So, I've been working hard on my next novel. Like...really hard. But I've been out of the game for a minute. You know...life shit. So, to an extent, I'm starting over. To force myself to get back on that horse, I decided to take part in the NYC Midnight short story challenge. The first stage had 8 days to complete a story based on a genre, a subject, and a character. I got Horror (lucky fucking me, right?), Preparedness (harder than you think to come up with something original), and a character (a magnate). The first round was due last night, at 11:59. My short story--HELL AND DEATH WILL COME FOR YOU--is a supernatural story about a man with a fascination for the supernatural who makes a deal with a demon in order to save his own life. Assuming this makes it through the first round, the second round will allow less time, but with a smaller word count. I'll let you know if I make it, and what I'll have to do next. Until then...
Soooooo....yeah. Been a minute. Or two. If minutes are years. Well, whatever. Shit happened, so bite me. And what have I been up to, you ask? Well...a lot. It's a long story, and I can't get into it now. However, I have come across some cool stuff that I can share. One of those things is Pseudopod, a horror podcast. It was going a long time before I discovered it, so sorry if you're rolling your eyes at hearing about something you've been aware of forever. And speaking of which, another one I've discovered, The Magnus Archives. I would classify it as a cosmic horror podcast. So dope!
Personally, I'm working on my next novel. I'm about three quarters into rewrites and edits, and feeling pretty excited about it. Also working on a novella. I'm a masochist, so I'm telling the story in a super-complicated format. But if I can pull it off, it'll be worth it.
jAnnnnnnywho, that's it. I just wanted to say hi, and that I'm still uprright and drawing air. I plan to do more here, say more. I do have stories to tell. Can't stop it, even if I wanted to. So, if you're a former reader, welcome back. Sorry I left ya hanging. If you're new, then welcome. You're just in time. As the movie says: "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good!"
So...wow! Been a minute, huh? 5 months and some change. Sorry I've been out of pocket. But although I've been absent, I have kept busy. Still writing, still drawing. Added painting. And now, I done gone and got myself a drawing tablet. I've got ideas. I've got plans. And I'm gonna do some stuff with 'em.
I'll tell you all about that stuff soon. But what I want to talk about now is something that's new for me. I have been pretty scrupulous since December (one of my New Year's Resolutions) about using my Sunday mornings to search for places to send queries, something I highly recommend. My personal favorite site is Dark Markets. It's a great resource for horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, and I never fail to find at least one place looking for something I've got.
But what I've noticed that last few times is something they're looking for that I haven't written yet. But immediately want to.
It's sort of a twist on the idea of using writing prompts to get the creative juices flowing, right? A magazine or book publisher casts an open call, but for a specifically-themed anthology. It's not something I've really gone for in the past. But the past few times I've done research, I've found a couple that have really peaked my interest, and I've actually begun writing a couple of new short stories specifically for those markets. There are those, I'm sure, who do this all the time, who are thinking "Well, duh. Of course!" But usually, I write a story, and try to shoe-horn it into some publication or other. I almost never, until recently, write something based on what a publication is looking for. And I gotta say, I'm really enjoying it! (BTW, the one I'm writing now, is for a "Local Legends" anthology, where they are looking for stories built around local landmarks. I think it's a great idea, and, like I said, I'm really enjoying this project. It's a challenge that agrees with me, I think. If you don't do this already, next time you are researching markets for publication, keep a more open mind, see if, in addition to places that might accept stories you've already written, you might find themed requests that fire up your imagination, possibly pushing you in a creative direction you might not have thought of before.
Hey...what could it hurt? Am I right?
Fall is just around the corner. The season of the witch and the wolf. The time when the supernatural becomes natural. The leaves will begin their magical transformation, and the air will become redolent of pumpkin-spiced everything. And, if you're like me, your inner batteries will get a tremendous charge from it all. I'm ready to start working my way down my horror movie checklist, ready to decorate, and ready to let me creativity flow as it does no other time of the year. Everybody hunker down. Hold hands. Close your eyes. And say to yourselves: "I DO believe in ghosts!"
There. It's done. The restless spirits have a caught your signal, and they're coming. That sound? The jangle of chains on ghostly skeletons, the moan of the dearly departed, and recently risen? They're for you, and for me. Something Wicked This Way Comes. Can't wait till it gets here!
