Posted in News on December 4, 2012
First off, there is no competition between showing and telling so get that out of your head. Both are required, in their place, and work together to push the story toward the climax and payoff. I remember when I first joined some writers’ groups (Editred and then Zoetrope) and these are good places but nearly everybody would do critiques that can be summed up with “Show, don’t tell.” It’s very misleading, and it creates very thin work. After I began studying what my heroes did and I started learning how to use showing and telling together is when I also started selling work professionally. Coincidence? I don’t think so. It’s too easy to buy into rules like “Show, don’t tell!” because we desperately want to believe that if we follow the rules then somebody will buy our work. So we only show, we never open with weather, we always write in active voice, all that crazy shit. Anytime somebody gives you a bunch of absolutes–Always, Never, Everybody, etc.–run away. Or better yet, see what your heroes have done. Figure out why they did it and why it works.
Mastering when to show and when to tell (and how to blend them) are essential in drawing the reader into your story. There are dangers with both, even though writers have it pounded into their heads to “Show! Show! Show!” I say bullshit. Showing can be done very badly. Telling can be done and connect with readers quickly. Telling can prepare the reader and most of all make the characters and their actions understandable. You read Stephen King, Clive Barker, James Lee Burke, John Connolly, Lee Child, William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Jack Ketchum, Dennis Lehane, etc., and pay attention to how often they’re ‘telling.’ It’s a lot. And there are reasons they tell when they do instead of showing. It’s an essential and basic part of great storytelling. Learn how and when it’s right for you personally to use both of them. Know why you’re showing, know why you’re telling. Just remember this, it’s a key: Whether showing or telling, it must be interesting, it must have movement and advance the story and/or show character.
Think about some of your all-time favorite books, the ones that inspire you to write something so moving and entertaining and grand. Study them. Seriously, take them apart and see why things work, where they work, how they work.
I’ll list what I believe to be some of the dangers and benefits of both showing and telling that novice writers face. I’ll give examples, too, so you can see what I mean, though some of this will be a bit tongue-in-cheek.
Dangers of Showing:
#1- The novice writer can easily write scenes that show nothing happening (no emotional turmoil, no physical challenge, no doubt or anticipation)
Bright sunlight hurt her eyes as she carried flowers to her husband’s grave. She knelt and set them near the headstone. Tears wet her cheeks. She read his name and the date of his death.
(Showing and telling)
She dreaded taking flowers to his grave because it reminded her of all the times her husband had bought her roses. Bright sunlight hurt her eyes as she wandered from the car and over the lawn, the wrapping soft and crinkling beneath her fingers the way the letters he used to writer her had. She knelt and leaned them against the headstone. He’d been gone a year and she thought it was supposed to get easier. Tears wet her cheeks but she ignored them, reading his name, the date of his death–July 4th, 2011– and slowly, her neck and heart aching, she glanced at the empty plot next to his. They’d had no children, and she feared the day she’d take place next to him, for there would be no one to bring either of them anything.
#2- It’s easy for a novice to write scenes that play out well in their head, but do not play out the same way in the readers because the telling details aren’t there (how the character feels about the setting, themselves, those involved in the situation, etc.) I won’t take the time to write a whole scene showing examples because I have a novel to work on as soon as I finish this post.
#3- The novice writer can easily present back story through character dialogue, which comes across forced and unrealistic.
Derrick popped the top on his beer and placed his feet on the coffee table. “I’m really glad you’re finally divorcing that bitch. You put up with her cheating, lying, stealing ass for way too long. Like five years. You guys met in Vegas, so I guess it figures. Your parents were so mad that you married a stripper. A midget one at that! If they hadn’t disowned you you’d have been in their will though and shared the inheritance with your brother. Instead you’re drinking beer in the morning with a guy with little ambition or interest in anything other than internet porn. I’m starting my own company though and if I ever get rich, you’ll be rich too. The bitch and her boyfriend can suck it, then, right? Blah, blah, blah.”
It could go on and on, unfocused, instead of hitting the points that matter most for the story.
#4- A writer may show something graphic, overdone, overwrought, for showing’s sake and never follow up with how it affects the character emotionally and intellectually. If you have a chapter where something incredible or hardcore happens it’s good to follow it up with the character dealing with it, or trying not to deal with it. If the reader is invested in the character and story they care even more after seeing the protagonist struggle to restore balance.
#5- For a novice it’s easy to be vague when showing instead of being specific.
Look at Example #1.
Benefits of Showing:
#1- Creates suspense by visually showing your protagonist physically/emotionally in jeopardy.
#2- Transports the reader into the action via sensory details: Taste, Touch, Smell, Sight, Sound.
#3- It’s engaging if it’s raising the stakes and showing the character making a choice, followed by setbacks and more choices and higher stakes.
Dangers of Telling:
#1- Loss of suspense… It’s easy to fall into telling too much (though you can also show too much if it’s not something that moves the story and characters forward).
#2- Preaching your beliefs. You feel very strongly about something and you have your character preaching about it from beginning to end instead of growing. Easy mistake to make.
#3- It’s easy to summarize instead of letting important moments play out.
Benefits of Telling:
#1- Increases anticipation since telling serves setting things up well and the reader can visualize the showing portions to get to the payoff of each scene.
#2- Transports the reader into the story via descriptive details: setting, back story, secrets, etc.
#3- Works with showing to establish who your character is, how he feels about those around him, and why he makes the choices he makes.
#4- Helps you speed past the boring crap which improves pacing.
Don’t be afraid of telling or showing. Study the professionals and see how they apply each to draw you in and hold you to the end. For more of my thoughts on writing go here.
And watch this video of Lee Child at The Center for Fiction. Good stuff.
Posted in News on November 13, 2012
“As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”
― Ernest Hemingway
A lot of beginning writers worry about finding their voice. They spend money on courses and exert an incredible amount of energy thinking about it. I think it is within us from the beginning. It’s not hiding at all. Our voice is our experience, our biases, our pains, our joys, our passions, the themes of our own lives. We just need to learn and practice our craft so the expression and execution of those things that are ours and of us come across as powerfully as possible.
