Okay, the big thing is done.  The new Holiday Horror short “President’s Day” has been published.  Next up is the 13th issue of Invasion Agents.  But that’s still being edited and I still have the cover out to the cover artist.

 

So, I’m waiting.  And waiting.  And I get the wait.  The editor was in the hospital (pneumonia), and the artist is preoccupied looking for a new apartment.

 

But I’m having a really hard time deciding what to work on in the interim.  I have stuff.  I have LOTS of stuff I COULD be doing, some of it is stuff I SHOULD be doing.  But it’s the same as the last time I was waiting on edits, I just don’t want to get into something and then have to put it down in a couple of days once the edits get here.

 

Also, work sprang a last-minute extra hour to our shift for tomorrow, so today is, literally, the only day I would have to work on whatever it is I work on today before I’m coming directly home to a new dryer delivery and will be busy with that tomorrow night.

 

So.  Well, fuck.  I’m writing this instead just to say I did SOME kind of writing,

 

Hopefully next week will be back to normal.

I’ll be honest.  Today I’m stalling.  I’m ready to hit Publish on my new Holiday Horror story “President’s Day”.  But I like this story so much, I don’t want it to go up until it’s as good as it can be.  The thing is, I think it IS as good as it can be.  I’ve spent months working on this story, and that’s just the editing.  It’s on its 6th draft.  I haven’t done a 6th draft of anything in years.

But I really truly believe in this story and there’s a part of my that is afraid to put it out just yet.

I know I HAVE to.  I set a deadline, after all, in my newsletter.  I told the world when I was publishing this story, no later than Monday, Memorial Day.  And I did that on purpose, so I couldn’t back out.

And while that does give me another 2 days to fret over every little detail, I 1) already know it’s good and ready to go and 2) would really like to have a link I can put in this week’s newsletter which comes out TOMORROW.  So I really really really need to hit Publish on this thing TODAY.

Alright, fine.  I’m doing it.  Next time you see me here, I’ll have a brand new story for the world, an homage to my beloved 80s slasher flicks, set in a hardware store, where there are LOTS of things to kill people with.  Forget Halloween or Friday the 13th, there’s a new killer holiday in town and it’s President’s Day!

Okay, I had to set a deadline for myself, otherwise I would never have got President’s Day DONE and published.

 

I seriously feel I could tinker with and edit and revise this story for the next year and not feel bad about it.  But that way lies the death of the work.

 

Believe it or not, you can OVER-edit a story.

 

So, my deadline is set.  BY Memorial Day—no later—maybe even sooner, I will hit publish on the next Holiday Horror story.

 

I added a few lines today to help disguise a certain character’s motivation, and I’m gonna show it to Kara and get her opinion, and I’m SO very close to finalizing the text on the cover.  God, I can’t believe how purposeful I’m being with every detail on this one.  But I really believe in this story, I think it’s that good.

 

Hopefully I’m right.

I’m sitting here thinking about “President’s Day”, the next in my Holiday Horrors series.  It’s almost ready, but not quite.  I feel it needs one more death scene.  And I thought, until today, that I knew what that scene would be.  I saw it in my head.  But as I started to write it, I had another thought: the reveal of that death comes midway through the story and I think the reveal is well-placed and gives the story another layer of uh-oh when we hear about it.  Do I really want to spoil that?

 

My initial thought was to show the death and use it to throw suspicion away from the real killer and onto a red herring, but I can do that with a different death scene, easily.  So, do I want to leave the other death alone (it was going to serve as a prologue for the story), and let that reveal come when it does?  I think maybe.

 

That isn’t a decision to just MAKE though, it’s one that’s going to have to be pondered and weighed as I skim the manuscript for where I could possibly put the other death scene I had in mind.

 

Sometimes caring about how the story turns out can be a real pain in the ass.

Holy crap, FINALLY!!!  The theater opened up here in St. Joe and after over A YEAR, Kara and I were able to get into the theater.  Yes, we got in for a second in August or November last year when Sweetpea (our oldest daughter) and I took Link (our second to youngest son) to see THE NEW MUTANTS, but the theater closed again so quickly after that it barely counts.

 

So time will tell if this open is permanent or not, but either way, Kara and I got to see a movie together, and that’s something we haven’t done in FOR! EVER!  Hell, we can count the number of movies we’ve seen together in a theater on one hand, but this last Saturday was one of my favorites.

 

We saw SPIRAL: From the Book of Saw, a movie I’ve been wanting to see since I saw the first trailer last year, and I’m glad it’s finally been released, but mostly … damn, I was just glad to finally get back to the movies.  Sweetpea and I used to go all the time over the last few years, so being cut off from those delicious nachos for so long was torture.  And to look over and have Kara sitting beside me in the theater … fuck yes.  More of that, please.

 

Next up: Worlds of Fun.

 

See?  I tell myself I’m going to make this a regular part of my writing day and I manage, AT BEST, every other day.   And I’m cool with every other day; I don’t feel I have important enough things to say every day.  But now I’ve missed the last THREE days.  But I do have things to announce today.

 

One, I’ve got what I think is the final cover for “President’s Day” as well as a 5th draft at 24,028 words.  I’ve got the first few edits for “Invasion Agents #13”, and hope to have a rough version of that cover soon.

 

I FINALLY updated my Amazon author bio.  I haven’t touched that thing since I put my first book on Amazon in, what, 2012?  It was WAY outdated, mentioning my most recent anthology appearances which were recent in 2012, but since I haven’t submitted to an anthology since then, aren’t so recent anymore.  I was also able, finally, to add Kara to my bio.  I really love that part.

