It’s here! Discoveries: Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy, edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock, published from the great Dark Regions Press. Not only can you get it through the above links, but you can order through Amazon as well. Besides my story “The Umbrella People,” which I wrote about last time, there’s a ton of great stories in the book. So go get yourself a copy, already.
That handsome cover belongs to a reprint anthology my story “The Umbrella People” is a part of. There are stories by others whose names make me giddy, like Ray Bradbury, Kealan Patrick Burke, Elizabeth Engstrom, Tim Lebbon, John R. Little, William F. Nolan, John Shirley, Tim Waggoner, and so many others that my head’s a-spinnin’! I’m very proud to be a part of this group of writers.
This will be the third printing of this short story. Its first publication was in the first issue of Dark Discoveries, which is what qualified it for this antho. Its second publication was in my short story collection Catalysts, which was actually published by James R. Beach and Dark Discoveries Publications. I decided that, in honor of this publication, which is due to be released from Dark Regions Press this Tuesday, that I would write a few words about the story.
“The Umbrella People” came to me around 2003. At the time, my parents took me, my then-wife, and my older daughter out to dinner every Saturday to a pizza place in a nearby town. It was a good little restaurant. Their pizza was great, and so was a lot of what they cooked, comfort food meals. It was raining and as we sat in our booth, my mother put her umbrella under the table.
“Don’t let me forget my umbrella, people,” she said.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Where are what?”
“Your Umbrella People.”
She called me a smartass, we all chuckled, and went on with the meal. For some reason, though, the idea stuck with me. And, like most ideas, the longer it stuck, the darker it became. The world itself was growing darker. I was unhappy in my marriage. I was restless and confused. And the world was going crazy. We were about to go to war over lies that our own government was telling us and things seemed, at the ripe ol’ age of 24, bleak. A storm was coming, it seemed.
And so I began writing.
At the time, I worked at a bus station, behind the counter. An entire wall was made of a mirror above the counter if you stood in the waiting area. From my vantage point behind the counter, it was a window. I would bring my Olivetti manual typewriter to write, after January 2003, I brought my notebook computer, a Toshiba Satellite that lasted me until 2010. I wrote the story at the bus station.
It was during a fairly productive time in my life and I was doing a lot more writing than I have time for now. The story flowed out without many issues. I remember thinking how odd the tale was how strange. I was very proud of it.
Now, thirteen years or so later, I’m still very proud of the story. I know James Beach loves the story, and it was a major impetus for him allowing me to write a column for Dark Discoveries between 2004 and 2011, as well as taking a chance on my first collection of stories. Others who’ve read it also seem to really like it. I wrote a short film script based on it and intended to try to make the movie myself for a long time. These days, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make it happen.
I also think about the Umbrella People sometimes, and wonder what happened after the story. I think there may be a novella there, but it’s still unknown to me, foggy. Maybe someday, a character will speak to me and I’ll be able to find out what happens next, and then let you know. Until then, I’m happy the story has found a new, really cool home and I’m looking forward to you making this particular Discovery.
Writers have been called professional liars. I know I’ve heard Stephen King and Peter Straub say it. I think I’ve heard Harlan Ellison say it. And there’ve been others along the long, long road I’ve taken from the age of 13 to now, a month and two weeks away from my 38th birthday. Hence, the lie in the title. I just wanted you to read my blog. But while I have you here talking about the lies writers tell, I want to remind you that while fiction is (usually) wholly made up, the real reason fiction is important is for the truth it tells. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, what kind of story you’re telling, the truth of the characters, the situation, the emotions are what keeps the readers coming back.
Anyway, I haven’t posted since May because I lose track of time easily, it happens, but I’m here now and I’m working on an essay for the blog that’ll go live either tomorrow or Sunday (Monday at the latest, I promise). It’s not one of my movie series essays, though I plan on writing about two different series this year (I’m sure you can figure them out considering my nerd pedigree), but I think you’ll like it. For now, a small update.
As I mentioned back on May 12th, Echoes on the Pond is (I think) done. I’m sure I’ll be called back to tinker here and there, but I’ve begun the process of writing a query letter for possible agents or publishers. If you don’t know what a query letter is, it basically pitches your book to an agent for representation in helping sell it, or to an editor, in the hopes of buying and publishing it. Think of it like this, Echoes on the Pond weighs in at 126,500 words. In it’s current manuscript state (Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double-spaced) it is about 490 pages. The query tries to boil that down to 150 words. I have a few other things I want to work on regarding submission, like a synopsis and outline, in case they’re asked for. I already have a few agents I’m interested in querying so we’ll see how that goes.
