When examining the great literary writerers of the world, they use passive voice quite a bit. In the hands of a verteran writer or a master, it helps develop what I call that “layered technique” in which the theme or mood is multi-layered, and as the reader continues along the story, the theme intensifies layer-by-layer.

My conversation with my fiance’ the other day involved lamenting the small-press DEMANDING the disuse of passive voice. I said, “Why should we throw away these words? Aren’t these words in the English language? Isn’t ‘was’ and ‘softly’ in the English language? But the small-press editors trap writers into crafting skeletal stories built out of skeletal sentences because they remove thirty-percent of the words (all words ending in “ly,” all words ending in “ing,” and almost every “was”). But Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits,” an international bestselling novel that I love, did NOT do this. Neither did Emerson and even Steinbeck broke quite a few of these rules in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Why are editors DEMANDING that we write awesome stories why removing thirty-percent of our tools? Could it be that the big press publishers WANTED to do this, to brainwash everyone in order that small-press and medium-press publishers wouldn’t become competition? Think about it: if you’re publishing books with only thirty-percent of the tools, then you only have a seventy-percent chance of competiting with the novels published by the big publishers.

To augment my point, here is the newsletter of my hero, New York TImes Bestselling author David Farland. While he may not go as far as I did in my comments, just read what HE says about it. Then forget what I said.

And if you wish to sign up for his free newsletter (which this next section came from), just go to http://www.DavidFarland.com.

**************
The word “Said” and Adverbs

by Dave Farland:

A few years ago, I listened to a bestselling writer give perhaps the worst advice on dialog tags that I’ve ever heard. He told new writers, “Never use the word said. It’s boring and repetitious. Worst of all, it doesn’t really tell us much about the feeling behind what has been spoken.” His advice was that you should “mix it up, and never repeat verbs that deal with speaking on the same page. If you are forced to use the word said, he suggested that you add an adverb to it in order to define the quality of the words spoken.

Given his advice, you might have a teen “mumble” one sentence:

“I don’t want to go to church,” she mumbled.

While the reply would use a different verb:

“Well you’re going to go, Missy,” Dad retorted.

The problem with this of course is that we find ourselves using a lot of verbs that seem rather silly when put into a string of tags. Thus, you might have people mumbling, shouting, profaning, teasing, snarling, squealing, averring, blaming, and so on in rapid succession.

Do you see the problem? When you handle dialog that way, you fall into a trap where your characters seem to be emotional butterflies, endlessly flitting from one powerful emotion to another. Sometimes authors even fall into the trap of using unfortunate combinations:

“Why don’t you come over to my place?” she teased.

“Sure!” he ejaculated.

In reality, people don’t flit from one emotion to another. Each person that you meet has something of an emotional tone about them. Some people are stern most of the time, while others might be thoughtful, pleasant, or excited. So when you write about that person, you’ll most often be depicting that person with his or her natural tone.

Many a literary writer would suggest that we use the words said or asked when we make our attributions. Both of these words are neutral in tone. This allows the writer to imply the tone through the content of the dialog. If I write:

“Get your butt out of my chair,” he said.

I don’t really need to modify it with a verb like roared, shouted, fumed, and so on. Nor do I really need to add an exclamation mark. The tone of the speaker in this case is implied by the content of the sentence.

Another advantage of plain old said is that it’s invisible in your writing. You can repeat the verb in every line of dialog in a short story, and no reader will ever complain. (In the same way, character names don’t attract too much attention. If you’re writing about the Wizard Wythian, you can repeat his name a dozen times on a page without the reader feeling that it is overused.)

But there are a couple of problems when using said. Often a writer might modify the word for greater effect when a different verb would be more suitable. For example, you might say “she said very softly,” when “she whispered” actually conveys the same information more quickly.

For this reason, many literary writers will tell you to “get rid of those adverbs,” the words that end in –ly, and as a result they will search through a document during their editing process trying to get rid of as many –ly words as possible.

