An angel, an android and an alien walk into a book…
Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories, a new collection by speculative fiction author David Michael Williams, contains 13 short stories spanning such genres as fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and dreampunk.
From ambitious extraterrestrials to a denizen of the darkweb to a mighty spellcaster with the mind of a child, every story includes an element of the supernatural. Each tale also challenges the traditional notions of what defines a hero or a villain by spotlighting complex characters caught up in complicated circumstances.
Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories is the first short fiction collection by the Wisconsin novelist.
“Longform storytelling has always been my preferred medium for fiction, but I had amassed many ideas for shorter, self-contained tales while writing books and series over the years,” Williams said. “Creatively speaking, this collection is a confident step out of my comfort zone while exploring genres, themes and characters that have been waiting in the wings for far too long.”
While each story stands on its own, several of them tie into Williams’ existing works of fiction, including The Renegade Chronicles, The Soul Sleep Cycle, and The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, a YA portal fantasy released in 2020.
“Several of these stories started as ideas, writing exercises and rough drafts as far back as a decade ago, and others resulted from my personal challenge to compose eight tales in eight weeks late last year,” Williams said.
“And even though the collection celebrates the strange and supernatural, each story attempts to define what it means to be human.”
One Million Words, Williams’ indie publishing company, published Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories on June 22. The paperback and e-book are available at Amazon.com.
In addition to the short story collection, Williams is the author of eight novels, including a sword-and-sorcery series and a dreampunk trilogy. A 1999 graduate of UW-Fond du Lac and a 2001 graduate of UW-Milwaukee’s creative writing program, his fiction also appears in various anthologies. He has been a member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state’s oldest writing collectives, for the past 15 years.
To all my friends and acquaintances … the last card I shall send out.
Years ago on this Allied Authors website in “A Derleth Christmas Card,” I touted an unexpected find I made in a local antique store: a series of unique Christmas cards issued by Wisconsin’s famous author — and close friend of Allied Authors — August Derleth.
Unexpected, because even in his home state, Derleth’s proverbial backyard, such finds are fewer and farther between, with his fame continuing to grow.
Admittedly, the title of that brief notice — intimating one card only — may have misled the reader who failed to canvas the entire page, which described the distinct family of cards I found — each exhibiting a new poem by Derleth and each a new illustration by Derleth’s friend, Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel.
Reproduced from woodcuts, Utpatel’s panoramas are hallmark. Black and white country views, shadowy, textured, stamped onto white paper backgrounds — each delineating the “silent nights” of a typical Wisconsin winter.
Regarding the expressive poems, I hazarded how for a period of years…
Derleth chose one he newly favored for inspiration, composed a new Christmas/New Year poem, and then stamped these onto heavy stock paper to give as a holiday greeting. Derleth personalized each by signing them individually and adding a few warm patches of yellow [or orange] moonlight.
To be accurate, not every card has a crayon or marker highlight on Utpatel’s illustration. It is missing from two that I found, but the other three, it always seemed to me, were made more seasonally appropriate because of this added touch of warmth.
Above the illustration, Derleth’s personal year-end greeting. Below, the holiday stanzas, suited to both premise and scene. “Cabinet”-sized for stand-up display, approximately 5-3/8″ x 4-1/4″, printed one-sided only. The two lacking Derleth’s highlight were landscape oriented; the others, portrait.
And near the bottom, added to every card, Derleth’s carefully executed signature.
I knew immediately that the Derleth-Utpatel cards were rare — components of some little-known subset of the many item-categories associated with August Derleth, all assiduously collected. And only discovered because I had been searching for the author’s publishing ephemera, including the professionally printed catalogs, brochures, and stock lists Derleth distributed free to the patrons of Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and Hawk & Whippoorwill.
Knowledgeable fans of Derleth believed the cards were products of the ’60s, even as I stubbornly insisted the signatures looked more like those from early in his career, as in the older books on my shelves. No one knew how many years he did these, but I was sure that one day we would discover the number of different cards there were (not something a recipient would be apt to casually toss out), as well as how many of each had been printed, the true indicator of how rare one or another of the cards might be.
Recently, a new card did turn up, though printed on thin paper and measuring 6-5/8″ x 10-5/8.” And yet, in its important aspects, it was the same ilk, from the same series, a remarkable card that provided, circumstantially, what I needed to piece together their history.
Six cards, I deduced, comprise the entire series — a safe conclusion, despite similar cards Derleth created, especially during the heady early days of his career. The author’s Christmas card for 1935, as example (pictured occasionally in the August Derleth Society Newsletter, the official organ of the fanbase today), featured the frontispiece from Place of Hawks, Derleth’s newest book that year.