 

And on Sunday I published a new short story to Amazon.  Not a NEW story, it’s actually about 10 years old, and this isn’t the first time it’s been published.  “In the Presence of Loneliness” used to be included at the back of THE THIRD FLOOR but I took it out years ago and made it an exclusive available only on Instafreebie, which then became Prolific Works.  But now it’s back on Amazon as an exclusive, enrolled in their KDP Select program, which means anyone with an Amazon Prime account can borrow it for FREE.  So you should totally do that.  Go borrow it and then read it.  It’s like 16 pages.  Go do it now:

 

After a bitter breakup, Tom is trying to start over, this time on his own. Except the house he’s moved into isn’t exactly empty. This Amazon exclusive is set after the events of my best-selling novel THE THIRD FLOOR, and sets up the events of the upcoming sequel.

Now that’s what I’m talking about: productivity.  This week I edited 53 pages of notes on “President’s Day”, getting REAL close to a 5th draft, and today I sent out the latest C. Dennis Moore Short Story Webring story, “Broken Man”.

 

I should deserve a day off, but I won’t get it because I love writing and being away from it too long makes me VERY cranky.

 

And anyway, it’s almost the weekend and that means NEWSLETTER day is coming.  If you haven’t subscribed yet, do so at THIS LINK!

Good Lord, I’ve been doing some mad edits.  An insane amount of edits.  You might even say a PLETHORA of edits.  And thank God for them, because they are working to make “President’s Day” into the story I always knew it could be.

 

I want to thank all of my beta readers, even the ones who haven’t got back to me yet, for taking the time to read this new story for me, in most cases before it’s even in its final form, when it’s still a little rough around the edges and some of the sentences are clunky as all hell.

 

I owe you guys huge.

 

One in particular, Brenda … I’ve spent the last 3 days working my way through the incredible amount of work she’s done for this story to make my words shine.  Only one more day to go on her edits, and then I take another look at the overall flow.  I’m very psyched to see this story in its final draft version and to share it with the world.

You ever find yourself with so many things you COULD be doing that you don’t know where to start, so you end up getting nothing done?  You stare at the screen, trying to will something into existence, a sign or something that says “Work on this first.”

 

I’m an organized person.  Sometimes I think I’m too organized.  I have systems and lists in place for all kinds of different situations.  But sometimes you reach a point on more than one project where you freeze.

 

I’ve currently got TWO stories out for beta reads and edits, and there are any number of other things I COULD be working on in the meantime.  That’s the problem, so many things I could be doing.  But I know that, when the edits come back on those other two stories, I’m going to want to put down what I’m doing and get back to those.  So what do I have currently on the “could be working on it” list that I’m comfortable putting down at the drop of a hat, or the arrival of an email?  I don’t really want to “abandon” any of them, and that’s the problem.  I don’t want to start anything I’m going to have to stop with no notice.

 

So I find myself looking at the two stories that are out, wondering if just by staring at them, I can make them perfect and ready to go.  Or I stare at my list of other projects I could be working on in the meantime, wondering if just by staring at them, I can make them perfect and ready to go so I don’t have to put them down again a few days later.

 

Also, it’s Saturday and I’m headed to work in an hour, which means after that, I’m done writing for the day (I REALLY need to mow when I get off tonight, then, since it’s Saturday, Kara and I always go out to dinner on Saturday), and tomorrow’s Sunday, which is newsletter day, so I know nothing I work on today is going to get touched again until Monday at the soonest.  And that’s two days’ time my beta readers and editors have to finish the work their doing and send it back to me, thereby postponing, even longer, whatever I was going to start today.

 

Writer problems.

The current dilemma is in coming up with a cover idea for my upcoming publication, “President’s Day”, the next story in my Holiday Horrors series.

 

The inspiration for this series was the slasher movies of the 80s that I grew up on, FRIDAY THE 13th, HALLOWEEN, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, etc.  I wanted to go down the calendar and write a slasher story for every holiday there was.  So far I’ve written stories for New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Groundhog Day, Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and now the next in line according to the 2013 calendar I’ve been using (when I started publishing these stories): President’s Day.

 

The story is one of my favorites I’ve written and sums up, I think, perfectly the spirit of the Holiday Horror stories.  But now I need to come up with a cover idea for it, and that sucks.   My first thought for the cover was perfect.  It summed up the story in a singe image and was one of those cases of a picture being worth a thousand words.  I was very excited to see how the cover turned out with that image.  And then I realized that, while it is the perfect image for this story, it also spoils the entire plot, including the identity of the killer.

 

Well, that’s not gonna work…

 

I had another idea that centered around images of President’s Day sales everyone has, but the more I looked into those, the more sure I was they were stupid and didn’t even pretend to lend themselves to horror imagery.

 

And there I was at an impasse.

 

Because, really, that first image was so perfect, anything else I could possibly come up with afterward is going to be weak and, in my heart, I’ll know it’s not as good.

 

And then a new inspiration struck.  The idea for this series came from those old slasher movies I loved as a kid.  And because the very idea of a slasher story taking place on President’s Day of all days is such a ridiculous notion that, in my opinion, works so very well in this story, I didn’t think I was going to find the cover that properly summed up the mood of this story without reaching back to those old 80s covers.

 

And while I don’t actually HAVE the cover just yet, I know which direction I’m leaning now and this is going to make putting my ideas into words that I can then hand over to my cover designer who is, more and more often my 21-year-old daughter (see the “Valentine’s Day” cover), all the easier.  Finally I can give her something to work with.  I’ll pass them over to her today at lunch.

 

That’s a weight off my shoulders and one more thing off my incredibly long and convoluted to-do list.

