What do I do with these silly stories I write?
Try to have them published, somewhere, so readers can see them. Why would I write silly stories and then sell them for the price of a beer (as I did with "Saint Max" to Phantasmacore)? Because, dear readers, the process of submission makes us all better. I could post this stuff on the blog, but no story will be it's best if it doesn't pass at least some publication muster.
Maybe that's what "Saint Max" is about. Becoming better. As always, there will be spoilers. Please read "Saint Max" if you'd like--it won't even cost you a beer--and head back for the story behind the story.
"Saint Max" started with a man digging holes in his backyard. He didn't know why. I didn't either when I started the story. He just dug. He did what he felt he needed to do. His son, Max, watches him. It's a strange thing which only grows stranger as every morning the yard looks normal.
Max grows in the story. He has to confront a bully named Caleb, and does so with violence. But nothing is solved for Max. His parents are dead when he goes home after confronting his bully. Why? You, dear reader, must decide. Maybe it was domestic violence (they do fight a lot). Maybe they just died. That's how death works. It simply happens.
And that's the hard part of this story. That's what might keep some readers at bay: sometimes life doesn't offer easy solutions. Sometimes bad stuff happens with no explanation. We want that explanation; we want to "know"--especially in fiction. But the real horror is not knowing. The real horror is the unknown, just like good ol' H.P. Lovecraft said. If a monster killed Max's parents, then the monster is the enemy. Max certainly believes in the monster, but it isn't a real thing. It isn't tangible.
I love this story and Max (both the fictional Max and my son), but it won't be accessible to everyone. Some people like the thrill of chase and death and everything else. But this is about Max surviving after his parents have died. This is about Max trying to figure out what to do with death. And... "A horror story cannot simply be about death."
Read "Saint Max" if you would--and if you do, please let me know what you think. Thanks to editor Jason Block for the future beer and giving my story a home.
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The blog of writer Aaron Polson. His first novel, a young adult/horror mash-up is due out later this year. He writes fantasy and horror with (mostly) teenaged protagonists.
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What do I do with these silly stories I write?
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Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Aimee's suicide.
Two years needs some perspective. For me, two years represents about 5% of my life.
For Elliot, age 2 years 3 1/2 months, it is the majority of his life.
For Max, almost 8 years, it is nearly 25% of his life.
Even for Owen, 10 1/2, those 2 years mark around 18% of his life.
I talk to the boys about Aimee from time to time, usually when they approach the subject. I am honest and direct when I do. Owen and I have had some challenging discussions about how she died and the nature of her illness. I know a day will come when Elliot needs to understand things I will not be able to make understandable. For now, he is a sometimes blissful, sometimes cranky toddler with personality and lust for life (i.e., desire to run up and down the sidewalk at full toddler speed).
I remember April 2, 2012 well. It was a Monday. Two sheriff's deputies banged on the door and woke me. The day swam quickly with trips to the junkyard, the funeral home, and the church to plan the funeral... I remember feeling like my dreams were over. My life was irrevocably changed.
But here's what I know now. dreams are never meant to survive untouched. Dreams evolve. Dreams undergo constant and steady remodeling. Life's meaning isn't gifted to us when young, so we fight, childlike, against the tide which would wash away our dreams. Life's meaning is something forged through work, heartache, and a lifetime of living.
A number of fans have been upset about the finale of How I Met Your Mother. I am not one of them. Ted Mosby--while a fictional character--has made meaning of his life through the telling of his story. His romantic ideals have survived and evolved. In the end, he knows meaning comes in the making of it--just as he loved the mother so well while she was alive. It wasn't that they were "fated" to be together or "the one," but they made it work. The blue French horn in the end is not the same (metaphorically) he lifts at the beginning of the series; it is Ted's meaning, an all-in romantic ideal which he will chase all his life, even as life forces that ideal to take different shapes. And that, folks, is a beautiful note on which to end if an end must happen. It's the kind of end which doesn't really end.
Life, unfortunately must end--but in that inevitability, we find its greatest gift:
Life is for living now, loving now, forging meaning, now.
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When I was a senior in high school, I dropped Physics at semester to take Forensics. No, not forensic science, but forensics: the art and study of argumentation and debate. This is also known as speech and drama competition, a place where kids recite poetry and prose, preform monologues, or deliver original speeches in front of a judge.
One of the requirements of the class involved attending at least two meets. My coach/teacher provided me with Robert Frost's "The Death of the Hired Man" to read in the oral interpretation of poetry division. I performed one time and tied for fourth (I lost the coin flip and received a fifth place medal--wah wah). It was my only performance of that poem and the only medal I received in forensics. I went on to coach for 12 years as a teacher.
Okay, what does this have to do with "Silas"? Well, the story is available in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of The Rampallian, and it is one of those odd, hard-to-place pieces. It is, in part, inspired by "The Death of the Hired Man" and features an old hired-hand named Silas, just like the poem. While horrrific in subject matter, it isn't "horror" in the commercial sense.
This is your spoiler alert. So please read "Silas" or continue with the spoilers. I'm afraid it is one of those tales you'll need to shell out a few bucks to buy the issue, but 50% of the issue's proceeds go to benefit Reading is Fundamental.