Derleth’s plan for the new card I found — and the reason for the thin paper — allowed him to mail them all folded, in a separate envelope. The heavier paper used for the other five, a blank side available for address and postage, made them suitable for traveling the U.S. Mail system, as a postcard for only a 1-cent stamp.
Why, then, would Derleth pay 3 cents apiece to envelope all of No. 6? Because he used the blank side for the personal message that began ominously, “To all My Friends … the last card I shall send out.”
Four paragraphs to explain: “From one hundred cards a few years ago to many hundreds this year … at this rate, ten years from now, the Christmas card problem, would occupy all my time from early November to the end of the year.” And, in conclusion, to offer friends and acquaintances “good wishes not only for this annual holiday season, but for all the year ’round, and for every year of their lives.”
Obviously, card No. 6 was the last in the series (the reason I have always referred to it as No. 6, even though the order of the other five had yet to be decided), which also intimated that Derleth himself viewed the group as distinct.
From card No. 6, we also learn this important fact: there were 100 copies of card No 1.
Unfortunately, as with the others, I had nothing that gave up the year card No. 6 went out.
But, like the card itself, the answer to that key question popped up unexpectedly, serendipitously, in an old booklet I was glancing through: Catalog 6, Modern Literature, issued ca. 1972 by bookseller Roy A. Squires.
For sale, a copy of Derleth’s poetry collection, Rind of the Earth, with an added bonus:
Laid in is a folded leaflet, Derleth’s Christmas card, with an Utpatel illustration, a poem (which appears in the book), and a message including the statement that this “…is the last card I shall send out.” Signed in ink; in original envelope, postmarked Dec. 16, 1941.
Card No. 6, Christmas 1941!
A recent collection of Derleth’s verse, a poem selected for the greeting, another of the author’s early signatures; all fell sensibly into place. Comparing Derleth’s earlier poetry collections to the other five cards confirmed how each had heralded a recent, or forthcoming, volume of his poetry. With 1935 out of the running, the 1936–41 span fit perfectly — six cards over six years — listed here for the first time, poem and collection, numbered in order:
December 1936 introduced the poem titled “Time Being Winter,” collected in Hawk on the Wind (1938).
December 1937 introduced “Lonely Place,” collected in Man Track Here (1939).
December 1938 introduced “Winter Moon,” collected in Man Track Here (1939).
December 1939 introduced “Roofs,” collected in Here on a Darkling Plain (1940).
December 1940 introduced “Two Variations on a Theme” but included only the first of these studies subtitled “Christmas,” collected in Rind of Earth (1942).
December 1941 introduced “Tree in the Window,” the second variation from the same collection
Odd clues I had previously logged now fit the pattern like pieces in a puzzle. A 1937 reference in Derleth’s correspondence to cards printed at the News, where the author routinely purchased stationery items, the latest American Mercury, and the local newspaper by proprietor Bert Giegerich. Back then his ad ran:
Founded in 1876 — “Eight Big Pages Every Week” — The Sauk County News in Prairie du Sac
Besides the News, Bert promoted “quality job printing and new or used office equipment.”
Another clue I found in a 1993 August Derleth Society Newsletter back-issue, a prepublication announcement for a six-card set of Derleth Christmas card reprints, for $5.00 plus $2.00 shipping & handling.
An offer never repeated, the set probably never printed.
Still, new evidence could turn up to alter my conclusions above. Dating of the woodcuts, for example, might throw off the timeline. Although it is logical to assume Derleth fashioned a different card for each of the six years, it is possible he issued two in the Christmas seasons where the same collection was sourced; however, the more logical explanation is that happened only when a newer collection had not been published.
There is also a letter dated December 17, 1942, a correspondent telling Derleth: “I picked up one of your Utpatel-Derleth cards at Moseley’s to send to a friend.” What does it mean, I wonder, if the cards had also been sold at a bookstore located at 10 East Mifflin Street in Madison? Did Derleth have a commercial angle? And if he printed extras to sell locally that never caught on, never became lucrative, was that the reason he pulled the plug?
Or did Derleth simply change his writing emphasis? Other than homages to Thoreau, 1943 and 1944 came and went without new poetry collections.
Even with the mystery solved, these niggling questions remain…
Booklovers received two gifts this February with a pair of publications penned by Allied Authors.
Christopher Whitmore published his third novel, Charming, on Feb. 4. The standalone adventure is a temporary step away from his ongoing post-apocalyptic fantasy series.