Earlier this week, my writing group got together for our monthly meeting. We critiqued the final chapters of a WIP by one of our members. We were unanimous in our enthusiastic appreciation of the work as a whole, and in our expectation of its eventual publication.
Anyway, in the course of our discussion, the author, a talented writer, and an all-around great guy IMHO, admitted that he was struggling with how much of what was really going on he should reveal. (I don't want to say too much about it, other than that it is a fantasy set in a world that has seen better days, and that the protagonist, struggling to get home to his family, unwittingly becomes part of a larger struggle with worldwide implications. **There. That was vague enough, I think**.) See, in the author's mind, the magic wasn't the point of the story, nor was the mythology, or any mechanism by which the world is saved or doomed, or even how the world got the way it is in the first place. Nope, the important thing was the character, his journey, and the choices he makes. Everything else is just...world building. (Which he is very good at, just so's you know.)
This week I also finished a very good horror novel by fellow Bloodshot Books alum Jeremy Hepler, called The Boulevard Monster. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but in it, the antagonist seems to have a supernatural connection to blue jays. It's never explained how or why, and I kinda wanted to know, because they are used in very cool and clever ways, and it's just so...different. Dollars to donuts, the author knows the answer, and can tell you everything about it. But he chose not to. Because that's not the story, and in the end, it didn't matter. Not knowing allowed me to use my own imagination, to, in a way, bring something of my own to the table.
As the writer, you may know every single detail about the characters, places, and events that make up the warp and woof of your story, but all that knowledge can't go into your book, and sometimes, it shouldn't, even if it might please the readers. For one thing, putting everything you know about your story will bloat your book beyond all reason. Those details may help you write more well-rounded characters, but if they don't move the story forward, you don't need 'em. And the fact is, I've come across very few problems in my writing that couldn't be fixed by cutting something out. But you also have to decide what you want the reader to walk away with. I wrote a sci-fi story about first contact where you never actually make direct contact. The story was about how humans behave given the certain knowledge that mankind is not alone, not flying saucers, little green men, or gee-whiz technology. So I left that stuff out. Besides, I wanted the reader to identify with the characters who shared in wondering just who the hell was out there, and why they are keeping themselves to themselves. Heh.
So, after you've written the first draft of your magnum opus - the one in which you've thrown in everything including the kitchen sink - and begun your editing and rewrites, make sure that you keep an eye out for what to take out: the info dumps that weigh your reader down with dry facts, pulling her rudely out of the story; the bloated bits of fluff that don't move the story along, but just sit there stinking up the place, and finally, the parts of the story - well crafted, sleek, sexy - that may seem like a perfect fit, but which mislead the reader, ultimately drawing them away from the story you're actually trying to tell.
In your quest to become a better writer, remember that it can be just as important to know what not to write, as it is to know what you should.
Until next time...
So, I spent some time today, searching for publications currently open to submissions. I was looking to place a specific story I'd previously written, which has been languishing at another publication for a "second round" reading since sometime last year. I was in no hurry then--I had a lot going on, as you may know from some of my previous posts--but I figure it's been long enough, that if they wanted it, they would have said so by now. But also, I was just...you know...searching.
If you're a new writer looking to turn a hobby into a career, you may want to consider that approach, at least from time to time. Sometimes, publications are looking for a specific type of story for an anthology. Maybe they are collecting stories based on the worlds created by Lovecraft, or star-crossed love stories featuring werewolves and vampires in tragic romances, or killer clown dolls crazed by genital warts. Whatever. They give you the subject. You just have to write a story about it. It can be lucrative, if you can pull it off. And if you're between stories, it can also be a good exercise in writing outside your comfort zone. Just think about it, ok? My go-to site is DarkMarkets, which lists tons of open markets in horror, and dark/speculative fiction, the deadlines for submissions to their publication, and links for other submission guidelines.
As you're perusing the list for suitable pubs, I want you to pay particular attention to something. You can find it in the submission details, usually right after the word count: it's the payment amount being offered for your magnum opus. You'll see payments ranging from a "Contributor's Copy" up to 6 cents a word, or some flat rate per story. Royalties may or may not play a part in it as well. That's really what I wanted to talk about.
The above covers a lot of territory, right? Depending on the publication, and how they figure payment, you may receive anywhere from $5-$10, to hundreds of dollars, with the possibility of royalties. 2-3 cents per word seems to be an acceptable norm. (You can get more or less depending on the size of the publication, and you should probably tailor your expectations accordingly. Cemetery Dance is going to offer better rates than a local mag, and that's a pretty tight market) Or you could get just a copy of the publication itself, which means you basically worked for free.
