Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: I Choose to Focus on the Good

2014 was literally the best of times and the worst of times throughout the world. On this December 31, 2014, I choose to look back at some of the remarkable moments that brought us all together as one people. Please join me in praying that in 2015 goodwill overcome evil, trust and acceptance would replace bigotry, and that peace will finally reign. From Kathy and I, Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month: For My Grandma, Jenny

The memory is as razor-sharp as the day it happened many years ago. I walked into my parent’s living room and saw her, my sweet grandma Jenny. She sat on a high-backed wooden chair in the middle of the room, her wrists tied to the armrests with dishtowels.  Her uncomprehending eyes followed me. She didn’t speak. She hadn’t said anything beyond nonsensical mutterings for a long time.

I remember stopping at the sight. It hurt like a fist to my chest. Whether I said anything, I don’t recall. We had all noticed subtle signs years earlier—confusion and forgotten names. Maybe we were all too busy, wrapped up in our own lives. Grandma was just getting older. My grandfather, John, was a proud, strong man. He never let on that anything was wrong even as grandma became more withdrawn. Then his own health failed him and my grandma’s condition became obvious. By then it was too late. Her dementia had turned debilitating and violent.

This all unfolded in the mid 1980s. We didn't understand dementia and Alzheimer’s like we do today. I encourage all my friends to know the warning signs for their loved ones:

* Memory loss. * Repetition.  * Language problems. * Personality changes. * Disorientation and confusion

I wish we could have done more. I come from a proud Italian heritage where family always comes first. Family takes care of family. My parent’s did a wonderful job caring for grandma until the end. We all pitched in. When grandma passed, I had the clearest image of her soaring on wings like eagles through the clouds. I imagined her running like a child, FINALLY free and full of joy.

Time has eased the pain as time always does. I cling to that image of grandma just as I cling to the good memories: sitting around the kitchen table with the salami and capicola, the cheese and wine, Christmas Eve and the Feast of the Seven Fishes, homemade pasta drying on the dinning room table, homemade ravioli, grandma in her apron, always smiling. Those are the memories I will always cherish.

You can read more inspiring stories from other Helping Hands Press authors: 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Day four years ago…a moment I will never forget

On a special Veterans Day four years ago, the 304th Public Affairs Detachment, based out of Seattle, WA, came home from a year’s deployment in Afghanistan. My son, Jason, finally came home. Jason said at it was a moment he'll never forget. For our family, it meant his seat at the holiday dinner table wouldn’t be empty any longer. We wouldn’t have to wait for those brief weekly phone calls from halfway around the world.

For many of you who don’t know him, I thought I’d introduce my Army veteran, Jason Venturini. Jason served two 12-month tours overseas. First in Iraq with the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Pittsburgh, PA. Then in Afghanistan with 304th Public Affairs Detachment.  

Mark: I know you weren't in a combat unit, but for you and other Soldiers in your units, what was the hardest part of deployment?
Jason: There are many ways to approach this question so I’ll give two separate, yet equally relevant answers. 1) While overseas, especially in my second deployment I was more worried about issues at home: my family, friends grieving for lost loved ones. I actually felt a lot of guilt over there. 2) I will always say that the hardest part of a deployment is coming home. Less than 1% of the American population has ever experienced combat deployment, but they are always ready to give their opinions about you or the war, usually both. The hardest thing is truly coming back to an unsympathetic culture.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

O Canada, We Stand on Guard Alongside Thee

On Wednesday October 22, there was no Canadian team present, but my Pittsburgh Penguins opened their NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers with the singing of “O Canada” following the terrible deadly shooting in Ottawa and the storming of Parliament Hill earlier in the day.

Very classy gesture, Pens, I thought. Then I watched as the dreaded Flyers beat up on the Pens. My publisher is in the Philly area, so I’m sure he loved the game. I won’t hold it against you, Gio.