Charming spins fairytale tropes on their heads and features larger-than-life characters caught up in a madcap misadventure. The back-cover blurb teases a story unlike any readers have ever encountered:
Leo Fairchild’s life has been in freefall since high school. His parents died abruptly during his senior year, his football scholarship fizzled when he blew his knee out, and now, he’s crashing on his best friend’s couch because he can’t seem to hold down a job for more than five minutes.
What Leo doesn’t realize is that there’s a reason for his streak of awful, awful luck — and her name is Vesper.
In order to uncover the truth behind his multiple misfortunes, Leo and his best friend David must travel to an astonishing new world, a brilliant reflection of our own modern society, where a marriage of magic and technology are able to solve most any problem… or so it seems…
It is there that Leo will discover his strange destiny and just what it means to be a Charming.
But will his fantastic new life be worth the price that must be paid?
Whitmore is also the author of Saviour and Children of the Saviour, which combine complex religious themes, thrilling action, and a generous measure of comedy to keep readers turning pages. His books are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.com.
After years of painstaking toil, John D. Haefele released his literary-criticism masterpiece Lovecraft: The Great Tales on Feb. 9.
According to Publishers Weekly, “Haefele’s interpretations are sure to spark debate among scholars of this influential author. Lovecraftians won’t want to miss this one.” Excerpts from the synopsis shed additional light on this comprehensive — and potentially controversial — book:
Tracing the development of HPL’s fictional universe, John D. Haefele ranges from childhood readings of the Arabian Nights to the seismic encounter with the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
After a lifetime of studying and appreciating Lovecraft, John D. Haefele finally sits down and does an unprecedented excavation of the texts, revealing years of startling discoveries, smashing the tame boilerplate criticism of recent decades.
Haefele’s revolutionary ways of looking at HPL’s work defy generations of critical orthodoxy. New ideas — but when you check the stories, suddenly evident and logical.
You won’t find a more masterful handling of the case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
Haefele is a well-known figure in Lovecraft and Derleth literary circles. In addition to contributing numerous nonfiction articles in blogs, reviews, and periodicals, he is the author of A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos.
His books are available in paperback on Amazon.com.
St. Martin’s Press has released details about Hannah Morrissey’s debut novel, including the cover for the compelling new crime thriller.
Hello, Transcriber features a police transcriber who goes beyond her daily duties to help solve a harrowing case. A teaser posted at criminalelement.com reveals more about the plot:
“Every night, while the street lamps shed the only light on Wisconsin’s most crime-ridden city, police transcriber Hazel Greenlee listens as detectives divulge Black Harbor’s gruesome secrets. As an aspiring writer, Hazel believes that writing a novel could be her only ticket out of this frozen hellscape.
“And then her neighbor confesses to hiding the body of an overdose victim in a dumpster.
“The suspicious death is linked to Candy Man, a notorious drug dealer. Now Hazel has a first-row seat to the investigation and becomes captivated by the lead detective, Nikolai Kole. Intrigued by the prospects of gathering eyewitness intel for her book, Hazel joins Kole in exploring Black Harbor’s darkest side.
“As the investigation unfolds, Hazel will learn just how far she’ll go for a good story–even if it means destroying her marriage and luring the killer to her as she plunges deeper into the city she’s desperate to claw her way out of.”
Hello, Transcriber will be available in paperback and e-book editions on Nov. 30, 2021, courtesy of Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and premier publisher in the bestselling category of crime fiction.
Morrissey joined the Allied Authors in 2019. She is currently working on her follow-up novel, Widowmaker,which also takes place in the apocryphal city of Black Harbor.
Those were the first words he spoke to me. My newlywed wife, Stephanie, and I were having a rummage sale in the summer of 2005, and a man old enough to be my grandfather asked the question while holding up the outdated copy of Writer’s Market we’d hoped to sell for a quarter.
We quickly learned a few things about Tom Ramirez:
He was a local author with more than a hundred paperbacks to his name (and pen names).
He was a former journalist, even as I was getting my feet wet at the local newspaper.
He and his wife, Fern, had grown up here in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and lived in nearby St. Peter.
At some point in the conversation, we exchanged contact information, and it wasn’t long before the Ramirezes invited Steph—whom Tom quickly dubbed “Steffers”—and I to dinner at their beautiful home. Somehow Fern was even friendlier than Tom. In addition to learning more about their fascinating lives and sharing a bit about our own backgrounds, we were taught how to play Mexican Train.
A month or so later, we had them over for dinner at our place.
Early on, I shared some of my writing with Tom, and while he was the furthest thing to a fantasy fan, he must have seen some promise in my work because he invited Steph and I to accompany him and Fern to an Allied Authors meeting in the Milwaukee area. We eagerly took them up on the offer.
