Here’s to words. Many, many words. Good morning to all of you starting out this Monday at your own desks, and for all you other writers out there — happy writing!
Now that I’m back home in New Hampshire, I’m thrilled to report that the Red Adept Publishing event down in Raleigh was a great time, and well worth the trip. The panel and book signing featured Jason Parent, Karissa Laurel, J. Leigh, Jessica Dall, Erica Lucke Dean, and myself, as we discussed such topics as what drew us to our preferred genre, why we write, and where we write. I got the chance to field a few questions about Novel #3, and discuss what inspired Pale Highway. If you haven’t checked out the other authors on the panel, I highly recommend their works: great stuff!
I then spent some time exploring Chapel Hill and Raleigh. From there, everyone congregated for the Red Adept Publishing annual party, featuring bingo games, a raffle, great people, friendly dogs, and amazing food. All of the Red Adepts gathered together for this epic photo:
All in all, I’m happy I made the trip down, and I hope to make it back next year. The aforementioned raffle also included prizes, and while it took me some time and dedication to win one – or, really, the assistance of a handful of other friendly partygoers who helped me sort through a massive amount of tickets – I was finally able to win this rather handsome coffee mug, which I am now the proud owner of.
I’d imagine that none of you are surprised I went for the coffee mug. Predictable.
After an exhausting trip back via Atlanta and Boston, I’m now settling back into my office in New Hampshire, drinking coffee from my new Red Adept mug, catching up on my current writing projects, and finishing up an Octavia Butler novel that I read through three quarters of on the flight back. It’s been a great week, and I hope the same is true for all of you.
Before I forget: I’m on Bookbub now! To follow me there, just click on the following link, and you’ll be updated whenever I have a new release.
So, other than currently levitating somewhere between Mars and Earth while my astral projection explores Pluto, where have I been? What have I been up to? Quite a bit, actually. I’ve spent a lot of time down in the Earth’s core, recently; in addition, I recently was bitten by a radioactive spider, struck by gamma rays and spent a weekend at some weird place called Crystal Lake, where hockey masks are apparently not too popular.
The writing life is always a busy one. As a writer, so much of one’s life is spent engaged in the most introspective activity imaginable – sitting alone in a room, reconstructing one’s most private thoughts – and somehow, while all of one’s writing projects are going on, the writer must also find time to experience life to the fullest – because that’s where writing inspiration comes from, of course! – and so one must regularly go out into the world, have new experiences, meet people, understand the fabric of society, the backbone of society, the guts of society, and all that other good stuff. In addition, the writer must also go out and promote their work, although doing so is a challenge, since it requires a skill in extroversion that might initially be foreign to the introverted writer. After a few runs, though, you slowly get the hang of it. It’s actually pretty fun, and interacting with your readers is really one of the more amazing experiences a writer can have.
So now, my friends, let me give you guys the update of what exactly I’m working on.
Since The Cage Legacy was finished, I’ve been privately slaving away here at the keyboard, actively developing multiple new novels. I’m crazily enthusiastic to share these stories with you guys – when the right time comes. I’m the sort of person who gets my work done way ahead of schedule. I like getting a lot of work completed and packaged before I fully reveal my hand…so when it comes to writing, one might say I’m a bit of a workaholic. This work ethic can get exhausting at times, but I do absolutely love writing, so it’s a very satisfying form of exhaustion. Much better than other forms of exhaustion, anyway.
So, without spilling too much, these are currently the three main projects that I’m actively developing:
Novel #2: Working on getting this one published. It’s insanely tempting to tell you guys all about this one – it’s an extremely exciting project, for me – but I’ll hold back, for now.
Novel #3: I’m currently editing this one, right now. I can’t wait to share this one, as well. It’s a pretty offbeat story, for sure.
Novel #4: First draft complete! Looking forward to editing this one, sometime soon.
