Posts Tagged ‘Short Stories’

Recently, Stitched Smile Publications put a multiple author anthology titled Unleashed: Monsters Vs Zombies. During the release party for this book, I met a lady who brimmed over with excitement. Having talked with her briefly during that party, I thought it might be time that you, Faithful Readers, get to meet her. Welcome G. Marie Merante to my world (and yours).

AJB: Tell me a little bit about you.

51oc1pr0byl-_ux250_GMM: I’ve lived in the same town all my life. Its very rural and if you blink, you miss the center of town. For the past 20 years, I’ve lived six minutes down the road from the house I grew up in, moving after I got married. I’ve been with my husband for 25 years, have three kids…well, men now-ages 31,19 and 18. And I might as well throw in my two dogs, three cats and my bird—an African Grey.

I work part time in an amazing bookstore, as well as have the day job, and of course the writing, which I’m always thinking about, or working on in between.

To add more about the me … besides writing, I study martial arts.

AJB: You’ve lived in the same town your entire life? I ask that like it is shocking, but I have mostly lived in the same town my entire life as well, only moving out of it for about a year.

GMM: Well … I moved here when I was seven, but since I have zero memory of anything before I was five, its basically all my life..lol

AJB: I shift gears a lot, so let’s talk about working in a bookstore. Do you enjoy it?

GMM: Its pretty amazing. The bookstore is iconic. Its well known in the world of Indie bookstores and it draws incredible authors. In the past I have met Neil Gaiman there, and this past year, Buzz Aldrin, Kate Hudson ( who I almost knocked over) and Lindsey Vonn. The list of authors is immense, so the store has amazing history and a great vibe, almost a Hogwarts feeling when you walk in. And to be around piles and piles of books, there is a weird coziness to it, a very peaceful feeling.

AJB: Oh wow. I would love to work in a small bookstore like that, one where I could get lost in the pages every chance I got.

GMM: Unfortunately, there is not much time to read while working, between helping customers, or shelving. I wish I could just absorb each book just by touching them.

AJB: That would be awesome, but then you would lose the experience of reading and feeling the characters and seeing their lives through their eyes.

GMM: Very true. I do most of my ‘reading’ on audio. Fortunately, my day job allows me to listen all day, so I’m constantly going from one book to another. I have about 260 books in my Audio library.

AJB: 260 audio books? Holy cow. I have to be honest here: I have only listened to two audio books in my entire life and they are both for my books.

51jmndlm9dl-_uy250_GMM: That’s a great way to do final edits on your own work. Reading out loud has never worked for me, so downloading your own pages to an audio file is always my last phase of edits before putting a book to bed and querying.

AJB: Well, I didn’t do the audio for them–I listened to the audio versions that were put out by my publisher and voiced by John Malone. He captured my writing wonderfully.

GMM: Ahh. That’s awesome!! Well … editing tip for you..lol

AJB: I’ll keep that in mind.

GMM: Oh … and THANK GOD for audio books … I would go crazy with my day job.

I go through 3-4 books a week, depending on their length. Harry Potter, thats taking a bit more than a week each.

AJB:
I’m curious, who is the nicest celebrity you have met there?

GMM:  They’ve all been very nice, but Neil Gaiman was just amazing. Stardust is one of my favorite movies, and I told him that. He shook my hand and said most American’s have never even seen the movie. He signed my book and told me to DREAM. Which I do.

AJB: I have heard Gaiman is a truly nice person, which is something you always hope to hear about celebrities.

GMM: Its completely true. If you ever listen to any of the audio books that he narrates, what he sounds like on the audio is exactly his personality. The nicest guy ever.

AJB: That is awesome to hear.

Let’s shift gears again. You also mentioned you study martial arts.

GMM: Yes.

AJB: How did you come to that?

GMM: My husband was studying when we met, but then we got away from it. About five years ago, we decided to take classes with our two youngest boys who were still in middle school then (both are graduated from High School now.)

We believe in self defense, and I especially believe women should learn to defend themselves.

AJB: I’ve never taken martial arts. It is as much about discipline as it is self defense, right?

GMM: It is. In the school I go to that is instilled in the younger kids more. Respect. Listen to you parents, Do your homework. No testing for your next belt if your teachers don’t sign off agreeing the kids are well behaved and doing their work.

As adults, you should really have that down already … lol.

AJB: Maybe I should get my children into it.

GMM: Absolutely!! Its great for self esteem and its not at all about fighting. If you are at the right school, you are told to avoid confrontation, respect the art.

You learn to defend yourself, but with that comes responsibility. Ok … I sound like Spiderman now.

AJB: Hahahaha … Spiderman is okay in my book. But I hate his outfit from the earlier comics.

GMM: Spiderman has a very special place in my heart.

AJB: He does know how to weave a tangled web.

Let’s switch gears again and talk about writing.

GMM: Ok.

AJB: When did you get an inkling you may want to be a writer?

51xswnz8vl-_uy250_GMM: High school. English class. The teacher recommended I submit my creative writing projects to a high school literary magazine (Its been so long, I’ve forgotten the name of it). I wrote many short stories and poems. When I was about 23, I wrote my first book, a children’s book, and even typed it up on my typewriter. But it wasn’t until I was taking a college course in my thirties—a creative writing course—that the teacher told me I should be doing nothing else but writing children’s stories.

That was when I decided to write seriously

I wrote my first novel length book after that, then rewrote it about 10 times over 8 years.

I can’t even call it revising, they were total rewrites.

After I finally put that book to bed, did a bit of querying—maybe five queries and all rejections, I started another book. By this time, I had discovered Twitter, which was still pretty new at that point. There were agents and authors on there and I found out about Nanowrimo, so I decided it was the perfect time to start a new book. I wrote 30k of a vampire book before deciding I needed to do too much research to continue (Virgo … perfectionist). So I put that book aside, and started a new one—a dystopian and won Nano, writing 50k words in two weeks (don’t ask..I have zero idea how I pulled it off).

I finished the book in April, revisions and all. By September, I was querying the agents I had met on Twitter. A year later, I signed with the first agent I queried. But we didn’t go out to publishers for another seven months. By that time, dystopians were out. The book did not sell because the market was flooded.

I parted ways with her about a year and half later.

Since then, I’ve written two more books, one which I’ve been working on for four years and I’m querying for now. I also have  two fulls out at this time. The other I’m working on revisions again.

I also have about four new books on the burner … no idea which I’m going to write next.

AJB: The life and trials of a writer.

GMM: Yup. And two shorts, one with Stitched Smile Publications, and another that was picked up last April.

AJB: Let’s backtrack a little bit here. Tell me a little about that teacher who encouraged you to write in high school. Was he a cool teacher? Influential? Did you like him?

