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Halloween Haunt w/Pics (Update)

Here are some more pics of what we have waiting for the TOTs. Still a work in progress but our main goal is to scare the hell out of them  give them a thrill!

This is hanging in the entrance to the Skeleton Wedding Feast room. How many brave TOTs will walk past it? And yet they must if they wish to get candy!

This Scarecrow outside is part of the graveyard theme. Trust me, he’s awesome at night with his glowing lantern and his tattered black cloak blowing in the wind.

The Scarecrow is holding a silver vampire head. Come on, how cool is that?

The TOTs also have to get past this ghoul. Good luck with that! Imagine it at night, with lights placed for best effect of illumination and shadow, and with strobes here and there.

This is just the beginning of the Spider Graveyard. I will have the entire tree webbed up with big spiders crawling around it. Many, many more headstones to come, too. This is just the beginning.

I’ll have more pics up for you soon. Keep checking back. Thanks!

Conversing with Story: Writer’s Block, and Defining Yourself as a Writer

Story: What’s wrong?

Me: I’m not writing.

Story: That’s bad. Why not?

Me: I think I’m blocked.

Story: Maybe you need a high colonic.

Me: No, I mean I have writer’s block. I can’t write. I’m stuck in the mud.

Story: Uh huh.

Me: You don’t believe me.

Story: I believe you believe it. Answer me this, are you still reading? And reading critically?

Me: Of course I am.

Story: What else?

Me: Well, all my stories are sent out, I’m keeping up with the markets, staying in touch with other writers and editors and professionals on social networks. I plan on attending a convention or two this year. Oh and I went out to a movie last weekend and thought about how I could fix the story up there on the screen, and what they got wrong with characterization. So I guess I was thinking critically about that, too, along with some television I watched.

Story: So what you are saying is you have been spending all your time thinking about story, and how to improve story, along with the everyday business side of submitting your work and maintaining contact with other writers.

Me: That’s right.

Story: You’re not writing, but you are thinking about writing and thinking about stories all day long to the exclusion of all else. All day long your mind is working on writing, even though you are not physically writing.

Me: That’s pretty much it.

Story: I’ll let you in on a little secret. You’re not going to like it, though.

Me: Go ahead.

Story: You’re still writing. No, before you say another word, you are still writing. Do you honestly believe writing is nothing more than putting words on paper, or electrons on a computer screen? Is your definition of writing as a profession, as a human activity, that limited? The very concept is frightening.

Me: Now wait a minute. To be a writer you have to write. You have to complete stories and get them out so they can be considered for publication.

Story: I’m not arguing that point. I’m saying you are confusing writing with only one activity and defining yourself that way. You just told me you are reading critically, keeping up with the business side of things, and thinking about stories all day long. That’s process. That’s writing. Oh, sure, you can probably do more about the actual physical process of writing. There is almost always room for improvement in some area of this profession no matter who you are. But don’t get down on yourself because you are having trouble putting words on paper. Maybe the story isn’t ready to be written, have you thought of that? Maybe it has to mature more in your mind. You start writing a story before it’s ready to be written and you’re only asking for trouble. Amateurs make that mistake all the time, and you’re not an amateur.

Me: Nevertheless, a writer has to write.

Story: We are still in agreement. But you know all that stuff you’re still doing? That’s writing. It’s all writing. Again and again I see writers get hung up on this one limited definition  of what writing is all about, and it kills them. It kills them. They go around thinking  writing must be one thing specific, instead of what it really is: a multitude of physical and mental elements that come together for one purpose: to create story. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do more. I’m arguing you are wrong when you think you are doing nothing.

Me: I don’t know. I’m still not convinced.

Story: Remember Harper Lee?

Me: Of course I remember her. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. She was a famous writer. One of the best ever.

Story: She never wrote a damn thing after that book. Not anything of note, anyway. Was she still a writer?

Me: Well, of course she was, she–

Story: Slowly the light dawns in the bleak caverns of his mind. Yes, she was still a writer. She was a writer unto her dying day. She’s just one example. Want others? Google is your friend.

Look, I’m not saying you should not write, or not be concerned you are not writing. I’m saying don’t beat yourself up because you’re not physically putting something on paper everyday. Don’t define yourself that way. I’m not one who believes you can write by a clock.  I think a story is best served when the writer knows the time is right to sit down and work on the story. You will know this. It is innate. It will come to you over time and with increased confidence.

I hear writers say all the time “It’s all about butt in chair.” Yes, I agree. But you know what? I don’t care who they are, if they really and truly were not ready to write a story, then it wouldn’t get written. And if they forced the story then it wouldn’t be readable, or salable. In reality, all they are doing is fooling themselves. They are ready, the story is ready. There is nothing to force. You don’t force a story. That’s not writing, that’s hackery. Or, as Truman Capote said, that’s “typing.”  Just remember, writers give themselves way too much credit at times, while on the flip side they don’t give themselves enough credit when credit is due.

