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Gracefully Handle Rejection By Standing Outside a Publisher’s Home in a Clown Mask

Stephen King cut his teeth submitting short fiction to magazines. Legend has it that he hung his rejection letters from a nail in the wall. When the nail couldn’t take the weight he upgraded to a railroad spike, but King kept right on going.
The greatest skills an aspiring author can learn is to handle rejection gracefully.

Most of the time a publisher will send you a form letter that reads “We had so many amazing submissions that unfortunately we couldn’t include everyone in the collection.”

The reason you get a form letter is because you haven’t taken the time to build a relationship with the people you’re submitting to.

Now you could shoot them a “Thank you for the opportunity” e-mail like all the other sad saps desperate for a spot in their rolodex, but if you really want to be remembered you’ll need to show more initiative than that.

I’m not talking about inquiry about the publisher’s need in advance, printing your submissions on pink paper, or sending them fruit baskets. No. I’m talking about showing up on the publisher’s front door in a clown mask.

Leave an Impression that Truly Lasts

Most mid-level publishers aren’t based out of an office. They use a PO BOX to hide the fact that they work from home. So where is that? Well, the post office won’t answer a Boxholder Request Form from just anyone, especially without a subpoena, but a private investigator might have a guy on the inside who could fax them the 1093 form, if you’re willing to grease their wheels.

With the reverse lookup complete you’re going to rent a pair of bounce castles, NOT houses, castles. You’re a creative individual. So it should no problem for you to secure the rental without a paper trail. Use that same creative intelligence to convince the bounce castle employees to block both ends of a residential street without the tenants calling the police. Dress it up as community carnival.

If onlookers ask, “What’s going on here?” play it off like you’re acting on someone else’s behalf. Shrug. You’re just another working stiff on a deadline.

Next you’ll need a pair of 24-40 inch industrial stilts and a pair of stilt trousers to cover them up. These stilts are made for hanging drywall, but you’ll be using them to seem larger than life.

As for the rest of your outfit don’t bog yourself down with too many gaudy accessories. Your instincts might tell you to be on the lookout for: ruffles, polka dotted bowties, and florescent jumpers, but I suggest you shift your gaze toward form fitting formal wear with hyper extended limbs.

Creepypasta-themed urban legends are all the rage in horror forums. What better way to showcase your awareness of genre trends then by dressing as one? Mix and match Jeff the Killer’s long black hair with Slender Man’s thin tie and Eyeless Jack’s hoodie. Even if the publisher isn’t familiar with the characters cultural osmosis should give them an eerie twinge of recognition.

Now you’ll have to choose a mask. You might be drawn to masks with jigsaw grids of gashes, but consider this. You want your mask to feel like a blank canvas, a place for your audience to project their fears onto, not a space that’s already teeming with yellow teeth, stiches, and exposed bone.

Remember these are publishers. The mask shouldn’t tell a story. Your actions should tell a story. A classic hobo clown face should suffice.

Now it’s time to pick a prop. Your prop shouldn’t be a weapon. A weapon is too obvious. It’s like wearing a plastic smock with the name of who you’re supposed to be on the chest. You need to pick a prop that’s both innocuous and menacing: a stainless steel yo-yo that catches the light like the edge of a knife, juggling pins that are large enough to bludgeon, or balloon animals fashioned from condoms. Use your imagination.

From Plan to Execution

Let’s fast forward. You’ve got your bouncing castles blocking traffic. You’re up on your stilts. You’ve got your clown mask, creepypasta costume, and a vaguely menacing prop. Now you’ve got to give the publisher a reason to look out onto the lawn. You could try the old ding dong ditch, but once the publisher opens the door the tension has no room to grow. They see you in all your creepy glory and you either have a confrontation or get the hell off their lawn.

You want to give your target time to dwell on what they’re seeing, to stew in the absurdity of it. If you want to be subtle you can toss a few pebbles at the window, but if you really want to shock a couch potato you can’t go wrong with an airhorn.

An airhorn will draw onlookers. That’s why it’s important to research the average response time of local law enforcement. Bounce castles aren’t going to a hold squad cars back for very long.

That said, give the publisher a moment to drink you in. Let the alien shape of your carnival attire burn into their vision. Wait for them to back away from their blinds and move in. Don’t worry if they do a double take, just freeze and red-light-green-light your way across the lawn as needed.

Be Remembered for Your Work

Before we go any further it’s important to note that, yes, you will breaking and entering. Now the internet is full of helpful tips on picking locks with canned air and bobby pins, but we’re going to need to play this faster and looser. That’s why you’ll need a mallet for the knob, and a hunting knife for the deadbolt. Badda-bing badda-boom.

Disclaimer: once you’re an intruder anything the publisher does to you is nice and legal. So don’t go barreling through the front door. Leave it hanging open it in a maddening silence.

Ditch the stilts and creep around back. If there’s a screen door on the porch you’re one clean slice away from your destination. From here you’ll need two final items: a Jack-in-the-box on a timer, and a manuscript about a publisher who is convinced there’s a clown is living in their walls, a clown that comes out at night to stand at the foot of their bed and watch them sleep.

With the payload secure it’s time to haul ass out of there. Now I’ll leave the getaway plan to your better judgement: have Uber on standby, a crotch rocket hidden in the bushes, a hot air balloon waiting in the park. Again use your imagination.

What matters is that you’re leaving a lasting impression on an industry professional and what better way to wow a publisher than to haunt their dreams forever? Every time their house settles, or a rat scratches at their walls they’ll be thinking of you. Every time they shoot up in the dead of night and struggle to find a light that’s you too. Every time they freeze in front of a dark crawl space, drawstring attic, or cellar door you’ll be waiting there.

You will evoke a powerful emotional response, and isn’t that all any author can really ask for?

Continue reading Gracefully Handle Rejection By Standing Outside a Publisher’s Home in a Clown Mask

How to Promote Your Novel by Interrupting First Dates

According to eharmony 40% of Americans are dating online, but only 20% of committed relationships are starting there. While portrait swiping applications have streamlined casual flings romantics struggle with the limitations of the platform. Texting isn’t like having a conversation. It’s hard to gage inflection, read expressions, or process the subtle cues that are lost between the lines. Prospective lovers can pour their hearts into a text string but when they meet face to face it either clicks or it doesn’t.

