Posted in News on August 13, 2012
I’m reading an awesome book called Becoming Faulkner: The art and life of William Faulkner by Philip Weinstein. In it, as in many looks into the lives of creative geniuses, I see an unbreakable bond between a author’s personal life and art. Mining real life seems to be a common practice of established writers. And is there any doubt why? What we know intimately, what we have strong feelings for or against, not only shapes our views of ourselves and the world we live in, but also shapes what we hope to become and how we hope others will see us in retrospect and as yet unseen days. Our reality can differ from other realities. Our memories can differ from the other’s memories though we saw the same thing. I believe that the lifeblood of story is inescapably tied to our life experiences crossbreeding with our imagination.
By the time we’re adults we’ve dealt with, savored, and struggled against every emotion. We build up memories both factual and fictitious. We embellish the most outrageous moments we’ve seen or heard about, and we relish the mundane, when things were simple play, a gearing up for adult life and our place in the world. We store away so much that sometimes we forget, and it takes a trigger, a certain smell, a certain turn of phrase, a certain hue of the evening sky to recall with incredible clarity a moment once lived and now lost to us. Until those moments–people, emotions and situations are dredged from our psyches, of whole cloth, inseparable from who we are or who we were–they’re useless.
What can we mine from real life for our fiction? The easy part is knowing our own motives if we’re honest with ourselves. What’s not easy, at least at first, is creating characters who are strange to us, who act different from us, who believe things that we deem crazy, childish, or wrong. But that is where we can grow so much as writers. To grow beyond our limited, sole selves. To turn away from the comfortable and familiar and dip our toes in the water of someone else’s experience. To reach out and try to understand the reasonings of someone else, especially someone vastly different, brings with it a gift we can receive no other way. What gift? The gift of insight, of exploration, of freedom and understanding and compassion.
What can’t we mine from real life to use in our fiction? I don’t see any restrictions. I think it’s all fair game. Some of it will hurt to dig up though. Sometimes we enjoy denial about our own actions, justifying them, or pretending they don’t exist. Sometimes we do the same for those we care about. But man, do the truths as we know them, and the truths others know for themselves, enrich our work.
Mining real life is also about connecting again with ourselves. In such a mad world, possessed and obsessed with getting ahead or being noticed, we lose something of ourselves in the simple striving to keep up with the rat race. Mining real life makes us be still and listen, to analyze and feel, to be a conduit for what has happened and to bring that thing, be it an emotion, an image accompanying it, whatever, to life.
How can you put this into practice? Let’s use a simple exercise.
Daydream on your past. As you remember, make notes of how each thing below made you feel and why it made you feel that way.
List one highlight from your childhood that you found touching.
List one downbeat from your childhood that you found horrifying.
List one highlight from young adulthood that you found exciting.
List one downbeat from young adulthood that you found confusing.
List one highlight from adulthood that you found extremely satisfying.
List one downbeat from adulthood that you found depressing.
The beauty of mining from real life is that the textures we can steal from it to apply to our current work is limitless. But be warned, like real mining, it takes an incredible amount of work and it can be a dirty job. But the fortune it provides once exhumed and refined is well worth it.
Shameless plug: We’re nearing the final chapters of my free serial novel The Collected Songs of Sonnelion, which you can read on Darkfuse or Issuu. You’ll want to catch up before time runs out and it’s taken off the web!
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 May 14, 2012
Our creativity comes from what has touched, scared and stimulated us before this present moment as well as through thinking on what has never been, what could have been, and what might yet be.
We form narrative from light and shadow, wisps of smoke, whispered prayers, all in hopes that the finished product will connect with and move someone else (hopefully a lot of someones.)
Our muse, our inspirations, come from a number of places and take various processes from quick absorption, a streak of lightning, or the slower, gestating movement that rattles us to our core and takes our breath away. Sometimes the lightning strike produces the gestation, but no matter what inspires us a key aspect of a healthy writing career is to STAY inspired.
I’ve heard tons of people talk about writer’s block. Don’t have a clue how to get through it because I’ve never had it, but I think one of the reasons I haven’t is because of variety, multiple points of inspiration, and a pretty simple approach to life (kinda black and white actually, which isn’t always good but isn’t always bad either because it keeps me focused.)
