Thursday, March 27, 2008

Desire and Positive Reinforcements

Do you know what one of the advantages of hosting the Friday edition of the Blog-O-Rama is? I get to see what everyone else wrote about during the week. Yeah, I know it is kind of cheap, but I do get to see what the others are writing about and if something strikes me while reading the other posts, then I can ponder on it for a while. Sometimes my mind really takes hold of something that one of the others has written and I can’t let it go. Kind of like an old dog gnawing on a bone—just try to take it from him.

Earlier this week Erik Smetana brought up a friend of ours laying down the pen and pursuing other avenues. That friend has taken an editorial position with a respected publication and his time is going to be put to good use—and probably some abuse as well.

But, it’s a good move for him and he will learn a lot about the other side of the business and when he is ready to come back to writing, then he’ll be better equipped with the knowledge of what editors are looking for. That is gold in this business.

Now the question comes to mind and I think it is something we have all pondered at one time or other. Erik asked it in his post.

As he asked: Was I cut out to be a writer? Did I have what it takes to achieve some semblance of success? What would finally constitute success for me? Would I ever be able to realistically turn my avocation into my occupation? Am I choosing my writing projects wisely? Am I taking on too much? Not enough?

Come on, be honest with me, now. How many of you out there have thought this about your writing, or about anything in general in life? Come on, a show of hands. Be honest. Nobody? Wow. You mean I am alone on this?

Well, I would have never thought that, but it is what it is, right?

I have come to realize there is one thing about life, not just writing, that can help improve your chances of being successful. Do you want to know what it is? Really? You do? Sweeeettt.

Okay, it is simple. How many times have you heard someone say something like:

Oh, he’ll never amount to anything.
I’m fat.
I can’t do that.
I’ll never be good at that.
You suck at that.

Do you notice a theme here? They are all negative comments. If someone is told enough times they won’t amount to anything there is a good chance that is going to happen. If you tell yourself you are fat all the time there is a good chance you’re going to eat more, work out less and get bigger. If you say you can’t do something enough, guess what? You won’t be able to do it. If you say you’ll never be good at something then you are right—you never will be good at it because you won’t try as hard to succeed. If someone tells you that you suck enough, you’ll start believing it.

It’s those negative statements that are part of the problem—a significant part of the problem. Now, think about the opposite type of statements, those that encourage, that don’t tear a person down.

I can do this.
I want to learn how to do this.
There’s nothing I can’t do if I try hard enough.
I don’t suck, I’m just not there yet.
I’m not fat, I’m just big boned.

Okay, the last one is a Cartman reference and I should be ashamed of myself for that, but you get the idea. If you tell yourself you can’t do something then you won’t be able to. But, if you tell yourself you can do it then your effort changes, your mindset changes, your attitude changes. And it is that attitude that goes with you and helps drive you to be better.

I can write. I tell myself these three words every day. It’s true, whether I write good or bad is inconsequential. I can write.

I can get better. Again, a true statement. I think you can get better at anything you do with a little bit of luck, some hard work and a solid belief in yourself.

I want to learn how to be a better writer. Another truth. This is one of my primary goals.

My mindset is on the positive, not the negative. It is that mindset that I think—I know—will eventually help me be successful at whatever I choose to take on. I choose writing and one of these days you’ll know who I am. And, no, that is not arrogance. That is confidence.

Am I there yet? No. Not close. But I will be.

I asked three questions in response to Erik’s post. Those three questions I ask myself on a regular basis. Think about them as I asks them and then answer them.

Do I enjoy writing? Yes. Emphatically, YES.

What do I get from it? The satisfaction of completing something from beginning to end by pouring myself into it and working on it until I reach the conclusion I want. Sometimes I get published. Sometimes people like my stories. Sometimes I get paid. Sometimes I don't get any of these.

If I never get published or become 'successful' will I still be happy doing it? That is easy for me: Yes. I love to write. It is like air to me. It is my addiction (other than my wife). I can’t go more than a couple of days without writing and stay in a good mood. I get cranky when I am not penning something. My family doesn’t like me when I don’t write. Writing is as much a part of me as my skin is.

And, when I write I have that positive mindset that I will succeed at it. It does make a difference.

Back to our friend who announced he is putting down the pen. I think he is doing the best thing for him. I think his attitude toward it is the right one. I also think he’ll be back to writing one day. For now, though, I think he chose the right path. His attitude could make him successful at it.

I’m AJ and I’m out.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Flash Fiction and the Reader

As many of you who follow these little articles that we write for you may know that I like to write about topics that come up in +The Horror Library+ workshop over at the Zoetrope Virtual Studios. Some of the topics are really not all that great, but others are. Take for instance, Erik Smetana's latest post on voice and style. One and the same or different? I teased Erik for taking my idea for this week's blog and we even thought about having a good old Rock, Paper, Scissors fight to decide who would get to write that piece. I relented. Erik throws a mean rock.

