writing

All posts tagged writing

The Dread is in the Details

Published October 12, 2017 by admin

There are a lot of things that make horror horror: certain tropes and cliches, different archetype/stock characters, playing up emotional reactions, gore, playing up the action and danger, writing what some people might call at least dangerous or sometimes taboo…

Those are all part of it. But let’s not forget the role of environment and description, hrm?

Admittedly, I love immersive fiction. I want to lose myself in a story, whether it’s something more or less happy like Little House on the Prarie (depending on which book you read), or something more along the lines of Clive Barker. A good book is a good book, and will put you right in the world.

And if it’s horror, it will make you want to run away from that world and hope you can escape before you can remember to just close the stinkin’ book.

Not that I have any experience with that. Ahem.

I’m not sure if it puts me back into a childlike mindset where everything is big and huge and intense, or if it’s just the mark of good writing preying on my human weaknesses, but either way, I dig it. I love that Neil Gaiman really goes into overdrive describing his Midwest settings and people in American Gods. Part of what makes Hellbound Heart and other Clive Barker titles sing is that he really digs in and describes the grotesque in almost loving detail. Part of Stephen King’s genius is really making sure you know all about the town of Derry in It – it’s history, geography, mythology. Plus, he makes sure every character is a full person – to an almost painful degree. That’s the only way we can really feel terrified for them, because if he wrote something to the extent of ‘So then the clown turned into a werewolf and chased after the kids on the bike..” Yeah, no. Granted, that summarizes a good few pages, but it really doesn’t convey the intensity of that scene, or the personal stakes.

When I have the wordcount, I really try to play certain sequences in my head. If I can see them, then translate that into words, I have a much better chance of getting my readers to feel the tension I’m feeling. Mooner more or less takes place in one room, but I made myself really go through that story bit by bit. Everything effects the mood: character description, dialogue and word choice, the phyiscal description of the title character, the emotions conveyed in the motivations for the final reveal…I want my readers to feel the freezing, barren winter, to really get a sense of how dangerous that time period was. Little things really mattered and sometimes made the difference between life and death back then, and it was important to bring as much attention to that as possible, so that when things do go down, the reader gets just what all is at stake.

Although Olde School is technically a mix of genres, I really wanted the scene where Paddlelump discovers dangerous things happening in his woods to be extremely vivid. The reveals just keep coming, so I mentally walked that path with him over and over and over, paying attention to what would be around him, under him, above him, and the thoughts that were going on inside him. You have to be somewhat hyper aware of setting and character and marry those together into something cohesive that also isn’t too bogged down by detail. Every leaf, every crunching footstep, every odd, dripping substance plays into winding up for the rest of the scene, and I picked and chose what to include through how they made me feel when I married to the action of the sequence.

It’s like how the cab of a roller coaster is slowly, slowly pulled up to the top of the first hill – that’s, essentially, what really good description does in horror – it gets you ready to have the bottom dropped out from underneath you and launches you onward through all the crazy stuff. You need the slow tug and pull to prepare you for what comes next. You need that description so you’re submersed enough that the horror elements do what they’re supposed to.

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Wanna see for yourself? Check out my 1800’s-era vampire story, Mooner, to see how details build a bigger picture.

If you’re more fantasy minded (or like some dark elements with your fantasy), then definitely check out Olde School.

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Dear Writers: Please Read (A Book)

Published October 11, 2017 by admin

We’re back to some practical advice for this month, so pull up a chair and let’s dish.

About a year ago, I was guesting at a convention and was hanging out with some other authors. The topic of books came up (duh), and what we were reading, and I heard something which was utterly offensive to my poor ears which you think would be cynical to stuff like this by now.

“Oh, I don’t read, I don’t have time. I just write books.”

Or something. I’m paraphrasing. I think my ears are still crying.

Look at that sentence. Look at it!

If you write or want to write, I want you to stare long and hard at that sentence, and never, ever, do that. 

Look, I get some of you probably think this is bottom of the barrel basic knowledge and a waste of a blog post, but I also didn’t think I’d hear an author who was there giving out advice admit they didn’t read books.

And they weren’t the only one. 

I think I stared and was probably lifted up and carried off before I could open my big mouth.

Here’s the thing: to write well, you have to read. You just do. You don’t learn about different voices in action, or structure, or different takes on genre, or well…anything unless you’re actively seeing what all is out there.

And when I say read, I mean read everything. Everything ever written. Right now.

Okay, okay, that may be a slightly tall order. Definitely read, and please diversify. Don’t read only what you write to try to get a leg up, because you aren’t all those other people, and by time you think of the perfect idea to write to market, the market’s gonna change. You don’t read just to imitate people or try to sell. You read to become a more well-rounded artist and person. You may agree with how some people write and not others, and that’s fair. That’s cool…but you also won’t even know what you agree with and why if you don’t start flipping some pages.

Some of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever had are with fantasy authors who only read like three other fantasy authors. Or people whose sense of the horror genre starts and ends with Stephen King. The problem is that 1) that gives you an extremely limited range and 2) If you are put in the position of sitting on panels or giving workshops, you are then going to be giving people limited and bad information.

Seriously, don’t be that person. Don’t be the “expert” who doesn’t know at least what some of the subgenres of the basics are. Don’t get so stuck in the romantic aspect of young adult stories that you forget other types of plots are a thing, despite having a huge chunk of titles proving you wrong. No one is going to know everything (no, you’re not), but at least get a feel for things that aren’t just your preference. Know some different mediums. Know what you don’t know. Then go read that.

