Tag Archives: Author: John B. Rosenman

Literary Racism* John B. Rosenman, Ph.D.

*Originally presented at “What Dreams May Come? Multiethnic Trends in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror,” a Literary Arts Spring Conference at Norfolk State University, April 5-6, 2001.

Traditionally, we have regarded racism as involving groups of people who are discriminated against because of one basic reason: ignorance.

However, there are also literary groups that many of us, especially academics, discriminate against every day for the exact same reason. While

African-American and women’s literature have finally, if grudgingly, been given some respectability through Norton anthologies that recognize their contributions, prejudice against other literary categories remains strong. This is especially true of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, despite the growing number of professional journals devoted to them such as Science Fiction Studies, Extrapolations, and Mythlore, and institutes such as the Center of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, founded in 1982. It is also true despite these genres’ illustrious traditions, the hundreds of well-attended conventions held throughout the world every year concerning them, and the many prestigious awards given to their best professionals. With regard to science fiction, for example, the annual Hugo and Nebula Awards have traditionally involved tremendous worldwide competition and recognized excellence in the genres of the short story, the novelette, the novella, and the novel.

Yet it has not been until recently that a science-fiction story such as Joanna Russ’s “When It Changed” has made it into The Norton Anthology of American Literature, perhaps partly because some academics have finally recognized that it explores the relationship between the sexes in a way that mainstream literature cannot. Still, such inclusion savors of “tokenism,” and we can be sure that in the hallowed halls of the Modern Language Association, the glass ceiling, though dented, remains steadfast in place.

The view that science fiction, horror, and fantasy are subliterary or simply not literature at all, is especially surprising when we consider the degree to which these genres have been represented in so-called “classical” works. From the Ghost and a corpse-laden floor in Hamlet to the man-made monster in Frankenstein, from Alice’s travels in Wonderland to Gulliver’s travels to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, there is no end of examples of genre fiction interbreeding with the blueblood mainstream. Yet, when it has, we have often tried to legitimatize the result by resorting to academic terms such as “satire” and “tragedy,” as if such labels make it all right. Still, Hamlet, among other things, remains a superb horror story, and Gulliver’s Travels, however satirical it may be, is also a timeless tale of fantasy that appeals to both children and adults.

Of the three genres, horror is especially denigrated, and authors such as Stephen King and Poppy Z. Brite often dismissed as purveyors of gross, popular entertainment. Yet as Richard Laymon, a former president of the Horror Writers Association has pointed out, “A great many” horror writers “have earned post-graduate degrees in literature and other fields” (5). What’s more, “If we remove from our literature everyone who has ever written horror, we lose (to name just a few) Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Stevenson, Poe, Dostoevsky, Hawthorne, Melville, Bram Stoker, Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor” and others. Indeed, as Laymon indicates, “The list could go on and on” (5).

Having established that exceptional works in the above-mentioned genres do qualify as literature, we now come to the main purpose of this paper, which is to explore and examine the reasons why bias against such achievement still prevails. Though there are complicated reasons, the main one can be found in the literary elite’s reactionary dislike of anything new, strange, different, or challenging – anything, in short, that departs either from the Officially Correct Way of Writing Great Works or the day to day reality they know. Other, related factors that cause such bias include (1) ignorance of genre classics, conventions, and contributions, (2) genre profiling based upon crude stereotypes found in popular culture such as Star Trek and Halloween, and (3) a failure to recognize the truth of Sturgeon’s Law that “90% of everything [written since the beginning of time] is junk” and that we shouldn’t “dismiss anything because of its worst representatives” (“Sturgeon’s Law,” 4).

While most people do not believe they are closed-minded or reluctant to experience new things, in general, the brave new worlds they encounter had better bear a close relationship to the ones they already know. Thus, while Octavia E. Butler’s novel, Kindred, does contain the fantasy or science-fiction element of time travel, some academics have accepted it only because it focuses on the heroine’s convincing and very real slave past. Historical verismilitude is established and maintained, and the novel has been read in universities – and labeled in bookstores — as Slave Narrative and as authentic African-American Literature. Yet if it were not for the ability of Dana’s “several times great grandfather” to summon her repeatedly from the late 20th century back to the antebellum South, the story would never have happened (28). To take one more example, Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray is regarded by some critics as genuine literature because of its prose style and moralizing. But would they be so appreciative if Wilde had brought that hideous portrait out of the nursery early on for us to look at?

What happens if the worlds portrayed differ significantly or radically from those with which most of us are familiar?  What if a different world or species is created, or a different technology that allows space travel or teleportation?  In such cases, the result is decidedly a much harder sell to those who keep the Keys to the Canon, because it is manifestly not real. Demons, dragons, alternate worlds, and future societies on distant planets?  Sorry, they never happened and never will. Even if these readers’ resistance could be broken down, and they could be convinced of the need to suspend their disbelief, they would still face another great obstacle: they would have to be willing to learn to read somewhat differently.

While this is true in fantasy and horror, with their unicorns and wizards, vampires and monsters, it is especially important in the genre of science fiction. Consider the first sentence of Octavia E. Butler’s masterpiece, Wild Seed, quoted by Orson Scott Card: “Doro discovered the woman by accident when he went to see what was left of one of his seed villages” (90). Card observes that “the reader who is inexperienced in sf thinks that the author expects him to already know what a seed village is.”  Because he doesn’t, though, he is likely to be disappointed and feel that “the writer is so clumsy that she doesn’t know how to communicate well, or that this novel is so esoteric that its readers are expected to know uncommon terms that aren’t even in the dictionary” (91). A science-fiction reader, though, recognizes “the principle of abeyance.”  In other words, he “doesn’t expect to receive a complete picture of the world all at once. Rather he builds up his own picture bit by bit from clues within the text” (91). He knows that he “is expected to extrapolate, to find the implied information contained in new words” (92).

Here, many of us might object that such writing is needlessly obscure rather than profound, and that it is not reasonable to impose such new rules on the reader. But surely, we do recognize that new rules are often necessary. We do not, for example, read Joyce’s Ulysses in quite the same way we read Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or God help us, Finnegan’s Wake, with its endless thicket of interlocking puns. Moreover, in crossing T. S. Eliot’s “Wasteland,” we welcome the aid of an occasional footnote. Often this is true because of the condensed suggestiveness involved. Even one word may resonate with multiple meanings.

In science fiction, this is especially the case. As Card notes, “The sf writer is thus able to imply far more information than he actually states.” Consider the example of Robert Heinlein’s classic phrase, “The door dilated” (92). The one word “dilated” has a poetic richness, speaking volumes about the civilization that could create such a door.

In addition to accepting packed meanings that are not immediately clear, the new reader of science fiction must learn to appreciate a trait that is unique to the genre: namely, the fact that words and terms which in other works would have metaphoric meanings, in science fiction have literal ones. “The Chairman who sends out feelers” may be stretching out his (or its) pseudopods rather than subtly accessing people’s reactions to a proposal. “A happy bus,” in turn, may indeed be cheerful if it possesses an electronic brain, and a person with a “mechanical smile” is probably a robot. Similarly, in science fiction as well as in light and dark fantasy, statements that might seem hopelessly exaggerated or impossible are actually true, at least within the contexts of their worlds. In Isaac Asimov’s novel, Incredible Voyage, a crew is, in fact, shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a man’s artery in order to save him. Likewise, Alice, when she visits Wonderland, does drink a magic potion and shrink to tiny size, then become a giant.

But to readers who refuse to accept imaginative freedom, such writing will  seem debased, and they will discourage it by withholding their patronage. Indeed, for centuries, the elite literary establishment has played a harmful role in imposing its view of “high art” upon the mass audience. As Card’s essay, “Vulgar Art” points out, “In Elizabethan England, true literature, serious literature, was poetry,” whereas the “vulgar audience could only understand the theatrical stage,” which “was the artistic equivalent of bearbaiting.” But looking back, we realize now “it was the stage that produced most of the greatest works of the age” (191). The student of literature does not have to look far to find plentiful examples where popular departures from accepted literary practice have ultimately been vindicated.

Is a quintessential American play like Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman a failure because it focuses on Willy Loman, a down-and-out Everyman as its tragic hero rather than on a person of high birth or worth, as traditionally required?  Hardly. Literature evolves and ceaselessly changes; otherwise it becomes fixed and stagnant.

Despite this fact, the arbiters of an age, whether it be Elizabethan England or 21st century America, usually say pretty much the same thing. Yes, they will declaim, you may be different and experimental, strange and quirky, but only in such a way and in such a style. Orson Scott Card discusses why the arbiters of taste spurned the achievement of one highly innovative writer.

Why did the serious fiction community reject her [Patricia Geary’s] works?  Because it did not repeat the old, familiar experiments. The voice was not quirky, the language was not extravagantly metaphorical, but instead brought in a technique that was strange in unexpected ways. No one knew what to do with it. Thus, just as the readers of glitzy romance accept strangeness only in landscape, never in the manner of writing or even in story line, so also the readers of serious fiction celebrate strangeness only in certain familiar areas: voice and style and that old favorite, metaphors. The very process, in fact, of noticing and decoding metaphor and symbol within fiction becomes, itself, a safe, reassuring ritual. Just like romance readers settling down to see where Judith Krantz will take them this time” (188-189).

Sadly, “In America, ‘serious’ art has lost almost all connection with the mass audience” (Card, 190). What academics often fail to realize is that “The popular audience is just as critical and just as discerning as the elite audience. They just use different standards” and have “different values” (191). Works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and yes, romances and westerns too, are not necessarily junk that should be segregated in a literary ghetto. Instead, they may be genuine literature that belongs on the same shelf as Moby Dick and Othello. To appreciate them, though, it is necessary first to acquaint oneself with the protocols and requirements of reading them. As James Gunn, Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas reminds us, poetry and prose, the essay and the article, the novel, the short story, and drama are all read somewhat differently and according to somewhat different rules (2). The same applies to genre fiction. “Science fiction,” for example, “demands a different kind of reading – a kind of interaction with the text that must be required, in other circumstances, only by the most difficult literature, Joyce’s Ulysses, say, but most SF readers believe that the pay-off of SF is greater, or, at least, more satisfying to their particular desires” (6).

Who is to say, then, that the convoluted, metaphoric, adjective-driven style of arty but often obscure masterpieces is inherently superior to the meticulous science and extrapolations of hard science fiction, or the complicated and ingenious plots of medical thrillers? Why must there be only one limited, officially sanctioned way to create great art or absorbing literature?  The answer is that there shouldn’t be, for the possibilities of the written word are infinite. Unfortunately, as Card notes, the elite literati, “by ignoring vulgar art, is losing the ability to reach a popular audience even if they tried” (193). Consequently, the two get wider and wider apart and become increasingly invisible to each other.

Much of the bias, then, against popular fiction comes from ignorance both of its distinctive nature and its unique contributions. Many of those in the current audience are no doubt familiar with the poetry of the great English Romantic poet, John Keats. But how many of them, it might be asked, are familiar with Dan Simmons’ Keats-inspired, science-fiction masterworks, Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion? To read them is to glimpse the full potentiality of speculative fiction when it comes to idea, concept, and the unbridled imagination. Again, many in the audience are probably acquainted with horror classics such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, but can the same be said for Peter Straub’s Ghost Story or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend?  The last two novels and many more “popular” ones as well, including almost all those of Stephen King, have routinely been made into movies. If we are unwilling even to consider what such works have to offer, we run the risk of confusing the part for the whole and missing out on a lot of reading enjoyment. Perhaps even worse, for those of us who are teachers, we incur the danger of not even knowing what our own students are reading.