GMM: He was my favorite teacher, the kind that brings out the creativity in you. The class was small, maybe 20-25 people, so he read and graded the stories right in front of the students. That was when he told me I should be doing nothing else but writing for a living. He told me he has not seen a student writing like mine in many years.

I was stunned. At that  point, it had been several years since I wrote anything.

He started me on my journey. Planted the seed. And today, the short I wrote that day is still in the works. I’m revamping it, possibly turning it in a full length novel. (When I was young, 7-10yrs old,  when we visited my Nana, I used to go on witch hunts in the woods with my cousins and a boy who was my Nana’s neighbor. The story is based on those hunts.)

AJB: I love teachers like that. I wish there were more of them. Isn’t it interesting how one person can set the course for someone else by having a belief in that person?

GMM: Absolutely. His words still wring in my ears anytime I doubt my self, which is often. He was amazing. He obviously had passion that ebbed over into his students.

AJB: Writers have a habit of losing belief in themselves. Sometimes we need a push and a memory can often serve as that push. I’m glad to hear you had a teacher who can push you now, all these years after his encouragement.

Now, let’s talk about the two short stories you currently have out.

GMM: Sure!

45b45f94c1fe8fa41859dbf0ecfa9a4eAJB: First let’s discuss the one with SSP. Crystal Blue Waters, am I correct?

GMM: You are correct.

AJB: Tell me about Crystal Blue Waters.

GMM: Violene is a vampire forced out of Miami by the zombie out break, and back to her birthplace, a remote island in the Caribbean, in order to survive, only the tropical waters are not as safe as she thought, and its up to her to save her island.

AJB: Having read this, I thought it was a neat concept I think readers will enjoy. I might be wrong here, but is this your first publication?

GMM: It is.

AJB: Well, let me congratulate you on your first publication and make a toast to many, many more in the future.

GMM: Thank you!! Its very exciting. I have my contract with SSP framed. Its in my bookcase.

AJB:
You do? That is awesome. I am happy for you.

Marie, do you have a favorite genre to write in?

GMM: Not particularly, though I tend to write dark. The book I am querying now is a YA historical/magical realism. I am revising a dark YA contemporary romance. I have two zombie books slated. Another one that I think would be classified as Literary fiction. Its what ever comes to me.

AJB: Diversity is a good thing.

Earlier you said you have ideas for other books. Do you find it difficult to focus on one idea or to choose which idea to write on when you have multiple ones in your head?

GMM: Its horrific. When ideas come to me, I get like little snippets of movies that just appear. Then they are stuck in my head. I carry a pile of notebooks with me because I’m constantly jumping from one to the other, constantly writing notes. I’ve had a particularly hard time trying to figure out which new book to work on. I have a few chapters for two of them, plot notes for the others. I’ve decided to wait on those while I revise the YA contemporary romance. That story is most prominent in my mind right now.

AJB: Then I would go with the one that is at the forefront of your thoughts.

GMM: Exactly. I’m adding a secondary story line that is going to parallel the existing story, so its is new writing, not all revising. Which makes it a bit more satisfying.

AJB: Just a couple of more questions and I’ll let you go. You said you have another short story out. Can you tell me about it?

GMM: Sure. Its with Dead Silent Publishing out of the UK, that is also a production company, focused solely on zombies. My short is called All Dressed in White, which takes place about a year after the zombie outbreak. A bride who was scratched and wakes up the morning of her wedding realizes she only has hours to live before she turns. So its a countdown of her preparing for the wedding, because its the last thing she wants to do, and a countdown to her becoming a zombie.

AJB:
Oh cool. That is something I think I would like to read.

GMM: Awesome! It has a twist at the end..

AJB: Okay, Marie, I just have one more question for you: where can readers find you?

GMM: G. Marie Merante on Facebook

G. Marie Merante on Twitter

G. Marie Merante’s Amazon Author Page

For story boards: Pinterest

I used to have a website, but took it down to make changes and well … I need to work on it.

AJB: Thank you for your time Marie, it has been nice talking with you.

GMM: Thank you so much!

AJB: You are welcome.

Check out G. Marie Merante in both Monsters Vs Zombies and Zombie Chunks and look for more from her in the future.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

 

Back in 2007 Stephen King wrote an article for the New York Times called, ‘What Ails the Short Story.’  I think it was a small way to promote “The Best American Short Stories 2007,” in which Mr. King edited.  Aside from that, it is an article I read several times a year when I need to be reminded why I write mostly short stories instead of focusing on novels, like so many other writers.  It also makes me wonder, ‘why do I write short stories again?’

After reading the article, there are things I take from it each time, and usually they are the same things.  Occasionally, I find a little nugget I may have missed the last half dozen times I read the piece. 

The biggest thing that stands out to me (and which is the one thing I get from it each and every time I read it) is the readership of short stories is dwindling.  And all us writers and wanna-be writers have to compete for those readers.  It’s not just the case of getting a reader’s attention.  It’s also a case of getting the editors and publishers to take notice, which is as hard as getting readers.

With that in mind, a lot of writers tend to write for editors and publishers, not for themselves, and certainly not for the readers they seek.  This is where we, the writers, tend to lose the most readers.  When we stop writing for them, then we may as well stop writing altogether. 

As a writer who scours the Internet looking for places to submit my work to, I often find some of the craziest submission calls.  Zombie Cheerleaders in Death Cheer.  Radioactive hair follicles.  What happens when a werewolf falls in love with a zombie?  Find out in Love Bites.  Honestly, these are not stories that I think a lot of readers would care for.  I certainly have no desires to read these things.  Or to write them.

I have, on many occasions, written stories geared toward the call for submissions.  I have, on many occasions, had those stories rejected.  Hmmm…so, now I have a bunch of stories based on some pig demon who likes girls who wear bacon undergarments (and other various oddities a well) and no home for them.  This is the danger of writing a story directed at a theme oriented publication.  Not only that, you are not writing for the reader.  You are writing for the editor and the publisher, and their opinions are subjective at best.  Most of them choose what they like to read, not necessarily what the every day, average Jane or Joe likes. 

Personally, I think that is a mistake.  I have a whole digital library of stories I have written for publications that have no homes, stories I wrote for specific themes that were rejected for one reason or other.  I didn’t write any of them for me or for the readers out there.  Sadly, that is the truth.  The results of writing for editors and publishers have lead to maybe five publications.  Probably less.

I haven’t written a story directed toward a specific publication in several years, and I don’t plan on doing it again.

How passionate can you be if you are trying to write a story for a publication just because you want to get in that publication?  Think about it?  Honestly, the stories I wrote for theme based publications lacked real emotion, real characters.  It lacked reality.  The stories out and out sucked. 