So, let’s look at the various parts that feed and sustain our muse, our energy, and make our time more effective both before and after creating something new, and hopefully makes what we put ourselves through worthwhile…
It’s easy to stay inspired when you have knowledge that you’re passionate about, whether it be some aspect of the writing craft, or some aspect of what it means to be human, or the importance of stories, or a deep and abiding knowledge of human emotions. Some of it we pluck consciously from every day life, some floats up like gold-encrusted debris from our subconscious, from lessons learned that can only be learned via hindsight.
But how we come by inspiration isn’t as important as acquiring the seeds that produce more of it.
That spark of an idea that stirs something in us is always exciting. But we also get inspiration from other places and probably should. Those who wait for inspiration to strike them are happy when it does and tortured when it doesn’t. Who wants to live and create like that? We can make our own inspiration a lot of times by reading books that level us, by reading those that have before, by participating in other creative endeavors (which also bleed over into our writing in a cross-pollination sort of way!), by listening to the wind, watching the stars, letting our minds wander and by remembering what it was like to be a kid without our parents around, when the world held possibilities and not an endless, bone-crushing grind. I find inspiration in all of those things, a little every day, plus in studying beautiful and striking artwork, in playing guitar, in talking to a best friend, in listening to (and sometimes mishearing) a family member. Don’t always wait for inspiration. Breathe life until you’re about to burst so that there is always material creating itself in your subconscious.
Trust in our heart-of-hearts that what we write about matters to us and means something is incredibly important. If we don’t trust our process then it’s already standing on shaky ground. It’s easier to be inspired and find inspiration when we know deep in our gut that we’re going to find something worth saying, with characters that bleed and bond together, with dialogue that crackles, with obstacles that push our characters to their limits, and in turn, the reader.
What I’ve done to build trust in my process is to accept that nothing I ever write will be perfect, not to me, not to anybody. It takes some of the pressure off, lets me say, “Hey, I’ll just do my best and that’s all that’s required.” Then I go do my best and more often than not I’m mostly satisfied with the results.
Your muse will probably kick you in the nuts or vagina if you never let your imagination run wild and naked through the forest or bound recklessly down slick city streets. Imagination is paramount. It’s as important as the execution of a tale. It’s details, the way they’re told, the massive scope of the project, and it carries the weight of stars and land and sea. All of the greats had bucket loads of it pressing at the walls of their brains. They dipped their pen in that gushy mass of nerves and created what wasn’t there before.
When I read slush for Horror Library Vol. 4, back before I’d ever sold a story, one of the things that struck me about most of the rejected pieces was a lack of imagination. You know why? Because the majority of them would tell the same stale tale and how do you get excited about that?
We’re all given and nurture (or not) a certain volume of imagination. Those gifted with a lot must be wary that it doesn’t override the story because its easy for the very imaginative to let that fire burn away the story and diminish it. We learn through experience when we have too little or too much. Those who lack imagination are in a similar predicament, but theirs is that their work can come out too bland, bound by the constraints of what their logical, rational minds allow. We have to let go of our place in the world if we’re to let our imaginations grow. I think part of what holds us back is conditioning by parents and preachers and school systems. When we chase security it flees from us because it doesn’t exist. It’s a mirage.
There are many writers but only a handful who have truly inspired me, muses many times in their own way down dark passages and those open, lovely times that are crowded by bliss: William Faulkner, Tom Piccirilli, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Mr. Poe, Jack Cady, Greg Gifune, Robert Dunbar, Sara Gruen, Dennis Lehane, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Douglas Clegg, Clive Barker, Cormac McCarthy, John Gardner, Gary Braunbeck, Jack Ketchum, Brian Hodge, Lee Thomas, and Neil Gaiman. I’m going to dedicate my serial novel THE COLLECTED SONGS OF SONNELION to them because they are all in this, hidden between pages and crowding sentences with their undeniable mark.
So, go find those seeds that you can toss to the wind. Be patient while you work and every now and then as you toil away in your closed little world, eyes straining and heart aching, you’ll peek over your shoulder and see those seeds have taken root. What will grow? God only knows. But that’s part of the fun.
Posted in News on February 26, 2012
Lots of fun stuff here. Should have an interview with Greg F. Gifune up this week and working on questions for Jack Ketchum’s interview! I’ve been handcopying my Gauntlet edition of Ketchum’s Only Child along with Jack Cady’s The Well to learn some more. Good times.
It’s been a long while since I’ve been to Barnes and Noble but I went yesterday and loaded up on some books I’ve wanted for a while: Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, Joe Hill’s Horns, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, and John Connolly’s The Gates. Tons of great reading for the next couple weeks! I think I’m going to go back to the way I used to read (one book at a time). I think I get more out of it that way. What are you reading?
