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.

 

My short story “The Garden” had a very strange origin, with inspirations from Guns N’ Roses and Georgia O’Keefe equally.

First was Guns N’ Roses and their song, “The Garden”, which gave me a title and, for over a decade, a mood. I started the story in mid-2006 and worked on it for a week or so before realizing the couple hundred words I had were going nowhere and amounting to nothing, so I abandoned it, knowing I would get back to it later.

The first incarnation was about a boy walking through a meditative labyrinth who … something something magic and something, I never really figured it out.

And I did a TON of research on walking and labyrinths and meditation, took a lot of walks myself, hoping to get into the headspace for a story about walking, but it just never happened, nothing came to me, there was no story.

Then one day, years later, I saw something about Georgia O’Keefe and her particular style of art (flowers were made to represent a certain part of the female anatomy) and I had a vision in my head of a guy being seduced by a beautiful woman in a garden, only there was no woman, he was being hypnotized by sentient plants. From there, the story pretty much told itself and I wrote the first draft over a couple of days.

The names of the characters, Gordon, Randy and Bobby were he names of the guys I hung out with around the same age I imagined Gordon to be in this story. Gordon Bennington, Randy Collings, and Bobby Fairchild. The name Mya means “great one” or “mother”.

The Garden

Gordon showed up at the back of the Rogers farm like Randy’d told him to, but his friend was nowhere to be seen. Randy’s bike lay at the edge of the woods where the property stopped, and there was his jacket among the flowers. The Rogers had a good twenty acres and this far back from the house, Gordon knew they wouldn’t see him and come out to run them off. Then again, there was a garden back here that looked pretty well-tended, so who knew? He wasn’t even sure this far back was considered their property at all. He hoped not, if what Randy told him was true.

Gladiolus, tulips, Madonna lilies, daffodils, hyacinths, begonias all reds, yellows, whites, pinks, blues and oranges. Gordon didn’t know the names, but they smelled good. Hidden among these, half-buried, were several larger bulbs that could have been watermelons except they were grey.

He called out, “Randy!” several times, but got no reply. He must have wandered further
into the woods. Gordon sat down on the jacket and was about to call out again when something got his attention, something lumpy under his ass. He felt and found Randy’s jacket pocket. He reached in and pulled out something slick.

This was what Randy told him he’d been doing up here the past few days.

Gordon had no idea what the flowers were called and the bigger bulbs in the ground were an equal mystery. But Randy had told him the leaves were edible. More than that, they’d given him one hell of a high. No after effects, either. He’d chew a few leaves, lay back, and before long he was in the middle of one of the best trips of his life. Gordon found a plastic bag with a rolled bundle of leaves in Randy’s jacket pocket. Maybe he was going to take them home and try to smoke them. But surely he wouldn’t mind if Gordon had a couple for himself. After all, this was what Randy’d called him up here for in the first place.

He pulled two, then took a third from the rolled bundle, slid the rest into the bag, then back into the jacket. He looked at the leaves and wondered how they’d taste. Bitter like grass? He sniffed them, and it was a familiar scent, but he couldn’t place it. They were dark red and shaped like hearts.

He called out, “Randy! Hey!!!”

When he got no reply, he put the leaves in his mouth and chewed. Almost as soon as the chemicals in the leaves touched his tongue, but surely by the time he’d swallowed them, the leaves took effect. He lay back in the grass, staring up at the brilliant blue summer sky, cloudless and crisp. His head felt thirty pounds lighter. His fingers tingled and, he realized, so did his toes.

Whatever this stuff was, Gordon would have to thank Randy as soon as he figured out where he was. For now, he wouldn’t worry about it, he just wanted to ride this wave.
If he lay still enough, he could feel the blood rushing through his veins, into his brain. He could hear it pumping.

His vision swam and suddenly he felt himself sink into the earth, into the grass and flowers, and he felt their leaves tickling and trying to wrap around and drag him down. Gordon tried to sit up and scream, but the flowers had become thick vines and his puny strength was no match. His heartbeat raced and he thought he might be sweating but if that were true, the sweat burned his skin like acid and the sky turned purple overhead and a shriek echoed inside his skull and then, before he could fully comprehend what was happening . . . it stopped. Gordon sucked in a huge breath, shot up from the ground, clutching his chest.

