Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year's end

Before we slipped into the new year, I wanted to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I hope everyone's Christmas was spectacular. I know mine was despite suffering injuries in an auto accident on the 15th when I had a nasty run-in with some black ice on a bridge over the Etowah River. Everyone who sees pictures of the crash tells me I'm lucky to be here today. I couldn't agree more.

I'm spending the week leading into the new year with my beloved wife and my youngest son, so I couldn't be happier with that. In the meantime, I'm busy editing one of my three novels written this year. It's the story of a college student who has been blackmailed into performing executions for the mafia. So far during my re-read, I've found it to be entertaining. I only hope I can polish the rough edges and emerge from the editing process with the gem I envisioned. Also, I'm nearly finished with the edit process for a short story I wrote called MAN'S BEST FRIEND. The feedback from my first readers was much better than I anticipated. I have some more feedback I'm waiting to receive and then I will begin shopping the story around to various markets.

With the new year comes the prospect of publishing new stories, and hopefully, a novel. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and working diligently to produce the best, most entertaining material I can. I hope I will succeed. Thanks for reading. See you all in 2011!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Catching up

Okay, so my last post was really short because I was on Thanksgiving vacation. In it, I said I would elaborate more on my NaNoWriMo results. Well, here it is.

I didn't cross the 50k finish line, but I did participate at least. I managed to finish the first draft of that novel (and yes, it will be a novel, more on that in a bit) with 41,865 words. I was doing pretty well with making the daily word count of 1,667 words. In fact, I was usually well ahead of that number, averaging about 2k words a day until I got closer to the end of the story and then I slowed down because I knew I didn't need to kill myself when I wasn't even going to get 50k words. Also, I may participate in 2011, but if I do, I plan to outline the proposed story more thoroughly. This time, I half-assed my preparation and outlined only the first couple of chapters before NaNo began. I had the main story arc all planned, but after those couple of chapter's outline and I was off-road writing, so to speak.

While I finished the story in under 50k words, I still feel it will be novel length when I finish the extensive editing I plan to take it through. During the writing of the first draft, I simply did a brain dump, getting the meat of the story on the page and foregoing all the description and scene setting. I imagine when I go back and flesh that out more thoroughly, the story will really blossom. Also, I feel really anxious to work on it, to stand back and see the forest instead of the individual trees. I think the characters are strong and the story is gripping. I enjoyed writing it and look forward to returning. This isn't usually the case with some of my stories. I know, that sounds bad, like I write shit and bury it. That's not what I meant though. I mean, that usually, when I finish writing the first draft of a story, I'm more excited to start something else because I've been in that world for so long, it's beginning to become tiresome.

For a writer, you're exposed to the intricacies of an environment and at the mercy of the characters who populate the world for much longer than the reader, who reads it much quicker than the writer creates it. After a while of that long creation process, a writer tends to get tired and wants a change of scenery. Or, at least, I do. I can't speak for all writers, but that's the way I am. I am almost always eager to start something new when I'm half or three quarters through a long piece of work. Maybe I'm just impatient that way.

Anyway, I'm eager to return to my NaNo novel to clean it up and whip it into a finished, marketable product. In the meantime, I am keeping to my word before NaNo and I'm editing the previous two novels I wrote. Like I said in an earlier post, my life for the next few months (or possibly longer) will consist of nothing but editing.

I wrote three novels this year and a couple of short stories, one of which is currently making the rounds with selected magazines. I'm going to be a busy busy fellow. Hopefully, you'll check back in to hear my progress with everything. If you'll pardon me, I need to go edit.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Merry Thanksgiv-oween

So I finally lost my steam with NaNoWriMo while spending time with the family for Thanksgiving. I'm still writing, but my word count has dropped off. I'm within sight of the end of my novel, but not the 50k limit.

I'm being called to come back and resume a dominoes game we are playing while waiting for our food to finish cooking. So, this post will be short. I'll elaborate more later on my novel progress and write some tonight.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The skinny on my NaNo progress

Well, here it is half way through NaNoWriMo. I've written everyday, usually getting around 2,000 words during each session. I will admit that I haven't written today...yet! I spent my free time today mapping out the chapters I want to get down on paper so I know where the hell I'm going, because (you may or may not know this) writing is like traversing a forest with or without a map. Sometimes the map is very detailed, sometimes it is vague, and then there are times when there is no map, just a vague sense of direction in the traveler's (read writer's) head.

I started this whole marathon with a map for the first few chapters and quickly ran out of road. This has made me map my course and later in the day follow the trail until I find myself off-road-writing again. It's very tedious to maintain the pace of 2k words per day (let alone the 1,667 recommended) and produce a first draft that doesn't give the feeling of crap on the page.

Also, I only wrote 1,100 words on the 13th. I just didn't have it in me to produce more than that. I didn't really care at the time, either, because I knew I was ahead of schedule so I shipped my oars and drifted. By today, authors participating in NaNoWriMo should have written 25k words. My word count is 26,298 (and remember, I haven't written today...yet!)