Me: I feel a little better about things now.

Story: Good. Just keep plugging away at the other aspects of the profession. You’ll get through this bad patch. The story will come when it, and when you, are ready.

Me: Yeah, but, how will I know when that story is ready to be written?

Story: Here I am.

Don't define yourself by one element of writing. Master all the elements.

Halloween Haunt at Night w/Pics

Here are some pictures of the haunt at night with webbing and under lighting. Still a work in progress, but you can get a better sense of what the totality will look like.

Keep checking back for updates. I’ll have more soon. 🙂

We started putting up webbing today. This is the top canopy of webbing. There will be LOTS more in the room after the table is finished.

This gives you an idea what the room will look like at night under red light. Poor little TOTs!

Got a spotlight now on the hanged man in the secondary graveyard. I love those bloodstains on his garments. This is probably my favorite piece. He is genuinely scary at night.

The tombstone you saw earlier in the day at night under spotlight. I am going to have a lot of candles around this set piece. It is going to be beautiful.

Orange red porch light. Soon the entire entrance way to the house will be wreathed in webbing and the light from the lamps will play off that. I can’t wait!

Halloween Haunt Update w/Pics!

This year we have a double theme. Outside it will be “Spider Graveyard” and inside “Skeleton Wedding Feast”. These pictures will give you some idea of what we are currently working on. I hope to have everything running by Saturday night and will try and get some night pics for you. I don’t plan to put up all the spiderwebbing outside because I don’t want it torn to complete shreds by the wind.

There will also be some surprises in the haunt which I will not tell you about yet, but keep watching this blog and I’ll have the pictures for you later. But this will give you some idea of the progress we’ve made so far.

This is the wedding feast. You can see we are still working on the table. Sorry for the blur. This whole scene will be illuminated in red light and everything will be draped in spiderweb. The trick or treaters have to come inside this room to get their candy!

A close up of the beautiful bride. Still working on her, too. You can see her necklace. She also has a bouquet. Once we get everything done I’ll take specific pictures of her. She’s pretty cool, I’m happy with how she is coming along.

The groom. Ideally he should have a bowtie, but we are probably going to go with the tie. I must really apologize for the blur!

Death welcomes the TOTs as they come inside the house. He will be bathed in black light. We will also have some other surprises for them.

There will be jack o’lanterns here, too and everything will be webbed. The TOTs will simply have to fight their way through the webbing to get to the door. That’s their problem!

The main entrance door. Somewhat spare, but imagine it completely wreathed in webbing. The spareness gives a special spookiness. The doormat will be taken away. I want nothing familiar in the entrance way. Only the most brave of TOTs can get candy here!

The Long Red Light of the West

One of the things you learn when you research the Old West is how utterly violent it was. It is this long red light, the murderous plain of humanity if you will, that I want to talk about today.

From genocide to rape to murder to shotgun blasts from an alleyway into someone’s back to carving a drunk with a bowie knife until his guts spilled out over your hand in a hot steaming mass — the Old West was one big killing ground. And it never stopped. It was a violent arena of grinding bone, quick death and irrevocable loss. Torture and greed were the raw sinews holding it together.

Of course, you don’t see that often in movies and books or on television. Oh, you see violence. Hollywood is great for splashing buckets of violence across the silver screen. But all too often the violence in novels or film have an underlying meaning or symbolic reference behind it. But the reality of the Old West is the violence didn’t have a poetic framework. It wasn’t a vehicle to portray the warring forces in a man out to wreak vengeance nor was it an exercise in splatterpunk devoid of emotion. History proves this out.  Violence in the Old West existed because Man himself existed. Nor do I mean to rag on the Old West and single it out as a special case.

This is but the history of our species.

We do one thing really well. We kill stuff. Amidst the architecture and mathematics, violence exists because Man exists. The Old West was but one more boiling crucible in the history of our species that showcased dark desires and bright greed.

I don’t mean to say there were not people who wanted to bring law and order to the west. There were voices who wanted equality and fairness for everyone. But how could they be heard above the winds of genocide and destruction?

The longer I work in the western genre the more convinced I am the only way this genre is going to grow and evolve is if we treat its fundamental truths with more respect. Personally, I want to see more voices in this genre. I want to see  voices from people who didn’t historically have their stories told. The west was more than one thing. It was made up of millions of people from different backgrounds, beliefs, and cultures. That’s what I want to read, don’t you? We have seen the sanitized picture reflected through American culture in a thousand shards, and they are all the same. I want to look beyond the glittering icons and down into the abyss. I want what some might consider dangerous stories to be elevated into the American consciousness. If that is possible.

I work in this genre. I want to see other voices in this genre. I want to hear their stories. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are many good writers who are doing better work than I could ever hope to do in this area. I am starting to see elements of this in more and more stories. But no matter how good they are their voices are nearly drowned out by American myth perpetuated.The west was many things. I would like to see those differing stories from new voices.