However, getting rid of all of your adverbs can lead to problems. If you’ve read a lot of authors from the past 70 years, you’ll find that their style is becoming increasingly homogenous as they allow their writing to be informed by such strictures. In short, too many a writer now writes in an abbreviated Hemingway-esque style that feels smooth and professional but which also sounds like the same voice as any of ten thousand other writers. You can learn to write in that homogenous style by reading a popular handbook, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. For this reason, I’ve heard authors like Leslies Norris and Orson Scott Card complain that Strunk and White have stolen the voices from an entire generation of America’s young writers. We’ve begun to sound like clones.

Fortunately, there are corners of the world where authors have never listened to Strunk and White. If you take a close look at the work of many writers from the U.K., their voices often come through as being more delightful, quirky, and textured than the voices of their American counterparts.

Given this, an author should feel free to mix things up. Use said and asked when you feel that they are appropriate, especially when sentences are spoken in neutral tones, but also search for more powerful verbs for your dialog tags when they fit, and even feel free to modify your dialog tags with –ly verbs when you please. In particular, use adverbial modifiers to said when the modifier is surprising:

“I could pull the trigger on you right now,” Rachel lovingly said.

But don’t use adverbial modifiers just to surprise the reader. There are plenty of times when it just sounds better poetically. You can even stack a couple of adverbs for effect. I don’t think that most critics will mind if, on occasion, you write a sentence like:

Softly, slyly, Sylvia leaned close to Buck and said, “Let’s you and me spend a little time together, and never whisper a word about it to your wife.”

Can you hear the poetry in that adverbial combination? In short, like many other writers, I think that it’s about time that we recognize that arguing to rid the world of adverbs is bad advice no matter which high-powered critic it comes from. It’s time for writers to take back their voices and regain their individuality.

Here’s the winners of the David Farland Daily Kick in the Pants Writing Contest hosted by Liquid Imagination. I included the email from JAM, telling me about them, because it was well put together and had some valuable insights at the end.
Hi, Mr. Farland!!

For the winning stories just go to this link: http://liquid-imagination.com/site/?page_id=724

Directly above the announcement about the winners are the stories:

Eldritch by Walker (This is the 1st place story by Deborah Walker called “An Eldritch Restoration”).

The Short Straw by Wolf (This is the 2nd place story by Mark Wolf called “The Short Straw”).

The Minotaur by Mannone (This is the 3rd place story by John C. Mannone called “The Minotaur”).

The writers’ “essays” about how they used your Daily Kick newsletter follow each story. For your convenience I’m inserting them here.

***

1st place Deborah Walker’s An Eldritch Restoration

Essay: Layering (David Farland “Kick” 10 Jan 2011)

David Farland’s Daily Kick on the 10th January 2011 described a layering technique, inspired by his painting. A writer using this technique blocks out a scene, and then make several passes though the work focussing on different aspects of the craft. (This is also a good way of overcoming writer’s block.) I used this technique to ‘kick’ an older story, making several refining and editing passes: for the depth of penetration for my MC, for world-building, and for characterisation. I found layering to be a very useful technique and would recommend it to other writers.

***

2nd place Mark Wolf’s The Short Straw

Essay: Change (David Farland Kick of 5/31/2011)

This Kick made me consider how I might write a short story concerning change and do it in such a way as to be unique in plot and stretch my writing skills. I wanted to make my character face tough obstacles and overcome them.

I decided to start with a dragon and see what I could do in his life for change.

What does a dragon want? What will he do to get it? What obstacles (if any) can hinder a dragon in getting what he wants? Are they valid obstacles?

***

3rd place John C. Mannone’s The Minotaur

Essay:

Initially, “Keeping the Suspense Alive” (1/10/2011) was key in the development of my suspenseful paranormal fiction short story, “The Minotaur.” But “Strategies for Killing Your Babies” (7/30/2010) was most influential since I had to be sure that killing my main characters was justified. I applied most of the eight points, but the fourth did the trick. I took MCs “through the dark tunnel and into the light;” gave them immortality. Also, I was able to justify my storytelling aspects with “Narrative Voice” (1/6/2011). I applied the Tolkien philosophy “to fracture the timeline” of the story, and the point of view.

