Takes a writer to know a writer….

Just a quick update about the novel writing so far.

I have been working diligently every day. I plan on having this novel completed (first draft) by next week. If I do, I will have a lot to say about the process and what I went through to get it done.

Haven’t forgotten you guys or the blog. Just totally immersed in this work right now.

Other writers will understand.

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Chicon7 Update: getting tired but still going

Last night I attended the Chizine party and had a really good time. Talked writing with Janet Harriet and made new friends. Also did some preliminary convention planning with Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, the owners of Chizine.

Sandra Kasturi introduced me as a new Chizine author and mentioned the Haxan novel. I talked to other people about it later as the party wore on. I hope the interest continues on their part when the book finally comes out.

I didn’t get to attend as many panels as I wished yesterday because I was busy with other things. But that’s all right because networking, in the long run, is much more important than listening to panels. Even for an introvert like myself. I’ve seen lots of editors and publishers I have dealt with the in the past, I just wish I had time to hang out with them and talk. But they are busy, too. This convention is known for networking since it’s so large and so many people attend.

On a personal note one thing that irks me about Chicago is how difficult it is to find a restaurant to eat at. I mean, it seems there are a dearth of restaurants around the business section where I am staying. Which stupefies me since you would think there would be more restaurants to take care of the influx of weekend tourists who descend upon the city. It’s troublesome because while I have had some very good food here, I’ve also had bad. That kind of experience colors my perception of what is otherwise a fun experience.

Another thing I have trouble getting used to is the noise. It’s SO DAMN LOUD here. Sirens, car honks, people yelling…it never stops. I’m more used to the quietude of the country, I guess, or smaller cities. I guess I would get used to it eventually. I am not sure I want to ever get used to it, is what I am saying.

Well, that’s about it for now. I will head over to the convention tonight and watch some anime, but other than that I don’t have much else planned. I’m kind of tired even though I’ve been pacing myself well. Aside from the restaurant issue I am having a good time. I’m just getting ready to head on home, though, but that’s for tomorrow.

I’m going to write now for the rest of the afternoon. I haven’t been able to get any done since I’ve arrived and I need to get my hand in a little.

Guest Blogger: Jenn Nixon’s new novel Lucky’s Charm

Today I am happy to welcome Jenn Nixon as a guest blogger. She will talk about her new novel Lucky’s Charm. Enjoy! –KMH

  Jenn Nixon says:
I started writing at a very young age but didn’t realize I actually wanted to make a living as a writer until I finished my first Star Wars Fan Fiction. It was one of the first projects I started and finished. It was a cohesive story that, to me, was really awesome at the time! Actually, it’s not a bad story, and I’ve gotten a lot of miles out of the set up, the character names, and the plot for other small projects I did afterward.
Lucky’s story came to me one day while chatting with my best friend. I’ve always loved women who can kick ass and take names. Lucky is no exception. The original plot transformed over the course of the books as I introduced more characters who took on lives of their own. Eventually, I was telling their story instead of making up my own story for them!

Lucky’s Charm

To protect her family and find a killer, Felicia “Lucky” Fascino assumed her adoptive father’s identity and joined the network, an organization of moral assassins to finish the job he began. Eliminating the man responsible for murdering her mother has consumed her for the last five years. While keeping her Uncle Stephen and cousin Elizabeth at arm’s length, Lucky begins to feel the weight of her career choice and reclusive lifestyle. Then a chance encounter with an enigmatic hit man, during one of her jobs, turns into a provocative and dangerous affair. Distracted by the secret trysts with Kenji Zinn and mounting tension within her family, Lucky makes reckless mistakes that threaten her livelihood and almost claim her life.

Excerpt:

Lucky watching her next target…

The average person wouldn’t know how to spot someone following them. More often than not, the marks Lucky tailed looked like every other citizen making his way through a herd of bodies on the sidewalks. In a major city like Montreal, it was easy to become lost in the crowd.

Lucky never drew attention to herself, especially while working. The sweater she wore—thanks to Bet—was perfect for the chilly fall weather. It went down to her mid-thigh and covered most of what she wanted to conceal. The self-tinting glasses lightened some when the clouds played hide-and-seek with the sun. Colored contacts and a dark chestnut wig hid the rest of her unusual features.

To the world, Lucky was just another pedestrian, walking down the street.

During her second day in town, she had followed Newton into his office to do some recon. She’d timed the elevators and checked for security cameras in the building and surrounding areas. The fourth day, she memorized the traffic around his office and house, and decided it was less risky in town than his home.

Day six of watching Newton progressed smoothly. He was more difficult than most, constantly searching his surroundings like a Cold War spy. Since he had things to hide, including a thriving illegal pharmaceutical business and murder, she considered it a challenge to go up against him. Lucky liked when a mark tested her abilities because it made her more vigilant.

Newton’s secretary had inadvertently confirmed a meeting for today when she called earlier. Lucky waited all morning to catch a glimpse of him. He appeared close to noon, heading to the corner store. When he vanished into the parking garage to find his car, Lucky backtracked to hers. She didn’t need to follow him. Newton was a workaholic; he never left his office before seven. Meeting or not, he’d be back.