I have a problem with that.
Look, I am by no means widely (or even moderately) published. I'm still at the stage where I squeal in girlish delight when a magazine tells me my story is being held for further consideration. Even with a book out, I absolutely understand the newbie willing to accept no payment for the "exposure." There are even times, when I'm okay with it. If you're truly a "hobby" writer, and just want to tell your grandchildren about that one time you published a story, fine (although, why not get paid for that, too?). And if it's for a good cause (I recently wrote and illustrated a mini-comic for a publication that was shining a spotlight on the plight of the homeless. Didn't get chosen, but it's being published elsewhere), or some other labor of love, I can get on board with that. But if you want to be a professional writer, and be taken seriously as one, you need to be paid for your work.
Ask yourself this: Why are so many publications not offering payment, or next to nothing? Answer: because they can. So many people want to be published authors, they are willing to settle for "exposure." And, as the old saying goes: Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free? The number of people willing to accept publishing without payment, makes it more difficult for everyone to succeed as writers. And on the publishing side, if you think about it, what's more appealing: someone who's been giving their writing away? Or someone who's been receiving a professional wage for their work? If a publication's been willing to pay for the work, it, and therefore, the writer, must be pretty good, right? If you settled for your contributor's copy, and nothing else, not only are you screwed out of payment then, but few pubs are going to pay to reprint a story you gave away the first time.
Look, it's not about getting rich. If you're writing to get rich, you may want to re-examine your life choices. But can you think of any other jobs where "exposure" is considered payment for work well done? Even session musicians and extras on movie sets get paid. You spent hours writing and rewriting your masterpiece. The magazine that publishes it is getting paid for that. And so should you.
Now, go get that money, player...
Well, then. 2018 was certainly an eventful year. My wife passed. My daughter graduated high school, and went to college. And in between those two extremes, came all the myriad things, big and small, that make up the warp and woof of all our lives. But one constant for me, which served as both creative outlet in good times, and escape in bad, was the writing.
It's a new year, now. And as I review the last year, and look forward to what's ahead, I can tell you that I am excited about writing. Rewrites on book number two are going pretty well, I think. Well enough that I think I'll have something marketable very soon. Book three is waiting impatiently behind the starting gate, chomping at the bit, and ready to just run, boy, run! And there are the smaller projects - comics, art, short stories - that I have either planned, or am considering in between.
2019 is going to be a year of creativity and productivity for me. And for you, I hope. Those of you who have had a novel locked away in a trunk somewhere for who knows how long, that puppy ain't gonna write itself. Get it out, and get to work! For those of you who have been grinding away at the craft, and got no love in 2018, as the Buddha is purported to have said in that zen meme: Let that shit go, man. It's a new year, and you are freaking unstoppable! So get going, keep pushing, and don't let anything keep you from your goals!
Well, Hello, there, gang. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving I did. Gonna be riding a tryptophan high (or low, depending on how you wanna look at it) for another week or so. Just in time for all the Christmas calories to start rolling in! Heh.
Anyway, I wanted to talk a bit about the difference between plot driven and character driven storytelling, and why I think it matters. As the term suggests, in plot-driven stories it is the plot itself which moves the story forward. A series of events happens, and the characters react until a resolution is reached. You see this a lot in some genre fiction, especially romance and fantasy, where character development is less important than external forces that move the characters, and the story to its conclusion.
In character-driven storytelling, however, the emphasis is on the internal development (or crumbling) of the main character as he, she, or they attempt to overcome whatever obstacles form the crux of the story. In this type of storytelling, what's going on inside the character's mind is as important as what's going on around her. In my opinion, this is why some of the movie adaptations of Stephen King's early work fell a bit flat for me. King's stories are largely character-driven, and what's so frightening about most of his work is what happens internally with the characters. Think about Jack Torrance in "The Shining," and Louis Creed in "Pet Sematary." What's truly terrifying about those stories is not the ghosts, the visions, the dead animals come back to life (okay, yes, point taken: they're no picnic on a sunny day, either), but the madness that takes over Jack, as he gives in to the twin voices of the hotel, and his own inner demons, and Louis, as he realizes that he cannot accept the death of his son...and doesn't have to. Yes, you can show Jack or Louis staring at nothing as they lose their minds in a movie, but it's not the same as hearing the conversations these men have within themselves as you would in reading the books. And without that, it just ain't the same, folks. (That being said, does anybody else think the new Pet Sematary movie looks lit AF?)
