Sniper by Paul E. Cooley

Depression is a sniper hiding in the forest of life.
Without warning, without provocation, it fires its steely bullet through your heart
rendering you mute, in pain, and wondering what happened
as your self-control, your grip on what’s real, falls to the ground
like so much slaughterhouse offal.

It takes everything to pick yourself up,
when you can feel the psychic blood draining from
what once held joy, faith, and hope.

Crawling for cover,
tears of empty rage sliding down torn and ragged cheeks,
each movement an obstacle in and of itself,
you finally hear the shot that felled you.
And even as you manage to find shelter,
you are felled once more.

There is no rescue party on its way.
No medic to stem and staunch the wound.
“Hope” does not make house calls for the dying.

Even after the sniper has left the trees,
its silver rounds of hurt deeply embedded in your flesh,
the fear of never finding the light again
can be worse than the fiery, breath crushing pain.

Friends drag your conscious gibbering body.
They apply the only aid they know how,
clean the wound,
cover the hole.
But only you can mend it,
scar over the damage,
and move on.

It is only the memory of hope,
that can make that happen.
Pills, words, hugs, music…
all are temporary solutions to
a chronic illness that is only
solved in the final cessation of life.

But I’m not ready yet.
The pain will pass.
The futility of life will once again
be lost to the wind like a grain of sand.
And the inner light will glow once more.

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Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Guest Poems


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The Black Franchise

My writing partner, Paul Cooley, did a really cool thing about a year ago. With the help of fellow hybrid author Jake Bible, he sold a book on the pitch. That means he came up with a story idea, wrote a short blurb about that story, sent it off to a publisher, and the publisher bought it based on that pitch alone. How cool is that?

But once the book was sold, then the fun began and he had to write this book. He typically writes character driven stuff where we don’t know if we’re dealing with our own inner daemons or real daemons. He infuses his prose with social commentary and dwells on our darker nature. This was different. It was to be a classic horror tale in that it’s a creature no one has seen or dealt with before and the humans are trapped and without communication. Think of Relic or The Thing.

First, here’s the pitch:

“Under 30,000 feet of water, the exploration rig Aurora has discovered an oil field larger than Saudi Arabia, with oil so sweet and pure, nations would go to war for the rights to it. But as the team starts drilling exploration well after exploration well in their race to claim the sweet crude, their Autonomous Underwater Vehicles begin to short out, drill bits break and snap, and a deep rumbling beneath the ocean floor shakes them all to their core. Something has been living in the oil and it’s about to give birth to the greatest threat humanity has ever seen.

“The Black” is a techno/horror-thriller that puts the horror and action of movies such as Leviathan and The Thing right into readers’ hands. Ocean exploration will never be the same.”

You would think that when a writer (or any creative person) tries something new they might struggle or have difficulty. And, I’m sure that happens pretty frequently. But the flip side is that when a creative person tries something new, they don’t have any preconceived ideas about how to do that thing. All of their bad habits are wrapped up in doing the old thing so they are free to experiment. Free to just do. I had the joy of watching that happen here. He spent some time researching deep oil drilling, life aboard a platform oil rig, the science of petrochemicals, deep water ocean life, bacteria, and anything else that came to mind regarding this book. Once he started to write, this book flew out of his sick and twisted brain.

41Rcz5oaX-L._UY250_It was sold to Severed Press, a small press headquartered in Tasmania. It was published on September 15, 2014. The original pitch was accepted just 6 months earlier. Small doesn’t just mean that a press is small in terms of their assets or staff size, it also means they aren’t bloated. They are nimble and agile and able to do things in days that takes larger publishers months or even years to accomplish.

By October 6, 2014 The Black had hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Release list in the kindle store. By October 19th, it had landed on the Amazon Best Selling Horror chart at #99. And by January 16, 2015 it was climbing three charts. Finally, on January 17, 2015 The Black was sitting at #1 in the Amazon Horror Chart, the Amazon Kindle Horror Chart, and Amazon Sea Stories with an overall Kindle ranking of #63 in the paid Kindle store. Paul was listed as the third most popular horror writer on the Amazon Author charts. Now, fame and rankings are fleeting and after The Black had its turn at the top of the pile, it slowly slid back down but has stayed in the general range of 12,000-30,000 depending on the whim of the market. But to have hit these milestones is no small feat particularly when you realize there are over 5 million books in the kindle store. And yes, I’m just a little bit proud of his achievements.41r-701f9XL._UY250_

The best part of this whole saga is that The Black was intended to be a one-off, a stand alone book. But a funny thing happened on the way to the oil rig… While writing The Black, Paul wrote about how they drilled a test barrel and flew it to Houston. Which is pretty much what they do. The only problem was if the barrel went to Houston, so did the Black. Um… He had a lot of, “Oh, shit!” moments when writing this first book, but that was one of my favorites. Immediately, he had plans for book 2. So while The Black was climbing the charts, Paul went to work on book 2 which ended up being titled The Black: Arrival. That book chronicles what happens in the lab in Houston. It was released 9 days ago and is starting its journey on the Amazon charts.

