Fiction Fragments: Michael Arnzen

Last week, Matt Betts stopped by to talk about the upside of writing fan fiction and how it can help novice writers find their voices and improve their craft. This week, horror writer Michael Arnzen joins Girl Meets Monster to talk about his writing process and why humor and horror are so closely related in our psyches.

ArnzenShades18Michael Arnzen holds four Bram Stoker Awards and an International Horror Guild Award for his disturbing (and often funny) fiction, poetry and literary experiments. He has been teaching as a Professor of English in the MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University since 1999. New stories are coming out soon in the anthologies Knee Deep in Little Devils and Collected Christmas Horror Shorts II, with more insanity soon to come. To discover his writing, seek out the books Proverbs for Monsters or 100 Jolts. To see what he’s up to now visit gorelets.com or follow him on twitter @MikeArnzen where he routinely posts news, oddities and random tidbits of terror.

Three Questions

GMM: What inspired this story, and how autobiographical is it? Are you like Reynolds? Do you dread talking about your writing when people put you on the spot?

MA: My process is very loose and I’m always on the lookout for story ideas by twisting things we take for granted, or paying attention to the peculiarities happening around us in everyday life. The idea for “Poe Bread” came to me last time I was visiting Baltimore, the land of Edgar Allan Poe and a place where you can get good Poor Boy sandwiches. I think I made some dumb pun about “Poe Boy” sandwiches at a restaurant, but after I stopped laughing at my own joke, I wondered whether there was a story there, and it mutated into the phrase “Poe Bread” in my mind. As I drove back to Pittsburgh, I mused over a plot that might unfold the meaning of the phrase and started writing the next day to see if the idea had any legs.

All my characters are always extreme or abstract versions of how I imagine I would act or react if I were that kind of person, but even when they might have the kinds of roles I might have — writers, teachers, pet owners, etc. — I don’t really identify with them much beyond that, because they are all always splinters of my personality on some level, even when they are completely unlike me. This is a tough question to answer, but a fitting one to talk about in your “fragments” series, actually… because characters are always fragments of a writer’s identity, while being embellishments, too, at the same time.

So Reynolds is a writer, and I kind of like his imaginary fiction series about dead rock stars (I love pop music and could totally get into writing that!), but I wanted him to be more of the kind of writer that the restaurant owner would fawn over, rather than the kind of writer I am. So he’s probably a lot stuffier and more reserved than I am. I don’t dread talking about my stories (well, not the finished ones), but I do kind of feel uncomfortable with people asking me to explain them. Though I do appreciate it when people read my work and tell me they enjoy it, I really don’t enjoy adulation, because I write to connect with people of a like mind, not to feel superior to them. I like it more when someone says “You’re a sick man, Arnzen!” with a knowing gleam in their eye than when they praise me fannishly.  But I can be a fan boy too, so I understand.  The waiter in the Metallica t-shirt is probably just as much like who I really am, too, if not more so — even though I’ve never waited tables or owned restaurants or baked bread.  It’s all fiction, exploration of the fragments trying to find a whole. And I ain’t done yet.

GMM: Academics have suggested that there is a connection between horror and humor. I think even many lay people would agree that there is a healthy amount of comic relief in horror films. Your work tends to employ humor even though you write about dark things. When did this connection occur to you and/or have you always written horror stories with a thread of humor? Is it just a personality quirk that comes out in your writing?

I think laughter bonds us, even though we’re all doomed.

MA: It’s funny: even when I’ve tried to write comedy, people tell me that it’s very disturbing or dark or not funny at all.  Or when I’m at a fiction reading, delivering a really devious and dark line with seriousness someone in the audience will erupt with laughter. Sometimes it’s just me, laughing at myself, too.  Fantasy is ludicrous, and the “gross out” often has a humorous (albeit juvenile) appeal, but that absurdity leads to originality and truth in a way that other things don’t. Horror comedy is tricky to write well and I don’t think I’m good at it when I try too hard to be funny.  So I have given up trying to be funny or scary:  I just write in a way that lets myself go, and try to not to censor myself too much.  I think what I’m doing as a writer is just like letting myself dream or be mentally drunk on the page, and to feel that liberty that you don’t get in everyday life.

An interviewer once categorized me as a “dark jester” in a feature story once and I kind of liked that, a lot, because it reminds me of Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse.”  Another writer called my work “sardonic” across the board, and I like that a lot too.  The comedic stuff I’m producing is probably just related to my worldview and my penchant for the absurd and ironic. I grew up with MAD magazine and Saturday Night Live, and love comedies as much as horror movies.  I like to laugh in the face of death and such — it’s a kind of defiance, but also a quirky way of dealing with anxiety and tension. I think laughter bonds us, even though we’re all doomed.

GMM: What is Poe Bread? I’m dying to know what happens when Reynolds eats it.

MA: Well, it’s only a fragment right now because I haven’t >fully< plotted out what happens, and what I've written has barely gotten to the real story — I gave myself too much liberty to explore character and setting at the beginning, and that's all it really is right now, building up to the very question you asked.  I like to leave a lot of space for new plot directions and other ideas to occur as I write, so I often don't know what I'm doing till I'm doing it, to be honest. I like to think that transfers over to the reader too, where discoveries seem to happen logically and at natural points. But I do know the answer to your questions. Without giving away TOO much, let's just say that there is an old dough "starter" — that is, a baker's saved ball of old dough that gets put into the next batch, and then a ball is taken out of that batch for the next one, ad infinitum — which has been passed down since Poe's day through the bread baking process over the years at this restaurant, and "Poe Bread" contains it. This bread is somewhat magical (or contaminated?) in that it "inspires" Reynolds to write some twisted things… and he becomes both obsessed with the dough and the man who owns it. The two main characters reveal their suspicions about what the dough contains as the story progresses and they begin to do devious things. Does the bread have opiates in it?  Could the starter contain the DNA of Poe himself?  All is revealed in a twisted ending, which I hope echoes the plot of a famous Poe story.

If, that is, I finish it. I might need more… inspiration.  And it's lunch time now, so I'll end there.  Bon Appetit!

Poe Bread, by Michael A. Arnzen

Jim Reynolds had long heard of Baltimore Batter but it wasn’t until he was actually sitting in the restaurant bakery, holding a Poor Boy sandwich in both of his hands, that he understood its popularity. The place had that comforting, beery odor of yeast that most good bakeries greeted its guests with — but here it had seeped into the yellowing stone walls and worn wooden tables for a hundred years, if its storefront sign was to be believed, saturating the place like smoke in a whiskey barrel. He loved it. The bakery’s ambience was so out-of-place compared to the other shops in downtown Baltimore that it had felt to Reynolds like stepping into a 19th century painting. And though time had certainly taken its toll on the decor, the disheveled look of the place only made the food taste better. The shrimp on his sandwich was so fresh it virtually wriggled on the bun and the special sauce in his mouth was as tangy as over-sweetened tea. But it was the bread that made him drool between bites. Eggy and warm in his hands, fresh out of the oven. He squeezed the crisping bun like a lover, and devoured.

The waiter — a thirty-something man with covered with both muscles and wrinkles — brought his check early, sliding it under the vertical roll of paper towels that served as a napkin dispenser. He wore a sweaty black Metallica concert t-shirt that had had faded so much it simply read “licca” above a hazy upside-down cross. He stood there, tossing razor-cut jet black bangs to one side like they were getting in his eyes as he diddled impatiently on his pad.

Reynolds slid him his Mastercard and returned to the precious last bite of his Poor Boy.

The waiter snapped up the card, turned, took one step, then pivoted back. “Wait,” he said to himself, then crouched down so that their eyes could meet. “You’re not the Jim Reynolds are you?”

A bit peeved, he swallowed. “Don’t know what you mean. There’s plenty of them in the phone book…”

“Yes,” the waiter grinned, scanning his face. “You’re him! I know you from your book jackets.”

Reynolds smiled. It wasn’t often that readers recognized him.

“Man, I love all your stuff. The Hendrix Appendix, The Joplin Goblin…shit, I’ve read them all. ”

He nodded, never quite knowing what to say when these things happened. “Thank you.”

“You’re a god to me, man. Damn, I wish I had a book you could sign.” The waiter padded his pockets, as though searching for one of them on his person.

“I’ll gladly sign the check,” Reynolds said.

“No way, dude. The sandwich is on the house.”