However, another topic sprung up just as quickly as the voice/style topic died down. It was based on a rejection thread and quickly turned to how to write effective flash fiction. A lot of thoughts were given throughout this discussion and I would like to include some of them hear. The most important one I will save for last.

So, here we go.

First things first, let's think about flash fiction. Most folks define it as a story under a thousand words—a complete story. This is a hard feat to accomplish but it can be done. As stated by one individual:

The hard thing about flash. . . is telling a complete story in so few words, managing to hook the reader and give them some sort of ending/resolution that sticks.

Pretty much the concept in a nutshell. Flash is writing complete stories in few words with a good hook and a resolution that works. That should also be the thought process behind writing stories other than flash fiction. Not a lot of readers today care much for the padded descriptions and the long drawn out sequences. Conservation of words has become a necessity in this day and age of attention challenged individuals or people who have just enough time to read about a thousand words and that is all.

Another gentleman put it quite nicely:

Set up. Lead In and Execution.

In flash fiction the set up has to be quick, almost instant. Without that immediate hook a lot of times the story falls flat. The lead in has to be effective, make sense and fit with the rest of the story. The execution has to be concise—no dilly-dallying or extra words. Just kind of tell it like it is.

Cullen Bunn gave a great example on one of his blog's, and as he puts it, with apologies to the Monster Squad.

Dear Army,
There are zombies.
Please come.
***
Dear kid,
We are zombies.
Signed, the Army.


Set up, lead in, execution in 15 words. Wow.

Another example of this I steal from my good friend, Molly Feese. She used the tree that Mr. Bunn set before us.

Dear God,
There are demons under my bed.
Please send angels.
***
Dear Kid,
We are the demons under your bed
Regards,
The Angels


The letter format works quite well for pieces like this.

Hemingway probably wrote the most effective piece of flash or micro fiction in just six words:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Talk about set up, lead in and execution.

Onward we go. Another great point that was brought forward during this discussion is this:

Flash Fiction has always been an exercise in showing instead of telling, which a lot of people struggle with in long fiction, much less with less than 1K words.

How true of a statement is that? I know that I've often been told I am telling instead of showing, but when I write flash fiction I show more than tell. My longer works, I am sad to say, often tells the story without showing it. I hang my head in shame.

I have learned over the last couple of years that flash fiction can be great for learning how to lop off those extra words and write more concisely, thus showing more of your story than telling it. That makes it a true exercise of show versus tell.

The author then goes onto provide a link to a story he wrote titled 'Insect.' It's a great example of flash fiction so check this story out here:

Insect

Another golden nugget from this conversation:

In flash fiction, you're pared down to the most basic pieces of information...the main thread of writing necessary to constructs the story in the reader's mind. It's hard to do because as a writer, you have to discard the stuff that's really not important to the tale. . .

As you can see there is a common theme to flash fiction: Telling a quick story in as few words as possible and conveying it properly. Not an easy task.

There are a lot of venues out there for Flash Fiction. Some of them take only stories up to a thousand words, while others vary on word count. The Black Box e-anthology had a max word count of 120 words. Talk about your concise writing. I wrote four pieces for this anthology and my brain hurt when I was done. But, it was worth it—the fourth one got snatched up for Black Box and I learned a little more on writing micro fiction.

But wait, there's more. Did you catch what I wrote in that last paragraph? I wrote four stories for the Black Box e-anthology. I wrote them based on an editor's guidelines. The editor was really cool about taking more than one submission but keep this in mind: I wrote the stories for an editor. This leads me to what I think is the most important part of the discussion. It doesn't necessarily mean what is important for writing flash fiction but what is important for writing. PERIOD.

I've noticed that a lot of readers (especially horror readers), want to be wowed. That, in my opinion, is a fact. . . Here's the hardest thing about writing I think most writers have trouble with, though: giving readers what they want. Not other "writer-readers," but readers.

Horror writers are so worried about how to tell their story, I don't think many of them look at their work (or other's writer's work) as readers and say, "Now, if I was just a reader, would I like this? Does it have the impact I would be looking for in other people's work?" Maybe a lot of us don't even know how to view a story from a reader's POV anymore.

Readers are our intended audience, but are we writing for them? Well, we're supposed to be. And I know a lot of readers, have been in book clubs and I know that one thing that disappointed a reader more than anything was "seen this, been there, oh my God, this was a good idea, but I'm so tired of the 'meh'."


Chew on that for a minute while I go refresh my coffee.

