Invasive Species, and the Suffering Sequence Trilogy

By Elizabeth Lynn Blackson

Invasive Species is the third book in the Suffering Sequence trilogy. Man-eating, shapeshifting daemons have infiltrated humanity’s systems of power. Their blood poisons the world. Against that threat, a clandestine group of heroes have gathered, but the more they face the daemonic threat, the more it infects them, until they are targeted for eradication.

Teetering on the edge of the supernatural, FBI Special Agent Javier Torres leads an FBI Critical Incident Response Group. In their midst, to his shock and dismay, he finds family and love. Special agent Sophia DeMarko, second in command, grapples with the fear of the demonic threat to her young child. LaTanya Jefferson, Marine-turned-Medic, has her faith in God tested. Madison “Lucy” Carpenter is thrust into the spotlight as the world watches her. David Pruitt’s Marine training prepared him to fight daemons, but never taught him how to be a father. Greg Tillman is trapped in a facility with other would-be scions of the daemonic overlords. He must serve them or be destroyed. Hannah Olson crawls out of the earth again, called back to life in service of cthonic powers. The daemon Tigrosa turns to confront her former masters. Joining them is new recruit, Vinny Bowers, ranger, tasked with eradicating this Invasive Species.

That’s the blurb. The plot in a nutshell. I don’t think it does a good job of saying what this book and series are ABOUT, though.

You want to know what my Suffering Sequence Trilogy is? A short passage from Invasive Species to illustrate:

Lucy paused, and took a breath. “I had nightmares, and I didn’t know what to do with all that… pent up… pain, I guess. And I thought ‘What if I was just honest? Totally honest.’ I didn’t have to ever show anyone the pictures if I didn’t want to. I never had to admit that I was a scared, fucked-up, ball of hurt and rage, if I didn’t want to. This feels more like a therapy session than an art exhibit to me, and any minute now, I kind of expect you all to start pointing and laughing, knowing what a fraud I am.”

That.

The nightmare scenario for me is to try to describe my Suffering Sequence Trilogy. Urban fantasy. Dark urban fantasy or urban fantasy/horror. The Dresden Files if it were written by Clive Barker. A d20 Modern RPG if Stephen King was the game master. A modern mythological tale. My own therapy session.

In the forward of the first book I wrote this: “This book is about a succubus and how two very different people have two very different reactions to her existence. It’s about the path to hell that’s paved with best intentions. It’s about poverty and property values. It’s about racism in St. Louis. It’s about being LGBT. It’s about art through the eyes of an underclass young woman. It’s about guns and blood, and splintered bones. Except, it’s not. The truth is, this book is about trauma. It’s about the horrible things some people have to do to survive. It’s about fighting demons, figurative and literal. It’s about finding self worth.”

It’s the story of a handful of characters confronted with humanity’s systems of power taken over by shapeshifting, soul-sucking, flesh-eating Daemons.

But that’s not what the book is ABOUT. For one character, it’s about faith. For another, it’s about losing faith. For one, it’s about finding self worth. It’s about getting the ‘gold ring,’ and seeing it for the garbage it actually is. It’s about the price you pay for doing the right thing.

It’s about the masks we wear, the roles we play, and the horror of rejection when people see beneath that mask. It’s about peeling the mask away, to see the truth underneath.

And, damn, that all sounds pretentious to me when I say it like that.

ELIZABETH LYNN BLACKSON grew up in a small town in Eastern Ohio, living on a steady diet of comic books, horror movies, and Stephen King novels, while playing D&D and listening to heavy metal. It twisted her into the maniacal creature you now see before you. While certain she was going to be a comic artist, life pulled her in a different direction, and she ended up in the St. Louis metro area, where she lives with her hubby and two cats.

Invasive Species will soon be available from the Literary Underworld! Preorder your copy now! 

The Fellowship of the Book

By Elizabeth Donald

I’m honored to share that I’ve been awarded an AWP Community Scholarship to attend the 2024 conference in Kansas City.

I was lucky to attend last year’s conference in Seattle, and I absolutely loved it. AWP is one hell of a conference, with about 25 panels per hour aimed for writers and writing programs. Think Dragoncon, but all books. It’s got a heavy literary bent, but there is also programming for commercial and genre writers, tons for poets and a LOT for the teaching of writing. And unlike the very white-cis-male spaces we find in publishing, AWP has more diversity in all forms than just about any other space I’ve seen.

A few of the panels I’ve got my eye on:

  • Social justice on the page: How writing and activism feed each other
  • Writing practices for neurodiverse and disabled writers
  • Mapping the creative and pedagogical terrain of community colleges
  • Breaking the rules on chapbooks: New approaches to an old form
  • Women of new fabulism and speculative literature
  • Be Shameless: Everything you need to know to nail promotion
  • Writing life post-MFA: Unearthing the realities
  • A turn of the page: From journalism to creative writing
  • Greater than the sum of its parts: Writing and structuring essay collections
  • The fine art of the craft talk
  • Writing the literary sex scene: Dethroning the male gaze
  • Show (Me) Don’t Tell: Missouri writers grappling with the state of their state
  • Ableism off and on the page
  • How do you eat? Writers talk plainly about funding their writing lives

And about two dozen others among the hundreds available.

