Engaging With Stories of Disabled People: Interview with Alice Wong

By Dennis R. Upkins

One of the true joys of my career is that I get to meet some truly extraordinary and amazing people from all walks of life. These individuals are using their gifts to make this world a better one. A few of them, I’m both honored and humbled to consider colleagues and good personal friends.

Case in point: Alice Wong.

Activist, media consultant, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, and excellence personified, Alice and I first crossed paths during our time as contributors for The Nerds of Color, a few years ago. I’ve learned a lot from Alice. Not only in regards to disability issues, but also in terms of being a leader, a class act, and showing true solidarity with other marginalized groups. If you don’t believe me, you can always ask President Obama. In 2013, he appointed Alice to the National Council on Disability.

This year alone has been a milestone for Ms. Wong. She recently released a new book entitled Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century which is available now and appeared on the cover of British Vogue.

I recently got the opportunity to catch up with Alice and discuss everything ranging from the new book, her podcast, activism, to the power of storytelling.


Upkins: Alice, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. For those who are unfamiliar, share a bit of background about yourself.

Wong: Thanks, Denny–always fun to be talking with a fellow nerd!! I’m the founder and eirector of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. I started it in 2014 as a one-year oral history campaign to record stories by disabled people for the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and it snowballed into a bigger thing. I have a podcast and blog, I published guest essays, and I edited and published #ADA30InColor, a series of essays by disabled people of color this past July for the 30th anniversary of the ADA. As a side hustle, I’m a research consultant. I also have a new book that just came out, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, available now from Vintage Books.

Upkins: For some, activism is what they do, for others it’s a part of who they are. How did you find your calling?

Wong: It took me a long time to be comfortable identifying as an activist. As a person born disabled in a world that was never built for me, I had no choice to be an activist as a means of survival. I had to advocate for myself and I didn’t see it from a larger social and political and social perspective until I was a young adult. Even then, as I became involved in the disability community in the San Francisco Bay Area I didn’t do it as my ‘job,’ it was an act of love and service. For the last 5-6 years, most of my activism takes place in my writing, media making, and through social media. People described me as a community organizer and I still wonder if that’s accurate because I’ve internalized the idea of an activist or organizer as someone who is doing things ‘on the ground.’ Over time I’m becoming more okay with it because I believe what I do is activism and that we need to expand our ideas of who gets to be an activist and what activism looks like.

Upkins: The Disability Visibility Project, how did that idea become a reality?

Wong: The initial idea came from my frustration at the lack of disability history, especially stories of current disability history and stories by actual disabled people. The DVP first started as a community partnership with StoryCorps, an oral history nonprofit, where I encouraged disabled people to come in (or use their app) to record a story. StoryCorps has an arrangement with the Library of Congress giving participants an option of archiving it there for the public which is incredibly cool–we can create our own history and leave it there for generations. As of 2020, we recorded approximately 140 oral histories since 2014 and that makes me feel good. I made it a reality by creating a website and using social media to spread the word. And it was thanks to the community who supported it enthusiastically.

Upkins: In recent years, Selma Blair garnered headlines when she disclosed having multiple sclerosis. In many ways, she became a face for disability advocacy. This point was explored in the book with Zipporah Arielle’s essay, “Selma Blair Became a Disabled Icon Overnight. Here’s Why We Need More Stories Like Hers.” Who are other significant activists and trailblazers in the disability movement who may not be as famous as Ms. Blair?

Wong: So many people!! There are so many badass disabled people changing the game. Here are just a few:

Andraéa LaVant, Impact Producer for Netflix’s Crip Camp and President of LaVant Consulting, Inc. I recently interviewed Andraéa about her work on the impact campaign for the latest issue of Break the Story, an online publication from the Pop Culture Collaborative.

Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW, a disability rights consultant, writer, activist from Winnsboro, SC, and the creator of #DisabilityTooWhite.

Rebecca Cokley, Director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress who has been instrumental in advancing disability issues in the last several Presidential elections.

President Obama poses for a photo next to a live video feed of Alice Wong, smiling at the camera. Behind them is a large bouquet of yellow, white and blue flowers.

Upkins: What are some major misconceptions and beliefs regarding disability issues that you find yourself debunking most often?

Wong: There’s a lot and the bar is so low. I find myself repeating some of the most basic things but unfortunately, this is where we are. A few things I try to change regarding narratives and beliefs about disability:

Disabled lives are not worth living.

Disabled lives are filled with suffering, tragedy, or bitterness.

Disabled people ‘take’ and consume rather than offer rich insights, creativity, and innovation to the world.

The future is one where disability, pain, and suffering do not exist.

Upkins: For parents who may learn that their child may be disabled and have challenges ahead of them, what advice would you give them in terms of navigating the unknown and being the best parents they can be for their child?

Wong: My parents told me they cried when they found out about my diagnosis. The shock and sadness is real. However, I was still their kid and they expected the same things from me as with my younger sisters, if not more since I was the oldest. I hope they will center their child on what they are experiencing and giving them a space to be angry, non-compliant, and frustrated. I hope they will seek out advice from disabled adults from the community and learn about the possibilities their child can have. I hope they will also rely on their own intuition and feel empowered to not heed every single piece of advice from professionals who frankly don’t know everything and cannot predict the future.

Upkins: One thing you have reiterated over the years on social media as well as in the introduction of the new book is the power of storytelling and the profound impact it can have. Would you mind expounding on this idea for readers?

Wong: Books were a gateway to freedom for me. I felt free and believe that everyone deserves to be seen and heard in books and all forms of culture and media. Stories can give a glimpse of what’s beyond our individual situations and this is incredibly powerful for people who receive messages from society that they are not enough or that they don’t count.

Upkins: I remember a little over a year ago, you reached out to me because two very talented Black writers were attempting to share their truths about the anti-blackness Lupita Nyong’o endured for starring in Us and the white privilege of Netflix’s Special respectively. Both writers got backlash for speaking truth to power. Nevertheless, you wanted to make certain their voices were heard. For PoCs with disabilities, how much of a fight is it to simply be heard?

Wong: It’s tough because let’s face it, racism, anti-blackness, sexism, homophobia is real and no community is immune from them. I am always interested in dissenting or different takes from the media hype around things, especially from disabled perspectives. When I see Asian American or disability representation in films or TV I also notice a pressure to have to embrace it without critique because of how little exists. We deserve more than the crumbs and we also need space for nuanced perspectives. People can read the two essays, by Da’Shaun Harrison and D’Arcee Charington Neal. I also recommend this fantastic essay for the DVP by Vyoma Raman on the Netflix series Never Have I Ever.

Upkins: Covid-19. It’s been a paradigm shift of sorts on a global scale. In your estimation, has the pandemic brought focus and resources to those with special needs or did it do the opposite?

Wong: First off, let’s abolish the term ‘special needs.’ Seriously, in 2020, we can eschew euphemisms and be more precise on who and what we’re talking about–disability. I feel great ambivalence about what’s happened during the pandemic. Suddenly, as non-disabled people were inconvenienced and had things taken away from them, access miraculously became available despite decades of advocacy by disabled people for accessible classes, remote working, and online conferences, performances, and events. During this same period, we’ve seen a narrowing of access and services for sick, disabled, and immunocompromised people. The rhetoric around ‘high risk’ people as acceptable losses is straight-up eugenic and this clearly also applies to Black, brown, and indigenous communities. I am glad to finally see people realizing what systemic racism and ableism looks like in the ways that our lives are devalued and deprioritized when it comes to testing and treatment for COVID-19. This year I wrote about the shortages of ventilators and health care rationing and the invisibility of deaths in congregant settings.

