Month: November 2013

Happy Birthday, Daphne!

I just wanted to take a moment and acknowledge another up and coming writer’s birthday today. She’s been a valuable ally of mine since we met and I hope we remain in touch for years to come. If there’s one person I know I can count on to read any strange project of mine, it’s Daphne Shadows. She’s  been incredibly supportive of me, even through a rough patch in her personal life. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of her kind words, motivation, and kicks to the gut. You’d be hard pressed to find a better critique partner, and person walking the planet today.

Happy born day, Daphne! Know that you are appreciated, loved, and missed.

Now for your presents.

There’s the virtual hug and all the time I can spare whenever you need it. Send me whatever you want, whenever it is ready. My eyes are yours. Just make sure you give them back because I kinda need them to see. 😉

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What Is Horror?

As a self proclaimed lover of horror, I’ve often wondered what defines horror as a genre? Is it the monsters hiding under the bed? Is it the thought of torture at the hands of a madman? Is it our imaginations when we hear bumps in the night? Is it a haunted house? Or, maybe, it’s all these things and more.

Let’s take a look at the definition of the word “horror” as provided by Dictionary.com.

Horror

1. an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear: to shrink back from a mutilated corpse in horror.

8. centered upon or depicting terrifying or macabre events: a horror movie.

The same word pops up twice in the definition: fear. Is horror only fear? I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. I also don’t think we can come up with a concrete definition of horror as a genre. We can have a generalized definition, one that any person can relate as being “horror.” It is my belief that each person will be scared by different things, thus preventing a more finely tuned definition of what horror is. Likewise, each person will have a different idea of what makes for good horror versus bad horror.

Each person is different. We’ve all lived different lives and experienced different things. No two people walking the planet are exactly the same. Because of this, no two people will react to perceived fears in the same way. Nor will the same thing scare each person in the exact same way. A mother will be more frightened of a missing child than a single, party loving college student. Someone who believes in ghosts will be more open to ghostly scares than a non-believer. And I could on and on. You get the point.

To loosely define horror as genre, we can say: an intense reaction to something which causes fear. I think we can all agree that a catalyst is needed to stir up those feelings of fear. What causes those same fears is debatable. Ask ten people what scares them and you’ll likely get ten different answers. We can also agree that without a catalyst, horror doesn’t work.

This is where individual fears come into play, especially for a person like me who writes horror. I can’t read anyone’s mind. I’ll never know for sure what scares each reader. Nor should I. All I can do is try and write scenes providing situations which may cause fear. If I write the scene well, more readers will have a reaction than won’t. Realistically, I understand that I won’t scare every reader all the time. It’s impossible.

I personally love that each of us is scared by different things. It means there’s room for so many different kinds of horror. As a writer, it keeps things fresh. I can write about different subjects and not feel burned out. Readers can find a vast multitude of different subjects to feast their eyes on. In the mood for a good slasher book where people get chopped into bits? You can find one. Want something a bit more subtle, like a gothic ghost story? Yep, horror has that too. If your mind can cook up the twisted idea, it can be written. Beautiful, right?

This is also why I won’t ever discount any particular subject as not being horror enough. Fairy tales at their core are horror, yet most people probably don’t think of them that way. I also won’t discount something as being too gross for horror. Too often I hear folks complain about too much blood and guts (gore) in horror. If utilized in an intelligent way, gore adds plenty to horror as a genre. I recently wrote a short story where parasites invade people’s brains. The brains that were incompatible with the parasites exploded. Needless to say, I incorporated some gore into the story because, in my opinion, it called for it. It’s kind of hard to have a head explode without some kind of gore. One person’s scare can be another’s gross out. We’re all allowed to make those choices.

Horror, like most everything else, is subjective. What causes those feelings of horror are unique to each individual person. Get a gaggle of horror fans together and watch how they react to scares in movies. Not everyone will be affected by the same things, but most of the time others will play along. That’s when you’ll see the best of the horror community.

