Support Litmags #1- Storgy

If we start zoning out a page in then it needs work. Don’t bore us. You know what’s good.

Anthony Self, Executive Director, Head of Film, Storgy Magazine.

Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. In particular, I had visions of being a wildly successful short story writer, firing off brilliance to magazines like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Fantasy and Science Fiction, slumming occasionally in Esquire or the New Yorker and the checks would just flow to my mailbox.

I still love writing and reading short stories and there is a crop of new online lit-mags and publishers who are flying the flag and keeping the art-form alive. I’m going to showcase a few of them over the next couple of weeks. Some have published me, some have kept their standards high (Kidding!)

A few years ago, I had a boxing story I was looking to submit. While it went to another magazine, the kind reply inspired me to stay connected with the boys in the UK. If you haven’t checked out Storgy.com yet, you’ll find a mix of opinion, short fiction, and just cool stuff, unbounded by genre (although they do skew heavily to the snarky and slightly weird.) Their new short story collection, Hopeful Monsters is available for pre-order now. (It’s on my Kindle TBR pile)

Here’s my interview with Anthony (Tony) Self.

What is Storgy, and why should we care?

STORGY magazine initially started as a closed-off writer’s group, where a few of us would be able to massage our own egos and pretend to know about the craft to put stories online. People started sending us their own work to put online and we liked the attention like craven wannabe-celebrities so I guess something stuck and we began publishing stories that fell through the cracks. These were the stories that didn’t have a home. The bastard children of literature. 

Given how hard the publishing business is, what the hell were you thinking? How did the original concept come to you?

I know, right? Five years ago we were dilly-dallying with a story a week and now we’re independent publishers; posting reviews, previews, interviews and short fiction for all the masses to gobble up like malnourished street urchins. We wanted to write a 1,000 story every week and challenge ourselves to accomplish this. Looking back we were probably naive. Or had head trauma. One or the other. 

Editor’s note: through a series of late-night emails the name of the magazine is a mashup of “Story” and “Orgy.” An Orgy of Stories. Don’t form companies while drinking. What kind of content are you looking for?

All kinds. We’ve had essays, we’ve had poems, we’ve had mythological Buddhist zen-like soliloquy’s, at the end of the day if the story keeps us engaged from beginning to end we may publish it. If we start zoning out a page in then it needs work. Don’t bore us. You know what’s good. And don’t send us your first draft. You’re better than that. 

One of the reasons for this post is to encourage submissions. What do writers do that drives you crazy?

We used to heavily edit stories because a lot of mistakes were evident in the prose. We want to get stories out there to the masses but we also want to be professional about it all. It kind of hits us in the feels when we’ve edited something, send it back to the writer for review and they’re indignant about a rewrite as they consider their work a masterpiece and HOW DARE WE TRY TO CHANGE IT. Oh yeah, and ‘it was all a dream’, type endings

I love when I get constructive feedback from an editor. Most of us are submitting to find an audience and build our brand, such as it is. What are you and the the boy’s long-term plan for world domination?

A less elitist New Yorker type mantle would be fun. We’ve pushed ourselves to become independent publishers to create content for the short story form, so we’d like to carry on with that. Oh yeah, and get a $1,000,000 grant or something like that. That would be nice. 

Any advice for authors submitting?

We’re flexible with a lot of things, such as number count, typeface, formatting – but look at our FAQ’s before submitting, it’s a courtesy to the person reading and potentially wanting to publish your piece. 

You’ve been very kind to my work, publishing a number of stories and reviewing Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans. At the risk of sounding needy, what is it you like about my work?

Personally, I really liked The Towel – on one level it’s a snapshot of a boxing fight, conveying the imagery of RagingBull, Southpaw or Warrior, but on a deeper level it can be interpreted as the indomitable spirit of never giving up. This is something we agree on. In fact, it’s the core message of what STORGY is all about..

Storgy has expanded to publishing short story collections. Check them out here.

Most of my short stories, published or otherwise, can be found here on this website.


How the Hell Can You Write If You Don’t Read?

Maybe one of you can talk me off the ledge. I was sitting with some of the members of my writing group the other night, and I innocently asked who everyone was reading at the moment. Fully half the people at the table gave me some variation of, “Oh I don’t read much these days,” or “I haven’t read a book since college.”

What in the name of Robert Ludlum is going on? I thought all writers, especially fiction writers, were voracious bookworms. Apparently I”m living in a fool’s paradise. But seriously, how can you write well if you don’t read widely?