***

You know, Mr. Farland, to be honest there are a lot of writers out there who are too sure of themselves. They act like they’ve got the answers, they act as if they know how to write. My response to them is this: “Are you a New York Times Bestselling author? If not, you might want to check out David Farland’s ‘Daily Kickts.’” What’s even funnier is that I’ve read some small-press books that could have used the advice from your “Daily Kicks.” Remember the one in which you wrote about location? You said having your characters go to McDonalds in a tiny town isn’t exciting. But I’ve not only read scenes like that from small-press editors, I’ve read stories set in huge metropolises in which such a lack of description left me wondering why it even occurred in the city (take Chicago or New York City, for example).

Anyway, thank you very much for allowing us to promote your newsletter! I like all the stories. The 3rd place story’s chase scene heightened suspense for me personally. The 2nd place story dealt with human emotion (and characterization) as a dragon learns what it means to be human, before learning what it really means to be dragon. And the 1st place story was just such a creative and awesome idea, with the heart of the climax is the main character giving up the illusion offered by her fairy suitor for the sake of grim reality and the children.

God bless!

John “JAM” Arthur Miller

###

I have a story in http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/ this week along with an author spotlight.

###

New Writing Contest, $1,000 Pot

My new novel is coming out and can be preordered now and to celebrate I’m hosting a writing contest. It’s not quite ready to start, but I thought I’d give you some advance notice. You can find out about it at http://nightingalenovel.com/.

Have you read this “Daily Kick” from David Farland? You should! Because this is FANTASTIC insight from a New York Times Bestselling author!

*********************************

David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Storytelling as a
Fine Art, Part 2Many writers don’t consider “storytelling” to be a fine art. In fact, the
most popular storytellers often get jeers from their colleagues. When Stephen
King first began hitting high on the New York Times Bestseller list, I often
heard literary writers condemning his work. When John Grisham became the most
popular writer in America, critics complained about his “terrible style.” When
J.K. Rowling struck it big, I heard one award-winning children’s writer go so
far as to call her a “fraud.” When Stephenie Meyer sold some 15% of all the
novels in the English language in 2009, Stephen King complained about her prose.

One might be tempted to conclude that this is just “jealousy” talking. It
isn’t. To some degree it’s a difference in tastes between consumers of fiction.

After long study, Ernest Hemingway concluded that when you look at all great
writing, “it’s just poetry.” That’s only partly right. In order to have a great
style you do need to have a deep sensitivity to the use of language and rhythm.
In short, you need to master poetry. But most of the world isn’t so attuned to
poetry that they really care.

The bestselling writers of our time—of any time—aren’t necessarily great
poets, they’re powerful storytellers. They recognize a vast audience, create
tales for that audience, and relate stories that people love. Each of the
authors that I mentioned above shows a genius for storytelling. Stephen King is
a great storyteller, and so is Stephenie Meyer. Why didn’t he like her? Is her
prose truly unreadable?

I was Stephenie’s writing instructor in college. I remember considering her
final grade in class and thinking, “This young woman has a very interesting and
unique voice. If she ever really gets consumed by a tale, she could go very,
very far.”

She’s quite readable, and she’s a far better stylist than King gives her
credit for. But she wasn’t writing for Stephen King. The truth is that she was
writing to young women, not to older men. Stephen King was so far outside her
audience demographic that he just couldn’t quite connect with her, and since he
didn’t connect to her tale, he had to blame the storyteller.

That of course is the problem with storytellers. If you’re not part of their
intended audience, you won’t be captivated by their tale. You’ll end up outside
the crowd, wondering what in the world everyone is so excited about.

Not all great writers are great storytellers. Have you ever read the work of
a consummate stylist that left you cold, someone who wrote reams and reams of
prose in a gorgeous voice, but whose work ended up having an anesthetic quality?
I’ve read entire tomes where nothing of interest happened to anyone, where the
writer seemed to work harder and harder to write more prettily about nothing at
all. I recently read a novel where the author’s breathtaking prose described a
porch on a lonely ranch house in tremendous detail—some twenty pages. I could
see it, feel it, taste it. Big deal. I’m sure that I could have found a ranch
house just like that within five minutes of my house.

So I look for writers who have a balance of skills, ones who can engineer
stories that enthrall me while delivering them in acceptable prose. I love John
Grisham, Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, and dozens of other big-name authors. I
recognize that none of them write the most gorgeous prose that I’ve ever read.

