“Rewrite Junkie!” by TM Wright

“Rewrite Junkie!” by TM Wright
I’ll admit it, I rewrite almost continuously (which would, of course, be “continually”). I rewrite rewrites, and then rewrite the rewritten rewrites. And, when the thing (meaning “the story”) has lain around unread for a month or two, I reread it (with, of course, nearly perfect objectivity, by then), then rewrite it again! Am I compulsive? Yes. What drives that compulsion? The need to get it right! And who’s to say when it’s “right”? I’m to say when it’s right. Not the readers (who haven’t yet read the particular product of my compulsion), not the agents (ditto), and not the publishers and editors (ditto again): I’m to say when it’s right. In fact, I’ve already rewritten the previous 111 words at least six times. I’m a rewrite junkie!
That said, you should accept as gospel that you can easily rewrite a thing until it lies gasping, nearly dead, drained (by all those damned rewrites) of its vibrancy, its will to live, its punch! “But,” you say, “does that mean a story only has punch if it’s imperfect?” Flapdoodle, of course, because, though we all know what “imperfect” is, we can have no idea at all what “perfect” is (and it is not, I’ve been told, ending a sentence in a preposition). But that’s odd, too, isn’t it? Because if we can say, with certainty, “that’s imperfect” (that being the sentence, metaphor, phrase, piece of dialogue or whatever we have just committed to paper [meaning, for most of us, “the computer”]) then, also with certainty, we know what “perfect” is: but we don’t, and we can’t. We can’t, because we’re so vastly imperfect–we see only a narrow spectrum of light, hear only a narrow spectrum of sounds, smell only a very narrow spectrum of odors, et cetera, et cetera. We’re as imperfect, imprecise and full of error as a right-hand turn on a left-hand curve. “So how, tell me how,” you say, “can I, this vastly imperfect being, make my piece of writing perfect?” And the answer is simple: you can’t, and you never will. Not, that is, unless you accept such whiny phrases as “as perfect as possible, ” or “as perfect as it can be” as alternatives to “perfect,” which they are, of course, “perfect” being unattainable, at least to our limited and pitiable five senses and intellect.
Okay, then, you say to yourself, why should I rewrite compulsively? I’m not saying you should rewrite compulsively: I’m saying I do. Maybe, for you, rewriting is simply not important. Maybe you feel, like many writers, that rewriting is unnecessary, that it’s anathema to the creative process (“You don’t re-experience an orgasm, do you?” you’ll say. “You simply get it right the first time.”). And, hey, if that works in your creative world, I raise my glass to you: perfection (or one of its alternatives, noted above) flows from your precious gray matter to your fingers to the keys to the computer screen (or typing paper, given your technological predilections), like fine wine flowing through a glass tube and into a paper cup. ]
We rewrite, many of us, to make perfect what we can never make perfect–our literary children. We should rewrite simply to make those children better. We should rewrite to get rid of crap like passive voice, meaningless repetition (because, of course, not all repetition is meaningless, only meaningless repetition is meaningless, only repetition without use or necessity is meaningless), errant commas and dashes and rambling parenthetical comments, continuity that has no hope of scanning well, endings that do not please or (again) punch (if we want them to punch: “Shouldn’t all endings punch?” you ask, and I answer, No. Sometimes the rest of the story, the part that leads to the end of the story, should punch harder than its ending. But that’s up to you and your particular literary child or paper cup full of fine wine), meandering, tedious beginnings, characters who do not convince us they’re real (who convince us only that they’re pretending to be real), or simply annoy (without purpose), and whose dialogue sounds more like coins dropping on tin than the whispers, music, agony and free verse that most literary characters can, and should produce.
Getting a piece of writing perfect through continual (or even continuous) rewrites is as impossible as defining perfection itself. But we all do it (or we should do it, or we should aspire to do it, or, oh well, eschew it for that perfect orgasm the first time, all the time, every time) because our literary children are really us in costumes made of metaphors, analogies, beginnings, endings and kick-ass cover art, and, since it’s clear to everyone, including us, that we’re as imperfect as the universe can possibly allow any living creature to be, we need to introduce our literary children to the world at large in a light as bright, pleasing and awesome as we possibly can–their own light, of course. We need those literary children to come so close to perfection, in the eyes of our readers (all of whom are exactly as imperfect as we and our children are), that we will be seen, in that light, as all-but immortal.
In other words, we (read as I, and possibly you¸ too) continually rewrite because we are not immortal, because we’re almost nightmarishly imperfect, and so we’re very, very afraid. What are we so afraid of? We’re afraid of being rejected, laughed at, ridiculed, sent packing, and spending the rest of our lives (the rest of our lives) in soulless and painful anonymity (no matter how much our loved ones revere us as geniuses) and then, when life is ready to leave us, hoping that we’ll end up like Van Gogh, anyway–immortal in the afterward.
Should you be a rewrite junkie, as I am? I don’t know. Maybe your writing is always perfect (or as perfect as it can be) the first time, every time, which means you’re perfect. If so, send me the secret of perfection, okay? In the meantime, I’ll take yet another look at this damned thing–a final look (Sure. )–and hope for the best.

“Rewrite Junkie!”
by TM Wright

I’ll admit it, I rewrite almost continuously (which would, of course, be “continually”). I rewrite rewrites, and then rewrite the rewritten rewrites. And, when the thing (meaning “the story”) has lain around unread for a month or two, I reread it (with, of course, nearly perfect objectivity, by then), then rewrite it again! Am I compulsive? Yes. What drives that compulsion? The need to get it right! And who’s to say when it’s “right”? I’m to say when it’s right. Not the readers (who haven’t yet read the particular product of my compulsion), not the agents (ditto), and not the publishers and editors (ditto again): I’m to say when it’s right. In fact, I’ve already rewritten the previous 111 words at least six times. I’m a rewrite junkie!

That said, you should accept as gospel that you can easily rewrite a thing until it lies gasping, nearly dead, drained (by all those damned rewrites) of its vibrancy, its will to live, its punch! “But,” you say, “does that mean a story only has punch if it’s imperfect?” Flapdoodle, of course, because, though we all know what “imperfect” is, we can have no idea at all what “perfect” is (and it is not, I’ve been told, ending a sentence in a preposition). But that’s odd, too, isn’t it? Because if we can say, with certainty, “that’s imperfect” (that being the sentence, metaphor, phrase, piece of dialogue or whatever we have just committed to paper [meaning, for most of us, “the computer”]) then, also with certainty, we know what “perfect” is: but we don’t, and we can’t. We can’t, because we’re so vastly imperfect–we see only a narrow spectrum of light, hear only a narrow spectrum of sounds, smell only a very narrow spectrum of odors, et cetera, et cetera. We’re as imperfect, imprecise and full of error as a right-hand turn on a left-hand curve. “So how, tell me how,” you say, “can I, this vastly imperfect being, make my piece of writing perfect?” And the answer is simple: you can’t, and you never will. Not, that is, unless you accept such whiny phrases as “as perfect as possible, ” or “as perfect as it can be” as alternatives to “perfect,” which they are, of course, “perfect” being unattainable, at least to our limited and pitiable five senses and intellect.

Okay, then, you say to yourself, why should I rewrite compulsively? I’m not saying you should rewrite compulsively: I’m saying I do. Maybe, for you, rewriting is simply not important. Maybe you feel, like many writers, that rewriting is unnecessary, that it’s anathema to the creative process (“You don’t re-experience an orgasm, do you?” you’ll say. “You simply get it right the first time.”). And, hey, if that works in your creative world, I raise my glass to you: perfection (or one of its alternatives, noted above) flows from your precious gray matter to your fingers to the keys to the computer screen (or typing paper, given your technological predilections), like fine wine flowing through a glass tube and into a paper cup. ]

We rewrite, many of us, to make perfect what we can never make perfect–our literary children. We should rewrite simply to make those children better. We should rewrite to get rid of crap like passive voice, meaningless repetition (because, of course, not all repetition is meaningless, only meaningless repetition is meaningless, only repetition without use or necessity is meaningless), errant commas and dashes and rambling parenthetical comments, continuity that has no hope of scanning well, endings that do not please or (again) punch (if we want them to punch: “Shouldn’t all endings punch?” you ask, and I answer, No. Sometimes the rest of the story, the part that leads to the end of the story, should punch harder than its ending. But that’s up to you and your particular literary child or paper cup full of fine wine), meandering, tedious beginnings, characters who do not convince us they’re real (who convince us only that they’re pretending to be real), or simply annoy (without purpose), and whose dialogue sounds more like coins dropping on tin than the whispers, music, agony and free verse that most literary characters can, and should produce.

Getting a piece of writing perfect through continual (or even continuous) rewrites is as impossible as defining perfection itself. But we all do it (or we should do it, or we should aspire to do it, or, oh well, eschew it for that perfect orgasm the first time, all the time, every time) because our literary children are really us in costumes made of metaphors, analogies, beginnings, endings and kick-ass cover art, and, since it’s clear to everyone, including us, that we’re as imperfect as the universe can possibly allow any living creature to be, we need to introduce our literary children to the world at large in a light as bright, pleasing and awesome as we possibly can–their own light, of course. We need those literary children to come so close to perfection, in the eyes of our readers (all of whom are exactly as imperfect as we and our children are), that we will be seen, in that light, as all-but immortal.

In other words, we (read as I, and possibly you¸ too) continually rewrite because we are not immortal, because we’re almost nightmarishly imperfect, and so we’re very, very afraid. What are we so afraid of? We’re afraid of being rejected, laughed at, ridiculed, sent packing, and spending the rest of our lives (the rest of our lives) in soulless and painful anonymity (no matter how much our loved ones revere us as geniuses) and then, when life is ready to leave us, hoping that we’ll end up like Van Gogh, anyway–immortal in the afterward.

Should you be a rewrite junkie, as I am? I don’t know. Maybe your writing is always perfect (or as perfect as it can be) the first time, every time, which means you’re perfect. If so, send me the secret of perfection, okay? In the meantime, I’ll take yet another look at this damned thing–a final look (Sure. )–and hope for the best.

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas? A Cautionary Guide” by David Niall Wilson

