Posted in News on December 10, 2013
Very excited to see Darkfuse release a new Brian Hodge novella! In my opinion Brian is one of the best writers out there. Dave Thomas does a great interview him for Darkfuse, and Brian created a soundtrack for the novella, which is neat as hell. I just snatched the novella from Amazon, and you should too!
Posted in News on July 18, 2013
I’ve known Mercedes M. Yardley for a few years now, and count her among my true friends, and she’s simply someone who inspires me as a person as well as a writer. She’s got her own style and it’s both tragic and beautiful. The simple truth in the writing world is that only a select few writers will ever go far, but M is one of the select. She’s someone with whom you’ll probably relish her prose and the beauty and power of her stories, and at the same time envy her for said talent. She’s a good mother, a good woman, a good person. I admire her and once you give some of her work (say, Beautiful Sorrows) a chance, I think you’ll admire her too. So, on to the interview!
Lee: Beautiful Sorrows: What was your favorite part of the project? How has the collection been received? Why a collection before a novel?
MMY: I loved every part of the project. All of it. Writing the stories, of course. Picking my favorites for the collection. I especially loved throwing out ideas for cover art and seeing what the artist, Yannick Bouchard, came up with. That was an amazing aspect.
Beautiful Sorrows is being received fairly well, I think. It’s getting some wonderful reviews and 5 star ratings, which delights me. But I’m an unknown and it’s my debut, so not a lot of people have heard about it. And a collection at that! We all know novels are much more popular. In fact, my first 1 star rating came because the reader said it was a collection instead of a “proper novel”.
I chose a collection first for a couple of reasons. I started out with short stories rather than novels, so I felt that I had some that were strong. Also, my agent is currently shopping a novel around, but he doesn’t represent short stories, so he let me go ahead and do a collection with the small press while he focused on my novels. It was really exciting that I was able to do that with his blessing. And lastly, I work for Shock Totem Publications, who started with a magazine and is branching out into books, chapbooks, etc. We’ve never done a collection. In fact, Beautiful Sorrows was our second book, so I was the guinea pig. We learned (and we’re still learning) what works and what doesn’t. So I did it to help Shock Totem, as well as ST helping me.
Lee: Very cool! What, during your beautiful career so far, has truly surprised you?
MMY: I love that you call it a beautiful career! Thank you!
I’ve been surprised at the praise, I think. The wonderful, wonderful words that people have to say. That somebody would actually part with their hard-earned money to read something I’ve written. It means so much to me. I’ve been surprised at some of the people, I’ve met and they’re like, “I know your book.” They do? Really? These are people I look up to! It’s astonishing.
Lee: It’s praise well-earned, M. Do you prefer short over long fiction, or vice-versa? Or are you equally comfortable and in thrall with both?
MMY: I love words. Words words words. Long and short fiction both have their place. I adore short fiction because I can explore twenty different ideas in the same amount of time that a novel explores one idea. I adore that freedom. But long fiction gives me the ability to really crawl inside the souls of my characters in a deliciously fulfilling way. I love reading and writing both.
Lee: Neat. Tell us about your typical writing day…
MMY: Oh my. My ideal writing day would include hours of solitude by a river, in an office with a door that closes. My writing day is the opposite of that.
I boot up the computer around 5:30 AM when my kids get up. I scramble with them for a while. Baths, dressed, teeth brushed. I try to write for 15 minutes or so before checking my email. The second I look at my email I’m distracted for two hours.
I leave the computer up all day. I’ll read slush for Shock Totem. I’ll write a few words. I’ll remember I have an interview to do or a contract to sign or review to write, so I’ll work on that. I think about my project. Or more accurately, I think about the project lined up after the one I’m working on now. Then I stare at the screen of my current project.
It’s a lot of communication, and a lot of things having to do with the business side of it. I can do these things while getting my child toast, or having my hair brushed and styled (and I use the word “styled” very loosely) by my five-year-old, or with my two-year-old on my lap, begging for Mickey Mouse. Actually having a block of time to quietly concentrate? It doesn’t really happen. I write in starts and spurts all throughout the day.
Lee: Ha! Cute on the “styled and Mickey Mouse.” Another one of my heroes, Tom Piccirilli, works in a similar manner, with short, intense bursts. Do you ever find the idea frightening of what it’d be like to have too much time?
MMY: I was just discussing this concept with another writer a few days ago. We were discussing how being busy and day jobs and all of this forces us to be productive with our writing time because there isn’t another option. But I would love to have too much time. It’s a dream of mine. It isn’t frightening at all. I’m sure there would be lovely ways to fill it. I’d also like to win the lottery, as well, if only to prove that money wouldn’t change me.
