Archive for the ‘Writing Craft’ Category

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I was fortunate enough to be part of an author meet and greet/book signing on Sunday, March 5th in my home town of Menifee, California. The turn-out was great and the level of support from the community was fantastic!

This is one of many photos provided by my good friend Michael Perez, a top-notch inland empire photographer behind fotohaus studios.

Check out fotohaus at http://www.fotohausco.com

He took some great photos of the event, which I will be sharing with you all as soon as they become available.

I would also like to offer a very special thanks to the handful of attendees that signed up to be beta-readers for the sequel to Whispers of the Wakinyan, the work is untitled as of now, but will be the second installment of the ‘The Things that Follow’ series.

It would make sense that the process of editing and finalizing would be the most drawn out and pain-staking to a group of individuals (writers and other creatives) that are traditionally self-critical and border-line paranoid about how their work may be received.

Yet, despite this unfortunate reality, editing and proofing is not only the best way to make a work stand out, but also for an author to transcend from amateur to professional. Many literary powerhouses have passed on their wisdom about the editing process and regardless of what they say or how they say it, the end result is generally the same:

Writing down your ideas is only the beginning!

or the ever-popular euphemism,

Real writing begins AFTER the first draft is complete.

For me, the thought of editing is no different. I feel the urge to tell another story the second I wrap up the one that I am working on. But, how fair would that be to the characters that inhabit the pages, the meters within the stanzas, or the themes shrouded beneath the webs of prose that we, as writers labor so hard to create?

The answer:

Not at all.

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Editing takes determination and patience, but the resulting drafts are far more rewarding than half-finished or open-ended manuscripts that are not just unsuitable for the market place, but questionable for even sharing with a friend or family member!

As some of my more regular readers probably know, I have just completed a close-to-final edit on my upcoming full length novel, The Legend of Thunderbird, Coyote, and Joey Gordon. The time spent in editing that beast could have allowed me to create a couple of smaller sized works from concept to print (or kindle), but like the ideas outlined above:

The end product was totally worth it!

To effectively end this post, I would like to leave you with a couple of my favorite editing quotes:

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

-Stephen King-

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

-Truman Capote-

HAPPY EDITING EVERYONE!

Have you ever noticed that sometimes a movie, novel, or other work of creative prose may have an outstanding premise, but ends up leaving you wanting?

Like dry turkey without gravy.

A peanut butter sandwich without jelly.

You get the idea.

When I used to encounter these common offenders in my pre-writing life I would ask myself questions like where did the author go wrong? Or, the story was so cool, but why did it leave me unconvinced and unfulfilled?

And then, late one dark and stormy night (aka sitting at my desk writing about a subject that was new and unfamiliar) it happened to me. I was feverishly writing a suspenseful paranormal   screenplay about extra-terrestrials through the eyes of a hard-boiled detective. I successfully dodged clichés (aside from hard-boiled of course) and everything was coming together, and THEN:

I re-read it.

AND CRINGED!

I took a break from my writing desk and stepped into my backyard, which for me always offers some distance from the worlds in my head by showcasing the world that we live in. In the foothills of a secluded semi-desert valley, I am always treated with scenes of local wildlife, bright stars, or air traffic from the local military base. I thought about what was working in my story and what wasn’t. I realized that the detective, who’s perspective the story was told through was just too strong and level-headed to create the tension that I was really looking for. His girlfriend, a journalist and rape survivor, was a much better outlet for a story about vulnerability and offered the reader more of a human connection.

I re-wrote the story through the journalist’s perspective and was amazed that it not only increased the overall tension, but made the thought of alien abduction all the more terrifying as she could relate it to her past experience of being raped. People usually don’t like movies for aliens or monsters alone (although in my opinion, they DO help quite a bit), the stories that are really successful and memorable are usually the ones that speak to audiences on an emotional or human level.

Of course, if a story isn’t working the way that you want it to it could just be bad (I have had a couple of those too!), but if you have a great premise and feel that your narrative is not as strong as it could be, a change in perspective could be just the thing that you are looking for.