Since The Cage Legacy was released, I’ve often been asked – whether by emails from my readers, real life acquaintances and/or online contacts – what I’m working on now, or if I have any other books coming out. Ideally, this blog will explain things in a way that both answers the question, and more importantly, simplifies my often confusing and complicated answers. From this point forward, I’ll try to use the above three “working titles” whenever I refer to one of my upcoming novels-in-progress.
…and as 2014 spreads its wings, as the light blasts through the clouds (and a freezing, bone-chilling snow descends upon us here in New England), it’s time to get on with the year ahead.
There’s plenty to look forward to this year; I have several writing projects to keep me busy, and when I’m not busy writing I’m planning on doing some more traveling, reading, writing, movie-watching, socializing and coffee drinking.
Now, as far as this blog goes…
2013 was my first year here on WordPress – my first year meeting all of you guys on here, and my first time having a regular blog to give shape to, develop and nurture. 2014 will be a year that allows me to deepen the connections I’ve made thus far, as well as continuing to write about the subjects that fascinate me – be they horror/sci-fi/comics genre-related, psychological, philosophical or whatever else might grab my attention.
In the meantime, it’s time to hop off of here and get back to my current writing projects…because I’ll warn you right now, there’s some big stuff coming up just over the horizon line!
Every artist has their sources.
It’s a truth that too many creators deny too often. Sure, we all acknowledge the debt that we owe to real life, the true events that have inspired our stories – but for whatever reason, one generally wants to believe that he or she experiences divine moments of inspiration, devoid of the influence of outside media. Somehow, one prefers to reject the notion that any books, comics, movies, TV shows and books have in any way helped influence the creator’s baby.
But once again, I repeat – every artist has his sources.
Yes, this point may seem obvious. It’s easy to say that we find inspiration in other forms of media, without acknowledging our debt to those specific works. But really, it’s important to do so. By recognizing which artistic works we were inspired by, we can both pay tribute to those works – and we can also successfully differentiate ourselves from them. After all, there might only be a handful of different stories in the world, but what’s really important is how you make that story your own.
In Stephen King’s fifth Dark Tower book, Wolves of the Calla, there’s a great scene toward the end where Eddie – a former heroin addict – and Jake – the Gunslinger’s adopted son –are discussing the startlingly familiar traits of of the “Wolves,” a pack of bloodthirsty robots that have been terrorizing the Calla for years. See, the Wolves are eerily familiar, in a number of ways. For one, they utilize miniscule, golden hand grenades—grenades that they call “sneeches.” At close quarters, the Wolves attack with energy swords. Perhaps most significant of all, though, is the Wolves’ appearance. They have robotic, humanoid bodies, and the only garments they wear are green cloaks, hoods and togas. As Eddie tells Jake, these wolves look almost identical to a certain classic Marvel Comics super villain – a Latverian dictator known by the name of Doctor Doom.
Now, these traits aren’t simply coincidences; they’re actually a part of the plot. As the Dark Tower series tells a tale that reaches across thousands of alternate universes, having references to such sources as Doom, the light sabers from Star Wars and the sneetch from Harry Potter actually makes sense, in the context of the story. What’s most inspiring here, though, is the fact that Stephen King goes so far as to call himself out on these obvious sources of inspiration. Through the mouths of Eddie and Jake, King displays a brave willingness to openly cite his sources, and he even allows the readers to take part in the game.
I remember the first time I read the Dark Tower series, I found this passage enormously inspiring. I realized that the idea of a writer denying one’s sources of inspiration – the reality of what happens when a writer pretends that he or she isn’t influenced by the media he/she enjoys consuming – is a fabrication that people will always see right through.
Let’s face it. Let’s face the truth. Every artist is inspired by something. Every artist has his/her favorite works of art; the creator doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and to pretend otherwise is to present a falsehood.
And see, this is what’s important, contradictory to what we might generally believe – originality isn’t found by having an “original idea,” originality is something that comes from the unique execution of an idea. Believe in your concept—believe that, by telling it through your own voice instead of someone else’s, you can make it original—and then you’ll have something special.
…and another amazing AnthoCon draws to a close.
