5 Questions for Alan M. Clark

AMC_AutoportraitI’ve been a fan of Alan M. Clark’s work for a really long time.  We met mumble-something years ago at one of the World Horror Conventions, when Alan was showing his paintings in the Art Show.  He painted an amazing painting for me and my husband—still one of my treasured possessions—and later wrote an incredible piece about his adventures in brain disease for my Morbid Curiosity magazine.

Officially, author and illustrator Alan M. Clark grew up in Tennessee in a house full of bones and old medical books. He has created illustrations for hundreds of books, including works of fiction of various genres, nonfiction, textbooks, young adult fiction, and children’s books. Awards for his work include the World Fantasy Award and four Chesley Awards. He is the author of eighteen books, including twelve novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. Mr. Clark’s company, IFD Publishing, has released 44 titles of various editions, including traditional books, audio books, and ebooks by such authors as F. Paul Wilson, Elizabeth Engstrom, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. Alan M. Clark and his wife, Melody, live in Oregon. You can check out his work at www.alanmclark.com.

Alan’s latest book is The Prostitute’s Price, a novel that beats back our assumptions about the time of Jack the Ripper. It’s not the grim story of an unfortunate drunken prostitute killed before her time, but one of a young woman alive with all the emotional complexity of women today. Her intellect and beauty, both blessing and curse, opened doors to both opportunity and threat. She saw lust as her means to lucre, her tender feeling toward one man as perilous, and the deadly obsession of another as merely the risk of her trade. Fleeing the hazards of love and running from a man wanting her to pay for her crimes against his brother, Mary Jane Kelly must recover a valuable hidden necklace and sell it to gain the funds to leave London and start over elsewhere. Driven by powerful, conflicting emotions, she runs the dystopian labyrinth of the East End, and tries to sneak past the deadly menace that bars her exit.

Cover_TPP_paperbackDid something in the real world inspire The Prostitute’s Price?

Yes, recognizing that history repeats itself in some interesting ways, especially in similarities between life in America today and life in Victorian London. That recognition lies at the heart of what inspired the Jack the Ripper Victims series, of which The Prostitute’s Price is the fifth and final volume.

Then as now, money was political and social power within a capitalist system. We are in a tech revolution today. The Victorian period saw the industrial revolution. The revolutions have similarities in their social impact: the large numbers of unemployed and homeless, the increasing power of those who provide employment to control working conditions and keep wages low, the laissez-faire capitalist tendencies of Victorian Great Britain and those of the United States, the vast gap between the haves and have-nots, the attitudes that some of the powerful take toward the poor: social Darwinist views that suggest that the struggle for life in human society is one of survival of the fittest.

I began the Jack the Ripper Victims series after reading the transcripts of the victims’ inquests and the police reports about the crimes attributed to the murderer. The parts of those documents that spoke specifically of the victims—their clothing, possessions, circumstances, lives—had the most impact on me. The first four victims were middle-aged women who had lost the man in their lives, their major breadwinner, and were living precariously, much of the time on the street. It’s believed that all four of those women were casual prostitutes. That meant that they supplemented their all too-meager incomes with occasional prostitution. There were countless such women on the streets of Victorian London. In the area of London’s East End, where most of the murders occurred, 500 to 800 people lived per acre.

And that brings up the relative value of single, middle-aged women in that British society. Small worth to employers, I’d say. The competition for jobs, especially with the untold numbers of children willing and needing to work to help their families survive, left many aging women out in the cold.

To avail oneself of the relief system—the workhouses, the casual wards, the infirmaries—would have been much like willingly going to prison, where the inadequate food and accommodations were earned through hard labor, much like that given convicted felons in actual prisons of the time. Occasional prostitution would seem a reasonable alternative.

The going rate for a casual prostitute was 4 pence. For the American reader, translate “pence” into “penny.” The going rate for a quatern of gin—a quarter of a pint—3 pence. A share of a bed in a doss house—flophouse for the American reader—was 4 pence. A loaf of bread 2 pence. Within those numbers and choices, I find a cruel hand to play. With few funds, on what should she place her bet: a piece of a bed, drink, bread, or should she begin the search for another client? In a similar circumstance, which would you choose?