Lee: What do you want to achieve both personally and professionally?
MMY: Funny you should ask that. I’ve been wondering that myself, trying to define what my concept of personal success is.
I want to write for all of my life. I know that. I want to always expand and find new challenges. The same goes for my personal life, as well. I want to make sure that my family is always happy, that my kiddos always know that they come first and work, no matter how fulfilling, comes second. If I could marry these things seamlessly, that would be ideal.
Lee: That’s wonderful. I hope you find a way to marry them seamlessly. Who are your biggest influences? Have you ever read a book that changed your life?
MMY: My biggest influences…let’s see. I read a lot of Erma Bombeck growing up. I think she let me know that it was all right to be a woman and speak your mind, but with humor and in a kind way. She was never mean. I have two distinct writing styles, and the humor and swagger comes from her, I think. The more ethereal voice…it was something I developed when I got out of my own way. I’ve been told that it’s reminiscent to Neil Gaiman or Kelly Link, but I wasn’t familiar with their work while discovering this voice. I stopped conforming to what I thought I was “supposed” to write, and just let myself…say. Say what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it.
There is a book that changed my writing, which changed my life, in a sense. It’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude. I didn’t enjoy the book particularly, per se, but it deeply influenced how I allowed myself to write. I wrote one of my very favorite essays about it *here*.
Lee: Oh, I’ve gotta read One Hundred Years of Solitude, now! And that is a great essay, M! Discovering that we don’t have to approach storytelling in the exact same fashion as everybody else is definitely a huge release! What do you have in the works now?
MMY: Ha! A little bit of everything!
I just finished a story titled “A Love Not Meant to Outlast the Butterflies”. It’s a magical realism piece about soul mates turned tragic. I have a magazine in mind for it, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m also working on a novella titled Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love. It’s sort of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde tale, in a way. I want to see how far I can push it. I’m also putting notes together for my new novel, which has to do with a very charming and independent kitchen witch. It’s going to be dark and very emotional. I’m moving on to that as soon as I finish with Apocalyptic Montessa.
I’m also turning Beautiful Sorrows into an audiobook, which is fun and very exciting! I’m reading it myself, so it’s fulfilling a little bit of a dream for me. I like the idea of adults telling other adults stories. “I’ll read you a story, my darling. Now listen.”
I have two other stories coming out in a wonderful audio collection with several friends. That releases this month or next, I think. And I’m in the Tales of Jack the Ripper anthology that’s coming out next month. I’m extremely thrilled about that one.
And I’m working on learning screenwriting, too. I have something to adapt. So I’m trying a little bit of everything, and seeing if I like the taste. This goes back to what I want to achieve personally and professionally. I want to be happy and busy.
I also learned to knit last week, so I’ve been making scarves like a madwoman. And I’m learning the ukulele. And we adopted two Russian dwarf hamsters this week. So life is good. Happiness is a tiny little rodent in a pink plastic hamster ball.
Lee: God, you are one busy lady. I can’t wait to hear the new stories have been finished and purchased! I loved your post on the production of the audiobook for Beautiful Sorrows. Having listened to audio interviews and talking to you on the phone, I think your voice will add so much character to the reading of the stories. Do you think you’ll ever end up narrating anyone else’s work?
MMY: You’re so nice, Lee! I’ve always wanted to do audiobooks. And I love when authors read their own work, because there’s such an intimacy to it. That said, we both know I have a rather small voice. It works for the whimsy that I write, but I don’t know if I could ever narrate, say, a thriller and have it sound all right. It would sound like any other nine-year-old girl reading aloud. It might be disconcerting. But I’d love to try. Reading aloud is one of my favorite things. And I adore being read to.
Lee: Let’s talk a moment about Shock Totem, which along with Black Static, is arguably the coolest, bravest, and most visionary genre magazine. What role(s) do you fill there? Does Ken Wood really have a third nipple?
MMY: The best thing about Shock Totem is that everybody does a little bit of everything. I read slush and vote for stories. I contribute content for the magazine and the site in the form of reviews, interviews, and articles. I’m learning more about promotion and marketing, and I’ll be taking that area over, a little more. Everybody pitches in pretty whole-heartedly. It’s an awesome place to be.
And you don’t want to know some of the things I know about Ken. You really don’t.
Lee: Cool, and yes I do want to know what you know about Ken. He’s an enigma! What do you honestly think of all this ‘networking’? Are you comfortable with it? Is it really that important?