Also turned in a very neat thing on the Division mythos for Darkfuse so readers can see how the novellas and novels weave a bit. Will let people know when it goes live!
Working hard on the 3rd Red Piccirilli book. Very excited that Darkfuse/Delirium has taken a chance on me like this. You can read the first chapter now and new chapters will be added every Friday by noon as I write them!
If you have a digital reader go snag an awesome deal with Delirium’s Book club. Cutting-edge fiction to help you live longer.
Chizine still has the second Red Piccirilli novella Within This Garden Weeping under consideration but another publisher is interested if they decline. Very sweet! I’m looking forward to getting this novella sold because it’s the second in the Division mythos series. Once it’s out we’ll have the first 8 books of the 13 book series published!
1. Before Leonora Wakes (Big novella. Red Piccirilli Book #1.)
2. Within This Garden Weeping (Big novella. Red Piccirilli Book #2. Under consideration with Chizine right now)
3. Collected Songs of Sonnelion (Novel. Red Piccirilli Book #3. Current Project, serialized on Darkfuse’s website!)
4. Nursery Rhymes 4 Dead Children (Division Novel #1, Delirium Books, May 2011)
5. Iron Butterflies Rust (Frank Gunn novella #1, Delirium Books, August 2011)
6. As I Embrace My Jagged Edges (Sideshow Press, Digital 2011/ Hardcover 2012)
7. The Dampness of Mourning (Division novel #2, DarkFuse, February 2012)
8. Down Here in the Dark (Frank Gunn novella #2, Delirium Books, April 2012)
9. The Patron Saint of Infinite Sorrow (Division novel #3)
10. She Collects Grave Nectar (Michael Johnston novella)
11. Proserpine’s Story (Ravaged Gods novel #1)
12. Lord of the Damaged (Ravaged Gods novel #2)
13. Violent Races (Ravaged Gods novel #3)
Everything comes to him who hustles while he waits- Thomas Edison
Returned the galley for my standalone novella When We Join Jesus in Hell (Delirium Books). And expect news in the coming month about my standalone novella from Thunderstorm Books, Immersion.
Wherever you are, enjoy yourselves. And thanks for all the support!
Posted in News on February 7, 2012
Just received word the interview with me went live on Darkfuse. It was a lot of fun. Here’s a snippet:
What was your inspiration for writing DOWN HERE IN THE DARK?
Well, it’s a small part of a large story, and I knew that Frank Gunn was as close as you can get to shattered by the end of IRON BUTTERFLIES RUST, so I explored that and the trip, the adventure really, as scary as it can be at times, that brings him to the crazy little town of Division. I see things very clearly when it comes to my character and how his story ties into others, the big picture and the small beats, which made it easy to write about him in this book. I enjoy subtext too and there is a lot of that, and a lot of links to other Division books, and I like the forward propulsion of the narrative, the searching Frank does inside himself and trying to relate to all the odd things going on around him, which really is out of his reach like it is anybody’s.
What themes do you enjoy exploring?
Oh, a lot of themes. Lol. Recurring ones are about betrayal and how we deal with it; the necessity of returning violence when somebody will be nothing but violent to you or those you love; growing up on the inside instead of faking it simply for the sake of others; how weak and strong and reliable and unreliable we can all be, how human that makes us; that if anything in the world is a monster, it’s man; if anything in the world is a hero, it’s man; connections that may not appear to be connections at first until we dig deeper and figure out people’s motives; how frail love makes us, and how incredibly driven; how hate doesn’t eat us alive, our allowing it to rule over us for an extended period of time does, because hate is as necessary as love; how there’s magic in childhood and adults train it out of us; how desperate some people are to find an identity and others will sacrifice everything just to fit in, which I and most of my characters feel is very, very sad; I like to explore the results of tragedy, and show how different people cope or accept it; I deal in self-loathing because I’ve done it most of my life, and the work it takes to break those negative thought processes; bad habits and good habits, regrets and pride, extremes and everywhere between; the mystery of life and our fear of death; our egotism one moment and self-doubt the next; most of my characters feel like Holden Caulfield, that they’re surrounded by phonies, that they themselves might be phonies, and it whittles at their souls because if nothing is true or fair or genuine then what’s the fucking point when you don’t want to play the game to begin with?
Read the rest of the interview here: Lee’s Darkfuse interview…
Please spread the word for me too! Thanks!