Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brian K. Ladd author of The Devouring Rime, reviews Shaman Circus

"Shaman Circus is a powerful story of love and loss, of the calling of the Gods and what price we pay for denial of our true path. Set in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Gail Gray takes us on a sweeping journey: one part documentary of the travesty, one part magical romp where lively characters take the action and move toward a painful, but revitalizing end game.
Jacob La Guerre brings his Rock Star Style to the streets of Katrina, one part verve, one part voodoo. Set opposite is stolid and nervous sociology professor Alex, who has left his family in South Carolina to study the effects of the Hurricane on the Voodoo community. Shaman Circus is a gripping tale of misery and triumph. It is the story of New Orleans."
 - Brian K. Ladd, Pushcart Prize nominee, author of The Devouring Rime, The Atavist Puzzle Pieces and numerous other short stories.

Signs and Synchronicity

As an avid student of Carl Jung, I'm frequently aware of synchronicity. Jung coined the term and explained what he meant in his book, Synchronicity, An Acausal Principle. He saw synchronicity as a meaningful coincidence of two or more events, important because of the timing. Beneath the veil of everyday life, Jung believed, as the quantum physicists now do, that everything is connected.

Like déjà vu, many writers have experienced synchronicity - a prime example is when someone recommends a book, not a common title of the day, but a more obscure book that you'd really like to read. Within a few days you spot it on a sale table or at a yard sale - staring you in the face, as if you were meant to read it - right now.
I experience synchronistic events in waves. There'll be dead times when it doesn't happen and others when it happens repeatedly day after day. Sometimes it’s pretty dramatic.
It's been a while since the signs were there, but they came back in force this week. Sunday, when it was a balmy 66 degrees, highly unusual for SC in February, after a successful writing session of 2,000 words on my WIP, Fireworks: Interference Equation, I went to the garden for balance. I raked leaves but had previously filled a pit that opened up a couple of years ago. So I considered hauling the leaves further away to another sinkhole area at the side of my house. But I was tired and dusk was coming so I didn't haul the wagonload to the sinkhole, just piled the load on top of the pile on the pit, hoping the coming rains would flatten it.
This morning I was doing research on indigenous natives of Australia for Fireworks. I found a great deal of info regarding the controversies over the aboriginal housing settlements near Alice Springs (Alice - the first sign, is one of the main characters in this book). The settlement endured a horrible situation when their sewage system collapsed and raw sewage backed up into most of their houses which the tribe rents from the government. The pipes are not well-maintained. I was shocked because the article called the area a fifth world situation, not third world and before this I had no idea of the plight of the resettled indigenous tribes.
This afternoon I had to call a plumber when my washing machine wastewater backed up into my shower. After four hours of snake lines, cameras in the pipes and digging, the diagnosis was a busted sewer line. Tree roots broke into either the iron pipe beneath the house or the clay pipe just outside of it. The prognosis was to the tune of $1500.00. Needless to say, as a writer who’s only been able to find part time real world work, I will be without running water, bathroom facilities, etc, etc. for a while.
The tree roots had broken the sewer line the sink hole. Two days ago, somewhere in my subconscious I made the connection with the month's worth of gurgling plumbing sounds, followed by the sudden back up of water in my shower with the depression in the earth on the side of my house. Before Sunday, I'd never considered using the sink hole as a compost area.
The connection with reading about Alice Springs was totally out of left field except for the timing - a meaningful coincidence.
I will now more fully be able to write about this topic from a firsthand perspective. Normally I wouldn't go this far in my research, but obviously the universe (or Jung's universal mind) thought otherwise.
Not quite the signs I was looking for. And even though I had a sleepless night last night, I'm trying to be philosophical,  - synchronicity works in mysterious ways.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shaman Circus review from Steve Lindahl

I just received an email with a review of my novel Shaman Circus from Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul. . 

