Tag Archives: Writer’s Life

Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness

Today was the day I was going to write the great American novel, leave my generation’s impression on the annals of history, and secure my legacy in the hallowed halls of every library. I ran into the café like a toddler with a shy bladder. My brain was bursting and I had to drain it into the proper receptacle as soon as possible. I took a seat, cracked my laptop open, and gave the keyboard a good thrashing.

The spark of inspiration burned brightly that morning. Each scene was a fire spreading to another. Each plot point was a pendulum ball swinging, every development a domino and I just sat back watched them go. All I had to do was ride the momentum.

My characters did the real work, vying for their goals with confidence, getting into compelling conflicts, and just straight up being bunch of Chatty Cathys. I was but a stenographer transcribing their conversations in real time. It didn’t even feel like I was trying.

The rest of my imagination was free to consider the tide of inevitable accolades that would come my way.

“What’s that on my nightstand? Just the Nobel Prize in Literature. I was going to put it on my mantle but the Pulitzer was taking up so much space.”

This was real literature with all the symbolism that English professors salivated over. It was a bombastic barrage of brilliant subtext, with all the faint foreboding that New Yorker editors always feast on.

The story was far from published and already the success was getting to my head. James Patterson was about to drop several positions on the bestseller list. I was composing answers to questions I expected on my first Tonight Show appearance. Oprah Winfrey might as well have been reading over my shoulder, because I was about to make every book club in America my bitch.

But then you came along, sat at the bar beside me, and proceeded to shake your leg incessantly. That antsy appendage, that twitching twig, that locomotive limb danced upon my pupil. I couldn’t concentrate. I closed my eyes, but somehow the shuddering shape penetrated the lids.

That itch that you couldn’t scratch, it rubbed off on me. It transmitted across that bar like a power surge on a poorly grounded circuit. That tickling in your thigh muscles bounced around in my brain until both hemispheres were playing ping pong. The pins and needles from your vastus lateralis were in my hippocampus snuffing all the inspiration out.

Here I was in the middle of a monologue that would’ve surmised our turbulent times, a speech so evident in its truth that it would’ve provided the resistance with the language it needed to sell its message.

Candidates would’ve cited it from city hall steps. Activists would’ve peppered it into speeches at the Lincoln memorial. Radicals would’ve shouted it from bull horns as pepper spray wafted over them.

It would’ve lifted the veil from the eyes of the underclass. Undecided voters would’ve risen to its call to action. Historians would’ve used it to better understand our glorious revolution.

But… You had to go and do the electric slide out the corner of my eye, stomping out an unstable tempo that quaked throughout the table.

Had your knee not been pulsating in my periphery I’d have written something so resonant it would’ve inspired a generation of shoulder blade tattoos. Something so poetic Instagram accounts would’ve memed it out sentence by sentence. Something that would’ve been quoted in yearbooks, wedding vows, and Oscar acceptance speeches.

You’d have read it on motivational posters, park bench plaques, and headstones.

My dialogue would’ve worked its way into our shared language through cultural osmosis. It would’ve woven into your favorite figures of speech without you ever realizing where it had come from. You’d have use my truisms to win arguments in the bedroom.

But… You had to go kicking up dust in my blind spot, to puff out your pleated pantleg, and flick your fabric in my face. You had to shake-shake-shake your articulatio genus awake. You had to rev your motor symptoms right at my eardrum.

You had to be the reigning champion of my attention span. Your jiggling lap had to make my memory lapse. You couldn’t help but shoo my muses from the room.

You broke my flow. I haven’t gotten it back, because every time I close my eyes I see your phantom kneecaps moving as fast as hummingbird wing flaps.

If only you knew the poignant piece of powerful prose you’ve cost the world. If only you had some concept of the magnum opus you’ve obliterated. If only your scrambled skull could fathom the classic you Muay Thaied out of existence.

You perpetual motion mouth breather. You cardio conjuring eyesore. You bobble headed eggbeater.

I wanted to lean over and tell you to get your neuro transmitters in order, to drown your stomach in iron supplements, to fetch yourself a fucking fidget spinner. Instead I found myself pushing my stool out, standing, and tapping out a tension breaking rhythm on the linoleum.

