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 October 2, 2012
The lovely and gifted A.C. Wise tagged me for this whatchamajigger. Thanks Alison! I normally avoid things like this because I’d rather be working on a project than talking about it but a ten minute break won’t hurt.
Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
1. What is the working title of your book?
She Collects Grave Nectar
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’s part of my massive Division Mythos, and is a pivotal moment in Michael Johnston’s life. The initial spark came from an image, or snapshot of a scene, too, the way most of my work does. It came from my own fears of going blind and stumbling into that gray area between life and death, that single nanosecond where both are one before life ceases and death begins and a new life is rebirthed.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Supernatural Thriller. But it’s not for lazy readers. My work doesn’t go over well with those types. That said, if you’re well-read and have a lot of imagination you’ll dig it.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For the main character, Michael Johnston, I’d pick Christian Bale if he was ten years younger because Mike Johnston is kinda like Batman. For the girl who collects grave nectar I’d pick the girl from The Lovely Bones movie because she’s kinda creepy in a good way, mostly due to her eyes.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A Special Forces soldier with a hidden past meets an odd girl in a cemetery bordering our world and another and what she wants from him is soul-shattering.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I don’t know. What do I look like, a mind reader?
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A rough guess: three months of heavy drinking. I’m still working out all the pivotal moments.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Tom Piccirilli’s Shadow Season since my Special Forces protagonist is blinded and faces incredible entities as well as a profound mystery. Peter Straub’s novel Koko since there’s this complicated and creeping dread. And Stephen King’s Dark Tower series because it’s a mixture of many things both concrete and surreal.
9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Michael Johnston’s character arc runs through most of the thirteen Division Mythos books and this one was inspired by how little of his past he’ll reveal to other characters, even to his best friend in the series, John McDonnell (The narrator of the second Division trilogy).
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It has one zombie, one ghoul, and one vampire who walk into a bar full of politicians?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.
The mighty A.C. Wise tagged me. Authors I’m tagging because I think they are amazing like A.C. Wise:
Douglas E. Wright.
Rules of The Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.
Be sure to line up your five people in advance.
Posted in News on September 18, 2012
Tons of famous writers have used pen names for various reasons. Some writers’ who have used pen names, or these are their pen names: Dr. Suess, Ayn Rand, Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, Stan Lee, Stephen King, Ed McBain, Donald Westlake, Dean Koontz, Douglas Clegg, Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Robert Jordan, Lee Thomas, Max Brand, Benjamin Black, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, John Le Carre, Anne Rice, James Joyce, Joyce Carol Oates, Nora Roberts, Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Michael Chrichton…
You may be for or against pen names for whatever reason. I didn’t like the idea of them until recently. I felt that we should have our name on all of our work, but the more I learn the more I see why pen names are useful. I’ll list several of the reasons I’ll be using a few pen names…
#1. I’m very prolific…
I only have to write about a half hour a day to knock out two novels and two novellas a year. Easily. Some days I don’t write at all because I’m tired or lazy or life gets busy or I just want to read. But when I get back to the keyboard I’m flying. Could be because of all the dexterity I developed through years of guitar playing but I am an extremely fast typer. Plus I have about the next eight book ideas lined up, with some of the pivotal moments for each, so I can just bridge the gaps between those pivotal moments and have a new novel done in no time. In the last two years I’ve written and sold the following novels (Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children, The Dampness of Mourning, The Collected Songs of Sonnelion) and novellas (Iron Butterflies Rust, Immersion, Down Here in the Dark, When We Join Jesus in Hell, As I Embrace My Jagged Edges, and Within This Garden Weeping). See, I need more names. That’s too much for one person to do. And the more I write and the more my name gets out there the more time I’ll have to write. I can’t fathom writing three hours a day every day. I know I’d knock out a library of books in a decade. But hell, that’s what will probably happen since writing is therapy, and it’s a compulsion, and it’s a challenge, and it’s fun.