Reynolds started liking this guy. “In that case,” he said, reaching into his satchel, “I’ve got something else for you.” He pulled out an advanced review copy of his forthcoming rock-horror novel, scribbled something on the title page and passed it to the man.

“Ho-lee shit.” The waiter swiped his hands down his apron and held the book like it was the Shroud of Turin. He read the title aloud: “The Johnny Rotten Corpse. Man!” Then his eyebrows went squiggly. “Wait a minute…ain’t Johnny Rotten still alive?”

“Not in my book.”

The waiter laughed, read the inscription — “Hope the Poor Boy didn’t struggle! Yours, JR” — and shook Jim’s hand when he stood.

“Loved the food. The bread here is amazing.” He shouldered his bag.

“Tell you what,” the waiter said. “Any time you come here, the food’s on me.”

Reynolds’s eyebrows nearly jumped off his forehead. “I couldn’t…”

The waiter held up his hands in protest. “No, as the owner of this place, I set the rules. And I insist.”

“My friend,” Reynolds said, as his esteem for the man rose a notch and he held out a hand for another shake, “I will take you up on this. You can count on it.”

“Come as often as you like,” he said, shaking briskly. “But there’s just one stipulation.”

“What’s that?”

“That I get to sit with you and talk about your books.”

If there was one thing Reynolds hated about being a writer, it was being put on the spot about his work. He never took interview calls and he never attended conventions. He liked being a recluse — the chance to be left alone and be his own boss was what drew him to the profession in the first place. But the smell of bread in his nose and the tastes of yeast and fish still lingering on his tongue made this opportunity just too damned good to pass up. “You’ve got yourself a deal, my friend. Only I can’t promise I’ll be the best company.”

“Psht.” He waved his hand. “I’m sure I’ve seen worse.” A bell dinged from somewhere in the kitchen and the man frowned at the distraction. “For whom the bell tolls,” he muttered, and Reynolds wasn’t sure if he was being literal or referencing Faulkner or reciting Metallica. But it didn’t matter. He found his sneery reaction charming.

Reynolds began to gather up his bag.

“Okay, come back some… wait, don’t leave. I got something you’d appreciate in the back. Sit tight.”

Reynolds watched as he darted past customers and pushed into the “IN” door with his shoulder. He was back through the “OUT” door in what seemed like a heartbeat, carrying a paper bag, with a loaf of black bread nosing out of it.

“Take this, my gift to you.” The owner of Baltimore Batter handed him the bag, and Reynolds could feel lingering heat between his crackling fingers. “It’s the house specialty — a family recipe. It’s called Poe Bread. It inspires.”

Reynolds wanted to thank him, but the man was already back in the kitchen before he had the chance. He looked down at the Poe Bread, cradled in his arm and swaddled in crinkly brown paper like a newborn. “Inspires?”

Next week, Alicia Wright joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have a fragment screaming to see the light of day? Show it to me at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: K. Ceres Wright

Last week, Girl Meets Monster talked vampires with Stephanie M. Wytovich. This week, Speculative Fiction writer K. Ceres Wright is here to share a fragment and talk about how you can support other writers and become a mentor.

K. Ceres Wright PhotoK. Ceres Wright received her master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and her published cyberpunk novel, Cog, was her thesis for the program. Her short stories, poems, and articles have appeared in Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler (Locus Award winner; Hugo Award nominee); Sycorax’s Daughters (Bram Stoker Award nominee); Emanations: 2+2=5; Diner Stories: Off the Menu; Many Genres, One Craft (Best Non-Fiction London Book Festival); The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology; The Museum of All Things Awesome and That Go Boom; among others. Ms. Wright is the founder and president of Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction, a support group. She works as a publications manager and writer/editor for a management consulting firm in Rockville, MD.

Three Questions

GMM: What inspired the fragment you shared with us today? Is it a work in progress or an abandoned project?

KCW: There was a call for submissions for the TROUBLE THE WATERS: Tales from the Deep Blue anthology by Sheree Renee Thomas. I wrote a short story, but didn’t finish it in time for the submission. I finished the story later, but it got rejected at the outlets to which I submitted, mostly for the fact that editors wanted more. But I am unsure if I want to add to it, so it’s sitting on my computer at the moment.

GMM: As a woman of color writing speculative fiction – horror, science fiction, fantasy – do you feel that you have an obligation to support the work of other writers of color and writers from other diverse backgrounds? What advice would you give to writers looking to provide support or become mentors?

KCW: Yes, I do. I founded a writers support group, Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction (DWASF). We have an active Twitter page (@DiverseSpecFic), and a website (dwasf.org). We present on panels at local scifi cons, such as Capclave, AwesomeCon, BlerdCon, and BaltiCon. We also plan to publish an anthology of short stories next year.

As far as advice, I would say to start your own group with local writers you know looking to get support; write about your process on social media, especially on grammar, self-editing, and honing your craft; and, if you have the time, reach out to a local school and perhaps give a presentation on writing to the children there.

GMM: Why speculative fiction? What were your earliest influences and what makes you want to keep writing within this genre?

KCW: My earliest memory was of watching Star Trek when it first came on, and I remember appreciating the primary-color uniform shirts, as most men’s suits at the time were either grey or black, which I found rather dull. Later, I would read spec fic stories such as A Wrinkle in Time, Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, and Chronicles of Narnia. Then Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke. And there was Star Wars, of course, along with Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. But what made me want to write science fiction was the cyberpunk novel, Neuromancer, by William Gibson. The book enthralled me, and that’s what made me attend Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction Program–to learn how to write a book. My thesis, Cog, a cyberpunk adventure novel, was published by Dog Star Books in 2013, and I’ve had several short stories, poems, and articles published, as well, in various venues.

I love how writers can use science fiction to comment on present-day society, as well as possible future society, and make you think about how the choices we make today will affect the generations to come. That’s what makes me keep writing.

An Exchange of Privilege, by K. Ceres Wright

It was always the poets–saturating pages with their blood over love, freedom, and peace–who touched Yemoja’s soul. Their words fashioned into brevity of wit and yearning amour stirred her underpinnings, which stretched to the ocean depths. Little else pricked her heart much, for she had borne witness to it all–Creation, the destruction of the leviathans, and the rise and fall of civilizations. She had carried the blood of slain Mali warriors down the Niger to be absorbed by distant shores. She had carried the Vikings on raids to European villages, guided Africans to South America, and stirred up the Spanish armada as it attacked England. She had borne the ships carrying slaves to the New World and accepted the bodies of those who had thrown themselves overboard, or who had been lost to the waves in a storm. She rusted their chains as quickly as she could to complete their release from captivity.

Then came the great wars, with new weapons and more bodies, both land- and ocean-bound. And she carried their bodies to the depths for her children to feed on, who would later be caught to be eaten. The savage circle of life.

Next were the radiation, mercury, oil, pesticides, and waste dumped into her ocean belly and tributary fingers. Chemicals ignited spontaneously and burned her shores, singeing her marshes. Garbage roiled in a whirlpool of waste, miles in circumference. Plastic choked her children.

Only poets could soothe her and offer promise of a tomorrow. If only she could find the right one, but she was afraid a poet would be insufficient. This far along, sterner measures would be called for. So Yemoja called her daughter, Oya, Orisha of the Wind, who swept in from the northeast, bold and brash.

#

“Exploit and pollute! Exploit and pollute! Give Dugan Chemicals the boot!”

Afua repeated the chant over and over as the Society for Clean Waterways marched along the Scioto River. The skyline loomed ahead, a colorful mix of white, brick, and grey buildings. The view, however, was spoiled by the stench of pollution. Most of it came from fertilizer runoff from farms, but they’d also had problems with raw sewage and slurry. Her grandmother used to tell her of when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969 when sparks from a passing train landed on oil-slicked debris trapped between wooden frames. Publicity helped to pass the National Environment Policy Act. But environmental laws had been rescinded or defanged. And the Cuyahoga had caught fire again, this time from someone throwing in a lit match into the water. The next day, it became a call to arms.

Afua had skipped class at Ohio State to join the protests. Her mother would kill her if she knew, and Afua tried to duck the cameras as much as possible. She stayed close to the edge of the river, between the crowd and the media. Her mother’s voice rang in her head. “I’m paying for you to go to school, not to hang out with white folks protesting. They get arrested, it’s a slap on the wrist. You get arrested, it’s a different story. And don’t tell me it’s an experience you can put into your poetry cuz poems ain’t gonna pay the bills.”