Black men are thugs and buffoons; blond women are airhead bimbos; Jews are big-nosed, money-grabbing sharks. These and other stereotypes have been instilled in us for decades by the media. Significantly, the same process applies to genre fiction and is another major cause of literary bigotry. Science-fiction is spaceships, bug-eyed monsters, and escapism; horror is mad serial killers, bug-eyed monsters, and sadism; fantasy is elves and dragons, wizards and witches, and any world in which you don’t have to pay your bills. Such simplistic attitudes, whether they apply to people, religion, politics, or literature, largely explain why there is so much poor thinking in the world.

People can conduct simple tests to determine the extent to which the media have colored their thinking. For example, when they think of science fiction, do shows like Star Trek come to mind? Do they think of warp speed and Captain Kirk’s command to “Beam me up, Scotty”? If so, then there is a very real chance that genre profiling has occurred, because Star Trek and all its spinoffs are limited, pedestrian science fiction at best. To equate science fiction with the Star Trek and Star Wars industries is to say that science fiction is essentially space opera, or galactic Westerns that substitute phasers for six-shooters, and that once you have seen such movies, you know basically all there is to know. It is comparable to equating African-Americans with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and believing that all black people do is play basketball. Significantly, the British have a more enlightened attitude than Americans concerning speculative fiction. Novels such as H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Time Machine, have routinely been accepted as literature for over a century. We would do well to emulate such a practice.

As for darker fiction, the situation is even worse. Today, thanks to the media, it is almost impossible not to think in stereotypes when it comes to horror and dark fantasy. Partly this is due to the grisly, garish paperbacks which feature  monsters and madmen, knives and dismemberment, and horrific visual effects achieved simply by tilting the cover. For a while, back in the 80’s, horror novels were almost as identifiable on sight as the romantic bodice-rippers we see every day on newstands. The situation has not changed that much. Recently, one writer commented that her 30-month-old granddaughter pulled out a paperback “with a raised cover of a great big knife” and hollered, “Gwenie, scary book” (Elaine).

The fact is, we are constantly bombarded by simplistic, stereotyped images of horror and dark fantasy. They include everything from stock “slasher” movies such as Scream, Halloween, and Friday the Thirteenth, to some of our favorite breakfast cereals like Count Chocola and Frankenberry. We even have a national holiday, Halloween, which is devoted to a child’s view of  horror, and a set of five stamps honoring “the five greatest monsters of all time – Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man and The Mummy” (“Classic Movie Monsters Stamps,” 1). Unfortunately, what we are missing is the subtle, moody, atmospheric style of brilliant writers like Ramsey Campbell, and the cosmic horror in the face of the unknown that can be found in H.P. Lovecraft, America’s twentieth-century version of Edgar Allen Poe.

Say the word “horror” to the average citizen, and you may see a look of disgust. Say “fantasy,” and you will probably get no response at all. Still, to most people, both words have a pejorative connotation. If “horror” is seen as gore, immorality, and Satanism, “fantasy” is viewed as impractical and out of touch with reality. “You live in a fantasy world” is a common putdown. Lord help the accused if he possesses an imagination, and be careful to discourage your children from using their imaginations too much, lest it warp their minds and keep them from getting ahead. It is no accident that perhaps the most popular TV fantasy show ever, “Fantasy Island,” was predictable, formulaic fluff. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as we have sufficient alternatives. Regrettably, we haven’t, and the consequence is that we continue to equate fantasy, as we do most genre fiction, with the worst possible examples of it.

As we have seen, literary racism is a practice that closely resembles traditional racism, and it involves the very genres that this conference addresses. It is based on ignorance of what has been written, as well as of the proper ways to read it, and it has been encouraged by an artistic elite that is strongly contemptuous of popular literature. In America especially, the media have contributed to this bias by bombarding us with simplistic images and stereotypes that reflect only the worst aspects of genre fiction.

Besides having conferences such as this one, what can we do to correct the problem? Much of the answer lies with educators, who must champion the importance of the creative imagination, even if it leads in different and unpopular directions. Educators must also discourage simplistic attitudes toward the creative process that are based on stereotypes and the exclusion of alternatives. We might remember that Richard Wright, a great African-American writer, was ostracized by classmates and his own family for daring to write a horror story titled “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre.” Concerning his schoolmates, he wrote that “The mood out of which a story was written was the most alien thing conceivable to them” (184). We must strive to see that our children grow up believing that creativity and imagination are not alien or strange but at the heart of what it means to be human, and therefore, must always be cherished.

 

Works Cited

Butler, Octavia E. Kindred. New York: Beacon Press. 1988.

Card, Orson Scott. How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Cincinnatti: Writer’s Digest Books. 1990.

Card, Orson Scott. “Vulgar Art.”  Nebula Awards 25. Ed. Michael Bishop. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 183-199.

Classic Movie Monsters Stamps from the United States Postal Service.

21 March, 2001. <http://www.mca.com/horror/oct97/halloween/usps.html.>.

Elaine. “Re: Literary Racism.”  7 March, 2001. Online Posting. Horror Writers Association Website. <http:// www.horror.org/private/wwwboard/messages/10140.html>.

Gunn, James. “The Protocols of Science Fiction.”  24 March, 2001. <http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~sfcenter/protocol.htm.>.

Laymon, Richard. “HWA President Responds.” The Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association. Ed. Kathryn Ptacek. Vol. 12, Issue 10. Feb. 2001. 4-5.

“Sturgeon’s Law.” 18 March, 2001. Fiawol and all that. <http://www. cherryh.com/www.fiawol.htm>.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy. New York: Harper & Row. 1966.

* * *

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The first three novels of John’s Scifi-Adventure Inspector of the Cross series are available at http://amzn.to/2bOjbsq

RacismWebsite: http://johnrosenman.com

Blogsite: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com

 

 

 

Mystic Moments by John B. Rosenman

Have you ever had a mystic moment? A cosmic or out-of-body experience beyond space and time? A spiritual moment of enlightenment, precognition, you-name-it?

Or perhaps you’ve had a moment not so grand and glorious. Perhaps you’re even a rational, logical sort who never tolerated such nuttiness until the day you saw a ghost or dreamed of an event before it occurred.

Let’s define the term mysticism. According to Wikipedia, “Mysticism is popularly known as becoming one with God or the Absolute, but may refer to any kind of ecstasy or altered state of consciousness which is given a religious or spiritual meaning.[web 1] It may also refer to the attainment of insight in ultimate or hidden truths, and to human transformation supported by various practices and experiences.

Becoming one with God or the Absolute. Sometimes it depends on prayer, meditation, or what you smoke. I’ve never quite broken through in that area, but I have had a few moments or experiences which I find hard to explain logically. Perhaps after I tell you about them, you’d like to comment and share some of your own.

mystic3
1. When I was very young, I could function a little in both the conscious and unconscious realms at the same time. One night my sister Mona entered my bedroom while I was dreaming about batting against Bob Feller, the ace pitcher of the Cleveland Indians. She asked me something. I replied, “Wait till I get a hit first.” She was insistent though, and I saw Bob Feller start to fade. I could hear Mona’s footsteps as she paced back and forth, and my mother moving downstairs. I didn’t want to wake up because I was enjoying my dream. Fortunately my sister left, and Bullet Bob came back into focus. I dug in at the plate and smacked the next fastball right over the center field fence.

2. One day at Norfolk State University, I was sitting in the Honors College meeting room. I reached out to the bookcase and had an odd feeling. Whatever book I take down will help me with my next novel. I don’t know where the feeling came from, but I felt certain it would come true. My hand didn’t search long. As if guided by some force, it selected an unknown book.

When my hand came back to me, I looked at what it held. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Of course I had to read it. The Noble Prize-winning author’s novel is about Nigeria, and the European invasion and colonization of his homeland which caused the collapse (Things Fall Apart) of its culture and traditions. I had been thinking of writing a science-fiction novel about Africa, and Things Fall Apart inspired me to create a beautiful Africa-like planet among the stars. In my story, history repeats itself as it so often does. The New Europeans come to conquer and colonize The New Africa, and to hell with the natives. I call my novel A Senseless Act of Beauty. The title comes from a bumper sticker, and it’s available at http://amzn.to/2c90IaF .

3. Finally, whenever I watch Jeopardy, I can always tell a split second in advance when a Daily Double is about to appear. I just feel it in my bones. Sadly, this talent has no practical value. In fact, it’s a curse, since I can never convince my wife I possess it. Imagine what it would be like if the answers came to me a split second early! But could I do anything with such a gift, or would it be just another curse?

I believe most people have mystic moments—or whatever you want to call them. My ability is small, and I know some of you out there possess a greater gift than me, perhaps even a prodigious one. How about it, do any of you have a Third Eye or a Sixth Sense? What experiences have you had? Please comment and let me know.

Ah, I feel someone about to respond. Don’t ask me how I know–I just do.

***

A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at http://amzn.to/2bOjbsq/

Website: http://johnrosenman.com

Blogsite: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com

Down From Oz by John B. Rosenman

John down2

[I’ve always loved used bookstores. How about you? I love their towering stacks, their musty shadows, the constant hope of discovering a treasure in some hidden nook. Here’s a tale about a writer facing discouragement and endless rejections (remind you of anyone?) and his visit to a used bookstore where he finds a treasure unlike any other.]

 

DOWN FROM OZ*

That did it: yesterday’s rejection was the last straw!  Halting on the sidewalk, Jason Creed raised the sheets of paper he’d clutched almost constantly since the day before and read them again.

“Dear Mr. Creed:

Thank you for allowing us to see your novel, Down From Oz. Now, allow me to share with you my thoughts. I have never seen such a hopeless, poorly conceived plot in all my life. Cliches, inconsistencies, and clumsy dialogue abound, and if there’s a guiding purpose, I am unable to see it.”

The letter went on for two full, single-spaced pages, taking up specific scenes and passages only to rip them apart. Like a masochistic lamb to the slaughter, he let himself be led down its sentences to the final, killing blow: a suggestion that he find something more suitable to his talents.

Clenching his teeth, Jason squeezed the sheets into a tight ball and thrust them in his pocket.

          That’s it! I finally, at long last, get the point! I have no talent as a writer and I’m never going to write again!

Breathing deeply, he struggled for calm, but the heartbreak he had endured since receiving the letter yesterday let him climb no higher than a dull despair. God, it hurt!  Of all the rejections, cruel and otherwise, which he had received down through the years, this was the absolute worst. It was the critical coup de grace, the death knell of all his hopes.

Jesus, he thought, I even think in third-rate purple prose. I must stop feeling sorry for myself and find something else to do with my life!

The trouble was, there was absolutely nothing else he wanted to do as much as write. His job at the post office was a paycheck, and except for reading he had no hobbies, unless he counted writing, which he had always considered his life.

What could he do that was meaningful to fill the endless void ahead of him? Go fishing? Watch sports?

He shook his head and continued along the street, then paused when he saw a yellow brick building with ornate letters stenciled on a window: Book World.

Oh yes. His wife, knowing he was addicted to old bookstores, had mentioned there was a new one on their street. He sighed, remembering how she had tried to comfort him when she learned about the rejection letter, only to have him shut her out.

Hunching his shoulders, he walked past, determined to make things up with his wife and to have nothing to do with books and writing ever again. But after only a few steps, his pace slowed. He turned back and studied the shop.

What the hell?

Above Book World‘s door, an elaborate wood sign displayed a globe whose continents were pages filled with fancy cursive writing. Quills, suspended above the globe, dripped ink into its oceans.

God, it’s pretentious. Just another crummy hole-in-the-wall. But he found himself going back anyway, eyes fastened on the sign.

A bell tinkled quaintly as he entered. He closed the door behind him, inhaling the beloved dusty smell of old books and old wood floors. A stack of ancient tomes with moldy leather covers sat on the floor nearby, waiting for shelving. On top of them stood an imposing hourglass like the one the witch had used in The Wizard of Oz.

Well, he thought, the name might be pompous, but this place is real. It isn’t Barnes & Noble, and there ain’t a Kindle or e-book in sight.