#2. I want to write in more than one genre…
I read widely and want to write widely. If somebody reads one of my more touching novels that I plan to write and then they went and read one of my Dark Fantasy novels they’d be upset. And I couldn’t blame them. We’re automatically tattooed with certain emotions by a writer and their work. For example, I’m nearly finished with a Historical/Family Saga/Thriller novel called The Lesser People. I know that it won’t sit well under the Darkfuse (or any other small press roof, though I’m going to let my publisher read it to see what he thinks), so more than likely I’ll be looking for an agent for that book, and I’ll be selling it under a pen name. I also have a sad and touching novel I’m going to write called Shine Your Light on Me that isn’t Horror or Crime, again more in a Family Saga/Price-of-Fame scope. And I have a few YA novels that I want to write that will be kinda edgy, gritty, and very realistic. Plus I want to pen some straight-up Crime fiction like some of my heroes. And I have a Western trilogy called Past Hard Seasons that I’m going to tinker with and modernize to see what I can make of it.
#3. Well, I don’t have a third reason. But those first two reasons are enough to warrant some fake names to write under.
Reasons other professionals have used pen names (besides using one for the same reasons I am):
They didn’t like the sound of their real name…
They didn’t want their family to know what they were writing…
They were paranoid and didn’t want people to know their real name…
They use a lot of real-life material in their novels and want to protect themselves from judgment…
To disguise their sex…
The list goes on.
It’s up to you to decide if you need or want a pen name. I’d follow the more ‘need’ side of it. My reasons show me I need a few. Follow your heart and trust your gut.
My standalone novella WHEN WE JOIN JESUS IN HELL was just released on Kindle (other digital formats out Sept. 25th). Go snag a copy! It’s a dark and harrowing tale of love, loss, revenge, and over-compensation. My hero Tom Piccirrilli read it and said, “Lee Thompson knows his horror-noir. He fuses both genres together in the turmoil of terror, tragedy, blood, guilt, and lost chances at redemption.”–Tom Piccirilli, author of THE LAST KIND WORDS
You can also read my FREE serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION until the end of the month. Then it’s gone until it comes out in book form one day.
Posted in News on August 27, 2012
The green stuff. We all love it. It’s hard to eat without it. As an aspiring writer you may have dreams of building houses made of money based on nothing but your sheer talent and your staggering genius, and although it’s okay to dream big, it’s also good to be realistic because it is a fact that the farther our expectations are off from reality, the more upsetting the results will be.
A lesson I learned a few years ago from my hero Tom Piccirilli was “Don’t just publish, publish well.”
In other words, sell your work to professionally paying markets, and sell to publications that have a solid reputation. Sell to markets you love to read, that has a readership, etc. You can give your work away if you want to and count it as a sale, but how is that really any different from putting your story up on your blog for free? It’s not any different. But most everybody has done the for-the-love thing starting out, I’m sure. It gives us that little bit of validation we need to keep going (so we tell ourselves) but that validation is also pretty fleeting. Hell, validation is pretty fleeting even when you sell for actual money (though the money is nice because then you can go buy books! Or take a vacation! Or pay your bills!)
So, publish well, grasshopper. Be grateful and proud of yourself, but realize the journey is never-ending when you have the chops to sell to magazines and book publishers you respect.
Money comes to the writer. Who said that? James D. MacDonald. Money flows towards the writer. You don’t pay a publisher. You don’t pay an agent to represent you. You don’t pay some magazine to publish your short story. You don’t pay a production studio to make a movie adapted from your novel. You get paid for your creation. Basically leasing the rights to the work in some form (Hardcover, paperback, audio, digital, film) for a specific amount of time. And you get paid.
The indie author’s journey makes this a bit different. Because you do have money going out before you ever make a dime. As an indie author you have to pay for editing, covers, formatting, and all that. But that is an investment in your work so it’s different. Not much different than paying for good advertising on Goodreads or in a very popular magazine. And the money is still coming to you, its just you have to soak up the bills that a traditional publisher takes care of first.