I’m not even talking about the “great books.” I know a lot of people who got turned off to older works in college and never came back. But I’m a big believer that reading anything–even the stuff I lovingly (and jokingly) refer to as crap–is invaluable for a writer.

I know this is a thing. A good friend of mine in Chicago has three pretty good novels out in the world and hasn’t read anything written after nineteen sixy- four or has over two hundred pages. It wouldn’t kill him to read a book that isn’t a pulp-detective-crime novel, but hey, I’m not his mom.

I look at genre books as a gateway drug. As a kid, my first introduction to adult work was Classics Illustrated Comics. Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers were all brought into my world in inked panels. From there it was an easy step to the real thing.

Reading my dad’s cold-war spy novels like Ludlum and Van Lustbader (which nobody will ever confuse with great literature, but they amused the hell out of me and if you talk smack about them I’ll fight you) led me to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

As an adult my reading, especially fiction, slacked off. But when I decided to try writing stories again, beginning with Count of the Sahara, I went back to school

First stop was Esquire’s list of 80 Books Every Man Should Read. While I’d read a fair number of them already, I worked my way through the list. Some, like Winters Tale, I never expected to like but I loved and learned a ton about descriptive writing. (I wish I loved my wife, my daughter or the Blackhawks as much as Mark Helprin loves New York City, just saying.)

Some of those books I hated and swore never to inflict writing like that on a reader, which is a valuable lesson.

Then I started reading genres I haven’t really read before. Nobody believes me that I’m now a sucker for epic fantasy like Robin Hobb, but there’s actually a lot historical fiction writers can learn about world-building from fantasy writers. It’s also, you know, fun. Nothing wrong with that. And a lot of those folks can write circles around more respected literary authors.

Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to read writers from other countries in translation. I am a sucker for Spanish authors like Arturo Perez-Reverte and Carlos Ruiz Zafon as well as the Cuban Leonardo Padura. The Korean writer Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters rocked my world.

I’m not a snob, I”m just trying to learn my craft from people more successful than I. It was the same doing standup. If a newbie on an amateur night couldn’t go further back than Pryor or Carlin, I didn’t think they were serious. If they could talk Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Alan King, we could hang.

Film and TV are great ways to learn plot, pacing, and action, but writing–fiction writing–is a very specific and demanding art.

There’s be no Count of the Sahara without Rafael Sabatini, and no Acre’s Orphans without Kipling.

What do you all think? Am I wrong? Am I just an old geezer and this is the literary version of “get off my lawn?” Talk me off the ledge!

Acre’s Orphans is an Indie B.R.A.G Medallion winner

So, my little third-born Acre’s Orphans has received another honor. Indie B.R.A.G has given it their award for excellence.

Their committee of readers had some nice things to say, but this killed me:

Wow! The last book I reviewed for BRAG I wanted a rating below “Yes” but above “No”. This time I want a rating above”yes”.
Like maybe “bound to be a classic like Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer or Kim.” There should be an award above a simple
BRAG medallion, like maybe “A Double B.R.A.G. Medallion” or maybe “No! I won’t turn out the light until I finish reading this!”
which my wife got tired of hearing the last three nights. I usually complain loud and long about first-person books, as they
make the main characters too narcissistic and the other characters too shallow. Ten-year-olds KNOW the world revolves
around them, especially when they know how to successfully play the “poor but cute orphan” face. First-person is perfect for
the “son of fleas”. Perhaps it is his training as an observer/spy (like Kim in Rudyard Kipling’s stories) that allows him to flesh
out the characters around him. The momentous events of history seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old put some of those
legendary people in their appropriate places. I look forward to reading the first book to get Lucca’s take on the Hattin debacle,
which is one of my favorite times in history to have NOT been there. This is one of the few books I wish I had written. Maybe if
I write until I die, my last book will approach the quality of “Acre’s Orphans”.

Reviewer, Indie BRAG

I’m honored and humbled (shut up! I can be humble if I have to!) at the love the book is receiving. Go check it out already…

Ritual, Writing, and Rye

If you’ve been following me for any length of time (and a thousand blessings upon your home and camels if that’s the case) you have heard me refer to an odd ritual involving a specific brand of rye whiskey, a particular cigar, and my writing. Since a couple of you have asked me about it, here’s the explanation.

I have never been very good at “treating myself.” This is partly due to spending most of my life broke as a joke, and mostly due to a healthy dose of Baptist guilt leftover from my childhood. While happy to partake in the celebrations and victory laps of others, I tend not to do the same for myself. It’s a thing.

