Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zombies, Excuses, and Miscellanea

Gadzooks! It's been over two months since I've last posted a blog entry, so let me first of all apologize and get the excuses out of the way. My big excuse is that I've moved, which doesn't seem like a big deal at first, but considering that 1) I'm teaching six writing classes (and all the grading that entails), 2) it was necessary to integrate and make accommodations in the new place for two dogs and a cat whom had never met each other before, and 3) it was necessary to turn the garage into a studio/rehearsal space for my band, Wheel House, you can maybe sympathize with why I haven't had much time for writing. Hopefully. But no more excuses. The last two months certainly haven't been a waste and I'm hoping being in the new environment will be the start of a productive and successful period of writing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fahrenheit 2011

It's September again, and for me that means back to teaching. Among the six classes I'm teaching this year, two of them are noteworthy—two classes that at first glance might seem unrelated, but to my mind are inextricably linked. The first is a dystopian literature course at the Orange County High School of the Arts. The second is a composition course at Chapman University, writing about ecology, in which we are reading extensively about the impact of climate change.

Amazingly, people the world over seem to think global warming is still a theory under debate, or worse, that it's a hoax. Let me be clear, there is no debate. This is no hoax. The data is overwhelming. There is no argument within the scientific community whether global warming is real. The only discussion is how bad will it get, and how can we curtail the damage.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Welcome to the World of Transgressive Fiction.

This Fall I have two new short stories coming out in anthologies, one a high seas adventure forthcoming in Pirates & Swashbucklers (to be released on Talk Like a Pirate Day—Arr!), and the other a very odd tale in Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction, available now! As the editors describe it, Fracas is an anthology of transgressive fiction, a genre some readers might not be familiar with. So as a public service, here's the quick and dirty on what the genre is all about, as well as some reading recommendations from the contributors to Fracas.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Author Interview: Misty Massey

Misty Massey is no bandwagon pirate fanatic who got turned onto the trend on account of the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movies or by watching too many Captain Morgan rum commercials. Nope, she’s been fascinated by pirates since she was a kid, and her first novel, Mad Kestrel, carries on the rich literary heritage of great pirate adventures. Misty and I became acquainted several years back on an online forum where she was hosting a Q&A session. She happened to mention that the Tim Powers novel On Stranger Tides was a big influence for her, and I quickly bragged that I work with Powers at the Orange County High School of the Arts, and was myself a big fan of his work. She was duly impressed, and when my book The Roads to Baldairn Motte (co-written with Craig Comer and Ahimsa Kerp) came out, I more or less begged her to give it a read and write a cover blurb. She obliged, and once again her generosity has come through by granting her time to come chat here on my blog.

What follows is the inside scoop on a potential sequel to Mad Kestrel, who it is that makes her gush like a school girl, and some secret skills she’s been honing that’ll keep randy buccaneers at bay on the dance floor. Yarr!

Garrett: First off, how is the sequel to Mad Kestrel coming along?

Misty: (laughs) That's the question of the hour, isn't it? You wouldn't believe how many people ask me that every day (which is lovely, and I'm not complaining at all.) It’s coming along. I'm in rewrites, and frankly I've discovered a few things that I somehow missed in the first draft, making it a deeper and hopefully more satisfying story. I had hoped to be finished mid-July, but now it looks like I've got another week or so of work. The end is in sight!

Garrett: That's great. I'm sure a lot of people will be very stoked to hear you're so close.

Misty: That's why I'm not complaining. It's really ego-boosting to know that there are people who want to read what I write. As a writer yourself, you know how good that feels.

Garrett: Indeed. So now that we’ve gotten that obligatory question out of the way, what sparked your interest in pirates?

Misty: Oh gee, I've been a pirate girl for nearly my whole life. When I was 6 or 7, my family visited the Outer Banks on vacation, and the best part of the whole trip was getting to climb on sun-bleached shipwrecks and pretending to be a pirate. Later, after we moved to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I learned more about the real pirates who prowled the Atlantic. I was fascinated by the romance of a life at sea. I know that pirates were criminals who'd have been happy to dip my toes in boiling tar to make me tell where the gold was hidden, but they represent the kind of freedom that we just don't have available anymore. That makes them fun.

