Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

Archive for the ‘the firflake’ 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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A few weeks back, I presented my “dream cast” for a movie version of my mystery-thriller AMBERGRIN HALL. A few folks have asked who I would cast for my published Christmas novella THE FIRFLAKE.

The Firflake


First of all, as most people know: if THE FIRFLAKE is done in any other format, it HAS to be the classic Rankin-Bass claymation style. That’s exactly how I’ve always pictured it. So keep that in mind as you’re viewing this, and keep in mind that someone would have to write the music for it. *cough*musiciansIknow*cough*

That said, as I was discussing Voice Casting with my friend Margaret, she commented that it would be fun to fill the cast with actors I know in real life or have some social media connection to. Seemed like a hard task at first, but then voices clicked in my head, and here we have it. I enjoyed this enough that I’m going to do a movie cast for my other Christmas story, CHRISTMAS GHOSTS, in a few days.

THE FIRFLAKE is the story of a family awaiting the arrival of the first snowflake of Christmas. While they’re waiting, they tell stories, including Papa Knecht’s story of how he met a man named Nicholas and helped him deliver gifts at Christmastime.

David Lapkin

Ruth Buzzi


DAVID LAPKIN as Papa Knecht. As well as being one of my closest friends, Dave has done off-Broadway theater and a lot of animation voice work on series like KIRBY, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and POKEMON, among others.

RUTH BUZZI as Mama Alvarie. I love talking to Ruth on Twitter. It’s always flattering when someone of her stature responds. How awesome would it be to convince her to come out of retirement long enough to voice Mama? I’d swoon.

I also think that Dave and Ruth would play wonderfully off of each other.

John Glover

Milena Govich

JOHN GLOVER as Nicholas. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and talking to John Glover twice (after performances of LOVE! VALOUR! COMPASSION! and WAITING FOR GODOT) and the warmth and friendliness he exudes is perfect for my vision of Saint Nicholas.

MILENA GOVICH as Katrina. Nicholas’ wife is a loving woman with a no-nonsense edge. My good friend Milena, who has played strong women on RESCUE ME, LAW & ORDER, and other shows, would be great.

Again, I think the dynamic between these two would be wonderful.

Sarah Desjardins

Matt Johnson

SARAH DESJARDINS as Engleberta. I want real teens for the voices of the younger Ruprecht family members. Sarah’s work on The Hub’s CLUE mini-series impressed me, and like Ruth, I enjoy chatting with Sarah on Twitter. I think she’d bring the right level of sweet-but-serious to the girl tasked with watching for The Firflake to arrive.

MATT JOHNSON as Nanhe. Nanhe narrates the story of the Firflake, and I envision it as a song for the cartoon version. My young friend Matt’s got a great folksy voice. Even if he’s a bit younger than Nanhe should be, I think he’d pull off the wonder of the story.

Andre, Forrest and Alex Burnham

ALEX, ANDRE and FORREST BURNHAM as Kurt, Georg and Wilhelm. Who better to voice three rough-housing brothers than three real life brothers? The Burnham boys have some of the goofiest videos on Youtube, and Forrest has recently guest-starred on Big Time Rush.

Todd Mann


Brad Mann


BRAD and TODD MANN as The Town Bullies. Okay, the town bullies who almost kill Papa are actually kids. What can I say? I enjoy chatting with the Mann brothers On Twitter and love their bad-guy turns on Smallville and CLUE so much, I couldn’t resist.

Anthony Gargiula

Lily Burnham

ANTHONY GARGIULA as Loek. The youngest Ruprecht child doesn’t have much to say, but plays an important role at the story’s end. Anthony is the son of friends and was actually my first interview on this site.

LILY BURNHAM as Maria. Again, a small role, but Lily has said on Twitter how much she loved the book, and if I’m casting her brothers how could I not include her?

So there you have it — my proposed voice cast for THE FIRFLAKE, if we ever managed to turn it into an animated television special (or even a radio play).

So, now that you’ve seen MY dream cast … those of you who have read the book feel free to chime in. Who would YOU cast?