At the moment, though, Afua wasn’t worried about jail. Given recent circumstances, the police stayed farther back than usual and no one had been arrested. At least not yet.

A gleam in the water caught her eye. It quickly passed, like a wink, but the day was overcast. There was no sun for the undulating peaks to catch, Afua thought. Perhaps it had come from—

A sudden gust of wind pushed her sideways. She stumbled, trying to steady her footing, but the wind battered her again and she fell into the river. The cold of the water shocked her and she strove to stand, but ropes of water and sand gathered at her ankles and dragged her under. The river muffled the screams and shouts of the protesters and obscured her view in the darkening depths. Afua kicked and struggled, but the cold rushed past her body, which meant she was being pulled down river. Panic rose within her, driving her heart to pound, forcing her mind to scramble for a way out. But as quick as the water’s gleam had been, a calm washed over her and in that frame of forever, someone…thing…spoke to her. Not in words, but with ideas and images. A river on fire, a collection of waste, dead fish, algae blooms, dioxin spills, sick children, and…an apology. And she understood.

#

Darius Papadopoulos hurried down the steps of Dugan Chemicals to his waiting car. The driver held the door as Darius climbed inside and settled within the heated seats. Having forgotten his coat, he was grateful for the warmth. His mind went to the scotch in the mini-bar and he helped himself to a large tumbler full. It had been a day, holed up in a room with lawyers reviewing a groundwater pollution case. The cleanup costs alone would hover around $1 billion. The stockholders wouldn’t stand for that large a payout, he thought. Hopefully, their argument that the statute of limitations applied would hold up in court. Who cared about a bunch of burnt-out meth heads, anyway? They were lucky he even hired them.

“Home, Stravros. I’ve got a date with a large steak,” Darius said.

Next week, Matt Betts joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have a fabulous fragment to flaunt? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Stephanie M. Wytovich

Last week, K.W. Taylor shared her thoughts on time travel tropes. This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes horror writer, Stephanie M. Wytovich. Stephanie is an amazing friend who enjoys laughing at the darkness just as much as I do, and despite the number of years that separate our birth dates, I often think of her as a kindred spirit who would most likely help me hide a body. She was kind enough to find some time in her busy schedule to drop by, share a fragment of her fiction, and answer a few questions about one of my favorite subjects: vampires.

39137823_1705610252821603_5328446997055668224_nStephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Shadows Over Main Street: An Anthology of Small-Town Lovecraftian Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich at http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com/ and on twitter @SWytovich​.

Three Questions

GMM: What inspired the fragment you shared with us today, and is this piece abandoned or simply “on hold” while you work on other projects? What would make you finish it?

SMW: Vampires have gotten to be a bit of a cliché, overwritten stereotype in the horror genre these days, so I wanted to challenge myself to write a story that turns the monster on its back (insert evil smirk here) and shows us insight into some of the problems that go on behind the scenes, you know, once all the blood and intestines are cleaned up.

Currently, this piece is unfinished, but it’s definitely something that I plan to get back into once a few other projects are off my desk. I’m in the middle of finishing my next poetry collection (The Apocalyptic Mannequin) and I have a novelette coming out the fall (The Dangers of Surviving a Slit Throat), so I’ll probably drag the undead out of their nest later this winter and snuggle up with them again once the world goes white.

GMM: We share a love of vampires, and we’ve talked about them extensively, but I don’t think I ever asked you where your love of vampires began? What story or character pushed you into the realm of loving monsters?

SMW: When I was little—like too little for this to probably be okay—I was downstairs in the basement watching Salem’s Lot with my mom while she ironed my dad’s clothes for work the next day. Seeing the little boy tapping on the kid’s window pretty much broke me—I had two windows next to my bed at the time—and I slept with the blankets up to my neck for weeks.

However, no matter how scared I was of what lurked outside my house at night, I became fascinated with vampires. I loved their look, their teeth, how intelligent and worldly they were. They weren’t afraid of their bodies or their appetite (sex or other), and I admired their confidence and their ability to be themselves. Plus, I’ve always had a thing for bad boys, and those pale dreamboats were—and still are—my jam.

I watched Interview with a Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula not too long after that and picked up every vampire book I could find…the more emo, the better. I was an insufferable tragic goth child, and when I got to middle school, I wrote my first vampire story, which was a piece about a traveling vampire clan that slaughtered a young girl’s family. My teachers thought it was way too dark, and I got sent to the guidance counselor for a chat. After that, I wrote flirtatious paranormal romance stories with vamps and other monsters in them to keep me out of trouble.

That is, until I got to college.

Then it was back to blood and sex.

You know, the essentials.

GMM: While vampires were originally seen as something nightmarish, creatures we should fear, over time they have become the heroes of romantic fiction. Do you think this shift in how we view monsters like the vampire is potentially dangerous, or do you see it as a healthy kink? Or, like most things that create cognitive dissonance in our minds, do vampires simply ride the fence between erotic and deadly?

SMW: I think vampires have always been this erotic, deadly creature in my eyes because the threat of violence, of death, becomes an adrenaline high for the reader/viewer. Vampires look at humans as these fragile, beautiful things because their lives are so short, and that energy, that delicacy is what makes a mortal erotic to them. I think it’s similar for us: we see them as these wise, confident, well-traveled and explored immortal beings, and the dance between their monstrous nature and what’s left—if anything—of their human nature, is a turn on. Everyone wants to be the one person that a vampire protects, loves, and refuses to kill.

However, I will say that while there is an absolute erotic slant to my writing when I’m playing with these creatures, I like to work the angle that these monsters are hunters, and no matter how beautiful they are, they are deadly and they should be feared. For me, paranormal romance is fun, and I like to live in that world on my personal time on occasion, but when it comes to my stories, vampires are about one thing and one thing only: blood.

Untitled, by Stephanie M. Wytovich

No one was happy to see him dead but me, but truth be told, I wasn’t all that happy. He had a beautiful throat, such a gorgeous neck. It was a shame to treat the human body like this, but with a pulse like his, his blood was art, and like the rest of his body, I needed it—wanted it—in my mouth. No matter the cost, no matter the price, the sanguine taste of sudden death always tasted better with a little panic etched into it.

“Julia,” Daven said, her hands shaking my shoulders. “Snap out of it. We have to go. They’re coming.”

“Let them come. I’m not finished yet,” I said. My vision was spotty and the inside of my mouth tasted like smoke and shame. The vibrations of death still rang in my teeth.

“Not finished?” Daven said. The vein in the middle of her forehead pulsed an ugly purple-red. “You’ve slaughtered half the people in this bar, and you’re telling me you’re not finished?”

I stood up and adjusted my shirt, hiked up my jeans.

The bathroom spun on a tilt, the lights growing brighter by the minute.

“That’s what I’m telling you,” I said. Josh’s ashen body lay propped against the toilet, his neck still offered to me under the fluorescent lights.

The room tinted red, pulsed like a bleeding vein.

My head lolled back and I felt a mute relaxation as my eyes glazed over and the corpse started to hum.

“Fuck’s sake,” Daven said. “You’re high. You killed him before you drank didn’t you?”

Daven and I had been staying in a flat in Lawrenceville—the two of us boozing, fucking, kidnapping the night. Pittsburgh become our own personal playground, but when I met Joshua two years back, he excited me, touched me in a way that Daven couldn’t, wouldn’t. Where she was a soft chamomile, a warm cup of tea, Joshua was hard, rough like calloused hands with a musk that was more sex than sweat.

He was new, something different, a wild stallion with a gentle heart, and I admired his stamina. He liked to be bit, and he was a generous donor, which worked well for me because Daven always complained about the bruising.

Joshua, however, wore them like medals.

I traced his jawline with my eyes, thought about the first time I drank from him.

He was beautiful a man, but dare I say it, an even more attractive corpse, and my tastes for the exotic ran deep, even if it was forbidden, even if I found myself in love, even if, but most especially when, I found myself betrayed.

“He was dead to me the moment he set eyes on her, Daven,” I said. Leah’s disfigured face seeped into the forefront of my mind. “But let’s not quibble over the specifics. The only thing left between us now is blood, and I intend to take what was promised.”

Daven paced.

“The Order won’t tolerate this,” she said. “You’ve broken the agreement. They’ll—they’ll kill you, Julia. It’s against our nature. And Leah–”

Red. So much red.

“You mean it’s against your nature,” I said. “You with your rules and your bonds. I’m not vampire, Daven. The Order doesn’t own me.”