Book cover for "Disability Visibility: First-person Stories from the Twenty First Century" in black text on a background of brightly colored triangles with flat light beige behind them.

Upkins: Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the 21st Century. How did this anthology come about?

Wong: Catherine Tung, an editor at Vintage Books at the time, emailed me in 2018 about whether I had an interest in editing an anthology and I told her YES and that I had a great idea for it. After several conversations, I was able to prepare a book proposal and find an agent to submit it. I am very grateful for this opportunity and had an excellent experience working with the people at Vintage.

Upkins: How were each of the authors selected? Have you previously collaborated with any of them?

Wong: In preparation for the anthology, I created a spreadsheet of stories I loved over the last 20 years and it was a matter of deciding what kinds of stories and being intentional about the kinds of people I wanted to highlight. Each piece is unique, personal, and powerful. There were many more I wanted to include and I have a section in the back with a list of additional reading for people to explore.

Upkins: I didn’t know what to expect when I began reading and instantly I was blown away. Each piece was textured and nuanced. Was this organic, by design, or a combination of the two?

Wong: Yes–this was all part of the master plan *evil laugh*. I wanted to challenge readers with work that’s substantive, not Disability 101 or aimed to garner awareness or empathy. I also wanted to show just a small sample of the brilliance of disabled people doing a wide range of things. These contributors all have something to say and putting them together side-by-side was strategic. There are heavier, serious pieces, there are lighter pieces. Some are long while others are short and there is a wide range of writing styles which is important to me. There is a free plain language version of Disability Visibility and a discussion guide on my website if people are interested. Both are written by disabled writers, Sara Luterman and Naomi Ortiz respectively.

Upkins: As a reader, I found there was a component I could connect with in nearly every story. For example, being Indigenous myself, Jen Deerinwater’s (“The Erasure of Indigenous People In Chronic Illness”) firsthand account of invisibility and erasure was all too familiar. Jeremy Woody’s plight (“The Isolation of Being Death In Prison”) broke my heart. When Keah Brown explained (“Nurturing Black Disabled Joy”) that discovering joy as a queer disabled Black woman incites rage, hatred, and backlash from others, that resonated with me on too many levels. Were these universal elements something you noted while editing the book?

Wong: Not exactly–I don’t expect people to identify with every piece but I hope there is something for everyone. I also hope that one does not need to connect to something personally in order for them to appreciate and understand it. This is the opportunity and potential–to share something unexpected and revelatory without preaching.

Upkins: A point that was reiterated in many of the pieces is that these individuals aren’t waiting to be “fixed” or “healed.” In an ableist culture, why can’t this be stressed enough?

Wong: Just the other day the asswipe known as Elon Musk was touting a brain implant that according to him would ‘fix’ all kinds of disabilities. People eat this shit up because it’s edgy and futuristic. People forget that it’s also hella eugenic and ableist. And ableism is always bound up with white supremacy and heteropatriarchy, so there’s that. The struggle (and work) never ends, but if more non-disabled people after reading the book get it and decide to push back on these kinds of ‘progress,’ it would be one of many ways to be in solidarity with us.

Upkins: What’s been the reception and feedback to the anthology thus far?

Wong: Pretty good! It’s a weird time to come out with a book but I think it’s giving people a lot of joy and comfort. I also think there’s a hunger for a book like this in the world for both disabled and non-disabled people. I am always blown away by seeing people post selfies with the book or sharing their responses online. One cool thing that I cannot get over is the fact that Disability Visibility was selected for the Noname Book Club this September! I died, let me tell you, DIED!

Front cover of Vogue Magazine: Black and white photo of an Asian American woman in a power chair. She is wearing a vibrantly patterned blouse, a mask over her nose attached to a gray tube and a dark lip color. The Magazine says "Activism Now: The Facts of Hope" in red letters.

Upkins: You recently appeared on the cover of British Vogue. Congratulations. That had to be exciting and surreal for you?

Wong: Quite surreal for sure! An editor reached out to ask for a photo and I figured it was for an article but either I forgot or didn’t realize it would be on the cover. I definitely felt like the odd one out in that group of esteemed activists!

Upkins: You and I initially met during our time on the Nerds of Color? In keeping with the power of storytelling, what fandoms and speculative media are your personal favorites? Which characters and stories were influential on your journey in becoming the individual I’m interviewing now?

Wong: Gotta love the Nerds of Color! Shout-out to Keith Chow who invited me to be part of the crew and write for the blog. My go-to fandoms are Star Trek (DS9, TNG, Voyager, Discovery in that order) and X-Men. I am looking forward to the new version of Dune because I loved the books as a teenager and am intrigued by it especially since the director, Denis Villeneuve, did a remarkable job with Blade Runner 2049 (Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite movies).

Upkins: So aside from promoting the book, what lies ahead for Alice Wong in the immediate future?

Wong: I have a few things in the works that I can’t reveal just yet. I am continuing with my podcast, publishing guest essays periodically, and continuing my activism with #CripTheVote on Twitter in the lead up to Election Day. #CripTheVote is an online movement encouraging the political participation of disabled people with my co-partners Gregg Beratan and Andrew Pulrang.

Upkins: Where can readers grab a copy of Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century?

Wong: Folks can find my book in paperback, audiobook, and e-book from major retailers by going to the publisher’s websiteMy website also has info on upcoming book events, media coverage, and other goodies about the book.

Upkins: Where can someone follow you and the Disability Visibility Project?

Wong: On Twitter, I’m @SFdirewolf and @DisVisibility. I can be found on Instagram: @disability_visibility and my website is disabilityvisibilityproject.com.


A picture of Dennis R. Upkins, a lean black man with long limbs wearing a well fitted navy and white pinstripe button up shirt. He's wearing black framed glasses and a warm smile, and has a black katana leaning against his shoulder.

About the guest blogger/interviewer: Dennis R. Upkins is a speculative fiction author, a journalist, and an equal rights activist as well as a long-time member of the Literary Underworld. His first two young adult novels, Hollowstone and West of Sunset, were released through Parker Publishing. Both Upkins and his previous work have been featured in Harvard Political Law, Bitch Media, MTV News, Mental Health Matters, The Nerds of Color, Black Girl Nerds, Geeks OUT, Black Power: The Superhero Anthology, Sniplits, The Connect Magazine, and 30Up. You can learn more about him at his website.

This interview was originally published by Yopp. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Black Friday!

What better way celebrate the holidays than to support authors and artists through these times and introduce your friends and family to something new?

We have a few suggestions for your list. (You thought we might.) Remember that when you buy from Literary Underworld, you are buying from the authors and small presses directly, so they will get to keep much more of the sale price. Every little bit helps your favorite author keep creating those fascinating new worlds.

For the romance fan…

The Carolina Wolf box set by Sela Carsen ($7) combines Carolina Wolf and Carolina Pearl, two ta

les of werewolves and true love in South Carolina. Whoever said there were no wolves in South Carolina lied. Put a little grrrrl power into your romp in the swamp this holiday season!

Heart of the Beast by Jim D. Gillentine ($20) tells the story of Andrew, a man with a beastly secret, and his horrifying journey with his love Angela from the dark streets of Memphis to the cold reaches of Alaska, from faraway places to deep within each other’s souls, seeking peace and freedom to love one another – if only the world would let them.