He sat there, panting and being glad he was alive when he heard a noise. A high, lilting sound. He looked over and saw something in the trees. She was tall with long blonde hair. Her face was that of an angel. Finally he managed to catch enough breath to say, “Hello?”

She stepped out from behind the tree. She didn’t say anything, just giggled again. Her walk was fluid, as if the structure of her legs were free-floating, more for motion than support. The sight of it had a strange effect on Gordon’s equilibrium and he had to look away for a second. She glided closer, giggled again, and Gordon asked, “What?”

“Nothing,” she said after a moment. “You just looked funny laying there all splayed like that.” Her voice reminded Gordon of rainbows and butterflies. Who was this girl? “What are you doing here?”

He hesitated, reluctant to tell her about the leaves or his quick but intense trip. At least, he thought it was quick. The sky did look a little darker.

He started to get up, found his legs too weak, and he fell again with a grunt.

The girl giggled again.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” Gordon said. “Help me up.”

“What for?”

“Because I have to get up,” he said. “I was up here looking for my friend. Hey, have you seen him? Bout this tall–” (he held a hand just an inch or two above the top of his own head) “long black hair? Wears glasses?” She shook her head.

“Probably wearing a Chiefs cap?”

She shook her head again.

She shrugged and sat next to him on the ground. Gordon was surprised to see her just drop down onto the grass because she was dressed in a long white sundress and the way it shone even in the lowering sky, Gordon knew she was about to stain it. He didn’t want to stare, but it was hard to take his eyes off her. Gordon knew who he was and knew this girl was beyond his reach. She’d see that in a minute and get up and walk away.

So he was taken by surprise when she turned and said, “What’s your name?”

“Gordon,” he said, feigning indifference by looking into the trees for Randy.

“Mine’s Mya,” she said. “Do you live around here?”

He shrugged. “Close enough, I guess.”

“What are you doing up here?”

“Looking for my friend,” he said. “I already said that.”

“Well,” Mya said, looking around. “Doesn’t seem like you’re looking very hard.”

“His stuff’s right here,” Gordon said. “He’ll be back to get it.”

“What if he doesn’t come back?”

“Then he’s gonna lose a jacket and his bike,” Gordon said. “Because his bike’s just over there and I’m not taking them both with me when I go. Maybe the jacket.”

“What if he’s never coming back?”

“Uh-huh.”

Gordon wished she’d stop talking to him. This kind of attention from someone this beautiful was making him uncomfortable.

“What if he’s dead?” she asked.

Get the rest of the story in my short story collection THE DICHOTOMY OF MONSTERS.

Five friends are about to enter the most extreme Haunt they’ve ever visited. And in a town like Angel Hill, that’s saying something.

The Nightmare Corridor appeared overnight just outside of town and for John, Marcia, Sam, Malcolm and Virginia, the promise of a thrill was too good to resist.

But before the night is through, they will each be forced to face their worst fears, alone.

These five Angel Hill natives have seen their share of the unexplained, but nothing can prepare them for the hell they’ll face in the Nightmare Corridor.

 

Buy it here for the low intro price of $0.99.

You ever get halfway through a particularly long and challenging manuscript only to realize you’re bored? Not bored with the story or the process, just … your mind needs something else to ponder for a minute. Not a week, this isn’t one of those times where you need to take a week off and work on something else. Just a day. Maybe an hour so you can recharge. You don’t want to stop writing for the day, though, you just want to work on something different.

Diversity is important. Variety, as Morris Day said, is the spice of life. At these times I have a list of alternative things I could work on just for a minute, something to kick start my brain, put me into writing mode, but not bog me down in the same thing I’ve been working on for the past three months.

Reviews. I love writing movie and book reviews. They’re a quick way to force you to organize your thoughts, you’re getting to praise something you love, or learn from something that didn’t quite work, and you’re getting your fingers limbered up and your mind focused, ready to get back to work. Sometimes writing something that isn’t the thing you’ve been working on, even for an hour, is enough to make you miss the real work.