A big cheers goes out to everyone who made it out to Portsmouth this weekend, and I hope everyone there had as excellent a time as I did. As usual, it was great to see a lot of familiar faces – including publisher extraordinaire Eric Beebe, and such genre presences as G. Elmer Munson (Stripped), Scott Goudsward (Trailer Trash), Andrew Wolter (Nightfall), David Price (Dead in the USA), Marianne Halbert, Stacey and Jason Harris (the owners of Books and Boos) and of course, the Four Horsemen themselves…not to mention, plenty of new faces as well, including authors Brian Dobbins (Jasmine’s Tale), Marshall Stein (Rage Begets Murder), and Rob Watts (Huldufolk), all of whom are terrific people who I hope to see again someday in the near future. There are so many names I’m forgetting to mention – you see so many great people at an event like this!
But anyway, in closing: AnthoCon is an absolutely remarkable convention, and I’m sure it’ll get better and better with every year. Here’s to the next gathering, guys!
That’s right, I’ll be attending AnthoCon this weekend, November 9th and 10th- the Anthology 2013 Conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire!
Held at the Holiday Inn, AnthoCon is celebrating its third year this time around. Access to the dealer room is FREE (!!!), a day pass for all panels and readings is only $20 and as usual, there will be a literary ocean full of terrific horror/sci-fi/genre authors swimming all over the place.
I’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday with my publisher, Post Mortem Press. More information on the convention can be found on its official website, anthocon.com.
Throughout my childhood – and definitely in my adulthood – I have been very happy to identify myself as a bookworm. I read novels like they’re going out of style, often reading about two books a week. Whether I’m sitting at the beach, hanging out at the doctor’s office or waiting in the car as I pick someone up from an appointment, I always have my current book on hand. When one has a book, one never has any “empty space” in his or her day.
Okay, with all of that said, here’s an embarrassing revelation:
Back at the beginning of my teenage years – back when I was about, say, 14 years old – there was a brief period in my life where I wasn’t reading. Looking back, this realization is rather shocking to me, but it is what it is. Oh, I had plenty of excuses; I was too busy, I hadn’t found the right book, blah, blah, blah…but regardless of any justifications I might’ve had, the fact is that my lack of reading was severely depriving me of a very real, very deep personal joy, a joy that – until that point – had been a part of me since I was a little boy. And this, right here, is why I have a deep love of George Orwell. Why?
Because Orwell’s 1984 is the book that changed that.
Reading the book was a class assignment. I was interested, but not enormously so; at first, I entertained the lazy notion that I’d skim through, just enough to properly answer the test questions. I just didn’t have time to read the whole thing, you know ? I just didn’t have a…
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
…and just like that, I was hooked.
By the end of 1984‘s first chapter, I was swept away. Grabbed by the throat. Addicted. I dove into the pages, intensely devouring them in a way I never had before, with any book. I read through nearly half of the novel in a single day.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I was a reader again.
Naturally, as the years have gone by, I’ve come to appreciate 1984 on an even deeper level than I did on my first read. The stark warning within its pages is a truly chilling statement on the weaknesses of humanity, and while there’s many fantastic dystopian novels out there, none of them are quite as horrifying…or as real. Watching the news, one almost feels as if people are getting ideas from 1984. A very scary proposition, indeed.
As a writer, George Orwell’s skills have always blown me away. There’s a scene toward the end of Animal Farm, where the pigs—and we all know who/what those pigs are representative of, right?—suddenly learn to get on their hind legs, stand and walk upright, like human beings. Under the pen of almost any other author, this scene would be laughable. Goofy. But Orwell sells it, somehow turning this silly scene into something out of a nightmare.
In the end, though, I’ll admit that there’s one Orwell piece that has inspired me more than any other. It isn’t a novel. It isn’t a story. It’s an essay, titled “Why I Write,” which every young or aspiring author should read. It’s like an anthem for all writers, everywhere; as Orwell describes his own life story in detail, we writers can’t help but find ourselves in it, identifying with his struggle, remembering our own difficulties. That essay can be found here:
The last paragraph, especially, is a thing of beauty. No one has ever said it better than Orwell…and most likely, no one ever will.