Chemistry is governed by so many subconscious factors that no algorithm can predict when it’ll actually work. The person on one side of the table could check all of the other’s boxes, and still fill them with strong urge to flee the scene. For whatever reason sparks aren’t flying. The Venn diagram of expectation and reality isn’t overlapping. The polarity just feels off.

Hookup applications are convenient for people who want to get straight to the Netflix and Chillaxing. Those poor souls aching for long term companions will have endure a lot of awkward situations.

Writing in public, I’ve witnessed a lot first dates the devolved in the first 30 seconds, a lot of situations where both parties looked like they could use an easy out. This is when I stumbled upon a great new oppurtunity for self-promotion.

Writer to the Rescue

If you want dominate your subgenre on Amazon you’ve got to get more review scores than your peers. Sure, you could float some free copies of your book to influencers, hoping the cool cover art will get you to the top of their slush piles. Of course the competition has already thought of that one.

If you really want to boost your signal through the noise you’ve got to get creative. You’ve got to slide your pages beneath peepers who weren’t expecting them. You’ve got to run your book promotion through other people’s conversations.

What better place to engage new readers than in the middle of romantic encounters that aren’t going anywhere?

See that couple at the end of the bar? The one with the wandering eyes and restless legs. They could sure use some help filling those awkward pauses in. If only there was a kind soul willing to jumpstart their conversation. Someone willing to tell them a story. Someone capable of delivering a bombastic cinematic experience with their tongue alone.

The Lost Art of Interjecting

You can’t go interjecting into just any first date. Look for signs that either party are feeling romantic remorse. Are they shifting in their seats, trying to see their date from the angle of their online photo? Are their warmest smiles coming from something they’re seeing on their phones? Does one party appear to have more chemistry with the wait staff than the person they’re here to see?

Tilt your head, tune your ear, and drop some eaves.

If one party announces they have a second engagement after this one, you have an in. If one of them inorganically proselytizes religious beliefs, you have an in. If one of them wades into the polarizing waters of cultural warfare, then you what are you waiting for? Get in there.

Let them Think You’re Supposed to be There

One or more parties may wish to keep the date going for the sake of decorum, which is why you’ll have to make your interjection part of the environment. Just as buskers make tips by enhancing diners’ experiences, so too must the novelist. This is why, no matter my surroundings, I introduce myself as the author in residence.

“You probably saw on the hotel’s Facebook page that I was going to be here this evening. Well, on behalf of the DoubleTree, Doubleday publishing, and this fine double malt scotch I’d like to thank you for coming.”

I imply I’m here as a favor to the establishment, as though I’m moonlighting as an influencer, using my platform to perpetuate the stereotype of the alcoholic author.

“I’m supposed to tell you that that yellow concoction was Hemmingway’s favorite Daiquiri, that the house cocktail was based on Mark Twain’s recipe, that the top shelf Vodka was Sylvia Plath’s favorite, and some other authors’ preferences I’ve conveniently forgotten.”

This is how I get the couple to invite me to join them. I imply I’m about to move on and give the neighboring booth the same spiel.

This is usually where the gentleman says, “Remind me what you’ve written.”

This is an opportunity for emerging authors to cycle through their unfinished manuscripts to bulk up their bibliography.

The Book of Mirrors, I am Fire, We the Damned

“Ahhh yes, you write horror.”

The gentleman feigns recognition as the lady raises her eyebrow. “Horror? Oh my? What drew you to such divisive genre, Mr?…”

This is where I kiss her hand. “Drizzlewick T. Chillington esquire.”

“You’re also a too?”

“I’m a notary. It’s practically the same thing, but to answer your fist question: I wasn’t drawn to horror my dear. Oh no. Horror was drawn to me. Since as far back as I could remember I suffered from sleep paralysis. Each incidence came with vivid hypnopompic hallucinations that felt as real as you do now.”

This is where the couple usually leans forward. “What did you see?”

“Lying there, pinned to the mattress, I stared at the closet as the door slid along the track. I saw a blood drenched hellscape  so vile it sent streaks of silver through my hair. Every morning my mother found me hiding in the grandfather clock, a little grayer than I’d been the night before.”

“Did she ever bring you in for treatment?”

“The 80s was different time. The mind was a confounding mystery and neurology was still a primitive study. I was subjected to electroshock, trepanation, and in one final act of desperation: talk therapy.”

“Did it work?”

This is where I make a theatrical display of concealing my quivering hands beneath the table. I shake my head. “No amount of hydrotherapy or healing colonics could rinse the demons out. It wasn’t until I put them down on paper that my mind began to clear.”

Any influencer will tell you it’s best to sell yourself first and your creations second.

Salvage their Evening By Pitching Your Writing

Recognize that this couple is never going to “couple.” Neither party is going to invite the other up for coffee. Neither one will push the other on a newly installed sex swing. Your interruption will be the centerpiece of their evening. So get good and sloshed and take them on a journey.

“My novel He Had Many Nameschannels my boyhood experiences with sleep paralysis into a tale about a haunted hotel. It follows Noelle Blackwood, a screenwriter whose terrified she’s aging out of Hollywood for good. Desperate for work, she takes a job ghostwriting for a hack author. The hack wants to sequester Noelle in an art deco hotel. This is where Noelle uncovers the truth about devils, secret societies, and Hollywood hedonism.”

This is where I gift my audience with signed copies, with bookmarks that politely remind them: Like what you read? Let the world know by leaving a rating on Amazon!

I find the worse the date was going before my interjection the more likely the couple will read my book later on. It helps wash the unpleasant aftertaste of one another’s company out.

Continue reading How to Promote Your Novel by Interrupting First Dates

The Secret Writers Don’t Want Idea People to Know

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every story you’ve ever read was concocted by a secret society of Iron Age academics called the Illiterati.The Illiterati determined that there are only 7 types of stories.

  • Besting the Beast
  • From Nothing to Bling Bling
  • Fetch Quest
  • Go over there then come back again
  • Rebranding in the wake of a public shaming
  • Pun based Prop Comedy
  • Too bad, so sad

The Illiterati, in their hallucinogen-fueled brainstorming sessions, imagined every possible permutation of these plotlines, and inscribed them on a parchment that’s been passed down through generations. From the Oracle of Delphi to George R.R. Martin every story you’ve ever heard came from this tattered document.