As you approach writing full time you also have to learn how to manage your money better. This can be a big shocker. Have you ever worked one of those jobs where you get paid every two weeks and sometimes it’s difficult to make the money stretch until your next paycheck? Okay, now imagine getting a paycheck every three months. Think about that for a minute. Sure, you’ll get some short story sales that pop in here and there for 250 bucks a pop, but it’s not like you’re selling a story every week, week after week, at pro rates. And the payments for those short stories will also be a long time off. It’s not typical to be paid ‘upon acceptance’ but ‘upon publication’. And sometimes you have to wait six months or a year before the story you sold comes out and you collect on that piece of work, so think long term now. Learn to manage your money now, in your everyday life, before the illusion of rolling in wealth is shattered. Learning to budget will save you stress. Again, it’s a hard truth that the further our expectations are from reality the more upsetting it is when our expectations aren’t met. Don’t worry about getting rich, worry about writing the best story you can and improving your craft and being a professional and everything else will fall into place.
In traditional publishing you get paid an advance against royalties to help you live as you write the next book. But you’re not making a dime until your book earns back that advance, which sometimes never happens. And sometimes, if sales are abysmal, your publisher might not give you a contract on another book. Though it’s partly art, it’s also partly business. That’s why it’s important to keep writing, to manage your cash flow and not get all crazy like you’re going to be the next Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer or J.K. Rowling. You’re probably not. I’m probably not either and that’s okay since we know how few people get ‘rich’ in any profession.
Sometimes, especially starting out, there just isn’t much money coming in from our first book. We can augment that income by gaining experience and branching off into other areas.
You learn to save receipts (for internet bills, living space, research trips, conventions, paper, ink, etc.) to help come tax time.
You learn to make extra cash from other skills as well as from non-fiction.
You line up editing gigs to make extra dough so you can do what you love most and write fiction.
You can make extra money from ghostwriting.
You can make extra cash from writing under a pen name in another genre.
You learn that it can be fun, enlightening and profitable, to span mediums: Novels, Novellas, Short stories, Screenplays, Audio books, Hardcovers, Paperbacks, Graphic novels, Games, Songs, Non-fiction, etc.
We’ll never make enough money just like we’ll never have enough readers or kickass reviews. It’s human nature to always want more. But we can find balance, create it like we do stories, if we’re aware of what it’s like to write for a living. Not the dream, but the reality. Stay disciplined. Study your craft. Listen to your mentors and heroes. Be humble. Be honest with your readers.
Since we’ve talked about money here we’ll follow up next week with what you want and don’t want in a book contract.
Note: This Friday (August 31st) marks the final chapter of my FREE serial novel The Collected Songs of Sonnelion! It’s an important puzzle piece in my Division Mythos and the last book in the first trilogy. It’ll be up for a few weeks after that and then my publisher will be taking it down. Catch up while you can! Find out more on my Division Mytho’s website.
Posted in News on August 6, 2012
“Plenty of people miss their share of happiness,
Not because they never found it,
But because they didn’t stop to enjoy it.”
Like with many of these Tuesday Training posts, this idea stems from talking to my buddy Shaun. When we’re talking about writing, we’re also talking about life. When we’re talking about life, we’re also talking about writing.
There is no escaping Doubt. It enters every aspect of our life at some point: work, creativity, sex, parenting, goals, dreams, and death. It has its moments and we beat it into submission, sometimes after wallowing in self-pity a while. And don’t be fooled, Doubt wants us to wallow because then we can hang out longer with it and Doubt’s a lonely sonofabitch. Doubt drives us endlessly forward believing that we always have to be productive, that we should feel guilty for downtime, and that’s a horrible way to feel when there’s nothing wrong with stepping back, or stopping completely and taking a look around at the beauty in the present moment. We can miss so many things, so many amazing things, along the way if we’re constantly rushing forward.
I remember when I started writing about ten years ago, how hard the work was to produce, to polish, to submit. I racked up over a thousand rejections that fluttered about upon their beating razor blade wings. And those horrifying little creatures still intrude on my life like a plague at times to remind me that the race is won not by how many cuts I ignore but by how many cuts I can endure and learn from and accept as part of the process and life itself.