In addition to the daytime panels, AWP really comes alive at the evening off-site events. Readings are everywhere, wine-and-cheese receptions and gatherings in dozens of locations every night until the wee hours. I made the grave mistake in Seattle of skipping the nighttime events for the first couple of days, thinking it was like a con room party: fun but skippable. It was only on the third day that I realized it’s where so much of the creative energy of the convention comes from.

In fact, I wrote a column on ten tips for attending AWP, which you can read here. Tip No. 3 was “The real beauty is in the offsite events.”

I strongly recommend AWP for beginning writers, established writers, poets, librarians, students, editors, publishers, creative writing teachers, memoirists… basically if you put pen to paper and/or teach others to do the same, there’s something for you here, particularly in academic and literary circles.

Having graduated out of student rates, I was very afraid I could not afford to return even though it’s so close to me this year: Kansas City is a mere four hours according to Google Maps, which always means five hours for me. The scholarship makes a huge difference, and I’m incredibly grateful to AWP for its generosity and those of the donors who kick in to help underserved, disabled and low-income writers join in the fray.

If you’re interested, check out the website at awpwriter.org. And let me know if you’ll be there! All adventures are more fun with a fellowship. Didn’t Tolkein teach us that?

A Night at Death’s Door

By Jim D. Gillentine

I am proud to announce the release of my novella A Night at Death’s Door. It’s a little adventure that I wrote as a favor to my friend KD, who I used to work with at Kroger.

I had based a character on KD for my first novel, and I killed him in a truly gruesome fashion. Word got around that I based the character on him and he got several comments about how he died. He actually got a little bothered by it. So to make it up to him I based a character on him in A Night at Death’s Door. Now he’s a kickass vampire hunter, and thus a friendship was saved.

This novel is my take on vampires and I threw in a few laughs here and there. At the time I wrote this novel, Twilight was in full force and I wanted to write vampires that blew up in the sun instead of sparkle. I hope I succeeded in that, as I think this is an enjoyable romp through New York with fun characters and a fast action-paced story. I hope you enjoy it.

I also want to announce my short story “Moonless Night” has been published in the Tangle and Fen anthology from Crone Girls Press. The story takes place during World War II, and it was a challenge to write this story because I wanted to write a story with a man in love with another man. I had never written that type of story and I wanted to be respectful to the subject matter. A young British solider falls in love with his brother in arms, and finds that he holds many dark secrets about his past. Can love survive this knowledge? And what happens when it is time for the secret comes out?

——

A Night at Death’s Door is now available at the Literary Underworld for only $8! Tangle and Fen is only available in ebook right now, but you better believe we’ll have it as soon as it’s in print! Check them out and order for the holidays!

Witness Underground: Finding Creative Freedom Amidst Struggles

By Anthony Mathenia

I vividly recall the day I wrote my first short story as a high school assignment. Looking back, it might seem cringeworthy, but it was a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and I was immensely proud. Excited to share my creation, I showed it to my parents, who, in their concern for our religious beliefs, brought out a red marker and circled words like “lust.” That was my first encounter with the tension between creative expression and religious orthodoxy.

I was hooked on writing, and my dream of one day writing a novel began to take shape. But when I shared my ambitions with my father, he discouraged me. In the eyes of our faith, becoming a welder seemed like a more fitting occupation. According to him, the world was on the brink of its end, and such creative dreams appeared frivolous. This was how my childhood unfolded: creative expression was not encouraged, as pursuing art, writing books, or making music could brand you as rebellious, weird, or “worldly.”

During my later teenage years, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became a sensation, and it seemed like everyone I knew was picking up a guitar or a bass to learn music. For us, due to our religious background, these musical pursuits had to remain secret, confined to basements. If the wrong person discovered that you were playing and recording rock music, you might find yourself summoned to the back of the Kingdom Hall and counseled by the elders. Pushing the boundaries too far could result in exile. As a creative person, this was beyond frustrating.

However, the early days of the internet brought a turning point in my life. I connected with a group of Jehovah’s Witness kids in the Twin Cities who had formed an underground music label for JW’s called “Nuclear Gopher.” The indie rock music they produced wasn’t just good for JW’s; it was good music, period. Some of these band members were exceptionally talented, and they might have been household names if not for their religious community holding them back. Joining this group was a revelation, the first time in my life that creative expression was celebrated.

Life takes us on unexpected journeys, and many of us eventually left our childhood faith to rebuild our lives from the ashes. Leaving Jehovah’s Witnesses comes with strict consequences; once you depart, even family members become unreachable, labeled as dangerous and devil-afflicted. It was a challenging time, but I was finally ready to pursue my dreams that had been put on hold for so long. I decided it was time to write that book, and NaNoWriMo not only provided the avenue to achieve that goal but also introduced me to like-minded individuals, fellow “weirdos” who supported my creative endeavors. Meeting people like Elizabeth Donald was a turning point; I was finally in my element.