MMY:Then we’ll get together for lunch sometime and discuss Ken. He’s a good guy. One of the best. He can take a ribbing as good as he gives. He’s family.
Mmm, networking. It’s a mixed bag.
On one hand, I truly feel like it’s necessary. You can write the greatest book in the world, but if nobody ever reads it, it will never sell. I wish it could be all about the work. I wish all of our time could be spent writing and not divided into social media/networking/whatever.
And I abhor the very concept of networking. The people that don’t understand it, and think that it’s all about making superficial connections in order to get ahead. When somebody comes up to “network” with you, it’s obvious. I’ve absolutely been tossed aside when a Bigger, Better Deal walked into the room. There’s that insincerity, and I hate that.
But I do value the friendships. That’s what I personally think networking is, or at least should be. Making friendships, seeing what another person likes, and keeping an eye out for that person. If I see a call for steampunk, I send it to Matt Betts, for instance. And that’s how I scored an invite to the Jack the Ripper antho, actually. My friend, Mason, received an invitation, emailed the editor and said, “Hey, I have a friend named Mercedes who is actually pretty good with serial killers. Could she possibly…?” and so I was invited to submit as well. It’s nice to have somebody looking out for you. It’s fantastic to look out for other people. It makes everything more interesting and friendly.
I hate networking to network. It’s shallow and feels like being used. But I love strong friendships. That’s a different beast, entirely. A beautiful one.
Lee: I like your attitude. You’re the best, along with those other three people I always claim are the best! Thanks so much for taking time to share your heart with everyone! *Hugs*
MMY: Thank you, Lee! You know I’m a huge fan of Lee Thompson the writer as well and Lee Thompson the person. You’re one of the good ones. Have a wonderful day, my friend!
Lee: Likewise! Thanks again, M! And thanks to anybody who gives M’s work a try or shares the interview! You can find Mercede’s website, and all the other places she stalks, *here*. Carpe diem.
Posted in News on May 16, 2013
As antisocial as I tend to be, I enjoy being interviewed a lot, possibly because I live inside my own head too much. I’m happy to share my latest interview on Horror World. Blu Gilliand also interviewed me last year on his own website, October Country. I think he might love Ray Bradbury, and who can blame him? Something Wicked This Way Comes was one of the books that made me want to write. So a big thank you to Blu for thinking of me for the May interview. I’m wishing him mucho success with his own writing career, and tipping back a drink to those who read and share this interview.
You might not agree with me on everything, which is okay, just don’t expect me to agree with everything you have to say. (I’ve read some disturbing bashing that some trolls did on an author who didn’t do anything wrong and that pisses me off.)
Anyway, I have exciting news that I can’t share yet. Wishing you all self-awareness, which leads to a type of peace and happiness that very little else can provide!
Posted in News on March 29, 2013
Received copies of Shock Totem #6 and will be sending the five winners their copies tomorrow! Thanks to everybody who spread the word about its release and thanks to everybody who entered! If you haven’t tried them yet go snag a copy from Shock Totem’s website or Amazon! They’re the best.
Posted in News on February 24, 2013
Happy to see the Kindle edition of Shock Totem #6 is out. Paperback will be following shortly and as soon as I get my copies I’ll mail copies to winners of the recent giveaway. This issue is special because it has an interview with me and I’m an egotistical asshole. So check it out!
Also happy to hear that the first novel I’ve written as Thomas Morgan (THE LESSER PEOPLE) is, or will be soon, out for perusal to publishers via that fantastic cat and super agent Chip MacGregor. The Lesser People is probably my favorite novel so far. I like the real-life novels because I get to pour so much of my life and the lives of people I love and hate into the stories. I also talked to Chip on the phone about the next two Thomas Morgan novels (A Savage Autumn, and Broken Boy Soldiers). It was a lot of fun to run the opening ideas, and what each novel will be about, by him. As soon as I finish this novel I’m working on now I’ll hit A Savage Autumn while I do the research I need for Broken Boy Soldiers. Fun times. Meanwhile I’m excited that he’s pitching The Lesser People to publishers. Thanks Chip!
I also got to talk about THE LESSER PEOPLE in that Shock Totem #6 interview so if you want an inside scoop, go snag a copy.
This past week I’ve submitted the novel GOSSAMER: A STORY OF LOVE AND TRAGEDY to Darkfuse. It was fun to write and I think the whole point of it (and I should know since I wrote it) is to make mothers think of their daughters and to make daughters think of their mothers. Everything boils down to relationships with ourselves and those in our lives. Usually when I read book that I think sucks it’s because there is barely any journey at all for the characters. It’s all flash and no substance. I might be a little pretentious to think that a story should matter at least on one level, and if so, I’m pretentious.
