Friday, June 28, 2013

Second shorty-story collection 'VAPORS' now published!

UPDATE: Critical praise for the collection is coming in!

VAPORS, volume 2 of my collected horror, sci-fi and mystery stories, is now available in Barnes and Noble Nook and Amazon Kindle editions. It includes 13 stories: Nothing There, The Senator, Sweetie, Honey Love, God of Self, Gnawing, Death Train, Simon, Drive, Chiganook, Monster, The Devil at Bay and, of course, Vapors. There is also a bonus: the screenplay SUMMER LOVE.

VAPORS follows the first volume in the collection, SINCE THE SKY BLEW OFF.

And it comes before the third volume, due in the fall of 2013: THE BEACH THAT SUMMER. Read the title story now.

And it is yet another part of my great association with my good friends at Crossroad Press, who in the last few months have also published the THUNDER RISE trilogy of horror novels.

That story is told in the Introduction to VAPORS, below:

F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been right when he famously observed that there are no second acts in American life. In writing, however, there sometimes is a second act –– and even a third. The book you are about to read is proof.
From the earliest age, fiction was my first love. I wrote stories and then outlines and drafts of novels, a satisfying Act One. Then the real world called. When I graduated college, journalism still offered jobs a-plenty for writers. Monetarily, at least, the genre was easier than fiction -- one has to eat, after all. So Act Two began, and it continues to this day, with three decades as a Providence Journal staff writer and eight books of non-fiction (and three documentary movies) to my name.
The first act seemed to have ended (or at least sputtered to an intermission) in the 1990s, after publication of a novel, Thunder Rise, and dozens of horror, mystery, crime and sci-fi short stories. I kept writing fiction, albeit at a slower pace, as that decade closed and the new millennium began. There’s only so much time in a day.

Enter the good folks at Crossroad Press, David Niall Wilson and David Dodd. They had an idea for a third act, though I myself initially did not see it that way.
They wanted to publish an e-book version of Thunder Rise, which had been released in hardcover and paperback editions. They did, in 2012, along with an audio book, released in 2013. They wanted to publish the other never-before-released books in the Thunder Rise trilogy –– Asylum and Summer Place –– which they did, this year. They wanted a short story collection, Since the Sky Blew Off, which they published in 2012. Now comes volume two of the short stories, with at least one more on tap.

So Vapors is another scene from my writer’s Act Three, which is an echo, or a continuation, or whatever, or Act One.
Vapors contains some new stories and some older ones previously published in the late Dave Silva’s now-legendary The Horror Show and other magazines. The roots of all lie in that intermissive period of my writing life when the still-legendary NECON, the New England Writers’ Conference, was the highlight of the summer for me and so many other writers of horror, fantasy and science-fiction, all the way back to the earliest days with Stephen King, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, Yvonne Navarro, Tom Monteleone, Elizabeth Massie, John Skipp, John Farris, the 2013 NECON Legend Chet Williamson, and the late Charles L. Grant, a fellow Rhode Islander, and Les Daniels. Like me, some of these writers have been brought to a larger audience by Crossroad Press.
Here’s to second and third acts -- and however many more may follow! I have the fiction bug again, big-time.
But my fondest wish, as always, is that you, the reader, enjoy the fruits of something I love so dearly: writing. Visit me at and drop me a line, will you? Safe journey...

Monday, June 10, 2013

The era of instititutionalization

 My interest in how society treats its mentally ill and challenged has endured for decades. Publication of Abandoned Asylums of New England: A Photographic Journey, by John Gray, gave me a chance to reflect again. A highly recommended book, published by the Museum of disABILITY History. Here is my review, which ran in the June 9, 2013, Sunday Providence Journal.

 One of the remarkable things about "Abandoned Asylums of New England: A Photographic Journey" by John Gray is that it makes such a powerful statement about how society treated some of its most vulnerable members without using a single image of a person.

Actually, there are representations of a few people in this extraordinary contribution to the literature of disability: in a cartoon, an old postcard, a few vintage photos, and magazine illustrations taped to walls. But that's it. By focusing on the abandoned buildings where untold thousands of the mentally ill and mentally challenged (and other vulnerable people) spent their lives, often neglected and abused, Gray has paid dramatic testament to forgotten humanity in a way face shots and candids could not. He has made us see something more haunting: the ghosts of people who deserved better.