I know I love horror as a genre. It’s clear that many of you do too. As long as there are people like us around, horror, in whatever shape or form, will always stay relevant. That, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

What scares you? How would you define horror? Let us know in the comments below.

Some Great Advice About Toughness, Critiques, and Writing, From J. Kent Messum

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”–Albert Einstein

About a week ago I stumbled upon a Canadian writer who posted about tough love for writers on the Guide To Literary Agents Blog, via the Writer’s Digest website. This  post pretty much captures how I feel about critiques and the need for complete honesty from not only a critique partner standpoint, but also from ourselves. If we aren’t willing to identify the truth about our words than we will never grow as writers.

Here’s a small sample of the post, which I can’t recommend enough. “You might be asking yourself some typical questions right now: Why can’t I get a break? Why isn’t my writing attracting the attention of agents? Why aren’t publishers clamoring to pick up my book? For starters, I’ll wager it’s because your work isn’t very good. In fact, your writing is probably awful. Much like mine was many years ago, long before I understood the importance of honing my craft.”

You’ll notice Mr. Messum doesn’t mix words, he’s blunt. It’s the very thing writers are encouraged not to do with critiques. Most of the advice floating around the interwebs would have each critique end with rainbows and sunshine. Writers would hold hands and sing songs about how good the other was. The truth is, literary professionals aren’t going to do that, so why do writers?

It’s the critique partner’s responsibility to intelligently relay any perceived flaws in the manuscript in question. Hopefully they can do it in a way that won’t destroy their CPs, and friends. I know first hand how difficult this can be. I also know how valuable it is too. Let’s face it, each writer doesn’t want to hear their main character is boring, as I was told years ago by a fabulous critique partner. We have to learn how to detach our personal feelings from our words. Without the truth we’ll never learn that skill. After time, and practice, you’ll discover you can do much of the critiquing on your own. Your eye becomes tuned to what goes into creating fantastic fiction.

I used to think my critique style was harsh because that’s what others told me. I would agonize over sharing what I saw because I didn’t want to hurt my fellow writers. I’m always up front about what prospective CPs will get from me. I’ve lost friends over critiques but will not waver over the principle of constructive honesty. Some of my CPs love it while others don’t. The truth, they say, will set us free. I agree.

I’m to the point where anyone can say anything about my writing and it doesn’t bother me at all. I understand who I am as a person/writer enough to know what’s relevant and what isn’t. I’m confident I can recognize a valid point when I see it because I really do check my ego at the door. My constructively honest critique approach even landed me an internship for a literary agent. I’m not saying this is the only style that works, but it has worked for me and anyone else willing to give it an honest try.

So how will you know you’re improving?

I’ve been participating in a short story competition where the winners will be published in an anthology. Since each deadline for these stories is around five days, I never thought to send any stories out to other readers. I outlined what I wanted to do, wrote, edited, printed and read the story, edited a second time, and sent it in. The only writer who read my stories was me. Out of hundreds of short stories, mine made the top five. Not bad, right?

As writers we must understand the over friendly CPs will keep us at the same level…FOREVER. You simply can’t fix what you can’t see. Even though your friends may spare your feelings, your writing will suffer. If you find yourself in the same position you were a year or two ago, you need new/better CPs. You’re stagnating, standing still.

If you ever catch Ann Collette’s Today’s Twelve on twitter, you’ll see she approaches queries and samples in the same way. She doesn’t mix words. Time is money for her and any other literary agent. This doesn’t mean she’s a horrible person or anything, she’s actually quite nice. As writers we must understand that our skills are either ready, or they aren’t.

Developing confidence along with competent writing skills comes with experience. We must put ourselves out there, discover what works for us and what doesn’t. Will an honest approach work for every writer? No, and that’s perfectly fine. Each writer is capable of different things, handles situations differently. The key is knowing what you’re truly capable of and recognizing what’s holding your writing back.

