Here’s a link to an interview I did for the Get Lit with Leza podcast.
As an interviewer Leza has a talent for drawing out honed artistic statements and intimate details from her guests. She effortlessly navigates the professional, the personal, and in this case the paranormal.
We discuss the sleep paralysis I experienced throughout my childhood, the shadow demons looming at the foot of my bed and how I tried to cry out in terror. I never thought I’d get tipsy and joke about it all these years later. It was strangely fun deconstructing the neuroscience behind waking hallucinations with Leza as we unpacked the archetypes that make our minds see demons. Continue reading Getting Lit with Leza: Drew Chial Interview→
This is one of those opposite day posts (with a little too much truth revealed in jest). There’s a note to myself: STOP DOING THESE THINGS and some good advice in between the lines. Writers ought to get a laugh out of it.
In this age of hyper capitalism it’s important for salespeople to always be closing, influencers to always be networking, and authors to always be pitching.
If you’re a writer I can only assume you know all that already and that you’ve had a lot of success, naturally, of course you have. Print is more alive than ever and everybody reads all the time.
If you’ve taken the time to put words on paper then you’re probably racking money into your front door, but you know what they say, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” Sometimes don’t you wish you had a little less “problems?” Don’t you wish your novels were just a wee bit less successful? Don’t you wish the people you meet on the street were a little less interested in what you’re working on now?
Well, if you’re looking to turn your good fortune down a notch than you’ve come to the right place. Here is my strategy for making sure your writing connects with no one. Follow these steps and you’ll be riding a wave back to that sweet sweet obscurity you crave.
PITCH IN THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
Pitch your cerebral introspective hero’s journey in places where people don’t go to be cerebral or introspective like karaoke bars, trivia nights, and dance halls. Watch young lovers give out their numbers while you hand out links to places readers can preorder.
Try out your material on every captive audience. It doesn’t matter if they’re a barback washing the counter or a police officer taking your prints. They’ve got ears, put them work.
If your Uber rider rating is too high make it a point of pitching to every driver.
Pitch your story to clerks as lines build up behind you.
THROW PITCHES AT THE WALL HOPING ONE STICKS
Rehearse your elevator pitch until you’re certain you can nail it in fewer than three floors. Give all the major story beats a room in your memory palace and charge down that hall at full speed. Use finely tuned phrases with evocative language to encompass your plot points. Relish in your success when you wow a strange so much that they call a friend over. Then find yourself muddling the retelling because you’re concentrating too hard on trying to make it sound organic. Take your time improvising your elevator pitch like you’re riding the lift up to a space shuttle. When you realize you’re loosing your audience jump ahead to an out of context spoiler that while indeed is fascinating, completely ruins the story you’re trying to tell.
When it’s clear that this whole encounter has been socially awkward and your new friends could use an exit undermine your pitch by saying, “Well horror nerds will get it. It’s really for them.” Openly acknowledging that you’ve wasted everyone’s time.
BECOME YOUR BRAND IN THE REAL WORLD TOO
Social media personalities struggle with portraying themselves as relatable, down to earth, authentic individuals and being their actual true down and dirty selves. They work at honing a realistic personality that’s consumable without coming across as calculated and political. Yet the person we’re seeing in those punchy quick-cut YouTube videos is really just for show. It’s a brand.
In the real world writers are more than the niche genre enthusiasts they portray themselves as online, but if your aim is to NOT PROMOTE your novel then you have to be your brand full time so as to alienate anyone for whom you might make a genuine connection.
A great way to do this is to shoehorn book blurbs into otherwise organic conversations. When friends are talking about a film with a similar subject interject how your story does things a little different. Turn their informal chats into pitch meetings. When they share paranormal encounters hijack their breezy banter and give a sales presentations. When it becomes abundantly clear that someone you have a crush on isn’t reciprocating switch from flirting to networking on a dime. If you can’t make a connection then make a conversion.
TURN EVERY CONVERSATION INTO A BAIT AND SWITCH
Pretend you’re fascinated by what someone does for a living. Get them going. Ask about their aspirations, their five-year plan, and how it fills their life with meaning. Keep asking questions about their career path only to veer off into a conversation about what it means for you to be an author, which is really what you wanted to talk about the all along.