Blog posts are another alternative. Sometimes I’ll take a minute to post something quick, like what I’m currently reading, or the posters to any movies I’ve recently watched. I actually haven’t done this in a while, but once upon a time it was a regular thing. Back when I had more time to watch a lot of movies and whatnot. Or you can talk briefly about what you’re working on. No details, but a few words on what research you find yourself doing, just enough to tease.

Have you updated the CTAs (calls to action) in your books lately? This is another quick little job you can do when you need to get your mind on something else for a minute.

Something I love to do when I’m bored looking at the same page for the past two days is CLEAN MY DESK. You know your desk is the messiest part of your house, admit it. And it’s much easier to work on a clean desk. If you’re bored with your current work in progress, take the day off from it and clean your desk. And your office while you’re at it. And your inbox.

Sometimes I’m not bored, I’m just tired. I need to step back, take 20 minutes and rest. I often find when I do that, I can come back to it, maybe not wide awake, but not dozing off mid-sentence, either. Set a timer and close your eyes, the world isn’t going to end. And if it does, at least you didn’t have to see it coming.

And the last suggestion for when you’re bored working on the same manuscript every day: work on it anyway. Seriously, sometimes the best work I do on something is when I really don’t want to and I make myself get the words down anyway. I don’t know where the reluctance to work comes from, maybe I’m only bored with it because I know what comes later and I want to hurry up and get to a particular scene. But that’s not going to happen if you don’t write the damn thing. So the only thing to do is shut up, put my head down, and power through whatever downtime scene I’m on so I can get to the fun, exciting one behind it.

There you go, 6 tips to help fight boredom when you want to be productive but just can’t face that same story AGAIN. A quick diversion will keep you working, keep you productive, but give your brain and eyes the break it needs without convincing you that abandoning it altogether is the only option.

Now stop reading blog posts and get back to work. Slacker.

(THIS WAS ALSO POSTED AT WWW.MIDWESTCREATIVITYCOACHING.COM)

What do you like better, writing, or having written?

Me too.

Having written something is always so much more enjoyable than actually writing it. The work is hard, the after is the reward, and are we not a reward-based culture?

So having written is always favorable to writing.

But we can’t have written without doing the writing. So we have to get started. And I don’t know about you, but for me it’s always the beginning that’s toughest.

There are so many possible ways to start any and every story, it’s like a kid in a candy story lined wall to wall with all the best chocolates and gummies and whatever you like, but you’re told you can only pick ONE.

So that one has to be just perfect, doesn’t it?

Welllllllll. See, this is the nice thing about beginnings in writing. They’re just a starting point, but 9 times out of 10, that beginning is going to change by the time the story sees publication. NO beginning is ever perfect the first time through, because at that point we’ve only got the vaguest idea what direction or tone the story is going to take.

I can’t tell you the last story I wrote that didn’t have at least one or two false starts attached to it. Sometimes you just need to work your way through the story and see where it leads, then go back afterward and make adjustments to the beginning so it falls in line with the rest of the work.

There’s no shame in it; sometimes going back and re-working the beginning is a vital part of the process, especially in a longer work where the distance between the beginning and ending is greater.

But sometimes that false start is all kinds of wrong and doesn’t even convey the story you want to tell. That’s fine, too. My short story, “The Foodies of Mars,” I started writing that with only the vaguest notion of what the story was about, and for several days I wrote a solid beginning before trashing it the next day and starting over, because while those false starts could have worked okay, they weren’t the story I wanted to tell.

So I started over, with a completely different angle, point of view and main character, a different location, trying out story openings like school clothes, just waiting til I found the right combination that made the perfect first day of school impression.

Every story has to start somewhere, but don’t feel bad if you don’t nail it right out of the gate. That’s natural and doesn’t reflect on you as a writer at all. It’s much easier to go back after and fix a beginning than it is to keep working the front end of the story and never even getting to the back half.

