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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Michael Lea Answers Ten Questions

(Editor's note: I realized that last week was probably a terrible week to give you more information about Michael Lea, what with everyone running around making merry and drinking too much egg nog or going to the movies and out for Chinese food while others lit up trees and hung their socks on the mantle... So I am running it again.  Here's your second chance to get to know a terrific writer.)

My guest this week is Michael Lea. I met Michael when he was editing POW!erful Tales for Peryton Publishing.  Michael not only edited the book, he stitched all the stories together with an overarching narrative (including my story, "Legacy"). 

As often happens, we found ourselves in some of the same anthologies, including "The Book of Exodi," edited by Michael K. Eidson for Eposic Diversions.  Michael Lea's story "Planetfall" contained a mixture of technology and magic that was quite wonderful and unlike anything I had read before.  When a chance came to tell everyone about his next project, I jumped at it.

Here's Michael Lea with his answer to the NBT's Ten Questions:

1) What is the title of your next book/work?

Right now I'm working on "The Pony Riders," which is a TV pilot (loosely) based on the "Pony Rider Boys" series of western adventure novels from the early 20th century.

Two of the Pony Riders books - note the cover swipe!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?

The idea came from Scorpio Studios, who hired me to adapt the books into a TV series.

3) What genre does your book/work fall under?

It's a supernatural western, or what some call "weird west."

Like Stephen King's tales of Roland the Gunslinger
(The Dark Tower series), "The Pony Boys" will
fall under the sub-genre "Weird Western"

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I hesitate to say at this point -- we have a casting agency trying to get talent attached.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your work?

In the old West, a group of young riders confront supernatural menaces in a quest to save their friend's soul -- and the soul of America itself.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I'm afraid I don't have the resources to produce and broadcast a television show -- so it's on a network or nothing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Ask me when I'm finished. I'm writing the pilot now. The series bible took me four or five weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

It's been compared to a cross between "Young Guns" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Hopefully the finished product will (a) exist and (b) live up to that comparison.

"The Pony Boys" will be akin to
"Young Guns" meets Indiana Jones
9) Who or what inspired you to write this work?

I was offered a contract to do it. Money can be quite inspiring. I decided that I actually wanted to take the job after looking at the source material and hearing what they wanted to do with it (and how much leeway I would have to make it my own). It's not exactly great literature, but the bones are there to build something interesting. And I had the opportunity to really put my own stamp on it, so I jumped at that.

10) What else about the series might pique the reader's interest?

There's a bit of a steampunk influence too. So hopefully it will be something that fans of multiple genres can enjoy.

Fans of Steampunk will also love
"The Pony Boys"

* * *

I'd also like to mention that Michael's story "Hollow" will appear in Forsaken, the anthology I am co-editing with Joe McKinney for 23 House.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



Last week I told you all about this blog/meme among writers, how I was "recruited" by L.L. Soares and asked to answer ten questions about my latest work (a novel to be called KUSHTAKA, The Faceless One for those keeping score).  In turn, I sought out several writers I admire, including Deborah LeBlanc, JW Schnarr and Dennis Copelan.
As Dennis hasn't set up his blog just yet, I thought we'd host him here at the Outpost. So, without further ado, here's Dennis!
1) What is the title of your next book/work?
I’m writing a collection of short stories for a book I intend to publish called WELCOME TO HOLLYWEIRD.  Within that collection, I’m currently polishing a story entitled "Moviola."
The dread Moviola...

 2) Where did the idea come from for the book/work?
I have always been fascinated with the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, people on the fringe, and their struggle to survive. My father was a film editor and I grew up in that environment.  With regard to "Moviola," I thought it would be interesting if a jealous film editor questioned his sanity because he was the only person who could see his wife having an affair on the film he ran through his editing machine.
3) What genre does your book/work fall under?
I usually write dark humor or horror stories.
4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Steve Buscemi as the film editor in Moviola.  Mila Kunis as his young wife, Marie.
Steve Buscemi and Mila Kunis
5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
WELCOME TO HOLLYWEIRD is a collection of horror, crime and supernatural short stories involving characters on the fringe of Hollywood, working in the motion picture, radio and television industry.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am open to both, but am leaning toward self-publishing.  I intend to self-publish Moviola during early 2013.
 7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
At present, the book is still being written, and has taken over one-year.   I anticipate it will be completed in late 2013.
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It is out of the genre, but DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathaniel West has similar themes.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by the comic books and television shows of my youth: EC's TALES OF THE CRYPT, Warren's CREEPY Magazine and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  I also wanted to write like my two favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut and Robert Sheckley.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
I’ve done a lot of research, and the stories are historical in that they recreate various time periods in Hollywood during the last century.  In addition, due to the crime and horror stories, my mother is sure to hate it, which is a good sign.
The Red Car features prominently in one of
Dennis Copelan's "Hollyweird" stories.
I like to add a postscript - you'll find Dennis' poignant and vivid short story "The Theater" in FORSAKEN, the upcoming anthology I am co-editing with Joe McKinney for 23 House.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