“That’s the problem, Julia,” Daven said. “No one does.”

Next week, Speculative Fiction writer K. Ceres Wright joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have some premium work collecting dust in a drawer? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: K.W. Taylor

Last week, Girl Meets Monster had a visit from Lana Ayers who talked to us about her debut novel, Time Flash: Another Me and this week K.W. Taylor is here to share a fragment about a time-traveling elevator.

small_bw_headshot_professional_kw_taylor.jpgK.W. Taylor’s first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, came out in the spring of 2016 from Dog Star Books. Her debut novel, The Red Eye, combines urban fantasy and horror (Alliteration Ink, 2014). Her work has been published in numerous periodicals. Anthology appearances include Ink Stains (Dark Alley, 2017), A Terrible Thing (555/Carrion, 2016), Life after Ashes (Alliteration Ink 2015), The Grotesquerie (Mocha Memoirs Press, 2014), 100 Worlds (Dreamscape Press, 2013), Sidekicks! (Alliteration Ink, 2013), Once Bitten, Never Die (Wicked East Press, 2011), and 555 Vol. 3: Questions and Cancers (Carrion Blue, 2018). Taylor holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, an M.A. in literature, and teaches college in Ohio, where she’s working on her Ph.D. She blogs at kwtaylorwriter.com.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: What was your inspiration for this fragment, and why did you abandon it?

KWT: I started and abandoned this fragment in 2014, with the working title “Elevator Out of Time.” When I began it, I was noodling around with my thesis novel’s mechanics of time traveling, and I wrote this as a possible spin-off story that could explain how time travel worked. Ultimately, I didn’t like the mechanics, and I realized later that the setting was a little too on-the-nose for someone working in higher education (you’ll see what I mean).

Girl Meets Monster: Time travel is obviously a very popular trope in genre fiction, what was the first time travel story that caught your attention, and why?

KWT: Some of my first exposure to time travel was via the first Back to the Future film, which came out at a formative time in my life. BttF is a much more historic/nostalgic view of time travel, however, and the physics elements of it as well as the connection with space travel is much more apparent in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, which I read as a kid. Perhaps because of these two early influences, I tend to blend that sense of mystery and nostalgia with the element of physics and space travel, and my own time travel work is a bit more hybrid as a result.

Girl Meets Monster: In your opinion, what are some of the worst examples of how time travel has been used in fiction? Some of the best?

KWT: Some of the best examples of time travel fiction other than the above include Quantum Leap, which hits that history/nostalgia element really hard, and Stephen King’s 11/22/63, which does the same but goes much, much darker. In the latter, I especially love the added fate and horror elements that imply that while you may be able to travel in time, changing history is going to get you in some serious hot water and may indeed kill you. Conversely, some of the worst examples of time travel in fiction are those that are poorly researched. If you’re going to dive into the past, you need to recognize that you’re writing not just science fiction but historical fiction, too, and that even the recent past is much different culturally than the present. There were some dodgy examples of this in the recent hulu series Future Man and in the Hot Tub Time Machine films, for example, but comedic takes on time travel can overcome a lot of problems if the comedy is solid. Literature-wise, I have to admit to not being a huge fan of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, mostly because I think future time travel can come off heavy handed, as that book reads today.

Elevator Out of Time, by K.W. Taylor

Cheryl nodded to the other passenger in the elevator, a tall man with dark skin wearing what she thought of as the quintessential college professor attire—white shirt, corduroy suit jacket, and jeans. Cute. Awfully tall, and cute, she thought. She turned around to face the doors as they slid shut.

The elevator crept along and stopped at the second floor, where two students got on. “Oh, hey, Mrs. Tucker!” one chirped at her.

Cheryl cringed at the “Mrs.” but didn’t correct her.

“Hi,” she said. “How’s your semester going?” She avoided using the girl’s name, which escaped her, but she recognized her from a seminar the previous year. Kayley? Kelly? Something…

“Not bad,” the girl replied. She gestured to the boy beside her. “He’s graduating this term, though. Can you believe it?”

The boy gave Cheryl a wan smile. Cheryl knew him, too, from a different class. “Whoa, I just had you in 101!” she said. “Can that really be four years ago?”

“Yup,” the boy confirmed. He turned to the girl. “Kayla, text me when you get home,” he said.

Kayla, that’s it.

The doors opened on the third floor. “See ya, Mrs. Tucker!” The boy exited the elevator, and another girl got on, occupying the space he left. She hit the button for the fourth floor.

“You going to the quiz bowl meeting?” Kayla asked.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Cheryl answered. She realized a deeper voice had joined her own, and looked up at the man beside her. “Oh, gosh, are you Dr. Middleton?” she asked. She held out her hand. “I knew the new history department member was co-chairing this time, but I don’t think we’ve met yet.”

The man smiled and shook her hand. “Yeah, Jeff Middleton. Dr. Tucker, is it?”

“Ms.,” she corrected. “Still working on the ‘doctor’ part.” She willed herself to ignore the pang tugging at her with that admission and instead turned back to Kayla. “What’s your subject area going to be?” she asked.

“Mm, I’m thinking the world wars,” Kayla replied.

The elevator lurched and came to a stop, but the doors remained closed. An alarm sounded.

“Ah, crap.” The girl from the third floor leaned in front of Jeff and punched the “door open” button. “I got a class in ten minutes.” She started rummaging in her purse before pulling out a cell phone. “My battery’s dead. Anybody got a phone?”

“There’s an emergency panel,” Cheryl said, pointing at the rectangle beneath the buttons. “Here.” She scooted next to the girl and opened the panel. Instead of a phone there was an intercom speaker and a button. Cheryl knelt and pressed the button. “Hello? Hello? I think we’re stuck. We’re in the Roberts Hall elevator.”

Silence.

“My battery should be good,” Kayla said. She pulled out her own phone and started touching the screen.

“Call campus security,” Cheryl said, standing back up. She rattled off the number.

“How do you have that memorized?” Jeff asked.

Cheryl shrugged. “I’m probably not the only woman on campus who does,” she replied. “Unfortunately.”

“Oh, dear.” Jeff furrowed his brow. “I thought crime wasn’t a problem here. When I interviewed—”

“It’s not, not really,” Cheryl interjected. “I just work a lot of late nights and stuff. Can’t be too careful.”

Kayla frowned and pulled her phone from her ear. “I don’t think I have any bars,” she said.

“Not surprised,” the other girl said. “Probably not awesome reception in here, thick walls and all this metal. Crap, we have a quiz today!”

“It’s okay,” Cheryl said. “What was your name?”

The girl opened her eyes wide. “Simone. Don’t you remember me? I was in your class like last semester.” She held out her palm and pointed to a spot in the middle of it. “I sat right next to that guy who never shut up, the older dude.”

Cheryl laughed. “Yes, right, sorry sorry.” She shook her head. “I get pretty busy and sometimes names escape me.”

Except I’ve had trouble remembering a lot of things, Cheryl mused. Sure, I have a lot of students, but still . . . She thought back to a day the previous week when she’d driven herself home from work, only to realize she was at an apartment complex she hadn’t lived in for eight years.

“I have a mobile,” Jeff said.

Cheryl noticed for the first time that he had a slight lilt to his voice, not a thick accent but a hint of one. She imagined time spent abroad, studying and traveling. Interesting. And who calls it a mobile?

Jeff’s phone was an ancient device with a flip up panel. He opened it and started pressing buttons. “Wait, here we go, I think it’s ringing.” He held it up to his ear. “Hello! Yes, yes, we’re stuck in a lift in Roberts Hall. Four of us, two students, one staff, one faculty.”

Cheryl’s jaw clenched.

“Right, so d’you think you’d be able to send . . . Mm hm. No, Roberts Hall. What?” He pulled the phone from his ear and frowned at it. “This is campus security, yeah? Alpha College? Well, then, I don’t know what sort of . . . Blast!” He shut the phone. “They hung up on me.”

Cheryl looked up at him. “What? Why?”

“You’ll love this. They said there’s no such building as Roberts Hall and I should stop making prank calls.” He shook his head. “What sort of school have I signed on to here?”

The alarm ceased, and the elevator car began moving again, only this time it appeared to be going down instead of up. “My quiz!” Simone shrieked. She reached out to push the fourth floor button again, but Kayla put a hand on her shoulder.

“No, don’t mess with it! At least it’s moving now. You can run up the stairs,” she told Simone. “I’m sure your prof will understand.”