Everything cuts you when you’re hungry to say something, when you’re aching to prove something to yourself and the world and all who told you, “You can’t do it. Some people have it. Some people are born into it. Some people start young. Some people have degrees to do that. Some people know other people who get them in. Some people are lucky. You’re not. You’re none of those things. Instead you’re a truck driver, a carpenter, a nurse, a waitress. Don’t be silly. Don’t make a fool of yourself.” I’d like to tell everybody that ever told you those things to shove off. There should be an island just for them. One we could drop a bomb on. Deep down we know that these people–these naysayers and critics who not only haven’t read our work, but any novels in general expect maybe a beach book once a year–are the same cowards who never even take a chance, not a baby step toward chasing their dreams since they’re terrified of connecting on a deeper level, since they’re the type who avoid anything that challenges their ideal of themselves first and their world view second. What do they know? Why even listen to a coward?
Many trains of thought are developed when we’re young. Many by parents, some of them who even mean well. Maybe you never did anything good enough for them, but ask yourself if you’re doing it good enough for you.
Doubt hunches on our shoulders as we wait to hear back from an agent who has our manuscript. But you do what the pros do and you pour yourself into the next piece because the last one is out there and it may come back crinkled, or it may come back bearing good news, yet the fact is that it’s out of your hands. You’ve done your best. You slaved with your soul over something that wouldn’t have existed if you hadn’t put the time and effort into creating it. That’s such an amazing gift, just to be able to create something of ourselves and of our time and even of our very essence. Be proud of each little accomplishment, each line that sings clearly and each character that you’ve born of your love and agony who has since lived on in the halls of your heart.
When Doubt parts your lips with an “I can’t…” you tell Doubt, “I can, I have, I am. And I am, I have, I can.”
Instead of despairing over the last rejection, you embrace the challenge of upping your game by mastering your craft, by asking those who will not sugar coat, where and how your work is lacking. We need those people. The heavy readers who can articulate what is ‘off’ about our work. What is missing. Because once they have a chance to explain, and once we see their meaning clearly, it’s a lesson we never forget.
When Doubt says, “Will I ever get a goddamn publishing credit?” you say to Doubt, “My time will come because I am committed and I am serious and as long as I learn and I’m honest, I’ll improve and my day will come because I have earned it with sacrifice, with great effort, with an imperishable conviction.”
When Doubt says, “This project is too huge…” you say to Doubt, “This single page, I can beat it, I have beaten it before. I will defeat this page right now because these characters have a story to tell.”
When Doubt says, “This story means a lot to me but no one else will like it…” you say to Doubt, “If it truly means something to me, it will mean something to someone else.”
When Doubt says, “I’ll never be adored by everyone…” you say to Doubt, ” You’re right, I can’t please everyone, no matter who I am. Not even Stephen King can do that and he’s like Jesus to some people, but not all.”
Instead of listening to the black void of hopelessness, we focus on the wonder of creation itself, our creation, other people’s creations, we dream up new creations, we press on because that’s what creators do. We’ll never get it perfect, but we can get it down honestly and passionately and expertly.
Believe in yourself. Slow down and enjoy the process of discovery again. There is no room for Doubt in the discovery, there is only room for enlightenment, and exhilarating joy.
Posted in News on July 30, 2012
Going to post this early since it’ll be a busy week.
As with most things I write about this strikes close to home. I’m reminded of Stephen King talking about his brother Dave in On Writing, when he says Dave always had to make something super awesome. Average wasn’t good enough. Not even close. If you’re going to invent or create or modify, why not make it effing epic?
It’s cool if somebody is a one-book wonder. Some people probably only have one story to tell and once its free they feel free.
Others have many stories to tell. And somewhere along the way we have to decide on our career path, and even after deciding upon it there will be times we’ll have to make adjustments. I’ve known for the last couple years that I wanted to write a story that spanned around a million words. I figured out what the story was about on so many levels. I looked deep into the abyss of myself and some things I found there made me proud and others made me ashamed. But I got to work on the Division Mythos project because though I don’t want much from life I do want to create something intricate, challenging, and wonderful.
I think, for me at least, the most satisfaction comes from creating my own world (Division.) Writing one book can be difficult. We have our moments of high self-esteem and our moments of doubt. But what I want to accomplish with the Division Mythos is grand and super crazy: each novel is a cornerstone, each novella a wall, the short stories a patchwork ceiling of the very textures it takes to be human. The contrasts between the mundane and exquisite, the echoes of former glories and the striving for new ground, the hope that all we do is for something (even if we don’t know for certain what that something might be).
