I haven’t blogged just to blog in quite a while. So, as I’m sort of between projects and figuring out what to do with myself at the start of summer, I thought I’d do an update on my life. Because both you readers care, right?
School’s Out for summer. It was an interesting year. Not always a good time, but come the end of the year all is forgiven and transgressions (mostly) forgotten. I’m going to really miss having those seniors in my life on an almost daily basis. They’re good young folks with very bright futures ahead of them.
It would seem I have broken a tradition the Advanced Placement English students of the Class of 2017 had going. I’m apparently the first English teacher of their high school career to not quit the school after having this group. For some of them, the trend goes back to eighth grade. For what it’s worth, I did apply for a couple of jobs at other schools, but nobody called for an interview.
No surprise here, but the Oklahoma Legislature has failed to find a way to raise teachers’ salaries. Many teachers are leaving the state, which is just as well since a lot of schools are having to reduce the number of teachers they can afford (and increase class sizes). This includes my school, where class sizes for English are expected to be 35 students per section … although that math doesn’t really add up when all things are considered and we’re looking at 40+ kids in some classes.
But hey, in other news I finished a new book. It’s called A Light Beyond. I’ll be posting the cover and blurb here in a few days. This is a book I proposed to my previous agent several years ago and he shot it down (like he did everything else I proposed). Now it’s written and is being edited. It’s currently at about 50,000 words, which is an odd length, pretty long for a novella but not long enough to be a novel. I’m not looking for a publisher for it. It’s going straight to my own MoonHowler Press and will hopefully be available at SoonerCon 26, which starts June 23 and really should include your presence.
Students asked me a while back how many books I have published. I couldn’t answer at first. The answer is 16. They asked how many I’ve written. That answer is 30. Eight of those unpublished books will hopefully be released in the next year as I find time to polish and do the layout and design for them.
So, I’m currently working on a short novel (maybe novella) called A Light Beyond. I left a Western novel called Badger’s Bend to work on this one. Before that I wrote another Western novel called Orphan. And before that was a realistic — or mainstream — novel called The Teacher.
What do all these (so far unpublished) works have in common? Not a whiff of the supernatural.
For 30 years I was all about the horror genre. The movies I watched, the books I read, and almost everything I wrote had werewolves, ghosts, demons, or some trope of otherworldly origin. But I’m not feeling the need for those kinds of monsters anymore.
It’s kind of annoying. I know a lot about werewolves and demons and such. What am I supposed to do with that knowledge if I’m not writing about them? I don’t know. But instead I find myself looking more and more at the pain we cause ourselves psychologically, emotionally, and physically, and what we do to each other. A Light Beyond is really an examination of the events that led Robert, the main character, to where we find him when the story opens, beaten nearly to death in an abandoned subway.
My theory is that the tropes of horror appeal to younger people. Young people haven’t experienced enough life to see the beauty and pain in everyday things. They need to add zombies and vampires and other things that go bump in the night to make up for the lack of wisdom that comes with age and experience. It’s just a theory.
If I was to write a new horror novel today, I’m sure it would be a ghost story. Old people understand ghosts, because ghosts are often some representation of regret or past decisions. We get that. We’ve had time to really screw up our lives and have the wisdom to be able to look back and say, “Yep, right there, that’s where I went wrong. I should have done X.”
The irony here is that the last agent I had tried to get me to abandon the supernatural and write mainstream, especially mainstream young adult, and I refused, so we parted company.
Anyway, I don’t think I’ve completely left the supernatural behind. I want to continue The Werewolf Saga. I wrote the first book of a YA series with ghosts and I’d like to finish that. I also want to finish a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series that features a lot of monsters. It’s all about prioritizing and finding the time for everything these days.
Sometime back Facebook’s Timehop feature showed me I’d posted about how many words I’d written that day on a young adult novel called Afterlife. The original post was four years old. I reposted it with a caption about how the book still wasn’t sold.
Harvey Stanbrough, the man who once accepted my novella Inheritance for his StoneThread Publishing company (then returned it because he stopped publishing other authors), commented about how that’s four years Afterlife could have been making money for me.
“But … but …,” I stammered back, “The editor at Tor who accepted the second collaboration between me and Carrie Jones said she’d look at it when the collaboration is in the editing process.”
This led to more comments, e-mails, research, and soul searching. Harvey sent me to explore the vast and deep Web site of self-publishing mastermind Dean Wesley Smith, and it truly opened my eyes. I’ve read a few of Dean’s books on self-publishing and running a business now, and all this has caused me to completely re-evaluate my career.
