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Archive for March, 2013

thickassbookThe title of this post is probably misleading (see how I suck at titles in yesterday’s post, actually).

I don’t really want to talk about Stephen King’s review of Joyce Carol Oates’s recently released “The Accursed.” It’s a review of a book. There are many out there: reviews and the books they review. I want to talk about something else.

As soon as I heard about this book, I thought, “I need this now.” Just lately, I’ve been aching for all those 18th- and 19th-century Gothic novels I almost choked on during my undergrad, I consumed them so voraciously. I’m pretty sure that, during that entire four years, there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t reading one. Finish one, and sometimes start another in the same sitting. So, it would make sense that this would appeal to me so strongly, right now.

Despite my very much wanting to read one of those right this moment, I made a pact with myself: I promised that I would spend this year reading as many new books as possible.

I have a tendency—and I’m the same way with horror flicks—to isolate myself in a world fashioned decades ago. Few films from the 90s interest me, even fewer from the 2000s. Not like the volume of films I love from the 70s, and even the 80s. Anything before that, also, is readily popped into our DVD player. This isn’t to say that I refuse to watch anything new—it just requires more convincing, that’s all.

Same with books, especially horror. 1960s and back, and I’m good. The further back we go, the happier I am to pick it up. And those massive Gothic tomes are included.

So, considering my promise to myself and the pull I’m feeling to revisit the old, old ones, Oates’s The Accursed probably couldn’t come along at a better time for me.

Funnily, King’s major complaint seems to be everyone’s major complaint:

The book is too long, but what classic Gothic isn’t?

As with my reading habits, this is actually a selling point. Some reviewers at Amazon dismiss it as “overwritten, pretentious dreck,” and complain of its “great, thick hedgerows of verbiage.” Still others who even praise it will mention that it “would have been a better one if shortened by a hundred or so of its more than 650 pages.”

Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and certainly not everyone enjoys the same sort of book. And I am not arguing that all books should be upwards of 600+ pages. But I will say that I feel it a shame that folks might be put off a book due to its lofty page-count.

One of the things I love best about those thick-ass Gothic works is exactly their tendency to meander. It’s part of the joy of sinking into a thing like that; it’s reveling in the comfort of a certain soft, warm place. That comfort is only attained through time spent with it. This is where I best love to be.

I understand everyone’s short attention span. I struggle with my own, and I think anyone who’s managed to follow even a fraction of technology up into the new millennium struggles with this. I somewhat depend on long works like this to ground me and bring the words on the page back into focus, as opposed to the blur of black and white on the computer screen. Heck, for some people, just engaging in a 200-300-page novel requires a certain level of effort, but if part of the idea is to re-center yourself, concentration-wise, those shorter books just aren’t up to the task. It takes a whopper of a book to really benefit you in that way.

When this year’s up and I allow myself to get back to just reading where my heart leads (which could be way back when, or yesterday’s book), I fully instead to pick up Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer again (704 pages), and the almost flimsy by comparison, but still a favorite, Godwin’s Caleb Williams (400+). A true challenge, but a sweet one, is Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (about the same as Melmoth, but its asides are less engaging).

The things I’d have missed if I let page counts deter me from reading a book! I love these books. I don’t always love every little thing about them, but as whole pieces, I would be devastated if they had disappeared from my shelves forever.

I have a bit of a queue, reading list-wise. But this one’s joining the line. I might even move it up a bit, just to satisfy the itch that, sadly, to some folks, it merely an annoyance. For me, scratching that sucker is pure pleasure. I can’t wait.

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Insert Title Here

This is brilliant.

This is brilliant.

I wanted to write about titles today, because I’m so very terrible with them. Apart from math and numbers, nothing freeze up the ol’ brain pan quite like trying to come up with a title.

In preparation for many blog posts, I like to do a Google search on the topic, just to see what’s out there. This morning, I found this: How to Create the Perfect Title for Your Book. Check out Step Two.

Think of titles that could be used for your book and write them down.

This almost cost me one mouthful of coffee through my nose. Wait, what? First off, shouldn’t that be the last step? And second…is that really helping?

Well, heck! Why didn’t I think of that? Can’t think of a title for your book or story? Well, just think of them and write them down. Thanks WikiHow, you’re a life saver.

So, how do you come up with titles?

No, I’m really asking. I bet you thought I was going to help you come up with them.