I’m going to leave you with this quote from J. Kent Messum: “The way I see it, the road to success is more like a freeway these days. There are innumerable others travelling toward the same destination as you. Along the way there are going to be accidents. People will break down, run out of fuel or turn back. There are plenty of off-ramps that many will take for legitimate reasons (money, security, stress, relationships, etc). If you want to become an author, do your damnedest not to be one of them. Constantly overhaul, rework, and polish your writing. Work your ass off. Otherwise, you may want to just pull over now and get off the road.”

Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough. Let’s get to the links. I highly recommend you read J. Kent’s post and the story of how he signed with a literary agent. They’re well worth your time.

You can find J. Kent Messum’s post, titled Why Tough Love Is Crucial For Writers here: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/why-tough-love-is-crucial-for-writers

You can learn how J. Kent Messum signed with his literary agent here: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/how-i-got-my-agent-j-kent-messum

You can find Ann Collette on twitter here: https://twitter.com/Ann_Collette

You can find out more about J. Kent Messum at his official website: http://jkentmessum.com/

Happy Birthday KJ!!! (Birthday Scavenger Hunt, Stop #11)

Happy Birthday - KJ 3

This should be KJ’s eleventh stop on her birthday tour of awesomeness.

There are a relatively few people I’ve met over the internet who I genuinely consider a friend. Kristen Jett is one of those people. She is the kind of woman who, even when uber busy, will make time for her friends. She is talented, inspiring, chill, caring, supportive, driven, intelligent, and I don’t want to embarrass her or anything. 😉 Plus, she’s a horror movie loving southern belle with a heart of gold, not to mention a UFC maniac who will tweet me when I’m sleeping saying things like, “TELL ME YOU JUST SAW THAT?!?”

She also has the biggest “To Be Read” list I think I’ve ever seen. If it has words, it’s probably on her list.

What I love most about KJ is that she’s 100% genuine. She is who she is. No BS. Kristen was even instrumental in me writing my very first short story. It was a zombie story, titled LABOR OF LOVE, and it even featured a certain pink handled shotgun she may be familiar with. Did I mention an e-magazine published it? Yeah, KJ is a real life muse.  Like many of you, I’m grateful to call this dynamic person my friend.

If you ever want to hide something from Kristen, just put it under this:

I guarantee she won’t touch it. And bacon. We can’t forget about bacon when KJ’s around.

Like Spike Lee says…Happy born day, Kristen. Enjoy these virtual presents before your twelfth clue.

EBEN!!!!!!!!!!!

I know how much you love Harry Potter. Enjoy drunk Ron Weasley singing Happy Birthday to Harry Potter, courtesy of Jimmy Fallon and Simon Pegg.

And lastly, since I want you to go away happy, here’s Dean Winchester asking for a slow dance. You’re so lucky.

Okay, now that all the presents are out of the way, we’ve got serious business to attend to. I’m not your last stop. There are more. Don’t worry, I made it easy. *whispers* There’s links. Ready for your next batch of clues?

1) This person used to peek in the Diaries of Ella Graham.

2) They talk freely about the Secret Life of Writers.

3) No one knows more about OF SCARS AND STARDUST than them…like in the history of scars and stardust. Really. I’m not kidding.

4) This person once said you were their personal astrologist. “What’s up with the moon?”

Have you figured it out yet? That’s right, give a great big hug to…someone we should all be following on twitter… https://twitter.com/andeehannah

Yep, it’s http://www.andreahannah.com/!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KRISTEN! I hope you have a blast…and not too much tequila or you might start seeing clowns. 😉

Now for a song. When I think of fun, I think of Chiddy Bang. What can I say, it’s an East Coast thing. Anyway, here they are with a great song titled Opposite of Adults. We all started out as kids with dreams. I hope you’re living yours today.