“Four flights? Ugh,” Simone muttered.

“Why would campus security say stuff like that?” Cheryl asked.

“Beats me,” Jeff said. He tucked his phone inside his jacket. “Perhaps they’ve got a new employee or some such.”

The elevator came to a stop, and the doors opened. Blazing sunshine greeted the four of them. Cheryl shielded her eyes.

Kayla leaned forward and peered through the doors. “What the hell?”

Cheryl blinked and looked outside.

Field. Everywhere, as far as the eye could see. Unblemished, mostly, save a few patches of earth that looked to be in the middle of being ploughed for crops. Cheryl recognized the highway, but the dozens of fast food restaurants occupying the east side were gone. The only familiar sight was a greasy spoon called Smithee’s, a run-down spot where one was prone to contract foodborne illness. But right now it didn’t look run-down, it looked pristine, a “GRAND OPENING” banner fluttering from its front awning.

Next week, Stephanie M. Wytovich will drop by to talk about vampires, which you know, is one of my favorite subjects. Do you have a fragment you’re dying to share? Open a vein and drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Lana Ayers

Last week J.L. Gribble talked to Girl Meets Monster about time machines and cats. This week we have another gifted writer here to talk about time travel. Lana Ayers is another member of my Tribe from Seton Hill University and if you haven’t had the chance to read her fiction, you’re in for a real treat. If fact, Lana was kind enough to share a sneak peek from the sequel to Time Flash: Another Me. Enjoy!

lana author newLana Ayers is a poet, novelist, publisher, and time travel enthusiast. She facilitates Write Away™ generative writing workshops, leads private salons for book groups, and teaches at writers’ conferences. Born and raised in New York City, Lana cemented her night-owl nature there. She lived in New England for several years before relocating to the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys the near-perpetual plink of rain on the roof. The sea’s steady whoosh and clear-night-sky stars are pretty cool, too. Lana holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, as well as degrees in Poetry, Psychology, and Mathematics. She is obsessed with exotic flavors of ice cream, Little Red Riding Hood, TV shows about house hunting, amateur detective stories, and black & white cats and dogs. Her favorite color is the swirl of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Visit Lana online at http://lanaayers.com/TimeFlashAnotherMe.htm

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: Welcome back, Lana! The last time you were here we featured your amazing horror poem, Alice’s Blind Date With Frankenstein’s Monster. How has poetry influenced your fiction writing, and vice versa?

Lana: Thanks for hosting me again, Michelle. That poem is very dear to my heart. Poetry is akin to a spiritual practice for me. I’m much better at sorting myself out on paper, then I ever have been speaking. In making poems, I can explore my connections, thoughts, and feelings, and make new discoveries. With fiction, my characters need to find their own best ways of communicating. In my romantic, time travel adventure novel, Time Flash: Another Me (Volume 1), the character of Jon Garcia is a man who is not always able to speak his feelings to his wife Sara. He expresses his emotions best through reciting lines from his favorite book-length poem, Piedra del Sol by Mexican poet Octavio Paz.

In truth, likely all my novels will contain a character or two who relate to poetry in some way. Poetry is such an important part of how I move through the world, it would be difficult to leave it out.

Girl Meets Monster: Time travel has always been one of my favorite tropes in genre fiction, but it often presents challenges for writers because of reader expectations and a backlog of fiction that informs those expectations. What challenges did you face while writing Time Flash?

Lana: A major hurdle with writing time travel was claiming authority as a woman writing a Science Fiction trope. Even though two of my favorite time travel novels were authored by women—Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (1976) and Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)—women are still often given short shrift by male peers. Much of the criticism from males in workshops I attended had more to do with my gender and thereby, a presumed lack of authority on the subject, than the content of the story or the quality of the writing. That fact that I have a Science and Math background didn’t seem to matter.

The challenge you mention, of reader expectation, is a huge one as well. There are really two basic approaches to time travel – you can affect changes in the past and future, or you can only observe and change nothing. From movie examples, this is the difference between Back to the Future and The Time Traveler’s Wife. In order to ground the reader, the writer must present their own specific system—changes possible or not—pretty much right away and remain logically consistent throughout the story. If the approach is not presented early enough in the story, you run the risk of thwarting reader expectation. In Time Flash, protagonist Sara changes the past, often inadvertently, screwing up so much, she gets her husband killed—twice.

Girl Meets Monster: Writing a series can seem a little overwhelming to some writers. What advice would you give other writers for planning a series and how to follow through with that plan?

Lana: I honestly didn’t start out thinking Time Flash was going to be a series. This is the book I’ve wanted to write my whole life, and I didn’t know if I had another one in me. But in the course of writing the novel, I fell in love with one of the minor characters—Murray—an antagonist who only appears in a couple of scenes. I realized Murray has quite a lot of complicated backstory that wouldn’t be appropriate to include. So that’s where the fiction fragment here comes from. Murray deserves his happy ending and I want to give it him.

When I realized I was going to have to write Murray’s story, I went back into Time Flash: Another Me and made sure there was just enough substance and uniqueness to his character that readers would be curious to learn more about him.

I believe to write a series, the author must remain passionate about the characters and the world she created. If the writer is passionate, readers will be too. Allow the series plan to evolve out of that passion. Don’t worry about anything else.

EXCERPT FROM: Time Flash: A Better Me (book 2 of Time Flash Series), by Lana Ayers

Chapter 1  Murray, age 39

Thursday, August 31, 2000, 4:30 AM

Murray O’Keefe’s apartment, Bedford Falls, NY

My goldfish Carl looks at me funny from his round bowl on the tiny kitchen table, like he knows something bad just happened. He floats in place staring, blowing bubbles, and waving his orange-gold fins. He must a heard me screaming before I woke up on the sofa bed and turned on the lamp.

My twin brother Mal says, Fish can’t hear because they got no ears, dumbass.

But I know Carl can hear ‘cause he nods at me a lot when I tell him about my workday delivering people to the lab.

I want to call Mal, tell him I just had the most awful dream of my life.

Worse than the nightmares I have all the time about the car crash that killed our folks when we was in high school.

But it’s 3 AM and waking Mal now would be like poking a lion.

I nurse a cola on the rocks and wait for the sun to come up. I don’t feel like watching TV, so I go look at the pictures hanging on the wall. I tore two of ‘em out of magazines.

I stand in front of the picture of breakfast that’s up over the stove in my postage stamp of a kitchen. It’s my favorite.

The glass in the frame is pretty smudged with grease, but that should add to it. Two rippled reddish-brown pieces of bacon all cozy with a couple of sunny-side up eggs. The yolks are like twin suns.

I know it’s only paper, but I sniff real hard and close my eyes. I want to remember the smell, but nothing comes.

I could whip a pan out, drop a couple of slices in, and turn the heat up. But it wouldn’t do any good. No better than the paper.

The best smells are gone. Not just the good ones. All smells.

Probably forever, Aunt Clare says. Happens in brain injury cases like yours.

But I keep hoping to get those good smells back.

Even in my dreams, I can’t smell nothing.

Next, I go over to photo of the wide green lawn hanging opposite my kitchen chair at the table. It’s half a step away. My whole studio apartment isn’t more than a couple dozen steps all around.

Fresh mowed grass is my second favorite smell. It used to make me feel full of energy, I think. At the far end of the lawn are bushes full of pink roses like the Georgetown Tea roses my mother used to grow. She won a couple of prizes for ‘em too. Those flowers sure smelled pretty. Like my mom and her perfume, Shalimar. I keep a bottle of the stuff in my bathroom medicine cabinet. Even though I can’t smell it, it makes me feel like she’s near, watching over me.

I have a photo on the wall I can see from my sofa bed. It’s a real picture of my mom and pop and my brother and me. Old too, back when Mal and I were little. Maybe eight. You can tell which one is me because I’m looking at my feet while Mal is staring straight at the camera. Even at eight, Mal looks angry. And I guess I was always looking the wrong way. Even before my brain was bad.

After I go read a few comics, it’s getting light out, but still too early to call Malcolm. He’s probably got a hangover. He hits the booze pretty hard most nights. Likes to have a good time, he says.

But me, I can’t drink like that. Makes me dumber than I already am.

I wish we still had the twin radar. Then I’d know whether he’s awake. But heck, that would mean he’d dream the same torture I did. Or worse, I’d feel his hangovers.

Used to be we could converse in our heads. Well, not whole conversations exactly, but we knew what the other one wanted. That all changed the day of the car crash.