I don't feel quite as cynical as I did that first week and may even participate again, but not too soon. Finding the time to get the words out of my head and onto the page isn't the challenge. I find that the challenge is sitting down to write and not having a clear path of where I want the story to go. Since writing my first novel (which I wrote without any notes or outlines, and which is still lingering in the editorial process), I've learned that I like outlining my chapters before writing. I'm not talking about very detailed outlines, but notes about what should occur in each chapter to progress the story. I keep a separate file of notes for back story or informational tidbits that help me maintain continuity throughout the length of the manuscript.

Now that we're at the halfway point, I've realized that my novel may not make it to the finish line. At 26k words, my story is ready to be finished. I know that might sound odd, but what I mean by that is that the story actually tells itself. I merely transcribe what I see to the page as the story unfolds, even with the mapping process I mentioned. The characters have a story to tell and I just put it to paper (or computer screen) as I see it. Well, this story has pretty much run its course and I know that to try to wring another 24k words out of it just isn't going to happen. If I'm lucky, I may reach the high 30 or low 40 thousands.

Anyway, that's where I am at the moment and what I see in my future. I'm already anxious to go back and read what I've written and judge how well I wrote it. Of course, I know it's a first draft so I'm not expecting a masterpiece, but I hope it's better than nonsensical junk. Like I said before (somewhere to someone, I'm sure), if I'm not going to give it my all, then I'm not going to do it.

If my story runs across its own finish line before the 30th with or without making it to 50k words, I will certainly blog about it. Regardless of whether I "win" NaNoWriMo, I plan to blog how I fared through the relentless slog through the NaNo experience. If that interests you, then stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Six days of the NaNoWriMo

Well, it's only six days into NaNoWriMo and already I'm pretty sure this will be the only time I participate. While I support the event and its participants, I don't feel that this marathon is for me.

I love to write. Hell, I've already written two novels this year as well as several short stories. I was planning on taking the rest of the year to edit said novels so I could start querying publishers or agents. Then, a writing friend mentioned that he was thinking of entering NaNoWriMo this year. In the past, we'd both sat on the sidelines. I thought to myself, yeah, this will be a fun competition to see if we can both do it.

Well, I registered to participate and tried making an outline and some character notes for a story that came to mind. This was five days before the start of the event. I'm happy to report that I am actually ahead of schedule. My stats say that I am scheduled to finish on the 28th if I can keep the same pace. Yay!

However, let me tell you how it really is. I think I'm doing as well as I am only because I know I've got the stamina to actually finish a novel. I've done it several times already. Those novels were not done at marathon speeds though. I had ideas for those stories, fleshed them out in my head, outlined several chapters, and wrote some character notes before beginning those stories. I then committed myself to a thousand words a day with the exception of the weekend, which I deemed my time away from writing. Occasionally, I might write on the weekend if I was feeling especially creative. I could finish a first draft in about two and a half or three months using that method.

With NaNoWriMo, I have to writer EVERY day. Not only that, as it's not a very big deal, but one must maintain at least 1,667 words a day in order to reach the fifty-thousand word goal by the end of November. That may not seem like a lot, but for anyone who writes and holds a full time job knows that it is quite a lot of writing. With the aforementioned technique that has been successful for me, I may not get a thousand words on certain days. I would try to make them up on subsequent days. God knows that there are those days when the words come hard.

This leads me to a problem with NaNoWriMo. I think the main focus of this competition is the word count, and not the story. I've heard advice that says if you are staring at a blank page, you should write nonsensical stuff until you break through the block. Okay, I can accept that. I assume they mean open a scratch pad and do that nonsensical writing there. But, I've heard people say no, just write it into the draft to get the word count. Are you kidding me?

Also, I've heard a literary agent say that following NaNoWriMo, their inboxes become inundated with queries for NaNo drafts. Are you kidding me? While I can see a writer outlining their entire novels ahead of time and writing everyday during November to get out the target word count, I think the finished novel should be longer than a flat fifty-thousand words. (Unless, of course, you're Steinbeck, Hemingway, or Faulkner). Also, when that first draft is finished, there is a lot of editing that must be done. I actually know of a writer who thinks his first drafts are publishable--and this guy has been writing for a while, albeit he's not very good.

So, here is my opinion of NaNoWriMo: I think it is good to help a writer get into the habit of writing daily. That is invaluable. Also, I think that it unlocks the mind at certain times during the writing process to release creative energy. These times usually come when the writer is below his target daily word count and near the beginning or end of a scene. He/she is forced to think of description, dialogue, etc to fill in the gaps. Also, I think that having a writing buddy to compete with is a nice friendly form of motivation and competition. It's a way to help urge each other on to write and cross that finish line.

Those were the positive aspects I can see in all this. The negative? Well, said writing buddies don't help motivate when they've thrown in the towel on day one and / or won't post their daily word counts. I have several writing buddies that have zero word counts. That's not much of a writing buddy, if you ask me. Also, with day jobs and other personal responsibilities, striving to make that word count becomes paramount while the other aspects of the novel tend to fall by the wayside (this hasn't personally happened to me yet, but I know others have experienced it). That stringent daily word count gives writers tunnel vision, focusing only on reaching a number. Their story may have come off the rails a long time ago, but the writer won't know it until they go back for a re-read.