I believe, at least in my own case, that there is a duality that has to be acknowledged and embraced. My duality is a deep-seated wonder of life and people in contrast to the other side of my nature which is hip-deep in melancholy. I can write with authority in a certain area because I know them, feel them, and they’re of my essence.
I believe favorite writers–like Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, John Connolly, William Faulkner, Hemingway, Michael Connelly–all have a unique voice. Their writing is an extension of them is my bet.
You want to discover your voice? Know thyself. Your voice comes from honesty, reflection, acknowledgment, craft and confidence.
What holds people back from letting their voice out? Fear is probably number one. We don’t want people to hear what resonates in our hearts, what makes us us, and not accept it, or worse, make fun of it/judge it, and in turn judge us. But that’s part of connecting, and we can’t please everybody, so write from your deepest self. I get it, our egos our fragile. Yet I believe that if we’re spending a ton of energy protecting who we really are then we’re NOT expressing who we really are.
It’s also fun to explore the things we squirm away from. The ‘hot buttons’ for us. I think it’s a quick way to challenge ourselves, by creating a character who shares an opposing core belief different from one of our own, and instead of showing the reader how the character is wrong, let the character show why he’s right from his perspective. It’s an important skill learned to grow as a person and a writer. To gain new perspective and tear down the walls we build to protect ourselves from the world.
What do you really want to write, more than anything else in the world? What story are you scared to tell because you’re afraid of what those around you might think of you?
What do you think you need to become a great writer that you lack now? Once you can identify it, you can learn it. You can learn what is important to say and what is wasted breath. You learn what you fear is not insurmountable, even if every fiber of your being cries out that you can’t do it, or think it, or say it. You learn to understand yourself, the good and the horrible. And you learn to understand other people and show their lives honestly, beauty and blemish.
Everything you need voice-wise is already intact. You just have to trust yourself. Refine it. Learn how to express yourself masterly. Expect that not only will you discover the voice already inside you, but it will morph as you experience more, assimilate it, reflect upon it, and share it.
For more writing advice visit this page. If you find any of it helpful, share it with someone else.
Posted in News on November 8, 2012
Rocking on this Crime novel THE WOLVERINE that I intend to sell under the pen name James Logan. It’s a dark and complexly layered Thriller. Here’s a simple teaser:
A Texas Senator’s teenager is brutally murdered on shamed ex-Governor Edward Wood’s lawn. The Senator and his wife are missing. Eddie Wood claims he saw a man with scars on the backs of his hands beyond the kid as he stumbled onto his property and died from his wounds.
Eddie’s drug dealing son, Sammy, suspects his father of the crime since his old man has snapped once before on a seemingly normal sunny day, when he beat his wife with a lead pipe and crippled her before coming back to his senses.
Sammy searches for the truth in direct opposition of a Corpus Christi detective, risking exposure of his budding criminal empire, and totally unprepared for what he’s about to find.
He said he noticed the tall guy in the black rain slicker and wide-brimmed hat first.
Then he noticed the teenage boy between them covered in blood.
My old man swore this is what he noticed first, but I had a hard time believing him because he’d had history tormenting this kid, and there was the day he’d snapped and beat my mother into a coma, not to mention my father had made a career based on lying.
The day the boy and the stranger made their grand appearance it’d been raining all morning, the quiet street close to the bay lost beneath the drumming of nearby thunder, the quick etch of lightning across car windshields, these cars more upscale than most, parked in front of the fancy houses lining the cul-de-sac. It was a peaceful street in a town on the southeast Texas coastline, not far from Corpus Christi. My father had watched men and women go about their business, fretting over things that didn’t amount to more than strands of plastic, polished steel, fake tits and even faker smiles. Once he’d been one of them, the great Edward Woods, but after a nervous breakdown, he beat our mother with a lead pipe, cracked her skull. She was in the coma for a week and the neurosurgeon said her chances of ever walking again were slim. After that I was done with him, and our mom left us all, as if even seeing the children she bore with her husband and attacker was too much to handle. Our father gave his resignation as governor before they could fire him.
After his resignation he seemed quiet and peaceful again for the most part, but every once in a while, for what appeared no reason at all, he’d tormented some of the neighboring children by making his big Shepherd, Grendel, chase them down the road.
What a bad joke.
But he’d learned that someone seriously bleeding wasn’t a joke. Whether it was strangers in a bar fight, some brothers dishing each other pain, or friends cutting each other over some girl who wouldn’t be there for either of them in a year, blood wasn’t stingy.
Blood came like rain, sometimes a trickle, other times a cascade.
He didn’t know why the kid was bleeding, though it was easy to give into speculation, the way the world fed on its own dark center, lost in some numbing agent or another to tide them over until things got better, and deals made in those trades along the coast—drugs, booze, prostitution, gambling, arms dealing—sometimes went wrong.
The teenager stumbled forward into his yard, looking at nothing, his face slack. He was seventeen, the same age as my little sister Delilah. My father sat there on the porch with Grendel.
The kid, Shaun Garrett, had one hand raised toward my father, a gash in his forehead leaking fluid in his eyes. He said, loudly, “Anna?”
The man in the slicker paused at the end of the block, his face a pale mask beneath the hat, the only thing remarkable about him sticking out sharply in contrast to the gloom. My father remembered thinking he thought the stranger had thick white scars running from his knuckles up to where his jacket covered his wrists.
For some reason those scars frightened him, reminded him of something painful from childhood that he’d thought he’d hidden away for good.
The boy slowly assessed where he was, the condition he was in, and that there was help waiting for him on the porch. He tried to take a step forward, tripped over his own feet, and landed heavily in wet grass, a geyser of water splashing in front of his face like a load of buckshot.
He tried to rise, a few dozen holes in his pants and tee-shirt showing all the red ravaged flesh beneath. He slipped again on his hands and knees. He shook his head, trying to get his bearings. Some people think that’s the beauty of violence; that it leaves you so shaken, so essentially you, that the act committed strips you of your masks and leaves you stark naked, and defenseless, and wholly you.