I don’t know. Maybe someday it will happen and we will be able to see the west as something other than simplified romance. There is such great potential in this genre. It lends itself to so  many interpretations. The ground is rich for writers. But the headwinds are great, hurricane strength. And while humans are good at killing they are also good at self-delusion.

It’s safer, and far simpler, to believe in romantic fairy tales than to face the long red light of murder that was the Old West. I’m just saying that needs to be changed. The Old West needs to become dangerous. That’s where the best stories are, I think.

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Gunfight at the OK Corral – A Retrospective in Three Movies

On this date in 1881, around 3.00 pm, a gunfight occurred which lasted less than thirty seconds. Oh, and for the record, it never happened in the OK Corral but on Fremont Street. Well, that’s history for you, always getting in the way with facts and verifiable evidence.

I mean, who wants to read about a gunfight on Fremont Street? So we will bow to pressure and call it the OK CMy Darling Clementine by John Fordorral.

Anyway, this gunfight has become the subject of books, movies, and innumerable stories. But it’s the treatment by Hollywood I want to concentrate on today, and three movies in particular. I want to look at how they helped shape our consciousness, our perspective, and our ideas of what happened and why, regarding this infamous gunfight.

The first movie I want to discuss is My Darling Clementine by John Ford. Ford was a master at romanticizing the Old West, and this movie is no exception. There are many good points about the movie. It looks good for one, but we are talking about John Ford so I expect it to look good from a visual perspective. In fact, I admit it’s downright beautiful. Unfortunately, the dialog and the storyline is little more than corn. The gunfight is okay, but has no relation to any historical event with which we are familiar, and for which we have  ample evidence and eye-witness account.

However, the best partVictor Mature as Doc Holliday about My Darling Clementine is Victor Mature’s masterful portrayal of Doc Holliday. Now in case y0u are not familiar with Victor Mature, he is a big, brawny, beefy man who exudes power and confidence on screen. You might think such a man would be a poor choice to play Doc Holliday, who was in actuality was a thin, skeletal man dying of tuberculosis. Yet, Mature brings deep pathos and vulnerability to the character, even when he has to deliver some very embarrassing lines. Outwardly, he looks nothing like Doc Holliday. He doesn’t even sport a mustache. But the inner turmoil of  a man facing a death sentence, and how it affects his relationships with the people around him, is very powerful indeed. It’s a nice job.

This is not my favorite OK Corral film, but if you haven’t seen it I think you will like it. Pay attention to Mature when he is on screen. He really is amazing and along with the visuals, he’s the best thing about this film.

The second film is Tombstone and it’s popular and beloved by western fans and movie fans alike. Personally, I can’t stand this film. I hate everything about it from the opening scene where Wyatt Earp (played by a mugging Kurt Russell) stoIconic (albeit incorrect) image from Tombstone ps a man who is whipping his horse (because the script must establish Russell as the good guy)  down to the horrific final shot where Earp and Josephine Marcus  are dancing in falling snow under lamplight after she reveals to Wyatt there is no need to worry about money because her family is rich.

It’s vomit inducing. Not to mention historically incorrect. It is a movie that reveals everything that’s ever been wrong with Hollywood and how it has portrayed the Old West as a cartoon. I will give it a pass on one point, however. The shot of the four lawmen walking down the street dressed in long black coats is iconic — though again inaccurate. Actually, the lawmen wore mackinaws that day. But those long black coats have become so indelibly fixed in the American consciousness I suppose it would be movie sacrilege to remove them. So I tend to give it a pass on that detail alone, as I do other films about the gunfight.

As you may have guessed by now I truly hate this film with a deep passion. I should do a separate post on why it fails so miserably on so many levels, and has actually harmed the western genre because it slams so many cliches down our throats. I know I am in the minority here. It wouldn’t be the first time. I know a lot of people absolutely love this film. But it’s pure, unadulterated Hollywood candy. Hell, even Ford did better than this, and I’m not a fan of his work to romanticize the west, either.

But, as wretched as Tombstone is, it’s not all bad. The gunfight is pretty good, I’ll give you that. Powers Booth is, well, Powers Booth, Sam Elliot is believable as Virgil Earp though he probably brings too much sexuality and moralizing to the film. But more importantly Val Kilmer delivers a superb, and memorable, performance as Doc Holliday.

Much like My Darling Clementine I don’t view Tombstone as anything more than Hollywood corn dressed up in cliche and trope. But Kilmer saves the film for me. If it were not for his amazing performance I would never watch this film again upon pain of death. But it’s worth it to watch Kilmer on screen as long as you ignore the rest of the sugarcorn this movie brings to the table.