Though she had the time to go to the hotel, she opted to move into the parking garage and wait. The interior had no obvious security, but she wanted to be certain no one watched the lot. Lucky settled in and pulled out the USA Today she’d bought before getting on the plane. She spread the outdated paper over the steering wheel and kept her eyes just above the edge. If there were any kind of hidden security system in the garage, she’d have to change locations. For now, she left the car running in case she had to move fast.

Bio: Jenn’s love of writing started the year she received her first diary and Nancy Drew novel. Throughout her teenage years, she kept a diary of her personal thoughts and feelings but graduated from Nancy Drew to other mystery suspense novels.

Jenn often adds a thriller and suspense element to anything she writes be it Romance, Science Fiction, or Fantasy. When not writing, she spends her time reading, observing pop culture, playing with her two dogs, and working on various charitable projects in her home state of New Jersey.

www.jennnixon.com

www.facebook.com/JennNixonAuthor

Twitter: @jennnixon

Wish Me Luck

I have decided to write the new Haxan novel I am working on in first person POV. I think this is the right move for the story and for me. But mostly for the story because I have always been of the opinion the story comes first. My wants are secondary to that and always will be.

I’m a little nervous about this decision and excited. I hope this is the entry point I have been looking for. I’ve thought about this a long time. It doesn’t change what the novel is about or what I want it to say. I can still demand the lift and work from the novel I want. Hope so, anyway.

I mean, I’ve tried everything else, right?

So. First person POV. I start work on it today.

Wish me luck. Please.

Sometimes you gotta take a chance....

Learning How to Write by Watching People

When I attended ArmadilloCon I had the good fortune to see my friend Gabrielle Faust on a panel focused on how you can write better. One thing she said, and it’s something I have been saying and believing for a long time, is that you should watch other people to see how they act and move and behave and speak…and it will make your fiction better.

I completely agree.

This is one reason I rarely if ever watch any commercial television anymore. People don’t behave like that in real life. They don’t speak like that, move like that, interact with other people or behave like that. It’s clearly fake. And it’s so obviously fake that’s why I can’t watch it. Don’t even get me started on “reality” shows. They are even more egregious examples.

Go to a coffee shop and watch people. Or an airport. Or a grocery store. Watch how they move. Listen to the way they talk. Understand how they interact with other people and the world around them and why they do what they do. That’s what you need to use in your fiction. That’s what you need to study.

I mean, let’s get real. If you’re looking to television in the first place to learn how to write then you are already in trouble. Unless you are looking to television to learn how to write television scripts…in which case you are doing the right thing by watching a lot of TV.

But if you’re writing fiction, either story length or novel length, you can do a lot worse than sitting in a coffee shop and watching how people really behave. Writers write about people. You need to study people to write about them well. So go to the source. Study the closely, and use what you learn in your stories.

You’ll thank me later.

My New Story! Lisetta Lawrence is a myopic graduate student with knobby knees and a troubled love life….

In the story “Tennessee Waltz” Lisetta Lawrence is the main character. Which is interesting because she was a secondary character from an unpublished novel. But I have know over the years there was more to her story that needed to be told.

I am a writer. I talk about writing in this blog all the time. But I was trained in physics. Lisetta is a character who can bring some parts of that academic world to light, I think. I wrote this story when I was living in Mississippi. I’ve always liked it and I drew on my two years in Tennessee as source material.

I’m very proud of this story put out by Argo Navis Publishing and I really hope you like reading it. There are even a few autobiographical aspects to it as well. You can find it on Kindle and if you do read the story I would very much appreciate if you would take the time to post a review on Amazon. Thanks, guys! 🙂

 

What hidden secret does Lisetta Lawrence find in a Tennessee hollow? And what part does the nameless cat play? Read the story to find out!

 

Product Description: Lisetta Lawrence is a myopic graduate student with knobby knees and a troubled love life. She is sent on a hopeless fact finding mission into a distant Tennessee hollow and discovers a reclusive genius who keeps bees, and a nameless ginger cat that grins at her.

Working together they reveal the true nature of the universe which will change quantum physics, manned space travel, and Lisetta’s life, forever!

In Search of Bold Story Ideas…and settling on the warm safety of cliche.

I guess one of the things that surprises me most is how easy it is to come up with ideas for stories.

I wrote about this before. I used to be worried I would never have enough story ideas when I began to write. Now I have too many. I suppose that’s growth of a sort. Or being wised up to reality. Or something.

But what I want to talk about today isn’t how easy it is to come up with story ideas. It’s how hard it is to determine which stories deserve to be written and which stories don’t. That’s not always easy for me to do. But over the years, and with I admit some confidence, I have reached a point where I think I can look at a story idea and say, “No, I’ll let someone else write that one.”