So long before I was writing, I used to draw.  I was never great at it, but I was the best one in my high school art class and I always got A’s.  Then I started writing and just stopped drawing.  Then my daughter started drawing and by the time she was in middle school, she had FAR surpassed what little talent I had.

 

Then a few weeks ago I came across this book I used to own decades ago, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.  I used to love that book, I read it cover to cover, probably more than once, even after I realized the method for drawing laid out in that book is no good for me.  It’s still a beautiful book to look at.

 

And it really made me want to draw again.  So last week I bought myself a sketchbook and some pencils and erasers and I came home.  And I haven’t touched them since.

 

Because I’ve been busy all week with writing stuff.

 

Sigh.  Maybe one day.  Definitely one day.  Has to be.  I really did used to love it.  If only there was time in the day for EVERYTHING we wanted to get done, huh?

Today is Sunday and that means newsletter day.  I have an author newsletter that I’ve maintained on a weekly basis for several years now, and is, if I’m being honest, one of the big reasons this blog has seen so little activity in the past while.  As I said in this week’s newsletter, talking here about my writing is speaking into the void, but when I do it there, I’m know I’m talking to the people who purposely subscribed and WANT to see what I have to say.

 

But that doesn’t mean this blog should suffer.  Hell, I could use this space to bring more people to the newsletter, which you can subscribe to right HERE.

 

I should warn you, though, I say “fuck” a lot in my newsletter.  Because it’s my newsletter.  I got an unsubscribe once and under “reason given” they put “inappropriate content” and I remember thinking, “Um, it’s MY newsletter, it’s got my name on it and it’s written by me.  Shouldn’t I be the one to decide it the content is inappropriate?  And if I’m talking about ME, what could be more appropriate…?”  And then I stopped caring because that person wasn’t going to buy any books anyway, and I guarantee they only got there in the first place through the Prolific Works site, which gives away free ebooks in exchange for newsletter sign-ups.  So, whatever.  They got their free book.

 

And that really is the best place to learn what I’m working on, what I’m going to be working on, what goals I’ve set, how I’m progressing on said goals, and to see my junk.  Every week I show and tell another item of interest from my collection.  This week it was my RUN-DMC Funko Pop! collection.

 

I do intend to keep up on this page, but the newsletter really is the best place to keep actually UP TO DATE.  It’s free, it’s weekly, it’s HERE.

 

I hope to see you there.  And also keep coming back here so I have a reason to keep posting.

Hey.  Long time no see.  Man, I haven’t posted here in forever.  And I don’t think I’ve really said anything of import on this version of the website at all.  I used to blog almost daily, when I was writing first thing in the morning before work, I would wrap up the morning with a quick recap of the work I’d done that day.  I didn’t give specifics or story details or anything, but I would tease out a few things sometimes with pictures.  For example, if I mentioned a roller coaster in the story, I would post a picture of a roller coaster and say, “Today I wrote about:”

 

I don’t know why I stopped doing that.

 

Then for a while I was wrapping up each day with a motivational post, and eventually I collected those in my book Doing it Write.

 

For a very long time, though, I haven’t bothered to come on here and write about what I’ve been writing.  Most days, by the time I stopped writing, I only did so because time was up and I had to start getting ready for work.  Now that I’m writing after work, I still haven’t bothered because by the time I’m done writing for the day, it’s almost time for my wife, Kara, to come home from work and I like to be downstairs to meet her when she gets here, so I would have to cut short the story-related work that day, new words or editing, to write a blog post about what I’ve been working on.  Or I could just keep adding new words and/or editing.  Which is what I’ve been choosing to do with that time.

 

But today, even though I spent the day editing the first draft of the upcoming 13th issue of my super hero comic book in prose, Invasion Agents, I did find a stopping point that made sense and I decided to get on here and say a few words.

 

I read recently that the best way for a writer to build an audience is to blog regularly.  I honestly don’t know how true that is, with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, I think there are a ton of easier ways to connect with your audience.  But I do have a website and that website does have a blog page and I know when I see a blog that hasn’t been posted to in a year, I just assume the writer is dead or no longer writing and since I’m neither of those things, I really should make more of an effort to be visible here, especially since I’m not on Facebook, my Twitter is occasional at best and my Instagram is devoted mostly to what comics I’m reading, what records I’m listening to, and pictures of Kara on our weekly dinner dates.

 

So.  What I’m currently working on is editing.  I’m editing, like I said, the first draft of the 13th issue of this supposedly-monthly series (year one was monthly, but I didn’t get anything else written that year and that is unacceptable, so this time, as I work on year two, I’m going to keep to as regular a schedule as I can, but not at the cost of getting anything else written) while waiting for the beta readers to finish with my latest Holiday Horror short story, “President’s Day”, which, at 24,000 words, isn’t so short.

 

Man, if you grew up on 80s slasher movies like I did, you’re going to LOVE this story.  More on that later.

 

Kara will be home soon, and I missed her today, so I’m going down to see her.  We’ll catch up more later.

 

–CDM.

Back in 2017, I wrote a blog post called “Get Off Your Dead Ass Before Your Ass is Dead” about the benefits of an aerobic workout vs. an anaerobic workout as far as it pertained to writers.  As I said in my original post, “aerobic exercise not only burns fat, but also prevents clogged arteries which can prevent heart disease.”

At the time I was taking a daily walk in the morning sun and feeling good about myself and my work.

What I failed to mention in that long ago post, however, was that eventually winter would come, cold weather would come, maybe even at some point I would get on that mythical first shift and my available time for things like walks would be greatly reduced.

When free time is at an all-time low and the sun hasn’t shone in weeks, you still need to stay in shape, especially when you’re a writer who spends as much of your time sitting at a desk as you possibly can.