I like the idea of one book building upon the next. I enjoy it with series characters a lot like John Connolly’s Charlie Parker and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. King did it with the Gunslinger series. And with my mythos I have an underlying story arc combined through all the books. It’s one story even though there are many stories that create it. None of the stories can exist without the others. Is that easy to do? Fuck no. It’s an ambitious effort especially for someone whose first book just came out a year ago. But difficult or not, it’s what I want and with hard work, some sweat, some deep thinking, I can pull it off.
Reaching for the sky as a new author isn’t easy. It’s hard enough with one standalone novel. But the truth is we all, even our heroes, started the same way. Without a single story, without a single acceptance, then with stories, with rejections, and we learn about ourselves and what we truly want to write. It’s a fun adventure with a lot more freedom than a lot of people can handle.
Finding our audience isn’t easy. At the beginning we all dream of being the next Stephen King, and that’s probably normal, and a way to protect our emotional investment and keep plugging on because we know that writers write. We don’t talk about getting to it someday. We face the blank page and paint a story to the best of our ability, and slowly, with the help of others and all the books that came before, we learn to refine what we’ve created. We learn to judge its value by where we’re coming from.
Those who want a simple, straightforward book will never like my work. It will demand too much of them. I guarantee it. And my advice is William Faulkner’s advice… In 1956 the Paris Review published a charmingly trenchant interview with William Faulkner. Like his novels, the man himself vacillated between cagey misdirection and evangelistic confidence:
Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?
Read it four times.”
And those who enjoy a challenge, who enjoy using their imagination and their intellect, will be rewarded in the long run as they read each successive piece and the puzzle of the Division Mythos becomes clearer and more powerful.
How ambitious are you? What do you want to set out and do in the greater world? How often have you held yourself back because you thought, No, that won’t be popular… or thought, I could never pull that off… The way I see life is pretty simple, very direct. It is a series of jumping off points and our idea of security is only an illusion to protect us from what we most fear. But illusions can’t really protect you can they? So why not jump, follow your heart, live the life you want to live and create what you want to create? Nothing stops us but us (and death.)
The Division Mythos is a project that will live on after I’m long gone. I’m sure of that. What do you want to create that will challenge you and help you grow even as it leaves its mark once you’re gone?
Posted in News on July 2, 2012
Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, once said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures… I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.”
Does everybody have the personality traits or mindset to be a professional writer? I doubt it. For some I bet it will never be more than a hobby, a release, a form of self-medication. And there’ s nothing wrong with that. From studying professional writers, athletes, musicians, etc., I think that to work as a professional yourself you need the traits and mindset the professionals possess. Talent and creativity are NOT enough to enable you to stand among your heroes.
Are you determined enough? Determination goes hand in hand with focus, one being long term, the other short. Without focus and the desire to learn/improve, determination is more detrimental than beneficial though. Sometimes it takes a lot of failure to achieve success. Sometimes we have no idea how much determination it takes until we look back nearly a decade and see nothing behind us but a mountain of rejection slips, and find that we’re just now holding that first paying acceptance. Determination is part faith, part ego, part fortitude, part training. You can learn to grow tough skin, learn to take constructive criticism and reject negative. How do you stay determined in those early years? If you’ve already got five, six, seven or more years with very little ‘success,’ what helps you keep going when the evidence (lack of sales) will make you question yourself and craft?
Are you humble enough/your ego in check? Nobody likes working with an asshole. Even worse is a drama queen. Deep down we all want to (or do) believe we’re special since our world view and our lives are supposed to be unique. But to be honest, mostly we’re not special, mostly our lives mirror the lives of those we’re attracted to and call friends. Sometimes thinking we’re ‘special’ and have a story only we can tell helps us stay determined. The world is full of talented jackasses. If we step back and see how little we truly know (not just about writing, but about everything) the easier it is to get a more realistic perspective on where we stand. Yeah, we have something to contribute (hopefully), something moving, or entertaining, yet reader response is pretty much the only yardstick by with which we can measure our creations. Simply being aware of our roots, our place in the big scheme, etc., can we keep our egos in check? Hell, everybody wants acceptance and validation, but those who only want that might as well get the fudge out and find some other means of expression.