A bald, slender man in his mid-thirties puttered behind the counter to his right, looking as used and obsolete as the wares he handled. Jason gave him a nod and headed toward the back, passing an old-style sewing press used for binding books.

He found the familiar, nicked and dented wood shelves holding tattered books packed cheek by jowl, some piled high overhead in towers that threatened to topple. Moving around a small platform ladder customers could use to reach loftier treasures, he peered at handwritten labels on the shelves. Mystery. Science Fiction. Biology. Occult.

He himself was a fantasy writer, with three unsold novels. Fantasy—it was appropriate, wasn’t it? What else was his whole life but fantasy? As a writer he was a brainless scarecrow, and the earthly Oz he had created was no more than a cheap, uninspired ripoff. He deserved that editor’s contempt for presuming to think he was anything else but a hack!

Suddenly, as he reached the back, a weird, ghostly green light flashed on. Blinded, he shielded his eyes. What the hell—?

The light faded. Lowering his hand, he blinked spots and after-glare away. Where had that damned light come from? He peered about, but could see only a cabinet before him.

It was a nice cabinet too, the kind with old, rich, polished wood and handsome, glass-paneled doors you opened with a key, though there didn’t seem to be one. He stepped close and squinted at the books displayed. On the middle shelf he saw Twain and Walter de la Mare, a copy of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. The leather-bound volumes all looked costly and impressive. First editions, perhaps?

He checked the shelf above it, and saw other beautiful volumes. Edgar Allan Poe. Harlan Ellison. Albert Finney . . .

Looking still higher, he scrutinized the top shelf. Ah. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin. And what was that almost folio-sized one in the center? He leaned close. Let’s see. Jason Creed’s Down From . . .

He blinked, rubbed his eyes. Looked again.

Jason Creed’s Down From Oz.

He stepped back. Was he dreaming? Having an hallucination?  Surely, it couldn’t . .

He leaned closer. Down From Oz by Jason Creed. Yes, that’s what it said all right. It WAS Down From Oz, which a haughty New York editor had just crapped on at close range. He choked off a laugh, then gasped as he saw the title beside it. The Master of Marisol by Jason Creed. Christ, that was his first book, the vacuous, relentlessly spurned piece of garbage he had once foolishly thought might one day rival Lord of the Rings. And beside it, Oh Jesus, Oh My God, was The Time Merchants, his one foray into soft science fiction which fifty-two publishers, including the smallest of small presses, had unanimously used for toilet paper.

They—all three—stood right there before him, occupying the same shelf as the works of masters.

I’d better sit down, he thought. All this depression—it must have unhinged me. But that weird, blinding light . . .

Footsteps, coming his way. Dazed and confused, he peered into the gloom between the tall bookcases, half-expecting to see a row of Munchkins appear.

A crown of pure white hair materialized, accompanied by an equally white mustache. Both seemed suspended in air, but as they moved directly toward him between the stacks of books, Jason saw that they belonged to a man in a black cloak.

The man stopped a few feet away. His narrow face smiled, and he nodded at the cabinet. “Are you surprised, Mr. Creed?”

“What . . .” Jason stopped. “How do you know my name?”

The old man chuckled. “They’re your books, Mr. Creed, some of the classics that the whole world will one day read. Just a few of the things that are to come.”

Jason felt as if he had been hit by a cyclone. That weird ghostly light . . . this strange old man who spoke such impossible words and seemed to know him. He rubbed his eyes, hoping it would make the stranger vanish, but he remained right where he was.

“What are you talking about?” Jason finally managed to bring out. “Do you have a crystal ball, or have I gone mad?”

“I assure you, you’re completely sane, and what I’ve said is perfectly true,” the man said. “That’s why you must not even think of giving up writing. It would be a tragic loss to posterity.”

Jason’s head spun. Could this creature read his mind? His confused thoughts fixed on one word. “Posterity? How could you know what’s going to happen?”

“Because I come from the future!” The old man glided forward, turning Jason gently toward the cabinet. “Consider me a fan who, uh, just hasn’t been born yet. A lover of your work who doesn’t want it lost.”

Jason gazed at two large, exquisitely-bound volumes he hadn’t noticed before. Dreamfarer and The Eagle and the Sun, both by Jason Creed. Oh Christ, he thought, I haven’t even written them yet!

“T-Time travel,” he whispered. “You expect me to believe . . .”

“Do you mind if I call you Jason, Mr. Creed?” the old man interrupted. “I assure you, it would be a great honor!”

He blinked. “M-Mind? No. But . . .”

“Fine! Now . . . Jason, is time travel so hard to believe? After all,

Dreamfarer explores that very possibility. You are a master of the realms of fantasy and magical realism, not to mention some truly cosmic, mind-stretching concepts.”

“But it’s fiction. I made it up.”

“Are you sure, Jason? Remember how you felt when you wrote The Master of Marisol? The words just poured out of you and you felt like all your readers will one day—alive and filled with magic! Don’t tell me it’s just make-believe, that it’s only fiction. You have actually lived it in your mind! You have actually breathed the fragrant and magical air of Marisol, walked its myriad, labyrinthine streets!”

How does this man know that? How does he know what I’m feeling when I write? Unless—Oh my God, could it be true?

But just as he felt hope stir, Jason remembered the vicious rejection letter he had received, the letter which had been the latest of so many.

He stepped back to get some space, and as he did, his head cleared a little. He heard the floor creak, smelled the faint bite of Lysol. And the dim, looming shelves of books, however haunting, did not belong in a fantasy. They were real, he could touch them. Just as he could touch that damned letter.

He reached in his pocket, brought it out. “Look,” he said hoarsely, “I don’t know what this is all about, whether I’m confused or you are.”  He unfolded the crumpled sheets. “Whoever you are, though, you’ve got the wrong guy. This witch of an editor says—”

“I know what she says, Jason,” the man said. He raised a slender finger and smoothed his white mustache. “Your readers, those who are to come, are intimately familiar with it.”

Jason gaped. “They are?”

“Yes, because you will take care to preserve that letter. You will publish it someday as an inspiration to other writers never to give up!

Suddenly, his black cloak swirling, the man moved forward and seized Jason’s forearm in a powerful grip. “Don’t you realize it was just a slush reader, a witch on a broomstick who read Down From Oz and wrote that piece of garbage? It wasn’t the editor, just an underpaid, semi-literate fool jealous of your genius and vision. Check her letter again, Jason.”

Jason obeyed, squinting at the signature as his mind babbled that he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Yes, the man was right. He had forgotten about that. Still . . .

“What difference does it make?” he said. “I’ve had plenty of real editors trash my work. Hell, I could wallpaper my room with rejection slips. They can’t all be wrong, can they?”

The man leaned closer. “Yes, they can. They can be just as wrong as they’ve been about so many other geniuses. Don’t you know that Dune, one of science fiction’s supreme masterpieces, was rejected over twenty times before it was accepted? That John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was endlessly turned down before he took his life, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize? Hell, man, don’t let them beat you!  Don’t give up!”

“But . . . Herbert and Toole were great writers.”

“So are you!” The man was right in his face now, his breath hot, his expression fanatical. “In times to come, you will be recognized by many as the greatest fantasist and stylist of your age! The author of dozens of books, most of them masterpieces!” He gripped Jason’s arm harder. “Listen to me! I consider it a great, great honor for me to meet you! Your works have inspired and delighted me, and I assure you they will do the same for generations of readers. Why, the streets and towers of your Marisol chronicles alone will be as familiar to readers as those of their own neighborhoods. Marisol’s geography and terrain will be mapped and charted and labeled in separate best sellers just as the realms of Tolkien and McCaffrey are in your own time! You cannot— you must not— stop writing!”

Jason trembled in the blasts of the man’s passion. Was it possible . . . could it be?  He lurched away and found himself staring again at the books he hadn’t even written yet. Dreamfarer. The Eagle and the Sun.

“Could . . . could I look at them?” he whispered, pointing through the glass door.

The man sighed. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that. If you read even a little of these works, it could affect the whole course of your career. It’s even possible that you might become so confused that some of these treasures might never be published.”

“Well, what about those books I’ve already written, like Down From Oz?”

The old man shook his head. “No, Jason, you will extensively revise those too. I’m sorry, but we simply cannot take the chance.”

“But . . . ” Jason moaned, filled by intense yearning. “Could I at least hold one of them in my hands?  Feel it?”

“I’m sorry. Even that would entail a risk.”

Swallowing, Jason ran his fingers along the cool glass of the cabinet. He wanted to smash it, reach in and seize his books, experience the wonder of actually reading his own words in such luxurious volumes. The need to feel their pages, smell their scent rose till his whole body trembled with it. Then he felt the stranger press his arm and reluctantly turned away.

“Listen,” Jason said, “I have to know. This isn’t an illusion?  It’s all actually going to come true? I’m not like Dorothy who knocked her head and only dreamed she wore magic slippers? I—I’m actually a good writer?”

The man stroked his white mustache. “Trust me, Jason Creed, and have courage. You are the best, the King of the Forest. Now, why don’t you go and start revising your old books and writing new ones so that one day, we can all read them?”

Jason straightened, the man’s words filling him like fire. His heart began pounding with excitement. Suddenly he wanted to dance, sing, but most important, write all the books this man had praised. Never before had he felt so wonderful, so inspired, so truly and completely alive! Dreamfarer, he thought, already making plans. Yes, I know exactly what I’ll do with that!

“Thank you!” he said, seizing the man’s hand and shaking it in both of his. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Laughing, shouting for joy, Jason Creed left the bookstore and ran all the way home, bursting with the need to shape new worlds.

# # #

The next day Angela Creed entered the store, beaming at her old friend.

“Isaac, can I talk to you?”

The owner glanced at browsing customers, then led her to the storeroom in back. There, Angela clapped her hands. “Isaac, it worked!”

“It did? Jason still believes? Man, for a failed actor, I did all right. I thought I was waaay over the top!”

“Well, those blank books you bound must have convinced him. Isaac, he’s never been so happy! He came home and started a new novel. And this morning he went off to work whistling! He didn’t mention you, but you must have been a wizard.”

“In a way I was. Turn ’round and close your eyes.”

When she did, he busied himself behind a curtain. “Okay,” he said.

Turning, she stared. “Isaac, is that you?”

He swirled his cloak, patted his white hair, twisted his mustache. “The Wizard of Oz, at your service!”

*Originally published in Brutarian, 1998.

 

A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com/

 

Who I Am, and What I Do by John B. Rosenman

2nd photo for john

In 1952, when I was eleven, I sat in a theater watching “The War of the Worlds.” When the scene came where three men were left alone with a smoldering meteor that started to unscrew, I got scared to death. What was in that meteor? What would it look like and do? It took all my courage to stay in my seat and not run.

Originally I wanted (implausibly) to be an opera star, but I think that movie, plus others like “Them!” and “The Thing,” influenced me to follow a more gruesome path. Also, I became addicted to horror comics such as “Tales From The Crypt.” Around this time, a friend introduced me to Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I quickly Biographydevoured  “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “The Shrinking Man.” These science-fiction books lived inside me, fired my imagination. I’ll never forget the episode in “Chronicles” in which Earthmen discover a town on Mars with all their dead loved ones WAITING FOR THEM.

Besides enjoying such movies, comics, and books, I received Poe’s collected works from a family friend. Even better was a birthday gift–-a year’s subscription to the SF magazine “Amazing”!

Looking back, I find it’s not easy to determine just when my psychic twig received its first weird bent. Much earlier, when I was seven, I loved to turn the lights out, go to bed early, and listen to “The Shadow” and other programs on the radio. In the dark, my imagination swept me along in ways that even later TV shows like “Thriller” couldn’t match. Who knows, perhaps my original ‘warping’ took place listening to such eerie tales, or even earlier-–in the womb! Oddly, while I liked creepy books, I went through stages when I read primarily other genres. First it was mysteries, especially those by Ellery Queen. Then in my early teens, I read enough westerns to die of lead poisoning. It’s not always easy to look back and trace a clear path to the present, perhaps because there isn’t one.

