Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Archive for the ‘ambergrin hall’ Category

Wow, that title sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

With Jennifer Holliday, a 2011 highlight

It’s December 31. I am hanging out, as I do every New Years Eve, with my college friends/adopted siblings. Jon & Cindi (and their son Xavier) are hosting, as always. Scott & Margaret are here with son and daughter Jared and Morgyn. Peggy is here with her son Max. Plus there are two dogs, a cat, a rabbit. Assorted local family and friends will drop in, too. It’s always a dual celebration, as Jon’s birthday is January 1.

Typically, this is not the ideal setting for long rambling thoughts about the past year. But we’re having a lull at the moment. Three of the four kids are reading quietly. So are half of the adults. So now seems to be the time.

I’ll admit it’s been a rough year. Car problems, financial problems, lots and lots of work travel bouncing me all over the country (especially these last few months). I’ve been a real cranky-pants at times, so the first order of business is thanking everyone who has put up with that crankiness, and everyone who helped me deal with what at times felt like insurmountable problems. They are too numerous to list here: if you are among them, you know who you are and I thank you.

On the writing side of things, the year was a mixed bag. I didn’t manage to complete either AMBERGRIN HALL or CHRISTMAS GHOSTS, my long-simmering novel and novella. Both are so close to completion it almost hurts, and I’ve made progress on untangling the plot knots of the first and filling in the hole in the plot of the second, but still … didn’t finish them. That is a goal for 2012. On the positive side, I sold my first genre short story, a science fiction tale for the SPACE BATTLES anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and due out mid-2012. That felt terrific. Also, it seems like this year’s sales of THE FIRFLAKE were better than last year’s. This is an guess on my part, but it feels like I had more emails and tweets telling me “I’m buying your book” this year than I did last. It might have helped that I joined Goodreads in an effort to help advertise the book, and that I spent more time posting on the book’s Facebook page.

Reading-wise, having joined Goodreads has helped me keep even better track of what I read and what I thought (although I’m still behind on writing reviews of some of what I read, and likely won’t get those done before tonight’s festivities start). I’ll wait until later this week to post my “Favorites of 2011” final list. Between office and on-line bookclubs, and writing book reviews for ICARUS and CHELSEA STATION magazines, I’ve also read a lot of authors I’d never read before as well as revisiting old favorites.

Probably the biggest accomplishment of 2011 has been the increased use of this website. I added a second short story (“Canopus,” joining “Invisible Me”), and I made the decision to start blogging regularly. When I made that decision, I had no idea I would end up developing an almost-weekly Interview feature. It’s all Anthony Garguila‘s fault. Although his didn’t end up being the first interview I ran (that honor went to author Evelyn Lafont), it was meeting him at a high school band reunion he attended with his mother that instigated the whole “interviewing creative people” thing. I’ve had the honor of interviewing up-and-coming authors like Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Linda Poitevin, Chad Helder and Christie Yant; genre pros like Jay Lake and Jeremy C. Shipp; friends Dennis Miller and Joseph Pittman; and career authors like Lawrence Block. I’ve interviewed artists (Lynn Bennett-MacKenzie), editors (Ellen Datlow), webcomics creators (Namesake, School Spirit, Cura Te Ipsum, Multiplex), actors (Brandon Tyler Russell) and musicians ranging from indy artists like Casey Stratton and Matt Lande to teen pop-rockers Burnham and Hollywood Ending. I’ve learned a lot about interviewing, and I’ve learned a lot about the creative process as it manifests in different fields.

2012 looks to get off to a good start for interviews as well. Carolyn Gray (author of A Red-Tainted Silence and Long Way Home) and actors Austin MacDonald and Sarah Desjardins and Brad and Todd Mann are all due up in January. Author Kaaron Warren, editor John Joseph Adams and singer Jennifer Holliday will be along in February.

What I’m loving about the interviews is that they’re fun. This isn’t my day job, it’s a hobby I’m enjoying quite a bit. One of the things that has helped me interview so many interesting people has been Twitter. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made through that site, including but not limited to the folks named in the preceding few paragraphs, as well as Marianne Burnham, Helen MacDonald, Desiree Russell, Leigh Geraghty, Nina Diamond, Tomatito Adams, Sabrina Vourvoulias and too many others to name them all.

