Archive for the ‘ Editing ’ Category

THE LONELIEST PYLON

pylonA strange title for a blog, I know, but it sums up my stay in Maryland last weekend during the latest Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp. Why the pylon? I woke up Friday morning in my hotel room after a long day of traveling, looked out the window, and noticed a lonely orange traffic pylon keeled over in the middle of an empty field blanketed in snow. My first thought: I’ve never written a story from the point of view of an orange traffic pylon. No joke. That was my first thought of the morning. Me and my roommate, Richard, then began brainstorming ‘what if’ story ideas. What if the pylon thought it was one of a kind? What if the pylon somehow made it to an Interstate repaving project, only to be placed alongside thousands of other identical pylons? Would it be happy? Sad? What if the pylon was sex-deprived? What would it feel if sandwiched between other pylons? What if the pylon didn’t have a hole? We created about 30 scenarios for this poor, lonely pylon stranded in the snow, which we then coined “The Loneliest Pylon.” That’s basically the mindset of sleep-deprived speculative fiction writers. We get weird. And those are some of the more tame scenarios…

Anyway, the boot camp. For the last few months, me and sixteen other writerly types edited and critiqued the short stories and novel chunks submitted. This was a lot of work, but an extremely healthy habit for fiction writers. Every writer should do this regularly. I tend to do it often (my fifth boot camp?) In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter, John R. Douglas, Mort Castle, Elizabeth Massie, Gary A. Braunbeck, and David Morrell. This year, Tom, Paul and Doug took the lead, with Brian Keene visiting Saturday night to give us the dirty on writing full-time.

Let me state something incredibly important right now, before I recap the camp (and this has nothing to do with Brian’s incredible speech, if you’re wondering)… I don’t plan to write full-time. Ever? Probably not. Writing full-time, I’m guessing I could crank out a few books a year, maybe edit an anthology or two, publish a bunch of short fiction, but full-time? No. Why? I’m not that crazy. A little crazy, but not that crazy. But, I will never stop writing, or editing, or publishing, and that’s the point. I’ve got this writer sickness in me. It’s terminal. Writing is a sickness, a disease. I had to state that because I get asked this question often. In fact, I was asked this question today at work. “Why don’t you just write full-time?” Well, now you have your answer.

After dissecting these submissions to death at home, we then met in Maryland to dissect them even further, as a group. Tom focused on plot, Paul on dialogue/voice, and Doug on character/point-of-view. After much instruction Friday night (lasting until 2-ish in the morning), as well as receiving a writing assignment to turn in Sunday morning (I’ll get to that later), we met Saturday morning bright and early in smaller groups for round-robin critiques. My room was used for Tom’s plot discussions, which means I work-shopped with him first and was able to sleep in for an extra 5 minutes (sleep-deprivation is common at these things, so 5 minutes of extra rest is a blessing). Each story received 20-30 minutes of intense discussion, with each grunt and lastly the instructor taking a turn. Then we room-hopped. I spent time with Paul next, and after lunch, took a hefty beating by Doug (as expected). I think we finished the round-robin critiques sometime around 5, which brings me back to the assignment.

bootcamp1We were each handed a random sheet of paper with a news headline. By Sunday morning, we had to produce roughly 750-1,500 words about that headline. My headline read: MAN HIRES HIT-MAN TO KILL HIMSELF, CALLS IT OFF… TOO LATE? or something similar. You get the idea. Leading up to that point, I was hoping to write my assignment from an orange traffic pylon’s point of view… Well, I had to change gears a bit. A few of my returning boot camp writerly friends, Richard Payne, Tracie Orsi, and my HWA mentoree, Meghan Arcuri (pictured, left to right), sacrificed sitting down for a nice dinner to instead participate in a foursome writer orgy. It’s not what you think… okay, maybe it’s what you think. The four of us returned to one of the rooms and sat quietly, writing our stories. We tossed around ideas and random chaotic thoughts (many laughs), but, for the most part, we remained silent and worked on our stories. We each cranked out about 200-300 words. Brian Keene was up next, so we snagged some food and brought it with us.

I need to interrupt myself here to tell a quick story. I found out late Thursday night (midnight maybe), that I barely missed seeing a good friend of mine, Susan Scofield. If you haven’t seen her artwork, you are missing out. Quality stuff. Anyway, I knew she’s neighbors and good friends with Brian Keene, somewhere in Pennsylvania, but my knowledge of eastern U.S. geography sucks, so I didn’t realize how close she was to the hotel in which we were staying. Before falling asleep for the night, facebook told me she had just returned home from Maryland. She was literally (I don’t use that word often) down the street with some writerly friends I knew as well. I flew over 3,000 miles, and we missed each other by minutes, by miles! “Have Brian slap me for you when he gets here,” I told her, but that wasn’t enough.

