Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Final Day of 33, or Summer Is Almost Over

Tomorrow I turn 34. Not a terrible number, but not as good as 26. Though I have to be honest, my 26th year was pretty bad. My thirties have definitely been better, even though I still often feel a sort of desperate need unfulfilled. But that’s neither here nor there, happy birthday (tomorrow) to me! However, along with my birthday comes The End of the Summer. People who have jobs outside of teaching and who do not have children may have forgotten what The End of the Summer is like. I know I almost did until Courtney started going to school, and then I began working at one. Next week at this time, I will be talking to a group of freshman students who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days before a new group comes in. Don’t ask. So, for this week, I’ll continue to pretend I get to write full-time. Don’t cry for me, Argentina, because things are happening.

Anyway, I haven’t read much else since I posted my list a few weeks back. I finished Robert McCannon’s The Five, which was excellent. A rock novel with a large amount of suspense and a surprising supernatural element that reveals itself slowly, very slowly. “Is it a horror novel?” I’ve been asked. “Who cares?” is my response. It’s a damn fine novel that I recommend. It brought me through the range of emotions and the final chapter was heartbreaking and hopeful, devastating and inspiring. Read this book.

When finished with The Five, instead of focusing on either The Freelancer’s Survival Guide or The Rising (and please don’t take this as anything more than my own need at the moment) I began reading Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed by Harlan Ellison. Now, if you’ve followed my blog or follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I love Harlan Ellison’s work (I’m pretty fond of the man, too, at least from a reader’s perspective and the two phone messages he left for me) and I felt like I needed a dose of Ellison right about now. I’ll probably be done with the slim collection of nonfiction before I have to go back to the Day Job, in which case I will focus my attention on those other two books.

Another discovery I made this summer is the BBC hit Being Human, which inspired the SyFy version that I have never seen. Being Human has some missteps in the writing here and there, but my wife and I have enjoyed it. At it’s best, it’s the relationships between the main characters I enjoy. They have a chemistry that works well. Pamela and I are into the third series and we’ll see what happens from there.

So that’s it for now. I’ll talk to you soon.

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Time, Time, Time, Time

Time has never been my friend. My parents were the type of people who got to places half an hour or more earlier than needed. This created havoc to my childhood playtime. But I think the real issue with me was, like with so many things, I have a terrible sense of time. Well…not terrible. I’m usually right when I guess that I’ve been doing something for fifteen minutes or an hour, but lots of times getting places is difficult. I tend to be stupidly early or I’m running late. Every now and then, I’m right on time.

To write while living a life that doesn’t necessarily conform to the creative personality, i.e. having a day job, one must make his/her own time for their passion, their art, their craft–whatever you want to call it (some days I call it my craft, on other days I call it my obsession). Unfortunately, my sense of time fucks with me here, too. I either feel like I have more time than I do, or I feel like I don’t have as much time as I need. This might mean I don’t get as much done as I’d like.

I used to. Ten years ago, I was a stay-at-home dad, a job I did for five years and took very seriously. I did a good job, I think. My daughter knew she was loved and now, at thirteen, she’s smart as a whip. I wrote a copious amount back then…at four in the morning.

I would go to bed around nine and get up at four. I’d make myself a cup of tea, go to my computer, and quickly–and I mean quickly–check my e-mail. And then I’d start writing. I’d write until 6 AM, when my wife (now my ex-wife) would get up to begin her day for work. My daughter would be up shortly after her mom left for work, and then I was Daddy for the next twelve hours, with the one hour break of naptime, in which I tried to get some reading done. Nighttime was family time and then the whole thing began again. I did this from Late 1999 until 2003, when I went back to school.

After my separation and divorce in 2004, my writing lagged a bit. I still wrote, but I had trouble getting into a groove. Probably because my life was a little like an M.C. Escher piece: nothing quite added up for me. Time passed and I met my wife, Pamela, in January 2007, and I moved in with her that October. By the end of the year, I was writing again.

Only now, things were different. I’d become a teacher, a job I sort of fell into. Do not mistake that I don’t like my job, I do. I love my job. It’s not the normal teaching gig, for starters, and my students are all great. Still, the writing is an essential part of me so I do it.

Which is where time has been slapping me around. I make time, but I feel as though I don’t make enough, or I have trouble getting into a groove, or….

Are these excuses? Am I trying to make excuses for not being more productive? Or am I being too hard on myself, as I’ve been accused of being in the past. This summer vacation, I made a fairly strict schedule that I hardly followed. Instead of the seven hours of work on various projects that I’d scheduled, I’ve spent about two-to-four hours instead. In about two weeks, I’m back in the day job with maybe two or so hours a day after working (which is primarily me on my feet all day). Oh, and then I’ll have my classes to boot.

So…time. How do I do it?

Anybody have a Flux Capacitor?

Prepping for an Appearance, or AAAARGH!

Tom Monteleone once chastised me and another writer on a message board I used to frequent when I expressed nerves about my first public reading. This was sometime in 2003/2004 and essentially, his advice was: “You are in control. Not the audience, you.”

