My editor at Apocalypse Ink Productions is beginning work on FAMISHED: THE COMMONS. This is a nervous time for me. The book has been through a lot of changes, and while I still believe it’s my best work to date … the possibility of further rework naturally exists. I’m being as Zen as possible, but seeing the announcement made public gave me butterflies in the stomach. That’s normal, I know. The funny thing is, I have less trouble sharing with a wider audience. The more people who are involved, the less stress I feel. Perhaps that’s a holdover from my theater background: Opening to a full house is far better than opening to your mom, your girlfriend, and a lone critic from the local alt-weekly. Is it easier for you to share your work with a wider or more selective audience? Any tips on keeping the butterflies at bay?

PS: Apocalypse Ink has also finished the final edits for Flotsam: Exile I by my esteemed colleague Peter M. Ball. I recommend keeping your eye on his new series – it’s sure to be fantastic!

Need New Monsters? Look Within.

This month, Nightmare Magazine contains a wonderful article by Kate Jonez on horror’s need for new monsters.

Monsters, whether they are metaphors for human fears or failings or the manifestation of external evil, are the most fascinating element of horror fiction. Western horror fiction, if authors take appropriate care to respect the culture from which the monster was borrowed, can only grow richer by embracing a wider tradition.

She introduces us to a splendid panoply of creatures from other cultures (including my new favorite, the Busaw).

I fully agree with Ms. Jonez’s statement that the basis of our monsters lie in the things we fear. In my mind, however, the best way to find a new monster is not in the folklore of others, but in a deeper introspection.

Smarter people than I have spent much more time examining and reviewing the notion of monsters in our basic human fears (Death, the other, and the wilderness).

The same is true of cultural fears (Grendel vs. Anglo-Saxon hospitality, Frankenstein’s Adam vs. Victorian English faith).

These universal or cultural fears can get you started; but to create a truly new monster, you must look within.

What brings you awake, screaming? What lurks in your shadow?

Yes, I fear starvation, and its most extreme answer, cannibalism – the obvious roots of the FAMISHED series.

I also fear blind adherence to tradition, self-righteousness, and a faith that cannot question. All of these can be seen in my Gentleman Ghouls.

I fear isolation and the tendency toward self-harm. I fear, not violence per se; but the extent of our capacity for violence.

I fear an inner, existential emptiness that seeks to be filled, and accepts the simplest answer at hand.

If you’ve read FAMISHED: THE FARM, none of this should be a surprise.

In FAMISHED: THE COMMONS, new and different fears give rise to new and different monsters.

All of them are deeply personal. Many are universal. They are unusual, if not unique.

Go now. Call your monsters forth.

Edits Complete!

The latest edits on Famished: The Commons were delivered to Apocalypse Ink Productions as of Friday, December 27.

Despite the effort, it was a truly rewarding experience.

What did I learn in the process?

I improved my sense of tense. I watched many, many educational videos online and subscribed to podcasts such as Grammar Girl in an effort to improve my technical chops.

Deadlines are a must. When I have a deadline, work is easy. Without it, time starts to escape me. I’ve determined my first required deadlines for Famished: The Ranch: a full set of character descriptions and a story outline, due by February 2.

Tea and darkjazz. At least for Famished: The Commons, I got a lot done thanks to music like The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Zoe Keating. And keeping a steady stream of green or blackberry tea let me forget how cold it was in my writing studio.

The Shiny New Idea. By November, it was clear that I couldn’t keep up any side projects while I attacked this deadline. While I tried to keep blog posts coming, I shelved all other art and writing projects until the day I delivered. That was the most frustrating part of the process, but in some ways the most interesting – I kept a list of all the ideas I wanted to be working on, and reviewed it on New Year’s Day to select my next obsession.

At times, it was a chore. At times, I wanted to quit.

In the end, it was worth the effort.

On Distractions

I’m coming down to the terrifying wire for Famished: The Commons.

That’s piano wire, not a finish wire, mind.

To be blunt, I’m not certain I’ll make even the extended deadline – at least not with a product by which I’m satisfied. Part of that’s fear of making mistakes, part of it’s a heavier schedule at the dayjob than I’d like, but most of it is … distractions.

Some distractions are everyday pieces, like reading facebook. Or an idiot cutting me off on the commute. Or the gin necessary to forget said idiot.