Passion.  Believability.  Realistic characters and emotions.  Yup, a lot of stories—short and long—are missing these traits.  I think that is why I don’t care much for many novels.  If those traits I mentioned are missing, then why would I want to read a 500 page story when I would barely be able to make it through ten pages?

And what about our audiences?  King states—correctly so—that a lot of the reading audience of the short story magazines and websites are other writers trying to figure out what the publication is looking for.  Of course it is.  That’s what these publications tell us to do.  Read a couple of issues of our mag before you submit to us.  The problem is not a ton of actual readers are reading this stuff these days. 

So, not only are the readers not reading short stories, but a chunk of those who are reading are writers who are competing for the same few spots with the rest of us.  That means the audience is even smaller than we thought.

This is crazy.

Where have all the readers gone?

Let me see if I can figure this out.  The readers haven’t gone anywhere.  They just turned their attention to other things.  Why?  Well, we are a society that is all about being entertained now—right now—and we’re not very patient.  A lot of writers no longer develop stories because, quite frankly, if the story doesn’t grab us by the end of the first page, we feel like we are wasting our time.  A lot of folks don’t get passed the first few paragraphs. 

Answer this question:

Why would I, a reader, want to read your work?  What sets it apart from everything else out there?  (Okay, so that was two questions.  I can count.  Really…I can.)

It has taken me a LONG time to figure this out.  Why would anyone want to read anything I have ever written?  What makes my work different than everyone else’s?  Maybe nothing, but maybe…maybe something. 

Are you ready for this?

I care.

Yup.  That’s my answer to why you should read my work.

I care. 

I care about the readers’ time.  I care about wasting that time—something I hope no reader ever feels they have done after reading something I have written.

Do I care about making money?  I’d be lying if I said I don’t. 

But what I care about the most is writing good stories.  What I care about are the readers enjoying those stories. 

I’ve often said without readers, a writer is nothing.  I believe that whole-heartedly.  Writers are only as good as the readers make them.  Sure, we can write something great, but if no one reads it then no one knows just how great it is.  But—yes, there is always a but—if one person reads it and likes it, the chances of them telling someone else increases.  And what if that someone likes the story?  Yeah, those chances of word of mouth marketing increase again and again and again. 

That does not happen if you waste the readers’ time. 

Care about your work, people.  Care about the characters you create, the situations you put them in, and the resolutions of those situations.  Care about your readers.  If you care about them, then, over time, they will care about your work.  That is one way to get a little piece of that fading audience of short story readers. 

Try and set yourselves apart—give the readers a reason to like your work, and in turn, like you.  Our audience is dwindling.  We need to give them a reason to keep reading. 

I’m still working on it, but I’m on my way. 

Until we meet again, my friends…

 

 

The Fear of Failure

Posted: November 2, 2012 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Failure: an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success.

Failure, a word we all hate. Many of us not only hate the word, but we fear it as well. It can either drive us or paralyze us. Many choose to let it paralyze them.

I once heard a conversation that went something like this:

“You’ll never succeed if you don’t try.”

“But I might fail.”

“So? What if you fail?”

“Then I’m a failure. A loser.”

“No. Then you try again.”

“But…”

“No buts. If you give it your best effort and you still fail, at least you tried, and trying and failing is better than never knowing if you could have succeeded.”

Failure.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Why?

Why are we so afraid to fail? Is it the way we’re raised? Is it thinking we will let others down? Or maybe we feel we will let ourselves down? Maybe we think people will laugh at us. Sure, that could be it. I’m sure we’ve all been laughed at before. Sometimes it’s quite uncomfortable, especially when you can’t escape the laughter.

Does it really matter? Does it really matter what others think about us? Should it?

Listen to me for a second.

I’m terrified of failure. I hate it.

I wasn’t a particularly popular kid. Nor was I the guy the girls all went googly eyes over. I didn’t come from money. And, to be completely honest, I’m not all that smart. What comes naturally for most, I struggle with. In order for me to ‘get it’ I have to do it over and over again until it is a habit.

Not being popular isn’t such a bad thing. I learned to rely on myself to get things done (for the most part, I still do that today). Since the girls didn’t particularly find me as appealing as others, when the right one came along I knew it and I hadn’t been in a ton of relationships that could taint the ‘right one’ (though I had been engaged once before and that ended badly when I found out she was the cheating sort). Not coming from money helps me to value my money more so, to not spend it willy nilly, to cherish the things I have. And not being all that smart makes me appreciate the things I can do even more and it also gives me the right to say, ‘if I can do this, so can you.’ It also makes me try harder in hopes of succeeding at what I put my mind to.

But that doesn’t keep me from being afraid to fail.

Let’s look at this another way: What causes us to fail? What is behind our failures?

Is it a lack of real efforts? Sometimes.

Is it a lack of know how? Sometimes.

Is it rushing through things and not doing it properly, not reading the instructions all the way through? Sometimes.

Is it being afraid to succeed? Hmmm… Sometimes.

All four of those questions have a similar theme: the person who is afraid of failure is generally in the way of their success. It’s true. What keeps you from succeeding at a task? Lack of effort? Lack of know how? Rushing things? Afraid of success? Answer the questions, and if you answer yes to any of those four then you are in the way of your own success.

I have been guilty of all four at one time or other and sometimes more than one at the same time (maybe even all four at once).

Here’s a little secret that only a handful of folks know: Outwardly I come across as confident, and in many things I am. But inwardly… inwardly, many times I am worried about how I will do, that I might screw something up or that I might do something wrong, maybe even say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Or that someone won’t like what I have done. Believe me, failure is something that is always in the back—scratch that, in the front—of my mind.

Sometimes—yes, I’ve used that word a lot in this blog—you have to stop being afraid, or at least be brave enough to step outside your comfort zone. With writing, that is what I do. I step out of my comfort zone every time I submit a story or promote someone’s book or do an interview. When Along the Splintered Path came out back in January, I was excited, but I was nervous. Admittedly, sales haven’t been that great. It’s hard to market a book that was Amazon’s Kindle only for the first nine months of its existence. Even now, with the book in print format, sales are not what a writer would hope.

Still, I’m proud of the short collection.

The daunting task came for me to look around for other publishers who may give me a shot. Guess what? I tried. I contacted several of them. When none of them considered my work an option, I could have given up and stuck with submitting stories to magazines and e-zines.

Instead, I decided to try to do this on my own. I began the tedious work of creating my own book. There were times that I started to think it wouldn’t be any good, that who would buy from an unknown. That is fear poking its ugly head out and laughing at me. I trudged on, and with the prodding of a good friend and my wife, Cate, I finally put out Southern Bones, a collection of short stories. I had some help—a lot of help, actually. But there were times that I still doubted myself.

Failure. That’s what I am afraid of.