Like I said, it's only day six and I'm already feeling the pinch. I'm not one to easily quit something when I put my mind to accomplishing a goal, so I know I won't throw in the towel. Also, I don't feel like doing something half-assed, so I am striving to turn out a reasonable first draft, something that I can edit into a fine story. But, I'm finding it very difficult to go to work and then sit down at night to get my words on paper, and then find time to chart a course in my outline for where I want to go the next day. It's hard fucking work, harder than going at your own pace.

Anyway, that's my opinion six days in. If you're involved in NaNoWriMo this year and want to become my buddy to check my progress or motivate one another, my username is mxlemore. Look me up. But, don't count on finding me next year. Also, stay tuned for more of my rants while I'm slogging through the NaNo trenches.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NaNoWriMo is afoot

As a writer you'd of thought I would have participated in NaNoWriMo. You'd be mistaken.

I've never participated in the National November Writing Month marathon because I felt like it was more or less for writers without the discipline to force themselves to sit in the chair and perform a brain dump of that story rattling around in their head.

It wasn't until my friend, and fellow writer, mentioned that he was thinking of participating that I seriously considered whether I would participate too. I mean, it's been several years since I set foot on the path of the writer and I've learned a hell of a lot along the way (and still have So much to learn). I've weathered several years of NaNoWriMo without succumbing to the peer pressure of feeling that I should participate. However, all of that's about to change.

I know my last post said that my foreseeable writing life would be mainly editing, but this is a temptation I guess I can't pass up. When my friend and I discussed it, my mind immediately shifted into overdrive trying to come up with a good story. I came up with something. Something that I'm still trying to flesh out in various text files to use as road maps when I begin writing.

I don't want to give away too much, but I'll say this...I've been toying with the idea of beginning a series centered around a private dick. What can I say, I dream of being the next Raymond Chandler! So, there's P.I. at its center. Second, drawing on my horror background, I knew I wanted something that tapped into the reader's fear. Well, I think it's safe to say that clowns fill the bill in that majority without crossing over into the supernatural.

That's all I want to say for now, in order not to give away too much. So, if you like crime fiction and want the added scare of the antagonist being a clown (read and you'll see how this all fits together).

[long undocumented break]

Okay, I realized (after a long interjection and unrelated subject matter from my wife) that that is all I have to say on this subject...except with sporadic updates during the month on my progress, so stay tuned!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Editing is my life...

at least, for the next couple of months probably.

Currently, I have two novels and one long (long for me anyway) short story to edit into shape so that I can start shopping them around to publishers.

As I said before, I was ready to reread my short story, FETCH, to see if it turned out remotely how I envisioned it and whether it was any good. I've managed a read-through-slash-edit and I think it turned out just fine, how I saw it anyway. Whether it's good is still up for debate since readers' tastes are so subjective. I've given one copy out to a colleague at work to gauge his response and hear his feedback. Normally, my wife is always my first reader, but with school in session, I decided not to add my story to the stack of papers she has to read from students. If she knew this, I like to think she would appreciate it.

As far as the novels are concerned, I might shelve the first as it's a southern gothic set in the early 50s and I don't think there's much of a market for southern gothic anymore. I loved writing the story and I think it's really good (of course, a read through will determine if that opinion is still valid), but I'd hate to spend months editing it, whipping it into shape, only to find that I can't sell it. The second book, on the other hand, is a crime drama (still trying to find a catchy title, other than DOUBLE DEALING) that I am extremely excited about. It's in the vein of Block's Keller-series books. Mine is about a college student blackmailed into contract killing for the mafia.

If the execution went well then I think my readers will enjoy it. While it's hard to have your readers root for a killer, I think in this case it might work as we get to see how the protagonist deals with his dilemma by satisfying the mafia while trying get himself out of the situation.

So, with two books and a long short story waiting for my editorial pen, I won't be doing much new creation for a while. Well, maybe. I think I'm addicted to the creative process and probably won't be able to stop myself from taking a break to pen another short story or two. Time will tell. Until then, let's keep our fingers crossed because the editorial process is where the writer gets to stand back and look at what he/she has created. It's a chance to see if all those days of filling the blank pages has amounted to anything worthwhile. It's also (for me and probably a lot of other writers) a fragile time when doubt runs rampant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What the???

I know, I know. Two posts in one day? What the hell am I thinking, huh?

Just wanted to say that the first draft of my short story (mentioned in the previous post) is complete. It's tentatively titled FETCH. It's the longest short story I've ever written. Hopefully it's entertaining. I think so, but I'll have to wait until I go back to read it over to see if that's the case. Stay tuned.

Wrapping things up...

I've completed the website redesign and have moved closer to finishing the first draft of a new short story (which I should finish after this blog post). I've gotten to a point where I can see light at the end of the tunnel with my second novel's first draft. There are some notes I made while writing it where I noticed that I broke the story's continuity and discovered a change in the beginning that would be more compelling to the story overall.