My story implies Silas has molested young Rose, the protagonist. I wasn't sure I wanted to tackle such challenging subject matter, but after reading Peter Straub's masterful "The Juniper Tree" I understood the power of challenging subject matter. (I almost put Straub's story down before finishing it--but it's so damn good in the end.) While "Silas" does not touch the hem of Straub's coat, it is born of "The Juniper Tree" and "The Death of the Hired Man" with a good deal of Aaron Polson imagery tossed in the mix. The original title: "The Hired Man is Made of Worms"--I'll let that conjure an image or two without explanation.
Rose is a brave girl in the face of a horrible, harsh reality. In the story, you'll find Silas is the least of her problems. Thanks to The Rampallian and editor Rebecca McKeown, I have the chance to tell her story.
I often find myself writing a story without any idea where it will land.
(I really wanted to type "end up" but the dangling preposition really burns my eyes.)
"The Thing About Ray's Smile," recently published at Black Heart Magazine, is one of those stories. I had the idea for an image, a really cheeky teenager, and one of my favorite stories, T. Coraghessan Boyle's "Greasy Lake," blended together to tell the very short story of--
Okay, spoiler alert. Read "The Thing About Ray's Smile" first, please.
--a teenager who makes a really dumb decision and it costs him his life. The bad decision? To throw an empty beer bottle at a boat full of what he thinks at the time are kids from the local junior college. That image--the bottle arcing through the air in slow motion--comes from a moment in high school when a buddy of mine tossed an empty glass bottle (only root beer in our case) against the side of a building as we cruised past a police car. I feared we'd be pulled over, but weren't. In Ray's case, the result was worse.
"The Thing About Ray's Smile" is unclassifiable. Yes, the end is horrific, but it isn't horror. It's not a crime story, either, even though a crime happens. Literary? Okay. Maybe. It's definitely dark and I enjoy the word play. It's the kind of story I enjoyed writing even without a clear landing in mind.
Thanks to Laura Roberts and Black Heart Magazine for given "Ray" life...
Sometimes, a guy needs to stand up and be counted.
I love my state; I do not love nor do I agree with the bigots in charge.
I fully support the right of anyone to marry and enjoy the same legal protection afforded anyone else. More than that, I believe love is love and gay men and women deserve the same shot at the uphill battle of lifelong commitment and fidelity as any straight man or woman.
You may not agree with me, but your view on gay marriage does not matter to me.
You may not agree and say your faith informs you. Okay. Fine. As long as you're using Biblical support, have fun with your multiple wives, slaves, and stop eating ham, okay? And really, stay away from cotton and wool together (yes, that's banned, too). Thanks, Leviticus. You're full of fun. And there's that part about women being silent. (Timothy 2:11) And the stuff about wounded penises and testicles. (Yes, that's in there, too--Deuteronomy 23:1--but it evidently doesn't have anything to do with a botched circumcision... or does it?) But I'm not the guy who's going to use all this Biblical mumbo-jumbo to pretend I'm going to sway your opinion about gay marriage or civil rights in general. You've already made up your mind. This is not a debate.
Let me repeat: your view on gay marriage does not matter to me. And I don't suspect that my view matters much to you.
What does matter is right and wrong--civil rights and civil wrongs.
My state, Kansas, just did a big whopping wrong. Let me revise: the leaders of my state (at least the House of Representatives) did a big whopping wrong in passing House Bill 2453 (which explicitly protects religious individuals, groups and businesses that refuse services to same-sex couples, particularly those looking to tie the knot.) For more, CNN has a pretty good break-down of the law. Those crying "liberal media" can check out this Fox affiliate's take and realize it's the same press release from CNN. Keep crying.
And our Governor, Mr. Hypocrite himself, told the Topeka Capital-Journal, "Americans have constitutional rights, among them the right to exercise their religious beliefs and the right for every human life to be treated with respect and dignity."
Every human life? How about gays. They're human. Hell, any gay individual I know is pretty much more human than the legislators who voted "yes" to this piece of garbage.
I'm proud to be a member of an open and affirming congregation in Lawrence, KS. (Love you, Plymouth Congregational Church.) I'm proud to know plenty of wonderful Kansans who think our legislators are morons.
I'm proud to call several gay men some of my closest friends--not because they happen to be gay, but because they are some of the most amazing people I know. Folks who have been there for me in tough times and good times. Family.
Don't mess with family.
It doesn't take much to imagine a world in which I couldn't marry someone I loved. Kim and I are in our second marriage--and our union would not have found favor with Biblical law at one point in history. Hell, we'd probably be stoned to death or something asinine like that. It sounds ridiculous now, but the slope is steep and quite slippery when a modern political entity in a democratic nation can start to write bills promising discrimination and promoting bigotry.
I've tried to keep this as positive as I can. It is Valentine's Day and love wins. Love always wins in the end. Your view on gay marriage does not matter to me, but in promoting a law like House Bill 2453, Kansas made this a civil rights issue. Kansas is poised to make history--on the wrong side of history.
Money kills creativity. Money breeds censorship. Money destroys art. Money breeds derivative, "safe" art.