The first couple of JTR’s victims might not have suspected they were exposed to unusual danger on the streets. The third, fourth, and fifth? What made it seem reasonable to them to be searching through dark slums for strangers to pay them for sex?

Truly, it is that sort of question that makes me want to tell a story from history: what made the decisions of those women reasonable within that dire context?

In our time, what similar desperate choices must the unemployed, homeless person make with the hand they’re dealt? Perhaps our safety net in the U.S. is much better than what Londoners had in the 1880s, but plenty of those currently in power look for ways to weaken it every day.

And has enough changed for women? Not to my liking. For many, women are still the second-class citizens they were meant to be in the Victorian period. I’m thinking that in a time of the #MeToo movement and increased awareness of the abuse of women, stories about 1888’s Autumn of Terror should not glorify Jack the Ripper as daring. Instead, they should show the humanity of his female victims. That’s what I’ve tried to do.

The Prostitute’s Price is about the life of Mary Jane Kelly. Unlike the victims before her, she had been a professional prostitute associated with a high-end brothel until she fell to street-level soliciting due to troubles in her life.

The other titles in the series are:
1) Of Thimble and Threat (about the life of Catherine Eddowes)
2) Say Anything but Your Prayers (about the life of Elizabeth Stride)
3) A Brutal Chill in August (about the life of Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols)
4) Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man (about the life of Annie Chapman)

Banner_Covers_JTRVictimsSeries

The stories take place primarily in London during the middle to late Victorian Period, roughly between 1850 and 1890. They are character-driven dramas based on what is known of the victims’ lives. They can be read in any order.

Actually, there is a memoir/horror fiction novel that is sort of a secret, meta volume in the JTR Victims series, titled The Surgeon’s Mate: A Dismemoir. Most people do not know I consider it part of the series. It reveals a lot about why I got involved in the project and how it’s effected my life. It is a very strange beast of a book, an exciting crime thriller as well as being partly true.

What is your favorite scene in The Prostitute’s Price?

The erotic scene between Mary Jane Kelly and Joseph Fleming in chapter 11. The complexity of her feelings was fun to portray.

What was your writing process like as you wrote The Prostitute’s Price?

ReachingIntoThePast

Interior illustration from Of Thimble and Threat by Alan M. Clark

Loose outline based on what is known of Mary Jane Kelly’s history, much research—most of it done online, looking for the emotional threads in her story. The novel, like the earlier ones in the series, is strictly from the POV of one character, the female victim. None of the books in the series are about Jack the Ripper, yet they all do end with murder.

With The Prostitute’s Price, I had difficulty starting because the crime scene photo so discouraged me.

While considering how to begin, John Linwood Grant asked me to write the introduction to his “Tales of the Last Edwardian” collection, A Persistence of Geraniums. In its pages, I found John’s great character, Edwin Dry, the Deptford Assassin. I’d read a couple of stories about him already. He is an extremely capable, dispassionate assassin: one might at first think a sociopath. He will take a job from just about anyone to kill just about anyone as long as the job is earnestly offered. The pay for the job is important to Dry, but the amount seems to concern him the least. In one of the stories, John gives a short history of how Edwin Dry gained his reputation. Some of that involved Jack the Ripper in a manner that gave me an idea. I do not want to give anything away here, but I will say that it gave me heart, and I was able to move forward with the last book in the series.

I asked John to work with me on it and for us to employ his creation, Edwin Dry, as a character in the story. He agreed, but then the idea kept evolving. We decided that each of us would have his own POV character for the novel, so our different “voices” wouldn’t become a problem. Our chapters would alternate. With time, we came to the conclusion that we were writing two separate novels, and settled on that as part of our goal. Mine, The Prostitute’s Price, is from the POV of Mary Jane Kelly, and is the final book in my JTR Victims Series, standing on its own as the others in the series do. His, The Assassin’s Coin—also capable of standing on its own—is from the POV of a spiritualist woman name Catherine Weatherhead, about the same age as Mary Jane Kelly. It is a very different story that takes place in the same timeline. The two “companion novels,” as we call them, share some scenes and some characters, including Edwin Dry, the Deptford Assassin.