Anyway, the reason this is important, is that it is another light to shine on your work as a writer. Do you sit around hatching mind blowing plots guaranteed to leave jaws hanging and eyes bulging? Or do you focus on a character, putting them through the wringer, imagining them growing, developing, learning, as they run a gauntlet of heart-stopping terrors. Either way, you can use this knowledge to better write the story you meant to (or possibly, to help get you out of a jam, if you find yourself stuck in your writing).
I hope this helps in some small way, as it did me (I'm a character-driven writer all the way, btw). Now get outta here. Go write a masterpiece, or something.
It's been a few weeks since I posted here. I haven't actually done much in the way of writing, but I knew that was going to be the case. See, I've been soooooooper busy working on other projects that are more art-related, though some, like the mini-comic I wrote and illustrated about homelessness, did, in fact involve writing. And it occurred to me that while some of my other art may be just kind of a one-off, with a one-two punch that's easily digestible, most of my art, the stuff that I do for myself, is another way of telling stories.
Take the thumbnail pic on this post, for example. I completed it yesterday, because the image of an owl and a ghostly female figure got into my brain, and demanded to be birthed onto the page (come to think of it, most of my writing ideas come to me as an image glimpsed in my mind's eye). I call it "The Wandering Woman," and I imagine her wandering the hillsides and forests at night, searching, unaware that she has passed beyond this mortal coil. Who is she, I wondered as the image took form. Who or what is she searching for? And, oh, yeah...how exactly did she die?
With a picture, I am obviously not thinking about telling a story through words, at least not at first. But I am thinking and planning how to create a mood through imagery that tells a story. Guess it's just in my blood. And so, in a real sense, I haven't stopped writing at all. Not sure how this helps other writers, other than to perhaps to get you to think a little more deeply about your story. How can you use imagery in your writing to evoke a mood. How can you look at your writing in a different way, connect with your reader on a more visceral level, bring new life, depth, and insight to your writing.
You should always be looking for ways to grow. This is as true as a writer and artist as it is personally. Could be that thinking of stories in another medium will give your creative fiction a little something new and different to, uh, draw upon.
Till next time...
You ever have a favorite thing - a movie, a food, a book - that someone you know experienced for the first time and loved? There's this moment of loveliness at sharing something meaningful with someone you're close to, of reliving, vicariously, the first time you experienced it. And though it's what you wanted, of course, you almost envy the other person that feeling of discovery, right?
I recently experienced that with friends who are now reading some of the earlier Stephen King books and watching those movies. I love talking about those things, remembering how much they affected me as a kid (even some of the movies that were eye-rollingly bad). I'm excited that they liked the movie based on 'Salem's Lot, because I know they'll love the book. I just know it. And it all takes me back to when I was a kid reading it in bed at night with the covers over my head and the flashlight on, almost frantic to get to the next page. I read a LOT of Stephen King that way, as I recall (and Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, and others).
Earlier this week, I was interviewed for a podcast (check my Media and Upcoming Events for details, and the link, if you'd care to hear it) and was asked how I got into horror. I recalled pawing through my dad's boxes of books, looking for anything interesting. My grubby little hands came out with Carrie (or Christine; I'm pretty sure I read them both that week, and I can never remember which was first, although I really do think it was Carrie. It just feels right.), and it was one of those things where a piece of the puzzle of your life just clicks into place, and you discover something that was just meant to be a part of your life. Stephen King calls it finding your "true north," and I believe that I found mine that day. Because I absolutely devoured anything horror-related after that.
Those days and nights of delicious fear, the heart-pounding need to face the darkness with characters you care for, the triumphs and heartbreaking defeats shared, and the warm glow I felt after finishing a book that, for a few hours, absolutely transported me, moved me, showed me another world through different eyes...this is what I want to share with the world. This is the reason that I write. And, you know? Sometimes it's good to be reminded of that.
Chris Collins is a reader and writer of horror. Anything that sends a shiver crawling up your spine has a home in Harrowscape. His first novel, "The Raggedy Man," hit the shelves in 2017, and he has been working on the next thing ever since.