Over the years, I’ve ticked off many items from my creative bucket list, with novels, comics, and graphic novels to my name. Most recently, I’ve ventured into documentary filmmaking. Today, I am excited to share “Witness Underground,” a powerful documentary I’ve had the privilege of producing. The film traces the rise and fall of Nuclear Gopher, shedding light on the pain of shunning, and illustrating the transformative power of creative expression to guide us through hardships and craft a fulfilling life.

The documentary is complete, and we are now in the process of securing distribution. Our goal is to reach as many people as possible with our heartfelt story. We currently have a Kickstarter campaign, and your support would mean the world to us. If you could share our campaign on your social media, we would be truly grateful.

This documentary is not just another exposé on Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a story with heart, soul, and a powerful soundtrack. Above all, “Witness Underground” highlights the resilience of creative expression to heal, inspire, and create a beautiful life.

Thank you for your unwavering support and friendship throughout this incredible journey.

ANTHONY MATHENIA is a writer and comic creator. He is the author of two novels, Paradise Earth: Day Zero and Happiness, Next Exit. In comics, Anthony writes Pretty Face and has produced Supreme Team, among others. He currently lives in the Appalachians and is convinced it is paradise on earth. Find out more here.

An infernal Ste. Genevieve

by John S. McFarland

 

As a kid in St. Francois County who already loved history, learning about Ste. Genevieve, Mo. was the treat in the Cracker Jack box. Even in my earliest years of elementary school in a small mining town that no longer exists, I was fascinated by the past. I loved historical movies, not yet suspecting how grotesquely inaccurate they mostly were, and reading stories set in historical times. I was a bit frustrated by how brief the history of the United States was, at least from a Hollywood-inspired Euro-centric perspective. We had no castles, no dolmens or Roman ruins, no walled towns and no sunny islands populated by sirens and Greek monsters. But then I discovered we had Ste. Genevieve.

I heard of it long before I visited it. It was sort of a legendary “old town” on the nearby Mississippi, a remnant of the French-controlled great river, the enormous diocese of Quebec from the 18th century. On my mom’s side of the family, there were old stories of an ancestor who was “raised by Indians” but my grandmother and her sister knew no more about the story than that. But my grandmother did know that I loved history, and feeling some vague connection to Ste. Genevieve, apparently, she and my grandfather took me there.

I was amazed, at age ten or so, that there was something so reminiscent, I imagined, of old Europe so close to my home town. A French town with 200+-year-old buildings where French was spoken, primarily, until sometime in the 19th century. There was also, when I imagined it, a sense of old world decadence out of place, out of time. It was a little slice of the French Quarter in southeastern Missouri.

Eventually I found out more about that mysterious ancestor. It turns out the old story was essentially true. He was a child of English settlers in Pennsylvania, age three or so, taken, along with his infant brother when his parents were killed in an Indian raid in the early 1750’s. The infant brother died of a fever soon after, but my ancestor, my great grandfather five times removed, survived with the band of raiders as they moved west to the Mississippi Valley. The group was on Kaskaskia Island on a day when the parish priest at Fort de Chartres nearby, Father Callet, was ministering to his second flock there.

Callet knew the boy was white, though he had little left of his English language by then. The priest bought him from the raiders for five barrels of whiskey and renamed him Hypollite Robert. Hypollite went on to become one of the patriarchs of old Ste. Genevieve and to father twelve children. Over time the name Hypollite was corrupted to Politte, which was my grandmother’s maiden name, she being a descendant of Hypolitte’s son Charles.

In my late teens I discovered the work of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. I was struck by how the fictional inhabitants of Yoknapatawpha County and northern Georgia in these writers’ work were people I had essentially grown up with and known all my life. As Jane Austen had found the whole world in a few counties and a smattering of families, so too had these American writers, working in a fictional field called “regionalism.”

My love of horror was at least as foundational to my development as was my love of history. In my mid-twenties I discovered H. P. Lovecraft. Here was a different kind of regionalism: an infernal one scattered with rotting gambrel roofs and cosmic terrors. One evening a light switched on in my head. I hit on the idea of creating a fictional Ste. Genevieve, an accursed, forgotten village with a dark history and tentative future.

I wanted to re-name the town. I wanted an unusual French name and oddly, I wanted the name to begin with the letter ‘O’. On many visits to the old graveyard in Ste. Genevieve, I kept coming upon the name Odile. That was perfect. Ste. Odile it was. I drew a detailed map of the town, keeping some landmarks that existed in the real location, and changing most others. Then I started thinking of a story, a dark narrative to cast a pall over my newly invented region.

I wanted all the classic elements of 19th century horror which I had enjoyed in my youth. I needed an ancient evil, a crumbling mansion, a forgotten village populated by a closed, unwelcoming citizenry. The result, after years of research and writing, was my novel The Black Garden.