I also wrote a short story. The first draft weighs in at a hefty 8,400 words, which will definitely be whittled down later, after it’s been given time to settle. The story came to me one morning while driving to work. The teenager was sitting in the passenger seat, quietly hating Monday (or Tuesday) morning, and for some reason, the idea came and I instantly knew I had to write it. I didn’t start until the end of June and finished it two nights ago. It’s an unpleasant little ditty with unpleasant characters and chocolate, and that’s all I’ll say right now.
So right now, I’m trying to decide which big project to work on next, since there are several that I’m pretty passionate about.
Anyway, that’s the check-in. We’ll talk soon.
See that? That’s what’s at the very end of my manuscript for Echoes on the Pond. The reason I’m showing you is because—and I say this knowing it’s not 100% true, but roughly 98% true—I’m done with it. I have a few people giving this third draft a read, and if they all hit on things that have popped up in my head recently, or hit on things the other readers hit on, then I’ll do another sweep of the novel, but it’ll be a short one. The kind that takes a week or two instead of months. Of course, if an agent or editor at some point asks for changes that’ll make the novel better, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
As you can see, I’ve been on this bastard for a long time now. When I began the novel in April 2008, I thought that I’d finish the first draft in three/four months, the second draft within six months, and then have the third draft to shop around in 2009. All long-form writing I’d done prior to this book indicated that should have been the case. Of course, things were different.
It’d been four years since I’d started—and finished—anything of significant length. Between 1998 and 2004, I wrote many novels. Most were pretty bad, few were terrible, and a couple were…good. For the time. They were written by a younger guy, of course. I turned 21 in 1998, so being in my early-twenties, I didn’t have much perspective on life, but I had an itch to tell stories and the insanity to think I could do it.
By 2008, I was in my early-thirties, had been through a divorce, severe depression, some of the hardest times in my life, and hadn’t written anything worthwhile except for several abandoned novels, garbage short stories, and little else of value. Well…that’s not entirely true. I wrote my late, great column American Gauthic for Dark Discoveries, a gig I really enjoyed doing and would love to do again, given the opportunity. I’m proud of those essays, though I admit that some of them are a little…well…wince-inducing. I also wrote papers for college, lesson plans, and blog posts.
But here I sit, twelve days after finishing what I consider to be my final edit, and I’m looking forward to what’s next. I have about six book ideas. Two horror(ish) novels, two “mainstream” novels (that I think may be darkly comic), and two YA novels. Way back in my mind are the science fiction novel takes on two Shakespeare plays that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.
I think I’m going to do one of the YA novels. I want to do it something that’s fun, plot-driven, and fast. In other words, the kind of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was a kid.
Other than writing, I’ve got the real work ahead of me on Echoes…: Figuring out what the fuck to do with it now.
It’s a good place to be, though. Actually, it’s a great place to be.
Like a mother about to give birth, writers–and probably all creative types–tend to find a billion things to do before sitting down to work. I know this because of interviews with writers I’ve seen and read, books and articles about writing by writers both little- and well-known, and other blog posts I’ve read from other writers, most of whom are better than me. For mothers, it’s called nesting syndrome, or nesting instinct. Animals will prepare a nest or a spot for the birth of their babies. For humans, mothers will often clean the house, do things that they’ve been putting off for one reason or another. I don’t know if it has a name for creative people, but I’m in the midst of it right now, which is why I’m posting here.
It’s 9:29 PM on December 28th, 2014 as I write this sentence. So far, I’ve organized some of G’s Christmas gifts, which included straightening my desk. I’ve gone through some of the gift bags that we hadn’t really gone through yet. I balanced my checkbook. I posted my musing on the nesting syndrome on Twitter and Facebook. I remembered that I haven’t posted a blog since I last posted a blog (a few weeks back…? [Eight days ago]) and decided that I must post at least once more before 2014 ends and 2015 begins.