But when I set out to write my first novel which eventually became Count of the Sahara (original title, Pith Helmets in the Snow. This is why publishers and editors get a voice in such decisions–to save authors from themselves and blessings on Erik at The Book Folks) I was fifty-two years old and not sure I could do it. I promised myself some kind of small reward if/when I ever finished the damned thing.

Having neither the money nor the spleen to do anything big and splashy, I thought a shot of something special would do nicely. But what?

Well, the book takes place during Prohibition here in the US. Byron de Prorok (you have read it, right?) one night gets his hand on some bootleg hooch from Templeton, Iowa and he and Willy get rip-roaringly drunk. Templeton rye was considered the best of the American rye whiskeys by Al Capone.

Years later the descendants of those folks have re-issued Templeton as a small brand. I saw it on a pub shelf one day and decided that if the damned book ever got finished, I would celebrate with a shot of Templeton Rye.

I did. It was yummy. It’s also a bit more expensive than the usual stuff we keep at home, so it’s for special occasions. It’s reserved for:

  • Finishing first drafts (applies only to novels and non-fiction books)
  • Finishing final drafts (ditto)
  • Acceptance by a publisher (also applies to short stories)
  • The day the boxes arrive with the Advanced Reading Copies.

I also celebrate with a cigar. Yes, I know. As I explained to my doctor, I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, I smoke a single cigar less than once a week, and I’m fully aware that taking a plant, setting it on fire, and putting it in my mouth is probably less than good for me. I also know that those with no visible vices are the people you can’t trust.

My smoke of choice, for what it’s worth, is La Aroma de Cuba El Jefe. Not a particularly fancy-schmancy stick but it’s the size, duration, and strength I like. Sue me.

Oh, and I generally do this alone. Solo. Just me. This celebration is for me and me alone, and today’s the day.

I have finished the first draft of Johnny Lycan. It’s unlike anything you’ve read from me. It’s decidedly not historical fiction, and some of you are going to hate it (or at least that’s what the gremlins in the back of my head are telling me) although I am very fond of the damned thing and I believe it will find a large audience.

If you need me today, I’ll be on the deck, in the shade because it’s a hundred freaking degrees out, celebrating and indulging my inner Hemingway. Now you know.

The First Draft is Done. Ta-Dah!

The first draft of a book is often malformed, ugly, and unfit for human consumption. Such is the case with the first draft of Johnny Lycan. You know what? I don’t care! It’s done. Let the rewrites begin.

Yes, Johnny Lycan. That might be a clue as to what it’s about. Or not. Stay tuned.

It’s done. It’s unlike anything I have ever written before, and I think it will be really good when it’s been whipped, prodded, dragged and mercilessly pounded into submission.

Here’s what it’s not: Historical fiction. Not even close. Those of you who read Count of the Sahara, Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans and have come to know me through those books, I really, really, really hope you stay with me. I get it if you don’t.

Here’s what it is: Nope, not ready to tell you yet. But it will be funny. And bloody. And more like some of my short stories than any book I’ve written so far.

Stay tuned for details, and of course, you can join my mailing list for updates. Just use the email link on the left-hand side to let me know you want to be added.

Now there will be a Templeton Rye and a Cigar. Because that’s how we roll here at Casa Turmel when milestones get met. Send thoughts and prayers for the ugly little bugger. He’ll need all the help he can get.

Join me August 4th at Dime Grinds

One of the first Las Vegas literary events I found out about when I moved here was Dime Grinds. The first Sunday of every month the Henderson Writers Group has three writers talk about their books, read, and introduce themselves to an always-packed group of readers and authors. Now it’s my turn.

On Sunday, August 4th, I’ll be reading from Acre’s Orphans, along with Steven Murray and Susan Johnson. Get a cup of regular coffee for a dime, hang out with the local writing community and have some fun.

Joe Maxx ( our local hangout, better than Starbucks) Coffee supports this fun event. 500 E. Windmill Ln, #175 at the corner of Windmill and Bermuda. Come visit.

Revisiting Roanoke with Harold Titus

The early days of exploring North America are full of fascinating missteps and accidents–lucky and otherwise. One of these is the “missing” Roanoke colony. Harold Titus has written about it in his new novel, Alsoomse and Wanchese.

Let’s start with the easy part. What’s your story?

Born in New York State in 1934, I moved to Tennessee when I was seven and then to Southern California when I was nine.  I grew up in Pasadena, lived with my parents until I went to college at UCLA, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1956.  I taught high school English for one year in Los Angeles, spent two years in the Army, then moved to Northern California and for 31 years taught intermediate school English, American history, and a drama elective and coached boys’ and girls’ after-school sports teams in suburban Orinda, just east of Berkeley.  I retired in 1991.  My first historical novel, “Crossing the River,” printed in 2011, is about the experiences of English and American participants in the first two battles (Lexington and Concord) of the American Revolution.  My second historical novel, the subject of this interview, “Alsoomse and Wanchese,” was published in May 2018.  I continue to write a blog mostly about American history and historical fiction (http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com).

