Saturday, November 10, 2018

NaNoWriMo - End of Week 1 Encouragement - Stay Flexible

Scott D. Parker

Look, I know where you are because I’ve been there.

Today marks Day 10 of NaNoWriMo 2010. It’s also the end of the first full week of writing 1,667 words a day on a novel that’s aiming to be 50,000 words. If you want to think of it this way, 1-3 November of this year (last Thursday through Saturday) was the ramp up. The prelude if you will. I’m a person who likes to view the calendar in weeks. So basically, you have nearly four full weeks to write a novel.

Yes, you can do it.

I’ve been right where you are now. Yes, even there. Let me show you.

Back in 2015, when I successfully completed my first NaNoWriMo, this was my daily line item: Day 10: 2023 (22,193 total; 27,807 remaining). I’ll admit I jumped way ahead on the first three days, writing 3,464, 2,325, and 2,637 words respectively. Here’s what I wrote about Day 2 back then:

“First NNWM day on a work day. Rose at 5:00am. Wrote 1,244 words before work on the laptop. Wrote additional 796 words on the iPod at breaks during the day. I finished off the night with another 285 to round out a chapter.”

So I had some cushion. Which was great considering Day 4 back in 2015. I only wrote 1,709 that day. What happened? Technical issues. Here’s a note I wrote back then:

“The theme of today was flexibility. This morning’s writing session was interrupted when my Mac wouldn’t start. So, I shifted to connecting my iPod Touch with my Apple keyboard. I managed 1100 words or so, but knew I needed to make up the deficit. I wrote some on the iPod at the day job, but deadlines and meetings ate up all my break time. Not much writing done during the day.

Throughout the day, my mind wondered if I had lost all my data. I diagnose the problem, fixed the drive--took apart my laptop and extracted the drive to repair it--and got it working again. Finished the day at 1709 words.”

If there’s one thing you must keep in mind as you write your story this month is to stay flexible. Writing a novel is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Yes, I know writers who can craft a novel in a week. That’s not me. But I can write one in a month. I know because I’ve done it numerous times.

And you can, too.

Just stay flexible.

Don’t get too bogged down in the daily weeds. Maintain the overall goal: 50,000. Some days, you’ll blow past the 1,667 mark. Others you may fall short. You can make it up. Don’t lose sight of the end goal: a completed story. In the end, it won’t matter if you didn’t reach your daily goal for a third of the days and exceeded it on the rest. All that matters is a 50,000-word completed novel.

Let me know how it’s going. And tune in next week for another pep talk.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Stories We Tell Matter

I never see people who have historically been kept from voting say voting doesn’t matter, and I never see people from under or misrepresented groups saying the stories we tell and who we include don’t matter.

It’s easy to be apathetic when things don’t touch you. But the stories we tell as writers can challenge the larger narratives in society or feed them. We can write stories where the queer person turns violent after not getting to be with the straight person they’ve been pining for, or the woman is beaten and humiliated in a way that lingers more on punishment than story. We can write about angry black men, vets that don’t know how to do anything but kill, and forget entire populations like the disabled.

But we don’t have to.

Literature, art, and entertainment tend to move forward sooner than the rest of the world. It’s not a coincidence or even a mystery. If you control the characters and situations people feel empathy for, you have the power to soften their hearts and yes, even change their minds. People like to pretend that our entertainment and popular culture doesn’t matter at this level, but think about how you feel about Mr. Rogers (or, if you don’t have any strong feelings, think about how your friends feel). I was recently in a long discussion about the TV’s first interracial kiss, vs. it’s first interracial kiss featuring a black person - they’re different milestones and very far apart. Why does anyone remember these things? Because it happened in the living rooms of people who would have spat on it in public.

People take our stories to their beds, in their living rooms, on their vacations. What are we putting in them?