Early on in that book, one of the scientists accidentally comes in contact with The Black and end up going to the hospital. Essentially, she is this volumes version of the test barrel. Plans are already underway for book three and book 4 (what is slated to be the conclusion but with Paul, who knows?).

Some of the things I love about these books are, first of all, the monster. It’s creepy and weird and different. It also seems to be smarter than we initially think. Second, I love the characters he’s creating to interact (and hopefully defeat) said monster. But my absolute favorite thing about these books is the way Paul slowly ratchets up the tension so that you start with a general feeling of dread and by the time all hell breaks loose the slightest sound makes you jump out of your skin. At that point, it’s balls to the walls action. His storytelling reminds me of a great old fashioned wooden rollercoaster. I can almost hear that click, clack, click, clack when I’m reading…

If you are interested in these stories or any of Paul’s other works, you can find them from his Amazon author page or on his website, 

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Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Book and Podcast Reviews


89 Andrew J Chamberlain

Creative Truths
By Andrew J Chamberlain

About a year ago I launched a podcast called The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt. My aim was to provide some practical, accessible advice to writers, using short teaching episodes interspersed with an occasional longer interview with a writer, an editor, or a creative writing tutor. This has been the pattern for all of the thirty or so episodes I’ve released so far, except one. That one exception was an interview with visual development artist and illustrator, Claire Keane.
The reason I chose to talk to someone who is not a writer is quite simple; there are creative truths that apply across the artistic disciplines, and seeing them applied in a different art form can help us to understand how these truths work.
Three of these fundamental truths that I’ve learnt are:

Be authentic
Say what you mean
Be specific

Be authentic
Authenticity is an absolute requirement of art. So for example writers will understand the need to create ‘authentic’ characters; that is characters who have an inherent truth about them, a reality that readers can identify with and believe in. When we start to talk to people from other artistic disciplines – artists, sculptors, illustrators, composers and musicians, actors and dancers – we find the same quest for authenticity. For these other artists that quest is mediated through physical performance, or musical composition, or lines on the page. But whatever artistic medium we are working in, all of us are striving to bring our audience to the point where they say: “I am prepared to believe in the truth of your art.” It might not be the literal truth in the sense of something that actually happened, but it is about persuading your audience that what you are showing is a truth, a truth about life, about how we are as people and how the world is.

Say what you mean
The best way to achieve this level of authenticity in our art is to have the courage to present what is in our hearts, whether it is from our own personal experience, or an honest perspective on the world. The artist must present things as they are, not as we would wish them to be. Presenting our art is not an exercise in civility and politeness, we need to present things as they are. Neither can we afford to be lazy and lapse into familiar clichés, and worldviews. Saying what you mean requires the courage to take the difficult route. Of course, authentic art can expose us, it can threaten how others perceive us. But the artist must set that aside and be honest with the audience. This does not mean they have to be rude or shocking for the sake of it, because that is as false as pretending the world is not as it is. But we have to do the simple, hard thing – and say what we mean.

Be specific
Finally, and by way of a practical application, we must be specific. We must observe and present precisely what we experience. By doing so we stand the best chance of persuading our audience that we are telling them something worth attending to. It requires intense attention to detail, and relentless honesty. The end result of this quest for specificity can be something very brief, and simple. It might leave your audience saying “you make it look so easy”. Let them. Deep down they’ll know how damn hard it is achieve that.
This kind of brevity can only work if we are precise, sometimes obsessively precise. The writer who spends a day on six words, the composer who spends a week on a few bars of music, the artist who practices and practices to create a few lines of sketch – these people are not being precious about their art, they are working to achieve the precision required to create something authentic.
It is this mix of honesty, precision, and hard work that gives us our best work. It persuades the audience that what they are experiencing is a truth; a truth from which we can learn something, feel something. As artists our quest for these truths can be aided by seeing them manifest in different forms; and so when I interviewed Claire Keane, I knew that talking to an artist about her perspective on the creative process would benefit writers as they see the parallels in their own work.
This is the immensely hard challenge that all creative artists face, but all art forms have these creative imperatives; and if we are to present art that is worthy of our audience, and ourselves, then nothing less will do.
©Andrew J Chamberlain 2015

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Posted by on March 8, 2015 in Creativity Guest Posts


An Untitled Poem by Christopher Miller

in the grey places of twilight
where the sun overlaps the shadow
and there is neither color nor fade
we lay, the summer rolling over 
in humid waves

I watch the sweat trickle down your neck
I sip my drink and smile, lucky drop
You wipe it away without a thought
we lay, the summer rolling over
in humid waves

between the cider and the lawn
I’ll take you, my lips on that neck
hands seeking, slick on your skin
we lay, the summer rolling over
in humid waves

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Posted by on August 24, 2014 in Guest Poems


88 Marianne Paul

The Woman in the Moon

The moon is brimming this evening. It is a Van Gogh moon, framed by my writing room window, and hanging in the uppermost corner of my personal “Starry Night”. Granted, it is a star-less night outside my window; but the spirit of Van Gogh swirls in it, in the darkness, the haziness around the edges of the moon, the black lines of the trees, the fingertips of the branches. 