Since the dawn of human culture, a mostly silent debate has been occurring. It is one that transcends religion, cultural expectations, as well as political or geographical boundaries. You as the reader may have some idea as to what the topic might be, and I can assure you that some knew what to expect from this post just from reading the title. Either way, this post may at first seem out of place on my website, but I assure that as the subject matter unfolds, or more appropriately manifests, it will seem as right and familiar as a drinking buddy’s sofa bed.

husband sleeping on the couch

The debate I refer to is that of the existence of the paranormal. This can be considered a somewhat broad and all-encompassing word as it can refer to anything that falls outside the boundaries of normal perception; this could be a spiritual abnormality, an extraterrestrial presence, a crypto-zoological encounter, or a simple glimpse into the world of extra-sensory perception. These topics are almost always laced in obscurity and veiled by a tarp stitched with the thread of cultural taboo. Academics are often shunned or ostracized if they acknowledge any of the aforementioned topics with anything more than a wry comment and a disbelieving smirk.  Then of course there were the classical attacks on the paranormal by organized religions throughout history, including, but not limited to the Spanish Inquisition, and the Salem Witch Trials.

Now with the broad strokes taken care of, we can take a look at the esoteric meat and potatoes of the subject. Most people have had (or think that they have had) a paranormal experience or at least know someone who has. A 2005 Gallup poll showed that 74% of Americans believe in at least one aspect of the paranormal (which Gallup broke up into the following categories: Extrasensory Perception, Demonic Possession, Psychic Healing, Telepathy, Haunted Houses, Extra-Terrestrial Visitation, Clairvoyance, Astrology, Ghosts, Reincarnation, Post-Mortem Communication, Witches, and Spiritual Channeling). Notice that the pollers did not even mention the existence of crypto-zoological entities like Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and Moth Man; I would think that this would push the believer percentage up to at least 80%. According to Americans, the most believable paranormal categories were ESP (41%) and that houses can be haunted (37%).

With numbers and percentages like these, the reason that books, movies, and other entertainment mediums often find a reasonable level of success in the horror/sci-fi genres becomes self-evident. People are intrigued by the thought of the “beyond” and many find a sense of comfort and even quasi-immortality in the idea of some sort of existence beyond the grave, whether it be spiritual or  esoteric. I would postulate that many of the writers who choose to express themselves in the supernatural genre have likely had some type of paranormal experience of their own. This makes sense if you think about it; most drug and alcohol counsellors have had experience with substance abuse, most psychologists have experienced some level of psychosis (or have witnessed it in someone close to them), and every exterminator has probably seen Starship Troopers too many times.

Stephen King has sold an estimated 350 million copies of his accumulated and extensive creative works. Nearly all of King’s books at least skirt upon paranormal topics, and some of them would be more accurately described as driving through said topics with a bull dozer constructed with words and driven by fear. King has discussed paranormal topics in countless interviews over the years, and is a believer in ESP (like 41% of America!) and has alluded to some ghostly encounters at the Stanley Hotel, which became the basis for one of his more popular novels, The Shining.

Clive Barker, the spinner of such twisted tales as the film Hellraiser and the novel, Imajica, has never publicly alluded to any personal paranormal experiences. However, when Barker was a young boy, he witnessed the unfortunate accidental death of a prominent sky diver in a grandiose Liverpool airshow.  The experience, although not paranormal, may have set the tone for many of his macabre tales. Understandably so, considering how a young person’s mind often times tries to rationalize death as a point of spiritual transference as opposed to one of finality.

Dean Koontz is another well-known horror writer, who finds himself in the company of the aforementioned authors, but is included in this short list with a slightly different subtext. A quote from Konntz’s  novel, Velocity, is a very good example of how the author may feel on the subject of the paranormal; “Houses are not haunted. We are haunted, and regardless of the architecture with which we surround ourselves, our ghosts stay with us until we ourselves are ghosts.” The author is a proponent of spirituality, but in a way that may not be expected by some of his readers; Koontz is a devout Catholic and in reality his personal views on the paranormal are more likely to resemble those of a clergyman than a carver of gory and suspenseful stories. Koontz’s background with his sociopath father and the subsequent attempts that the man had made on his life also were likely contributors to the author’s paranormal lexicon.

The long and short of it: people have different views on the paranormal. Some embrace it fully and like to imagine themselves painted into the pages of some illustrious and terrible tale of demons or zombies or things with long teeth and short tempers. Some see the hope of otherworldly existences as a comfort to their own mortality; while others like to listen, let their imaginations run rampant, and fall asleep with one eye opened just wide enough to let their night lights give them comfort.

To me the question of whether or not the paranormal is real is irrelevant. It is all based on personal and cultural perception, and whether we like it or not, the dark and terrible is here to stay. And it is a part of us.

Until next time horror fans!