The final film, and my personal favorite, is Wyatt Earp. Kevin Costner delivers a believable performance as a cold, uncaring, self-absorbed and determined Wyatt Earp. This is much in line with the historical figure. Other elements of the story also ring true. The gunfight is representative of historical fact, and the dialog and behavior of the surrounding characters lend extra support. When we watch the events unfolding in Wyatt Earp we can suspend belief and imagine it might have actually happened this way. In the other two movies I have described, we are never able to forget we are only watching something that has been packaged and sanitized for consumption.

I know Wyatt Earp isn’t as popular as Tombstone, and I know why. Tombstone is more fun, more joyous, more in line with what we ordinarily see coming from HoCostner's Wyatt Earp -- probably the most historically accurate portrayal of the gunfight and culture of that time.llywood. Therefore it is in a comfort zone that reinforces myth and stereotype which has taken root in American culture.

Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, is a little more gritty, and has a documentary feel. That’s probably why I prefer it, even though I am no fan of Costner. But, like the other two films, Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday is the one to watch and study here. He brings a dark, brooding violence to Holliday that seems to be missing, or at least not fully interpreted, by the other two films. His performance rounds out a strong and believable cast. When I watch this film I am more inclined to believe I am watching history. The other films are entertaining on a popcorn level, but that’s all they are.

From looking at these three films I am sure you have noticed a common thread. It’s Doc Holliday. In all three films the actors portraying this broken and violent man did a tremendous job. I think that’s important, because a film about the OK Corral almost has to have a believable Doc Holliday or it would totally collapse.

This is not unusual with film, and stories on film. In a completely unrelated genre the film Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein would collapse if the creation scenes of the monsters were not believable. Sometimes, a single scene is like a linchpin for an entire movie.

In movies about the gunfight at the OK Corral that linchpin is, and always will be, Doc Holliday. He is larger than life, he is tragic, he is a character we can understand and sympathize with, even if we don’t get on board with his reckless violence and focused pursuit of death.

All three movies are flawed. Neither one is perfect. Each has their own strengths. But all three have one thing in common: excellent portrayals of Doc Holliday and the inner demons that made him tick, and kill.

For a western writer working in the genre, that right there is worth the price of admission.

A Conversation with Story: Advancement of Plot through Conflict

Story: What’s up?

Me: I’m writing a love scene.

Story: I see that. Where’s the conflict?

Me: What conflict? It’s a love scene. They’re in love.

Story: You delight in making my life difficult, don’t you?

Me: Of course not…oh, I see what you did there. You advanced our dialog through conflict.

Story: Exactly. All scenes must have conflict of some kind. All stories must have conflict. That conflict can take many shapes and many forms, but it has to be there. It can be outward conflict, an inward psychological struggle, conflict through dialog, even conflict through the way the story itself is written. But it has to be there and it has to operate on some level, even if it’s below the radar.

Me: I understand what you are saying, but this is a love scene. These characters have been through toil and fire to reach each other.

Story: Okay, go ahead and finish your love scene.

Me: There. Done.

Story: Good job. Now delete it from the manuscript.

Me: What? No. I worked hard on this. It’s a love scene. It stays.

Story: I agree it’s a love scene, but does it advance the story in any way through conflict?

Me: The hero has trouble unbuttoning his shirt.

Story: Besides that.

Me: Well, no, not really. There isn’t any conflict here that relates to the plot or character development.

Story: Then the scene isn’t needed. All good stories have conflict. All good stories are made up of scenes that incorporate conflict within. Yes, even love scenes like that one. All scenes. If the scene doesn’t have the element of conflict then it’s nothing but an aside…and an aside is not necessary, or needed in anyway, to advance your story. A scene without conflict is a stone around a story’s neck.

Me: Okay, I’ll get rid of the scene. Hey, what do you know, the story reads faster without it.

Story: Of course it does. That’s what conflict does both for the story and the reader. It advances the plot and gives structure. It serves double duty.

Me: Story, I think I love you.

Story: Muah.

Conflict gives structure to the story and advances the plot.

Theater 13 Radio Broadcasting OTR Horror, Mystery, and Suspense on 100 Channels!

Theater 13 Radio has upgraded. We are now broadcasting Old Time Radio programming on 100 channels. We hope this will alleviate any bottlenecking issues listeners experienced when they tried to log on with our old 50 channel system. We are still broadcasting at 24K and are considering an upgrade there as well.

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Come join Mistress Zarella for the finest in Old Time Radio programming!

A Dialog with Story: On Dialog

Story: Here we go again.

Me: What’s wrong now?

Story: Your dialog. People don’t talk that way.

Me: Well, I can’t write it the way people really talk, either. Have you ever listened to how people talk? They hem and haw and start and stop…you try writing a story like that and see how fast it gets rejected. Or thrown across a room by a frustrated reader.

Story: Very true.

Me: So what’s wrong?

Story: This.

Me: Huh?

Story: This. The conversation we’re having now. You don’t see it, do you?

Me: No, but I have the sneaking suspicion you are going to enlighten me.

Story: There, you did it again.

Me: Did WHAT again?