Princess by Mistake by Kit Tunstall ($7). What started out as the worst day ever just got worse. Incorrectly identified as her strange roommate, curvy Jory finds herself spirited away by an intergalactic bounty hunter intent on returning her to the prince she’s expected to marry. Except she’s no princess, and forget a prince when she could have the sexy, magenta-skinned alien instead – if he’ll accept that she’s a mistaken princess and give in to the desire simmering between them.

For the fantasy fan…

Born of Swords by Steven L. Shrewsbury. Interviewing Gorias La Gaul is a dream come true for young scribe Jessica. Unfortunately for Jessica, she’s found Gorias in the midst of an annual pilgrimage of sorts, and though he agrees to let her come along, it’s not without a warning: You may not like what you see and hear. Whether viewing past visions with magical gemstones or jumping into the fray alongside the barbarian, Jessica’s about to get firsthand accounts she won’t soon forget…and discover legends are far from reality, and just as far from being pretty. For most men, the future is not certain and the past is prologue.

Wild Hunt by Nick Rowan ($10). When the Preternatural and Magical Squadron dumps an ugly batch of child serial murders into her lap, DJ Admire has a few weeks to find the killer before the next victims are found dead in their own little beds. On the Nightside of Memphis, few things are as they seem and even allies have their own agendas. And DJ has no magic, just a Desert Eagle and an ongoing romance with Captain Morgan and Admiral Nelson…

For the weird Western fan…

Mojo Hand by Steven L. Shrewsbury ($15) After a gun battle in an 1884 Peoria cathouse, one-armed ex-Confederate guerrilla Joel Stuart finds himself at odds with dire magical forces. He runs headfirst into an army of the undead, a demon guard, the persona of African god Damballah, and even finds himself beneath the lid of a coffin.

The Alamo and Zombies by Jean A. Stuntz ($5) is exactly what it says! Zombies at the Alamo, what else could you want?

For the horror fan…

Nocturne Infernum by Elizabeth Donald ($20) compiles the three books of the Nocturnal Urges series into one volume filled with heat, horror and intrigue. In this alternate Memphis, vampires are a dark underclass whose bite offers pleasure and pain in one sweet kiss. Humans take advantage of the pleasures vampires can provide, but call them friends? Lovers? The strain between human and vampire grows as death rises in the streets…

The Dark Walk Forward by John McFarland($12). The small town of Ste. Odile in America has experienced the Great War in ways that no one should ever have to endure. An 1880s schoolteacher is faced with the worst blizzard of her time and must save the children under her charge. A young man searches for his father the abandoned orphanage the older man owns… and both know they will despair at what they find. John S. McFarland has slogged through his characters’ woes and woven them into these sweetly emotional yet acutely distressful tales.

Stories We Tell After Midnight ($10). Here, the shadows keep their secrets and the moon hides from deeds cast in her glow. In this collection, the Fae walk as human, the dead burn with their anger at the living, the creatures that live in the dark places of the wrong zip code creep out of the shadows and into the kitchen.

Planet of the Dead ($5) by T.K. Reilley. Commander Kate Daniels expected to find incompetency when sent to assess the terraforming progress on Primos. She didn’t expect a saboteur to force a crash landing, stranding them at the mercy of the hungry creatures roaming the planet.

For the sci-fi fan…

Dream of the Navigator by Stephen Zimmer. For most, virtual realms, substances, and entertainment provide escapes, but for Haven, Cayden, Jaelynn, and Salvador, growing up in Technate 6 is a restless existence. A hunger for something more gnaws inside each of them. Discoveries await that open the gates to transcend time and space, and even new planes of existence. Nothing in their universe, or others, is impossible to explore.

Paradise Earth by Anthony Mathenia ($12) is a deconstruction of faith at the end of the world and beyond. When blazing balls of fire fall from the sky, a religious sect interprets it as the fulfillment of long-held prophecies foretelling the end of the world. The members flee to their religious sanctuary, believing that this global cataclysm is the portent of a new paradise of eternal happiness. Inside, one cold and starving man struggles to hold onto his hope for the future as the torturous night drags on and he struggles to hold onto his hope for the future.

Ace’s Odds by Sela Carsen ($10). Mkhai is a former soldier in debt to the mob boss who runs a glitzy, glamorous space station casino hiding a dark underworld. The only hand he’s got left to play is getting the mob boss’s daughter off the station… but Silbe is no pampered princess, even if her father is one of the most feared men in the galaxy. Embroiled in a desperate scheme to keep her family safe, Silbe must team up with a roguish smuggler who makes her want to bet on him with everything she’s got.

For the YA reader…

Moonblood by T.W. Fendley. ($12) Who wants to live a century before seeing the outside world? Not Ariadne. Restless and idealistic, the young immortal sneaks out of the Eves’ secret compound and finds the outside world more dangerous than she could have imagined. Cut off from her own kind and hunted by mortals, she is forced to hide among the Adams, the immortal sons born of her sisters. But the Adams have sinister plans of their own. Ariadne must find a way to stop them, even if it means sacrificing her immortal life.

The Boxcar Baby by J.L. Mulvihill ($15) is the first book of the Steel Roots series. Born in a boxcar on a train bound for Georgia. At least, that is what Papa Steel always told AB’Gale. But now, fifteen years later, the man who adopted and raised her as his own is missing and it’s up to AB’Gale to find him. (Or splurge on the whole series for $40!)

Redheart by Jackie Gamber ($10). Kallon Redheart lives with his back turned on his fellow dragons, on humans, and on everything he once understood. Riza Diantus is a young woman with dreams too wide to fit inside her village fence. Their unexpected friendship is risky in Leland Province, where Fordon Blackclaw, Dragon Council Leader, has inflamed tensions between dragons and humans to the brink of war. When Riza is threatened, Kallon is the only one with the power to save her.

For something shorter….

Moonlight Sonata by Elizabeth Donald ($15-30) is a collection of award-winning short stories of the Twilight-Zone-creepy design. Imagine a haunted church, where the ground has turned sour and something walks in the shadows to the mournful hymns. A silent covered bridge that no one dares to cross. Angry spirits that cry out from beneath the ground of a cemetery that will not lie still. Also check out Yanaguana, a limited-edition chapbook from the Blackfire series available for a short time only!

Coppice and Brake from Crone Girls Press ($10). A night guard brings an offering to the eternal denizens of a notorious prison. In a young girl’s room, the shiny people keep watch in the night. A proud father beams as his son takes the stage for the performance of a lifetime. The stories in this anthology are the glimpses of the dark places between the forest and a dream. They are the shadows seeking the last notes of a dying violin. They invite the reader into a world where a condemned man faces his fate over and over and over again.

Between the Lines ($15). Stoker Award-winning editor and author Michael Knost gave his online writing students an opening sentence and a closing sentence and asked them to write a story. Every story opens with: “Kelvin pressed against the wound as blood seeped around his hands.” And ends with: “Watching the train disappear into the night, he brought the flower to his nose before tossing it to the tracks.” This anthology is the amazing result.

Get three Nick Rowan titles in ebook for only $10!

For the artist….

A handmade leather mask is the perfect stocking stuffer for the cosplayer on your list! Branson’s General Store has a variety of colors in the simple $5 design, so be sure to indicate your preferred colors in your order!

Like what you’ve seen from photographer artist Elizabeth Donald? Order any size poster or print at elizabethdonaldphotography.com!

A special note of thank you

It’s been a year of recovery for the authors and artists of the Literary Underworld and all those whose livelihood depended on the cons and book fairs and other gatherings that were canceled by the pandemic. As we celebrate this holiday season, we are always grateful for the support of our readers and fans, and hope for a happier, safer and more prosperous year for everyone.

Stay safe out there, and we will all see each other again soon.
— Mgmt. 