And that’s when you had the audacity to ask me, “Hey man, could you cut that shit out?”

I’ll differ to the press to describe what happened next.

Continue reading Restless Leg: A Tale of Madness

The Life-Changing Magic of Editing the Shit Out of Your Story

You’ve just finished the first draft of your story and you can’t wait to revisit it, but when you do it feels like a blotted mess. It’s cluttered with character descriptions, meandering subplots, and quirky observations. You know you need to make some deep cuts, but you don’t know where exactly.

Here are some of the things that can bog down your story and what you can do to tidy them up.

Unnecessary Setups

Chekhov’s gun is a principle in storytelling based on Anton Chekhov’s quote, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”

Every setup should pay off.

An author with a strictly structured story won’t have problems with this. They’ll check their math and know where everything fits before they start.

I like to write with a loose blueprint so I can discover things as I go. The problem is I’m more likely to jam my stories with impulse setups, like little mysteries I think are cool in the moment, but are often forgotten.

Solution:

If you write by the seat of your pants color-code the paragraphs that contain setups within your document. This will make editing easier later on. Once you’ve finished your first draft go to these setups and ask yourself, “Did I pay this off?” If not give it the ax.

Setups that Suck as Scenes

Have you ever seen a film where everything slows down to draw attention to specific detail? Perhaps the hero’s mother mentions that her daughter used to love diving before her father died. Everyone in the audience nods their heads knowing the hero’s diving background will come up again. Now that heroic plunge might be a heart wrenching moment later on, but why did the setup have to feel so inorganic and superfluous?

Solution:

If you’re setting something up to payoff later make sure the scene is entertaining in the here and now. Those scenes are where you’re most likely to lose your audience. Put something intriguing on the surface before you challenge people to read between the lines.

Try using micro setups and micro payoffs. Use the first few scenes to setup your overarching mysteries, but also setup something that will pay off in that scene. Show readers that you’ll reward them for paying attention.

Pacing Padding

Early writers feel a need to convey a passage of time by padding out their story. They show characters entering and exiting scenes. They come into conversations as they begin and exit with the goodbyes. They write transitions between locations, as if travel details are obligatory for believability.

They forget that time jumps are part of storytelling, that they don’t need to show the process that led a character from point A to B to C, so long as A connects to C in some way.

Solution:

Rather than padding out the passage of time you should find clever ways to convey it.

  • Set a murder out on a frozen lake. Set the next scene in the springtime when fishermen find a bloated body.
  • Give a character a flesh wound in one scene show it scabbed over in the next.
  • Put your hero behind the wheel at sunset. Have an ominous moon hanging overhead when they arrive at their destination.

Arbitrary Emotional Cool Down

As a horror writer I try to consider how much emotional torture readers can take before they fling my book into the fireplace. If I just put the reader through a sequence of high tension and mounting dread, I want to ease off the throttle and give them a moment to breathe, to let them grieve the loss of a character, to allow the scales of hope and dread to balance back out.

My natural instinct will be to write a soft uneventful scene with some comic relief and a few minutes of character musings.

The thing is every scene should meet certain qualifications to justify their inclusion. There should be a conflict, something that advances the plot and reveals character details.

My first attempts at breather scenes eased back too much. They were boring. Not every conflict should be a matter of life and death, but there should always be something at stake.

Solution:

It’s important to give readers an emotional cool down, an eye in the storm of blood, but you need to make these breaks eventful in their own way.

These seemingly innocuous scenes should plant things that will factor in later. Every story should see its hero go through a profound personal change. Now is a good time to check in on what their situation is teaching them. Might they learn a lesson here that could be essential to their survival? Fill these low tension scenes with meaningful developments.

Impulse Items

When I wrote He Has Many Names I spent a lot of time researching hell and the devil. It colored the way I saw the world and tuned my ear to devilish things. Whenever I heard an idiom related to Satan I thought, “Now I’ve got to shoehorn that in.” I felt a compulsion to add Satanic puns in places the story didn’t need them. Fortunately my editors caught what I was doing and put a stop to it.