The stranger, as much as he hated seeing his quarry escape for a moment, didn’t make a move. He just watched with the rain dripping from the brim of that hat. My father couldn’t see his face clearly. He didn’t want to. For years, other than the children who had learned to avoid him, Eddie Woods had done his best to avoid eye contact with anybody.
His hand was a foot from his cell phone. It lay on the small table where his tall boy of Labatts rested. He stared at it dumbly for a second before casting his gaze back across the lawn.
The kid sobbed and rolled onto his back, let the rain pummel him.
The three of them held their positions a moment longer.
My father thought he heard the roar of the tide close by, even though he lived a mile from shore, as the stranger turned his back to them and wandered up the street from the direction he and Shaun Garrett had come. The drizzle swallowed his form. My father blinked. He looked at the boy in the grass. His fingers brushed the phone and he was dialing before he realized what he was doing. Grendel tramped into the soggy turf and approached the boy.
My dad’s chest hurt, he thought he may have a heartattack. He spoke numbly into his cell once the 911 operator answered. He gave her the necessary information and explained what he’d seen. Wiping his eyes, he sighed deeply, and said, “Yes,” though he had no idea what he was saying it in response to.
In his yard, Grendel whined and nudged the motionless Senator’s son with his muzzle.
The detective’s name was Jim Thompson. He looked like a fire hydrant with a thick trunk, a low center of gravity, short arms and a shot of bright red hair. He didn’t like me and I tolerated him, but he had a lot of respect for my father and seemed friendly with my brother Andy who worked for the local paper. Jim questioned my father while the forensic team worked over the boy’s corpse, it firmly planted in his mind that the great Edward Woods had fallen far and fallen fast, yet still retained something that most people just didn’t have.
Too bad he was the only one who could see it.
My father sipped his beer, a deep chill running through him after Jim said, “You know whose son that was, correct, sir?”
My father nodded, once, slowly. He said, “Marcus Garrett’s son.”
Mr. Garrett was Texas’s senator, a big jolly man who claimed it his God-given calling to clean our state’s streets of all the things that stained them. He’d grown up poor on the streets of Dallas and worked hard to get ahead and establish a legacy his children and grandchildren could be proud of and adhere to. Under the first year of his term, things began to change on the street, which was an unexpected occurrence and one I wasn’t particularly fond of since it cut into my business. But it proved beneficial because most of the criminals in prison are the dumb ones, or those who act on a whim, or those with no long term plan. I wasn’t brilliant but I wasn’t retarded either. I had things firmly established, a great product that not just any jackass could get their hands on, and if a situation arose that required drastic actions I’d sleep on it—sometimes for a couple nights so I could move with a clear head and an iron-clad alibi.
At first I, like my father and brother, thought all of Senator Garrett’s hyperbole was a political move, just another blowhard with no backbone. But old Mr. Garrett was just as fervent in action as he was in his speeches to the communities he visited. He was a man who caused ripples. Some people don’t like ripples, which is probably why Detective Thompson said, “We can’t find them, sir.”
“What?” my father said. “Who?”
“Mr. Garrett and his wife.” He leaned forward, said, “Do you have any idea of their whereabouts?”
My father, Eddie, stared at the Jim’s shoes. They were black with thick rubber soles that gave him an inch or two of extra height. “No, I haven’t got a clue.”
The rain let up and the air grew humid. A stray spray of rain stabbed a puddle in the road. The detective sat on the top porch step. He said, “Why did their son run into your yard, sir?”
“I have no idea what the kid was thinking,” my father said.
“And your daughter,” Jim said, looking at his notepad. “Delilah? She knew him well, didn’t she?”
Eddie swallowed hard. He took a long slug and set the empty can down. He went inside the house to retrieve a new can. Detective Thompson turned and sighed, placing his back to the porch support and leaned hard into it. He’d had some suspicions but knew he had to keep them in check and let the evidence lead him toward what happened here. To most people he’d tell them that he hated cases like this, ones involving murder, but secretly they were his favorites. Cases like this were the only time he slept well at night. It fed his belief that his job was making a difference. He believed that if there was any justice in the world it was that everybody’s humanity was laid bare beneath the harsh light of tragedy. He and the stranger had that belief in common. And I had to agree with them. You didn’t know somebody well when all you saw was their happy-go-lucky side. You had to see them broken and so broken they were unashamed and unguarded. That’s who they really were.
Jim smiled a little, feeling guilty for it. He wasn’t sure if Eddie was coming back out, which didn’t bother him too much, he’d gotten most of the information he needed, though he thought the old man was holding some things back. Then again, everybody held some information back. He ascribed the need to keep secrets as a basic human function. Hell, he still did it with his wife, sometimes to protect her, sometimes just because he didn’t think it was any of her business. And he was certain she did it to him, just like they both did with their parents, telling them they were as happy as they’d ever been and never broaching the defeat they felt since finding out they couldn’t have children.
Children and parents, he thought. What a strange dynamic.
He wondered where the senator and his wife had gotten off to, it still too early for him to expect anything suspicious regarding their whereabouts since the patrolmen he’d sent to their house down the street reported it undisturbed.
He scratched his head, wondering where the kid had come from then, rolling with a theory that he’d been abducted for ransom, escaped, and suffered the consequences of escaping. Sometimes all it took to fuck you up was bad timing, or not enough endurance.
He glanced at the team working over the body, catching glimpses of the corpse they knelt before. The kid was chewed up. Looked like somebody had used a meat grinder on his legs, arms and torso. It tainted the puddle of water he lay in pink. Upon first arriving and seeing Grendel with his bloody snout, Jim had feared the dog finally went and did it after the last few years of Eddie encouraging him to attack the kids who lived down this way—which he never understood in the first place since the old governor was one of them, even if two of his three kids didn’t have respectable jobs—and he thought that maybe Eddie hadn’t been able to stop the mutt once the leash slipped from his hand. But the forensics team concluded that the punctures weren’t caused by a dog, and Grendel had been sitting there next to Shaun Garrett, whining, his teeth clean. It seemed good natured. A kind of dog he’d always wanted. It crossed his mind to take it with him when he left until he realized how stupid that sounded, thinking that a moment later if nothing else it’d at least bring a glimmer of the old Edward Woods back.