I've set the novel writing aside in order to write the short story, but I plan to resume the novel writing tomorrow or Friday. I'm excited about the story's potential, but I know I face and arduous editing process. For those of you who keep up with word counts and page numbers, I'm currently at 56 thousand words and 249 pages. Keep in mind I'm still working on it. While the word count is very low for what I usually write, it should go up when I go back and add the pieces from my notes. Also, I didn't go into much character or scene description during this first pass as I just wanted to get the story from my head to the page. I'll flesh out the descriptive stuff during the editing process, after I have a chance to see the forest for the trees. That's the part I love the best: re-reading my work to see what the story "feels" like from a distance.

Also, if that page number sounds high for such a low word count, know that I write all my stories using the standard manuscript format, even first drafts. So, I have double-spaced lines and I use Courier New font with one inch margins.

So, there you have it, where I'm currently at with my work. A second novel's first draft nearly finished, a first novel's initial draft waiting for editing, and a short story that will soon enter the edit process, too. In my future is much editing, a process I don't like, but necessary nonetheless.

I'll probably break up the monotony of so much editing with writing some more short stories--there's always a supply of short story ideas waiting in the wings that want to be written. The good thing is that their creative process is much shorter than a novel's, so that's appealing. I'm already putting together a list of markets where I want to submit the short story.

Stay tuned to find out how things work out. So far, I've got one story published in a commercial magazine. Let's see if I can carve more notches in my keyboard.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Shaking things up a bit

As I said in my last post, I wanted to redecorate the website and my blog. Well, I managed to take care of the website. As for my blog, I changed the name and the banner picture. That's probably all of the changes I'm going to make to the appearance. The other change(s) I plan to make is to the content of my blogs.

What I set out to do from the start was blog about my endeavor to become a professional novelist. It feels like I've deviated from that goal, instead blogging about things I've read literary agents saying. While that can be informative for aspiring writers, there's more to it than me regurgitating what they say. Also, I'd like to share more of my own, first-hand experiences.

Recently, I've discovered another aspiring writer. Albeit, one who apparently has a big head start on me and has more experiences. I went back to the beginning of his blog posts and began reading. I found his blogs entertaining, informative, and very motivational. Then it dawned on me: this is what I had envisioned for my own blog. So, from this post forward, I want to return to my original idea and follow through, sharing my experiences as a writer working to make it in the publishing industry.

I hope you'll visit often, share your own experiences through the comments, and become a friend. Thanks for visiting.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The new website is live!

Yay! I've completed the redesign of my website and I must say that I am extremely happy with it. It looks much cleaner and more professional. Please bookmark it and visit periodically as I will continue to update the news feed on the side and add more short fiction to my bibliography when they become available. Also, feel free to leave comments letting me know what you think of the new look and feel. I hope you enjoy your visit.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Please stand by while I redecorate the blog...

I realize I haven't posted anything in quite some time. That's because I am hard at work on my third novel. It's a crime novel, currently called Double Dealing, but that is more than likely going to change. I have a list of titles that have come to me during the writing process that I like more.

But, I digress. Now, to the point. While writing my first crime novel, I've been reading hard-boiled crime fiction to keep my mind on track as I write. Here's something I've learned in the process. I love hard-boiled crime fiction!

While I set out to write horror and dark fiction, which I still like, I've grown to enjoy the shoot-em-up crime novels better. Also, I find it easier to come up with more appealing ideas I want to write about in crime fiction than I do in horror or dark fiction. So, instead of branding myself as a horror author, and while I'm still extremely early in my writing career, I've decided to redecorate my blog (and the website, eventually) to reflect the genre I've come to embrace.

I mean, seriously, wouldn't it be odd to brand one's self as a crime writer and have their website feel like a crypt? That, to me at least, is counter intuitive. So bear with me, dear friends, while my website undergoes some cosmetic changes.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Changes in the publishing landscape and my fear

I've been following blogs and forum posts concerning how eBooks are changing the publishing industry. If you haven't been following this trend and you are a new author, you should probably start reading up on this more.

Recently, I read a topic in author Christopher Moore's forums about eBooks and how this could impact the writer. Now, for those of you who do not know Christopher Moore (shame on you!), he is a successful author of satirical novels and a very cool guy to boot. I highly recommend you read some of his work and possibly visit his website.

I wont go into all of the details of that thread, but instead leave it up to you to read what he was saying in it. However, I will say that I became very concerned with what I read. Now, Moore is a veteran author. Like I said, he is also very successful, and if he is concerned with how the digital world will impact the publishing world, and more specifically, writers, then that worries me.

As an aspiring novelist, it scares me to think that trying to break out in publishing is going to become even harder when the market is inundated with more and more content by people who self-publish. It's already hard enough to get your foot in the door. When more avenues are introduced that allow untalented writers to get their work out there, it will be even harder to find quality material. It means that there will be more garbage to dig through to find that proverbial diamond in the rough.