I was asleep in the hospital a long time after it happened. I didn’t dream then, or if I did, I don’t remember. When I woke it was three months later and Aunt Clare told me the bad news about Mom and Pop being dead.

They didn’t suffer, she said. Died on impact. She told me, Be a big man, Murray, and don’t cry.

But I couldn’t help it. I bawled like a baby even thought I was almost fifteen.

The good news was that Malcolm was fine. Not a scratch on him even though he was sitting right next to me in the Pontiac’s back seat.

Brain trauma, Aunt Clare said to me, and she’s a doctor, so she knew what was what. A piece of the wrecked car lodged in my skull. Did a number on my head. I was never going to be the same.

At the time, listening to all that, ya know, I didn’t worry about my damage. I was too broken up about my folks.

But it turned out, I didn’t have the twin radar no more. I couldn’t hear Malcolm. Plus I didn’t do good in school. It was like all that science and math stuff went in one ear and out the other.  I wasn’t any good at baseball no more neither. Couldn’t get a hit or catch and throw the ball to save my life. It made me so mad cause I was gonna be a pitcher for the Yankees when I grew up. That or a hockey player. But I couldn’t hardly keep my balance skating anymore either.

I still felt like me, but not like me. I was me without Malcolm in my head, which was lonely. Still is.

Next week, K.W. Taylor joins Girl Meets Monster to talk about time travel and share a fragment of her speculative fiction. Do you have fiction fragments gathering dust? Do you have a new writing project you’d like to brag about? Drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: J. L. Gribble

Last week, Girl Meets Monster talked to Jessica Barlow about LGBT superheroes, and this week I welcome speculative fiction author J. L. Gribble to talk about cats and time machines.

Gribble photo colorBy day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. Her current work focuses on the urban fantasy/alternate history Steel Empires series, in which her debut novel, STEEL VICTORY, was her thesis novel for Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate program in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Previously, she was one of the co-editors for FAR WORLDS, a speculative fiction anthology. She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online (www.jlgribble.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jlgribblewriter), and on Twitter and Instagram (@hannaedits). When not blogging for SpeculativeChic.com, she is currently working on more tales set in the world of Limani.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: What inspires your work, and more specifically, what was the inspiration for your fragment?

JLG: For the past five years, and for at least two more into the foreseeable future, my writing life has revolved around my urban fantasy/alternate history series. Even while doing short writing exercises or attending writing workshops, all drabbles tend to involve that series, whether it’s the characters, the world, plot ideas, etc.

But sometimes that is literally impossible. Such as when your publisher hosts a writing retreat and horror author and writing professor Michael Arnzen is put in charge of the writing exercises…

Girl Meets Monster: That’s one hell of a start, why did you abandon this writing project?

JLG: It’s ridiculous. It’s overwrought. It has too much description and not enough plot. But it’s also a time machine/cat, so I’m not inclined to quibble.

Girl Meets Monster: Time machines seem like a natural theme/plot device for speculative fiction, but why cats? Why a cat that is a time machine?

JLG: Easy. During the time of this writing exercise, I was working on a time travel plot in the current Steel Empires novel. Pretty much EVERYTHING was a time machine at that point. Also, I was out of town and missed my cats.

Fiction Fragment, by J. L. Gribble

She fled up the gangway, snatching frantically at the handrails as it snapped and whipped in the frenzied storm. It screamed closed behind her, tumbling her to the deck. As the ship rumbled around her, she spit hair out of her mouth and crawled into the elevator. The small space curled around her, claustrophobic and comforting as it carried her into the bowels of the ship. Once she crashed into the engine room, the rumble smoothed as the diesel engines roared to life, marching the caking scent of ammonia to the back of her throat and causing her to retch and gag. Dueling alarms howled to life around her, shrieking through the ship on every wavelength. Horrible whiskers stretched from the engine room walls and then the protective barrier collapsed as the ship inverted in time and carried her into uncertainty.
SteelVictoryARC_cov.inddFor significantly fewer cats, but nearly as much ridiculousness, check out J.L. Gribble’s Steel Empires series, beginning with Steel Victory.

Next week, Lana Ayers will join Girl Meets Monster to talk about her new novel, Time Flash: Another Me, and share a fiction fragment. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Jessica Barlow

Last week, Sara Tantlinger stopped by to talk with Girl Meets Monster about H. H. Holmes, and this week Jessica Barlow is here to share her love of superheroes. Jessica is a member of my Tribe, the cohort I graduated with from Seton Hill University. We’re a tight group, but we might let you sit at our table if you have a dark sense of humor and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Author Photo BarlowFreelance author and comic book enthusiast, Jessica Barlow graduated with a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is currently writing about LGBT superheroes and magic.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: Thanks to Marvel’s film franchises and maybe even DC’s Wonder Woman and Justice League, superheroes have become mainstream. Do you think mainstream audiences are ready for LGBT superheroes?

Jessica: Yes. I think mainstream audiences are open to superheroes that reflect different aspects of our society. There are already LGBT superheroes to be found in the pages of the comics, but with the success of Marvel’s Black Panther and DC’s Wonder Woman, mainstream audiences proved they are ready to see heroes that don’t fit into the stereotypical white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, male superhero mold. It helps that there have been public cries about representation on social media, for instance the “Give Cap a Boyfriend” campaign on Twitter in 2016.

Girl Meets Monster: Aside from Captain America, which superheroes do you think would fit easily into a story about LGBT characters, and why?

Jessica: There are plenty of cannon LGBT superheroes in the comics that I’m betting audiences would really take to, however, if you mean any superheroes made common by the movies, then I would say the Thor characters. Norse mythology is full of LGBT heroes and heroines and villains. Loki himself has given birth to several of his children in lore. Thor has worn women’s clothing and felt comfortable and the Valkyries are an all-female section of Norse society, much like the Amazons.

It would be easiest to start with characters who are already mired in such stories and are more advanced – in the movies and comics – than we are at the time this response is being written. It helps that Loki’s pansexuality and genderfluidity is coming to the forefront in comics recently. If anyone is interested, check out Loki: Agent of Asgard and Young Avengers vol. 2: Style Over Substance. If you want young LGBT characters, check out Young Avengers, or Runaways which just had a show premiere on HULU. If young heroes aren’t your thing, check out DC’s gay Superman and Batman: Midnighter and Apollo or Batwoman. There are so many characters to choose from and I sincerely hope we get to witness some of them on screen!

Girl Meets Monster: I enjoyed reading your fragment. What stopped you from finishing it, and do you have plans to continue writing it?

Jessica: I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it! I stopped writing it because I wasn’t confident in the idea yet. I don’t have all the characters or the society as fleshed out as I would like yet either. I’ve set it on the back burner for now. I will finish it one day. This story is in my bones and I’m certain I will be ready to tell it.

Super Hero Project, by Jessica Barlow

It was the costume that made it hit home.

He’d seen it on the news. He’d watched Spero dart across the screen and envelope the explosion in an orb of black energy. Watched the energy condense into a ball the size of a dime. Watched as the crowd’s cheers melted to screams as the swirling, black mass expanded outward to engulf the city. Spero shot skyward and the following explosion wrenched the camera from the news crew. His sister. His twin. Gone.

She’d saved a city. She was a hero.

Still gone.

The rain beat a heavy, staccato rhythm against the ruddy ground as they lowered Spero’s body into the dirt. The coffin was sedate, covered in black lacquer, only the large gold star in the middle differentiated it from thousands of others already filling the cemetery. No one had cried that morning.

Superheroes weren’t allowed to grieve. Not in public.

The black band around the arm added a somber note to the otherwise blinding collage of colorful costumes adorning the stage.

The press had been respectful and quiet, save for the flash and click of the occasional camera.

The government was still wary of superheroes, but city officials showed up anyway. Everyone loved Avainti. She knew how to work a camera and always stopped for interviews, even for the fashion bloggers and gossip mags.

Bentonville had shut down. Every inhabitant had come to honor their fallen champion. They’d buried Avainti in uniform; the way she wanted it. The magenta and gold straps of her costume weaved a dizzying pattern across her brown skin. Their parents would have had a conniption, if they’d been here to see it.

The United Legion of Heroes had been the perfect for Avainti. She kept them endeared to the public.