Once money enters the equation, creativity suffers. Yes, it can offer powerful inspiration, but think about what Rod Serling has to say about "pre-censorship" in this clip:
If a writer is thinking about what is and is not acceptable even before a piece is written, it kills the creative process. Damon Knight offers a very important piece of advice in his seminal Creating Short Fiction. To paraphrase, a writer should never say "no" to his/her subconscious in the creative process. It seems Serling's mention of "pre-censorship" is just that. It hacks creativity at the roots.
And here's a little something from Ira Glass about the time involved to make your art what you want it to be:
Did you catch the part about time (Mr. Glass talks about "years")? It takes time for a creative individual's ability to catch up with her/his taste. It takes time for creativity to really bloom. Money kills that time. Money makes everything urgent. If you need the money, you will do whatever it takes--even cutting corners in a process that just can't be rushed.
Wait, you say. What are you saying? Are you saying writers should write "for the love"? That's an insult, Aaron. Writers should be paid. Didn't you post that video from Harlan Ellison ranting about paying writers? Have you changed your mind?
No. Absolutely not. But--and this is the important moment, the epiphany--if a creative type does his/her work solely for money, that work is robbed of its potential. For example, if I write a story solely to try and publish at a specific market because said market pays well, I'm no longer thinking about the story. I'm thinking of the market and of dollar signs, and I might just make some (conscious or unconscious) decisions based on the potential pay day. It's why I have a hard time writing stories to target for specific anthologies. I'd rather write the stories I need to write and then find them homes. It's how I work.
And there's another, more insidious cancer growing here... self-publishing. If it takes time for ability to catch up with taste, it will take time before work is ready for the public. I know mine did--and even upon my earliest publications, some of my stories were not all that good. Read the first page or two of a self-published novel from someone with no other experience or "time" at the craft. Rarely will you find anything I'd call literature. And yes, speculative fiction is literature--it can still be art. It takes time. You can't rush it.
I'm still working. I'm also blessed that now, at this point in my life, I don't need to make money with my creative endeavors. I'm free to let them be the best they can--even if it takes the rest of my life for them to be where I want them to be.
Neil Peart explains in Beyond the Lighted Stage that upon the creation of 2112, Rush decided to do it their way or go home. If the record company pulled out the rug, so be it. They would remain true to their vision. One of the greatest rock drummers of all time was willing to go work at his family's tractor dealership rather than compromise on his art. I hope all creative types have the time and financial resolve to be so uncompromising.
Hell yes I do.
(And did you see how I worked three of my heroes into one blog post? Well played, Aaron. Well played.)
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Some of my earliest memories start with video games. When I was five, the family received an Intellivision II from Santa Claus. We spent hours playing Burgertime and Astrosmash. I wore callouses on my fingers on the black disc and burned holes through the keypad. My brother, twelve years older than me, and I played marathon sessions and bonded over strategy and high scores.
|Yes kids, video game consoles used to look like this. No WiFi, either.|
|Conan was a helluva lot more difficult than it looks.|
|Hooray! A golden triangle!|
Yes, games have been with me a long time. When my thirteen-year-old stepson found me playing an emulated copy of Symphony of the Night the other day, he told Kim, "you've got a good man there, Mom."
|Awwww shucks... I'm just a fan boy.|
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Today's flashback features one of my favorites from the Genesis/Mega Drive era, a rather challenging port of an arcade classic: Ghouls 'n Ghosts.
Ghouls 'n Ghosts had great legs and a lot of lasting value. It was straight-up arcade action/platformer but without the cute plumbers. (Instead, it featured a knight who was occasionally caught with his armor down.) For the time, the music was brilliant, the sound effects solid, the game play uber-challenging, the graphics colorful and vibrant, and the concept fun. In today's world of super-realistic first person shooters and mindless touch screen nonsense, I miss those button-mashing days...
(Let's just not discuss the hours I
Hello, 2014. You've been around for a little over a week now, and I wanted to give you a proper greeting. So, hi. You're going to be a good year. I know it.
As I say hello to 2014, it's only fitting to say one last goodbye to 2013. It was a very good year--and one which taught me a few things:
1. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And by Santa Claus I mean a woman with whom I am madly in love. We married in July and care for a half-dozen kids in our home. And--AND I am very happy. Yes, it can happen like this. It does every day.
2. I can still write. I've had to shake away some rust (some of my work hasn't been my best), but the desire is there--not the feverish drive it once was, but that came from managing demons as much as desire to tell stories. Now, I have the desire, but the demons are not snapping at my heals. This is a better seat from which to write.
You can read the first published piece I penned after my hiatus at Weirdyear. It's a bit of flash I call "Doubt"--and I'd be thrilled it you'd give it a read.
3. Even while I spent more than a year on hiatus, books and stories continued to sell via Smashwords and Amazon. Upon returning, I've found Amazon a much more crowded landscape than ever. My sales through Smashwords and its affiliates were roughly flat. Considering I spent zero time promoting my writing for the majority of 2013, I find that quite interesting. I actually broke down my numbers (which weren't record breaking in any way), and found a few interesting tidbits. My top five paid sellers* were as follows:
|A Feast of Flesh: Tales of Zombies, Monsters, and Demons||141|
|Violent Ends: Horror Stories||120|
|Thirteen Shadows: Ghost Stories||76|
|The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories||74|
|Write Hard: Prompts, Prods, and Pep-Talks for Writers||26|
4. I missed shouting at the universe via this blog, Twitter, and the InterwebTM in general.
5. I have much more to say before I take the big dirt nap. Years and years of stories to tell. Will you listen?
My 2014 goals are forthcoming. Really.