(How a Mask Started Everything)
So, this is a blog/meme meant to increase exposure for those of us within the writing community... I believe it's mostly horror and/or science fiction writers, but I could be wrong... Anyway, my friend and Cinema Knife Fight editor L.L. Soares sent me a list of ten questions...  I'm answering those this week.  Next week, answers to those same questions will be supplied by writers I admire.  They include the very talented Deborah LeBlanc, spec fic wizard Michael Lea, horrormeister JW Schnarr and promising newcomer Dennis Copelan.  I was supposed to invite five, but one of them had already been asked... Ah, well.
So, on to the questions!
1) What is the title of your next work? It's a novel entitled KUSHTAKA: The Faceless One.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?  I have a series of Time-Life books called "Mysteries of the Unknown."  I saw a picture of a Tlingit ceremonial mask, and the idea popped into my head of a god who refused to be represented by any mask, an evil entity who did not want humans to have any power over it.
Tlingit Bear Mask

3) What genre does your book fall under?  Dark fantasy, horror, magical realism.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?  My main character is Jimmy Kalmaku, a Tlingit Indian who is a former shaman - I often see someone like Graham Greene playing him. As for Jimmy's best friend George Watters, perhaps Bill Cobbs.  And NY detective Stan Roberts?  Someone tough but troubled, like Robert Patrick.
L to R: Graham Greene, Bill Cobbs, Robert Patrick

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?  A disillusioned shaman living in a rest home is the only one capable of stopping an ancient evil.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?  That remains to be seen - I have the book out to a couple of publishers, but am determined to see it in print in 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?  About six months.  I mostly wrote it on lunch hours at my old job.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? Lisey's Story by Stephen King, Mystery Walk by Robert McCammon, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?  I have Cherokee and Creek blood on my mother's side, so a realistic and non-stereotypical portrayal of any Native American is important to me.  I also have been inspired by the works of Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury, and how they can so adroitly weave realistic characters who have an encounter with the fantastic or supernatural.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?  I'm very proud of the characters in this book. In fact, Jimmy and George started as minor characters and took over the book!  I also did a lot of research into the history, culture and beliefs of the Tlingit people in Alaska, and the book also examines the importance of myth, belief and creation of masks in human culture. Finally, it was interesting and great fun to work with the figure of Raven, who is often benevolent but also a trickster... A god who sometimes will grant a boon while having a laugh at your expense.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


You never know, do you?

It’s that way in stories, of course.  Dorothy never knew she was going to Oz.  Alice never dreamed that a fall would take her to Wonderland.  Even adventurers like Ulysses and Jason of the Argo don’t really know what waits on the far side of the world, what perils, what wonders.

I was in my thirties at the time.  Spending my days building up my portfolio in sculpting and effects makeup for a (hoped for) career in special effects makeup.  My first wife was supporting us, but it was tight, and we needed to supplement her income. 

So, I went into a local bookstore, one within walking distance of our apartment on Coldwater Canyon near the freeway.  Ventura Boulevard, near Woodman, in the city of Sherman Oaks.


I had been there a few times.  Founded in 1981, it carried mostly science fiction, horror and fantasy.  New, used and rare books.  Unlike the big chains, DV also carried more than just the “flavor of the month.” It seemed everyone in those genres was represented, usually with multiple titles and editions.

A near mint copy of the Ace
printing of CITY by Simak,
one of my favorite books, and
just one of the treasures I found
 at Dangerous Visions
I walked in, and talked to the fellow behind the counter.  As luck would have it, he was leaving and needed to find a replacement.  It was the easiest time I ever had landing a job.

I thought I would be surrounded by books, and that would be enough.

It was so much more.

It was my DREAM JOB.

The owner, Lydia Marano, loved books, and science fiction in particular. She loved the genres and their history, the art that went into the writing , the covers, the leaps of imagination into worlds filled with both wonder and terror.  Her husband, Arthur Byron Cover (himself an author) seemed to know everything about the creators and craft of science fiction, horror, fantasy and comics.

They were brilliant, funny and kind.

If that were all, meeting these two amazing and passionate people, that would have been more than I bargained for.

But Dangerous Visions was a destination.  For fans… and for writers.