Now to the reality of writing. This collection, like the first one, hasn’t fared too well in the sales department. But, like the other one, I’m proud of it. I’m proud of the effort I put into it. I’m proud of the fact that I didn’t know how to do it and I sought out the right help and learned how to format the book and put links in and upload it and do it right. I didn’t rush through it. I took my time and went over the book several times—so many times that Cate and Belinda were ready to kill me—or at the very least, maim me.

Still that fear of failure nagged at me, right up to, and after, I pressed that submit button. I let out that long breath that comes after holding it without realizing. My body sagged in my desk chair and I think I sat there for ten minutes without so much as moving.

Here’s the thing: I did it. I did it. Do you understand that? I did something that just a year or so ago I would have never attempted. I didn’t let the fear of failure stop me from trying. And that’s the key, people: Trying.

Not some half-hearted attempt. A full out put yourself into it effort. Do that, and regardless of where you end up, you can hold your head high and say, I did my best. Win or lose. Fail or succeed. If you don’t try, you never know.

Southern Bones may never sale another book, but I’m proud of it.

If you want to succeed, you have to do two things: 1) Try and 2) Get out the way. You’ll never succeed if you are in the way, and you certainly won’t succeed if you don’t try.

I need to go. I need to make sure I did the print format for Southern Bones right. If not, then I will try again until I do get it right. I may be afraid of failure, but I never want to say I didn’t try.

Until we meet again, my friends…

I apologize to the handful of folks who have been following Type AJ Negative during The Coffin Hop. Today was a busy, busy day and I haven’t had the time to get a post together. So, now I sit and I write and I try to make this up to you all.

I thought about posting the three part series that I posted last Halloween, based on the true story of a friend’s death seventeen years ago. Then I thought, ‘Hey, A.J., some people have already read this story, so they may not want to read it again.’ So, I needed something else.

And that something else is:

Horror.

Why not? It’s The Coffin Hop and we are celebrating the horror genre with our posts. But wait, this is not just about horror, but something else, something I have discussed here on this blog before.

What constitutes horror?

Let me state for the record: my writing is called horror, but not necessarily because there are monsters and demons in everything I write. In all honesty, there are not a ton of them. Sure, there are my zombies in my series Dredging Up Memories (which I shamelessly plug and encourage you to read by following the link). There may be a ghost or two or a demon here or there in my stories, but for the most part, the stories are less supernatural and more, well, natural.

For me, horror is less about the scare and more about the situation. Think about it for a moment or ten: What makes you cringe more? A story about demons and ghosts and zombies and sparkly vampires or a story about a person trapped in a car after an accident and in need of escaping as gas leaks perilously closer to the flame at the front of the vehicle? Okay, maybe that’s not fair. We all know sparkly vampires make us cringe. Answer me this then: which is more horrific? Zombies? Nah. Demons? Nah. Ghosts? Nope. Sparkly vampires? Nuh-uh. A man trapped in a car that is about to go up in flames? Yup.

The events surrounding a car accident can be as simple as a flat tire while driving down the road, the accelerator getting stuck, someone whipping in front of you, a deer running across the street (because clearly that deer didn’t know where the freaking deer crossing signs were). But it’s what happens when those simple things occur. Does the car flip? Does it go so fast that it crashes into the pillar of a bridge? Does the other car slam on its brakes and the vehicle slams into the back of it? Does the deer’s head go through the windshield and the driver gets killed by an antler to the eye?

When I write I don’t do so with a plot in mind. I do so with a ‘hmmm… this is interesting. I wonder what would happen if…

a little girl fell in love with some horses in an open field?
a little girl’s skin was marred by freakish little stars?
a boy saw a ghost outside his window?
a woman berated her husband about his tool shed?
two kids were angered by a trashy addict looking for their caregiver?
a tornado tore through a town not known for having tornadoes?
a girl watched her sister die?
the world ran out of space for its criminals?
a boy was scared by a crazy man on the hill?
a boy seeks for the murderer of the girl he loves?
a man loses his son and begins to hear things?

All of these are the basis of stories in my collection, Southern Bones.

But, really, what constitutes horror?

Back in January of this year, a man committed suicide, but they didn’t find his body for several weeks. After he was found, there was speculation on how he died, if he killed himself or was murdered or if there was a police cover up. There was a story in those events—those horrific events. What about the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State child sexual abuse case? I’ve read the transcipt of the indictment—it will turn your stomach? Maybe the various shooting rampages that have taken place with more frequency over the years? Aren’t the events horrific enough to be considered horror?

Like before, I am very interested in what you all think. Leave a comment and… I tell you what I’m going to do. I have an extra copy of The Best of Necrotic Tissue—the last issue of my favorite horror publication—and I’ll give it away to one random commenter on this blog. Make sure and leave an e-mail address so I can get in touch with you. If you don’t want to leave your e-mail address, you can always find me on Facebook (facebook.com/AJBrown36) and you can leave me the address there in a message. Photobucket

Thanks for dropping by on this sixth day of The Coffin Hop. It’s nearing an end and I hope you have enjoyed it thus far. Please, drop by the other blogs and check out some of the giveaways and stories by going here. You won’t be sorry.

I’m out for now.

Until we meet again, my friends…

Back in 2008 I wrote a story as a prompt to a Halloween contest. My friend, S. Copperstone, created an interesting character for another story in the same contest. I was aggravated with myself. Why didn’t I come up with that name? I didn’t know—I still don’t—but I do know I liked it. She and I talked about this character, a Mr. Cade Aver, and I eventually asked her if I could write a story using the name. She was cool with it.

When I was finished, I sent her a copy of it and asked for permission to submit it somewhere. It got picked up by Estronomicon for Halloween of that year.

Today I present you with a rewritten version of Treats at the Aver Residence. Again, I contacted my friend, S. Copperstone, for permission to put this up. What, you ask? Why ask when it was my story? Why ask when she granted permission before? It’s simple: out of respect for my friend and the character name. I could simply change the name, but I don’t want to do that. I want Cade Aver and my friend to get the credit they deserve, because, honestly, if not for her, I would have never written the story.

So, please, enjoy, Treats at the Aver Residence, and if you wouldn’t mind, leave a comment. I would appreciate it.

***

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.

***

“They’re going to love this year’s treat,” Cade said, giddily. He moved around the large steel table with a carving knife in hand. His milky eyes dazzled in the yellow glow of the overhead lights. He began to sing a tune, changing the lyrics slightly. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The children are sneaking, and candy they’re seeking with great cheer. Oh yes it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

On the table lay the body covered by a sheet up to its head. The man squirmed, arms and legs pulling on the restraints that held him down. His eyes were wide orbs, glassy and full with fear.

“All those years of being a surgeon come in handy at this time of year, don’t you think, Mr. Mason.”