"Shaman Circus is a story of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The writing has great detail and provides an understanding of what life was like in that city with clarity that wasn’t in either the news media statistics or the graphic pictures provided at the time of the storm. I was especially affected by a section where an artist was cleaning her studio. When she discovered that one of her works was only half destroyed from water damage, she ripped off the ruined part and kept the rest hoping she could recreate the painting someday. Gray’s images of huge out of control trash fires and colorful Louisiana Voodoo rituals performed in half destroyed warehouses, pulled me into her story and held me there. There was also a fascinating love triangle between Alex, Jacob, and Lily. Their relationships swirled around with almost as much destructive force as the hurricane. Shaman Circus is the type of book that makes its readers want to slow down to carefully pull in every word. It is more than a good read. It is a wonderful journey." - Steve Lindahl, author of Motherless Soul

Thanks so much to Steve.

Strong Threads - The Power of Story, Music and Dance

This past Saturday my family enjoyed a road trip to Hopkins, South Carolina, outside of Columbia. It’s a rural area, different but similar to the areas near here, except the dirt is more like sand and not the red clay so dominate in the Piedmont. My granddaughter, Kendall, performed on an outdoor stage beneath a massive spreading oak on a glorious and rare 66 degree February day.

It was a day of story telling and music, called Strong Threads, held at the Harriet Barber house, one of the 40 acres and a mule given to the freed slaves in 1865. The clapboard yellow house is still intact and still owned by the Barber family.
It truly was a step back in time - all because of the stories – the stories offered in songs and drums, dancing and poetry readings, the songs of struggle and survival, losses and healings. Eleven children were raised in the Barber house at a time when it was only two rooms. We could feel their presence.
As my granddaughter performed with the Phillis Wheatley Little People’s Repertoire, (another group started by an incredibly strong woman 80 years ago), I realized how story and song carry us through .
When we tell ancestral stories we gift our children with their strength and courage. When they sing the songs of their heritage, they reconnect in that long spiral of life in ways we can’t connect in our everyday lives. And even, as in our case, where this isn't our particular heritage, the stories and stories-within-songs, help us to understand other culture's histories. This is how we grow in acceptance and wisdom, connectivity and the opportunity to enjoy other cultures. For instance, when Kendall's theatre teacher, Ms. Jennings introduced the song, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" we learned how boats were the means of transportation for the freed slaves and they would sing to whoever was rowing to keep their strength up.
Kendall is very fortunate to be in this repetoire group, espoecially since she started when she was only 6-years old.  Everytime I go to a rehearsal, I'm reminded of the movie, Fame. Ms. Jennings is a tough, self-sacrificing and dedicated teacher, who in three months turned Kendall's group of K-5 and first graders into a confident, inspired troupe and chorus line. These young singers and dancers are introduced to true theater as they perform  Ms. Jennings own arrangements using elements of jazz, Broadway, folk and ethnic dancing - whatever fits the mood and theme. 
During his afternoon of performances, from these young children to professional musicians, college actors and college student African dance troupes, gosepl singers and Gullah cuisine experts, we discover it's the stories of the people we remember.
The stories are forever, keeping the people... their fears, dreams, their turmoil and hopes, and ultimately their accomplishments alive.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Submission processes - how they change

B. Miller one of the writers in my writers' group wrote a great blog on submitting by mail. She's been submitting many of her great horror short stories lately, but has only submitted by mail a few times in the past and once recently. She offers many insights into that now, mostly outdated method, and how the ritual, while expensive and time consuming, does make you feel more viscerally involved with the cycle.

However, I'm going to discuss the latest submission angle: the online forms many presses are now using. While I find them to be time consuming, I can see why a magazine which receives hundred of submissions a month, uses them to help track manuscripts. However, I'm not sure I like the feeling of sending subs out and having no record that the stories made it. Sure, many mags send an automatic response within a few days, but some don't. I feel some manuscripts get lost in the ether or either the response ends up blocked because its considered spam. Recently, I've had more than a few subs never receive a response, some of these from big magazines.
Are any of writers out there having the same problem?