So how do we go about that?

There are several alternatives to walking that you can do at home, in your office.  The first step, of course, is to STAND UP.  Like I said in that previous post, get off your dead ass.  And, let’s face it, that’s often the hardest part.

The chair is comfortable.  Even when it’s not necessarily—like mine—it’s still more comfortable than standing.  The chair is a safe place.

So’s the grave, but we’re trying to avoid going there as long as we can, so GET UP.

Remember, we want to burn fat, not sugar, so we’re going to leave the weights where they are—currently mine are on the floor in front of my CD shelf, across the room.  These exercises are going to be cardio-based.  We’re not building muscle, we’re just staying in shape.

We’re going to start with twenty High Knees.  This exercise is good for leg strength, heart rate, and engaging your core.  This is a simple 2-step exercise starting with your feet hip-width apart.   Now take a step in place, lifting your leg so your knee is even with your hip.  Alternate this step twenty five times.

Then go to twenty walking lunges.  Yes, I know lunges are terrible and should be banned, but there are a few benefits to them.  This simple exercise targets SIX different muscles, including abs, back, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.  It improves your posture, which is incredibly important when you’re a writer at your desk all day, and they also improve your range of motion, which, at 48, isn’t something I worried about at 24, but now wish I had.  With walking out of the question thanks to the snow and ice outside, lunges are an annoying alternative as it’s pretty much the same motion, just bigger, more exaggerated.

Next: ten push ups.  You know how to do these.  It’s only ten.  Just do them and stop whining.

Twenty-five jumping jacks.  Short of running from a zombie apocalypse, jumping jacks are the “ultimate cardio exercise”, according to the Femina website.  Did you know jumping jacks are also a great way to improve bone density?  Or that your heart and lung capacity are increased when jumping jacks are a part of your daily routine?  And they’re easy as shit!  Just do them.  Twenty-five.

Because now you’re going to hate me: twenty squats.  These not only “crush” calories, they strengthen your core as well as the glutes and thigh muscles.  How to do them?

From the Healthline website:

To do a basic squat:

  1. Start with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  2. Keep your chest up, engage your abdominals, and shift your weight onto your heels as you push your hips back into a sitting position.
  3. Lower your hips until your thighs are parallel or almost parallel to the floor.
  4. You should feel the squat in your thighs and glutes.
  5. Pause with your knees over, but not beyond, your toes.
  6. Exhale and push back up to the starting position.

Next: The devil.  I mean ten burpees.

These may suck, but they are incredibly simple.  From the Healthline website, a burpee is “ a pushup followed by a leap in the air.”  Burpees boost cardio and burn fat, and that’s what we’ve been talking about this whole time.

Do ten of those, then take a break with a 1-minute wall sit.

A wall what now, you ask?

Wall sits build strength in your glute, calves, quads and abs and they require no movement at all.  To do a wall sit, according the Anytime Fitness website:

  1. Make sure your back is flat against the wall.
  2. Place your feet firmly on the ground, shoulder-width apart, and then about 2 feet out from the wall.
  3. Slide your back down the wall while keeping your core engaged and bending your legs until they’re in a 90-degree angle—or right angle, so that if someone wanted to sit on your lap, they could. (Although now probably isn’t the best time.) Your knees should be directly above your ankles, not jutting out in front of them.
  4. HOLD your position, while contracting your ab muscles.
  5. When you’re ready to wrap it up, take a few seconds to slowly come back to a standing position while leaning against the wall.

Done.  But now we’re going to circle back around and do a few of these again.  10 pushups, 25 jumping jacks, 10 walking lunges, 20 sit ups—no, these were not part of the original lineup, they’re an added bonus—followed by 10 more squats and a 1-minute plank.

I will tell you upfront a 1-minute plank on your first try is going to seem like you’re dying inside and it will be the longest minute of your entire life.  But you CAN do it.  I have faith in you.  And if you can’t, do 30 seconds and work up to the minute, but I promise you almost definitely CAN do it for the full 60 seconds the first time out.  Then promptly collapse into a puddle of jelly and tears immediately afterward.

Normally when working out, you’re told to take a break between reps, but for this workout we’re going to go immediately from one to the next until the circuit is complete.  THEN we rest for 1 minute, and then we do it again.  When you have completed THREE rounds, you’re done for the day.

Hey, no one ever said staying in shape was easy or fun, aside from taking a nice morning walk on a spring morning, but we’re writers.  We’re lazy and we get fat and if you’re anything like me, you not only have people relying on you to stick around as long as you can, but you’ve also got more story ideas than you know what to do with and living as long as possible is the only way to be sure you get as many of them written as you can.  So take care of yourself!

I will NEVER stop advocating for just going outside and taking a walk, but on days like today when it’s 34 degrees out, there’s not a chance I’m going outside unless it’s to go to the car.  So a healthy alternative, something designed, again, to burn fat, not sugar, and to help prevent heart disease, a good cardio workout is just the thing.  Now, here’s the rundown of everything you’re going to do, and you’re going to do it at least 5 times a week because you’re not a lazy piece of shit, you lazy piece of shit!  Prove me wrong.

 

25 High Knees

20 Walking Lunges

10 Push Ups

25 Jumping Jacks

20 Squats

10 Burpees

1 Minute Wall Sit

10 Push Ups

25 Jumping Jacks

10 Walking Lunges

20 Sit Ups

10 Squats

1 Minute Plank.

 

Repeat 3 times, no rest between exercises, one minute rest between circuits.

Special thanks to Kara Baum for giving me this workout she used in her Brazilian Jui Jitsu class.