So, before we get to the main subject of this post, let’s do a quick update: my first experience at Necon this past weekend was amazing. Immediately upon driving down to Rhode Island and entering the doors of the convention center, I was bombarded by a truly astounding amount of friendliness, lively conversation, interesting fiction and remarkable artwork. As far as fiction cons go, Necon truly is one of a kind.
I won’t go into too much detail right now, as another website has asked me to do a write-up about my Necon experience (probably later this week), so I’m going to save most of my thoughts and recollections for that. For now, though, let me just say that Necon truly is an exceptional gathering of creative minds, getting together and openly exchanging thoughts, ideas, ridiculous jokes–and, of course, plenty of coffee and booze. I’m definitely planning on a return trip.
Now, since we’re already on the topic of creative writers, writing, fiction and so on (which just goes to prove the unfortunate stereotype about us writers having this exhausting need to talk about that goddamn writing business all the time), let’s take a moment to discuss something that all writers are far too familiar with:
The writing process.
Okay, fellow writers, let’s get honest. I’m going to make a horrible confession. I hear a voice in my head. A (usually) small voice, but a dark, morose, scathing one that pops up from time to time. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“Oh, oh, oh! Hey, you so-called writer! Let me tell you, dear fellow/madam, this story you’re currently working on, this story you’ve poured your blood, guts and other sensitive organs into…well, it sucks! Forget all the great things people have told you about your talent, your story is a complete waste of time. In fact, everything you’ve ever written sucks, and all those ‘amazing’ story ideas in your head…well, you’re simply not capable of writing them. You might as well give up now. Now that I, the voice of the truth, have spoken, it’s time to give up on writing and go ahead and get a new job as a desk clerk, a banker or something serious like that, ya old potatah!”
I’m betting that we all know that voice, all too well—and not just the writers among us either, but also the artists, musicians and all other creative types. That voice is the bane of all creative minds, the horrible curse of self-loathing that our muses have bestowed upon us; personally, for the sake of this article, I’m going to name that voice the Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster.
The Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster is something that almost all creative minds struggle with, and it’s likely the cause of many, many failed careers; it’s a terrifying demon that has stalled many aspiring writers, breaking them down with anxiety, self-consciousness and/or the dreaded “writer’s block,” to the point where these would-be-creators give up on their dreams.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
While people may identity the Creative Monster by a myriad of different names, some more irreverent than others, familiarity with this demon is unanimous. The topic of how a creative mind can possibly “get rid of” this voice is something that many fellow writers have discussed with me, especially those aspiring beginners who are just now considering writing their first novel. In regards to that question, my answer is this:
No, you’ll never be free of your inner self-cannibal. But, with a little willpower, you can make it quiet down and mind its own business.
That’s right. There is no miracle cure. The dreaded autocannibal will always be there, and it will always try to torture you; you can’t get rid of it. But if you push forward anyway – if you block out the Creative Monster and refuse to listen to its mocking cries—you do, through sheer force of will, learn methods to deal with it, and you can overcome its influence.
First of all, in order to neutralize the Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster’s power, we need to recognize that it’s not useful. Now that we’ve identified that horrible voice in our head with a name, here’s the important thing to realize about that voice; even though our intuitive tendency is to believe that this voice is here to “help us,” or that it’s the “voice of reason” and that it exists only to make us better creators, that belief is in fact a complete misconception. Yes, looking at one’s own work with a hard, critical eye is good, important and healthy…but in contrast, brutally decimating one’s own ego is NOT. When we find ourselves doing the latter, it’s important that we recognize that this, right here, is the voice of the Creative Monster – and it’s even more important that we firmly recognize the fact that this monster never says anything worthwhile. Nothing. Nada. In fact, its mocking voice really should be completely ignored, altogether.