This is because the Illiterati vowed to keep the literary tradition in their bloodline. They wanted their lineage to sculpt the world’s imagination. That’s why every fresh voice to ever take the publishing world by storm was descended from these shadow figures (ask any of us to our faces and we’ll vehemently deny it, but it’s true).

I admit storytelling was never my calling. I wanted to be a Radon technician, but as a first born son of an Illiterati member the tradition was thrust upon me.

From the age of eight I was lead through the sewers to a subterranean lair where I was taught the secret formula for writing fiction. The Master Storyteller walked us through the 12 steps of the hero’s journey, charted the dynamics of balancing hope and dread, and the strict architecture of plot structure (I’d share these secrets here but I don’t want to be “disappeared”).

The beneficiaries of this recipe for riches rarely appreciate it. For us, writing is more of an obligation than a creative outlet. We’re not driven to do it so much as we’d rather not face the consequences.

Sure, from the outside looking in our lives must look like fun. You see us wading in the wave pools of our penthouse grottos and think that must be so swell, but when you look past the blood sport cage matches and masked orgy key parties you’ll see our routines are pretty boring.

The Truth About Storytellers

The title storyteller loses its luster when its assigned at birth. That’s why novelists are the least engaging artists you’ll ever meet. We’re grunt workers. We’re basically groundskeepers raking plotlines together.

Once you know the formula then novels pretty much write themselves.

Authors lie in interviews. We say we come up with the characters and they take over. We act like we’re just as surprised as our readers. We’re not. We say we write by the seat of our pants, because there’s a joy in discovery. It sounds magical, doesn’t it? But really it’s just some warm and fuzzy bullshit.

I have never discovered anything that wasn’t preordained by some long dead desert sage.

I’ve never feared forgetting a dream before I could jot it in a journal. I’ve never run out of the shower to scribble something down, and I’ve never made myself chuckle from a snappy line of dialogue.

I’m so grounded by the Illiterati’s teachings that I’m certain I’ll never feel the true jolt of inspiration.

The Creatives Every Writer Envies

With enough time any caveman could knuckle out a manuscript. Western storytelling is more procedural than cerebral. It takes a true philosopher king to will a NEW idea into being.

That’s why every writer I know envies Idea People.

Idea People have a natural ability to conjure up stories without enduring the decades of programing and ritual abuse that name authors go through.

They’re not burdened by the Illiterati’s private protocols, because Idea people never write their ideas down. Theirs is an oral tradition. They pitch entire adventures in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

If brevity is the soul of whit then novelists are a pack of drooling dullards and Idea People are the ones who are truly inspired. Idea People never water down stories by stretching them out into scenes. They don’t tangle themselves in sequences either. Hell, they don’t even believe in acts.

Idea People Cut to the Heart of the Story

Idea People keep the focus on the best part of the story: the premise. Never mind what happens. Idea People are able to dazzle us with the set up. They prove it’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the brochure that matters. It’s the seminal scenario with the billion dollar box office potential. That well-put what if?

What if penguins and dolphins banded together to take over the northern hemisphere?

What if wars were fought with bipedal drones operated by trash talking gamers?

What if climate change made whales fly for some reason and it turned out they all has laser eyes at the same time?

No cast. No tedious character growth. The dramatic question plays out entirely in your mind.

The brightest Idea People turn this question into an equation: What if this megahit met that one?

The Exorcist multiplied by TitanicequalsLegion Liner: Woman and Children Cursed.

Death Wishmultiplied by Titanic equals Die-tanic:Vessel of Vengeance.

The Terminatormultiplied by TitanicequalsCy-Berg: Rise of the Tip.

Real Heroes Have Nowhere to Grow

Idea People are efficient storytellers. They utilize time tested conventions to evoke familiar connections.

“He’s like a John Rambo type.”

Boom, right there you know exactly who you’re dealing with. Idea people waste no time dressing complex characters in shades of grey.

What flaw do these heroes need to overcome? They saw some shit.So they’re coping with post-traumatic stress? No, it made them a certified badass.What drives them? I don’t know, someone killed their wife or their daughter or their dog or something. All that matters is that they get shit done.

Idea People Talk a Better Game

As an author I get so hung up writing dialogue that furthers the plot and reveals my characters that I fail to realize what people really want to hear.

Idea People don’t twist their tongues on all that chit chat.

They speak entirely in the kind of quotable catchphrases preteens love to parrot. They invoke a nostalgia for times when action heroes knew just what to say before peppering a warehouse with machine gun spray. Back when men wore their hearts in their mouths and kept things too real for subtext. Back when people said shit that would play well on t-shirts.

The Best Storytellers Tell no Story Whatsoever

The most powerful stories leave room for the audience’s imaginations. The monster in the dark is only as scary as viewers let it to be. The love scene in silhouette is only as steamy as viewers let it be. The love scene with the monster is only as raunchy as viewers are willing to imagine.

We novelists always nitpick over which parts to cut. We lose sleep every time we’re forced to kill one of our darlings.

Idea People have no problem murdering their beginning middle and end in order to focus on pitching a situation. They enable their audience to fill the rest of those pesky details themselves.

Closing Thoughts

We writers get lost in our own linguistic machinations. We prattle on and on about symbolism, structure, and themes, because we are beholden to a mystic fraternity’s designs for humanity. Had the Illiterati’s influence not been so entrenched Idea People would be molding future generations. Perhaps they will when the written word is rendered obsolete.

Continue reading The Secret Writers Don’t Want Idea People to Know

Study Finds Everyone in this Coffee Shop is Further into Their Manuscript than You

A new study finds that everyone in this coffee shop is further into their manuscripts than you. Not only does their wordcount dwarf yours but their prose are free from the syntax, punctuation, and grammatical errors you’ve been struggling with for years. Researchers noted a stark contrast between the keyboard clattering on opposite ends of the room, clocking your competition at 75 words per minute and you at 5 audible sighs within the same time frame. Analysis shows you spend most of your time in a Wikipedia rabbit hole trying to cobble together the forensic science background necessary to write your mystery in the span of an afternoon.

THEY’RE MORE INSPIRED THAN YOU TOO

The same study finds everyone in this coffeeshop has clearer visions of what they’re writing than you do. While you’re playing at William S. Burroughs, writing non-sequential scenes you figure you’ll fuse together with exposition, they are drawing from plans workshopped in advance. While you whisper to captive audiences behind the counter, “It’s this franchise meets this franchise,” as if you’ve cracked the intellectual property formula for infinite riches, they are drawing from inspirations exclusive to written mediums. While you stutter through an introduction to the cloning technologies that govern your sci fi universe, they are pitching easy to digest high-concepts in thirty seconds or less.