The book was well-received. All reviews were good from the UK to India and beyond. The novel gave rise to a sequel, The Mother of Centuries, which resolved the life narrative of one of the essential characters of the first book. It also inspired my story collection The Dark Walk Forward, soon to be republished in German. At this moment I am at work on a second collection of Ste. Odile stories, Baby Monster which will appear later this year.

There may be one or two of my readers who wonder when I will move on and leave old Ste. Odile behind. It has happened intermittently. I am producing some tales now that have nothing to do with the crumbling village. Still, ideas keep popping into my head that include foreboding mansions, well-kept secrets and a cursed, forgotten old town.

 

 

JOHN MCFARLAND’S first novel, The Black Garden, was published in 2010, and the story continues with the recent Mother of Centuries. His work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley and the anthology A Treasury of American Horror Stories, which also included stories by Stephen King, Richard Matheson and H.P. Lovecraft. He has written extensively on historical and arts-related subjects and has been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis. He is a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, and Annette: A Big Hairy Mom is his first novel for young readers. Find John’s work on the Literary Underworld!

Poe’s Dream Mag

By John S. McFarland

I have lived most of my life in or near St. Louis, Mo. And ever since I was old enough to realize that I actually liked being scared and unsettled, I have been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe. I was surprised to learn, in recent years that there was a connection between the city and my literary hero, or at least one was in the making when Poe died. In fact, if Poe had lived another month or so, he very well could have been buried in one of the grand old cemeteries in the city which have been the last resting places of historical and literary figures for nearly 200 years.

When he died in Baltimore on Oct. 7, 1849, Poe was poised to move to St. Louis. There he hoped to realize his greatest ambition: the founding of his own literary magazine.

For many years, beginning in the early 1830s, Poe worked long hours for low pay, editing magazines for others. In addition to squabbles about his pitifully low salary, Poe also had frequent disagreements with his publishers about content, as well as the sporadic “irregularities” that were the result of his terrible alcoholism. Desperate for his own magazine, he issued a prospectus in 1840 for a periodical, solicited contributions from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell and others and began years of futile attempts to raise money and begin publication.

Poe’s greatest friend as an adult was Frederick W. Thomas, a novelist and government bureaucrat who had moved to St. Louis from Baltimore. Thomas encouraged Poe in his dream and agreed to contribute articles. Eventually Thomas began soliciting subscriptions in St. Louis for the magazine, to be called the The Stylus.

Somehow, the needed capital was always just out of reach, and Poe’s plans were further set back by his debilitating bouts of alcoholism and tragic personal life. In 1847, Poe’s young wife, Virginia, died of tuberculosis, as had his mother and foster mother. By 1849, Poe’s health and spirits had greatly deteriorated, and the prospect of his magazine ever coming into being seemed far-fetched. Then, out of nowhere, Poe received a letter from the little northwestern Illinois town of Oquawka that offered him the prospect of realizing his dream.

Edward Patterson was a well-to-do newspaper publisher and admired Poe, and he had heard of the failed plans for The Stylus. Patterson offered to finance the project in Oquawka. Poe responded excitedly, outlining his vision of a lofty literary journal and predicting a circulation of 20,000 within five years.

More letters between the two men followed. Poe convinced Patterson to publish the journal in St. Louis, where Poe had support from Thomas and Joseph Field, editor of the St. Louis Reveille. Patterson agreed and arranged to meet Poe in St. Louis on October 15, 1849, to work out details.

His dream at last in sight, Poe began a lecture tour in the south to raise money and sell subscriptions to the magazine. Unfortunately, after a brief hiatus of sobriety, he resumed drinking and began experiencing paranoia and occasional hallucinations. When his tour brought him to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, he joined The Sons of Temperance, and became engaged to an old childhood love.

Then he made the mistake of visiting Baltimore, his home for many years, where he again fell off the wagon. It is generally accepted that Poe, who was possibly already intoxicated when he arrived in Baltimore, was plied with liquor by crooked electioneers and sent with other inebriates to vote repeatedly for a Whig candidate in a city election.

He was found delirious near the Fourth Ward Club, and died on Oct. 7, eight days before he was to meet Patterson in St. Louis.

Could Poe have made a success of The Stylus in St. Louis? In Some Words With a Mummy, Poe wrote, probably self-analytically: “The truth is, I am heartily sick of this life, and of the 19th century in general.” Many biographers doubt that in the 41st year of a troubled life, Poe would have had enough strength to see the project through. It is likely that The Stylus, like so many women in Poe’s stories, represented to him an idealized and unattainable dream.  

*****

JOHN MCFARLAND’S first novel, The Black Garden, was published in 2010, and the story continues with Mother of Centuries. His work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley and the anthology A Treasury of American Horror Stories, which also included stories by Stephen King, Richard Matheson and H.P. Lovecraft. He has written extensively on historical and arts-related subjects and has been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis. He is a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, and Annette: A Big Hairy Mom is his first novel for young readers.

Why do we need horror?

By Nick Rowan

“What do we need horror for anyway?”