I've taken off all my spam filters but still don't know if it's on my end of theirs. And while I keep records of all my subs on Duotrope, I also liked the back up system of checking sent emails for exact dates and even content.
As writers, we're constantly having to adapt to the markets, and many of the advances in online submission make our lives easier, but there are times when it feels less like we talk to an editorial board and more like we only communicate with computers. It's a dilemma with no easy answer and as an editor, I'm thrilled that so many people are writing - and writing good works, but I would hate to see the personal connection lost, at least from time to time. Already, writers work and live in a void. Unlike artists and musicians, we don't have the chance to see our audience's response. I'd hate to see one more connection for writers to work with human beings fade away.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Magical Realism III

Magical Realism III

So my personal journey into the hypnotic world of magical realism came through the British, came when I first read W. H. Hudson’s Green Mansions. After reading the book I was enthralled with the concepts and Hudson’s audacity to allow the magical world to encroach on the real world. For years I searched for other such experiences in the literary world. I wasn’t writing much at the time, mostly a weekly column for a local town newspaper, but I was hooked and the idea of creating and populating such real places with magical aspects took hold. But, I couldn’t find many other novels like Green Mansions. So, like with much of my writing, I tried to write the experience I wanted to encounter. I was unsuccessful at the first three novel attempts.

Then I read The Magus by British author, John Fowles. A book which touched me so powerfully, I read it at least once a year, and have given more than 30 copies of the book to other writers, poets and artists in the hope it will inspire them to believe anything is possible as it inspired me. Many papers and discussions on magical realism list The Collector by Fowles as his only magical realism book. But I disagree. Fowles, himself considered The Magus his magical realism novel (as he noted in the revised edition’s intro) and I wonder if the writers who include The Collector in their magical realism lists have actually read the book. I have a feeling they’re instead citing the title from previous publications or essays. To me The Collector is far from the field of magical realism as it doesn’t contain some of the most imperative aspects of this misinterpreted literary style.

When I undertook to write Shaman Circus, it was going to be a dark fantasy novel, but as it shifted and changed, by its own direction, magical elements crept in: ritual and carnival, political uneasiness and tragedy in both the community and in many personal lives, struggles between the established civilized order and the spiritual needs of a population very different form the rest of the US, and then there’s the magic in everyday life – the means to help people cope with events too big for the mind to grasp. Small everyday ways to be able to breathe when overwhelmed. The story evolved because of what the characters could or could not do. There was too much realism for fantasy and I wanted there to be hope and healing in the face of the horrors. I didn’t follow any format for magical realism and didn’t even realize it fell in that realm until three years after I’d finished the first draft and a couple of revisions. Previously I’d written some literary pieces, but mostly dark fantasy and psychological horror. So this was a switch. Most of it must have been subconscious. I only realized it fell in that character when trying to write the synopsis to seek publication. Strange things indeed.

And things they are a-changing again…

When I started searching on Duotrope – (an online data base and submission tracker of over 2700 print and online magazines) for publications which accepted magical realism fiction a couple of years ago, very few magazines opted to publish such stories. Now each day brings new magazines venturing into this often confused and not fully understood territory and a lot more of them came onboard within the last few months.

So you do the math…

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Indroducing: Steve Viner, Shaman Circus Cover Artist

I think it's high time I introduce you to Steve Viner, the Cover Artist from Shaman Circus. Steve and I met through  Connie Stadler of Virginia, an author I whose poetry chapbook, Tinted Steam, I was publishing through my small press, Shadow Archer Press.  Connie had seen his work, contacted him where he lives in England and requested he design the cover for her book. I was so impressed with Steve's work both on Connie's book and his website that I've worked with him on Fissure #5 and three more chapbooks, The Holy Hermaphrodite by Anthony Hitchin, The Winter King by Michael Aaron Casares and The Moulding of Seers, which also featured interior artwork to illustrate the poetry of Petra Whitley. 
I knew he was the man for Shaman Circus.  For those of you familiar with the work of Dave McKean who desgined many of the covers for Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, in addition to lots of other work with Gaiman, you'll see that McKean is one of Steve greatest influences.  