In fact, I know that if they tried, their prose might only become a barrier
to my enjoyment of their stories. Elegant prose I like. But too often the work
of stylists is written for style alone. It becomes overwrought.

Over the ages, storytelling as an art form has come under attack by many
writers and critics. One can point at romance novels or Westerns or science
fiction and point out their similarities. It often seems that authors are
repeating the same story over and over with just the slightest variations. Thus
fiction that has a strong form is derided as “formula” fiction.

It’s true. When a powerful and original storyteller comes along (I call them
“genre builders”), they often inspire imitation. Thus, when Robert Louis
Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, he told a great yarn, one that inspired
thousands of followers. Most of those people couldn’t write at a publishable
level, and their manuscripts never saw the light of day, but thousands of
“Pirate Stories” were published, enough so that entire novel lines and magazines
were devoted to them for fifty years after Treasure Island was written.
Stevenson built a genre.

In the same way, we saw imitators of Stephen King in horror, Terry Brooks in
fantasy, John Grisham in thrillers, Rowling in children’s literature, or
Stephenie Meyer with paranormal teen romance. Some of the imitators were far
better stylists than their predecessors, but lacked the genre-builder’s facility
for storytelling. Consequently, their works are eventually forgotten.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that style isn’t important. I’m just
saying that the import of telling a riveting story shouldn’t be ignored. An
author must stand on two legs—style and story.

Yet as a young man, I found when looking for books on storytelling that it
had been ignored. Many teachers on college campuses in the US even today refuse
to discuss genre literatures (which are considered to be formulaic), claiming
that they’re not “real literature.”

In an effort to divest themselves of formula, many writers sought to create
“stories” that had no form. Hemingway, for example, truncated his stories,
cutting off the beginnings and endings. Others, like Wolfe, sought to write
“slice of life” pieces that included some loving character portraits along with
bits of fine description. Such experiments failed far more often than not,
though much can be learned even from the failures.

Artists at that time in the mediums of poetry, music, and painting were also
trying to discover new ways to express themselves, so that we had various
experiments cropping up—poetry that was un-metered or un-rhymed, music that was
cacophonic or avoided self-resonance, and paintings that sought to draw out the
viewer’s emotions by the use of color and texture rather than by portraying any
realistic images, and so on.

If you look at literary critics of that day, it’s not hard to find statements
that don’t just denigrate formulaic fiction, but that attack all formed fiction
at once. Some critics believed that life is random and purposeless, and that the
human mind simply tries to “make sense” of life through storytelling. They
concluded that “all stories are therefore dishonest in nature.” Stories happen
rarely, if ever.

They’re right in some ways. Stories don’t often happen to us in the way that
we relate. Even when a story does happen in real life, we sometimes don’t
recognize it for months or years, because there is so much “unimportant garbage”
that happens in-between the relevant incidents.

Yet stories are vital because something in stories is strongly tied to how we
learn and how we create communities. I’ll talk more about that later.

So as I approach this book on storytelling, please don’t believe that I’m
saying that story is “all important.” It’s only part of the equation.
Storytelling is a complex art, one that requires that creator to have a deep
understanding of how to create a world and characters, how to deal with
conflicts and resolutions, and how to integrate the new insights that come from
this into a successful tale.

###

Deadline October 23rd.

There are only 10 days remaining before the Writer’s Death Camp is closed for
registration and I believe there are only six seats remaining. Don’t miss out.
To find out more about the Death Camp go to http://www.davidfarland.com/writingworkshops/death_camp/.

 

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Eulogies and Epitaphs

Posted: October 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

This story was an extra-credit assigment I handed into my professor. My writing experience tells me that some editor would grab this up and publish it, but you never know. It’s the kind of story I love writing most.

***************

Eulogies and epitaphs

Some things are sweeter than
honey, more luscious than life, and they come in the form of dreams. At any
moment someone might walk through the door and enter your life, someone that
doesn’t even exist but on paper, and that someone has the power to change your
life.

