Across the Universe readings!

Want to hear some of the stories from the “Across the Universe” anthology? Of course you do! Hear the authors read their own stories!

Across the Universe now available!

My latest anthology (co-edited with Randee Dawn) is now available!


Sorcerers, superheroes, and zombies.

Out of work, out of luck, out of practice.

Gods, clods, or four simple lads.

Here are the Beatles as you’ve never known them before: singing for their supper, singing for their souls, and singing to save the world.

Look at this amazing Table of Contents:

Introduction by Nancy Holder
“Rubber Soul” by Spider Robinson
“A New Beginning” by Jody Lynn Nye
“The Perfect Bridge” by Charles Barouch
“The Hey! Team” by Gordon Linzner
“Paul is Dead” by Lawrence Watt-Evans
“Come Together” by Allen Steele
“The Truth Within” by Sally Wiener Grotta
“Foursomes” by Ken Schneyer
“The Fabtastic Four” by David Gerrold
“All You Need” by Cat Rambo
“Used to Be” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
“Game Seven” by Bev Vincent
“When I’m #64” by Patrick Barb
“Deal with the Devil” by Carol Gyzander
“Meet the Beatles” by Pat Cadigan
“The Walrus Returns” by Gail Z. Martin
“My Sweet Lord of Light” by Barbara Clough
“Liverpool Band Battle 1982” by Eric Avedissian
“Undead in the Material World” by Alan Goldsher
“The Heretic” by R. Jean Mathieu
“Cayenne” by Beth Patterson
“Through a Glass Onion” by Christian Smith
“A Hard Day’s Night at the Opera” by Gregory Frost
“Apocalypse Rock” by Matthew Amati
“Doing Lennon” by Gregory Benford

It’s available in hard cover or paperback!

We’ve already received some great reviews!:

“This collection is a Magical Mystery Tour through alternate universes where the familiar narrative of the Beatles is turned on its head. Or ear. Or ass. It’s fun, irreverent, sexy, and twisted–just like the Fab Four themselves.” — Vicki Peterson, The Bangles

“I must have read a thousand Beatles books. But not one of them mentioned that the Beatles were attacked by aliens at the Hollywood Bowl. Or talked about their encounter with the Mersey Monster. Or discussed how they became zombies. I had to learn all of this from the thoroughly entertaining anthology Across the Universe. Each of its 25 stories of speculative fiction re-imagine The Beatles in alternative universes, allowing us to laugh at and with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Highly recommended!” — Scott Freiman, creator of Deconstructing the Beatles

Across the Universe is way too much fun! It’s the Beatles in the Twilight Zone of infinite possibilities! Highly recommended!” — Jonathan MaberryNew York Times bestselling author of V-Wars and Rage

Across the Universe is a fantastic, freewheeling, and imaginative romp of a collection. The authors transported me not only across the universe, but to what might have been in many and various alternate universes, all populated by the Beatles and their peculiar possible transmutations. Totally engrossing.” — Paul Marshall, Strawberry Alarm Clock

 “The Fab Four are reimagined as wizards, robots, hockey players, zombies, the Marx Brothers, and more in this anthology from Ventrella (Big Stick) and Dawn (Home for the Holidays). An introduction by “Wicked” series coauthor Nancy Holder sets the stage. Standouts include the clever time-travel, short-short “The Perfect Bridge” by Charles Barouch; “Meet the Beatles” by Pat Cadigan, a delightful exercise in nostalgia; and two stories based on the “Paul is dead” hoax: “Paul Is Dead” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, in which an alternate universe Paul replaces the original, and “When I’m #64” by Patrick Barb, in which Paul constantly dies and comes back to life. The absolute standout is “Through a Glass Onion” by Christian H. Smith, a poignant, inspirational tale about a failed musician named John Lennon from another universe who is given a vision of the success he had in ours. VERDICT: This anthology will be mostly of interest to Beatles fans, but even non-fans will find stories here that will move and surprise them.” — Library Journal

“Ranging from trippy fantasy to hard science fiction and zombie apocalypse mash-up, the stories in this anthology send the members of the Beatles on wild adventures through alternate timelines and universes. In Allen M. Steele’s “Come Together,” artificial intelligences named for each of the Fab Four identify so strongly with their namesakes that they jeopardize their space probe’s mission when they begin to fall out with one another, mimicking the breakup of the band. An idealistic George Harrison tries to teach transcendental meditation to Richard Nixon with disastrous geopolitical results in Sally Wiener Grotta’s “The Truth Within.” Gregory Frost’s “A Hard Day’s Night at the Opera” plugs the band members into the plot of a Marx brothers movie to hilarious effect. It’s clear that each of the 25 contributors are true fans, filling their tales with references to Beatles history and, in the case of David M. Gerrold’s “The Fabtastic Four,” so many song lyrics that readers will be tempted to sing along. Beatles aficionados and fantasy fans will enjoy this affectionate, speculative homage.” — Publishers Weekly

Make sure there’s a story there

I am currently working on the next anthology I am co-editing with Randee Dawn:  “Across the Universe” (a collection of alternate history Beatles stories). And there’s one thing both of us keep noticing:

We’re getting a lot of stories that aren’t stories.

Coming up with a clever idea for this anthology is fun. What if John had never died? What if the Beatles were dogs?  What if the Beatles had sold their souls to the devil? We’ve seen quite a few really unusual and strange ideas.

Unfortunately, sometimes that’s all we’ve seen.

The clever idea is the start of the story — it’s the background setting for the story. A story needs characters, and a plot, and change, climax, and a resolution.

If everything is exactly the same at the end of the story as it is at the beginning and all we’ve had is a description of the background (no matter how well written), then there’s not really a story there, is there? Make us care about the characters and the problems they have to solve and readers will remember your story long after the charm from the clever idea has faded.

I see this all the time when people come to me with a story idea.  “Do you think this is a good idea?” they ask, and my response is always “It’s a good start, but stories are about characters. Make me care for your characters and you can have a very mundane plot and I’ll still be happy. The most clever idea in the world won’t matter if I don’t care about your characters.” (And, of course, even if you do have good characters and a great plot, you still have to write well to make me want to read it!)

So unless you’re writing a “character study” or an emotional piece whose sole purpose is to establish a setting or person (and good luck selling that to an agent or editor), you need to tell a story.

And (sigh) once again the disclaimer: There are no real rules in writing other than grammatical and spelling ones. There are exceptions to every piece of advice that anyone gives you. I can name “stories” that have been published and are successful that do not follow the advice I have given here — but they are not the norm.


“Across the Universe” submission guidelines

The anthology I am co-editing, Across the Universe, is now open for submissions!

Through a Kickstarter campaign, we were able to raise enough to go ahead with this project, and we have confirmations from authors Spider Robinson, David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry, Peter David, Alan Goldsher, Cat Rambo, Keith DeCandido, Jody Lynn Nye, Lawrence Watt-Evans and Gail Z. Martin with notes by Janis Ian and Nancy Holder.Beatles cover color

We should have room for a few extra stories as well. But only a few.

Book Theme

The theme of the anthology is “The Beatles – What if?”  What if Brian Epstein hadn’t managed the band? What if George Harrison hated sitar music? What if Ringo had been the true star of the band all along? What if the Beatles had been aliens? Or magic users? Or zombies? Or American?

Story Concepts: What to Avoid

The confirmed authors have already begun their stories, so please avoid the following ideas:

  • Beatles as zombies
  • Beatles as super heroes
  • Beatles as time travelers
  • Beatles as “the Scooby Doo gang”
  • Beatles as medieval fantasy adventurers
  • Beatles as Tetrad wizards representing the elements
  • Beatles as animatronic robots
  • Beatles as paranormal investigators

This is not to say that you cannot do a variation on these, but keep in mind that if we get more than one story with the same theme, your chance of having your story accepted is reduced. That said, do not contact us with your idea first. After all, two authors can take the same basic idea and produce completely different stories.