Don’t take this as me wagging a finger about violence or subject matter. We live in a violent world. We live in a world where terrible shit happens and we barely have time to breathe between tragedies. Crime fiction doesn’t have to be escapist (and in my opinion is better when it’s not). I’m concerned about playing into the narratives that play into the violence and tragedy in our world, though. That starts with how we view people, and how we view people is directly influenced by movies, TV, books, and art. The reason people ask for varied representation is because that’s how a minority group, defined by stereotypes, gets society to wake up and view them as human. I can’t personally go meet every person who has issues with women, or think all veterans are dangerous, or thinks mental illness is a sign of weakness. If I could, it would be unlikely I’d be able to level with all of them. But if we keep telling stories that push back against harmful narratives, those people get reached.

If you still think it doesn’t matter, look at the Amazon reviews of any book that challenges the bigot’s view of a minority group. No one lashes out and froths at the mouth like that because what they witnessed didn’t have any power.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

New Podcast: Orange is the new Green

By Steve Weddle

Check out the new episode of SEVEN MINUTES WITH

As always, Jedidiah Ayres talks about film, while Chris F. Holm suggests some music, and Holly West discusses TV.
Jedidiah Ayres:
A Man Escaped
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson Listen to A Man Escaped…to-a-man-escaped
Le trou
In a Paris prison cell, five inmates use every ounce of their tenacity and ingenuity in an elaborate attempt to ...
Reykjavik - Rotterdam. A film by: Oskar Jonasson Screenplay by: Arnaldur Indridason & Oskar Jonasson
Snowman's Land
A professional killer who has bungled a job leaves the city to take a supposedly easy gig protecting the home of...
Holly West:
The Romanoffs
Chris F. Holm:
The Glands “I Can See My House From Here” (out 11/9/18)
NPR said The Glands may be the greatest band you’ve never heard of.
“The Best of REM at the BBC” (out 10/19/18)
which contains 34 beautifully mastered live tracks spanning the length of their career.
“3x4: The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade” (out 1/11/19)
In 1982, Michael Quercio (Ker-SHEW) of The Three O’Clock coined the phrase Paisley Underground to describe the jangly, psychedelic corner of the LA music scene he and his friends’ bands occupied. The whole thing doesn’t drop until January, but The Bangles’ cover of The Three O’Clock’s “Jet Fighter” is streaming now.
“Left of the Dial: Dispatches from the '80s Underground” (released in ’04)
This 4-disc Rhino boxed set is a window into one of the weirdest and most fertile periods in contemporary music, when you could tune into a college station hear tracks by, say, The Smiths and Ministry back-to-back.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark...

On Halloween, I was part of a lively discussion at the New York Public Library about scary stories. With some heavyweights, like Marvin Kaye, the editor of Weird Tales, Leanna Renee Heiber, the author of 20 novels, including Victorian horror, Michael Ransom, author of The Ripper Gene, and Carol Goodman, the author of 17 novels including the most recent, The Other Mother. So, some smart people. We had a good audience, too. Filled the basement room in that mighty edifice of marble, guarded by lions Patience and Fortitude. We had some good questions--and no manifestos or statements from the audience, a first--and one question, from Ms Goodman, stuck with me:

Can you write stories of the supernatural if you don't believe?

I was the only author on the panel who said they didn't believe in the supernatural at all. Ms Heiber is a licensed ghost tour guide; Mr Kaye regaled us with several encounters with hauntings. We each had to tell a scary story that had happened to us. Mr Kaye's were mostly "feelings" he had when in old spaces, that were confirmed by others. Ransom drove past a group of bloody young men on a country road one night. My story is true, and happened when visiting part of Massachusetts known as The Quabbin, where H.P. Lovecraft set some of his stories, most notably "The Dunwich Horror." I've been to the hollow where the less comely Whately brother was dispatched, but it's just a pretty waterfall with one of the numerous beehive caches found around New England, nothing scary unless you imagine Nyarlathotep's offspring.