There will be a moment when the moon can hold no more, its arms full. I love that image, the moon’s arms full.

Instead of a man in the moon, I imagine a Woman in the Moon. She is full of breast, and large of hip and thigh and belly, like those tiny clay goddesses that archaeologists unearth in remote places. 

In my night-sky, the Woman in the Moon holds her arms out from her body in a perfect arc. The circle of her arms forms a womb, and within this fullness, within this curvature, is held the night secrets – the promises and whispers, the waxing and waning, how time began and how time ends.  Around her, the celestial currents and eddies swirl, the pull of the tides. It is all there, in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and in this evening, too.

If you look closely at my Woman in the Moon, you’ll see that her skin is smooth as alabaster, and she is as calm as deep sleep, deep space. Her eyes are closed, and you think she dreams. As I grow older, I’m shifting my perspective as a creator, as a wordsmith, working to emulate the quiet calmness of the Woman in the Moon, learning from her wisdom. I no longer focus on my artistic shortcomings, trying to rectify them by creating resolutions, or setting lofty goals, or writing longer or harder, or being a tougher critic of my work and myself.

Instead I’m contemplating what makes me happy, fulfilled, full-filled, what makes me feel “moonish,”  a woman-in-the-moon. I plan to fill my creative life with these things until my arms are full. The list is simple. Story-dreaming, story-crafting. Poetry. The minute details of nature. Rivers, water. Family, friends.

And a special little boy-in-the-moon. The child in my life who holds the universe in his eyes. If I can reflect in my creative work even a glimmer of the wonder held in his eyes, then I will have accomplished more in my writing than I could have ever imagined, than I could have ever expected. And that, to me, in the end, is what art is all about – evoking a sense of wonder.

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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Creativity Guest Posts


87 Keith Dugger

Where does she go?
It’s not as though she left me holding a backpack chock full of a single change of clothing, a sundry kit to stay fresh, and a goodbye note from myself. To myself. It’s not as though I stood on those decaying train tracks that would lead me from my many yesterdays already spent and my predetermined and dwindling cache of remaining days left to invest wisely or waste wantonly. Yet it felt like she pushed me onto that platform all alone and walked away for what had to be more than a fair share of eternity.
She is my shadow.

Where does she go?
It’s not as though the goodbye note was written in a language that I’d come to understand with years of practice only to forget in a scant second left to dry up in a lazy sun. It’s not as though the backpack meant to prepare me for tomorrow was just a paper bag full of blank paper, wadded and crushed into fist-sized paper grenades surely meant to destroy the tomorrow I felt so guaranteed to enjoy. Yet there I was holding a paper bag full of promise, the empty papers screaming to be filled, begging to be anything but blank.
She is my shadow.

Where does she go?
It is as though she followed me quietly. She hid within my shadow whispering patiently for me to turn around and see the world abounding around me on a platform waiting on a train from yesterday to catch me up with a destination from tomorrow. Creativity is not a fickle thing; she is always there waiting. Watching. Whispering. Creativity is all around each of us and it’s up to us to use it or ignore it or wait until that perfect time to pounce. Don’t forget to pause and listen and make 2014 another great creative year.
She is my shadow and her name is creativity.

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Posted by on January 2, 2014 in Creativity Guest Posts


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Campfire Songs of the Lost and the Angry by Jeremiah Walton

And so we love

We love the campfire,
the stars,
each other

O how freely that we love each other!

We love as a reaction
We are angry. We are furious.
This home-made compass
is always pointing in the direction we’re going
and we’re going.

We love
because we are scared.

We love
like hummingbirds
seeking flowers among dead.

We bouquet together
& plant in NH’s mountains
in tents and without-tents.

The absurdity of it All!

The absurdity of that man’s beehive beard!

But long beards of filth do not sway us!
No, they burn our finger tips
and light veins in our eyes.

We lovers are hummingbirds.

My lovers are hummingbirds.

They approach me
seeking flower juice
but realize I am not a flower
and flee.

What friend is not worth crossing a country?

What lover would you not drink deeply of?

Who signed the post cards slid between your journal’s pages?

My hummingbird will die
coiled in human fingers
still thinking we may be flowers.

I found a priest’s resignation letter to God in the smokey remnants of my hummingbird’s corpse.

So I decided maybe there is a God
and if he is true
let him damn me
because a life well led
cannot be defined by any external force.

I will bring heaven with me on my way to hell.

We love
because we are angry with the world.

We cannot bring ourselves to hate our brothers and sisters
no matter their lack-lust or lust-for
We sacrifice to love.
We love to community.

We cannot falter for flowers,
we must falter for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds drinking the blood of hummingbirds
the most beautiful vampire.

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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Guest Poems