How is it possible that someone can write a whole story—particularly a long one—with characters and twists and turns, hopefully all culminating into one big, intricate and interesting tale, but then when it comes to naming the thing, POOF. Blank.

Honestly, I always hope that, somewhere in the writing itself, the title is waiting for me to discover it. Problem with that is that I can never find it later. Like, I’m sure it must be there, but no matter how many times I go through the manuscript during the revision and editing processes, it’s no where to be found. Which leads me to believe that I really need to devise a better title-coming-up-with plan.

So, how do you do it? I’m sure there must be a thousand ways and everyone is different. Or the same. For all I know, there’s a special trick that all real writers know, and I just felt asleep during class that day. What’s the big secret?

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werewolfTHE NEXT BIG THING BLOG HOP

What is a blog hop? Basically, it’s a way for readers to discover authors new to them. I hope you’ll find new-to-you authors whose works you enjoy. On this stop on the blog hop, you’ll find a bit of information on me and one of my books and links to four other authors you can explore!

My gratitude to fellow writer, Alyssa Cooper, for inviting me to participate in this event. You can click the following link to learn more about her work. Click here to get to her website.

In this blog hop, I and my fellow authors, in their respective blogs, have answered ten questions about our book or work-in–progress (giving you a sneak peek). We’ve also included some behind-the-scenes information about how and why we write what we write—the characters, inspirations, plotting and other choices we make. I hope you enjoy it!

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions. Here is my Next Big Thing!

1: What is the working title of your book?

Hahhaa…this would be the first question. So far, I haven’t got one. I’m terrible with titles. I can write tens of thousands of words, but force me to  fit all of that into a one-to-five -word sentence and I kinda suck.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I actually blogged about that pretty recently. I had been reading a lot of biographical work about Robert Louis Stevenson, and then I started in on some of his travels books and essays. Something just clicked, with a little luck and a little research, I pretty much had a fairly strong foundational idea.

3. What genre does your book come under?

I tend to just say “Horror,” though someone else might have to tell me. Along with titles, I’m terrible about distinguishing sub-genres with my own work. I lean toward darker elements, but the work as a whole tends to come off as a touch literary. I dunno. It’s literary historical horror. Werewolves. Yeah, I’m just going to say, “werewolves.”

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh, good question. I haven’t thought of that. For Stevenson, maybe a younger, taller Robert Carlyle. Somewhere between Begbie in Trainspotting and Colqhoun in Ravenous. Except not a jerk and not a crazy cannibal. And with a donkey. I mean, he wouldn’t have to fake the accent.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Wait, isn’t it bad enough I’m crap with titles? Okay. “A young Robert Louis Stevenson journeys through the French highlands with a donkey and is trailed by a mysterious cloaked figure while having to dodge the terrible, vicious werewolves that have plagued the region for centuries.” You didn’t say it couldn’t be a run-on sentence.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

This book will be self-published, which I’m very excited about. I’ve worked for presses (I am currently on the editing staff at Nightscape Press, actually), and I’ve got a degree in publishing—it’s all stuff I know how to do. I also really enjoy working on that side of things, so, it’s fun to take my own work through the process and see what happens. I am still revising the manuscript, but am closing in on a final draft, and I’ve been consulting with designer/photographer Caroline Moore for the cover and layout. It’s nice to have this other kind of creative outlet aside from the writing, which authors don’t usually get to enjoy with traditional publishers.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a month and a half, which was a surprise to me. I usually take much longer, but something about this story just kept me going at it. It was almost miraculous, actually. I hit not one block throughout and I got up every morning ready to get back in front of my laptop and hammer away. It was a very satisfying process, which is great because sometimes, it’s not so much.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s hard to say. When I started, I thought it would be compared to the Jane Austin monster books, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But it’s not necessarily written in the style of RLS, and the style and tone it does have is, I think, very different from Grahame-Smith’s work. And then I thought it might be compared Harold Schecter’s Poe mysteries, which I love. Schecter does a fantastic job capturing Poe’s voice, and they’re tremendously clever. If you’ve read the usual suspects of Poe, you’d love these books. But if you’re very familiar with Poe, you’ll love these books. For my book (and I had such a great time writing this; I fully expect there to be more than one), you only have to know who Stevenson was, I think. You don’t have to have read a single word by him to enjoy it. And I’m afraid that even if you’re very familiar with his fiction, I didn’t really look to his fiction for inspiration. But if you know anything about his life, and, say, you’ve read his book Travels with a Donkey through the Cevennes (which I’ve used as a template), you’ll probably get the most out of it. Again, though, it’s not necessary—I didn’t write it to be this inside game for RLS fanatics. They’ll have fun with it, I’m sure, but it stands on its own and is written for anyone who wants to pick it up and read a good story with frickin’ werewolves. As for the comparisons, I’m sure it falls into the category of those above, although, as there are stylistic difference between them, I believe there is the same between mine and them.