Emilio observed the wall of muscle and color for a few minutes and closed his eyes, suddenly glad Avainti wasn’t here. She’d have complained about all the black in the crowd. They’d both known it would happen someday. It was literally in the fine print. Fighting aliens and trans-dimensional parasites and whatever else the Legion fought, came with a disclaimer tag, but she’d gone into super-heroing like she’d gone into everything else in her life; head first and eager to help.

Stupid.

He stroked absently over the folded letter in his pocket and concentrated on the up and down inflection of the pontificating official. A highlight reel had been printed in the program. Since they couldn’t have the projector in the rain and the city had insisted they hold the public service outside. They hadn’t anticipated the downpour and he’d thought he would have a say in how and where his sister was buried-next to Mom and Dad-preferably, but no. There was no mention of him. The Legion paid for the funeral. Hadn’t reached out to him to ask what he wanted.

The only way the government would leave the vigilantes to fight the good fight was to register your powers, name and likeness, sign them over to the government. And so promotions and commercial endorsements covered with his sister’s likeness were scattered throughout the crowd on TVs and posters and cutouts. A few kids clutched dolls and action figures to their chests, some crying, others confused.

Emilio’s stomach rolled and clutched, hot and tense. He breathed deep. He had to do something to make a difference. Not squander his power. It was the last thing she’d asked for in her letter. The ring on his finger pulsed. He stroked his thumb across it, spinning the tiny piece of metal around.

One word and he could do it. One word and she’d sit up in her coffin and crack a joke.

Cancer. She’d said.

What the hell kind of superhero got cancer?

He could have healed her. He knew he could. His fire could be life as easily as it was death. He could do anything. She’d always told him that.

He slipped the ring into his pocket and cleared away the burning knot at the back of his throat. This was what she’d wanted. And if she could give her life, the least he could do was accept her sacrifice, but what was he supposed to do now? She was the smart one, the fun one. The college graduate. He’d never been as good at channeling the power as Avainti. He hadn’t done a damned bit of community service in his life.

The ULH members stood, stone-faced behind the speaker. The rain pelted Hyperion, turned his golden hair brown, but the halo of molten light intensified around him. It spread to encompass the rest of the heroes. A shiver worked its way over each member the light touched. Hyperion alone allowed his face to convey his sadness. What did it mean that the alien in their ranks was the only person expressing himself?

The official stepped from the podium and turned the microphone over to the Legion. Shriek stepped away from the wall of color. He cleared his throat and just that small sound resonated with the microphone. The feedback noise vibrated against Emilio’s teeth.

Shriek leaned away from the podium and tried again. The crowd stepped back a bit, ready to split if the supersonic waves of his voice carried through the microphone. Shriek winced and rubbed the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture that said he didn’t have much public speaking experience. “Sorry ’bout that, y’all,” he said.

Next week, J. L. Gribble will join me here at Girl Meets Monster. Would you like to share you fragments and thoughts about why writing projects get abandoned? Drop me a line in the comments below or send me a message at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Sara Tantlinger

Last week we had a visit from horror writer Cody Langille, and this week horror writer Sara Tantlinger joins Girl Meets Monster to share a fiction fragment and answer a few questions about why projects become abandoned sometimes and what inspires her fiction.

TantlingerSara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the author of the dark poetry collection Love For Slaughter, and her next collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry inspired by H.H. Holmes will be out later in 2018 with Strangehouse Books. She is a contributing poetry editor for Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.wordpress.com

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: When did you start writing horror poetry and why poetry instead of short fiction or novels?

Sara: I first started writing poetry in middle school after my dad suddenly passed away. It was my go-to coping mechanism and really helped me get through a lot. Right around that time we started reading Poe’s “The Raven” in an English class, and from there I wanted to read everything Poe had written. There was something about poetry, about having to say a lot with a little, that really drew me into it before I ever wrote short stories or a novel.

My poetry had always been dark, but it wasn’t until my undergraduate years when I started studying creative writing that I realized I could hone my horror poetry into something publishable. I took an independent study in horror poetry with Dr. Mike Arnzen at Seton Hill my senior year and haven’t stopped writing it since! Studying all horror poems for a whole semester and how to submit them to journals and magazines was incredibly inspiring and I learned so much. I’ve been writing more short stories lately, but I’m glad I started with poetry because I have no doubt that it has greatly contributed to sharpening my prose over the years.

Girl Meets Monster: You have a collection inspired by H. H. Holmes coming out this year, what other dark historical figures inspire your fiction?

Sara: Yes! I’m so excited about the Holmes collection. It’s titled The Devil’s Dreamlandand I really enjoyed doing all the research for it. Holmes was definitely the first historical figure I invested that much time in. Otherwise, I love reading about twisted women from history like Elizabeth Bathory and Mary Tudor. I’ve also been reading a lot about Ranavalona I, who is sometimes referred to as the most murderous woman in history. She has a fascinating story and is often viewed as having an unspeakably cruel reign, but like with H.H. Holmes, it’s hard to discern what was really true or what was fabricated. Either way, I’m saving the inspiration from the supposed ways she executed people for a short story (or something longer) someday soon.

Girl Meets Monster: Do you have more unfinished poems or more unfinished short stories? What stops you from finishing a writing project?

Sara: I have so many unfinished projects! Not so much with poetry, but when it comes to short stories or longer prose projects, I am an expert at starting them and leaving them abandoned. Usually what stops me is that I have a particular ending in mind that I like, but I get tripped up around the middle and can’t quite make things happen or I feel like the story is getting boring and you never want that to happen. I’ve been getting a lot better with outlining projects and that has helped me get more short stories out this year, but I absolutely have fiction fragments all over the place and probably always will.

Fiction Fragment, by Sara Tantlinger

Sometimes they’re gentle, a sweet clinking of glass sounds that echo through the woods and entice me like a siren’s song. Tonight, as my clock ticks into the hour of demons, the distant and haunting wind chimes are not gentle.

There is rage in that melody of dancing shards, rage that echoes from the fierce shaking of the trees as a late summer storm rips through the rustling leaves. The gusts conduct and command the angriest symphony from the wind chimes that I have ever heard. And I have heard them all.

I think I hear Luna screaming for me in between those violent breezes, but Dr. Fawning calls this some fancy word I can never remember, but it basically means I am projecting my feelings into a manifestation of noise. That it is all imaginary, in my head – “It’s not real, Andi,” my psychiatrist repeats, she always wears tan suits, sometimes white. She reminds me of a Key deer, something small and rare, found only in one area, something endangered…

“You could even make the noises go away, Andi. You’re a smart girl with your whole life ahead of you, but you have to stop this obsession.”

Obsession, means Luna. And “You’re a smart girl” means You’re off your dang rocker, Andi. She says my name too much and doesn’t act the way I think a shrink would. I am not the hysterical woman Dr. Fawning wants me to be, even though she’s biased against her own sex. But I keep going back to see her.

I don’t have a choice. Just like when the wind chimes call from that place of night howls and clues buried in the dark, that place in the woods I can’t quite find, I don’t have a choice but to listen.

There’s something there, connected between the violent songs of glass and with Luna’s disappearance. And it’s not a projection or a manifestation. Fuck that damned doctor, what does she know. I just can’t quite remember what happened. My memories after the accident don’t always feel like my own thoughts and recollections. They’re weighed down, like drowning a puzzle with water. My corners and edges are mush, not quite fitting as I desperately try to jam the pieces back together.

Luna, my moonlight girl, keep screaming inside those wind chimes. I will find you.

Next week, fellow comic book enthusiast and Seton Hill alum Jessica Barlow will join us with a fiction fragment about a superhero. Do you have an unfinished story to tell? Drop me a line in the comments below or send your fragment to chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: C. R. Langille

LangilleLast week, Patricia Lillie talked to Girl Meets Monster about the benefits of recycling abandoned writing projects. This week C. R. Langille joins me to share a fragment of his exceptional horror fiction. Cody is a fellow Seton Hill alum, and I always looked forward to reading his submissions when I was fortunate enough to be part of one of his critique groups. He writes wonderfully dark stories and illustrates dark words of monsters and mystery as if he vacations in them. If he ever decides to become a tour guide through the dark realms, I’ll be one of his first tourists.

C.R. Langille spent many a Saturday afternoon watching monster movies with his mother. It wasn’t long before he started crafting nightmares to share with his readers. An avid hunter and amateur survivalist, C.R. Langille incorporates the Utah outdoors in many of his tales. He is an affiliate member of the Horror Writer’s Association, a member of the League of Utah Writers, and received his MFA: Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University.  www.crlangille.com

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: What was the first story you read that really scared you?