I remember feeling like a fish out of water—or maybe a better metaphor would be a goldfish swimming among monolithic ocean dwellers. We were so young, and here we were in the company of published authors and writers who had accomplished so much!
It was a lot to aspire to, but Tom was about as down-to-earth as a man could get. A child of the Great Depression, he had a knack for telling it like it is, praise and criticism alike, which made his feedback on my fiction tough but fair. Meanwhile, Fern was the perfect counterbalance, always ready with a cache of compliments due to her passion for reading.
Steph and I often carpooled with the Ramirezes for these monthly Allied Authors meetings. In the beginning, she and I worried we’d run out of things to talk about with the elderly couple. That never happened. Not even close.
Was it because Tom and Fern were so young at heart? Were Steph and I old souls? Or was the truth, perhaps, somewhere in the middle?
Whatever the case, the trips to and from Milwaukee never devolved into awkward silence. Indeed, the rides were always at least as fun as the meetings themselves, despite the half-century difference in our ages.
My friendship with Tom stretched across 15 years—through the birth of both my children, a couple of career changes, and the publication of my first novels. When it came time for him to self-publish his memoirs, I passed along to my mentor what I had gleaned from my own experiences, assisting him with proofing, layout, the back-cover blurb, and the publishing itself. In some ways, it seemed like a role-reversal, but, really, it was just one good friend helping another.
Up until Tom’s death, we were talking about the possibility of publishing a novel he’d been working on for the past few years, a horror novel that was outside his wheelhouse but of which he was quite proud. I was proud, too—not only because he was writing well into his 90s, but because he wasn’t afraid to tackle something new and unfamiliar.
A recurring theme in a life both long and lush.
If Tom Ramirez hadn’t shown up at our rummage sale, I doubt I would have crossed paths with the Allied Authors, let alone joined the group. My own writing journey would have suffered for that as well as the absence of his stalwart encouragement. Aside from Steph, he was my staunchest supporter, always predicting I had what it took to make it.
“Who’s the writer?”
I am—and I’m a much better one for having known you, Tom. Moreover, you made my life richer beyond the page. I’m blessed to have known you and Fern and to have played some small part in the incredible story that was your life.
Enjoy your epilogue, old friend.
Thomas P. Ramirez passed away on December 18, 2020 at the age of 94. The former teacher, reporter, and author of more than 150 novels and 250 short stories joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 1955. His most recent book was That Wonderful Mexican Band, a memoir about growing up a poor member of a minority group in Fond du Lac during the Great Depression, which was published in 2017.
Wizards and wannabes star in new novel geared toward gamers
Fans of fantasy roleplaying games (RPGs) can learn what not to do when exploring a new world, thanks to David Michael Williams’ latest novel.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot features a handful of would-be heroes who find themselves woefully unprepared for the adventure they always hoped for.
“It’s what’s called a portal fantasy,” Williams said. “Five Midwestern teens are pulled into another world by a sorceress who confuses them for actual champions. They have to complete her perilous quest in order to get back home.”
“In some ways, it’s every gamer’s dream come true and nightmare rolled into one,” he added.
The Wisconsin author describes his new novel as Galaxy Quest meets Dungeons & Dragons. The characters are all live-action roleplaying gamers—aka LARPers—and include Sir Larpsalot, the party leader; musical storyteller Elvish Presley; Brutus the Bullheaded, a surly minotaur; know-it-all Master Prospero; and Tom Foolery, the team’s not-so-stealthy sneak.
While the coming-of-age tale is classified as YA fiction, the book was written to appeal to fantasy aficionados both young and old as well as anyone who enjoys fun-filled, action-heavy adventures—such as teen gamers who aren’t typically drawn to reading.
Unlike Williams’ earlier sword-and-sorcery novels, which all took place in the magical world of Altaerra, The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot straddles the real world, the fictional setting that the LARPers invented for their game and a brand-new realm filled with creatures they have never encountered, not even in their imaginations.
“The teens have to decide which fantasy clichés can help them overcome obstacles and which could get them killed,” Williams said. “Every chapter starts with a snippet of gaming slang, which somehow fits into the next segment of their crazy quest.”
“This book is my tongue-in-cheek love letter to the fantasy RPGs I grew up playing and continue playing to this day,” he said.
One Million Words, Williams’ indie publishing company, published The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot on Oct. 1. The paperback and e-book are available at Amazon.com. He plans to narrate and produce the audiobook edition in 2021.