I look at it like this: if I didn’t read nonfiction, I wouldn’t stumble onto some really fascinating things I could use in some of my titles. If I didn’t read folk stories, Olde School never would’ve gotten written. If I hadn’t started reading manga, I wouldn’t be nearly as brave to try new structures and tangent my plots and do different things. Reading graphc novels has taught me the beauty of trying to streamline and be concise. Anthologies have shown me just what you can do with a theme (and a set word count). Ray Bradbury is a master class of short stories, but his essays are equally important. I spent my entire time in college reading a huge range of plays (some required reading, others things that were loaned to me). All of them shaped the type of artist I’m becoming and my sense of story and action in different ways.

Articles, memoirs, poems, speeches, plays – you can gain something from all of these, whether you’re directly applying it into your work or not.

And, yes, you also learn what not to do. Or, you learn what works for you and what isn’t in your comfort zone or isn’t one of your strengths.

And, honestly, if you aren’t taking the time as an author to read, than I’m going to assume you’re writing for very different reasons than I am. If you can’t make time to support the art that you yourself are pursuing, than how do I know you’re developing your craft? How do I know you have any real respect for how hard everyone else is working? No one starts out fully formed and in a vacuum and there is always something to learn. Actors still take acting classes, artists still learn new techniques. Probably one of the most important things you can do if you’re a writer or want to get published is to get thee to your local library (because libraries are awesome) and see what’s up.

Seriously. Read a book. Then another. And another. Rinse, repeat.

So how about you? If you write, how important is reading to you? Do you stay in your comfort zone or read different things? Talk to me about the pros and cons!

 

Influences: The Lost Boys

Published August 31, 2017 by admin

Alright, back to vampires. Warning: long post, but I think breaking it up would just make the flow uneven.

I’ve had variations of this post in my head for a long time. I think it’s hard to put what things mean to you into words that actually convey those feelings.  I personally also have a bit of a hard time with the “pop culture saved me narrative.”I get it – I think everyone has defining moments that are connected to art and culture (I certainly do), I don’t know that I love giving them that kind of total power, because it neglects how much work the person involved and those around them puts in. I think situations can be complicated and putting it down to one specific thing can be somewhat trite. I don’t say that to take away from things that are important to people, and I’m not insinuating anything about fandom, but I think situations are just way more complicated than we tend to realize and remember.

That being said, I admittedly get my bigger influences from things that have affected me during times when I really needed something to identify with. Star Wars came about when I needed something to plug into when I was 11, Labyrinth opened up new worlds in my head at 16 or 17, Bowie made me feel like I wasn’t alone and helped me discover my creative soul at around the same time. I will always have vivid memories of hiding out in a bookshop reading Bradbury during the summer of allergic bronchitis and theater that kicked my butt constantly in my early 20s.

 

lost boys

The Lost Boys is tricky because it feels like it was always around but in different forms. I remember my dad being super excited when it came out. If you’re new to Selahville, it’s important to note that I was a complete gullible chicken as a kid (but also snuck off in video stores to read the backs of horror movie boxes. Figure that one out). I couldn’t even watch commercials for horror movies (but was fine with demonic possession in Care Bear movies. I don’t know, it was the 80s and they were sparkly and cute.) Somehow, I got it in my head that vampires could be a real thing and the vampires in the movie lived right down the road. I’m not sure if that idea was put into my head by a mischevious relative or if that was an overactive brain on my part, but for a long while I had this instant, Pavlovian terror response to Kiefer Sutherland’s face, which is probably a somewhat different reaction than he’s used to getting.

 

lostboysd

The stuff of nightmares. Until adolescence hit.

 

Anywho. My memories from that time frame are vivid but fleeting, so I don’t think I even saw the movie all the way through until college. By that time I was reading Bradbury and Anne Rice and others, and I could look at Sutherland without screaming. I still have two conflicting timelines in my head – either I rented the movie on a weekend when all my roommates went home and I had to stick around for rehearsals, or I was working at a summer regional theater type gig. I do remember being painfully lonely – I’d had some heavy life changes. The first real, rough moments of my adult life happen a few months prior.  Everything was affecting me: I was oversleeping, I wasn’t eating well or taking care of myself, I had this sense that I had to prove myself right now or else, and being a natural introvert, I just plain wasn’t great at reaching out to even hang out with people or open up about what was going on. I can’t remember if at that point I’d not succeeded into securing grad school auditions (I’d opted to try the acting route instead of tech or design), but I suspect that this was that time period. I was also coming to grips with this feeling that I just created things differently than other people in my major.

Now I can see where that’s not a bad thing, but at the time I took it as a personal shortcoming. I liked what I was doing, but the department was really focused on straight plays that either didn’t have a lot of parts that I could play or didn’t speak to me from a design or build sense. Now, that’s just part of the job, but at the time it really made me wonder if I’d made a huge misstep. Everything began to bleed together for me, and I didn’t feel like I clicked with anything that was out there (the Internet was still developing and when you’re still pretty young and searching for connection with something, it’s hard to know what to even look for). I didn’t really have an outlet to paint with all the colors in the palette, or if I did, I didn’t know the words to ask for the opportunity.