Bringing things full circle: despite the rough patches of the year, my health has been largely good and the travel has enabled me to spend far more time with the friends and family scattered around the country than I would have otherwise. As always, I end the year thankful for my health and for the love that continues to lift me up. Whether you’re a friend for decades or someone I’ve just gotten to know thanks to social media: thank you.

Here’s to a 2012 that is full of love, fun, health, peace and prosperity for all of us. Catch you next year!

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Yesterday I had the older group of kids who are my nieces and nephews interview me. Today we continue with the younger crowd, starting with my niece Renee, to whom THE FIRFLAKE is dedicated.

The Firflake

RENEE (age 11): What inspires you the most?

ANTHONY: Yesterday I talked about how inspiration for writing comes from a lot of different places: people I’ve seen, places I’ve been too, things I’ve read. But what inspires me as a person, every day, is love. I’m blessed to have so many amazing people in my life, and that love and support inspires me to be a better writer and also a better person. And hugs. Hugs are important. As you know.

RENEE: Are you going to make another Christmas story for me and Vinnie?

ANTHONY: There is another Christmas story coming. CHRISTMAS GHOSTS isn’t written for you and Vin the way THE FIRFLAKE was, but I still want you to read it! And who knows… maybe Christmas Eve I’ll have a new story to tell you guys, and that might someday become another book!

JARED (age 11): What inspired you to become a writer?

ANTHONY: Yesterday, I said “comic books.” Of course, it wasn’t just comic books that did it. It was also teachers and other adults who encouraged my creativity. Mrs. Bleakly and Mrs. Vezina at Austin Road Elementary; Mr. and Mrs. DelCampo and Ms. Burgh at Mahopac High School; the professors at Elmira. When I mentioned the cousins on Long Island whose house I used in my super-hero stories? Aunt Terry used to read everything I wrote while I was visiting, and then she’d ask questions and make suggestions about how to improve it. All of that encouragement helped, and continues to help.

JARED: Are your characters in your stories based on people you know?

ANTHONY: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The main characters are very rarely based on any one person. For instance, in CHRISTMAS GHOSTS, the character of Collum McCann has bits and pieces of the personalities of lots of sixth graders I’ve known over the years. It’s hard to base a main character on a specific person because there’s always the chance that person will be insulted or upset at the way you portray them, despite the fact that the story is fiction. I find it’s easier to use friends and relatives as supporting characters, so they can be happy they got included but I don’t have to worry about how they’ll feel about their portrayal. CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is a good example: between students, teachers and coffee shop workers, there are a LOT of familiar names and little “winks” at family and friends. Who knows … YOU might even be in that one!

JARED: What’s your favorite kind of writing and is it the same as what your favorite kind of reading is?

ANTHONY: Hmmmm. They are probably not the same thing. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but I haven’t really written that much science fiction or fantasy so far other than the super-hero stuff I wrote for the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA). I can say that I read a lot of short stories (at least 365 every year) and that’s the story length I like to write too. Novels are hard work!

MORGYN (age 8): How do you like to elaborate with your stories? I’m learning to elaborate with mine right now.

ANTHONY: I’m glad your teachers are teaching you how to elaborate on your ideas! You know, the first draft of the THE FIRFLAKE was a lot shorter. There was a lot less detail about the kids and how they were a part of the storytelling tradition of the family. So when I wrote later drafts, I added more sense detail: smells, sights, etc., and I gave the kids more to do. And then in one of the last drafts, your Uncle Jon said “there’s still something missing. What is it? Elves. Santa. Snow. Presents. Waitaminnit! Where’s the reindeer??” And a whole new scene got written. So sometimes I elaborate by asking “what is it the characters are seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, doing.” And sometimes I elaborate because someone says “hey, did you ever think about including a scene where…”

MORGYN: How do you decide on a topic to write on?