Now one things that's interesting is that Steve starts with found objects or paintings and then morphs the artwork digitally.  So here's the original painting he produced of Baron Semedi for the Shaman Circus cover. You'll see how much it changes during his many layered process of digitally altering the image.

Then this was the second idea for the cover. He's added various features to the backgroun and lightened the image but didn't transform it as mucvh as he usually does with his figures.

so he went back to the drawimg board - his mac and other equipment and  took it into another dimension giving the image of the voudou spirit a less human and more sumbolic and dynamic look which to me portrays the mystery and power of the character. 
Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

Here'a s bit more about Steve.
Dorset, UK) Steve lives with his wife, Donna, and daughter, Athene and they are now expecting a second child. He is  predominately a digital artist, using various found and made objects to create dark gothic images. He is currently working on illustrating a children's book with Petra and has had a successful exhibition, which surprisingly due to the artistic content, went well with a broad cross-section of attendees. In addition to Fissure and Shadow Archer Press, Steve's art has been featured on the cover of the first issue of Deep Tissue and published in Osprey, The Glasgow Review, Unlikely 2.0.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Magical Realism II

Magical Realism - Part II

Myth, folklore and magic in real world locations:
One of the precepts of magical realism is that the story takes place in a real setting as opposed to an imagined world setting such as those found in fantasy or Sci-fi. The characters and the atmosphere are imbued with a penchant and respect for myth and folklore and magic. Magic is considered a normal aspect of everyday life, either as a coping mechanism or even a chosen path to enlightenment, beyond the societal mores or cultural influences. The characters accept magic as common in their everyday lives. There's nothing unusual about it, either because magical ways of acting and thinking have been handed down through generations or they've adopted magic as a coping mechanism during difficult times.

Political unrest and revolution:
Often the locale is a community or country beset by political turmoil, corruption and unrest. Characters may be subjugated, oppressed, driven from their homes, persecuted imprisoned, tortured or abandoned by their governments.

Irony and paradox are stylistic tools for the author who tackles stories precariously poised on a seesaw as it teeters between political disasters and spiritual quests.

The plot line is often not linear:
Many magical realism plots are told in cycles as opposed to linear logical timelines. The stories weave in and out, spiral and return, often playing with time.
The carnivalesque and ritual in magical realism:
Another theme found in a number of magical realism novels is the carnivalesque (or carnival), ritual and the "masque". These extraordinary events become bridges for those who don’t necessarily believe in everyday magic and offers a transition where they can slip into the magical world and experience unusual, sometimes paranormal events.

“The concept of carnival celebrates the body, the senses, and the relations between humans. "Carnival" refers to cultural manifestations that take place in different related forms in North and South America, Europe, and the Caribbean, often including particular language and dress, as well as the presence of a madman, fool, or clown. In addition, people organize and participate in dance, music, or theater. Latin American magical realists, for instance, explore the bright life-affirming side of the carnivalesque." – from the magical realism website, Marginal

This opens to door to a further realm of literature (which also slips intothe surrealism movement) and gives the author the opportunity to stretch it out there while still staying within the construct of reality. During carnivalesque scenes, whether in dream or reality, the characters' perception of events is altered by the music, the masks, the activities. The whole concept of carnival is to heighten and distort the senses, and a magical realism/surrealist author uses this as a device to highlight themes and address issues already set forth in their fiction.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What is Magical Realism?

What is Magical Realism - part I

Over the next few blog entries, I'm going to discuss the style of magical realism.  It's an illusive term, often confused and misinterpreted and I have my own interpretation to add.  It's not necessarily a scholarly one, but a personal approach, launched by all the books I've read since the mid 1970's that seem to fit the term.

As an intersting sidenote, Jennifer Mattison, a literary agent with the Andrea Brown Literary Agency,has written an entry on her website predicitng magical realism may be a field mined for the next big thing in YA books.While I don't write YA books, I find this interesting since the YA and adult markets often cross-reference. So you might want to check out her opinion.

so off we go on this magical mystery ride...
What is Magical Realism?

a very brief overview...