This raises a dilemma, which we’ll now return to: isn’t self-criticism useful? And how can we tell the difference between positive self-criticism and negative self-cannibalism? After all, if we, as writers (though again, this applies to any creative field) just thought everything we wrote was amazing and utterly flawless, we’d be delusional – and it’d make for some terrible terrible writing. We’d never improve our skills, never sharpen our tools, and never actually push ourselves to achieve the great writing we’re capable of.
Isn’t it important to see the flaws in one’s own work? The answer is yes, but there’s an important difference here; positive self-criticism is constructive. Unlike negative self-cannibalism, positive self-criticism builds towards improvement; it looks at the foundation of a work, takes what works, throws out the rest and then confidently seeks to improve what was there before. Negative self-cannibalism, on the other hand, is deconstructive. This self-cannibalism is like a person who simply blows up the entire building and then despairs over his or her supposed inability to ever create quality work. Here, let me highlight the difference:
- Negative self-cannibalism: “Okay, this isn’t working. This piece has problems here, here…God, and here too! Damn it! I’ve totally failed at what I was trying to do. It’s fucking terrible. I need to give up, there’s no way I’ll ever be able to write this correctly.”
- Positive self-criticism: “Okay, this piece isn’t working, it has too many problems, and I know I can do so, so much better. I’m going to take another look at this, throw out the bad parts and further develop what DOES work. I need to refocus, reorient and keep trying until this piece really shines.”
One of these voices is ambitious – but also quite honest. It’s the voice of someone who’s not afraid to criticize his/her own work, but is determined to make it better. In contrast, the other voice is ridiculously defeatist. Both voices recognize the flaws in the writer’s work, but one of these is actually helping, and the other voice is simply a bully, kicking the writer when he/she is already down.
So really, the solution is as simple as this: as creators, we should ignore the Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster. It has nothing worthwhile to say, and nothing it ever does will actually help us. Its only purpose is to destroy the creator’s hopes and dreams; it has no interest in making us better creators. Instead, we should passionately believe in our dreams, and we should use that passion to reconstruct our flawed works until they become as perfect as humanly possible.
Yes, one should be aware enough to see the flaws in one’s work, but one should also be honest enough to see the good qualities, as well.
Be ambitious enough to push through those flaws, correct them and move on. Believe in the message of your story – believe in your ability to tell that story – because if you don’t believe in it, no one else will.
Now, the reason I’ve named the entity/voice/demon described in this blog, the reason I’ve referred to it by a silly moniker like the “Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster,” is because doing so allows me to externalize that voice. It allows me to think of that voice as a separate entity from myself, instead of deceptively believing that it’s “the real me,” or the “voice of truth.” By doing this – by seeing the self-cannibalistic voice as another person – it allows one to see how ridiculous and unlikable the Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster really is. Really, when it comes down to it, the Creative Monster is a very small, solipsistic and irritating character; he’s certainly not someone I’d ever want to have a beer with. I’m going to close here with a quote by Mark Twain – a quote that, once we’ve externalized the self-cannibalistic voice and decided to view it as a separate person, really gets to the heart of the matter:
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
And now, with that said, I’m going to finish this blog, drink another cup of steaming hot coffee and get to work on some damn writing. And if the Self-Cannibalistic Creative Monster doesn’t like it, well…too bad.
For writers, self-doubt is something we’re all too familiar with. It’s unavoidable, really. Whereas most careers are built on concrete evidence and a clear end goal for each day, writers usually operate from a sort of murky, hazy subconscious desire. Our goals are driven by a mysterious voice that sometimes chooses to speak to us… and sometimes doesn’t.
Really, it makes sense. After all, a professional fiction writer is someone who gets paid to make stuff up. It’s a thoroughly exhausting job that takes a long, long time, and usually offers the writer very little financial reward. Writers aren’t writers because we desire worldwide fame and lucrative amounts of money: we’re writers because we’re passionate about writing, and because we have something we want to say to the world.
So, let’s ask the obvious question. In a world full of such varied and highly essential careers as doctors, nurses, architects and police officers, why is writing fiction still important?