(Turning 50 last week probably added a little prod to the backside, too.)
Activity at my own MoonHowler Press has ramped up. I’m nowhere near Dean’s WMG Publishing, or even Harvey’s StoneThread Publishing, but I think I’m on the right track. Here’s what I’ve done in the last week or so:
Restarted my use of Smashwords to accommodate non-Kindle e-readers
Cancelled KDP Select options on my already-published Kindle e-books
Finally published the new edition of Call to the Hunt (paperback and e-book; audio is in production)
Formatted the interior, made several sample covers that were test marked to my high school students, and set up Love Curse for paperback and e-book publication, with a June 7 release date
Created an Amazon Advantage account to offer pre-orders of Love Curse (coming soon!)
Changed the prices on my electronic novels to put them more in line with major publishers
Created a template for individual short stories to be released electronically
Published the first of the above short stories (Nocturnal Caress) for Kindle (other formats and titles coming soon)
Began working with a very talented student who has agreed to create art for a children’s book I wrote way back when Kim was pregnant with our first baby (he’s 23 years old now)
Began laying plans to independently publish several other novels I’ve been submitting to agents over the past few years (usually getting no response at all); in other words, a business plan
So, why? It’s true the collaborations with Carrie both earned us nice 5-figure advances, and I do like receiving large sums of money. But I’m not naive enough to believe I had anything to do with that. She’s a New York Times best-selling author who brings name recognition to our collaborative work. Would I get a similar advance for a solo novel? Doubtful. Also, that editor at Tor who agreed to look at Afterlife made that promise over three years ago. What if I’ve waited all this time for a rejection? Yeah, maybe it means the book isn’t good. But maybe it means that one person simply didn’t like it and I’ve wasted however many years waiting. Afterlife is in my business plan, but it isn’t immediate; I’m still hoping for a big chunk of money and the major label marketing that comes with it.
I did all the above while still teaching both high school and one section of college Comp 1. I’m looking forward to the summer, when I have time to really buckle down on this. Look for some updates to this Web site and a serious effort to make MoonHowlerPress.net look legitimate. It’s a lot of work. I do have a young friend who is interested in publishing and teaching English who wants to help me with MHP. We’ll see how that works out this summer.
In the meantime, how about a poll? I haven’t done one in a long time.
So, yesterday was a good day. I finished the first draft of a novel tentatively titled The Teacher. This is the first new novel I’ve completed in three years. Needless to say, finally getting over some issues that kept me from writing and actually finishing a new book felt really, really good.
Back when After Obsession was published in 2011 I thought I was finally going to get the break I’d been working toward for so many years. Yeah, Carrie had already made the NY Times bestseller list and was a name, but I wrote half the book, so surely a publisher would be interested in a solo book from me, right? Who knows? The agent we shared for a while seemed dead set against me writing anything with paranormal elements. I wrote two young adult novels, both of which he had me revise more than once, only to tell me he didn’t think there was a market for them. He never sent them anywhere. This led to a lot of self-doubt that really just crippled my creativity. I started a novel last year, but gave it up halfway through because I figured nobody would be interested in it, either. That was my only writing project until I started writing The Teacher in jerks and fits this past spring.
Sometime during the writing, though, the old fire came back and, if you followed my Twitter or Facebook you know that I was hitting pretty respectable word counts for the last couple of weeks of the project. I’m sure it annoyed my wife and kids that my head was always in the story, even when I wasn’t sitting at the computer. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and really only wanted to be unspooling the tale until it was all told.
It was also therapeutic in that it was an opportunity for me to deal with things, through characters, that have bothered me lately. Things like having a daughter become a woman and not needing her daddy so much, spending so much time on the job that you neglect your family, and losing friends due to various circumstances. This isn’t a horror novel. There are no werewolves or ghosts or anything paranormal, and the only person to die is someone we never actually see “on stage.” It was definitely a new experience for me.
I have a couple of weeks before school starts again. In that time I’m going to try to hold on to the rekindled fire I have and finish that Western novel I began last year. There are syllabi to create or update and lesson plans to begin, but … I have to write!
The last time I wrote about this word processing program made especially for authors I’d imported an MS Word file for a book I was working on. I had an overall favorable opinion, but the newness of the program and the fact I’d begun in Word caused me to go back to the original program to continue working on that project.