Okay, I'm back. Now, to add to that last statement was this partial response from someone I really admire in this business of writing:

I think we absolutely have to think about our readers. Your point here is fantastic (and seldom discussed, I agree). But at the same time I think we need to step back and realize that writing is a means of communication. It's a two-way process. Even if it seems like we're just giving them something to consume and that the writer-reader relationships ends on the printed page (or the hypertexted screen).

Are we writing for the readers or are we writing for the writers? Or are we writing for editors? How about for ourselves? Are we building that relationship between writer and reader? Are we communicating what we really want them to know? In order for us to get anywhere in this business, we have to have readers who want to read what we write.

In this day and age, it is much easier to get published and the time between submitting a story and publication has been drastically reduced, thanks to the internet and e-mail. People in the genre (or in writing in general) who came before us and set the bar as high as it is didn't have it as easy as we do. And, often times we complain when our submission hasn't received a response in the month to three months the editors say the turn around time is.

We learn things about writing as we work at it and we get better at it, but what about the craft of story telling to your audience. My granddaddy was a great story teller. He could mesmerize you with a half an hour long tale or astound you in just thirty words, but either way, you would want to sit through the entire length of the story he was telling. Do we convey our stories in a way that our readers will stay hooked and enthralled in every word we write?

As writers we often lose touch with readers because we study the craft, the ins and outs, do's and don'ts of writing. Some of us have a hard time getting lost in stories and find ourselves critiquing novels while we read them.

My final quote from this thread is the following, which kind of hammers home the idea of writing and reading and partially why I think that us writers often don't reach the readers.

Becoming a writer and studying the tricks of the trade has absolutely ruined reading for me. I still love to read, of course, but I very rarely get lost in the illusion anymore because I recognize what the writer was trying to do in certain places. I notice plotting "plants" and "red Herrings" more now than I ever did.

There's good and bad to that, I guess. But a lot of books I might've loved ten years ago, are the same books I wouldn't be able to finish today.

Definitely my loss.


One friend of mine always puts it so nicely when she reviews a story: We were readers long before we became writers.

Now, to close up shop for today, I would like to go back to the flash fiction aspect of writing. Yes, it is hard to write especially stories under a thousand words, but it is a great practicing tool for learning to be more direct and concise in story telling. However, no matter how great some of us may become or have already become, we have to remember, we have an audience we are trying to reach. That is what is the most important. As I've often stated and I believe firmly:

The real horror for any writer is not having an audience to write for.

I'm AJ and I'm out.

***

Quotes used from this conversation are from the following folks: C.D. Allen, Molly Feese, Eric Stark, Erik Smetana, D.X. Williams, Petra Miller, Dan Naden and myself.

The Cullen Bunn excerpt was used as an example and in no way is meant to steal from him.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dark Distortions

It is I once again, talking about Dark Distortions. Why? Why not? It's a killer anthology with a lot of really good stories in it. You are bound to find something in this TOMB of a book that you will love. With great authors contributing to this anthology the stories are strong, the poems beautifully rendered.

Check out the list of names in this book:

Daniel L. Naden
Sarah Deckard
Scott Craw
David W. Landrum
Mark E. Deloy
Theresa Cecilia Newbill
Robert Brian Newbill
Jamie Brindle
Eric R. Lowther
Chris Morrow
Trevor Price
Gerald C. Matics
Ralph Robert Moore
Frank Sullivan
C.D. Allen
Ken Goldman
Brandy Leah Schwan
Lorne Dixon
Kim Despins
Michael Anthony
Erik Smetana
John Logan
Jeffrey Buford
Rick McQuiston
Petra Miller
D.C. Sowders
Tom Miller
Sophia Ahnikalish Schwan
Ashley Hughes
and me.

With Molly S. Feese and C.D. Allen editing this baby it turned out to be one of the best looking, best reading anthologies I've sat down and read.

Go ahead, asks me which story is my favorite. You won't get just one answer.

Check it out for yourselves.

Scotopia Press

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dark Distortions Review at Bookgasm

Bookgasm has reviewed the new Scotopia Press release, Dark Distortions. All-in-all it's a good review.

Check it out here:

Dark Distortions Review

CD Allen's story, The Rector House, drew the most praise and deservingly so.

Thanks for reading and stop by Scotopia Press and pick up a copy of Dark Distortions. You won't be sorry you did.

You can check out Scotopia Press here:

Scotopia Press

AJ

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Half the Battle

Half the battle.

Knowing is half the battle. Accepting things the way they are is half the battle. Trying is half the battle. Getting up when you fall down is half the battle.

I’ve heard these things my entire life. Everything is always half the battle. Getting a date is half the battle.