I think this decision making process operates simultaneously on many different levels. Not surprising since writing itself is an organic process. Part of it is genre related. No, I don’t want to write a SF story today. Or, no, I don’t currently see I have anything new to say with that story idea; it’s been done to death already. Or, again, no, I’ll pass on this story idea because…let’s face facts…I’ve moved beyond that point and am now engaged in saying different things than what that story calls for.

Because, you see, the story comes first. You can’t make it into something it’s not. That never works no matter how hard you try.

I suppose it’s a cold-hearted culling process that goes on here, and a learned one. I am not saying these story ideas have no worth. I am saying I have so many other story ideas to explore I’d rather see them developed first. Okay, I guess when you get down to it I am saying certain story ideas have no worth to me. There is some definite snobbery at work here. That doesn’t mean another writer can’t, or shouldn’t, develop them into something stellar. They can, and they probably should, do so.

They just aren’t for me.

I suspect you know where this is going. I am currently working in the western genre. No secret there. It’s also no secret I have railed, and will continue to rail, about the cliches and stilted story lines I continue to see in this field from writers who should know better. But, you know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they don’t know any better. Maybe they never will. But I am not complaining. Because they stick to their field and what obviously works for them, it leaves me with a lot of running room. And, to be fair, the stories they write are popular and people do like them and do buy them. So they must be doing something right.

But they are not for me and they never will be because while science fiction is twelve (and by extension all other genres) I am no longer twelve.

I mean, seriously. Do we have to see another story about the Noble Savage? The Virgin Schoolmarm? The Laconic Cowboy? I am on record I want to see other voices, new interpretations, different perspectives.

Is that asking too much? Sometimes I wonder.

I will give you a personal example. Maybe it will help you understand what I am trying to say here. Several years back when I was running a western community on Live Journal someone actually confronted me and argued homosexuals had nothing to do with settling the West.  Absolutely nothing. Now I want you to think about that a moment. This individual might well have said women had nothing to do with settling the Old West, or Native Americans, or African Americans, or Latinos, or…well, you get the idea.

In this person’s worldview the stereotypes we have been fed for decades was the only truth.

Long story short, I want to change that. I don’t mean I want to change that person’s mind. Nothing is ever going to accomplish that. I want to change the underlying idea of what makes a western a western because I want the genre to thrive and grow. I want it to thrive and grow because I am working in this genre and it does me no good to be in a genre that’s spinning its wheels and calling that progress.

Fortunately, all this is changing. Although, I admit, not fast enough to suit me. There are a lot of new, good writers out there who are challenging the Old Guard. I call them Cactus Turks because they tend to be young, prickly, obstinate, and they openly challenge authority. Thank goodness for that!

Because otherwise we’d be stuck with the same old story about a handsome sun-tanned cowboy on a palomino who safeguards a widow and her blond-haired son from the evil robber baron who owns the deed to her ranch. Hoo boy. Like  we haven’t seen that one before, right?

Let someone else write that story. It’s not for me. And it’s not for the new guard of writers in this genre who are doing better work than I am and pushing the boundaries far wider than I could ever hope to imagine.

So. My advice? Be bold. Take chances. Run risks. Piss people off with your fiction. I see a lot of safe fiction out there in many different genres. They’re all guilty of it, not only westerns. Let’s get out of that rut. Get off the well-lighted roads and strike off into the dark woods and see what you can find. You’re a writer. Be bold.

Trust yourself.

So that’s my point about why I am so careful about choosing story ideas. There are a lot of story ideas out there. As a writer you always have to make a decision for yourself, your reader, and, yes, the health of the genre, whether or not you are going to pursue it. You may not always get it right. In fact, since this is writing we are talking about, you will probably get it wrong more often than not. I know I do. But I keep trying. I don’t give up. I have seen it in my own fiction. The stories I first started to write in this genre are very different from what I see now. I take more risks now, challenge more beliefs.

Once again I am only speaking for myself, but I feel if I am not doing that then I am nothing more than a stenographer. A stenographer  looks at the surface features. I am a writer. I try to dive deeper.

But, come what may, these are the headwinds we are faced with today and they are fierce and unrelenting. Believe it or not there were millions of people other than the traditional White Christian Male who worked and lived and died in the west. No, really. It’s true. Just open a history book.

Better yet, open your mind and write.

My Haxan Story “Redemption Bound” Will Appear in a “Best Of” Frontier Tales Anthology!

One of my Haxan stories published by Frontier Tales last year will be included in a Best Of” anthology TBA. This is great news for me and one I am happy to share.

I’ll let you know the date of publication and so forth when I get the word. I’m excited about this.  🙂

Good Writing is Often a Question of Character

On the argument of Character vs. Plot I tend to side with the former.  I think a story with a strong character connects faster with readers than a plot-driven story. Then again the strongest story is one in which both character and plot are very strong and work together.Books with characterization and plot tend to be my favorite. Fleming was good at both.