ANTHONY: Mostly it’s whatever strikes me when I sit down to write. It might be a new idea that popped into my head while I was driving, or it might be a scene in a story I’m already working on but I’ve been struggling with it. Story ideas come from all over the place, but it’s really rare that I have an idea and immediately start working on it. I usually let ideas sit in my head a while, until I’ve thought them over and they seem ready to be written. I call that “letting them percolate.”

MORGYN: If you could interview someone you haven’t interviewed yet, who would you pick?

ANTHONY: I can’t give just one answer to this question. So I’m going to divide it up by category, okay?
Authors: Rick Riordan. Neil Gaiman. Seanan Maguire. Ellen Kushner & Delia Sherman.
Musicians/Singers (adult): Rosanne Cash. Dennis DeYoung. Adam Levine. Kalan Porter. Pentatonix.
Actors (adult): Nathan Fillion (Castle). Colin Morgan (Merlin). John Glover. John Lithgow.
Comic Book Writers/Artists: Gail Simone. George Perez. Bill Willingham.
Musicians/Singers (teens): Kropp Circle. Cody Simpson. The Feaver. And I know you and Renee would love it if I could interview Big Time Rush.
Actors (teen): Sterling Beaumon. Zach Mills. Jeanette McCurdy. Molly Quinn.

XAVIER (age 8): What inspired you to write the book?

ANTHONY: Well, Xave, like your mother I have always loved Christmas. And I’ve always loved the animated television specials like Rudolph, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. So those cartoons were part of the inspiration. Reading The Grinch and Polar Express and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas to Vinny and Renee when they were very little was another inspiration. And then there’s the tradition of wishing on the first snowflake of winter, and what magic that snowflake carries. All of that came together to become THE FIRFLAKE you know and love.

JACK (age 10): Who is your favorite Harry Potter character? (even though I already know)

ANTHONY: Well, since you already know, I don’t have to answer, do I? haha. Okay, since other people probably want to know, too: Remus Lupin. He reminds me a lot of me. My second favorite character would be Ron Weasley,who also reminds me a lot of me.

JACK: Which is your favorite Harry Potter book?

ANTHONY: They’re all so good, but if I had to choose one … Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s exciting, it introduces Remus and Sirius (my favorite character and your father’s favorite!), and Buckbeak is just really cool.

JACK: What was the most exciting part of your favorite Harry Potter book?

ANTHONY: Oh, the whole scene in the Shrieking Shack where Harry, Ron and Hermione are facing off with Sirius and Lupin, and we find out Scabbers is not really a rat, and then Snape shows up … the first time I read the book I couldn’t put it down through that whole sequence.

JOEY (age 7): Have you read any books about the Titanic?

ANTHONY: I have! I read Walter Lord’s A NIGHT TO REMEMBER when I was in high school. I haven’t read any recently though. It’s an incredible story, though, isn’t it?

JOEY: Have you ever written a humongous paragraph?

ANTHONY: I think the longest paragraph I’ve ever written was one full page long when I typed it up. That’s probably not really “humongous,” since there are some writers who write paragraphs that go on for 10 pages!

JOEY: What’s your favorite book?
XAVIER: What is your favorite book?

ANTHONY: I don’t have just one favorite book, so it’s a good thing you both asked me this question. And, since it’s the same question I ask at the end of every interview I do, it’s the perfect final question for this post too! So here’s my two favorite books, and what I would say to recommend them to someone who hasn’t read them yet:

Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’ve read this book every couple of years since high school. It wasn’t the first vampire novel ever written, but it is the most famous. What I love about the book is that while Dracula is the title character, he’s not the narrator. In fact, you very rarely get a look into what Dracula is thinking. He’s frightening because of the way the other characters talk about him.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I read this one every year around Christmas. Even when I’ve been having a bad day or week or year, the story of Scrooge reminds me that anyone can change and be a better person, if they want to be. It’s just that some of us (like Scrooge) need someone else to remind them why being a better person is important. And the narrator tells the story as though he were a favorite uncle telling the story to kids in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve, which reminds me just a little bit of me!