Story Length

The story should be around 4,000 words. This should be sufficient for what should most likely be a somewhat humorous tale. A ‘short story’ should be defined as not less than 1,000 words for the purpose of this book; we want you to write the story at the length it most makes sense, but we are not publishing drabbles or flash fiction, and prefer stories in the 2,000 – 4,000 range.  This is not a strict cut-off, though.

Payment is 5 cents a word. Take as many words as you need to make a great story, but if it is too long, it had better be so great that we can’t refuse it. A good but padded story may get rejected over a concise, fast-moving one, because we want to fit in as many stories as possible.

No reprints. And only one submission. If you have two stories, send your best.

I’m Unpublished. Can I submit?

Yes! We encourage that. But you will still face the same standards for submissions as the published authors. (Pro tip: Check your spelling and grammar.)


Submit your story in 12-point, Times New Roman/Times Roman font, double-spaced.

If you have questions about other formatting (like setting up the story’s first page, and page numbering), refer to Shunn’s manuscript formatting guide.

The file should be RTF, not Word or DocX or anything else. The first page should be your cover letter – keep it brief – which will include your contact information and a 50-75 word bio. List previous publications or relevant experience in the bio.


Send your complete story/cover letter to – do not send to Michael or Randee personally. Your bio and story should be in the same document. We will accept submissions until June 14. Please continue to check this space for any updates. We will do our best to contact everyone who submits, but if you have not heard from us by August 1, you can safely assume that your story was not accepted.

Advice on Copyright Issues

Cory Doctorow was unable to contribute to the anthology, but did offer us these suggestions concerning copyright issues when dealing with real people and real songs. Keep his comments in mind:

Characters are copyrightable, but a mere mention of names is not enough to violate a copyright in Eleanor Rigby (the character), or Eleanor Rigby (the song).

However, if I actually wrote a short SF story featuring Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie and if he were darning the socks and she were picking up rice at a church after a wedding and wearing a face (that she keeps in the jar at the door) then you could legitimately say I am taking so much of the song’s structure and plot, that I am effectively creating an infringing derivative work—just as Cats! expanded Eliot’s silly poems into a rock opera, (Which, given that the poems were written in the 30’s, are still under copyright.)  And that would need permission and or fee.

Of course, if this were a true parody in which it turns out that all the lonely people are actually smoking weed and having great sex at sock-darning parties, then that might be a fair use.  But if it is just that she keeps her face in a jar by the door because she is an actual alien, and the rice is to feed her growing insectoid child whose mind control will take over the earth… Well, I dunno.  Lots of courts would frown at that as just being an unauthorized sequel / unlicensed derivative work.

And others are not ok.  Saying that character names may never be used is silly.  If I said that  Cory Doctorow was “the Father Mackenzie of Sci Fi writers,” darning your antique 1950’s pajamas rather than hitting the hot spots, copyright law wouldn’t even be involved.  (Titles and short phrases are not copyrightable and that’s just an analogy).  But the fan fic extrapolation from an existing delineated plot, even if a plot developed in a song, might not be.

I don’t think there is a trademark angle. The courts have dealt relatively harshly with claims like that unless there is some way to claim sponsorship and affiliation.

Bottom line: Avoid retelling stories in the songs, avoid using the song lyrics (titles are okay), and avoid using copyrighted characters (such as the ones in the Beatles movies — no Blue Meanies, please).

EDIT ADDITION:  Be sure to check out this follow-up post which goes into a bit more detail about what we’re looking for

A new anthology of alternative Beatles stories!

What if the Beatles had never met? Would we enjoy Dave Clark Five-mania?

What if Brian Epstein hadn’t managed the band? What if George Harrison hated sitar music? What if Ringo had been the true star of the band all along?

What if the Beatles had been aliens? Or magic users? Or zombies? Or American?

Announcing my latest project (with co-editor Randee Dawn): a collection of alternative Beatles stories!

Beatles cover color

We’ve gathered some great writers to create Across the Universe: an anthology of speculative Beatles fiction, including Spider Robinson, David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry,  Alan Goldsher, Cat Rambo, Keith DeCandido, Jody Lynn Nye, Lawrence Watt-Evans and Gail Z. Martin with notes by Janis Ian and Nancy Holder!

This is a kickstarter campaign, so we need you to order your copy now so we can raise the money to have it printed. Click here for more details!

We’ve left space for other authors to submit their stories, and the guidelines and deadlines for stories will be announced once we have met our goal and know the book will be published.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Interview with author Thomas Erb

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: From the snowy confines of Upstate New York, from a place he calls “Hell’s 1/2 Acre,” author/artist Thomas A. Erb brings stories of the unlikely hero: from extreme brutal violence, to touching, gripping interpersonal relationships sure to catch the reader and never let them free. (He wrote that.) 2012-09-29 22.36.48

Thomas, how did you first become interested in writing?

THOMAS ERB: I’ve always been a storyteller. It started visual when I was two and used to draw elaborate battles with army men fighting the Nazis or another vile foe. It then turned to comic books. For most of my young life, all I wanted to do was work for Marvel comics. I would create my own characters and write whole story arcs to accompany all my great illustrations. (pure sarcasm intended.)

Then I got into role-playing games. Yup, that’s right … Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, Champions, Twilight 2000, Call of Cthulu, you name it, I’ve played it. And, just like for comics, I’d have to create highly detailed character backstories and potential subplots for my DM(s). Although, I never knew if they liked that I did that or not. Oh, as a word of advice … Never piss off a Game Master. Bad idea.

Now, I’ve fallen in love with writing my very own fiction — a love that keeps on growing with each tale I tell.

VENTRELLA: I must admit, my background is similar — I went from creating worlds and stories in D&D to creating them in LARPs to writing my own stories (the characters in my books are so much easier to control than my players).

How much of writing is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?

ERB: I believe we all have an innate creative talent. Each one of us has something to say and in that yes, we are all storytellers. However, much like my philosophy with the visual and musical arts, I think that innate ability has a limitation. By that I mean, while we all can create, there is a certain level where some folks top off their talent. Some folks are just “born” to be X. Poe/Hemingway/Toklien/King were surely born to the written word. Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Rembrandt were put on this earth to give us visual masterpieces. Krupa, Rich, Peart were born to make playing the drums into a sonic art form. Same goes for the rest of us.

Quick life anecdote: While I was born to draw, I never tried hard. It’s always come easy to me. I had friends that would bust their humps and draw for hours and hours and no matter what, they couldn’t draw the same level as I did. (Now, I am saying this with no ego at all. Just an observation.) The same holds true for drumming. I’ve been playing drums since I was 16 and really love jamming. Sure, I’ve been in many bands and jammed with some amazingly talented musicians but I’ve plateaued my drumming talent. I know I will never be a Neil Peart. I wasn’t “born” with that level of ability. Even if I took more lessons and practiced for ten hours a day. It’s just a reality.

So … very long answer I know, but yes, writing talent is human nature but the level of craftsmanship,language, once in a generation storytelling ability does have a cut off. Not everyone can be Stephen King, Tolkien or James Joyce.


ERB: My very first novella, TONES OF HOME, was released in June of last year and it’s the most brutal, violent story I’ve ever written. If you dig graphic scenes with tons of blood, machetes and shotguns, rednecks and oh yeah, the Beatles … then this story is right up your jukebox.TONES official Cover

I am currently working on my first novel. (well, the one that I actually want folks to read.) It’s a deep story of loss, troubled relationships, a Nor’easter and a black monster coming to a small lakeside town, seeking revenge. I’m really loving this project and hope to have it in the hands of an agent by Thanksgiving.