There are always counter-examples where this may not be true, of course. Such is writing. And readers. Some readers honestly prefer plot-driven stories. How else can you explain Tom Clancy’s success? I read two or three of his novels back in the day and couldn’t go any further. His characters were pure cardboard, but the plots were great. Same for two of the biggest SF writers: Clarke and Asimov. They were superb on plot and sometimes lacking on characterization. On the flip side Heinlein was a very good character-driven writer. Lazarus Long, Mike the Computer, Podkayne, these are a few of the examples in his fiction of long-standing iconic characters. Same for Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creation of Tarzan. I love the Tarzan novels. The plots are forgettable. It’s Tarzan we remember.

Novels that do double duty, however, tend to be my favorite. Moby-Dick is a good example of outstanding characterization and a memorable plot. Dune, by Frank Herbert, is another. Dr. No by Ian Fleming does double duty in this regard, I think. Bond is definitely a memorable character and the plot of the book is a superb framework.

There are tons of other examples, and lots and lots of examples that don’t agree with my supposition. But speaking for myself I tend to gravitate toward character driven stories. Finding a story that has both characterization and plot is a special gem.

Which story is easiest to write? Well, I don’t think any story is easy to write. But I suppose if all you are doing is laying down a plot and stuffing it with interchangeable cardboard heroes…well, that should give you some clue.

Fortunately, there are lots of different writers who write lots of different stories for lots of different readers. There is no one format or guideline to writing and I hope during the existence of this blog I have shown that.

But some readers do prefer certain styles, as do some writers. That’s the world. Knowing the difference, and being able to make a judgment as to which makes the story stronger, character, plot, or both, is a necessary tool for any successful writer.

No one understands a writer like another writer.

Writing is difficult at the best of times. When things are going badly, or when things are going well, it always helps to have another writer to talk to. Because no one, and I mean absolutely no one, understands a writer like Only another writer understand what we go through. another writer.

I see this often. Family members may be supportive. They may care about you and want you to do well and cheer you on. They may sympathize with you when things are going badly or the words don’t come. But they don’t understand what you are really going through because they are not themselves writers.

Writers are a special breed. I don’t mean that in any privileged sense. If anything writers are the least understood, the least respected, and the least thought of people in the entire process. Oh, sure, other writers and editors and publishers respect writers. (For the most part.) But they are all involved in the business and profession in some way so even if they are not writers themselves they get some of what we go through by osmosis.

But your average Joe and Jane in the street…they don’t understand. And I don’t blame them at all. I blame us. I blame writers. We are at fault for not telling more people about what we go through, the battles we fight, the demons we face. We suffer most of these in silence because writing is so solitary anyway. The solitary nature of writing feeds directly into us keeping these things to ourselves.We should try to be more open. I think if we were people would respond.

No one understands this like another writer. I firmly believe that. Even if you take other artistic expressions, a painter say, or a sculptor. At least they have a model to work from. A bowl of fruit. All writers have are ourselves. We sit alone in front of a screen and the only person in the entire world we can depend on is ourselves.

That wears on you. That drains you. That takes little pieces away from you a bit at a time until you start to feel like you’re becoming invisible. That is way you should always have a writer friend you can talk to. Because we can say things to each other and we understand perfectly what is going on. If I say to my Writing Buddy “I’m having trouble finding an entry point into this story” she knows exactly what I am going through. I don’t have to go into detail how I am being haunted and feel like I am in a maelstrom of doubt. She knows that already because she’s been there.

No one understands a writer like another writer. Not because we are special in any way…but because we face demons other people don’t usually face, and we are forced to face them alone.

What I learned from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and why it scared me.

I remember the very first time I came face to face with how much creativity would be needed if I was going to be a writer. I was in a high school English class and we had finished reading The Old Man and the Sea. In one passage the fisherman comes back to his hut and collapses on his bunk, arms thrown out and feet crossed in an attitude of the crucifixion. We were talking about that passage in class and finally my brain started working and I realized my teacher, Mrs. Gohlke, was saying Hemingway did that on purpose. I even asked her that same question. I raised my hand and asked, “Did Heminway write that on purpose?”I remember the day I learned there was more to writing than telling a story....

Yes. Yes, he did.

I was flabbergasted. I had thought it was a happy literary coincidence.  But on purpose? He did that on purpose? I sat there at my desk, stunned. That meant Hemingway thought about his story while he was writing it. That meant he was doing something more than telling a story about a man who lost a big fish. He was using the story to elevate and reveal something deeper about the character and about fiction itself.

And here I was, seventeen years old, dreaming my stupid dreams to be a writer. I knew then there was a lot of work ahead and it intimidated me. Before this point I thought all I had to do was tell a good story. Oh, I don’t mean to say I believed then (or now) that every story must have a message. I don’t mean that at all. But for the first time I came face to face with what a writer must do if he wants to be successful. Here was something about writing I hadn’t considered. This made it concrete for me, I guess you could say.

I thought about that incident the whole day. I went around in sort of a daze. Much more than usual. Hemingway had done that on purpose. Writing was harder than I imagined. Maybe I didn’t have the skills to do this. I was scared. I wanted to be a writer. Now I faced what being a writer was about. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. Maybe I would never be good enough.