Story: Avoided the point of the dialog we are supposed to be having. Ran on without getting to the point.

Me: What do you mean?

Story: Dialog in a story isn’t only words with quotation marks and attribution. There has to be a point to it. Even if the point is pointlessness, if that makes any sense. Dialog has to have an emotional underpinning, or advance the story in some fashion, in order for it to work. Just writing lines of dialog that don’t focus on a particular thing or advance the story weakens the story, weakens me, until the structure of the story collapses. Dialog is tough, make no mistake about it. Some stories are all dialog. They have to work on a higher level than a story with moderate dialog. But don’t get confused. Even a story without any dialog whatsoever is still carrying on a dialog with the reader. The words you write are interpreted by the reader as a dialog. You are speaking to the reader via the structure of your story and he hears that voice. Pretty important, when you think about it.

Me: Okay, let’s try this again.

Story: All right. I’ll start from the top. Here we go again.

Me: Yes, I know. But I can’t write dialog the way people speak. It would bore the reader.

Story: Then only write dialog that the reader needs, and no more.

Me: Hey, that was fast! It got the point across in a few lines.

Story: And  it also advanced the story through dialog. An added benefit.

Me: Why are you so good to me?

Story: Let’s talk about that….

Tight and concise dialog can advance the story quicker than something more elaborate.

Halloween Haunt (a progress report)

We started unpacking Halloween stuff yesterday. We are going with a spider graveyard theme outside and Starwheel by Kammarheit as the background music. I don’t know if you have ever heard this album, but it is scary as hell. I actually reviewed the album for Drops of Crimson a while back.

It’s some very atmospheric, dark and creepy music. That should scare the TOTs! 🙂

Inside we are going to do something different. We are going to have a skeleton wedding party in the front dining room. We have a groom skeleton and a bride skeleton. We are slowly building the concept and haunt as ideas come to us.

I haven’t taken any pictures yet but I will. I don’t like taking pictures of stuff in progress, too much. We wired the skeletons in the chairs, started working on the table decorations, got top hat and made a bridal veil and  bouquet for the dead bride. The front dining room will work really well because there is an old grandfather clock in that room and we can put the Satanic altar in there, too. I will also drape the entire room in spider webbing and with the red lights in the chandelier it should look pretty good. Finally, we are toying with the idea of using a chicken carcass for their dinner and putting rats all over the table. Should be creepy!

The outside will be a little bare compared to last year, but that’s the theme. Dead spider graveyard outside the haunted house, and inside the skeleton wedding feast. TOTs and their parents will come inside the house to the wedding table to get their candy — if they’re brave enough!

Oh, and today I bought more ceramic skulls from Walgreens. You can never have enough ceramic skulls, as far as I am concerned. 😛

Writing as an organic and creative process

Writing is an organic process. At least that is how I always viewed it. You can approach the story from a cerebral end but it seems to me when you start writing the story becomes organic.

I kind of think this is a good thing. I see a story as a shifting plain with topological features that come and go, warp and fold. As it takes shape in my mind I move through the story and sometimes the story changes and I change with it. That give and take process helps gel the story in my mind and I think creatively the story is all the better for it.

It’s funny. Sometimes I will have a story fully developed in my mind but when I sit down to write it starts changing. That’s why I don’t like using detailed outlines. They don’t work for me. When I make an outline they are nothing but broad strokes, the barest framework imaginable. Mostly I jot down phrases or snatches of conversation. I am often more interested in following what I see as the tone and flavor of a story than a roadmap.

I want to work in concert with the story. Not against it. I always try to keep this in mind when I write. It doesn’t always work, but it’s nice when it does bear fruit.



The Organic Process of Novel Writing (a personal experience)

I have been making slow but steady progress on finding an entry point into the new novel. I had a false start last week but this start feels more solid to me and I think it has promise. Anyway, what I am saying is I think I can go on from here.

This is a tough novel. It it were another Haxan story it would be less difficult to write. I am trying to do something different. I might not be successful but I like the fact I am challenging myself. I think that, more than anything, is what drives me. Fortunately I have no deadline for finishing this book. I can pour all my creative energy and time into it. Well, what time is left over from other writing duties, of course.

I am planning a road trip along the US-Mexico border next spring. A majority of the book takes place there. I spent all morning yesterday plotting out the journey that the characters would take. I don’t plan to follow that exactly, but I want to drive to some points along the way. I always feel if you can do eyeball research it is helpful. It helps me but to be honest another good resource is YouTube.

One thing I can say for this book, it is hard to force myself not to hold back. We are conditioned by culture. I have to watch that because if I do that in this book then I am not being true to how the people were and how they acted in 1869. I would just be skirting the issue. I am not out to perpetuate Hollywood stereotype and cliches with this story. I guess you can view this novel as the anti-John Wayne, the anti-John Ford.