I was pretty much holed up in my apartment, feeling like I’d completely failed at what I’d wanted to do most, failed at interpersonal relationships, failed at just even doing the day to day well. I can’t even describe the embarrassment I felt showing up to classes everyday, feeling like more and more like I was letting everyone and myself down. I went through the motions, but when I wasn’t required to be somewhere it was easier to hole up, beat myself up and blame myself than to go talk to someone or even ask for a neutral opinion or advice (at least on the art front). I was a swirl of negative emotions that festered and ate away at me as I hid out, trying to numb myself to it all.  It, admittedly, was not a great point in the Selahville timeline.

I honestly don’t know where things would have led if they had progressed on their own – I’d like to think I’d have come out of it because I’m generally stubborn and there were people around me in my classes and labs and rehearsals, even if I was beginning to wall myself off emotionally. I had rented some movies for lack of anything better to do, and for whatever weird reason (maybe I just wanted to prove to seven-year-old me that I could watch it), The Lost Boys was in that stack.

There are some things where you can admit that you like them or talk about why they’re good in an analytical sense, and there are things that just strike like a thunderbolt. Maybe the humor got me to pay attention, maybe it reminded me of my childhood in a weird way, but for whatever reason, I was entranced.

And then the tape broke right before the ending. I literally drove up the street to another video store right that second so I could watch the rest of it. I don’t know how many times I watched it that weekend (and beyond), but I was just really intrigued and began to look up what meager information there was online at the time.

It should be said that by that point I had just started getting cable and my theatre major schedule never had time for Buffy, so a lot of the concepts that became the sleek, cool urban fantasy vampire were brand new to me. Up to that point, all I’d really known was Anne Rice. The music fit perfectly, the performances were spot on, the story was tight. I was happy that it used folklore, and the production design just drew me in like none other. Since costumes were in my wheelhouse, I drank in everything. I think what also really struck me is that it felt feasible on a lot of levels, from performance to story to design. I

I could do that. That phrase kept going round my head, and I clung to it and refused to let go. It was an odd sense of validation (however slight), that maybe I could belong somewhere and there was a place for me. It was the mantra I needed, and if that’s the moment or the thing that saved me, then great, awesome, it tells a good story.

Granted, in my daily life where Chekov and Everyman and Tennessee Williams and A.R. Gurney reigned (nothing wrong with those, love ’em), I didn’t really get an opportunity to play with that sort of thing in a design or construction sense right out of the gate (this was further proven when movies like Hedwig and the Angry Inch came out  and my mind was blown again and I was left frustrated that I had nothing like that in my everyday). Still, I knew there were other avenues to explore and that I just had to keep looking to find where I fit. I definitely think the film gave me the courage to keep true to myself, and it opened up a ton of possibilities that got me reading and experimenting with different concepts. It got me to take a breath and go looking for what else was out there.

Costume-wise, it’s taken me a long time to grow into myself. I think we all go through that lean on influences phase until we absolutely can’t anymore. Theatre work turned into event and various seasonal work, I slowly got more confident and began being open to making stuff that was outside the norm. I had already been working on Halloween events and shoved into the role of coming up with walkabout scary characters. I think every so often when you’re working on things consistently, you suddenly have a level-up time period, where things really start to click and the synapses really fire up. For me, it was being brought in to create a gang of steampunk fairy tale characters. The interesting kicker was, though, that the images I was shown as reference of tone and concept were much closer to gothic rocker with some sci-fi thrown in.

I’d also become something of a budget-whisperer by that time, and was content on raiding storage and existing fabric (and slicing apart the pleather on like fifteen purses) to make other ends of the budget meet. While I didn’t necessarily go in with Lost Boys in mind, I kept that kind of rocker/put together/street rat bohemian look in the front of my brain. I’d  also developed the habit of taking whatever characters other people didn’t want to do, so I got mostly the male, non-prince ones. And I had a blast. I’m still really proud of how those turned out, because for once it felt like I’d formed a cohesive look, that all of the things I did could exist in the same dysfunctional world. It was also the first time in a while where I went on pure instinct and didn’t sketch anything out, but just built onto the dress forms with an estimation of people’s measurements. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

Writing-wise, I’ve probably done at least ten or fifteen blog and guest posts about the movie by now: themes of family, why the vampires work, my irritation at the missed ball with the lady characters, and on and on. If anything, that movie’ll keep me in article writing forever. Back when I first really watched it, I was drawn not only to the whole modern vampire concept but the open-endedness. You didn’t need to know their backstories to form an opinion of them. You didn’t need a huge amount of details, and it was better that way because it was really interesting to think on things and fill in the blanks for yourself. In a way, we’ve lost that trait as storytellers since the 80s, and I wish we’d get back to it because I think it makes an audience work more and appreciate things in a different way.

I also like that okay, yes, all the cues are there for you to paint the vampires as the bad boy antagonists, but honestly, they aren’t actually made the antagonists until the last act. Until that point you really just see them chilling out and being teens. If anything, it was bold to show both them and the humans in their home environments. I still will argue that they aren’t really the villains, because essentially they’re just reacting to an outside threat and were just doing what they were supposed to do (be vampires, make more vampires). To put a moral angle or the whole you’re a vampire so you’re damned angle on it actually robs the story of its more interesting possibilities. I’ll be thrilled when we can get away from the whole vampire must equal antagonist or sexy love interest thing we’ve got going on. Just have your characters be vampires and explore what that’s like for the characters. It ain’t hard.