But one thing I always did like to do was write. As a little kid, I scribbled stories and drew cartoon panels in crayon rather than go out to play. Later, I crafted a never-ending novel with a fistfight every ten pages. Nope, The Twisted Years wasn’t about a space pirate or psychopath but a gunslinger with a tough childhood. I still remember that masterful first sentence: “Jeff Stancher didn’t pay any attention to the Abilene stage as it bumped and rattled into town.”

While I liked to write, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. My father, a lawyer, insisted I be practical. Yes, he thought I had a knack for writing, but one didn’t count on making a living that way. As a student, I was lazy and lousy. Somehow, my father got me into Hiram College where I belatedly learned to take notes and study. I majored in Political Science with a vague idea of becoming a lawyer, and graduated in three years. After that I attended Western Reserve Law School. Soon, bored by classes, I stayed away, writing stories and reading things like Mill’s “On Liberty.” Then one day I sold all my law books and hopped a bus to New Orleans, a “romantic” destination where I wrote bad stories in a cheap, $8 a week room and slung hamburgers for a buck an hour.

Cut to the future. I returned to Hiram, took some English courses, then received an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Kent State in English, my dissertation being written on William Faulkner. What a background for a speculative-fiction writer, right?

After teaching in Canada for three years, I found myself out of work. I landed a job at a Southern black college where, at the age of thirty-nine, I completed my first novel, Down From Oz in 1980. It reveals how our educational system, which is a long way down from beautiful Oz, fails minority students, and it ultimately cost me two jobs and rattled away like the skeleton it was in my closet for years. Though it won McPherson & Company’s First Book Award, the publisher wanted a different title because he thought “Down” was a downer. So we settled on “The Best Laugh Last,” which ain’t as good.

In 1982 I was hired by Norfolk State University and moved to Virginia with my wife Jane and two kids. And here, my life changed forever, for I discovered SPWAO and the small press. For two decades I’d collected umpteen rejection slips by submitting stuff to blueblood magazines like The New Yorker and The Sewanee Review. Now I learned there were other, spikier magazines whose editors actually gave you feedback. If you were unendingly persistent (and I was!), you could serve an apprenticeship and polish your craft.

Soon, I finally began to see what my true direction was, and in years to come, I sold H/SF/F/Paranormal fiction (and a little poetry) to over 150 magazines, including Iniquities, Weird Tales, The Horror Show, Aboriginal SF, Cemetery Dance, Terminal Fright, The Blood Review, New Blood, Starshore, Galaxy, Offworld, Figment, Nova SF, and Yankee. My fiction can also be found in such places as “Hot Blood,” #’s 6 and 8 (erotic horror), Whitley Strieber’s “Aliens” (where a high roller in Las Vegas takes an unplanned galactic journey), A Horror Story A Day: 365 Scary Stories, and Treachery and Treason.  Plus many more. My imagination just seems to be strange or askew. Even a space-opera novel which I published with Mundania Press, Beyond Those Distant Stars, contains a sinister, godlike menace. I suppose it’s not surprising that one of my stories killed five magazines that accepted it.

     Ask me why some of the fiction I write is horror/dark fantasy, and I’ll say I do it because life itself is horror. Health and happiness are anomalies. Either nature or circumstance is always trying to kill or maim you, as when my wife developed breast cancer. (She’s fine now, thank you.)  I love all kinds of horror, from splatterpunk to erotic to psychological to Lovecraftian supernatural. In general, I think subtle, suggestive horror that is ambiguous and open to interpretation is the best. But hey, I’m not proud, and will be glad to gross you out if necessary. I do like to write about religion. “The Last Snowman,” for example, appeared in Iniquities and features a young boy who fights Satan in order to save the world.

            In recent years, I’ve published several novels, including my Inspector of the Cross science fiction-adventure series (now in its fourth and fifth books) and the YA novel The Merry-Go-Round Man, which is drawn from my childhood. I’ve tried to range afield in other ways, too. For example, when I went to Rome, I was so awed by the Sistine Chapel, I wrote ”A Spark from God’s Finger,” a story about an American art teacher in Rome who has a vision that he’s the reincarnation of Michelangelo. I’ve also published stories that take place in 19th and 25th century Nigeria (part of a novel, A Senseless Act of Beauty published by Crossroad Press); in the New Hebrides in 1946; and in Nauru, sometime in the past. Who knows? Perhaps it will be Russia next, or I’ll cook up my own dark country

 

Going Away by John B. Rosenman

photo for john

            “I don’t love you anymore,” Marvin said. “I’m leaving.”

Agnes had heard her husband say the same thing three or four times before in her thirty-year marriage. She had always shrugged and ignored it. After all, she knew she was a good wife and had done her duty to Marvin. She had borne him three children and kept a nice home. What more could he want?

So she did just what she had on those other occasions. She advised him to take a warm coat and enough money.

This time it was different, though. He did not blow up and tell her how cold and selfish she was and how sorry she’d be. Nor did he storm out, slamming the door behind him. He simply sighed, turned around, and left the room.

She picked up her knitting, sighed in return, and forgot the matter.

An hour later she smiled as she looked out the window, remembering the other times Marvin had acted like a child and threatened to leave her. Each time, she had just waited calmly, and he had soon returned.

Agnes’s smile faded when she noticed Marvin’s Toyota parked in the driveway. In the past, when he’d left, hadn’t he always taken his car?

Puzzled, she poked about the house, searching for Marvin. She finally located him in the spare bedroom. He was lying in bed, the cover raised to his chin.

“I thought you were leaving,” she said.

He looked at her. “I have left.”

“But you’re still here.”

He turned his head to the wall, ignoring her.

Mid-age tantrum, that’s what it was, she decided. Marvin was just being difficult, probably because she insisted on being sensible and wouldn’t give in to his pleas to buy a new car.

At lunchtime she made his favorite, chili and cheese sandwiches, and called upstairs. “MARVIN!”

No answer. She tried again with the same results.

Finally, she went back upstairs. He was lying in the exact same position, his head turned to the wall.

“Marvin, lunch is ready.”

No answer.

She started to speak again, when she noticed that Marvin seemed smaller, more distant somehow. It was as if he were ten feet away even though she was standing right by the bed. She blinked and tried again.

“Marvin, it’s your favorite. Chili and cheese sandwiches.”

Still no response. Marvin stared silently at the blank white wall.

She sighed audibly and left. Downstairs she did some washing, then decided to go shopping. Leave Marvin alone for a while and let him see how foolish he was being. Maybe then he’d appreciate her better and come back to her like always with that same hangdog look. She smiled in anticipation. As usual, she’d play with him a little just to teach him a lesson, and wouldn’t forgive him for days.

Why, though, had Marvin seemed so small and distant? She shook her head. It must be the lighting in that room, she thought. Or perhaps she needed to have her eyes examined.

She returned with a trunk full of groceries. After she put them away, she stood listening to the house. It felt empty. Before it had always been easy when Marvin left, because she knew he was elsewhere and would soon return. But this time Marvin hadn’t left. He was still here, and she knew just where to find him. And yet there was no sound of him moving around, perhaps writing one of those silly stories which he always insisted she read. For all it mattered, he had left her, just as he said he would.

Nervously, she went upstairs. Marvin was just as she’d left him. And yet he wasn’t. Though she could touch the bed, the walls at his end of the room seemed to be retreating and fading off into space, becoming less distinct. Marvin himself now appeared to be at least twenty feet away. She swallowed, troubled by a strange thought. If she moved closer and reached out to touch him, would she be able to?

Her fingers twitched. She started to move toward him, then turned and fled the room.

Downstairs, she had three cups of her favorite herb tea. What was happening?  Marvin was here and yet, he was leaving. Or had already left. He just kept getting smaller and smaller, more and more distant. Could she be losing her mind?

During the following week, Marvin drew farther and farther away. When his boss called, she made excuses. Marvin had the flu. He had tried to call in, but their phone had been on the blink. Yes, he should be returning to work soon.

Going upstairs, she stopped just outside the bedroom. Please let Marvin come back, she thought. When I go inside, let me find him the way he always is, full-sized and eager to go to work. She decided that this time, if he returned to her, she wouldn’t act coy but would forgive him at once.

Taking a deep breath, Agnes entered the bedroom.

It was even worse than before. His end of the bedroom appeared to have faded and retreated even more, acquiring an ethereal quality that belonged to another realm. That was ridiculous, of course. She knew Marvin was still in this bedroom. Still, he did seem immeasurably distant. His tiny form now floated surrounded by stars, as if he were in deep space.

“Marvin?” she cried.

Silence. He lay with his head turned to a wall that was perhaps a hundred light-years away.

“Marvin,” she pleaded, “you haven’t eaten a thing all week. Aren’t you getting hungry?”

A shooting star fell across his face. She made a strangled sound and ran from the room.

Downstairs she choked on her tea and broke into tears for the first time since she was a little girl. Oh Lord, what was happening? How could Marvin do this to her? She thought of going to the police, but imagined how it would sound. “Marvin’s left me. He just lies up there in that room and gets smaller and smaller, farther and farther away. This morning I saw a comet shoot across his face.”

She lowered her head to the kitchen table and let self-pity claim her. She’d been such a good wife. How could Marvin treat her like this?

After a while, a thought rose. Was it possible the fault was hers? That she was to blame for Marvin’s leaving?  She scoffed at the idea but started to recall things she’d said to him.

You’ll just have to cancel your hunting trip, Marvin. We’re going to my cousin’s wedding.

She raised her head. Had she said that?

Marvin, forget those golf clubs. We can’t afford them.

After a while, such occasions cascaded in her memory. Time after time after time she’d said such things! In fact, now that she thought of it, she had even overruled him by insisting that they go to Niagra Falls on their honeymoon. She frowned, trying to remember where Marvin had wanted to go.

Finally she rose and went to the phone. She cancelled their newspaper subscription, saying she was going away, then turned down the thermostat.

Next, she mailed out house, insurance, and other payments, and made sure all the windows and doors were locked.

Then, slowly, she marched upstairs.

In the bed, Marvin was a mere speck, located someplace beyond the Milky Way. Yet, though he had traveled perhaps ten billion light-years, she could still see him. In a way he hadn’t moved an inch.

“Marvin,” she said, “won’t you come back?”

His tiny, distant figure didn’t stir. He lay staring at the wall as always.

“Marvin.” She hesitated, then leaned toward him. “I’m sorry.”

Still no response. It was as if she hadn’t spoken. Even worse, he had gotten so small that for the first time, she couldn’t see him clearly.

Agnes sobbed, realizing that soon she would lose him completely. “Marvin,” she said. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you. Won’t you come back and give me another chance?”

She waited, but as she’d expected when she’d come up here, he wouldn’t respond. This time, Marvin had been serious. He had left for good, entering a whole different realm that she knew was immeasurably remote from her own.

Wiping away her tears, she climbed onto the bed. She hesitated a moment, shivering in the distant cold. Then, ever so slowly, she began to crawl after him.

(Previously published in Space and Time, Spring 2007).

 

Author BIO:


A retired English professor from Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va., John has published three hundred stories in The Speed of Dark, Weird Tales, Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Galaxy, The Age of Wonders, and elsewhere. He is the author of The Turtan Trilogy, the first three novels of his Scifi-Adventure series, available at lrd.to/Turtan-Trilogy/

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://johnrosenman.blogspot.com/

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MY FIRST PUBLISHED SHORT STORY by John B. Rosenman

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Have you ever looked at a photograph of yourself when you were young and thought, “Whoa, is that me?” Did you gaze at the smooth, unlined face and search your now crumbled, ravaged features for some vestige of it? Where, you perhaps wondered, did that young boy or girl go?