Speaking of that which I’ve been reading…
Here are some of the best novels I’ve read the past week or two:
The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke
Just Like That by Les Edgerton
The Cypress House by Michael Koryta.
And now I’m hard at work on the first novel I’ll write as Julian Vaughn, roughly 20,000 words into it. I’m setting it where I grew up, which dredges up a lot of memories I’d rather forget, but hey, it’s good for the fiction. I’m eager to make this novel remarkable.
What good things are happening in your life?
Posted in News on February 8, 2013
I’ve drawn the five winners for the Shock Totem #6 giveaway! Thanks to all who spread the word and entered! I will let the winners know once I receive the copies I ordered, and when I have them in the mail on their way to recipients.
The winners are: Nancy, Amanda Lyons, Bill, Kelly Stiles, and Keith Chartier. I will email you to get your addresses within the next week! Thanks, all!
Also saw a blistering new review of WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL that’s on the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. Thanks to Gabino Iglesias. You can read the review here.
Posted in News on January 17, 2013
Very happy to see the latest review of WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL in the super awesome Black Static Magazine. Thanks to Peter Tennant for the read and time! Here’s a snippet of what he said:
With its central concept of a once violent man who has been domesticated, but is prompted by circumstances to get back in touch with his inner beast, this novella reminded me of nothing so much as the Cronenberg film A History of Violence, though in the touches of arch-weirdness that litter the text – Fist trundling the corpses of his loved ones around in a shopping trolley, talking to them and pet lizard Bianca, his conversation with an artist who works with bodies – there is also more than a hint of the Lynch of Blue Velvet… At the heart of the story are questions about the nature of violence and how far we go before crossing a line. Fist’s dilemma underlines the failure of both society and the justice system, leaving a man to do what a man has got to do, if I’m allowed a cliché or two. It’s a powerful and affecting story…
You can check out Black Static here…
Also had a first recently when WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL got mentioned in another book’s review on HorrorTalk. Pretty neat. Here’s a snippet.
Not too long ago I was blown away by Lee Thompson’s When We Join Jesus in Hell. What fully impressed me was not just Thompson’s amazing skill, but the fact that I truly enjoyed a style of writing that I tend to avoid. Normally, I’m a meat a potatoes type of guy and don’t have a lot of a time for…I don’t know, “pretty” words? But Thompson didn’t care about likes, he just said read it and like it, which I did. I’m thinking J.R. Hamantaschen went to the same school as Thompson, because he pulled the same shit on me with his You Shall Never Know Security, a collection of his short stories.
Also answered interview questions for Shock Totem #6, which will be out soon with a story by me and others, including that sexy mothereffer Jack Ketchum. Looking forward to when that issue hits the stands (and ereaders).
Not the Final Cover
And if you’re of a mind, swing by to participate in the discussion on Horror Aficionados where I’m guest author for January! We’re having fun and you should too!
Posted in News on January 11, 2013
My buddy Sandy DeLuca’s novel MANHATTAN GRIMOIRE is free on Amazon right now. Grab it while you can! She’s incredibly talented.
And if you missed me interviewing Noir Master Les Edgerton go here to grow enlightened!
We’re also having a blast on the Goodread’s Group Horror Aficionados discussing my brutal novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL for the month of January. It’s a blast. Come join the party!
I hope everybody’s 2013 is off to an amazing start!
I’m working on the ending of GOSSAMER: A STORY of LOVE and TRAGEDY. I think it’s going to be the most unique story with vampires that you’ve ever read. It’s fun too because I get to tip my hat to Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker and Stephen King, all in different ways. The climax kills me. I can’t wait until I have it in shape enough to send to my readers. Probably by the end of next week.
Posted in News on January 6, 2013
Super pleased to have Les Edgerton on here today. I met him at Bouchercon (The World Mystery Convention) last October and we sat drinking and discussing tons of stuff I’m not going to share with you. He’s wise, witty, talented and fun. I recently read (and gave my first blurb on) his novella THE RAPIST. I can’t wait until it comes out to see how people react to it. I like edgy crime fiction with depth. Les is the real deal and I look forward to when we can hang out and have some drinks again.
He also read my novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL and gave me a referral to his agent Chip MacGregor, who read one of my pen-named novels (The Lesser People) over the holidays, and… I’ll be talking to Chip on the phone next week. Yay!