Those kinds of thoughts circulated through my head a lot. I’d been writing in my spare time, but now I toyed with the genre and began to play with different types of characters and what it would really mean for any random person to become a vampire.  I began to read up on folklore, and I’m sure people thought I was losing my mind, but those sorts of explorations really balanced me out in a lot of ways as I worked to get back to myself. And then life caught up and I put it all away to get other stuff done.

And yes, in the meantime there are times when shared love of the movie has become awesome conversation starters (earned me cred in a Shakespeare class because I was the only person who had heard of Edward Herrmann), and yes, I’ve made friends through love of the film and that’s been amazing. In a bizarre twist of fate, I grew to be friends with Brooke McCarter at one point, and he definitely helped encourage me in ways that I will forever be grateful for. I’m not downgrading those experiences, but for me, personally, it tends to come back to something a little more personal than just being part of some fandom. It’s about the ideas that began to germinate in me and this bizarre notion that maybe I really could have an artistic career.

Ten million years later, I was starting to get published and had already put out a weird little ebook about vampires and lumberjacks and historical life challenges, when I was almost challenged to submit a vampire story that I had floated for The Big Bad anthology. John Hartness has told the anecdote about my failings on the whole submission process many times (in my defense I was writing the story mid-tech week), but I still blame him because I never would have submitted if I hadn’t pitched the basic idea of playing the vampire and human girl relationship straight without romantic cliches and ripping on vampire fangirls and been told that there was no story in it.

Never dare me with a story, dude.

Somehow those old characters that I had played around with came roaring back to life in different forms. I don’t really see Rave, Asha, Sin, and the rest as being Lost Boys-ish, but they definitely were inspired by the film and all the questions it brought to mind over the years. Characters like Amanda are probably me playing with Lucy with bad intentions, and the whole concept of Family and The Patriarch is probably what happens when Max’s concept of forming a vampire family is put on steroids. Through The Big Bad and The Big Bad II (and some other projects that never came to publication, but will likely be merged together in the future), I’ve gotten to play with concepts and character types and do them in my sideways way (and I must be doing something right because Hartness hasn’t disowned me yet). And there may very well be more of those characters coming in the future, but that’s a topic for another time.

I get why some people question devotion to the film. I’ve had that conversation a decent amount on social media lately – It’s a somewhat dated cult eighties movie with a lot of strange tone shifts and why can’t we just move on already. Ignoring all the ways that it’s influenced the vampire and urban fantasy genre for the moment, what can I say? Fandom is weird in general, but I think at its core it explores this need to belong that resonates with people. As far as saving me…maybe. It’s hard to say. At the very least, it pushed the snowball down the mountainside and got the ball rolling in multiple facets of my career, which is awesome, but it also really put me on the road to self-acceptance, which is even better.

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Mooner is the aforementioned vampires and lumberjacks story, which I have an admitted soft spot for.

You can also read up on my take on urban fantasy vampires in The Big Bad anthology and The Big Bad II.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I’d Wish I’d Known: Why do you want to do it?

Published August 30, 2017 by admin

You thought I forgot about this, didn’t you?

So today’s topic in Things I’d Wish I’d Known Going Into the Arts (man I’ve got to find a shorter title) is something that I think artists need to be really honest about. It’s one of those things that you really need to do some deep soul-searching on, and be prepared to push away a lot of the soundtrack in your head and how you think life and careers are supposed to go. Go to a place where you can chill out alone, get quiet, push movie narratives and redemption fantasies out of your head and really, truly think.

Why do you want to do whatever creative thing it is you’re eyeing?

Go ahead and get the knee jerking out of your system, I’ll wait:

What do you mean??? I’m doing this because I have something to say, I really really want to do this, people say I’m good, are you trying to say I’m not good enough to pursue xyz??? You don’t know my life, you don’t know what I’m capable of, what are you even talking about? I’ll show you, I’ll do xyz and become famous and then you’ll be sorry!!!

We’ve all had those thoughts, or most of us have at some point, especially when we start growing into ourselves and stop playing at whatever creative focus and start wanting to do it for real. Usually we hear this kind of questioning from well-meaning parents, sometimes teachers and other professionals, maybe friends, who knows. Now, in a story or movie, this is the set up for a confrontation, then the protagonist goes off and learns and has some failings and eventually proves that they’re amazing and there’s resolution with whomever. Or maybe you’ve been told you’re talented your whole life and you’re completely supported and know you’re awesome so that’s why you want to do this. Got all those things firmly in focus?

Now kick it out of your head and don’t let that crap back in.

It’s fine to want to prove yourself, but if that’s the sole reason for wanting to be creative, you’re going to exhaust yourself trying. If you’re only doing it because you’re used to being complimented at something, it’s going to be a wake-up call when the compliments keep coming and you’re expected to keep getting better. Same with that chunk of italics up there – if the point is actually to become rich and famous (whether for their own benefits or to “prove” yourself to people), you’re going to become disappointed and disenchanted really fast.

Here’s the deal. This isn’t a story or a movie narrative. There’s no straight line. Your creative career, if you choose to pursue it, is going to have more twists and turns than a back hills road. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be more work than you can envision right now, whether you’re a teen who likes being in plays, a twentysomething who’s been told they could model, or the thirty or forty or fifty or whatever-something who wants to try for the career they were talked out of. It’s going to tax you, and you may actually have to take a break from time to time to either rebuild your energy or gather funds or for personal reasons or something else.