*for the past two years, I've donated every dime of my net Smashwords earnings to local and international charities. No writer's work is paid what it is "worth" but I can make my work worth more in terms of education, food, and healthcare in the right hands. Heifer International and Health Care Access are two of my favorites. Add a Comment
Let me tell a story about caring for and feeding your writing.
"Wanting It" is one of my favorite stories to date. Like Ramsey Campbell, what keeps me going is the idea that I haven't yet written my best story, but "Wanting It" makes me a proud papa. I'm working with a student who struggles with writing because he wants it to be "perfect" the first time. It never is.
"Wanting It" began life as a feeling more than an idea. I wrote it during spring, 2010--several hundred thousand words and more than three years after beginning my writing journey. My heart ached. I was missing something, but I couldn't put my hands around "what" was missing. "Wanting It" began with longing, and there were tears when I wrote the story. It's biographical without telling details from my life--other than the protagonist's first name. Thanks, Tim O'Brien, for that trick.
I edited and polished and sent the story to Ken Wood at Shock Totem on April 26, 2010. I'd come to a place in my writing where I knew stories needed to start at the top no matter the odds. I found a rewrite request in my inbox on June 17. I read Ken's email several times. I looked at my story. I tried to find the "confident writer" he described hearing in the last few pages. I did what I could to tighten the story, had three friends read it and provide feedback, and sent it back.
The good people at Shock Totem liked it, but liked parts of my first version better. Ken and I began a back and forth discussion about what to change, where to change, how much or how little to change, keep, crop, blend... We exchanged several messages about what to call a guy's butt--not because we didn't know, but what would the narrator say? Ass? Rump? Buttocks? Yes, we had that conversation.
After months of writes and re-writes, Shock Totem #3 came out with "Wanting It" in the line up.
But "Wanting It"'s story wasn't over. It still isn't. The story garnered some nice reviews, including this one from Joshua Jabcuga (Bookgasm):
"I was genuinely moved by Polson’s entry, one about nostalgia and memories, and as some of us know, these ghosts of what-was or what-can-never-be-again can create the most haunting experiences of our lives, the kind that no amount of beer can drown, no pill can numb, and the type where no amount of distance or time will help us escape from it... horror at its finest."
Horror at its finest? Thanks, Joshua. Thanks Ken and the Shock Totem crew. "Wanting It" went on to land an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year volume 4 (my name was even mentioned in the year in review--this small town kid is humbled). Yes, hundreds of stories receive honorable mentions each year, but the four I've garnered mean so much to me. They're my own little black ribbons.
So what do I tell this student?
Keep writing. Nothing is ever finished. Ever.
(And if you've never read a page of Shock Totem, start now.)
This really is a bread recipe, not some hack or spam post. Enough folks have asked for this recipe, I thought I'd share--especially now, during the cold winter holiday season when the smell of baking bread is the only thing that keeps me going some days. This is my favorite yeast bread (maybe my favorite thing to bake, hands down).
Grandma Joy's Refrigerator Roll Dough
1/2 cup warm water
1 package yeast (I always use rapid rise)
1 tablespoon white sugar
Stir yeast and sugar in the water to dissolve. Let this react for about 5-10 minutes until the yeast foams. While you are waiting...
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup melted and cooled butter (or margarine; I prefer butter)
2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon salt
Add the yeast mixture. Then mix in 6-8 cups of flour. You want to use a majority of white flour because whole wheat flour will not rise the same as white flour. I usually use 8 full cups with 7 being white flour and one whole wheat for good measure. I always use unbleached/enriched flour.
Knead for 5-7 minutes until smooth and elastic. Kneading can be a real cardiovascular workout. Here's some good technique to try:
Let the dough rise for about an hour in a lightly floured bowl. Make sure to cover with plastic wrap and a towel. When doubled, punch down and divide into two lumps. I always place them in lightly floured gallon freezer bags and send to the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the dough, you can make all sorts of goodies--from dinner rolls to donuts. One of my favorites, of course, is the good old fashioned cinnamon roll. Shape, cut, etc., and let rise for a while (the longer you wait, the more puffy/air-filled the dough will become, but you run the risk of it falling or drying out). Bake for 15-20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. If you like soft crust, brush with butter before removing from your pan to cool on a rack.
And just how does one roll out cinnamon rolls?
Much better than that crap from a can or impotent frozen rolls. Just my humble opinion. Enjoy!
*I didn't make the videos, but I did make this:
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Remember when Garth Brooks pulled that stupid Chris Gaines stunt?
If you don't, don't worry. In the days of my youth, when I was trying like hell to figure out what it means to be a man, Garth Brooks dominated popular music. I was never a fan, but no high school dance was complete without "Low Places" being played. This is a snapshot of a moment in time, part of my generation, and part of something I'm not sure future generations will have the chance to experience.