To be honest, I didn’t think any more about the game or national anthem until the next day when a groundswell of Canadian gratitude started flowing back.   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When the Characters in Your Story Whisper to You

Let me start out with a disclaimer and then an announcement. First the disclaimer: I am not crazy . . . I think. Announcement? Well, I’m excited to announce that my latest installment in the Colony Zero series is out on Amazon! I hope you will check it out.

For the Children was the most challenging story I'd ever written. The author before me in the series, Mark Carver, wrote a terrific story, Hammerfall. Only one problem: Mark ended his story with my character, Christopher Ransom, storming Colony Zero with a platoon of soldiers. I envisioned Chris escaping to Earth and wrote my draft story accordingly. There's a little scientific law that states a person (or character in my case) can not be on two different worlds at the same time! I had TWO WEEKS to rewrite my entire story before my deadline. The clock was ticking and I was totally stumped. It literally took me three days to write the first page of the new story. I could hear the wind whistling in the space between my ears. Then Lieutenant Lisa Clarke appeared on the pages of my story and she took my hand. 
Okay, admittedly this sounds freaky. I don't know the name of the young lady in the pic, but that is the image of my Lisa in every way. She guided me, showed me things through her eyes. She told me she knew the beautiful Zero, Althana. She revealed her past to me and shared her pain that helped shape the outcome of my story. Without her, I would never have delivered the story on time.

I hope you will take the time to meet Lisa. I’m very proud of For the Children. I could never have written it without her.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Helping Hands Press Blogtalk Thursday 10/9 - Come hear me mumble

Hey all! Man it's been a hectic couple of months. There's a Huge Helping Hands Press blogtalk Thursday, 10/9 starting at 7:30 p.m. EST with several authors, including MOI at 9:15 p.m.

Come join us and listen to me mumble and fumble and discuss my next installment in the Colony Zero SciFi series, "For the Children."
Thanks so much for stopping by!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The poor you will always have . . . and doubts

Just the other day an incident happened that really upset me. It upset me enough to want to discuss it here. I’m angry with the way I reacted. I am second-guessing myself, even after many hours have passed. I just don’t know the best way to handle situations like this.

Maybe there never will be a best way.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Meet the Witch of Blue Note

It's interesting how this post dovetails with last week's talk on favorite characters. Several Helping Hands Press authors are participating in a summer reading blog tour where we introduce our blogging audience to our stories.and characters. As usual for me, the introduction of my favorite character from my fantasy novel Whispers from Forbidden Earth has taken a slightly darker turn . . .

My name is Jai. I was born as you see me, with useless eyes. Yet I see in ways very few can. Perhaps I’m the only one still alive on the vast world of Eversong with spirit-sight. I don’t know. I have not sensed anyone else for many years.

Since the days of the Bothers’ War, three-hundred years past, the good ancient races of Eversong have despised and mistrusted my people for the Old Knowledge that we keep. Even the pixies and gnomes mistrust us. The trolls hate us, but isn’t that the way with trolls?

Until recently, arrests and trials and hangings have dogged us because of the Old Knowledge. It always angers and saddens me, but it never surprises. Most don’t trust what they don’t understand, or in the case of the clueless magi holed up behind the glistening walls of the castle Haven-Rest, what they don’t try to understand.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Quite the Character!

I know readers have favorite stories. I blogged about some of my favorite science fiction short stories last week. What about favorite characters? Do you have memorable characters who jumped off the pages? Quirky characters? Humorous characters? Characters whose personality and traits just rang true?

Some of my favorite characters are
* Louis de Pointe du Lac from Interview with the Vampire
* Julian "Bean" Delphiki from Ender's Game
* Rue from The Hunger Games
And maybe because they're from some of my most recent (and favorite) reads . . .

I found an interesting blog post by

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Have No Mouth and I Must Write

What? Do ya think I lost my mind with the title? Patience, Grasshopper, and my madness will become clear.

I came across a post by Jim Denney on his Unearthly Fiction blog. The post struck me, not only because of the great advice to writers passed along from Harlan Ellison, one of Science Fiction’s grand masters, but also because he mentioned Harlan’s 1967 short story, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.  