VENTRELLA: What should someone read first if they want to get to know your work?

ERB: That’s a really tough one. I feel like I am just now, seeing my true “voice” come to fruition. While I loved writing all the great bloodletting in TONES OF HOME, I don’t think I am a Richard Laymon kind of writer. But, it’s the best work I’ve done thus far. So, Yeah, I’d say check out TONES OF HOME or “Spencer Weaver gets Rebooted.” It’s in a new anthology called FRESH FEAR.

VENTRELLA: How do you make your protagonist a believable character?

ERB: All of my stories seem to be based around an extremely flawed character. Or, as I like to refer to them, the unlikely hero. Usually they have something about them, whether it be a physical or mental determent. I have a weakness for the “loser”. The outcast, the outsider. A fat or skinny kid with asthma. I just identify with that and my thinking is, “hey, if I can feel for this guy/gal, then the readers should as well.” It’s not about having the Chisel-chinned, barrel-chested hero, saving the day. No … that’s the easy way out. It’s more of a challenge to break away from that trope and find a way for this less-than-heroic protagonist to overcome all the huge hurdles that makes up a great compelling story.

All characters must have flaws. Both protagonists and antagonists. (even Darth Vader has a soft side.)

VENTRELLA: Certainly agree with that (as you can tell if you read about the reluctant “hero” of my fantasy books.)

ERB: There are so many basic story ideas out there in the ether and to me, it’s more of how you get there as opposed to reworking old ground. Either way, readers want to escape and I hope I offer a wide mix of rich characters and tales they can sink their hungry teeth into.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily or just jump right in, for instance?

ERB: When I first started writing, I just sat down, opened a cold beer and let the muse of chaos take the wheel. That’s how I wrote my first novel. (a zombie tale that might see the light of day … someday.) But, when I went back to write a second draft, I was overwhelmed. Too many characters. Too many plots and subplots.

So, now, I am working on a happy medium kind of approach. I need to have some kind outline. It’s always loose and organic. Nothing is written in concrete. That would feel too much like a term paper and not an adventure.

I write the basic novel idea is. Usually the characters come to me almost immediately. I then write a very loose outline and then, write the first draft. Get it all down, fast and dirty. Never looking back.

Side note: Dry erase boards and sticky notes are a writer’s best friend.

VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?

ERB: This is lame, but I’m going to steal from the master. Stephen King states in his must-read ON WRITING book that we should take that statement as much extensively and inclusively as possible.

While I may not know anything about being a Gunny Sargent in the Royal Space Marines guarding the Princess Allayha, I do know what it’s like to always try to live with the demon of my father being a cruel man whom I could never please. You can use that kind of thing in your fiction.

VENTRELLA: How did you get started? What was your first story or book published?

After on a whim, I spent a year writing a zombie novel, I decided that I really enjoyed this writing thing and I started meeting other writers online. Back then, it was Myspace and through a few message boards. I discovered Brian Keene, (who’s book GHOUL made me want to write seriously) and found out he was attending a con in Ohio. I went and met him and some other folks that changed my life forever.

I began writing short stories and then submitted my short story, “Cutting Class” to the DARK THINGS II anthology edited by Ty Schwamberger (whom I met at the con) and next thing I knew, Bazzinga! I was a published author. mock cover

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important to start by trying to sell short stories or should a beginning author jump right in with a novel?

ERB: I think each person tackles their writing in their own way. I jumped straight into the novel but I was only doing it for fun. It wasn’t until later that I wanted to do something with this whole writer gig.

With some hindsight, I’d suggest write some short stories first. With shorter works, you really learn how to write tight, lean prose. Plus, it’s far easier (and I use that term loosely) to get published.

VENTRELLA: Do you think short stories are harder to write than novels?

ERB: I think both have their own angels and demons. It also depends on what kind of storyteller you are. If you like deep character development and more than two intricate plots…a novel is best for you. If you really dig fast-paced, gripping tales with a small cast… short stories are for you.
I love writing both. I usually like to write a short story in between other long works. It’s a nice change of pace.

VENTRELLA: How do you promote your work?

ERB: Platform. Publishers are looking to see if you have an effective and active writer’s platform. And to me, that means an engaging, fresh online presence. A blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, Goodreads account. And many, many more. Too many, in my opinion. It can be a distraction, trying to keep up with updating all your social media sites. (A necessary evil, but still evil.)

I do giveaways, I’ve done podcast interviews, blog talk radio interviews. I go to conventions when the money is right and try to post something funny, new and interesting on the social sites as much as I can manage.

I’m always looking for new ways to get my work out there. It’s an ongoing process.

13. Do you attend conventions or writing conferences? Do you find these to be a useful activity?

I attend as many as time and finances allow. Conventions are one of the biggest reasons I’m here today. I’ve made many, life-long friendships as well as business connections. It’s a must to get you and your words out there. We writers live and create in a room, all alone. You need to get out and meet other like-minded folks who know what you’ve been going through.

Plus, I’ve gotten the blurbs for my books and stories because of the conventions and conferences. Writing and life in general is about relationships.

Get you and your stories out there.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

ERB: When I first started writing back in 2007, self-publishing was the devil’s work. It was much maligned- rightfully so and very much a joke. But now, in 2014, you are a fool if you don’d consider exploring the self-publishing market. Things are fluid and ever-changing in the publishing world and the once hated and mocked world of self-publishing is now becoming common place.
The secret is to put out work that kicks the crap out of any book that comes out of the big 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …

VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?fresh-fear3

ERB: Get the first draft down, fast and dirty. Don’t stop to worry if it’s good. That’s what second and third drafts are for.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?

ERB: Research the publisher before you sign a contract. Know the business side of things. Royalty rates/payments/editing, etc.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

ERB: Anything from Jonathan Maberry. They guy is a monster and tackles all the genres I love. YA zombies, military thrillers, comic books, you name it. He is my mentor and I use him as my career guidepost.

VENTRELLA: And I couldn’t help but notice he named a character after you in his latest novel…

ERB: Jon was so kind to have his signature cop-turned Department of Military Sciences bad ass Joe Ledger clean my clock in his last Ledger novel, EXTINCTION MACHINE. I think my jaw still pops when I talk.

VENTRELLA: What can we expect next from you?

ERB: I have a retro-zombie novella that is looking for a new home. And I am currently writing a wintry monster novel that I hope to have completed and in the hands of agent by the end of the year.

I am also working on a comic script, a screenplay and a self-publishing project of my short works I hope to have out early in 2015.

I love having a lot on my plate. Not just saying that as a fat guy. I have many stories and projects inside me and time is of the essence.

Interview with author Mark Arnold

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author Mark Arnold today. Mark is a comic book and animation historian, and has had many articles published in various publications. Arnold He has a BA in Broadcast Communication Arts from San Francisco State and has published “The Harveyville Fun Times!” since 1990. His books include IF YOU’RE CRACKED, YOU’RE HAPPY: THE STORY OF CRACKED MAGAZINE, THE BEST OF THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES, MARK ARNOLD PICKS ON THE BEATLES, and CREATED AND PRODUCED BY TOTAL TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS. His most recent is FROZEN IN ICE; THE STORY OF WALT DISNEY PRODUCTIONS 1966 – 1985. He has also produced and recorded DVD commentaries for Shout! Factory and has helped the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum with various art shows.

Mark, how did you first get involved in writing?

MARK ARNOLD: I always liked writing since I was very young. I learned how to read and write probably around age four. I was plopped down in front of “Sesame Street” the day it debuted at age 2½ and by the time I entered pre-school I know I could read and probably write.

VENTRELLA: What sparked your interest in comics?

ARNOLD: Comic books were always around the house. I always enjoyed the pictures and liked them more once I knew how to read them. I also always had an interest in animated cartoons and movies and everything kind of just blossomed from there.

