Category Archives: Featured

Why You Shouldn’t Fear Writing About Writers

A thought cloud forms overhead. Lightning flashes and you’re struck with the perfect premise, an eerie locale, and a clever twist. The idea is electric. You want to write it down before this thought cloud rescinds, but you’re convinced you need to write some quick character bios before you commit to draft.

Something tells you that your hero needs one of those jobs you’ve see on TV like a detective, or a lawyer, or doctor. Not because your premise demands it, but because it will feel familiar to readers. The only problem is writing about those careers requires knowledge you don’t possess.

You have no clue how to survey a crime scene. You have doubts about what the law considers a reasonable doubt, and you couldn’t do CPR to save your own life. Now before you move away from your inspiring thought cloud into a tunnel of endless research considering making your hero a writer.

Now I know, writers writing about writers is a cliché as old as writing itself, but there are a lot of benefits to centering your adventure on an author.

It’s What You Know

Writers write what they know, but all too often the subject we know most about is writing. This is why Stephen King has written so many stories about writers (I was going to count them all, but there are only so many hours in a day).

Writing is a subject you can talk about with authority. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been published, if you’ve had meetings in New York, or pitched in Hollywood. You know what it’s like to wrack your brain over a single sentence that keeps giving you a hard time. You know what’s it like to draw inspiration from life events, from friends, and your surroundings. You know how writing makes you look at the world differently. You see stories in every anonymous interaction, scan your environment for hidden meanings, and see evidence of fate after the fact.

Writers are Sympathetic Characters

Writers are insufferable, grammar checking our friends. We’re longwinded, even though we know that brevity is the heart of wit, and we dominate conversation by turning them into impromptu pitch sessions. Writers may be jackasses, but we are sympathetic jackasses.

Why?

Most aspiring writers will fail. And… They… Know… It. Yup. Failure makes characters endearing. Even successful writers have a tall stack of rejection slips in their closet.  Audiences find driven characters endearing, and driven failures are sympathetic.

It’s also must be said the being a writer is a lonesome vocation. Everybody gets lonely, but a writer has to be. Chuck Palahniuk may, as he claims, write at parties, but the rest of us have to go into anti-social mode to get our two thousand words daily in. Even in public we have to tune out the noise in order transcribe our internal monologues.

How many Disney movies star solitary dreamers aspiring for something more? (I was going to count, but there are only so many hours in a day). Writers, even middle-aged ones struggling to get out from an unsatisfying career, are endearing, because they cling to the hope that somehow someday someone will read what they’re working on.

Writers Know A Little About A Lot

Well-read writers have a wealth of knowledge (surface level knowledge, but enough to be useful on trivia night). If your hero is a writer, and you’re writing in the first person, your hero can educate your audience directly. They can discuss story-telling mechanics as a foreshadowing technique, and explain plot devices moments before they happen.

If you ever have to explain how your hero knows something outside the field of their expertise, you can always say they picked it up researching a story.

“I picked up knife throwing skills when I wrote about an underground circus with life and death stakes.

“I learned how to count cards when I wrote about a back alley casino where players bet souls.”

“My lock picking skill came from that story I wrote about the stalker.”

Guillermo Del Toro’s life sized Edgar Allan Poe sculpture. Photo by me

Writers Have a Mixed Relationship With the rest of Humanity

Writers are fascinated with people. That fascination isn’t always full of childlike wonderment. We’re interested in people but we don’t necessarily love them. In fact we find them perplexing. They often act outside of their interest. They undercut their best efforts, and casually hurt one another with no consideration. Their capacity for empathy blinks off then roars back on. We want to understand people because we struggle to understand ourselves and that’s endearing.

As long as your curmudgeonly wordsmith is curious about the human condition readers will find them compelling.

Everyone Wants to be One

Everyone wants to be a writer or thinks they have one good novel in them if only they had the time to write it down. They may have even kicked at the tires of drafting something. That said they might have a pretty good idea what the writing process is like or yearn to read about the extremes another author’s methods require.

Just remember: the more extravagant your hero’s writing process is the more driven they’ll seem.

Writing about a Writer Opens the Door to Meta Storytelling If your hero is a writer they can explain what it means to be an unreliable narrator and then turn around and be one. They can backhandedly refer to scenes that they decided to cut. They can point to a plot hole and promise to fill it or suffer the wrath of the reader’s intellect. They can call out their own clichés before putting a fresh spin on them.

When your hero is a writer you get to play with storytelling mechanics, break the forth wall, and put the reader on the spot. A first person story staring a writer is a dangerous thing. At any moment the hero can go rogue and tell the reader that their theories about the twist are wrong.

Closing Thoughts

Making your hero a writer might feel like a cop out, but it will make your story feel authentic because you know what the job is like.

…and frankly don’t we have a enough stories about doctor, lawyers, and detectives already?

Retail Hell is Out Now! Watch the Book Trailer

Retail Hell is now available on Amazon!

When Betsy, the customer from hell, drops dead in the middle of a rant she finds herself in the actual Retail Hell. A place where every day is black Friday, the only song that ever plays is All I want for Christmas is You, and the customer is always right… about to torture her.