* * * * *
I want to thank all of my real and adopted siblings for letting their kids take part in this: my sister Lorraine Bostjancic, Margaret and Scott Witt, Jon and Cindy Cornue, Jim and Liz Leahey, Tom and Hilda Werder, Frances and Grant Price, Nina O’Reilly, Judy Kiddoo, and Romykay Hajkowski. I’m hoping to do this again in about 6 months and get the rest of the nieces and nephews who missed this one to take part. I think all of the kids (and the not-so-kids like Danny, Laura, and Jake) asked some great questions, making me a proud uncle!

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I had the brilliant idea a few weeks ago that it might be a nice year-end change-up to my regular interview posts to have my various nieces and nephews (both the ones related to me by blood and the ones who are kids of friends) quiz me about my writing, interviewing and reading habits. While I didn’t hear back from everyone (*cough*AlexDevinMaxA*cough*), I got a lot of good questions with only a few repetitions. Today’s post is the older batch of kids, ages 13 to 20.

niece Renee, my sister, myself, nephew Vinny

Anyone who has read THE FIRFLAKE has seen the dedication (“For Mom and Dad, who taught me how to believe, and for Buddy and Squirmy Worm, who reminded me when I forgot.”) Buddy and Squirmy Worm are our family nicknames for my nephew Vinny and niece Renee. Vinny’s questions start off today’s post, and Renee gets the lead-off tomorrow when the younger kids have their say.

VINNY (age 14): What inspired you to write?

ANTHONY: Comic books. That’s the short answer, anyway. The first stories I remember writing were all with Marvel and DC superheroes. I can remember a summer visit to the Cornelia cousins on Long Island, and using their house as the secret base in a story featuring a group of Marvel’s third-string characters (Marvel Man (now Quasar), Blue Streak, The Vamp, and someone else). I had to be in 5th or 6th grade then. I also remember being in the lunch-room at Mahopac Junior High and writing a story about Bat-Girl (the Barbara Gordon version), and trying to draw the logo they used for her in Batman Family at the time. Those stories are all long-since lost; they were all hand-written in loose-leaf binders and spiral-bound notebooks and who knows where they ended up.

VINNY: Will you ever venture into the horror genre?

That depends on what type of horror you mean. Will I ever write a slasher-flick like the Jason movies? Probably not. But the short story “Canopus” right here on the website is suspenseful-horror, and my mystery novel AMBERGRIN HALL has at least a few horrific moments (and a hint of the supernatural). And as you may remember, I’m still supposed to be co-writing a zombie novel with Aunt Nina if I ever get off my buttocks and work on it. (By the way, Vin, kudos for using the word “venture.” Haha)

LAURA (age 20): When you get a creative idea, what sparks in your mind and says “THATS IT! There needs to be a book about this!”

ANTHONY: Ah, the famous “AHA!” moment. I’m not sure I actually get those. I hear other writers talk about them, but my epiphanies are smaller. I get an idea and it’s not “OH MY GOD THIS HAS TO BE A BOOK” so much as “oh, there’s a neat idea, let’s see where it goes.” The moment a story “clicks” for me is usually well after I’ve started it, and then I get that “Oh, yeah, this works!” spark.

LAURA: Out of all of the places you have traveled to, which place gave you the most inspiration when it comes to writing?

ANTHONY: Inspiration always seems to be stronger in the places that feel like home. The scenery change can be subtle (the slightly different small towns elsewhere in northwest NJ / southern NY) or dramatic (an apartment in a city somewhere in the country), but when I’m closer to family I’m more inspired to write. Outside of NY/NJ, the places I get the most writing done are, in no particular order: Palmdale CA, Chicago IL, Portland OR, and Kenosha WI.

DANNY (age 19): How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Hire a good editor.

DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Wow, déjà vu. You want a more serious answer? Being in a local writers’ group (“The Write Direction,” and thank you Marie Collinson, Rosemary Foley and Jessie Peck-Martin!) and having a few “beta-readers” via email — folks who are looking not just at story as a whole but for clarity of language and awkward repetitive moments.

DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Yes, folks, Danny is the one who seems to have inherited my sense of humor. Or he’s bucking for a job as my editor. Alright, Dan, any OTHER questions?

DANNY: Yes. How do you stay confident with your own writing?

ANTHONY: Oh, good one. The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure any writer ever does. It’s sort of like stage fright for an actor. Helen Hayes, near the end of her long and varied career, said “I get sick with stage fright. Noel Coward threw up before every show, he got so sick. God made stage fright.” Carol Channing followed that up with “She was right about that. God made stage fright. I’ve noticed over a lifetime those that do not have stage fright, are not that good on stage.” It’s the same for me. Doesn’t matter that I’ve got had non-fiction, short fiction, and a short novel published. Every time I write something, there’s always that “oh my god, does this suck bat-guano” question lingering in the back of my head. And even after it’s been published, it’s the same. Just this month, knowing Marianne Burnham and her talented family had a copy of THE FIRFLAKE, I was constantly thinking “what if these wonderful new friends of mine, who were so excited to buy the book, end up hating it?” They didn’t hate it, but that’s beside the point.

JAKE (age 20): Are you working on a follow up to THE FIRFLAKE and/or are you going to try to go in a different direction with your writing?

ANTHONY: Yes. Don’t you love when people answer “either/or” questions that way? Seriously, THE FIRFLAKE is pretty complete unto itself. As much as I love Papa Knecht, Mama Alvarie, Engleberta and the rest, I’m pretty sure (at least right now) that their story is complete. However, I do have another, longer, Christmas novel nearing completion. Where THE FIRFLAKE is a book meant to be read by parents to children, CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is aimed straight at the middle-grade / young-adult market. It’s about sixth grader Colum McCann, who is still hurting about the unexpected death of the older brother he worshipped, and how he discovers a secret about Christmas Eve that could give him the chance to say goodbye. Beyond that, I’d say my writing is constantly headed in other directions. AMBERGRIN HALL is a college-set mystery-thriller. I just sold a science-fiction short story. I’m working on a sequence of connected fantasy and sf stories. I never know what genre I’ll be writing in next. The authors I most idolize (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Orson Card, Lawrence Block) all have the ability to write in more than one genre, and to write in more than one style.

JAKE: Is there a specific artist or genre of music that you like to listen to when you write?

ANTHONY: Generally speaking, no. In the past, I’ve gone from working in complete silence to working with only instrumental music in the background. IF I’m going the instrumental route, I tend to rotate between classical stuff like the Carmina Burana and Dvorak’s New World Symphony (both of which I’ve loved since high school, thank you Terry Wynne and Darrell Long respectively) and movie or tv soundtracks. For horror-story-moodiness, nothing beats Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack for the Francis Ford Coppola version of DRACULA. Michael Giacchino’s LOST soundtracks to seasons one through three are frequently playing as well. When I write my annual holiday poem, there’s always seasonal music playing. In a broader sense, I draw inspiration from the music I love, whether I’m writing at that moment or not. Right now, that ranges from all-time favorites like Rosanne Cash, Jennifer Holliday, Styx and Supertramp to friends like The Dalliance, Casey Stratton, Burnham and Matt Johnson.

JAKE: How would you describe your relationship with Orson Scott Card? I remember my mom telling me he posted on your Facebook wall a while ago which I thought was awesome.

ANTHONY: Over the past few years, I’ve had a chance to interact with Orson a couple of times. Some of his books would easily make any Top 25 list I might put together (particularly Ender’s Game, Lost Boys, and the whole Alvin Maker series). I’ve learned a lot about craft reading his books, and he’s graciously answered my fan-boy questions about his work and even about the Mormon religion. He’s never been anything but polite and friendly towards me, and I appreciate that from any well-known person (meeting Neil Gaiman was equally as gratifying, for instance. And Jennifer Holliday and John Glover and Ellen Datlow, as well.). Orson has made some pretty controversial statements in the recent past about homosexuality and “hating the sin but not the sinner,” (that’s not a direct quote, it should be noted) that I obviously don’t agree with – but that doesn’t detract from my love of his books and how I feel about the times we have interacted. (In fact, I think the Facebook post your mom was referencing was my quote “Gravity doesn’t care who you fall for,” which Orson liked.)