What I’m talking about is very different from doing the occasional thing and putting it online, or hoping to turn a secret passion into a quick moneymaker. We’re talking art as the main focus and earning method in your life.

It’s really easy to see the progression in someone else’s story, especially someone famous. It’s not as easy to see it in your own life. The passion and love (that sometimes borders on insanity) has to be there. Or, (and I kind of hesitate to say this), there has to be a mercenary desire to try to figure out a system and play it hard until you get the desired result. Even then, though, markets change fast, audience expectations change, a whole lot of things change. You can only game the system for so long, and if you’re not prepared beyond that (or if you’ve exhausted yourself getting to that point), you’re going to be in trouble.

If you’re looking for a specific end result (money, fame, adulation, proving to parents or teachers that you’re amazing), keep your creative passion as your hobby and do something else that will give you security or bank or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with that. And, truth be told, I’m cynical enough to believe that no career is really “safe” anymore, but I do think the creative ones require a special sort of dedication. It’s not that you can’t necessarily have security and passion, but you will work a freakin’ ton to get to that point. While nothing is guaranteed, it’s somewhat more fast and loose with creative pursuits.

Does this sound pessimistic? Would you believe I’ve told a version of this to kids and parents who want to pick my brain? I lay out exactly where I’m at, what I’ve done to get to that point, and other avenues, because I feel that if you really, truly want something, you need to know what’s ahead. I wish that someone would have been more specific with me as a teen.  I don’t think it would have changed my mind, but I would have appreciated a better mental road map than “oh well it’s hard, the odds are against you, blah blah blah standard concerned speech.”

Growing up, I really wanted to be in theatre. I wanted to act, man. Part of that was a genuine love of the art, and part of it was that I was a daydreamer, so of course I had expectations (and I was like somewhere between 12-14 and so hard work to me met getting a degree then instantly going to Broadway, because that’s how kids’ thoughts work). Through various levels of growing up I realized that I love acting (and I still do some), but doing costume work appeals to a lot of my various sides, and in some ways not only is it easier to keep consistently in work, but the admin side is easier for me. And I like being able to play around with different materials and messy products in torn up jeans.

I studied classical voice for like a decade, at least, but by the time I could have been looking at bigger schools and programs (and I did, and got accepted to at least one private school), I was so burnt out on classical voice, and realized that 1. that kind of performance career was pretty short in the scheme of things for most people 1.5 If I really wanted to do this, my work was only just beginning. All this hard work and practice and prep was the easy part.   2. I’d end up teaching, and that really wasn’t my jam. Even with writing, I’ve had to get very honest and start asking questions about where I want to go and how to effectively pursue it, and does that match my desire to do it (spoiler alert, it does. Same with costuming. So it works out).

I can’t tell you what the exact right reason for pursuing a creative career is, just like I can’t tell you what success means to each individual person. I’d say that you have to love it and want to be in that world above all else, because like everything else it is a J-O-B. Part of my past costume work has been, at times, 15 hour days, 100 hour weeks, balancing a lot of projects when feeling like crap and looking for the next job because all I have at any given moment is seasonal, learning new skills on the fly, learning to come up with budgets and cold call vendors and other people because I need answers for something that has to be done NOW. And to get to this point I had to have panicked freakouts as a dresser and take too long on show prep when I was in my teens. I had to be pulled in by tolerant, patient supervisors who sat me down and made me get serious. Because the love of something isn’t enough if you don’t pay attention and ditch a know-it-all attitude. It’s been learning new skills and sucking at them for a while until I found my footing. I had to experience a lot of intense tech periods and production meetings and near-breakdowns to learn how to hustle and stand up for myself and meet people half-way while not driving myself crazy and somehow meet deadlines at the same time.

Part of writing has been fifty pages of rejections (we’re talking one line per rejection, by the way), learning the ever-changing art of promotion, trying to balance all that with bringing income in, deciding who to listen to, and making time to put words on the page. Part of acting is always having the next thing lined up and staying on your game to keep jobs rolling in, whatever that means, keeping yourself in current audition material, tending to your look and skill set, and on and on. Artists and photographers might mean something else, same with dancers or illustrators or any other person who makes their living creating. Add in the emotional ups and downs with how your career is going, artistic block, life happening, the envy of others in your field, and it’s a lot.

You have to love it (or be so vehemently obsessed with working the system to the point that you reach super villain levels), because if you don’t, you are going to have a rough time when things don’t go your way. And they won’t at times. A lot of the time. You have to love it enough to take a day job if you need to, to take a risk if you need to, to give up holidays if you need to, to move if you need to, to sell out if you need to, to stand your ground if you need to, to stay up finishing stuff because you might have a window of opportunity that won’t come around again. You have to love it enough to do the work and all it means, because there is going to be a lot of it.

Throughout college and afterward I went along with things because I had a driving need to prove myself (and a will power that borders on superhuman, apparently). However, that left me incredibly frustrated, until all I really had was the love to fall back on (which is how I whittled down my focus). If anything, I wish I would’ve had more details and options and known the right questions to ask in my teens and twenties, so I could’ve made things a little easier on myself. I think sometimes teachers and experts expect students to understand why they’re telling them the advice they are, and that’s just not the case, or you may actually be on a whole different page but don’t know where to aim yourself. Seriously, you have no idea how much easier life is these days with Google and being able to pick people’s brains via social media.