What’s Alsoomse and Wanchese about?

Why are human beings so fascinating regardless of period of time or degree of cultural and technological advancement?  My answer: strengths and failings of character, group ideological orthodoxies, non-conformity.  “Alsoomse and Wanchese” narrates a year (1583-1584) in the lives of Roanoke Island Algonquian sister Alsoomse and brother Wanchese as they reject tribal conformity, question tribal decision-making, decide for themselves what is true and just, and seek accomplishment.  Their six-village chief Wingina is at war with an upstart chief of one of his villages.  Wanchese, 19, seeks to become one of Wingina’s essential men.  His impulsiveness and quick temper work against this.  His strenuous efforts to both achieve his goals and learn from his mistakes broaden him, temper him, make him laudable.  Alsoomse, 17, is a questioner, a seeker, an individualist in a culture that demands conformity of behavior and belief.  She is placed in situations that exacerbate these attributes, her subsequent conduct causing her leaders to regard her increasingly as dangerous.  Englishmen sent to North American by Walter Raleigh to find a suitable place to establish a colony arrive near the conclusion of the novel, their appearance complicating each protagonist’s conflicts. 

What is it about the Roanoke Colony you found so interesting?

What we know about the story of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island is related to us by Englishmen.  Missing from that story is any detailed understanding of the Algonquians, as human as any Englishman that stepped then on North American soil.  In my novel, about to leave Plymouth Harbor, the painter John White and his associate, the young scientist Thomas Harriot, have this conversation.

Harriot half-turned. “I have seen your painting of the savage that Frobisher brought back [from Baffin Island, Canada] in 1576 and the woman and child from the 1577 expedition. I have been wanting to ask you about them.”

“Ask.”

“What … did you see? Are these people so behindhand as to be mentally deficient? I do not know what to expect.”

White leaned against the gunwale, his long coat bending near his right hip. “I saw human beings, who think, who suffer, who in our presence sought of hide human emotion.”

“What was their sense of us, as best you could tell?”

White moved his left foot ahead of his right. … “I wish there had been some way besides the use of gestures and facial expressions to communicate. What they thought and felt I can only imagine.”

“What did you think they felt?”

“Fear. Despair. Resignation. We uprooted them, Harriot. We took them to London as specimens! What they could have told us, if they had survived and learned our language!”

Historian Michael Leroy Oberg wrote: “Indians are pushed to the margins, at best playing bit parts in a story centered on the English. … Roanoke is as much a Native American story as an English one. … We should take a close look at the Indians who greeted and confronted Raleigh’s colonists. … Because Wingina’s people, and his allies and enemies, in the end determined so much of the fate of the Roanoke ventures, it seems only fair that we concentrate upon them, and how they understood the arrival of the English.”

That is what my novel does.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

She was waiting for Wanchese in a corner of the chamber close to a raised, small-branched, deerskin-covered bed. At first he thought he was alone, that the girl would enter from outside. A slight movement caused him to look in her direction.

He stepped over to her. It was difficult to see. He made out her features.

She was young. Fifteen? Sixteen? Not yet Alsoomse’s age. She was naked, adolescent slim, her breasts small, her limbs and buttocks not yet pleasingly rounded.

Her eyes darted. She appeared defensive. This was not what he had experienced the year before at Mequopen.

“What is your name?”

Her right hand moved toward her mouth. “Waboose.”

It was an Algonquian custom that important visitors to an Algonquian village be provided young women to spend the night.  Waboose is a virgin.  She has been chosen by the chief’s wife to perform this duty but is frightened.  Wanchese and she talk.  They learn a few facts about each other and their respective families.  Conscience-stricken, reluctantly, Wanchese relents.  They sleep together but refrain from intercourse.

Where can people find you and your work?

You can find it on Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Booklocker

I’m on Goodreads

And, of course, on my blog.

We interrupt this interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Join Me Saturday at Barnes and Noble, Henderson

Hello Las Vegas folks. I’m very excited to be at Barnes and Noble in Henderson (567 North Stephanie near Sunset) from 1-3 pm on Saturday, June 29th. I’ll be hanging out and signing copies of my Lucca le Pou books, Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans. Come stop by!