9: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Geez, I don’t know. I think I pretty much covered the big selling points: Robert Louis Stevenson, who, if you don’t know anything about him, you really should. For a guy who kicked it at age 44, he lived a pretty full, adventurous life. And that works for me, because I wrote this based on both his travel writing, but also on his life (and, like I said, I anticipate to follow this up with another). There’s mystery/intrigue: Horrible murders? You got it. Perpetrated by whom? Who knows…you’ll have to read it to find out. And werewolves. “Werewolves” are sweet and that speaks for itself, I think. Oh, I guess I’ll add that there’s humor in there, but it’s not just one joke after another—it works with the characters, not to carry the characters. And speaking of characters, I’m really happy with them. I like them (and dislike others), which, as a writer, is so much better than being indifferent to them. If I was indifferent to them, I wouldn’t dream of putting this out there. One last thing: despite my really digging these characters, don’t worry. You like gore? I’ve got that covered, too. So, really, there’s something for everyone.

10: Why are you so much better-looking in person than in your photo?

I guess that’s all relative. It depends on the photo, and on which side of me you’re standing. And the light. Lighting is important. And how close you are, or how close the photographer was. And how much sleep I’ve had. And how much sleep you’ve had. It depends on a lot, really.

Who’s next on the NEXT BIG THING BLOG HOP?

No one. No one is next on this blog hop. Can you believe ten writers were asked and they had either already done it, had reasons not to do it, or didn’t reply? Sorry kids. Train stops here. What do I suggest then? Well, if you haven’t read any Robert Louis Stevenson, he’s new to you, so I suggest getting some and hunkering down for some damned good stuff. Can’t go wrong, really. Otherwise, check out Schecter’s Poe books (link above for titles). I also suggest heading on over to Nightscape Press and having a look.

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Time to punch in...oh, wait, you can't even do that, worthless writer!

Time to punch in…oh, wait, you can’t even do that, worthless writer!

I mean, my answer to this is a resounding yes, but then, I value my time and skill.

I’m noticing, though, that many writers don’t, or the people overseeing the various writing outlets don’t.

Okay, the other day I saw a call for writers for a website, whose name I won’t mention. I don’t know this website; don’t frequent it, and by “frequent,” I mean, I’ve never been there. I saw the call through a friend’s feed.

This website was excitedly calling upon fresh writing blood for its content because the person who runs the site has decided that the site is successful enough to take it to the “next level.” The “next level,” unfortunately, does not include actually paying its writers. You know, the people who work to provide his site content, without which there would be no point and it certainly wouldn’t have made it to this highly successful “next level.”

The call itself was very enthusiastic. It wanted only the best work; it wanted top-notch stuff. It didn’t want some crapped-out, run-of-the-mill writing; it wants great writing, dynamic writing. You know, writing on which you, as a writer, might actually spend some time and effort on. It even wants you, the writer, to go through some sort of application process, as if you might be unworthy and your work must be seen as fit enough to be honored with inclusion on this site. For free.

As in, they want your best work, but they don’t want to pay you for it. Not for the non-crapped-out work. Not for the time and effort and skill it apparently expects from its non-paid writers. And why does it not pay? Because “it’s the internet, after all.”

That’s the reason. It’s the internet. Because the medium somehow devalues the words you write. The medium somehow alters the amount of time you took, the research you did, the effort you made to put the words and information together in such a way that would make it interesting and readable. Something they’re not just getting their 12-year-old cousin to do, which implies that it must require some skill. But, it’s the internet, so the dog may as well shit it out onto the page…oh, wait! No page! So, it must be worthless!