Are you reliable enough? It takes a certain mindset to stay steady in output, in meeting deadlines while juggling tons of other projects, in upholding your side of the contract, in answering fan email, etc. Like a lot of things, organization, focus, and a plan help, but without actually being consistently reliable (producing your best work, on time) organizational skills and short-term focus aren’t enough. It takes stamina to build momentum in a writing career (or as a musician or athlete). It takes dedication and editors learn to weed-out the non-dedicated quickly.
Are you honest enough? You have to be honest with yourself in your emotions, your world view, your family view, relationships you’ve had, your mistakes, your treasures, what enthralls you and what disturbs you. And that’s just the first step! Then you have to portray that honesty through your characters in an effective manner that proves convincing and lasting. Honesty can’t be faked. I think it’s either something that you have or don’t have. If you’re prone to exaggerate or outright lie, the only thing you can do is be mindful of when and why and learn to nip it in the bud, even if it causes you internal struggle. Everyone wins when they’re honest.
Are you appreciative of others? Though we compose in solitude and study our craft with the door closed on everybody except the voices in our heads, people are the whole point behind writing. People help us, teach us, support us, humble us, inspire us, treat us, encourage us. We wouldn’t get anywhere with out at least a handful of close, like-minded, professionally driven amigos. If we never thank anybody it shows what really matters to us.
Are you curious enough? It takes an endless well of curiosity to supply the ink to our proverbial pen. Discovering, unearthing, learning, teaching (and in teaching, discovering more), always remaining mystified by life’s intricate web, enriches our work and our lives. Those who aren’t curious are obvious. Their stories are usually a rehashing of the same thing over and over and over. But the curious ones–like Bradbury, King, Gaiman–search out mysteries. Some people on the other hand just aren’t curious about much. Maybe they never will be because questioning things or confronting issues that piss them off or make them hurt, scares them. The world isn’t bland, our normal, lazy, conditioned perceptions are bland.
Are you comfortable with isolation? I love daydreaming, having brainstorming sessions on an upcoming project, being alone to read, going hiking by myself, the half hour or so I write every day in spurts of manic, blazing output. I don’t know how it is with the majority, but most of the pros advise getting in the chair, closing the door to distractions, and writing. You can’t do that while socializing. And writing novels takes a lot of focus, faith, confidence, intuition, and acquired skills. You may find that you have to spend hours upon hours alone to come up with one simple truth that has existed since the beginning of time but you simply overlooked because you were too busy in constant contact. Get used to isolation. And when not writing, go live so you have more to bring back to the drawing board.
Are you independent? Look up co-dependency, see how co-dependent you are in just your little writing circles, then reassess. You have to work toward a certain level of competency on your own.
Are you self-motivated? Nearly everybody who writes probably fantasizes about doing it for a living. I work part time still for my brother-in-law, mostly to stay in shape and keep myself from boredom since some of the best story sections take place while doing what has become a mindless task. When you don’t have a boss over your shoulder, when all you have is time, you might waste a lot of it. The dream bubble pops, you get bored. You procrastinate because, well, hell, you have all the time in the world! But you don’t. Because you’re pissing it away taking all that time thinking about what you could be doing (an old habit for a lot of people) instead of actually doing it. Find ways to self-motivate. Different things probably work for different people.
Is obsession part of your personality? It takes an almost unhealthy dose of obsession to reach a professional level. Mediocre writers are a dime a dozen. There are all kinds of things writers can obsess about, not all of them good. What’s bad to obsess about? How about what everybody is going to say before you’ve even finished the first chapter? How about how huge or small your first advance will be? How about paranoia and thinking that other writers, or agents, or editors will steal your ideas? Not a healthy kind of obsession. When I’m talking about obsession, I’m talking about an uncontrollable wonder of humanity, the world, the process of creation, the precision of well-placed words, how stories move us in ways very little else can. I’m talking about touching magic. I don’t think it’s something that can be taught or acquired. I think it’s a very deep (or not) place in our psyches.