The stark imagery and brutally powerful voice of Harlan’s tale drew me in as a teenager and NEVER let go. Few other short stories have had a similar impact. Arthur C Clarke’s The Star is one, as is Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon and Brian AldissSuper-Toys Last All Summer Long. These stories touched me in ways that have lasted many, many years. Shouldn’t that be the goal of every writer, to touch and influence his or her readers in powerful ways? Shouldn't we strive to covey ideas and images and emotions in fresh ways the reader may have never experienced before?

That is why I found Harlan Ellison’s advice to writers in Mr. Denney blog so encouraging. In a way, I needed a pep talk. The ache in the pit of my stomach never goes away, even after the many rejections that’s a part of every writer’s life. Will my stories impact readers in the same way that I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream did to me?  Eventually, I hope so. That is my dream. That is why I keep writing.

Here’s a link to Mr. Denney's Unearthly Fiction Blog

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Guest Blog - Happy Fourth of July!

Maybe it's because I am a proud father of a Soldier who served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I look at the Fourth of July and Memorial Day holidays in a special way. That's why I want to share a post by fellow Helping Hands Press author, Joseph Max Lewis. Joseph is part of the author team on "The Declaration of Independence" series. The complete series will be available on Amazon on July 4th. Joseph is also a former Green Beret and is currently a Lawyer. I hope you enjoy reading Joseph's keen insights into the one of this nation's most important founding fathers, John Hancock.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Paddle Toward the Sun: Toughts on Dr. Maya Angelou

It's been awhile, folks. Sorry. I've wanted to post this for several weeks now . . .
In May, the world lost the celebrated African-American author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou. As a way of confession, I’ll admit I was not too familiar with her life or her work. Sadly, such is the way of someone like me, someone so narrowly focused on their own genre, their own tiny niche, that they miss the shining stars in the writing universe.        

With Dr. Angelou’s passing, I saw the vast public outpouring across the media outlets and wanted to learn more about this Pulitzer Prize-nominated woman who had touched so many lives.   

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Guest Post: Soldier & Author Travis Perry

Travis Perry wears many hats. Over the last few month's I've had the privilege of working with him and five other authors on the Colony Zero short story project Colony Zero - Volume 1 - Contact . I found his breadth of scientific knowledge and languages quite impressive. I wanted to sit and have a cyber-chat with him.I hope you find the conversation as interesting as I did.

MARK: Many writers have day jobs along with their writing life. You, however, take that even further. I understand that you’re in the reserves. Before I go any further, I want to personally thank you for your service to the country.  

First off, give us some background. What branch of the service are you in? How many years?  What type of work do you do?

Have you been deployed?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reflection on the Sacrifice Lamb

Easter, the time of new beginnings . . . Easter eggs and bunnies and spring flowers, little girls in their pretty spring dresses and bonnets.  There is such exhilaration just feeling the warm sun on my face after what was arguably the worst winter in recent memory. As the old saying goes: Hope springs eternal.
For me, though, Easter is not so much about looking ahead, but rather a time of reflection. I believe the same may be true for our Jewish friends during this season of Passover, a time to commemorate and reflect on God’s deliverance.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saving a Life

Columbine High School, Nickel Mine Amish School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech . . . tragedies that can never be erased from our collective memory. With each senseless tragedy, I remember my heart breaking. I mourned for the young ones whose lives ended far too soon. I grieved for the families, and I marveled at the heroes who freely gave their lives to save others. But even as I watched and grieved, it was always from a distance. Not now. With the terrible stabbings at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA on April 9th, the unthinkable came to my backyard.     

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Duck Dodgers and The Darker Side of Me

OK, talk about procrastinating! Maybe this day job thingy and working on two writing projects has something to do with it. But I have an announcement to make that’s a week overdue. My short story collection, Darker Passages, is now available in eBook on Amazon. Woot!