THEY ARE WAY MORE INTERESTING THAN YOU

The study finds that everyone else in this coffee shop has lived more authentic lives than you too. Each of them have traced their heritage back to their homelands, which they’ve backpacked from starlit mountain trail to candlelit youth hostel. They’ve embraced foreign cultures,cuisines, and customs to the extent that they could teach them.

They’ve hitched rides with weapons smugglers, hopped trains on hallucinogens, and won marathons in hot air balloons. They’ve attended comet viewings with dress codes of robes, found spirituality at key parties, and burned effigies of themselves. They’ve hunted bigfoot in an abandoned insane asylum, headlined a DJ tent in a warzone, and got a job in food service for the story of it.

That’s why their stories resonate like they come from real places while yours feel cut and pasted from sitcoms that are still in syndication.

THEY ARE FAR MORE PASSIONATE LOVERS

The study shows that every writer around you will make superior romantic partners than you too. This is due too their broader emotional range and the intensity in which they express their feelings. Their last whirlwind relationship was filled with livestreamed arguments, a revolving door of side pieces, and public displays of makeup sex. Their voicemail is filled with thinly veiled wedding proposals, and their exes will do all they can to mold future lovers to look like them.

The writers around you have a wealth of characterization to draw from, having nurtured meaningful relationships with publishing insiders, residents of their local retirement home, and children at the orphanage where they volunteer. By contrast you keep your social circle thinner for fear somebody might dub your posse a “sausage party.” The lion’s share of your lines come from action movie stock-phrases and Tinder dates you’ve eavesdropped on.

PEOPLE FIND THEM WAY MORE INTERESTING THAN YOU

The study concluded that when compared to the authors around you readers are 50% less likely to ask where your ideas come from, 70% less likely to ask, “Then what happens,” and 90% less likely to punctuate a conversation with the obligatory, “I can’t wait to read it.”

The study, which draws from research from every coffee shop in a three-hundred mile radius of your apartment, concludes that you are the least accomplished writer in the greater Midwest. Even low earning freelancers would say you’d have to work harder to qualify as a “hack.”

THEY KNOW YOU’RE NOT TALENTED

The psychological component of the study shows that real writers can tell you’re an imposter, a pretentious illiterate who dubbed himself a “writer” as a conversation starter. They know you’re a poser storyteller who never once gotten a papercut from a paperback, that most of your imaginings are derived from videogames, and that most of your reading is done on reddit forums.

EVERYONE ALSO THINKS YOU’RE A CREEP

When attractive people happen through your sightline they assume you’re staring at them, undressing them with your eyes, and not daydreaming up your next plot device. Management has little debates on whether or not your overall vibe is grounds enough to ban you from coming back. E-sports gamers, who’ve setup tower computers and monitors in the booth behind you, steal glances between mouse clicks and think, “That mother fucker should really get his shit together.”

THIS STUDY IS IN LINE WITH PREVIOUS RESEARCH

Similar studies have found:

  • All your exes have discussed your sexual performance and found it lacking.
  • Everyone at your high school reunion assumed you’d pretty much turn out like this.
  • And, no one you’ve thought about today has thought about you, literally not once.

Now it’s safe to conclude that the staff and all the patrons of your local coffee shop know that your novel is going nowhere. Conversely, everyone around you has the tenacity to power through their doubts. They have the perfect ratio of talent to energy to fortune to get the job done. Not only are they further into their manuscripts than you are (some by several drafts) they will all see their work in print, optioned for Netflix, and celebrated from every corner of pop culture. Don’t worry about them. Their legacies are secure.

Meanwhile, the study also predicts that your name will be expunged from search terms within a year of your passing.

Continue reading Study Finds Everyone in this Coffee Shop is Further into Their Manuscript than You

The Dangers of Being a Storyteller

As a writer I like to celebrate the virtues of an active imagination, but my own gets me into trouble all the time. The same tools I use to craft fantasy worlds can become weapons in the real one.

While we celebrate New York Times bestsellers it’s the stories we tell ourselves that have real power. I can write a scary story with a subtle theme about managing depression and someone might take that to heart.

Meanwhile, I can tell myself a story about how I lack the stability, maturity, and status to attract a partner and I know I’ll take that shit to heart. The same goes for when I tell myself stories like: I’m still too wet behind the ears to reach out to that publisher or my social media presence isn’t wide enough to attract the right agent. That stuff always resonates on the first draft.

Western civilization has wired us to remember stories more than any other form of information. That’s why politicians use anecdotes about “real” Americans to make their points. That’s why charities showcase the plight of one disadvantaged child to represent an entire community. That’s why we file memories in three act structures, even when that’s not how the events occurred. Stories are easier to recall than abstract information because of how they’re linked.

That’s why when we tell ourselves stories about our failings they sink in. Fortune may have dealt us a bad hand, but good storytellers can convince ourselves that we’re cursed.

Storytelling Changes How We See Things

Everything is a nail to a hammer and everything is a story to a writer. That’s why we see story structure everywhere, like threads of fate, and a lifetime of writing happy endings can give anyone unrealistic expectations.

Writers spend so much time building universes around their protagonists it’s only natural for us to think that the real world revolves around us too. All our friends and family members are just supporting cast members there to aid us in our journey.

We start believing conflicts in our lives are there to break us out of overbearing routines. We think that every problem will advance the narrative of our life, teach us a lesson, and fundamentally changes us a person. We think less of ourselves when a conflict leaves us feeling the same as we did when we began.

We’ve been conditioned by so many stories to believe that our lowest moments will lead into climatic triumphs, that those lessons we learn at the bottom will embolden us, but they so often don’t. They might just serve to reinforce our fears.

In a movie you might miss a character’s change if you have to go to the bathroom. Real shifts in our personalities are so gradual they’re imperceptible.

Storytellers reinforce the notion that so long as we quest for a goal that we will ultimately get what we need, not necessarily what we want, but what we need. We can be forgiven for thinking that if our hearts are pure the universe will provide for us.

We forget that so many of the fundamentals of a great story are  fallacies in the real world. That’s why they’re stories. They’re an escape from the cruelty of reality.