Readers may ask what is magical realism. This literary style conjures authors like Jorge Luis Borges, Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, thanks to Venezuelan, Arturo Uslar-Pietri who adopted the term. He used it to describe the work of  particular Latin American writers who wrote in a vivid style laced with folklore and the acceptance of magic in the everyday world.

.However, the term – magic realism - was coined many decades earlier in the writings of a German art historian. At the same time, in a Jungian synchronistic way, separately and without communication, an Italian magazine editor mentioned the term.

“Franz Roh in the 1920’s presented magic realism as a reaction to expressionism, and independently in the Italian journal Novecento, edited by writer and critic Massimo Bontempelli. It was adopted during the 1940's by Latin American authors who combined the theories of Roh and Bontempelli with French surrealist concepts of the marvelous, and incorporated indigenous mythologies within traditional mimetic conventions in their quest for the original Latin American novel. From the 1960's to the present, there has been a strong current of magic realism within the general movement of post-modernism, especially in British and North American literature.” -- the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

And while magical realism started out to first describe paintings following the expressionist period, when it turned to fiction, the shift was dramatic and took on more momentum in literature than it had in art. Franz Kafka, one of the first authors to be labeled with the term, was followed in later decades by English authors, W.H. Hudson and John Fowles in the humanist-realist 50’s movement, also called 'historiographic metafiction. This was also linked to late modernism's experimentalism, and then later with the 'fabulation' of authors such as Thomas Pynchon and Salman Rushdie.

Granted, many changes and terms were thrown around in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s following the period of the deconstruction of the novel and dramatic new swings in all of the arts.  Latin American novels, along with the works of the likes of Rushdie brought magical realism to the bestseller racks and a renewed curiousity from the general reading public.

to be continued....

In the next section I'll discuss the various elements often found in magical realism which sets it apart form straight literay or genre fiction.

Dacre Stoke, relation of Bram Stoker at SC Book Festival

I thought it was quite interesting to learn that Dacre Stoker, great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker, will be at the SC Book Festival in Columbia, SC on Feb. 27th and 28th. He lives in South Carolina and will be speaking on the 28th.  The festival website has the book, co-written with Ian Holt, a Dracula historian, listed under fantasy, which I found rather odd since the novel is titled, "Dracula, The Undead."    The book is listed on the book's website as the sequel to the original classic. I consider this horror, but perhaps the Festival is afraid to use the term horror?  They don't have a category listed for horror and I can't imagine a book festival of that size without horror writers involved on some level. They don't have a category for magical realism either, which surprised me.
I haven't read the book so can't say much more, but did find this an unusual development for Carolina horror readers.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

SC Book Festival

Anyone going to the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia Feb. 27th & 28th?

Influences and the Subconscious in Writing

Inspired in part by the blog of writer, B. Miller on what happens when we write in the zone...

Influences… influences. A writer doesn’t develop in a vacuum. Even if as we set out to tell our story, our influences will creep into our work, through word play, plot structure, characterization. As novice writers we may start out mimicking those authors we admire, but eventually through struggle and attention we grow beyond the copycat stage.

However, our subconscious is a very powerful force. The authors we admired were probably the reason we wanted to write in the first place. So their influence may be even more powerful than we think. Their voices, word choices, and styles creep in… without our knowledge, without our permission, perhaps even to the point of an exact phrase.

After those in-the-zone times when the story writes itself and we can’t type fast enough, we stand back hardly remembering the process – that’s our subconscious. Weeks,and months before, our subconscious worked out the details based on many factors which are part of us, but are deep below the surface. We may not recognize our favorite authors’ hands in our work until months or years later. But as in my writers group, we can point out when it happens to each other. Brian can spot Fowles in my work; I can spot Tosches on his. I spot Stephen King in Becky’s writing and I’d actually feel grateful if she could spot Poppy Z Brite’s in mine.

Eventually we develop our own voice with just a hint of our influences as we merge and meld the various styles of the authors we read over and over. We imprint our own mark which rises to the surface of its own accord.