I’ve also realized through the years that while my teenage self wanted fame and glory, (I’d still not say no to the rich thing, tbh), what I really was searching for was appreciation and validation. And it’s perfectly fine to want that.

But I can’t do what I do because of that. I mean, let’s face it, I ain’t JK Rowling or Stephen King or Dr. Seuss at the moment. If I was basing my creative worth solely on the need for validation, I’d be in a horrible place right now. I can get those things from nurturing the different relationships in my life, from pushing myself to show off my work and taking the compliments when I get them. But if I do what I do for that validation, I’m always going to be left thirsty, no matter how much metaphorical water is being thrown at me. And if I’m thirsty, I can’t nurture the creations that I’m trying to grow or work hard enough to keep myself alive. And, you know, I kinda like doing both of those things.

The fact is, while art can sometimes be therapy, you shouldn’t necessarily do it to be all your therapy, especially if you want to make money doing it.

So if you think you’re going to write a book/make an indie film/do something quick and have it immediately pay off – that’s super rare, guys. And that’s not really how those things work. I don’t care what the Hollywood narratives are, so often there’s so much work behind the scenes leading up to stuff that comes out of nowhere. Just forget that, put that right out of your minds. And when I say work, I mean can you work a forty hour regular work week then work even more on your own projects that are perpetually on the back burner. Can you put off that purchase or trip you really want to pay for a class that might help you out, a networking opportunity, promotion stuff, media help, or something else that will hopefully pay off long term (or not, nothing’s guaranteed). Can you divest yourself from being “the artiste” to take work that you may not want to take, to take criticism that you may not want to hear, to take the time needed to push yourself to the next step, then the next, then the next with no definite guarantee that you’ll ever really “make it (whatever that means).”

The other thing to consider is this: It’s not a bad thing if you decide a creative career isn’t for you. I know a lot of super-talented people that do things on the weekend or on the side or as an off and on hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s going to make you happier, by all means, do that. There’s nothing that says that just because you’re good at something, you have to do it as a job. That’s not a personal failure. If anything, it’s empowering because you’re making the choice that’s best for you.

At the end of the day, I almost physically recoil at the thought of not telling stories (which has made the past year or so super hard). My stomach knots at the idea of not making stuff. It’s impossible for me to consider, but I’m also pretty eyes-wide-open about what I’m pursuing and what it means. Could this change in the future? Possibly, sure, and I’ll renegotiate with myself if that point comes. Does this mean I have to be conscious about how I feed my need for emotional validation/appreciation? You betcha. If anything, it’s making me more aware about tending to that part of myself and being gentler with that part of me.

It’s all really multi-faceted, I know. No one said this would be easy. Or stay constant throughout your whole life. Or any of the cliches you’re used to hearing.

So, first assignment (hey, it’s back to school time!). If you’re even remotely thinking about approaching some sort of artistic career (or wondering whether to continue, or any variation thereof), I want you to go somewhere on your own, whether that’s in a room or in nature or whatever. Someplace you feel comfortable and safe and happy. And I want you to get really quiet and think about why you want this. Not just the obvious, not just that you love it. Why do you love it? Why is it important to you? What specifically about this thing could you see yourself doing? Could you do anything else? Explore all those reasons, follow them where they lead, see if you can figure out how to feed any emotional hunger without it being the be all end all to your life path. Put the nay sayers out of your head, kick out all those who make you feel like you need to prove something, kick out all those who compliment you and tell you that you should do this because you’re talented. This is a one person conversation involving only you.

Then, hit the Google. Really find out what all’s involved in what you want to do. Talk to those who are already in it. Ask the rough questions. Dig in. Really figure out what it’s going to take, if there are various levels achievable, find out all the gory details you can – and not just from those at the top of the field, but those who also are doing the same thing in the day to day (because it’s likely that’s where you’ll be). Talk to more than one person, and make sure they really know what they’re doing. There are so many spin artists these days, you have to really be careful. Don’t just listen to what they’re saying, but really examine what they’ve done and if it’s actually something to emulate or a bunch of hot air. Then get quiet and asking yourself why you want to do it again, and if it’s something you really, really have to do.

Then get quiet and asking yourself why you want to do it again, and if it’s something you really, really have to do.

Only you can answer that, and only you can be comfortable with it (Hint: there are no wrong answers, just answers you push to the side in favor of what may sound better).

No matter what you decide, you’re awesome, dude. I’m proud of you. This is not an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one, no matter where you’re at. You’ll probably have it more than once throughout your life. Hell, I’ve had it a few times in my life. I haven’t really talked about it, but part of the past year of being so quiet has been that extended conversation – I honestly, curiously wanted to know if I could divest myself and do something else, and feel good about not having something creative as my focus. Honestly, I can’t. I’m miserable and don’t function well without it. I just don’t think it’s possible, so here I am back again, and there’s a lot of other refocusing and planning in the background that you won’t see (other spoiler alert: even creative careers have constant planning in the background. Don’t believe anyone who wants to push a ‘let’s put on a show!’ mentality, even if they sound somewhat professional).

I rarely tell people don’t do it. But, do it because you love it, do it because you have to, do it because you’re prepared to put in the effort, do it because you’re curious to see where it will take you, do it because you’re willing to learn and change to grow and be better. Forget about the construed narrative that we so love to tell ourselves and follow because it’s the trope that won’t die. Do it (or don’t do it) for your own right reasons. I can’t say it’ll be any easier or you’ll be definitely happier, but you’ll be going forward with the potential to be more satisfied.