The title was asked by a smart young person of my acquaintance who, at 11, has never been really afraid of anything. He has had sadness, a couple of deaths in the family, but not fear.

He has never sat on the exam table and heard the words, “The test is abnormal. You’re pre-cancerous.”

He has never fought for air as he was held under the surface of a lake, an air mattress on top of him.

He has never had a child vanish for days.

He hasn’t hidden in the woods, with people he loves, and watched armed men hunt them with rifles.

He hasn’t watched laws against people like him or those he loves spread across the country faster than those pre-cancerous cells spread through my body.

He hasn’t worked three jobs, knowing he’s not even making the mortgage payment, let alone utilities or food.

And I hope he never has to.

That, in a nutshell, is why we need horror. Neil Gaiman famously said, “Fairy tales are important not because they tell children there are dragons, but because they tell children the dragons can be beaten.”

Horror serves the same purpose. There are rules to it, as to every genre. And the monsters in the book or movie abide by those rules: vampires are allergic to sunlight, silver, crosses and garlic, werewolves change on the full moon, the psycho-killer is never killed by falling out the window. This is unlike the real world where the monsters just change the rules to suit them, and weaponize the machinery of the state against those who don’t like it.

Political? Sure. But these days, most of my fears ARE political. We’re on the eve of Pride Month and I’m considering buying the 16 oz. party-sized pepper spray. I’m definitely taking anti-tear gas measures with me. Although, how much trouble I can find sitting in the shade and reading tarot cards…

Right now, it feels as if we are living in a very large haunted house called the United States, and the flies are swarming in weird ways on the walls. Maybe we should run before the walls start bleeding?

See?

Rules and tropes. We know how a movie or story will go, usually. Sometimes there is a twist. Sometimes the author or director doesn’t give us a true ending, just a freeze frame scene. But usually. The house will be cleansed and either collapse or settle down. The vampire will be staked. The werewolf will be shot with silver. The zombie apocalypse will end and humans will get back to business of civilization.

The monsters are real.
They can be fought.
It will get bloody and awful.
But it will end. And hopefully well.

But I can’t explain all that to an 11-year-old who has never been really afraid, for himself or for someone else.

On the other hand, I can offer you some of my dreams and nightmares, 15 to be precise.

Contes Cruels is French for “cruel stories,” and some of these are. Whether it’s a broken-hearted man fighting his memories, a clairvoyant trucker, a lover’s pledge, a haunted house actor protecting friends in a crisis or a promise made to a small child, these tales take you inside the darkness in everyone. The small pinpricks of light in the darkness are optional.

I am also running a promotion on my Patreon through Sunday, June 11. You can get a chance to win my entire backlist, as well as all the perks. There are free ways to enter as well: leave a review if you’ve read a book; or sign up for my mailing list (about once a month).

As for current projects:

Appearances:

  • Memphis Pride, June 3. I’m in booth 506.
  • Polestari yard sale, June 23-25, Bartlett, Tenn.
  • Mephit Fur Meet: Aug. 31-Sept 4, Southaven, Miss.
  • Sippin in September: Sept. 30, Farmington/French Village, Mo.
  • Pagan Pride: Oct. 7, Nashville, Tenn.
  • Festival of Souls: Oct. 12-15, Memphis, Tenn.
  • Arkansas Scottish Festival, Oct. 27-29, Batesville, Ark.

Writing:
I have nothing forthcoming. I’m working on several things, including a long-overdue short story. We are planning on finishing the next book in the Eight Thrones series this summer.

Where to find me: Linktree

My alter ego can be found here! 

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.

Meet the Underlord: Diana Morgan

I am Diana Morgan. That’s actually a pen name. It comes from two of my favorite characters in literature. Diana is for Wonder Woman’s alias Diana Prince. She was the first superhero I encountered as a kid and I’ve always been obsessed with her. Morgan is from Morgan le Fay of King Arthur legend. Not always portrayed in a positive light, I have still always found her story fascinating and I love some of the more modern takes that cast her as an anti-hero.

In my day life I work as a librarian. I’ve always been passionate about books. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. I started writing when I was a young kid. In fact, one of my first forays into writing was a summer camp where we pretended to be authors. I still have the first books I “published” there. I love helping people find new books and authors. I specialize in teen fiction but I’m also an expert in science fiction and fantasy, which is what I read and write.

My current book is Alliances. It’s the first in a planned series. It’s about Livia, a space pirate that is attempting to save the last colony of human survivors after they were driven off Earth by killer robots. But she has to contend with the egotistical admiral of the colony, Travs, as well as his assistant who doesn’t trust her and more pirates from her past. The story takes place mostly in space and in a space station. It has a lot of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly vibes. Space opera is one of my favorite genres and getting to play in this world has been huge fun.

I’m currently working on a second book for this series, continuing the adventures of Livia and Travs as they try to keep the colony of Earth survivors alive while dealing with the AI robots pursuing them as well as pirates and even more surprises in deep space.

I have several other projects in the works. I’m not the fastest writer, but I hope to have a lot of new stories out over the next year.

