One Blog Post You Must Read

If you’re looking at a blank sheet of paper and have the idea that you are going to fill that paper with words and call it your first novel you need to read this post from Joanna Penn at thecreativepenn.com: Writing Fiction: 7 Steps to Write Your First Novel.

I’m thinking of printing his out and taping it to my laptop cover. Remember tons of authors had to write a first novel at some point, the only difference is now you might have a better idea of what you’re getting into.

The Word That Shall Not Be Uttered

I was going to share this, then I wasn’t but now I figured I will. I ran across this post from Janet Reid’s awesome blog: http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/09/the-n-word.html

I think she covered this from a very interesting angle as a writer. I would like to add to the discussion what I think is the danger of having such verboten words. Think about it, what if you woke up one day and the word tumultuous was no longer allowed in print or speech? How would we ever describe loud confused noises? This could not be a worse example but just think on it.

I’m not making light of what this word represents, it’s history or inherent ugliness. I just wonder, should we as writers, be accepting of  a language with certain words that we cannot use at all? Especially when the feelings those words conjure could be otherwise conveyed? Now our responsibility is that should we use such a word we must be very clear in our context what the purpose of that word is. Remember words have power and when that power is abused there are consequences.

A Dry Spell

thorn_treeOne thing about living in the desert is you experience first hand that while a dry spell can come and last for a while, not everything dies. One good rain and soon there’s green all around you. This is a good thing for a writer to learn. I am in a bit of a dry spell myself. I’ve started a new novel but it’s not coming together as I would like. It may be time to shift gears onto something else.Then again if I just sit down at it for a little more I know I can get past this hump.

That’s not to say I don’t have anything new. The Fourth Prometheus is halfway through it’s first big edit and I have rough drafts complete of the sequel to Undead Heart, and a new novel, Midnight Detail. So, I guess after some furious writing I’m do for a little down time, though, I’m about ready for some rain.

Ain’t No Thing Like a Good First Line

I admit I’m a sucker for a good opening line. So much so, that I keep a notebook of ones that I come up with even if I don’t have a novel or story to go with them. I know someday I will. Writing first lines is fun but in the chronology of your work’s creation rarely fit in. Many times I have added or removed the first chapter once the rest of the work has taken shape. I was going to write more on them, but then I saw this post from Rachelle Gardner and figured I could do no better. http://www.rachellegardner.com/that-all-important-first-line/

In the spirit of things I could add an own opening line I just came upon in my head: This would make a Hell of a first line for a book if it wasn’t happening right now, and to me.

The Story Begins on Page 1

Going through my RSS feed I came across this post from Janet Reid regarding a question about what to include in a query if the agent asks for the first 5 pages but your main character does not appear until the second chapter. http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/2016/03/include-first-3-5-pages-with-your-query.html

Here is what my answer would be. Rewrite the book. Your main character is just that, your main character and should be the first character your reader comes across. I know, I know, there are several classic works where that isn’t the case, but as I said this is my rule. Readers need to know that the people you are introducing them to are significant to the story and capture their interest. I know if I am going to commit to 400 pages I want to meet the person that I am going to be rooting for as soon as possible. I know, with my characters, the protagonist is such that I can’t get very far into the writing without him or her making their presence known. But lets hear from you in the comments. What’s the furthers you’ve gone before introducing your main character?

Ready For The Printer

Hole_cover2Yesterday I completed the final edits on my collection of Weird Fiction. You should be able to purchase this in the next couple of weeks from a variety of outlets, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and for the reader of your choice. For my loyal readers of this blog I’m posting the afterword in which I provide my best description of where the title came from and what I consider to be Weird Fiction.

Afterword – What is The Hole in Your Mind?

What is the hole in your mind?  First, I must give credit to the writers responsible for Babylon 5 for the line, “There is a hole in your mind.” In the very first episode of Babylon 5, a would-be assassin tells this to Commander Sinclair.  In this case the hole references a missing piece of time.  Later on in the series we learn that the hole refers to the part of the human mind that cannot come to terms with some of the mysteries and realities of the universe.

For this book I chose the title, The Hole in Your mind, to represent the void created when what you experience does not match up with expected reality.  Most of these stories could easily fall in the Horror genre, but I prefer to think of them as Weird Fiction.  In stories of this type the end brings the protagonist to the very edge of reality and either gives him or her a peek at what lays beyond or shoves them right over the edge.  Either way the protagonist returns form that edge changed in innumerable ways, or not at all.

Weird Fiction has strong roots in the Horror genre.  Some of my favorite short stories spend time taking the reader into a world that could only exist in the mind of a writer.  One of my favorites from horror master Edgar Allen Poe is the story, “The Black Cat.” It is the inspiration for my own story, “The Cat’s Meow,” included in this collection.  In the very first lines of the work the narrator warns the reader that what follows may not fit easily into the reader’s conception of what is real.