It was no coincidence or risky act of appropriation that the store was named for one of the most groundbreaking series of anthologies in the field of speculative fiction.  Harlan Ellison was good friends with both Lydia and Art, and a frequent visitor to the store.

Do you know what it’s like to love science fiction, and to have Harlan Ellison walk into your job?  To find out that he wasn’t the fire-breathing, invective spewing troll he’s often portrayed as, but a kind, erudite, funny and quite reasonable human being?  Harlan probably doesn’t remember me, but I won’t forget those times he would come in and browse, comment on works in the new books case or the news of the day. 

And I got to know local authors, people just starting on their careers who have gone on to be well established.  People like David Schow, Richard Christian Matheson and Steven Barnes.

Unlike many bookstores, all the bookcases in DV were made by hand, most (if not all) by Lydia and installed by friends.  The place was a treasure trove of pulps, old books, rare books, art objects, memorabilia and strange, funny and cryptic signs and notices.  The bathroom, tiny but serviceable, was paper with cartoons and quotes from fandom and pro-dom.  

Some days were slow, and I would stock shelves, comb the coming titles from Ingram Book Distributors and listen to music. I could dress as casually as I wanted, and no one was breathing down my neck - that was a first. Other days were filled with regulars, some merely coming to hang out and engage in lively discussions about books, film and whatever was going on.

And then there were the autograph parties.  In my short time I met several authors I idolized including Robert Sheckley, Robert Bloch and Harry Harrison.  There were dozens more, many before my time and some after.

I never dreaded going to work.  I loved it.  The people I worked for, the regulars, the writers, the very world… I was never so steeped in the world of science fiction as I was then, and I was happy.

I don't have any pics of my own of my time there.  Back then, cameras weren't as ubiquitous as they are now, and though many autograph parties were documented, I don't have copies or rights to the photos.  You can find them online though, and there are even some of the many, many illuminaries who visited, signed books, and helped to make it a special place.

Sadly, Dangerous Visions didn’t last.  Big chains and Amazon provided too much competition, and a brick and mortar store became untenable. It’s still online (under, but that’s not quite the same, is it?  That smell of book dust, the feel of a new (or old) book in your hand, perhaps finding (as I did several times) a near mint version of a book from your childhood.
Where DV used to be...

I was very lucky that time and circumstance brought me to Dangerous Visions Bookstore.  If I didn’t love writing so much, I pine for it.  As it is, I miss it, and the world Lydia and Art created within its walls.

I guess every adventurer has to go home sometime.  Dorothy to Kansas, Alice out of the rabbit hole, Ulysses to Ithaca and Jason to Greece. 

But we remember our great adventure, and we tell the stories.


Sunday, November 18, 2012




I was fifteen when I got bitten, smacked upside the head and knocked flat on my backside.

It was 1968, and my family was headed for another long vacation. I can't remember if it was to Georgia to see relatives or Twin Lakes to go camping, all I remember is that it was a long enough car trip to necessitate a trip to the local Thrifty Drug to buy paperbacks. Buying books for a vacation trip was one of my favorite things to do. In all the years and in all the books, I only got carsick once, and I hold my roadside lunch responsible for that unpleasantness. My younger brother Gary practically got sick reading road signs, and either slept or looked out the window. I always felt a bit sorry for him being unable to read on a car trip.

Me? I loved nature and scenery, but I loved science fiction more.

Back then, I only read SF. Fantasy seemed too silly or overly-complicated and horror had not gone through the resurgence that would come with Stephen King and books like Salem's Lot (seems everyone had a copy of that one back in the mid-seventies).

In those days, there weren't many bookstores close by, and the internet was something out of science fiction. I did all my shopping at Thrifty and a small department store called Cal Store. Cal Store had more books, but it was easier to get to Thrifty on my bike.

At Thrifty, each check stand had a small book rack at its end, all those bright covers vying for your attention as you entered the store. This was in the days when stores like Thrifty also had a tube tester, so your Dad could check the tubes on the Magnavox and see why you couldn't get a decent picture on Laugh-In. Come to think of it, I probably accompanied my Dad on one of his TV tube forays when this Mark-shaking event occurred.

After watching my Dad test tubes (the set-up and gauges of the machine looked like something out of Flash Gordon), I went over to check to see if there were any new books I might take on our trip.

A very colorful cover caught my eye, orange and yellow, black and purple.