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas? A Cautionary Guide” by David Niall Wilson
Let me preface this by saying I seldom have to go anywhere to get ideas, figuratively or literally. They assault me on the way to work, invade my dreams, are handed off to me in daily conversation or through the words of others. They come at me so fast and furiously at times that I have no chance to make notes. Consequently, a lot of them are lost, found again, molded and re-shaped into entirely new ideas. I make no apology for that. The first part of this essay is going to cover the trappings of finding ideas and the mechanics behind it. Then, before I let you go, I’ll tell you what I really think about where the ideas come from, and why at times they come so slowly, and with such reluctance. That’s later, though. For now, let’s talk nuts and bolts.
There are different circumstances surrounding every piece I write, and I can’t always just clip the top piece off the stack and fit it to the necessary mold. There are themed anthologies, markets with deadlines, and shared worlds out there waiting to put roadblocks between your fingers and the keys, and the best way to prepare for these is to have a good arsenal of ideas and inspiration filed away and ready for quick-draw action. Over the years I’ve compiled a short list of almost sure-fire sources for story ideas that work for me. This isn’t to say they will work for you, or for anyone else, but it stands to reason that if you apply these methods in your own fashion you’ll come up with twists and modifications to make them your own.
Reading is a great source of inspiration, but if you truly want it to inspire you, you have to “read outside the box.” Buy a copy of The Weekly World News, or the National Enquirer. I’m not suggesting you should write a story about Bat Boy, or that Satan is really appearing in the smoke from Bin Laden’s campfires, but there are a lot of ways to take inspiration from a tabloid. Look at the pictures. Read the trivia section. This is a large, regular feature in The Weekly World News, and the facts presented are bizarre and thought-provoking if you allow them to be. What is the world’s most poisonous spider? Where is the darkest cave on the planet? What is the wingspan of an African Fruit Bat? None of these questions, by itself, makes a good story idea, but if you start wondering about those fruit bats, then you head off to Google and look them up and find that the Mende tribe believes that these bats are often witches in animal form. If you think about that dark cave, the darkest cave on the planet, and then think about what it would be like to be in that cave, alone, sealed off from the world – – and add in thoughts left over from fruit bat research, you can see how plots might thicken and gel.
Another source I’ve returned to again and again, even to the point of getting the entire run of the magazine up to 1999 on CD Rom, is The National Geographic. I know at least one other author who has mined these pages. When I published “The Tome,” author Brian A. Hopkins sent me a story that eventually made its way onto the honorable mentions list of “The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror,” and that story was titled “The Night Was Kind to Loretta.” It was inspired by the way peat bogs preserve dead bodies. It was first discovered in a National Geographic article. These magazines are absolutely full of old relics, old ruins, and break downs of ancient civilizations, information on animals, tribes, poisons and legends. In many cases you can not only grab a great idea from the issue in hand, but all the local color and background research you need to give the story authenticity. If you have the issues on CD, or use the online index at their website, you can take the main elements of a themed anthology and type them into a search box. You’d be surprised how often the combinations of words bring you inspiration that would never have occurred without the sometimes obscure references the search will return.
Today’s modern, technologically savvy generation will know what’s coming next. Google. Yahoo. Metacrawler. These are the names given to the muses of the computer age. If you need an oriental legend, a vaguer reference to voodoo, or the formula for absinthe, just ask Jeeves. If you need city names, character names, news articles and court cases from the 1700s, they are at your fingertips. If you have several elements and can’t for the life of you figure out how they might fit together in a story, you can slap the group of them into a search window, separated by plus signs, and dare inspiration to slap you in the face. It’s not really easier to find ideas this way, but the sheer volume of material available makes it a near certainty that, if you stick with it, vary your search terms, and keep your mind solidly outside the facts, looking in with “what if?” on the tip of your tongue, you will find something to write about.
Old books are another good source. Hit the thrift store, or the stacks at the local library. Look for obscure old reference books, court cases from the 1700s and 1800s, books on medicine and folk lore. Read accounts of battles and wars, books on canning fruit and skinning deer, and who knows where you’ll end up?
I used to laugh when people asked me where I get my ideas. My canned response was, “I live my ideas.” One of my favorite examples of the truth of this statement is derived from a trip I made to Northern Virginia to visit Elizabeth Massie one year. Beth lives in the middle of nowhere. The instructions for reaching her house involve “go this many roads past this barn, look for two big silos.” In other words, I should have had a native guide, or at least I should have arrived by daylight.
As it turned out, I hit that last stretch of highway (using that term very loosely, I assure you) and headed out in search of the correct number of roads, and some silos. Shortly after the sun began to drop, I drove straight into the Twilight Zone.
I missed the correct road, as it turned out, by one. There was still a little bit of light out, but not much. I drove down a back road for a while until I saw to guys approaching on the side of the road. Figuring that out in the boonies everyone would know everyone, I stopped, opened the window, and stared. In fact, if they hadn’t been staring back at me, I’m sure it would have seemed rude. These guys looked like hillbilly drug addicts straight out of a zombie movie. I asked about the Massie farm, and explained about the silos, and they stared vacantly. They mumbled something about knowing a guy named Massie, who it turned out after a long rambling grumble of a speech, had lived in some city far away and had no known connection to the family I sought. They told me I had made a wrong turn.
No kidding.
At this point I just wanted to get away, so I drove farther down this side road. Ahead was a church. When I got closer, I saw that the church said FOR SALE on the front. It was run down as hell and had a small graveyard in back. Just past it was an old green house. There was a car out front with the dome light on, and I thought I’d see if I caught someone coming home from shopping, or something. Maybe a neighbor who knew more about the neighborhood, so to speak.
I parked in the driveway and approached the car. About then, I knew I’d made mistake number two. The car was up on blocks. The dome light was lit, and the radio was playing. There was a guy sitting inside, listening to the radio, and since I’d already approached, and he was already looking at me, I figured I might as well get on with it. It didn’t help that this guy looked enough like Charles Manson to be his twin.
He asked if I was “lookin’ fer’ Herb.” I allowed as how I was NOT looking for Herb, but for Beth Massie and family, and asked if he could direct me. He looked me up and down, and then got out of the car and told me that the guy inside could probably help. I didn’t know any polite way of saying no way I’m going in that house, so I followed him. He opened the door, and then parted an old sheet that hung just inside. The place stank of animal musk and mildew. As I entered, I heard a piano, very off key, playing inside. Charles Manson leaned over my shoulder and said.
“We’re a commune of musicians.”
To myself I said, “Right, whoever that is plays the piano, and you play the radio out front?”
We entered another room, and the guy playing that piano stopped and turned to me very slowly. I swear he was the spitting image of Little Richard. He asked.
“You lookin’ for Herb?”
I told him my story again. He stared at me. He stared at Charles Manson. He finally admitted he didn’t really know anyone in the area, other than the mysterious Herb, but that the two silos I was looking for were actually one road back.
I’m not sure how I got out of there, but I do remember I didn’t expect to. I got into the car and hit the road fast and hard, spraying gravel and nearly ending up in a ditch. I found the main road, went one more down the highway, turned, and less than an hour later I was seated in Beth’s living room, telling this same story to Beth, her family, Brian Hodge, Mark Rainey, Wayne Allen Sallee and the entire Pseudocon crew.
Beth looked at me in horror and said, “You didn’t stop at the ‘green’ house?”
Needless to say, the point of all this is that this incident became a story. The story was “Are You Lookin’ for Herb,” and it was published in Flesh and Blood Magazine. That story will stick with me forever, both the real, the surreal, and the fictional outcome. There are always moments in our lives we can’t explain. There are times when we seem to step into some other world and then, after we come back, the memories fade to a hazy blur. These make great backdrops for stories. The things we half remember can be filled in with another half tailor made to bend them to the service of our imaginations.
And that ends the first part of the essay, the nuts and bolts part I promised. Now I’ll get on to the meat of the sandwich, so to speak. I’ve long said that I don’t consider myself a genre writer. I’ve written a lot of dark stories, some science fiction, some mystery and even a little romance, but I wrote them as stories first – they fit the niches in the world of publishing after the fact, for the most part. Among those works are a lot of things written to fit molds, and then there are others. Important stories, even important books, that don’t lend themselves so easily to definition. I didn’t find them in the National Enquirer, or with Google.
That isn’t where the best stories come from. The stories that you will be remembered for, and the ones that will haunt you all the days of your life are the ones you know you have to write. You don’t find the idea for them in a magazine, or a book, or by watching the news, though these things can trigger the emotions, or memories that drive them. You don’t bend them to fit clever, themed anthologies, or chop out important parts to make word count. When you write one of the stories that define you, you have to be ready to carve that definition from your experience and serve it up to be read, criticized, admired, or spit on by readers, editors, critics and the world.
I’ll go so far as to say I believe a lot of the other stories, the clever ones, the entertaining ones, the themed ones, and those we actively search for are crutches to keep us from falling into the abyss where the real words lie. The wild words, I call them, the ones that stalk you when you sleep and tug at your nerve endings when you write. I’ve said before that you need to be able to write your pain. It isn’t just pain, though. You have to be able to write your emotions as you really feel them. You have to be honest with what you want to say and not cripple your prose so people won’t see it and equate it with the mind that created it. You have to be willing to own your words, and your work, your inspiration, and your personal darkness. You can’t fall short of what you know to be true and expect it to ring anything but false in the final analysis.
Those stories – those “ideas” – are always with us. They present us in ways our talent and our clever plots never will, and in the end, those who read the work that matters will remember. They may not like you, or understand you, but if asked which of the things you wrote made an impact, they will unerringly point to the one that was the most difficult for you to put on paper. If you’ve read such a story, you know it. If you’ve written such a story, you also know it, and you know how many more are lurking in the shadows, waiting to escape into the world.
There are a lot of levels to writing, shades of gray and layers of expression stain every word. Don’t ask where the ideas come from, though, because the very act of asking is a form of denial. You know where they come from. The key is in finding the courage to set them free.

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas? A Cautionary Guide”
by David Niall Wilson

Let me preface this by saying I seldom have to go anywhere to get ideas, figuratively or literally. They assault me on the way to work, invade my dreams, are handed off to me in daily conversation or through the words of others. They come at me so fast and furiously at times that I have no chance to make notes. Consequently, a lot of them are lost, found again, molded and re-shaped into entirely new ideas. I make no apology for that. The first part of this essay is going to cover the trappings of finding ideas and the mechanics behind it. Then, before I let you go, I’ll tell you what I really think about where the ideas come from, and why at times they come so slowly, and with such reluctance. That’s later, though. For now, let’s talk nuts and bolts.

There are different circumstances surrounding every piece I write, and I can’t always just clip the top piece off the stack and fit it to the necessary mold. There are themed anthologies, markets with deadlines, and shared worlds out there waiting to put roadblocks between your fingers and the keys, and the best way to prepare for these is to have a good arsenal of ideas and inspiration filed away and ready for quick-draw action. Over the years I’ve compiled a short list of almost sure-fire sources for story ideas that work for me. This isn’t to say they will work for you, or for anyone else, but it stands to reason that if you apply these methods in your own fashion you’ll come up with twists and modifications to make them your own.

Reading is a great source of inspiration, but if you truly want it to inspire you, you have to “read outside the box.” Buy a copy of The Weekly World News, or the National Enquirer. I’m not suggesting you should write a story about Bat Boy, or that Satan is really appearing in the smoke from Bin Laden’s campfires, but there are a lot of ways to take inspiration from a tabloid. Look at the pictures. Read the trivia section. This is a large, regular feature in The Weekly World News, and the facts presented are bizarre and thought-provoking if you allow them to be. What is the world’s most poisonous spider? Where is the darkest cave on the planet? What is the wingspan of an African Fruit Bat? None of these questions, by itself, makes a good story idea, but if you start wondering about those fruit bats, then you head off to Google and look them up and find that the Mende tribe believes that these bats are often witches in animal form. If you think about that dark cave, the darkest cave on the planet, and then think about what it would be like to be in that cave, alone, sealed off from the world – – and add in thoughts left over from fruit bat research, you can see how plots might thicken and gel.

Another source I’ve returned to again and again, even to the point of getting the entire run of the magazine up to 1999 on CD Rom, is The National Geographic. I know at least one other author who has mined these pages. When I published “The Tome,” author Brian A. Hopkins sent me a story that eventually made its way onto the honorable mentions list of “The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror,” and that story was titled “The Night Was Kind to Loretta.” It was inspired by the way peat bogs preserve dead bodies. It was first discovered in a National Geographic article. These magazines are absolutely full of old relics, old ruins, and break downs of ancient civilizations, information on animals, tribes, poisons and legends. In many cases you can not only grab a great idea from the issue in hand, but all the local color and background research you need to give the story authenticity. If you have the issues on CD, or use the online index at their website, you can take the main elements of a themed anthology and type them into a search box. You’d be surprised how often the combinations of words bring you inspiration that would never have occurred without the sometimes obscure references the search will return.

Today’s modern, technologically savvy generation will know what’s coming next. Google. Yahoo. Metacrawler. These are the names given to the muses of the computer age. If you need an oriental legend, a vaguer reference to voodoo, or the formula for absinthe, just ask Jeeves. If you need city names, character names, news articles and court cases from the 1700s, they are at your fingertips. If you have several elements and can’t for the life of you figure out how they might fit together in a story, you can slap the group of them into a search window, separated by plus signs, and dare inspiration to slap you in the face. It’s not really easier to find ideas this way, but the sheer volume of material available makes it a near certainty that, if you stick with it, vary your search terms, and keep your mind solidly outside the facts, looking in with “what if?” on the tip of your tongue, you will find something to write about.

Old books are another good source. Hit the thrift store, or the stacks at the local library. Look for obscure old reference books, court cases from the 1700s and 1800s, books on medicine and folk lore. Read accounts of battles and wars, books on canning fruit and skinning deer, and who knows where you’ll end up?

I used to laugh when people asked me where I get my ideas. My canned response was, “I live my ideas.” One of my favorite examples of the truth of this statement is derived from a trip I made to Northern Virginia to visit Elizabeth Massie one year. Beth lives in the middle of nowhere. The instructions for reaching her house involve “go this many roads past this barn, look for two big silos.” In other words, I should have had a native guide, or at least I should have arrived by daylight.

As it turned out, I hit that last stretch of highway (using that term very loosely, I assure you) and headed out in search of the correct number of roads, and some silos. Shortly after the sun began to drop, I drove straight into the Twilight Zone.

I missed the correct road, as it turned out, by one. There was still a little bit of light out, but not much. I drove down a back road for a while until I saw to guys approaching on the side of the road. Figuring that out in the boonies everyone would know everyone, I stopped, opened the window, and stared. In fact, if they hadn’t been staring back at me, I’m sure it would have seemed rude. These guys looked like hillbilly drug addicts straight out of a zombie movie. I asked about the Massie farm, and explained about the silos, and they stared vacantly. They mumbled something about knowing a guy named Massie, who it turned out after a long rambling grumble of a speech, had lived in some city far away and had no known connection to the family I sought. They told me I had made a wrong turn.

No kidding.

At this point I just wanted to get away, so I drove farther down this side road. Ahead was a church. When I got closer, I saw that the church said FOR SALE on the front. It was run down as hell and had a small graveyard in back. Just past it was an old green house. There was a car out front with the dome light on, and I thought I’d see if I caught someone coming home from shopping, or something. Maybe a neighbor who knew more about the neighborhood, so to speak.

I parked in the driveway and approached the car. About then, I knew I’d made mistake number two. The car was up on blocks. The dome light was lit, and the radio was playing. There was a guy sitting inside, listening to the radio, and since I’d already approached, and he was already looking at me, I figured I might as well get on with it. It didn’t help that this guy looked enough like Charles Manson to be his twin.

He asked if I was “lookin’ fer’ Herb.” I allowed as how I was NOT looking for Herb, but for Beth Massie and family, and asked if he could direct me. He looked me up and down, and then got out of the car and told me that the guy inside could probably help. I didn’t know any polite way of saying no way I’m going in that house, so I followed him. He opened the door, and then parted an old sheet that hung just inside. The place stank of animal musk and mildew. As I entered, I heard a piano, very off key, playing inside. Charles Manson leaned over my shoulder and said.