In a way, this is what happened to me when I recently ran across my first published story. While I’d been scribbling since I was a tyke, “The Patriot,” which appeared in a small college magazine was the first work I actually shared with the world. I’d just turned twenty and was starting my junior year at Hiram College. I won’t tell you the year, but folks, it was looonnng ago.

I offer “The Patriot” here, warts and all, to encourage older writers to revisit their early writing and to reflect on the passing of time and what it means. To me, my story seems the product of a callow fellow, crude and immature. It’s as if I wrote it as a baby in another lifetime. Yet at the same time, I recognize distinctive traits of my style and thinking. The child IS the father of the man. For readers who are young, THIS WILL HAPPEN TO YOU. One day you will be sorting through the bric-a-brac of your youth, the archaeological remains of your childhood, and discover something that jars you, perhaps even rocks you to your core. Just as Adolph Schmidt is rocked in my story…

THE PATRIOT

Adolph Schmidt pounded a last nail into the sole of the shoe and tossed it into the pile by his side. From outside came a shout, a barked order, and then the tramp of boots, the sound of soldiers. Within the shop Adolph sat undisturbed, for here the sounds entered faint and curiously detached. Adolph reached for another shoe and in a moment the pounding continued. Presently he sighed and rose from his work, his frame tall and his shoulders stooped as he walked over to the shop’s lone window and peered out. The soldiers were almost at the end of the street now. In a minute would come the bark of authority and then the unthinking robot would return. Disinterestedly, Adolph turned back to his work.

The door opened and a short and very corpulent man entered. Adolph looked up briefly and then turned back to his work. The visitor shut the door and walked in.

“Hello, Adolph,” he said, wheezing heavily and shuffling into the shop.

“Hello, Otto,” returned Adolph, his voice dead, and this time he did not look up.

Otto stared down at him for a moment and then spoke.

“Well?”

There was a long pause, one broken only by Otto’s heavy breathing. Adolph raised his head and for a moment the eyes of the two men locked.

“I’m sorry, Otto,” he said, “but it’s out of the question.”

The matter thus dismissed, Adolph picked up another shoe and examined it critically. But Otto was not satisfied. He stalked about the narrow confines of the shop, one fat finger explosively punctuating the air, his arms gesturing violently in his impotence. Through it all Adolph worked undisturbed. At last Otto pulled up short before him and snorted disdainfully. “It’s out of the question,” he mimicked, slapping his fat thighs for emphasis. “It’s out of the question, he says.”

There was a pause and Adolph looked up.

“Look, Adolph,” said Otto, “we’ve been friends for a long time. We grew up together. This country, Austria, is our home. We have families, women and children to protect.”

Adolph said nothing. Otto, seeing that his words bore no effect upon his friend paused and then furiously roared, “In the name of God, Adolph, does our suffering mean nothing to you?”

Adolph sighed and tiredly raised his head. “It’s not my fight, Otto,” he said. “I work, I sleep, I bother no one, no one bothers me. I am not disturbed. For me there is peace.”

“Peace?” echoed Otto, his face incredulous. “Peace? Adolph,” he said, resting his elbows on the bench before him and speaking softly as if to a child, “there is no peace. No peace when your home is not our own but belongs to the enemy, no peace when your wives and daughters can be wantonly defiled and as wantonly discarded, no peace when your mind is not your own and your highly prized liberty paid for with the grains of your integrity.”

The shoe done, Adolph tossed it into the pile by his side and reached for another.

“All right,” said Otto resignedly, “all right. But will you at least come to the meeting tonight? Will you at least come and hear what we have to say?”

Adolph was a long time in answering, and when he did, he did not raise his eyes from his work.

“I’m sorry, Otto,” he said, “but I’ll have too much work to do.”

Otto heavily shook his head, as if the answer had been one long expected.

“I’m sorry, too, Adolph,” he said, and he bent his head and dejectedly shook it. “But it is so hard to fight when even those of your side are against you.” Tiredly he crossed to the door and stood poised with his hand on the knob. “If you should change your mind,” he said, his eyes on the hunched, silent shoulders of his friend, “the meeting will be at nine prompt, at the home of Ludwig Wagner. You know the way.”

“Yes, Otto, I know the way.”

Otto nodded and turned to open the door but halted at the scrape of boots on the outside platform. There was a knock, sharp and challenging, and Otto turned in the dead silence of the shop and looked at Adolph with eyes that pleaded the unspoken word.

It was at once a dilemma for Adolph, for Adolph was not one accustomed to the need for decision. Another man, perhaps one who would have acted, would have assessed the problem with the eye of his mind and, the thing resolved, acted positively one way or the other. But Adolph was not such a man. Such a man was Adolph in fact, that the dealing with problems of any kind was distasteful and to be avoided whenever possible. As it was, he did nothing, and so it was that Otto’s plea went unanswered.

The knock was repeated, louder and more insistent this time, reverberating as thunder about the dingy walls. Standing as he was, with his shoulders stooped and his brow wet, Adolph trembled and released his shaking breath as softly as he could. The pounding ceased, abruptly and with a note of finality. There was a brief silence, a sudden barked order, and then the crash of shoulders against the wood panel. On the third assault the door gave way, its rusty hinges torn from the wall as it thundered to the floor. German soldiers armed with death burst into the shop. Otto was quickly seized, his arms pinned behind him as he struggled in vain to escape.

Adolph recognized instantly the tall form of Colonel Silvanyuk, the commandant of the village, as he swaggered into the shop and disdainfully extricated his fingers from one delicate white glove. “Ah, Otto Goering,” he said, his voice suave and cultured, “how good of you to let yourself be caught.”

Otto stopped his struggles and glared back balefully.

“You must excuse my delight at having found you,” continued the colonel, “but we have reports that you have conspired against the occupation. You understand, of course, that we cannot permit such actions to go unpunished.”

“No,” repeated Otto dully, “you cannot.”

“That is,” said the colonel, steepling his fingers as he turned about the shop and stopped once more before Otto, “unless you give to us the names of those who conspired with you.”

The effect of the words was immediate. Otto lunged forward in the arms of his captors and spat in the commandant’s face.

The insult brought him stiffly erect. “Very well,” he said, “if that’s the way you want it. Take him outside.”

The soldiers forced the struggling Otto through the open doorway into the street. The colonel turned to watch them and then turned back to Adolph. “It will be most unfortunate for you, sir,” he said, his voice stripped of its previous politeness, “if we should discover that you are among the conspirators.”

Adolph stared back at him and moved his lips as if in a nightmare. “My friend, Otto,” he said, “you’re going to kill him, aren’t you?”

The commandant smiled half-amusedly. “Yes,” he said, “we’re going to kill him,” and with that he laughed and mockingly saluted.

Adolph stood for a long time after the colonel’s departure, his head bent in the darkness. At last he aroused himself and squared his shoulders. “I’ve been wrong,” he thought. “It is my concern. It is my fight. Otto. I have wronged him. All along I have wronged him. He was my friend, my countryman, but I have wronged him. _I_ was not _his_ friend.”

He turned to the clothes rack and lifted his coat from it. “I must hurry. I have an engagement, and I must not be late.” He stepped out through the shop’s open doorway into the snow. For a moment he stood, and then he started walking, his broad shoulders squared against the winter wind.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-B.-Rosenman/e/B001KMN69E

Website: http://www.johnrosenman.com

The Search for Meaning

 

We all search for meaning in our lives. One way or another, we must find a story to tell ourselves. I asked the members of The Write Room Blog to share their understanding of that search. Their responses inform and challenge; they are well worth reading. (Kenneth Weene)

 

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LOVE GIVES LIFE PURPOSE by Salvatore Buttaci

We were blessed.

We didn’t have many luxuries. My father worked two jobs, but my mother was always there teaching us how to be God-loving and respectful to everyone. They taught us by example to pray, laugh, love, and accept life as a passageway to a better world. They trusted God completely and never questioned His Will.

Did we notice the lack of things in our lives? No way! Did temper tantrums follow the opening of presents on Christmas morning when, instead of toys, we were gifted with pajamas, a pair of rosary beads –– something inexpensive but heart-given? I don’t think so.

In 1949 when I was eight, I hinted to my father how much I wanted a Red Ryder BB rifle. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Saturday and we were in Woolworth’s Five and Dime Store in Brooklyn where Papa was buying some odds and ends. When we walked past the counter piled high with those rifles, I went back there and stared as if by magic I could claim one for my own.

“Could Santa bring me one for Christmas, Pa?”

His face took on that sad look of his when fate had his hands tied and what he wanted to do was what he could only dream of doing.

“Santa’s poor this year,” he said, then hustled me away.

Papa worked nights at a local Italian bakery. While we were in school, he slept, so we hardly saw him. Christmas morning finally came and there against the wall behind the little decorated tree was a tall box. My Red Ryder! I thought. Santa brought one after all. But when I tore open the wrappings, pulled free the contents, disappointment clouded my face. It was a hand-made rifle, whittled into shape, painted like the real thing. Mama told me later how Papa had patiently worked day after day whittling that piece of wood into a rifle, sacrificing much needed sleep to please me.

Oh, yes, God has blessed me more than words can express.

My parents’ final gift may seem meager to others, but to me it was a most welcomed grace: the last words, “I love you,” whispered to me from their hospital deathbeds, first, my father, and then years later, my mother.

I know I will be thinking of those gifts for as long as I live and will repeat the words to my Sharon and to all those who made and continue to make my life a wondrous thing.

When God the Father created the world and us in it, when He sent His Son who willingly died that excruciated death to atone for our sins, when He sends the Holy Spirit to sanctify us with grace, He shows His Love for us. My purpose in life? To emulate that love in whatever small measure I can by loving God and myself, then expanding that love to others, many of whom are burdened with loveless lives and the inability to believe in the reality of God. I feel strongly that I must show them the joy that comes from walking with God and accepting His gifts of Boundless Love.

Every road needs a reason to walk, every life a purposeful destination. Like my God-loving parents, I pray one day to dance in the circle of His Light forever.

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Salvatore Buttaci’s work has appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, A Word with You Press, and Cavalcade of Stars. 

His collection of flash fiction 200 Shorts is available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399042844&sr=1-2&keywords=200+shorts

His book A Family of Sicilians is available at http://lulu.com/ButtaciPublishing2008

Sal lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.

 

 

Discovering Your Purpose by J. F. Elferdink

“There is no greater gift you can give or receive than to honor your calling. It’s why you were born and how you become most truly alive.”— Oprah Winfrey

Some people seem to know their calling very young—those who have been given a special talent.  An example from my reading is Asher Lev in the book “I Am Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok.  Asher Lev was compelled to draw and paint from the time he was a child, even though the price he paid was excessive: his art depicted things forbidden by his Jewish community and he was ostracized. Yet he drew.

It hasn’t been that simple to recognize my own calling.  My grades pointed toward some form of communications and my writing assignments for school and work were typically praised. While a single mom and college student I also kept a journal. That form of writing, with no restrictions, stopped abruptly when I remarried. My new husband insisted I destroy the words that implicated a life before him.  When I wouldn’t, he did. It seemed a part of me was lost in those ashes.  But a strange thing happened during that experience—I had a sensation of a voice in my head telling me to let it go because I would write something much better.

A few years later I found a fresh reason to write. It would lead to authoring my first novel, written to resolve the death of a man I loved and to be a channel for a new passion: social justice. The book took five years to complete. My expectation for a bestseller turned out to be unfounded. Even so, I started on a sequel because there was more I wanted to say.  But it’s a struggle. Most days any number of tasks are elevated to greater importance than uncoiling a story from my mind to my computer’s monitor.  That faceless critic won’t let me go. He keeps up the tirade: What will people think if you write that? Do you want to open yourself to more rejection?