I write the books I want to read but can’t find. Perhaps they haven’t been written yet, or not enough of them for my personal hunger. So it becomes my job. To write those missing books.

Shaman Circus is one such book. It some ways it’s an amalgamation of styles from my favorite authors, but not as much as I’d like. I wrote it after a period of writing short stories and didn’t intend to write a novel, but the characters took hold and the subjects were too important for me to handle with brevity. Simmering in my gullet were all the news clips and personal stories I heard regarding Katrina and New Orleans, my 2nd favorite place in the world after Hampton Village, NH.

I started the story as a tale of shamanism, a subject I had researched for years and was researching a good bit at the time. When I started writing it, the main location was not New Orleans, and the main character was the protagonist, Alex Hampton. But the character I originally assigned as the antagonist, Jacob LaGuerre, hijacked the story and took it where he wanted it to be played out – the tortured landscape of New Orleans. Sure I’d had a lot to say about the Katrina aftermath, but I wasn’t ready to tackle such a subject in a short story, let alone a full length novel. But Jacob is more adventurous and driven than I am, and he hijacked me as well.

Yet you may still find my influences. To me the story is not written in the style I’d most like to write. It’s not lush with metaphors, it’s not as many layered as I’d like. But after a heyday of writing for me in the early 90’s, I went to work as a photojournalist at the local newspaper and it killed my writing style, beat it into the dust. After I left the newspaper, it took me years of flat and failed short stories to relearn how to write fiction.

I’m not ashamed of those influences showing up – to me it’s more like a homage (even when they're unconscious), much like many filmmakers do with a nod to their teachers, their mentors, directors such as George Lucas, Alex Pyros, or Stephen Speilberg.

So I don’t mind if my influences make brief cameos in my writing, – a bit of John Fowles, Poppy Z Brite, Caitlin Kiernan and hints of Neil Gaiman. They are some of the writers who swept me away.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Juggling book signings

A lot of people have been asking me when I'll be having the book readings/signings for Shaman Circus.  I'm working on a schedule, but due to a new job (started the day before the book was released) and family responsibilities, it may be more towards spring before things come together.
At least for Greenville, SC,  I'm thinking something like the events I hosted when I released The Howling magazine.  Those were mixed media events, which required lots of planning with music, an art show, etc. 
In addition, there are a number of local and regional authors I'd like to include to make it a more fun and broad-spectrum event for everyone.
Since I have a close connection with the Pendleton Street Art District, I'm hoping for something in that area.  It was my home for a while when I lived in my art studio and where I wrote a good bit of the second shaman novel. I also wrote many short stories at The Village Studios, with some of those stories set in the district.  In addition, Fireworks: Interference Equation, my third novel includes many locations from the Pendleton area. 

Soooo... bear wirh me. But for those of you who can't wait.  The book is available at the ATTM Press website and on Amazon.   At any of my book signings, I'll certainly sign any books purchased at the various sites outside of the signing. 

I'll  post any updates on my Facebook, Twittter, Myspace, Goodreads and there will be posters scattered downtown and in the Pendleton Street Arts District.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Holding my book!

For the first time today I'm holding a copy of my first published novel, Shaman Circus.  Wow!  What a feeling.  What a wonderful surprise.  The quality that ATTM Press offers is superiorl. The amazing cover art by Steve Viner of the UK  is stunning and I'm very grateful for the flattering bio photo taken by Bethany Williams who had a ton of patience and a rapid fire creative style.  She even put me at ease in front of the camera which is a  tough task.

So I am incredibly pleased.  But there's more to do.  I'm mixing some marketing with some writing - following up on the final chapters of the sequel, Shaman in Exile, which is a good bit longer than the first book and takes place in New Hampshire, France, and Folly Beach, SC, as well as New Orleans. 

I'm listening to a lot of the same music I listened to while writing Shaman Circus to recreate the mood for the radio interviews.  Ten Years, Vast, One Side Zero, Earshot, NIN.
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