Cade looked down into Mason’s green eyes, red veins prominent on their whites. The man blinked, and a stray tear fell down the side of his face. He let out a groan, not one of pain, but fear. Cade was certain if the white cloth shoved into his mouth wasn’t there, Mason would scream for all he was worth—and at that moment, he was worth quite a lot to Cade.

“Don’t worry—you will only feel a moderate amount of pain, and that for only a few seconds, maybe a minute, and then you’ll pass out.” He stroked Mason’s sweaty cheek. “Then you won’t feel anything at all. At least until the children arrive.”

Mason shook his head, his eyes filling with tears.

“Oh yes,” Cade almost sung, and then patted Mason’s face. “It’s going to be a wonderful Halloween.”

***

In their homes, the children sang and danced as their mothers painted their off colored skin whatever shade of pale, brown or black that they chose. Halloween shows—It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy were their favorites—played on the television and those who were finished with their dinners sat and watched until the sun began to set.

The anticipation made some of them bounce in their seats. Toes tapped. Fingers drummed. Teeth even chattered. Betsy Wallabanger’s teeth fell out twice, and each time she put them back in, she had to adjust her lipstick. Excitement hung in the air.

***

“Would you like a smiley face or a frown? Or maybe a really scary face?”

Mason shook his head and moaned again.

“Hmm . . . none of those, huh? I have templates this year—got them cheap at the WalGreens in town. They practically gave them to me.” Cade rubbed the blade of his knife against the side of his head. A flap of skin peeled back and a few strands of dirty brittle hair flaked to the floor. “Wow, that’s sharp—I guess I should be careful where I put that.”

Cade pulled the sheet away like a magician putting on a show, and looked at Mason’s body. A pair of red underwear covered his privates but other than that Mason was nude. His belly was plump, the signs of a man who likes to eat, and eat well at that.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I shaved your body while you were asleep. You had a lot of hair and you know how kids are—most of them just don’t like hair on their treats. But I didn’t shave your head. Some of them like to keep scalps for souvenirs these days.”

Mason shook his head hard and let out a yell that was muffled by the cloth. He chewed on the rag as if trying to eat it so he could cry for help.

“Well, I’m sorry, but you needed the shave. What’s done is done—you just have to get over that now.”

Cade set the knife on a counter behind him and rifled through the templates. “Frankenstein? Oh, how about Shrek—he’s popular with the kiddies.” After going through all of the patterns, he set them down, and picked up a black marker. “None of those will do. Not for you, Mr. Mason. I’ll just have to come up with something on my own.”

He stood over Mason’s ample belly and drew an odd looking oval just below the ribs. He drew a second oval and then a triangle around Mason’s belly button. Cade tapped his temple with the marker and looked up at the ceiling. Many images ran through his head until the right one came to mind. A smile creased his face.

“Oh, you are going to love this.”

He drew the large squiggly line below the triangle and then brought it down close to his underwear line. Cade picked up the knife and looked at Mason. “Are you ready for this?”

Mason’s screams were muffled as Cade plunged the knife into his stomach.

***

“Come on, let’s get changed into your costumes.”

The children squealed with joy when the mothers beckoned them to get ready for the festivities. They hurried to their rooms and donned their different outfits. They were vampires and werewolves, neither of which sparkled or walked around shirtless. They were witches with warts on their noses and brooms by their sides. They were zombies—oh so many of them were zombies. Betsy Wallabanger dressed up as a corpse bride, her hair jutting this way and that way, her outfit a natural dirty shade, complete with stains across the front. Her mother had worn that very costume when she was Betsy’s age. There were no princesses or Batmans or video game stars. There were no cute little lions, tigers or bears, oh my. There was an Alice and she carried a bucket shaped like the tardy rabbit’s head. Every few steps it dripped blood—not too much, just enough to make it appear real.

They practiced the chants they learned from Halloweens past. Their voices rang up to the ceilings and none were off key.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”

Some of the kids added extra verses, having learned them from the older kids. “If you don’t I won’t cry. I’ll slit your throat and then you’ll die.”

Mothers gave approving looks and fathers ruffled the enthusiastic heads of the extra verse singers.

There were few idle threats of ‘behave or else.’ Those were reserved for parents in towns where Halloween was more of a burden than a rite of passage. Besides, the kids in Dreads Hollow knew the parents would never stick to their threats of no haunting the neighborhood—it was just as much fun for the adults as it was for the children. Then there was always the one house at the end of Corpse Avenue that did something different each year. If anything, the parents wanted to see how Mr. Aver had decorated. If there were no haunts for the kids, there was no visiting the Aver residence for the adults.

***

Cade pulled part of the flesh of Mason’s stomach away. He bit down on a piece of it, chewed and nodded. “Very tasty.”

He looked inside Mason’s stomach. He had deadened the nerves and cauterized the flesh around where he had carved away the precious meat. Blood still flowed from the chest cavity and Mason still breathed, though shallow as it was.

The carved face appeared gruesome but Cade wasn’t finished. He had left a long slit by the reamed out mouth. A mesh was in place, holding Mason’s intestines in.

Cade carefully moved Mason’s body onto a gurney he had procured from one of the medical catalogues he still received, though he hadn’t been a practicing surgeon in well over twenty years. Mason moaned and opened his eyes. A few seconds later, his eyes closed again and he was unconscious to the world around him. Cade pushed the gurney through the house and onto the front porch.

Out in the fresh autumn air, Cade took a deep breath. The coolness filled his throat, but burned his ancient lungs. “Ah, I love this time of year.” He worked like a cautious burglar, careful not to set any alarms off and give himself away. In Cade’s case, careful not to jar Mason’s body and have his efforts ruined by an act of clumsiness. He slid his arms under Mason’s legs and back and carried him down the steps. Cade sat him on a sturdy lawn chair, not bothering to brush off the leaves that had fallen on it or the spider web that hung between one armrest and the seat. Back inside, Cade grabbed the accessories, chip wrappers and empty beer cans. He littered the area around Mason with the garbage and placed one of the cans in the man’s hand.

Cade looked at his creation. The backdrop of his old house with its creaky steps, shuttered windows and flaking paint would give anyone from outside of Dreads Hollow the creeps. He smiled and shook with something akin to lust.

***

They walked the streets of the neighborhood, clothed in their homemade outfits and masks. Each child’s eyes beamed with excitement as they went from door to door. The welcome lights shone brightly at each house, luring the kids to knock and speak their chants. Neighbors opened doors, smiled and played along. They oohhed and ahhed at the costumes; they told the children how scary and terrifying and even how sickening they were; they gave them treats of lady fingers and animal eyes, of hair necklaces and cooked tongues.

“I got a rock,” one kid said when he left each house. The other children laughed the first couple of times, but eventually grew tired of it and begged him to stop.