“We’re a commune of musicians.”

To myself I said, “Right, whoever that is plays the piano, and you play the radio out front?”

We entered another room, and the guy playing that piano stopped and turned to me very slowly. I swear he was the spitting image of Little Richard. He asked.

“You lookin’ for Herb?”

I told him my story again. He stared at me. He stared at Charles Manson. He finally admitted he didn’t really know anyone in the area, other than the mysterious Herb, but that the two silos I was looking for were actually one road back.

I’m not sure how I got out of there, but I do remember I didn’t expect to. I got into the car and hit the road fast and hard, spraying gravel and nearly ending up in a ditch. I found the main road, went one more down the highway, turned, and less than an hour later I was seated in Beth’s living room, telling this same story to Beth, her family, Brian Hodge, Mark Rainey, Wayne Allen Sallee and the entire Pseudocon crew.

Beth looked at me in horror and said, “You didn’t stop at the ‘green’ house?”

Needless to say, the point of all this is that this incident became a story. The story was “Are You Lookin’ for Herb,” and it was published in Flesh and Blood Magazine. That story will stick with me forever, both the real, the surreal, and the fictional outcome. There are always moments in our lives we can’t explain. There are times when we seem to step into some other world and then, after we come back, the memories fade to a hazy blur. These make great backdrops for stories. The things we half remember can be filled in with another half tailor made to bend them to the service of our imaginations.

And that ends the first part of the essay, the nuts and bolts part I promised. Now I’ll get on to the meat of the sandwich, so to speak. I’ve long said that I don’t consider myself a genre writer. I’ve written a lot of dark stories, some science fiction, some mystery and even a little romance, but I wrote them as stories first – they fit the niches in the world of publishing after the fact, for the most part. Among those works are a lot of things written to fit molds, and then there are others. Important stories, even important books, that don’t lend themselves so easily to definition. I didn’t find them in the National Enquirer, or with Google.

That isn’t where the best stories come from. The stories that you will be remembered for, and the ones that will haunt you all the days of your life are the ones you know you have to write. You don’t find the idea for them in a magazine, or a book, or by watching the news, though these things can trigger the emotions, or memories that drive them. You don’t bend them to fit clever, themed anthologies, or chop out important parts to make word count. When you write one of the stories that define you, you have to be ready to carve that definition from your experience and serve it up to be read, criticized, admired, or spit on by readers, editors, critics and the world.

I’ll go so far as to say I believe a lot of the other stories, the clever ones, the entertaining ones, the themed ones, and those we actively search for are crutches to keep us from falling into the abyss where the real words lie. The wild words, I call them, the ones that stalk you when you sleep and tug at your nerve endings when you write. I’ve said before that you need to be able to write your pain. It isn’t just pain, though. You have to be able to write your emotions as you really feel them. You have to be honest with what you want to say and not cripple your prose so people won’t see it and equate it with the mind that created it. You have to be willing to own your words, and your work, your inspiration, and your personal darkness. You can’t fall short of what you know to be true and expect it to ring anything but false in the final analysis.

Those stories – those “ideas” – are always with us. They present us in ways our talent and our clever plots never will, and in the end, those who read the work that matters will remember. They may not like you, or understand you, but if asked which of the things you wrote made an impact, they will unerringly point to the one that was the most difficult for you to put on paper. If you’ve read such a story, you know it. If you’ve written such a story, you also know it, and you know how many more are lurking in the shadows, waiting to escape into the world.

There are a lot of levels to writing, shades of gray and layers of expression stain every word. Don’t ask where the ideas come from, though, because the very act of asking is a form of denial. You know where they come from. The key is in finding the courage to set them free.

“A Breakdown of the Break-In” by Kealan Patrick Burke

“A Breakdown of the Break-In”
by Kealan Patrick Burke
Among the questions I get asked is this one, which pops up quite a bit:
“How did you get a story in Cemetery Dance?” or “How did you end up editing Taverns of the Dead?” Unlike a lot of the questions put to me, these come with simple answers. Answers so simple, in fact, that they lead me to wonder why the question needed to be asked in the first place. If the inquisitor wants to know the process by which a story leaves my hands and ends up in the pages of a magazine, that I can understand. When writers set about submitting their efforts for the first time, it’s not a bad idea to ask someone the proper way to go about it, or to look it up. I did the same thing when I started out.
To this, I respond by telling the writer (a) to pick up a copy, or better yet copies, of the magazine they intend to submit to, to get familiar with the sort of stuff the editor is looking for, (b) to read the guidelines carefully (sending a vampire story to a publication that has an Absolutely No Vampires sign over the door won’t win you any brownie points), and (c) make sure your submission is neatly typed, typo-free, polished, and has your name and address in the upper left hand corner of the cover page so the editor knows where to find you if they need to.
However, if the writer is asking me what magic button I pressed to get my story into the magazine, who I fooled, or where I found the key to the executive washroom, then they are more likely to get scrutinized with the same intensity one usually employs when studying viscous matter on a petri-dish. Because this kind of attitude–that writers who get published in respectable magazines MUST be scratching someone’s back or kissing someone’s ass–drives me nuts. To such people, the concept of hard work, learning from rejection, and the betterment of craft, is an alien one. You’ve been published in that magazine, so now you need to tell them how they do it, what the trick is to get in with the ‘clique’. They prescribe to this theory methinks, because the long hard road seems too much like hard work. These quick-fixers would rather squander their time trying to find the magic mushroom that once devoured, will lead them through the wondrous gates of Publicationville, rather than having to sit down and work at it like everyone else.
And that’s a shame, because for quick-fixers, the desperate need for instant gratification usually leads to them self-publishing before their work is polished enough to be seen by the reading public, or turns them into trolls, who dedicate themselves to the online persecution of other writers, usually successful ones.
To the second question: “How did you end up editing Taverns of the Dead?” the answer, assuming I’m being asked about the process of editing and publishing an anthology is: (a) Come up with a theme, or if you don’t have one, then an angle that makes your project different from the multitude that have preceded your arrival onto the anthology scene, (b) compose a list of the writers you’d like to see in the book and find contact information for them (usually pretty easy to locate these days as almost every writer has a website and an email address), (c) compose a professional letter of invitation (invites to the tune of: “Hey Buddy, want to, like, be in this book I’m, like, doing?” rarely yield a response), and send it. Remember to let the writers know from the start that for now you’re only looking for an expression of interest until you get a publisher, because you can’t expect any writer to come on board a project or spend time writing a story for one that may never see the light of day, (d) with a provisional list of interested writers, compose an equally professional query for the publisher. There’s no need to prattle on for pages about how great the book is going to be and why they’d be mad not to publish it. Instead, introduce yourself, briefly, outline your idea, and provide your list of interested authors, (e) wait, which means do not hound the publisher with emails. Wait. Or, if you absolutely positively cannot wait for more than a few months (scroll up for a reminder of my opinion on quick-fixers), then drop the publisher a polite email asking if they’ve had a chance to look at your query. Then WAIT. If you get turned down, don’t get disheartened. Simply send that query out again, and again, and again, until you find someone who’s interested. If no one bites, it may simply be a case of bad timing, or maybe you don’t have the names a publisher wants to see (anthologies are always a tough sell, unless you’ve got a King, Straub, Barker, Koontz or Rice original story in the bag. Trying to get those stories would fill an essay by itself, so…maybe some other time.) So, assuming you do manage to get a publisher interested (f) you do a happy dance that wouldn’t look out of place among the drunk Irish guys at a wedding, then sign contracts, agree on a pay rate for you and the authors, and set a time period for submissions (at least five or six months. Sometimes the longer you allow for stories, the more chance you have of getting a story from even the busiest of your contributors), (g) once the stories start coming in, you find out just how tough the editing game can be, because you’ll be a lucky editor indeed if every single story you receive from your contributors is what you were looking for. After all, even the best writers write a bad story every now and again, and if you decide you’d rather not risk insulting someone you consider a hero of yours, then you’ll put that story in the book, and pay for it later when the readers and reviewers have their say. Better to have the courage of your convictions and only take the stories that fit your vision of the book. Assuming you don’t blatantly offend the writer of the story you’ve deemed unsuitable, I think you’ll find they’ll take it in their stride. Every professional writer faces rejection at some stage, and it rarely matters who doles out that rejection. If you’re polite and your reason for passing on the story is a fair and specific one (“I don’t want this, ya jerk” will get you your ass handed to you, and with good reason), then there shouldn’t be a problem, and you get to keep your book on track. (h) Once all the stories are in, acceptances and rejections dealt, contracts returned and signed, payment to the contributors taken care of (though this can come later depending on the terms of your contract), it’s time to decide the order in which the stories appear in the anthology. I’ve been asked more than once if this really matters, and it absolutely does. If you put the tales in willy-nilly, you run the risk of having thematically similar entries, or ones in which the setting is the same, appear too close together, which will only lead the reader to compare them, criticize your judgment, or assume the whole book is going to be exactly the same tale told by different writers. Go for variety. With your stories in order, next you have to (i) format your manuscript, following traditional guidelines, or those set out on the publisher’s website. If you don’t know what format the publisher prefers, ask. After that, all that remains is for you to deliver the book (again, using traditional methods). The rest is up to the publisher.
The other way in which the question, “How did you end up editing Taverns of the Dead?” can be taken?
It would be better for all concerned if I left that one go. I think we’ve seen enough viscous matter on petri-dishes for one day, don’t you think?

“A Breakdown of the Break-In”
by Kealan Patrick Burke

Among the questions I get asked is this one, which pops up quite a bit:

“How did you get a story in Cemetery Dance?” or “How did you end up editing Taverns of the Dead?”

Unlike a lot of the questions put to me, these come with simple answers. Answers so simple, in fact, that they lead me to wonder why the question needed to be asked in the first place. If the inquisitor wants to know the process by which a story leaves my hands and ends up in the pages of a magazine, that I can understand. When writers set about submitting their efforts for the first time, it’s not a bad idea to ask someone the proper way to go about it, or to look it up. I did the same thing when I started out.

To this, I respond by telling the writer (a) to pick up a copy, or better yet copies, of the magazine they intend to submit to, to get familiar with the sort of stuff the editor is looking for, (b) to read the guidelines carefully (sending a vampire story to a publication that has an Absolutely No Vampires sign over the door won’t win you any brownie points), and (c) make sure your submission is neatly typed, typo-free, polished, and has your name and address in the upper left hand corner of the cover page so the editor knows where to find you if they need to.

However, if the writer is asking me what magic button I pressed to get my story into the magazine, who I fooled, or where I found the key to the executive washroom, then they are more likely to get scrutinized with the same intensity one usually employs when studying viscous matter on a petri-dish. Because this kind of attitude–that writers who get published in respectable magazines MUST be scratching someone’s back or kissing someone’s ass–drives me nuts. To such people, the concept of hard work, learning from rejection, and the betterment of craft, is an alien one. You’ve been published in that magazine, so now you need to tell them how they do it, what the trick is to get in with the ‘clique’. They prescribe to this theory methinks, because the long hard road seems too much like hard work. These quick-fixers would rather squander their time trying to find the magic mushroom that once devoured, will lead them through the wondrous gates of Publicationville, rather than having to sit down and work at it like everyone else.

And that’s a shame, because for quick-fixers, the desperate need for instant gratification usually leads to them self-publishing before their work is polished enough to be seen by the reading public, or turns them into trolls, who dedicate themselves to the online persecution of other writers, usually successful ones.