I think there will be elements of romanticism at least insofar as delineation of character, but not romanticism drawn from outdated ideas and popcorn stereotypes. I am making a conscious effort when a Hollywood cliche rears its head I go the other way. To borrow a phrase, I want to take western icons that have burrowed into the American culture behind a barn and kill them with a dull axe. And I want them to suffer.

Meh. Maybe I won’t be successful. But I feel the novel has to be written. I always go with my instinct on these things. It’s all a dangerous phase right now where I am bombarded by the creative energy and maelstrom of ideas and fragmented voices. The difficulty is pulling it all together and integrating it. I am hoping once I get that firm foundation beneath me I can move with more authority and confidence on the novel.

We will see.

But I do not mind admitting it is a stressful time right now. There are so many unknowns at play. Then again, I know from experience all new stories are like that for me. I hope my confidence will last!

I am not even kicking myself over the false start. Writing is organic it is not immutable. I’ve always believed that. The false start was a necessary step in the creative process. I can’t change that.

Pride and Prejudice: If People Were Ants We Wouldn’t Need Stories

About three years ago I read the first 100 pages of Pride and Prejudice and then I bailed.

I was taking some very heavy damage from several hardened missile silos down below me. I had lost all aileron control and the self-sealing fuel tanks, well, were no longer self-sealing. I had to eject fast or I would auger in from 10,000 feet. I fought my way out of the pilot seat against the compiling G-forces and scrambled with a sob in my throat through the open hatchway.

Tumbling in free fall. Feeling of helplessness. Cold air rushing past my ears. I pulled the rip cord and felt the hard snap I once tried to read Pride and Prejudice. I almost didn't make it out my parachute opened and the last I ever saw of Pride and Prejudice was the book dwindling against the bright stars overhead, lost to me forever.

I’m telling you I barely made it out of that book alive.

Lots of readers have experiences like this one. We have comfort zones of genres we like and understand and want to wallow in. This is normal, and I would argue healthy. But as for writers, what do we say when we come across readers who say, “Oh, I don’t read that crap” when you tell them what genre you work in?

As a western writer I totally understand and have experienced this genre myopia myself. Sometimes I might explain how some of the Haxan stories actually have dark fantasy elements or romance or mystery or what have you. It never works. The missile silos are too hardened. All they hear is “western” and their immediate reaction is “Oh, I don’t read that crap.”

So what do I do? I have the stories inside me and I have to write them. That’s out of my control. I can’t stop writing even if I tried, and trust me I have tried. Scientists have yet to develop a super-methadone that will allow me to get that monkey off my back.

Do I abandon everything I’ve learned during my years as a professional and start writing for what’s popular on the markets right now? I can’t do that, either. My personal philosophy about writing won’t allow me to jump on bandwagons with their colorful balloons and bright ribbons. Or maybe I can try and fool myself into believing the western genre, even blended western genres, aren’t that bad right now, that they are more popular than I think. But the evidence shows the genre is, at best, on life support and someone is standing next to the sick bed with a loaded gun against the patient’s temple.

Westerns are not in a healthy and popular place right now. They might be again someday, but that day has not yet arrived.

Here’s the rub. You arPeople and writers are not ants. We have different genres for a reason.e never going to be able to write something that satisfies everyone. Everyone is different. We all bring different experiences and backgrounds and expectations and loves to the table when we open a new book. I may not like one genre but that doesn’t mean it has no worth for a majority of other people. I know this from experience because a majority of people sure as hell don’t read westerns.

But I keep writing them anyway because there are some who do and I have what I hope are good stories to tell them.

Read what makes you happy. Forget what anyone else says. But most of all, write what makes you happy. Your readers, and your inner peace, will thank you for it.

Conversation with Story: Trusting the Reader to Trust You

Story: What are you doing?

Me: Writing.

Story: No, what are you doing?

Me: I thought I was writing.

Story: You don’t see what you did back there, did you?

Me: Back where?

Story: Five pages back. I’ll wait.

Me: Oh. Yeah. Well, you see, I wanted to make sure the reader understood what was happening in that scene so I took the extra effort to explain in detail what the characters were feeling and doing at that point in time.

Story: I see. Can I ask you something?

Me: Make it quick. I want to finish this story.

Story: Do you hate the reader?

Me: Hate the reader? Of course not. I want the reader to like the story, that’s why I went the extra mile to point out the deficiency of that character in exposition. I mean, that’s why I did that. I want the reader to understand the story,  so I had to add that extra stuff.

Story: You went the extra mile and told the reader what was happening rather than showing the reader what happened?

Me: It’s an important scene. The story hinges upon this scene. If it doesn’t work, the story doesn’t work.

Story: Here’s a clue. The story doesn’t work now because of what you did. Not only did you tell instead of show, you didn’t trust the reader to understand what he himself was reading. Instead, you felt you had to hit the point again to make it apparent to the reader that what he was reading was important. Rather than letting him trust the story you have written, and to trust you.  Not only do you not trust the reader in this case, you don’t trust the story. You don’t trust me.