A good conversation is like a game of catch, but you’re trying to have a bad one, so it ought to play more like a game of hot potato and then dodge ball, in that you let them speak for a moment before blitzing them with information they don’t want.
CHOOSE A SUBJECT THAT ISN’T APPROPIATE FOR ALL VENUES
Base your story on something you think of as a dated mythological figure, like say the devil, you know a character others still take deadly seriously. Go ahead and name your story after Satan and put his likeness on all your business cards. Hand them out with no concern over alienating anyone with religious convictions. Design your pentagram promotional materials next to a pair of recovering alcoholics while they discuss their higher power.
Pitch your nightmare-inducing story at your day job. Bring up the seedier aspects of the plot around customers and clients.
Replace your social media thumbnails with your cover art and make the creepy iconography your sole identity.
Anyone can become a bestselling author. Everyone has a dozen great novels in them and they’ll all more than likely be made into movies (and in most instances the characters will be played by actors chosen by the author). I know this. You know this, and yeah, sometimes all that success can be overwhelming, but if you follow the above tips then hopefully you’ll sell a little less and have more time for that sweet sweet self-loathing you crave. Continue reading How Not to Promote Your Novel to Strangers→
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 Endlessin 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.
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?
When I was researching He Has Many Names, a story about the devil and a sleazy hotel, I Googled my share of strange things. Most of the story takes place in a forest-themed fantasy suite. As the suite’s interior decorator I had to fill the space with the right furniture. Now I can’t scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing ads for live edge redwood coffee tables, cherry blossom desk lamps, Styrofoam stalactites, moon shaped lanterns, and vine-themed sex swings.
My research queries ended up in my cookies and swapped information between all my logins. My inquiries into the etymology of the devil, his many forms, and the Satanic panic of the 1980s follow me like toilet paper on the bottom of my boot.
Thanks AdChoices but no I’m not interested in BlueDevil Head Gasket Sealer, Dirt Devil vacuum cleaners, or New Jersey Devils apparel. Try harder.
When Searches Go Public
In 2006 a large number of AOL’s users search history leaked online. The 2013 documentaryTerms and Conditions May Apply shows what happened when several anonymous users were identified by their search terms.
One AOL user in particular had a most intriguing search history. He’d looked up “How to kill your wife” multiple times along with “decapitated photos” and pictures of “murder victims.” Alarmist headlines dubbed him the scariest user on AOL and several armchair sleuths set out to unmask him.
Eventually the documentary filmmakers caught up with Jerome Schwartz and pressed him to see if these search terms were his. He admitted to looking up all of them and a slew of other macabre things. Turns out he was writer for the TV show Cold Caseand these search queries were research for his work.
In the documentary Jerome speculates what would happen if a government algorithm had flagged his searches and the FBI came knocking. I’ve joked about what would happen if the feds confronted me with my search history going so far as to turn the scenario into a short story. If these invasions of privacy become the norm a lot of authors are going to need alibis (this is why I write in public). #WriterProblems.
The New Abnormal
I have a feeling AdChoices will damn me to awkward public encounters for years to come.
I’ll be scrolling through FaceBook when someone will catch some strange shit in my border columns.
“A rhinestone codpiece, shackles, and a gimp mask? I had no clue you went in for all that.”
“I’m writing a scene set in a bondage club so those keep showing up.”
“And the adult sized Winnie the Pooh costume with the open butt flap?”
“Oh well, I am into.”
My Killer App Idea
What if there was a browser extension that recognized the online behaviors of writers and adjusted searches, ads, and results accordingly? And no I don’t mean constantly showing us ads for Grammarly or Scrivener. I’m talking about ads that are fine tuned to enhance the research process be it the intricate procedures that make up your characters’ careers, deep dives into the mythology you’re drawing from, or visual inspiration for the buildings that fill up your plot of the astral plane.