VENTRELLA: There are lots of comic book historians dealing with superhero comics (which I, admittedly, never got into) but fewer dealing with the humorous comics (which I read a lot of). Why do you think that is?

ARNOLD: I don’t know. I guess others identify with superheroes or aspire to be them. I always liked superheroes to a point, but always wanted a little humor behind them like on the “Batman” TV show with Adam West. I always wanted to laugh. I started off with Harvey Comics and other funny animal books and then graduated to Archie Comics and then superheroes. I shouldn’t say graduated actually, because I never stopped reading the Harveys and the Archies, I just added to my reading. Over time, as superheroes got more realistic, I found them to be more boring and eventually I stopped reading them, but I still admire the DC comics from the Golden Age and the Marvel comics from the Silver Age. HarveyvilleI’m even disinterested in the live-action movies they make these days, but I eventually see them just to keep up, but my favorite comic book stuff was and is humor comics, especially those done by Harvey and Archie and Gold Key and humor magazines like Mad and Cracked, etc.

VENTRELLA: What was your first book?

ARNOLD: My first book was THE BEST OF THE HARVEYVILLE FUN TIMES! which featured reprints from my long-running Harvey Comics fanzine (1990-2011). It was self-published as was the fanzine and was my attempt to see if I could actually publish a book.

VENTRELLA: How did you arrange the publishing?

ARNOLD: I went to the APE in 2005 and bought a book from someone that said it was published by Lulu. I had heard about Lulu, but what I didn’t know is that the books they publish look and feel like real books and have bar codes and ISBN numbers and everything. I published my first book through Lulu in 2006. Prior to that, I always dreamed about publishing a book, but felt that I didn’t have the connections or the funds to do it. made it easy, because all you really need is around $150 and Lulu prints what you need on demand and it gets listed on all the major book sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble and you get an ISBN bar code. It doesn’t get into bookstores this way, but that’s no big deal as more and more people are buying books online anyway than in stores, but I did get it distributed through Diamond, who is the major distributor to comic book stores. It sold quite well, actually.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about BearManor Media.

ARNOLD: BearManor Media is also print on demand as is, but the difference is, you don’t have to format the book and do all the production work yourself. They do it for you. Your commission for each book sold is less than if you self-publish, but I feel that it is worth it, in order to not have to do all that stuff and stick with the creative end such as writing. BearManor’s focus is on pop culture books, so if you want to write a novel, they are not the publisher for you, but there are others that do focus on fiction and they can help those wanting to get published. Check Google to find out who.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written the Cracked magazine history. Did you get assistance with that from Cracked? Did anyone from the magazine object?

ARNOLD: I went to the current owners of, the website that is owned by Demand Media. They really didn’t care that I was doing a history of Cracked magazine. All they were interested in was whether I was reprinting anything from the website, which I wasn’t. CrackedIn fact, I told them I wasn’t interested in discussing the website at all except for the fact that it needed to be mentioned in the history to say what happened to Cracked after it ceased publishing as a print magazine. I got no assistance from the current owners and did not interview any of them. I got the most assistance from Mort Todd, who was editor of Cracked magazine from 1985-1990 and he helped design and layout the book cover using new artwork from the great John Severin.

VENTRELLA: What do you think of their current web page, which is not at like the magazine?

ARNOLD: I actually do like the website and the two books that they have published with material from it, but it really isn’t Cracked. The funny thing is that the current owners paid a big amount (I think it was in the millions) and basically ended up with a name, since all the films from the old magazines had to be destroyed after anthrax was sent to the National Enquirer offices in Boca Raton, Florida where the films of the old Cracked magazine issues just happened to be housed. This was the same anthrax that hit the world news shortly after 9/11 and at least one person died as a result. If someone was to do a “Best of Cracked” now, they would have to get permission from Demand Media to do so, and they would also have to scan all the old issues or the original artwork in order to do it. I am trying to work on this as we speak.

VENTRELLA: Your latest book, FROZEN IN ICE, is about the Disney films in one of their darkest and least successful eras. What made you decide to look at those years?

ARNOLD: Those were the years that I grew up and I didn’t have problems with the films as others have. I actually enjoyed Disney during the 1970s, especially the gimmick films which I dubbed the “dopey Disney comedies”, where they took some premise like invisibility or the goose that laid golden eggs and ran with it. I didn’t necessarily think that the Disney of the 1950s or 1960s was that much different. The animation was different with the Xeroxing, but Disney had this nice habit of reissuing all of their old product, so it seemed like these old cartoons like “Snow White” and “Pinocchio” were fresh and new to me. Also, many books about Disney tended to say something like: “And then Walt Disney died and after a few years, Michael Eisner took over and revitalized the company.” I wanted to cover the years that always seemed to be glossed over by most Disney history books.

VENTRELLA: For those of us of a certain age, this book brings back many memories, since these were always kid-friendly films my Mom could safely take me to. I was surprised at how many were familiar. Did you rewatch all of these films to write this?

ARNOLD: Yes I did. There are approximately 75 new theatrical Disney films that they released during the time period covered and even in this day of mass marketed DVDs, it’s amazing that there are a few of them that just are not on home video in any form. I was still able to secure copies, but it took some doing.

VENTRELLA: Which ones stick out as particularly better or worse than you thought they’d be?

ARNOLD: When I was a kid, I was never a fan of the nature films. I felt like I was in school. As an adult rewatching them, I was amazed at how well done some of them are like “Rascal” (1969) or “Run, Cougar, Run” (1972). Others were as bad as I expected like “Scandalous John” (1971) and others like “Smith!” (1969) were actually surprisingly good. I never saw the last two as a kid. One example that I particularly like was “The Littlest Horse Thieves” which was released in the US in 1976. It is a surprisingly good film and grossly overlooked, then as now.

VENTRELLA: Your analysis of the films is pretty straightforward, although you do give personal comments at times. Why did you decide not to be more subjective?

ARNOLD: I was following in the format of Leonard Maltin’s THE DISNEY FILMS, but I put my own spin on it. Frozen in IceI didn’t want to be too dry but I did follow Maltin’s format of film synopsis and commentary. Some have complained that there might be too much synopses in the book, but it is a reference book, not a straight narrative and I wanted people to use it in tandem with Maltin’s work which ends its detailed coverage of films in 1967.

VENTRELLA: Was the main problem with Disney at the time the “What Would Walt Do?” mentality? Did it keep them from progressing?

ARNOLD: Initially, the “What would Walt do?” mentality worked well for them. Walt had left such a wealth of unfinished ideas and had such a talented staff that everything ran kind of like a well-oiled machine running on auto pilot for the first few years after his death. The company was very profitable during these years (1967-1975), but by the end of that period came the end of Walt’s ideas. Then the big movie release of “Star Wars” in 1977 and that really did them in. Movies for kids had started to change and improve with higher production values, but Disney was slow to change with it. By the time they did, Walt Disney Productions was in serious trouble. Their official answer in 1979, “The Black Hole” was somewhat disappointing, even though the film has its moments and its fans.

VENTRELLA: You also discuss Disney’s other projects during this time, although not in the great detail in which you discuss the films. Why do you think that is important?

ARNOLD: The films were what made Walt Disney Productions. I do mention what happened at the Disney parks and TV shows, comic books and record albums. I don’t go into a lot of detail because there are other books that go into each of these areas in greater detail and those are mentioned in my bibliography if people want to research this period further.

VENTRELLA: I founded and edited a magazine called Animato! during that period. We were thrilled when “The Black Cauldron” came out, mostly because back then we’d be excited if any animated feature was released since they were so rare. Why do you think Disney ignores that film now? Was it that bad?

ARNOLD: I love Animato! and wished it still existed. I have every issue!