I think there are pros and cons to this whole situation, however, I think the cons are beginning to outweigh the pros. Some of the pros include: making it easier for new authors to publish and distribute their work; reaching a wider audience; and for authors who are actually good but always faced rejection to finally break out.

Now to address the important cons. While making it easier to publish and distribute content, authors (good and bad) will find the market more competitive to make themselves known among the plethora of material. Marketing a work now is already very competitive. Readers will have to weed out a lot of horrible writing before they find a writer who is actually good. eBooks will more than likely become cheaper as the market is flooded, thus making it nearly impossible for newer authors to make a living by their writing. Not to mention the digital piracy that has harmed the music industry. Just imagine what it will do to the publishing world. In the aforementioned topic, Moore says that he has musician friends that were living on royalties. Now that piracy has changed the music industry, those friends, that thought they were finished touring, now have to go back out and perform to maintain their lifestyles. He goes on to say that while that's fine for musicians, what would authors do in the face of piracy? It's not like an author can pack a stadium to read his work to an audience. Something that makes you think, right?

With all of the ramifications the digital medium is doing to other markets, especially publishing, I think the effects are out of the scope of this blog. I urge you to begin keeping yourself informed of how it will affect the market. If you're like me, you will probably find yourself worried about the future of the printed medium.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Jealousy and inadequacy, fuel for the fire?

I'm not sure if the title completely captures my feelings on the following subject, but these were the first two words that seemed to come to mind.

My wife subscribes to Entertainment Weekly. She left a recent copy lying on my side of our bed, opened to a review of a new novel.
"What's this doing here?" I asked.
"I wanted you to read that," she said.
I picked up the foled magazine and read a review of The Passage. Now, I saw several mentions of this novel on some headlines feeds I subscribe to. The headlines I glanced at mentioned that this was a hot new book, a breakout hit, etc., but I thought nothing of it at the time. I mean, c'mon, there's always some breakout hits, right?

Well, I read the review, which also summarized the plot. At first, I felt jealous, and then I felt, maybe not inadequate, but defeated, as if I was late to the party or something. The reason I had this latter reaction was because this plot sounded similar to a novel plot I came up with a couple of months ago. I usually run all my story ideas by my wife who, as a college English professor and well-read individual, I listen to very closely.

She thought there was enough similarity in our plots that she wanted me to see this book's reception since it was released. The reception was obviously very good. I mean, when a relatively unknown author has a breakout book that receives a lot of positive praise and a seven-figure deal, well, who wouldn't be jealous, right? The defeat I felt was that his book began with some political overtones that captured the present, which is the same as my idea. However, in The Passage there is a span of time (said to be a century in the review) that elapses in the story. Mine doesn't have this.

Another similarity is that there are zombies. Well, maybe that's a vague term. In mine there are people that can be classified loosley as zombies based on something integral to the plot. In The Passage these creatures aren't necessarily zombies but "viral" vampires? Whatever that is, it sounds like it may be close to zombies and I've actually heard someone say the resemblance is close.

To get back on topic, I couldn't help but feel like someone had beaten me to the punch of what my story was about. Now, like I've said, I haven't read this book. And I probably won't as I don't want to take anything from it when I end up writing my own story. But, I fully intend to go ahead and write my story once I finish writing my southern gothic tale. The story I have in mind feels like something unique and very interesting, so I'd be a fool not to write it.

I'm just saddened that while I'm in the middle of writing one story and sitting on another great idea, another writer has stumbled upon some aspects of my plot and beaten me to the punch (or publisher) with it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wallowing in Southern Gothic

Broadening my reading spectrum has turned me into a monster! I've come to the realization that I am really enjoying dystopian literature as well as southern gothic tales. Since venturing outside the boundaries of horror, I've found myself perusing the stories of Margaret Atwood, William Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, John Steinbeck, and the list goes on. Certainly these writers are not popular within the horror genre and if you had asked me what I thought of their work only a year and a half ago, I probably would have scoffed and said that I'm not much interested in their type of writing. Ah, how naive we are in the beginning.

Dystopian stories, I can understand liking, but never did I think I would embrace southern gothic. I actually hated Faulkner's As I Lay Dying upon completing it (which I believe I've mentioned in a previous blog). Now look at me, still can't pull my nose out of the southern gothic novels! Next on my reading list is Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road. While I am really enjoying the stories of these southern characters, people whom I'm actually a part of, I find that I'm also doing research.

I've recently begun writing a new novel. A southern gothic tale called Lathem's Legacy, which I also mentioned in a previous blog, so I won't rehash that here. My point is, I never thought I would find myself writing anything remotely close to the genre I'm writing now. Also, I should mention that so far (15,000 words into the story--roughly 65 pages) I haven't experienced any dread at approaching the blank page. This is something of a treat for a writer. With my first book, The Shadow People, there were many days when I sat down to write and found that the words were difficult to muster. It was a real chore to get my thousand words out of my head and onto the page. I'm grateful to say that I haven't experienced this yet with the new novel. Of course, I probably just jinxed myself and now will suffer an extreme case of writer's block.