If our cookies spread our data from one site to another wouldn’t it be nice if the cookies contextualized the data as it went? The app could let sites know when we’re looking for home décor and when we’re looking for props for our settings, when we’re shopping for apparel and when we’re putting costumes on characters.
If advertisers have to mine my data they could at least draw the right conclusions from it.
When struggling writer and paranormal podcaster Noelle Blackwood gets the opportunity to ghostwrite for a bestselling thriller author, it seems almost too good to be true. The only catch is that she has to stay at The Oralia hotel until she’s done. Method becomes madness as she falls deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of her own story and the demons it awakens. He Has Many Names is a fresh spin on the Faustian bargain, a deal with the devil story in the age of artistic desperation.
WRITING FROM A FEMININE PERSPECTIVE TAKES NUANCE
In the first draft of He Has Many Namesmy editor wasn’t sure if the hero was a man or a woman. The protagonist was named Noelle but she spoke with the stock phrases one might find in a detective film. I’d just been writing a mystery and the lingo had rubbed off on Noelle.
When asked to make Noelle more feminine I didn’t want to emphasize what she was wearing or file her jagged edges down. Characteristics we identify as feminine like gentleness, tolerance, and sensitivity don’t fit Noelle. The Hollywood studio scene has hardened her. This doesn’t mean she’s stoic, like many women written by men, just that she’s tired embodying all those things people in her field consider feminine.
Leza Cantoral gave me great notes on Noelle’s voice. It helps having a female editor.
Noelle has traits that aren’t traditionally feminine in horror fiction (especially in films). She’s skeptical of the supernatural, ambitious to a fault, quick-witted, a tad catty, a bit jealous, and extremely resourceful.
SinceHe Has Many Namesis a story about storytelling from the perspective of a writer I thought it would be fun for Noelle to comment on what audiences expect from women in stories (especially in film). A producer once told Noelle she shouldn’t write herself into her own stories because she’s not very likeable. They want women to be sympathetic and vulnerable, but so resilient they never waste time whining or sulking. They want women to be gorgeous yet so modest as to be unaware of their beauty. They want women to be driven but not competitive.
I thought it’d be cool if Noelle acknowledged those contrasts before telling the audience she’s not going to write herself like that.
IF YOU PROMISE A DEVIL DELIVER ONE
The title He Has Many Namesis a direct reference to you-know-who.
Who has horns on his head?
Who has skin that’s very red?
Who has a beard on his face?
Who keeps souls in a case?
Horns on head, skin that’s red
Beard on his face, souls in a case
Must be Satan, must be Satan
Lord of the dark realm
In the first draft the entity haunting Noelle was something else entirely. I thought I was being clever setting up Satan and then hitting the audience with a sucker punch, but it was a let down. While the final draft retains many of its twists the true devil makes a grand entrance. Make no mistake Hell factors heavily into this story.
As much as I wanted to play with the audience’s expectations I forgot the “Chekhov’s gun” rule of storytelling: if a pistol is hung on the wall in the first act it ought to go off in the second. In the same sense: if someone speaks of the devil in your first act the devil better rain brimstone down on everyone in the second.
CENTER EVERYTHING AROUND THE THEME
When I started writing He Has Many NamesI had a good concept: horror writer is sequestered in a haunted hotel room, but no clear theme, no thesis statement to leave readers with, no enlightenment to go with my entertainment.
The theme presented itself in the second draft (which was more of a reimagining than a mere edit).
He Has Many Names is about creators’ relationships with their audience. Be it a writer contemplating what horror readers are looking for or a devil pondering the quality of worship their reputation hath wrought. It’s about creators using art to take control of their lives only to then lose control of their art.
Once I knew the theme it informed every storytelling decision I made from then on.
THERE IS SUCH A THING AS BEING TOO META
At a certain point in He Has Many Namesit’s revealed that the story we’re reading is the one Noelle is submitting to her publisher. This is shown in a scene where Matilda McDonald, the publisher, tears everything we’ve just read apart. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written and I tried to replicate that scene one too many times later on.