Song of the Week: Pieces, by Sum 41

November has thus far been a busy month for me. I’ve been finishing up a project for submission before a December 1st deadline, preparing for another submission before a January 1st deadline, and participating in Project REUTSway. My writing career seems to be heading in the right, positive direction.

Why does it seem that whenever things in one area of our lives are going well they turn to shit in another? It’s like you accidentally walk through a curtain and see something you weren’t meant to see, a layer of grime you hadn’t noticed before. As a result things change. It seems like people always let you down in some capacity.

That’s why my song of the week is a bit melancholy. It’s a great song by the Canadian band, Sum 41, about the need for space, to be yourself. I think we all need to figure out who we truly are and stick to those principles even when life seems intent on trying to break them, and you. Sometimes we really are better off on our own. This song does a great job conveying that. I’ve been listening to it a lot this past week and wanted to share. I hope you like it.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Rules For Writing A Good Short Story

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they’re made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Often times us writers get so wrapped up in an idea or concept that we tend to lose sight of the basics. Should we blindly follow Kurt’s advice? No. But we’d be fools to discount it completely. Any writing advice should always be taken in and digested. We should learn how, or if, it can help our writing. The trick is being confident enough, and open to understanding who we are as writers. What are our strengths/weaknesses? What kind of impact will this advice have on our writing, and writing process?

As I prepare to transition back to writing novels, I wanted to remind myself of the basics and figured I’d share. Focusing on short stories has helped me understand the sense of immediacy the beginning of a book should have. The faster we can draw readers in, the more likely they’ll stick around till the end. I’ve been reminding myself of these rules over and over. I believe they’re a great blueprint and give valid insight into what it takes to be a successful writer. Hopefully some of you feel the same way.

Happy writing!

Let’s Talk About: The Meaning of Previously Unpublished

Since I’ve been immersed in submitting short stories for the past couple of months, and since I’ve seen some writers asking if they can post their short stories on their blog while they’re on submission, I figured it would be a good time to discuss the term “previously unpublished.”

When editors ask for previously unpublished short stories for anthologies and magazines they want something that has never been posted to a blog (or anywhere else for that matter), never been included in a magazine, anthology, or book…ANYWHERE. This means that you can’t submit your short story and then, while still under consideration, post it to your blog. Get those thoughts out of your head. Posting anything to the internet in its entirety is publishing it.

This, of course, differs from a sample of your novel. Most literary agents suggest having samples of your writing for potential readers to look over. It’s a way of showing off your talents, marketing your skills. As long as you don’t go overboard and post half your book, you’ll be fine. Think of it in terms of percentages. You want to keep yours relatively small. A sample chapter is generally considered appropriate. When in doubt always seek clarity.

Why the need for previously unpublished materials?

Most editors are seeking fresh voices. They don’t want to keep recycling the same old stories over and over. Publishing exclusive first rights to new stories gives them an edge from a marketing perspective. Do editors seek previously published materials too? Yes, but only if they specify, and only if the author retains the rights to the piece in question. Most editors will have specific submission guidelines. It would behoove writers to follow all submission guidelines and ask questions if unsure. Plus there’s usually a big difference in the amount of pay you’ll receive for a previously unpublished short story versus a previously published story. Mistakenly posting your short story to your blog could actually cost you. Nobody wants that.

Whenever a writer asks me about what’s considered previously unpublished, I point them to this Writer’s Relief article: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2010/04/what-is-considered-previously-published-writing/ If you haven’t already, you should poke around their site for some useful tips and advice.

Is that article the “be all end all” when it comes to defining what’s considered previously unpublished? No, but it’s a great start and a handy link to keep bookmarked. As always, if you have questions, or are unsure of anything, ask the editor for clarity before doing anything. That way you won’t inadvertently make a mistake and ruin your chances to be included in a magazine or anthology for the optimal amount of pay.

Now get out there and write something. Explore, experiment, and have fun. Just make sure you’re smart about it.