Jim rubbed his head then stood. He tried to peer through the screen door and into the darkened interior of the house. He wondered what keepsakes the old man had on the mantel from his glory days as governor. He wondered how my dad slept at all when he had a son—me—who lived a life he didn’t approve of, and he had a daughter who ran the fringe as well. He thought Andy was probably the saving grace and had been the only one to inherit Eddie’s better traits: balance, honesty, fairness.
I wouldn’t have argued with him. I never claimed to be a good guy and I knew my sister was always one step away from lock-up because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut or her hands off what didn’t belong to her. And that was partly my fault and partly my parents.
The day the stranger with the scarred hands turned his back on my father and Shaun Garrett, Delilah was smoking weed in a small apartment overlooking main street, perched on the corner of a mattress in a bedroom full of stolen goods. She was built like a gymnast with dark eyes and pale skin. Pretty much everybody who met her loved her. She drifted off into a netherwhere from time to time when she was alone, like now, as she moved into the living room and reclined on the sofa, knowing that Shaun would be back soon with what she wanted from his dad’s house, and then they could celebrate.
Delilah usually attracted the wrong kind of people, and by people I mean men. She didn’t live in one of those fairy tales where she thought she could take some ex-con and mold him like clay, her deft fingers shaping him into what she thought he could be instead of what he really was. She went for the good boys instead and chose to corrupt them.
She’d known Shaun Garrett since they were children. They’d gone through private school together until Dad had his breakdown and she ran away. Garrett watched her from afar, crushing hard and then harder as the years passed and they’d matured. It’d taken her running away at fourteen for Shaun to go looking for her. At first he’d went to Andy, who our sister never much liked—her always believing him a people pleaser—but our brother didn’t know where she was or he would have told our father, not that he claimed to care since seeing or talking to her reminded him of conversations he’d shared with our mother. After discovering from Andy that I was the closer brother to Delilah, Shaun came looking for me. He found me, but on a bad day, and he got lippy, the kid frustrated that nobody seemed to care about my sister’s welfare or his puppy love. He demanded I tell him where she was hiding, and if he didn’t have a valiant stead and a Knight’s armor, I’d imagined he did. Something about his attitude got to me and I hurt him a little, needing somewhere to direct my anger with my father even though in many ways I was just like him.
I punched Shaun hard enough to make him bleed but soft enough that he could try and fight back.
It went on for twenty minutes.
The whole time his face shifted from my father’s to his father, never either of them for more than a few seconds. My partner, Levi, he said nothing, just watched with sad eyes as if I’d disappointed him. After it was over, after I went and found Delilah and ran her to meet the kid at a café downtown, I told Shaun if he let her hurt him it’d teach him an important lesson. Delilah smiled, sitting across from him, because she saw what I did, this helpless, spoiled brat who didn’t know what he was stepping into by opening up his heart.
He’d kept up appearances with his parents but disappeared nightly to join Delilah in some scheme or another, both of them thinking the beliefs of the young—that they’re eternal, indestructible, and wise.
Shaun hadn’t been eternal, indestructible or wise enough to avoid overdosing once. Delilah had left him in a stinky basement to die if the other people there couldn’t get him help. Luckily for him one of the girls still had enough wits about her to dial 911 and scram. But he went back for Delilah after his father disowned him and his mother sent him to rehab. A few months later he took the fall when Delilah fumbled a burglary. And he came back after a ninety-day stint inside the Wargrove Correctional Facility, a little more cautious around everybody except my sister.
Our father heard about it all through Andy. The two of them were concerned that she was headed for a hard road, unable to accept that she’d been on it for the last couple years, and it was a road that she chose to travel willingly, much like I chose to do what I did despite having other dreams, and they did what they did because it was what came natural, or caused the least amount of discord in their lives.
Don’t rock the boat… Eddie Woods had lived by that until he couldn’t anymore and just gave up because giving up was easier than caring or being responsible for your choices. It’s hard to respect your father when he goes from an employed shit bag to an unemployed one. I’ve never trusted people who spout common catchphrases as if they hold some incredible philosophical meaning. Life isn’t even that complicated. You live and you die. So does everybody you love, and thankfully, everybody you hate.
I can’t say that I hated my sister, but I can’t say that I loved her either. She was talented in what she liked to do, but selfish. I didn’t trust her, even though, in a way, I watched for a glimmer of some kind of goodness she kept suppressed to protect herself.
Even back when Dad was governor, and we’d spent a bunch of time dressed up at a party with his constituencies, I’d find myself bored out of my skull, while Andy smiled and made conversation with those boring, rich assholes, and Delilah teased many of them, saying, “It’s funny how unaware people are that sociopaths are some of the most charming people in the world.”
And those people would laugh and nod, imagining that somehow they could win her affection or acceptance. She had a throaty voice for her size, and when she wasn’t staring directly at you, she was playing at the innocent little girl who needed a knight. So many suckers fall for that. Among them lot of old men in powerful places who enjoy the flesh of an underage girl, especially the daughter of a man they pretended to like but secretly despised, or envied, or simply yielded to.
And Delilah loved every second of seeing their hidden faces, all the desires they kept in check against close scrutiny in their political circles. But she’d always find one, like Shaun Garrett’s father, who her charms didn’t work on, which only made her want to disprove their honor even more. In a way I used to enjoy watching her trap them, but it grew tiresome, just more logs she was tossing on an already out of control fire.
She shifted on the couch that morning, the television’s volume low enough that she could hear car tires squealing and someone yelling down the street. When the news showed our father’s house surrounded by cruisers, their lights flashing, a strange feeling ran through her, soft and quiet at first, but quickly growing in volume and intensity.