Feel free to share the interview and check out Les’s work! Thanks!
Q. Thanks for joining us, Les! When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
A. When I was five and read my first book. I knew instantly that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. To create universes that were, if not better than the one I found myself in, at least as interesting. I knew immediately that the world of the mind had far fewer parameters and more freedom than the world I was physically in. I’ve never wavered for a second from my choice.
Q. Why do you write what you write? How much does your life experience play into your creative process?
A. I write what interests me. I create the worlds I want to inhabit. Many of those worlds are worlds I used to inhabit and miss and others are worlds I wish I was in so I invent them and get to live in them. Most of all, I want to create truth on the page. Not a convenient truth, but the truth that we all try to hide from, that is hidden deep within us without the societal camouflage we’ve all learned to put on. Anything that is persecuted by PC idiots is what I want to write about. My life experiences accounts for almost 100% of what I write about. I can only write about the people I know, experientially.
Q. Great stuff! Who are your biggest influences?
A. In terms of other writers there are a great many that have had some influence and a handful that have had a more profound impact upon me. I include people like Albert Camus, Harry Crews, Ray Carver, Celine, Flannery O’Connor, and Charles Bukowski in the latter group. In terms of thinkers, Marshall McLuhan and Jung are the ones who made me stretch my own imagination the most in terms of psychology and philosophy. In terms of personal influences in the world of letters, Cort McMeel has made a significant difference in my writing life and choices—he has the clearest mind for what’s good in literature than anyone I’ve ever known. Jon Bassoff, Brian Lindenmuth and Allan Guthrie have provided models of what I consider excellence in literature by their choices in authors they publish.
But, by far the biggest influence on my writing life was a hulking mouth-breather I only remember as “Waldo” in the fourth grade in Freeport, Texas, who used to viciously bully my skinny scared butt in front of other kids, at one point pulling a pocket knife on me and holding me down and putting it to my neck. I responded to this misery in two ways. First, I began writing little humorous vignettes about Waldo (he may not have found them humorous…) and passing them around to my schoolmates, and that had two major effects on my life. Waldo quit bullying me because of the resultant public derision and I found out the truly awesome power of the written word and firmly became a writer.
Second, I kicked his ass.
So, wherever Waldo is today (prison, I hope, or in a leprosy ward) I say, “Thanks, creep.” I think he learned that old nursery rhyme about sticks and stones just isn’t true. Words can hurt you.
They can also help.
So can a good right uppercut and a jab to the throat.
Just ask Waldo.
Q. What novel or novella of yours would you recommend to a newcomer? Why?
A. That’s a tough question. It would depend on the person. I know I should list the name of a current book that’s out there—part of this deal is to create sales, right—and I think my last two books in particular—THE BITCH and THE RAPIST—are the best I’ve ever written, but the book I usually recommend is my first collection of stories, MONDAY’S MEAL, published by the University of North Texas Press. I think it best shows my range. It also includes a story I wrote in the eighth grade as well as stories written before prison and after. It got a great review from the NY Times, comparing me to Ray Carver, and that’s my proudest moment. I reread it often and in my mind it stands the test of time well.
Q. I can’t wait to check out Monday’s Meal. I can see how the NY Times review comparing you to Raymond Carver would be something to savor, and revisit, from time to time. What are you working on now?
A. Uh… this interview? Oh, you mean book-wise. My bad. A few things. I usually keep several balls in the air at once. Among those projects are a follow-up novel to my unpublished black comedy crime thriller, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, a new novel along the lines of THE BITCH, a new writer’s craft book using film to inform fiction techniques, rewriting my memoir, ADRENALINE JUNKIE… just a lot of different stuff. I’m also working at the moment on a bottle of the best whiskey I’ve ever drunk, Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey, which was sent to me by my writer friend Gerald O’Connor from London, who wanted to show me why I should quit drinking Jack Daniels. Gerald, I can’t quit J.D. (price, mate!), but at least I know what great whiskey tastes like now.
