Word Fantasy 2022 – Into the Fray

by Christina Lay

I’m here to provide a little insight into the goings on at a professional writers’ conference and why you as a writer or publisher might want to attend. But naturally, as a writer, the first thing I feel compelled to do is look up the meaning of “fray”.

fray1 | frā | verb [no object] (of a fabric, rope, or cord) unravel or become worn at the edge, typically through constant rubbing: cheap fabric soon frays | (as adjective frayed) :  the frayed collar of her old coat (of a person’s nerves or temper) show the effects of strain.

fray2 | frā | noun (the fray) a situation of intense activity, typically one incorporating an element of aggression or competition: nineteen companies intend to bid for the contract, with three more expected to enter the fray a battle or fight: he charged into the thick of the fray and went down fighting.

Okay, well, there’s more there that applies than I’d hoped when I decided to procrastinate by looking up that word.  The first meaning; to unravel or become worn at the edges, applies to me, and possibly a whole lot of other people, after the last couple of years we’ve had. Emerging from the inner sanctum to attend a large gathering of Others at the opposite end of the country is quite a daunting feat after years of reduced contact, minimal productivity, and a whole lot of couch time. I understand that the fear remains, real concerns, but if you can, the time is here to start re-raveling ourselves.  I want to say I’ve accomplished a big fat zero in my personal time of fraying around the edges, but hey, look, I’ve helped bring three new books into the world, and the world needs to hear about them.

On to the second meaning, which is what I was thinking of in my oh-so-clever title.  “A situation of intense activity”.  I attended as a vendor, which means not only do I have to gear up to be intensely around Others for four days, I have to get my sh*t together, order all the books, ship the books, find the book rack I bought five years ago, discover I’m out of business cards, discover my PayPal payment system is obsolete and dysfunctional, pack, cajole someone into taking care of my hell hound for a week, find my passport, and so on to apparent infinity.  Then I have to get up at 3 AM to catch a flight to New Orleans (New Orleans is a blog onto itself).  

Oh, I’d so much rather just be a tourist, or at least, a free-flowing writer at one of these conferences. As a vendor, I get to sit behind a table in the dealers room and talk to an endless stream of people. Give my pitch, my spiel, my raison d’etre, to a whole bunch of industry professionals who are kind of enough to stop by and show some interest. As an introvert, this is just shy of hell. So why do it? The benefits are not exactly quantifiable. I don’t sell that many books, barely enough to pay for shipping them back and forth.  But as a micro-press with zero marketing dollars, I’ve decided that this is one of the best ways of getting the books into the view of the most people who might actually read them, write reviews, remember them if they ever happen to get on an award ballet, and so on.  I met a rep from Locus, a bookseller from Puerto Rico, a small publisher from Scotland, lots of interesting writers and readers, and a massage therapist who writes zombie cookbooks, so hey, it’s win-win. Also, I connect with writers who might like to write for this blog.

As a writer, there are tons of interesting panels to attend, and lots of industry professionals who might someday give you a lift up, and visa versa. Let’s not forget our own worth in this game.  As a writer, you might be lucky enough to get invited to be on a panel, like my friend and cohort Cheryl Owen-Wilson, who was called up to speak on a panel titled New Orleans: Old Souls and New Rhythms, along with the likes of old soul Andrei Codrescu and new rhythm Alex Jennings.  Or, you can do a reading, and hopefully reach a few new readers.  Hopefully, it’s inspiring to be with your tribe and be re-energized after our hundred years of solitude (okay, two years, but you know how it feels!)

New Orleans: Old Souls and New Rhythms. That’s Cheryl in the middle, flanked by Alex Jennings, Darrell Schweitzer, James Cambers and Andre Codrescu.

How about that second clause in the second meaning of fray: “typically one incorporating an element of aggression or competition”?  I’m happy to report I experienced no sense of aggression. Competition however, is always just there under the surface. There’s a pecking order, a ranking, a who’s who, to be sure.  Honestly, we’re all there to network (shudder, I really dislike that word) and who do we want to network with?  Well, Ellen Datlow the award-winning editor of short story anthologies perhaps, or Andre Codrescu the Nobel prize-winning radio commentator, or that guy from Locus (no, I didn’t get his name).  Some who attend will focus entirely on that aspect, to their detriment, I believe.  I think it is the unexpected connection, the bookseller from Puerto Rico or the zombie cookbook guy, who is going end up helping you in an unforeseen way, and better yet, maybe become a friend.