She reached for the phone blindly and pressed it tight to her thin, hard stomach. The television showed our father’s house from a different angle as the cameraman shifted, following the reporter, showing at first a smidgen of Edward Wood’s front porch, the end of a scuffed black shoe, then the camera jerked up and she saw our father sitting with a detective. One was in his prime, clean cut, clean. The other, the old man, was wrinkled, shoddy, hunched. He had dark circles beneath his eyes and a can of beer resting in his lap.
Delilah squeezed the phone, felt a tear slip down her cheek, and lowered her head before letting out a long breath. When she looked up again the camera was on the lawn and a group of men discussing something at their feet. One of them shook his head, scratched some notes, while another looked directly at the camera and asked a policeman at the crime-scene tape to get the reporter out of there. The patrolman shrugged then told the reporter to back up.
Delilah waited for the camera to swing back to our father. She waited a long time, long after the report had ended and moved on to other things, before she gathered her senses. She called Andy, plowing through the noise she heard in the background at his office, overriding him as he said, “It’s not a good time, Dee, I—”
“Something happened at Dad’s,” she said.
Hearing grief in her voice, a quality he had come to suspect she lacked, he said, “I don’t have anything on it here. Hold on.”
She was about to tell him that no, she wouldn’t hold on, but decided against as she chewed on a fingernail and stared at the clock hanging between the windows, above the TV. She thought Shaun should have been back an hour ago. A pang of something she’d never call worry bit deep into the pit of her stomach. When Andy came back on the line his voice startled her. He said, “Okay, Dad’s okay, but somebody murdered a kid. You remember Shaun Garrett? The senator’s kid? I don’t have all the details yet but I’ll have them in a bit. I’m going to head over there to talk to him in a few, you’re welcome to ride with me.”
She shook her head. “I can’t.”
“He’d be glad to see you, Dee. He might even need you right now. May be he’s needed you for the lp /spanspan style=”font-size: 12pt; line-height: 200%; font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, ‘serif’; color: #000000;”ast couple of years but you’re both too stubborn to apologize to each other.”
“Let me know what you find out,” she said, not wanting to hear him.
She ended the call and set the phone on the arm of the couch and wrapped her arms around herself. She sat that way for about ten minutes before she slapped herself once, the sting hot across her cheek, nestling up beneath her right eye and burrowing into the smile line at the corner of her lips. She jumped up, went into the bathroom and pulled off the back of the toilet. Knowing it could just be the dope fucking with her head, but thinking it better to be safe than sorry, she withdrew a clear plastic bag, half filled with light blue pills, from the water. After she dried it off with a towel she snagged a garbage bag from the kitchen and slid the first bag into it. She knew it’d be a couple of hours before Andy called back and filled her in on what happened.
She thought, Somehow Sammy found out.
With the package tucked beneath her arm she fled the apartment and disappeared in a throng of the people Dad both pitied and hated, allowing the violent sea of flesh and concrete to swallow her.
If you haven’t read my latest Horror/Noir WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL, give it a chance. It’s been getting some great feedback, which I’m excited about, and I’m very proud of it. Thanks to those who have already ordered and read it!
Posted in News on November 3, 2012
It’s been a crazy and exciting year so far, and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost over.
Right now I’m working on an interview for @HarperCollins author Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) who I met at Bouchercon a month ago where they won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original for the third novel in their series. They’re such lovely guys and the Detective Kubu series is so unique. I think the interview will be a lot of fun for everybody.
In the past couple days I’ve knocked out some serious story wordage in a new Thriller novel–The Wolverine. I expect I’ll finish the first draft by the end of the month if life doesn’t throw me too many curve balls. It’s about a dysfunctional family and a complex killer, a book that will explore the bonds of family, forgiveness, death, and maturity. This is another novel that I intend to sell under a pen name to keep separate from my Horror/Dark Fantasy work. It’s a lot of fun writing this book like it was to recently write The Lesser People. I see my career branching off, and like the idea of it, since most of my favorite work is more Literary Crime/Thrillers (think Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Michael Koryta, Michael Connelly, Lee Child.) I’ll still write under my own name too, because I love Dark Fantasy in the vein of Clive Barker, Joe Hill, Brian Hodge, John Gardner, Jack Cady, Neil Gaiman, Robert Dunbar, Greg Gifune, and Peter Straub. So it’ll be a doubly fun adventure to do both genres under different names.
My latest novella (When We Join Jesus in Hell) from Darkfuse is doing well. If you’ve read it, share it with a friend and leave a review somewhere please. I also picked up two new pre-readers yesterday and look forward to their feedback from a reader’s standpoint to balance my writing buddies that pre-read from a writerly/reader angle.
Right now I’m reading William Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, and Mercedes M. Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows. Recently finished John Gardner’s Freddy’s book, which I enjoyed but Grendel (my favorite read so far this year) it is not.
Some things I’ve found interesting around the web lately…
Shock Totem, my favorite Dark Fantasy magazine, shared a bunch of covers here.
Jane Friedman from Writer’s Digest shared this post on her blog: 2 Critical Factors for Successful Stories. It’s a simple way to stay focused and on track in your story.
I love old blues and thought this was a pretty neat movie: Lead Belly.
My hero Tom Piccirilli needs help. You can read about it on Brian Keene’s website.
Posted in News on May 14, 2012
Our creativity comes from what has touched, scared and stimulated us before this present moment as well as through thinking on what has never been, what could have been, and what might yet be.
We form narrative from light and shadow, wisps of smoke, whispered prayers, all in hopes that the finished product will connect with and move someone else (hopefully a lot of someones.)
Our muse, our inspirations, come from a number of places and take various processes from quick absorption, a streak of lightning, or the slower, gestating movement that rattles us to our core and takes our breath away. Sometimes the lightning strike produces the gestation, but no matter what inspires us a key aspect of a healthy writing career is to STAY inspired.
I’ve heard tons of people talk about writer’s block. Don’t have a clue how to get through it because I’ve never had it, but I think one of the reasons I haven’t is because of variety, multiple points of inspiration, and a pretty simple approach to life (kinda black and white actually, which isn’t always good but isn’t always bad either because it keeps me focused.)