I’d over-complicated the story by including references to Noelle’s imagined ending, an alternate scenario that pandered to the psychological thriller twists readers had been conditioned to expect. It was my way of playing with the readers’ expectations while promising them that this story was going someplace different.
The problem with Noelle’s prophetic ending is that it made her an utterly unreliable narrator. While it’s clear that Noelle is taking artistic license in describing these events I didn’t want the reader to feel like she was bullshitting them. So I made some adjustments. Noelle references the alternate ending, but assures us we’re reading the one that’s based on actual events.
NOT EVERY SCARY STORY NEEDS TO END WITH AMBIGUITY
Some of my favorite scary stories leave readers wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. For great examples of this type of horror check out Paul Tremblay’s ambiguity trilogy: Head Full of Ghosts,Disappearance of Devil’s Rock, and The Cabin at the End of the World.
He Has Many Namesstraddles the line between psychological and supernatural horror but ultimately it picks a side. I thought about ending the story in such a way where the reader had to sift through clues to suss out what happened, but decided it would be more rewarding if suspicions were confirmed and given a hard “yes.”
Everyone has their own way of recharging. Some join friends at the bar for karaoke. They stumble out of the bathroom with their pants at their ankles to sing along with off-key.
“Sweet Caroline. Bah-bah-bah!”
Some set out wine and cheese platters and go around in circles discussing highbrow literature. Some park themselves in an ass grove and multi-slack, gaming on one screen and crushing half a season of science fiction on the other.
Others sling yoga mats over their shoulders and stretch that tension out, others sprint around the neighborhood at 4AM, and others lift ingredients into pans.
Whatever it is that you do to revitalize your vitality may good vibes be upon you.
I write. I love the activities listed above, but writing gives me a sense of agency I don’t get from other outlets. Blogging gives my passing observations a sense of permanence. Poetry gives my abstract emotions a tangible form, and narrative writing turns my daydreams into something worth sharing.
When the writing is flowing it’s a big jolt to my self-esteem. When it’s not it taxes the energy it’s supposed to be replenishing. After a day of dealing with draining customers and a night of staring at a blank page I find myself completely tapped. I don’t even have the energy to make a Netflix selection let alone migrate to the bed from my couch cushions.
Creative endeavors are both risky and rewarding. Measuring the costs and the benefits is an undertaking. A lot of patience goes into fine-tuning that work/life balance.
As artists age we can’t help but compare our status to our career minded friends. How are we supposed to afford children in this economy when our Amazon royalties are but pennies? As our lives fill with commitments our creative careers go on the back burner.
When it comes to attaching expectations to annual events I go off like clock work. On News Years Eve I keep my head down at the count down. On Valentine’s Day I listen to a well-curated playlist of sad songs, and on my birthday I do everything I can to avoid introspection. I have a bad tendency to throw myself a pity party, to review the previous season’s events and try to figure out where it all went wrong. It’s my party and I’ll stare off into the middle distance if I want to, stare off into the middle distance if I want to, stare off into the middle distance if I want to. You would too if you were a maladaptive daydreamer like Drew.
I’ve taken another trip around the sun, but this one feels different than the last few. I’m not so worried about getting lost in the Twilight Zone of my subconscious tonight.
Rather than hold my head and wonder, “When the hell are things going to start happening?” I already know the answer.
The answer is NOW BITCHES. Things arehappening. No vows have been exchanged, no baby names have been chosen, but soon my name will soon be in print. That’s a hell of a lot of something.
Sure I’m one year further from being a rock star, but I’m one year closer to being an author (I’ve been a writer for a while, but now I’m finally getting my ass published).
This year, rather than stare off into the middle distance counting super heroes in my head to give myself a distraction I’m going to count my blessings.
I’m older, but despite a few gray hairs and handful of smile lines I haven’t aged too hard. I’m hoping I have Paul Rudd syndrome in that I have a few more decades of looking like this to look forward to (knock on wood, knock on all the wood).
I’ve also got Nemo, an adorable kitten that tears my flesh to ribbons.
And I have book called HE HAS MANY NAMES and another secret project that I’m editing (it’s called I AM FIRE slide into my DMs so I can spoil the ending).