This week I printed out the 2nd draft of Echoes on the Pond and it’s sitting in a box behind me, and I know that I have to get to it. The blue Pilot Precise V5 rolling ball pens that I use are ready. The manuscript is ready. I’m ready! Even the toddler is ready!
Yet, here I sit, writing a blog post that will…do what? Add to the white noise that social media has become? But I’m compelled. I have no choice. Nesting syndrome.
It’s not that writers dislike writing. Well, most writers. There’s that famous quote from Dorothy Parker that goes, “I hate writing, I love having written.” Maybe she did. I’ve heard other writers say that sort of thing, too. I don’t feel that way. Most of the writers I read seem not to feel that way. For most of us, it’s too much work for too little gain. I mean, right now I have a contract sitting here that I need to read, possibly haggle about, and then sign and return to an editor. The pay day for said contract is small. It’s a reprint, and it’s for a friend, but still. I’ll do the professional Haggle Dance (that I should’ve done on another contract from a different editor/publisher that I think I got screwed over on–oh, boy! Live and learn!) and that will be that. Then I await payment. It could cover the cost of half a take-out order.
I’m not writing for the money (I’m publishing for the money, but that’s another post for another time; when I really have something to say about it), I’m writing because I fucking love it. So are most writers. People who think Stephen King hasn’t written a book with his name on it since the 1970s don’t get it. People who question the “prolificacy” of writers don’t get it. Sure, you have your James Pattersons and Tom Clancys who hire people to write from outlines they provide while turning out a book a year or every two-to-five years, but most writers who have large quantities of books under their belt do it because they love it. As I’ve often said, writing is like playing with the action figures I grew up with.
So why the procrastination?
Anyway, I really should get to it.
Although, there is that contract that needs to get looked at….
Last January, 2010, or maybe it was summer 2009, if I could find the printout…
Anyway, it doesn’t matter, I received a private message on MySpace (remember that place? Good times, man! Gooood times) from a new publisher that was getting into ebooks. They asked if I was interested in publishing the ebook version of my 2007 short story collection Catalysts.
Now, this flattered me. The fact that someone had read it, and then was interested in publishing it, is still something that flatters me. Luckily, I didn’t immediately reply. First, I have mixed feelings about Catalysts. The stories were written between 1998 and 2004, we’re talking from when I was 21 until 26. In other words, they’re stories written by someone just beginning to learn his craft. Beyond that, there’s at least one story that I really don’t like anymore. I know what I wanted to do with it, I know what I attempted to do with it, but ultimately I failed with it. (This strikes me as funny since it was one of the stories from the collection that was published on its own, and I’ve received emails saying it’s a favorite from a few deranged souls). I’m not saying the stories in Catalysts are bad. Far from it. I really love most of the 13 in that book. Two of which have inspired the novel I’ve spoken about so much. One gave me a goddamn career! And Tom Monteleone’s foreword still brings tears to my eyes and makes my head spin. But I think you know what I mean.
Second, I didn’t know who this publisher was. I’d never heard of it. So I looked it up. They were beginning with some ebooks from some writers that fans of the horror genre would recognize, but I noticed that these ebooks were smaller works, novellas, not anything big.
At the time I was (and still am) playing with the notion of doing one, two, or three stories in a small ebook and selling them for cheaper prices, in the way the Amazon will sometimes sell individual short stories from writers, or in the way that musicians will sell individual songs as well as the whole album. I thought (think) that if you put the two/three stories together with a central theme, maybe add a special introduction or afterword, that sort of thing, it could be an interesting way to get stories out there.
So after a week or so (I’m a busy guy), I sent a reply to the publisher that thanked him/her/it profusely, said how honored I was to be considered, but that I wasn’t interested in doing the whole collection as an ebook. And then, in a much shorter, more concise, and more businesslike format, I wrote what I just wrote above. I ended the email with something akin to, “Let me know your thoughts on these ideas. I look forward to hearing from you.”
I never heard back.
When I deleted my MySpace account last summer, there was the original message left unanswered. For the helluvit, I just Googled them. It appears they closed down. It appears that last fall or summer, they stopped replying to emails, Facebook messages, MySpace messages. Their MySpace remains with 6 friends, one being Tom.
It’s not cool, but I had a feeling about them.
A quick note: I’ll probably be shopping Catalysts around to epublishers later this spring or summer, once my day job and classwork are done. I’ll let you know how that goes.