 

You read all the way to the end!
Use the code BLACKFRIDAY2021 to get 15 percent off your purchase!

Deadlines! (We’re writers, we’re good at those)

Everyone knows that shipping delays and supply issues are haunting most retail these days. Fortunately, most of the Literary Underworld’s stock is present in our warehouse and ready to hit the mail as soon as you order! If we are out of stock on something, it can frequently be obtained by backorder, but the website will indicate if that’s the case.

We’ve been informed of the deadlines for shipping. In order to guarantee arrival by Dec. 25 (as much as guarantees work with the postal service), you should plan to place your order by Dec. 15 for media mail. If you want to pay a little extra, you can have it shipped first class if you order by Dec 17, or Dec. 18 for Priority Mail. International orders should be placed by Dec. 6.

Of course, we can always arrange custom shipping with private services like UPS at cost. Just message us and we will see what we can do for you! Happy holiday shopping!

Contra!

There’s a no-photography rule at Contra, but it doesn’t apply to our inanimate objects! Delighted to be here with our friends in Kansas City, and to return to Contra after the Voldevirus-induced year off.

We’ve had a wonderful time. We missed you!

Five recommendations for Halloween season

It’s spooooooky time, when crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake and spooks come out for a swinging wake… wait, that’s Disneyland. Here at Literary Underworld, we have some of the creepiest, crawliest horror around, so if you’re in the mood, check out these books!

John McFarland’s triumphant return to the horror genre has gotten strong reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and several others. Set in his fictional southern river down of Ste. Odile, he explores the darker side of the town’s history in The Dark Walk Forward.

The small town of Ste. Odile in America has experienced the Great War in ways that no one should ever have to endure. Doctors must tend to births and deaths that make their most difficult cases seem benign. An 1880s schoolteacher is faced with the worst blizzard of her time and must save the children under her charge. A young man searches for his father the abandoned orphanage the older man owns… and both know they will despair at what they find. A primitive woman experiences colonization and the stereotypes of men, yet finds her own method of retribution.

John S. McFarland has slogged through his characters’ woes and woven them into sweetly emotional yet acutely distressful tales. We as readers are forced to understand the pain, the despair, and sometimes the hope of his creations. We realize we are lucky to live in the era we do. We also realize anything can change to tear us apart. Is it fate? Destiny? Or do we bring about these changes on our own? McFarland will let us know.

 

There’s a monster coming to the small town of Pikeburn. In half an hour, it will begin feeding on the citizens, but no one will call the authorities for help. They are the ones who sent it to Pikeburn. They are the ones who are broadcasting the massacre live to the world. Every year, Red Diamond unleashes a new creation in a different town as a display of savage terror that is part warning and part celebration.
Only no one is celebrating in Pikeburn now. No one feels honored or patriotic. They feel like prey. Local Sheriff Yan Corban refuses to succumb to the fear, paranoia, and violence that suddenly grips his town. Stepping forward to battle this year’s lab-grown monster, Sheriff Corban must organize a defense against the impossible. His allies include an old art teacher, a shell-shocked mechanic, a hateful millionaire, a fearless sharpshooter, a local meth kingpin, and a monster groupie. Old grudges, distrust, and terror will be the monster’s allies in a game of wits and savagery, ambushes and treachery.
As the conflict escalates and the bodies pile up, it becomes clear this creature is unlike anything Red Diamond has unleashed before. No mercy will be asked for or given in this battle of man vs monster. It’s time to run, hide, or fight. It’s time for Red Diamond.

Horror isn’t just confined to the surface of the Earth. What we find out in space might be more terrifying than anything we’ve found in our own graveyards.
Commander Kate Daniels expected to find incompetency when sent to assess the terraforming progress on Primos. She didn’t expect a saboteur to force a crash landing, stranding them at the mercy of the hungry creatures roaming the planet.
If she and her crew can’t find a way off Primos, they will die there… and rise again.
Do you like a little western in your horror? Then Steven L. Shrewsbury’s Weird West novels are definitely for you.
Outside El Paso in 1899, Chief Blackthorn enlists the aide of aging Confederate Joel Stuart to retrieve a lost tome of evil. Sent into Juarez, the one-armed former guerrilla soon meets Adam Von Juntz, the nephew of the Black Bible’s author. The two search for the book stolen by notorious bad-man Jesus Bravo. But Bravo is just a puppet of the mysterious Preacherman and realizes he’s been duped and the promise of great riches was just a lie. Now he must join Stuart, and find The Preacherman.
The Preacherman is the conduit for a greater force seeking a return to the world, a female satyr called Shub-Niggurath. The Preacherman plots to bring an apocalyptic change to the world, ushering in a new era of the old gods. Surrounded by dire forces seeking a foot hold on this world, Joel and his companions battle walking nightmares and their own fears. Can Joel overcome the ruthless denizens of Juarez and foil the Preacherman and Shub-Niggurath’s horrifying plot which is already taking hold in the wombs of the Jaurez women?
A tale of action, courage and terror, LAST MAN SCREAMING will appeal of readers of Lovecraftian lore, tough westerns and horror. It teaches that survival isn’t always pretty.
Elizabeth Donald’s Twilight Zone-style brand of creepy horror led author and editor Michael Knost to call her “the George R.R. Martin of horror,” and at least one reviewer declared she had “a storytelling ability to rival that of Stephen King.”
In Moonlight Sonata, Donald returns to the creepy short stories that made Setting Suns an award-winning favorite. Imagine a haunted church, where the ground has turned sour and something walks in the shadows to the mournful hymns. A silent covered bridge that no one dares to cross. Angry spirits that cry out from beneath the ground of a cemetery that will not lie still. An ageless man bound in love to a mortal woman, forever moving, forever haunted.
A voice that can speak only through a radio, a voice from beyond death itself. A man haunted by an ageless face that brings tragedy to his life whenever it appears. A girl whose imagination carries her beyond the point of no return in a future where dreams become reality – and so do nightmares.
All these and many more are in stock and available now from the Literary Underworld! Click here to explore the scary titles as we wind onward… into the dark.

A granola in the south

By J. L. Mulvihill

Tree-hugger. Hippie. Flowerchild. Granola. These are only a few of the names my southern friends have unceremoniously given to me since I moved to the South from California.

I admit I have been known to hug a few trees out of pure silliness and I admittedly do love nature, I am no flowerchild of the sixties. Born too late, I cannot lay claim to the hippie movement either, unless perhaps you count living on a boat in the free anchorage of the San Diego Harbor. Oh yes, that time in my life paved the way for some serious name-calling by my peers. I was a pre-teen at the time and as we all know that particular age group can be quite vicious. I survived the tumultuous years of verbal abuse from my counterparts, only to find myself an adult and right back in the same situation.

Another term I’m not sure is proper yet continually cast in my direction is Granola.  Now it is my understanding that a person who is usually referred to as Granola is a vegetarian, wears hemp clothing, or goes au naturel.  I can’t say if this is true as I have never met anyone claiming to be a Granola.  The nickname Granola sticks, though, like the honey that holds the granola together in a breakfast bar. It is a pet name given to me in foolish affection and I wear it with pride, for I am a real Californian born and raised.

I would like to add in my defense that I am a Southern Californian. However, I found that adding the word Southern to California, does not seem to mean much to anyone in the true South. They merely snicker as if they hold some precious secret magic to the word South. Okay, well, maybe they do.

Like Californians, Southerners do not lay out in the sun to get a tan, it’s too hot. Southerners are neighborly, have very close-knit social groups, afternoon tea parties, and Sunday night potlucks at the church. There are traditions, and social rules that must be adhered to. “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am.” Respect must be earned before friendships and families are merged.

