I haven’t updated this blog in over a month. Been busy with a few major projects. I’m a good 2/3 of the way through a first draft of a novel. I just submitted a short story collection to a publisher. I have other projects on my mind, too. So, when push comes to shove, I write rather than blog. It’ll probably be that way for awhile.
I honestly wonder, sometimes, if blogging is worth the effort. I wonder the same thing about social media. You know, Facebook, Twitter, and all that. I think of social media as essentially “the water cooler” where I get to hang out with other writers (and the occasional reader). There’s good stuff shared on Facebook, and it’s a good way to connect with authors who you might not connect with, otherwise. But it’s also a place where arguments can erupt seemingly out of nowhere. A place where opinions are expressed stridently. Where everyone seems to come equipped with a *different* version of internet etiquette (if any etiquette at all).
I’ve thought about killing my Facebook account entirely, but I think that would be throwing out the baby with the bath water. So, instead, I’ll reduce my participation in it. Maybe log on only every-other-day or once a week. Maybe cull my friends list, so that it only includes people I really want to continue connecting with. That kind of thing.
I want the benefits of being accessible and interacting with folks…but I don’t want the headaches of being accessible and interacting with folks. So I’m taking the next month or so to mull over what changes (if any) I want to make in how I engage with people online. My goal is to have a plan in place by January first. Stay tuned.
I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, but I am about half-way through writing a first draft of a novel. This is a big deal for me, because up to now I’ve almost-exclusively focused on shorter fiction (short stories and then, more recently, novellas).
I made one previous attempt at a novel, back in late 2010/early 2011, with disastrous results. (Alas, The Sober Assassin was a 120,000 word practice novel that I never even sent out to an agent or publisher because it was just too sprawling and incoherent. It was a Kurt Vonnegut / Phillip K. Dick -inspired mess that was an utter failure in all respects except that it served as an excellent learning experience).
This time, I feel much more confident. I have a much better idea of my relative strengths and limitations, as a writer, and I’ve adjusted accordingly. This is a dark, literary horror novel. (My elevator pitch? Edgar Allan Poe meets Hubert Selby, Jr. That might be a poor elevator pitch, though, because relatively few folks who know of Selby. So maybe I should say “Edgar Allan Poe meets Darren Aronofsky” instead. There. Better?)
Unlike many writers, I don’t outline my books ahead of time. I’m what you call a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer (panster, for short). I’m a pantser because I really need to spend time inhabiting the disturbed thought processes of my protagonists before I have a sense of what they would do.What are their motivations and goals? How do they see the world? I usually don’t find that out until I’ve written a few chapters.
But I have, quite often, outlined my stories when I’m part-way through. This is kind of a reverse outline. I look at the structure of what I’ve already written and make sure it all gels, that it’s coherent, and that my pantser instincts haven’t gotten the best of me by assembling a piece of fiction that doesn’t add up. So the outline serves a different function. It’s not there as the writing equivalent of a storyboard, tracing out the plot ahead of time. It’s there as a revision tool, to “look under the hood”, so to speak, analyze what’s been written, evaluate how well the plot’s working, so far, and maybe gain a sense of where to take it from there. I want to avoid loose ends. If I raise questions for the reader, I want to make certain that I’m answering them within a reasonable time frame — to give them some satisfaction, and to keep the pages turning. (Granted, there may be big questions which won’t be answered until the last act. But there should be smaller questions the reader asks which are answered relatively quickly). A steady diet of question/answer/question/answer often provides the reader with a satisfying pace.
Today I used a specific format for this outline, and I thought other pantsers might enjoying seeing it and trying it out for themselves. I’m adding it to this blog post as this .pdf —> Reverse Outline for Pantsers
Note that this is just one format. I stumbled across reverse outlining on my own, but it turns out I’m late to the party. Plenty of people have written about using this approach before (just by Googling “reverse outlining”, I was able to find many, many articles on this approach; some focused on student essay writing, some on fiction writing). Maybe take a look at some of them, get some different ideas of how they might work for you, try the techniques out, and see which (if any) are a good fit.
Feel free to try it out and/or let me know what you think about this idea in the comments section below!