I’ll be honest, this year just getting there felt like a big achievement to me, and I did not put my full energy into doing the things one is “supposed” to do.  I keenly missed the presence of Stephen Vessels, who was entirely in his element at our first two conferences. Stephen chased down organizers and got us readings, Stephen networked like a king, Stephen sold books, both his and the rest of the Labyrinth of Souls series.  It felt bittersweet to have his final work, Fall of The Messengers, on the table, and I wish I could have channeled some of his aplomb at meeting and greeting all those potential readers and promoters.  You don’t have to be a Stephen Vessels to get a lot out of these conferences, but it helps.

Fourteen Labyrinth of Souls novels! Stephen Vessels fantastic SF masterpiece, Fall of The Messengers! Sure, I had to spend four days in the soulless depths of a Hyatt conference hall, but I met lots of interesting writers, sold some books, and introduced these lovely books to some lovely people.

Have I said anything helpful? I doubt it. One of the things to unravel lately is my ability to write a coherent post, but I hope this, my first in a few months, will help get me back into the fray and help convince you, dear reader, to stick a toe in as well.

Fall of the Messengers by Stephen T. Vessels on Amazon For some reason, the hardcover isn’t appearing online. I suggest you order it from your local bookstore!

Bayou’s Lament by Cheryl Owen-Wilson on Amazon

World Fantasy 2022

Lessons from the Magician

By Cynthia Ray

Desire is the engine that drives our will.  Do you know what you want, what you desire with all of your heart?   When we truly want something, we take definite steps towards obtaining it.  In fact, we are pulled towards our desire, like iron to a magnet.  It’s a powerful, fiery force.

Our fiery desire is what keeps us going when we run into difficulties on the path to winning the object we yearn for.  If I decide I want to become a published author, I may not know that writing a book can be a long and difficult journey, and only my desire and determination will get me through to the final chapter. 

To better understand this fundamental creative process, let’s turn to Tarot, my favorite symbolic language. The Magician has a lot to tell us about how to get what we want in life.  He knows what he desires, and is the process of creating it.  The Magicians red cape signifies Desire that drives Will. He is asking us what we want to grow in the beautiful garden of our life.  The first step is knowing what we want!  Be clear about that.  Be specific.

The wings on his headband are a nod to the Roman god Mercury, who was the messenger between the world of gods, and the world of men. Likewise, the Magician within us brings ideas from the world of thought to the world of action and manifestation. The Magician is the part of our psyche that makes things happen. He holds a hollow wand, pointed up, while pointing down with his other hand, directing energy.  He knows he can direct power and energy, but is not the source of that power. He is connecting with his muse, his higher self, Life itself.  All the power that ever was or ever will be is here now, all we have to do is tap into that source and direct it into our life’s work. 

The table in front of the Magician holds the tools of his trade. They show us that in order to manifest or create anything, we must journey through four worlds; the Archetypal World, the Creative World, the Formative World, and the World of Results, represented by the wand, cup, sword and pentacle.  

We begin our journey through the four worlds by picking up our wand, which stands for our will, our intention, our fire.  We are in the Archetypal world.  In this first world we identify our desire, what we want, deciding what we will pursue. WE WILL.  We wave our wand and direct our attention to the object of our desire. Keywords associated with the Magician include attention, concentration, singleness of purpose.  Here, we might decide to write a historical fiction novel.  The Idea or Archetype of a book exists, and we pull upon those patterns to know how to proceed. 

Then we raise our cup, full of emotion, feeling, imagination, and water and drink deeply.  We are standing in the Creative World, where we let our wonderful imagination do its magic.  What period of history will the story take place in?  Who are the characters?  What do they look like?  What are their problems? What kind of world do they live in?   What will happen to them?  What is the story about?  We create many things in this world, and allow our imagination to run wild, but as we begin to narrow it down, we step into the Formative World and pick up our sword.

In this world, our sword flies through the air cutting away what it not necessary, forming a solid plan out of our many ideas.  We work out the story in detail, we sit down every day and write, we move post it notes around on our wall, we cut away things that don’t work.  We make the story come alive.  We edit.  We make choices. The sword is our inspired action.  At last, after months, or years, we have a final draft in hand, the result of desire, will, inspired thought, creative endeavor, hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

We have arrived in the World of Results.  The Pentacle is our  book, published. Our historical fiction novel makes its debut into the world.  We feel proud of our accomplishment, hoping it provides enjoyment, food for thought and makes someone’s life a bit better.

Everything we create in our world, all that we grow the garden of our life, applies these principles.  The Magician might be a great image to post on your desk, reminding you that you are the Magician of your own life, and you have all the tools you need to create something wonderful. 

Wishing you many inspired journeys through the four worlds, and results that fill you with satisfaction and joy. 

Ghost Story Weekend, by Eric Witchey

Ghost Story Weekend, by Eric Witchey

I love Ghost Story Weekend!

In fact, I love it so much that I hope to haunt it long after my passing has caused WordCrafters to pass it on to another writer-in-residence. After all, don’t you think a Ghost Story Weekend should have a few ghosts-in-residence?