A Book Report on Peter Rabbit

Published October 7, 2016 by admin

I know, I know, it’s been forever.

I feel like I’ve needed time away to realign and figure out what works for me. Some days it feels like my whole life is about learning how to balance. I still have a huge to do list and a lot of things to get to, but the great news is I’m starting to write again.

Who knows if it’s any good, but they’re words and they’re mine, so that’s something.

The past year, whether it’s been blog posts or stories or longer works, I always feel like my timing is off, or if I just wait and get rested or eat something first, or tick off fifty things on the list so I’m really ready to concentrate, then I can write. Maybe. Of course you know how that goes.

Back in the bronze age of my childhood, I was obsessed with the Peanuts comic strip and characters. In the course of my life if I haven’t read every single strip, I’ve probably come close. Seriously, I’m a walking Wiki for Peanuts, it’s a little terrifying. What started out as a way to get close to my parents (they read the strip all the time) turned into a love of Snoopy and his antics and grew into an appreciation for the more intellectual humor as I grew older and understood all the nuances. Plus, it was an easy way for the folks to bribe me into doing my homework (our libraries had a ton of Peanuts collections at the time). This was back in the day when you didn’t need a holiday to have an animated special on network television, and Snoopy and the gang popped up pretty often (plus every Saturday on their own TV show).

Most people who know of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown know it as a stage musical. It’s not particularly hard to put on, so most groups do it (I helped do costumes for it in college, never knowing that everything I was learning about costumes and the Peanuts brand would help me out later on in life, ever proving that my goal list was written by my six-year-old self). It was also an animated special back in the day, which was my very first encounter with it. We taped it from TV so I could watch it all the time and annoy the adults by singing it any time I wasn’t in front of the television for like six months. At least. Random phrases still pop into my head and if you drop a line in front of me I can’t guarantee that I won’t go full on Snoopy on you. It happens.

There’s a song in the show called ‘Book Report,’ and I remember being impressed with it and being really irritated by it as a kid. It’s a cool concept and a great set-up. Admittedly the vocals can be a little grating in the animated version, but it was more that I was one of those people that was intent on being the best student ever and NONE of the characters were taking their assignment seriously! Lucy’s just hitting the word count, Schroeder isn’t even talking about the same book, Linus is going above and beyond, but he was too smart for me to relate to. Plus I viewed him as younger than me, so what did he know? And the song just always makes me feel sorry for Charlie Brown. Poor Charlie, the procrastinator, the worrier, the one who feels that if he can just get rested or start a little later because he works better under pressure or have a snack first, it’ll be okay. It made me so frustrated because if he’d just GET STARTED he’d see that he could do the report and it wouldn’t be so bad! Even his last line would just make me so irritated because he could’ve been done already!

Here, just see for yourself

Yeah, you know where I’m going with this. Just put a striped shirt on me, because that’s where I’ve been the past year or so. I’ve had to grit my teeth and be a little bit more Lucy, maybe curb my Linus researching tendencies a smidge, and stop thinking of every other thing I could be writing while trying to write something else, like Schroeder. Argh, it’s worse than I thought, the whole Peanuts gang resemble my bad habits when I really want to be Snoopy off having adventures and not even having to do menial stuff. Except that I love writing, and writing is my excuse to have adventures.

But I’ve especially had to step away from my inner Charlie Brown and Just. Start. Writing.

Sometimes that’s what it takes, for better or worse. Just start and see what you end up with and worry what becomes of it later. Not the easiest thing for me, but I’m getting there.

Or, if you rather:

A book report on Peter Rabbit…

 

 

 

 

It’s Imaginarium time!

Published October 4, 2016 by admin

I know I’ve been away a while, but I wanted to make sure to let people know that I am alive, and I’ll be in Louisville this weekend. It’s the annual get together of writer-type people, otherwise known as Imaginarium!

Seriously, if you haven’t been there and can get there, do it. There are so many panels and workshops available on not just how to get started writing, but the business of writing, marketing, plus a lot of genre subjects, as well. There’s a film festival, gaming, parties, and all the stuff that makes cons fun, but what really makes this one special is that it’s a one stop shop for learning about craft and networking with other like minds. This year’s GOH is Briane Keene. Elizabeth Bevarly, Jim C. Hines, and Jason Sizemore will be there, as well as loads of other talented people.

Plus, me. I’ll be there, talking about stuff, selling books and other fun things, and doing my annual duty as costume contest monarch. Or something.

Imaginarium is from October 7-9 at the Crowne Plaza in Louisville, KY. More information can be found at http://www.entertheimaginarium.com

 

 

 

Southern Haunts 3: An interview with Alexander S. Brown

Published May 8, 2016 by admin

SouthernHaunts3TourBadge

It’s blog tour time! Today I have an interview with not only a fantastic editor and author, but one of my favorite people and podcasting co-host. But first, ze book.

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Amazon           B&N

Genres/Subgenres: Horror, Short Story, Paranormal, Occult, Folklore/Southern Regional

Deep within the South, read about the magickal folk who haunt the woods, the cemeteries, and the cities. Within this grim anthology, eighteen authors will spellbind you with tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and witchcraft.

From this cauldron mix, readers will explore the many dangers lurking upon the Natchez Trace and in the Mississippi Delta. They will encounter a bewitched doll named Robert from the Florida Keys, and a cursed trunk that is better left closed. In the backstreets of New Orleans, they will become acquainted with scorned persons who will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

These hair raising tales and more await you in Southern Haunts 3: Magick Beneath the Moonlight. Read if you dare.