A few years ago, I attended a funeral for a friend who died, at a very young age, from complications arising from alcohol and drug addiction. I’ve had the misfortune (or, perhaps better said, education) of attending many such funerals in my life. It’s always a mess, a disaster, a waste.
The week after the funeral, I started to work on a short story to address my grief. I wanted to capture the awful helplessness involved in watching someone self-destruct. My friend who had died wasn’t involved in publishing, but I’ve thought about the substance abuse often associated with creative fields, and wanted to address that, too. (How many times have I seen not just a little heavy drinking, but full blown alcoholism on display at conventions? I won’t say it’s rampant, but it’s there. Over the course of the ten years or so I’ve been attending publishing events, I’ve seen it too many times). And then there are the familiar stories of the role substance abuse played in the premature demise of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Phillip K. Dick, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, and countless others.
You’d think the resulting story would be a heavy drama (or even melodrama, along the lines of a Lifetime movie). But, what emerged instead was a dark satire that I ended up calling “Eulogy to be Given by Whoever’s Still Sober”. It’s my 5400 word take on alcoholism, publishing, the zombie fandom, and genre conventions. And now it’s finally seeing its debut in the just-released ebook anthology TWO: The Second Annual Stupefying Stories Horror Special.
If the Stupefying Stories anthology series isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to check it out. The series is published and edited by Bruce Bethke (the author who wrote the ’80s short SF story “Cyberpunk” , which played a huge role in that term being used to describe a whole subgenre). There are about 185 pages of fiction in TWO, and it retails at $3.99. Wanna check it out? The book is available via Amazon, and should be available within a few days on other ebook retailers.
Amazon purchasers may proceed to one of the linky-links below:
I’m a picky reader. So much of what’s published these days (either genre or mainstream) just doesn’t work for me. So when I find something out there I do enjoy, I try to make a point of sharing that enjoyment with others.
I just finished Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas, and recommend it without reservation I’ve seen the book classified as noir, but I don’t think that classification really captures all its gloriously strange essence. I know it’s a little silly to compare one author to another, to say “if you like Author X you’ll like Author Y”. Doing that unfairly tethers present-day work to the past. But it is a helpful exercise — particularly with difficult-to-classify books such as this one — because it can give readers a sense of just what they’re dealing with before they decide to deal with it. So, with that caveat, I’ll say this: Love is the Law seems — to me — to combine the political commentary, gritty tension, and post-modern magick of Alan Moore with the dark satire of Kurt Vonnegut. At times it’s ridiculous — at other times, heartbreaking. But it’s never dull and always smart.
Go out and get yourself a copy (available in paperback and as an ebook).
This Saturday, October 12, I’ll be participating in the literary component of the Arts in the Park Festival (at Pioneer Park, Mooresville, Indiana). This is the sort of event I’m thrilled to participate in — a local celebration of the arts in a general sense and, more specifically, an opportunity to offer free instruction to children and adolescents (or even newbie adults) who want to be writers.
Here’s the deal: I’ll be there along with several other Hoosier genre authors. We’re offering three separate one-hour slots, during which we’ll be available (again, at no cost) to provide feedback on stories. The suggested theme is “The Creature of Pioneer Park” (spooooky!), but that’s just a prompt. We certainly won’t be turning away someone who decides to write outside the box. Due to time constraints, though, you (or your child) should limit the story to 1,000 words (about three typed pages, double-spaced), Participants can either write their story at the event (we’ll have paper and pens available) or come with a pre-written tale. If you write the story at the event, the first half hour of your time will be spent writing, and the last half-hour will be spent receiving feedback from your instructor.
There’s a virtual registration sheet you can sign-up with here. Pre-registration is appreciated, but not essential. We’ll take walk-ups, too.
Directions to Pioneer Park are available at the linky-link.
My main interest in this event is the opportunity it presents to be helpful to Midwestern kids who may not have ever met someone involved in the arts. I can still remember the impact a visit from professional actors had on me when I was a child. While there are parents who encourage their kids to pursue artistic fields, I think that’s rare — particularly in blue-collar areas. More often, the push is to pursue a field that’s “practical” (and by “practical”, what’s really meant is “soul-devouring”).