Californians generally are free spirited, live and let live, work hard, and enjoy the sunshine for that is what it’s there for. Social networking is broadly woven, and families are intermixed and intertwined. Formal names are dropped, and friendships are given openly, until there is reason for misgivings.  Religion is by preference and of wide variety, and potlucks are at the park or the beach.

There is a misconception about Californians.  California has a reputation of either being filled with Granola types or High Roller movie directors with fast cars, Hollywood lights, and tanned pinup girls, just as Mississippi has a reputation of dirt roads, outhouses, and barefoot children walking miles to fetch jugs of water. People tend to create misconceptions based on little facts and lots of opinion.  It takes a journey of acquisition to understand and know about a place and its culture.

My journey to Mississippi began as a bittersweet experience that I will long remember. It was 1992, the year that Johnny Carson hosted his final episode on The Tonight Show and President Bush vomited on the Japanese Prime Minister. A homesick friend who had married and moved to the South begged my husband and I to come and live near them in the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

I had never been to the South, it sounded intriguing, and after all, home is wherever you make it. I regretted leaving California, for there were so many things I would miss. My family, my friends, the beach, fish tacos, carne asada burritos at two o’clock in the morning, the list could go on forever. I loved the ocean and that for me, next to my family, was the hardest to leave. But I was a grownup now and it was time for us to grow up and leave the nest. So, with a heavy heart and exhilarated excitement combined, my husband and I took the path in life that would lead us far from all that we loved.

I was asleep when we crossed the border from Louisiana into Mississippi after three days of traveling. Now our friend Donald, with whom we had been traveling, had a peculiar sense of humor, and he found me to be an easy target for his jokes.  It was at this time he chose the worst part of town he could find and woke me up as we drove through saying “Welcome to your new home.”

I opened sleepy eyes to ramshackle houses with broken down cars and mangy dogs lying about. Each house was like the next, connected only by endless green vines that seem to choke the life out of everything. I rolled down the window; the air was hot and sticky and felt heavy to breathe. As I sat back and watched the dilapidated housing go past the window I cried. I felt the pains of poverty and despair as my own emotions and apprehensions filled me.  What had I done?

At last Donald, my trickster chauffeur, relinquishing a heartfelt laugh, confessed that he was only kidding and drove me to the city of Vicksburg.  It was a quaint old city that held promise.  I was relieved that there was civilization and admired the antebellum homes we passed.  However, when we were at last taken to our true home, I found it to be not much better than the dilapidated homes he had showed me earlier on the other side of town.

In all my years I had never seen a shotgun shack and had only heard of such things in novels and movies.  But here I was standing before what could easily have been the very house where Bob Ewell and his eight children lived in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

The stairs groaned in protest as I climbed three levels to a covered porch that appeared to be in a desperate need of repair. The front door entered into the kitchen where a dominating wood furnace dating back to the 1950s filled most of the room. There was an old seventies-era dinette set that circularly sat six, and an ancient yellow rusted refrigerator with a small countertop next to it housing a warming plate and a grease-spackled Fry Daddy, but no stove.

Donald’s new wife Samantha protested immediately, reminding Donald that he had promised to have a stove installed for her prior to us arriving. This, I guessed, was their first fight, which I ignored as I continued my inspection of my temporary home.  I found the next room to be a little more hospitable, being the living room with the normal furniture, a television, and the back door? Or front door?

The living room became our room, and the newlyweds had the only bedroom situated just off the living room and barely large enough to fit a queen-sized bed.  We slept on the floor, as the couch did not open up into a bed. The bathroom, to the left of the kitchen, offered no luxury other than the deep clawfoot bathtub. This turned out to be no luxury at all, since you could only fill it no deeper than one quarter of what it held.  We could not flush toilet paper down the commode either. These inconveniences were due to the fact that the drain field was just out in the side yard in the grass rather than piped through to the sewer.  I groaned in despair once again and wondered what I had gotten myself into.

My first experience of southern hospitality was soon relished upon me when the neighbor across the street, who was actually the landlady, brought us a basket of home-fried chicken, butter beans, corn bread, and sweet baked goods. Her gracious southern demeanor and motherly reassurance soon brought calm to my emotions and optimism to my spirit.

I found myself employed not long after we moved in at one of the local restaurants, where I was able to meet more of the locals. The restaurant turned out to be a popular stop for all-you-can-eat crawfish and shrimp. Here I found another shock of culture differences. Where I came from, one did not eat crawfish. Crawfish, or what some of the locals fondly called mudbugs, to me were crawdads and were something to avoid in mountain streams because they pinch your feet. I had never considered them to be edible, though I did hear some people used them as bait. Nowadays, I can’t get enough of them, and the spicier the better.

Fortunately, we only had to stay with Donald and Samantha on the floor of their living room for three weeks before we found a place of our own.  Thanks to Ms. Dixie, another gracious southern lady, we rented a lovely home on Mercer Street just off Halls Ferry Road.  The house was blessed with the most incredible magnolia tree that spread over the side yard like a huge umbrella. The sweet aroma of magnolia blossoms permeated the yard and in through the windows.

By now I had grown accustomed to the southern landscape and found it to be intriguing and mysterious to say the least.  Instead of finding the green vines of the non-indigenous kudzu to be choking the landscape, I now saw it in a different perspective.  It seemed a fairyland to me, with green canopies and vines heavy with dark leaves molded to the shapes of underlying trees or shrubs giving it an Orphic resonate.  Some of the old houses I thought were dilapidated buildings, I discovered to be old homes-built years ago where generations of family lived. History in the making.

The weather, predictable yet not, became a new and wonderful thing to me. California had thunderstorms, but not often or with such vigor as the storms in the south, and I loved them.  I am sure the neighbors thought us mad as they watched my husband and I dance in the driveway like deranged lunatics while being pounded by heavy drops of steamy rain beneath a tempest sky. Yet nothing that could be done about the heat, and not having central air added to our misery.  A lone window unit filled the living room with the necessary relief, and that is where I spent a lot of my time, standing in front of it.

July came and I spent my first Fourth of July in Mississippi in extreme disappointment. When I asked about the Fourth of July celebrations I was informed that Vicksburg, having surrendered to Grant in 1863 on that very day, did not celebrate our nation’s independence, but rather mourned. Now some say that Vicksburg did indeed start celebrating the Fourth of July back in 1945.  However, something must have happened between that time and 1992, because I know for a fact that in 1992 Vicksburg did not display fireworks.

Though sad yet intriguing, the chronicle of this town’s 47-day siege had put a damper on one of my favorite holidays.  We were loathe to sit and grieve over a history to which I did not relate. With determination, we gathered fireworks from a nearby town and Donald and my husband sat in the kitchen the night before and created our own fireworks display.  The next day we finally persuaded the neighbors down Donald’s street to join in the fun, and we barbequed and shot off our own fireworks. It was a Fourth of July I will never forget.  Someone else must have enjoyed our fireworks too, because a few years later Vicksburg started having elaborate celebrations.  I know it would be silly to think we had anything to do with that, but it is nice to think that maybe we did.

July of 1992 was the last month we spent in Mississippi. A few weeks later my husband landed a job with a major company in Virginia.  Since we could not pass up this opportunity, we packed our bags and bid a fond farewell to Mississippi. Little did I know that six years later I would be returning and on better terms.