Solution: If you’re writing a vampire story you didn’t need to wedge every Twilight quip you can think of in. Just because youe subject is a well-trodden topic doesn’t mean you need to reference every incarnation of it. Over-referencing is a rookie mistake.

Darlings

William Faulkner said, “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

My first drafts have a lot of darlings, little wordplay witticisms that break up the action. I like to write in the first person, but my narrators can be overtly clever, snarky, and mean spirited.

I find most of my clever one-liners wear on me after a few edits. By the final draft my narrators are a lot more likeable.

Solution:

I put my darlings into storage. It makes it easier to cut them. When a quirky line breaks up the flow of a scene I copy and paste it into its own document. Maybe I’ll re-gift it to a character who can wear it better later.

Closing Thoughts

When editing ask yourself if that extra character detail sparks joy, if your settings are cluttered with too many descriptions, and if all your plot points are load-bearing.

Sometimes when a story feels like it’s missing something it’s because it has too many things it doesn’t need and the parts that matter are underdeveloped.

Stop hording unnecessary details. Every aspect of your story should serve the central theme. If they don’t then you’re going to need to tidy that shit up.

Continue reading The Life-Changing Magic of Editing the Shit Out of Your Story

How Horror Bloggers can Milk Halloween All October Long

Another October is upon us and you know what that means: morning show hosts treating pumpkin spice like it’s heroin, think pieces on seasonal depression, and outrage over tone deaf Halloween costumes (this year it’s a slinky short skirted version of the robes from the Handmaid’s Tale).

Oh, and horror writers doing everything they can to get you to look in our direction.

“Hey! You know you’ve been meaning to check out my scary stories out for a while? Well now’s the time!”

That’s right. Now’s the time of year horror writers get to be on brand and topically relevant to the normies in our social media feed. Rather than dig deep for a memoir on how the season shaped our young imaginations (something personally profound no one would read) we need quick clickable articles that write themselves.

Well if you’re looking for a template for sharable Halloween content to steal from you’ve come to the right guy.

Tis the Season to be Listing

Nothing says cheap mindless content like laying on the listicles. Sure everyone who’s into horror has seen trailers for every film that’s come out this year, but you’re a movie maven so inform everyone what they really ought to be watching.

Maybe you’ll be the 10thcritic to finally push them into seeing Mandy, it’s Nic Cage fighting cenobite bikers with a battle-axe (in a slow burning surrealist study with sparse dialogue). What’s not to like?

Maybe you can be the first of your film buff friends to pitch The Endless in a way that makes sense to casual audiences.

“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them.”

“It’s a coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

“It’s basically The Wicker Man meets Groundhogs Day.”

Clearly I haven’t cracked it yet. Why don’t you try?

Or maybe you can be the first amongst to laud praise on the deboot of Halloween, and champion other exhausted franchises to dump their excess canon in favor of a direct sequels to their original films.

Tap some lists out at the bus stop. Here are some suggestions:

  • Best on Screen Decapitations (The Exorcist 3 is obligatory)
  • Best Mirror Jump Scares
  • Best Demon Etching Title Sequences
  • Best Uses of Moonlight Sonata in a Horror Property
  • Best Horror Spins on Less Successful Sci Fi Premises
  • Best Recent Horrific Crimes for Writers to Base New Material on While the Families are Still Grieving
  • Most Violent Moments on Broadcast Television that Would’ve Gotten an R Rating Had They Been Shown on the Big Screen
  • Best Stephen King Tribute References in Stephen King’s Own Novels

These lists practically write themselves.

Review the Shit Out of Everything

There are too many horror shows for streamers to sift through. Isn’t it part of your vocation as a champion of revulsion to grade them with some sort of skull-centric rating system? Halloween is the Oscars for all things horror. It’s your duty as a corrupter of young minds to cast your vote on time.

Mine the Hell Out of the Past

Save your audience a Google search by listing all the Halloween themed episodes available on streaming. Rank The Simpson Tree House of Horror episodes. Add episodes from the revival seasons of The X-Files to your best of posts, and list the top 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone you want Jordan Peele to remake in the forthcoming series.