I understand that writers have been writing for free for some time, but I feel like the reasons for doing that have changed and don’t really serve the writer quite so much anymore. Before, you used to write for free in order to build a relationship with the publisher/editor. Eventually, you’re going to get paid. Now, there is no relationship to build and there is no incentive to keep doing it because getting paid just isn’t in the cards, ever. Because it’s the internet, silly.

Furthermore, skills like writing weren’t always being taught. Creative writing programs are still fairly new, actually. Writing for free used to be a sort of real-world crash course for writers to hone their skills. Now, despite, say, earning a creative writing MFA (with your BA, that’s a minimum of six years of education), writers are still expected to write for free. (Never mind that student debt and all that experience you have, goosey-goose. You. Are. Worthless.)

For some reason, even though this is your skill and this is what you do, you’re expected to be happy (in fact, you should be grateful!) that they’re allowing you to write for them for free. Your payment is your pride (because they’re website is awesome!)! And maybe some free stuff via film copies for review or something (and no, you definitely don’t get paid for the time it takes to watch the movie you’re reviewing, or to read the book, etc.).

I wish I could say it was just online, but it’s print as well. The internet, though, is the primary problem. More often than not, if you are getting paid, crap copy gigs go to the lowest bidder, and you’re expected to work ridiculous hours turning it over for high-content sites, for practically nothing (it’s certainly not reasonable compensation for what’s expected of you and what that kind of turnover does to your sleep schedule). And what you’re churning out is meaningless drivel. But if you’re lucky, this is the only way you’ll get paid for your writing: in a word mill sweat shop. That is totally what I got that MFA for!

I really can’t think of any other profession that does this. Even an artist is expected to quote their own price for their work. Writer? You’d get laughed at expecting to get paid at all, let alone quote your price. I can quote my own price as an editor, but as a writer? Forget it. And frankly, although editing is painstaking, writing something new and interesting is much, much harder.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand writing for free for friends, for networking purposes (usually with people you actually know), for strategic ways to build your CV, and such. I do it. But this is not the capacity that these folks who expect your best for nothing are working in. They will likely never compensate you for you hard work. And, again, the prestige attached to their site’s name (which is laughable) should be enough. They’re doing you a favor. Please.

So, how the hell can we writers call ourselves professionals if we aren’t being taken seriously in a professional way? Particularly if we aren’t demanding to be respected in this sense and we’re just accepting the rules of the game as they’re being created and upheld by the people who are profiting from our (unpaid) work.

I suppose there are a few things to do. Has someone formed an online writers union yet? If not, damn it, someone should. Until then, how about this? Every time you put in for a writing job, ask to be paid. Especially if you know the site is making some money, somehow (I know, they’ll say, hey, that money goes to pay for other things, and to that I say, enjoy your Capitalism, pal! Part of running a thing that makes a profit is paying for the things to run that profitable thing. That includes paying your writers when all you’ve got to sell is the content they provide).

Here’s the kicker: when they laugh at you and tell you they “can’t” pay you because “it’s the internet” and insinuate that “writers” are a dime a dozen (which is funny, because they aren’t even paying that), smile and then go start a rival website. And do it better. Form a kind of co-op with other, like-minded writers and create something with which to pay yourselves. You’ll be doing exactly what these jagoffs are doing, except that you actually have the talent, and they’re just managing (and taking advantage of) the talent. Cut out the middle man, value what you do, and pay yourself.

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ValleyWoodcutLast week, I started a weekly feature that would include excerpts from the novel I’m working on. I’ve decided to do this week’s installment today, Monday, instead of Wednesday, as I have something else that needs to be posted on the 20th. And it’s a fun way to start the week.

So, onto today’s words! Here’s a little something from page 41:

Above the river Allier, surrounded by meadows, Pradelles perched along a hillside. The smell of hay permeated the air as laborers worked to slash the grass that had sprung up after the last harvest. Telegraph wires spread like a web from the distant buildings of the town, towards and past Louis, down the road on which he walked. On the opposite bank of the Allier, the terrain lifted skyward, up and up, layering over itself to the horizon. The peaks and valleys traded cyclically shade for sun, deep shadows of purple mist and low-glowing golden outcrops of stone and brush. It struck Louis, in all its sublimity, both beautiful and full of sadness, as these visions often do. There was, though, a particular stabbing point to this melancholy that needled at him like the goad to the donkey, and it took him several steps to place it.