A journey can be many things; it can be going from one place to another, or it can be a passage through one’s life.  When I left California in 1992, I took both of these journeys.  I left the security of what I once knew to become my own person in a place that was strange to me.  In doing this, I set out on a journey where I learned about other people and their cultures. I also learned about myself.

When I returned to Mississippi in 1998, I came with a different mindset. Though we struggled yet again for the first few years, I came to know Mississippi in a new light. We became part of the community and raised our children here. Through my friendships here, I have learned a lot about the strengths of a southern woman.  I will always be a California girl deep in my heart, but I would like to think that some of these strengths have rubbed off on me and reflect in my character.  There is an impression here in the south that is impossible to define in one word, for it is a multitude of feelings, but it lingers. It is a wisdom, a durability of the soul, a camaraderie, a sense of family and pride.

Mississippi is our home, and we revel in its mysteries and southern charm.  We are anxious to show anyone new to Mississippi that it is anything but what they think it is. I may always be a Granola, but I am a Granola in the South.

__________

Though J L Mulvihill (Jen), is a descendant of Hollywood royalty, she relinquished her crown and rock star days to obsess over her passion for telling stories. An author of young adult fiction and an award-winning screenplay writer and public speaker, Jen dabbles in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, medievalpunk, horror, thrillers, and historical fiction. Her recent debut as host for the talk show On The Page with Geeky Side Network TV has got everyone asking, “What will Jen do next?”

To find out the answer to that question check out Jen’s webpage at www.jlmulvihill.com where you can also find her books and short stories. Or just type in jlmulvihill for all social media and you can catch up on Jen’s much ado on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You might just happen upon her sporadic foodie fest Jen Can’t Cook where Jen tests her hand at old style cooking.

Jen’s y/a series, Steel Roots, is based in the steampunk genre and engages the reader in a train hopping heart stopping adventure across a dystopian America enclosed within the walls of its own making. Follow young AB’Gale Steel as she travels across America in search of her missing father learning about the world around her as she goes, and The System that has a hold on its people. A story of love, friendship, hope, and the courage to fight back injustice. 

Jen is also the author of a y/a medievalpunk series, The Elsie Lind Chronicles. This epic adventure boasts of demons, dragons, and dark witches. From the strange and dark corners of her mind Jen has created an extraordinary fantasy world. Weaving Scandinavian folklore into the telling of the adventure of a young girl who is struck with amnesia and finds herself in the middle of an ancient forest in a world filled with mystery and danger. 

Not only is she known for her writing but also her public speaking, where Jen encourages other writers to hone their skills. Currently Jen is working on several writing projects including a science fiction novel, a thriller, a children’s book, toss a couple of cookbooks in there and some poetry, include several movie scripts, and Jen will never get any sleep again. Ahh, but it’s gonna be great!

Check out J L Mulvihill’s books on Literary Underworld!

 

Nick Rowan, Local Kitchen Witch

By Nick Rowan

It’s been a busy summer, and a busy year for me, loves.

I’m still driving the school bus. I am The Local Kitchen Witch, and training more. So I cook for bunches of pagans twice a year. Festival of Souls is in October. Ancestor Ritual, Witches’ Ball, Candle Labyrinth. Kithaka Dun is in May. Wild Hunt, Maypole, and this year SJ Tucker is playing a concert.

Both are terrific times. Come out and join us in the woods.

I’ve been doing Grandma duty to two adorable boys. Hunter is 6 and Alexander will be 2 in November.

But my 2021, so far:

~~~
January saw the re-issue of Glad Hands, with a new cover and about 20 percent more new material. It, like all of the Eight Thrones Books, is under the Angelia Sparrow name.

Chuck Hummingbird has a big rig and a big heart. Even as a boy, he took in every stray and injured animal and person around him. Now, even though he is speed-running through some of the most hostile territory in the DisUnited States, he can’t say no to rescuing a pretty blue-eyed gay boy in Heartland. And that just increased the danger level of his run from normal to expert.

This is a dystopian gay trucker romance.

~~~

Temple Secrets from the Cult of Cheesecake came out in December and is available in ebook or print. It’s our church cookbook, and I love it. It’s perfect bound because spiral wasn’t available anymore. It’s good food, some with good stories. The following made my father wibble a little, as it’s his mom’s bread pudding.

Bread Pudding – Nina Fantz

Nick’s grandma taught him to make bread pudding. This is very basic stuff, no fancy whiskey sauce here. When Nick’s mom was terminal with leukemia, he made this for her frequently during the month he took care of her. It was one thing she had no problem eating, despite chemo killing her appetite.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 2 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. 1″ stale bread cubes
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. raisins (optional)

Directions:

Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Stir in bread cubes. Stir in brown sugar and raisins. Pour into 8″ round cake pan. Place in large shallow pan on center rack of oven. Pour hot water into larger pan 1″ deep. Bake 350° about 45 minutes, or until knife comes clean.

~~~

In July, I was a prolific little succcubus. (Succubi and incubi are the same demon, they just shapeshift depending on situation. As does my gender-fluid self.) Not only did I have a drag show early in the month, I wrote a lot.

~~~~

As Angelia, I published a sexy short, “Dangerous Game.” This is a fun little piece that manages to combine Real Person Fanfic from the Memphis drag community, multiple personalities, Jekyll and Hyde cosplay and yet remain heterosexual.

When Valentina’s guy heats up the stage as Dr. Jekyll during a show, she lets him know he’s got her heated up too. And wackiness ensues.

~~~

Also as Angelia, I compiled a Busy Night cookbooklet of freezer meals and slow-cooker dishes. It’s stuff that has always worked well for us. No flavor text or cute stories, just recipes. We’re busy, after all. Includes my famous Pasta Fazool. One of my drag characters performs as a zombie Dean Martin—complete with oversized martini glass and eyeballs for olives–and does “That’s Amore” while visibly restraining himself from eating the audience.

When the stars make you drool
Just like Pasta fazool
That’s Amore

Dean O’Bedlam’s Pasta Fazool (no eyeballs)

  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 jar (24 to 26 ounces) tomato-basil marinara or pasta sauce
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1-1/4 cups dry pasta
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, optional, for serving
  • Grated Parmesan, optional, for serving

Freeze all items except pasta in a ziplock. Dump into cooker, with 4 cups of water. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 7 hours, or until the vegetables are as tender as you like them. When ready to serve, stir the cooked pasta into the soup. Taste the soup and adjust the salt and herbs to suit your tastes.

~~~

Last August saw the reissue of Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists, now with 80 percent less sex and 100 percent more characterization.

This summer, I edited on the sequel, Terror of the Frozen North. About 20% less sex, more plot and action. It will be out… unknown. As Thoth wills it.

I also continued writing on the third, Mystery of the Monkey God, and have roughed out the fourth, Dance in the Graveyard.

~~~

I did something a bit foolish, perhaps. I started an OnlyFans. It was intended to be a “Watch me Clean and Exercise” channel, but I haven’t done much of either. But it is some fun stuff and the pics are a bit sexier than we normally see.

And when the weather cools down, I will have Gabriel do me up a Lady Dimetriscu shoot. I have the costume.

~~~

In early August, I pinned down Gabriel, finally, and we took a weekend to rewrite Master Anton, fourth in the Eight Thrones series. It needed it. Unfortunately, we got through the book, then added a scene about 60 pages from the end which means we will have to entirely rewrite the end. Oops, so more rewriting is in our future.

~~~

I have the cover for Captain Calamity’s Bedside Reader, a collection of steampunk stories. The book itself is edited and needs formatting. I hope to have it out in time for Black Friday sales.