Repackage Old Articles with Seasonal Thumbnails

That old blog on Horror Clichés in Need of an Exorcism is just one jack-o-lantern PNG away from being relevant again. That entry on the art of Building Your Own Monsters is just a Halloween hashtag from being reblogged by readers. You got a few comments from that The War on Halloween editorial just add a devil emoji and share that shit again.

People who know me, should’ve suspected my demon nature for some time.

Streamline Your Short Fiction

Writing seasonal flash fiction is challenging. Those short stories get hits in the moment, but on October 31st they become irrelevant. Why waste your time and energy when you just want readers to click on the books for sale in the margins?

I recommend stocking up on Mad Libs and filling them with monster references:

(Man’s name) Flavius Octavius Davis walked in and opened the (noun) lead lined casket where he found a (adjective) bioluminescent (verb) mangled (noun) alien corpse with rope-like heaps of coiled tentacles. He exclaimed (exclamation) “Sweet Jesus, no!”

Make Your Readers Do the Work

Invite the audience to vote on your Halloween costume options, plans for the night in question, and ultimately your excuses for staying in.

But Whatever You Do Don’t…

Don’t give up them game by telling readers about the cynical click-bait schemes you’ve been concocting behind the scenes. That would be the kind noxious over sharing that would be harmful to your brand. You want to seem like your authentic self to readers without letting it all hang out and actually being authentic.

Only a well-trained transdimensional traveler secure in his meta-musings would poses the strength of mind to even attempt such a thing. (Drew wipes the sweat from his brow while tugging at his collar like a nervous cartoon character.)

Oh… and… uh… Happy Halloween!

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back 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. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Eavesdropping Advisory: Vlog

A vlog on why you should never be rude around a writer. Continue reading Eavesdropping Advisory: Vlog

How to Pretend to Be A Writer

I’ve been writing in coffee shops for the last eighteen years. I wish I could say I did it for clever creative reasons, like I was dressing my characters in my surroundings, eavesdropping for dialogue, and reading faces for subtext, but really, writing in public just feels less lonely.

At first I entertained the fantasy that a manic pixie dream girl would pull up a stool beside me, glimpse at the wall of text on my screen, raise her eyebrow, and ask, “What are you writing?” (Which did happen… once.) At this point my goals have more to do with my word count for the day.

But I have been that guy, that guy that pitches his stories to baristas washing dishes at the bar, that guy whose day dreaming eyes lingered in the wrong direction a little too long, that guy whose head is so far up his own ass that he gives out his blog address instead of his phone number. You know, that guy, the writer who wears his identity on his sleeve.

Sure, I might have been a caricature, but at least I did the work. I was writing. I was a writer. I did the noun so I got to call myself the verb. Still I met my share of people who did one but not the other: men adopting the persona of a writer as a pretense to hit on women.

I call them “idea men.” They’re fun, charismatic, and commanding. They’ve honed engaging elevator pitches, but they don’t have the attention span to sit their asses in the chair and do the work. Their bibliography is but a theory. They’re the modern equivalent of the medieval minstrel, carrying on an oral tradition for the sake of flirtation.

I shouldn’t let these idea men get to me, but I do. Writing is hard. Finishing a novel is tough, selling it is tougher, letting an editor kill all your darlings can be even tougher still. If you’ve spent years crafting something that didn’t connect with anyone it’s hard to coax yourself to try it again, but those are the responsibilities that come with calling yourself a writer. It takes talent, training, and tenacity (and you’ve still got to get lucky).

It irks me when I overhear a pickup artist slip on the identity of a writer when it’s clear they haven’t done the work. It irks because I’m afraid that’s what other people assume I’m doing. I feel guilty by proxy.

That having been said I’ve written a how-to guide just for the fakers, the idea men, the pick up artists. I dare you to indulge me as I role-play with misogyny (and if this leaves a bad taste in your mouth, that’s kind of the point). Continue reading How to Pretend to Be A Writer