A 1970 Providence Journal investigation, 'The Outlines of a Public Disgrace,' chronicled warehousing of patients at the now-closed Institute of Mental Health in Cranston.
Years in the making, Gray's book is literally an inside look at 12 institutions around the region that now crumble to dust, or have been razed into oblivion. Their names bespeak their era, which belongs to the 19th and 20th centuries: Danvers State Lunatic Hospital; Belchertown State School for the Feeble-Minded; the Massachusetts Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates; the Lakeville State Sanatorium, for victims of tuberculosis; and eight more.

We see broken windows, collapsing stairs, peeling paint, a piano with broken ivories, an open drawer in an old morgue, a dusty laboratory table with empty vials and jars, mattress-less beds, doors off their hinges, catacomb-like utility tunnels, a tattered Cabbage Patch doll in a funhouse-esque corridor, iron lungs, a wooden wheelchair, the skeletons of birds, and rooms: day rooms, bathrooms, auditoria, solaria, these places once alive with people. And we see many exteriors: the brick and stone walls, the Gothic spires, these massive and towering edifices that contained what were then called lunatics, feeble-mindeds and consumptives.

Remarkably, too, Gray has found beauty amid the ghosts that surely roam these grounds. A consummate artist of the lens, he has given us page after page of black-and-white and color photos that are rendered masterfully, with exquisite lighting and textures - the exteriors especially. His twilight shot of the old Danvers hospital skyline (which, coincidentally, I used to pass every day on my way to high school), is breathtaking, as are many others. That such beauty could have countenanced such ugliness is an inescapable irony.

Gray did not include photos of the two Rhode Island institutions that closed years ago as treatment shifted to community programs: Exeter's Ladd Center, and the handful of buildings that are the last vestiges of Cranston's Institute of Mental Health. But having covered those institutions years ago for The Providence Journal (indeed, I lived inside each of them for several days for front-line reporting), I can assure you that Gray's work speaks for Rhode Island's story, too. And I would note that it was the power of The Journal's many photos, along with articles, that helped build public support for more humane options.

Books like Gray's impress on us the importance of never forgetting. "Abandoned Asylums" is also a reminder that while community care is an improvement over institutions such as Ladd and the IMH, society still has a distance to go in overcoming tired old "retarded" and "lunatic" stereotypes. It still falls short of the mark in providing better care for some of our most fragile people, not a few of whom today wrongly inhabit another institutional system: prison.

G. Wayne Miller wrote and co-produced "ON THE LAKE: Life and Love in a Distant Place," a PBS-broadcast documentary film about tuberculosis sanitariums. Visit him at

Friday, June 7, 2013

Your government spying on you

It has been an extraordinary week as London's The Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post have published top-secret documents revealing that the FBI and National Security Agency -- with the complicity and approval of Congressional intelligence committees, not to mention major U.S. corporations -- for years have been massively spying on U.S. citizens, whether suspected of criminal behavior or not.

The spying apparently extends to private telephone calls, emails, credit-card transactions, and Internet services provided by Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Yahoo and AOL. And that's only what has come out so far.

Officials reacted with the lame observation that national security requires such erosion of privacy. Really? Secret orders from secret courts sound like... well, like George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984, as many have pointed out.  It is all outrageous -- so outrageous that even the editorial board of The New York Times, which has supported President Obama on many issues, published a remarkable rebuke stating: "The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it."

For a timeline of milestones in government surveillance since 9/11, read this excellent piece in Mother Jones.

Thank God for whistleblowers and a free press. The wisdom of the Founding Fathers in adopting the First Amendment is proved once again.

Like many other newspapers and media outlets, we at The Providence Journal will be examining this issue -- privacy v. security -- in greater detail in the weeks to come. It was already on our radar. For now, here's the local story we ran on P. 1 today alongside AP coverage of the story:

Balancing of security, rights urged
Publication Date: June 7, 2013  Page: MAIN_01  Section: News  Zone: MAIN  Edition: 

PROVIDENCE - Disclosure that the National Security Agency is secretly obtaining daily logs of phone calls made by Verizon customers brought a comparison on Thursday to George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984," in which "Big Brother" relentlessly spies on its citizens - whether they are suspected of criminal behavior or not.