The most immediate landscape—what could be seen with the eye from the edge of the town—was completely, and deliberately, deforested. What should have leant a natural mystery to the scene was nothing more than a field of stumps and hacked verdure. Nothing was left to the imagination, and instead of the thrill of what unknown things the forest keeps, there was left only the bare and ragged eeriness of a land blighted.

Wolves.

A chill zipped up Louis’s spine like the crack of a whip. Again, like the difference between listening to the rambling of drunken locals and witnessing the tragic deformity of a young woman, seeing the physical consequence of the fear of an entire population—the magnitude of the resulting act—brought with it a better sense of dread. Modestine stopped abruptly and sniffed the air, as if they’d both concluded the same at the very same moment, and Louis didn’t prod her with the goad. He let her process the feeling as he did.

Quite suddenly, Louis saw a figure striding a little ways up the road, just before the final rise. The skirt of his cloak danced about his ankles; surely, this was the figure Louis had spotted in the shadowy valley before Bouchet. But how did he manage to get ahead, or, if he was always ahead, how did Louis not see him until now? And with that, the figure was gone over the low crest.

There’s not a ton to say about this excerpt, actually. It gives me a brief opportunity, though, to mention that I have been trying to retain a bit of the travel-writing style of RLS’s original. Not his style, per se, but of the type of writing that includes a fair amount of scenic description. To an extent, mind you. I have had zero desire to re-create those long and drawn out passages—pages and pages and pages—of the naturalistic diatribes, say, of Anne Radcliffe (thanks so much, 18th-centry Sublime Sentimentality!). Mercifully, neither did Stevenson, and I’ve definitely taken that cue from him.

I just wanted to retain at least that feature of travel writing, the purpose of which is to transport the reader to the place about which they read. I think all writing should do that, really, but it all depends on the effect you’re trying to create. I’ve read some books that have very little physical description of anything—people, places, etc.—but carried the plot so well that it didn’t matter and my brain happily filled in all of those gaps. And then, there are the Ann Radcliffe’s of the world, which give their own kind of satisfaction. I like to have a little something, generally, and seeing that this was inspired by a piece of travel writing, it seemed right to run with it.

You will have noticed the mention of “tragic deformity of a young woman,” and while I won’t go into that, I will say that he has, by this point in the story, come across enough nastiness that he’s starting to become a tad concerned about his journey. Also, this is the second time he comes across this mysterious cloaked man, and frankly, he’s a little weirded out. You would be too…

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Quick post today, I’m afraid. Got some work to do on the manuscript, and then it’s off to the city for some socializing with my peeps at Horror Realm‘s Spring Break Massacre.

werewolf_02

Have a swell weekend, and don’t do anything to provoke the werewolves. Like this guy above clearly did, much to the dismay of his puffy-shirted friend.

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RLSDogNY1

Today, I’ll quote Stevenson:

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

I’ve got the breath and the light; the flowers at my feet are working on it (my first veggies seeds for the garden did sprout yesterday; I’ve got a million duties at my hand, and I do believe the path of right is just before me. The daily bread might have to wait.

The duties never end. The key is checking everything from your list and doing them in some semblance of order. In self-publishing, that seem particularly important. When I brought books through the process for a traditional publisher, I had a checklist. For everything, from shaking hands on the deal to putting the physical book in the writer’s hand. It’s been a little while since I’ve worked from that particular list, so I think I’m going to have to sit down and reconstruct it, only editing it to cover all those extra-special self-pubbing things, like: “Learn how to format your manuscript for electronic sales.”

On one hand, it seems a little overwhelming, but I guess it’s like anything else. You get to the end when you get there. There are wolves at my door, though. I will point out one great reason not to self-publish and why you should leave it to a publisher: This stuff takes time, effort, and a certain amount of non-creative brain-power that pulls you out of writing mode. And right now, the wolf at my door is the next story. It’s a-scratchin’, but I can’t quite open the door and let it in yet.

The path, though, is right. And if I work at it every day, I’ll get to the place where I can relax for a minute and go play with the wolves. I don’t think Stevenson had a quote about playing with wolves, though he did say :

You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.

Certainly, rolling around on the floor with the writing wolves is closer to heaven than line-editing and formatting, but they’ll wait for us. They might be too hungry to play right away, but once they’re fed, fun will ensue.

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