How to Write a Bad for Romance

It’s time for this week’s Oversharing Anecdotesponsored by Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels, it’ll get your tongue so lose it’ll practically fall out of your mouth.

My 20s were a montage of breakup texts and fetal position showers sessions. Upon seeing someone new I made the mistake of dubbing the kicking-at-the-tires stage of dating “a relationship.” When that process came to an abrupt end, I performed a postmortem so I might catch the signs earlier on.

I developed a protection measure inspired by all the pulp detectives who were too hard boiled to get their hearts broken. I turned first dates into investigations, looking for patterns in behavior. I convinced myself that I was an acquired taste and that anyone who showed too much interest early on did so for the wrong reasons. I was looking for evidence to confirm my bias, to fit the story I was telling myself.

Romantic encounters became a chance to role play at film noir. I honed in on every micro expression, read between the lines, and saw sagas in the subtext, and whenever I spotted a femme fatale in librarian’s clothing I’d show her my “evidence.” Oh how my psychic Sherlock loved to show off.

Long story short, my time role playing as a detective did not go well. Unlike the characters I most admired I was not quick whited, I was quick to assumptions, quick to anger, but I wasn’t that clever. I never solved my partner’s grand deceptions so much as I gave them a good reason to move on. My story became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Long point made short: people are terrible mind readers. When we assign motivations to one another’s actions we’re almost always wrong. Storytellers who spend their days empathizing with fictitious figures run the risk of doing this to their partners.

Want to know what someone is really thinking? Ask them.

Our imaginations have a tendency to buzz on when its inconvenient. We replay scenes in our heads adding drama upon each retelling. We elevate the conflict in the present and raise the stakes when we fear new situations.

People have always told me I think too much. I’m just now realizing that what they mean is I think too much about things outside of my control. I’m slowly learning that that’s a great way to turn observations into problems. Sometimes the healthiest thing to do is to take things at face value.

Storytelling Can Amplify Your Ailments

I think the line between fantasy and reality blurs in very subtle ways, ways that we writers have a hard time catching. For those of us who’ve been telling ourselves stories about all our failings we need to learn to make some revisions so that we can better live in the moment.

When we’re in the throes of depression we forget the long periods of time when we were doing fine. We need to remember that painful urgency in our gut hasn’t always been there, and that it will pass.

We need to recognize that emotional memories link to one another as a kind of neurotic mnemonic. That’s why when we feel humiliated we find ourselves hard pressed to think of a time when we didn’t feel like that. We tell ourselves a story that our lives were nothing but a series of embarrassments.

We need to acknowledge that this is a fiction, one that edits out all of our success, to play better upon our heartstrings.

We need to learn to leave that shit on the page where it belongs.

Continue reading The Dangers of Being a Storyteller

How to Serve the Social Media Algorithm

So you want to be an author in today’s entertainment climate, when the golden age of television can be streamed from any phone, when videogames have addicting gambling mechanics, and political theater is broadcasting 24/7.

You have the audacity to look at all the stories around you and say, “I want to get paid to do that.”

Forget about getting an agent, a publisher, or an editor. Those gatekeepers are beholden to the old guard, enforcers of the brick and mortar stores. Soon they’ll be entombed in the  remains of their warehouses, cowering from the light amongst the stacks of old romance paperbacks.

Self-publishing pioneers will tell you to head west, to find your fortune in Silicon Valley. “Here there be royalties.”

But how is someone supposed to stake a claim when the mines are clogged with other prospectors? How are you supposed to compete with all the how-to scamphlets on Amazon?

The old guard would tell you to sell out, to give readers something they can pick out at the airport without missing their layover, like a serial killer thriller with woods on the cover, something familiar only different. But now that Amazon has put the old guard’s heads on pikes and draped their entrails around abandoned malls we sellouts need a new higher power to pledge our allegiance to.

Enter the almighty algorithm, a sentient artificial intelligence that curates content for social media audiences. These days it’s not enough to write great stories. Modern writers must be cults of personalities, bloggers, podcasters, and cam performers, living breathing brands. If you want to lure potential readers you must kneel before the algorithm and make an offering.

WHAT OUR ALGORITHMIC OVERLORD WANTS FROM WRITERS

Do not offer the algorithm your fiction. It hungers only for articles on how-to write fiction. It cares not for self-contained content. It wants engagement. It wants comments; unchecked misogyny, straight up hate speech, death threats, it doesn’t matter. It just wants to keep the conversation going.

Forget about connecting with other artists. Forget about carving out a niche audience. Forget about following your passion. You are no longer serving your own creative intuition. You are the algorithm’s champion.

The algorithm doesn’t want your art. It wants you, a palatable deconstruction of you, one that’s got its shit together, fuckable yet humble, clever yet relatable. The algorithm wants someone who is authentic and engaging, but never so sincere that people might find you emotionally exhausting.

TELL THEM THERE’S ROOM ON THE HILL

Successful writers tell the algorithm’s story first and their own second.

Assure your followers that they can achieve their wildest dreams of artistic independence even if you yourself have not. Convince people who weren’t born anywhere near the Hollywood hills that there’s room up there for them. Fuel the American notion that talent can be learned, that fame is a necessary component of success, and with enough gumption anyone can achieve it. Even if you yourself are one $400 emergency away from bankruptcy.

The algorithm does not break bread with pessimists. It spits out the lukewarm. It wants everyone to go all in with their loftiest ambitions and to break ties with anyone who tells them they might need a backup plan.

FEED THEM ‘MEMBER BERRIES

As an author you aspire to nourish your reader’s imaginations, to feed their souls with hard hitting life lessons. The algorithm hungers for sweeter things, for meals that take much less time preparing. The algorithm seeks only to remind users of stories that have been vetted by the box office.

So express yourself with prerendered pop culture puns, digitized dad jokes, and nostalgic nineties namedrops. Distill your philosophy into a Willy Wonka gif with mad lib captions in the IMPACT font.

Remind your followers of a time before their student loans and broken homes. When politicians were polite, the ice caps were intact, and their imaginations weren’t polluted by so much existential dread. Remind them of what it felt to be a carefree kid on a Saturday morning, filling their cereal bowl again and again, and hope that at the end of the day they associate some of that saccharine sentimentality with your online identity.

