NaNoWriMo

I’m a little excited over this year’s National Novel Writing Month. So much so that I’ve already started sketching out ideas. I’m not usually one to plan my writing–I tend to just sit down and write and let what happens happen–but I finished my novel back in 2017 and I’m determined to finish again this year. I just kind of ran out of steam early last year and barely broke 10k words; I want to hit the finish line once more, as that was an incredible feeling.

If you’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, I highly encourage you to do so, especially if you’ve always wanted to write a novel and just have never found the time. It feels remarkably good to create something, and when you hit 50k words and know that your novel–yes, YOUR novel–is complete, you’ll feel on top of the world. If you’re unfamiliar with NaNoWriMo, it’s just what it sounds like; each November, writers amateur and professional alike pledge to write a novel of at least 50 thousand words. That sounds like a daunting task, and it is, but if you just let yourself go and write the novel inside of you those words will just fly onto the page.

That’s what I did in 2017. I wrote a novel that I had been avoiding writing for years, wanting to write something different or simply being afraid to encounter such dark and personal material as that novel would demand. However, I gave in and wrote some of the best writing I’ve ever produced. I have high hopes for this novel’s success in the future.

November will be here before you know it, so don’t put off making an outline or doing some character development beforehand–just don’t actually start writing until November 1st! Or do start writing, and just be prepared to set it aside and work on something different. You can never have too many projects.

A Summer in Hell

I’ve been enjoying the summer break from my full-time job, chiefly because I’ve stayed inside for most of it. I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter series (up until I finish the fourth book, which I’m reading now, at which point I’ll be reading the remainder of the series for the first time), and The Lord of the Rings. I’ve also been reading Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. It’s quite good, but my other reading options have been so light and easy on the eyes that it’s easy to choose them over it. I’m determined to get to a good stopping point with Harry Potter, probably after the fourth book, after which point I’ll be “caught up,” and continue on with James’ work. I’ve already reached the half-way point of Tolkien, which is a good place to pause.

Outside, it’s been ridiculously humid. The temperature has been around average for a North Carolina summer, but the humidity has been such that the heat index has been over 100 degrees every day. It’s expected to reach 120 degrees tomorrow, which is of course the day my wife wants us to get back in the habit of going to the gym.

I’m putting a couple of submissions in, but have set aside for my writing for awhile. I’ve hit something of a wall and have no good ideas. However, the only way to write is to actually do it, so if I don’t have a spark of imagination any time soon I’ll write some fan fiction. That’s gotten the creative juices flowing before.

When It Hits You

I’ve been struggling to write lately, chiefly because I’m in the middle of several projects and don’t know where to take any of them. Or at least, I didn’t know, but now I do. I can rework one novel I was writing into a slightly different monster–more dark fantasy and horror, less historical–and all of a sudden it feels like I have a new project with limitless possibilities.

That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? When that inspiration hits you and all of a sudden everything makes sense. Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but at least it feels right. It feels like you’ve been trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and all of a sudden that peg changed shape and now it fits just right.

I hope to have more of those moments.

My wife, who is my go-to editor (she has edited professionally), just finished the novel I’m going to try and find a home for. Here’s hoping within a year I’ve got a publishing deal worked up. And look, an email alert telling me she’s made edits to a short story. Back to work, I suppose.

The Joy of Horror

I definitely consider myself a genre writer. I’m not too keen on literary fiction; it most certainly has its place, and there is some fantastic literary fiction out there that well-deserves its accolades. But as both a reader and a writer, I would much rather be taken out of a realistic setting and put into something fantastical and truly imaginary.

So, I write and read genre fiction. My favorite genre is probably horror, both as a creator and a consumer. I enjoy the visceral thrills of horror, to be sure: the external conflict against an unrelenting force bent on destruction and the desperate need for survival can make, in able hands, for compelling reading (and watching; I love horror films just as much as I love horror fiction). I enjoy even more, however, the character development and introspection that’s inherent, and maybe even unique to, the horror genre.

