Out today! Tales for the Camp Fire

T4tCF instagram copyAs you may have already heard, I’ve spent the last four months editing Tales for the Camp Fire, a collection of short stories by Northern California horror writers. The book will raise money for survivors of last year’s devastating wildfire, which burned Paradise, California off the map and ravaged Butte County, killing more than 80 people and doing millions of dollars of damage.

Even though the wildfire burned 200 miles away from my home in San Francisco, smoke still filled our city streets. For more than a week, while the weather remained ominously still and warm here, breezes no longer blew in off the Pacific. The San Francisco Bay Area had the worst air quality in the world — and we knew better than to complain, because our neighbors in Paradise and the surrounding Butte County were suffering so much more.

Still, it was frightening to venture outside here.  San Francisco looked like the apocalypse was at hand.  Very few people walked the streets.  Those that did wore masks to filter the particles from the air.  Those particles, smaller than you could see, were what was left of trees, houses, animals, people.  As the worst times, there were as many as 300 particles per cubic inch of air. They could lodge in your lungs and cause cancer.  And still we knew that people closer to the fire had it so much worse.

My local chapter of the Horror Writers Association met during those days. Ben Monroe floated the idea that we assemble an anthology we could sell to raise money for the people of Butte County.

In December last year, I volunteered to edit the book and put together a call for submissions. I am thrilled by the finished product.  The book’s 24 stories range from a fairy tale to a post-apocalyptic cookbook, with zombies, Lovecraftian cultists, a werewolf, mad scientists, even a brain in a jar to haunt these pages.  There’s everything from splatterpunk to science fiction, with a beautifully written meditation on the French Revolution along the way.  There is something to make you laugh, lots to make you think, and a couple of things that will disturb your sleep. I promise.

You can find the table of contents and all the contributors to the book here: https://lorenrhoads.com/2019/03/19/tales-for-the-camp-fire-charity-anthology/

All the profits from sales of the book will go to the North Valley Community Foundation, which disburses funds to rebuild the communities that were lost or damaged by the fire.

You can order your copy of the book — or a gift for someone who will enjoy this sort of thing — from Amazon.

ebook: https://amzn.to/2vA71O8

paperback: https://amzn.to/2Lkfwrl

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Some promotion for the book has already appeared:

i09 highlighted the book in its Bookshelf Injection series: https://io9.gizmodo.com/check-out-the-sparkling-new-sci-fi-and-fantasy-books-co-1833977402  

John Baltisberger interviewed me about the book for his Madness Heart Radio podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/loren-rhoads-tales-for-the-campfire/id1434970877?i=1000435123434

A. F. Stewart did a video interview with me yesterday about the book: https://www.facebook.com/afstewartauthor/videos/851364795199095/

And it’s been featured in the Petaluma Argus Courier: https://www.petaluma360.com/entertainment/9513698-181/the-buzz-scary-story-anthology

and Calaveras Enterprise: http://www.calaverasenterprise.com/community/article_a4a5a4b8-5c70-11e9-a290-b3a257c1adc7.html

More will be coming, but that’s a good start.

T4tcf Amazon #4

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5 Questions for Ari Marmell

Ari_pic 1Ari Marmell is one of the authors I follow on Facebook. When he had a sale on some of his ebooks last year, I snapped at the chance to buy them directly from the author.  His work did not disappoint.

When Ari Marmell has free time left over between feeding cats and posting on social media, he writes a little bit. His work includes novels, short stories, role-playing games, and video games. He’s the author of the Mick Oberon series, the Widdershins YA fantasy series, The Iron Devils, and many others, with publishers such as Del Rey, Pyr, Wizards of the Coast, Titan, and Omnium Gatherum.

Ari currently resides in Austin, Texas. He lives in a clutter that has a moderate amount of apartment in it, along with George — his wife — and the aforementioned cats, who probably want something.

His most recent book is The Iron Devils.

In the ruins of the world, the last remnants of humanity find themselves caught in an impossible war between the mechanical and the mystical—between the unliving and the undead.

ari_iron_devils_cover_lowrezDid something in the real world inspire The Iron Devils?

It’s funny. I’d been playing around with another book idea that also combined two different popular tropes. I was discussing that particular idea with my wife and the conversation shifted more toward creativity and book ideas in general. I was talking about how you could often get really interesting concepts by combining tropes that didn’t usually go together, but that you could also wind up with something unworkable. In trying to illustrate that, I just spat out something that I figured could never work: vampires and robots.