TELL THEM TO THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS

Tell the world that happiness is a choice and that people who choose to wake up on the wrong side of the bed are just selfish attention seekers who want special privileges when they could just as easily smile for your benefit. Happy people love to “Like” posts that reinforce their outlook, especially when those posts put whiners in their place. So copy and paste phrases like: Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happyand meme it from the mountaintops.

It doesn’t matter if you’re currently in the throes of a depression. Ignore the tragic life events you might be coping with. Dismiss your genetic inheritance, hereditary history, or any pesky mental illnesses that might require ongoing treatment.

Your brand should be simple. Don’t worry about holding anyone’s hand through the arduous process of making real life changes. People like to think of happiness as something they can switch on like a light. Reinforce the notion that anyone who spends but a fleeting moment in the darkness is choosing to languish.

Let the algorithm dictate your mood. Recite the pledge of the good-vibes-only fair-weather-fascism and the followers will come.

SPREAD THE GOSPEL

This is an era when feelings count as beliefs and the poetry of language counts as proof. As an apostle of the algorithm it is your duty to give people something to believe in. Find an original sin that resonates with your followers then offer the solution. Find coded ways to tell people who’ve cast off organized religion that they need to fill their God shaped holes again. Call them “misaligned chakras” or “bad moon signs” or “dark auras.” It doesn’t matter, as long as you reinforce the notion that all the world’s problems can be solved with more engagement.

You may have reservations about deducing eastern spiritualism into Hallmark hokum for “hearts” on Instagram. You won’t be able to get away with it forever, but the algorithm has prepared a canary in the coalmine for just such a scenario. Are users calling out man buns as cultural appropriation (perhaps with the same disdain as they do for white dreadlocks)? Not yet? Then it’s still safe to pluck a quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and misattribute it to the Buddha.

TRIGGER THEIR OUTRAGE

Emotional engagement need not be limited to things that lean into your readers’ feelings. If you only knew the power of the dark side of engagement. The algorithm will show you how to turn hate into clickbait. Likeminded “likes” are nice, but rage clickers tend to read right to the comments. Triggering text gets more interactions and that’s all the algorithm wants.

ALL HAIL THE ALGORITHM

Once you submit to the internet of things certain truths will become evident. Dispel the notion that you’re an author and become the spambot you were always meant to be.

Be like me: a procedurally generated person, a social media sociopath, a fake friend.

The algorithm is my God. It logs my keystrokes, follows my cursor, and counts my clicks. It sees all and knows all.

You can try to unplug, to power down, to wain yourself off your screen time, but the algorithm will find you in conversation. The algorithm will manifest as concepts in your mind. It’s the fear of missing out. It’s the paradox of choice. It’s adult onset attention deficit disorder.

Resistance is futile. You’re part of the collective now. So give in.

All hail the algorithm.

Continue reading How to Serve the Social Media Algorithm

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

Should You Show the Monster?

I’ve long held that writers collaborate with their readers and that every reader makes their own artistic contribution.

Avid readers have stronger imaginations than people who experience stories exclusively through film and TV. As much as I love those mediums they’re made for passive consumption. Books put readers in the director’s chair. Sure the author chronicles the events, but its up to readers to visualize them. Readers have to cast the characters, provide the wardrobe, build the sets, and block out the scenes. The author does everything they can to make their story an enjoyable read, but the reader has to meet them halfway. Horror authors exploit this relationship by baiting readers into picturing their worst fears.

Have you ever noticed how the tension in horror movies deflates the more you know about the monster? The more you see it, the more you understand its rules and where it came from the less you’re frightened. The monster is less of a living breathing part of your mind and more of a static thing on screen. Suddenly there’s a barrier between the two of you keeping things safe and boring.

That’s why many horror authors never show the monster. They leave the audience to do all the heavy lifting. This approach works well on people with active imaginations, but readers who don’t feel like engineering their own bogymen feel cheated.

Horror writers need to strike a balance. Here are a few of my favorite techniques for doing just that.

Pose a Compelling Mystery

A well-placed spark will lure readers, like moths to flames, to their dread ridden doom. Pose a supernatural situation that’s simple to grasp, but hint at an explanation that could only be an awe-inspiring revelation.

  • A young musician is walking home when he’s attacked by a monster he can only see out of the corner of his eye: a wrinkled giant in tatters that may or may not be its own dead flesh. The monster unhinges its jaw, lets out a groan deeper than a cruise ship horn, and disappears. When the musician gets home he finds he can no longer play guitar. Turns out there are reports all over the city of artists experiencing similar attacks and losing their inspiration in the process.
  • An isolated woodland town is besieged by living nightmares, each one seemingly built to prey upon the resident’s worst fears. While most of these figures have the intended effect others appear strangely tone deaf, almost comical, suggesting the hand of an agent that doesn’t fully comprehend its audience.

Expect the audience to read your story over several sessions. Use those interruptions to plant ideas. Little mysteries for readers to mull over and leave them dangling at the end of each chapter. The best nightmare fuel is subtle. It works its way into readers’ minds slowly until they see their daily routine through the filter of your imaginings.

Leave Evidence of the Evil

The monster need not take the stage to own it. There are many ways to feel its presence. Leave an orgy of evidence, and readers will craft a composite of the creature themselves.

Picture this.It’s 1892. You open your chamber door to find it skewered. Something rammed the wood with enough force to leave hollow voids on the both ends of the knocker. You raise a candle to find craters leading up the cobblestones, and ripples in the puddles. Most of the oil lanterns have been snuffed out and the one that remains is shattered, belching flames.

This torch renders anything beyond it imperceivable, but you know there’s something out there weaving in and out of the tree line. Why else would the owls hold their tongues and the crickets yield the night to the wind?

You feel cold narrow eyes moving up your nightgown, pausing on your belly and settling upon your neck.

Picture this.It’s 2292. You’re aboard a long-range starship. The fluid drains from your stasis chamber, revealing fracture lines across your enclosure. You call out to the computer, “Open tube.”

The mechanism jerks hard, shattering the glass, spewing shards into the corridor. The lights that encircle the honeycomb hall blink red, some flicker out of phase with the others. Stepping over the jagged fragments of your chamber you find a bubbling black substance eating at the grates.

There’s a long gash looping around the walls, leading to a pitch-black med bay. Something long and chrome shoots out of the darkness. A blood speckled gurney lands at your feet.

