Monday, April 21, 2014

Portrait of the Author as a Young Man

What do you imagine when you picture a horror author? The author of nightmare-inducing gore-fests who delights in inducing great feelings of disgust and revulsion in his readers? Whose stories ooze with so much carnage you can almost feel the blood dripping from the cracks in your Kindle when you read? Is the face pictured on the cover, in fact, the portrait of the author?

Perhaps you know better, but imagine a madman, for only a madman would take such pleasure in tearing apart his fellow man through the written word. Is this Stephen Kozeniewski, author of the slaughter-filled zombie abomination known as The Ghoul Archipelago?

Is this the face of a horror author?

Or perhaps, he is not all insanity, for his entrails-exuding guts-mire of a book does contain commentary on our current society. In his own words, he sought to elevate the genre, and does so by satirizing the political, economic, and religious powers in between gross-out sessions. Is this Stephen Kozeniewski, who uses the horrible merely to teach us all a lesson in how our world is today, and works so hard to make us lose our lunches so we'll be sure to remember it?

The face of an intellectual author

Or perhaps our enigmatic writer is of the new-fashioned old-fashioned type, bringing the traditional writerly accoutrements of pipe, bow tie, typewriter, and intense expression to the modern era, rejecting the flashing and clicking of the computer screen. Perhaps the very way in which he is pictured writing is a commentary upon our society! Is this Stephen Kozeniewski?

The modern writer

Ah, but even the mad and the intellectual must grow from small children. And so, ladies and gentleman, I present to you the Portrait of the Author as a Young Man. A very, very young man. Behold, the true face of Stephen Kozeniewski!

Do not be deceived by those innocent eyes, behind which lies  twisted brain.
Look at that cutie patootie! Who would have thought that, behind that sweet smile and the childlike wonder reflected in those puppy-dog eyes, likes a mind as contorted and gnarled as the disemboweled entrails of which he writes! Oh, how looks can deceive.

But wait, there's more!

Future mass murderer of fictional characters
If there was any doubt before that Stephen Kozeniewski is a cutie patootie, let this dispel them! Again, with the sweet smile, but this time there's the added adorability factor of dorky glasses, suspenders, and tie!

Oh, perhaps you think that this cherub-faced, sweet-smiled child grew into one of the writers pictured above, or someone resembling the type. The madman? The intellecutal? The old-fashioned modern man? 

But you would be mistaken, for here is the present day Stephen Kozeniewski, spiller of blood, butcher of characters, and creator of nightmares! 

Same childlike wonder...
Same innocent smile...

And the reviewers agree: this author is still a cutie patootie! 

Now that I have unmasked this horror writer as an innocuous, friendly-faced everyman, allow me to make it up to him by listing his web presence links:

And check out his the aforementioned gore-oozing, bloodstained, stomach-upsetting masterpieces he wrote:

The Ghoul Archipelago
After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain. 

A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown. 

To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of...THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.

Braineater Jones
Braineater Jones wakes up face down in a swimming pool with no memory of his former life, how he died, or why he’s now a zombie. With a smart-aleck severed head as a partner, Jones descends into the undead ghetto to solve his own murder.

But Jones’s investigation is complicated by his crippling addiction to human flesh. Like all walking corpses, he discovers that only a stiff drink can soothe his cravings. Unfortunately, finding liquor during Prohibition is costly and dangerous. From his Mason jar, the cantankerous Old Man rules the only speakeasy in the city that caters to the postmortem crowd.

As the booze, blood, and clues coagulate, Jones gets closer to discovering the identity of his killer and the secrets behind the city’s stranglehold on liquid spirits. Death couldn’t stop him, but if the liquor dries up, the entire city will be plunged into an orgy of cannibalism.

Cracking this case is a tall order. Braineater Jones won’t get out alive, but if he plays his cards right, he might manage to salvage the last scraps of his humanity.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bringing Writers into the Classroom


I teach writing to high school students. But I don’t see myself as a high school teacher. My job, as I see it, is to mentor young people as they come of age.

I’m an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School in Lakewood, Colorado. I’m the English teacher. But the kids in my classroom are looking for more than English. They’re looking for meaning. They’re looking for something real.

Right now I’m teaching The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I use the text to teach the kids to read. I use the ideas in the book to teach them to think. And the story Pollan tells about food...I use that as a guide for our own educational adventures in the food chain. Like Pollan does in the book, we visit farms. Food markets. I bought the kids McDonalds then drove them to a feedlot with a 100,000 head of cattle that filled our nostrils with the stench of feces and urine. The poop was piled twenty feet high by tractors. The cows were covered in it up to their spines. Our lungs were singed from the ammonia.

I had the kids eat the burgers and take it all in.

Later in the semester I had the students interview their oldest living relatives. Out of that interview, the students brought traditional recipes to class, and we prepared meals together.

This week we’re discussing the ethics of eating. I have them justify it: their choice to eat, which is to say their choice to kill. I do this because I want them to be on solid moral ground. I do this because I want their bodies to be well.

Why? Because I’m their English teacher. It’s my job.

I also facilitate a writers’ group. Because I believe kids need mentors (more than just me), I partner with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a Denver based community, to bring local authors into my classroom.

We meet at lunch every Wednesday, the writers’ group. This is a very committed group of writers (some students have graduated and still participate in the group via email from college). They take their writing seriously and provide one another with thoughtful, constructive feedback.

Once a month, we have a guest author. The guest author actually reads the week’s submission and critiques it, along with the rest of us. Imagine being seventeen years old and having your story critiqued by a published author.

After the critique session, we invite any interested student in the school to a craft talk with the author. After which, the kids get an opportunity to interact more openly. They get to ask questions about the writing process. About inspiration. About how to get published.

What’s really happening is that relationships are being developed. This is the secret to education. They can pass any law they want at the state or at the federal level. They can mandate testing. Or they can sell our schools to corporate enterprises. None of that will fix the problem we have with education in America.

Because the answer is this: teaching is about relationships. Kids need mentors. It’s that simple. They learn from the people they trust.

What happens in this guest author program is magical. Kids begin to see themselves as writers. They develop authentic relationships with authors in the community. They have consultants.

At my school, every student completes a Career Exploration Passage. It’s one of six rites of passages each student undertakes to graduate from high school. In the Career Exploration Passage, as the title indicates, students explore a career. The project involves an internship, research, consultants, a series of interviews, a resume. And eventually the student maps out a path to his or her chosen field.

The beauty of the curriculum at the Open School is that the students I work with get to consult with actual professionals. They get to interview our guest authors and develop relationships that will last long after high school is over.

To make all this work I went to our school’s Parent Teacher Student Organization (PTSO) and asked for $50 a month to bring local authors into the classroom. The parents on PTSO generously supported the program, and they also asked me to consider ways to raise money to pay for it.

It was a reasonable request on their part, responsible even, but I had to think about it. What could I do to help support my own program?

Meanwhile, I went to Lighthouse Writers Workshop and told them what our PTSO was willing to do. Lighthouse generously matched my school’s contribution.

So we had $100 a month to bring local authors into the school. Not much. But money communicates value. By paying authors what we can, we let them know that we value their profession. Their work. Moreover, writers are hungry, and, so far, the guest authors have been grateful for the gig.

This week we’re hosting Caleb Seeling, the publisher at Conundrum Press. Caleb also writes graphic novels.

Then it finally came to me a few weeks ago: how to raise money for the program. I had a book release pending for my literary thriller Patriarch Run. It occurred to me that I could donate the April proceeds to PTSO and, in that way, raise money to support the guest author program at the Open School.

Which is what we’re doing. It’s a good book. It’s a good cause. And we’d welcome your support.

If you’d like to know more about our amazing school (there have been many books written about it), let me know. And if you’d like to learn more about me or my stories, you could drop me a line about that, too.

Thank you for finding me,

Benjamin Dancer

Twitter: @BenjaminDancer1


Benjamin is an Advisor at Jefferson County Open School where he has made a career out of mentoring young people as they come of age. He wrote the novels PATRIARCH RUN, IN SIGHT OF THE SUN and FIDELITY. He also writes about parenting and education.

Patriarch Run is a thoughtful and character driven literary thriller. Think of it as Jason Bourne meets Good Will Hunting.
Billy discovers that his father might be a traitor, that he was deployed to safeguard the United States from a cyberattack on its military networks. After that mission, his father disappeared along with the Chinese technology he was ordered to steal–a weapon powerful enough to sabotage the digital infrastructure of the modern age and force the human population into collapse. 

Against a backdrop of suspense, the story explores the archetypal themes of fatherhood, coming of age and self-acceptance through a set of characters that will leave you changed.

Excerpt from Patriarch Run:

Rachel never rode over the summit of the mountain because of the treacherous nature of that trail. It was against all rational judgement that she found herself on it now. At tree line the horse climbed over the ridge, stepped out of the spruce forest and onto the packed scree that made up the trail from there to the tundra. The mountainside below them gave way completely to granite cliffs.
The trail snaked along the top.
At the highest point among the cliffs, with nearly a thousand feet of empty space beneath the hooves of Old Sam, Rachel spotted two figures several hundred yards in the distance. She talked to the horse. Said she couldn’t be sure, but it looked to be a man and a bristlecone pine.
 The horse walked on.
“Watch your step, Old Sam.”
As they closed the distance, Rachel recognized him and saw that he was untying a rope from the gnarled tree.
“You couldn’t have picked a better view.”
Regan had looked at her once when he first heard the hooves on the scree, then he went back to his rope. Now he looked up at her face. Looked the horse over. Then he studied her eyes. She had divined his purpose.
He looked away. “Yeah, it’ll do.”
The two knew each other, but had rarely had cause to speak.
“I don’t mean to meddle, but it seems to me that the rope is ill conceived.”
Regan finished retying the rope to the tree, tested the knot and asked, “How so?”
“Too much length, and the wind, along with your own momentum, will lacerate your flesh against the rock.”
He looked over the edge. “That occurred to me as you were coming up. I shortened the rope.”
“Not enough length, and it’ll be slow and painful.”
He studied the coil of parachute cord on the ground and said with very little inflection. “It looks about right to me.” Then he walked over to a granite boulder.
“Seems you’ve thought it through.”
He sat down and pulled off his right boot. “We’ll see.”
Rachel reached behind her and took out a water bottle. Drank. She offered the bottle to Regan with a gesture.
He put out his lower lip and shook his head almost imperceptibly.
She capped it and put it back.
“Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Go ahead.” He pulled off the other boot.
“Why the rope and the cliff?”
“I don’t follow.”
“When I was a kid, coyotes killed my dog. I heard the fight, but by the time I found her in the dark, they were already feeding on her guts.” He took off both socks and stood up. “They pulled her insides out through her anus.” He stepped over to the precipice and surveyed the valley.
“How old were you?”
Rachel nodded her head, which he didn’t see.
“With only the rope or only the cliff, I’d be left for the coyotes.”
“But this way it’s only insects and birds.”
He spun to face her, his widened eyes betraying surprise–or maybe alarm.
“Birds always eat the eyeballs first,” she continued. “Must be a delicacy to them. The insects just want a womb for their maggots. A nutrient-rich source to give their young a good start.”
Regan fidgeted with the socks in his hands.
“You could’ve picked a high branch.”
He looked distracted, as if he was still digesting the other image. “I thought of that.” He walked over to his boots, unbuttoning his silk shirt.
“A bear could cut the rope.”
“It seems you’ve thought it through.”
He took off his shirt, folded it and set it on a rock. “We’ll see.”
Rachel looked back over the trail. “Well, I best be goin’.”
She turned the horse, “Those are some fancy clothes.”
“Yeah.” He took off his belt. “The boots alone cost me eleven hundred dollars, and that was before tax.”
“I suppose it’s fitting.”
“It seemed that way to me, too, down at the house. But after being up here, I don’t think so.”
“How so?”
He wasn’t looking at her anymore. “I think I’ll be more comfortable without them.”
“What are you going to do with those eleven hundred dollar boots?”
He carried the clothes over to the bristlecone tree, put the boots on top of the folded shirt, the socks inside the boots and the belt around the boots. “Come back and get ’em if you like.”
“Well, I best be gettin’ along.”
“You know my place?”
“I know it.”
“We’ll be sittin’ down for supper around six. Sirloin and potatoes. If you have a mind to, you’re welcome to stop by.”
He picked up the loose end of the parachute cord and started tying a hangman’s noose. “I appreciate that.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

CHARACTER INTERVIEW: Bedlam from Raising Chaos

Jane Colt, protagonist of my sci-fi series, sits down with Bedlam, the chaos demon from Elizabeth Corrigan's "Earthbound Angels" urban fantasy series.

Hi everyone, it's Jane Colt. I'm here with Bedlam, the star of "Raising Chaos", and managed to convince him to talk about himself for a few minutes.

So, Bedlam. You're a chaos demon. How did that happen? Does being a demon automatically make you evil, like everyone assumes?

Well, I’ve always been the angel of chaos. I’m not quite sure how that happened. Just, you know, was born that way. Or begotten. Or something. I’m sure I must have witnessed an angel birth at some point, but I don’t really remember how that worked.