I’m preparing to travel to the Oregon coast to act as writer-in-residence for Ghost Story Weekend. Every year on the last weekend of October, writers get together to pound out 24-hour spooky stories then read them aloud to one another on Saturday night. Sunday morning, we do a round-robin in which each author says one thing they liked and one thing they think will take the story closer to publication. Elizabeth Engstrom founded the program in the 90s, and she handed it off to me and WordCrafters in Eugene in 2014.

Two anthologies collecting stories from Ghost Story Weekend are available by ordering from your local bookstore or by purchasing on Amazon:

  • Dead on Demand: Edited by Elizabeth Engstrom
  • Ghosts at the Coast: Edited by Dianna Rogers, whom we all miss and who is with us in her ghostly form.

The current ghosts-in-residence are Stephen T. Vessels, who passed away at the end of August, 2021, and Diana Rodgers, who gave up the mortal coil in 2018. I hope they are there with us again this year. I have no doubt that once I join them in the beyond we will do a respectable job of keeping the spooky alive. For now, Dianna and Stephen will have to bear that responsibility.

As I approach the weekend, I can’t help considering the possible prompts that might help me and others reach through the veil between the world of the living and the world of beyond. What questions, comments, or objects will help us all scare the bujeezus out of the other writers who attend?

My good friend, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, attends every year she doesn’t have a calendar conflict, and I, in turn, attend her Science Fiction and Fantasy weekend in the spring. She brings prompts to both events in the form of “roll-ups” she has created. They are always much appreciated and useful. We also dip into a small library of strange and wonderful books for ideas. Between Eric the Younger, a horror writer named Eric Lewis, and me, Eric the Elder, we manage to bring along a pretty hefty library of horror story material. My current favorite is a calendar given to me by Kim Hunter, who is also an attendee. Every year, she augments the experience with a swag bag of spooky paraphernalia, including wind-up ghosts, glowing pens, pop-up mummies, and general boo-foolery. Becky Christine, one of the essential support people without whom the event could not take place, always creates an amazing collection of story support material. Her swag bags include things like individual pages taken from spooky source books, tarot cards, spooky dice, images, and evocative objects.

Add the above to the fact that we are already staying right across Coastal Highway 101 from a rocky shoreline where crashing waves spray a brass plaque commemorating the deaths of teens who thought they were strong enough to beat the power of the sea, thus warning others of the dangers of getting too close to a watery spirit that can sweep away a life in moments, and you have a recipe for endless creativity and wonderful terrors appropriate to Samhain. Don’t even get me started on the nearby haunted lighthouse…

As we approach the night when the veil between the mortal realm and the beyond is thinnest, I search out little tidbits of craft and motivation to email to the group of would-be horror writers. My hideous plan is to get the ghostly muse percolating behind the scenes before anyone shows up for the event. I paraphrase case study ghost investigation entries from the huge book, Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond, by Hans Holzer—my personal go-to for strange. I send out links to web sites of spooky settings all over the world. I pull concepts and locations from travel books dedicated to the strange. There’s an entire travel industry around exploring spooky places. I even dig into my own photo stores of ghost towns and haunted places I’ve visited, including abandoned mines, asylums, sanitariums, and in one case an abandoned old-west haunted hotel.

Of course, none of these are useful if the minds receiving them don’t harbor some innate curiosity about what could be, might have been, and would be fun and spooky.

This morning, I pulled some ideas from the spooky Page-A-Day calendar Kim sent me early this year. The email that went out looked like this:

From the Kim Calendar, boo date 10/22/22. Haunted Objects Sold on eBay:

  • A wristwatch that cannot be changed from 11:29, the exact time the original owner was murdered.
  • Sold items and furnishings from a demolished haunted mansion in Clovis, CA.
  • A self-refilling ceramic water bottle.
  • A haunted Ziploc bag that has healing and restorative powers for foodstuffs and even for people.

And now I’m thinking of a ghost wearing the watch, haunting a mansion being demolished, carrying a self-filling bottle, and their body preserved in restorative Ziploc body bag sealed in the wall of the foundation…

Are you a ghost if you were murdered at 11:29 then put in a healing Ziploc bag that revives you, but then you suffocate, but then you revive, but then you suffocate?

Is the water bottle haunted by the spirit of an extreme runner who died of dehydration on a desert ultra-marathon?

Did a Peruvian Incan runner live in a mansion in Clovis, CA?

Did some writer buy the Clovis writing desk?

Were the Clovis people of ancient America responsible for the haunting of the mansion?

Inquiring minds want to know. Next Saturday night, perhaps we’ll find out the answers to these and other questions.

Boo!