So, let’s look at the various parts that feed and sustain our muse, our energy, and make our time more effective both before and after creating something new, and hopefully makes what we put ourselves through worthwhile…
It’s easy to stay inspired when you have knowledge that you’re passionate about, whether it be some aspect of the writing craft, or some aspect of what it means to be human, or the importance of stories, or a deep and abiding knowledge of human emotions. Some of it we pluck consciously from every day life, some floats up like gold-encrusted debris from our subconscious, from lessons learned that can only be learned via hindsight.
But how we come by inspiration isn’t as important as acquiring the seeds that produce more of it.
That spark of an idea that stirs something in us is always exciting. But we also get inspiration from other places and probably should. Those who wait for inspiration to strike them are happy when it does and tortured when it doesn’t. Who wants to live and create like that? We can make our own inspiration a lot of times by reading books that level us, by reading those that have before, by participating in other creative endeavors (which also bleed over into our writing in a cross-pollination sort of way!), by listening to the wind, watching the stars, letting our minds wander and by remembering what it was like to be a kid without our parents around, when the world held possibilities and not an endless, bone-crushing grind. I find inspiration in all of those things, a little every day, plus in studying beautiful and striking artwork, in playing guitar, in talking to a best friend, in listening to (and sometimes mishearing) a family member. Don’t always wait for inspiration. Breathe life until you’re about to burst so that there is always material creating itself in your subconscious.
Trust in our heart-of-hearts that what we write about matters to us and means something is incredibly important. If we don’t trust our process then it’s already standing on shaky ground. It’s easier to be inspired and find inspiration when we know deep in our gut that we’re going to find something worth saying, with characters that bleed and bond together, with dialogue that crackles, with obstacles that push our characters to their limits, and in turn, the reader.
What I’ve done to build trust in my process is to accept that nothing I ever write will be perfect, not to me, not to anybody. It takes some of the pressure off, lets me say, “Hey, I’ll just do my best and that’s all that’s required.” Then I go do my best and more often than not I’m mostly satisfied with the results.
Your muse will probably kick you in the nuts or vagina if you never let your imagination run wild and naked through the forest or bound recklessly down slick city streets. Imagination is paramount. It’s as important as the execution of a tale. It’s details, the way they’re told, the massive scope of the project, and it carries the weight of stars and land and sea. All of the greats had bucket loads of it pressing at the walls of their brains. They dipped their pen in that gushy mass of nerves and created what wasn’t there before.
When I read slush for Horror Library Vol. 4, back before I’d ever sold a story, one of the things that struck me about most of the rejected pieces was a lack of imagination. You know why? Because the majority of them would tell the same stale tale and how do you get excited about that?
We’re all given and nurture (or not) a certain volume of imagination. Those gifted with a lot must be wary that it doesn’t override the story because its easy for the very imaginative to let that fire burn away the story and diminish it. We learn through experience when we have too little or too much. Those who lack imagination are in a similar predicament, but theirs is that their work can come out too bland, bound by the constraints of what their logical, rational minds allow. We have to let go of our place in the world if we’re to let our imaginations grow. I think part of what holds us back is conditioning by parents and preachers and school systems. When we chase security it flees from us because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage.
There are many writers but only a handful who have truly inspired me, muses many times in their own way down dark passages and those open, lovely times that are crowded by bliss: William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Poe, Jack Cady, Greg Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, John Gardner, Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Lee Thomas, and Neil Gaiman. I’m going to dedicate my serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION to them because they are all in this, hidden between pages and crowding sentences with their undeniable mark.
So, go find those seeds that you can toss to the wind. Be patient while you work and every now and then as you toil away in your closed little world, eyes straining and heart aching, you’ll peek over your shoulder and see those seeds have taken root. What will grow? God only knows. But that’s part of the fun.
Posted in News on February 26, 2012
Lots of fun stuff here. Should have an interview with Greg F. Gifune up this week and working on questions for Jack Ketchum’s interview! I’ve been handcopying my Gauntlet edition of Ketchum’s Only Child along with Jack Cady’s The Well to learn some more. Good times.
It’s been a long while since I’ve been to Barnes and Noble but I went yesterday and loaded up on some books I’ve wanted for a while: Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, Joe Hill’s Horns, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and John Connolly’s The Gates. Tons of great reading for the next couple weeks! I think I’m going to go back to the way I used to read (one book at a time). I think I get more out of it that way. What are you reading?
Also turned in a very neat thing on the Division mythos for Darkfuse so readers can see how the novellas and novels weave a bit. Will let people know when it goes live!
Working hard on the 3rd Red Piccirilli book. Very excited that Darkfuse/Delirium has taken a chance on me like this. You can read the first chapter now and new chapters will be added every Friday by noon as I write them!
If you have a digital reader go snag an awesome deal with Delirium’s Book club. Cutting-edge fiction to help you live longer.
Chizine still has the second Red Piccirilli novella Within This Garden Weeping under consideration but another publisher is interested if they decline. Very sweet! I’m looking forward to getting this novella sold because it’s the second in the Division mythos series. Once it’s out we’ll have the first 8 books of the 13 book series published!
1. Before Leonora Wakes (Big novella. Red Piccirilli Book #1.)
2. Within This Garden Weeping (Big novella. Red Piccirilli Book #2. Under consideration with Chizine right now)
3. Collected Songs of Sonnelion (Novel. Red Piccirilli Book #3. Current Project, serialized on Darkfuse’s website!)
4. Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children (Division Novel #1, Delirium Books, May 2011)
5. Iron Butterflies Rust (Frank Gunn novella #1, Delirium Books, August 2011)
6. As I Embrace My Jagged Edges (Sideshow Press, Digital 2011/ Hardcover 2012)
7. The Dampness of Mourning (Division novel #2, DarkFuse, February 2012)
8. Down Here in the Dark (Frank Gunn novella #2, Delirium Books, April 2012)
9. The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow (Division novel #3)
10. She Collects Grave Nectar (Michael Johnston novella)
11. Proserpine’s Story (Ravaged Gods novel #1)
12. Lord of the Damaged (Ravaged Gods novel #2)
13. Violent Races (Ravaged Gods novel #3)
Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits- Thomas Edison
Returned the galley for my standalone novella When We Join Jesus in Hell (Delirium Books). And expect news in the coming month about my standalone novella from Thunderstorm Books, Immersion.