Nearby however, is an abandoned village where the houses were razed, when the government planned to flood the area to expand Quabbin reservoir. The cellar holes remain, as do street lamps and cemetery gates, with most of the stones intact. As in Poltergeist, they didn't remove the bodies. If you hike past that, you come to an abandoned farm with a small cemetery with a child's grave that is supposed to be haunted, but we didn't find anything out of the ordinary. And if you venture even further, you can find a crashed fighter jet from the '50s, which was our ultimate goal. We found the wreckage and lingered too long, poking through it. The avionics gear and engines were taken by the Army, so it couldn't fall into Soviet hands, but it was still interesting to see. And the trees had grown up in the fifty years since, so you couldn't tell it had crashed through them.

It took us longer to get back than we anticipated, but the trails were wide and easy to follow in the moonlight, so we didn't regret forgetting to bring flashlights. Not at first.

This was nearly twenty years ago now, but I still had a cell phone, being an I.T. goon. And as we walked the path home in the dark, my phone went off. An odd sound in the woods, one of those tinkling ringtones from back in the flip phone era. A sound that did not belong.

We realized this when the woods around us crackled with life. Some things were out there, prowling in the leaf litter in the trees.

"Dogs," we said. But there were no barks or howls. Just enough rustling in the brush for us to realize that we were flanked on both sides of the road by something bigger and braver than the chipmunks we saw in daytime. I've hiked woods in the East a lot, from the Appalachian trail to lost, winding trails that led me onto the ice of a lake that wasn't supposed to be there on my map, where I thankfully only fell through to my hips. I've been tracked by dogs and deer before. Bucks usually stamp and snort at you, and you can hear dogs panting. We heard neither. Just the rustling, on both sides of the road, matching our steps. Stopping when we stopped, walking when we walked. The road was dirt, so we weren't hearing our own footsteps. I tried to use my phone to get some eyeshine and see what was there, but we never saw a silhouette or a reflection. I always take a knife with me in the woods, and I kept that drawn until we neared the road, and the rustling stopped.

I don't know what that was, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the ghosts of the people left in the Quabbin cemetery. I love writing about the supernatural, because it is what scares me. Terrifies me, I should say. People and their behavior horrify me but I'm not afraid, more disgusted than anything. But the unknown.... that tickles my lizard brain and sparks my vivid imagination. When I think of what lurks just outside the light of a campfire, waiting to gnaw my limbs to stumps, it is usually resembles some large skinless creature with the rotting skull of a horse, with those big chomping teeth.
Somewhere between these two...

I think the human brain fills in the blanks, and much of what we think of as unexplained is caused by our brain misinterpreting sensations. There's a reason every horror movie uses low-frequency sound, because it sets us on edge. These are the same sounds old wooden buildings make as they creak, and some of it is subsonic, so we feel it but don't hear it. That's not as exciting as feeling the echoes of past atrocities, but it's what I believe. And I've been to the sites of massacres both ancient and recent. I've walked the Paris catacombs with six million dead, I've put a pebble on Anne Frank's mass grave, I've been in houses where people were hacked to bits. I feel things, knowing what happened there. I wish there were life after death, I want to see my grandmother again. But I don't believe in it. We want it to be so, but that doesn't make it so. They live on in our minds. How much of reality is created by us? As you age, you begin to see how unreliable memory can be. Eyewitness testimony is notoriously faulty, and everything we experience is eyewitness testimony.

That's why I laugh when writers scoff at unreliable narrators. The only reliable one is omniscient, and even then the writer can be fooling themselves (and often are, when they think they are writing objectively. But that's another discussion).

The stories I've written that have made the biggest impression with readers, the ones they talk about, are horror stories. "The Summer of Blind Joe Death," about a two boys who meet an Appalachian hoodoo man. "Truth Comes Out of Her Well to Shame Mankind," about an archaeological dig that unearths a sacrificial tomb, or something much worse. Sometimes the supernatural is ambiguous, and other times there is no other explanation. Whatever suits the story. When children witness the supernatural, they are less likely to rationalize it away. At least in my stories. You can read about Joe Death in Life During Wartime, and learn the secret of the Hexenkeller Death Pits in Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block.