To the second question: “How did you end up editing Taverns of the Dead?” the answer, assuming I’m being asked about the process of editing and publishing an anthology is: (a) Come up with a theme, or if you don’t have one, then an angle that makes your project different from the multitude that have preceded your arrival onto the anthology scene, (b) compose a list of the writers you’d like to see in the book and find contact information for them (usually pretty easy to locate these days as almost every writer has a website and an email address), (c) compose a professional letter of invitation (invites to the tune of: “Hey Buddy, want to, like, be in this book I’m, like, doing?” rarely yield a response), and send it. Remember to let the writers know from the start that for now you’re only looking for an expression of interest until you get a publisher, because you can’t expect any writer to come on board a project or spend time writing a story for one that may never see the light of day, (d) with a provisional list of interested writers, compose an equally professional query for the publisher. There’s no need to prattle on for pages about how great the book is going to be and why they’d be mad not to publish it. Instead, introduce yourself, briefly, outline your idea, and provide your list of interested authors, (e) wait, which means do not hound the publisher with emails. Wait. Or, if you absolutely positively cannot wait for more than a few months (scroll up for a reminder of my opinion on quick-fixers), then drop the publisher a polite email asking if they’ve had a chance to look at your query. Then WAIT. If you get turned down, don’t get disheartened. Simply send that query out again, and again, and again, until you find someone who’s interested. If no one bites, it may simply be a case of bad timing, or maybe you don’t have the names a publisher wants to see (anthologies are always a tough sell, unless you’ve got a King, Straub, Barker, Koontz or Rice original story in the bag. Trying to get those stories would fill an essay by itself, so…maybe some other time.) So, assuming you do manage to get a publisher interested (f) you do a happy dance that wouldn’t look out of place among the drunk Irish guys at a wedding, then sign contracts, agree on a pay rate for you and the authors, and set a time period for submissions (at least five or six months. Sometimes the longer you allow for stories, the more chance you have of getting a story from even the busiest of your contributors), (g) once the stories start coming in, you find out just how tough the editing game can be, because you’ll be a lucky editor indeed if every single story you receive from your contributors is what you were looking for. After all, even the best writers write a bad story every now and again, and if you decide you’d rather not risk insulting someone you consider a hero of yours, then you’ll put that story in the book, and pay for it later when the readers and reviewers have their say. Better to have the courage of your convictions and only take the stories that fit your vision of the book. Assuming you don’t blatantly offend the writer of the story you’ve deemed unsuitable, I think you’ll find they’ll take it in their stride. Every professional writer faces rejection at some stage, and it rarely matters who doles out that rejection. If you’re polite and your reason for passing on the story is a fair and specific one (“I don’t want this, ya jerk” will get you your ass handed to you, and with good reason), then there shouldn’t be a problem, and you get to keep your book on track. (h) Once all the stories are in, acceptances and rejections dealt, contracts returned and signed, payment to the contributors taken care of (though this can come later depending on the terms of your contract), it’s time to decide the order in which the stories appear in the anthology. I’ve been asked more than once if this really matters, and it absolutely does. If you put the tales in willy-nilly, you run the risk of having thematically similar entries, or ones in which the setting is the same, appear too close together, which will only lead the reader to compare them, criticize your judgment, or assume the whole book is going to be exactly the same tale told by different writers. Go for variety. With your stories in order, next you have to (i) format your manuscript, following traditional guidelines, or those set out on the publisher’s website. If you don’t know what format the publisher prefers, ask. After that, all that remains is for you to deliver the book (again, using traditional methods). The rest is up to the publisher.

The other way in which the question, “How did you end up editing Taverns of the Dead?” can be taken?

It would be better for all concerned if I left that one go. I think we’ve seen enough viscous matter on petri-dishes for one day, don’t you think?

“Dr. Frankenstein’s Secrets of Style” by Norman Partridge

“Dr. Frankenstein’s Secrets of Style” by Norman Partridge
Okay. Since you’re a prospective horror writer, I’m sure you’re familiar with our old buddy Dr. Frankenstein. You’ve read Mary Shelley’s classic novel, maybe a few anthologies chock full of Frankensteinian stories, and you’ve seen those old movies, too.
There’s a scene in most of those movies. One that I love. Where the good doctor’s son, or grandson, or granddaughter, or (better yet) some conniving interloper invades the doc’s dusty old castle and finds a big thick book entitled Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s Secrets of Life and Death, which naturally spares the prospective mad scientist a whole bunch of hair-tearing, grief, and anguish when it comes to learning the fine art of monster-making.
When it comes to developing a writing style, I doubt that I can be as helpful as the good doc was with his dusty tome. But I’ll try.
First off, let’s make like Victor Frankenstein and conduct an experiment. Here’s what you do: get yourself down to the local book emporium. Ignore the cappuccino bar and the dessert counter and all those celebrity “autobiographies” penned by ghostwriters. What you’re looking for is the horror section. You’ve been there before, haven’t you? Sure… I’ll bet a big wad of green money that you have.
Okay. Mission accomplished. You’re standing in front of several rows of books with black spines dripping bloody red lettering. I know you’ve read many of these titles already, so here’s what I want you to do: select several you’ve missed, but make sure they’re written by authors you’ve read before. Some of those “big names” we’re all familiar with.
Buy those books. Take them home.
Lock the doors. Close the drapes. Just like Dr. Frankenstein getting down to the business of serious experimentation, you don’t want anyone to know what you’re about to do.
Place the books on a table in front of you. Now comes the hard part. But remember— you’re doing it the way Dr. Frankenstein did. In the name of science and knowledge. Remember, too, that if nothing else the good doctor was certainly adept at dissection.
One by one, snatch up those books. Rip off the covers.
Title pages too. Peel the spine. Then find a thick black felt-tip pen (I recommend Marks-A-Lot). Cross out any further mention of the author’s name—page headers, bio section, whatever.
Now… sit down and start reading. Maybe the first chapter of each book, maybe less. Again, I’ll pull out my wad of green money, and I’ll bet that you can tell the Stephen King books from those written by Dean R. Koontz just as easily as you can identify an Anne Rice or Peter Straub novel.
You want to know why?
King, Koontz, Rice, and Straub all have discernible styles, that’s why.
* * *
Of course, the aforementioned quartet of bestselling authors has been at this game a little longer than you have. They developed their respective styles through countless hours of hard work.
Work on short stories and novels, that is. Telling story after story, getting each one down on paper, typing “The End” time and time again. Learning what works and what doesn’t by trial and error. Even learning unconsciously. Because, let’s face it, no beginning writer sits down at the good ol’ word processor and says, “Forget all that story and plot junk… today I’m going to develop a style.”
Well, maybe someone has tried that. Actually, I wouldn’t doubt it. But I’m still holding that green money, and I’ll bet that any misguided boob who attempted such an endeavor failed miserably.
Because your writing style comes from within. In fact, you’ve probably already got it, or at least a good chunk of it. You just don’t know about it yet. But maybe I can help you find it… or at least show you where to look.
All you’ll need is a shovel and a stout heart.
Now, follow me to the cemetery….
* * *
Here we are. Cool fog raising gooseflesh on your arms. The full moon shining up above. Gnarled branches scratching the night sky. A forest of marble monuments and granite headstones looming before you.
You recognize the scene, don’t you? Sure you do. Any horror writer worth his salt recognizes Dr. Frankenstein’s favorite bone garden. Just as you remember why the good doctor invariably makes the cemetery his first stop.
It’s the mad scientist’s very first rule—if you’re gonna make a monster, you’re gonna need parts.
Creating a writing style isn’t much different. Just as the Frankenstein Monster is a crazy quilt of dear-departed humanity, your writing style is an amalgam of influences. Which is why you must read— and read widely— if you want to write.
Mad scientists open graves. Writers open books.
I knew this from the start, long before I ever became serious about publishing my fiction. I worked for several years in the local public library, during which time I read the very best the horror genre had to offer. From Poe to Bradbury, from Matheson to King and on through Lansdale and Schow, I absorbed the lessons of those who labored in Dr. Frankenstein’s cemetery long before I ever picked up my shovel.
But I also learned a great deal from writers in completely unrelated genres. For me, crime writers were a big influence in developing every element of my work. I learned a great deal about mood from writers who specialize in crime noir. And when it comes to pace and plot, I found my best teachers in writers such as Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, and Dan J. Marlowe.
I didn’t confine my reading to novels, either. I found anthologies especially valuable. In the space of a single anthology, I’d invariably be exposed to as many styles as there were stories. Not all of them were successful or effective, of course. But sometimes it’s just as important to learn what doesn’t work as what does work… and why.
Now, please don’t get the impression that I’m telling you to imitate other writers, especially when it comes to style. I certainly wouldn’t advise you to do that.
But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that a certain amount of imitation is unavoidable. Especially for a writer who’s just starting out. H. P. Lovecraft’s early work strongly echoes Poe. Other Lovecraft stories strongly recall the tales of Lord Dunsany. Robert Bloch began his career as a student of H. P. Lovecraft, only to evolve into one of the finest psychological suspense writers of his generation. Ramsey Campbell also followed in Lovecraft’s footsteps, publishing Cthulhu mythos-inspired fiction as a teenager. But Campbell didn’t stop there. He continued to grow and evolve, and today he is one of the most original stylists in horror fiction. While Campbell is still more than capable of putting a twist on Lovecraftian themes, his style of writing is now thoroughly his own. In fact, these days more than a few young writers have begun their careers by imitating Ramsey Campbell.
So, consciously or unconsciously, every beginning writer imitates. Including me. Looking back, some of my early stories reflect stylistic influences that didn’t quite pan out. Like “Body Bags,” the Vietnam war horror story written as a first person account that dripped with passages of lush, Poe-like description which was completely inappropriate to the story’s timeframe. Or the overblown fantasy-epic fight scenes which read like something written by Robert E. Howard on steroids. Or the “surprise ending” stories which certainly didn’t make anyone forget the nasty punch-to-the-gut climaxes patented by Robert Bloch in his prime.
So I had my share of misfires, but the truth is that some of those imitative stories actually did work out. While compiling my short story collection, Bad Intentions, I was surprised to rediscover early tales written while I was obviously under the sway of writers as disparate as Dennis Etchison and Joe R. Lansdale. But reading those stories today is kind of like looking at a ten-year-old photograph of yourself. Sure, you recognize the guy in the picture, but the clothes you’re wearing may surprise you!
So while a certain amount of imitation is necessary, in the final analysis it’s just another way of developing your own creative filter, of learning what works and what doesn’t. But it’s certainly not the end of the process, and I’ll tell you why.
No matter how high you aim, no matter how talented or successful or popular the writer you choose to emulate, you’ll find that imitation is not only a dead end, it’s also a trap.
Let me give you an example. In the early eighties, the horror field was booming. Stephen King enjoyed a huge popularity. Naturally, many writers set out to be “the next Stephen King.” They wrote knockoffs of ’Salem’s Lot, replacing King’s vampires with zombies or werewolves. They wrote limpid apocalyptic “thrillers” which paled when compared to The Stand. Neighborhoods of haunted houses populated with Jack Torrance wannabe’s sprung up, and it seemed that every high school class (in fiction, anyway) contained at least one telekinetic teenager meant to rival Carrie White.
Publishers jumped on these books, each one eager to create “another Stephen King.” Because of this, some of the King clones had a pretty good run in the eighties, publishing one book after another while pulling down some pretty healthy paychecks.
Then the bottom fell out. The public caught on. “Why buy a King clone,” they asked, “when the real thing is still going strong?” The clones stopped selling. Publishers lost money.
Many houses stopped buying horror novels entirely or cut their horror lines dramatically. The King clones, some of whom had become accustomed to healthy advances, suddenly couldn’t sell their new novels. To this day, the horror novel market has not quite recovered from the glut of unoriginal fiction which appeared in the eighties.
* * *
Okay. You’ve been warned, and you’re still determined to make a go of this mad scientist business. You’re stitching your monster together, working every day.
You’re reading. You’re writing. You’re putting in the time.
But you don’t want to overdo it, especially when it comes to style. You’re walking a fine line. A dash too much mood, an extra dollop of flowery description, and your horror stories will read like parodies. They’ll invoke laughter rather than fright.
It’s the “hey, Ma, look at me write” syndrome, and it’s usually the result of over-polishing your prose.
One of the hardest things to learn as a writer is when to quit. Some beginners become so obsessed with making each story “perfect,” each line of prose “deathless,” that they sabotage their own fiction by revising it to death. And sabotage is not too strong a word. Because overblown description, multiple metaphors, and overused similes can wreak explosive destruction upon your tales of terror.
Too much of a good thing is indeed too much of a good thing. Remember that.
But also remember that even Dr. Frankenstein had his failures. That nasty bit of business with Igor and the abnormal brain, for example. But the good doc wasn’t a quitter. When things didn’t work out the way he’d planned, Victor Frankenstein always got out his shovel and headed back to the cemetery.
* * *
So don’t give up. Put in the time. Write those stories. Read those books. Stitch that monster together.
One day he’ll be stretched out on that slab before you, just like in the movies. You put him together—an experiment here, an influence there—but I think you’ll find that he doesn’t quite look like any of those things you made him from. He’s no sum total of his parts, this guy. He’s an original.
And just when you’re ready to throw the switch and juice him with electricity he’ll probably surprise you by sitting up and stalking off completely on his own. See, you’ve already done that—all the work you put in, that was the juice your monster needed. Your creative spark gave him life.
Just look at him.
You can even holler “It’s alive! It’s alive!” if you want to.
Because this monster’s lookin’ good, isn’t he?
That’s because he’s got style.
* * *
[This essay is excerpted from the Subterranean Press edition of Norman Partridge’s Stoker-winning collection, Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales, which features both early short stories and advice for writers looking to build careers in horror and suspense.]

“Dr. Frankenstein’s Secrets of Style”
by Norman Partridge

Okay. Since you’re a prospective horror writer, I’m sure you’re familiar with our old buddy Dr. Frankenstein. You’ve read Mary Shelley’s classic novel, maybe a few anthologies chock full of Frankensteinian stories, and you’ve seen those old movies, too.

There’s a scene in most of those movies. One that I love. Where the good doctor’s son, or grandson, or granddaughter, or (better yet) some conniving interloper invades the doc’s dusty old castle and finds a big thick book entitled Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s Secrets of Life and Death, which naturally spares the prospective mad scientist a whole bunch of hair-tearing, grief, and anguish when it comes to learning the fine art of monster-making.

When it comes to developing a writing style, I doubt that I can be as helpful as the good doc was with his dusty tome. But I’ll try.

First off, let’s make like Victor Frankenstein and conduct an experiment. Here’s what you do: get yourself down to the local book emporium. Ignore the cappuccino bar and the dessert counter and all those celebrity “autobiographies” penned by ghostwriters. What you’re looking for is the horror section. You’ve been there before, haven’t you? Sure… I’ll bet a big wad of green money that you have.