If you haven’t read these award-winning historical fiction tales, now’s your chance!

Even if you’re familiar with the novels stop by so I don’t look like the sad, lonely author sitting at the table in the back of the store!

Image result for cartoon, author, book signing

The Plantagenet Legacy Begins with Mercedes Rochelle

If you are a fan of Shakespeare’s histories, you are familiar with the Plantagenet line: Richard 2 Edwards 1 through 3 and Henrys 3-4… maybe 5 they all blur together after a while. But Mercedes Rochelle has begun an ambitious series with the first in a long line of books: A King Under Seige.

Mercedes, tell us about you.

I’m one of those writers who decided against a “real job” because I thought it would get in the way of my writing career. I even moved a thousand miles to New York so I would be ready to jump when an agent came calling. I almost made it, too; though I should have known something was not quite right when my first New York agent’s office was a crowded closet with a tiny window overlooking an alley. He didn’t place my novel. My second agent dropped me like a proverbial hot potato after she couldn’t place it with her few contacts. That was thirty years ago. I was devastated. For twenty years my novel sat on a shelf gathering dust until I screwed up my courage and tried again. I realized that times change and it’s never too late. I had to learn all about building a platform and navigating this “brave new world”. Competition was fiercer than ever. But there were good changes too. Research was a heck of a lot easier with the internet at my fingertips. Historical Fiction was almost unheard of back then; now, it’s almost mainstream! Many years as a reenactor gave me the courage to imagine I can relate to medieval mind set. I brushed the dust off my masterpiece and even discovered some new historical sources. Since I never gave up my love of the middle ages, one book stretched to four about England in the eleventh century and events surrounding the Norman Conquest. Now I’ve moved forward 300 years to Richard II, who caught my attention back before I moved to New York.  The research continues!

What’s your series about?

My current project is called the Plantagenet Legacy; this will be a four volume set starting with Richard II and ending with Henry V (unless I get inspired to move forward to the next king). Book one is called A KING UNDER SIEGE which is about the minority of Richard II, who became king at age ten. For ten years he struggled to assert himself, proving his worth during the Peasants’ Revolt but butting up against the antagonism of his disaffected magnates, led by his uncle Thomas of Woodstock. The Lords Appellant, as they were called, goaded Parliament into eliminating Richard’s advisors and friends through judicial murder, exile, and dismissal—laying the seeds of their own destruction that will take place in my current work in progress, THE KING’S RETRIBUTION.

Why that time period? What’s the fascination?

Back in the late ‘70s, I saw Shakespeare’s RICHARD II performed on BBC by the Royal Shakespeare company. I had never heard of this king, but the final scene where he was imprisoned, bemoaning the fate of kings, struck me so soundly that I carried him around with me for 30 years before I was ready to write this book. (I needed to get the Godwinesons and the Battle of Hastings out of my system first.) I’m glad I waited; the research surrounding Richard has been intense. I was puzzled about how this King could have lost his throne so quickly; of course, now I know that his downfall was several years in the making. The events of A KING UNDER SIEGE were so humiliating to young Richard that his methodical revenge in the next book becomes understandable.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

At the height of Richard’s degradation, the five Lords Appellant corner Richard inside the Tower of London, where he is surrounded by their rebel army and finds himself helpless to resist. Poor Richard is left only with his regality, which doesn’t go very far in the face of their determination to subjugate him. At first Richard doesn’t realize how complete their victory is; but in the face of their united contempt he is reduced to a helpless pawn. They detain him in the Tower for three days as they argue over who will supplant him.

Where can we learn more?

webpage:  http://www.MercedesRochelle.com

facebook: http://www.MercedesRochelle.net

My blog:        http://www.historicalBritainBlog.com

twitter:    http://www.twitter.com/authorRochelle

Amazon author page https://www.amazon.com/Mercedes-Rochelle/e/B001KMG5P6

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1696491.Mercedes_Rochelle

We interrupt this interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

I’m On the Radio- The Internet is the Author’s Friend

Most of you probably don’t know what little formal education I do have consists of an Associates degree in Broadcast Journalism from BCIT. I love the medium of radio. I was recently interviewed for the Aspects of Writing radio program. The topic was: The Internet is the Author’s Friend. Lord knows it’s mine…

Listen to the show here:

In this wide-ranging and somewhat insane interview we cover doing research for historical fiction, getting the word out about your book, why dinosaurs changed my life, and how the internet is both a frightening time suck and the best way for indie authors to network and share their work with a readership.

Thanks to James Kelly and Joyce Kaye Gatschenberger for letting me ramble.