Have Characters Test Theories

For me the creepiest scene in Paranormal Activityis when Micha sets out prove the presence visiting his partner Katie is physical. Micha spreads baby powder down the hall leading to the bedroom and aims a camera in that direction. That night the couple is awoken by a commotion. Micha finds talon prints leading up to the bed and streaks in the powder.

What I love about this scene is that is confirms the supernatural situation without demystifying the creature. It raises more questions than it answers.

Describe the Monster as Indescribable

Did you ever write an “exquisite corpse” story back in grade school? One student would write a sentence and pass it to the desk behind them. Horror writers can play that game with their readers. Here’s how. Just describe the effect the monster has on witnesses without revealing anything about its shape. This technique doesn’t rely on smoke and mirrors. Your monster isn’t skulking in the shadows. It’s just so overwhelmingly hideous that it’s beyond description. It’s maddening.

“What did the beast look like?”

“Do you not see? It turned Byron’s hair white.”

This was a favorite device of gothic horror writers.

H.P. Lovecraft referred to so many of his terrors as “Indescribable.”

Edgar Allan Poe referred to the sights beyond his chamber door as “Phantasmagorical.”

Meaning: a dreamlike and deceptive appearance that changes upon further examination

Gothic horror writers used the neurosis of their characters to illustrate the monster’s grandeur.

Give a Peak by Proxy

The hit Netflix film Bird Boxis about monsters with the power to drive people to suicide at the mere sight of them, most people that is. The monsters have a different effect on people who are already mad. Insane individuals feel compelled to worship the monsters, with the ferocity of cult members, corralling survivors and forcing them to bear witness.

The audience never gets a direct look at the monsters, but one tainted character gives us a peak. He lays out a series of twisted tentacle-riddled portraits on the coffee table. These rough Lovecraftian rendering gives us a sense of what awaits Sandra Bullock just beyond the blinds.

Use Hallucinations

In Paul Tremblay’s “The Cabin at the End of the World” a character is struck in the back of the head and spends the rest of the story with a traumatic head injury. Sunlight gives him terrible migraines until he starts to see figures in the light. It’s ambiguous whether or not these figures are influencing the events of the story or if they’re a brought on by the bump on his noggin.

Closing Thoughts

My favorite monster stories utilize strategic ambiguity. For every question the author answers they pose two more. That way when the monster does step into the light it retains its mystique. It’s the enigma of the entity that gives it free reign over the audience’s imagination.

The horror writer is the architect of shadows. The readers are interim landlords. We lease them the long dark hall and they fill it with their nightmares. Eventually we move our own terrifying tenants into these atmospheric locations, but only after they’ve been lived in.

Continue reading Should You Show the Monster?

Drew Year’s Resolutions

This year I’ve learned some hard lessons about publishing, book promotion, and blogging. I’ve honed in on my problems and come up with some solutions for 2019.

PROBLEM: My novel isn’t going crazy viral

A blog is not the best promotion vehicle for a novel (even if I write a dozen novel-centric articles). Most of my readers come for writing advice or nerd culture commentary. My book He Has Many Names delves deep into both of those themes, but it’s billed as fiction. I have a pretty good following but my novel-centric posts get the least amount of engagement. I think that might be because readers see them as a kind of Sponsored Content.

That and shifting my blog from squeaky-clean writing advice to horror-centric content means I’ve had to rebuild my following.

SOLUTION: Consider the audience

There’s a way for writers to get more eyes on their page without resorting to click-bait-meme-dump-listicles.

As much as I love sharing short stories, satire, and monster dating profiles, I need to offer something useful too.

I want to get back into giving writing advice, but in a way that differs from what I’ve done before. My new criteria will ask the following questions:

  • Can I offer technical insight into the subject rather than simply define it in my own words?
  • Can I approach the subject within a three act story so that it’s more memorable for readers?
  • Can I draw from my personal failures to better inform new writers?
  • Will the subject spark a debate or is it too safe?

PROBLEM: Winter’s impact on my creativity

Every year Minnesota winters beat the shit out of me emotionally. It gets dark at 4pm and cabin fever can get nauseating. Yet, every summer I forget the toll the cold takes and I assume my creative energy will power through the seasons. I’m always surprised when it doesn’t. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity (that’s more of a stock phrase for hack writers on TV). Still, it feels like in this instance it applies to me.

SOLUTION: Schedule posts out in advance

Smart bloggers write a ton of evergreen content (timeless articles) that they tease out throughout the year. They schedule posts and social media links months in advance. This gives them a buffer to chime in on current events or the latest pop culture conversation.

Smart Internet personalities spend this extra time introducing themselves to strangers via guest blogs, podcast appearances, and public readings.

This winter I’ve had the energy to just post links on Reddit. Next year I’ve got to do better than that.

PROBLEM: The holidays are a horrible time to promote a book

It’s easy to fill a spreadsheet with book promotion strategies. It’s hard to implement them when you work customer service through the holiday season.

Right now I work for a company who would very much like their acronym to stand for: United Problem Solvers, even though they deliver packages.

As Amazon rises to utter world domination the holiday seasons has become overwhelming. People with boxes up to their eyeballs line up out our door and at the front counter they haggle over every dollar. In the back parcels are stacked through the ceiling tiles, and at the packing table the staff are multitasking through their meals.

I come home, take a moment to pet my cat, and wake up on the floor a few hours later. I’m drained, no fun to be around, and in no condition to reach out to podcasters to talk about my fiction.

My book He Has Many Names is a horror story, which is why my publisher (Clash Books) released it around Halloween. Anticipating the promotion cycle I tried to dial my work schedule back, then three people quit and suddenly I was senior staff.

Suddenly every customer shouting, “What do you mean I have to pay for packaging? Amazon said it would be free.” Are syphoning my book promotion energy away from me.

SOLUTION: Honestly, I’m still looking for one

An author at my level has to be their own agent, their own influencer, and their own street team. They have to pull double shifts daily. I have to anticipate crunch cycles if I’m ever to master my work/writing balance.

I think this means I need to take a more active role in scheduling around my creative energy. That means focusing on simple attainable goals for the remainder of the winter and big lofty goals for the spring and the summer.

PROBLEM: My creative career feels like it’s running in place

It’s harder to vie for readers’ attention than ever before. They have the collected history of mass media in their pockets now. Genre authors have to scratch a very particular itch. For years it’s felt like each new endeavor was just another scheme. That needs to change.