Okay. Mission accomplished. You’re standing in front of several rows of books with black spines dripping bloody red lettering. I know you’ve read many of these titles already, so here’s what I want you to do: select several you’ve missed, but make sure they’re written by authors you’ve read before. Some of those “big names” we’re all familiar with.

Buy those books. Take them home.

Lock the doors. Close the drapes. Just like Dr. Frankenstein getting down to the business of serious experimentation, you don’t want anyone to know what you’re about to do.

Place the books on a table in front of you. Now comes the hard part. But remember— you’re doing it the way Dr. Frankenstein did. In the name of science and knowledge. Remember, too, that if nothing else the good doctor was certainly adept at dissection.

One by one, snatch up those books. Rip off the covers.

Title pages too. Peel the spine. Then find a thick black felt-tip pen (I recommend Marks-A-Lot). Cross out any further mention of the author’s name—page headers, bio section, whatever.

Now… sit down and start reading. Maybe the first chapter of each book, maybe less. Again, I’ll pull out my wad of green money, and I’ll bet that you can tell the Stephen King books from those written by Dean R. Koontz just as easily as you can identify an Anne Rice or Peter Straub novel.

You want to know why?

King, Koontz, Rice, and Straub all have discernible styles, that’s why.

* * *

Of course, the aforementioned quartet of bestselling authors has been at this game a little longer than you have. They developed their respective styles through countless hours of hard work.

Work on short stories and novels, that is. Telling story after story, getting each one down on paper, typing “The End” time and time again. Learning what works and what doesn’t by trial and error. Even learning unconsciously. Because, let’s face it, no beginning writer sits down at the good ol’ word processor and says, “Forget all that story and plot junk… today I’m going to develop a style.”

Well, maybe someone has tried that. Actually, I wouldn’t doubt it. But I’m still holding that green money, and I’ll bet that any misguided boob who attempted such an endeavor failed miserably.

Because your writing style comes from within. In fact, you’ve probably already got it, or at least a good chunk of it. You just don’t know about it yet. But maybe I can help you find it… or at least show you where to look.

All you’ll need is a shovel and a stout heart.

Now, follow me to the cemetery….

* * *

Here we are. Cool fog raising gooseflesh on your arms. The full moon shining up above. Gnarled branches scratching the night sky. A forest of marble monuments and granite headstones looming before you.

You recognize the scene, don’t you? Sure you do. Any horror writer worth his salt recognizes Dr. Frankenstein’s favorite bone garden. Just as you remember why the good doctor invariably makes the cemetery his first stop.

It’s the mad scientist’s very first rule—if you’re gonna make a monster, you’re gonna need parts.

Creating a writing style isn’t much different. Just as the Frankenstein Monster is a crazy quilt of dear-departed humanity, your writing style is an amalgam of influences. Which is why you must read— and read widely— if you want to write.

Mad scientists open graves. Writers open books.

I knew this from the start, long before I ever became serious about publishing my fiction. I worked for several years in the local public library, during which time I read the very best the horror genre had to offer. From Poe to Bradbury, from Matheson to King and on through Lansdale and Schow, I absorbed the lessons of those who labored in Dr. Frankenstein’s cemetery long before I ever picked up my shovel.

But I also learned a great deal from writers in completely unrelated genres. For me, crime writers were a big influence in developing every element of my work. I learned a great deal about mood from writers who specialize in crime noir. And when it comes to pace and plot, I found my best teachers in writers such as Elmore Leonard, John D. MacDonald, and Dan J. Marlowe.

I didn’t confine my reading to novels, either. I found anthologies especially valuable. In the space of a single anthology, I’d invariably be exposed to as many styles as there were stories. Not all of them were successful or effective, of course. But sometimes it’s just as important to learn what doesn’t work as what does work… and why.

Now, please don’t get the impression that I’m telling you to imitate other writers, especially when it comes to style. I certainly wouldn’t advise you to do that.

But I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that a certain amount of imitation is unavoidable. Especially for a writer who’s just starting out. H. P. Lovecraft’s early work strongly echoes Poe. Other Lovecraft stories strongly recall the tales of Lord Dunsany. Robert Bloch began his career as a student of H. P. Lovecraft, only to evolve into one of the finest psychological suspense writers of his generation. Ramsey Campbell also followed in Lovecraft’s footsteps, publishing Cthulhu mythos-inspired fiction as a teenager. But Campbell didn’t stop there. He continued to grow and evolve, and today he is one of the most original stylists in horror fiction. While Campbell is still more than capable of putting a twist on Lovecraftian themes, his style of writing is now thoroughly his own. In fact, these days more than a few young writers have begun their careers by imitating Ramsey Campbell.

So, consciously or unconsciously, every beginning writer imitates. Including me. Looking back, some of my early stories reflect stylistic influences that didn’t quite pan out. Like “Body Bags,” the Vietnam war horror story written as a first person account that dripped with passages of lush, Poe-like description which was completely inappropriate to the story’s timeframe. Or the overblown fantasy-epic fight scenes which read like something written by Robert E. Howard on steroids. Or the “surprise ending” stories which certainly didn’t make anyone forget the nasty punch-to-the-gut climaxes patented by Robert Bloch in his prime.

So I had my share of misfires, but the truth is that some of those imitative stories actually did work out. While compiling my short story collection, Bad Intentions, I was surprised to rediscover early tales written while I was obviously under the sway of writers as disparate as Dennis Etchison and Joe R. Lansdale. But reading those stories today is kind of like looking at a ten-year-old photograph of yourself. Sure, you recognize the guy in the picture, but the clothes you’re wearing may surprise you!

So while a certain amount of imitation is necessary, in the final analysis it’s just another way of developing your own creative filter, of learning what works and what doesn’t. But it’s certainly not the end of the process, and I’ll tell you why.

No matter how high you aim, no matter how talented or successful or popular the writer you choose to emulate, you’ll find that imitation is not only a dead end, it’s also a trap.

Let me give you an example. In the early eighties, the horror field was booming. Stephen King enjoyed a huge popularity. Naturally, many writers set out to be “the next Stephen King.” They wrote knockoffs of ’Salem’s Lot, replacing King’s vampires with zombies or werewolves. They wrote limpid apocalyptic “thrillers” which paled when compared to The Stand. Neighborhoods of haunted houses populated with Jack Torrance wannabe’s sprung up, and it seemed that every high school class (in fiction, anyway) contained at least one telekinetic teenager meant to rival Carrie White.

Publishers jumped on these books, each one eager to create “another Stephen King.” Because of this, some of the King clones had a pretty good run in the eighties, publishing one book after another while pulling down some pretty healthy paychecks.

Then the bottom fell out. The public caught on. “Why buy a King clone,” they asked, “when the real thing is still going strong?” The clones stopped selling. Publishers lost money.

Many houses stopped buying horror novels entirely or cut their horror lines dramatically. The King clones, some of whom had become accustomed to healthy advances, suddenly couldn’t sell their new novels. To this day, the horror novel market has not quite recovered from the glut of unoriginal fiction which appeared in the eighties.

* * *

Okay. You’ve been warned, and you’re still determined to make a go of this mad scientist business. You’re stitching your monster together, working every day.

You’re reading. You’re writing. You’re putting in the time.

But you don’t want to overdo it, especially when it comes to style. You’re walking a fine line. A dash too much mood, an extra dollop of flowery description, and your horror stories will read like parodies. They’ll invoke laughter rather than fright.

It’s the “hey, Ma, look at me write” syndrome, and it’s usually the result of over-polishing your prose.

One of the hardest things to learn as a writer is when to quit. Some beginners become so obsessed with making each story “perfect,” each line of prose “deathless,” that they sabotage their own fiction by revising it to death. And sabotage is not too strong a word. Because overblown description, multiple metaphors, and overused similes can wreak explosive destruction upon your tales of terror.

Too much of a good thing is indeed too much of a good thing. Remember that.

But also remember that even Dr. Frankenstein had his failures. That nasty bit of business with Igor and the abnormal brain, for example. But the good doc wasn’t a quitter. When things didn’t work out the way he’d planned, Victor Frankenstein always got out his shovel and headed back to the cemetery.

* * *

So don’t give up. Put in the time. Write those stories. Read those books. Stitch that monster together.

One day he’ll be stretched out on that slab before you, just like in the movies. You put him together—an experiment here, an influence there—but I think you’ll find that he doesn’t quite look like any of those things you made him from. He’s no sum total of his parts, this guy. He’s an original.

And just when you’re ready to throw the switch and juice him with electricity he’ll probably surprise you by sitting up and stalking off completely on his own. See, you’ve already done that—all the work you put in, that was the juice your monster needed. Your creative spark gave him life.

Just look at him.

You can even holler “It’s alive! It’s alive!” if you want to.

Because this monster’s lookin’ good, isn’t he?

That’s because he’s got style.

* * *

[This essay is excerpted from the Subterranean Press edition of Norman Partridge’s Stoker-winning collection, Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales, which features both early short stories and advice for writers looking to build careers in horror and suspense.]

“You’re Only As Good As Your Last ISBN” or “Do You Really Want To Be Doing This?” by Rick Hautala

“You’re Only As Good As Your Last ISBN” or “Do You Really Want To Be Doing This?” by Rick Hautala
Let’s look at the situation. Literally there have to be millions of people who say they want to write a book. I regularly get letters, phone calls, e-mails, or personal approaches from people (usually at book signings, which is one reason why I don’t do many signings), asking me to write their story with them. The idea is simple. They have a “great” idea, something way better than anything that’s being published today, and they’re more than willing to share their idea with me. My part in this, at least the way they see it, is easy. All I have to do is “write it for them,” and then we’ll split the money fifty-fifty.
Sounds easy, huh?
Especially for them.
They have no idea what writing a novel really entails. Or maybe they do. Maybe they’ve tried and failed. In any event, if they keep writing, they’ll probably end up reviewing books for Amazon.com., slamming the works of others … under a pseudonym, of course, or using no name at all except “a reader.”
And these are just the people I meet.
No doubt every published author has met such people.
So every year, I’m sure there are literally millions of people who say they want to write a book (or screenplay—I hear that a lot lately). Of that number, a tiny percentage of them actually start writing, and of that number, an even smaller percentage of them actually finish the book. Of those books that actually get finished, a very small percentage is any good. And even of the ones that actually are any “good,” I’m sure only a miniscule percentage is publishable … that is, if the person has enough literary market savvy to jump through the hoops of finding some way to get their manuscript to an agent or publisher (that’s a whole ‘nother story).
Then the odds really start stacking up against you because of all the books published, only a small number actually get promotion and succeed. Most of what’s published sells so poorly, in fact, that 1) the publisher declines to publish the author’s next book (if the author has the determination to go through the ordeal of actually completing a sophomore effort), or 2) the author decides the writing business doesn’t love him or her enough, and gives it up to find a job much less demanding but a lot more remunerative … with a steady paycheck and benefits, no less.
So how in the name of all that’s good and beautiful does a writer actually go about making a living at it?
I’m not talking about those authors who have a day job and devote any and all available off hours to the task of writing. And I don’t mean those writers who have a trust find or a gainfully employed spouse or life partner who is willing to support them in their chosen calling (and pay for their medical benefits). I’m talking about that small percentage of people who can’t stop writing no matter what. It “drips out of my head,” as my friend Glenn Chadbourne is fond of saying. If some people aren’t writing, they’d be up on the roof of a building with a rifle and scope. I pity them partly because I’m one of them, and I know their pain.
So even if you beat all these odds, even if you’ve done what most people only talk about doing when they’re drunk (and I’m NOT talking about dating Jennifer Aniston), what are your chances of actually making any kind of living writing books?
Okay. There are those select few whose first book “gets noticed.” They have the “hot” book and they get the push from their publisher, so they get the astronomical sales. Then they get the movie deal and the multi-million, multi-book deals with one of the best publishers in the country. Their first book may even make it onto the New York Times bestseller list (but a lot of books that are lucky enough to get that push don’t make it onto the lists). These are the select few, and the odds are better, I think, that you’ll get hit by lightning (although that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun).
Then there are the rest of us—the working writers in the trenches who don’t have the mega-deals, who don’t have the movie deals, who don’t have the financial backstop, but who do have to write and who do have a readership. Sure, that readership would move on and find someone else to read if our next book never came out. That readership also has a handful—sometimes a very large handful—of “favorite” authors, many of whom are in the same boat. Not many readers would miss out if our next book was never published, and what do you do if your last book didn’t sell so well?
Oh, it may have been a perfectly fine book. It may, in fact, have been the best book you’ve written to date. (Aren’t they all?) But for whatever arcane reasons, sales of your last book were … let’s say, “disappointing.” Your career path is going down what I affectionately call the “death spiral.” That’s where the sell-through our each of your books is progressively smaller, so the publisher prints fewer and fewer copies of each successive book until the projected print run for your new novel is so insignificant the publisher tells you they’d just as soon not put it out. “Good luck placing your book elsewhere.”
If you don’t take the route of doing work for hire (novelizations or other such projects—and that’s also a whole ‘nother story), and if you have a good working relationship with a publisher and a sympathetic editor), short of quitting this demanding business, you might consider putting your next book out under a pseudonym.
I’m sure there are many reasons for authors to use a pseudonym. Some authors start out publishing under a pseudonym because they want to mask their real identity, like Zorro or Batman. Or an author may be so prolific he or she doesn’t want to glut the market with too many books with his/her name in any one calendar year. So they come up with a new name. I’m thinking Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb, and Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.
On a much smaller scale, that’s pretty much what prompted me to start publishing under my pseudonym A. J. Matthews. For personal reasons I refuse to go into, I had stopped writing for about a year. By the time I got back to it, I had a backlog of books (The Mountain King, The Hidden Saint—my Poltergeist: The Legacy novel, Bedbugs, and The White Room) lined up to be published. That, and the fact that my previous publisher was not supporting my books the way they used to, made putting The White Room out from Berkley under a pseudonym a no-brainer.
A pseudonym offers a writer a whole new lease on life. You have no track record. There’s no history of “disappointing” or declining sales. You’re tabula rasa. I’ve said it jokingly … well, okay—you caught me—only half-jokingly … that perhaps having two “half-assed careers” could add up to one “full-assed” career, and that’s the beauty of using a pseudonym. You have a fresh start. You can use your new name to publish books that are uncharacteristic of your previously published work, or you can use the pseudonymous books as a way to get into print books you just have to write. Either way, you have more books out in the marketplace, earning more income, and who knows? Maybe one of them will finally be the one to hit big?
So if you’re one of the very small percentage of people who wants/can/and does write novels, and if you find you want to keep doing it (or are unable to stop—an entirely different situation), you might find that a pseudonym is a good outlet for work that’s been building up inside of you. Otherwise, you might head on down to the hardware store and buy a rifle and scope.
And I’d hate to see that happen!