JAKE: How have your past experiences working with children influenced your writing?

ANTHONY: Immensely. You’ve been in the audience when I’ve told campfire stories. There’s no denying that some of my current style is a direct development from that experience. I also think the child and teen characters I write are more realistic because of all the actual kids and teens I am proud to call my nieces and nephews. Whether you were aware of it or not, you and your brother and the rest were the testing ground for the voice I use in a lot of my short stories. And speaking of your brother…

GABE P. (age 16): As you know, I am a high school student, and often times I find myself, along with other high school students, frustrated with teachings about writing in English class. How much of what you learned in school applies to your current writing career, and since then what has affected your writing habits and style?

ANTHONY: I had some really great English teachers in high school: Chris and Eugenia DelCampo (no relation) and PJ Burgh specifically. I learned a lot about literary analysis from them. My love of Mark Twain is all Mrs. DelCampo’s fault. My love of the theater and Shakespeare comes from the other two. I know the basics of writing an essay that I learned in high school served me well when I was writing non-fiction articles for various company newsletters and for Camping magazine. But if I’m being honest: I don’t remember actually studying creative writing in high school, at least not in any of our regular classes. Jerry Hahn and I co-wrote an adaptation of Snow White our senior year of high school that was produced as the fall play, but that’s about the only school-assignment type creative writing I remember doing. All the super-hero stuff I wrote in high school was on my own. The first creative writing classes I took were at Elmira College: Creative Writing with Professor Kerry Driscoll, a Playwriting Directed Study with Professor Jerry Whalen, a Science Fiction class with Doctor Bruce Barton in which we built our own worlds from scratch. Also, being a member of the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA) since 1982, and being in various writers’ groups over the years.

GABE P: Many writers I have seen in the past have conveyed a bit of their personalities in their writing such as Christopher Moore with his wittiness, or Oscar Wilde with his pompous disposition. If there is a characteristic of your personality that you would want your readers to take away from your writing, what would it be?

ANTHONY: Well, I hope my punny, somewhat dorky, sense of humor shines through in most of my work. But I don’t think I intentionally put a characteristic of myself out there as part of the planning for a story. Another Elmira professor of mine, Malcolm Marsden, told me that he enjoyed reading every paper I wrote because I always revealed a bit about myself and my own search for identity as I was analyzing the book or author in question. I think that’s still true. In THE FIRFLAKE, it might be Engleberta’s insecurity about being the best Watcher she can be; in AMBERGRIN HALL, there’s a bit of my quest for identity and love of folk music and the theater in Garrett and in Ezra; in “Canopus,” well… there’s a lot of me in the narrator of that story. I’m still constantly questioning who I am and where I am, and I think that comes out in my fiction.

GABE P: Do you ever find yourself unintentionally emulating an element from another writer’s work, or are you always aware of where you are drawing your influence from at a given moment?

ANTHONY: Unintentionally, all the time. I’ll reread something I wrote and think “wow, that’s a bit of Stoker / Butcher / whoever right there, isn’t it?” Sometimes, of course, that means rewriting because I don’t really want to sound like anybody else … and sometimes it gets left in because that little homage is exactly what I want. Then there are the times when yes, I am intentionally emulating a style. AMBERGRIN HALL has some intentionally Gothic moments in it that recall Stoker, Conan Doyle, Bronte. THE FIRFLAKE is one massive homage to the classic Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas specials. CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is intentionally Dickensian, and “Canopus” has a bit of Lovecraft in there.

GABE P.: I can imagine that when you read, you read pieces from genres all over the map. Is there one genre that you are particularly drawn to?

ANTHONY: I do try to be as widely-read as possible. That being said, in 2011 I’d say at least half of what I read was firmly in the science fiction and fantasy realms. Part of that is because I started writing book reviews for ICARUS: the magazine of gay speculative fiction this year, and that’s two books every quarter that need to be science fiction/fantasy/horror. But it’s also because those are the genres I’ve always loved. Take a look at my home library one of these days and most of it is genre fiction, including mysteries and pulp-adventure.