That internal voice leads to questioning my purpose and suspecting my “mystical moment.”  That leads to chaining my creative drive and ignoring the next chapter in my sequel. I’ve been trying that for more than a year while forcing myself to dismiss the nagging sensation that there’s something left undone.

Answers often come to me out of others’ writing. This week I finished another book by Potok, “The Gift of Asher Lev.” In this one, Asher has found success through his talent, but Paris critics suggest his paintings are no longer fresh, instead mired in technique. The criticism stops him; his canvases remain white. He does continue drawing although it’s not the embodiment of his talent.  Then one day while staring at those drawings, he begins to decipher “a matrix underlying his new work.” New possibilities! He cleans his brushes and takes out the jars of paints.

Application for my life (and maybe yours): Do I let my internal critic win or do I accept my destiny and become “most truly alive?”

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Joyce Elferdink has finally come close to achieving her goal implanted long ago after reading Gift from the Sea: to live a balanced life, where each day includes time for herself, for relationships, for nature, and for meaningful work. She has never forgotten what Ann Morrow Lindbergh wrote about individuals “often trying, like me, to evolve another rhythm with more creative pauses in it, more adjustment to their individual needs, and new and more alive relationships to themselves as well as others.”

Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/harmlessjoyce

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Pieces-You-Ms-J-Elferdink/dp/0615664490/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423689108&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=Pieces+of+You+and+JF+Elferdink

 

 

THE DANGER OF BEING POSITIVE by R.J. Ellory

The internet is full to the gunwales with ‘be positive’ aphorisms, usually posted by individuals who choose to employ pseudonyms such as ‘Amethyst Starfire’ and ‘Harmony Rainbow’.  I am British, and therefore innately cynical at the best of times, but when faced with such banal and useless messages as ‘Follow your heart to wherever it may take you’ and ‘The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday’ I am often driven to the limits of my own fragile sanity.  Be a better person than you were yesterday?  Right.  Good enough.  So I am a serial killer.  Yesterday I got two kills.  Today I’ll go for three, and then I’ll get take-out and a nice bottle of Chianti.  Follow my heart to wherever it takes me.  I have a friend.  Her ‘heart’ tells her to pursue psychotic obsessive-compulsive control freak men who wind up doing nothing but barely repairable damage to her ‘heart’ and the rest of her life.

There is a real danger in fatalism.  There is a real danger in believing in destiny.  There is a very real danger in ‘positive thinking’, if only from the viewpoint that thinking is not doing, and doing is the only thing that really results in something being done.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that you shouldn’t be positive.  I am a very firm believer in the need to be positive, to acknowledge one’s own capability and competence, but only being positive is not going to make the grade.  One needs to actually do as well.  I am also a very firm believer in the reality of negative people, the very real effect of negative comments and statements designed to undermine and make less of one’s efforts.  Negative people are merely hoping to see you fail because it will help rationalize and justify their own failures.

Very recently my wife and I looked at all the people we worked with, spent time with and those we considered friends.  Very quickly it became quite clear that there were a few who took and took and took and gave nothing in return.  We loaned them money, we helped them solve their life problems, we bailed them out of trouble, we had them over for dinner, threw parties on their birthdays, and yet in return there was never a single invite, never a gift, never a ‘Hey, I can help you with that’.  So we decided to just let them go.  We didn’t say or do anything to them.  We certainly didn’t level any criticism or reprimand.  We didn’t try to fix things or correct anything.  We just stopped communicating.  Did they reach for us?  Did they make any effort to find out why we had stopped communicating to them?  Not at all.  Months have gone by now, and not a word.  So I understand negative people and the effect they can have.  I also understand that people can be sponges for your attention and help, and yet nothing ever comes back in return.

However, I digress.  This article is supposed to be about purpose and direction.  These words have come about as a result of a request for advice and direction to the website visitors regarding how to better identify and highlight what is important in their own lives.  During the past few months I have spent more time reviewing my life and my own purposes and priorities than perhaps at any other.  I am approaching fifty, and even though I may not live to a hundred it kind of feels like a half-way point.  Life – for me – is about action.  It is about being who you are, doing what you want and having what you desire.  It is also, just as importantly, about doing what you can to assist others in the realization of their own goals and purposes.  As has been said many times before in many different ways, a man who wishes to be happy and yet does not spend the vast majority of his time trying to make others happy is a fool.  But there has to be a balance.  If someone does not know who they really are (i.e. they do not really understand their own priorities and goals, nor their own strengths and weaknesses) then they cannot undertake the right actions to achieve what they want.  Life is a job, very simply.  If you do not understand what the purpose of your job is, and you have no real clue as to how to best use the tools you have been given, then there is not much hope of accomplishing the end result of that job.

One cannot sit on the sofa in front of the television and ‘think positive’ to a better life.  I don’t believe that can be done, and yet that seems a realistic and acceptable life-plan to the vast majority of people I speak to.

So, where am I going with this?  I am going to give you some aphorisms that have worked for me, and that continue to work for me on a daily basis.  Some of them I might have invented, some of them were written by others whose names I do not even know, and some of them have been credited to their respective author.  They all say the same thing in different ways, and they all push in the direction of identifying your own goals and pursuing them.  How, you might ask, do I identify my goals?  I think that’s the easiest part in all of this.  Where do your passions lie?  What motivates you?  What gets you enthusiastic?  Those are the areas where you need to look, despite others who might say how unrealistic, difficult or competitive those areas of interest might be.

So, here we go:

Some people dreamed of success…while others woke up and worked hard at it.

What you chose to focus your mind on is critical.

Persistence is the key, the backbone, the spirit of accomplishment and achievement.

A person who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.

Persistence is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.

A man can only do what he can do. But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.  The world said “Give up.”  Hope whispered, “Try it again…just one more time.”

With ordinary talents and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.

The saints we revere and respect in all fields are the sinners who kept on going.

Do not spend a moment worrying about whether someone thinks you are the worst human being of all or the brightest star in the universe.  Your integrity to yourself is more important than anyone else’s viewpoint. You know if you are working as hard as you can to create a great future for yourself and the people you care for.

It doesn’t matter if you try and try and try again, and fail.  It does matter if you try and fail, and fail to try again.

History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They refused to become discouraged by their defeats.

Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.

Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow.

Decide carefully, exactly what you want in life, then work like mad to make sure you get it!

Defeat never comes to anyone until they admit it.

Stay away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but great people…great people are the ones who make you feel that you too can be truly great.

No one can always be right.

Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life. When it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, “You cannot defeat me.”

Forget all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will.

Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian teenage gymnast, winner of three Olympic Gold Medals by the age of fourteen, was asked how she made it look so effortless.

She hesitated for just a moment, and then she smiled, and said, “It’s the hard work that makes it easy.”

Pablo Picasso, more than eighty years old, was asked why he still worked fourteen and sixteen hours a day.  His reply, very simply: ‘When inspiration finds me, I want her to find me hard at work’.

Be proud to work.  Be proud to be exhausted with the things you have accomplished today.  Dream of what you want.  Work hard.  Persist.  Persevere.  Make it happen.  Do not end your life with the words ‘What if?’  Those are the words with which to begin your life.

Courage does not always roar the loudest or fight the hardest.  Courage is often nothing more than the quiet voice at the end of a long day that says, ‘Tomorrow…tomorrow I will try again’.

Commit yourself to success.  Somewhere.  Somehow.  In some field.  As Goethe, the great philosopher said, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.  Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth, ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.   Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”

As Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose’, and I believe in this without doubt or hesitation.  Whatever purpose you have now, keep it alive, keep working at it, keep directing your energies and attention towards it, and it will be realized.

As a result of what I have learned I have been able to travel the world and meet some truly extraordinary people.  The most important ones have often been the most humble and the most interested in others.  The most successful ones have been those who cared most about their fellow man.  The happiest ones have been those who were literate, hard-working, persistent and courageous in their endeavours.

So, in closing…turn off the television, stop reading the newspapers (because their entire purpose is to make you think that the world in which we live is rough and dangerous and crazy and out-of-control, and it isn’t much like that at all), stop doubting your own ability to achieve what you know you can achieve, and realize that achieving it is only going to happen if you do the work.  Stop complaining, stop finding reasons why it can’t be done, stop worrying about what others might think, and do the work.  Just shut up and do the work.

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Having surmounted many obstacles in his own life, R.J. Ellory has gone on to be both a successful writer of crime novels and a musician.

Check out R.J.’s books at http://www.amazon.com/R.J.-Ellory/e/B002IVGFJO

 

 

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The Doughnut and Not the Hole by John B. Rosenman

My father used to talk to me about what counted in life.  Sometimes he quoted a poem you may be familiar with:

“As you ramble through Life, Brother,

Whatever be your goal.

Keep your eye upon the doughnut,

And not upon the hole.”

Even when I was a kid, I understood the moral.   One should pursue real and meaningful goals in life and avoid empty attractions that can be a tragic waste of time.   One should pursue worthwhile values and avoid the gaudy, seductive, and worldly pleasures of Vanity Fair.

However, can we always tell what the doughnut is, and what the hole?  We might think it is easy, but Vanity Fair is just as real and dangerous now as it was when John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress.   Even more real and dangerous, in fact.   The media constantly bombard us with vain confections we come to crave.   Money, glamor, and sex, oh my.  Some of us pilgrims easily lose our way and find ourselves lost forever.

What exactly is the doughnut?   If I forget about the Kardashians and put down my scandal-racked tabloid, I would start my list by saying the doughnut consists of the following ingredients:

  1. Valuing your family and treasuring its members.
  2. Valuing your country and treasuring its traditions.
  3. Being kind and helpful to people whenever you can.

Number 3 sounds a lot like the Golden Rule to me.  Contributing to worthwhile charities comes in here.   I believe Truman Copote said there were only two moral rules.   Mind your own business and don’t hurt anybody.   I think a lot of the misery and confusion in our lives is caused by our failure to remember these two things.

I have to admit I’m not the best at following these principles.   For example, I have fought with my wife when I knew I was wrong.  But hey, I think I have a good idea of what goes into the doughnut.   Here’s another ingredient based on my personal experience:

  1. Forget about past grievances and don’t hold grudges because of the way people have treated you.   Let it go, let it go, let it go.   Set aside your injured pride.  For some of us, it’s harder to do than for others.   If you can’t forgive, see if you can forget a little by focusing on the present and all the possibilities it offers.

I can’t cover this subject as fully as I’d like here, so I’ll close by mentioning one more tasty, filling and fulfilling ingredient in the doughnut.   To some of you, it may be the most important one.

  1. Consider developing a relationship with God or a supreme being who is larger and more wonderful than everything else. Some folks may object to this. But please, don’t simply decide there is no ultimate  intelligence in the universe and never consider the matter again.  As for believers, I recommend that reexamining and questioning our beliefs now and then can be a very good thing.  Miguel de Unamuno said  “Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”

Amen.

As for Socrates, he believed that “not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued.”   Money, possessions, popularity and praise don’t automatically equal the good life, and worldly success doesn’t mean one is a virtuous and deserving person.   It’s what one stands for and what one does with such wealth that matters.

Otherwise it’s the hole in that doughnut rather than the doughnut itself.

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John B. Rosenman, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20 books. His work includes science fiction and dark erotic fiction. “The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes won the 2011 annual readers’ poll from “Preditors and Editors.” In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” their Top Pick. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

 

 

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Some Small Stranger by Micki Peluso

“Grandma,” a word sounding as old as Methuselah was about to become my title. My response to this new position escalated to the point of panic. Initially, I didn’t react well to the word, mother, either.

I remembered my own grandmother, with her soft white hair wound up in a bun; hair that when let down, easily reached her waist. I can still see her laboring over delicate paper-thin strudel dough in a warm kitchen filled with the aroma of chicken soup and fresh baked bread. I thought of my children’s grandmother, who had wiry salt and pepper hair, mostly salt, velvety skin, and eyes that seemed ageless. She was lovely, wore no make-up, and exuded a gentleness that gave the word, “Grandma,” a good name.