Just GET STARTED and KEEP WRITING.

 

(THIS POST WAS ALSO MIRRORED ON MIDWESTCREATIVITYCOACHING.COM)

Back in the days before self-publishing made submissions irrelevant, I used to love submitting to themed anthologies, mostly because I loved the challenge of writing something specifically for those guidelines. One such anthology was called Vile Things, and the guidelines listed a number of old horror anthologies to turn to for inspiration. It just so happened, I had one of those anthologies, GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL, edited by H. Wise. So I leafed through the book and stopped on a story called “Caterpillars” by E. F. Benson. All these years later, I couldn’t tell you a thing about that story, but I know where I got the title and the idea for this one.

First I had to get the background details right, so before I even started the story I researched Thalidomide babies and discovered such a condition CAN be genetic. Time to get started.

For main character inspiration I only needed to look to my mother. She had a finished basement with basically a small one-room apartment down there and one day when I went over there I saw the basement was full of someone’s junk. Not her junk because it wasn’t there last time I’d been over, so I asked where it came from.

She had a cousin who had been out of town for years and years and was coming back to town and had decided he was going to be staying there so all his stuff was now in the basement. I’m not sure he ever actually showed up to stay, but his stuff was definitely there.

Check, I thought, one deadbeat cousin who needs a place to stay and comes into this weird situation he doesn’t understand with this Thalidomide baby.

What next?

Well, he has to be forced to deal with the girl, and what better way to make sure he can’t beg off and hide out downstairs or at his buddy’s house than to have the parents vanish in the night, glad to be free of this burden.

But what kind of parents would do such a thing to an innocent girl? Hey, who said she was innocent? What if there was more to this girl than just an absence of arms and legs?

Like what?

I remembered King’s THE DARK HALF and Thad Beaumont’s undeveloped conjoined twin. Holy crap, what a creepy image if, on this girl’s back, there was a whole other girl. One with little nubby limbs she could use to skitter around the house late at night, legs like a caterpillar.

At the time, I was reading SILK by Caitlin R. Kiernan and I think a lot of it went over my head, but I remember something about a pretty girl and spiders and I thought what if this girl coughed up spiders and spun webs.

This would totally freak this guy out, let’s see how he would handle it.

While all of this was going on in the story, though, I also had to tell the story of this innocent girl who just wants to live as normal a life as she possibly can. And having a daughter of my own who means the world to me, it wasn’t hard to write Jessica as a real person. And from there, he relationship between her and the main character developed naturally and, if I do say so myself, quite wonderfully. I’m very proud of the work I did in this story with those characters, and with how dark and creepy it got in the last third.

To this day, in my opinion, Joon is one of the most unsettling characters I’ve written, and I’m happy to have done so.

I don’t know what comes out of the cocoon at the end of the story, so don’t ask. Use your imagination and decide for yourself.

And now, the first scene of The Caterpillar:

IT WASN’T MY FIRST CHOICE, and I was pissed at my parents and my sister for saying no, but whatever. So when I came back to town I wound up staying with my cousin Judy and her husband Jeff in their basement. I don’t think they wanted me there, more likely they were just too polite to turn me away. I showed up on a Tuesday and hauled what I could in through the garage to the basement, then parked the moving truck in front of the house so Jeff could have the driveway and went inside to thank Judy, again, for letting me stay.

I heard a door close down the hall and then Judy appeared, emerging from the dark with a towel in one hand and an empty bowl in the other. I’d forgotten about their daughter. Jessica was ten and we’d never met. But I knew about her.

She was a second-generation Thalidomide baby. According to the FDA, only 17 American children were born with Thalidomide-related deformities. Jeff’s mother had been one of them. While another article, published in DRUG SAFETY, assured the drug did not cause further defects, and yes Jeff had been born normal, Jessica suffered from Amelia, which meant she’d been born with no limbs.

I followed Judy into the kitchen, thanking her, as she put the empty bowl in the sink and laid the towel on the counter.

“No,” she said, “it’s okay. You get settled. It’s good to have you home.”