Then a depression hit, brought on by a stream of rejections, publishers not living up to contracts or going out of business, and the teaching job sucking up all of my time. It was the longest dry spell since I began writing seriously in the late 1980s. The lack of creative outlet fed the mood I was in and I’m sure I haven’t been the most pleasant person to be around the past year or so. However, I have a new project I’m pretty excited about, to the point where I’d like to be left alone for long periods of time to do nothing but work on it.
So, when I sat down to start it, I decided to use Scrivener from the get-go. Surprise! The creators had made some updates to the program during my down time. They made it even better. Here are some of the features I’m finding most useful at this early stage of the novel.
These pre-formatted pages prompt the author to answer questions such as Role in Story, Physical Description, Personality, Background, Habits, etc. It’s extremely handy to have all these sketches available in the menu on the left side of the screen for easy reference at any time. A simple click on the character you need to recall the hair color of, then a click back into the document takes you right back to where you were.
There is a similar pre-formatted option for Setting Sketches that is very helpful, too.
As before, the program provides a place where an author can dump and organize a collection of research material that, like the Character sketches, is easily accessed via the left-hand menu. This particular novel relies more on personal experience than research, but I know this will be invaluable on other projects.
This one was questionable. There was a time, long, long ago, when I wrote and saved every chapter as an individual file. That goes back to the necessity of doing so on my old Smith-Corona PWP-3 word processing machine. It continued into my WordPerfect days, and even early MS Word writing, and always caused a nightmare with page numbering, and merging files into one document would screw the format in unbelievable ways. I can’t speak to the exportability yet, but I’m liking being able to break this particular book down by part, chapter, and scene.
Clicking on the Part option in the menu will let you access the chapters in that part via drop-down, but it will also show you the cork board with index cards on which you can put a synopsis of each chapter, or notes about revisions to be made later, or whatever. Under Part you can click on Chapter and get a new cork board and new cards for each scene in your novel. Ordinarily I only have one scene per chapter, but for this project I have the main action in third person limited point-of-view narration as one scene and have social media posts, text message conversations, newspaper articles, etc. before and/or after the narration, so I set those off as separate scenes. It’s proving to be very useful.
I haven’t used this yet, so I can’t say anything about it, really, other than I think it’ll be pretty cool. When the time comes, it appears I can output my novel as a standard manuscript that can be opened by MS Word to be sent to agents or publishers. But there are also options for Paperback Novel and ADE E-Book to accommodate those of us who have turned to self-publishing to get our work in front of an audience. Eventually I’ll be putting these features to use, though hopefully I’ll only need the Standard Manuscript option with the work-in-progress.
Another feature I haven’t tried yet, but look forward to exploring. I’ve written one movie script (an adaptation of my novella Murdered by Human Wolves) and used Sophocles for that. Sadly, the creators of that little program are long gone and my 2003 version of the program is clunky now. Scrivener offers formatting for movie scripts, stage scripts, comic book scripts, and radio scripts, in US and UK versions.
Going over the menu on the top, there are dozens of options I haven’t explored yet. I can’t imagine beginning a new project in a plain word processing program like MS Word again. I can’t remember now what I paid for Scrivener, but it was on sale at the time and less than $30. It was definitely a great investment.
Literature and Latte is offering a free 30-day trial version of Scrivener if you want to try it out. I’m not getting any kind of kickback if you decide to buy. I’m liking the software and I think if you’re an author you might like it, too.
“Why do you write about ghosts and demons and werewolves and darkness?”
This question comes up a lot. It’s been on my mind more than usual lately because of an incident at the school where a new teacher who was shown my classroom asked my daughter in front of her class if we worship the devil at home. Later, that teacher told her department chair she could never cover my class because of my decorations, and that she is afraid of me because, in her culture, people like me are satanic. Well, we could talk about how this is America and she is welcome to go home to her culture … but that isn’t the issue of the day.
With the pending release of Amara’s Prayer (in November), maybe it’s a good time to explore the question. Why horror? As Freud would say, it has to begin in childhood. I think he’d be right. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I was taken to Pentecostal churches as a kid. I never wanted to go. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God or Jesus, it’s just that listening to red-faced men scream about Hell as blue-haired women waggled their arm fat while speaking in tongues just wasn’t for me.
When I left home and no longer had to endure that, I wasn’t sure what was right for me. So I explored. And, honestly, I’m still exploring. There is a great deal of stuff I don’t know, but there is one thing I know for sure: You can’t really appreciate the light until you have looked into the darkness.