Wherever you are, enjoy yourselves. And thanks for all the support!
Posted in News on February 7, 2012
Just received word the interview with me went live on Darkfuse. It was a lot of fun. Here’s a snippet:
What was your inspiration for writing DOWN HERE IN THE DARK?
Well, it’s a small part of a large story, and I knew that Frank Gunn was as close as you can get to shattered by the end of IRON BUTTERFLIES RUST, so I explored that and the trip, the adventure really, as scary as it can be at times, that brings him to the crazy little town of Division. I see things very clearly when it comes to my character and how his story ties into others, the big picture and the small beats, which made it easy to write about him in this book. I enjoy subtext too and there is a lot of that, and a lot of links to other Division books, and I like the forward propulsion of the narrative, the searching Frank does inside himself and trying to relate to all the odd things going on around him, which really is out of his reach like it is anybody’s.
What themes do you enjoy exploring?
Oh, a lot of themes. Lol. Recurring ones are about betrayal and how we deal with it; the necessity of returning violence when somebody will be nothing but violent to you or those you love; growing up on the inside instead of faking it simply for the sake of others; how weak and strong and reliable and unreliable we can all be, how human that makes us; that if anything in the world is a monster, it’s man; if anything in the world is a hero, it’s man; connections that may not appear to be connections at first until we dig deeper and figure out people’s motives; how frail love makes us, and how incredibly driven; how hate doesn’t eat us alive, our allowing it to rule over us for an extended period of time does, because hate is as necessary as love; how there’s magic in childhood and adults train it out of us; how desperate some people are to find an identity and others will sacrifice everything just to fit in, which I and most of my characters feel is very, very sad; I like to explore the results of tragedy, and show how different people cope or accept it; I deal in self-loathing because I’ve done it most of my life, and the work it takes to break those negative thought processes; bad habits and good habits, regrets and pride, extremes and everywhere between; the mystery of life and our fear of death; our egotism one moment and self-doubt the next; most of my characters feel like Holden Caulfield, that they’re surrounded by phonies, that they themselves might be phonies, and it whittles at their souls because if nothing is true or fair or genuine then what’s the fucking point when you don’t want to play the game to begin with?
Read the rest of the interview here: Lee’s Darkfuse interview…
Please spread the word for me too! Thanks!
Posted in News on January 19, 2012
It’s no secret that Tom Piccirilli is my all-time favorite writer. Why, you may ask, especially if you haven’t read him… Here’s why: his work is beautiful, expertly crafted, memorable, and haunting. It’s stimulating. It’s challenging. It’s entertaining. I could go on. It’s a mystery to me why he isn’t on the bestseller’s list constantly with some of my other favorite writers (like John Connolly and Dennis Lehane.)
I named one of my characters (Red Piccirilli) from my Division series after him. I’ve asked Pic questions over the last few years (and have seen him gladly welcome them from others via Facebook every week) and he’s always kind, always helpful. What’s not to like? Well, if you want a by-the-numbers formulaic story you might not like him, but that’s your loss now isn’t it?
He has an incredible back catalog, from early horror works at Leisure to amazing offbeat dark fiction from Bantam like A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, SHADOW SEASON, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, etc. And an incredible and huge collection FUTILE EFFORTS, featuring short stories, poetry, and the wicked cornerstone novella FUCKIN’ LIE DOWN ALREADY. Plus fantastic noirellas now available on Kindle: EVERY SHALLOW CUT, THE NOBODY, FRAYED, THRUST, LOSS, THE LAST DEEP BREATH, and ALL YOU DESPISE, among others. And there’s still an iceberg of books buried beneath the water. Tom is one of those writers who have the magic (and the discipline it takes to fine-tune said magic.)
I’m incredibly happy that Pic has agreed to an interview. Enjoy!
Me: Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, Pic!
Tom Piccirilli: My pleasure, Lee, thanks for having me on the blog. As always, I appreciate all your interest. This game is an incredibly difficult one, but having fans like you make it all worthwhile in the end.
Me: My pleasure. Even your crime fiction is beautiful and haunting, where does that stem from?
Tom Piccirilli: From years of honing your craft, finding your narrative voice, and learning how to say what you want to say the way you want to say it. I’ve always felt that it was important to find the innate beauty of the language as I wrote. I never wanted to be a plain writer, but at the same time you always have to be careful not to write as if each sentence is taking a bow, which I was probably guilty of earlier on in my career. That “haunting” aspect is important to make the reader feel something deep for the work. Like a ghost, I want the story to hover and flit in the audience’s mind. I don’t want to just entertain them, I want to move them.
Me: Ever plan to update your wonderful writing book WELCOME TO HELL? Possibly with a crime slant? What have you learned since then and can you share it with us if we give you a lot of money?
Tom Piccirilli: Probably not. The more I learn about writing, the more I realize how little I know about it. What makes it work, what drives the narrative, what people take away from my words. It’s a magical, mystical process. You find a topic, theme, or concept that matters to you, and then you do your best to communicate that to someone else. You draw them through a world of your own perspective and hope that they see and feel things the same way that you do.
Me: You’ve kept your voice (which shouldn’t come as a shock, I guess, since a writer’s voice stems from their soul and perception of themselves and the world around them, right?) What challenges did you face in switching from Horror to Crime fiction?
Tom Piccirilli: Well, a writer’s voice, like the writer himself, is always changing to some degree. We’re living, breathing things and our narrative voice is organic as well. My worldview has shifted, the motifs and themes that interest me are slightly different now at the age of 46 than they were at 25. I care about things now I didn’t understand then. The great fantasy author Jack Cady once told me never to throw any of unfinished fiction out, because somewhere down the line I’d have the skill and control to write about certain things I wasn’t capable of writing about at the time, but I also wouldn’t have the fire and rawness that I had then. And he was right.