Q. What do you wish you knew now that you’ve had to learn through experience?
A. This could take more than a ream of paper… First, to never date a girl named after a day of the week or play poker with a dude named after a city. (And to totally avoid a girl who ends her name with an “i” and dots it with a heart…) Second, I would have moved to New York City in my twenties and found out where editors drink and begun hanging out there. Too late, I discovered the value of networking for a writer’s financial success. I know I’ve had a measure of success living in The Great Flyover and so have lots and lots of others, but it would have hastened everything if I’d just known the value of meeting and becoming friends with gatekeepers. The main thing I learned later in life than I would have liked to though, is that you can write anything and if it’s good it can become published. Because of the many censors in my life—from librarians and schoolteachers to parents to the reviewers’ choices at mainstream publications—I had no idea I could write the things guys like Bukowski and Everson and Selby wrote… because I hadn’t ever read their books or been aware of them. I wish I’d had teachers and librarians in my life who are like me as a parent—I’ve just never practiced much (read: not any) censorship with my kids and I’m very proud that I’ve respected their intelligence. One of the best things I’ve ever had said to me was by my son Mike, who turned to me one day when he was about six or seven, and said, with a dead-serious look on his kisser, “Dad, I like to go to your readings ‘cause I get to hear the word ‘fuck’ legally.” I imagine the PC twits would recoil in horror at that, but for me it was a truly proud moment.
I wish I’d known that all I had to do to avoid prison was to get a good lawyer.
Q. Great stuff. It seemed to me there were drastically different voices in THE BITCH and THE RAPIST. I really liked the differences. That’s not really a question but feel free to talk about them.
A. I hope there are different voices! These are two very different people. Jake, in THE BITCH is an ex-con doing his best to get his life in order. He’s above-average in intelligence and has just figured out that crime doesn’t pay—at least it doesn’t pay enough to warrant the risks involved. But, in most ways, he’s Everyman. Truman, in THE RAPIST, on the other hand, is a far different creature. He’s extremely well-read, albeit without a rigid canon in his education which is possessed of both an Ivy League outlook as well as borrowing part of his education from archaic notions even for Princeton, and adheres to a classical view of the universe; “classical” in the 18th century view as opposed to the 20th or 21st century definition. While Jake is very bright with an I.Q. probably in the 130+ range and is street-smart, Truman is in the true genius range with a measured I.Q. of at least 165, but from a very cloistered background. He’s in the wrong century whereas Jake is perfectly contemporary. Jake’s bought into the American Dream, whereas Truman abhors the idea of living a life for cars, clothes, houses, and a platinum card. He views money and wealth as security and not as an ends unto itself.
I presume the question behind your question is how can a writer write with different voices. The answer was furnished by Walt Whitman, who said we “all contain multitudes.” And we do. Some more than others.
We all have many voices within us that are very “natural” to us. For instance, I can (and have) attended a governor’s inauguration ball and met the guv and other dignitaries and talked to them in one way. A way that was very natural to me. I’ve also been in more than one biker bar and met other bikers and talked to them in a very different way. A way that was just as natural to me. We all do that in real life. It shouldn’t be that difficult to do in fiction, right? Writing a character is like playing an acting role. Actors play different characters all the time, so why shouldn’t writers?
Commercially, of course, it’s best to stick with one voice as a writer. Witness someone like John Grisham or any number of best-selling writers. Most employ the same voice in all of their work and that leads to a large audience who enjoy that voice and simply want to keep reading the same thing, over and over. Usually with the same plot over and over as well, just with slightly different characters with different names plugged in. If they encounter a book by such a writer that isn’t close to the previous one, in all likelihood they’re going to be pissed and will move on to… James Patterson or (plug in the name of any writer who is consistently on the best-seller lists).
Personally, if my aim was to become a bestselling author or create a huge platform (I hate that word and that concept—just another example of group-speak, New-Agey language that’s deteriorating the language and intelligent thought), then I would be well-advised to stick to one voice in each book. But, if I did that, I might as well sell life-insurance. It would become all about the money and nothing about the art. I’d become Miles Davis practicing the scales all day long. Miles wouldn’t do that and I wouldn’t either. I’d become Sha-Na-Na. Good money in that, but money’s not my god.
Q. Agreed. Writing the same book over and over would bore the hell out of me. What’s your typical writing day like?
A. I get up at around 4:30-5:00, take a pill, go back to sleep for an hour (I have to because of the pill), get up, grab coffee and sit on the shitter, drink coffee, read the newspapers, take other pills. Then, I go into my writing room, turn on the ‘puter and begin to write. I’ll stay at my desk all day and write. I don’t eat breakfast or lunch (it wastes time I’d rather spend writing). I take bathroom breaks where I read novels in 15-minute bursts. I smoke all day long and drink one cup of coffee after another. Around two in the afternoon, I’ll draw a hot, hot bath and soak in it and read for 30-45 minutes, and then go back and write some more. Depending on the day of the week, my wife gets home around 6 or 7 and we eat dinner (during which I read). After we eat, I’ll go back upstairs and write until around 8:30 and then go read more and then in bed by 9. I have to have the TV on and I’ll watch TV until around midnight or so, fall asleep and that’s my normal day. I’m a fast reader and usually read from 3-5 novels per week. That’s seven days a week. I do the same on weekends. The only TV I watch is when I go to bed and for a handful of sports teams when they play. I have to have the TV on at night or I’ll never get to sleep. That comes from when I was in the joint. There’s never a time when there isn’t noise and light. If it becomes quiet that means someone’s getting jacked and everybody wakes up when it gets quiet. Fortunately, my wife is understanding and allows this.