Being a writer comes with its own set of unique challenges. Many writers would argue that the biggest challenge is the act of writing itself; others would likely state that finding the time to write is the hardest part. Despite these differences, most, if not all writers would agree that the act of putting words on the page is one that is both intimate and personal. Some have even likened the sharing of one’s writing to a metaphorical baring of the soul or as being viewed naked and vulnerable by anyone who reads it.

This brings us to the elephant in every writer’s living room and the subject of today’s blog:

THE FEAR OF REJECTION.

                Many writers use their words as a source of introspection or even self-supplied therapy. This is why it is such a big decision for a writer to choose to share their work with even a single person. For non-writers this feeling of vulnerability could be replicated, or at least understood, by a hypothetical breech in personal privacy such as the reading of a journal or diary, personal emails, or even text/voice messages.

This delicate situation presents one of the most important transformations that one must undergo in order to be a successful writer:

DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.

                Stories of overnight success are certainly present in all disciplines, such as acting, music, writing, and just about any other outlet in both the creative and non-creative worlds. In the screenwriting world, many would think of Shane Black upon hearing the words “overnight success”. Black sold Lethal Weapon, his first screenplay, for $250,000, and has had several high-grossing/ successful projects since. Of course, what you don’t hear about is HOW Black ended up at the top. Did he get a good break? Sure. Did he connect with just the right people? Absolutely. But, what he did first was write and when he was finished; he did not let the fear of rejection keep him from realizing his dream.

Very few writers will experience the rapid rise to notoriety that Shane Black did, in fact, many well-known writers have had more than their share of rejection. Stephen King, in his must-read book, On Writing, tells of how he fell in love with the craft of writing at a young age and how he endeavored to become a writer. He would tack rejection letters on his wall and when the weight of the letters became too much he used a nail; by the time he was fourteen the letters were so numerous and weighty that he pinned them to the wall with a spike. If King had not pushed through the endless rejections, to eventually receive a glimmer of hope in the words “not bad”, the world would have been denied some of the most original and groundbreaking horror/thriller stories ever told.

King’s lesson:

BE PERSISTENT.

                Neil Gaiman echoes this to some degree in a 2004 journal entry on his website. He recommends building such a powerful ego/confidence that rejection is not an option. Of course, the possession of iron-clad confidence will not be enough to prevent rejections from coming, but it can definitely help to make them into something that can be used productively (or as Gaiman says in his journal, “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!”).  There are many more great insights on Gaiman’s original post: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2004/02/on-writing.asp

Gaiman’s lesson:

TAKE CRITICISM AND KEEP WRITING.

                Any blog or article on writing craft and rejection would be lacking if it didn’t borrow something from one of the most professional and inspirational writers of the recent past: Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is perhaps best known for his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was later turned into a movie (one that Pressfield was not particularly thrilled with) starring Will Smith. One of Pressfield’s crowning achievements however, comes in the form of a short work of non-fiction. The War of Art is a must have for anyone that hopes to make a living in a creative discipline. I could write an entire blog on each and every chapter of this book, so I have opted to include a couple of quotes from the book that are relevant to the subject:

“We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.”

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.”

                Perseverance seems to be the underlying theme. A writer will never be able to write professionally without putting themselves in a position that could illicit rejection. Hypothetically, a writer could hit it big on his or her first submittal, but it is far more likely that their road to success will be paved by rejection letters and ‘pass’ emails. The professional will not only move forward after rejection, but use the criticism to further their own ideas and constantly improve upon their work.

So with that being said, it is up to the individual to judge within him or herself if rejection is a crippling rebuke or simply an opportunity for improvement. I have had my share of passes and rejection letters from movie studios and like King, I save them (in my cluttered email archive as opposed to the spike!). I have had some that were short and impersonal and others that were more of a personal attack. Like with most things, NEVER taking it personal is something that is easier said than done; I have tried my best to treat rejections like building blocks to hone my craft or stepping stones to my next success. A particular writing style might not be for everyone and sometimes rejection can take a form that actually makes you feel better about your work. One of my favorite rejection letters was from a mid-sized and fairly young UK based production company. The letter praised my script (a modern-day paranormal thriller), and even outlined what they liked and how excited it made them. The reason for the pass: the last scene was effect heavy and they didn’t feel like they could do it justice. They recommended a couple companies and gave me their best.

 To me, that rejection is one that I will always cherish.

Until next time horror fans!