Recently, I was chit chatting with a friend of mine. He was talking about a story I wrote. His words were encouraging, which for a writer, is a good thing. So often we get so many discouraging rejections and thoughts about what we’ve written that giving up sometimes becomes an option. When you get to that point of thinking, you are losing the battle.

In talking to my friend, John, I got to see something that you don’t see often enough in the writing world: Enthusiasm. He reminds me a lot of, well, me.

I guess you want an explanation, right? Okay, here we go. A little over two years ago I decided to try and pursue the ‘writing thing’ as people around me call it. When I jumped into it, I was very enthusiastic, asking questions, researching, reading everything that I could get my hands on to see how the big dogs do it.

Then I tried to apply that to my own writing. But, I really didn’t get anywhere for a while. However, I kept on plugging away, finally got a couple of acceptances and then really got excited.

That enthusiasm carried over into +The Horror Library+ and the HL Blog-O-Rama. I love to advertise for people—even though sometimes I don’t think I’m all that good at it. NiNe QuestioNs is a direct result of my excitement and dedication to writing and the people involved in it.

I have other things I am excited about, Dark Recesses Press being right at the top of that list. Followed closely by my new project, Theater of Nightmares, a deviation from the normal rules of writing.

But enough about that, back to my friend, John. He is what every writer needs to be, especially starting out: Energetic, enthusiastic, excited. He is halfway there, in my opinion.

Here is why: how many times have you been rejected and gotten down about it? How many times have you thought your writing sucks? How many times have you been told you don’t have what it takes to do this or that or the other? Without enthusiasm (and really thick skin) you would have given in. Throw in some determination and you got yourself a recipe for success.

This is what I see in John. Excitement. Enthusiasm. High Energy. Determination. These things are all half the battle.

I don’t believe in the theory that you have to be talented to be good at something. I believe if you try hard enough, long enough, you can be successful. Those four traits I just mentioned in the previous paragraph are all part of trying and working. It doesn’t mean you’re the most talented person, but it means you are willing to do what it takes to succeed.

I know several writers, who at the moment are better at the craft than my friend, but they are not nearly as dedicated to it, or enthusiastic about it. Some of them tend to give up easily on projects when it isn’t going the way they want to. No, you’re not going to get anywhere like that. A few rejections and some of them are ready to call it quits. Nope, not going anywhere that way, either.

In the last couple of months I’ve read 8 or so stories written by John. He has good ideas and good storytelling abilities. His enthusiasm at becoming better at it is refreshing. I, for one, have that same feeling when I pen a story—I want to get better at it and I want to get published on a regular basis.

So, after all of this rambling on, what have we learned? Not much? Gee, thanks. No, we have learned that enthusiasm really is half the battle. Everything else will fall in line if you just believe in yourself and get excited about what you are doing. That is half the battle. . . along with all those other halves. You’re bound to go right with that positive attitude.

Okay, I’m done taking up your time. I’m AJ and I’m out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Life Suspended By Mark E. Deloy

That's right. The new novel by Mark E. Deloy is going to be out very, very soon. Dark Recesses Press is slated to release this killer novel (pun intended) in April and it promises not to leave you hanging.

**Shakes head.**

Okay, enough with the puns.

Check out the trailer--it's a great read and with DRP backing it, you know it is going to be good.



I'm out.

AJ

Saturday, March 1, 2008

+Dark Distortions+

So, I went out to the mailbox today to see what bills have collected there, when, to my surprise, there was a brown wrapped package with my name on it sitting amongst the junk mail and the lone bill. No, it’s not what some of you are thinking. It was something so much better.

After breaking into the well sealed package using my knife and a pair of very dull scissors, I was treated to the crispest cover I have ever seen on a book. Holy cow, pictures don't do this book justice.

Dark Distortions stared back at me. I showed it to my wife who immediately took the book and just looked at the cover for about a minute. For my wife, that is a long time.She smiled, a sure sign that she liked it.Then I flipped through the brilliantly white pages. It truly is a sight to behold.

I was left in utter awe of the magnificent work Scotopia Press, and more specifically, Molly Feese and C.D. Allen, put into this anthology. I can honestly say it is not like anything I have ever seen before.

They really outdid themselves.

Now, I must order a couple of more--I'm afraid to touch the one I have for fear of damaging it in some way.

Let’s see, where can you find this. Well, how about here:


Scotopia Press

And, here is the thing--this is near 600 pages of book with a lot of really good authors in it. Mark Deloy, Petra Miller, Kim Despins, Dan Naden, DC Sowders, John Logan, Erik Smetena, Chris Morrow, Brandy Leah Schwan, to name a few.

So, check them out--you won't regret it.

Sign me out, Corn.

AJ