Actually, I didn’t mention “The Black Cauldron” when you asked about films that I felt are better now than when I first saw them. It’s still not a great film, but I liked it a lot better when I viewed it back in 1985. I think that because there was such a long gap between Disney animated films back then, there was higher anticipation for each film, especially when it was a Disney cartoon and that one took an especially long time to get finished and released.

Nowadays, it seems, there is a new CGI film released each week by any number of studios and unfortunately, they are all starting to look the same. It’s a group of animals or birds or cars or monsters or toys that have to overcome some obstacle and they are happy at the end. It used to be an individual on a quest. Now it’s all of these groups. It was James Bond. Now, it’s The Expendables. There are some good ones now, but unfortunately, a lot of bad ones and many of those are made by Disney.

I think Disney doesn’t think too highly of “The Black Cauldron” because it’s not based on a classic fairy tale and it’s slightly bit gorier than other Disney films being the first PG-rated animated Disney film. Also, at the time and now, it was hard to market that film. Total TelevisionThere wasn’t a lot of merchandise, the characters didn’t walk around Disneyland and it was released during a time of transition and Michael Eisner really wanted to sweep it under the carpet and work on animated films that he was planning like “The Great Mouse Detective” rather than looking backwards. It’s taken Robert Iger to embrace the Disney past better with a newer Love Bug and Witch Mountain films. “The Black Cauldron” is still kind of lost in the shuffle, but so have latter day Disney films like “Brother Bear” and “Dinosaur”.

VENTRELLA: You also wrote a book analyzing Beatles songs. What led you to do that, when there are so many Beatles books on the market now?

ARNOLD: My book covered every Beatles song, group and solo, released and unreleased. With the era of illegal downloading and YouTube, it is now easier than ever to listen to unreleased Beatles songs. I felt that a guide was needed and that was sort of a vanity project for me. For MARK ARNOLD PICKS ON THE BEATLES, I self-published once again with Lulu and got a lot of my friends in the cartoon and animation fields to submit Beatles drawings like Bill Morrison and Patrick Owsley. It was a fun project to do because I love listening to the Beatles music so much. I know The Beatles keep releasing “new” product like “The BBC Sessions, Volume 2”, the songs off which I’ve owned on a bootleg for years, but for me, it’s old news. Ultimately, I have to confess, it has been my worst seller and I’ve concluded that people would rather listen to Beatles music that read about it. I don’t know how most of these other books fare. I’m sure some do well, but probably many do not and are releasing a Beatles book in hopes of making a quick buck.

VENTRELLA: What do you offer in that Beatles book that is different from all the others?

ARNOLD: As I said, it’s my own opinions about the songs and I add my own sense of humor. Most people dis or completely ignore Ringo, for example. I’ve called him in the book “the Yoko of The Beatles.” I also give a ratings systems that ranks from four Beatles down to one and the few songs that do rate a zero star is represented by Pete Best. It’s all in fun and I had a blast doing it. I also have an “intermission” in the middle of the book where I discuss the comic books on Paul’s Hammond organ stand as featured in “Help!” With the help of the Grand Comics Database and Jerry Beck and Lee Hester, I was able to determine which comics were on the easeL. I offered the article to “Beatlefan” and they turned it down, so I used it for my book.

VENTRELLA: Do you plan on attending any Beatles conventions to promote that book? (There’s a big one just outside of NYC that I attend almost every year…)

ARNOLD: Strangely, Beatles conventions on the West Coast are not very common. There’s finally going to be one on in Los Angeles in late 2014 after none for many, many years. I might do that one, or I might just attend it. I’ve never attended an East Coast show and certainly never have exhibited on the East Coast. I have been to New York a few times, most recently for my own Harvey Art Show at the MoCCA in 2009, which did have my Harvey book for sale.

VENTRELLA: How do you promote your work?

ARNOLD: Initially, I promoted my work when I started “The Harveyville Fun Times!” in 1990 by attending the San Diego Comic Convention and getting mentioned in the Overstreet “Comic Book Price Guide.” I’ve never had a ton of money for promotion, but I did take out ads in “Comic Buyer’s Guide” and other publications that no longer exist that resulted in a good subscriber base.

When email and the Internet came along, I developed an email list and had a website very early on, like around 1995 or 1996 and promoted things that way.Beatles Later, I started a blog and still write on it to this day every so often.

Currently, for my books, I have used Facebook as my prime way of promotion and I pay a guy named Jon Guerzon to help me promote things all around the Internet as I don’t have as much time as I used to in order to promote and write and do the other stuff that I do. I have a Facebook page for each of my books and my email signature promotes my books and I promote myself when I write for magazines like “Back Issue” and still have my email list. I also print up postcards through Next Day Flyers and distribute them through the mail and at shows.

BearManor now does much better promotion than they used to and they also print up postcards and mail them out and take out print ads in various targeted magazines.

VENTRELLA: Although I advise fiction writers on my blog to never self-publish, there is no stigma attached to non-fiction self-publishing (and I have done that myself with my gaming books). What advice do you have to writers about self-publishing (if any)?

ARNOLD: If you want your book to be in a brick-and-mortar store, please be aware that if you do any print on demand publishers like BearManor or services like, that most bookstores will not carry your book. You will have to contact each bookstore or bookstore chain independently and they probably will ask you to pay a consignment fee for carrying your book, so it might not even be worth doing. In this day of Amazon, I find it almost unnecessary to be in a bookstore, but if you do have a book that you want to be distributed, Diamond will carry self-published books and distribute them to bookstores, but they have to sell a certain amount and Diamond has to approve the listing, which can be trickier with fiction than with non-fiction about a known quantity like Disney or The Beatles.

Now, if you get involved with a larger publisher like say Random House, you will get in the bookstores, but now you have to face the problem of your book not selling and then being returned and then going out of print and the remaining stock sold as remainder stock at a loss. So, there are hurdles either way you go.

VENTRELLA: Where do you see the future of publishing heading?

ARNOLD: I think books will coexist as both print items and digital items. The important thing is if you have a passion for writing and want to get your work out there, things are easier now than they ever have been to get published or to publish yourself. It still helps to know people and also to learn so you know what you’re doing, but gone are the days where you had to pay a publisher to print 1000 copies of your book only to have them sit in your garage gathering dust. There’s no need to have stock anymore. You can even publish solely in an ebook format or online. It’s up to you. The harder part is making a lot of money at it. If that’s the only reason you are writing or publishing a book, you might as well stop now, because you will be very disappointed. The odds of success there are still the same unless you come up with a story about a boy learning to become a witch or teen vampires that fall in love with each other or anything about zombies.

Interview with author Alan Goldsher

I recently interviewed author Alan Goldsher, whose zombie novel PAUL IS UNDEAD has just been released. Most of my interviews are done over email but Alan was willing to do it through a phone call, which I enjoyed quite a bit!

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I just finished reading PAUL IS UNDEAD, being the big Beatles fan that I am. I hear rumors that this has already has the film rights sold. Is that true?

ALAN GOLDSHER: What was bought was an option from Double Feature Films which is owned by Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg. They produced “Pulp Fiction” and “Erin Brockovitch” – they’ve done a whole bunch of great stuff. When we were shopping around the novel, they read it from top to bottom and fell in love with it.

Right now they’re putting together talent – screenwriter, director, some stars…

I produced a screenplay for it and I’m really happy with it but if they want to go in another direction if someone wants to, I’m sure they’ll find someone to knock it out of the ballpark. That’s it! Cross your fingers.

VENTRELLA: You actually sold the rights before the book was published?

GOLDSHER: That is correct.

VENTRELLA: Wow. You’ve got a good agent.

GOLDHER: Well, you’ve read it – I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a particularly visual book, wouldn’t you say?

VENTRELLA: I would think so! I assume they’re going to make it sort of as a mockumentary, sort of like how the book was?