Insomnia and I have been wrestling a bit of late, and last night, while watching one of the more horrid (and not in a good way) episodes of Hammer House of Horror on DVD, I started thinking about the fleeting nature of fame in the 21st century. Andy Warhol is my prophet.
Garth Brooks had a solid decade of serious, multi-million-selling fame. Me? Never a fan, but plenty of people loved the guy. He became so famous he could have a bizarro out-of-body experience and pretend to be someone else (Chris Gaines) and the dude still sold billions of albums and won a shit-ton of awards.
This isn't all about Brooks. This is about now, the 21st century, and the lightning strike of fame. Fame is nothing of which I want a part. I do not write for fame, I do not tell stories to become famous, I have no desire to attach "best-seller" to anything I do. I am a writer, I am a story-teller, and I do like to create the best I can.
But fame? Never heard of it. And, like the old grey mare, she ain't what she used to be--at least I suspect she ain't--er, isn't. Remember the guy who wrote the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mash-up? I don't. But hey... I could Google him*. How about the band which had that song which was popular a year ago? No idea who we're talking about.
Maybe fame has always bounced around, leaving us only with the big names which last for time immemorial. Maybe fame has always worked this way. Maybe I'm just a crabby, sleep-deprived, middle-aged hack. Maybe.
But fame does distort reality. Fame makes a guy like Garth Brooks, king of the popular music world (in the U.S. at least) in the 1990s, think Chris Gaines was a good idea.
I pray I'm never famous.
*Okay, so I looked him up. I guess he wrote the screenplay to the recent Dark Shadows movie. That sucked, too.
Friday was one of those strange days in which two stories of mine were made available on the same day after months of nothing. If you missed "13 Pieces, Also the Dark," don't be surprised. I pimped "Digging Deep" with more gusto because it was the featured story at Every Day Fiction.
Today, I want to tell you about "13 Pieces, Also the Dark" which is available to read as a free PDF download from Black Frost Media. Please read it--it costs you nothing more than a few minutes of your time, and I am forever grateful for each reader.
And now, the obligatory spoiler alert...
The title of this piece, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, is an un-abashed knock-off of Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss". Please know the story, other than an experiment in style and the titular hack, has nothing to do with Johnson's. I like to experiment, and that's how this piece started.
The narrator is a voyeur, at first describing the slow death of his neighbor and the comings and goings of said neighbor's children. If any of you dear readers remember Gary Sump, you'll note this isn't the first time I've written from the POV of a voyeuristic narrator. As the story progresses, however, the reader learns the narrator's past and what he suspects happened in the house across the street.
As a guidance counselor (and English teacher when I wrote "13 Pieces, Also the Dark"), I see into the lives of my students--tiny little peeks--and construct their realities from these fragments. Maybe that's what bubbled to the surface with this story; the "pieces" are the bits from which one can fashion a whole life story.
Of course, in my tale, the pieces are also, quite literaly, the parts of the dying man our narrator helps carry away in the end.
I wrote this one before my self-imposed hiatus, and upon re-reading it a year+ later, still felt a good amount of discomfort. More maybe than "a good amount". And that, dear readers, is what indicates, to me, a fine story.
Please give "13 Pieces, Also the Dark" a read if you have the chance. I'd love to hear what you think.
"Digging Deep" is up at Every Day Fiction today. I think they're switching servers tomorrow, so it's only appropriate the last story before blackout is about death. Sort of.
Let me tell you about "Digging Deep".
Here be spoilers.
Read the story first, if you would.
I wrote "Digging Deep" shortly before Aimee died and submitted it one time before my hiatus and return to writing. It is a story about death as I mentioned above, but more. It is a horror story, but not a Horror story. "Digging Deep" talks about Truth like I hope most of my work does. Although I've capitalized it, this Truth is human-truth, not God-truth. I'll leave that for the theologians.
I want readers to understand what moves the narrator. This is a story of big revelation rather than big events. It's not about what happened to the mummified remains the narrator helps to exhume or the horrors which might lurk on the English countryside near his home. No, it's about real horror--horror any of us can feel.
On one level, there's the horror of losing a child (or any loved one). You see, the narrator feels the connection between his daughter, Ellen, and the awful things they dig from under the standing stones. The braided hair sets him off. My grandmother buried both of her children--my Aunt Norma Jean (who I never met because she died at 21, decades before my birth) and my father (brain cancer shortened his life). I look at my own kids, those with whom I share genes and my stepchildren, and can't imagine--don't want to imagine--such terrible ends for them. I fiercely love Kim, and the thought of anything, anything happening to her abhors me. Anyone who loves so fiercely can feel the inevitable pang of death. So yes, death stalks the narrator as it does all of us.
But that, dear readers, is only a bit of the story--even for a tale just shy of 1,000 words, there's more.
"Digging Deep" is also about the horror which comes when people become little more than objects. The mummified bodies, once living, breathing people (again, the braids), are now objects for the university men. Waxy broadens the theme when he talks about the barmaid, saying, "Wouldn't mind a roll with that one," making her little more than a sexual object. For the poor narrator, Ellen becomes a thing--both an object for the "university men" and, by extension, a sexual object for men like Waxy--as he connects the dots between the three. In the end, especially in the end, death leaves each of us nothing more than objects.