As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized that, “unworkable” or not, I was fascinated by the idea. Obviously, it didn’t prove unworkable. And it certainly turned into something deeper and more serious, but yeah. At its birth? It was a wild example, pulled out of my hat, of something that wasn’t meant to be doable.

I still haven’t written the idea that initially sparked that conversation, though.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

Wow. That’s really, really difficult to answer. There are quite a few scenes I’m really proud of or happy with, particularly many of the action scenes where I’ve pitted vampire abilities and machine weaponry against each other in an ongoing arms race.

But I think…if I had to pick one scene, it’s when Magdalena finally acknowledges the manipulation and abuse of the guy — now undead — she’s been involved with and confronts him over it. It’s a major turning point both for her and for the plot. It finally shows, once and for all, that the vampires are true monsters, as evil and inhuman in their own way as the machines are in theirs. Most of all, it’s intense. It’s emotional, it’s frightening, and it’s the culmination of some deep and emotional writing of a sort I’d never attempted prior to this book.

And what almost happens afterward…I still shudder thinking about it.

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

Pretty much same as it is for all my books. I start with a really in-depth outline. (I know lots of authors prefer to discover as they go and that’s great, but for me, I have to know where I’m going or I can’t write well.) Then, for the actual writing, I split my “work day” into two chunks, one in the afternoon and one at night. Each time, I have a set word count I have to meet. If I finish early, great. If it takes longer than usual, so be it. But I find working to a word count, rather than a set length of time, works best for me.

Except some of the emotionally abusive scenes in the middle of the book, regarding the relationship I mentioned: once or twice, I felt filthy and worn out enough after writing those that I stopped for the day. I don’t want to oversell it; it’s not the most horrific thing ever. It was just emotionally draining to get in the mental space where I could write those scenes.

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

I’d say the promotional process itself. I’ve worked with some large publishers, but it’s easy to feel like you’ve gotten lost in the weeds. Omnium Gatherum may not have the reach of larger houses, but I’ve been involved, or at least kept informed, at every step. It’s a much more pleasant experience.

What do you have planned next?

Well, I just finished a really dark horror novel that I can’t talk about yet. I’ll shortly be publishing Ash and Ambition with Dragon Moon Publishing. The first chapter of a short, traditional fantasy series, it’s about a dragon trapped in the form of the human knight who supposedly slew it, trying to navigate the politics and relationships of a court on the verge of war.

Beyond that, I have a few potential projects upcoming. I’m hoping to be able to do the next book in the Mick Oberon series soon, as well.

Pick up a copy of The Iron Devils from Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Gmw9i6.

Check out Ari’s website/blog at mouseferatu.com.

You can follow his Facebook author page at facebook.com/mouseferatu/.

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Behind “Something in the Water”

When my kid was a toddler, we spent hours and hours in the Academy of Sciences while it was exiled from Golden Gate Park. The museum was temporarily housed in a big warehouse south of Market Street, where I could let her out of the stroller to run around. It was a great place for a kid to burn off energy on a foggy summer day.

Originally, the Academy of Sciences had been founded in San Francisco in 1853. Its museum downtown on Market Street was destroyed by the fires that followed the 1906 earthquake. The Academy moved to Golden Gate Park, where they opened another building in 1916. In 1923, the Steinhart Aquarium was added to the building. That’s the place I remember from my first visits to the city: it contained an alligator pit in the floor of a room full of snakes in little aquariums. It also displayed the corpse of a great white shark on ice and there was a fish roundabout: a huge, curved aquarium at the top of a staircase, designed so that the viewer could feel they were inside a fish tank.

I loved the old Academy building, but it was cramped and often crowded. After the 1989 earthquake, the Academy — built on sand dunes — had worrisome damage.

It took years of fundraising, but the building was eventually closed. The alligators and most of the snakes went to other homes. Many of the fish were moved south of Market.

The Academy-in-exile was pretty much the way I describe it in the story “Something in the Water”: the collection was all jumbled together, so that the poison dart frogs were displayed near the African penguins. The place was kept dark so that the bright aquariums stood out on the unadorned walls.  Bare pipes and conduits hung from the ceiling. The floor was simple concrete. No attempt had been made to disguise the temporary nature of the warehouse that housed them.

The sea bass at the new California Academy of Sciences, after the move back to the park.

My kid and I spent days and days there.  I fell in love with the lonely giant sea bass in his tank with the moray eels.  I think, at one point early on, there really was a placard that called him Bocalo, because of his big mouth.  The sign disappeared before I got a photo of it, so I chose to believe it was because the scientists decided that naming the fish was too whimsical. I put his name back in my story.