Since then, I did a reading in September 2005 where the only people who attended were my parents and my friend, and one of the women running the event. There were other writers doing things throughout the library and we’d pretty much had a monsoon all morning. I did a joint signing with the awesome Christopher Golden in 2007, to promote Catalysts. I had my books up for auction earlier this year, but since I wasn’t the draw there was no pressure. I’m pretty sure that’s it. Well, I did my two radio appearances, but those are different.

So when I go to the Southworth Library in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, tonight to be a part of Author’s Night!! with  Lynn Kiele Bonasia and Raffi Yessayan, I know one thing for a fact: I’m goan be a-scared!

I can’t help it. I can have pretty bad social anxiety and something like this, even though I know some of the people who will be attending, has me nervous. On the other hand, I’m looking forward to it. I mean, how often do we writers get to talk about ourselves and people don’t mind? How often do we get to meet with past and potential readers? I know that some writers do this more than others, but, for me, it’s still a thrilling and terrifying thing.

Even though the gig is at six tonight, I’m sitting here at 11:30, showered and shaved. I need to iron my shirt, get some change together for prospective buyers, and decide which shoes to wear (I’m thinking of my brown boots–they make me feel badass). If I have the opportunity to read, what will it be? I think I know, but I’m not telling. No food before the gig. I don’t want to have gas, which I get when I’m nervous (I’m about to go chew on some Tums when I finish this). Maybe today is the day to begin meditating.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to going tonight and see what’s what. It seems to be a pretty loose format so we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, as I’m preparing my goods and myself, I think I’ll pop in a Springsteen concert DVD, either Live in Barcelona or Live in New York City (I just watched London Calling: Live in Hyde Park a few weeks back). Or maybe I’ll pop in the Harlan Ellison documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth (which I’m kinda/sorta in) or listen to one of the On the Road with Ellison CDs I’ve downloaded to my iTunes. Those DVDs and CDs can provide much-needed inspiration tonight.

All right. I’ll be seeing ya.

A Vehicle for My Muse: Why I Write Horror

Why horror?

It’s a question that has been asked of me many times since I began writing in 1990, when I was thirteen. I’m not the first person to be asked that, usually with a tone of sadness. “With your talent,” I’m told, “you could write anything, yet you insist on writing horror stories.” I’ll return to that particular statement again, I promise, but for now I’d like to address that the question “Why horror?” is a common one. It can be asked in terms of a person’s viewing preferences: “Why do you like horror movies?” Reading: “Why do you read that horror stuff?” And, of course, the writing, which is what I’m going to focus on. Stephen King wrote a book in 1981 that essentially answers the question for him. It’s called Danse Macabre and I highly recommend it. But I guess each of us has our own roads to travel and I’m not Stephen King, so the question remains: Why write horror?

The question makes some assumptions. One is that I have a choice. It’s like asking me why I was born with brown hair, or why do I have so many moles? I don’t know. There’s something in me that’s just attracted to dark things. I think a part of it is because I have such a dark streak within, that has manifested itself as depression, obsessive thinking, and, at times (especially when I was younger) anger. It’s not that darkness and death and destruction is all I care about, either as a person or as a member of the audience. For most of my childhood, Star Wars and superheroes were my favorite things and I was terrified of stuff as minimal as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Yet, there was also a draw to the video.

When I was nine, I announced to my mother that I was old enough to start watching “thrillers” with her, which is what she called horror movies. I discovered this because of insomnia, which opened up the world of late night cable to me, with horror movies, B action movies, and softcore porn. My parents were sleeping and in the late-1980s, there were no parental controls. Either way, shortly after my announcement, my mother watched and decided to let me watch the first two A Nightmare on Elm Street movies in a double feature on HBO. I was terrified, but I was hooked.

Horror movies became one of my favorite things and, eventually, led me to reading The Shining by Stephen King when I was 13. Some dark times began when I was twelve. Puberty had hit and I’d begun to feel sad a lot. I’d never been the popular kid in school and now it was even more blatant. A few “friends” I had made fun of me when they came over one day and saw that I had my action figures set up in mid-story. By the time I was thirteen, I was struggling with the part of me that wanted to still play but didn’t want to be a baby. For me, the action figures and role playing I would do wasn’t just playing, it was a creative outlet, a way to let out the steam that was always building within me. While the action figures remained in shoeboxes under the bed, and playtime would be behind closed doors for several years to come, on the day of my 13th birthday, upon reading the first few chapters of The Shining, I decided to become a writer.

It wasn’t far-fetched. I’d already thought about becoming a comic book writer and artist, so the idea of writing without the drawing became appealing. Now, whether I began writing horror at that age because I was reading Stephen King or because I just liked scary movies already is beyond me. Had I begun reading Isaac Asimov at that time, would I have begun writing science fiction? Or had I read Elmore Leonard, would I have written crime novels? I don’t know. What I do know is that I began writing, thereby helping myself get the stories out that I wanted to tell.