Yes, that latter bit is implied. It's what the story means to me, now, nearly two years after originally writing it. But the truth--and the truth of all fiction--is that any reader's reality is just as valid as mine.
I've written the story and now it's time to share.
So I'm thinking about starting a publication...
I've always been a "pay it forward" guy. As a writer, where would I be without publications to which I submit my work? Where would I be without awesome editors who took the time to glance at my stuff, sometimes read it, and in some rare instances publish that work?
With all this in mind, I'm considering another publication. This is all groundwork and nothing is chiseled into a Lovecraftian stone monolith at the bottom of the ocean. If you have a few moments, please take my survey and feel free to share it with other writers.
Publish This! (a survey for writers)
I'll collect surveys for the next month and share the results on the other side. Rumor has it flying monkeys might bring you a cookie.
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Black Ribbon: (noun) an award for stories which inspire me and make me say "Damn, I wish I had written that."
H.P. Lovecraft is better known for Cthulhu and cosmic horror, but my favorite tale of his "The Rat in the Walls". Yes, it begins with his trademark penchant for just a little too much exposition, but I think it works here. The ending--despite being told in the 1st person--chilled me the first time I read it. I literally shuddered and then lost myself in awe of an author being able to conjure that chill with words.
On 16 July 1923, I moved into Exham Priory after the last workman had finished his labours. The restoration had been a stupendous task, for little had remained of the deserted pile but a shell-like ruin; yet because it had been the seat of my ancestors, I let no expense deter me. The place had not been inhabited since the reign of James the First, when a tragedy of intensely hideous, though largely unexplained, nature had struck down the master, five of his children, and several servants; and driven forth under a cloud of suspicion and terror the third son, my lineal progenitor and the only survivor of the abhorred line...
"The Rats in the Walls" is readily available to read online and a free audio version can be found at Voices in the Dark.
"The Rats in the Walls" read by Sean Puckett at Voices in the Dark (mp3)
"The Rats in the Walls" by H.P. Lovecraft text at DagonBytes (online reading)
"The Rats in the Walls" by H.P. Lovecraft PDF
There are more Black Ribbons to come. What do I need to read next?
Once upon a different life of mine, while I was a student in Principles of Learning (Pscy 475) way (WAAAAAY) back in my days as an undergrad at Kansas State University, the professor discussed motivation with this simple anecdote:
A young girl, proficient at cello, loved to play her instrument. She practiced all the time. Her parents, seeing this as an opportunity for reward, praised their daughter and started paying her for practice time.
She lost her love and stopped playing.
No, this isn't yet another blog post in a sea of blog posts on the InterwebTM about the evils of money. Money is not evil. This is simply a discussion about motivation.
As I've started writing again, I've had to ask myself, "why?" Writing takes energy and time and sometimes sucks emotional well-being*. Writing is not easy and the "rewards" are never guaranteed.
Look, nothing I do in life comes with a guarantee. If I do X, I'm not always going to have Y. Life simply doesn't work that smoothly, simply, or, unfortunately, with such logic. I do know this: back in 2011, especially in the fall as I anticipated the birth of Elliot, I felt compelled to "get paid" for my writing.
Yes, I believe and always will believe writers should be paid for quality work--but I've also learned the pay, even professional rates, is never, never commiserate with the amount of time/effort expended on a project. And some non-paying markets exist where the readership carries more weight than any amount of money I could gain for some made up nonsense (i.e., fiction). Pay never correlates 100% with quality--but there is a correlation.
I'm talking about cashing in, making a pile of money because I "had to". Writing for pay has never been my sole motivation. I don't seek professional publication venues first and then down through semi-pro and token paying markets because I need the money or even want the money--what I want is to be able to tell stories which can be and should be published in those venues because they are good stories. It's a difference in motivation, however subtle, which guides me.
I lost sight of storytelling in 2011. I lost sight of storytelling and chased dollars. Things were not good at home. In early 2012, Aimee committed suicide. Chasing the wrong motivation brought stress and a sour taste which just didn't hold up as I rebuilt my life. Now, on the other side, I'm so happy and never want to lose sight of the important stuff again.
Kim and I often talk about things "serving us". Why expend energy if something doesn't serve you? It's a slightly different spin old "do what you love or at least get paid for it" adage. And making sure something serves us is my prime mover these days. I don't need the stress of trying to make writing pay the bills. I do need the rich intellectual stimulation and personal satisfaction which comes with a story well-told. This serves me, and in serving me, it serves Kim and strengthens our relationship.
This is the motivation, folks. This is why I write: to tell stories, grow my heart and mind, and do it for the love.
*Because, despite my claim that they don't in my previous post, rejections do bother me. They bother me enough to write better stories and work harder next time.Thank you, Doug Murano, for helping me remember the value of rejection.
Here's the thing I forgot about writing and submitting short stories (or any kind of fiction/poetry): waiting.