I love being scared, and most recently the book that did that most effectively was The Elementals by Michael McDowell. Best known as the screenwriter of Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, he wrote one of the most terrifying Southern Gothic haunting novels of all time. Valancourt Books reprinted it recently, and I highly recommend it:

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In the Shadow of Zero Saints? Hell No.

Scott's Note: Not that I should have to tell anyone who's reading this, but Gabino Iglesias has a new novel out.  It came out about a week ago, his follow up book to 2015's Zero Saints, and it's called Coyote Songs.  The publisher, as for his first book, is Broken River Books.  

For this guest piece, I had a simple question for Gabino.  After all the acclaim and attention he received for Zero Saints, what kind of pressure did he feel, if any, working on his next book?  How did he deal with the high expectations he now, with his second book, would have to live up to?

Let's see what Gabino answers:

In the Shadow of Zero Saints? Hell No.

by Gabino Iglesias

Zero Saints was praised by Jerry Stahl, Brian Keene, David Joy, Jeremy Robert Johnson, and other outstanding authors. It received rave reviews in places like the Los Angeles Review of Books and a plethora of important crime fiction sites. It made best-of-the-year lists in a few venues. It was nominated to the Wonderland Book Award, optioned for film, and translated into Spanish and published in Spain by Dilatando Mentes Editorial. In fact, it’s still selling three years after its publication. When you take all of that into account, you’ll understand why I felt my writing career only existed in the shadow of that book. Well, my new book is here, and Coyote Songs will make barrio noir even bigger and hopefully continue to get my message out there while proving that I live and work in the interstitial space between horror and crime. I love Zero Saints. It’s the book that made me. But now Coyote Songs is here, and it would appreciate your attention. Oh, and I was wrong about the shadow thing.

When I started writing Coyote Songs, only one thing was clear to me: it couldn’t be Zero Saints II. A lot of people asked for Zero Saints II, but I never planned to make Zero Saints into a series. More than anything, Zero Saints was the book that would help me introduce barrio noir to the world, and it did its job very well. That being said, I was afraid of the reactions to anything I wrote after that. Would it live up to readers’ expectations? Would they understand that the elements of barrio noir belonged to a multiplicity of genres? Would readers go for a barrio noir narrative without Fernando at the center? I won’t lie to you: those thoughts cut into my already reduced sleeping hours. Then, on a day like any other, I was scrolling through Facebook and read a post by horror author Josh Malerman in which he stated that every book was a different part of our body of work, an entirely different limb that could have nothing in common with the next one or the previous one and still be important. It sounds silly, but that post, now lost in the ether forever, made me see the light. Zero Saints was a book with zero chances. It was too political, too weird, and full of Spanglish and syncretism. It was too much of a horror book for the crime readers and too packed with crime for the horror lovers. And yet it worked. After reading Josh’s post, I felt free. I was going to write whatever I wanted. If my readers went with me, great. If they didn’t, maybe the one after that would get them back. In any case, getting new readers is always the goal, so I was going to write the story I wanted to write and forget about Zero Saints while doing so.

Now the book is out and the comparisons to Zero Saints are starting to come in. You know what? I don’t care. Just like I don’t think Stephen King cares that people still talk about Cujo or The Shining. I don’t care because I wrote a book that has enough blood and pain and mayhem to call attention to itself whether readers dig it or not. I don’t care because Zero Saints is my baby and will always be special, even if it now has to share heart space with a new sibling. I also don’t care because I’ve learned a lot in the past couple years, and when folks are talking about my work, I happily accept their attention even though I still don’t think I deserve it.

So, how exactly am I getting away from that shadow? Well, I’m not. I’m taking it with me. If folks want Zero Saints again, they can read it again. I’m here to bring more death and mayhem now. Here’s how I’m doing it:

1. I looked at some of my favorite writers. Laura Lee Bahr. Paul Tremblay. Josh Malerman. Brian Keen. Roxane Gay. The Slaughter Sisters. Carlton Mellick III. C.V. Hunt. Brian Allen Carr. Scott Adlerberg. You know what they have in common? They never wrote the same book twice. Hell, their books often have nothing in common. I’m more than happy to be like them.