Q. Thanks! I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, right after the “Where do you get your ideas?” But, how do you create your characters?
A. Not sure how to answer this. They just kind of come with the story I want to write. When I write a novel, for instance, I’ve been “writing” it for about 7-8 years. At any given time, I’m thinking about a future novel or three. It takes years of it rambling around inside my skull, rounding off the rough edges, etc., before I take pen to paper and write it. By that time, it’s been with me for a long, long time and the characters are already in place. The three novels I’m writing now have been percolating inside for anywhere from twenty to five years, depending on the novel. I have new novel ideas right now that I won’t even think about writing for a long, long time. But, I always have a bunch of novels inside that just haven’t gestated enough yet.
Q. Same here. I have to wait on a story until it’s peculated enough. What are some writing myths you wish weren’t passed around as gospel?
A. Personally, I don’t care if they are passed around. The more people who buy into some of these myths the easier it is for me to get my own stuff published. That was a flip answer, but it’s probably half true… There is a whole school of writer’s advice that’s bullshit. Usually, it’s the body of advice I call the “Bumper sticker school of writing.” Those pithy sayings that could fit on a bumper sticker and fit the attention span of many of today’s writers. Crap like “Write what you know.” That’s insane. If all writers wrote what they knew we’d have a lot less murders, less stories set in the future or distant past, less characters written by a person of the opposite sex, etc., etc. The proper advice is “Write what you can convince the reader you know,” but that doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker. Or, “show, don’t tell.” Well, there is a place for telling in fiction. If you didn’t use telling in a story, you’d end up with a… screenplay. There are a ton of these idiotic sayings. And, people keep accepting them without question.
One big writing myth is that anyone can learn to write well. I think that’s true to some extent, but there are some levels of writing the vast majority will never be able to reach, no matter how many classes they take, how many books they read, how much they practice. The baseball legend, Barry Bonds, explains why this is so in referring to his skills in hitting. The same applies writing. The following article explains why some writers can achieve a tour de force and others… just ain’t got it nor ever will.
(From an unknown reporter) ON AUG. 18, 2001, after it became a foregone conclusion that Bonds would make a run at McGwire’s single-season home run record, he hit a pitch from Jason Marquis — 94 mph, chest-high, on the fists — for his 54th homer. It wasn’t his most memorable homer, but the physics of it were astounding.
About two weeks later, I interviewed him for a story in The Magazine. I asked him to take me through that 2-2 pitch: what he was thinking, what he was looking for, how he refined his swing to be short and quick enough to get the barrel to it. He refused. He wasn’t nasty; he just felt it was a senseless exercise.
“I just have it,” he said. “I can’t explain it. You either have it or you don’t, and I do. People always think there’s an answer to everything, but there isn’t. How can you do that? I don’t know. I just can. When people see something they’ve never seen before, the first thing they say is, ‘How did you do that?’ The next thing is, ‘Can you teach me?’ The answer is no because you don’t have it.” (Bolding mine)
That quote, and the laugh that followed, is the essence of Bonds. His career was played to the backdrop of four words: You can’t do this. Equal parts arrogance and truth, it became an unspoken mantra. It’s the same mentality he used to separate himself from the game’s pedestrian details. He routinely refused to show up for team photos during his years with the Giants. He stretched with his own stretching coach in the clubhouse rather than with his teammates on the field. He was notoriously stingy in providing assistance to teammates, acting as if their mundane talents were contagious. His knowledge would remain the property of the one person who could use it best: Bonds himself.
His grandiosity knew few bounds. He arrived at his first spring training with the Giants with a chauffeur. Replete with black suit and tie, Dennis drove Bonds to and from the ballpark for six weeks in February and March of 1993. It was Barry being Barry, but within the clubhouse it was seen as a brazen act of hubris.
And the crazy thing was: He knew better. It wasn’t an inability to read the room or a mistaken belief that teammates would understand how a man of his stature might need to display the gilded trappings of his success. It was a calculated effort to separate himself from the rank and file. You either have it or you don’t, and I do.