I have had a love/hate relationship with genre fiction for as long as I can remember.  On the one hand, I love genre fiction.  It’s my preferred reading, especially horror.  On the other hand, so many people say that to write successful genre fiction, you have to follow the rules of the genre.

“Respect the genre you’re writing in,” says Kathleen Krull.  “In your effort to put your own stamp on it, don’t ignore the established conventions of the genre—or you’ll alienate your core audience of loyal buyers.”

Editor Page Cuddy says, “The best advice that one can give a writer is not to condescend to the genre or try to pack a literary idea into a more commercial form in hopes of selling it.”

I have to agree with what Krull says.  You do have to respect the genre.  But I wholeheartedly disagree with Cuddy.  If you want to write space opera and have the talent to make it a literary masterpiece, do it!    By all means.

Genre fiction gets such a bad rap from people who aren’t fans of the genre—even if those people are fans of other genres.  You read strictly science fiction, but think anyone who reads strictly romance is wasting their time.  You read only romance, but think anyone who tries to put a fantasy element in their romance novel is boring.

And I can’t even say people with those opinions are wrong.  Opinions are opinions, not right or wrong, just opinions.  We’ve all got em.

Personally, I think horror is the most interesting and entertaining genre to read and I can’t imagine spending my valuable time reading something like military history.  But that’s my opinion.

However, when you talk about genre, regardless of what genre you favor, so many people agree with Krull: You have to respect the genre you’re in.

Yes, you do.  A horror story must have some horrific element.  A science fiction story must have some fiction in its science.  A romance must have two or more people falling in love.  But beyond that?  Shit, the sky’s the limit, knock yourself out.

Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

And that’s what we do as genre authors.  Hell, as authors at all.  But in genre fiction, we’re allowed a leeway that more “literary” writers are not.  Maybe that’s because it’s genre fiction and genre fiction is the ugly step-relative sleeping under the stairs in the broom closet.  And still, genre fiction outsells literary fiction every year.

Don’t believe me?  Off the top of your head, name your five favorite authors?  I guarantee at least three of them were genre authors.  Quite possibly horror authors.  I know you know Stephen King’s name, and no one can say he isn’t not only a horror writer, but probably THE most famous writer of his generation.

Genre fiction sells.

And still it is looked down upon, sometimes even by the very authors who write it.  I heard a story from a friend once who met a very famous and respected author of religious books that had horror elements.  The friend introduced himself and said he writes horror, too, and the author was shocked, insisting he doesn’t write horror.  But I’ve read his work.  He’s a horror author.

But so many people shun genre fiction, insisting it’s not real writing.

I can think of 20 or 30 genre authors right now who would disagree.  And I have shelves lined with genre fiction in my house and I know those words didn’t just appear on those pages by magic.  Human hands had to sit and write them, one sentence, one word, one letter at a time.

But I’m not here to talk about how popular genre fiction is.  I shouldn’t need to, that fact should be obvious to anyone.  I’m here to talk about the rules of genre.

And those rules are simple.  You know your genre.  At least you should; you really don’t want to tackle writing in a genre you’ve never read before.  So before you write your first horror story, you should be very familiar with what that entails.  But once you have those “rules”—and I use that term loosely—down, feel free to expand from there.

Combine genres.  Get some romance in your horror.  Spill a little scifi in your fantasy epic (Masters of the Universe, anyone?).    Try some western in your space opera (I’m looking at you “The Mandalorian”).  The rules for each particular genre are what they are and Krull is right, they should absolutely be respected.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t write an elevated form of that genre.

Since the day I first put words on a page with the intention of creating a fictional story other people might be interested in reading, I have only ever wanted to write horror.  It’s a genre I have loved as long as I can remember, and one I have the utmost respect for.  Horror is my life, as far as creativity goes.  But I have written in several different genres, including science fiction (“Purple Haze” and “The Foodies of Mars”), superheroes (“Invasion Agents”), and even romance and science fiction (“Epoch Winter”).  But all of those stories still had some element of horror to them.

And as long as I’ve been writing horror, my goal with the genre has always always always been to elevate it to the status of literature.  To give it the respect those “mainstream” novels get, albeit with more recognition and sales (be honest, who actually SEES the movies nominated for Best Picture every year?  No one, we were all too busy at the latest super hero or horror movie).

If you ask me, it’s this attitude that we have to follow the rules of the genre that’s keeping genre fiction from gaining the respect it deserves by non-genre readers.  As a writer, I have all the respect in the world for someone who can write an 800-page scifi or fantasy epic, or the guy who writes two western novels a month.  I couldn’t do it.  But I feel like non-writers who see those books, all they see is “Nope, not my thing” and they move on.  And I feel a lot of that is due to, not just complacency on the part of the reading public, but a lot of it falls to the authors who want to live inside that genre bubble and never risk trying a new concoction lest it drive the readers away.

Learn the rules of your genre, and then break them the first chance you get and give us something new and exciting and interesting.  You owe it to yourself as a creative person, and to the work as an art form.  Or better yet, genre be damned, just write the book that you really want to read.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, but I have been writing consistently nonetheless, and now’s the time for a new Angel Hill short.  JACK THE LION is released into the wild.

Angel Hill is home to The Lonely Man, the Ash Wednesday killer, and who knows what’s going on at the Mertland Childrens’ Home. But for twelve-year-old Frank, the only evil he fears is his mother’s new husband, Terry.

The source of all the ridicule and shame Frank faces on a daily basis, the swats to the head, the laughter when Franks falls and needs stitches, Terry is the source of it all.

Frank’s only confidant is a stuffed animal named Jack. But like Jack always says, “What do you need friends for, you’ve got the best one ever right here.”