As for challenges: Horror and noir writers are always indulging in their darkest, ugliest fantasies. They’re drawn to the awful matters. That’s where they find their drama. That’s where they find their love. They’re tearing into their own scars and making them bleed all over again. And it’s off that blood that we make our art. If it’s art, in the end. But whatever it is, we create it by invoking anguish and conflict and scenes of blood and wreckage. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. For me, it feels as if the horror genre is a young man’s game, whereas noir is for older men. When I was young, I was drawn to Horror because Horror is fantasy that focuses on the fear up around the next corner. Whereas now at 46 I’m drawn to crime and noir, because noir is about the fear that’s tailing you, coming up behind you. It’s the embodiment of your disappointments and mistakes and regrets.
Me: Where do you see yourself going next? Or are you happy where you are, with what you’re writing?
Tom Piccirilli: For the time being I’m happy writing noirish dark crime fiction. One of these days I think I’d like to do a bigger novel that has less concentration on the crime stuff and more on other concerns, whatever they are. Family matters, relationships, and all that other shit that is the focus of so much modern literature. I think I’m finally at that point of my life when I see enough humor and darkness and oddity in the so-called “normal” everyday life that I don’t need the storytelling conventions of genre material. The guns, the double-crosses, the heist gone wrong. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to writing that book, and then again maybe not. Part of the fun of being a writer is not knowing what’s going to suddenly become of interest to you somewhere down the line. You can’t guess at it, you just have to let it persuade you.
Me: I’d love to read that! What have you found most rewarding in your career? What have you found most disappointing?
Tom Piccirilli: The most rewarding aspect is when someone reacts to the work the way I hoped they would. When they’re moved and shocked and come to love the characters the way I do, and the writing has a real meaning for them.
The most disappointing aspects–well, I’m as needy and greedy as the next guy. I’d like to make more cash, I’d like to have greater Hollywood interest, bigger sales, more brouhaha made over my work. I don’t expect lear jets and stadiums full of screaming readers, but hell, I live in my imagination, so I dream big.
Me: You appear a perpetual student of life and the craft. How important has searching for answers been in your growth as a writer and man? Did you study your favorite writers to see what they were doing right and why you loved it?
Tom Piccirilli: You study the things that matter to you, grab your attention, and hold sway over you. I did study my early favorite authors, which generally means that I began to copy the way they did things in a search for my own voice. They spoke to me, and I wanted to do what they did. I wanted to be a part of the overwhelming grandeur of literature. I wanted to impress myself upon it. Your loves shape who you are and how you come at the world, for better or worse. The same holds true for your hatreds, and your frustrations, and your needs. The more self-aware you are the more aware you are of what goes on in other people too. The truth of what drives them. And as such you can convey that through your work.
Me: Is there any story that you’ve wanted to write but haven’t? If so, why?
Tom Piccirilli: I’d love to tackle a huge, sprawling Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, but I just don’t think I have the chops for it. My mind doesn’t work in that way, in those patterns. I love reading it, and I can appreciate all the effort and imagination that goes into such works, and I pine to do something like that eventually, but it’s just not my strength.
Me: In what ways has writing your stories tested you?
Tom Piccirilli: In every way conceivable. The life of a writer tests your sense of self, your knowledge of the world, your understanding of people. It teaches you how to pay bills with late checks, with no checks, how to call back painful incidents in the most excruciating detail. You wallow in your insecurities because this is such a lonely craft. You crave feedback but you’re constantly worried about failing to meet your goals. It’s a constant struggle with self. It’s so easy to be unsure of who you are because all day long you’re slipping in and out of other identities.
Me: I’ve always thought of you as an original and boundary pusher. Do you purposely shy away from the formulaic?
Tom Piccirilli: I try to keep myself as entertained as I hope the reader will be, and since I’m extremely well-read, I get bored easily. I try to find new ways to say things, and find new things to say as well. The authors who’ve meant the most to me over the years, the ones that impacted me the most, are the ones who found offbeat, quirky, sometimes surreal ways to say the great truths of their lives. Whether they were telling stories that focused on life, love, death, fear, redemption, heartache, whatever, they found an original and grabbing way to pull the reader in. I try to do the same.
Me: I’d recommend three of your works for new readers to see your range: A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, THE DEAD LETTERS, and EVERY SHALLOW CUT. Which of your novels would you recommend for new readers to try? Do you have favorites?
Tom Piccirilli: Those three are at the top, so I’d probably recommend them as well. I’m very proud of those particular titles because each one seems to be a slight turning point for me so far as my direction and focus were concerned. My new one THE LAST KIND WORDS is probably my favorite among my crime novels, so I’d promote that one too. I think it’s something of a cornerstone among my books. I pushed myself pretty hard to reach new ground, discuss new topics in new ways, and yet also stay in touch with all the other themes and stylistic elements that I think my readers expect from me at this point.
Me: With THE LAST KIND WORDS coming out next, do you feel you’ve hit a milestone? Can you tell us a little bit about the book?
Tom Piccirilli: It’s the story of a young thief named Terrier Rand who returns to his criminal family on the eve of his brother Collie’s execution. Collie went mad dog for apparently no reason and went on a killing spree murdering eight people. Now, five years later, Collie swears he only killed seven people, and the eighth was the work of someone else. Terry not only has to deal with an ex-best friend, a former flame, some mob guys, and other assorted badasses, but he’s also forced to investigate that night his brother went crazy and find out if Collie is telling the truth. But more than anything, he really wants to know the reason for why his brother went on a spree, in the hopes that Terry himself is never pushed to that kind of edge.
The novel is due out June ‘12, and I recently turned in the follow-up entitled THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK.
Me: Can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much for spending time with us, Pic!
Tom Piccirilli: Anytime, man! Thanks for having me!
Tom Piccirilli is the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He’s won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.
Tom Piccirilli’s website
Tom Piccirilli’s blog
Feel free to leave a comment and spread the word! Thanks!