"The revelation that the government has been secretly tracking the calls of potentially millions of Verizon phone customers is shocking, but only the latest example of the insidious growth of a surveillance state in this country," Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Thursday.

"In the name of security and safety, the government is approaching Orwellian dimensions in its spying on ordinary people."

In an interview, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Congress should convene hearings into the reported surveillance and the general use of the Patriot Act, under which the NSA apparently justified its data-gathering, with the goal of "improvements" in the balance between Americans' right to privacy and legitimate national security concerns.

"This is a topic that Congress should pursue," the Rhode Island Democrat said. "Hearings - absolutely."

The revelation was published by The Guardian, a London newspaper that obtained a copy of a top secret court order, issued two months ago by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a furtive U.S. government body. The order requires Verizon Business Network Services to give the NSA daily logs of information including the phone numbers, location data and duration involved of all calls - regardless of whether the callers are suspected of wrongdoing or not.

It is unknown if other U.S. telecommunications companies, such as AT&T, are under separate orders to supply logs to the NSA. The court order does not apply to the content of the calls, which means the surveillance technically is not wiretapping.

U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., was among the members of Congress on Thursday who expressed serious concerns about such indiscriminate surveillance.

"It is very disturbing to learn that the National Security Agency reportedly required Verizon to turn over information regarding the private communications of millions of innocent Americans," Cicilline told The Providence Journal.

"The federal government has a responsibility both to ensure our national security and to maintain every citizen's essential right to privacy. There has to be a better way - this level of sweeping surveillance has no place in a free society and we should review this matter thoroughly."

Speaking to The New York Times on Thursday, an unnamed senior official in the Obama administration defended the gathering of phone information under a contested section of the Patriot Act.

"Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States," the official told the paper. (In a remarkable rebuke, the paper's editorial board Thursday afternoon posted an editorial that said with the Verizon disclosure, "the administration has now lost all credibility.")

The "critical tool" sentiments were echoed by Daniel Castro, senior analyst with the nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

"Government should use data to fight terrorism. One of the major failures pre-9/11 was the inability to 'connect the dots,' " Castro told The Journal. "Using meta-data such as phone records is a useful way to identify networks of individuals … . From a privacy perspective, this is also better than listening in on phone calls. Data analytics alone won't stop terrorism, but it should be one tool available to law enforcement officials."

Castro, however, questioned why the surveillance had not been publicly disclosed by the government.

"Most Americans didn't know this was happening," he said. "There's nothing intrinsically wrong with collecting and using this type of data on a large scale, but there doesn't seem to be a good reason to do it in secret."

Said David Barrett, professor with Villanova University's department of political science:

"A program which is known to high officials of the executive branch and to the two congressional committees on intelligence is not what I would call Big Brother. I have assumed something like this has been going on since the passage of the Patriot Act. Notice that this particular order does not authorize monitoring of the content of such phone calls. That would take additional authorization."

In a statement to The Journal, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse urged balance between security and privacy.

"As a former member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can't comment extensively on these news reports, since they relate to classified information to which I may have been exposed," the Rhode Island Democrat said.

"That said, when looking at programs of this nature it is always important to ensure that our nation is protecting both civil liberties and national security. I have always worked to make sure the actions of our government are consistent with both goals, and I will continue to do so."

The ACLU's Brown was more emphatic.

"This latest disclosure highlights the need for strong action at both the state and federal level to address these increasing encroachments on basic privacy rights," he said.

"We can no longer pretend that our privacy is safe from indiscriminate government snooping. We hope that steps will be taken to restore some semblance of our right to privacy in the face of technological advances that are so easily able to eradicate it."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Vapors," v. 2 of the collected short stories, soon to be published

Updated, refreshed, edited and otherwise made ready for publication (and republication), a second set of my collected short stories is soon to appear in Vapors, The Essential G. Wayne Miller Fiction, Vol 2. And once again, designer David Dodd, of publisher Crossroad Press, has knocked it out of the park. Check out this cover. I'll post the link to Kindle when it goes up, but meanwhile, Since the Sky Blew Off, Vol 1 in the collected stories, may be of interest. A similar mix of horror, sci-fi, mystery and crime.

Another great David Dodd cover! This dude's got it, folks.