Yes, fifteen thousand words is still very early in a novel, but I am using a new technique of outlining as I go that seems to be helping me navigate my storyline and giving my fuel for each future writing session. It feels great to be writing a novel again, one that I am eager to stick with above and beyond any other writing projects that happen to pop into my head. And before this becomes something of a nonsensical rant (I feel like I am beginning to babble), I just want to point out again how wonderful it is to read outside of one specific genre and come out with a book idea you never thought you would entertain in a million years. Who knows? This could be my big breakout novel and to think I never would have considered writing it in the not-too-distant past.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring is in the air, and so is writing fever!

It's been a while since I've blogged anything. Some of this has to do with my new job, which keeps me very busy. Some of it is because I'm lazy when it comes to blogging as I tend to focus much of my writing on my short stories and novels.

I mentioned last that one of my stories, Hush, Hush, My Love, would be in a forthcoming issue of Shroud Magazine. I am anxiously awaiting that issue, which is the 9th issue by the way. I expect it will probably come out sometime in the Summer. Please, be sure to pick up a copy. If you like it, send me some feedback via my website.

I've begun work on a new novel. Something much different than my normal work. As anyone who knows me or my writing know, I usually write only horror or dark fiction with an occasional science fiction story thrown in for fun. Well, since I've been reading outside of my genre, I've discovered a huge goldmine of fantastic stories and authors. Namely, the Southern Gothic writers. I recently read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, the first Faulkner story I've ever read. At first, I hated it. I got hung up on Vardaman's POV stream-of-consciousness. The story stuck with me though, like a popcorn kernel caught between your teeth. I worked at it, mulling the story over in my mind until I finally developed an admiration for it (I still don't like Vardaman's POV though). I read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and now I'm reading The Grapes of Wrath. The first Southern Gothic books that started my love of this sub genre were Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and John Grisham's A Painted House. I look back on each of these novels with a fondness and took something away from each one. The novel I'm currently working on is in this same vein. It's called Lathem's Legacy and I'm using many of the different techniques from the aforementioned authors to create this piece. From Steinbeck's use of dialect, to Faulkner's use of character POV to tell each story, to Lee's and Harper's way of introducing grotesque characters who are realistic, believable, and at the same time, slightly pitiful.

This is a story about Georgia farmers during the early 1950s dealing with one of their family members fighting overseas in the Korean conflict. I am trying to write in such a way that doesn't show southern people in a bad light. I wanted to tell the story of a family that was respectable, such as the family in To Kill a Mockingbird. Through a changing POV for each chapter, I want to give the reader a sense of the characters: the way they think and act, and how they view their family and peers. The overall story arc is centered around how the family deals with the absence of Lathem, the oldest boy of the Whitfield family. There are several subplots, including an illegitimate pregnancy, one person's struggle with living in the shadow of an abusive alcoholic father and town scoundrel, the bond of friendship between a boy and a mentally handicapped man, and the defense of a friend in the face of danger.

When I first set out to write, I never thought I would pen anything outside of horror. If you'd have told me that I would try writing a Southern Gothic novel, I would have scoffed at the idea. Since reading the previously mentioned books, I've grown a deep appreciation for these writers and their stories. I never liked the idea of setting any of my previous stories in the south. I don't know why since I am a southern native. I guess I just felt that the south wasn't an exotic locale for a story. But, since reading several stories about the south, I've learned a lot. Especially, that writing about a place you know makes the work of adding verisimilitude that much easier than making up a location from scratch. Also, combining traits of people you know to create new and varying characters opens up a whole new world of exciting characters to live in my stories.

In addition to the Southern Gothic novels, I've also been reading more dystopias. Aside from Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, I've read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and begun reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which is simply brilliant. This caused me to begin a short story (maybe it will turn into a novella, time will tell) called Jurisprudence. This is the story of a man who receives a summons from The State to appear in court. He has no idea why he is summoned as he can think of no circumstance when he has broken the law--this sounds much like the premise of Kafka's The Trial, which is in my reading queue, but is not a ripoff, I assure you. Throughout the story, I want to paint the picture of a dystopia where corporations rule the country and people are merely grist for the mill, keeping the cogs of the business machine turning. Through the actions and dialogue, I want the reader to get a sense of what this future world is like. Not until the main character's trial does the real drama unfold. This story, as well as the novel mentioned above, are both still works in progress, but they were born out of ideas that came to me as a result of exposing myself to new worlds through reading various books outside of my usual genre.

I guess this post is just a case in point of my original advice to throw caution to the wind and pick up some books you normally would never have read. You never know how a book will impact you and change your outlook on things. If it weren't for me adhering to this philosophy, I would probably still be churning out bland horror tales.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

I'm going to be published. It's been an arduous journey.

I mentioned in my news feed earlier in the month that I was going to be published in Shroud Magazine. My story, Hush, Hush My Love, will be in the 9th issue. That means it will probably be out this summer. If you haven't heard of Shroud, and you're a fan of horror and dark fiction, I urge you to get a subscription to this magazine. The editor, Tim Deal, is a really nice guy and puts together a top-quality magazine. It's definitely worth getting a subscription. Also, I want to share my story with you, so even if I can't persuade you to buy a subscription, at least buy the 9th issue. I'm sure you'll find that your money was well spent.