Such was the case when Fred
entered the diner at exactly six o’clock on a Wednesday morning. He didn’t
exist except on paper, from a story I’d written for class. The instructor had us
set a fictional scene in which we’d meet our character at a diner, talk things
over with him and then write it down. The thing was this was a dream, the kind in
which the things that make absolutely no sense in reality make perfect sense in
the dream, like dancing rainbows or flying pigs. Sometimes life’s best lessons
come in unconscious absurdity, because that is the only time we let our guard
down long enough to swallow truth’s jagged little pill.

I knew who he was immediately from
the lines on his face. Each wrinkle told a morose story, a sad tale of never having
belonged anywhere, of never having fit in. I’d created him, but while sitting
at the booth near the window, I felt that I had it all wrong; maybe in some
measure he had created me. And then I had to ask myself, do we create our
fictional characters or do they create us? Does reality pour forth from books
and novels, or do we pump emotional truth into our fiction? And does the best
fiction have some affect on reality, such as the internet and cell phones
having first existed in the form of the written word?

Our eyes met and he knew exactly
who I was. I could tell by the slight smile, the illumination filling those
rheumy eyes. He ambled precariously over to my table, favoring his hip, and he
waved me back down when I tried to stand. I was uncomfortable because I’d never
met one of my fictional characters before. What was I supposed to say? Thanks
for agreeing to this interview? How the hell would we pull this off?

He sat down and the waitress appeared,
like one of those actresses off that seventies television program. Flo said her
nametag. Her yellow uniform contrasted against the beige walls, and she held a
green pad of paper.

“Coffee,” Fred said. “Black.”

“Just the way I like it,” I said.

Fred smiled as if he knew a
secret, and maybe he did. The unease I felt increased, as if something were
sliding up the back of my spine, a chill or slithering shadows. I looked behind
me but only saw the backside of the waitress as she walked back to the kitchen
with our order.

“So… you have some questions for
me, son?”

This interview was happening too
fast. It was too life-life, less of a dream, which made it disconcerting. If
this was a dream, then why did Fred already have a cup of coffee before him?
Why was the spoon he was using to swirl ice around in his coffee clang loud
like the tines of bells?

“The ice cools it down enough—”

“—I know,” I interrupted. “You
can’t drink it when it’s hot.”

Like me, I thought, as I realized
a cup of coffee was before me and I was doing the same cooling measure Fred
was, stirring cubes of ice from my water class into the thick liquid. The scent
of caffeine filled the air, mingling with the clank of sterling silver on
ceramic glass. The waitress’s perfume lingered like the seventies TV show,
almost forgotten but still there just the same. The entire setting seemed
dated, running backwards in time.

“Perfect place for an interview,”
Fred said.

“Yeah,” I said, without
conviction. “Nice… décor.”

Fred chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“The fact that you killed me in
your story, yet here I am.” He gestured with upraised palms. “Here we are.”

The waitress took our coffee cups
away, and I realized that she was part of the dream, like a looping event,
constantly refilling our cups and taking them away, without us barely getting
to sip the hot liquid before she took it away or brought fresh coffee.

A bit weird, but I could get used
to that, because this was one of those dreams that occurred halfway between
sleep and consciousness. I felt the pressure of the pillow behind my head,
heard my wife snoring next to me, so I knew I was asleep. But a part of me was
awake, in this semi-liquid state of quasi-consciousness, locked partway between
being fully awake and completely asleep, a realm of dreams in which anything
could happen, where just enough reality poured in like cement, until sounds and
colors hardened with a vividness that life never possessed.

I ignored my wife’s snores and
they dissipated into the sound of a large semi-tractor trailer rumbling down
the road… going… going… gone—and all that was left now was Fred sitting across
from me, trying to take a sip of his coffee before the waitress returned in
this dream that was not a dream.

“Here she comes now,” I warned.

“Better hurry up and take a sip,”
Fred said.

“Why can’t she just leave us
alone?”

“It’s part of the reason we’re
here, son.”

I raised my eyebrows and almost
laughed at my quizzical reflection in the window’s reflection beside Fred’s
head. Fred grinned as if he understood exactly where I was coming from. He
reached for his coffee mug but the waitress removed it before contact.

“Damn it all to hell,” he said.
“Just like life: you think you’re going to get a little moment of peace and
rest, then here comes life.”