I remember rejections well, and the oldest wounds, the first ones I suffered back in 2007 when I first began this journey, healed so well--I have a nice, thick layer of scar tissue. Rejections haven't bothered* me in a long, long time. They are part of the game, and if they bother* you, stop submitting.
But waiting... man. I forgot about the waiting. Some markets are lightning fast, especially a few pro-paying venues like Nightmare and Clarkesworld. But chances of appearing in those venues is slim. I'll submit to them when I can (i.e., I have a story which might, just might slip by the first round of reads), but they are the whitest of the white whales. Most publications have wait time well over a month or more.
Tick... tick... tick...
And then the inevitable rejection letter--or, sometimes, an acceptance.
Here's what I know now: I'm writing and submitting because I want to tell stories. Lots of stories. Big, semitrailer truckloads of stories. And some of them will be good.
Aaron, you say, you could just post your stories here. You could just upload them to Smashwords and Amazon KDP.
Yes. I could. But I want to tell the best stories I can--and the submissions process has been good to me. I've learned and become a better writer because of the wait, the rejections, the occasional feedback from editors, and the sweet taste of acceptance. I've become a better writer because I've worked with editors. I've become a better writer because I try to listen to advice, sort the good from bad, and take what works back to the word processor with me.
So I'll take the wait. I'll keep writing. This is what I love: writing and telling stories, the best stories I can. This is the path I've chosen because of how it fills me, not because of any reward on the other side.
Dream on. Like this guy (and listen to an amazing interview on NPR):
* Edited to add... Here's what I mean by "bother": if you get physically ill, want to throw a tantrum and/or respond in a negative way to a rejecting editor, or find that rejection affects your ability to write (after the requisite "rejection hangover") then you need to find another creative endeavor in which to engage. Add a Comment
Free can be pretty creepy, I suppose, depending on what is being given away. This Friday, it's written words from yours truly and several other authors, Bob Eccles, James Garcia Jr., and Michelle Ann King thanks to the wonderful Milo James Fowler.
Here's what I can give you today: a free digital copy of Loathsome, Dark and Deep. Go to Smashwords and use code SW24Q to grab a copy for zero money.
You also have a chance to win a paperback (yes, actual dead trees!) copy of The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories signed by yours truly. I hear it makes great kindling or a shim to hold wobbly table legs steady. You might even want to read a few stories. For your chance, simply toss your name in the virtual hat.
So what, exactly, are you waiting for? Free is free... and I won't even make you read a word. Add a Comment
Hello, my name is Aaron and I write short stories. Granted, the longest piece I've written was well over 100,000 words (my first "novel" and first piece of fiction I wrote), but after editing and trimming, it landed well within the 70K range. Yes, I cut 30,000 words. Loathsome, Dark and Deep is only 67,000 words. Nothing else comes close.
I am a short story writer, and I'm not ashamed.
But things make me sad... like the white whale short story markets of yesteryear becoming the graveyard of today. After reinstating my account on Duotrope.com, I noted the following:
Of my reported acceptances (155 including poetry and reprints), 48 of those markets were dead (closed or defunct), including Everyday Weirdness, Necrotic Tissue, The Rose and Thorn Journal... some of my favorite stories had life there. Note those 48 markets represented more than 48 of my acceptances. Everyday Weirdness printed several stories and I was fortunate enough to place 3 with Necrotic Tissue. I loved those publications and did what I could to support them. Thanks to Nathan E. Lilly (Everyday Weirdness) and R. Scott McCoy (Necrotic Tissue) for everything they did to bring my stories and stories from other authors to readers' attention.
Short story venues die. It's the nature of the beast. My own brain child, 52 Stitches, is no more, but it had two years to run. It's time is done. But those which stick around? Wonderful. I'm proud to have a story in issue #118 of Space and Time. #118 people. The magazine has been around since before I was a zygote.
There are white whales I will chase and never capture before their deaths--this, too, is the nature of the beast. But I am a short story writer. I write short stories, and the submission/rejection process has made me a better writer. My stories are stronger because they've had to survive in a world of high casualty rates.
Here's a fear: writing is going to suffer in this do-it-yourself world. It already has. Why face rejections when I can easily publish myself via Smashwords, Kindle, Createspace and the like?* Why? Because, dear readers, without those white whales, even the dead ones, I would not have become the writer I am today. I wouldn't have sold a few stories to professional venues or found myself on any honorable mention lists. Writing short fiction is about the story, the art of words, and making life out of digital nothing. I want my stories to be like my flesh-and-bone children: resilient and beautiful.
Write on, chase those whales, and give some pause and respect when they leave us.
*Yes, I've published plenty of previously published material via these venues. But my first path--and it should always be a first path--was and remains the submissions trail and quest for those white whales.
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Milo James Fowler's website. Drop in and see what's available from Simon Kewin, Roland Yeomans, Christine Rains, and Cate Gardner. Good stuff.
Today, I'd like to share "Jumping In," a story originally published in Slices of Flesh. Happy reading and even happier weekend.
Part of resurrecting my writing "career" involves resurrecting my writing to be read. Now that we live in a world of digital words, I've never understood why anyone would take good stories away from potential readers.