That said, I want to emphasize that even if you have no aspirations of writing, at all, but you dig my work and live in the area, please feel free to drop by and visit. I’m sure I’ll have some down-time now and then, and I’ll gladly sign books for you. I love meeting people who read my stuff.
Thanks to author R.J. Sullivan for organizing this one. You can find a wee bit more information about what’s going on over at his website.
Yesterday, I mentioned director Stuart Gordon’s Kickstarter effort to fund a serious film about the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe. I’ve donated to that one, and I hope you will, too.
Today I wanted to mention another Kickstarter project you may want to donate to (I know, two days in a row…this is gonna start sounding like a PBS pledge drive…but hear me out). Author Brian Keene is raising funds for a film adaptation of his book The Cage. Brian is an old acquaintance of mine from my Maryland days, and while he and I don’t always agree, I wish him and his projects well and have donated to this Kickstarter. Please consider joining me. The Kickstarter includes some interesting perks, and the promo video he and his crew produced is a lot of fun!
If my math is correct, today is the 164th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe.
I’ve admired Poe since childhood. “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Masque of the Red Death” were both stories I first read in English classes somewhere along the way.
I grew up in rural Maryland, and in either elementary or middle school, we took a trip to “the big city” (Baltimore). As part of that trip, we toured a house that Poe had lived in from 1833-1835. Now, this all happened a hell of a long time ago, but my recollection is that we were greeted by a Poe impersonator, who gave us a brief history lesson on the man and his works. (I’ve since had an opportunity to discuss this with one of the present-day administrators of Baltimore’s Poe House, who confirmed that there was an actor who would — rarely — do his Poe act for select groups of school kids. So perhaps my memory is true. (Or, maybe, as Poe himself would say, “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.”)
In any event, I dug Poe, from an early age.
In recent years, I’ve had a chance to revisit his work and learned to enjoy him on a whole new level. In at least some of his stories, Poe strikes me as a hybrid of Thomas Ligotti and Hubert Selby, Jr. His work stands in refreshing opposition to the last forty years or so of mass market feel-good horror (I’m looking at you, Stephen King; he who brought us a friggin’ feel-good apocalypse with The Stand). Poe’s best tales are more than bleak, they speak to a primal, animal-like capacity for destruction and self-destruction that’s at the core of human experience. For my money, Poe’s take on human nature rings true. You won’t get any sugar-coating from Fast Eddie P. (Dig this quote from my fave Poe tale, “The Black Cat”):
“Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man”.
A voice worth remembering. Worth reading and re-reading and re-re-reading.
And a voice worth portraying on film.
This brings me to another matter I’ve been meaning to blog about, and now’s about as good a time as any. Director Stuart Gordon and actor Jeffrey Combs (you know, the team behind Re-Animator and several other cult horror films), are planning an independent film on the life of Poe. Having seen Combs perform the role in Gordon’s Masters of Horror episode, “The Black Cat”, I’m greatly enthused by this. They’re hoping to fund the project (to the tune of $375,000) via Kickstarter. I’ve donated to this production, and I hope you do, too. This is a worthwhile venture put together by an experienced team. Studios won’t fund this because they don’t think people want to see a serious film about Edgar Allan Poe. Let’s prove them wrong. It’s not often that I participate in crowd-funding efforts (let alone ask others to join me), but I urge you to consider donating what you can to this production.
Here I am as part of a virtual discussion on women in horror, over at SF Signal. Other participants include Ann VanderMeer, Jason V Brock, Lisa Morton, Mike Allen, and others.
Every now and then I come across some news about a forthcoming book that sets the hair on the back of my neck on end. This is one of those books. Based on what I have read of Nicole’s work so far, this book is shaping up to be THE READ of next year.
Aside from one trip to Canada, I’ve never been outside the U.S. I’d love to travel, but the time and money has never been there for such adventures. So I always enjoy it when I end up getting published abroad, or when a reader from overseas discovers my work. It’s a wonderful feeling. Sure, I’ve never been to Europe, but my ideas have been there. Characters and settings and plots that, at one point, only existed in my head now share space in the head of someone far, far away. That’s a damned magical feeling.
I mention this because a German reader, Daniel Schenkel, has posted a YouTube video review of Children of No One. It’s only three minutes long, and it’s in English. You should go and check it out.