I debated whether to even bother adding my voice to the requisite “year in review” posts that always sprout like weeds during this last week in December. As does every year, 2018 delivered a melange of relief, joy, and misery.
January began with the completion of a short story, “Burn After Writing.” It was my tribute to the irascible Harlan Ellison, one of my favorite writers of all time. Little did I know it was also a portent of a tragedy to come just five months later.
In February, I was elated to win second place in the Farpoint 25 short story contest in Maryland. In addition to receiving a handsome trophy, my story, “All That Matters Is What You Believe” will be published in the program book at the upcoming Farpoint 26 convention. After that, publication rights revert to me and the story might appear on my website shortly after. Stay tuned!
March brought with it the Write Stuff writers conference in Bethlehem, PA. I was off the hook as a presenter this year, but attended for two days and enjoyed the full day fiction writing class led by NYT bestseller Bob Mayer and the various 50-minute presentations on topics ranging from Wattpad to world building, from editing to marketing, from time management to building suspense, and more. Check out details for the next Write Stuff in March!
The Write Stuff is organized by the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and 2019 will see the publication of our fourth anthology, Rewriting the Past. As usual, the book will showcase stories, essays, and poems written by members of the group, including my lighthearted tale of nostalgia, “Memory Lane Ain’t What It Used To Be.”
My wife and I also attended our last Monster Mania and Chiller Theatre conventions in March and April. We’ve been attending both cons twice a year for over a decade, but we made the decision to trim them from the budget this year. Still, it was a grand exit, meeting celebs like Kathleen Turner, Ally Sheedy, Sean Astin, Steven Weber, John Schuck, Ed Begley, Jr., Nicholas Lea, and Raj Singh.
The rest of spring proceeded without much excitement, other than the usual bouts of anxiety and depression that ebb and flow. I learned that Cat & Mouse Press—a publisher I had worked with in 2016— was preparing a new anthology called Beach Pulp and seeking submissions of retro “pulp” stories in the speculative fiction, mystery, and romance genres and set along the Delmarva coast. I happened to have a piece called “The Celestials” ready to go and sent it in as soon as soon as the submission window opened.
The second paragraph of this retrospective alluded to a tragedy in the middle of the year. On June 27, Harlan Ellison, one of the most awarded writers in history, died in his home in LA at the age of 84. Harlan was one of my literary heroes and while his cantankerous, intractable personality offended some, I found it entertaining. To commemorate him, I watched his documentary, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, for what was probably the 25th time. Fortunately, I still have much of his work yet to read.
Early July brought the 40th anniversary of the Shore Leave SF convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland with such celebs as William Shatner, Ming-Na, Allison Scagliotti, and more. It was a wonderful weekend spent with my fandom family, selling and signing books, and participating in a variety of discussion panels on writing and publishing.
From Hunt Valley I drove straight to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for another kind of shore leave. The Delaware coast is one of my favorite vacation spots. My wife and I always look forward to renting a house there for a week every July with friends, and for the past four years, my friend Renee Wilson and I have made parasailing a must-do tradition.
As soon as I returned from vacation, I was laid off from my job of 17 years. It was not entirely unexpected. My team and I knew changes were coming as our parent company had been assuming increasing control of our IT systems for months. My manager’s position was eliminated while I was in Rehoboth. Fortunately, the company was kind enough to offer an equitable severance package.
August saw me applying for jobs on a daily basis and also writing a new SF short story called “Tapestry,” which I submitted to Cat & Mouse Press for their aforementioned Beach Pulp anthology. Also, my 2017 story “Bottom of the Hour” was soon on its way to publication in a paranormal fiction anthology called A Plague of Shadows by Smart Rhino Publications.
One month later, my wife and I celebrated our fifth anniversary with a long weekend in Indiana, PA visiting the Jimmy Stewart Museum, followed by an afternoon in the Amish farmlands of Smicksburg, PA which also offers a quaint village of antique and craft shops.
Unfortunately, four days later I landed in the ER due to a mounting health issue that had become unbearably painful. I’ll spare you the details, but within a day, I was back to 100% just in time for two job interviews with local companies.
Also in September, I worked with writer pal and Firebringer Press owner, Steven H. Wilson, to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for our latest publication.
Firebringer Take Two is a double horror novel in the format of the vintage ACE double novels. The book combines Steve’s vampire tale, Freedom’s Blood with my paranormal mystery novel, Like Mother, Like Daughters. At the same time, I arranged a book launch at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Convention (Philcon) for November. Busy month!
October brought better news including a job offer and the release of the anthology, A Plague of Shadows, containing my haunted car story “Bottom of the Hour.” My wife and I attended a delightful book launch party in Newark, Delaware organized by Weldon Burge of Smart Rhino Publications and Joanne M. Reinbold of the Written Remains Writers Guild. Ten of the contributing writers were on hand to sign copies and read excerpts from their stories… and there was cake!
Two weeks later, I trekked back across PA to the Ligonier Camp and Conference Center nestled in the Allegheny Mountains for the weeklong Mindful Writers Retreat organized by Larry Schardt and Kathie Shoop. Blessed with gorgeous autumn weather, 21 writers gathered for four days to focus solely on our projects for 8 to 12 hours per day and share meals in between. I made excellent progress on my SF novel (4,500 words) and outlined a new short story.
While I was there, I received a call from Cat & Mouse Press announcing that they accepted not just one but both of my submissions to Beach Pulp. I enjoyed every minute of the retreat and look forward to returning next October provided I have enough vacation time to cover it.
Speaking of which, I started the new job on October 29 as the sole IT tech for a medium-sized beverage bottling company with a site in the Lehigh Valley, PA and another, smaller facility in southeastern New Jersey. One of my colleagues flew in from Texas to provide about three days of training on the environment. It was hardly sufficient, but enough to get me started. Since then, daily stress has ranged from high to extreme as I struggle to acclimate while providing tech support and catching up on the two-month backlog since my predecessor left.
The first two weeks in November were a blur. While I became accustomed to my FT position, I prepared for the launch of Firebringer Take Two at Philcon by having cover posters made at Staples and designing postcards through Vistaprint. Meanwhile, the book itself went to press and Steve ordered enough copies for the book launch and to fulfill rewards for our Kickstarter backers. The launch was modest but fun and after the con, I packed and shipped all paperback copies to our backers and to those who had kindly volunteered as advance readers during the summer.
From there, we rolled into the holiday season and here we are, about ready to bid farewell to 2018. While I’m grateful for all of the year’s blessings—and for another trip around the sun with my amazing wife and people I’m honored to call friends—I’m still recovering from the abrupt changes, health issues, and the hectic pace of the past five months. Stress is high and my depression draws power from the gloom of winter, but I glean hope and strength from all the opportunities awaiting us in the coming year.
As trite as it may seem, I hope that 2019 brings long overdue peace, joy, love, and prosperity to all of us.