~~~

My next show is Sept. 10 at Black Lodge, and the theme was A Mad Tea Party. I did Alice Cooper dressed as Alice Liddle performing “Welcome to my Nightmare.” And for Shinedown’s “Her Name is Alice,” I was her shrink who morphed into the Cheshire cat during the song. My video performance list is here.

~~~
My Patreon will be running Sounds of the Season (Halloween music), with crafts, recipes etc. and Yuletide Youtube, Lucky 13, this year. I am also watching as many of the IMDB greatest horror films as I can find, and reviewing them, plus some extras. Tod Browning’s Dracula is not on the list which I consider a serious omission.

$1 gets a lot of online goodies. $5 gets ebooks, $10 gets paperbacks.

~~~

Ways you can support me:

Patreon. Get writing and pics of the say and sometimes crafted goodies:

I have a list here. Some of these are cash-back apps. You get money back, it costs you nothing, and I get a kickback from the app. Win, win win.

Links to all my books currently in print: Here.

Links to me: Nick Rowan, Violetta, Angelia Sparrow.

~~~

How do I do it all and hold down a full time job? 400 words a day. Two chapters of editing a day. And when the muse is upon me (not the kittens or Stratus who are always on me) I ride with her as far as she will take me.

Until next time, my freaky darlings,

Nick.

NICK ROWAN is a bus driver who lives quietly in the mid-south. He writes and crafts to support his yarn habit, You can follow him on Facebook (NickRowan) or Patreon (NickRowan) or Twitter (@NickRowan16) or Tumblr (nicholasrowan) or blogger (NicholasRowanSp) or Etsy (thecarpenterswyfe). Nick has been writing professionally since 2004 as Angelia Sparrow.

 

 

 

End of an era

By Elizabeth Donald

This month was a milestone for me, as my long-running short-story anthology finally went out of print after 15 years and I sold my last copy at a book signing in Memphis.

Setting Suns wasn’t my first book, but it was the first to appear in paperback. Way back in the dawn of the ebook era, my first novel Nocturnal Urges came out from Ellora’s Cave Publishing, but they only published in ebook (two years before there was even such a thing as a Kindle!). If the ebook did well, they released it in paperback later.

Nocturnal Urges came out and it sold well, won awards and the publisher demanded a sequel despite all the people insisting, “I’ll wait until the real book comes out.” I kept yelling, “It IS a real book! Ebooks are real books!” Now people look at my paperbacks and say, “I’ll get the ebook,” and I want to yell, “Where were you in 2005??”

I was working on that sequel when Frank Fradella, founder of New Babel Books, came to me with the idea of putting my short stories into a collection. I’d published a handful of short stories in horror and science fiction magazines that had a disturbing habit of going out of business right after they published me. I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press in the early 2000s. Frank suggested collecting those stories and writing another half-dozen or so just for the collection, and thus Setting Suns was born.

It wasn’t my first book. But it was the first time I opened a box of books and saw my name on the cover. Ask any writer about that moment, and see the look in their eyes when they remember.

Setting Suns has been in print for 15 years, give or take, and that’s one hell of a good run for a small press collection. It won the Darrell Award for best short story for “Wonderland,” a weird little Frankenstein riff told entirely in emails and online chats that gave Frank apoplexy in layout, and contains two of my most popular short stories: “Sisyphus,” a tragedy exploring toxic grief and lost love; and “Jesus Loves Me,” known as the Evil Teddy Bear story.

The Evil Teddy Bear still exists, here in my office. And there were T-shirts.

But there are other stories that didn’t get as much attention. There’s “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” a literal funhouse horror piece that looks at the different kinds of love a person can have for the people in her life, plus crazy man with gun.

There’s “Silent,” which was one of my very first short stories to be published for money, that smacks of a haunted house as told by The Twilight Zone. There’s “Deep Breathing,” a future-world submarine scarefest involving a monster several readers have referred to as “Cthulu-esque” which was funny because I’d never read Lovecraft at that point.

There’s “Memory Lane,” another escapee from Twilight Zone about a husband’s desperate search to find his missing wife, and the dark secrets that come to light. That one began as my first attempt at a short-film screenplay, rewritten as a short story for Setting Suns.

There’s “Gauntlet,” an action-flick of a science fiction story set in my Sanctuary universe that only reaaaaally dedicated readers know about, since it’s had a couple of stories published but the novels remain in the trunk until I get them to not suck. Three of the Setting Suns stories are set in Sanctuary, but “Gauntlet” is my favorite.

There are even two stories that would qualify as “literary” with no SFFH elements whatsoever, though entering an MFA program and exploring literary fiction was the absolute last thought on my mind in the waning years of my twenties.

After 15 years, Setting Suns was still the “entry drug” for Elizabeth Donald fiction. Long-time readers sometimes tell me it’s their favorite of my titles (which is a little humbling since I’ve published maybe fourteen books and novellas since then, give or take a few).

I’m gonna miss the old girl.

I want to thank Shane Moore, current publisher of New Babel Books, for working with me to put Setting Suns out of print with grace.

I also want to thank Frank Fradella, who is no longer with New Babel Books, for his contributions to making Setting Suns what it was. The book was Frank’s idea, and his editing, layout and design coupled with the cover art from Darren Holmes made a wonderful book that I was proud to call my first.

Thanks also go to Jason R. Tippitt, who co-authored one of the stories with me (“I Live With It Every Day”) and served as sounding board and inspiration through much of the book’s development. I very rarely work in partnerships – I don’t play well with others – and it is a testament to Jason’s patience and skill that our story turned out well. The book was dedicated to Jason, who is a fine writer and I hope you’ll hear more from him in times to come.

It’s been a terrific run for my first “real” book, at least as far as I’m concerned. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and finalist for the Prism and Imadjinn awards, author of the Blackfire urban fantasy series and Nocturne vampire mystery series, as well as other novels, novellas and stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. More recently, she was awarded the Mimi Zanger Literary Award for fiction. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld small-press cooperative; an award-winning journalist and essayist with more than twenty years in journalism; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently completing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and teaches newswriting and English composition at the university. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and Eville Writers, vice president of Phi Kappa Phi and Sigma Tau Delta at the university, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, Editorial Freelancers Association and many other organizations for which she volunteers. She lives with her family in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time. 

www.elizabethdonald.com

www.donaldmedia.com

elizabethdonaldphotography.com

Writing isn’t Exactly a Healthy Profession

By Nicole Lanahan

It’s no secret that a writer’s job requires a lot of sitting—there are days when the only time I get out of my chair is to get a refill of coffee. And let me tell you, that much butt-in-seat action may be good for your writing output, but it’s not good for your butt—or in my case, my cholesterol. I had my annual bloodwork done at the beginning of the year, and the results were not great.

I’m getting older. It happens to the best of us. And my body can’t rebound from writing like it could when I was in my 20s. Let’s face it, most writers have day jobs and families. How are we supposed to go to the gym and cook healthy meals when we’re trying to meet deadlines?

The pandemic has been hard on all of us. If you were like me, most of your dinner came from a bag. The result was exactly what you’d think it would be. I was tired all the time, my complexion was a mess, and my cholesterol was through the roof. After a pretty serious conversation with my doctor, I promised to make some changes. I’ve started walking daily at the park and started making healthy eating choices. So this year I vowed to make a change and I’m happy to say I’m down nearly twenty pounds since January, I have more energy, my skin has cleared up, and my cholesterol levels are down enough that I no longer need medication.