I just want to say that this news has put me over the moon. I've received a substantial number of rejections. I've entered stories into contests, sent them to all the magazines that I think would enjoy them and received only rejection. In retrospect, I think some of the stories I submitted deserved rejection. I was more naive early on, and now that I've learned a lot and my writing's matured more (although, it still has more maturing to do), I can look at those earlier stories with a more critical eye. I see why they didn't work at the time. For some of them, the story was weak or cliche. My dialogue was not up to par. Even though some (only a few, mind you) of those stories received a warm welcome from my first readers, the editors at the various magazines where I sent them thought otherwise. So, for Tim to send me an acceptance letter was a welcome relief.

I'm very happy with the story, too. It's called Hush, Hush My Love. Like most of my stories, this one came out of nowhere. But, unlike the rest of my stories, this one had some hypnotising quality to it. Thinking back to the writing process, it almost seems mystical, like I can't quite identify why this story, among all of the ones before it, should stand out in my mind so. If I could put my finger on the aspect that makes it stand out from the rest, I'd try to harness that ability so I could write nothing but publishable stories. But, unfortunately, that's not the way the writing process is. Even the big names write stinkers from time to time.

I guess it's just a sign that says my writing is getting better. It doesn't mean I won't write stories that are bad. I think it just means that I'll write fewer stinkers; the ratio of good to bad is finally beginning to shift. I hope you'll pick up a copy of Shroud Magazine's 9th issue and read my story. If you like it (or even if you don't), I'd appreciate you leaving me some feedback on my website.

Reading outside of your genre

Most writers have probably heard that to improve their craft they should read widely, even outside of their genre. While there are many who do this without hesitation, there are some who find it painful to venture beyond the comfort zones of their favorite genre. In the past, I was also guilty of this latter habit.

My favorite genre has always been horror. My bookshelf had no diversity among the authors that sat atop the shelves. One would only have to look at my titles to see that Stephen King was my favorite author. I had heard the advice to read widely and avoided doing so. Eventually, I received some books a friend was throwing out. While sifting through the boring non-fiction titles in the pile, I came across some John Grisham books. I knew he had a reputation for writing novels about lawyers. While this did not appeal to me in the least (I have a distaste for lawyers, which is a long story in itself), I took them anyway. Who would turn down free books, right? The two Grisham books I took with me were, King of Torts and A Painted House. One night, after having finished yet another Stephen King book and feeling like reading something very different, I scanned the books in my queue and saw A Painted House. I pulled it from the shelf and began reading it.

Never have a enjoyed a book so much! I was delighted to find that John Grisham had written a superb non-lawyer novel. It was like a revelation to me. After finishing that book, I read Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Yet another great book that I should've read in high school but didn't due to ignorant stubbornness. Since then, I've gone back and read many more classics that I never enjoyed when I was younger. I have also extended my tastes, purchasing books from so many different genres. From satirical to crime/drama to literary. Recently, I read Cormac McCarthy's No Country For Old Men after watching the movie and found the book, as thin as it is, to be a gem of a story.

To look at my bookshelves now, one would see a very diverse landscape of book titles. I find myself looking back on the various genres with an extreme sense of joy. I've knocked down the walls of my favorite genre, left the narrow confines of the comfortable and walked into the daylight, experienced the really great and the awful. My writing has begun to reflect changes from the new experiences I've had when reading authors like McCarthy, Bradbury, Huxley, Orwell, and Faulkner, to name a few. I've seen how more notable authors handle character development, desciption, dialogue, pacing, themes, symbolism, and mood. It helps me identify the flaws in my own work and that of other writers.

Since this epiphany, I no longer find myself in Barnes & Noble, scrounging among the familiar aisle searching for quality horror novels. Instead, I walk down the unfamiliar aisles, scanning book titles and covers for something intriguing. I read the back cover and, if it sounds at all interesting, I find myself buying books by authors I may have only vaguely heard about in the past, if at all. Most times, I'm satisfied with the new books I choose and the story they have to tell. Other, less often times, I find that what I've read was disappointing or outright horrible. But, even these bad books have their own lessons; mainly, how not to do something.

When meeting new writers, I like to discover who their influences were and how widely they read. More often than not, I learn that they only read a certain genre and are hesitant to venture outside of it. While I can certainly understand this hesitation and apprehension, I try to encourage them to break out of that habit. Sure, you can learn how other successful writers in a genre do things. You can even see what's been done to exhaustion and steer clear of those pitfalls, but to not expose yourself to the other stories out there is to rob yourself of an excellent writing education. Reading such diverse material will shed light on new techniques that can enrich your writing and strengthen the skills you, as a writer, bring into your stories.

So, if you're one of those new writers flailing in a shallow puddle trying to learn to swim, let me implore you to come over to the ocean of diverse literature. Wade in. The water's fine. Really, it is. And, I'm sure you'll learn plenty.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Giving this another go!