Cody: The first story that I remember reading that really scared me, was Pet Sematary by Stephen King. I remember staying up way late and devouring that book and my mind started playing tricks on me when little noises would sound off in the house. I’d seen the movie first and it was creepy, especially that scene with Zelda…it always gave me the willies when she would call out for Rachel.

Girl Meets Monster: What was the inspiration for this fragment? And, do you usually begin writing when you get inspired to or simply out of habit? Do you have a solid writing routine?

Cody:  I got the inspiration to write this piece after listening to an audiobook chock full of urban fantasy mysteries. I can’t remember the name of that anthology, but it had some of the well-known greats out there like Butcher, Hamilton, etc… I wanted to try my hand at it, but put my own spin on the story. So I came up with my main character, Warwick, a war veteran suffering from PTSD as well as having to deal with the dead trying to trick him all the time. I try to follow a writing routine, but to be honest, lately it’s been tough. Life has gotten in the way and I just need to buckle down and show some good old fashioned discipline, especially for my novels. I generally write short stories when I get hit with inspiration.

Girl Meets Monster: Why did you stop writing this piece? Do you think you’ll finish it?

Cody: This story took a place on the back-burner because I was working on other projects. I will finish it sometime soon because I really like the setting, and I’d like to integrate the character into some of my other works.

Rocky Mountain Hocus, by Cody Langille

Lehi, Utah 1948

I’ve never liked dead bodies. They don’t shut up. I’d suggest not listening to them either. They’re not your loved ones or friends anymore. The simple fact of the matter is, once someone dies and their soul departs, it leaves a void. Sometimes things like to crawl into that void.

So don’t listen to whatever a dead body has to say. It will drive you insane, tell you lies, or try to trick you into doing something your mama wouldn’t approve of. This particular dead body liked to lie, and it was very chatty, which made it hard to concentrate.

I clutched the medicine bag that hung around my neck. As soon as I did, the thing’s voice fell away in a buzz and I could think straight. The rest of the world came into focus and I let out the lungful of air I’d been holding. This medicine bag was a godsend, a gift from a friend of mine in the war. His name was Two Feathers. He found me in the med-tent about to lose my mind because one of those things had crawled into the dead man in the bed next to me. Needless to say, the medicine bag made day-to-day business bearable.

I didn’t want to get too close to the thing. They get stronger the closer you get. Whatever lived in that body now must have been powerful, because the bag started to heat up hotter than my granddad’s wood burning stove in December. I let it fall to my chest.

“Nice try cowboy. Didn’t your mama tell you it’s rude to ignore people?”

I ignored it. Talking to it wouldn’t do anyone any good.

“We should ask your mama. She’s in Hell doing some awful nasty things.”

More lies. I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the scene. I was looking for Herman West, a local carpenter and known chicken fighter in the area. He’d been missing, presumed dead, and I was supposed to find him. Finding dead bodies wasn’t a fun business, but one I had a knack for.

Next week, Sara Tantlinger joins Girl Meets Monster to talk a little bit about her new poetry collection inspired by H. H. Holmes. Would you like to be included in this blog series? Comment below, or send your fiction fragments to me at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!

Fiction Fragments: Patricia Lillie

Lillie_hatLast week, horror writer Lynn Hortel stopped by to share her fragment and talk about the things that sometimes prevent us from finishing a writing project. This week, my friend and fellow Seton Hill alum, Patricia Lillie is here at Girl Meets Monster. Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of catching up with Patricia at our MFA in Writing Popular Fiction alumni weekend. I hadn’t seen Patricia in a few years and our visit, however brief, was long overdue. You just don’t realize how much you miss someone until you see them and get a chance to remember why you love them so much. We stayed up WAY too late talking about financial troubles, our favorite beers, traveling abroad, life goals and how they change in middle-age, and, of course, writing. I hope I have a chance to catch up with Patricia again soon.

Patricia Lillie grew up in a haunted house in a small town in Northeast Ohio. Since then, she has published six picture books (not scary), a few short stories (scary), and dozens of fonts. A graduate of Parsons the New School for Design and Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, she is a freelance writer and designer addicted to coffee, chocolate, and cake. She also knits and sometimes purls.

Her debut novel, The Ceiling Man, was released in 2017 and is available for Kindle and in paperback. Find her on the web at www.PatriciaLillie.com.

Her much nicer alter ego Kay Charles writes cozy-ish mysteries. Ghosts in Glass Houses, the first Marti Mickkleson Mystery, is available now. Visit Kay on the web at www.KayCharles.com.

Three Questions

Girl Meets Monster: In the words of Chuck the Prophet from Supernatural, “Writing is hard.” Do you have a lot of unfinished projects? What do you do with them?

Patricia: I have a veritable shit-tonne of fragments stashed in various folders all over my hard drive. (Someday, I should collect them all in one place.) Most are beginnings that went nowhere. Sometimes, I find them later, they strike some chord, and I turn them into stories. Sometimes, they get published.

Girl Meets Monster: Which of your fragments have you gone back to and eventually published?

Patricia: “The Cuckoo Girls” (in Nightscript, Vol. 1, edited by C.M. Muller) started as a fragment I didn’t know what to do with and stashed away. Sometimes, they aren’t what I thought they were. What I thought was the beginning of a short story of quiet horror turned into the beginning of my first cozy mystery. (Boy, did I have to some cleaning up there!) Most of the time, say 99.9% of the time, they go nowhere.

Girl Meets Monster: What was the inspiration for this fragment?

Patricia: This was written in response to a prompt, at a time when I was stuck and making no headway in what I was supposed to be working on. I believe the prompt had to do with a character who shares a name with a character from a favorite book, but don’t recall exactly what it was. I do recall some of the places I thought it might go at the time, and yeah—none are good. Which is why it’s one of those unfinished fragments. No title, because I have a hard enough time coming up with titles for finished projects.

Untitled Fragment, by Patricia Lillie

Merricat Williamson wanted to write a ghost story. For that, she blamed her parents, who never told her the origins of her name, and her Freshman Comp professor, who led her to find out.

In her first class on her first day of college, he called her name. She answered “Present” even though she wished she was anywhere else in the world, but mostly in her room at home, instead of over-dressed and crammed into a tiny desk in an un-air-conditioned room at XXXX Community College, and he said something about living in a castle. At first, she thought he was calling her a princess. Dr. Benjamin George was beautiful. Merricat felt a flush rise from somewhere near her big toe up her body until her cheeks stung with heat. She heard the snicker from the back of the room—it had to be Miss Perky Blond Prom Queen—and she knew she’d been insulted. Tongue-tied, she said nothing and squirmed in her seat. Dr. Gorgeous-Georgous finished calling roll. Merricat didn’t catch the last two names, but one of them belonged to the Prom Queen.

As soon as she had a chance, she Googled “Merricat” and “castle” and discovered her parents were even more twisted than she thought. She spent the next two classes hiding in the back of the room, but over weekend she read We Have Always Lived in the Castle followed by The Haunting of Hill House. Had she read them before her first week of college, she might have answered the castle comment with, “Just call me Nell,” but she’d never heard of or read Shirley Jackson. For that, she blamed her high school English teachers.

Merricat Williamson always had lots of blame to spread around.

On Monday, she took what had become her regular seat in the back corner. Miss Royally Perky bounced into the room, scurried past five empty seats, and plopped down beside her. The girl was short. Really short. About a lollipop over Munchkin-level short. Merricat nearly gagged at the cloying smell of cheap perfume, but kept her mouth clamped shut and her eyes glued to the front of the room. Georgeous-Georgous was late. He needed to get there and start class before the pocket-sized prom queen tried to talk to her.

“We should be friends,” Little Miss Perky said. “I have a literary name too.”

Merricat ignored her and hoped she’d take the hint.

“Dorrit.”

Merricat burst out laughing. Her high school English teacher lived and breathed Dickens. Although Merricat had never read Little Dorrit, the title alone was enough to cause the pint-sized perk-miester endless grief.

“Yeah. Trust me. I’ve heard it all my life. My parents are barely above midget status themselves. I totally blame them.”

Merricat wasn’t ready to get too carried away, but maybe she’d found a friend. She didn’t make friends easily.

Next week horror writer C. R. Langille joins me here at Girl Meets Monster. Would you like to be part of this kick-ass blog series? Comment below, or drop me a line at chellane@gmail.com. See you next week!