Put bluntly, what is the writer’s role in society?
This question goes beyond the simple entertainment value of a good story. It also goes beyond the symbiotic relationship that’s experienced between a writer and his/her reader. Not that this symbiosis is unimportant—in fact, for the writer and the reader themselves, that relationship is probably the most important thing—but it’s not what we’re discussing here. No, our focus here is on what the writer’s role to society is. What does the writer bring to the world that no on else can?
My answer is this: writers and storytellers are the individuals who have designated themselves with the daunting task of recreating the time, place, and characters of whatever era they live in. I feel that this is especially the case when it comes to fiction; while an encyclopedia entry about the 1990s might fill in the details, it doesn’t paint a picture. A novel written during the 1990s, on the other hand, can definitively show the flavor of the time, the voices that were most important, and the subconscious fears that drove that generation’s actions. The different fiction genres each demonstrate a unique facet of the writer’s society. A horror writer will memorialize the discomforts of his era. A science fiction writer will demonstrate that era’s views on technology, change, and widespread social issues. A literary writer will display what mundane everyday life was really like. These genres, of course, can all be combined, mixed/matched, and so on.
By writing a novel, the writer acts to keep their era alive for future generations, so that our children and grandchildren can understand who we really were, and what we stood for.
However, there’s more to it than that. Much more. By nature, writers are teachers. Again, writers write because they have something to say to the world. They have a lesson to teach, a lesson so important to them—whether it be moral, intellectual, idealistic, or cynical—that they’ve sculpted an entire story for the sheer purpose of teaching that lesson. To demonstrate this point, a few examples are listed below:
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is the first novel to question the idea of creating life through scientific means. While Shelley’s concepts have been used in millions of subsequent stories—from movies such as Splice to novels like Galatea 2.2—Frankenstein was the first novel of its kind. The ethical quandaries that Frankenstein ponders are so troubling that we continue to ask these same questions today. As we, the readers, become absorbed in the story of Victor Frankenstein’s rise and fall, and then, as we find our sympathies slowly drifting toward the murderous creature, we are forced to realize that the act of creation is never the end of a process. Once you have created life—presuming that the creation of life is the ultimate, perhaps even divine task—Shelley’s novel posits that you have the responsibility to care for that life, and by not doing so, you become responsible for whatever that thing you created turns into.
Broom of the System, by David Foster Wallace, teaches us about the way that we use words and language to frame our society and our actions. The novel questions the notion of free will, while demonstrating how one can use words to dominate other people; Wallace shows how well-constructed words can enslave one person to another person’s ideas, no matter how irrational those ideas may be. Are we real people, or simply linguistic constructs, characters in someone’s novel? Is there a difference between the two, really? This is the question that Wallace’s protagonist, Lenore Beadsman, must ask herself. As the readers of her story, we are forced to ask ourselves the same question, forcing us to learn more about ourselves in a way we would never dare to outside of the constructs of a fictional story.
George Orwell’s 1984, the ultimate dystopian masterpiece, is a story that has radically changed the way we think about society. Yes, words like “newspeak” and “groupthink” have become part of our lexicon, but more importantly, what Orwell’s terrifying vision gave us was a terrible awareness of humanity’s own ability to crush itself.
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes shows us that under the wrong conditions, knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Through an experimental scientific procedure, the developmentally disabled Charlie Gordon is transformed from a cheerful, kind bakery worker into a cunning, self-absorbed “genius,” and the result of this personality shift is gut-wrenching pain and isolation. In a society so driven by the pursuit of knowledge and interpersonal connections, Keyes makes us reconsider notions that we previously thought of as unspoken truths.
Questions. Plot. Characters. Morals. Story. Style. All of these things are tools within the writer’s cabinet, used—often subconsciously—to craft his or her statement about the world, and to reach the minds of others. We write for ourselves, yes, but more importantly, we write so that our voices will be heard by those who desire (or can learn from) our message.
That is the role of the fiction writer.