The title, “Grandma’” seemed to place me in a different age bracket–and I wasn’t ready. I could still squeeze into my designer jeans, if I lay flat on the bed to pull up the zipper. My hair, mostly my own, was still blonde, and I hadn’t yet given my bikini to the Salvation Army. I would probably have to soon– the neighbors were starting to complain. I did Jane Fonda religiously, which meant once a week, and wasn’t planning on taking Geritol for a few more years.

Soon after my daughter informed me of her pregnancy, placing the weighty mantle of “Grandma” around my neck, my life began to change. My shoulders drooped as I walked down the street, hinting that osteoporosis was right around the corner. Wrinkles, cropped up from nowhere, etching the itinerary of my life. Silver strands peeked out from among the gold, thinning gold at that. Fading eyesight precipitated the need for “Granny” glasses, and all my best parts appeared to have dropped six inches. My husband, suffering his own identity crisis, joked about trading me in for two twenty-year olds.

“Go ahead,” I told him. “I may as well be widowed as the way I am now.” My youth was gone, chased away by a menacing word that hovered like an albatross over my troubled psyche.

I sulked most of the nine months preceding the arrival of the one responsible for my fate. I was proud of my daughter, excited by the prospect of a new baby, her baby, joining the family, but I couldn’t adjust to my novel role. I laid claim to many titles in my lifetime, from Miss to Mrs. to Mommy, a brief encounter with Ms., plus a few titles that didn’t need capitalization. There was something about the word, Grandma, which stuck in my throat. My friends smirked and made the usual jokes, perilously endangering our friendship. They could afford to be cute. None of them were about to be grandparents. I would be the first.

It wasn’t fair. I had raised my children, gave my all in the name of motherhood, and faced the daily grind of bottles, diapers and finicky eaters. I lost sleep during middle of the night marathons with teething toddlers, and suffered through puberty and adolescence with only a hint of martyrdom. Now when the “best was yet to come,” some small stranger, still to be born, was transforming me into an old woman; a grandma.

My daughter’s delivery came, as most do, in the middle of the night. It was a long, hard labor, beset with life-threatening problems for both herself and the baby; problems which made my own insignificant. My pleas, that night, to a higher authority, did not concern my apprehension of grand motherhood. I begged for the safety of my child and her baby. Nothing else mattered.

After an agonizing wait in a room full of people mutely sharing similar concerns, the doctor burst through the delivery room doors. Ten agonizing hours had elapsed since we entered that room. It seemed a lifetime. The doctor spotted us and rushed over. My heart was in my throat as I rose to meet him.

“Your daughter’s fine” he said, smiling. “Congratulations, Grandma! It’s a boy!”

He had to say “Grandma”. My husband breathed a sigh of relief and began passing out cigars. I sat silent, relieved for my daughter, uncertain of the reality before me.

I finally walked over to the glass windows of the nursery, where “Grandpa,” beaming proudly, had preceded me. I looked down upon a tiny, screaming infant, who, with flailing arms and red, wrinkled face, was a miniature of my daughter. He stopped crying, and gazed up at me with unfocused eyes, appraising me as I did him, his mouth turning up in a crooked grin. I loved him at once. Suddenly the word “Grandma,” the most beautiful word in the world, seemed to fit like a pair of broken-in running shoes.

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Micki Peluso is a Journalist, and humorist, writing for several newspapers, plus publishing short fiction and non-fiction in various magazines and e-zines, winning many contests and awards. Her short works appear in a half dozen book collections, including the Reader’s Favorite International Award for two short stories, in “The Speed of Dark” published by Clayton Bye. Her first book, . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang, a funny, bittersweet story of love, loss and survival won the Nesta Silver Award for writing that “Builds Character.” “Don’t Pluck the Duck” soon to be released is a collection of her published slice of life, short fiction and non-fiction. http://www.amazon.com/Micki-Peluso/e/B002BLZ7JK

 

 

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Make a Conscious Choice by C. Clayton Bye

Many years ago, while on an evening stroll in Toronto, I came upon a young couple who were being harassed by three thugs. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the young man was in the kind of situation that tends to turn out badly. In fact, I figured one of two things was going to happen: he was going to receive a beating, or he was going to lose face with his girl.

Everything about the fellow’s demeanour indicated he’d reached a similar conclusion. Take your pick of emotions. There was fear, frustration, anger, even humiliation: each appeared and disappeared on this victim’s face like the shifting scenes in a suspense film.

One of the aggressors laughed, and I found myself thinking about what most people would do when encountering a situation such as this. The answer which appeared in my head was to mind my own business. No surprises there, right? However, I profess to be a Contrarian. According to my personal definition, this is a person who always considers doing the opposite of what most people do—as a way to identify opportunities to be extraordinary.

I walked up, inserted myself between the two lovers and quietly told the young man I was there to help. The response was wonderful to behold. He drew himself up to full height, his face relaxed and hope shone in his eyes. Then, obtaining a silent nod of agreement from me, and giving the girl’s hand a quick squeeze, he stepped forward to face the bullies.

Keeping my mouth shut, I let my new friend take control of the situation, allowed him the chance to look good in front of his lady. He handled himself well, and the thugs, visibly uncomfortable with the new odds, were soon gone.

A similar event was recently reported by local media. Unfortunately, the results were tragic. A young man attempted to help some people in trouble and was knifed to death. No one else was hurt, but a bright future was cancelled in an instant.

Individuals reading my column might ask, “Doesn’t the preceding story prove it pays to mind your own business?” My answer would be, “No!” I believe the young man who lost his life did the right thing. I’m sorry he died, but I’m also certain he acted as he did because he understood that the safe alternative, the choice of inaction, of tolerating a wrong or an evil, would have made him part of the problem.

The habit of taking responsibility for yourself, of consistently making the right choice, rather than the safe or easy choice, is the most difficult way of life I know. And we, as a society, need more of it! How many times has that tiny, seventy-something lady walked past your doorstep in frigid weather, bags full of groceries scraping the ground, without someone coming to her aid? What about the foul-mouthed teenagers at the mall? Why  is their behaviour tolerated? Closer to home, who monitors your own decision making? What checks and balances do you have in place for those times when your behavioural choices are less than perfect?

Doing nothing to change what’s wrong in and about your life is a choice. It’s a form of behaviour. And in spite of what you might have heard to the contrary, when you say and do hurtful things, you are a hurtful person. This modern notion that we aren’t defined by our actions is, in my opinion, complete nonsense. We’re nothing if we aren’t our behaviour.

You and I don’t have to be perfect. We just need to be consistent in what we choose to do. The best analogy I can offer comes from baseball. A player with a .300 batting average is a treasure, yet he gets on base just three in every ten trips to the plate. He understands that if you keep swinging the best way you know how, you’ll get through the outs and achieve some hits. We can do the same.

When you see a person bending under the weight of their load, make a conscious choice to help. The next time you’re tempted to say or do something in anger, bite your tongue. Better yet, find something nice to say and do. Make the responsible choice. Then make another. And another. And another.

Sure, you’ll take some strikes. But your batting average will improve over time. That’s what practice is all about. Actions create results; we are what we say and do.

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Clayton Bye is a writer, editor and publisher. The author of 9 books and a varied collection of short stories, poems, articles and hundreds of reviews, he has also published  3 award winning anthologies. Shope at his estore: http://www.amazon.com/Clayton-Bye/e/B002BWULO0

 

STORIES WITHOUT IDEAS John B. Rosenman

 

John

Once upon a time, I went to writers’ cons, and I noticed that writers on panels tended to be of two kinds.  There were those who outlined their novels and stories in advance, and those who were pantsers who made it up as they went along.  Oh, there was a continuum all right, and some writers fell in between, but the polar types squared off like Yin and Yang with guns drawn, and in general, the opposites did not attract.

Some extreme planners prepared outlines hundreds of pages long in minute detail with elaborate sketches for virtually every character, however minor.  Little was left to chance, and I didn’t see how their novels and stories could possibly breathe.

Others, an equally rare breed, sat down before their typewriters and yellow legal pads and let fly with little or nothing in their noggins but a desire to create.  And to this community I have tended to belong more and more as my hair has thinned and my skin has wrinkled.  Sometimes over the years, seeking inspiration and wild, unpredictable new directions, I have visited a nearby Barnes & Noble.  I wander through it, letting my eyes and mind wander too about the titles and walls, and occasionally part or the whole of a story will leap out of nowhere into my head.  One day I saw a book titled The Pain Technique, and a title for a short story sprang into my mind.  “The Death Technique.”  All I had was a title, but darned if I didn’t like it.   

A second passed, and a concept rose.  What if a man discovers he has the ability to will the signs of decay and dissolution that signify death?  His body dissolves, liquefies, and drips on the floor.  From this beginning I wrote a horror story that I later sold.  Though I polished and edited the story as I do all my writing, the story itself came out of virtually nothing and was written with no clear end in sight until I was halfway through it.  It was originally a story without an idea, only a book title I saw at Barnes & Noble.

I’ve gone through this process many times, often with even less than a book title to inspire me.  Perhaps it’s been just a touch of wind, or a glance of sunshine.  I’ve done it with both short stories and novels.  Fellow scribblers, I’m not a wild, raving mystic.  Creative writing and composition instructors, of which I was one, often use a similar method in freewriting exercises, encouraging spontaneity while trying to make students forget their inner censor.  Freewriting helps to overcome writers’ block and to tap into resources individuals don’t know they have.  The point of my words is that sometimes, if you relax a little and open the door to inspiration, maybe, just maybe, you will be surprised and delighted by what you can do.

In that spirit, here is an essay with the same title (slightly revised) I wrote on this subject nearly thirty years ago.

John 3

STORIES WITHOUT IDEAS

A writer I know said that “Ideas for stories just seem to come to me.”  Fascinating.  But I thought readers might be interested in a phenomenon that’s happened to me more and more in the past few years: “Stories come to me without ideas.”

Let me explain.  A year ago I was lying innocently in bed, not bothering anyone, least of all the Muse, when a sentence materialized out of nowhere and whopped me over the head: “I’m sitting in hell listening to Barry Manilow records when the call comes.”  I sat up thinking “Wow!” and promptly grabbed a legal pad and began an 8,000 word novelette, “Survival of the Fittest,” which will appear in Supernova.  The sentence itself served as a catalyst or springboard into a narrative, got me started even though I had no idea where the hell I was going.  But I was intrigued by my feeling that Barry Manilow’s music was a fit ingredient of the nether regions, and in some nebulous way, it inspired a story of man’s first contact with an alien race.

What’s the point of this?  Simply that for some writers, beginning stories without (or almost without) ideas may be a viable and productive approach, and it may be folly to wait until something more solid develops.  True, you must have something, but it may only need to be an interesting phrase or word, a potential title or a vague question or sentiment.  Here are some other examples from my own experience.

  • I remember reading once, somewhere, that the most frightening and horrifying thing of all is when a rose sings because something so beautiful doesn’t need enhancement.  This quote rattled around in my mental teapot for years till I finally wrote “When A Rose Sings,” which appeared recently in 2 AM Magazine.  When I started writing, all I had was the dimly remembered quote, but it metamorphosed into a story about a divinely lovely rose perverted by hard rock music into a flower that mesmerizes its victims by singing.  Happens all the time, right?
  • A month ago I saw a word that knocked my socks off: “Dreamfarer.”  I started writing, and the result is a 12,000 word story, “Dreamfarer,” about a future where people are maintained by dream machines.  All their deepest desires are fulfilled in computer fantasies, and everything’s hunky-dory unless you wake up and discover the truth . . .  [Shades of The Matrix!]
  • Even more recently, another potential title whomped me: “Two Moons East of Tomorrow.”  No way I was gonna let that stunner pass.  After a false start, the title’s seed burgeoned into a tale about an alien being who can recapture the past by using people who lived it.
  • One last example: A year ago, I took my seven-year-old son David out on Halloween, and as he ran up a curved path to a house, he disappeared briefly behind a trellis.  A question briefly nudged me in a way that scribblers as opposed to normal people train themselves not to ignore: What if that did happen, and the father could never find his son?  The result is my multiple-published “Daniel, My Son,” one of my best short stories ever.