Garrett: Yeah, it's pretty hard arguing against being a pirate. Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

Misty: I've been writing since I was a kid, but for many years, it never once occurred to me that I might be published. Back then, authors were these semi-divine beings who lived on mountaintops and could not be seen by mere humans. After college, I worked for a while in an independent bookstore, where I found a book called The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. I took it home, devoured it, and decided then and there that I wanted to do what he'd done. He'd managed to create something amazing and I wanted to do that myself. But how to go about it? I started writing short stories, and even managed to sell a few to magazines that paid in copies. Eventually, I met Faith Hunter, who was part of a local writing group. She was writing mysteries at the time, while I was writing fantasy, but her insights and advice were exactly what I needed to push me along. After critiquing a number of short stories in the context of the group, she started insisting that I try writing a novel. I didn't think I could do it, but here we are! I've often said that there would have been no novel from me if Faith hadn't strong-armed me into trying it.

Garrett: Thank goodness for Faith, then. And huzzah for Tim Powers! Anubis Gates is one of my favorite books, too. We'll have to get you out to California so you can meet Powers one of these days. I actually get to work with him at the Orange County High School of the Arts. Amazing guy.

Misty: I would LOVE to shake his hand one day. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that when I come face to face with him, I'll be so starstruck I'll babble something incomprehensible and run away. Or cry. (laughs) Some girls lose their minds over rock stars; for me, it's writers.

Garrett: Same for me. I went to Comic Con this year and while my girlfriend was starstruck seeing different movie and TV celebrities, I piddled myself when I happened to walk by George R.R. Martin.

Misty: (laughs out loud)

Garrett: All right, back to Mad Kestrel. You did a great job of addressing gender roles in the novel through the natural progression and context of the story without being heavy handed. As a woman author, how do you approach gender roles and the issue of sexism in your writing?

Misty: Gender roles...that's really a tough one. Once upon a time, society dictated such concrete standards that one could hardly think about stepping outside them. These days, the world's open to anyone. Or mostly. Luckily, there were a few female pirates among the 18th century pirates that I used for inspiration, so I'm not entirely out of my depth by writing one. Then again, those female pirates weren't supposed to be pirating at all, and I tried to keep that in mind when I was working on Mad Kestrel. Brave and vicious and strong they were, but they weren't entirely accepted.

I've had the occasional review that complained about male characters seeing Kestrel as a sexual object, but those instances were important to show how very unusual it was for her to hold such a position aboard a ship. A 21st century man knows better than to behave that way to a woman doing her job, but the 18th century men saw women like that as unworthy of respect. So, I think I'm trying to make sure that I accurately portray the cultural behaviors of my world, even though as a modern woman I might not like it much. And I also do my best to make my protagonist fight those strictures so she can ultimately live the free life she craves.


Garrett: I happen to know some 21st century men who still think it's the 18th century when it comes to women.

Misty: Yeah, I live in the South, where some people still think it's 1875.

Garrett: Well, I for one think you did a great job—both with your response to the question and in portraying Kestrel in a realistic, thoughtful way.

Misty: Thanks!

Garrett: Okay, let's lighten it up a little. You're a contributing member of MagicalWords.net. What is Magical Words all about and how did you get involved?

Misty: Magical Words is about helping would-be authors by giving them tips, advice and suggestions about the publishing world. I'm honored to be a member of the team—we've been at it for three years now, and I hope we keep going many more years.

It all began when I went over to Faith Hunter's house for tea one afternoon. She and David B. Coe had been tossing around an idea for joining together to make a bigger mark on the internet than a single person's blog could accomplish. We talked and plotted and planned all afternoon, then I came home to tell my husband. He happened to be an amateur webmaster at the time, and offered to set up our site. We invited C.E. Murphy to join us, and soon we were posting new content four days a week. C.E. Murphy had to drop out after the second year, due to having a baby, so we added Stuart Jaffe, A.J. Hartley and Edmund Schubert to the lineup.

Garrett: That sounds very cool. And you guys even have a book out in print now, is that correct?