Eric

I think of this sort of questioning as spinning up the silly generator. If I have to draft a story in 24 hours then present it orally to 15 or more other writers, including some highly accomplished professionals, I’m going to need to get my free-association brain working at peak levels. To do that, I start practicing a week or two beforehand by looking at images, concepts, stories, and objects then asking the questions that might lead to a spooky story.

Personally, I think in terms of the now defunct Weekly World News. I try to find that sort of mindset and brainstorm as if I’m going to write a fictional news article for that magazine. You know the type: “Batbaby and Bigfoot Team up to Defeat Canadian Carnivore Aliens.” That kind of story.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that’s the kind of story I’ll be writing at the event. It might be. I kind of like the idea of ancient Clovis People haunting a mansion and carrying refilling ceramic water bottles. Imagine the impact on modern archeology if those bottles and body-preserving Ziploc body bags were discovered in the foundation of a demolished mansion.

“Archeologists Discover Clovis People Magic Still Working”

The interview with the ghost would be glorious!

Right now, sitting at my desk, I see a Tupperware container with three pulp novels in it. I also see a bottle from my pharmacy, and on the floor there’s a receipt from Costco.

Engage Silly Weekly World News headline maker. Archeology is already loaded into the system.

  • Pre-Noah’s Flood Novels Preserved in Plastic.
  • Costco is the Reincarnation of Clovis People’s Marketplace.
  • Construction Workers Uncover Pre-Columbian Tupperware. You won’t believe what they find inside!
  • Clovis People Invented Anti-Depressants. Ancient Pharmacy Uncovered.
  • RCMP Finds Hidden Sasquatch Library. Clovis People Ghost Librarians Curse Canadian Cops.
  • Ghost Librarian Sells Tupperware.
  • Ghost at Little Lending Library Busted for Distribution of Stolen Pharmaceuticals.
  • Clovis People Ghost Racks up Debt at Costco. Police Want to Know Where She Got her Card.
    • She says she can’t get Kirkland anywhere else and the meat department is great.
  • Zombie Selling Tupperware Door-to-Door in Clovis, CA. Residents too Afraid to Say No.
  • Archeologist Possessed by Clovis Librarian. Science Shattered.

You get the idea.

An explicit change to my filters will give me different results.

Add a different set of items, objects, images, or concepts: a musty rag, cobwebs, and a broken cell phone.

  • Phantom Caller Only Connects on Broken Phone.
  • Cobwebs on Cleaning Rag Open Portal to Afterlife.
  • Mother Returns from the Afterlife to Clean Son’s Apartment.
  • Magnet Fisherman Finds Broken Phone. Deceased 911 Operator Still on the Line.

If I choose to take away my favorite filter, the Weekly World News, replacing it with, say, a pseudoscientific journal filter like The Journal of Irreproducible Results, everything changes. As my father used to say, “There’s no such thing as supernatural. There are only natural phenomenon science can’t yet experimentally explain.”

Note: You can find collections of articles and original editions of The Journal of Irreproducible Results on Amazon.

An article about a conversation with a ghost might look like this:

  • Dialogs with Six-Dimensional Intermittent Manifestations of Transtemporal Spatial Phenomenon.

Add a different filter, war news from Ukraine.

  • Colonel from the Crimean War Returns as YouTube Pundit.

This endless process of variations on themes, application of filters, and the spouting of total nonsense as fast as I can manage it inevitably leads to opportunities for a ghost story that I can write in a few hours. Because we have 15 or more people to read stories, we keep the length of the stories under 2000 words. Years when we have more people, which has not been possible since Covid began, we limit the word count even more.

Some years, I only manage one story. One year, I produced five, two of which I later sold. We have others who produce three-to-five stories in the 24-hour period. Universally, the people who produce that many stories step back from the idea that then need a “good story” long enough to spin up their brainstorming brain and kick out ideas they draft into rough form very quickly. Once they have a few stories in rough form, they pick one to refine a little bit before they read. Composing at around 2,000 words an hour, more-or-less, leads easily to three or four possible bad draft candidates from which to choose for one set of revisions prior to presentation.

This year’s Ghost Story Weekend was sold out the week it was announced, so you might not be with us via Zoom or in the room. None-the-less, you can be with us in spooky spirit. Friday, at about 7 pm., start spinning up ideas and pounding out pages. Saturday morning, keep the process going. Around noon, pick one of your story starts/drafts and finish it as much as possible before dinner. For fun, and in all its early-draft flawed glory, read it aloud by candlelight to someone. Sip some wine. Chat. Hand out candy to tick-or-treaters. Whisper gratitude for having known those who have gone before us through the veil.

When the candy is gone and the hangover has subsided, ignore the stories for a week.

The next weekend, rewrite your scary story, polish it, and send it out.

Have a glorious Samhain!

-End-