If I’m not working on writing I’m hanging out at the library. Keep reading!

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Ms. Mulvihill goes to the Magnolia Independent Film Festival

By J. L. Mulvihill

As a writer, you are sometimes offered unique experiences that you must seize upon even if they may be out of your comfort zone. For instance, last year, I was given the opportunity to do a talk show called On The Page where I interviewed several authors, actors, and filmmakers. This year I was given the chance to interview some of the filmmakers who were presenting their films at the Magnolia Independent Film Festival in Starkville, Mississippi. Excited for the opportunity, I jumped at the chance, especially when I found out I would be seeing the movies before the interviews.

My first interview was with Jon Tackett and Dylan Scott who were presenting their short film Stache, which they had created in 48 hours. Jon and Dillon have both been in the film industry as writers, directors, and actors for at least 10 years. They were both easy going and a joy to speak with. The movie Stache is about a detective accusing the wrong man of a murder he did not commit. It is a fabulously funny movie that I found very impressive to have been done in only 48 hours.

My second interview was with Michal Sinnott and Alexandra Clayton who collaborated on their feature-length film Unpacking. These two ladies were a breath of fresh air and a joy to speak with. They both had extremely impressive bios in the theater and the film industry. Their film was extremely insightful and eye-opening to me. Unpacking is about six women who go to a retreat in Bali for a radical transformation by a self-proclaimed influencer guru, only to be slapped in the face by reality. I laughed, I cried, I opened my eyes, the movie was truly amazing and hit me on all levels.

The third interview was with producer Craig Holden and writer Neal Adelman. Both very talented and knowledgeable about the industry. We discussed their short film Truck Fishing in America, which is directed by Shelley Delaney. Truck Fishing in America is about two lost white men in a small town at odds with their own failed expectations. It is an intriguing and fascinating film written by Neil Adelman, a talented playwright who has now moved into films.

For my fourth interview I had the honor of interviewing Kurt St. Thomas, who is a legendary DJ, writer, director, producer, all around man of many hats. Kurt is a very humble but extremely talented man who was presenting his feature-length film D.O.A. This is a film noir in black and white about a hardboiled detective trying to solve the crime of his own murder, but he has to figure it out before he dies. This movie was a fantastic undertaking filmed in St. Augustine, Fla. and takes on a whole life of its own.

My last interview, and certainly not least, was with Clint Till, who is a very talented Cinematographer, director, and editor out of Memphis. Clint has been in the business for more than 20 years and has his own video production company. His filmography delves into many genres showing he is not afraid to try different things and I enjoyed our interview. Clint presented his short film The Milky Way, a hilarious story from the get-go showing that a mother will do whatever it takes to give their child a very best.

You can see all these interviews and the links to more information about these movies on my YouTube channel. I will be posting more in-depth reviews for some of these films on other sites. Independent filmmakers, like authors, can always use a review to help boost the promotion of their work. I thought that all these films were wonderful, and I respect the work the filmmakers put into them.

In doing these interviews and posting them, I was also given the opportunity to attend the film festival. I have been to several film festivals, and I feel they are all unique in how they do things, so I was anxious to see how this one would take place. After a short two-hour drive, I found myself in north Mississippi among the rolling fields of farmland dotted with small towns and big colleges.

In the old State Theatre of downtown Starkville, Miss., the darkly-lit room smelled of stale beer, yet the wooden pillars and brick walls showcasing the brightly lit stage told another story today. On the stage where hundreds of musicians and playacts have stood, Jeremy Burgess presented his workshop, The Production Value of Collaborative Screenwriting. Jeremy is an award-winning film producer based out of Birmingham, Ala.  He shared his inspirations and the do’s and don’ts of filmmaking to a room filled with film enthusiasts of all ages.

After 90 minutes of interesting and valuable information, a panel discussion was presented on Making a Living in the Film Industry. The panelists sharing their invaluable insight on the business were: Rick Moore, founder and owner of Eyevox Entertainment and Mad Genius, out of Ridgeland, Miss.; Christi Dubois of West Point, Miss. working in the art department in the film industry; Ben Powell, a cinematographer, documentarian, and founder of Broken Arm Studio in Cleveland, Miss.;  Antonio Tarrell, a respected filmmaker and director of numerous feature films from Oxford, Miss.; and Michael Williams from West Point, Miss., who is an award-winning filmmaker, producer, founder and owner of Shendopen Productions, as well as president of the Magnolia Independent Film Festival.

After the panel discussion it was movie time, and a change of venue to the UEC Hollywood Premier Cinemas in Starkville, Miss.. The UEC Hollywood Premier opened in July 2000 as an eight-screen multiplex with all stadium seating and curved screens. Later they increased their screen count to eleven. The Film Festival had been screening movies from February 23 through February 25, which turned out to be the biggest night as seats sold out.