So, Saturday rolls around and I’m in a room chatting with some of the instructors and a few newbie writers as we’re wrapping up when Brian barges in. “I have to tell you this amazing story!” he says, and everyone turns around. “I was just standing around and this BEAUTIFUL blonde woman comes up to me, and I’m thinkin’ alright… and she says to me, ‘Hey! Are you Brian Keene?’ I tell her, ‘Well, yeah, I’m Brian Keene,’ thinking this is kinda cool and all, and then she says, ‘You’re going to the Borderlands boot camp thing, right?’ I tell her yeah, wondering where this is going because I’m famous and all, and she says, ‘Do you know Michael Bailey? Can you give this to him?'” He then gets all pissy at this point like I stole his girl and acted out this big scene and it was rather awesome, and he hands me this note…

susan_note

Message received, Susan, but I love you anyway.

Where was I?

“On Writing Full-Time (circa 2013)” followed later that night. Click the link if you want to read Brian’s speech. It’s incredibly informative and provides much perspective on writing full-time. I’ve met Brian a few times in the past, and look up to him (he even had some nice things to say about me). Please, read the attached speech, and read his work. He stayed around late to answer hundreds of questions and to discuss writing in general with the instructors and boot camp grunts. I can’t quite remember the time, but 12:30-ish ticked by when we headed back upstairs to finish our assignments. The foursome writer orgy continued for the next few hours. It’s quite liberating, really. Richard and Tracie sat at the table while Meghan and I kicked back on the couch. I’ve never written fiction while seated next to someone before. It felt strange at first, but I’m incredibly comfortable and open around these amazing people. Combined, we probably produced close to 5,000 words (Tracie providing the most pages). Laughs interrupted keystrokes every so often, but the four of us cranked out quality fiction. I will need to do this more often. I left the room with a writer high, and stayed awake another hour to read.

Coffee was definitely our friend during the stay. Sunday morning, each of us staggered out of bed, somehow dressed and made ourselves presentable, hashed out some last-minute edits, printed, and then submitted our work. To be read aloud…

Norman Prentiss (another friend and an amazing writer), read some of the stories, along with Doug and Paul taking turns. Tom read only one story… mine, and he read it well. In fact, if you click the link below, a 3-page story called “Fine Print,” you can listen to Tom reading the madness I produced during my sleep-deprived stay in Maryland. And yes, the story involves an orange traffic pylon and garnered some laughs.

“Small Print” – Read by Thomas F. Monteleone.

That’s the boot camp in a nutshell. There’s much more to it than that, but it’s difficult to express what goes on at the boot camp in so many words. The most difficult part is saying goodbye. Luckily, most of us stay in contact. I’ve been to five of these things now, and try to stay in contact with fellow grunts over the years. I’ve made some great friends along the way. And I always leave feeling inspired to write, and to edit, and to re-write, and to re-edit. It is definitely a sickness, or a disease, but I’m glad to share this disease with so many fine individuals.

I leave you with one final photograph from the boot camp, with Tom and Doug on the left, Paul on the right, and some of the grunts sandwiched in between.

bootcamp2

THE NEXT BIG THING

I was invited by both Erik T. Johnson and P. Gardner Goldsmith to participate in what is becoming a viral blog-eruption of talent. It is an honor to be thought of as “the next big thing” by such magnificent authors. You can find Erik’s blog at eriktjohnson.net/blog.html, and Gardner’s at gardnergoldsmith.com. I likewise consider each of these gentlemen “the next big thing” in speculative fiction, and I urge you to online-stalk each, regularly follow their blogs, and seek out their published works. I have had the opportunity of publishing short stories by both of these fine talents. Gardner’s “Sigil” and Erik’s “The Apologies” appear in my most recent psychological horror anthology, Chiral Mad, and Erik’s “The Inconsolable Key Company ” appeared in my first anthology, Pellucid Lunacy. Read the linked blogs!

Now, on to the questions:

1. What is the working title of your next book?

I am currently working on novel number three, Psychotropic Dragon.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Nearly twelve years ago, I dreamt about a girl with a tribal tattoo inked on her midsection. She was kneeling on the ground, naked, poised with her back arched and her arms held like a dragon unfolding its wings (attached pic). Without seeing the tattoo up close, I knew what it depicted. I awoke with that image burned into my mind. I somehow knew her as a troubled teen named Julie who took a psychotropic/hallucinogenic drug in the form of eye drops (even though none of this transpired in the dream). I rarely remember dreams, but this one stuck. This strange character has haunted me ever since. She wants to live on the page, and I haven’t let her. She showed some skin in my first novel, Palindrome Hannah, and she made an appearance or two in the follow-up, Phoenix Rose, and in a few of my short stories, but until now, I was afraid of giving her story life. Psychotropic Dragon is that story.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Horror. This one is a nonlinear psychological mind trip.