Across the top, black lower case letters proclaimed,

death stalked him

through the galaxies
Okay, they had my attention! Next came the title, larger, upper and lower case yellow.

of Miracles
Below that, the author, some fellow named Robert Sheckley, who had also (according to the book cover, written Mindswap and The People Trap.
Below that was a egg with planets and stars inside it, and tiny people on the ground below it. The cover was by Paul Lehr, and if you haven't seen at least a half dozen of his wonderful illustrations, you weren't reading SF in the 60's and 70's.

It was a 50¢ Dell.

So, it looked like a pretty cool book, but fifty cents wasn't something to just toss away... I always had to check the blurb on the back. Flipping it over, I read:

Earth Hunt

It had to be somewhere, Carmody knew that
much. It was waiting for him, just as he had left it.     
But where?
He only knew he was in the center of a galaxy
in a universe of galaxies. Within them lay end-
less varieties of the planet Earth. And there
was only one way to find his Earth again.
He would have to visit each one. And he would
have to hurry. Because his search for home
had turned into a race with death...


I loved stories with an individual pitted against impossible odds, surviving by their wits and a few skills. I took the book, paid my fifty cents plus tax, and waited for our car trip.

Somewhere between Mission Hills, California and Albany, Georgia I read my first Robert Sheckley book. I had expected spacefaring adventure and derring-do, and there was certainly some of that.

But it was so absurd! The story concerns Carmody, an everyman who is whisked away to a distant galaxy because he has won a prize. My first clue that things were about to get very, very odd was that the judges assumed Carmody would know the coordinates to his home world. Of course, he doesn't, so they don't know which Earth to send him back to. Their solution? Let him try every variant of Earth, until he finds home or one close enough. Up to this point, my only notion of parallel Earths came from Earth II in DC Comics, where all the heroes of the WWII era resided.

But Sheckley had a way of making the mundane science fiction/fantasy concept fresh. (Read "Gun Without a Bang" to see his take on the disintegrator pistol, or "Ghost V" to see how he deals with that monster under your bed or in your closet.)

My second clue was that Carmody's prize while being a pot, was sentient, and a smart-ass. This was no brave robot or android ally, no alien pal, this was a cynical and tactless thorn in Carmody's side.

It wasn't just inventive, it was funny.

And it was more than funny, it was satirical, wry. (Sheckley wasn't called the Jonathan Swift of science fiction for nothing.) A universe where God is a contractor and planets are built to spec, sometimes using substandard materials? An Earth where advertising overshadows every aspect of life (and wasn't that prescient)?

I had never read anything quite like it - and I loved it.

These stories were so fresh, so inventive, I had to have more. Mind you, I was a voracious reader of SF and Sheckly did not diminish my love for Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and Bradbury, among others.

But, with that one book, I was hooked. I found every Sheckley title in the bookstores I could. Once I had secured those (this was pre-internet, remember), I would scour used bookstores... Oh, the triumph of finding a new title or two!

Sheckley was a true master of the short story - every word counts, every word paints the world and tells you his tale. I rarely see so vividly as when reading his work. And novels? Immortality, Inc. is a favorite. It is similar to Dimension of Miracles in that a character named Blaine is plucked from a fatal car wreck just before impact and transported to the future... as part of an advertising gimmick. The campaign is abandoned and so is Blaine, left to fend for himself in a future world far, far different from his own. I love this book, and have recommended it to friends and read it many times. (Side note: You can imagine how excited I was to hear that Immortality, Inc. would be made into a movie in 1992. Sadly, it was a loathsome piece of dreck called FREEJACK with Emilio Estevez and Mick Jagger. The film bears little resemblance to the original novel, which is a real pity.)

People credit Douglas Adams with practically inventing satirical and absurdist SF. Sheckley never had a blockbuster like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and many think he came later. Not so - Sheckley was making his first sales to Imagination, Galaxy and other titles in 1951... Adams was born in 1952. I admit I rankle a bit when Adams wrote, "I had no idea the competition was so frightfully good." Humph.

No matter. Comparing the two is non-productive. Happily, Sheckley is again available in e-books, and you'd do well to sample some of his stories. Any collection will do, and then you might try his novels. He wrote some spy novels, too, but it was SF where his light was brightest.

(Back in the day!L to R: Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison and Bob Sheckley.)

I was fortunate enough to meet Bob when I worked at Dangerous Visions Bookstore back in the 80's. He signed several of my books and was friendly and kind. We corresponded a bit, and my last purchase of a Sheckley book was his self-published sequel to Dimension of Miracles, called Dimension of Miracles Revisited. I've kept it sealed for twelve years, because Bob passed away in 2005 and there will be no more trips inside his wild, wonderful and inventive mind. But it's calling to me, and I suppose I will read the original first, then the sequel.
You know what? I feel like a kid again.