GOLDSHER: You know, that’s like the screenplay that I wrote but there is a concern among some that they should shy away from mockumentaries. I feel that you’ve got “Best in Show” and “Spinal Tap” – and those are classics. Zombies with a documentary format I’d like to think that has the potential to reach that audience that will be loyal and stick with it.

But if they want to do a typical three act thing, I’m sure they’ll find someone great to do it.

VENTRELLA: Do you think there will be any sort of issue over the rights to the songs?

GOLDSHER: That’s certainly an issue. The hard part (and the expensive part) would be using their versions of the songs. If we were to do cover versions, it’s significantly more affordable. For “Across the Universe” they paid $23 million dollars to get the rights, and that’s the budget of an entire movie in some cases.

I have one idea that’s pretty cool, but I’m not sure if anyone is going to bite on it… since we’re dealing with an alternate universe, take the existing songs, throw away the melodies, leave the lyrics and get completely different Beatleseque melodies, and get a very Beatles-sounding band…

VENTRELLA: Sort of a Rutles thing?

GOLDSHER: Yeah, except with the original lyrics. The only thing that will be similar will be the sonic aspect of it. You know, make a song from ’62 sound like it was recorded in ’62. I think that would be cool in that (a) it will be different and interesting and (b) it makes the soundtrack a hot item.

VENTRELLA: That’s true. I certainly bought the Rutles albums…

GOLDSHER: So we’ll see. There’s a lot in the air but as is the case with most books translated to screen situations, the writer doesn’t have too much say. Still, they’re open to hearing my ideas but they’re the pros. They’ll make the final decision.

VENTRELLA: So do you think Paul, as a vegetarian, will object to being portrayed as somebody who eats brains?

GOLDSHER: That’s a good question! Do you want to hear the Paul story?

VENTRELLA: Absolutely!

GOLDSHER: I heard this from a London Times reporter maybe three months before the book came out. He told me that he was at the BAFTA awards speaking with Jason Reichtman and who wanders over but Paul McCartney! Paul and Jason have a long mutual admiration society discussion and there’s this reporter – this is the first time he has ever met a Beatle – God knows why he said this, but he said “Have you ever heard of PAUL IS UNDEAD?”

I mean, if I’m meeting a Beatle, I’m not mentioning my book!

But he asked if Paul had ever heard of PAUL IS UNDEAD and Paul said “We put that rubbish to bed in the 60s.”

And the reporter said, “No, not ‘Paul is dead’ but PAUL IS UNDEAD. It’s a book about you guys as zombies.”

And Paul said “Oh. Heh heh heh” and then he walked away.

VENTRELLA: So now he knows of it.

GOLDSHER: He knows it exists. Ringo knows it exists too because a New York Times reporter mentioned it to him in an interview last month, before his 70th birthday. Ringo was very diplomatic as you would expect from Ringo who is just clearly a nice man. “Well, I don’t read any of the books about the Beatles, I’m just glad the records keep going.” I don’t think he’s going to say a bad thing about anyone.

VENTRELLA: Well, he definitely came across in the book as the nicest guy of the four, you’ve got to admit.

GOLDSHER: I’m sure you’ve watched the Anthology set…

VENTRELLA: Oh, of course.

GOLDSHER: He’s just such a nice man. I’ve watched the Anthology about six or seven times all the way through. At the end of it, Ringo gets kind of teary-eyed and says, “The Beatles were about four guys who really loved each other.” That kind of stuck in my head as I was writing the book. Ringo’s just a sweetheart and he was also the last in the band and he always seemed a little put upon because he wasn’t part of the original gang.

That’s part of why I made him a ninja. It’s kind of a huge metaphor for that. Also, often times in horror books – DRACULA, for instance – there is a living, breathing guide to the underworldy beings. So Ringo’s kind of that guide. He makes sure that nothing bad happens to them on this earth.

VENTRELLA: Did you have any problems with the characters being unlikable in that, you know, they murder people and eat their brains?

GOLDSHER: I think since you’re coming in with a preconception since the Beatles are intrinsically likable, since the humor is so silly and the gore is over the top that it’s kind of hard to dislike them.

VENTRELLA: I agree that you can’t take the book seriously in that regard in that it’s kind of a satire… well, it’s not really a satire… I don’t know! How do you describe it?

GOLDSHER: We had all kinds of discussions before we started the book deal about the legalities of it. There’s some law – if it’s satire or parody, you’d know this better than I would – if it’s very obviously satire then you’re cool as long as you don’t libel anybody.


GOLDSHER: We were very very careful. We didn’t say anything out-and-out bad like “This guy’s an asshole” or “This guy’s a dick.” Instead it was “Here’s what he knows in this alternate universe.” There’s no way you can believe it, it’s very obviously a parody.

I also tried very hard to tell it with as much love as possible. I really do love the Beatles! I love the band and I hope that comes across.


GOLDSHER: And I’d like to think that if they do read it – If Paul or Ringo or Yoko or anybody associated with the group or who was mentioned in the book reads it that they will realize we’re just having fun, and that’s just a gory, disgusting love letter.

VENTRELLA: Did you ever say to yourself “Oh, this reference is too obscure.” I certainly caught things that an average reader would not… such as John’s first girlfriend, that kind of stuff…

GOLDSHER: I wanted to include as many obscure facts as I could for people like you, who would read it. To me, it made it feel very insider for all the Beatles nerds to take Thelma Pickles’ name and laugh at it since it’s so ridiculous. The whole thing about Jimmy Nichols – those are the kinds that keep Beatles fans from looking at me and thinking “Wow, he’s just trying to wreck the Beatles name and he doesn’t really care about the group.”

I care about the group! I did research for things like when I named their instruments. I was very careful. “This was the instrument Paul was using in ’64 so here’s what he would throw against the wall.” Little nerd stuff like that. Many fans know that stuff right off the top of their heads. I have some incredible nerdy friends. Yeah, I wanted there to be this stuff so people like me wouldn’t get offended.

VENTRELLA: It’s nice when you can make that kind of insider joke and someone else will get it. I was in a band in Boston and playing in a club and a bunch of German sailors were in the audience who were cheering and yelling. My friend Matt then shouted out “Mach Shau!” and maybe three people got it… but it was nice to know someone did.

GOLDSHER: Yeah, if one person gets it, it’s cool. But we are nerds together.

VENTRELLA: Are you working on a sequel now for the solo years?

GOLDSHER: Well, not for the solo years. It’s called POPPERMOST OVER AMERICA will take place immediately after PAUL IS DEAD ends.

VENTRELLA: So you’ll be a zombie in the sequel?

GOLDSHER: No, I actually don’t get turned into a zombie! Put down “Spoiler Alert!” They kidnap me and take me along on their Poppermost Over America tour, where they will continue their quest to take over the world. And depending on what the legal department of whatever publisher I end up going with will say, I’ll put current musicians in there and contemporary figures who will try to stop the Beatles from taking over.

VENTRELLA: Have you read any other similar books? Have you read PAPERBACK WRITER by Mark Shipper?

GOLDSHER: I did not. A number of people have pointed out to me that the book exists, but I didn’t know about it.

VENTRELLA: It’s nothing like yours other than the fact that it’s a fake Beatles history.

GOLDSHER: Is it fun? Is it a good book?

VENTRELLA: Oh, it’s hilarious! It rewrites the history and is full of insider jokes, but it’s been out of print for years.

GOLDSHER: When was it written?

VENTRELLA: Probably in the early 80s, I’m guessing (EDIT: Turns out it was in 1977.)

GOLDSHER: I should probably seek it out so I am knowledgeable in case anyone else ever asks me about it.

VENTRELLA: It’s only because yours are the only two I know of that are fake Beatles histories. Other than that, there’s no relationship. He just changed history and made it funnier.