I have taken the behind-the-scenes tour at the aquarium in all of its modern incarnations — before the renovation (when a friend traded Sharks hockey tickets for a private tour), at the South of Market location, and back in the park at the new building (I treated myself for my birthday one year). That’s how I learned about the tap water in the tanks, doctored with Instant Ocean.

The ichthyologist Jacki Ruiz was named for one of my kid’s preschool teachers, who did wear a toe ring.  She was a surfer.

I’ve never been out on a boat in Humboldt Bay, but I’ve been lucky to go on several whale watches up the Northern California coast.  The humpback whale and her curious calf came from the most recent of those trips.

I love the glitzy new Academy of Sciences — I’ve even slept over there a handful of times — but I’m glad to have commemorated the Academy-in-exile in my story.  It was a strange, uncomfortable, and magical place, and it meant a lot of me when my kid was small.

My story “Something in the Water” asks what if a creature captured by the California Academy of Sciences was a curious about a scientist as she was about it.  Traveling witch Alondra DeCourval tries to mitigate the damage.

The story appears in the most recent issue of Occult Detective Quarterly, available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Vr6UmS Having the story in ODQ was a goal for me, so I am thrilled.

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5 Questions for D. H. Timpko

DHTimpko_HeadShotReallyCroppedD. H. Timpko is a long-time reader of science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries. She and her husband, who she met at a science fiction convention, own over ten thousand books. They also own over a hundred paintings and prints. After working for many years as a writer and editor for publishing companies, associations, and corporations, Timpko retired. Now she writes fiction and nonfiction full-time. She is a member of Broad Universe and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

She describes The Firma Twins and the Flute of Enchantment:

Twelve-year-old Electra Firma plans to become an Olympic champion when she’s old enough. Her coach knows she has the talent. That’s the problem. Electra’s talent comes from her part-alien heritage, which gives her superhuman abilities, and her parents forbid her from training. Depressed, Electra rejects her inheritance and refuses to hone her alien skills. A new threat by an enemy alien race forces Electra, her identical twin sister Isis, and their best friends to infiltrate the aliens to find the Flute of Enchantment and protect humanity. If Electra doesn’t master shapeshifting, she and her best friend face imminent death.

Did something in the real world inspire The Firma Twins and the Flute of Enchantment?

The_Firma_Twins_and__Cover_for_KindleThe Firma Twins adventures are loosely based on stories I wrote when I was twelve. The story evolved and the only things I kept from the original stories were vampires and the Purple Staff of Death, an alien weapon.

In the Firma Twins, two sets of warring aliens crash on Earth ten thousand years ago: the Squrlon and their mortal enemies, the Vympyrym. Both are shape shifters and immortal. The Squrlon often appear as gray squirrels and the Vympyrym as human-size rats. The Vympyrym are vampiric to the Squrlon and, in a pinch, to humans, although human blood is inferior.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin inspired some of the backstory. The Squrlon crashed in Asia, hundreds of miles from where the Vympyrym landed. Serafin, the oldest of the Squrlon, carried the Flute of Enchantment, which mesmerized the Vympyrym, and the Purple Staff of Death, which vanquished them. Serafin rescued a tribe of Paleo-Indians from their enemies and the Squrlon led them across the land bridge to North America.

In the first book, The Firma Twins and the Purple Staff of Death, identical twins Isis and Electra Firma learn they are part-human, part-Squrlon. They’ve inherited special powers and Serafin’s ability to use the Staff and Flute.

The Firma Twins and the Flute of Enchantment, the second in the series, revolves around Electra, who must develop her powers and shapeshifting abilities. The problem is Electra resents being part alien, ignores the rules for shapeshifting, and takes unnecessary risks.

What is your favorite scene in The Firma Twins and the Flute of Enchantment?

My favorite scene is when the main character, Electra Firma, shapeshifts into a cardboard box and Isis prevents their father from crumpling and throwing her into the recyclables bin. This scene capsulizes Electra’s main fault: she likes to act first and think later. She knows she’s not supposed to shapeshift into an object because objects aren’t living. The risk is she might remain an object forever.

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

I like to write the synopsis first, which means thinking through the plot thoroughly. I need to know the end of the book and all the key plot points to get there. However, my one-sentence outline for the book left lots of room for creativity along the way.