Tunes of Trick or Treat rang throughout the night until they reached the Aver residence. It sat at the end of Corpse Avenue, the front yard lit by a dim bulb that cast shadows that looked like pointy fingers stretching across the ground. Cade stood on the porch, his face covered by a mask made of Mason’s skin.

Several of the children approached the house. Their bodies hummed with anticipation and their eyes darted about the yard. Mason sat in the shadows near the porch, one hand wrapped around the beer can. He moaned and the children stopped. Some of the parents leaned into get a better look.

“I call this Drunk Man,” Cade said and flipped a switch that lit up the yard.

A loud gasps echoed through the night as parents and children alike took in Cade’s work. Mason’s stomach had been carved out into a normal pumpkin face, the lining burned black. A trickle of blood still washed down into the man’s briefs. Mason’s eyes had been stapled open and crusted blood clung to his face. His intestines, which had been held in by the mesh, now dangled on Mason’s lap. It appeared as if they had been vomited out of the wide mouth in his belly. The cloth in his mouth from earlier was gone and his bottom lip trembled.

Betsy Wallabanger—six past a hundred years of age—approached the creation, cautiously. “He’s still alive,” she said and looked up at Cade.

“Go ahead. It’s okay, he can’t move,” Cade said with a grisly smile.

Betsy set her pillowcase bag on the ground and leaned down. She sunk her teeth into one of Mason’s thighs. He screamed as she worked her jaw from side to side. She ripped off a piece of muscle, her teeth coming out slightly. She shoved them back in place and chewed. After she swallowed, she smiled. “Delicious.”

“Come, little ones,” Cade waved. “Enjoy this year’s treat from the Aver residence.”

Children squealed as they lit in on Mason. His screams filled the night, much to Cade’s satisfaction. The parents looked on—and some of them even joined them—with a happiness that is reserved for their ilk as they watched them partake of the fresh treat Cade had provided.

“You really outdid yourself this year, Aver,” one of the fathers said before he walked away with his little boy. The front of the boy’s costume was soaked red and he licked his fingers clean of the blood that had been on them.

***

Cade sat on the porch in an ancient rocker that squealed like a wounded rat as it went back and forth. The sounds of singing, happy children had long since faded. What remained of Mason lay scattered on the lawn. There were bones here and there, a clump of hair by the sidewalk—the scalp had not been taken this year. One of the kids had bit off his privates. Or was it one of the moms? Cade didn’t know.

On his lap sat a skull. Part of it was still pink from blood and meat. He pulled a piece of flesh off of the cheekbone and plopped it in his mouth. He chewed, swallowed and then sang his favorite tune as he rocked back and forth.

“Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

~Tap, tap, tap~

Is this thing on?

Oh, it seems to be.

Can you hear me out there? You can? Good.

Looking out over the crowded front yard, I see a lot of familiar faces, and a few I don’t recognize. Hey, Bart. How are you? And R.C., my man, things going well? Cate. Nice to see your pretty face. Crashman, glad you could make it. Thank you all for coming to this impromptu press conference.

Ahem.

The reason I called this little press conference is it seems I am back to square one with the short story collection.

What’s that, Herbie? Square one? Yes, square one.

Ummm… yes, I have the stories picked, though I may take one out and replace it with another one (or two).

Yes, I do have the Acknowledgements in place. Yes, the Dedication and In Memoriam as well.

What’s that, Herbie?

No, I don’t have the entire afterward in place, but about half.

Yes? What?

Yeah… ummm… I’m about to address that.

Now, if there are no further questions, I would like to begin this press conference again.

It looks like, though I won’t be starting completely from square one, I will be starting over in some respects.

I need to rework a portion of one story—it sounds too much like something a friend of mine wrote and I don’t want there to be any confusion or anything that could be construed as plagiarism. I realized this a couple of weeks ago, and have e-mailed my friend. She said part of it sounded like her piece, but that I could change it and it wouldn’t have any effect on the story itself.

If I can’t get the kink ironed out, the story will be retracted from the collection. Simple as that.

Then there is another issue, one that I didn’t think would be an issue at all.

Recently, my friend, Lucas Pederson, drew out an image that I thought would make a great–GREAT–image. I tagged it as the cover for Southern Bones and was excited that I finally had an image in place. Then I started playing with it, looking at it as a larger piece, then as a smaller piece—thumbnail size. I checked the image to figure out what it would look like on a Kindle or iPhone or even just on the computer.

Uh oh.

There’s a problem.

The black and white pencil art, though amazing in and of itself, may not work well as a digital book cover.

I’m unhappy about that.

Wait. There is another issue. The title, Southern Bones, may not work either. There are no bones in any of the stories. Sure, there are pieces of bone in one story, but that’s it.

What’s that, Herbie? I can still call the book Southern Bones even if there is no mention of bones?

Yes, I could, but it doesn’t seem to fit.

How did I come to that conclusion?

When I realized the cover image might not work, I started trying to figure out something that would. Cate and I took pictures, but nothing jumped out to us.

Can I still use the image that was drawn for the cover? Of course, but maybe not for the cover—the title just doesn’t seem to work the way I thought it would. Unless there is another definition to the term of ‘bones’ that I don’t know about.

There are those issues and a couple of others. I want lead-ins and maybe images. The pictures probably won’t happen, at least not in the book, but I’m going to look at it either way. Who knows?

I want to give the readers their money’s worth. In order to do that, I have to feel like if I purchased this collection, would I be satisfied that my money was well spent? Don’t you want to be happy with your purchase?

Well?

I would rather put something out later than I intended, than to put something out that I wouldn’t be happy with—and, consequently, the reader wouldn’t be happy with—and ended up regretting in the long run.

I know, I’ve put this off two other times, but I think it’s for the best. I may not be completely back to square one, but I’m close enough to know there is a LOT of work that still needs to be done in order to put out a quality collection.

Before we end this press conference, I would like to say I am considering releasing a book separate from the collection, one that compiles the first ten installments of Dredging Up Memories and some bonus content that is not on the Tales of the Zombie War website.

I’m very excited about the possibilities of this.

I guess that concludes the press conference. So, if there are any questions, ask away. If not, until we meet again, my friends…

Good morning, afternoon, evening, Friday to you all where ever you may be. Today is December 30th of the year 2011. Just two days left before we ring in 2012. Hopefully the New Year will bring joy and happiness and peace to us all.

Okay, I’m done with the sappiness…

I have good news and hopefully you all will like it.

Two things happen at the beginning of this year. First, my story, In the Shadows They Hide will appear in the anthology Night Terrors II, put out by Blood Bound Books.

The second one—and this is the one I’ve been chomping at the bits for: Dark Continents Publishing will release a three story collection of mine titled Along the Splintered Path on Monday, January 2nd. It is part of an e-book launch titled Tales of Darkness and Dismay. There are ten books in this launch and I’m glad that one of them is mine.