“Where do you get your ideas?”  I believe the answer to this question is endless because the creative process may be a mystery to the writer himself, submerged in a subconscious realm he can’t fathom.  But to me, that’s part of the fun, the fascination, and the glory, for to bring something out of nothing is as godlike as any of us mortals are likely to get.  So, fellow writers, pay heed to those unorthodox, sometimes barely perceptible nudges and flashes—it just may be a story knocking!

  • For further information on John Rosenman’s strange, make-it-up-as-he-goes-along views, read “I’m a Pantser, Not a Plotter.” It’s a post on his website at http://johnrosenman.com/?p=1312/ John, a retired English professor from Norfolk State University, has published over 300 stories and 20   His work includes science fiction, speculative fiction, paranormal romance, and dark erotic fiction. The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes” won the 2011 annual readers’ poll on Preditors and Editors. In 2013, Musa Publishing awarded his time travel story “Killers” one of their Top Picks.  He is the former Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association and the previous editor of Horror Magazine.

Two links:

http://www.audible.com/pd/Teens/The-Merry-Go-Round-Man-Audiobook/B00NP5UD4A 

http://www.amazon.com/Inspector-Cross-John-B-Rosenman-ebook/dp/B007USB0YU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1412877976&sr=8-2&keywords=john+rosenman

STELLA HAUNTS ME!

 

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I’m lying in bed next to my wife when Stella McMasters lifts the covers and slips in beside me.  She taps my chin.

“When are you going to do it?” she asks.

I glance over to see if Stella has awakened Jane.  My wife usually takes a dim view of me sleeping with two women at the same time.  Fortunately, she’s snoring.

I turn back.  “Going to do what?” I ask.

She snuggles closer.  “Tell the rest of my story.”

I sigh, for she’s asked this before.  Stella’s the cyborg heroine I created in Beyond Those Distant Stars, a SF action-adventure romance published by Mundania Press (http://tinyurl.com/74a6zqp).  Twice I’ve tried to write a sequel, Star Warrior, but I’ve been stymied each time by my friends’ substantial and valid criticisms.

I try to brazen it out.  “Listen, honey, you’re my creation, and it’s up to me to continue your story or not.”

This doesn’t fly.  Stella’s face hardens, and she raises a fist.  Two-thirds of her body is synthetic, and she could crush me with a single blow.  “I rule an empire of a thousand worlds,” she says, “and I’ve got enemies who want to destroy me.  Hell, there’s enough for a whole boatload of books.  I can be an even bigger hero than Miles.”

That’s Miles Vorkosigan, the creation of the multiple prize-winning SF author Lois McMaster Bujold, whose name inspired Stella McMasters’ name.  “Look,” I say, “I tried twice to continue your saga, but my writers’ group found too many implausibilities.”

Stella gives me a chaste kiss, which is unlike the passionate ones she gave her unfaithful lover in Beyond Those Distant Stars.  “Screw the implausibilities.  Just write it.”  She smiles.  “I feel great adventures ahead of me.  New challenges, new men, new triumphs and revelations.  Sweetie, my saga is just getting started.”

My name isn’t Sweetie, but I don’t tell her that.  “I can’t do it,” I say.  “I tried twice—”

Her hand squeezes me below the covers, but not as a lover.  I moan in pain.

“Do it,” she orders.  Seeing Jane roll over beside me, she taps my chin again and disappears.

Jane sighs.  “Stella again?” she asks.

Great.  My wife heard.  “Yes.”

She moves closer.  “It was worse this time, wasn’t it?”

I don’t need to answer.  Jane kisses me gently.

“Honey,” she says, “why don’t you do what she says.  Only in the sequel . . .”

“Yes?”

She giggles.  “In it, you kill the bitch off.”

* * *

Being haunted by your own character is no fun.  If Stella wants sequels, why doesn’t she take charge and sweep me along plot-wise like other authors’ characters do?  Doesn’t she recognize writer’s block when she sees it?

Two days later, I enter the shower to find Stella waiting there for me.

“Look,” I say, “we have to stop meeting like this.”

Nude, she taps my chin.  “Then you know what to do.”

* * *

After I dry off, I sit down and start Star Warrior again.

 

John has published twenty books and three hundred short stories, most of them science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance.  He’s the former editor of Horror Magazine and Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association.  Recently, he’s focused on his Inspector of the Cross series which features a 4000-year-old hero fighting to save the human race from seemingly invincible aliens.

Web site: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog site: http://www.johnrosenman.blogspot.com

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl

What the Hell is Wrong with Me? by John B. Rosenman

 

Bread

I was teaching my 9 a.m. World Literature class about three years ago, when I noticed my brain was floating about five feet above my shoulders.  What’s more, it wasn’t floating in a good way.  I felt disconnected, disembodied, unreal.

What in the world was happening to me?

I was nearing seventy, a full professor of English, and planning to retire from Norfolk State University after forty-five years of teaching.  I had never experienced anything like this before.  Should I excuse my class early and lie down, or be a man and soldier on?

Hell, I was as macho as the next guy.  I soldiered on.  The fact that I was undergoing an out-of- body, semi-psychotic experience didn’t mean I couldn’t pull it off.  I was a pro!  So on I charged, fielding students’ questions out of the air, and I believe, passing the test with flying colors.

As I left my class, my affliction lifted.  For the rest of the day, I was fine.  My relief was fine, too, and I didn’t even mention the “incident” to my wife Jane.

The next day, with classes meeting later, I was absolutely normal.

The following day, with my World Literature 9 a.m. class, my brain drifted to the ceiling again, hovering near the light fixtures.  In subsequent 9 a.m. classes, that’s where it remained.

I told my wife about it, and she reminded me that a few months back, I’d had arthritic pains in my right arm.  They had interfered with my playing tennis, which I love.  A visit to my doctor and some meds seemed to have solved the problem, but could there be a pattern here?

We soon learned there was.  Starting at 150 pounds, I began to lose weight.  Finally, I went to Dr. B again.  He ran all the tests, which turned up nothing.  He concluded that my symptoms “screamed depression” and referred me to a psychiatrist who gave me pills.  My weight continued to drop.  One forty-five . . . one-forty-two.  When it reached one-forty, my system began to shut down.  Forget about having an appetite, sleeping, or going to the bathroom, and hello to a half-body hideous scarlet rash which itched like the devil and eventually no damned energy whatsoever.

One day in his office, Dr. B said he’d done as much as he could.  He’d run all the tests and didn’t know what was wrong with me.  In short, I had a MYSTERIOUS DISEASE, a subject I’ve written about in fiction, as in “The Blue of her Hair, The Gold of her Eyes,” where a woman contracts a disease that makes others shun and fear her.  I looked at my doctor and said, “Could I have cancer?”  He replied, “Do you want to go and have a CT Scan?”

Well, I had it, and the Scan revealed a discolored area in my lower intestine.  I’ll never forget the day Dr. B asked, “Did your wife come with you?”  Folks, take it from me, when you see your physician, one of the last things you want him or her to ask is, “Did your wife [or husband] come with you?”  I said my wife was present and he went and got her, and we all convened in the examination room.  The only things missing were a Grief Lady and Chopin’s Funeral March.  Dr. B held his fingers an inch apart, indicating the size of my probable cancerous tumor, and I smiled with as much fortitude as I could and kissed my ass goodbye.

pants

Hallelujah, it wasn’t curtains!  I’ll skip some painful details. Another CT Scan, some more blood tests, and a gastroenterologist would finally, finally, nail it down.  I had Celiac disease, a severe allergy caused by gluten, a protein found mainly in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley.  This digestive disease can be hard to diagnose because it has over 250 symptoms, and no two cases are the same.  Also, many of its symptoms are nonspecific and can occur in other diseases.  Celiac disease is often but not always genetically inherited, and in my case, it had lain dormant in my system for the unlikely period of nearly seven decades.  One out of 100 people has this condition, but more and more folks are finding themselves affected in this age of processed foods.  As for my floating brain syndrome, my hematologist told me last year it’s a psychotic effect some of those with Celiac disease experience as a result of eating wheat.

After I was diagnosed, the process of recovery was slow and torturous as the villi in the inner wall of my small intestine which absorb food and nutrients had to recover and straighten.  Indeed, despite my efforts, I continued to lose weight.  One thirty . . .  One twenty-eight . . . One twenty-five . . . One twenty.  If I turned sideways, I disappeared in the mirror.  I was so weak, I couldn’t even run, and it was a struggle to dress myself.

One day, still a bit blotchy with an itchy red rash, I gazed at a class of students I loved and told them I could not continue.  We had begun a literary journey of the creative imagination together, I said, and I wanted so much to complete it with them.  Try as I might, though, I would not be there to reach the finish line at their side except in spirit.

It was painful to say this.   I knew it wasn’t my fault, but I still felt I had failed them.

Then something happened that had never happened before in all my years of teaching.

Every student in my class rose to their feet and formed a line around the room, waiting patiently to hug me.

Some of them even hugged me twice.

Back at home, I was semi-bedridden for about a month.  Talk about being limp, listless human meat.  My wife climbed the stairs and brought me my meals, which I could barely eat because I had no appetite.  I came to hate the sight of those eight ounce bottles of Ensure which I was forced to drink because they provided 350 calories.  I sometimes think Jane kept me alive, that I’d be dead except for her.

Lying there, I came to empathize more and more with the sick and afflicted, especially those sicker than me who might lack the benefit and comfort of insurance, doctors, and caregivers.  All we have are our bodies and our spirits, and our health and our senses can be taken away in a heartbeat.  I already knew this of course, but it bears repeating.  We don’t own our good health, our good looks, our success, or the fortunate way our brains are wired.  We don’t possess them because of any moral or spiritual superiority we have over others, or any special favoritism we have received from God.  Recently Mary Firmin wrote an essay entitled “Alcoholism.”  Some people are blessed enough to be able to drink a beer or a glass of wine without risk of addiction.  For others it’s like walking a tightrope above an abyss.  In some ways alcoholism is a mysterious disease, too.  Some of us are just luckier than others.

Dear Reader, if you type Mysterious Diseases into your browser, you will find all sorts of strange, bizarre, and often unsolved and incurable maladies.  Perhaps new ones will appear in the future, and it will be impossible to prepare for them.

As for me, my doctor informs me I’ve made a “tremendous recovery.”  Thanks to Prednizone, a steroid, I developed a voracious appetite and finally managed to gain weight, although later it caused a cataract to ripen in my right eye that half-blinded me overnight.  Today I weigh as much as I did before and live an almost normal life.  However, while my disease is in remission, it remains, and I must take meds daily for it.  Above all, I must avoid gluten at all costs.  For example, if I go to Wendy’s or any other fast food place, I take my own gluten-free, poorer textured, and less tasty bread if I want a sandwich, avoiding their wheat-packed buns and flavorful varieties such as the one featured at the front of this essay.  Also, I shun items such as macaroni, doughnuts, and greasy pizza, no matter how much I crave them.

It’s a small price to pay for staying alive.

John has published twenty books and three hundred short stories, most of them science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal romance.  He’s the former editor of Horror Magazine and Chairman of the Board of the Horror Writers Association.  Recently, he’s focused on his Inspector of the Cross series which features a 4000-year-old hero fighting to save the human race from seemingly invincible aliens.

Web site: http://www.johnrosenman.com

Blog: http://www.johnrosenman.blogspot.com

FB page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnBRosenman?ref=hl