Anyway. I have birthday reservations at my favorite establishment.
Word up to all my fellow Virgos (even though we notoriously don’t believe in astrology).
It turns out there is such a thing as summer camp for adults, a place where friendships are founded on a mutual love of monsters, where ghost stories are on tap 24/7, and according to Jeff Burk Dinosaurs Attacks trading cards are still in fashion. Thanks to camp director Wrath James White KillerCon was the summer camp I’d always dreamt of attending. It was a place where kids weren’t shamed out of wearing Hellraiser t-shirts, where all the counselors swore (especially Matt Shaw), and telling dirty jokes meant you were developing healthy social skills (at least that’s what Edward Lee told me).
Instead of a dining hall we had a continental breakfast, followed by a blindfolded tasting of freaky foods and a hot wings challenge. Then Michael Allen Rose, a saintly gentleman in a Nine Inch Nails tribute band, passed around Jeppson’s Malört to help us wash it down (type #MalortFace into Instagram to see just how refreshing it is).
Instead of fireside hymns our camp gathered around a keg of beer. Instead of a talent show we had a gross out contest. And our prayer circles, well, they looked a little different.
The panels with Brian Keene, Matt Shaw, and Lucy Taylor gave me an invaluable peak into the bloody inner workings of the publishing industry. It was a hoot to sit in on readings by Joe Lansdale and his daughter Kasey Lansdale.
I was blown away by Nate Southard’s shrewd then outspoken performance as he weaved through the audience throughout his reading.
It was treat to working the conference floor with Rose O’Keefe and Max Booth III (congrats on the Hulu pilot, btw).
Thanks to Leza Cantoral and Christoph Paul the ClashBooks reading was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I was happy to share it with such sketchy individuals as Brendan Vidito, Charles Austin Muir, Jeff Burk, and of course Wrath James White… and I’m pretty sure Sam Richard was the attendee of honor (seeing as how he got an exclusive lap reading from Brendan Vidito, I mean I’m not saying I’m like supes totes jelly or anything, but… lucky).
Killer con was all of my summer camp dreams come true. I shouldn’t have been surprised by how sweet, charming, and utterly disarming horror authors can be. I can’t wait to come back next year.
I’ve read books with gaudy covers because I’ve loved their authors and I’ve watched as the cover art shifted in my mind as I went. Geometrically the illustrations were in the exact same positions, but I’d attached new meanings. After putting the book down I was hard pressed to imagine any other cover. The design had improved upon association.
The same phenomenon applies to people. Charm can make an average looking Joe handsome and a sense of humor looks great on a woman. A positive association of someone attaches to their form, like an aura of positivity, and makes you eager to see them.
I felt these positive associations form in my brief time here at the KillerCon, getting to know established writers, up and comers, and the fans roving the hotel floors.
In my home city of Minneapolis I function on a safe predictable loop (yes, like the second season of Mr. Robot). I go to work, for coffee, and my weekly club night. I’m less likely to feel socially anxious when I know what to expect.
My first day at KillerCon I was out of element, a stranger in a strange land of splatter punks and hardcore horror aficionados who’ve traveled on the same circuit. At first I felt less like a participant and more like a pop cultural anthropologist.
Then I realized everyone was wearing conversations starters on their sleeves, literally tattooed right on: portraits of the Bride of Frankenstein, Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft, Pinhead, and Cthulhu.
Eventually those of us with thousand yard stares at the bar started looking closer at one another, laughing over shared obsessions, pitching stories, telling morbid tales of our own hometowns.
Since opening ceremonies we’ve tortured ourselves with hot sauces, death peppers, strange foods, and gross out stories. Last night I took the Malort challenge, shots of a drink whose creator says is for drinkers who disdain the light flavors of neutral spirits. If you enter #MalortFace into Instagram you’ll see a series of portrait of people who’ve taken the same challenge.
That was last night, a whirlwind of hotel room parties, singing, and storytelling. This morning on the final day of KillerCon the event feels like summer camp. I wasn’t sure if anyone would like me on the day I arrived now I wish I had more time with everyone.