Do you have a professional mindset? Do you want to do the best job you can do, be on time, give your customers what they pay for, handle your business effectively and efficiently, learn new ways to improve, think outside the box and forge new ground? Do you want to take each aspect of your writing career seriously, or only the writing itself and merely dabble in anything outside the creative side of it? Are you willing to study, implement and reassess? Can you balance the artistic and business sides of your career, or do you even want to?
Are you patient enough? Patience isn’t easy. Patience itself takes work that can already wear down what reserves of energy you have that day, week, month or year. But it’s necessary because there are no overnight successes and you’re unrealistic if you think you will be one. Better to accept that things will take time. A lot of time. A lot of work. A lot of learning. Then more patience.
Are you expressive enough? Every word and action sends a message. Take a hard look at every scene in your WIP. What message are your words and actions sending? It goes back to all of us being conditioned about how unique we are, then a lot of people churn out the same boring crap. Tap deeply into your emotions (and god, more than one of them over the course of a novel, please). I’m an intense person by nature, always have been, and it comes across in my work. And people that I know who are passive by nature tend to write passively, their characters skirting conflict constantly and the story going nowhere because they have passion but feel they’ll be punished for expressing it. If you’re passive, learn to be a little more forward and say exactly what you mean. Story is conflict.
Are you attentive to details? The right details, the right word choices, the right execution are all very personal. But editors and agents can see a big difference between an amateur and semi-professional by their attention to detail alone. Stephen King gives a great example of it in On Writing. Many other pros do as well. Details matter, but the right details. How do you learn that? I’ll always swear by hand-copying favorite books. It’s the best way that works for me to internalize how, why, when the masters do what, and to what extent.
Are you for change? A closed mindset in any profession hurts more than helps. Times change, people change, tastes change, perspective changes for you, for me, for our characters, from beginning to end. Cycles, patterns, order and chaos. It’s all part of the sweet and endless mystery. Be open to change. Be water. Be a learner. Nerds rule the world.
And if you missed the awesome news… My Division Mytho’s website, that has tons of awesome details about this massive storyline I’m building (over a million words), is now LIVE! I’m so excited. A huge thanks to Peter Schwotzer for designing it! And a big thanks to everybody who checks it out and shares!
Posted in News on June 30, 2012
A big thanks to Turner Mojica for the photos (copyrighted by Steve Thornton).
Jack Ketchum (Dallas Mayr) was one of my first favorite Horror authors. His work is real, bold, and though it’s brutal it also has moments of tenderness. Sometimes it’s about survival, but usually there is a lot more going on than breakneck action pacing. He’s a master of character development, and talented in both the short and long fiction forms. I was super excited to share pages with him in A Hacked-up Holiday Massacre. Stephen King said this about him: Who’s the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum… If you’ve read his work you know why I’m so honored to have him share with us. If you haven’t read his work get your ass moving.
copyright Steve Thornton
Lee: Thanks for taking the time to share with us, Dallas! I loved how in high school your teacher had everybody write a favorite author to see if the authors would respond. You wrote Robert Bloch (Psycho) and it was the start of a mentorship/friendship until he passed away in 1994. How crucial do you think his influence was on you as a young writer? Has it become so ingrained that you still hear his voice in your head while composing a new book?
Dallas: Bob read and commented on every damn thing I wrote until the day he died, whether it was a play, a poem, or a story. He was an enormously generous and helpful teacher — and smart about the business too. He had no illusions that it was easy. “It you don’t have to write,” he said, “don’t.” Then, in my senior year in college I sent him a story, a thinly-veiled lament for a love gone south, and he wrote “you’re already doing some things better than me.” You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. But for all the times my stuff didn’t quite work for one reason or another, you can bet I kept that well in mind. It was almost like he said I had an obligation to keep at it. Aside from the occasional black wisecrack for which he was so justly infamous, I don’t hear his voice too much in my writing, but it’s easy to summon it now. It comes complete with a crooked smile.
Lee: Congratulations on the recent success of The Woman. You co-wrote the screenplay and novel with Lucky McKee and were on-site a lot, correct? What surprised you most about the whole experience?