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

The Firma Twins and the Flute of Enchantment received a five-star review from Readers’ Favorite. Because the review occurred before final production, I was able to include a quote on the cover of the book. Since the book is aimed at boys as well as girls, having “fast-paced” appear in the blurb is invaluable.

Although I’ve sold the book at the Broad Universe table and read a few pages at Rapid Fire Readings at a couple of conventions, I haven’t had much time for promotion. Now that I’m recovering well from my third surgery this year, I’m starting promotion and quite glad to participate in this interview!

What do you have planned next?

I’m writing the third book in the series, The Firma Twins and the Paisley Egg, in which Isis encounters the ghost of Blackbeard and discovers the ultimate destiny of the Squrlon and the Firmas.

The Firma Twins adventures are an open-ended series. That is, I can write as many books as I wish. In the history of the Firma family, there are many Firma twins in the past and future. I have several more books in the series planned.

After the third Firma Twins book is complete, I plan to rewrite a middle grade science fiction book called Stranders in which Mariah, a twelve-year-old girl who has telekinetic ability, and her abusive family find themselves deserted on an unstable planet.

You can pick up a copy of The Firma Twins and the Flute of Enchantment from 

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2MOgMA7

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-firma-twins-and-the-flute-of-enchantment-d-h-timpko/1128020249?ean=9780986088292

Follow D. H. at her website: www.dhtimpko.com.


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Behind “Still Life with Shattered Glass”

After I graduated from the University of Michigan, I got my first grownup job as the Undergraduate Secretary in the English Department.  It turned out to be a hell job that had burned out the last several women who’d held the position. It was a measure of how desperate the department was that they hired a 23-year-old who had  only one year of secretarial experience to deal with several thousand undergrad English majors.

A perk of the job was that I could audit all the creative writing classes in the department.  I sat in on beginning classes and MFA workshops, learning the focuses of the different teachers and reading no end of shitty roommate stories.  To be honest, telling a class of 20-somethings to write what they know is going to lead to a lot of shitty roommate stories. I wrote mine as a parody of the others.

The influences of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin and David Wojnarowicz are clear, but I want to acknowledge some of the other inspirations in the story.

Several of the elements of “Still Life with Shattered Glass” were drawn from real life.  A news photo of the card on the dashboard beneath the head-sized hole in the windshield is something I saw in high school after one of the football players was killed in a car accident.  In that case, it was a graduation card on the dashboard.

The girl who jumped from University Towers really happened while I lived in Ann Arbor.  I never saw a photo of her, but I was thinking of the photo of Evelyn McHale, the woman who jumped off the Empire State Building, when I described her.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

The story was originally written with a male point of view character. It was almost accepted to be published in that form, but the magazine made their acceptance contingent on changing the main character to a woman so she wouldn’t be in a gay relationship with her male roommate.  That was the first time I ever withdrew a story, rather than make an editorial change.

When I met Thomas Roche, I pitched him the story for his Noirotica anthologies. He said he didn’t get enough lesbian stories, so I revised the story to make the main character a bisexual woman. Thomas accepted the story, but the anthology was never published.

At the 2005 World Horror Convention, several of the publishers got together to judge a fiction challenge.  I submitted my story, but since I didn’t expect this jinxed story to win, I didn’t plan to attend the award ceremony.  Luckily, Kelly Laymon tracked me down and strongly encouraged me to go.  “Still Life with Shattered Glass” took 3rd place and won a nice monetary award.

I submitted the story to Cemetery Dance magazine, one of the judges of the contest. Thanks to more behind the scenes help by Kelly, it was published in Cemetery Dance #54 in March 2006.

When John Everson approached me about his Sins of the Siren project, he wanted to publish two new stories and two previously published stories. I revised “Still Life with Shattered Glass,” made it sexier, and he accepted it for the book.  I was thrilled to have my stories appear alongside Maria Alexander, Christa Faust, and Mehitobel Wilson.

Which brings us up to Tales for the Camp Fire. Initially I was going to include a different story in that book, but then I read Ben Monroe’s submission.  Our stories were very similar — kids on bikes riding down rutted paths, clandestine swimming holes, death — so I pulled my initial submission and swapped in “Still Life.”  I can say it’s like nothing else in the book.

I hope you’ll check it out for yourself.  The profits from sales of  Tales for the Camp Fire go to raise money for the North Valley Community Foundation, which supports survivors and recovery from last year’s devastating wildfire in Butte County, California.

The book is available for the kindle and in paperback on Amazon:  https://amzn.to/2GtGCH8

Posted in horror writers, story sale, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments