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Memento Mori  is Latin for “Remember that you too must die.” This cheerful reminder kicks off a collection of dark fantasy and horror tales with death as the central theme. My contribution is “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” a ghost story set in colonial Newport, Rhode Island.  It was originally published in Sails & Sorcery, an anthology of sea-themed tales by Fantasist Enterprises. The narrator is a pirate of limited intellect, a powerful fighter who perceives far more than he understands. It’s one of my favorite stories.  If you haven’t read it–and if this collection sounds like something you might enjoy–now’s the time to pick it up. For the next several days, the ebook will be on sale for $.99 on Amazon.com.  Here’s a link to the book’s page.


Recording Dan Forrest’s REQUIEM FOR THE LIVING

A lot of items on my bucket list get put there after the fact. I’ll do something interesting and think, “Hmm… That really should have been on the list.” This weekend, I’ll be participating in my first commercial recording with the Providence Singers and a professional chamber orchestra.

There’s a dress rehearsal with orchestra tonight, and all day Sunday we’ll be recording in Mechanics Hall in Worcester. The acoustics there are excellent; to give some perspective, last weekend YoYo Ma was recording there.

Looking forward to it!

Writing for and about games

Gaming is a big part of life in Chez Cunningham. My kids were raised with games. By the time Andrew was six, you couldn’t beat him at Connect Four. (This pattern persists: These days, it’s pretty tough for anyone to beat him at anything…)  They played Magic the Gathering, Warhammer and 40K, all kinds of  board games. Since I wrote for Wizards of the Coast for years, we had a substantial library of RPG books. Andrew was a DM for his friends and also for Sean and his friends. For several years, the three of us ran an after-school game club for grades 4 and 5.  And both guys were avid video gamers.  Over the past few years, my husband Bill has become an avid board gamer, and we play board games with Andrew five or six nights a week. The three of us usually attend the twice-monthly game nights at Rivendell Books & Games in Rehoboth, and Andrew has his own game groups.

So, yeah. Playing games is a thing around here. Oddly enough, it only  recently occurred to me that I’ve never listed my RPG writing credits and game-related articles on my website. So one of my goals for this week is to compile that info. I’ve added a new place-holder page to the website, and added Games to the Categories drop-down menu (click the Search icon to access Categories.)

One of my goals for this year is continual improvement of my website content and functionality.  Small steps…

More adventures in meditation: Grapes in Jello

In addition to adding new, positive habits, I am working to revise or replace some that…aren’t so good. One of my detrimental habits is perseveration, the tendency to mentally rehash things again and again and again. (And again.) Like any other habit, perseveration has triggers–environmental or emotion cues that set the process in motion. For me, one of those cues is guided meditation.

There are many forms of guided meditation; for example, a leader guides participants through a scenario that’s meant to help them relax and focus. My first acquaintance with this method was way back in college, when I was a music education major focusing on vocal and choral music. Getting rid of physical tension is an important part of vocal technique, so my voice teacher at the time, Alexander Stephenson, would have a bunch of us lie down in the lucky-jellostudio while we focused on relaxing from head to toe, one body part at a time. After a few of these sessions, he had the students take turns leading the meditation.  When my turn came, I was fine until I got to the kneecaps. At a loss for words to describe the feeling of relaxed suspension, I suggested envisioning them as floating like…like… grapes in Jello.

I still cringe when I remember this. Just typing the words is painful. “Grapes in jello” is not only a  dreadful metaphor, it’s also appalling from a culinary standpoint.  And every time I try to do a guided meditation, a sadistic little Greek chorus in the back of my mind starts chanting “Grapes in Jello.”

Trigger activated…

…and suddenly I’m flooded with memories of the stupid things I’ve done and said over the past few decades.  And as it happens, I have an excellent memory, having started an a very early age to develop it by memorizing poetry, song lyrics, corny jokes, vast swaths of Biblical verses, and just about every stupid thing I’ve ever done and said.

This, as you might well expect, is not conducive to meditation.

So guided meditation is straight out for me.  I’m still experimenting with various approaches. Next up:  Chakra Meditation!

Lupine Lunes

Every year since 2009, editor and poet Lester Smith has put together a Halloween anthology of poetry and short fiction. This year’s offering will be out shortly, available as an ebook or paperback.
lupine-lunesI have three poems in this collection:  two limericks, and a longer poem that tells a story in 13 stanzas, each of which is in haiku format. It’s a ghost story, and it occurs on the first night of Obon, the Japanese festival of the dead.

I’ll post links when the book is online.

Adventures in meditation

I’m engaged in the on-going process of building a Habit System–a collection of habits designed to improve and change my life in several important areas. Some habits are building blocks for more than one area. Meditation, for example, addresses 1) focus and productivity and 2) blood pressure management, and 3) stress management.  Unlike most of my habits, however, this one is not going well.

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried meditation. I know it’s a healthy and beneficial practice, something that can be truly transformative, but…  Okay, let’s cut to the chase here:  I just don’t like doing it.  My brain is too busy, and it fights like a honey badger when I try to shut it down or reign it in.

But!  This time I am determined.  I’ve scheduled a few minutes (a VERY few minutes, at this point…) every morning before work for a simple meditation of following the breath and letting thoughts pass without engaging in them.  This is a lot harder than it sounds.  Here’s an approximate transcripts of one of last week’s sessions:

Focus on the breath:  In 2 3 4….  

Hard to do when you have squirrel brain.  Out 2 3 4….

::image pops into mind of a wire cage in the middle of a field, filled with frenetic cartoon squirrels::   in 2 3 4…

Let the thought go. Open the door, let the squirrels out…2 3 4… 

Okay, THAT was a mistake. Now I know there are a half dozen hyper-caffeinated squirrels out there.  How am I supposed to concentrate when there are squirrels lurking in my peripheral vision?  In 2 3 4…

hammy::Sudden mental image of one of the squirrels yanking up my eyelid, peering into my eye, then scampering off, giggling maniacally….  Out 2 3 4… 

Banish the squirrels. Envision pure light filling the open cage.  In 2 3 4….

Okay, now it’s raining. That’s not a bad thing, I guess–it’ll wash the squirrel poop out 2 3 4…

Huh.  Don’t think I’ve ever seen squirrel poop. Wonder what it looks like. Acorns, probably. In 2 3 4…

frank-the-flying-squirrelTHAT could be problematic, seeing that squirrels are jerks.  There’s got to be one squirrel in every crowd that packs poop into empty acorn caps and hides the fake acorns in another squirrel’s stash. Out 2 3 4…

::image of two cartoon squirrels pops into mind::
“Ack!”  ::phooey::  “What the–  Oh, man, I am gonna KILL that Dave…”
“Dude, this is the THIRD TIME THIS WEEK you’ve fallen for the poop acorn.  Focus!”

Oh, right.  FOCUS.  In 2 3 4…

::The alarm on my iPhone ripples gently. I end the meditation and rise to face the day, refreshed and enlightened. Only not really.::

But I will keep at it, because meditation is also on my list of habits that foster grit and persistence.



Update: KILLING IT SOFTLY release moved to October 12

killing-it-softly-coverJust in time for Halloween, a collection of dark fantasy tales by women writers. The official release is October 12 for both ebook and trade paperback. The ebook will be on sale for $.99 through November 1, which is a better treat than a full-sized candy bar.

My story, “Ravens” is a reprint tale, a ghost story set in a little New England town.  It’s one of my favorite stories, and I’m delighted that it has found its way into a new collection.

Here’s a link to the book’s page on the publisher website.