2. I placed women at the center of the narrative and I’m getting women to blurb the book. The amazing four-time Bram Stoker award winner Linda D. Addison, the Sisters of Slaughter, and Egdar Award winner Meg Gardiner already said wonderful things about it. More of that is coming.

3. I have new goals. I only wanted to get on the map. I had two small novellas with indie presses. One of them is out of print. Zero Saints changed that. Mission accomplished. Now my goals are to get better with every book and to gain new readers.

That’s it! The best thing Zero Saints did was give me confidence. It taught me a lot. Now I’m here with Coyote Songs, and that means I’ll hustle harder, do more readings, and plug it every chance I get. Oh, and I will do it all while writing the next one. Because the hustle never stops. Because if you think my best book was already written, you are wrong. Because I have much more to say. Because diverse voices need to scream louder than privileged ones. Because barrio noir is in my blood. Yeah, go read this one. I promise not to make you wait so long for the next one. And I promise you it will be a weird mix of horror, crime, and bizarre. That’s my interstitial space. Hope you join me every time.


You can buy Coyote Songs right here.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Secret Ingredient

It's a risk doing a NaNoWriMo post, because I've never done NaNoWriMo, and I can't see that I ever would^. As the writers who are invested this year enter day 5, I'm already seeing the usual threads about discouragement.

Now, I could pop up tweet after tweet from discouraged participants about what's getting them down, but one example is enough because the original tweet here alludes to it being a widespread reality.

There are many phases you go through when writing a novel. You fall in love with a character or idea. You want to spend time getting their story down and are excited about the process. You hit a snag where you don't know where things should go or feel you've gotten off track or don't know how to resolve something. Your research doesn't match up to your plot plan. You don't have a plot plan and someone told you that you aren't a real writer unless you do. You try to plot the novel and realize you need a math degree to figure out how to apply all the multiple story structure formulas that are out there at the same time. You tell someone a little about your idea and they ask if you've read [Insert Book Title here] or seen [Insert Movie Title here] and you feel like the story has already been done. You try to change things and when you read through your pages your character is inconsistent and your plot doesn't make sense and you haven't got a clue how to fix it. The twelve books on writing novels that you took out of the library are contradicting each other and you convince yourself it was a bad idea and try to come up with a new one.

Repeat cycle.

I was terrified of reading books when I started what became my first published novel. (Suspicious Circumstances was not my first novel attempt. It's just the one that was the first I actually finished a draft of.)*

You start off telling yourself you just want to finish a manuscript. Then you want it to be a good manuscript. Eventually you want it to be published. You want people to read it. You want people to like it.

The goalposts keep moving. I've found that the moments when you actually feel any degree of accomplishment are fleeting. (Just wait until you tackle the sophomore book!)

However, there is one anchor in the whole process that sets your manuscript apart. There is one thing that you bring to the table that nobody else can bring.

Anyone can take classes and practice and learn to be a better technical writer.

Anyone can take a class and learn how to structure a story exactly to a structural guideline if they choose to.

You know what only you can do?

You're the only person who can infuse your knowledge, your experience, your insights, into a character or story, because there's only one you.

Funny how in this tribal era we strive so much to categorize ourselves. Red or blue. Black or white. Male or female or non-binary or ... (Spend five minutes talking politics on Facebook and you'll find out how many "friends" no longer want anything to do with you.)

But when it comes to your novel, the only thing you can put into it that nobody else can all comes from you.

Remember that. You're your own secret weapon. Give your characters your hurts or your hopes. Give them your dreams or disappointments. Infuse them with the life lessons that have stayed with you along the way. Give them what you wished for. Write the fantasy parent you wish you'd had or the sibling that never came along or the best friend you never found.

When you tap into your heart and your own life and extend those things to your characters you'll bring to the table something that nobody else could have written.

My rules for writing:
1. Enjoy the process. The love of writing will carry you through many discouraging days.