Misty: Yes, last January we released a book of the best posts from the first two years, called How To Write Magical Words. We're talking about a fiction anthology, but that's up in the air right now, until we can get an interested publisher.

Garrett: Very cool. I'm working on a couple of different anthologies myself. Lots of work, but it's great to get to work with other writers. Sometimes you feel sort of isolated as a writer and it's nice to collaborate, I think.

Misty: You're absolutely right. That's one reason I like going to cons so much. Just the chance to talk shop with people who know how this crazy business feels!

Garrett: Agreed. All right, ready for the speed round?

Misty: (cracks her knuckles) Ready!

Garrett:  Are you any good at singing pirate shanties?

Misty: Yes, I am! I can do at least ten verses of "A Drop of Nelson's Blood" all on my own. And while I don't remember all the words, I can power through the chorus of "Barrett's Privateers" with the best of them.

Garrett: Nice! Favorite rum?

Misty: Cruzan Blackstrap (although Kraken has the best bottle design).

Garrett: Good choice. I haven't tried Kraken yet, though I've held the bottle longingly many at time at the store. If you ever find yourself in Fiji, I highly recommend Bounty overproof room. My good friend and collaborator Ahimsa Kerp turned me onto it. Unfortunately, you can't find it here in the states.

Misty: I'd love to find myself in Fiji someday!

Garrett: Scariest sea creature? The Kraken?

Misty: Jellyfish. They're really hard to see in the water and they hurt if they touch you! At least the Kraken I can see coming...

Garrett: Good call. How are your saber skills?

Misty: Alas, they've been better. I took one semester of fencing in college and loved it, but I haven't had much swordfighting experience since then. Unless you count DANCING with a sword, in which case my skills are excellent!

Garrett: Nice, that’ll keep any unwanted scoundrels from strong arming you into a dance. Any other hobbies or interests your fans might not know about.

Misty: My fans probably already know that I'm a belly dancer. I've been studying various forms of Middle Eastern dance for nearly nine years now, and there's always something new to learn. Lately I've been teaching myself how to use fan veils (dance fans with silk veils about 3 feet long) and hoops. I drop the hoops often, but I'm getting better.

Garrett: Sounds exotic. I'll have to see if I can talk my girlfriend into finding a fan veil class somewhere nearby.

Misty: Fan veils are beautiful—she'll love them! I should also warn you, they're addictive. I have four pair already.

Garrett: Warning taken under consideration. So, that's all the questions I have for you. Apart from the new Kestrel novel, anything else you want fans to know about?

Misty: Well, once the rewrite is done, I'll be returning to the project I started last spring, a weird western fantasy with gunslingers, faeries, lost loves and electricity in all the most dangerous places, so keep a weather eye open for that.

Garrett: Definitely will. That sounds awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk. It's been a great honor.

Misty: I've enjoyed this! Thank you for inviting me!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Holy Shit, Batman! (Comic-Con 2011)

After missing Comic-Con in 2010, I was excited to get back there this year. Due to some poor planning on my part and gnarly crowds I missed most of the cool programs and panels, but my girlfriend and I still managed to squeeze in a solid day and a half of ambling around, and with said crowds, that was plenty for us.

Beyond the great people watching, here’s some of the noteworthy highlights from this year’s nerd fest.

  • A Song of Ice and Fire: I missed both the HBO Game of Thrones Q&A session and the Epic Writing panel with George RR Martin, but by sheer dumb luck, I wandered by Martin at an autograph booth and nabbed a quick photo. He looks to be in good health, which is good news for those of us hoping he doesn’t croak before finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. I have to admit, I was a bit star struck getting so close to Martin—way more star struck than seeing Adam West, Lou Ferrigno, and two Playboy playmates. I’ve yet to read A Dance with Dragons (it’s been so long coming, I need to go back and read the first four books again first), but I hear it’s good. For a review, check out Ahi Kerp’s blog.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dirty Jobs

Sorry, hon, you can't pay me enough to do that...

In the course of trying to make a career of doing what one loves, we are often forced into making sacrifices and working odd jobs to make ends meet. Being a writer is no exception. People tend to have the misconception that being an author means you make heaps of money, live in a secluded manse, and hobnob with the intellectual elite. Not so much. If you need convincing, read Robert Brockway's hilarious (and depressingly too real) account of what it's like being a writer. And keep in mind, Brockway is a fairly successfully author. Those of us writers who have yet to find ourselves on a bestsellers list are even worse off.