The aroma of buttered popcorn filled the air and each seat including added chairs at the front were filled. Unlike most movies we go to see in big theaters, the spectators were silent and attentive during each movie, and applauded encouragingly at the end of every film. I found this to be an added substance to the experience, showing how the locals appreciated the hard work these filmmakers put into their movies. There were no negative feelings or resentment, and everyone seemed to respect the art of moviemaking and those who poured their heart into it.

This feeling of admiration and respect of the industry carries over from and through the Magnolia Independent Film Festival, lovingly referred to as the MAG Film Festival. MAG founder Ron Tibbett was himself a filmmaker who moved to Mississippi from Chicago. After making a movie called Swept Off My Feet, and looking to submit it to local film festivals, he found there were none in Mississippi. In 1997, he started The MAG Film Festival and even had a hand in helping several other film festivals launch throughout Mississippi. Sadly, Ron Tibbett lost his life in a car accident in 2004, but his legacy lives on as the torch was carried by his wife, friends, and the community who all have a love for the art of filmmaking. Through the ups and downs, 26 years later the MAG is still going strong.

Speaking with several volunteers I found that everyone involved with The MAG feel this love and passion for the arts. They are all encouraging and positive of each other and everyone involved from the guy who runs for coffee to the director who runs the show. Chris Misun, who has been the festival director for two years now is a graphic designer and broadcasting instructor for Mississippi State, (MSU), the local college in Starkville, Miss. Chris is also the advisor for the film club at the college and his enthusiasm for the industry and the festival bubbles over through his personality and infectious smile. Chris expressed that they are thankful for the support of the community and the help of the volunteers. It has been the mission of the MAG to offer independent filmmakers a platform that respects the hard work they have put into their films. The MAG will continue to showcase independent films and create a positive  experience for all who attend including the filmmakers who bring their films to the festival.

Angela Baker has been with the festival since 2002 and has worn many hats over the years working with The MAG including director and now treasurer. Angela started volunteering for The MAG because she liked Ron Tibbett and his dream to make this festival big and an important part of Mississippi. This is a shared feeling with everyone involved with The MAG.

I interviewed award-winning filmmaker J. Hun-En Joswick, fondly called “Snapple” by his friends. This year he was presenting his film The Wind and I and loves coming to The MAG Festival. In 2020, Joswick won an award on the collaborated film Five Minutes and stated that “just being with everyone at The MAG and the encouraging words and positive outlook renewed his love for films.”

Newcomer and volunteer Dominique Lewis, who attends MSU and MUW in Mississippi has never worked at the film festival before but found the people to be extremely friendly, encouraging, and inspiring. She explained to me that “everyone works so very hard to put this event together and make it work.”

A young group of filmmakers spoke with me in between films, hopeful that their film “The Gift” is chosen for the 48 hours award. Trinity Tubbs is a junior at Belhaven College, and she and her classmates collaborated on this film for the 48-hour challenge with the help and direction of their teacher, Rick Negron. The challenge is to create a film in 48 hours, and anyone can enter as long as they follow the guidelines set forth.

So after seeing several of the films myself both prior to the event for interviews, and actually at the event, I wondered how it would be possible to fairly judge these films. I spoke with the four judges: Christi Dubois, an art teacher, theater major, mother, and actress; Cary Glynn, an artist, writer, and filmmaker; Chad Hathcock, with a bachelor’s in communications from MSU; and Makel Gandy, who attends ICC and studies film and drama production. These judges explained to me that every year four judges are handpicked by The MAG, having some background and knowledge of the film industry. After viewing the films, they must deliberate and discuss each of the technical aspects, the writing, the cinematography, the acting, and many other aspects of the films before picking the winners.

My experience with the Magnolia Independent Film Festival was educational, exciting, enlightening, encouraging, and most of all it has inspired me to fulfill my own dreams and expectations. But it’s not just about my experience, but everyone’s, including the community and the state of Mississippi overall. The MAG offers not only a way for Mississippi as a whole to showcase the artistic community within, but also a place for all filmmakers to share their work and express their passion in the filmmaking industry.

If  you want to know who the winners are this year, you will just have to go to the website and find out for yourself. While you are there, check out The MAG and its affiliates. Who knows, maybe it will inspire you to become a filmmaker, and if you make that film, The MAG just might be the place for you to present it.

 

A California native born in Hollywood, California, J.L. MULVIHILL wanted to be a rock star. After several years of modeling, acting, and singing, she decided to marry, have a family, and moved to a quieter life in Mississippi where she has lived for the past twenty years. Finding she has a gift for story telling she began to write young adult books, including the Steel Roots series and The Lost Daughter of Easa. She is very active in the writing community, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Imagicopter, the Mississippi Writers Guild and Clinton Ink-slingers Writing Group. She continues to write fantasy, steampunk, poetry and essays inspired by her life in the South.

 

A second chance at a Cold Run

What does it mean when your so-called new book launch is actually a second chance at life?

I’ve been thinking about this lately, especially as I work my way through finishing the book series I contracted last year with Falstaff Books. Cold Run, Book 1 of the Rick Keller Project, is a werewolf secret agent novel that tells the story of Rick Keller, a wolf without a pack, a soldier without a country, a wanderer who searches for someplace to call home.