And now, let’s hear from the 13 and 14 year olds…

GABE O. (age 13): When did you start writing?

ANTHONY: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Definitely by the time I was your age, but surely younger.

GABE O.: How do you beat writer’s block?

ANTHONY: With a rather large canoe paddle.

AIDAN (age 14): No, seriously, how do you cure writer’s block?

ANTHONY: It’s an ancient family recipe: salt and other spices rubbed in, and then you let the writer’s block sit and dry for a while, and then…

DANNY (age 19): I think what they mean is, what is your most helpful routine to do when you find yourself with writer’s block?

ANTHONY: Obviously, it’s to make jokes about it. Writer’s block is not so scary when you realize that everyone goes through it occasionally and the best thing to do sometimes is walk away from the project you’re blocked on and just do something else. Go for a walk. Work on a different project. Spend several hours playing Scrabble on Facebook, chatting on Twitter, etc. Or just read. At one point when I was blocked on a short story, I walked away and sat down with a book in a completely different genre and read for a little while, and that seemed to “cleanse the palette” so to speak.

EDDY (age 14): What gives you your inspiration to write?

ANTHONY: I talked early about what inspired me to become a writer. What continues to inspire me? Part of it is that I can’t imagine NOT writing something every day. Some days that urge is fulfilled by my day job (writing for the company newsletter, etc) and some days it’s fulfilled by conducting an interview with a writer, artist, singer, actor or other creative type I respect. And then some days, I’m inspired because I know you all enjoy reading what I write. Encouragement from family and friends helps me continue to enjoy writing, even if I never get published.

AIDAN: So where do you find and how do you come up with ideas for your next story/book?

ANTHONY: Everything, honestly, is capable of giving me inspiration. Sometimes it’s a physical thing: AMBERGRIN HALL has its roots in an old unused building on the Elmira College campus and “Canopus” is based in part on an island in the middle of Lake Mahopac. Sometimes it’s a person: “That Happy Kid” was based on a teenager I used to pass every day commuting home from work. Sometimes it’s a news article: my one-act play “Sneakers in the Sand” and my story “Invisible Me” were based on things I read in the newspaper. So there’s no one thing, really.

EDDY: How many books have you written/published?

ANTHONY: Perfect question to end today’s post on, Eddy! I have one book out there, THE FIRFLAKE: A Christmas Story, and folks can find it if they go up to this site’s navigation bar and click on the tab with the book’s title on it. I also have a short story coming out in the SPACE BATTLES anthology sometime in 2012, and sometime early in the year you should be able to see a music video I scripted for The Dalliance on Youtube. Hopefully, next year will see more of my fiction out there.

That was a much longer post than I expected! Tomorrow (Monday), I’ll post what the younger kids asked me.

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Once again I’m trying to use the motivation of National Novel Writing Month to complete already-existing projects. Like my mystery-thriller AMBERGRIN HALL. (Which title sounds far more “gothic” than the book really is…)

The “elevator pitch” for AMBERGRIN HALL goes like this:

When his girlfriend dies in a freak accident, Garrett Anderson is left with her uncompleted play manuscript and a lot of questions about the hidden history of Croton College. When someone makes repeated attempts to steal the manuscript, will finding the thief also answer all of Garrett’s questions and enable him to put the ghost of Lisette behind him?

So it’s a mystery-thriller with a bunch of action and a hint of the supernatural and just a bit of singing, too. Most of the main characters have some connection to the college’s theater department, and there’s a Christmas scene that involves music. Not that I have any idea if most of the actors I mention below can actually sing.

Not long ago, an artist friend of mine who has read part of the manuscript asked for visual reference on the characters because he wanted to do some sketches. That got me thinking about who I would cast in a movie version of the book, if money were no object and I had final say. This is who I’ve come up with.