Part sales satire, part straight-faced horror, Retail Hellis about rude people, ironic justice, and the insanity of commerce. As fiendish as an episode of The Twilight Zone, as brutal as Hellraiser, and as scary as a trip to Walmart, Retail Hellis sure to make your shopping experiences more of a nightmare than they already are.

Why Every Horror Writer Needs A Nightmare Journal

Writers are always told our fiction should be informed by our experiences, because the best stories have a kernel of truth to them. With this in mind we smuggle our quote books into our characters’ mouths. We cast colleagues as our leads, and we misappropriate our memoirs into our material. We find and replace our own names and over-share under aliases. We launder tell off speeches through nom de plumes and reveal our truth through jest.

We write what we know until we write the fantastic elements of our story. Then we drop that mantra completely. Without the experiences to draw from we use other methods to ground our stories. We impose rules on the impossible.

A ghost can pester the living from the further, but will be weaker than a person who dares to go there. A magician can project a torch flame across the room, but the heat will diminish 60%. A Jedi can project his consciousness across the galaxy, but the journey will kill him.

We rely on western storytelling conventions to suspend our readers’ disbelief. We hope an internal logic will do the trick. For the most part it works, but what if there was a way to make our fantasies resonate with the same sense of authenticity as stories in our diaries? What if we had fantastic life experiences and we didn’t even know it?

Dreams are Experiences

Dreams are the only place (outside of drug fueled journeys, psychotic episodes, and virtual reality) where we experience true fantasy. Unlike daydreams, dreams push us out of the driver’s seat. When we ride through dream country we’re not creators, we’re experiencers. Our feelings aren’t manufactured, they’re reactive, and due to this delusion of perception, our observations are authentic.

I have friends who check out whenever I pitch them a story, but they lean in whenever I start talking about nightmares.

This is why I advocate the keeping of a nightmare journal, a Compendium of phantasms, an Atlas of the abyss, a Bestiary of bogeymen. You get the idea. Continue reading Why Every Horror Writer Needs A Nightmare Journal

Book Announcement: He Has Many Names

I’m super excited to announce my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES is coming out through CLASH Books this fall (just in time for Halloween). Here’s the press release from yesclash.com:

HE HAS MANY NAMES by Drew Chial is tongue in cheek meta-horror about a ghostwriter named Noelle, sequestered in a strange hotel, under the patronage of a famous & elusive bestselling horror author, where things go from strange to stranger.

This story is a fascinating exploration into the artmaking (or crazymaking) process & the bullshit politics writers face every day in the publishing industry. It’s a fresh spin on the Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil story in the age of artistic desperation.

Cover art by Matthew Revert

matthewrevert.com

Noelle is a Hollywood transplant who’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print. Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo, Dee Ville.

Nevertheless Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by horned shadow with a taste for souls. Desperate Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again in until she’s uncertain of the difference between reality and what’s written.

Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it all a desperate author’s insanity, or is it something else entirely?

Photo by Bryan Politte

 

Drew Chial is a writer who haunts the coffee shops of Minneapolis Minnesota where he lives with his cat Nemo. He’s been a board member of the Minneapolis Screenwriter’s Workshop and a script reader for the production company Werc Werk Works. He’s won the Short Story and Flash Fiction Society’s Flash Fiction Contest. His articles have been featured on Word Press’s Freshly Pressed page and RogerEbert.com. The Fancy Pants Gangsters produced an audio drama from his short story The Narration for the Red Shift podcast. His short story ‘Grieving in Reverse’ was published in the collection Walking Hand and Hand into Extinction: Stories Inspired By True Detective. And he does not use ghostwriters…yet. His latest novel He Has Many Names is forthcoming from CLASH Books. He blogs about writing at drewchialauthor.com. Follow him on Twitter & Instagram @DrewChial where he shares disgustingly cute pics of his cat Nemo.

My Reoccurring Nightmare

I’ve been having this weird reoccurring nightmare. The thing is I’m not up on all that dream interpretation jargon. My brain keeps trying to tell me something, but I keep missing the point. Maybe you could help me figure it out.

The dream takes place in a vast palatial estate in the middle of the forest. I have no idea who owns the property or why they built so far from civilization. All I know is that the beds are always filled and that the guests have no clue how they got in them.

While this can be a jarring experience, the guests always seem to settle in. No one ever makes a break for the exit. Besides, where would they go? Every window looks out onto bark surfaces. The pantries are surrounded by towering evergreens. The dining hall is built upon a swamp and the bedchambers sit in a field of reeds.

The forest is well on its way to reclaiming the building. Maple seeds swirl through the skylights, vines droop from the rafters, and pollen is built up on everything like snow. Muskrats swim beneath the floorboards, frogs congregate on the windowsills, and raccoons and crows fight for perches on the shingles. There are cobwebs in every corner, nests in every crossbeam, and cocoons in every gutter.

For its part the estate refuses to go quietly. The support beams are always groaning, the foundations are always settling, and the shutters are always slapping against the side of the building.