Finally I got hold of myself a little bit. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to work harder and read more. I was going to have to be voracious. I didn’t know if I would be able to elevate my fiction using those tools or think of things like that. He was Hemingway…I was just a dumb kid in South Texas who dreamed of being a writer.

I have never forgotten that lesson. I think back on it often. On that day I realized writing was harder than I possibly imagined. I still feel that way. I believe the best writers are always learning, always adapting, always seeking.

Speaking for myself, I try to keep that in mind. I never want to think I can throw something out there and consider it good enough. I will never settle for good enough. Not when it comes to my writing.

I learned that lesson long ago in high school. I have never forgotten it and it has stood me in good stead.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. But stories are forever.

I remember when I began to get serious about writing. I was in my early twenties. One of the things that really worried me is would I have enough ideas for stories? It worried me. At the time it only seemed I had one or two ideas worth developing. It didn’t look good for the long term prospect, haha.

But I will tell you a little secret only writers know. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Taking those ideas, and shaping them into a story, however, is the harder part.

Ideas are just that. Ideas. They have no story, no characters, no theme, nothing,. You can’t sell an idea as a story to an editor. No editor in his right mind will buy an idea from a writer. They want stories. Here’s an example of a classic idea:

1. Boy meets girl.

2. Boy loses girl.

3. Boy gets girl back.

That is a classic story. It’s been around forever and it will be around forever. It has deep atavistic qualities which gives it staying power, I suspect. But it’s only an idea. It’s not a story. You have to flesh everything out. Do all that, change a few elements here and there, and you come up with:

Old Yeller.

That’s right. Old Yeller is a “boy meets” girl story changed into a “boy meets dog” story. And the real strength of the story? It’s a “boy meets something” story that is a lead-in to an even stronger story theme: A boy grows up to be a man.

That’s the true theme of Old Yeller, how a boy grows up to be a man. But it started with the simple idea of “boy meets girl” changed to “boy meets dog, boy loses dog, boy gets dog back.”

That’s what we do as writers. Ideas are easy. But when you get your idea how are you going to develop it into a memorable story that says something about human character? Ideas are easy. The writing that comes afterward…that takes a little more doing.

Old Yeller is a story drawn from a classic idea of "boy meets girl."

The Smoke and Mirrors Effect in Writing

Writing, good writing, is all about smoke and mirrors.Don't confuse being truthful to the story with the demands of fiction. They are apples and oranges.

You’ve heard the old saw Truth is stranger than fiction. It’s also unpublishable as fiction. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood notwithstanding, trying to write pure fact as pure fiction is darn near impossible. Even for all of Capote’s talent and genius he knew enough not to write everything in that story as fact.

A perfect example is dialog. Go to a coffee shop or listen to how people talk anywhere you are. You can’t print that jabber. It’s loaded with dialect, ums and ahs and umphs and ers and who knows what else. Now read a story. Pay attention to the dialog. People don’t talk like that in real life. A writer has to keep that in mind. He has to make the dialog sound real enough without interfering with the story.

This is a trap beginning writers sometimes find themselves in. They want to be truthful to the character and the reality of the place, and the story itself, so they load down the dialog with unreadable dialect. When they are called on it they say “But that’s how people really talk.”

I know that’s how people really talk. But that’s not how you want it to read. And believe you me those two are apples and oranges.

I’m going to say something that’s going to shock you, but I want you to take it to heart. When you are writing a story it’s okay to cheat. You don’t have to show everything you know about the character or the time or the place. In fact the less you say the stronger and the more impact the story will have.

It’s all smoke and mirrors. Truth is stranger than fiction. That’s why it’s not fiction. Fiction is just that: it is truth disguised as fiction. That’s what you have to keep separate, and most writers do.

We are told over and over we have to be true to the story. I agree with that statement. But that does not mean you have to disregard the peculiar demands fiction requires.

People read stories to be entertained. They can be taught new things about the human condition or history or life or love or whatever in the process…but first and foremost your readers want to be entertained. Fiction has a power unlike anything else because we can use the smoke and mirrors inherent in the art form to disguise that which needs to be hidden, while at the same time illuminating those points we want to drive home.

That’s a powerful tool, imo, and one that has to be used judiciously.

“Why, the character just took over the story! I had no control at all!”

See: Title of post.Are you really trying to tell me that as a writer you have NO control over your story and you're just a puppet on a string....?

Ha. I must admit I get a little chuckle when I see or hear a writer say this. As if.

I know what they are feeling. I guess I understand what they are trying to express. But they are writers. At our core we are challenged to write about the human condition. I can’t help but wonder if sometimes they don’t get confused with what is happening on the page.

Characters don’t “take over” anything. They certainly are not alive or “have a mind of their own” which is another phrase I often hear.

Have I read stories and novels where it seemed as if the characters were alive? You bet I have. Lots of ’em. Those are the most memorable stories I have ever read. But I maintain when the writer was writing the story the character in no way “came alive” or “took control” or anything of the sort.

Okay, maybe you are saying I am being too pedantic with all this. But I”m not the one who says this, they are. And they say it like they believe it. Which I find curious.