          

  Everyone who has taken a creative writing class has undoubtedly heard the phrase, “write what you know”. Readers are always able to separate the authentic from the roughly postulated or the completely fabricated. Why do you think Stephen King uses writers or English professors as his main protagonist in many of his works? Or that John Grisham uses an up and coming young lawyer as the underdog hero of many of his? Exactly, they wrote what they knew. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that it takes a vampire to write a vampire story or a sociopathic serial killer to write Silence of the Lambs.

                Many of my earlier works were done in such a way, with a male protagonist close to my age       (+ or- about 10 years) and usually going through something that represented a greatly amplified version of something I had experienced myself. This may sound outlandish, considering that I primarily write in the horror genre, but the problems that my characters faced were still human problems and the monster lurking in the shadows often symbolized or mirrored the emotions that the characters and I were feeling. It is easy for a writer to use this type of familiarity to create a level of authenticity in their prose and without authenticity there is no readability.

Now this is not saying that the above mentioned authors always played it safe, in fact I think that Stephen King is one of the bravest and most inspirational writers of our generation (one of my biggest influences to begin work in the horror genre). He has had some main characters that simply were not the warmest or fuzziest; namely, the brutally cold Roland from The Dark Tower Series or the drug-addicted Jamie Morton in his newest novel, Revival. Imagine investing the amount of time that it takes to create a novel or screenplay from scratch just because the power of the story was greater than an aversion to a character or their situation.

I actually pulled “myself” out of one of my more successful screenplays, which focused on a male detective looking into a string of home-invasions that had no ‘normal’ explanation. When the detective was brought together with a female paranormal journalist/rape survivor, I knew that the story was really about her, so I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I threw out what I had on the project already (which is way less painless when using a computer, I just filed it in the ‘old work’ folder as opposed to crumpling it up and burning it) and began writing the story from the journalist’s perspective. Needless to say it was the right choice, the change in perspective MADE the screenplay.

Now horror fans, you may have guessed that this “Write what you know” blog was really just a clever lead into some background and promotion for another one of my screenplays. Tune in next time for some insight into my own writing process and my creative influences for the paranormal thriller, Things Taken.

Every writer has likely asked him or herself what they should write about next. Early writers of modern fiction had a much broader realm of uncharted subject matter and unexplored topics. By contrast, it can seem near impossible to think of a story idea that has not been done before at this point in the world’s literary evolution. It is the writer’s responsibility to both themselves and their readers to tell their story in the most entertaining style while staying true to their own writer’s voice. So let us say that a writer has made the conscious decision to create another novel, screenplay, stage play, short story, poem, etc… Where do they start to look for ideas? And perhaps more importantly, to whom do they strive to appeal?

Several tools are available to aspiring writers, musicians, and filmmakers to give them insight as to what subjects are trending or what the most popular internet search terms are. These tools include the wide spanning Google Analytics ( http://www.google.com/analytics/ ) and many blog sites and social media sites also offer a more limited insight into the same trends on their own respective sites. This can be seen in the freshly pressed section of WordPress or the worldwide trend section on Twitter. So should writers feel obligated to appeal to readers by writing a book on “#NOCHILLPHILLIPINES” (whatever that means) or should they be more inclined to indulge their own selfish desires?

Anyone who has had the luxury (or misfortune, depending on the professor) of attending a college level psychology class is likely familiar with Sigmund Freud and his school of thought. Freud theorized that every person was composed of a selfish inner component known as the ‘Id’, a reasonable idea of self known as the ‘ego’, and an ideal sense of self known as the ‘super ego’ that takes societal expectations and things like religion into consideration. The selfishness represented by the Id is a gnawing feeling that many writers have learned to either embrace or to consciously avoid. This constant battle between writing something that is socially relevant and marketable and writing something that they actually want to write can be frustrating for a writer.

In the case of choosing subject matter, an author may want to consider what is popular if they want to sell more copies of their work or be seen as more marketable by the companies to which they pitch to. But one thing that a writer should NEVER do is write something that they are not interested in writing. It troubles me to think of how many would be writers wrote a ‘supernatural romance’ to ride the Twilight coat tails just to try to exploit that segment of the fiction market. Don’t get me wrong here; if they genuinely wanted to write a story in that genre then more power to them. The truth is that the reader will know if the author’s heart was in their work and if it isn’t, the reader will be very reluctant to commit to reading the author’s future work.

With all that being said, I’m off to write my new novel, NOCHILLPHILLIPINES: a Vampire Love Story.

Until next time!