Dallas: That I was allowed to be there. See? The occasional black wisecrack. But in all seriousness, it’s a kind of given in the movie business that writers aren’t usually welcome on the set. Lucky and company gave me the run of the joint. And I was actually able to be helpful on a few occasions when we needed an instant rewrite. Beyond that, having him as my writing partner was great fun. We think along the same twisted lines and complement one another’s styles really well. Lucky’s an intuitive, jump-ahead type of guy, whereas I’m more of a plodder, more detail-oriented. It’s a nice fit.
Lee: Is there a book that you’ve always wanted to write but haven’t for some reason? If so, do you think you’d ever give it a go?
Dallas: Yes, it’s about Class D dog dealers and their abuses — their many, many abuses. But I’m not at all sure that I want to live with those images in my head for as long as it takes to write about them. Every now and then as a writer you have to break your own heart on purpose. But I don’t know if I could handle that day in and day out. We’ll see.
Lee: How have you changed over the years in viewing yourself as a writer, or has your identity and confidence mostly remained consistent?
Dallas: I know how to do all kinds of tricks now that I didn’t know how to do back when I started. I’m not always sure that’s a good thing. Sometimes, like Ray Prince once said, I want to be what I was when I wanted to be what I am now. Every time I read a good book, I’m still studying, though, as well as having fun.
Lee: Much of your work comes from real life (and is probably one of the reasons besides your ability as a writer that it’s so powerful). Yet you can make a very unlikable character somewhat sympathetic. Do you think some people’s aberrations are incurable? Or is there hope if a very messed up individual sought help?
Dallas: Seems to me that the evidence is in and that there are some people who are simply way beyond help. In fact I’m not even sure I’d characterize them as human at all, any more than I’d say a chimp is human just because chimps resemble us — more like some genetically mutant subspecies which walks the walk and talks the talk but which is minus the empathy and conscience gene. That ape is dangerous.
Lee: Only a few people know that my character Red Piccirilli is based on a combination of Tom Piccirilli and your novel “Red,” which is one of my favorite books. It seems in the novel that love is a leveling force. I always enjoyed the two-fold aspect of his love for Red and how love is an avenging force. What are some of your favorite themes to explore and dramatize?
Dallas: Love’s not only the leveling force to RED, it’s the key to Avery’s character — love and its loss. Without the backstory about the death of his wife and son coupled with his loss of Red, this would just be another revenge story. Instead it’s about a good honest man seeking justice. A reader once told me that he thought almost all my stuff is really about loss. I don’t know about all of it, but having thought about it, a good part is. I like to write about love and empowerment, about good people in bad situations and how they do or don’t deal with it.
Lee: With some many wonderful things happening every year, how do you manage to celebrate each success without it all just blurring together?
Dallas: Good things have happened to me slowly,over time, so I’ve had a chance to savor them. I’m not some overnight sensation suddenly bludgeoned by the crush of fans and critics. The idea of an entourage scares me silly. When I was a kid I thought I wanted to be Elvis. I’m sure glad it never happened. I’d have been dead before I hit thirty.
Lee: When I tell people they need to read your work I suggest three for them to try: Red, Old Flames (the version with Right to Life), and The Girl Next Door. Which three books would you recommend to a new reader?
Dallas: That depends on your tolerance for violence. Hell, some people should never read me. If your tolerance is high, I’d suggest starting with OFF SEASON. I always like to start with an author’s first book and see how he matures and changes and that OFF SEASON was mine. If your tolerance is low, I’d suggest RED. And then it’s always nice to have an overview, some sense of a writer’s scope. In that case I’d suggest the story collections, PEACEABLE KINGDOM or CLOSING TIME AND OTHER STORIES.
Lee: Where can people find you on the convention circuit this year?
Dallas: The only conventions I’m committed to thus far are NECON in Rhode Island in July, KillerCon in Vegas in September, and Rock ‘n Shock in Massachusetts in October. Keep an eye on my website’s Appearances page for updates.
Lee: Thanks so much for spending time with us, Dallas! Anything you’d like to share before we say goodbye?
Dallas: Ne pas sto kala. Go with the good.
Ketchum’s Website (which you better visit)
copyright by Steve Thornton