I've been away too long from my blog, and from my writing for that matter. I recently got another job, after being unemployed for over a year. Although, I must admit, it was a wonderful year of sleeping in and reading books late into the night. My only regret is that I didn't use my days wisely to accomplish more writing than I did.

Since starting my new job (I've only been there a week), I haven't sat down to write anything and it really makes me want to kick myself. I promised myself that I would sit down this weekend to write. Of course, I've done that in the past and wasted my opportunity because I ended up watching a movie or playing a game instead of writing. Not today, though! Today has been a wet and dreary day outside. Oh, and also cold. Can't forget to mention the winter storm that supposed to be bearing down on us.

Well, I got online and visited some author sites to build my motivation. Actually, my motivation was pretty much piqued already, but it never hurts to read motivational words from other (successful) authors. So, I went to Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard, and Cormac McCarthy's websites and browsed for a little bit. Then, before I could let the procrastination bug bite me, I closed my browser and opened my editor. I started close to one o'clock this afternoon.

I worked on the first draft of a short story I started yesterday called Help Wanted. I had only written four pages previously. I finished the first draft today and it came in at a whopping 20+ pages! When I finished it, I opened another short story I had started earlier called Swiftly, the End Cometh. I only had one written page to begin with, but now that I've finished, it's well over ten. I know, that doesn't seem like much, but I looked at the clock when I finished writing and saw that it was almost 6:00 PM.

THAT'S A LOT OF WRITING, PEOPLE! Well, for me at least. Especially, in one day. And now look at this. I'm blogging, which means that I'm writing even more. I've been bitten by the writing bug and damn it feels good!

Okay, that's enough for today. I just wanted to write for any readers out there to let you know that if you make yourself sit down to write (even when you don't want to) you can accomplish a lot of writing. The key is making yourself do it.

One last thing, which I just discovered: my foot's asleep! Argh!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Away too long...but I'm back!

In my last blog, I spoke about perseverance being the most important thing to aspiring writers. I'm here today (after a lengthy hiatus) to reiterate and drive home that point!

It is with a heavy heart that I must return to the land of the 9-to-5ers. Due to certain circumstances, my time spent at home working on my short stories and novels has come to an end. I must return to work in order to pay down some bills like most normal people. For me, that means returning to an office environment where I will program computers. I know, I know. There are those of you who might read this and think an office job? when you work outdoors or in too-cold or too-hot warehouse jobs that think I'm a big whiny baby. Well, believe me when I tell you, it's not as nice as you think! I've worked in warehouses and outside during the summer and winter, and I can sympathize with you. I'd return to one of those jobs again if the money was there, unfortunately friends, it ain't!

Sure, the money for programming computers is really nice and you don't have to lift heavy things all day. Hell, you don't get dirty doing it and you get to sit down while you work. All of that is why am I bitching about it? Because of two things: first, I am a writer (preferably novels and stories instead of computer code) and this is far from the writing I want to do; and second, office politics! Yes, office politics is the bane in the mix, which destroys the enjoyment of all the aforementioned benefits. I know, I've run into again and again.

When starting a new office job, it's usually really nice. The new people you meet are usually nice because you're new and they're feeling you out. Your workload is fairly light, until they determine how capable you are of doing the job. You're enlightened by the large paychecks you're receiving to start filling that dwindling checking account and hold the creditors at bay.

But, then the happy sunlight is obscured by dark clouds as those happy friendly people start turning sour. Your workload increases because they realize what a good worker you are. Others around you slack off and get you to do their work for them by complaining that their stuff doesn't work and it's your fault. Yes, that stuff actually happened to me at my last job. It was great at first, but after having been there for a couple of years and learning the ins and outs of the business, everyone around me began to pass the blame when something went wrong. Where did the blame end up, you ask? Why, with the programmers, of course. So, I am not happy at all by the notion that I must return to that cut-throat environment. I'd rather work in a warehouse or at a fastfood restaurant if the money was there, but it's not, as I've said.

So, back to my driving home the importance of perseverance. I felt myself getting quite depressed with the notion that I had to cut back my writing and begin mingling with the daytime workforce again. Not to mention, I received some rejections between Christmas and New Years for some stories that I thought were exceptional. A voice inside me said, You'll never make it as a writer now! This will suck out all of your motivation to write. That thought scared the hell out of me and when I whined to my wife about being a failure, about the publishing industry being a tight-knit incestuous group that went above and beyond to keep out members, she looked at me sincerely and said that I was getting too worked up, taking my rejections personally and that I could still write.

I realized she was right. I was being too over dramatic. I had cast aside my own advice to other writers. I reread my last blog and vowed that I would not give up my endeavor to continue writing and see my work through to publication. And, I want this to be a prime example to anyone who reads this and feels that they want to give up, that they just can't make it. DON'T QUIT NOW! KEEP GOING, PERSEVERING! Eventually, you'll make it. The climb to the top of writing success is steep and arduous. Persevere.