My little collection includes the reworked version of The Woodshed (which originally came out in 2008 in the anthology Dark Distortions put out by the now defunct Scotopia Press). This version is better, reworked half a dozen times since then. If you’ve never read The Woodshed, well, you’re in for a treat.

’Round These Bones, another older tale that was originally quite flat in it’s story telling and around 2300 words has been reworked and tops out at near 10K words now, is also in this collection.

Finally, but certainly not the least of these three stories, is Phillip’s Story, about a homeless man who comes into some money that, literally, falls from the sky. Ahh… but there is more to Phillip’s Story than that. It is two stories intertwined, two destinies colliding in time. Of the three stories, this is my favorite.

At the end of this is the cover, but before I post it, I wanted to say a little thanks to some folks who helped get this collection ready for submission:

Neil Buchanan
Kevin Wallis
Gay Degani
Lucas Pederson

And a very special thanks to my friend, Paula Ray, who helped me with my bio and the collection’s title.

Also, I’d like to thank Dark Continents Publishing for the opportunity to put this out. Several times in 2011 I had collections fall through and I got really frustrated… even thought about not writing for a while. My wife talked me out of that. Thank you, Cate. (Most of you know my wife as Catherine, but she prefers Cate…)

Now, here’s one thing I need to say for certain: I’m not an avid fan of reading those ‘self help’ books, the ones that tell you the rules and tell you things that really don’t make sense. However, if you are a writer (or a reader) I strongly encourage you to read Stephen King’s On Writing. This is the only book I will ever suggest to any writer to read. It taught me more in the two weeks it took me to read it (I’m a notoriously slow reader) than anything else about telling stories.

Everything I have written since reading this book, including a novel titled, Cory’s Way, is so much better because I read On Writing. You see, King doesn’t give you a bunch of rules and crap. He just tells you the truth about writing and that truth is, well, to tell the truth in your fiction and make the reader fall into the story, make them believe that what you have written is happening.

I’ve often said that in today’s world of writing and publishing, there is not enough ‘alive’ story telling. What I mean is that so many writers these days just tell cut and dry, action oriented stories that have no real life to them. They don’t let their stories breathe. King lets his stories breathe more so than anyone I have ever read (sometimes with a bit too much breathing that borders on hyperventilating). The point is, don’t restrict yourself because you don’t think someone will pick up what you have written. Good stories find a way to get published.

Cory’s Way was originally supposed to be a novel, but I found the task of writing it extremely daunting and decided to turn it into a short story. The story didn’t want to be so short and it grew and grew and grew (and I let it) until it turned into a novel that I am proud of. Hopefully, in the coming year, I can find a home for it, as well…

I’m going to go now, but before I do, here is the cover of Along the Splintered Path. I think it embodies the stories in the collection. I’ll post links to the collection when it comes out. If you purchase it, I appreciate it—more than you will ever know. If not, times are tough, and I understand. I thank you for considering it anyway.

Until next time, I’m A.J. and I’m out…

Along The Splintered Path, Book Cover

[Herbie’s Note: No paths were splintered in the writing of this blog.]

I hold in my hand a wooden crate. It is black. Or, rather it was black. At one time it was simply a bunch of boards nailed together with large holes drilled on two opposite sides for handles. A little sanding, some gray primer and then some good old fashioned black spray paint, and voila, a crate was born of my own two hands. Over the years I have used this crate, not for carrying stuff around in or storing items, but for something else all together.

I now flip the crate over and set it down, open side to the ground, flat side up. It is just large enough for me step up onto with both feet mere inches apart. Now I am standing on this crate. Have you figured it out yet? I’m sure you have.

For those who haven’t, this is my soapbox. I only pull this out when I want to discuss things. No, not rant. If I want to do that I just go off, no soapbox needed. People scurry away when I rant. Some of them laugh because I am very animated when angrily running my mouth.

For those who do not know me, I am AJ—no, that is not Aj. It is A and J. I just prefer no periods behind my initials (I may have to reconsider that, though). I am one of the great pretenders. I, like many others, think I am a writer, though truth be known, I am not. That’s not entirely true. I do write, but I think most everyday average folks think of a writer as either a journalist or a novelist. I am neither of those. However, I am a story writer.

I think that is an appropriate term for me. I have no desires to write a novel and I don’t limit my stories based on word counts. I do not write for editors or publishers. I write for readers. I write stories. I am a story writer. Yeah, redundant, I know. For the sake of this piece I will say I am a short story writer.

If you have followed me at all, you know that I have lamented about the quality of stories being published by both big and small markets. Let me say this: ALL OF US ARE PART OF THIS PROBLEM. If you think you aren’t, then you don’t look in the mirror too often. At one point or other we were/are fledgling writers wanting to get published somewhere… anywhere. It is the nature of the writer to desire to have others read their work. It is also a bit of validation when an editor at any publication likes our story enough to say, ‘hey, I want to publish this.’

Don’t believe me? Answer a question then. When you receive an acceptance, what is the first thing you think? Come on. What is it? Is it, ‘oh, I just made some money.’ Or is it, ‘yes! They accepted my story!’ Which one? I bet it’s the latter of the two. Our validation doesn’t come in the form of money tendered for a few well written words. It comes in those well written words being accepted by someone other than your friend, mom or significant other.

This brings me back to the all of us are part of the problem bit. Many times our stories are not ready to be published. So, Mom or Bob or Sally say they like the story and that you should get it published. Not so fast. I know I’ve gotten stories published and then saw a glaring issue with the logic of the piece or saw a typo that not only I missed, but the editor missed as well or saw how poorly I had written it… I look at stories of mine that were published two or three years ago and I cringe at some of them.

As writers we are blind to our own words. We think everything we write is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Umm… no. It is a pot of something, but gold it is not.

I have strayed from my original thoughts, which I tend to do, so let’s try to get back on track here.

Quality is defined as the general standard or grade of something. This means that something with a low grade is generally held as low quality. Think about it. If you spend four bucks for two McDonald’s cheeseburgers, fries and a coke, you are really getting about four dollars worth of quality, right? However, if you go to Fuddruckers and spend seven bucks on a burger and fries, the food is going to taste better and be more satisfying. The quality of food and tastes is higher at one establishment than the other. (Disclaimer: No offense meant to those who like McDonald’s or for those who work at or own a McDonald’s. Tastes and quality are subjective when it comes to things like food and I think Fuddruckers is better than Mickey D’s. Personal opinion there.)

If you send your kid to a school known for it’s teachers not being all that great and for the rampant rate of violence or teen pregnancies, then there is a good chance your kid is not going to learn much, get beat up or knocked up or all of the above. I know it’s kind of an extreme example, but you get the point. Quality.