Falstaff Books released Cold Run on Dec. 8, 2022, but it wasn’t the first time the novel had ever been launched into the world. I’d originally written it for NaNoWriMo in 2011, although the idea for the novel came around even earlier than that.

The book, which I hadn’t even considered expanding into a series at the time I wrote it, grew out of a book, Naming the World. My writing group in Texas was working its way through the various prompts and practical exercises contained in NtW, and I had chosen to write about a dark place on a snowy night off a narrow trail in the wilds of Vermont. As I imagined this place and started concentrating on the details that would bring it to life, I saw a wolf running along the path, pursued by men with silver weapons, sprinting for sanctuary under the full moon.

As the writing exercises evolved into a novel idea, and the idea evolved into an extremely rudimentary outline, and the outline served as the basis for the mad dash that is NaNoWriMo, I began to think about publication. For the next two years after I wrote it, I workshopped, revised, workshopped, and revised again. I continued to grow as a writer, and eventually conceived of an entire trilogy around this character of Rick Keller, secret agent werewolf; his partner, former Army psychological operations officer Karen Willet, Ph.D.; and their run-ins with the agency he used to work for, MONIKER.

When I was finally satisfied with the book, I submitted it to a few agents and editors. A small publishing house by the name of Untold Press picked it up and offered me a chance to get it published. And then I wrote another novel, and a novella and a reader magnet, which they also sent out into the world. I personally made a lot of mistakes and did eventually end up asking for and readily receiving my rights back to the books. However, I don’t regret this experience. I learned a lot from it, and when it came time to decide how I wanted to publish other writing, or to coach others’ in their writing journey, the lessons became that many more tools in my writing and coaching toolbox.

Instead of publishing right away, I decided that I was going to rapid-release them all, and also that Winter Run, the fourth book, would be the last in the series.

Deciding to indie publish is a route that can be fraught with, if not danger, then a lot of frustration and head-desk contact. The stereotype of the writer who drinks is often based in reality. Let me tell you, the writer who is publishing herself, and also running an indie publishing company (because of course, launching an indie horror micropress in the middle of plague times was a great idea! For more on that, check out Crone Girls Press,) that writer/editor/publisher is going to keep the package good store in good standing.

At one point, I ran up against a roadblock that was going to take a good deal of time, effort, and likely money to fix. I headed over to my current writing group, The Writing Tribe, and with sorrow in my heart, I vented my frustration and asked the universe (and my fellow writers) if this was worth it. Not writing, in general. This werewolf secret agent series in particular.

I don’t have an answer yet to that question. And when I do formulate that answer, I’ll be taking my publisher’s concerns into the equation. But I will say this.

When you get a second chance to return to a character, a book, or a series that you have put a lot of yourself into, and that you still believe in, you sometimes just have to take a chance and kick your imposter syndrome to the curb, along with your inner editor who can’t believe that you’re allowing you early writing back out into the world. I did do some updates and revisions to Cold Run, based on my growth as a writer, and my new understanding of craft and how to structure a novel. I have also been working on a series arc in addition to the other novels in the series (four? Ha! It’s going to be five books long now, and I have so many ideas for short stories in the universe.)

The decision to go with a publisher or head down the indie route can be a hard one, especially with a project that you’ve already tried and not quite met with the success you hoped. But it you have a publisher who believes in you, and who says things like, “I can’t wait to have this book on my table” or “Rick Keller reminds me of Joe Ledger,” then it becomes easier to take a leap of faith and get back to writing. (Also, if you sign the contract, you’re obligated to do so, and therefore I should probably wrap this up and get back to work.)

Thanks to John Hartness and Falstaff Books for giving Rick Keller and company a new lease on life, and thanks to the readers, old and new, who have grabbed a copy and are coming along on the ride.


Richard Keller wanted nothing more than to watch the world go by from his isolated home in Vermont. Life on the other hand had other plans. Kidnapped by his former employers, the covert government organization MONIKER. Richard is forced to suit up once more and use his supernatural abilities in an effort to save kidnapped victims.

However, not all is as it seems with MONIKER, and Keller is going to need all of his wits and strength if he is to return to some semblance of his normal life.

The hunter is about to become the hunted.

Rachel A. Brune graduated from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts in May 2000, and was immediately plunged into the low-stakes world of entry-level executive assistant-ship. Her unexpected journey out of that world and into the military is chronicled in her self-published book Echoes and Premonitions. After five years as a combat journalist, including two tours in Iraq, and a brief stint as a columnist for her hometown newspaper, she attended graduate school at the University at Albany in NY, where she earned her MA in Political Communication, and her commission as a second lieutenant in the military police corps. Although her day job has taken in her in many strange, often twisted directions, Rachel continues to write and publish short fiction. She released her first novel in early 2013. She blogs her thoughts about reading and the writing life at http://www.infamous-scribbler.com.

We hope to have Cold Run in the Literary Underworld soon! In the meantime, catch it on Amazon where it is available on Kindle Unlimited.