Authors:

Alexander S. Brown

Angela Lucius

  1. H. David Blalock

C G Bush

Della West

Diane Ward

Elizabeth Allen

Greg McWhorter

John Hesselberg

Jonnie Sorrow

Kalila Smith

Linda DeLeon

Louise Myers

Melissa Robinson

Melodie Romeo

J L Mulvihill

Robert McGough

Tom Lucas

***

SJ: Tell us about SH3.  What makes it unique compared to 1&2?

ASB: Actually, each vol. of Southern Haunts is unique, as the subjects vary with each book.  Vol 1. Spirits that Walk Among Us, focused on ghosts.  Vol 2. Devils in the Darkness, featured on demonic entities.  Vol 3. Magick Beneath the Moonlight, regards witchcraft and cursed objects.

SJ: Why witches?  What attracts you to the theme?

ASB: I have always been attracted to the occult.  I find the whole subject fascinating and since Spirits that Walk Among Us was published, it was only a matter of time before we released an anthology about magickal persons.  But for this to happen, I had to wait.

For vol. 3 to be about witches, there is a great significance to the vol. number and the subject matter.  In the occult, there is the belief that what one puts out into the world comes back to them in triple abundance.  Also, in paganism, the maiden, the mother and the crone are recognized and honored as a trinity. These reasons are specifically why this vol. could be none other than occult related.

SJ: What makes for a good southern horror story?

ASB: Multiple elements can make a good southern horror story, such as elaborating about the habitat, cultural development, history, verbiage, and so forth.  But personally for me, what makes a southern horror story great, is the way that it is told.

Many times during childhood, I had found myself at family gatherings and I would overhear elderly relatives speak of infamous legends from the region.  The richness of their slang and phrases, made their ghost stories all the more horrifying, because it seemed more personal.  It seemed like the story tellers weren’t utilizing proper words and phrases to identify something infamous, they were using an age old southern dialect that seemed even more tangible.

SJ: Why do you think readers gravitate to themed horror like this, especially in short form?

ASB: I think the majority of readers are under attack from having a short attention span.  Because of life being so hectic, short stories can allow readers to enjoy complete stories in minimal time.  With the subjects being themed, it lets the reader know immediately what they are in store for.  This can result in a quicker purchase.  For example: Southern Haunts 3 is about witches, the title and cover image are self-explanatory.  If the reader loves witches, they are more likely to purchase.  If that reader is not a fan of magickal themed stories, then perhaps Southern Haunts vol. 1 or 2 is more their preference.

SJ: What are the benefits of anthologies?  Any downside?

The biggest benefit for an anthology is that it presents readers with a diversity of authors who they may not have read before.  This works well for the author because it can help them gain new fans.

The downside to anthologies is that no one really makes money, as book royalties are normally split between 15 to 20 creators.

SJ: Was it different wearing the editor hat compared to being an author?

ASB: It was quite different.  After finishing Southern Haunts vol. 1, I had a new respect for editors.  To me, writing is simple and relaxing, editing is time consuming and feels like work.  Although I prefer writing more than editing, editing the Southern Haunts series has improved my writing skills.

SJ:What is the best thing about putting a book like this together?  The most difficult?

ASB: The best thing about constructing an anthology is seeing likeminded authors come together and submit their creativity.  It is a good feeling to know that other names in the profession want to work with you and contribute stories that might have been stuck in their head for quite some time.

The downside is when I have to reject stories.  I can understand how an author might think that it’s so easy for an editor to dismiss a story, and this isn’t the case.  For me, sending a rejection email, hurts me just as much as it does the author.

SJ: Any advice to authors who are interested in submitting to anthologies?

ASB: First, research the publisher before you submit.

SJ: Second, follow the guidelines.  Sometimes guidelines are overly specific with their requirements, even down to spacing, font, and letter size.  Obey all of these rules.  A lot of times, editors will use these demands as ways to see if the author payed attention, or cares about their work.

SJ: What’s next for Southern Haunts? For you as an author?

ASB: For Southern Haunts vol. 4, we are anticipating creature stories.  We haven’t decided on a title yet, but it will follow the theme of its predecessors, but with monsters.

I have a few books that are in the works.  One of which is in the final edit stage, and is being published by Pro Se Press, this will be a collection of Halloween stories called The Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out.  I have one story left to write before Traumatized pt 2 is complete, and The Looking Glass Creatures is currently undergoing a massive edit.

AlexanderSBrown

Alexander S. Brown is a Mississippi author who was published in 2008 with his first book Traumatized. Reviews for this short story collection were so favorable that it has been released as a special edition by Pro Se Press. Brown is currently one of the co-editors/coordinators with the Southern Haunts Anthologies published by Seventh Star Press. His horror novel Syrenthia Falls is represented by Dark Oak Press.

He is also the author of multiple young adult steampunk stories found in the Dreams of Steam Anthologies, Capes and Clockwork Anthologies, and the anthology Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. His more extreme works can be found in the anthologies Luna’s Children published by Dark Oak Press and State of Horror: Louisiana Vol 1 published by Charon Coin Press.

Visit Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com to download his monthly short stories known as Single Shots. These are represented by Pro Se Press and they are known as stories that will be featured in the upcoming book The Night the Jack O’Lantern Went Out.