Archive for the ‘Writing Craft’ Category

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!

For those of you that have stuck with me, I would like to say THANK YOU! I have been a terrible content provider and I want things to be different. Your parents always said I would not make you happy, but you believed in me, if only for an instant. You may think we are growing apart, but in reality, I am bringing us closer together by working on more content and not… Procastinating.

I understand that you may feel alone and neglected; I understand. Those of you that read my blog will likely understand the power of the muse and the relentlessness of the urge to create. I just finished my NaNoWriMo novel today, and I feel great about it! Sure, it turned out to be three times the length of the November goal, but it got me writing in this medium; for that, I say thank you.

http://nanowrimo.org

I can’t say that you will be happy if you continue to follow me, but I can say that the probability of your continued happiness will increase at a rate of 94.8%* if you continue to follow me. This percentage will likely increase if you refer your friends to my facebook, twitter, or blog page by an additional 85%*.

* Percentages may vary

* Percentages may be completely fictitious

#thankyou, #writershelpingwriters, #statistics, #kindle, #kindlefree, #freeebook

Most people who make the decision to write creatively do so for the same reason, they feel a need to tell a story. Many clichés have been used to describe such an uncontrollable drive; the first couple that come to mind concern musicians. Who hasn’t heard about a performer that had “music pumping through their veins” or “rhythm in their blood”? I think that writers can often be looked at in the same way and like music the need for storytellers goes WAY back throughout the annals of human history.

Of course, writing tools and techniques came long after the creation of story. Early cultures did not have the ability to record important lessons and enriching stories, so these sacred tales were preserved in the oral tradition, often times spoken by a recognized wise man/woman or shaman around a camp fire. The problem with oral tradition is that like the children’s game of telephone, things change as they pass from one story teller to another.

In a way this same transference occurs when modern writers commit to telling their own stories. Sometimes a writer knows the exact direction they want to go with a story or at least have a few milestones or a finish line that they plan to cross. Other times writers sit down in front of their computer or scribble in their notebooks in hopes that the muse will guide them in the direction that their story needs to go. Both of these techniques are fantastic and without them the world would not be blessed with the enriching power that is story.

The journey a writer must endure to reach the glorious “fade out” or “the end” is always long and is always different. Every story I have written has offered its own challenges, some went quickly and there were some that I thought that I would never complete. Anyone who has read any literature on the craft of writing has certainly heard the phrase “writing is re-writing” and the phrase is very true in most cases. Whether a story is being translated from storyteller to storyteller as it was in ancient times, or simply being transferred from the magic place in a person’s brain (or heart) that story comes from to the page or computer screen, it is inevitable that things get lost in translation or changed altogether.

It is because of this anomaly that re-writing is so important. Re-writing is not simply going through a manuscript or word doc with a red pen or the highlight tool, it is a running analysis on the soul of a story. Sure grammar and spelling are important when re-writing, but one of the most important (and often hardest) things to do is to make sure that every single word either moves story or character forward. The analysis itself may always not be that difficult, but what happens when a beloved scene doesn’t make the cut? It’s got to go and that’s all there is to it. I personally like to keep these “misunderstood children” in a separate writing file and have on more than one occasion found that they fit into another story or constituted one of their very own. So don’t think of cutting scenes as “killing your babies” but more of “finding them the right home.”

Likening the editing process to the creation and retelling of ancient stories may seem like a stretch to some, but both require great insight and fortitude. The soul of a story is a special and unique thing and it is the responsibility of its creator to nurture and protect it. I hope you all have enjoyed this broad look into the heart of the editing process; I plan to get into more of the mechanics of the process in the near future and will have to practice what I preach in the very near future as the draft of my current novel is nearing its conclusion.

Until next time!

So… Here we go again

Posted: December 7, 2014 in Writing Craft

I don’t even know what to say. What a terrible way for a writer to start his first blog in over a year, right? I chose this opening statement not because I have nothing, but because my hiatus is inexcusable (well, almost). I just recently completed an accelerate MBA program and was able to end with an almost perfect 3.97 GPA, unfortunately my writing time had been consumed by statistics, analytics, and other things that were not quite as much fun. As a married man with two wonderful children, you could imagine where all of my “spare” time went when I wasn’t busting my hump at work or making the grade in school.

A few things I wanted to discuss in my “welcome back” blog was some of the truths and misconceptions that can be found in business school myths. It would be an understatement to say that I was an oddball in my MBA program; most of my peers were salty mid-career professionals with undergrad degrees in business, accounting, or marketing. I was the ONLY English major in all of my classes and from what I heard from my teachers, it sounded like they did not see many (or any). One of the most commonly asked questions from teachers and peers was: why would you want an MBA if your dream is to become a writer?

My answer: Because I wanted to be prepared to represent myself in contract negotiations and have the knowledge and the ability to market myself like any other entrepreneur. I used the word entrepreneur after great deliberation; I feel that writing for the promise of monetary reward would detract from the craft itself and have vowed to never write for the money. I write for the same reason that many writers do: I have a story to tell and it is my job to make my prose (or screenplays) interesting enough for people to want to read it.

The response that I got from a few of my instructors was a bit demoralizing.

“Business school is also known as the creativity killer,” they said.

To which I replied, “we will see.”

It turns out that they were right; they did succeed in suppressing all of my passion for creative writing (save for 1 screenplay outline and 30 pages of a novel) for the duration of the 18-month program. I was so burnt out on writing ANYTHING after I completed the 10-30 pages of required writing per week. I was getting worried and thought on more than one occasion that I should have stuck with English and hope to land a teaching or editing job down the road.

Like I mentioned above, I graduated with honors earlier this year. I was eager to prove that the program did not leech all of my creative energy and I was determined to hit the ground running.

Wait a minute…

I graduated October 17th

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is November…

The solution was obvious, I was going to write a goddamned novel in one month! For those of you not familiar with NaNoWriMo, the objective is to produce 50,000 original words in 30 days. This works out to be about 1500 words a day on average, but as we all know, some days are better than others! I stuck pretty close to quota, but I have to admit, I had a few 3000+ word days on the weekends to make up for the weekday short-comings.

So, is the novel done?

No, but I did achieve almost 60,000 words in 30 days and hope to wrap the first draft at between 85,000 and 90,000 words before the end of the year.

I will post more soon on my progress, but if I want that last 25,000 words or so to happen I will have to get to work!

Thanks for hanging in there and I hope to post more soon…