GOLDSHER: There’s a mythology about the Beatles, so it’s kind of easy to take these events and twist them because they’re already fun to start with!

VENTRELLA: Well, PAPERBACK WRITER came before the Rutles so it’s kind of the Rutles except they didn’t change the names.

Let’s talk about some of your other books. Was JAM your first novel?

GOLDSHER: JAM was the first, and that was almost an experiment to see if I could write a novel. It turned out pretty OK and people seemed to like it. I wrote it in ’96 and finished in ’97. Any writer who has written a number of books knows that it’s embarrassing to reflect on your first novel.

VENTRELLA: Well, I’ll agree with you there; I’d like to go back and rewrite mine. JAM is another music novel though, right?

GOLDSHER: It’s semi-autobiographical. I kind of put my own life in every book. At the beginning of PAUL IS UNDEAD, I discuss how I fell in love with McCartney’s music. That’s the absolute truth. I didn’t know who the Beatles were until I heard “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”

VENTRELLA: I’m a little bit older than you, I guess. I got into them after “Let It Be” which was probably one of their weakest. At the time, I was still 12 years old or something, I was into the Monkees. Then I heard “Let It Be” and went “Hey, these guys are better than the Monkees!”

GOLDSHER: The first Beatles music I remember having was a 45 of “Hey Jude.” I had the close-and-play record player, and I brought it outside on a hot and sunny day and it melted! I don’t know how much it would be worth now, but it sure would be nice to have it…

Then I got the red and blue greatest hits album, and kind of worked my way backwards.

VENTRELLA: I remember my friend finally got the White Album and back then we didn’t know anything about it. He came to me with a list of songs on the album, and I thought he had made them up. “Oh, really? You expect me to believe there’s a song called ‘The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill’?”

GOLDSHER: (laughs) “There’s a song called ‘Piggies.”?

VENTRELLA: “‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey’?” Yeah, sure.”

GOLDSHER: How many animal songs on that record?

VENTRELLA: That’s true! I should count them. Back to your books though… you wrote some chick lit books?

GOLDSHER: I was working with a literary agent who said “You have an interesting ability to write in different voices and for an exercise, why don’t you write a chicklit book?” This was around 2004 and the chicklit market was happening at that point and he thought it could be something I could be part of. So I took JAM and took that basic outline and rewrote it with a female protagonist. And then on the second draft through, I threw all that out the window and it became its own entity.

I found a place for it with a publisher in the UK called Little Black Dress. For God knows what reason, they signed me to a three book deal. All three came out and they’ve done pretty well. Up until PAUL IS UNDEAD they were my bestselling books.

I’m working on a new one now called NO ORDINARY GIRL which is a paranormal chicklit book. It’s about a girl who has superpowers. It’s kind of a metaphor for – you know that these books are geared toward a very tight demographic? 21 to 29 women… the metaphor is that women have a certain part of them that they’re not happy with: “Oh, my ass is too big, I’ve got this mole on my face…” and this woman says, “Oh, I’ve got these superpowers.” So it’s about how she comes to terms with something she’s had since birth.

VENTRELLA: You started off writing nonfiction though, correct?

GOLDSHER: The first actual book I wrote was fiction. Then I wrote the book about jazz drummer Art Blakey. I was also doing magazine work at the time.

In a perfect world, I’d write whatever I want! Like right now, I’m jonesing to write a book about Miles Davis. My agent and I are trying to pitch the concept around, because (a) I love Miles Davis and (b) the Miles Davis books that are out there now – some of which are very, very good – are for jazz nerds like me. I’d like to write something that’s a little more populist. I think that would be a cool thing for the jazz canon. My first love was jazz.

VENTRELLA: You were a ghostwriter for quite a few people as well.

GOLDSHER: It’s exciting when it comes along.

VENTRELLA: How do you get those kinds of jobs? How do they seek you out?

GOLDSHER: It starts out with literary agents. The first project I did with a celebrity was Bernie Mac in 2000. He was working on his first book and this agent that I knew reached out and said “Would you be interested in ghostwriting the book and the proposal?”

“Absolutely,” I said. Bernie Mac is a funny, funny man and this was right before he was on the cusp of stardom. He’s from Chicago, and I’m from Chicago, and we hung out and had a great old time. We sold the book and then he ended up going with a ghostwriter who had a little more experience, which is one of the catch-22s about the entertainment industry: You can’t get the gig unless you have more experience and you can’t get more experience unless you get the gig.

That was a great notch in my belt, so in 2007, when I was working with another literary agent and another ghostwriting thing came up, I was ready and was attractive to potential clients.

The ghostwriting project I am proudest out was a book I did with a woman named Sarah Reinestsen. Sarah was the first female above-the-knee amputee to complete the Iron Man triathalon in Hawaii, and she is an absolute inspiration. She has a great joy and was very honest about relaying painful facts. The most painful one was that her father abused her. Her leg was amputated when she was seven, and her father physically and verbally abused her to the point where one consistent punishment for a while was threatening to take away her prosthetic leg if she wouldn’t wash the dishes or something. But she impressed me and it really shows in the book.

I did Robert Englund’s book which was a nice project. Robert was a sweet sweet man and if you were going to say there was a weakness about the project it was that he was too nice! He wouldn’t dish anything. I mean, you get Mackenzie Phillips coming out and saying “Oh, I slept with my dad” and the book is an immediate sensation and sells a lot of copies. With Robert, he talks about how much he loves this person and that person. That doesn’t really translate into sales. I don’t think he has a problem with that, though. He’s proud of the book as it is.

VENTRELLA: I assume as a ghostwriter you get paid a set amount as opposed to a percentage of the book sales.

GOLDSHER: Depends on your negotiations. David Ritz, one of the best pop culture ghostwriters out there, I guarantee gets a percentage of the books because he’s one of those guys whose name brings cache to the table.

VENTRELLA: Are you planning on going to any Beatles conventions to promote PAUL IS UNDEAD?

GOLDSHER: Maybe next year if the book is still doing well, and that’s not out of realm of possibility. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is still doing well after a year. I will be at the Chicago Comic Con on the weekend of August 20, and then I’ll be at the Comic Con in New York on a panel on October 10.

VENTRELLA: I was going to be on a panel there as well until I realized it conflicted with another convention I had already committed to that exact same weekend.

GOLDSHER: I’m looking forward to it. I think that’s the best place to reach the people who would obviously like the book.

VENTRELLA: Most writers I know who have books on the bestseller lists still have jobs, too. It’s always amazing to me how (with a few exceptions) this is not as profitable an occupation as many people think.

GOLDSHER: I’m doing OK! We make the rent, and my wife and I are trying to start a family. I think there are two things that really help me are (1) I take rejection really well! How do we make this work? How can we get this off the ground? And (2) I have a legitimate interest in writing about all kinds of stuff in all kinds of different platforms and formats.

For instance, my agent hooked me up with a gentleman who had written a 175,000 word novel. That’s a long novel! There was a book buried in there and I had to dig it out. That was a bunch of work, just as if I had worked for a month anywhere else.

So I have all kinds of projects like that, like the superheroine book and a couple other mash-ups in the coffer – I’m doing one called FRANKENSTEIN HAS LEFT THE BUILDING, which is a retelling of the Frankenstein story with Elvis as the creature.

VENTRELLA: That’s the key, I think. The writers who do make a living at it are writing constantly, and they write all kinds of different things. Jonathan Maberry comes to mind; I notice that he gave you a quote for your book cover … He did the same for me, actually!

GOLDSHER: Jonathan’s a nice guy and I would love his career. He’s done wonders for himself. He’s a hustler and that’s also part of the business. And he’s like me in that he takes rejection really well. It seems like he comes up with an idea a day. He’s writing comic books and all sorts of stuff. Total admiration for Jonathan.