“You’re Only As Good As Your Last ISBN” or “Do You Really Want To Be Doing This?”
by Rick Hautala

Let’s look at the situation. Literally there have to be millions of people who say they want to write a book. I regularly get letters, phone calls, e-mails, or personal approaches from people (usually at book signings, which is one reason why I don’t do many signings), asking me to write their story with them. The idea is simple. They have a “great” idea, something way better than anything that’s being published today, and they’re more than willing to share their idea with me. My part in this, at least the way they see it, is easy. All I have to do is “write it for them,” and then we’ll split the money fifty-fifty.

Sounds easy, huh?

Especially for them.

They have no idea what writing a novel really entails. Or maybe they do. Maybe they’ve tried and failed. In any event, if they keep writing, they’ll probably end up reviewing books for Amazon.com., slamming the works of others … under a pseudonym, of course, or using no name at all except “a reader.”

And these are just the people I meet.

No doubt every published author has met such people.

So every year, I’m sure there are literally millions of people who say they want to write a book (or screenplay—I hear that a lot lately). Of that number, a tiny percentage of them actually start writing, and of that number, an even smaller percentage of them actually finish the book. Of those books that actually get finished, a very small percentage is any good. And even of the ones that actually are any “good,” I’m sure only a miniscule percentage is publishable … that is, if the person has enough literary market savvy to jump through the hoops of finding some way to get their manuscript to an agent or publisher (that’s a whole ‘nother story).

Then the odds really start stacking up against you because of all the books published, only a small number actually get promotion and succeed. Most of what’s published sells so poorly, in fact, that 1) the publisher declines to publish the author’s next book (if the author has the determination to go through the ordeal of actually completing a sophomore effort), or 2) the author decides the writing business doesn’t love him or her enough, and gives it up to find a job much less demanding but a lot more remunerative … with a steady paycheck and benefits, no less.

So how in the name of all that’s good and beautiful does a writer actually go about making a living at it?

I’m not talking about those authors who have a day job and devote any and all available off hours to the task of writing. And I don’t mean those writers who have a trust find or a gainfully employed spouse or life partner who is willing to support them in their chosen calling (and pay for their medical benefits). I’m talking about that small percentage of people who can’t stop writing no matter what. It “drips out of my head,” as my friend Glenn Chadbourne is fond of saying. If some people aren’t writing, they’d be up on the roof of a building with a rifle and scope. I pity them partly because I’m one of them, and I know their pain.

So even if you beat all these odds, even if you’ve done what most people only talk about doing when they’re drunk (and I’m NOT talking about dating Jennifer Aniston), what are your chances of actually making any kind of living writing books?

Okay. There are those select few whose first book “gets noticed.” They have the “hot” book and they get the push from their publisher, so they get the astronomical sales. Then they get the movie deal and the multi-million, multi-book deals with one of the best publishers in the country. Their first book may even make it onto the New York Times bestseller list (but a lot of books that are lucky enough to get that push don’t make it onto the lists). These are the select few, and the odds are better, I think, that you’ll get hit by lightning (although that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun).

Then there are the rest of us—the working writers in the trenches who don’t have the mega-deals, who don’t have the movie deals, who don’t have the financial backstop, but who do have to write and who do have a readership. Sure, that readership would move on and find someone else to read if our next book never came out. That readership also has a handful—sometimes a very large handful—of “favorite” authors, many of whom are in the same boat. Not many readers would miss out if our next book was never published, and what do you do if your last book didn’t sell so well?

Oh, it may have been a perfectly fine book. It may, in fact, have been the best book you’ve written to date. (Aren’t they all?) But for whatever arcane reasons, sales of your last book were … let’s say, “disappointing.” Your career path is going down what I affectionately call the “death spiral.” That’s where the sell-through our each of your books is progressively smaller, so the publisher prints fewer and fewer copies of each successive book until the projected print run for your new novel is so insignificant the publisher tells you they’d just as soon not put it out. “Good luck placing your book elsewhere.”

If you don’t take the route of doing work for hire (novelizations or other such projects—and that’s also a whole ‘nother story), and if you have a good working relationship with a publisher and a sympathetic editor), short of quitting this demanding business, you might consider putting your next book out under a pseudonym.

I’m sure there are many reasons for authors to use a pseudonym. Some authors start out publishing under a pseudonym because they want to mask their real identity, like Zorro or Batman. Or an author may be so prolific he or she doesn’t want to glut the market with too many books with his/her name in any one calendar year. So they come up with a new name. I’m thinking Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb, and Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.

On a much smaller scale, that’s pretty much what prompted me to start publishing under my pseudonym A. J. Matthews. For personal reasons I refuse to go into, I had stopped writing for about a year. By the time I got back to it, I had a backlog of books (The Mountain King, The Hidden Saint—my Poltergeist: The Legacy novel, Bedbugs, and The White Room) lined up to be published. That, and the fact that my previous publisher was not supporting my books the way they used to, made putting The White Room out from Berkley under a pseudonym a no-brainer.

A pseudonym offers a writer a whole new lease on life. You have no track record. There’s no history of “disappointing” or declining sales. You’re tabula rasa. I’ve said it jokingly … well, okay—you caught me—only half-jokingly … that perhaps having two “half-assed careers” could add up to one “full-assed” career, and that’s the beauty of using a pseudonym. You have a fresh start. You can use your new name to publish books that are uncharacteristic of your previously published work, or you can use the pseudonymous books as a way to get into print books you just have to write. Either way, you have more books out in the marketplace, earning more income, and who knows? Maybe one of them will finally be the one to hit big?

So if you’re one of the very small percentage of people who wants/can/and does write novels, and if you find you want to keep doing it (or are unable to stop—an entirely different situation), you might find that a pseudonym is a good outlet for work that’s been building up inside of you. Otherwise, you might head on down to the hardware store and buy a rifle and scope.

And I’d hate to see that happen!

“Sweat” by Tim Lebbon

“Sweat” by Tim Lebbon
Writing is hard work. I’ve always said that, and I always will. It’s draining and challenging, both physically and mentally, and a good writing stint leaves me tired in the same way as a good work out: ready for a rest, but content, and perhaps a little smug with the feeling that I’m tired for a good reason.
But sometimes, a good workout is what you need to sort out your writing.
A couple of weeks ago I was moving toward the end of my current novel DAWN (I still haven’t finished, but it’s almost there … I’ve flirted with the ending, taken it out for a drink and nice meal, and now we’re back home at my place and … well, you know what comes next). But I was stuck. There were a few strands that weren’t coming together to my satisfaction, and a couple of the characters seemed to have lost their purpose. I didn’t like that. It made it feel as though I’d lost my purpose, and that just got me pissed and irritable and I took it out on my family. I hated doing that, so I just got more pissed and…
“Bugger off to the gym!” my lovely wife Tracey said. So I did. Took my mp3 player, plugged in and switched off. I pounded out a few miles on the treadmill and then moved onto the exercise bike … and then those characters started whispering to me. They told me what they needed to do next, and a couple of plot problems reared up and sorted themselves out, and I was pedalling with a stupid grin on my face, doing my best to remember everything that had suddenly come together in my head. The story suddenly felt right again, a three-dimensional whole rather than just a few notes on a bit of paper somewhere. It felt, as any good story should, more than a sum of its parts.
Stephen King once said in an interview somewhere that he’s not too concerned about ideas melting away from his mind, because the good ones always stick. Doesn’t work for me. I’ve got the memory of a goldfish. Eh? Oh yeah. Doesn’t work for me, I’ve got the memory of a goldfish. So I quit the gym, sat in the changing room for ten minutes and jotted down all these ideas, the strands that led me to them and where they might steer the novel toward the conclusion. Then I had went to the sauna and steam room comfortable that I’d done some good work.
See? Writing is hard work. It should make you sweat, and it should tease you. Like that ending I’ve just brought back from a fine meal … the music’s on … it’s teased me for weeks … who knows what the night may bring?

“Sweat” by Tim Lebbon

Writing is hard work. I’ve always said that, and I always will. It’s draining and challenging, both physically and mentally, and a good writing stint leaves me tired in the same way as a good work out: ready for a rest, but content, and perhaps a little smug with the feeling that I’m tired for a good reason.

But sometimes, a good workout is what you need to sort out your writing.

A couple of weeks ago I was moving toward the end of my current novel DAWN (I still haven’t finished, but it’s almost there … I’ve flirted with the ending, taken it out for a drink and nice meal, and now we’re back home at my place and … well, you know what comes next). But I was stuck. There were a few strands that weren’t coming together to my satisfaction, and a couple of the characters seemed to have lost their purpose. I didn’t like that. It made it feel as though I’d lost my purpose, and that just got me pissed and irritable and I took it out on my family. I hated doing that, so I just got more pissed and…

“Bugger off to the gym!” my lovely wife Tracey said. So I did. Took my mp3 player, plugged in and switched off. I pounded out a few miles on the treadmill and then moved onto the exercise bike … and then those characters started whispering to me. They told me what they needed to do next, and a couple of plot problems reared up and sorted themselves out, and I was pedalling with a stupid grin on my face, doing my best to remember everything that had suddenly come together in my head. The story suddenly felt right again, a three-dimensional whole rather than just a few notes on a bit of paper somewhere. It felt, as any good story should, more than a sum of its parts.

Stephen King once said in an interview somewhere that he’s not too concerned about ideas melting away from his mind, because the good ones always stick. Doesn’t work for me. I’ve got the memory of a goldfish. Eh? Oh yeah. Doesn’t work for me, I’ve got the memory of a goldfish. So I quit the gym, sat in the changing room for ten minutes and jotted down all these ideas, the strands that led me to them and where they might steer the novel toward the conclusion. Then I had went to the sauna and steam room comfortable that I’d done some good work.

See? Writing is hard work. It should make you sweat, and it should tease you. Like that ending I’ve just brought back from a fine meal … the music’s on … it’s teased me for weeks … who knows what the night may bring?