Williams is also the author of four other fantasy novels, including Magic’s Daughter, which was released in paperback, e-book, and audiobook editions earlier this year, as well as The Soul Sleep Cycle, a dreampunk series that explores life, death and eternity. He joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 2005.
Coming-of-age fantasy conjures up family conflict, intrigue, romance
Readers can return to the magical, medieval realm of Altaerra in David Michael Williams’ recently released seventh novel.
Magic’s Daughter, currently available in paperback and Kindle editions, tells the story of Selena Nelesti, a young aristocrat torn between her family’s expectations and her own ambition to become something more—someone who shapes the very world.
“Selena wants nothing to do with her noble name,” Williams said. “She seeks out forbidden knowledge as a means of escape, but whether magic will be the key to her freedom or the path to another prison remains to be seen.”
Rounding out the cast of characters are members of Selena’s family, including her manipulative mother, increasingly distant father, and beloved but ailing grandmother as well as a stable boy who provides a perspective from outside the castle, a combative priest, and a wizard who will change Selena’s life in ways both seen and unseen.
Magic’s Daughter takes place in Williams’ proprietary world of Altaerra, which also served as the setting for The Renegade Chronicles, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy trilogy published in 2016.
“The Renegade Chronicles introduced readers to Altaerra, and Magic’s Daughter expands on that groundwork, exploring new geography and diving deeper into how the magic of that world works,” the Wisconsin author said.
“But you don’t have to have read The Renegade Chronicles to appreciate Magic’s Daughter. It is a separate, self-contained story,” he added.
Williams’ indie publishing company, One Million Words, published Magic’s Daughter on April 14. Both the paperback and e-book editions are available at Amazon.com. He plans to release an audiobook version later in 2020.
In addition to Magic’s Daughter and The Renegade Chronicles, Williams is the author of The Soul Sleep Cycle, a dreampunk series that explores life, death and eternity. He joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 2005.
Friday the 13th brought nothing but good luck for a certain member of Allied Authors.
Christopher Whitmore published his second novel, Children of The Saviour, on Sept. 13, 2019. The book is a sequel to 2017’s Saviour, a post-apocalyptic fantasy adventure.
The back-cover blurb captures where Children of The Saviour picks up and hints at new territory ahead:
“A year after the events of SAVIOUR, Miracle Ashe returns home to find her sister and friends entangled in a perilous skein of intrigue: a glorious angel, wrapped in tendrils of living flame has unexpectedly arrived in the city. He proclaims that he is the son and heir of The Saviour himself.
“Miracle isn’t convinced.
“Her journey to discover the truth behind this angel of fire reunites her with old friends and ends up introducing her to astonishing, forgotten corners of the world. However, enemies familiar and new await her, both at home and across the sea.”
Whitmore’s published works combine complex religious themes, thrilling action, and a generous measure of comedy to keep readers turning pages and craving the next installment in the series. The Fond du Lac native joined Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 2017, shortly after the release of his debut novel.
Both Saviour and Children of The Saviour are available in paperback and as e-books on Amazon.com.
David Michael Williams’ psychological rollercoaster of a book series reached terminal velocity when If Dreams Can Die launched earlier this month.
The 360-page paperback or e-book depicts the final confrontation between a death-defying cult and the CIA-sanctioned dream drifters determined to protect the collective unconscious. If Dreams Can Die reveals important information about Annette Young, a mysterious figure from the first two books and the alleged villain of the series.
“Annette has devoted her life as well as her afterlife to reconnecting with her departed family, even if it means destroying the dreamscape,” Williams said. “Although she has committed reprehensible crimes for her cause, she still sees herself as a hero.”
If Dreams Can Die ties together the intertwining storylines of If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep, both published in 2018.
“Characters who were enemies in the first two novels must join forces to stop Annette,” Williams said. “But how do you defeat someone who is already dead?”
As with its predecessors, If Dreams Can Die contains elements of several literary genres, including science fiction, fantasy, paranormal and suspense. The Soul Sleep Cycle could also be categorized as dreampunk, a subgenre that raises the question “What is real?”
“I set out to write something I’d never read before, something unique and admittedly experimental,” the Wisconsin author said.
Williams’ indie publishing company, One Million Words, published If Dreams Can Die on May 21. Both the paperback and e-book will be available at Amazon.com.
In addition to The Soul Sleep Cycle, Williams is the author of The Renegade Chronicles, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy trilogy comprised of Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters. He is a 1999 graduate of UW-Fond du Lac and a 2001 graduate of UW-Milwaukee, where he studied creative writing. He joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 2005.