(Here we got into a prolonged discussion about bass guitars since both of us play bass. The conversation continued on after the tape ran out!)

Interview with author May Pang

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Usually I tend to interview writers of fantasy and science fiction, since that’s what I write, but we’re going to take a bit of a turn this week. I’ve been given the opportunity to interview May Pang, and no true Beatles fan would turn that opportunity down!

May Pang grew up loving music. Her very first job was at the Beatles’ management company, ABKCO Industries, where one of her responsibilities was assisting John Lennon and Yoko Ono. As exciting as this was, little did she know what fate had in store. One day in June 1973, Yoko approached her and explained that she and John needed a break from each other. Yoko had also decided that May would be his “ideal companion.”

So began an 18-month relationship that had become known misleadingly as “Lennon’s Lost Weekend.” In 1983, in order to clean up many misconceptions about that time and to set the record straight, she wrote her memoir, LOVING JOHN. In 2008, she shared her private photographs from her collection in a book titled INSTAMATIC KARMA.

Today, May is a full-time single mom, but her heart is still in rock n’ roll. She is currently a photographer, artist and Feng Shui jewelry and furniture designer. She lives in New York.

Ms. Pang, what was the reason for LOVING JOHN, your first book?

MAY PANG: The reason I agreed to write the book was simply to set the record straight. I understood the need for John to diplomatically refer to our time together as a “lost weekend” and to imply it wasn’t a good time for him. While John was still here, he’d tell me, “I’m going to have to say this, you understand…” and I did and it was fine. After his death, however, the myths of the depth of his misery not only continued, but grew. And people who were not even around us jumped onto the bandwagon and would say things that were so out there, it didn’t even make sense. That was hurtful.

VENTRELLA: Did you approach a publisher or editor with the idea? In other words, what was the process that resulted in the book being printed?

PANG: Actually, my co-author, Henry Edwards, approached me. He was a well known music journalist who had a history with John and Yoko and had had a couple of books out himself. He also knew me and he thought I had a fascinating story to tell.

VENTRELLA: How did your collaboration with Henry Edwards work?

PANG: We worked well together, but I think even he had a hard time believing some of the things that happened. Also, mine was the second book to come out after John was killed, so these stories were new to most people and, in retrospect, perhaps a little too soon after the tragedy. But, compared to the slew of books that have come out since, mine was tame and kind to everyone involved.

VENTRELLA: This book was later edited down to concentrate less on the music and released as THE LOST WEEKEND. Whose decision was that?

PANG: You’re referring to a the title of a reissue, which was the same book with an updated end chapter. The original book Henry and I submitted in 1983 was over 600 pages and talked about the creative aspects during our time together. The publisher, who had just had great success with the Jim Morrison bio NOBODY GETS OUT OF HERE ALIVE wanted to recreate that, which this wasn’t. So it was released with a lot of the important stuff edited out and the more salacious, for lack of a better word, in. Of course, without the balance, a lot of that was out of context.

VENTRELLA: The book is now out of print. Do you still have the rights? Could you release it by self-publishing it?

PANG: I have the co-rights, with Henry, but I have no interest in re-releasing it. It would have to appear in the same edited form, which is unacceptable now.

VENTRELLA: Your most recent book is INSTAMATIC KARMA, a collection of photographs from the so-called “Lost Weekend.” It’s received excellent reviews. How did you decide to write that?

PANG: Again, it was a friend who suggested I do this one. He was tired of hearing about the “miserable time” and had seen the photos from way back when they were taken. He said, “Rather than try to explain it wasn’t so bad, why don’t you just show them?” and so that was how that came about. It does have some text, but just to put the photographs into context. In fact, the only criticism of INSTAMATIC KARMA was that people wanted more stories.

VENTRELLA: You have been promoting these books at Beatles conventions and shows, I understand. There is a Beatles cruise coming up shortly where you are one of the honored guests. How did this come about? Are you looking forward to it?

PANG: I actually didn’t do the Beatle conventions for INSTAMATIC KARMA, but I did do signings at bookstores and galleries and the cruise was something that sounded like fun when approached by the promoter and I would be spending time with old friends and fans.

VENTRELLA: Do you enjoy these events?

PANG: I do enjoy them, because the people who come loved John and want to know more about what happened during his most prolific period as a solo artist.

VENTRELLA: John seemed to have perhaps his most creative period musically during the time he spent with you. In that 18 month period, he wrote and released the albums “Mind Games”, “Walls and Bridges” and “Rock and Roll.” He played on Elton John’s #1 hit “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and helped write and play on David Bowie’s “Fame.” He produced songs for Ringo and an album for Nilsson. (I remember this time greatly! It seemed like every few weeks there was something new from him. It was a great time to be a fan!) What do you think brought about this period of creativity?

PANG: Yes, it was all that certainly, but more importantly, there was a positive change in him as a person. He and (his first son) Julian resumed a relationship. John had also mended fences with the other Beatles and was particularly outgoing during this time. Some of the radio interviews he did, displaying that old wit and upbeat humor, are now legendary.

VENTRELLA: Do you appear anywhere else on the albums other than the “John” line in “Number Nine Dream”?

PANG: I’m also singing the backup “Ah, bowakawas…” on that song. And I’m on the end chorus of Ringo’s “Goodnight Vienna,” John’s “Do You Wanna Dance” (Rock’n’Roll) — and also in the chorus of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” from way back in 1971, when John and Yoko first came to New York.

VENTRELLA: You’re also the only other woman John wrote a song about in his solo career (“Sweet Bird of Paradox”). What does that song say to you? What do you think John was trying to say?

PANG: What can I say? I was floored when he played it for me. It was written early on in our relationship. The song was called “Surprise, Surprise” because our relationship and his feelings for me caught him off guard.

VENTRELLA: In some ways, just hanging out with all these great rock stars must have been a dream come true for you. Of the people you’ve met, who impressed you the most? Did anyone contradict their public persona?

PANG: I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. And almost everyone of them contradicts their ‘public’ persona to a degree, in that they’re all human; shy, vulnerable, somewhat reserved in real life. People always expect their heroes to be “on.” I know fans were always expecting the John from “A Hard Day’s Night” when they’d meet him and be surprised, for the most part pleasantly, when he’d be just warm, unassuming, what they’d call ‘down-to-earth’.

VENTRELLA: I note that you worked for Island records for a while in the mid 70s. Did you get to meet Sparks? (They’re one of my favorite bands, especially from that era.) Any interesting stories about them?

PANG: I didn’t meet them back then, but I did after I married Tony Visconti, who produced them. They were fun to hang out with … I remember Ron Mael driving around L.A. in his Volkswagen’s Thing. Talented brothers.

VENTRELLA: How did the David Bowie video (“Fashion“) come about?

PANG: David and I were old friends, he just asked me to do it.

VENTRELLA: The public image Yoko created is that John was “lost and misguided” during those 18 months, and then she forgave him and he came back and baked bread for 5 years (before releasing “Double Fantasy” – the album that had about as much rebellion and rock and roll as a Carpenters album). Is any of that image true?

PANG: Well, we can’t lay all the blame on Yoko; John helped with that myth.

VENTRELLA: A lot of misconceptions exist about that period of John’s life. Which ones bother you the most?

PANG: Three bother me equally. That John was so miserable and that it was 18 months of drunken chaos. Yes, a couple of high-profile nutty things happened. But, as you pointed out, there was some great music and great artistic productivity. And, as history shows, it was the last time he spent any quality time with his first son and his musical brothers. And finally the word “mistress” and its connotation. John and Yoko were officially separated and we were living openly at our own apartment across town where Paul & Linda, Bowie, Jagger, etc. came by to visit us and most importantly where Julian stayed. It was all above board.

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