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Favorite Christmas Books

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As the author of a book that retells some classic Santa Claus-related legends (THE FIRFLAKE, which you can find purchasing links to right here on this website), and with another book that takes place at Christmas (CHRISTMAS GHOSTS) hopefully to be picked up by a publisher in the coming year, I guess it’s natural for people to assume that I love most of what’s connected to the Christmas holiday. And that assumption would be correct. As most people, I have my  downs during the holiday season: missing loved ones who are no longer with us, getting caught up in the more commercial side of the holiday and feeling all of that shopping pressure and tension. But there are more “ups” for me than “downs,” and one of those “ups” is the plethora of Christmas-connected fiction that is out there.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite Christmas books and a brief comment about why they rank amongst my favorites:

1.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Okay, this really is #1 for me, although the rest are in no particular order. This is the one Christmas book I am guaranteed to reread every year. I should note that overall I am not a Charles Dickens fan, but there is something about the narrator’s voice in this book that I just love, apart from the story itself. I tend to read large portions of this out-loud to myself. Is anyone not familiar with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jabob Marley, Tiny Tim and the Three Ghosts?

2. Red Ranger Came Calling, by Berkeley Breathed. Breathed is better known for his “Bloom County” and “Opus” newspaper comic strips. He based this story on an event from his father’s childhood, retelling it in his own inimitable style. “Red” Breathed is sent to visit with an aunt at Christmas time, and meets a hermit named Saunder Clos, who may or may not be the real Santa Claus. It’s a great adventure story with fantastic illustrations.

3.  The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, another picture-book classic lavishly illustrated by the author. Late on Christmas Eve, a boy who no longer believes in Santa is beckoned to board a train bound for the North Pole, and the adventure changes his life. I wonder how many people watch the movie without ever opening up the original book?

4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess. The question I asked about the Polar Express could be asked about this book as well. We are all so familiar with the Boris Karloff-narrated, Thurl Ravenscroft-sung television special that I think people forget the book came first. I love to read this to my niece and nephew on Christmas Eve, along with The Polar Express and the next book on my list…

5. Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore. The version I have is illustrated in a highly realistic style by Bruce Whatley. There are so many published versions that there has to be a style for everyone by now. When they were younger, the kids loved the reindeer’s facial expressions in this version.

6. A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd is actually a compilation of his essays from various other books which includes all of the stories used in the movie version. Reading these stories, you can hear the author’s voice as clearly as you hear it narrating the movie. There are some subtle differences between the two formats, but I love Shepherd’s down-home storytelling style.

7. A Wish Upon the Wind by Joseph Pittman is a story of celebrating Christmas in the aftermath of a great loss. Brian Duncan and his young ward Janey Sullivan are trying to find their way after the death of Janey’s mother. Their small town friends and neighbors end up helping them remember what Christmas is all about, and how we can use our grief to grow. A wonderful short novel.

8.  Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie Willis is a collection of short stories that take place during the holiday season. I usually pick one or two to reread each year since I bought the collection back in 1999. There are eight stories in here, and surely something for everyone.

9. The Autobiography of Santa Claus, as told to Jeff Guinn. I put off reading this one for years, knowing that it might touch on some of the same territory I was covering in my own book. And then one year I realized — doesn’t every story about how Santa became Santa touch on the same basic concepts? Why avoid reading what everyone says is a wonderful book? I’m glad I did. It’s a bit heftier than most of the usual Christmas-season fare in terms of page-count, and I have yet to tackle either of the two sequels, but Guinn captures a wonderful voice for Santa and makes some unique story choices to explain how Santa does what he does.

Honorable Mentions: “A War of Gifts” which takes place in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Wiggins universe; “The Book of Christmas” by Time-Life Books (which inspired my second Christmas book).

Books I hate to admit I haven’t read yet: I have never read L. Frank Baum’s “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” or Orson Scott Card’s “Zanna’s Gift.” Perhaps this year!

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New Review on Amazon

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There’s a new reader review of THE FIRFLAKE up on Amazon today: Thomas P. Ryan Jr says: Anthony has done a marvelous job creating an original and clever Christmas story that remains true to the essential meaning of Christmas. Very highly recommended!

A short but sweet review. Check out the rest of the customer reviews on the book’s Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Firflake-Christmas-Story-Anthony-Cardno/dp/0595524680/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284776874&sr=1-1

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