2. Find ways to achieve success. Oh lord, it's hard to do 1,600 words per day. I find when I'm starting a manuscript 500 words a day might be a stretch. By the end I'm clocking a few thousand a day ... I've already done the world-building and the research and established all the plot threads. Now I'm just tying them up. But setting myself a goal of 1,600 a day from day 1? Ouch. Maybe in a series if you have your characters and setting ... Still, I don't believe I've ever done that.

3. Do things your own way. Okay, sure, we can all pick up tips from others and find way to refine our process. That said, don't let anyone else tell you there's only one right way to write a novel. There isn't. I've completed a creative writing diploma. I know they can only teach you to plot because they can't teach you to write without an outline. It's the difference between following a recipe to the letter when you're cooking, or adding a pinch of this and a dash of that and cooking by feel and taste. In the end, do you care how it's done if the food tastes great? Nope.

The shortest amount of time it ever took me to draft a novel was six weeks. First draft of What Burns Within, my second published book (but not the second manuscript I finished). And six weeks is a short time.

So be kind to yourself. The very act of writing daily is a huge accomplishment. Don't let the milestones others reach daunt you. After all, whether it's 500 words or 2,000, they don't matter much in the long run if they're all crap or repeating information you've already presented. So whether you're aiming for a barf draft with gaps in it that have to be researched and written later, or whether you want to revise what you wrote the day before first and then add new words to your count, do what works for you.

4. Read. Read a lot. Read in your genre. Read outside your genre. Read far and wide. You'll pick up on technical writing details. You'll see different ways to tell a story. I've learned far more by reading a wide range of books than I have from anything else.

5. Don't quit. I have a cousin (third cousin, same age, same homeroom in high school) who is a Grammy Award-nominated songwriter and a performer in his own right. When his first CD came out he wrote in the liner notes about spending ten years eating in the dark or starving with the lights on, and how he saw a lot of people give up on their dreams along the way. He got to where he is now by sticking with it. People could have told him it wasn't practical to pursue a career in music. People could have told him he wasn't good enough. Hell, people probably told him both things, and more.

But he persisted. If you've listened to country radio and heard Mine Would Be You, or What Was I Thinkin' or any of a long list of other songs I could name, you've listened to his stuff.

And that wouldn't have happened if he packed his bags and went home. It shamed me when he put his first CD out. Not because he looked down on anyone. Never. But because he had to leave his country and leave his family and work his backside off for over 10 years to get his deal. And he did it. All I had to do was go home and sit at my computer and invest some time in writing a novel and learning to edit it.

I finished my first manuscript and I learned all I had to lose was time, and all I had to gain was a chance to fulfill my dreams.

Set your own goals and work towards your dreams. Don't let anyone tell you to quit or minimize the success of actively working towards your dream.

The very act of not quitting is a huge achievement to be proud of.

(My liberty with the chorus is When you're working on draft 9... )

* What went into the world as my first book happened after multiple rewrites that included combining a sequel with the first book to take 190,000+ words down to 120,000 words, and then paring that down below 1000,000 through revisions.

**I only present public/sharable Twitter posts or information

^NaNoWriMo just isn't my process. And, since most of my friends are outside publishing, I've actually had to explain that no, you don't just whip off a novel in a month and that's all it takes us. For a while it made me feel even the idea of NaNoWriMo cheapened an author's accomplishment when published, but that can be cured with education and information. I just wish they phrased the objectives a little better so people outside don't get the wrong idea. So ... not for me. But see #3 above. Don't let anyone ever tell you it isn't for you.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Pictures Tell the Story

I’m in the middle of making a video that needs to tell the story of a sports season. It’s not a video in the true sense—it’s more of a photo album on DVD. And yes, that technology is rapidly becoming old-fashioned, but it’s the one I can easily make copies of and hand out to the participants. So I’m going through thousands of photos in order to construct a narrative. I do that with words all the time; it’s a lot of fun to be able to do it in a different medium. I have a prologue, a cast of characters, some injections of humor. And of course, I need the right kind of pacing to carry my viewers along. 
I’ve done this several times now, and every time it stretches and expands my storytelling abilities. What different kinds of storytelling do you do?