Jeremy Sumpter

Jeremy Sumpter as Garrett Anderson. Garrett is a lacrosse player, a solid student, and also plays the mandolin and does a great rendition of The Clancy Brothers’ “Bauladh Bos” (Jingle Bells). Garrett’s struggling back from a dark place after Lisette’s accidental death. Is someone really attempting to steal Lisette’s incomplete manuscript, or is Garrett’s grief making him just a touch paranoid? Jeremy is probably still best known for portraying Peter Pan, but he’s not that little boy anymore. He’s got the build and I think the chops to bring Garrett to life.

Curt Mega

Curt Mega as Ezra Sferra. Ezra is Garrett’s best friend and room-mate since freshman year. Ezra is gay, goofy, upbeat, the ultimate sidekick. But he’s also deeper than that. His new relationship causes problems that sidetrack Garrett from seeing what’s really going on. When things start to come to a head, will Ezra’s loyalty to Garrett and Lisette be impaired by his new love for Dylan? Curt Mega, “Nick the Warbler” on Glee, can definitely sing and be the goofy-sweet scene-stealer, and I think given the chance he could pull off the tough decision Ezra needs to make near the book’s end.

Daryl Sabara

Daryl Sabara as Paddy Hamer. Garrett’s other best friend has a family history that is tied to the college’s, which puts Paddy in an awkward place when it comes to what Lisette’s play has to say about the school’s dark past. Does he know more than he’s letting on about why someone wants that manuscript and about how Lisette died? The fact that Paddy and Ezra have never liked each other is another complication for Garrett to navigate throughout the book. Daryl may be best known for the Spy Kids movies, but like Jeremy, he’s not that little kid anymore. He’s got the right look and glower to be Paddy.

Alexandra Daddario

Alexandra Daddario as Lisette D’Alayne. Yes, Lisette is dead before the book even starts. But there are flashbacks, and Lisette’s personality needs to be felt throughout the movie. She was (before death) a caring, talented, whirlwind personality. There’s a reason people miss her. I think Alexandra is the way to go on this one. She’s pretty, she can do action scenes (as seen in Percy Jackson and the Olympians) and I think she can bring Lisette’s personality across.

Calum Worthy

Calum Worthy as Dylan Smith. Dylan is a shy but funny freshman, in a budding relationship with Ezra. Dylan’s the kid who will let everyone turn him into a snowman outside the theater just because it’s funny. But as things get more dangerous, will Dylan’s presence and innocence hinder Garrett’s attempts to learn what’s going on? Calum did a great job several years ago as Garth Ranzz on Smallville, and the previews I’ve seen for his new Disney show Ally & AJ show he’s got the comedic timing Dylan needs.

Jennette McCurdy

Jennette McCurdy as Jeri Hawes. Jeri is a freshman girl with a crush on Garrett and a scholarship thanks to being a “college legacy,” although no-one seems to know exactly how she’s connected to the school. She might be a very talented theater student, but she’s often too intoxicated to be on her best behavior. Jeri’s first scene is very slapstick, which I know iCarly‘s Jennette can do, but it would be fun to see her handle the darker scenes.

Shannon Woodward

Shannon Woodward as Danielle Renier. Danielle is Lisette’s best friend. The flashbacks show how strong their friendship was and while she doesn’t play a large role in the main plot, she is a part of Garrett’s emotional support system after Lisette’s death. She’s a reliable friend who handles her own grief and helps Garrett with his, and is someone outside the intrigue. On Raising Hope, Shannon shows she can be more than just funny, and she looks the part.

Colin Morgan


Colin Morgan
as Thaniel Corcoran. Thaniel is a transfer student who takes the empty room in Garrett and Ezra’s dorm suite. He’s taken several years off from school for family problems so he’s a bit older than the rest of the students. He and Garrett immediately hit it off. As things progress, Thaniel’s slightly older perspective helps Garrett sort out what’s going on. Thaniel is also blind. I think Merlin‘s Colin Morgan can pull that off.

There are a few other characters to be cast: Professor Quentin, the head of the theater department, and Dean D’Oro, who is Garrett’s boss but also is heading the committee looking into Lisette’s accident. But WordPress is telling me I’m out of room so I’ll end this here. Would love to see people’s reactions to this cast.

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