Because for me, it’s the stories. They strike me, they compel me. I’ve been the vehicle for my muse for my entire life, from the time I was small and playing with toys or role playing, to right now, where I have a novella, a novel, and several short stories in various drafts, and ideas for no fewer than eight other projects in my head, all of them compelling me to write them. I must tell stories, and I must tell these stories.

So, why horror?

Well, from a completely mercenary standpoint, that’s mostly what I’ve published so far and I’m in the position, after about a dozen years, of still building a career. One of the ways to do that is to build a brand. One of the ways to that, is to build an audience. Horror is the genre in which I began my career and it’s where, right now, many of my readers are. What money I make comes from horror or dark fantasy stories.

From a personal standpoint, well…why do I have all these moles? The stories that have compelled me to write them are darker stories. Sometimes they come from current work and inform new projects. Here’s a for-instance for ya: So I’m working on the novel Shadowed and I’m getting nowhere with it. I know that maybe half of what I’ve written for it is pretty good, the other half is garbage. I’m about to move from the Greater New Bedford area in Massachusetts to Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood in Boston, and I’ve fallen in love with J.P. I want to write something that’s set there. Maybe…a ghost story? I don’t know why, but it feels right. But what would it be? And The Voice says, Take the characters from “Snow Day” and the characters from “Mommy’s Baby Don’t Need to Grow Up” and put them together. WHAMMO! I felt compelled to see what would happen. I drop Shadowed and begin working on the novel that I’m currently in the process of revising. During a draft of the novel, I had a dream featuring two teenage girls, one beautiful and ugly on the inside, the other ugly but somewhat beautiful on the inside. The beautiful one is a bully to the ugly one. However, the ugly one has two brothers who are ne’er-do-wells who I suspect are going to do something very bad for their sister, even though she doesn’t want them to. The two girls work at a candy store. WHAMMO! Another idea. While still working on the novel, I realize I should just take the abandoned Shadowed novel and keep the good parts by making it a novella. Strangely enough, Greg Gifune contacts me around that time to see if I have a novella that Shane Staley at Delirium might look at. Shadowed is rewritten and spurs me to write the idea about the two girls, which I know is going to be dark, dark, DARK. One story begot the other. Each one compelled me to write the next.

I am powerless. Yes, I could ignore the impulse. I could say that I don’t want to write that horror stuff, but I don’t see it as stuff. I see the horror genre, when done right, when done well, as a genre with endless possibilities. I also see it as a way to look in the blackness of the human soul and ask the important: Why? I also see it as a means to look into the light of the human soul, the thing that makes us persevere, the thing that makes us try to move on from terrible, terrible things. I think it’s important to sometimes look into the darkness to appreciate the light.

“But in a world where so many terrible things happen, why focus on them?” Why not? To ignore them is to give them power. We are afraid of that which we do not know. Let’s go back to my moles. Could they be cancerous? Well, I don’t think so. But what if one of them were? What then? What if I did, indeed, have skin cancer? I’d have to fight it. No question. Just as every single person reading this would. If I don’t talk about it, what good does it do?

Not everyone will agree with me on this. Several people I love and cherish disagree with me. As a writer, though, my job is to tell a story in an honest way. Unfortunately, sometimes the stories that compel me to write them aren’t pretty. And neither is life. My job is to do what others may not be willing to: look into the darkness, traverse its caverns, and to report back what I find. The goal? Well, hopefully to make you feel better about your life. In the best of situations, you can say, “Well, if those characters were able to make it out of that, maybe I can make it out of this.” In other situations, it may be as simple as, “Damn, I’m lucky I’ve never had to deal with that.”

In the end, could I write things other than horror? Yes. I have trunk novels that include a really bad space opera and a crime novel. I have ideas for at least three science fiction tales I’d like to write, two of them based on Shakespeare plays, as well as a crime novel I’d like to write. I’d love to write an adventure story and if I were ever asked to write a media tie-in novel for Batman or Superman or Star Wars, I absolutely would. I’d still love to write for comic books, especially one-shots or stand alone miniseries featuring those superheroes. And maybe someday, if I’m ever able to write full-time, I will. Or if the opportunity presents itself, I will.

For now, though, with the limited time that I have after teaching all day (and in between classes I must take to maintain my teaching career), I have to write what compels me, and if it’s horror, well, that’s how it is. I love it, I appreciate it, and I’m not afraid of it. Well, I am afraid of it, but that’s the point.

An Appearance & Order Here!…Kinda

A quick update to say that I’ll be appearing at the Southworth Library in Dartmouth on August 11th. I’ll be joining two other writers, Lynn Kiele Bonasia and Raffi Yessayan for a “Meet the Author” fundraiser. Tickets are $20 and available at the door or by contacting Dolly Sharek at (508) 991-7222 or dsharek@comcast.net.

Also, I’ve updated my website with links to where to buy my books, both in print and ebook formats. Just go above and click on Bibliography and then Books. Or just click on the link I just gave you.

At some point, I may do a “store” page, but it’ll either be when I can afford a webmaster or change my WordPress layout. Whichever comes first.

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