About five years ago, I left my career in the health & safety industry to become a “real” writer. I was writing before that, of course, but simply didn't have enough time to write as much as I needed. So, I quit my job, picked up a few writing classes to teach part-time, and got to writing like mad. The writing has been good, and the classes fun to teach, but the money hasn't exactly come pouring in, and that's meant taking on whatever jobs I can hustle up—oftentimes jobs a one-armed hooker with no teeth would turn her nose up to. What follows is a sampling of the soul-sucking jobs I've worked over the years. Please share your own shitty jobs in the comments section below. It'll be fun to commiserate together in our collected misery!

Monday, June 13, 2011

If you wanna buy a book, pussy cow!

With the release of The Roads to Baldairn Motte, my co-authors and I have been brainstorming new, creative ways to promote the book--everything from fan art contests, book review drives, creating an original song, to giving away exclusive, unreleased content related to the book. During said conversations, I've been experimenting with promotion ideas with Umbral Visions, and I have to say, the whole business really makes me feel like a used car salesman. I'd much rather be writing, but in today's world--where you have to fight hard to convince someone to spend their hard-earned money on books--writers have to be their own biggest cheerleaders.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Roads to Baldairn Motte

After many years of hard work, The Roads to Baldairn Motte is finally here! Collaborators Craig Comer, Ahimsa Kerp, and myself started working on the mosaic fantasy novel back in 2007. It took us about a year and a half to write, then we searched high a low to find a home for it (which we found in the awesome independent publisher, L&L Dreamspell), and then we had to forge through the revision process with our editors. All said and done, we have a book that all of us our proud of, and more importantly, a book readers are going to love. Here's what two of our reviewers had to say about the novel:

"I was drawn into the world of Baldairn Motte at once by the rich prose and the promise of high adventure, but it was the characters and the fast moving story that held me literary hostage. I hope there's a sequel!"
 - James P. Blaylock, Winner of the World Fantasy Award and Philip K. Dick Award
"Whores become heroes, farmers become freedom fighters and healers strike down the unjust against the backdrop of a land in turmoil. Fans of George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire or Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God will relish the excitement of The Roads to Baldairn Motte."
Misty Massey, author of Mad Kestrel

I'd like thank Jim Blaylock and Misty Massey immensely for saying such kind words about the book. Now it's up to all you readers out there to see if Jim and Misty are full of shit or not. The book is available in paperback and Kindle formats. Grab a copy from Amazon here, and let me know what you think. And as always, thanks for your support!

-Garrett Calcaterra

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Brief History of Eä, the World of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit

A year or so ago, I taught an author study course on J.R.R. Tolkien. For their final project, the students had to create an almanac for The Lord of the Rings, and I decided to write the introduction, a primer of sorts on where all the races of people and creatures came from. This turned out to be much harder than I anticipated, but the final product is a fair summary of the world Tolkien created, or at least I like to think so. My sources included The Silmarillion, The Books of Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, and of course, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

A Brief History of Eä, the World
of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit

 by Garrett Calcaterra

In the Beginning...
            Illúvatar is the god and creator of Eä. He first created the Ainur, the Holy Ones, and together they created a song in which they imagined , the world of trees, Elves, and Men. Once the world was imagined in song, Illúvatar created the world amidst the void and sent those of the Ainur who were willing to go make the world as they had imagined it in song. These Ainur who went to Eä were thenceforth known as the Valar and Maiar. The Valar were the more powerful of the two groups, and chief amongst them were Manwë, Aulë, Ulmo, Yavanna, Oromë, and Melkor.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Non-Idiot's Guide to Finding a Literary Agent

As an author, ghostwriter, and writing teacher, I’m often asked how to find a literary agent—enough times, at least, I decided I should finally write about it. There are a lot of good articles on the various aspects of getting an agent and ultimately a publisher, but not much in the way of a blunt, holistic guide, so without further ado, I present to you…

“The Non-Idiot’s Guide to Finding a Literary Agent.”