Mornings have always been especially hard for me to make good diet choices. Either I want something sugary (I’m talking to you, Starbucks Frappuccino), or I skip breakfast all together. Now that I’ve discovered a healthy, delicious replacement for my usual sugar-filled coffee, I don’t suffer from the afternoon sugar crash. This means I’m in a much better position to write in the afternoons when I get off of work instead of succumbing to the dreaded sugar crash.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any secrets for staying healthy while writing?

Niki Alba’s Morning Coffee Protein Shake

1. 1 C. Ice (there’s 2 in the picture because I made a double batch)
2. 1/2 scoop of protein powder. All I had on had on hand was cookies and cream, but chocolate powder or my favorite salted caramel would make this killer
3. 1/2 frozen banana. Learn from my mistake. Peel this bad boy before you freeze it.
4. 1/2 C. Unsweetened almond milk
5. 1/2 C. Coffee (again, there’s more in my pic because I made a double batch.)
5. Optional 1 stevia packet

Throw all ingredients in blender, blend, and enjoy your only 150 calorie coffee protein goodness!

——

At seventeen, Nicole Lanahan found herself homeless with only a beat-up Volkswagen Jetta and a bag of Goodwill clothing to her name. The only things that got her through the nights she spent parked in truck stops and cornfields were the stacks of books she checked out from the library along with her trusty flashlight. Because of the reprieve these books gave her from her troubles, she vowed to become a writer so she could provide the same escape to readers who needed a break the reality of their own lives. She has written as both Nicole Lanahan and Cole Gibsen. 

 

Love story or romance?

And why, if you choose to ignore the difference, you should invest in fireproof underpants.

By Sela Carsen

 

Wuthering Heights is not a Romance. Literary theory may classify it as a romance, but that is not the same thing as Romance.

See the difference there?

That capital R indicates genre Romance, as opposed to the entire movement of literature that gets categorized as romance (did you know that Robert Burns’ poem about lice in a pretty girl’s hair is “romantic” because it’s about nature?), or millennia’s worth of love stories that fall under the same label, though the vast majority of them end miserably.

But here we are in the 21st century, and people still can’t quite wrap their head around the difference between the variations. I mean, it’s clear enough if you send your spouse to the grocery store to get “cheese,” then grind your teeth if they come back with cheddar instead of cotija, because those are clearly different things… that both use the same word.

For today’s exercise, let’s discard the stories that get labeled “romance” simply because they were written in the “romantic” era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Europe. According to Wikipedia, “Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature….”

Nothing in that statement specifies tales about relationships, so let’s stick with stories that focus on romantic love.

Part of the trouble we have with defining our terms comes from the archetypical “romantic hero” who became popular during this era. Whether the stories involved a romantic relationship or not, they centered around certain types of characters. Either the brooding, solitary hero who rejects love because he’s somehow unworthy, or his counterpart, the waif-like, long-suffering heroine whose life is dictated by the harshness of her rational, patriarchal family. Because extreme emotion was the hallmark of the movement, those archetypes have stuck with the label of “romantic,” which isn’t necessarily a match for writing a Romance.

Capital-R Romance, however, is a very specific genre of literature that doesn’t concern itself with glorification of all the past and nature. Instead, it has two main focuses: the “Rules of Romance,” if you will.

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. (Romance Writers of America)

Nothing there about staring across the windswept moors or digging up your dead lover’s grave to beg her to haunt you so you can make everyone in a ten-mile radius miserable for the rest of your life. (I’m lookin’ at you, Heathcliff!)

There’s also nothing there about having one half of the relationship die tragically of cancer or in a car wreck or in childbirth or anything else. *coughNicholasSparkscough* No one cheats, no one gets bored, no one leaves.

And before you snort disdainfully and go, “That’s not realistic,” I ask you if zombies are realistic. Or demons that bubble up from cracks in the earth. Or whether you’ve ever actually encountered a hard-smoking, hard-drinking, hard-boiled detective who referred to women’s legs as “gams” in real life.

It’s. Fiction. People.

Love stories often get the first part right, the main focus on the relationship, but then take a left turn before getting to the part about the optimistic, satisfying ending with the lovers together. You can write a beautiful story where the relationship doesn’t work out, but the main character moves on happily. But if the lovers aren’t together happily, then it’s a love story, not a Romance.

Two people.* Together. Happy Ending. That’s a Romance.

Capital R Romance is about making readers end a book with a smile and a happy sigh, rather than a bewildered, horrified, and tear-drenched, “WTF did I just read?!? What is wrong with these people?!? Did no one learn anything?!?!?”

Whether it’s filled with sexy bits or not (my best-sellers have zero touchy-time on the page), whether it’s set in ancient Rome or in a galaxy far, far away, or in some fictional midwestern small farming town, whether it has vampires or werebears, or billionaires who are suddenly single fathers and down-on-their-luck waitresses/nannies, all Romances follow the above two rules.

Want to write a gorgeous novel that focuses on two people in a zombie apocalypse finding each other and struggling to make their relationship work… then one of them dies (like, all the way dies, doesn’t come back to life with a craving for human flesh), leaving the other a lone, tragic figure?

That’s awesome! Do it! But it’s not a Romance. It’s a love story.

Want to write a beautiful novel that focuses on two teens, but the boy is a zombie who eats the brains (and memories) of his girlfriend’s dead ex-boyfriend, and even though he stays a zombie, he sort of gets much better, and even though her zombie-hunting dad wants to kill him, the boy and girl overcome their human/zombie differences and stay together?

Don’t write that. Someone already did, it’s called Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, and it’s freaking adorable.

But you could write your own zombie Romance as long as it ends with the two happily getting together and staying together!

Now let’s put on our author hats. The business hat, not the creative one.

Romance is a marketing term. It’s designed to let readers know what they’re picking up in much the same way that the terms mystery and thriller signal certain expectations to readers.

Romance readers are a savvy bunch of (mostly) women who drop billions of dollars a year on those Happy Ever Afters. They’re socially connected, they belong to vast communities of other readers, and they do not like getting tricked because you think you’re going to “turn romance on its head,” or you don’t like genre limitations, like that daft rule about how you always have to reveal whodunnit at the end of a mystery novel.

You’re an artiste! No one can tell you what to do! And those silly Romance-reading women with all that disposable income should appreciate your avant-garde approach to educating them and teaching them to read “better books.”

*snort*

Try it. I’ve got a bag of marshmallows to roast on the bonfire they’ll light around your flaming literary oeuvre and the ashes of your career. Or, as they call it in the Romancelandia territory of Twitter, “every other Tuesday.”

That attitude is not special, or unique, or clever. It IS however, probably some combination of pretentious, ignorant, and/or misogynistic.

Labeling a book as a Romance has meaning, and mislabeling shows that the author either doesn’t know what they’ve written, or they’re deliberately trying to mislead potential readers. Because I can absolutely guarantee that Romance readers understand their genre, and they read it specifically for that Happy Ever After satisfaction. They can get misery anywhere, but they pick up a Romance to get that happy sigh at the end. If the author doesn’t deliver, they have wildly misjudged their readership.

Note: Romance isn’t limited to just two people. There are entire niches filled with polyamorous but committed groupings. Romance has also become very open to non-het, non-cis, non-binary characters and relationships. Love is love.

Writing a Romance and labeling it correctly not only ensures that you’re going to hit your target market correctly, thereby putting you in a position to sell well, but it also indicates a basic level of respect for the readers.

So if you choose to write a relationship-based story, know that the conclusion dictates the marketing, and it’s up to you to understand the differences in how they’ll hit the readership.

 

Sela Carsen is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She also writes steamy contemporary romance as Silke Campion. Check out many of her titles on The Literary Underworld.