Jack the Lion is a solitary story for the lonely, the story of one boy’s abusive childhood at the hands of one who’s job it was to protect him—and the story of the one who finally did. 

Get it HERE on ebook or in print from Amazon.

While I fully support King’s dislike of the original film adaptation of his novel THE SHINING, and his reasons for not liking it, and while I fully support his desire to write and produce his own version of the movie, one that sticks closer to the plot and details of the novel, and I even support his decision to make said adaptation a TV mini-series, despite all the constrictions that’s going to put on the thing due to Standards and Practices, and I even support being fiercely loyal to your friends … did he seriously have to get Mick Garris to direct?

Hell, I fully support and admire Garris’s devotion to the horror genre. He’s been a huge voice in championing horror for decades. He just doesn’t make good horror movies. In fact, he makes very obvious TV horror, full of the constrictions put on it due to Standards and Practices. Having seen all of his King adaptations, I’m reminded of the terrible kids’ stuff The Rock made when he was first getting started, stuff like THE GAME PLAN, RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, and TOOTH FAIRY. Horror for the whole family is nothing I’m interested in and it’s an insult to the strength of the novel.

Let’s look at this realistically. THE SHINING is considered by most to be one of King’s scariest novels. It’s one of only 3 or 4 novels that have EVER given me any kind of fright. So you put the guy who directed PSYCHO IV: The Beginning and SLEEPWALKERS in charge of it? The guy who made Randall Flagg, King’s most devious villain, into a middle aged mullet-wearing Springsteen wannabe? There’s a reason most of Garris’s credits are on television, and sure MAYBE that’s something to think about when you’re adapting THE SHINING for television, but maybe you get a guy who has made a career out of genre-defining horror and let him turn those talents toward the small screen and see what he can do. I’d rather take a dangerous guy and tell him “Okay, now be careful” and watch him push the limits of safety than a guy whose entire life is built on catering to the censors. THE SHINING is a HORROR story, and the adaptation, despite being broken up into acts to make room for commercial breaks, needs to be a horror adaptation. A HORROR adaptation. And a HORROR adaptation does NOT keep repeating the line “Kissing, kissing, that’s what I been missing.”

Okay, we blame that one on King since he wrote the script, but a director who’s making a HORROR film questions that line and has a talk with the writer everyone in the free world agrees could use a strict editor.

And I haven’t even properly started this review.

So I recently, FINALLY, rewatched the 1997 adaptation of THE SHINING, written by King and directed by Mick “Critters 2” Garris. Now I remember why I waited so long to get back to it.

It was never any secret King didn’t like the Kubrick version of the movie–you know, the one everyone pretty much agrees is a horror classic (I don’t know if I’d go that far, it is a good horror movie, but a mediocre adaptation of a fantastic book)–and finally he was allowed to make his own version, this time telling the story that was actually IN the book. Believe it or not, Kubrick left out whole chunks of plot and character development in favor of great acting and beautiful shots. Which one was better?

I guess it depends on what you’re looking for in a good SHINING adaptation. A wonderful viewing experience? Kubrick. The Shining novel, bereft of any terror, but faithful to the plot? King.

In both versions, Jack Torrance is spending the winter as the caretaker of The Overlook Hotel, snowed in in the mountains of Colorado with his wife Wendy and 7-year-old son, Danny. Jack is a recovering alcoholic, Wendy forgives but never forgets, Danny is psychic, and the hotel is very very incredibly haunted. As the snow comes and the Torrances are cut off from the outside world, mayhem ensues as the ghosts feed on Danny’s psychic energy and play on Jack’s fragile mental state, his anger problems, and his desire to do his job.

In both versions, Jack is driven to insanity and a line he can never uncross. However, in the Kubrick version, King’s opinion was that Jack Nicholson’s take on the character looked insane from day one. And he’s not wrong. In fact, when I read the book for the first time and saw how gradual that downward spiral really was, I could totally see King’s point in not liking the movie. But I also couldn’t deny that, while NOT an adaptation of the book, it IS still a pretty great horror movie.

Enter Steven Weber’s take on Jack Torrance. The ONE thing in this entire adaptation that I could appreciate was Weber’s performance as the husband and father struggling to keep it together under the weight of a slew of mistakes. Just when you think Jack’s turned that corner past the point of no return, Weber brings him back, showing the struggle the character really was fighting with. For all its many many flaws, I have to give this tepid adaptation credit for getting that aspect of the story right.

I’ve been a long time fan of Weber (“Wings” is one of my all-time favorite shows), and he’s a pretty big horror fan, too, so I think he was an excellent choice for this role. I just wish he’d had better material to work with. In the novel, angry/crazy Jack calls Danny a “pup”, and in the novel that line … works, I suppose. But in reality, hearing someone say it out loud, it’s such a jarringly bad line, it takes you out of the story. Same with “Come and take your medicine.” The line works in the novel, not so much in real life. And God love him, Weber is a talented actor, but even he can’t pull off this dialogue. And then of course the infamous “Kissing, kissing, that’s what I been missing.” That’s not a line from the novel, King added it for the mini-series. I have no idea why.

Rebecca De Mornay plays Wendy, the role originally given to Shelly Duvall in the Kubrick version. Both versions have their pros, but I think De Mornay gives Wendy a strength Duvall’s could never have mustered. This Wendy I believe really would have taken Danny and WALKED away from the hotel if she had to. All in all, she probably gave the most realistic performance in the entire movie.

Then we come to Danny, played this time by Courtland Mead. Mead was 10 at the time he made this movie, playing 7-year-old Danny and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the kid. Not because he’s a little kid making what I’m sure was supposed to be a terrifying movie but because he’s stuck in THIS movie. Really, he should have been off playing or watching cartoons. Instead he spent his time making the Goosebumps equivalent of THE SHINING.