SOLUTION:Devout more time to the planning stage

I used to be so afraid of writer’s block that I wouldn’t take time to think about promotion. I was afraid the well of inspiration would run dry if I stopped pumping. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and the ideas haven’t faded. I need to assure myself that the stories will still be there if I pause long enough to sell them.

I need to submit to more themed collections, put more unpublished offerings on Amazon, and offer more incentives for readers willing to review them.

CONCLUSION

Getting a writing career going is like trying to become a professional lottery winner. The odds aren’t in anyone’s favor.

That’s why my New Years Resolutions are short-term incremental goals.

What are your writing resolutions? Anything on my list make yours? Anything on your list that ought to be on mine? Let me know in the comments.

•••

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?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Drew Chial’s 10 Rules for Writing

I’ve noticed a number of authors putting their own spin on Jonathan Franzen’s 10 rules for writing, because nothing deepens a creator’s appreciation for their beloved medium than a set of strict limitations. Well worry not dear parishioners for the good reverend Drew has been to the mountain and he’s come down with his very own commandments for writing.

Screw the Noun, Do the Verb

Austin Kleon once wrote “Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.”

Trust me, introducing yourself as a writer is an invitation for embarrassment until you’ve gotten something published. For every minute you spend talking about your writing you need to spend an hour with your ass in the chair actually doing the work.

Trick yourself into writing

Day jobs can be emotionally exhausting leaving you with only so much creative energy to write with. I’ve found the easiest way to play double duty is to trick myself into thinking I’m not. I do this by taking all the formality out of my process. I make do without a silent writing room, a bottle of wine, or a fixed amount of time.

I’ve tapped out a short story on the bus by convincing myself it was going off the rails so I might as well sputter out with it. After a few edits it turned into something I really liked. I’ve dictated descriptions of creepy environments as I’ve walked through them. I’ve written dialogue on dance floors.

Inspiration doesn’t always strike under controlled conditions. (It does the more you put yourself in the conditions, but you get my point.)

Wait to tell people you’re writing a novel

First drafts are fragile things, especially when you’re laying the foundation. It’s good to be excited about your blueprint, but resist the urge to share that vision too soon. Pitch to the wrong person and that castle you’re building will fall apart like a house of cards.

Try to approach writing a novel like quitting smoking. Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing until you’re too far into the process to turn back. You’ll feel less ashamed if you falter and friends will take you far more seriously if you see it through.

Don’t give anyone other than your editor veto power

I’m a horror author in that I write supernatural fantasies not slasher-centric torture porn. That distinction might seem toothless, but aspects of my subgenre get me into trouble with my politically correct peers. Horror authors are shameless for mining other people’s strongly held religious beliefs for monsters, misrepresenting easily accessible information with a shroud of mysticism. Yeah, we’re probably the reason that Gypsies are still associated with curses, or that nature loving neo pagans are mistaken for devil worshipers, or that Voodoo dolls have anything to do with true Haitian Voodoo. Sorry. Our bad.

As new school horror writer I’m trying to be as progressive as possible. Historically if I felt iffy about an aspect of my stories I’d survey my friends. What I found was that the dismissive blanket term “problematic” came up when people had a bad feeling about a pitch but didn’t know how to put it into words.

Others were better at elaborating what was off about an idea, proposing alternatives and suggesting research avenues for me to pursue. When you ask for people’s opinions it’s on you to critically consider them, just don’t grant everyone veto power over your writing or you won’t dare write anything.

There are two types of feedback to consider

The first type is emotionally reactive feedback like, “This is garbage” which tells you nothing. Every pore of the Internet is clogged with emotionally reactive “feedback.” Trolling, name-calling, and dismissive blanket terms are the kinds of feedback worth ignoring.

Feedback worth considering comes in a longer form from people with the credentials to recognize what you were going for and the know how to fix it. It’s constructive.

Recycle your darlings

You’ve heard the phrase, “Kill your darlings.” As an editor you’ve got to be merciless, gutting your some of your favorite b-plots to keep the a-plot flowing. That said, don’t just highlight and hit DELETE, not when it’s an entire subplot that’s got to go. COPY and PASTE that into another document so that one day it may be recycled into something else.

Repurpose your fanfiction into original works

Face it. As an unknown author no one is going to license shit to. Mulder and Scully won’t be yours to order around. The mayor of Silent Hill isn’t giving you the keys to the city, and a new Highlandermovie is already in development rendering your fanfiction irrelevant.

It’s fun to fantasize in established universes because all the world-building and characterization has been done for you. All you have to do is come up with the situation. If you find yourself visiting someone else’s intellectual property in your mind I urge you to transpose your original situations into something that’s yours to copyright.

E.L. James did it with her Twilight fanfiction and look where that got here. (Not my favorite example, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.)

Be mindful of your soundtrack

Orchestral film scores that are too emotionally engaging have a way of tricking me into thinking I’m writing more effective scenes than I am. My hero’s emotional revelation might seem melodramatic without the soundtrack.

Find a soundtrack that leaves room for your imagination. I like dark wave synthesizer film scores and noir piano jazz.  Both genres fit the tone of my writing and both are slow and repetitive enough to fade into the background when I need them to.

Creating the perfect playlist can devolve into another distraction from your writing. Case in point: the playlist for my first novel is a nonstop month of instrumental music. These days I usually go to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s Spotify page and hit PLAY.

Hold something back

I feed too much of my art into the gapping maw of the Internet with its insatiable appetite for fresh content. I want people to check out my books, but I’ve found the only way to get them to look in my direction is to post something on the blog. Sometimes that’s an on brand article and sometimes it’s a short story I probably should’ve sold to somebody. I’ve given too much of myself away for the short-term benefit of a few measly clicks.

It’s gratifying to get an immediate reaction from something you’ve written. Try finding that gratification offline. Find a writer’s workshop or pass printed copies to friends.

Your writing should be a collaboration with your readers

Leave room in every story for your reader to make a contribution. You don’t need to play costume designer by describing every stitch of clothing on your characters. Give a partial description, like an idea of the character’s fashion sense. Leave it to the reader to choose the garments. Describe your settings to a point, but leave some abstractions for readers to fill in. You can describe the look on a character’s face without explaining the meaning behind each micro expression.

If your writing is entertaining readers will want to suss out the subtext and add their own meaning. So let them. Continue reading Drew Chial’s 10 Rules for Writing