The Prostitute’s Price was released on September 10. The Assassin’s Coin came out on October 10. The two novels will appear together in a third volume titled 13 Miller’s Court, in which the chapters alternate. That came out on November 9, 2018, the 130th anniversary of Mary Jane Kelly’s death. For a larger experience of each novel, we say, read both. All three novels are from IFD Publishing.

What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?

A couple of things. The first had to do with the titles for the novels. I presented the title for mine, The Prostitute’s Price, to John and asked if he might come up with one for his novel that complimented my title in length and had a similar possible multiple meaning. This was in part because I wanted the book covers to have much the same design. He offered The Assassin’s Coin, which is perfect in ways that I cannot explain without giving things away. Trust me when I say he was brilliant to come up with that title.

John

Interior illustration from Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man by Alan M. Clark

The other has to do with a review. Halfway through writing the JTR Victims series, David Green, the fiction editor for Ripperologist magazine, contacted me and asked for a review copy of A Brutal Chill in August, the novel about Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols, published by Word Horde. It seems he’d known my artwork from the book covers I’d done over the years, had become curious about the first two books in the series, got them, and read them. He’d contacted me for A Brutal Chill in August because, as he said, the first two in the series had been among the best Ripper fiction he’d read. This is a man who knows quite a lot about the subject matter, the investigations, and what life was like in 19th century London. The review he produced for A Brutal Chill in August was a glowingly positive one. When Apologies to the Cat’s Meat Man came out, he gave another extremely positive review. The review for The Prostitute’s Price in Ripperologist #162 is the most wonderful of all, winding up with the statement, “I regard the five books that make up this series as unarguably one of the high points in Ripper fiction over the past 130 years.”

As you can imagine, I was very pleased.

What do you have planned next?

Oh, shit, I don’t know. Let me take a few breaths and ask me again later. Thanks for the interview, Loren.

My pleasure, Alan!

You can pick up The Prostitute’s Price on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2JnTVd7

Or check out all the rest of Alan’s books here: https://amzn.to/2DaPnqd

Or check out his web page at www.ifdpublushing.com

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5 Questions for Stephanie Ayers

StephStephanie Ayers is another of my Ladies of Horror. I’m thrilled to be able to chat with her about her brand-new book, The 13: Tales of Macabre.

A published author with a knack for twisted tales, Stephanie Ayers is a coffee-guzzling, word-whispering, world-building creative ninja and unicorn living in Ohio disguised as a human. She mothers her children, loves her husband, attends church, and avoids all things housework and zombies. When she isn’t doing any of these things, she can be found stretching her creative wings designing book covers, promotional graphics, logos and more.

Here’s the blurb: 13 enchanted horrors. 13 spine-chilling tales. Down, down in the depths they fell, bodies in the dark of a liquid hell. Can you survive all 13? This is the second collection in The 13 series.

Here’s the book trailer:

Did something in the real world inspire The 13: Tales of Macabre?

No, not really. I have a very active imagination and it always tends to go to the worst case “what if” about everything.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene would spoil a story, but I’ll share which story is my favorite from the whole book: “Send in the Clowns.” I just had so much fun writing it and watching it develop. Finding creepy music box music to listen to as I wrote really upped the creep factor.
Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 9.15.04 PMWhat was your writing process like as you wrote The 13: Tales of Macabre?
Honestly, it started kind of fast. I had this idea to turn The 13: Tales of Illusory into a series and ran with it. Lucky for me, I have thousands of completed stories to work with. The biggest issue was choosing which stories to add. I used my street team group to help me choose the theme, and viola! A horror book was done.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
I’m 100% new at the marketing game. All of my prior books are traditionally published, so this is my first venture into self-publishing. So far, I’m making a lot of great connections with other horror authors and expanding my readership. I really like that, because my number one reason for writing is to be read. I don’t really care if I ever get rich off my stories. I just want them read.