This brings me to the quality of fiction that is out there—more importantly the quality of the short fiction form. Or maybe the lack there of.

Let me present you with Exhibit A, an article written by Stephen King in 2007 titled, What Ails the Short Story. It appeared in the New York Times or at least on their website. (Disclaimer #2: Before anyone says this was just his way of ramping up more publicity for Best American Short Stories of 2007, which he edited, read it for what it is, and for what he said.) Read the article here:

What Ails the Short Story

If you read through the article, I hope you gleamed from it a little of what I did. Granted I’m going to be taking a few things out of context, but not by much. If you did not read through it, I would like to quote bits and pieces of it. Fortunately, this is not a book of fiction, so I should be able to quote from it without being sued for stealing/plagiarizing.

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there.

Hey, you writers, did you catch that? Don’t make me knock on your monitor. That means I would have to get off of my soapbox and right now I don’t wish to do that.

How many times have we read in the guidelines of a publication for us to ‘buy a copy of our publication so you know what we like.’ There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. We should buy the publications we are submitting to, if anything to support them, because most of us short story writers are published in the smaller markets where the owners/publishers/editors are folks with one or two jobs who put these products out as a labor of love. They shell out their own money in order to put out their product. Many of the good smaller markets go for years on the negative side of the profit barrier or fold altogether.

Go back and think about it for a moment. How many publications have we purchased just so we can find out what a market likes so we can, in turn, submit to them with the hopes of getting accepted by them? I have done just that: purchased a copy of a magazine or anthology just to read the stories in them and see if I even stood a chance in getting into them. That’s the wrong reasons to read anything. People should read publications because they enjoy them. We should read with breath held and minds racing, trying to keep up with the words and the images in our heads. My opinion, folks. Just my opinion.

That quote also mentions the dwindling audience that we writers are writing for: other writers (and in many cases, editors). So, herein lies another part of the problem. What about the average reader, or as King puts it, the Constant Reader who wants to be entertained? Have we forgotten about them?

Let’s take this a step further with another quote from that article:

Last year, I read scores of stories that felt … not quite dead on the page, I won’t go that far, but airless, somehow, and self-referring. These stories felt show-offy rather than entertaining, self-important rather than interesting, guarded and self-conscious rather than gloriously open, and worst of all, written for editors and teachers rather than for readers.

There it is again, a reference to writers penning stories for someone(s) other than real readers. There have been times that I have disagreed with some of the things King has said in interviews or articles, but for the most part, I think he hits the nail on the head. As he does here. King wouldn’t say that stories were dead on the page, but I will. I have read many stories—mine included—that have been lifeless, one dimensional wastes of words; stories with no feelings, no mood, no real direction. I am guilty of writing some of these and I try to keep them hidden on the hard drive of my computer. But a few have escaped and now I can’t seem to kill them off. Or at least reel them back in.

As a writer I wish to get published, but am I—are you—writing for the readers enjoyment or just in order to get published? Are you writing stories that hop off the page and grab the readers by the throats or do you go for the tried and true methods? Are you a cookie cutter writer?

Think about it.

Stop staring at me like that. I don’t need to be knocked off my soapbox just yet.

A writer friend of mine, I’ll call him Mr. W. so that he remains anonymous, had this to say when I presented the King article to a group of writers:

He has an interesting take on it. I find I have to agree with him up to a point that a lot of “literary stuffs” is a lot of hubris, filled with a sense of its own importance and relevance.

Something I’ve been mulling over lately is a pattern of stories I’m seeing accepted by a lot of the pro-level sci-fi and fantasy publications.

It might be just me, but it appears that the kinds of stories most of them are taking are pretty much “video games” short stories.

A lot of action, not much character development. A good bit of ho-hum dialogue and no real depth to the stories.

Read that last part again. Go ahead, I have time. There’s not much entertainment value in stories with lack of character development, so-so dialogue, no mood and no depth. Sure, there is action, but if we don’t care about the characters then, really, why should we keep reading beyond the first page? What attachment do we have?

If my friend thinks that a lot of the paying pubs have developed a pattern of stories—never mind that they are ‘ho hum’—then writers will gear their writing in that direction. It is at that point where the art of writing becomes a finger painting instead of an oil work. And, please, remember that writing is an art form, not just putting two words together with two more words and then two more after that and so on. Writing—story telling—is about conveying a message in a manner that leaves the reader wanting more, not just of the story, but of you, the writer.

One of my favorite writers is a guy by the name of Dameion Becknell. Hell of a writer. Hell of a good guy, but I bet you’ve never heard of him. You see, Dameion is a friend of mine who writes vividly brilliant stories that suck you in and leaves you breathless. However, Dameion isn’t in the habit of submitting stories to markets. I fuss at him, nag him, chastise him for keeping his art to himself. If I had the choice between reading something by Dameion and reading ANY well known writer, I would choose Dameion every time. He’s that good. But, you see, Dameion doesn’t write for an editor. He doesn’t write to get published. He doesn’t write to fit the mold of any other writer out there. No, Dameion writes because he loves telling stories—and he has it down to an art form.

And there lies the answer to the short story’s popularity. If you’re a writer and you’re in this business for the dollar bills you can make, then you’re probably in it for the wrong reason. However, if you are a story teller and you want to entertain readers and you write for them (as well as yourself) then you’re probably on the right track.  If you want to tell a story, well, I think you’re ahead of the curve.

The majority of us writers have become those cookie cutter writers. We’re sugar cookies, at best—maybe even just the dough. We need to add some life to those cookies. Put in some chocolate chips. Maybe some nuts or peanut butter. How about some white chocolate or M&M’s?

I’ve often refused to write the way editors and publishers have wanted things written. I’ve always stated that I enjoy writing the way I write, with mood, with feeling and less action than most folks who decide the fate of my submissions care for. But, that’s okay with me. I want to write. And I want to get published. But if that means writing the same boring words that every other writer who wants the same thing, then it’s not for me. I’ve written for editors. I’ve written to get published. And, to be honest, I hated it.

Now, I write to tell stories. I write to entertain. I’m not King—I don’t want to be. But, I also don’t want to write those same self absorbed words that everyone else writes.

A couple of years ago I wrote a story just to write it. I had no intentions of getting it published, but after a year or so I sent it out. It was picked up and a few months later I received an e-mail from the editor. He had forwarded an e-mail he received from a woman who read that story. She said that it so touched her by its beauty and sadness and redemption that it made her cry. As a writer, that is the best thing I could have ever asked for from a reader. To feel my words. I gave that lady an experience in my story and it moved her to tears.

As writers, shouldn’t we strive to move people to feel something? Anything? Shouldn’t we feel something as well? I’ll never be the great American author. I’m not so sure I want to be. A story teller however… now there’s something I can strive for…

Okay, now to hop off the soapbox… I have stories to tell…