“For the most wild yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief.  Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence.”

The early master of this genre and my biggest influence is H. P.  Lovecraft.  His writing, more than anything, captures the horror of the unknown.  In many of his stories the central character comes face to face with the unreal, with something that his mind simply cannot comprehend.  In this instance the hole in the mind is defensive yet when breached leaves the character in the throes of madness.  The reader still has the burden of trying to imagine horrors that have no basis in reality.  This is where the hole in their minds comes into play.  In some cases, Lovecraft recognizes this.  In this example from The Call of Chuthulhu, the narrator accepts that at this point language simply breaks down.  The words necessary to describe and relate the horror in the story to the reader just do not exist.

“Poor Johansen’s handwriting almost gave out when he wrote of this.  Of the six men who never reached the ship, he thinks two perished of pure fright in that accursed instant.  The Thing cannot be described – there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.”

Lovecraft would revisit this breakdown in language in other tales.  For a writer this is an interesting point to make.  What happens when the very things you are attempting to convey defy the language you use to convey them?   In Lovecraft’s work he often invented terms, places, a whole theology of beings just to encompass, or circumvent, the language barrier in what he was attempting to create.

The goal of any writer is to transport a reader into the world of their story.  In some instances that world exists not in the rational and grounded but the fantastically bizarre.  In that instance the writer is expecting to find a hole in the mind of the reader that will allow him or her to fill it with a world both alien and yet inviting.  Writers call this suspension of disbelief but in its own way it is just blocking out the part of our mind that screams this is not possible.  Granted if readers only read about things that were possible we would have fewer books on the shelves.  The fiction sections of your bookstores and libraries are full of things that not only are improbable but not possible as well.

Readers expect a horror story to have scary bits.  They expect a hero standing up to some kind of monster.  However many things that may terrify readers and leave them sleeping with the lights on, are grounded in very real things to this world.  Spiders, snakes, even werewolves and vampires are all creatures that readers have no trouble conjuring in their minds as they read.  Some they have seen, and others are so ingrained in our literature that they are all but real.  A truly terrifying tale will take this expectation and twist it back on the reader.  Never mind the snake in the garden, it is the shovel wielded by the maniac that you must fear.  While your mind processes what the snake is doing the hole in your mind will never see the maniac coming at you.

Invoking the hole in your mind is more than just crafting a bizarre twist at the end.  The general atmosphere of the story needs to reinforce and prepare the reader for what is about to come.  Failing to do that will result in an ending that is more fake than resolving, more jarring than satisfying.  The reader is on the same journey as the writer and the goal is for the both of you to reach the end point at the same time with the least amount of difficulty.  The stranger the ending the harder that may be.  For the writer, this writer in particular, that is what makes Weird Fiction as much fun to write as it is to read.  It is the inherent challenge and risk of taking readers out so far beyond the norm that you may in fact lose them.  Should that happen it is time to take stock, take heed, and start over again.

All of the tales in this volume share that element of the strange and the bizarre that is a hallmark of Weird Fiction.  They are in no particular order or grouping so feel free to bounce around.  They come from many different years of writing, from deep in the file cabinet to closer to the top.  If I can achieve anything I hope it is that on finishing this volume you will be inclined to read more Weird Fiction and revel in all the madness that the hole in your mind can stand or supply.

Warning Major Life Event Ahead

In truth it’s already passed but I’m still not settled into a new normal. I left my job at the Arizona State Library and Archives after seven years. The reasons were numerous but in my head I knew I was ready for a change and new challenges. I’ve begun my new job as Adult Services Supervisor at the Maricopa County Northwest Regional District Library in Surprise, Arizona. Yes, Surprise is a real place. I am still on track to complete and have out my long overdue collection of short stories and flash fiction as well as my first Steampunk novel, The Fourth Prometheus.

I started thinking about how often we go through these events and yet often overlook them when it comes time to write. Is that because they seem too routine? I know most people wouldn’t want to read a story about some guy with a head cold, although Franz Kafka had us reading about one who turned into a cockroach. Cockroaches aside, there are plenty of events in our lives that can lend a little bit of reality and substance to our characters. Sure a zombie plague could be breaking out, but what if the main protagonist in the story also happens to be trying to plan her first wedding at the same time? An alien abduction? Okay, but what if it comes right after the abductee just became a daddy? These could all turn up the drama in a piece. In addition you would have a character that many readers will easily identify with.  Right now I’m working up a story about a new guy on the job who discovers that he can move objects when he gets stressed out. Can you say cleanup in aisle five?