Horror, as a genre label, has numerous definitions. Some akin horror to pornography, in that it offers a sensual and emotional experience that is superficial and fleeting, and serves little intrinsic purpose with little value. It is this definition of horror that has, before the current horror film renaissance we’ve slowly been experiencing ever since the release of 28 Weeks Later…, so often commanded discussion of the genre. Horror movies were excuses to watch attractive yet obnoxious people have sex and then die, and horror fiction was trash consumed by goth kids all in a race to be edgier than their fellow nihilists. Lately the way we talk about horror has grown more nuanced. It’s now accepted that the horror genre uses the base human emotion of fear to explore classical human experiences and literary themes, most often dealing with trauma.

What I admire the most about the horror genre is that it forces the reader or viewer into a state of discomfort before engaging them with subtext. Why is this discomfort necessary? To build empathy with the characters, for one. It’s hard to not think about existential dread and the fragility of life when such ideals are being played out right in front of you. Another reason why this discomfort is necessary is that squeezes the audience out of their comfort zone, which makes them more willing to engage with weighty topics and ideas.

I love many other genres, and will be talking about all of them. But it’s horror that I find the most engaging, exciting, and ultimately meaningful. It’s no exaggeration that after finishing The Shining I felt more alive than I ever had up until that moment.

ACCEPTED: 12-Point Buck

I had another flash fiction story accepted to Trembling With Fear. It’s called “12-Point Buck,” and it’s about a hunter who is expecting to take a home a prize buck to be rewarded, but then something happens that changes his hunt into something more personal.

I’ll post a link  in my published works once it goes live. I’m happy to report this success after a string of rejections, and as usual I hope to ride this wave to even more good news. I’m working on a submission for Welcome to the Splatter Club. This one explores a theme I find uniquely fascinating: how far will a creative professional go to realize their art? I also have my eyes on an epic fantasy and/or a detective anthology from the same publisher.

Good luck to all of my fellow writers trying to make it in this cutthroat world. Well, not really cutthroat, but most certainly breakneck.

How Not to Get Writing Done

I’ve struggled this past week with writing every day. I’ve only gotten down a few words for the short story I’m working on. There’s a few reasons for this.

My depression has been bad lately.  There have been insurance-related issues (chiefly, they want to make sure I’ve taken literally every other medication that’s cheaper) in getting a full prescription for some medication of which I was taking samples. It was working very well, but it won’t work if it’s not in my system.

I’ve been busy. I’ve had meetings at my full-time job, things to do at home, and just general distractions. It’s hard to focus when you’re exhausted.

More of my work has been rejected, which always makes me doubt the worth of all of this.

But the fact remains: if I’m not writing, I won’t get published.

Telling myself that, of course, just discourages me more, but it’s true.

Hopefully, next week will be better.

Not What We’re Looking For

I love it (meaning I hate it) when an editor rejects one my short stories with the line, “It’s not what we’re looking for right now.”

That’s such a loaded statement.

What are they really saying?

Is the editor telling the truth? “Your story is good, but it doesn’t fit with the theme of any issue we have coming up, so we’re going to pass for now.” No, don’t pass! Accept it and publish it when you’re ready. I’ll wait for years to see it in print if I have to. Just give me the vindication of acceptance.

Are they trying to be polite and let you down easy? “Your story is hot garbage.” Well, thanks for protecting my feelings, but if you don’t tell me I’ve just written something akin to pig vomit how do I know to make it better? Now I’m going to send it off to another publication and get my hopes up all over again.

Does this all have to do with name recognition? “Your story is fantastic, but we can’t sell copies based on your name, so thanks but no thanks.” You know that feeling you had when you applied for your first job and all the positions that justified your college degree or post-high school training required experience, and there was seemingly no jobs open for brand-new professionals like you except for the kind of jobs you would have been over-qualified for in the tenth grade? This is exactly like that. Everybody wants a best-selling author writing for them, but nobody wants to help you become a best-seller. Except there are new authors being published all the time, so somebody (lots of editors, actually) are taking a chance on unknown writers. Obviously, then, the problem is that you’re a no-talent hack that couldn’t write an original and engaging short story if a seasoned veteran just handed you a manuscript and said to copy it word for word and take full credit; you’d mess even that up somehow. At least that’s what I tell myself.

And there’s always the follow-up question: so, what are you looking for? I wish editors would tell me. I’d gladly custom-write a short story that’s more likely to get published. Sure, they say as much in their calls for submissions, but those can be confusing.

“Think Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, and Edgar Allan Poe. We want something fresh and original!” Well, which is it: something that evokes those authors, or something that evokes my own voice?