When I am writing I am always in control. Even when the story takes an unexpected turn or a character does something I had not originally intended him to do. I like when that happens. Heck, I love when that happens. But it’s all me and nothing but me.

I don’t know. It’s almost like they are trying to impart some mystical quality to writing that doesn’t exist, at least not by any quantifiable nature. I have said on this blog I view writing as an organic endeavor. That doesn’t mean I think the story is organic by strict definition of the word. It means I view the process as one of organic creation controlled by the writer. It’s not the character. It’s you and it’s me. Those actions are coming from us as we write. Which, as far as I am concerned, is one more example why we should trust our instincts when it comes to writing.

I just wish they would stop saying it because it’s such a fallacious argument. They are trying to impart some supernatural element to the story that lies outside their control. They are the writer, they are not a puppet on a string. That is just ridiculous.

So you wrote a story? Congratulations. That was the EASY part.

Today I want to elaborate on a topic I touched on yesterday. I would argue, at least from my own experience, writing is very hard work. It’s not easy to write a story. Everything is against you. Time, quality, need of story, Writing is hard...but that's the easy part of writing....laziness, readiness, you can name a hundred different obstacles you have to overcome just to write the story. The one thing I have to dismiss, mostly out of observation and verifiable evidence, is talent. Talent in any form is absolutely unnecessary when it comes to writing the story. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s simply the case. You don’t need talent to write a story. I know this from experience because I have seen many stories, published and unpublished, that were written and conceived without any verifiable talent in evidence.

Furthermore, talent is unnecessary (as much as it pains me to admit) when it comes to publishing a story. Particularly in this day and age. But let’s face a hard truth here. Mediocrity has often been the benchmark. Do just enough to squeeze by, hit a chord with people, and you can be hugely successful. Jean Auel, Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, Robert James Waller and a ton of other “successful” writers prove the point (at least to me) over and over. So there’s nothing under the sun that can be done about that. We writers who try to view this profession in more serious terms of organic art have to accept that fact. I don’t begrudge them their success. But I don’t have to read their tripe, either. And I don’t.

Which brings us to the focus of this post. So you finally wrote a story. Congratulations! It’s a big achievement and never let anyone tell you otherwise. You know how many people never start and then finish a story? Most. So you are already ahead of the game. Therefore, congratulate yourself because you deserve some recognition.

But that was the easy part.

As difficult as writing is, and I maintain it is extremely difficult (particularly if you want to do it well) writing the story was the easiest part of the entire process. Now you have to be judgmental. And there is no worse judge of his own work than the writer who wrote it. That scene you like so much and you think is the centerpoint to your story? It’s probably not that good. That paragraph you are thinking of tossing because in your mind it just doesn’t work? More than likely it needs to remain because it’s central to the character growth.

There is no worse judge of a story than the writer who wrote it. So what can you do? Find a beta reader. Better yet, find two or three. And, no, I don’t mean family members (unless you know they can read critically) who will by default like what you wrote and not want to hurt your feelings. I mean find a cynical judgmental hard-hitting no-holds-barred beta reader who, while he may like you personally, has no problem at all telling you if your story is crap.

Sound rough? That’s just the beginning. It gets rougher, believe me. You have to put your ego aside and listen to the criticisms that fly your way. As my writing buddy will tell you, there are few people who have a smaller ego than myself. But when push comes to shove I don’t care what I think, I care what the editor thinks, and if he has a way to improve the story then I am on board with that. Because I want one thing: to make the story as good as it can possibly be. I don’t care about my feelings, or what I like or don’t like about the story, or how I think it should proceed.  I have written the story. Now it’s time to let someone else judge the thing on its own merit.

Hey, it’s not all bad. Maybe the beta reader will like the story and have a few criticisms and changes you need to think about. Or maybe he will tell you to stop killing trees…or I guess in this day and age stop wasting valuable electrons.

Now the difficulty scales up on a hyperbolic curve. You have to submit the story, often again and again before it finds a home. That entails researching guidelines, markets, the list is enormous. And then the story gets bought and you have to think about marketing strategies. It never ends. You are swamped in detail. Amidst all this…you have started your next story. That’s right. You don’t keep patting yourself on the back. You write another story. You keep running the marathon knowing you are never, and I mean NEVER going to reach the finish line, because there is always one more story to write, one more idea in waiting.

Writing never ends. It’s organic and it continues, and has continued throughout our history. I am very cynical when it comes to the human species. But there is one cool thing I know about us. We will always tell stories if we have the chance to do so. As hard and difficult as writing is, I like knowing I am part of that long process that defines us as thinking, seeking creatures who want to understand their place in the universe. A good writer tries to do that with every story.

Keep writing!

“The Downside of Persistence” by Richard Parks

Occasionally I come across a post by another writer that is so good I just have to share. “The Downside of Persistence” by Richard Parks is such a post.

I know Richard from the time I lived in Mississippi. He is a superb writer and he thinks deeply about the process of writing and its outcomes, something I think about myself. Yet, I am unable to quantify my ideas as succinctly as he can. Again, which doesn’t surprise me because I know him personally and know what a great writer he is. Anyway, he really hit a home run with this post, imo.