“What does it take to write a novel?” by Bev Vincent

“What does it take to write a novel?”
by Bev Vincent
What does it take to write a novel? Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, says that he can complete a draft of one of his novels in about three months. Not many of us can devote ourselves to writing full time. We have day jobs, families and an endless assortment of diversions.
In 1999, I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about nine months. Something over one hundred thousand words, churned out a page at a time over the same length of time it takes for a child to develop from inception to birth. There were times when it seemed that giving birth might have been the less painful route, even though I am male.
Completing a novel is a monumental achievement. Not necessarily because it requires any talent, but because it requires discipline and dedication. I always knew that I would write, and over the years I have done so with varying degrees of success. In the 1990s, however, my output withered away into virtual non-existence. I would dig my notebook computer out of its carrying case and set it up on whatever perch was convenient, write a few pages, and then return the computer to its hiding place where it would remain for days, weeks or months.
So, what was different about 1999? In late 1998 my wife, bless her soul, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. After some consideration, I answered that I wanted a place to write. Somewhere permanent, somewhere that could remain undisturbed, where I could sit down, turn on the computer and start writing without having to find a place to set up. She bought a lovely roll-top desk and we found a suitable place to install it. The roll-top was a stroke of brilliance on her part. I tend to generate piles of papers, books, and notes while I am working. At the end of a session I can just back up the day’s work, turn off the computer, pull down the cover and-voila!-my clutter is hidden beneath the handsome, dark, corrugated cover.
Still, a desk does not a writer make. In addition to a place, I also needed a reasonably regular schedule. I wasn’t a slave to the clock, pushing aside everything and anything else to achieve my hours at the computer, but four days a week I could usually be found sitting at the computer in the evening while my wife and daughter both did their homework. It became a loose routine, a habit. After supper, we would each retreat to our own private sanctuary. I would roll up the top of my desk, turn on the computer, read any notes I had left for myself from the most recent day’s writing session, load up the file and get back to work.
Some days were harder than others, but I usually produced between 500 and 2000 words in one of those sessions. At an average of 1000 words per day, a devoted writer could produce a full-length novel in 70 to 100 days. About three months, if you work every day, or about nine months if you have to work around jobs, family and life’s other obligations.
So, what about my novel? Thanks for asking. It’s in a drawer after having been unsuccessfully test marketed with numerous agents, editors and contest judges. It’s not a terrible novel, but neither is it a terribly good one. That’s okay. I accept that judgment. With some more work, I think it probably could be turned into a fairly decent novel.
Still, that’s not so important. Even if that particular novel never sees the light of day, the writing season of 1999 was a valuable experience. I learned a lot about writing and rewriting, about pace, suspense, characterization, description, continuity and style. Most importantly, though, it helped to demystify the whole process. I now can state with confidence that I can finish a novel. I can stick with it and get to that bittersweet place where your fingers find the keys and tap out “The End.”
Originally published in Houston Writers League newsletter, September 2000

“What does it take to write a novel?”
by Bev Vincent

What does it take to write a novel? Stephen King, in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, says that he can complete a draft of one of his novels in about three months. Not many of us can devote ourselves to writing full time. We have day jobs, families and an endless assortment of diversions.

In 1999, I wrote the first draft of my first novel in about nine months. Something over one hundred thousand words, churned out a page at a time over the same length of time it takes for a child to develop from inception to birth. There were times when it seemed that giving birth might have been the less painful route, even though I am male.

Completing a novel is a monumental achievement. Not necessarily because it requires any talent, but because it requires discipline and dedication. I always knew that I would write, and over the years I have done so with varying degrees of success. In the 1990s, however, my output withered away into virtual non-existence. I would dig my notebook computer out of its carrying case and set it up on whatever perch was convenient, write a few pages, and then return the computer to its hiding place where it would remain for days, weeks or months.

So, what was different about 1999? In late 1998 my wife, bless her soul, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. After some consideration, I answered that I wanted a place to write. Somewhere permanent, somewhere that could remain undisturbed, where I could sit down, turn on the computer and start writing without having to find a place to set up. She bought a lovely roll-top desk and we found a suitable place to install it. The roll-top was a stroke of brilliance on her part. I tend to generate piles of papers, books, and notes while I am working. At the end of a session I can just back up the day’s work, turn off the computer, pull down the cover and-voila!-my clutter is hidden beneath the handsome, dark, corrugated cover.

Still, a desk does not a writer make. In addition to a place, I also needed a reasonably regular schedule. I wasn’t a slave to the clock, pushing aside everything and anything else to achieve my hours at the computer, but four days a week I could usually be found sitting at the computer in the evening while my wife and daughter both did their homework. It became a loose routine, a habit. After supper, we would each retreat to our own private sanctuary. I would roll up the top of my desk, turn on the computer, read any notes I had left for myself from the most recent day’s writing session, load up the file and get back to work.

Some days were harder than others, but I usually produced between 500 and 2000 words in one of those sessions. At an average of 1000 words per day, a devoted writer could produce a full-length novel in 70 to 100 days. About three months, if you work every day, or about nine months if you have to work around jobs, family and life’s other obligations.

So, what about my novel? Thanks for asking. It’s in a drawer after having been unsuccessfully test marketed with numerous agents, editors and contest judges. It’s not a terrible novel, but neither is it a terribly good one. That’s okay. I accept that judgment. With some more work, I think it probably could be turned into a fairly decent novel.

Still, that’s not so important. Even if that particular novel never sees the light of day, the writing season of 1999 was a valuable experience. I learned a lot about writing and rewriting, about pace, suspense, characterization, description, continuity and style. Most importantly, though, it helped to demystify the whole process. I now can state with confidence that I can finish a novel. I can stick with it and get to that bittersweet place where your fingers find the keys and tap out “The End.”

Originally published in Houston Writers League newsletter, September 2000

“How To Live on the Beach and Not Have a Boss” by Edward Lee

“How To Live on the Beach and Not Have a Boss” by Edward Lee
I have a great life. I live on the beach, for God’s sake! Here’s how you can have what I have. Seeing that my life is a model of success, a lot of aspiring novelists ask me for advice, and one of the questions they ask me most often is: When you were starting out, how did you find time to write? This is a pertinent question. See, I haven’t ALWAYS been a full-time fiction writer. I had to work a job too, to pay the bills, so I had to write in my free time. Writers just starting out can get frustrated by the technical reality. How does one work a job, get enough sleep to survive, maintain a social life, AND write?
The answer is simple: it’s all a matter of perception. First of all, scrap the social life; it’s the easiest thing to get rid of. If you don’t want to get rid of that, then I guess you can become a crystal-meth addict and get rid of the necessity to sleep, but this I don’t recommend. Another alternative is to get rid of the job and take care of the bills by engaging in a less time-consuming occupational effort, such as robbing liquor stores. I don’t recommend this, either, but this method does have a built-in fail-safe. (If you get caught, you’ll have PLENTY of time to write, in prison). What’s probably the best alternative can be found in what I said earlier, the matter of perception. View your daily allocation of writing time in a more positive way. Don’t think of it as: “Aw, crap. I just got home from a hard day’s work, and the last thing I feeling like doing right now is sitting my butt down behind my computer to strain my brain on a novel that’s gonna take eons to finish.” Instead, think of it as: “Every little bit I do will add up to something big.” Sounds more positive, right? Less discouraging?
Writing can be likened to push-ups. Some great writer told me this once, but I can’t remember who. You don’t have to do a thousand friggin’ push-ups every day to get a benefit. If you do your “push-ups” every day, it becomes routine. If you DON’T do them every day, it’s a pain in the tookus. Time management, folks. If you’ve got a family, kids, PTA meetings and all that, PLUS your 9-to-5, sure, it’s tough, but if you really want to be a writer, you can find a way to carve out that little bit of writing time every day. Even if it’s just an hour, even if it’s just twenty minutes, give that little bit of time to your muse. Make it as much a part of your day as any other regular thing, including…being regular, pun intended. Look at it this way: if you write one measly page a day, in a year you’ve got your novel.
It doesn’t require a lot of discipline to break into full-time writing, but it does take a little. Hell, everybody’s got a little bit of discipline. I’m living proof! And if you take these suggestions to heart, you can be what I am. Like I said, I have a great life. I live on the beach, for God’s sake! Never mind that it’s actually a beach GHETTO, and never mind that I’m too poor to even own a car. I’ve got so many lizards in my apartment, I should demand they chip in on the rent, and the cockroaches are as big a walnuts. I swear, they’ve got little faces like the Zanti Misfits. My chronic-alcoholic neighbors throw up in stereoscopy every night; every time I walk to the post office, someone tries to sell me heroin, and I couldn’t buy it even if I wanted to Œcos I’m perpetually broke. When bums see me, they don’t ASK for change, they GIVE me change. The roof leaks, the toilet won’t flush, and I can only afford to buy Top Ramen when it’s on sale for twelve packs for a buck.
Write a page a day, and all this can be yours…

“How To Live on the Beach and Not Have a Boss”
by Edward Lee

I have a great life. I live on the beach, for God’s sake! Here’s how you can have what I have. Seeing that my life is a model of success, a lot of aspiring novelists ask me for advice, and one of the questions they ask me most often is: When you were starting out, how did you find time to write? This is a pertinent question. See, I haven’t ALWAYS been a full-time fiction writer. I had to work a job too, to pay the bills, so I had to write in my free time. Writers just starting out can get frustrated by the technical reality. How does one work a job, get enough sleep to survive, maintain a social life, AND write?

The answer is simple: it’s all a matter of perception. First of all, scrap the social life; it’s the easiest thing to get rid of. If you don’t want to get rid of that, then I guess you can become a crystal-meth addict and get rid of the necessity to sleep, but this I don’t recommend. Another alternative is to get rid of the job and take care of the bills by engaging in a less time-consuming occupational effort, such as robbing liquor stores. I don’t recommend this, either, but this method does have a built-in fail-safe. (If you get caught, you’ll have PLENTY of time to write, in prison).

What’s probably the best alternative can be found in what I said earlier, the matter of perception. View your daily allocation of writing time in a more positive way. Don’t think of it as: “Aw, crap. I just got home from a hard day’s work, and the last thing I feeling like doing right now is sitting my butt down behind my computer to strain my brain on a novel that’s gonna take eons to finish.” Instead, think of it as: “Every little bit I do will add up to something big.” Sounds more positive, right? Less discouraging?

Writing can be likened to push-ups. Some great writer told me this once, but I can’t remember who. You don’t have to do a thousand friggin’ push-ups every day to get a benefit. If you do your “push-ups” every day, it becomes routine. If you DON’T do them every day, it’s a pain in the tookus. Time management, folks. If you’ve got a family, kids, PTA meetings and all that, PLUS your 9-to-5, sure, it’s tough, but if you really want to be a writer, you can find a way to carve out that little bit of writing time every day. Even if it’s just an hour, even if it’s just twenty minutes, give that little bit of time to your muse. Make it as much a part of your day as any other regular thing, including…being regular, pun intended. Look at it this way: if you write one measly page a day, in a year you’ve got your novel.

It doesn’t require a lot of discipline to break into full-time writing, but it does take a little. Hell, everybody’s got a little bit of discipline. I’m living proof! And if you take these suggestions to heart, you can be what I am. Like I said, I have a great life. I live on the beach, for God’s sake! Never mind that it’s actually a beach GHETTO, and never mind that I’m too poor to even own a car. I’ve got so many lizards in my apartment, I should demand they chip in on the rent, and the cockroaches are as big a walnuts. I swear, they’ve got little faces like the Zanti Misfits. My chronic-alcoholic neighbors throw up in stereoscopy every night; every time I walk to the post office, someone tries to sell me heroin, and I couldn’t buy it even if I wanted to Œcos I’m perpetually broke. When bums see me, they don’t ASK for change, they GIVE me change. The roof leaks, the toilet won’t flush, and I can only afford to buy Top Ramen when it’s on sale for twelve packs for a buck.

Write a page a day, and all this can be yours…

“Exploring Personal Themes” by Tom Piccirilli

“Exploring Personal Themes”
by Tom Piccirilli

Let’s talk about ‘theme’ for a bit.

The concept of themes found in fiction has understandably gotten a hard knock in the horror field. After all, it’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to hunt around for when you’re reading some dry academic paper on the ‘underlying homosexual imagery in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ or ‘The abstraction of Historical Evil found in Stephen King’s The Shining.’ It’s the kind of stuff that steals the flavor out of our very favorite pieces of literature.

By the way, I wrote both of those papers back in college.

Also, is it actually possible to write about the so-called larger world themes in horror? Aren’t we supposed to be dealing with simple entertainment concerning fear, suspense and action?

Well, yes and no. Of course you’re supposed to tell a good story first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to explore issues and topics you feel are especially important to you. Specific themes and images that recur in your stories are there either through personal interest or because you want to use them as a memorable signature of sorts, a stamp that marks the work as your own.

You may not even know they’re there.

Offbeat novelist Harry Crews always features what are proclaimed to be “freaks” in his work. Yet he swears that his wife had to point out the fact to him that his first three books feature midgets before he realized he was writing so prominently about them. Crews himself suffered from childhood paralysis in impoverished Bacon County, Georgia and was so emotionally scarred by the experience of having strangers staring at his crooked legs as a child that — even though he eventually recovered — he’s always felt physically freakish since that time.

Finding what incites your emotions, your sense of resolve, and weaving them into motifs and sub-text can be cathartic for the author. Stephen King once said that he felt he was one of the sanest people he knew because he managed to put every frustration, anxiety and phobia he had down on the page, and in the process managed to exorcise those problems. In our fiction we can address whatever personal or social ills we perceive, whatever major arguments and questions we might have about the world. We can route out the most significant feelings
and apply them time and again.

But of course, conveying the substance of this through our fiction can be a double-edged sword. There’s always a chance you’ll wind up on a soapbox without meaning to. There’s also the possibility that you’ll tend to repeat yourself, and that the subject matter itself will hamper your imagination and force issues to the forefront that aren’t necessarily best for the story you’re trying to tell.

So when are you going too far and why should you worry about it in the first place?

Well, you probably shouldn’t. You should simply be aware of the issues that might be hidden between the lines of your work. Thematic plot threads, symbolism, and recurring motifs are simply other means to an end: making your fiction as strong as it can be.

To put a personal spin on it: My father died when I was quite young and I’ve explored the idea of fathers quite frequently in my writing. Father figures are either long dead, forlorn, or tragic personages. This isn’t a reflection
on my father so much as it has become an odd focus of my storytelling. I find value, edge, and atmosphere in investigating that area of my sensibility. That particular figure used to that particular purpose holds some resonance for me as an author, and inspires me onwards.