I wondered how sincerely she meant that. I’d been in Florida for ten years, involved in a number of businesses, all of which had failed. I had a moving company, owned a miniature golf course, a bar, a skateboard shop, just to name a few. I had good ideas, just bad luck. And maybe bad business sense. So after a decade of failure, I decided it was time to come home and just live a life again where I wasn’t dodging creditors all the time or watching my possessions being sold at auction to pay my debts. Not to mention the cost of living is a lot cheaper in the Midwest.

I returned every few years to attend reunions or show off my success for a weekend, but I always left before my cash ran out or the bill collectors tracked me down. I never stayed in town long enough for the cracks to show. And I rarely kept in contact with any of the family. So it came as no surprise when I detected reluctance in Judy’s tone. Not to mention I’m sure she and Jeff had enough problems with Jessica without worrying about me in there, too.

Just a couple weeks, I reminded myself.

Judy said to make myself at home, asked if I was hungry. I was, but I said no. I commented on how they had a nice house. She said thank you. Then I returned to the basement to start unpacking.

To read the rest of the story, you can it as a standalone ebook HERE.

This is a blog post I’ve wanted to write for some time, or at least one like it. But I have a ton of short stories and never know where to start. So today I left it up to my team, emailed them and asked which story they would like to read the backstory on. The first answer was for one of my favorite stories called “Cunt”, but that’s a pretty personal one and one I’m not comfortable sharing. Luckily, the second answer was for another favorite, probably my very favorite, called “Monday”. So here it is.

“Monday” was originally inspired by the first line in the song “Working for the Fat Man” (which also inspired another story with the same title) from the band The Escape Club. The line is “Every day is Monday in the house up on the hill.”

For half a decade at least, I carried that line around, knowing there was a story in there if I ever just made time to write it. But the first time I tried, it was a story about a guy who winds up on a crew building a house and every morning when they get to the site, they find all the work they did the day before has been undone, and the job turns into a neverending race to get it built before the end of the day when the work is undone all over again. It wouldn’t have been a bad story.

But it wasn’t THE story.

So I scrapped it and started again. I’ve no idea where the final version of the story came from, I only know I sat down one early morning while it was still dark out and wrote the opening scene of Maddy waking up and getting her day started. Maddy’s morning routine was pretty much the same as my morning routine, so the writing went pretty easy that day.

The part about “every day is Monday” informed the opening about waking up with déjà vu, but I didn’t know with that first scene where the story was going. So I kept writing. I talked about the people across the street who insisted on parking in front of Maddy’s house because at the time I had some neighbors who always parked in front of my house–the orange Mustang, however, belonged to the people who lived across from my mother although I don’t know if they ever parked in front of her house; I just thought it was a noticeable and obnoxious car.

And then, somewhere mid-scene, I realized what Maddy was about to do and the shape of the story, if not the key to it (that calendar page), came to me.

I hesitated a bit, thoughts of “Groundhog Day” in my head, and not wanting to tell a story that had already been told, but damn I was enjoying the writing of this one, so I kept going.

I wrote that opening scene on day one, then came back the next morning and wrote the next full scene. I wrote the story over five days, each day pretty much just repeating what I’d written the day before, then going back to edit some details (I admit I got a lot of the structure for the recap sentences from the SAW movies, the short, clipped way they do the recaps in the end when the big twist of whichever installment it is reveals itself) and add new ones. By day two, I still don’t think I knew the thing about the calendar as the stuff about Maddy’s grandmother didn’t happen until day three. By day two I was still just enjoying the process and having more fun writing anything than I had in a long time.

By day three, when I wrote the part about her grandmother and the calendar, the whole thing came together in one rush of information and the next three days writing became crystal clear.

I have similar thoughts as Maddy sometimes when I have deju vu, trying to remember why I feel like I’ve done something before, and then trying to remember if the outcome had been good or bad and, if it was a bad, how do I change it? It doesn’t happen quite as often now, but once upon a time, it was ALL the time.

But from there, it was just a matter of getting Maddy closer and closer every day until she reached her goal, solved the puzzle of the déjà vu, and was able to bring the story to a close. It was really quite simple, in the end, and I can’t believe every story isn’t that easy to write.