And we can’t forget Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend. In Kubrick’s version, Tony was the little man who lived in Danny’s mouth and when he talked, he was manifested physically in Danny’s finger, bobbing around like a stick figure while Danny croaked out Tony’s dialogue. It was unsettling and creepy. In King’s official version of the movie, Tony is a young man dressed in beige and wearing the round wire-frame glasses John Lennon made so famous. Also in King’s version, the end of the movie gives us a Tony reveal that, while unexpected, was also 100% unnecessary!

God, I wish I loved this movie. I had read the book twice when this movie came out, and when I first heard about it, and heard that King was adapting the novel way more faithfully than Kubrick had done, I was very excited. Stephen King’s version of THE SHINING had to be something amazing, something to show everyone this is what THE SHINING is supposed to be.

Well, he showed us, alright. And I know it was 1997 and CGI technology wasn’t what it would eventually become, but holy Christ. This version has the infamous hedge animals come to life and stalk Jack and Danny and it was a scene many people missed in the Kubrick version–replaced by the confusing hedge maze scene with Jack standing over the mock-up in the hotel lobby and maybe seeing Danny and Wendy in miniature? We never really know, so it was something I was looking forward to understanding when I read the book, and then discovered it’s not even in there, replaced instead by hedge animals. So when I heard King was keeping the hedge animals, again, I was excited at how they would look. And then I saw how they looked and I wasn’t just disappointed, I was disappointed they didn’t see the final version of the movie and immediately scramble to put the hedge maze back in there.

Same with the fire hose that comes after Danny, which was another good scare in the book, only to come off as nothing more than another bad CGI job in a psychic vision Danny has. This time with the nozzle turning into a mouth full of grinning metal teeth. Yes, it looks just as dumb as it sounds.

But I think the most egregious and unforgivable part of this movie–for me–was the Redrum reveal. In the Kubrick version–and I hate that in reviewing this movie I keep having to refer back to the Kubrick version, but you’ve seen that version, many times, I’m sure, so it’s just the easiest way for me to draw my comparisons–and comparisons are going to be drawn, it’s just the way it is–the reveal is shocking and sudden and full of dread. In the ‘97 version Danny sees the word on the wall once and asks Wendy what it means. She has no idea. The next time he sees it, again as letters in red on the wall, the CGI letters dissolve and shift until the word is reversed and Danny sees, DUN DUN DUNNNNN, MURDER! There is no buildup, no suspense, no tension and no release. The entire idea of Redrum, in this version, falls flat without a hint of menace.

I do appreciate that King included the novel’s climax, something I missed from the original movie, but then he had to tack on the TV ending and ruin it. The flash forward, and then the totally cliché and predictable stinger at the end, they didn’t necessarily take me out of the movie and the halfway compelling sense of drama that had been building as they THREW me out of it and brought me back to reality where I remembered, Oh yeah, this is a TV movie, made by the guy who did SLEEPWALKERS, one of the least scary and most incomprehensible King movies ever made. I almost forgot.

There is only one condition under which I could ever recommend this movie. My daughter’s girlfriend and a friend of theirs made a drinking game where they watch a bad movie and, every time something serious makes them laugh or they roll their eyes, they take a drink. I suggested they watch this one. Otherwise, if you want to continue seeing THE SHINING as one of King’s scariest and most engaging works, avoid this one at all costs. It will seriously tarnish your opinion of the story as a whole.

King on Film
1976-1992 (Carrie to Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice)
The Dark Half (1993)
The Tommyknockers (1993)
Needful Things (1993)
The Stand (1994)
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
The Mangler (1995)
Dolores Claiborne (1995)
The Langoliers (1995)
Sometimes They Comes Back … Again (1996)
Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)
Thinner (1996)

What’s the most fun part of writing? For me, it’s the editing. I know a lot of writers hate that stage, some refuse to even do it. They’ll finish the first draft, MAYBE read it over one more time to make sure everything’s spelled correctly, and out into the world it goes.

I call those people writers. The people who take the time to EDIT their work, change things, take out the bits that don’t work, emphasize the bits that do, and generally work the story into a tight knot of tension and release, I call those people Writers.

One of the most important parts of editing is the taking out of things that don’t work or that don’t contribute to the story, and a huge part of that process is taking out the pretty bits.

We all do it, we write that certain turn of phrase, that metaphor, that line of description and we think, “Man, I didn’t even know I was capable of coming up with something like that!”

We’ve all done it, and it’s got to go.

Faulkner said “In writing, you must kill all your darlings,” but he’s not the only one.

Samuel Johnson said, “Read over your compositions and whenever you meet with a passage that you think is particularly fine, strike it out.”

Arthur Quiller-Couch said, “If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press.”

And French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette said, “Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

Why do we do this? More importantly, why MUST we do this? Because they don’t add anything. A lot of the time, they don’t even fit. Be honest without yourself and re-read the story, or the section of the story, without that pretty bit in there. I bet the story makes just as much sense, gets to the point a lot quicker without it, and you didn’t even notice the absence. Now admit the only reason you wanted to keep it is because your ego said it was so much better than what you normally write, you wanted everyone to see how clever you were with words.

Those flowery parts have to go, they only serve to distract the reader, without adding anything at all to the plot, and anything that distracts the reader from the plot is death to the story overall. The reader knows how clever and talented you are, that’s why they’re reading your story.

You don’t need to buy their affection with baubles that sparkle. You want a reader to like and trust you even more? Don’t waste their time. Tell the story you need to tell, tell it as succinctly as you can and let them get back to their life. That is your only job.