“We want content that’s new and exciting, that pays homage to the grand adventure stories of old.” So a new and exciting story that’s also a homage? Fantastic.

“We want our readers to feel like they’re reading one of the classics, with an inspiring new twist.” Like, what, exactly? How am I supposed to replicate a classical work yet give it a new twist?

It’s got to be a hard job selecting works for a publication. You need to find stories that will keep readers coming back, and that’s not an easy task. I don’t envy editors, but I do have to wonder exactly what their selection criteria is.

It would be almost easier if every call for submissions was just three words: “Read our minds.”

Music to Write To

Right now, I’m listening to Apple’s Smashing Pumpkins Essentials playlist. It starts off with “1979,” one of the most chill and heartfelt songs I’ve ever heard. The soft echo of the instrumentals and Billy Corgan’s whispering vocals bring me back to a trip I took to Chicago in the summer of 2009. I had taken a taxi cab to meet a friend at a hotel bar. She was someone I knew from the library world, and was a mentor and sympathetic ear to me. I was looking forward to having an enlightening conversation with her over a few drinks.

The cool night air poured into the taxi cab window as dusk settled across the city. The noise of big city traffic and the twinkle of metropolitan lights contrasted with the relative quiet to which I was accustomed back home. It was a magical evening, but not in the romantic or adventurous sense; there was something in the air which I could not explain, not an excitement but, oddly enough, a peace. I felt a sense of belonging despite being so far from home, and was listening to “1979” on my iPod (or maybe my phone, I can’t remember exactly). Then again, maybe I wasn’t listening to it. Maybe I was thinking about the music video, which was set in big city traffic, or this song was just on my mind (the band is from Chicago, after all).

Either way, all of these memories come from a simple song. This is why I love listening to music while I write. Songs really do take you back to a place in time, good or bad. I’m currently taking the Masterclass with Neil Gaiman (which I highly recommend) and he speaks of a writer’s “compost heap:” a collection of memories, conversations, experiences, and all kinds of things that, over time, condense down and fertilize your fiction writing. Most of what’s on my compost heap is music.

Any song from Korn’s Follow the Leader takes me back to college. Korn had been very popular when I was in high school, but now that I had disposable income from a part-time job, I could afford the popular music I couldn’t back then. I listened to that album endlessly, rediscovering some songs and discovering many for the first time. I went to a very conservative college, so I didn’t have to jump over many hurdles to be a rebel/outcast/whatever you want to call the weird kid; wearing black and listening to Korn helped cement that image. I kind of liked it, truth to be told. Granted, I was a good student and stayed out of trouble, but being outspoken and strange definitely made me feel like an interesting character.

“Closer” by Nine Inch Nails takes me back to the night I downloaded it on Napster (please tell me you remember Napster). I knew it was a popular song and wanted to give it a listen. I downloaded it, listened to it, and was instantly terrified. It felt forbidden, taboo even. I knew my parents would disapprove. I immediately deleted it. I didn’t want to be caught dead with it. Now, it’s one of my favorites.

Listening to hair metal takes me back to my childhood, when my mother and my aunt would blast Poison, Motley Crue, and Warrant on road trips to the beach. Old school R&B and hip-hop takes me back to my marching band days, when we played some of the great classics as part of our shows and parades. We played an especially rousing rendition of “Thriller” with a killer bass line pumped out by an extremely talented bass saxophonist. “Calling You” by Blue October brings me back to my wedding day, when I walked down the aisle with my brand-new wife to begin our life together.

Sometimes it can be hard to write to music. These memories tend to interfere with the creative process. That’s why I try to match the music with what I’m writing. Horror has a soundtrack of industrial and black metal. If I’m writing a western, then it’s outlaw country and contemporary blue grass. Fantasy and high adventure get a background of arena rock, power metal, and rousing orchestral arrangements. That way, the linked memories and emotions boost my writing instead of interfere with it.

Of course, sometimes what interferes the most is simply deciding on the right playlist or album for that day’s writing. Much like a driver who refuses to back out of the driveway until they have the perfect driving song, I tend to not bother putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as is often the case) until I’ve got just the right song spinning.

Maybe that explains why I’m not getting much writing done these past few days. I just like music too much.