The estate has a footprint the size of a castle, yet there are no grounds, no carriage houses, and no paths leading to the front steps.

There’s only one way to find this place.

I come here on nights when I’ve spent too much time pacing the apartment, too much time in the kitchen drinking, and too much time on the pillow thinking. I lie down in the city and rise up from my bunk in the woods.

Despite the size of the estate I can’t help but think of it as a cabin. Perhaps it’s the pine strips stacked floor to ceiling, the hardwood screeching under foot, or the log furnishing. Perhaps it’s the quilts hanging from the banisters, the moose antlers, or the smell of maple in the air.

I breath it all in. Continue reading My Reoccurring Nightmare

On Writer’s Block and Maladaptive Daydreaming

Like most writers, I have a fantasy prone personality. This proves useful when I’m visualizing the layout of a haunted hotel, filling the art deco décor with pipe organ chandeliers, gargoyles, and mirrored elevators. It proves troublesome when I feel an urge to sit in total silence for several hours imagining what it would’ve been like had I become the rock star my high school self was certain I would, contemplating how I would’ve downplayed public breakups, circumvented beefs with other artists in the press, and teased out topical new material.

Some fantasies boost our imaginative powers while others just eat our hours. That brings us to one of the most insidious forms of writer’s block an aspiring author can face:Maladaptive Daydreaming. Continue reading On Writer’s Block and Maladaptive Daydreaming

Supernatural Solutions for getting Your Writing Done

As a working professional you know how hard it is to make time for your writing. You clock into your 9 to 5 and 9 takes its sweet time getting to 5. Then you clock out and 5 runs right back to 9, and frankly 9 isn’t all that interested in 5. It’s a one-sided relationship.

It’s hard for those of you trapped in this numerical cycle to meet your word count goals, let alone your career aspirations. You need supernatural solutions to get the job done. You need a tower full of lightning rods, a kaleidoscope of beakers, and a chemical bath in the cellar. You need a meadow filled with pillars, conjuring circles, and gathering of shadows worth talking to. You need ideas way outside the box.

Well you’ve stumbled into the right high-altitude secret crystalline observatory. Leave your coat on the pillar of antlers and take a seat upon the altar. The wizard of forbidden knowledge will see you now.

If you want to keep at this writing game whilst balancing a day job then you’ll need… Continue reading Supernatural Solutions for getting Your Writing Done

How to Breathe New Life Into Old Scares

A few years back I wrote an article called Horror Clichés in Need of an Exorcism . My premise was that superstitions erode over time. Horror authors can’t just conjure up the same old scares as their forbearers and expect them to work. The things that haunted older generations turn into clichés in the light of reason. Fears like razor blades in Halloween candy, the Satanic panic, and alien abductions all came with expirations.

Among the clichés my article targeted were Ouija boards. I thought it was common knowledge that Ouija boards depended on the subconscious movements of their participants, something known as the ideomotor effect, a phenomenon that’s been proven in lab conditions. I thought I spoke for the horror community when I asserted that spirit boards had no more scares left in them (of course I was wrong).

At the time I went to great lengths to design covers for my articles. That one featured me made up like the demon Pazuzu from The Exorcist. I couldn’t think of a great backdrop so I settled on a giant Ouija board.

Not long after I published the piece I got a DM from a Twitter user warning me to steer clear of those fabled Ouija boards. I told him to read the article to find out why he needn’t worry about me.

He DMed me back, “That’s funny and all, but seriously, don’t fuck around with those things.”

I didn’t know how to break it to him that I wasn’t playing the same role-playing game he was. The one he was playing required him to treat an alphabet on cardboard as a tool of the devil. Mine didn’t.

Here was a full-grown man who considered Ouija boards contraband. Part of me pitied him. Another more insidious part of me envied the hell out of him. Why? This man had retained a kind of childlike wonder that I’d never get back again. Maybe it wasn’t wonder but more of fear of some esoteric unknown. I wasn’t afraid of Ouija boards because I knew how the ideomotor effect worked. I’d seen it demonstrated and I’ve never been possessed. Continue reading How to Breathe New Life Into Old Scares

So You’ve Burned Yourself Out. Now What?

So you published something brilliant, filmed a book trailer, did the podcast circuit, the blog tour, local readings, and a slew of conventions. You’ve hand sold at outlet stores at a table fit for a three-card Monte hustler. You ran out onto a football field wearing nothing but a book banner. You did everything to promote your writing.

Now you’re out on parole, slouched on the couch, utterly spent. You never want to go through that process again.

Yet the shadow of Stephen King looms over you, a modern day Moses commanding, “Thou shalt write every day.”

So you dab your worn arthritic fingers upon the keyboard until autocorrect spits out some sentences and you find yourself questioning your own literacy. The spark of inspiration has fizzled to ash. What you once did for relief now feels like a chore. What should you do? Continue reading So You’ve Burned Yourself Out. Now What?

A reading from The Pigeon King

The following is a spooky excerpt from my short story The Pigeon King.

CLICK HERE to find out what happens next. Continue reading A reading from The Pigeon King