What do you have planned next?

My next project is to get the long-anticipated Elven Games finished and set up for release. This is my major debut into the epic fantasy realm. I hope to have this out by December, January at the latest.

You can pick up The 13: Tales of Macabre at Amazon here: https://amzn.to/2DcEMLc.

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How you can win National Novel Writing Month

Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 8.15.00 AMThis is the talk I gave in September at this year’s Nanowrimo Kick-Off Party in San Francisco.

I did Nanowrimo for the first time in 2003. I was a new mom of a two-month-old preemie. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t rub two brain cells together and make a spark. I crashed and burned before I wrote 20,000 words of a book I called The Dangerous Type.

I kept picking at the story and finally finished the book. I loved the characters so much that in 2012 I decided to use Nanowrimo to write a sequel. That was my 9th Nanowrimo. It was the first time I went in with nothing but the characters and a rough idea how I wanted them to change.

I wrote in the car before I picked up my kid from school. I wrote on a school bus while chaperoning a field trip. I wrote in the morning before everyone else was up and in bed before I turned off the light at night. By the end of the month, I’d finished Kill By Numbers, a brand-new 50,000-word novel draft.

In January 2014, I was talking to an editor I’d met through Borderlands Books. I mentioned that I’d written a space opera that I was really proud of — and had a Nanowrimo draft of a sequel. I thought he’d like the stories.

Jeremy said he’d take a look at The Dangerous Type.  It look a little over a month for him to get back to me and ask to read the Nanowrimo draft of Kill By Numbers.  I warned him that it was really rough: 30,000 words shorter than I wanted.  Its bones were in place, but it needed a subplot.

A week later, much faster than I expected, Jeremy came back to ask if I thought I could write a third book.  Sure, I said.  “Good,” he answered. “I told my publisher they should offer you a three-book contract.”

So Nanowrimo made me a space opera author.

I got very few editorial notes on the first book, which I turned in October 2014. I came up with a brilliant subplot about a starship drive recall for book 2, and turned that in at the end of December. In January, I started writing the final book: No More Heroes. Between January and the first week of March 2015, I wrote 95,000 words, polished it and turned it in.  That pace was only possible because of the discipline I’d learned doing Nanowrimo all those years.

It doesn’t matter if you “win” Nanowrimo or not. What matters is getting the words down. If life gets in your way and you only get 20,000 words written, that’s 20,000 words you didn’t have before. For me, that was enough to start a writing career.

You can do this.

Nanowrimo poster 01.1 copy

For the fourth year in a row, I’ll be hosting Nanowrimo write-ins every Friday in November from 5 to 7 pm at the Borderlands Cafe, 870 Valencia Street in San Francisco. The write-ins are free to attend, but please support the cafe.

You don’t have to be registered for Nanowrimo to participate. Just come any time after 5 pm prepared to write.

See you tonight!

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The Best Day of the Year

2007 Halloween

11 years ago. How time flies!

I grew up on a farm, a mile down the road from the farm where my dad lived as a  child.  My parents knew everyone “on the mile”:  where they went to church, where they worked, whether they had kids.  There were a lot of young families like my parents, who’d bought a couple of acres in the midst of farmland, built a ranch-style house, put down sod and planted trees.

Almost no one decorated for Halloween.  The holiday was much less about scares, when I was a kid, and more about community.  The emphasis was on giving.  One farmwife made popcorn balls: carmelized popcorn shaped into balls bigger than a child’s fist and wrapped in cellophane.  Because an apple orchard lay farther down the road, homemade candy apples were popular gifts.  One neighbor offered a mixing bowl full of pennies and encouraged each child to take a fistful.  (This was when you could actually buy two pieces of Bazooka bubblegum for a penny, i.e., a long time ago.)  Neighbors would invite you in to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate so they could get a good look at your costume.