But some are more insidious, because they feel like productive pieces of the creative effort.

Beware these, O Children of Men!

  1. 2013_12_12_21_04_11_The_Black_Pacific1. Blog posts. I know that keeping the blog going is important. All the writers I admire – well, okay, all the younger and more technically adept ones – have a regular posting schedule. Like clockwork! It doesn’t seem to get in their way.Sadly, for me? Figuring out what to talk about can take more time than writing the verdamnten thing. 
  2. 2. Music. I have a wide and eclectic musical taste, but hardcore anarchist punk has never been one of them. Regular punk, absolutely. Classic, without a doubt. Ska-core, I’m in. But hardcore’s never been my thing, and yet one of the main characters in The Commons was very clear with me: She digs it.I interviewed a friend at work who was in the scene before he became a father, and got some names and bands. Now I’m listening to lots of hardcore – but it’s really hard for me to write to. 
  3. 3. Research. Granted, it is important to research. I’ve talked to more people for this story than any I’ve done before. But in the end, that doesn’t put words on the page. I can’t consider the day’s work done just because I had an hour-long conversation with a park ranger in South Carolina to boost a five-sentence scene.
  4. pinterest4. Pinterest. I use Pinterest to keep track of photos, maps, images and music that I find which inspire or inform the book. As the launch gets closer, I’ll make it public. It’s a way of sharing with my readers what inspired some of the scenes, without it being a dry recitation.It is, however, a timesuck. Like all social media. 
  5. 5. Google Maps! Thanks to technology, and presumably Satan, today I’m able to see a street scene anywhere in the world to make my descriptions more valid, more alive, more true.Except when I realize an hour’s passed and I’m looking at a street in Slovenia  and …Roanoke_Island_Google_MapsOH WHAT WAIT THEY CHANGED GOOGLE MAPS TODAY!  LITERALLY JUST NOW.

    I am timely, people. Timely.

    Time. Is what I don’t have to play around with this cool new toy.

    But look at it! It’s so shiny …


So now that I’ve burned a half hour, I need to get back to the Commons. After all, these characters aren’t gonna eat themselves.

Well …

You know what I mean.

Editing Famished: The Commons

When I wrote Famished: The Farm, I was lucky enough to work with the inestimable Lillian Cohen-Moore as an editor. She took the draft, and she truly made it work – in ways I didn’t understand, and in ways I didn’t see.

She fixed my grammar without comment or complaint. I wouldn’t have been published without Lily.

As I said, however, she did work I didn’t see.

I often thought of editing as the second cousin to writing. Fiddly and mechanical, neat and precise; words which are rarely applied to any part of my life.

Still, I was willing to do the work on The Farm once Jennifer had her final read-through.

Hardly anything was left to be done. I was surprised, but pleasantly so, and I didn’t question it.

With Famished: The Commons, Lily’s work schedule had picked up; and I wasn’t able to reach out to her for assistance. My alpha and beta readers included smart, clever people, and other writers; but their feedback was not on the mechanical precision of the work. It was on the themes, the characters, the plot holes. Things I could fix … not easily, but fixes I was comfortable with.

Jennifer Brozek’s first words after her editing pass were, “Don’t panic.”

The three biggest issues – or, perhaps, the issues I would struggle with most – were the use of passive voice, mangled tenses, and pacing. In my long-passed English classes I could tell the difference between voice and tense well enough to pass a written test, but there are years of age and whiskey between those classes and today.

Jennifer recommended I get a copy of The Ten Percent Solution: Self-Editing for the Modern Writer and review it before starting to work. I did so, and found it a remarkably helpful book. Between its advice, Jennifer’s editorial notes, and a few executive decisions, I got the tense and voice issues resolved.

I also tightened the prose. I tended to write meandering, aimless, dreamy scenes.

(Words which are often applied to many parts of my life.)

That tightening, along with losing one main character to the edits, probably cost me a third of the written book. Over 20,000 words down the drain.

From the standpoint of someone who no longer views editing as a second cousin, but as a stern but fair parent? It’s a godsend.

The book has been delayed by this work, but has been improved by it.

I, too, have been delayed and improved by this work.

In the next Editing post: pacing issues and conventions.

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