If you are a beginning or an established writer I think you should read Richard’s post. I found it very helpful and enlightening…and I don’t say that about most things I read.


The Downside of Persistence by Richard Parks

 

“Alpenglow” – New Haxan Story Coming Soon. Woot!

My new Haxan story “Alpenglow” will be released soon from Argo Navis Publishing. This is a dark fantasy/horror story about the Old West. An ancient trapper named Cesar Coffin comes unannounced out of Taos into the grinding maelstrom of Haxan. He has fresh scalps…and an even darker secret hidden in the fragments of his soul.

Don’t miss it.

An old mountain trapper enters Haxan with one thing on his mind...kill the demon who rules there.

 

And, in case you missed it, my new SF/horror story “Fishing the Styx” is now live for the Kindle and Kindle Fire exclusively. Enjoy!

 

Horror and heroic rebellion in the infinity of Hell....

 

I Could Write This Story All Day Long, But I Won’t

A stranger rides into Haxan. He badmouths Magra Snowberry. Marshal Marwood then meets him in the plaza.

I am here to tell you I could write this story all day long. I love this story. I could write it again and again, in different ways and perspectives, and be in clover. I would love it.

But the reader would hate it. Maybe not the first time, but probably by the second. Definitely the third. Because while I like the idea of the story, we have to be brutal and honest with ourselves: it’s crap.

It really is bad. Everything about that story is bad. It’s full of cliches, full of everything I despise about the current romanticized view of the genre. I mean, come on, like we haven’t seen this movie before, right? A bad guy rides into town. He does something bad to a nice girl. The lawman is incensed, things escalate, and they shoot it out.

Sounds like every Saturday morning western program we have ever watched. Not to say people don’t like reading that kind of thing. There’s a market for it. Lots of writers in the genre enjoy using tropes like “Spinster Schoolmarm” and “Laconic Cowboy” or what have you. Many more are successful at it. But as much as I like that stuff, too, at least on a pure atavistic level, I cannot write it. I mean, maybe I can do it once. But I can’t keep doing it. I would go nuts.

But back to my earlier comment. I love that story about Marwood and Magra. I like it because it’s so simple and I don’t have to think very hard. Everything is distilled down to its elemental qualities. But as much as I would like to write that story (and have written that story) I can’t in good conscience write it many times over.

Because if I did I would not be true to myself.  I would be writing something, and writing in a fashion, completely unknown to me. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it, I guess is what I am trying to say. Even worse, I feel the reader would reach a point where he feels he is being short changed. I don’t want the reader to feel that way about any story I write.  Even this one.

Sometimes I joke with other writers and readers I will one day write a story where Marwood resolves his problems with balloon animals and party hats. It would have the benefit of never been tried in the world of Haxan, I’ll give it that. But that wasn’t what the west was like, either, and I’m not sure I could bring myself to write a joke story like that. Not because I view my work in such lofty and serious terms, but because I don’t think the story itself would work.

And when you get right down to it that’s what writers are all about: the story. Does it work? If not, why? Can you fix it? Will it be better? What does the story demand? Do I have the talent to bring that across to the reader?

Stories are like that, sometimes. At least I think they are. We may want to write the same story over and over because it would be easy and fun. But if we did we would not be true to the story, even the story we want to write over and over. I can’t speak for anyone else, but this would be hard for me to pull off.

But, yes, I love the idea of a stranger riding into Haxan, badmouthing Magra, and having to meet Marwood. All these things have happened at one time or another in the series. I think one or two stories have even presented them in that sequence, if not that specific structure. But as much as I love the idea, I have to watch myself because I would not be fair to the story or the reader if I kept writing that same story again and again.

No matter how much I love it, what I love doesn’t matter. The story dictates those terms. I think good writers respond to that.

Les Miserables: “Hunger comes with love.”

I finished reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for the second time some years back.  The first time I read it was in high school.  I liked it then, I love it now, even after all this time.

I guess everyone knows about Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread and being pursued by Javert.  But, my God, does this book ever deserve its title. Everyone is wretched, in one way or another. How can we ever forget the grinding poverty and dehumanization of Fantine?  And how Cosette, her little girl, must live as a slave under the monstrous Thenardier family?

There are enduring images which have survived over the centuries.  Fantine selling her front teeth so Cosette has enough to eat,  the fight on the barricade, the flight through the sewers.  This is a huge book in more ways than one.  The writing is fantastic and there are little “Hugoisms” sprinkled throughout that make you put the book down and marvel either at the turn of phrase or the beauty of the writing itself.  Like these:

“Gravediggers die.  By dint of digging graves for others, they open their own.”

“There is a moment when girls bloom out in a twinkling and become roses all at once.  Yesterday we left them children, to-day we find them dangerous.”

“Hunger comes with love.”

“Humanity is identity.  All men are the same clay.”

“Women play with their beauty as children do with their knives.  They wound themselves with it.”