4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The closest I’ve seen to a Julie lookalike would have to be Keira Knightly. The first time I saw Domino, I thought the main character looked familiar. There’s a drug dealer named Chase who could be played easily by a witty Woody Harrison or Kevin Spacey. Julie’s mother could be Carrie-Anne Moss, and her father by anyone who can pull off sinister. Julie’s friend Frankie could be played by Kandyse McClure.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Enhanced by a psychotropic drug taken through the eyes, a troubled youth unravels her dark fantastic past to shed light on an ameliorate reality.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will soon be looking for representation.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The first “written” version of this story made it to paper in late 2009, and I’ve been editing and revising as I go along. I’m hoping to have a completed manuscript by early 2013. It typically takes me four years per novel, so I’m still on track.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

None that I can think of, which is sort of the point. I’ve been called the David Mitchell of horror, but that’s only because his work is extremely nonlinear like mine. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum comes to mind because of the brutality and pacing.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Julie. It’s her story. I’m the vessel.

10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Readers of my first two novels will recognize some of the characters that weave in and out of this novel, including Aeron Stevenson from Palindrome Hannah, who has a big role in Psychotropic Dragon, as well as Hannah, Julie’s daughter. Horror greats such as Thomas F. Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, Douglas E. Winter and John Skipp have all helped in this novel’s early development.

Who do I consider “the next big thing?”

There are many names to consider. If I had my choice, I’d write a paragraph about all thirty who deserve such recognition, but I can only choose three, so here they are, in no particular order:

Christian A. Larsen. I discovered Chris after he submitted his story “Mirror Moments” to the Chiral Mad anthology not long ago. After falling in love with his story and its delicate prose, I searched his name online and found his exlibrislarsen.com website, where he blogs regularly (side note: a similar thing happened after discovering Erik T. Johnson for the first time, who signed me up for “The Next Best Thing”). I am proud to be in the same table of contents as Chris in the forthcoming Zippered Flesh 2, where his story “The Little Things” will appear alongside Kealan Patrick Burke, W.D. Gagliani, Jezzy Wolfe, and yours truly. I am eager to read his story “The Talent’s in the Bones” in The Ghost is the Machine, where he rightfully belongs with authors such as Joe Hill, Eric J. Guignard and Jonathan Templar, as well as his story “724” in For When the Veil Drops. I look forward to hunting down Mr. Larsen’s other work. He is that good. And I look forward to publishing more of his stories in the future. How good is Christian A. Larsen? Jack Ketchum recently tweeted a line from Mr. Larsen’s “Mirror Moments”:  Kids see things differently; that’s why they make such great victims.” Larsen conveys powerful prose with minimal words.

R.B. Payne. I met Richard a long time ago at one of the Borderlands Press boot camps, where we battled with red pens and bled over pages until we realized we weren’t only fighting on the same side, but sparring, making each other better. And then we kept battling throughout the weekend, and again at another boot camp a few years later. Only recently have I really dug into his work as a fan, seeking out his publications. I must say, I have enjoyed every word. Lovecraft-inspired The Shadow of the Unknown is the first anthology to publish Richard alongside yours truly, and his story “The Laramie Tunnel” is one to remember. I personally invited Mr. Payne to Chiral Mad and was sent a story called “Cubicle Farm,” one of my quickest decisions. A third of the way through the initial read, a voice in my head was saying, “Yes, I like where this one’s going because I don’t know where it’s going. This one is definitely in the anthology.” To date, there are three official reviews of the anthology; two of these have mentioned “Cubicle Farm” as one of the standouts. Look forward to Payne.

Meghan Arcuri. What can I say about Meghan Arcuri? The palindrome ‘wow’ comes to mind. Meghan and I have met twice in person: first at Borderlands, and second at AnthoCon 2012, where she participated in the official release of Chiral Mad. She read part of her story “Inevitable” and held everyone on the edge of their seats. She then shared that “Inevitable” was her first publication, and that it was her first reading. (side note: this is also her first horror story). This floored everyone. Over the conference weekend, many notable authors approached asking, “Where did you find her? She’s incredible!” and publishers asking “Do you think she’d send something to me?” She amazed Gary A. Braunbeck with her reading, as well as Charles Day. Both mentioned to me how much they enjoyed her story. Meghan is an amazing new talent and my final author to consider as “The Next Big Thing”. I am glad to have met her and we’ve shared many hours together discussing the art of writing. R.B. Payne is to blame for our relationship, and I thank him wholeheartedly. He sent an email prior to submitting his story, a warning of sorts, letting me know Meghan would be sending me something: “She’s heading someplace serious as soon as she gets more writing chops. Anyway, just sayin’”

So, those are my three. Follow the links and seek them out. You will not be disappointed.

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