Solicited vs. Unsolicited Manuscripts

The first thing to understand as a writer hoping to get published is that you are competing with thousands of other writers with the exact same aspirations. This means agents and editors are swimming in more manuscript submissions than they can read. To make their jobs feasible, agents and editors generally split submissions into two categories: solicited and unsolicited. Solicited means a manuscript was requested by the agent or editor; these types of submissions garner much more time and consideration from the agent or editor. Furthermore, the response time from editors and agents is much quicker with solicited manuscripts; usually no longer than a month. Without any question, this is the better category to be in, but at the same time it’s the more difficult.

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Torrid Affair with Writing Erotica

One of my favorite stories that I’ve ever written, “The Sway of the Dead,” has just come out in a new anthology at long last. But here’s the thing: it’s been released in an erotica anthology, Erotic Dreamspell. Anyone who has followed my writing career at least casually knows that this is not the first story I’ve written that’s come out in an erotica collection. In fact, if you type in my name at Amazon, three of the four titles that come up are erotica books. I’d argue that this is a gross miscategorization of the scope of my writing, and yet I’m not at all abashed to be included in the erotica genre—perhaps foolishly.
99.9% of what I write is not erotica at all. I write horror, sci-fi, fantasy, literary, and humorous fiction. I’ve even written children’s stories. I take pride in being able to write for different audiences, and no matter what I write, I always aim to explore some aspect of human conflict. Sometimes that conflict involves sex and sexuality. I hate to break it to all the prudes out there, but sex is part of being human. We make love, we fuck, we fantasize, we lust, we masturbate. All those experiences and emotions make up a huge part of the human experience. How can we not write and read about sex? It’s not smut, it’s not erotica just because there is an element of sex in a piece of fiction. My aforementioned story, “The Sway of the Dead,” is a violent dystopian zombie story. First and foremost it is a warning tale about getting caught up in the middle-class consumer rat race. The two heroes in the story have sex. The scene is not explicit, but it doesn’t dance around the deed either. It is what it is. Whether because of the unabashed sex, social critique, or the violence, this story riled up almost every magazine editor I sent it to. Most made personal written comments about how much they disliked the story, how reprehensible it was, and how inappropriate it was. It took the editor of an erotica anthology to read it with an open mind and see the story for what it is. That’s just one of the reasons I don’t shy away from the erotica label.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Author Ahimsa J. Kerp

Ahimsa Kerp is a man not easily categorized. He can read a book faster than you can thumb through a magazine, he’s an insatiable backpacker and traveler, he has degrees in esoteric subjects like philosophy and history, he has tattoos that make D&D nerds green with envy, and he guzzles fine beers with the best of them. He’s also a writer and good friend of mine. His short story, “Turning On, Tuning In, and Dropping Out at the Mountains of Madness,” has just come out in the erotic, Cthulhu-mythos anthology, Cthulhurotica, and he’s one of my collaborators on the historic fantasy novel, The Roads to Baldairn Motte (along with Craig Comer).

2010 was a good year from Ahimsa. In addition to Baldairn Motte and his erotic short story getting picked up, he published several travel writing pieces on Matador, the Art of Backpacking, and Where I’ve Been, not to mention a flash fiction piece on The New Flesh. As you may remember, Ahimsa interviewed me a month or two ago on his Blog, Be Obscure Clearly, so I decided to return the favor and ask him some tough questions of my own. So, without further ado, here’s my exclusive interview with Ahimsa Kerp.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Didn't Suck

I’m not big on New Year resolutions, but I do think it’s a good idea at this time of year to reflect back on the previous year, assess my writing performance, and see where I can improve. Well, shit, now that I put it that way, it sounds an awful like making New Year resolutions. Well, whatever it may be, I reread my blog post from this time last year and was reminded by how frustrated I was with my 2009 writing performance. 2010 turned out to be a much better year. I finally finished the first draft of Dreamwielder, and after sending out a couple batches of query letters, I’ve gotten a rewrite request from a big league agent. That rewrite is about ¾ of the way done as of right now and I hope to have the finalized rewrite sent off to the agent by the end of the month.