That’s what horror fiction allows me to do. I think that’s why many people read horror fiction. I can read about things those red-faced preachers warned me against, dabble in them, try them on, decide if they’re right or wrong, then go to my keyboard and speculate about where further exploration might go. In the end, I think, some core conviction I hold — maybe one I don’t even know about when I began the story — will rise up and give me direction.
That was the case with Amara’s Prayer. Milton Agnew, the main character, had always had money. He became the minister of an affluent church that didn’t have homeless or destitute members. He had never had his faith challenged. So in the story he had to face that challenge. He was dragged into the darkness so that he could learn about the light. It’s a pretty standard trope, I know, but one that people who aren’t familiar with the genre don’t seem to understand. I don’t outline, so I didn’t know for sure where the story would end, but after about 400 pages of putting Milton through literary hell, I had resolved what I believed and knew how the story had to end.
We explore the darkness through fiction so that we can understand and deal with it in real life. Maybe the darkness is homelessness or AIDS or demonic possession. Whatever the story calls for. Whatever it is we’re afraid of. As I tell my students, writing is therapy. I don’t write about the darkness to scare or impress people around me. Every story I’ve ever written has had some piece of inner questioning I needed to work out. The answers may change soon after the story is written, but that just means I need to write a new story.
So, do we worship the devil in my house? No, but if he wanted to sit down for a talk I’d offer him a cookie in exchange for answers to a few questions.
Some of the authors who’ll be with me on the tour of Pioneer Library System’s libraries this summer have experienced the dream for writers: Write your first book, have it accepted quickly by a major publisher and earn critical acclaim and commercial success instantly. I was asked to join in part because that is NOT my story. I’ve been doing it the hard way, with lots of dead ends that had to be retraced.
I decided I wanted a career as a writer during my senior year of high school, 1983-84. At the time, I was mostly writing poetry. Thanks to the first “publisher” to take advantage of my naivete, I actually thought that was a viable career choice. You see, within a few years after graduating, I’d won several Golden Poet awards from World of Poetry. While I never had the money to go collect my certificate in person, they did send the papers to me, and accepted two of my poems for anthology publication.
Oh, but to ensure publication, I was encouraged to buy a copy of the book in which my poem was set to appear. Our Western World’s Most Beautiful Poems, the first I was in, cost only $69.95. My mom bought one, too. Our World’s Most Cherished Poems was slightly cheaper, I think. There’s no price on the dust jacket, but it’s thinner. Both volumes feature multiple photos of the editor on the back of the dust jacket, including an appearance he made on The Steve Allen Show. I guess in hopes of proving World of Poetry and editor John Campbell were legit.
Lonely is the Sea
When I look out upon the rolling sea,
Lonliness stretches forth its hand to me.
On the beach the seagulls cry,
As the waves roll and sigh.
Always rolling onto the land,
Pulling away the very sand.
It fills my heart with emptiness,
To look upon the sea’s loniness.
Yes, the misspellings are actually in the book. At this point, I have no idea if they were in my original poem. Misspellings aside, can you believe somebody wanted to publish that piece of crap?
The 1980s were a good time for horror writers. Major publishers were churning out dozens of (mostly bad) horror novels as Stephen King got richer and richer. Small magazines flourished and, while they didn’t pay much, if anything, they were always open to submissions. I didn’t publish a word of fiction in that decade, though. My first fiction publication didn’t come until 1993, when “Unholy Womb” was accepted and published by The Midnight Zoo. That was pretty much the ’90s for me … submission and rejection, with a few acceptances in small press magazines and Web-zines for little or no money and audiences that matched. But I was scam free.
Until 2002 when I submitted Darkscapes to Publish America. The scam here is that PA publishes everything sent to them and makes their money by jacking up book prices and selling mostly to the authors and their friends and family. They did pay their royalties on time, though. Book stores, however, refuse to stock their titles and they are viewed as a vanity press by most people.
In 2o03, 3F Publications accepted Shara. Four months later the company was gone. Then came the long and troubled relationship with Scrybe Press that recently ended, though I’m still awaiting my final payment.
It was in 2008 that chance (and Melissa Marr and Jeannine Frost) threw me in with Carrie Jones and I finally had some large-scale success.
So, the title of this blog is “Advice for Young Writers.” What’s the advice? The advice is simple: Be careful. Don’t get so desperate to be published that you jump on the first opportunity that comes along. Investigate. You can find out just about anything about any publisher on the Internet these days. Don’t think what’s happening to other authors trying to work with a certain publisher won’t happen to you. It probably will if you work with that publisher.