The same principle operates in writing or any other skill or art form. A very few have it and the rest don’t nor ever will. Nobody wants to say this because they’re then seen as not being “democratic” or some such bullshit thing or they won’t be “liked” by their peers. And, that’s true. That’s exactly what will happen. It’s why Bonds was reviled by many other players. It wasn’t that he was using steroids—hell, lots of players used steroids—it was because he was a genius with the bat and most ballplayers aren’t, even All-Stars. And, people resent that. They want people who are smarter and more talented than they are to at least appear to be humble.
Some things folks can learn and become half-decent writers, and even become bestselling writers. Some things are beyond all but a very miniscule few and can’t be learned. Camus can write things most others can’t. Celine is the Barry Bonds of literature.
One more writing myth that exists is that there are “rules” that everyone must follow to be published. For most writers, that’s true. For the few that are blessed, those rules don’t apply. For just a few quick examples, think about this.
1. The “rule” for many, many years was that no one could write a book for teenaged boys that was over say 95 pages and that length was pushing it. Boys just wouldn’t read a longer book. J.K. Rowling didn’t pay much attention to the rule that everyone else followed.
2. The “rule” that you couldn’t publish a novel written in second person. A short story, perhaps, but in a longer work, that was just too many “you’s” for the reader to go through without wearying. Jay McInerney didn’t pay much attention to that rule when he wrote BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY.
There are other examples, but these two come to mind immediately. The thing that often happens however, is that there are a ton of writers who think they’re Barry Bonds, or Camus, or Celine or Bukowski… who ain’t and who never can be and they’re the ones breaking rules they never understood in the first place and without the writing chops to succeed without following those rules. They either have it or they don’t and if there’s a question in their mind… they probably don’t.
Q. Yeah, that answer is probably going to piss some people off. But it’s so true. Some people have it and some don’t, and deep down, I think we do know if we stand apart.What part of the creative process do you enjoy most? Which part do you dread?
A. I enjoy every single part, including selling the work. I can’t think of anything that I dread. It’s all fun. Writing isn’t my job—it’s my avocation.
Q. Right on. Do you write mostly from the cuff or is there some type of outlining you use either pre-book, or during composition?
A. I wouldn’t drive to Adak, Alaska without a roadmap and I wouldn’t write a novel without the same. However, I don’t use an outlining as is commonly defined. I use a brief outline of 15-20 words. It contains five statements. The first is a brief description of the inciting incident—whatever happened to the protagonist that created the story problem. The next three statements are the result of the three major turns that almost every novel contains as he/she struggles to resolve the problem. The fifth is the resolution, which represents a win and a loss for the protagonist. I don’t write those Comp I kinds of outlines with the Roman numerals and all that. The outline I write reflects the broad strokes of the novel and it’s up to me how I get there, providing immense freedom in doing so, but still keeping me on the proper highway. I kind of have to chuckle at some folks who claim they’re “pantsers” and never outline, like that’s some kind of restriction on their creativity. For instance, Hemingway swore he never outlined. But… he did. The difference was his outlines were 100,000 words long instead of 20 words long. He just wrote draft after draft and that’s what he called them—Draft #1, Draft #2, Draft #8 and so on–but in reality they were just long outlines. Really long outlines! And, that’s what I suspect a lot of the pantsers do—they don’t write outlines—they just keep writing draft after draft, not realizing that’s what they’re doing—creating humongous outlines each time.
Thanks Les! I always figure out what I call “the pivotal moments” before I start a project, too. And that’s a wrap! Thanks so much to Les for the interview and everything else. Visit his website here!
You can also find him on Goodreads and check out his books. Thanks to everybody for reading and to those who share!
Posted in News on December 20, 2012
I’ll be the guest author for the month of January at the Horror Aficionado’s group on Goodreads! They’ll be reading and discussing my heartbreaking novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL. I’m very excited to participate and look forward to answering a bunch of questions. Thanks to Jason and Tressa for the invite! Come join us!
This novella has been turning heads. And it should. It’s wickedly subtle (not).
Grab a copy for Christmas and join the party!
If we’re not friends on Goodreads, send me an invite, punk.
And to keep up with all the whirlwind that is my writing career sign up for my newsletter off to the right there.
Oh, I’ll also have a deliciously decadent interview in Shock Totem #6 as well! I love that crew! Make sure you check it out.
Not the Final Cover
Thanks for everybody’s support! Merry Christmas or whatever it is your celebrating!