“When we are at the end of life, to die means to go away; when we are at the beginning, to go away means to die.”

“Then he heard his soul, again ba truly stunning and magnificent workecome terrible, give a sullen roar in the darkness.”

“Certain flames can only come from certain souls; the eye, that window of the thought, blazes with it; spectacles hide nothing; you might as well put a glass over hell.”

“Robber, assassin….these words fell upon him like  a shower of ice.”

One of the main ingredients of this novel is the depth of human emotion.  It’s never overdone, which is an easy thing for a writer to do.  We are often moved, such as the scene when Cosette marries and Jean Valjean must disappear from her life to protect her from his past.  He goes home, takes out the little dress she used to wear as a child, and pressing it against his face sobs uncontrollably.  And I challenge anyone to read Valjean’s monologue at the end of the novel and not get a little weepy.  Strong stuff.  Memorable.

This is a great book.  I’m glad I reread it and as I think about it more maybe I will read it a third time.  It might be one of those books I read again every twenty years or so.  But even if I do not I’m a better person for reading it in the first place, that’s for sure.

If you haven’t read this novel, you should.  If you have, do so again.  It’s great.

White Zombie (1932) – Old Fashioned Love and Death Sprinkled with Haitian Magic

White Zombie (1932) is a classic Pre-Code film starring Bela Lugosi. Though it was roundly panned at its release it has, over the Definitely Pre-Code clothing here!intervening decades, become a seminal horror film as regards subject matter, direction, and artistic photography.

To be sure the acting is a heavy handed and creaky, not to mention the squeaky musical soundtrack. But you don’t watch this film for the acting or the soundtrack. You watch it because 1.) it’s Pre-Code which means there’s a lot of sex and dangerous subject matter, and, 2.) it’s a story about zombies when zombies were cool.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) notwithstanding, I have never been a huge fan of flesh eating zombies. I view many of those stories as one-dimensional. It’s as if the same Knock-Knock joke is being told over and over again. Under those circumstances we all want to chomp on brains if only to escape the endless repetition of rotting corpses chasing ambulatory shish-ka-bobs around a shattered city .

Now, to be fair, Romero didn’Madge Bellamy was a big silent film star before she made White Zombie. She will always be known for this film.t always do this, even in films where he always did this. Then again he was an authentic genius and a phenomenal filmmaker. But much of zombie filmdom after him is derivative — and it reads and looks that way. It’s weak because it is dependent upon itself and has no need of a good background story and characterization. The storylines for these stories all start off with the same premise: there was an Apocalypse, and zombies eat brains.

You can phone that in while waiting in line at a coffee shop. And much of it reads and looks that way. Look, flesh eating zombies jumped the shark with the publication of  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith in 2009. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t even work as parody anymore. And, no, I don’t care that there’s a zombie series on TV that is popular right now. So what. This is America. Mediocrity always plays big here. My point is you’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing new there at all. Not one damn thing.

Okay, so I’m a zombie snob. You found me out. Sue me.

Bela Lugosi made White Zombie after his success as Dracula. Here he is as the sugar cane mill owner, Murder Legendre.But zombies didn’t always dig into skulls after brains. They have an ancient origin, ostensibly tracing religious roots all the way back to ancient Egypt. But the dark supernatural Vodoun magic that was the strongest foundation of zombie lore comes directly from Haiti via Africa. It is this lore that White Zombie explores.

As I said at the top this is not a perfect film. Hell, as a film it’s not very good. I’d be the first to concede that point. But the directors Victor and Edward Halperin made a visually stunning feast. I cannot get over the incredible graveyards built into the sides of hills, the silhouettes moving along the horizon, the mystic shots, the play of light and shadow on stone and faces, the oblique camera angles. There’s a lot of experimentation here, it seems, and it works rather well because it lends atmosphere and layers that not only make the film memorable, it has made the film endure for over 80 years.

I don’t want to spoil the film by giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say a young couple plans to get married in Haiti, there’s a man who wants the woman for himself, and he approached a mad sugarcane mill owner (Bela Lugosi) who has the name of Murder Legendre. That name alone turns this into a classic.This film was shot in eleven days. Even so some of the camera angles are absolutely stunning.

Lugosi tells the heartbroken young man he can have the love of his life if he makes her a zombie. (That right there, with all its sexual implications, would never make this film see the light of day during the Hays Code era.)  The lovestruck young man agrees, the bride “dies” during her wedding service…and off we go.

Hoo boy, and what a ride it is. I cannot get over how well-crafted some of these shots are. Many of the backgrounds were reused from other horror films like Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein.

If you have never seen this film I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Especially if you like horror. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well the film holds up. It may even spur you on to write a different type of zombie horror story other than what we see so often nowadays.

One last cool aspect about this film? The heavy metal band White Zombie took its name from this movie. Rob Zombie, who founded the band, has always had a deep love and respect for classic horror. As a bona-fide zombie snob myself, I always found it rather awesome that Mr. Zombie would elevate the original film to a height it deserved.

I do want you to see this film. I think you will like it.  🙂

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