Halloween seemed magical to me then.  The neighborhood was a wonderland of houses with their porch lights on, inviting and friendly.  We neighborhood kids traveled in packs, carrying brown paper grocery sacks or pillowcases.  Our costumes were homemade and seldom p.c. — hoboes and cowboys and “Indian” princesses, gypsies and soldiers — things made by hand by our mothers or pulled together from our parents’ closets.  There were no racks of shiny rayon costumes at the sole grocery store in town.

Because I have such rosy memories of Halloween — before the scares of razorblades in apples and tabs of LSD given out as stickers (neither of which I took seriously until it was MY four-year-old going door-to-door) — it was hard to learn to take my daughter trick-or-treating.  We don’t know our neighbors beyond the houses immediately adjacent.  Porch lights are resolutely switched off in this neighborhood on Halloween, where the neighbors are more likely to celebrate Dia de los Muertos or Qingming than Halloween. I knew that there were parts of town where parents dumped their kids by the vanload, but I wasn’t interested in being run down in the crush.

The first year we trick-or-treated only from the nurses in the hospice where my great aunt lay dying.  The year my daughter was three, we only begged from places I shopped at on West Portal Avenue.  We tried Potrero Hill the following year, but the neighbors were so besieged that they’d grown surly.  Some just left bowls of candy on their steps and retreated, so they didn’t have to interact with the children at all.

The year my daughter was five, we hit the jackpot.  The neighbors of St. Francis Wood compete with each other, turning their yards into Oz, complete with Dorothy’s house atop the witch, or setting up a life-sized pirate ship, captained by a skeleton.  Kids and adults all seemed to have a good time.  The man doling out chocolate body parts particularly impressed my daughter. He gave her a blue eye because she was “such a pretty princess” in her Glinda dress.

After that, we spent a couple of years braving the Halloween crush on a blocked-off street dedicated to Halloween, because one of the families in her grade always hosted a Halloween party before the kids went out to trick-or-treat together.  Those excursions have been among the most magical nights of my daughter’s life, trading candy with the other kids.  I always looked forward to recapturing the sense of community I felt as a child. It’s strange that I had to move beyond the neighborhood where we live to do it.

This may be my kid’s last year of trick or treating. She’s grown up enough to be a little self-conscious, but she missed last year’s candy haul because her headache was too bad for her to go out.  A year later, we still don’t have any medicine that works and she’s stopped going to school, but she really, really wants to dress up and go out with a friend tonight. She’ll be trick or treating from a wheelchair, which will pose its own challenges, but I’m praying she is allowed one last magical night — one last night of childhood — before I drag her to a neurologist at Stanford next week.

Because, as far as I’m concerned, Halloween is still the best holiday of the year, even if it isn’t homemade any more. Halloween is the one holiday dedicated to imagination, whether you’re Tigger or Tinkerbelle or the Chief Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine. You have the freedom to become someone else without losing yourself. At the same time, Halloween is about being scared while you’re safe. Despite checking all our candy for tampering year after year, I haven’t found anything questionable yet. For me, the holiday has been about learning to trust in the essential goodness of strangers and about practicing your manners by saying thank you.  The community may no longer be on a first-name basis, but to my surprise, it’s still as generous and kind.

Hope your Halloween (1)

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5 Questions for Lori R. Lopez

42489212_319395252156482_1142903910000754688_nI got to know Lori R. Lopez’s work through the secret coven on Facebook known as Ladies of Horror and she kindly offered to step up into my interrogation chair for an interview.

Lori R. Lopez dips her pen in poetry, prose, and art. Her books include The Dark Mister Snark, The Strange Tail of Oddzilla, Darkverse: The Shadow Hours, Leery Lane, Poetic Reflections: The Queen of Hats, Odds and Ends: A Dark Collection, The Macabre Mind of Lori R. Lopez, and An Ill Wind Blows. Lori’s work has appeared in the strangest of places: on Hellnotes, Servante Of Darkness, and Halloween Forevermore; in The Horror Zine, Weirdbook, The Sirens Call, Bewildering Stories, as well as a number of chilling anthologies including the H.W.A. Poetry Showcase Volumes II and III, In Darkness We Play, Terror Train I and II, Cellar Door III: Animals (Editor’s Choice Award), Bones II, Journals of Horror: Found Fiction, Undead Legacy, Darlings Of Decay, Dead Harvest, California Screamin’, and Fearful Fathoms: Collected Tales Of Aquatic Terror, volume I.