Look at the fantastic cover created by my son, Jason Venturini. Yep, shameless plug. Read the title. Do you notice the creepy specter at the end of the passages?  Yeah, it's all kind of dark. 

Well, I have to come clean: my writing and my short stories all have darker tones to them. Slasher stories? No! Vampires? Forget it; they suck out your brains along with your blood. But, you won’t find me writing a new episode of Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century either, no matter how much I love Daffy and Marvin the Martian.  

Why do my tales lean toward the dark? Perhaps it’s because we all have a darker side. No matter how bright and cheerful on the outside, we all have our insecurities, our fears, the personal demons we spar with every day.  Maybe in some small way my writing allows me to layout my demons for the world to see, hoping to find some surcease. Don’t get me wrong. I love life. I laugh and I joke around a lot. I love my family and friends. I’ve had a lot of great adventures. Nevertheless, I do believe we live in a fallen world that can be very dark at times. To quote a famous saying: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow do! :-)  

I pray that the night is truly far spent, and the day is indeed close at hand.

I’ll leave you with a little Duck Dodgers. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group!

Hello, my name is Mark and I am an insecure writer. Pause as the cloud responds: “Hello, Mark.” I just discovered that the first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group Day IWSG and I’m fully ready to support and generally commiserate with my fellow insecure writes.

For the most part writes are a neurotic bunch. I see all those who know me nodding in agreement. Over the years, I’ve had 8 short stories published in five small market zines, six of which are now defunct (Hmm, a connection perhaps?).  Now I have a novel out on Amazon and B&N along with a short story series I’m collaborating on, not to mention a couple of other projects in the works. And you know what? I’m nervous. I'm insecure. Always. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Perspective From Holland: Fellow Author Marian Baay

Many years ago as a teen, I had a chance to visit Holland as a member of a touring concert band & choir. I still have fond memories of Amsterdam and staying with a family. Discovering that fellow Helping Hands Press author, Marian Baay, lives in Holland, I wanted to talk with her. I'm sure there will be more guest posts coming. I'm always fascinated by other cultures and points of view. In keeping with that, this post isn't about writing, sorry. I was interested in discussing Marian's experience living as an Evangelical Christian in what appears to be an increasingly “Post-Christian” Europe. I hope you find this as interesting as I did.

Mark: Thanks for joining me, Marian. Let's get right to the conversation. What is your experience as a Christian living in the Netherlands? 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

7 Authors, 7 Voices, Flowing into 1 Story

“Writing is one of the most solitary activities in world.” (Paulo Corlho, The Zahir)

In essence, Paulo’s statement is true. In the end, it is the author alone with his words, ideas, and characters. Trust me, my wife, Kathy, is the ultimate “writer’s widow” and I love her dearly for her patience and support. Recently, though, I received an invitation from my publisher, Helping Hands Press, to participate in a short story series with six other authors. HHP provided a starting premise and a couple of characters. Nothing more. The intriguing aspect of the project was the first installment, where all seven authors would collaborate and contribute to the short story.  

1 short story written by 7 authors? My first thought was: yeah, right! It ain’t gonna work (sorry, Gio). But with the publication of Colony Zero, Contact (ebook available on Amzon) Colony Zero - Volume 1 - Contact

I was totally blown away and pleased with how well the voices and plot flowed together.

Through a long series of emails we ironed out the back story. Travis Perry tackled the first segment, laying the groundwork for the remaining authors. I then picked up the story in the second segment, building on what Perry had started. And on it went. It was a truly gratifying experience to watch the story unfold and see the characters grow.  I want to give a shout-out to my fellow authors on the project. It was great working with Travis Perry, Mark Carver, Lisa Godfrees, Tracy Krauss, Grace Yee, and Shannon Laws
Travis Perry   Mark Carver   Lisa Godfrees  Tracy Krauss   

As a team, we took what started out as a solitary activity and made it a true collaborative project. If you read Colony Zero, drop me an email. I'd love to know what you thought of the story. There's more to come.