Religion fascinates and disturbs me, and I often impart this in my work through the subject matter. I tend to fuse elements of my Catholic upbringing with research I’ve done on other religions and the occult. Recurrence of this sort is to be expected throughout an author’s career. We gravitate to that which enthralls us.

It’s also true I have what I call my “water stories.” Since I grew up on Long Island and spent a lot of time at the beach. The vastness of the ocean is a powerful concept, beneath the waves in all that darkness. It sparks a great many ideas for me, a lot of primal urges and awe and panic which I can use in my writing.

Almost everyone will find their own natural signature concepts and images that provide the themes for their work over the courses of their careers. I think it’s important, though not necessary, to have something that you can use as a seal or mark to make your fiction stand out. These are underlying messages that the reader will pick up on.

Edgar Allan Poe repeatedly returned to the notion of the premature burial.  Crime writer Charles Williams’ novels are filled with skippers and boats, based on his seaman’s background. Ed Gorman uses the recurring story lines of quaint innocent American backwoods towns often hide the darkest, most vicious secrets. British horror author Simon Clark often uses the end of the world motif as a narrative chiller, exploring mankind’s dissolution and redemption. John Irving uses themes that revolve around abnormal families, children in danger, and the recurrent symbols of bears, private schools, and wrestling. As mentioned, Harry Crews uses the physically grotesque and freakish. These topics and emblems make the work immediately identifiable with the author.

“In Defense of the Horror Short Story” by Gary Raisor

“In Defense of the Horror Short Story”
by Gary Raisor
Can’t get your fix of true horror down at your local Walden?
The magic gone out? Welcome to the club. In the last ten years or so, it has become increasingly, and appalling, obvious that most of the interesting writing in the horror field is being done in the form of the short story.
By people you’ve probably never heard of.
Published by houses you’ve probably never heard of, either.
Most of these writers don’t have movies to their credit or ads that proclaim their status on the New York Times Best Seller List. Some, surprisingly, do.
The majority of them, though, are simply very good writers who produce stories that make readers just a little too uncomfortable. What makes them different from the writers you see lined up at Walden? These folks are willing to take chances, they’re not afraid to fall on their asses.
Let’s face it, main stream publishing is only interested in one thing: Huge, bloated books by huge, bloated authors. With movie tie-ins. Quality and artistic integrity have just about bit the big one. It’s all about the money, baby.
The only people who care about short stories, a place where an author can go out on a limb and express something other than good old John Q. Public being menaced by something vaguely threatening — but not too threatening, before overcoming that vaguely threatening something and going back to their meaningless little life and consuming mass quantities of goods — is the short story. Which is only kept alive by the specialty presses. And thank God for that. If it wasn’t for places like Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, Overlook Connection, Necro Publications, Dark Highways, and a handful of others, the short story wouldn’t be an endangered species, it’d be an extinct species. That would be sad, because that would mean we’d lose out on the things that drew us to horror in the first place. That sense of wonder and dread, that feeling we were going to some place where we might not come back safely, to consume mass qualities of goods. A place where our world view might be altered forever. It’s a good feeling to be frightened, it lets you know you’re alive.
I want to talk about a few people who know how to do the short story. People who can mess with your head year end and year out. I’m sure a few of you have your own list, but I have to tell you, mine’s pretty damn short. Here goes:
Joe R. Lansdale. This guy is a cross between Kafka and Will Rogers, with a voice all his own. You want to learn about voice as a writer, or simply enjoy a great short story, this is your guy.
R.C. Matheson. Mr. economy of words. This man can raise goose bumps with fewer words than anyone else in the business.
John Shirley. The best of the new Gothic. You never know where you’re going when you start one of his stories. It’ll be someplace you’ve never been before.
David J. Schow. One of the few to come through the splat pack and develop into a multi-layered writer.
Jack Ketchum. This man puts his heart and soul into his work, and I guarantee you, you read some of his work, you can kiss sleeping goodbye for a few nights.
Edward Lee. The only man I know who can, on a consistent basis, raise the grotesque to an art form.
Nancy Holder. She writes with more balls than ninety per cent of the guys in the business.
So I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you think you know horror, but you haven’t read any of these folks, then you don’t know horror. You’re only getting what the big houses are spoon feeding you. Pap.
So here’s a thought, save up your money by not buying that Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelization because you think Sarah Michelle Gellar is hot (okay she is) but she’s not going to be sleeping with you, so get over it. Instead take that money and put it aside. When you get about thirty or forty dollars together, buy a book from one of the specialty presses I mentioned above. It’ll be a much nicer book, with a lot more interesting things going on between the covers. It’ll be something you’ll take out and read more than once. Trust me on this. And hey, there might even be sex.

“In Defense of the Horror Short Story”
by Gary Raisor

Can’t get your fix of true horror down at your local Walden?

The magic gone out? Welcome to the club. In the last ten years or so, it has become increasingly, and appalling, obvious that most of the interesting writing in the horror field is being done in the form of the short story.

By people you’ve probably never heard of.

Published by houses you’ve probably never heard of, either.

Most of these writers don’t have movies to their credit or ads that proclaim their status on the New York Times Best Seller List. Some, surprisingly, do.

The majority of them, though, are simply very good writers who produce stories that make readers just a little too uncomfortable. What makes them different from the writers you see lined up at Walden? These folks are willing to take chances, they’re not afraid to fall on their asses.

Let’s face it, main stream publishing is only interested in one thing: Huge, bloated books by huge, bloated authors. With movie tie-ins. Quality and artistic integrity have just about bit the big one. It’s all about the money, baby.

The only people who care about short stories, a place where an author can go out on a limb and express something other than good old John Q. Public being menaced by something vaguely threatening — but not too threatening, before overcoming that vaguely threatening something and going back to their meaningless little life and consuming mass quantities of goods — is the short story. Which is only kept alive by the specialty presses. And thank God for that. If it wasn’t for places like Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, Overlook Connection, Necro Publications, Dark Highways, and a handful of others, the short story wouldn’t be an endangered species, it’d be an extinct species. That would be sad, because that would mean we’d lose out on the things that drew us to horror in the first place. That sense of wonder and dread, that feeling we were going to some place where we might not come back safely, to consume mass qualities of goods. A place where our world view might be altered forever. It’s a good feeling to be frightened, it lets you know you’re alive.

I want to talk about a few people who know how to do the short story. People who can mess with your head year end and year out. I’m sure a few of you have your own list, but I have to tell you, mine’s pretty damn short. Here goes:

Joe R. Lansdale. This guy is a cross between Kafka and Will Rogers, with a voice all his own. You want to learn about voice as a writer, or simply enjoy a great short story, this is your guy.

R.C. Matheson. Mr economy of words. This man can raise goose bumps with fewer words than anyone else in the business.

John Shirley. The best of the new Gothic. You never know where you’re going when you start one of his stories. It’ll be someplace you’ve never been before.

David J. Schow. One of the few to come through the splat pack and develop into a multi-layered writer.

Jack Ketchum. This man puts his heart and soul into his work, and I guarantee you, you read some of his work, you can kiss sleeping goodbye for a few nights.

Edward Lee. The only man I know who can, on a consistent basis, raise the grotesque to an art form.

Nancy Holder. She writes with more balls than ninety per cent of the guys in the business.

So I guess what I’m trying to say here is, if you think you know horror, but you haven’t read any of these folks, then you don’t know horror. You’re only getting what the big houses are spoon feeding you. Pap.

So here’s a thought, save up your money by not buying that Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelization because you think Sarah Michelle Gellar is hot (okay she is) but she’s not going to be sleeping with you, so get over it. Instead take that money and put it aside. When you get about thirty or forty dollars together, buy a book from one of the specialty presses I mentioned above. It’ll be a much nicer book, with a lot more interesting things going on between the covers. It’ll be something you’ll take out and read more than once. Trust me on this. And hey, there might even be sex.

News From The Dead Zone #122

Breaking News from the Dead Zone

StephenKing.com and Metro DMA released the opening credits for the upcoming Dark Tower project. The streaming video is now available in three classes of connection speed at www.stephenking.com

King’s new poem, The Bone Church, from the current issue of Playboy, is now online.

On Tuesday, October 27th, AOL’s PopEater entertainment site will feature an interview with King about Under the Dome.

Paramount has dug up an old film license and used it to create a mobile application game “inspired by” Pet Sematary. The $1 app is a top-down shooter, in which you have to rapidly tap on resurrected pets and small boys to shoot them, while saving the adults who charge around the levels seeking safety. [more info]

Last week, a new feature was added to the Under the Dome Widget. The widget features a link to an interactive book cover, allowing you to explore the book a little more in depth prior to its release. Scarecrow Joe is also twittering from under the dome.

King is quoted in this EW.com article about selling Under the Dome for $9 and the decision not to release the e-book version until 12/24. He also released this statement on his web site: “Please don’t believe the press reports that the e-book reader price for Under the Dome will be $35. This was the result of confusion from a press release from the publisher, what Big Jim Rennie would call a clustermug. It is true that you cannot order the book as an e-download until December 24th but the physical book, which is a beautiful thing, you can pre-order for less than $9—so who’s better than us?”

Stephen King & Peter Straub Talk Comics Books and MTV has an exclusive first look at issue #1 of The Talisman adaptation.

The current issue of EW has the new column: The Secret to Pop Culture Snacking.

Book submission guidelines: Authors and Artists

Authors:
Sorry, we are not currently reading unsolicited submissions for the book line.

Artists:
We solicit all our cover and interior artwork directly. Query first with samples. At this time, art director Mindy Jarusek would prefer to receive and view artwork samples and submissions online, if possible. Please do not send LARGE attachments. Links to your website, online samples, or a web-based portfolio would be best. If you must send attachments, please email first for our requirements. For all artwork related questions and submissions, please contact art@cemeterydance.com and Mindy will reply if she’s interested in seeing more. Thank you.

Samples of Glenn Chadbourne’s interior artwork for The Secretary of Dreams (Volume Two) by Stephen King

This page features just a few samples of Glenn Chadbourne’s interior artwork for The Secretary of Dreams (Volume Two) by Stephen King. There will be HUNDREDS of illustrations in the final book, but we just wanted to give you a taste of what’s to come. More samples will be posted when the rest of the artwork is finished being scanned. Enjoy!

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“Gray Matter”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“Nona”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“One for the Road”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“In the Death Room”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“Strawberry Spring”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“Gray Matter”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“Nona”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“One for the Road”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“In the Death Room”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“Strawberry Spring”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

The Secretary of Dreams Volume 2

“The Monkey”

News From The Dead Zone #121

Breaking News from the Dead Zone

Hodder & Stoughton, King’s UK publisher, has an online/offline promotion where people are sent on a treasure hunt to find the more than 5000 snippets of Under the Dome that are being hidden by other participants all across the web. Facebook and Twitter feeds are being used to distribute clues to the location. You just never know where one of these snippets might turn up.

There’s a short interview with King at the Science Fiction Book Club (may contain mild spoilers) and a letter from King to readers at the same site. Look for an excerpt from the book in the issue of Entertainment Weekly that will be on news stands next week.

A second set of 60 pages from The Cannibals is now up at King’s website. We won’t see any more of the book online this year, if ever.

Marvel announced a new chapter in the Dark Tower graphic fiction adaptation-Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. Beginning in 2010, the creative team of Peter David, Robin Furth and Richard Isanove return for a new 30-issue arc exploring the life of Roland Deschain, revealing how and why he began his pursuit of the man in black across Mid-World’s Mohaine Desert! “We are extremely excited to continue our epic journey into the DARK TOWER universe with THE GUNSLINGER,” says Ruwan Jayatilleke, Senior Vice President, Strategic Development-Acquisitions & Licensing. “And we are equally ecstatic to continue our collaboration with Stephen King as well as keeping comic book fans on their toes!” A look back at key points along the road to DARK TOWER: THE FALL OF GILEAD #6 and the cataclysmic events to come

King has submitted an exclusive, all-new article for publication in Fangoria magazine. The 7,500-plus-word essay, entitled “What’s Scary,” will be published in two parts, beginning with #289, on sale in December, and concluding in #290, arriving in January 2010. “I’ve wanted to be a Fango contributor ever since I purchased my first issue,” King says. “For me, this is a nightmare come true.”

NBC Universal and E1 Entertainment are co-financing a 13-episode TV series called Haven that is based in part on The Colorado Kid. The project “centers on a spooky town in Maine where cursed folk live normal lives in exile. When those curses start returning, FBI agent Audrey Parker is brought in to keep those supernatural forces at bay — while trying to unravel the mysteries of Haven.” Scott Shepherd will serve as showrunner and exec produce with Lloyd Segan and Shawn Piller, all three of whom were exec producers on USA Network’s version of The Dead Zone. Two more The Dead Zone alumni, Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn, are writing the pilot and will also serve as exec producers.

On October 20, Del Rey Comics will release the first issue of The Talisman: The Road of Trials . It’s being adapted by writer Robin Furth and artist Tony Shasteen . Here are 12 exclusive images and a Robin Furth interview: Stephen King Gets Serious About Comic Books.

Entertainment Weekly columns: What’s Next for Pop Culture? and The One That Got Away