Her latest project is a second illustrated print edition The Dark Mister Snark:

There are those individuals we know little about who skulk and creep delightfully across page or screen. In reality, we are taught to avoid them. Sometimes, however, they may surprise us. The Dark Mister Snark is such a figure. Beware!

“Candidly lurking in the shadiest of places, a fellow whose mask wore the gruesomest faces, the dark Mister Snark might be tiptoeing after — shunning the sun and the mirthfullest laughter, spying and shying from your backward stares, following to catch you in complete unawares!”

Narrated by witty rhymes that spin the tangled threads of solitude and acceptance, this book tells the tale of a mysterious man prone to stalking through shadows. Is he misunderstood or mad? A villain or an anti-hero?

His secrets will be revealed in humorous and touching poetic-prose, with Halloween and Edgar Allan Poe among the themes. You will not look at corn or crows the same. And once read, you could find Mister Snark watching you from every dark place! Look for an Illustrated Print Edition featuring peculiar artwork by the author, Lori R. Lopez.

42518649_305460513578204_1468827644991635456_nDid something in the real world inspire The Dark Mister Snark?

I always draw from real life while writing. Some little wisp, a fragment or detail or thought, a perception works its way into the narrative, the dialogue at just the right moment. And then there can be a statement that fits perfectly or needs to be expressed. With The Dark Mister Snark, I had the character tucked away for years before I made time to write and illustrate his debut. Then one day I just decided — pushing aside other projects — it’s time for Mister Snark! Pieces fell into place as I typed, including a message about animals — in this case, birds: crows and ravens. There are also references to Edgar Allan Poe.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

I liked describing Mister Snark lurking about and how others would view him. Until we know someone’s story, we do not see them fully. Another part I like a lot was my favorite scene to illustrate, involving Mister Snark and two burglars. The description and artwork are quirky, and quirky is practically my middle name. Even though it doesn’t begin with an R, because that would be Rirky. Not quite as fun.

What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?

First I wrote the story in verse form with twelve-line stanzas and rhyming couplets. I am as comfortable telling a tale through poetry as I am via prose. However, I wanted it to look like a story, so I reformatted the stanzas into sentences and paragraphs: rhyming prose. I released the e-book for Halloween in 2015, accompanied by two pieces of artwork, including its cover. In November I continued to capture the story, drawing black-and-white illustrations. This year a Second Illustrated Print Edition has been released that contains special touches and looks even more Gothic.

What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of The Dark Mister Snark?

I received a good amount of interest in the character, and readers wanted more of Mister Snark. Fortunately, I am planning to make the books a trilogy, with the second and third volumes to be released in 2019: The Darker Mister Snark and The Darkest Mister Snark. Each of them stands alone but is also connected. My sons and I will be promoting as well as marketing the second edition more extensively than the original, online, and in person at events. We just redesigned our company’s website, fairyflyentertainment.com, and will be featuring the book in various ways. With any luck, Mister Snark will become one of those characters you can’t forget.

What do you have planned next?

Gosh, a great deal of things. For October I’ll be releasing a work titled “The Witchhunt” followed by an e-book of my short story “Cornstalker” that was first published in the anthology Dead Harvest from Scarlet Galleon several years ago. I’ve been waiting for a chance to illustrate and publish the print versions of my poetry collection Darkverse: The Shadow Hours and my Halloween novella Leery Lane. Along with releasing fancier editions of my titles in print, I am hoping to complete my next horror collection and the third volume of verse in my Poetic Reflections book series. (The column that the book series is based on can be found at Fairy Fly Entertainment.) Perhaps even a film project, recording a song, a new video or two with my sons, Noél and Rafael.

Hopefully I can cram all of that into what’s left of the year!

You can check out all of Lori’s books on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2qfz9Ud

 

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