Note I said good stories. I've trunked plenty of my tales, including some which have seen print. Even though they were published once, I might not want to claim them as one of my current stable of quality tales.
Way back on March 26, 2012, I wrote this post which explains how many of my collections and stories were wrested away from readers. I'm working to make them available again. And here's the thing--as I republish, I republish at the lowest price point I can. I don't mind 99 cents if it means a reader will take a chance and pick up my stories. This writing thing isn't solely about making money (although compensation is nice); it is about telling stories.
When I started focusing on the money, I started to lose my love for the process. The universe set me right.
I've recently returned Darker Matter: Stories of Strange Futures, These Darkened Streets, The Undead: 13 Stories, and Loathsome, Dark and Deep to the digital world.
You can find them at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere electronic words are exchanged.
So yes, I'm cheap. I'm cheap and ready to tell you a story. Add a Comment
I'm bringing back some old books as part of the resurrection of my writing career. To be a little more accurate, my "career" slept, fairy tale-like for the last year and and some change.
I've recently published some mothballed "collections" on Smashwords, including Darker Matter: Stories of Strange Futures, and These Darkened Streets (horror and weird fiction). I've also brought back my horror/adventure/grim-as-hell novel Loathsome, Dark and Deep (originally from Belfire Press, and until now out of "print").
I write to be read. I'll never understand the purpose of sitting on good stories when readers are hungry. No storyteller should hide in the dark.
When I set to republish Loathsome, I took a good look at the original dedication:
Do I remove the dedication? No. Not exactly. But my life isn't what it was then. There's more to my story than the dark woods I traveled with Aimee. The dedication grew as I have. So now we read the original, along with:
Kim wasn't a part of my life when I wrote Loathsome, Dark and Deep, but she's helped me find my way home. She's helped me find my voice again. And that, dear readers, is the only place I want to be: home, telling my stories.
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Okay, so I've missed writing this blog. I've missed the conversational tone and processing some ideas which have really stuck with me. These are blog entries, not college expository essays. I may ramble.
And today, I need to ramble a bit about free speech. Two things have collided in my brain this past week and I need to process. First, there's David Guth, a professor at the Univeristy of Kansas and all the heat he's received for a recent tweet involving the NRA. The tweet-in-question read: "The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you." The second... well this post ("Dear Guy Who Just Made My Burrito") at Medium (New to you? Me too.). It's a funny (and truthful) piece in which he uses the F-bomb. Ubiquitously.
I've wrestled with this free speech issue. When I was seventeen (and it was a pretty good year), I wasn't allowed to buy a copy of Faith No More's Angel Dust because of the explicit lyrics decal. Yes, this was way back in 1992. Remember CDs? Anyone? I was still listening to cassette tapes, too. I was fired up. Angry. How dare some over-inflated political ninny tell me to what I can or cannot listen? This I believe: free speech is important to me personally and vital to the health of a free, educated society.
What steps over the free speech line? What is free expression and what is profane/inappropriate/illegal? Who decides where to place the line?
Once upon a time, I had a student with a large "Freedom of Fucking Speech" decal across his school planner. Really? Let me repeat: Free speech is important to me personally and vital to the health of a free, educated society. I'm not sure which part of that statement is synonymous with "carpet F-bomb when/wherever you'd like". So yeah, Mr. Lucky Shirt's post about burritos is funny, but after a certain number of "fucking chance"s and "fucking empires of sour cream" I shut down and stop reading. If I was still teaching, I would have told my students the offense lies in lazy writing, not a personal issue with the f-word. Is "fucking" the best adjective he could muster? It certainly isn't the most accurate (unless he eats his burritos differently than me).
For those of you who like analogies, I liken using "freedom of speech" to cover for poor writing and the need to "fuck" everything (in writing) to a man who would buy a Mercedes-Benz and enter it in the demolition derby at the Douglas County Fair. Way to use those resources, dude.
But what about David Guth? I still don't know. He teaches at a university--supposedly a bastion for free speech and intellectual discourse. But it is a publicly supported university (getting at least a small chunk of funds from public tax coffers). People (taxpayers and lawmakers) get their feathers ruffled. It seems to be a matter of tone. If he had posted "What if it is your sons and daughters next time?" instead of "Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters." I think the effect might be different. But does it matter? In Twitterland, you only have 140 characters per thought.
And that, dear friends, is why I missed blogging. Ramble on.
I'm going to visit a friend's student this morning, a young man who has Big Writing DreamsTM. Once upon a time, I had such aspirations.
Sometimes this meant trying to crack tougher markets (Shimmer? What did I send them, eleventy-billion stories before an acceptance?). My stories improved. My writing improved. I learned how to make words do what I wanted.
After more than a year of hiatus, I've started writing again. With all of my family/other commitments, I might be looking at a story a month--or maybe a couple of flash. But the love is there. The characters are speaking to me again. Words beg me to touch them.
What will I tell this anonymous student, the one with Big Writing DreamsTM? Know why you want to write. For me--when I loved writing--it was always about the story and the audience. Once upon a time, I could make words sing and dance and make love to the page, even if it was a dark and slightly dysfunctional love (most of my stuff WAS horror).
I know who I am as a writer, and it feels good. So good. Add a Comment
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