As for the demon part, well, God ticked me off. And I was still ticked off when Lucifer and his crowd decided they wanted to stage a coup. So I thought, Hey, why not? It may not have been my smartest move ever. But Khet always says it doesn’t make me evil, per se. But, you know, it doesn’t win me any good points either. So, you know, I try to be good. Usually I fail.

You seem to have a pretty close relationship with Khet, the titular oracle from "The Oracle of Philadelphia", and you go through a lot in "Raising Chaos" to try to help her. How did you two become so close? Why would you go through so much for her?

Ask the girl who became a fugitive because her brother was framed for murder. And <spoiler> becomes a total fugitive again so her robot boyfriend doesn’t become a dissected science experiment </spoiler>. And you’ve only know them for, what, twenty-two years, tops? I have known Khet for 3200 yearsAnd in all that time she’s been nothing but loyal to me.

Plus, you know, she’s my only friend. If she were gone, I’d have nobody.

I must say, after finding myself in the middle of a dangerous adventure, I'm totally over the whole risking-my-life thing, and I'd be completely fine with spending the rest of my life in a safe spot. I guess it's a little different for an immortal, but, without giving away too much, would you go through everything you went through in "Raising Chaos" again if it weren't Khet's life at stake?

Um. Go through a series of tests invented by psycho Spear protectors that risk the lives of thousands of people? When I could be hanging out and listening to P!nk? I’m not a total idiot, you know.

What's your favorite spot on Earth?

The diner, of course. Khet’s diner. I mean, sure, the food sucks. And the coffee is always stale. And she won’t hire a cleaning staff. And the people who come in there are sketchy on the best of days. But it’s where I live. It’s where Khet is. It’s my home.

The guy I'm dating is really into religion – he's a seminary student – and he got me thinking more about that stuff than I care to admit. So I can't help wondering, as a demon, what's your take on all this God business? Have you met Him?

Okay, so, yes, technically, I have met God. And I vaguely remember him speaking to me once. Something along the lines of “It doesn’t matter that Keziel doesn’t love you because I do.” Blah-blah-blah. I shut that out. And Him. Cuz I didn’t want to hear it. I think he used to talk to me a lot before that? But I don’t remember it, because… Well, have you ever gotten so mad that you used all your powers to flood rivers and blow up mountains? Cuz when you get that mad, it kind of blocks out everything else, including the past. But I know God exists. And once upon a time, I existed to do his bidding. And now… I kind of miss it.

Someone told me that in your world, angels (including fallen angels, like you), can only fall in love with one person, and they can't ever stop loving that person. Call me a romantic, but that sounds pretty awesome. What's actual eternal love like?

Yeah, it’s awful. I mean, Jane, you’ve dated lots of guys. Probably even thought yourself in love with one or two of them. And now you probably think he’s a total jerk. But if you were an angel, you’d still be in love with him. The thing is, we live forever. And ever. And ever. Generally, anyone you know is going to do something to majorly tick you off in that time frame. So you’d like to say sayonara. But if you’re an angel, you can’t. You’re stuck with them. Even if they’re raging bitches who decide they would rather marry the most uptight doofus in Heaven than you.

You've been around a long, long time. I've only been here for twenty-some years, but I've concluded that people suck, and that's never gonna change. How about you?

What? No! People are awesome! They at least make some attempt to be creative. Try hanging around demons for a  few millennia if you want to see beings who suck.

Sorry about all the philosophical questions – this is what happens when you date someone who thinks too much! Getting back to the fun stuff… What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

Oh. Wow. The craziest thing I’ve ever done? Probably inventing natural disasters to spite my ex. And then there’s falling in love with her in the first place. But you probably want a funny story.

Well, I once was determined I would figure out how to blow up a balloon from inside my throat. So I kept swallowing all these balloons… And this story really isn’t all that interesting. But it was pretty crazy.


You know what? Screw it. You got me in a funk with all those serious questions about my deep-seated emotional problems. I have nothing funny for you.

Aw, sorry about that. Okay, next question: Have you ever had worshippers?

Yup! For the most part, the gods of polytheist cultures are representations of the various angels. Hermes and Mercury, from Greek and Roman mythologies, respectfully, were a mix of me and Raphael (though how they got us confused, I’ll never know). The Egyptians didn’t like me much. I was Apophis there. And the Norse reeeeeeeally hated Loki/me.

Wow, that's pretty cool. Alrighty, it's been fun, but I've got a starship to catch. Thanks for stopping by!

Find Raising Chaos at the following locations:

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Enter the Chaos tour giveaway here (raffle at the bottom of the page).