire erotica, Blood Sacraments.

 

When I wrote “Three,” I’d recently re-read Dracula (I often read books on a similar theme when I’m trying to spark an idea for a short story), and I’d been inspired by Dracula’s three wives. They’ve always struck me as a strange part of the narrative: who were they? Why were they there? Why three of them?

 

What came from those musings was the kernel of the idea for “Three.” I wondered what it would be like if the various supernatural beings of the world—not just vampires, mind you, but demons, and werewolves, and even wizards, say—became more powerful if they created groups of three or more. From there, I decided to make it even more important: those who weren’t a member of a group of three or more had, in fact, less power, less resistance, and were easily kicked around by those who did have a group to call their own.

 

In another moment of inspiration, I decided to play with the “must be a full moon” notion about how things get a little wild and crazy on the nights of the full moon by making the three nights the moon is full be the time those groups gathered and reinforced their bonds with each other. That left the ones flying solo relatively safe to run amok and try to get their own needs met—all within three crazy nights.

 

“Three,” then, became a short story about a vampire without a group of his own, Luc, trying to get himself through another month by delving out on the first of those three nights of relative freedom. Instead, he bumps into a rival (a demon who is also on his own, Anders) and the two of them butt heads (and then other parts) when they discover Curtis, a handsome young man they’d both like to spend the evening with who proves curiously resistant to their influence.

 

Once written, I was happy with how the story turned out, and even happier when it was accepted. As always, the editing tightened the story, and that was that.

 

Except…

 

Later there was another call, this time a gay erotica collection with a theme for angels, Wings, and I couldn’t help but think of my demon, Anders, from “Three,” and before I knew it, I’d written a sequel. After that, it seemed sort of unfair to have a story about two out of three of the guys, but that was solved when Erotica Exotica appeared.

 

There, I thought. Three characters, three stories. These guys are done. I was chuffed when I received quite a bit of e-mail and comments from readers about the three guys, and was glad I’d spent time revisiting the characters. Especially Anders, the demon, who appeared to be a fan favourite, if short fiction could be said to have fans.

 

Then Raising Hell appeared, and really, how could Anders not come out to play another time when the opportunity for a demonic gay erotica collection appeared? This story, though, was much harder work, and the original attempts I made at writing my first idea wouldn’t fit in the word count. I ended up scrapping two ideas before the third one worked under the word count limit.

 

After that, I really did think I was done. I tinkered with the other two ideas a couple of times, seeing if I could get them into shape for a potential anthology sometime far off in the future, but no, the concepts were too big for short fiction.

 

The “Aha!” moment was more like a face palm moment, really. When I was trying to figure out what major project to work on after Light was finished, I had made little cue cards of all my ideas, and one of the cue cards read “more Triad.” When my husband saw it—I should have mentioned he’s one of the biggest fans I’ve got of the Triad guys—he said, “Oh! Yes! Do that one. Write a Triad novel.”

 

“Oh, I didn’t mean—“ I started, but then stopped. When I’d written the cue card, I hadn’t meant a novel. I’d meant work on more short stories. But, like I said, facepalm moment.

 

There was a reason those short stories weren’t working.

 

They weren’t short stories.

 

Triad BloodI sent in the pitch for Triad Blood, it was accepted, and I got to work. Writing with Luc, Curtis, and Anders was like putting on a comfortable sweater. I knew them already, their voices were already pretty solid, and once I gave myself permission to grow the story ideas rather than try and cut them back, those two ideas—and a third—tangled up together into one ongoing narrative that became the novel. It was a blast to write, and though writing a novel will always be hard work, and I’ll always love the short fiction process more, stepping these guys from a series of short stories into their first novel was so much less painful than writing a novel from a blank slate.

 

I hope readers have as much fun reading the fellas in a full length novel as I had writing one. Even better? Bold Strokes is doing an amazing thing all through May: if you pick up any of their titles in e-format, you get “Three” (that original short story that introduces the Triad guys) as a free e-short story. Reformatted on its own with a truly lovely fellow on the cover representing Luc. Seriously. French Canadian vampire never looked so good.

 

Going back to the very beginning was a real joy, and seeing how far the characters had come was a lot of fun. And sending off the final proof copies for this novel was bittersweet. It really had been a blast to play with these guys again.

 

Of course, when I finished Triad Blood, I was once again sitting with my pile of cue cards and thinking about what my next project should be.

 

My husband leaned in the room and just said, “Really?”

I’m working on Triad Soul now.

Night Sweats Trailer

Night Sweats

 

 

 

Check out Tom Cardamone’s trailer for his new book, Night Sweats, here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDIpWLM709o


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