Me: I think I see what you’re getting at.

Story: Believe it or not the reader is pretty insightful. They see deeper into a story than you might think. You don’t have to spell everything out in careful ABC language. They’ll get what you’re going after if you trust them to do so. It’s one of the most powerful lessons any writer can learn, but when you do, your fiction will open up because you enter a synergistic relationship with the reader himself. It’s pretty amazing when it happens, and it happens more often than you think.

Me: I’ll fix it right now. Hey, writing is easy!

Story: Hang on there, spanky. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s a conversation for a future date….

You don't need to overwrite. Trust the reader to trust the story, and he will.

The Last Pale Light in the West — Music by Ben Nichols Inspired by Blood Meridian

Ben Nichols, frontman for the Texas country/punk band Lucero, released a solo acoustic album The Last Pale Light in the West in 2009.  It is an incredible work.

It’s a short album of 7 songs based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian. Each song follows a particular character from the book. The last song “The Judge” is an instrumental.

I have reviewed Blood Meridian at The Western Online and consider it one of the Great American Novels. The album by Nichols, with its dark, emotionally-layered acoustic music and pain-filled, stark and evocative lyrics, is a perfect companion piece to the book.

Like the book the album is composed of a strong narrative sense, emotional desolation, and dark imagery painted with nightmarish strokes.  Juxtaposed with this is the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human?

The album is short by modern standards but I think Ben Nichols uses every second of time to paint a portrait of perfect desolation and terrifying beauty.

From the title song:

In my hands I hold the ashes
In my veins black pitch runs
In my chest the fire catches
In my way a setting sun
Dark clouds gather round me
To the West my soul is bound
But I will go on ahead free
There is a light yet to be found
The last pale light in the west

The lyrics have a strong ethereal quality when sung by Nichols’s harsh voice. This is a superb album by any standard. As a work of art inspired by Blood Meridian it rises to a higher synergistic plane. I definitely recommend this album.

Nightmarish beauty in music

Bad Writing Advice for Amateurs and How to Ignore It

I know a lot of writers. Most of them, I’d say 99.9%, are hard working ordinary people who honestly want to help new writers understand the business and get a firm, confident start in the profession and the field of publishing.

And then there are the handful of jerks who do nothing but put up obstacles.

Fortunately, there aren’t many of these jerks, but they do exist. So I want to give a sort of primer for new writers and what to look for and what to avoid when you are approaching professional and established writers for advice.

First, please ignore any writerly advice that says there is only one way to write. I see many blogs from writers who insist you have to do this or do that everyday in a particular fashion or you will never be successful. Now standing outside that advice and viewing it with a jaundiced eye immediately reveals why this advice is so bad. Writing is not one thing. It’s not like heart surgery where you have a  specific protocol to follow. Writing is art. It’s energy. It’s organic. There is no right way to write. Whatever works for you, whatever you feel comfortable with is fine. Trust me on this. It’s fine. Just keep writing, find a comfort zone that works for you, and write. You will be okay. It takes practice and patience, but you will be okay.

I remember attending a con where a professional writer told an audience of new writers she spent $5,000 preparing to attend the World Science Fiction Convention so she could talk to editors and agents. Then she told the audience, “And you have to do the same thing if you want to succeed in this business.” Now this is pure garbage and many of us spoke up and said so. But I can’t help but fear how many people in the audience who wanted to get into the business believed her gabble. Or the other writer who told another audience she and ONLY she took the right classes in college you HAD to take to become a successful writer, and if you didn’t you would probably fail, or by extension never be as good as she was. Or another writer who did nothing but put down e-books, or the one who did nothing but put down print, or the one who put down certain genres. Come on. Come on.

That is not helpful. That is not helping. And I would further argue it limits the people who might be interested in joining the genre if they see people like that and the “advice” they have to offer.

And this ignorant advice goes on and on ad nauseam. I see it all the time. I hope none of these people are teachers in the classroom. I shudder to think of the damage they can do. Even though these people are a very small minority in the community it seems like we hear them all the time because they are so vocal.

I think the problem bad advice writers fall into is they find a method that works for them and immediately believe their method will work for everyone. I think we can easily see why this belief is so very, very bad. People are not carbon copies of one another. We’re not ants. What works for one writer may not work for another. You have to find your own sweet spot and be willing to adopt new techniques and adapt to changing external and internal forces. You can do this. All writers throughout the centuries have done it. Trust me on this one. You can do it.

And to show you I am not completely partisan the same goes for this essay. Take what you will from it if you find anything helpful and try to incorporate it into your writing plan. If you don’t see anything useful, please feel free to ignore what I am saying. Why? Because writing is not one specific thing. It’s different for everyone. That includes you, me, and every other writer working the field.