A few key details, all the Ms. Maddy, Monday, May. All on purpose.

“Monday”, along with a lot of other stories are available in my collection THE DICHOTMOY OF MONSTERS here. Now, here’s the first scene of “Monday”:

Monday

C. Dennis Moore

 

She woke with déjà vu, as if she’d been dreaming about waking, and then lay there staring at the ceiling for a minute before managing to climb out from the covers. In the bathroom she emptied her bladder, brushed her teeth, and took some aspirin for her headache. In the kitchen she replaced yesterday’s filter with a fresh one, scooped coffee into it, filled the water reservoir, then turned on the pot. The red-orange glow indicating the thing was on only increased her anticipation of that first cup.

While the coffee brewed, Maddy walked into the living room, past the chair, glancing at the clock on the cable box once to see it was now 8:18, then went to the front window and stared outside. The sight promised a warm May day, and she contemplated a walk before changing her mind; going out would mean getting dressed, and Maddy was perfectly fine in her pj’s, thank you.

She stood there and watched the woman across the street, whose name she’d never bothered to learn, pull her ugly orange Mustang back into her driveway after dropping her two kids off at school, get out still looking half-asleep, and trudge into her house. Maddy had never bothered to learn the woman’s name because when they moved in, for about the first month, the woman’s husband used to come home from work at night and park his truck in front of Maddy’s house. Maddy had her own driveway, but it was the principle. She’d hated them right away. That was last year, and the man hadn’t parked there since, but that first impression had tainted Maddy’s opinion.

In the kitchen, the coffee gurgled, telling her it was done brewing and ready for drinking, so she turned and headed back to make that first cup.

Maddy’s sugar and powdered creamer were kept in similar-looking plastic containers and she had a habit of telling which was which with a shake. The creamer was silent while the sugar sounded like maracas. A hearty sprinkle of creamer and four scoops of sugar, a stir, five times clockwise, five times counterclockwise with three delicate taps of the spoon on the edge of the mug. The spoon went to the ceramic cradle beside the coffee pot and Maddy grabbed her cup and went into the spare bedroom where her computer monitor displayed a series of interweaving designs in various colors until she sat down and nudged the mouse to deactivate the screensaver.

Four new emails awaited her, including a notice she had accrued $5 in Borders Bucks from the book store, and a “get-to-know-me” survey from her friend Anna, which Anna should know very well Maddy was not going to fill out–and scrolling down to the line which read “Which of my friends is least likely to respond”, Anna had entered Maddy’s name.

“Good thinking,” Maddy said out loud.

But she perused Anna’s answers, then the list of other addressees to whom Anna had sent this particular email, always curious about the outside ties people form from their core group.

She sipped her coffee, then, as it cooled, took bigger gulps until the cup was empty. As she stood from the chair, she noticed her desk calendar. Monday. Déjà vu again, but it was only her dream resurfacing for a moment to remind her and suddenly Maddy felt very uneasy, but couldn’t pin down what it was that caused the feeling in the first place. That déjà vu, that dream. Whatever it had been.

Like it matters now anyway, she thought, and realized that was right. Whatever caused that feeling, it was a moot point at this juncture.

She put the cup in the sink, then turned off the pot, always wary of a stray spark setting the house ablaze, but didn’t bother dumping out the remains she hadn’t drank, and got a glass of water.

She had a bottle of pills in her purse, and now she took these out, dumped the contents onto the coffee table, and counted. Twenty.

She tried to swallow three at a time, but that was too much. She settled on swallowing two at a time until they were all gone. Then she set the near-empty water glass back on the coffee table and leaned back into the couch, staring out the front window. She had no idea how long it would be, but it was a beautiful May day. The clock on the cable box told her it was 9:02. Outside the sun sent down brilliant orange rays and the grass had never looked greener, she thought. Soon she found her eyes heavy, her chest thick, and it was a little harder to draw the next breath. She slumped over, groggy, wondering what day it was and how long she’d slept. Then her eyes closed and she fell over.