 

THIS POST WAS CROSS-POSTED AT WWW.MIDWESTCREATIVITYCOACHING.COM

“They can’t yank a novelist like that can a pitcher. A novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him.”
–Ernest Hemingway

Let’s talk about dedication and what a pain in the ass it can be.

Being a success at anything takes dedication. It takes getting up every day and doing it, even, and especially, when you don’t want to. It’s so easy to take a day off, but it’s even easier to take that second day, and that third day, and by that point you might as well just take a week off, a little vacation from the thing that’s giving you so much trouble, and by God you can come back to it next Monday well-rested and with fresh eyes.

But then something comes up Monday morning and you didn’t get started as early as you wanted to, and by Tuesday you’ve lost the train of thought you had two weeks ago and you think maybe what I need is to just work on something else, something small and simple, just to get the gears moving again. Maybe instead of writing new words, I’ll just take today and PLOT, so that tomorrow the words will come even easier because the story is already there in rough outline.

And then the next day comes and you stayed up too late and kept hitting the snooze button, or your kid has something at school or a doctor’s appointment you forgot about and you say well, that’s okay, I’ll just get the words done later, after dinner.

But then tonight’s the Survivor season finale and you have to know who won, you can’t wait and be behind the rest of the world; you’d have to avoid Twitter and Instagram for the next few days until you can finally catch up. Besides, it’s one TV show, it’s not like they announce a new winner every week!

Do you see a pattern here? Life happens, there’s nothing we can do about that, but what we CAN control is our own actions and our own level of dedication.

If you want to be a writer, there’s only one thing to do: WRITE. Write every day, especially on the days you don’t want to, because those are the days your dedication comes through, the days you can show yourself just how badly you want this.

It’s so easy to get bogged down and burned out, but when you’ve dedicated yourself to something, it’s easier to fight through the exhaustion and do it anyway.

And for some of us that dedication isn’t even a question, because for some of us, this life, this creative drive, is all we’ve got. I’ve had day jobs my entire adult life, but I still got up every day and wrote because writing is my dedication, my day job is … just a job. I’m not dedicated to my day job the way I am to my writing and I’ve taken way more days off from that job than I have from writing. I’ve never taken a vacation from writing, and when I have a vacation from my day job, that just gives me more time to write. My dedication to writing has never been in question. It’s why I get up in the morning; the words aren’t going to write themselves.

This applies to everything. Whatever you want to be good at, whatever you want to succeed at, you HAVE to dedicate the time and attention to it, otherwise you’re just indulging in an occasional diversion from real life.

“Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for like itself is a writer’s lover until death–fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant.”
–Edna Ferber

 

 

THIS BLOG WAS CROSS-POSTED AT WWW.MIDWESTCREATIVITYCOACHING.COM

 

Remember in FIGHT CLUB when Brad Pitt (let’s face it, more of you have seen the movie than read the book) asked How much can you really know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? I’m may be paraphrasing, but you remember the line.

Well, the same goes for artists. I’m not saying whack someone across the face with your keyboard, but I am saying you need to challenge yourself. All artists do. It’s where we find out exactly what we’re really capable of, and where we’re able to raise our standards and our skill level.

Because how much can you really know about yourself as an artist if you never challenge yourself?

What I used to do, back in the days of snail mail submissions with self-addressed stamped envelopes and cover letters was, every so often I’d scour the upcoming anthologies that were taking submissions, many of them themed anthologies, and I’d write a short story to those specific guidelines. And the guidelines were always vague enough they left it open to many different interpretations, but just specific enough you knew pretty much what they were looking for.

Personally, I think some of my best short stories came from these writing challenges. “Working for the Fat Man”, “Maggie Andrews Gets the Facts” and “Terrible Thrills” to name just a few.

One of my earliest writing challenges came after I’d already written the first draft. It was a short, simple, somber story about a man gaining closure after visiting his wife’s grave. The story was called, aptly enough, “Closure”. But I always knew the story was no big deal, would maybe never be published, but that was no reason not to try to make it the best it could be. And with a story this short and simple, well simple was the key word. So I went back and challenged myself to make it as simple as possible. And the best way I knew to do that, with this story, was to eliminate every multi-syllabic word I found. What resulted was an even SIMPLER story that didn’t lose any of the detail or emotion, and told itself in nothing but single syllable words. It’s a detail I doubt many readers would pick up on, but it’s one that stands out to me.

Or there’s the challenges my ex-wife used to hand me, when we were married. Sometimes she would come up with an idea she thought would make an interesting story, a twist on a familiar theme, and I’d write a story from that. Stories like “Birth Day”, “Family Name” and “Luck of the Draw” came about this way.

Now, I know some people are intimidated by the word “challenge”. So let’s change our vocabulary. Instead of a challenge, consider it a mere prompt. And everyone likes a good writing prompt, right?

Writing challenges, or prompts, are an excellent way to motivate yourself when you want to create but have no idea where to start. They’re great exercise in flexing your creative muscles, and a sure way to keep your mind and your creative skills in top form, and every worthwhile artist I know uses them. So the next time you sit down to write, or paint, or whatever, and the drive is there but the ideas are not, try a challenge, a prompt, whatever you want to call it.

Some of my favorites are to write a sequel to your favorite story (book or movie doesn’t matter). If you listen to music while you create, write a story using the same title of the first song you hear, or one using a random lyric from the last song you heard. Rewrite a familiar story from a different perspective. Write a story using only 100 words.

There are any number of challenges and prompts out there, and plenty more you’ll come up with yourself as you get more practice using them. I’m curious to see what you can come up with. Now go out there and make some art.