The next thing that really bothers me as an ex-teacher is when I see puffed up writers telling new/beginning writers “Yeah, you’re starting out and that’s fine, but be aware anything you write is by extension pure crap compared to my ability as an established, and published, professional.”

It is evident that someone who says something like this has never been in a classroom. They have also never grown up in a family where you are told “You will never amount to anything. And that stupid dream you have of being a writer? Pfft.” I have never viewed the “your beginning stories are crap” advice as nothing but outright cruelty.

I am willing to bet your stories are not crap. They are probably pretty good for your current talent level. And you know the best thing about writing? The longer you do it the better you get. The more you learn, the more you are able to integrate, the more you are able to understand about process and theory, the whole nine yards. You never stop learning when you write. So please just ignore those people who tell you there is only one way to write, or your first stories are nothing but total garbage. Writing is hard enough without these uncaring jackasses trying to demean you.Ignore the haters and keep writing. You will be successful!

Find writers you respect and ask them for advice. If it seems like there are elements to their method you can use, then use them! Talk to other writers and shape and adapt their methods to yours by piecemeal. Eventually you will develop your own method for writing and if you keep at it you will be successful.

And, please, please, please, ignore the jerks who say what you write is by default crap because you’re only an amateur. That’s not helpful and that’s not teaching. That’s just shitting on you and writing, like life, is hard enough without having to go through that.

Keep writing and good luck. I know you can do it. I know you can.

Yikes! Halloween is coming fast and I haven’t begun to decorate.

Sheesh. The month is more than half over and I haven’t begun to move on Halloween decorations yet. I’ve got to start. I have some ideas from last year and new plans for my haunt. But I’ve got to put this stuff together. I’m not yet in the mood. Not feeling it. I guess it will hit me like last year, all of a sudden, and there will be a sudden, joyful rush to decorate.

One thing that irks me a little is I tried to grow pumpkins this year for jack o’lanterns. Didn’t work out what with the drought and all. Pumpkins were a fizzle. Now I have to go buy some and broth-er are they expensive. I had hoped to grow so many I could have Pumpkin Central. That won’t happen now.

I think I should start taking stuff out of the closet and elsewhere and see what I’ve got to work with, though.I bought a lot of new stuff on sale after the holiday last year and I need to inventory.

I have a really cool idea for one set piece, though. I have most of what I need to put it up. With any luck I will get on the stick and start making progress and maybe have pictures for you as I work on the haunt. I’ll be honest. Just writing about decorating is starting to get my spirit flowing. That’s progress!

One thing I do know. The soundtrack to the haunt will be Starwheel by Kammarheit. It scared the hell out of the trick or treaters last year, and that’s going to be my goal again this year.

Anything less than them running away in terror (after they got their candy, of course) is a huge disappointment.  😛

The Chaotic Cuisinart of Novel Writing (and by extension, writing in general)

The deeper I get into this novel the more I am bombarded by all sorts of ideas and impressions that come and go like koi rising to the surface in a green pond. I examine each one in turn and decide whether or not I will use it in the novel. It’s a heady time but not unusual when beginning a project of this scope, or fiction in general.

One thing I have learned is to trust my confidence and instinct. I’m not saying I am infallible, but after doing this a while and selling a few pieces you learn to start trusting your instinct. Many new writers I come across either have too much confidence for their current talent level or they don’t give themselves enough credit.

The novel I am working on now is tough. It is outside my comfort zone. It’s a challenge. But with all that, and even though I am bringing some amount of professionalism and experience to the table, I am being somewhat taken aback by the huge amount of crackling creative energy that is demanding attention.

But this is normal with any new undertaking. When a writer begins a new story, novel, whatever, he is always opening fA novel is an accretion disk of ideas that slowly evolve into a world.loodgates of creativity. I like doing research for projects. I like learning new things. As I delve into topics it opens new avenues for scenes and plot lines I had not previously considered. Not all of them will be used. Some have to be discarded. That’s where intuition, for want of a better word, comes into play. (Confidence, instinct, intuition, they are part of the same dynamic decision making process you have to develop when you write. A sort of awareness by extension.)

As I write and think about this novel (and I am still in the “thinking” phase more than the “writing” phase, though neither one ever really ends) I am also realizing this is going to be a marathon. Especially since it is like nothing I have ever attempted to write before. I can’t sprint through this story and hope everything falls into place. This is turning more into a puzzle. All right, all stories and novels are sort of like puzzles. You have to put things together coherently so your main idea will come across to the reader. But in something like this which is outside my experience a little bit, not only am I being bombarded by ideas I am also just standing by and watching the whole thing come together in my mind. All the little pieces tumble past the sieve of instinct and intuition and find their place in the story.

It’s like an accretion disk of matter that through its own gravitational power slowly forms the shape of a living, breathing world over time. It’s actually kind of neat if it weren’t for the fact it’s also stress-inducing at the same time.

And so the race begins. The evolution of the novel while I slowly go bonkers, haha. What fun.

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