“Here comes life,” I repeated, writing it down, wondering where the notebook and pen had
come from.  “So… the waitress represents
life like a metaphor—”

“It’s best if you don’t try to
understand it right now, son.” Fred took a sip of the coffee the waitress had
just set down, enjoying it immensely from the expression on his face. “Just
write it all out, let it flow… like a story or the drip, drip, drip of percolating coffee.”

He laughed at his own joke. Or was
his humor a metaphor, too?

I was beginning to understand that
this was as much an interview with myself as it was with my character. In that
semi-conscious state I wondered what time it was, realizing I had to get up and
off to school by a certain time—had I set my clock correctly the night before,
I wondered?—and I began to worry.

When I looked at the wall clock it
read six o’clock, the same time Fred had entered the diner.

“That’s impossible.”

“What is?” Fred followed my gaze
and read the clock. “I stopped it.”

“What?” I laughed, nervous. “You
stopped the clock? Or you stopped time?”

Suddenly the noises in the diner
intensified: the clanging of Fred’s spoon on the side of the ceramic cup, the
same beige as the drab walls; the conversations of other patrons filling the
room; the sizzle of eggs and bacon from the open window revealing the kitchen.
And such wonderful scents! I became hungry, my stomach growling as I thought of
hot buttered rolls and thick, rich coffee. The tempting goodness of syrup
licked the air, contrasting with the bitter twang of coffee Flo had just set
down before me.

“Such is life,” I said, feeling my
rumbling belly and realizing that no matter how much I ate or drank, I would
never be satisfied, not for long.

“You’re catching on, son.”

“In my story you never fit in,
never belonged to anyone or anywhere,” I cut in, intending to take control of
the interview. That was the number one rule: never let the interviewee control
the interview.

“How do you know it’s your story?”
Fred asked.

“What?” I was about to say something
that was on the tip of my tongue, like peripheral memory, almost a tangible
thought, an almost-question, but I lost it in the confusion. “What are you
talking about, Fred?”

“Don’t you think it’s my story?”
Fred asked. “After all, you’re not in the story. You don’t appear once. But I do.”
Fred brushed aside a wisp of gray hair that had fallen over his brow. “So
shouldn’t we say it’s my story?”

“Okay, YOUR story.” My words came fast and clipped, angry because already
I was losing control of the interview with a person that didn’t even exist.
“Whatever.”

I looked at the clock and it read
a quarter after six. But as I watched, the minutes-hand slid backwards until it
rested on the twelve. I was locked
between wakefulness and sleep, where anything could happen and often did. Flo
came back with another round of coffee. This time I was ready, having gotten
used to my strange surroundings, and I drank as fast I could before she took it
away again.

“Now you’re learning. You’ve got
to breathe it in when it’s there, and be content when it’s not.”

“About your story… ” I said, trying
to take control again. “You never fit in anywhere in your story.”

“I didn’t write that,” Fred said.
“You did.”

“But it’s your story.”

“How do you know it’s not your story, son?”

“Because I’m not in it. That’s
what you said, remember?”

“Doesn’t matter what I say; I’m just
a fictional character.”

“Damn it!” I pushed my coffee
away. “Why doesn’t anything work out the way I plan? I’m just trying to get this assignment done for
class, and you want to go all Socrates on me with philosophy.”

“Maybe that’s what makes for a
good story, son. Asking questions that others want to know.”

“Do readers want questions?” I
wondered aloud.

“Do they want them answered?” Fred
offered.

The interview was turning back
onto myself again, and I realized I’d already lost control a long time ago, and
not just with the interview; I’d lost control of life and love and all my hopes
and dreams; I’d let hope slip away for the sake of beautiful women with blond
hair, sacrificing my heart’s desires and offering my power to others who,
eventually, deserted me. Wasn’t my life the exact replication of what was
happening in the diner, with Flo giving us what was desired then removing it
before satisfaction?

Something was wrong. Suddenly I
wanted to wake up, to run out of the diner as fast I could and head back to
reality where I had convinced myself that I was fully in control. I strained to
hear my wife’s snoring—she always snored—and soon the rumble of a diesel engine
grumbled outside the diner. I was going to wake up and write this assignment,
put thought to paper and be done with it—damn it!

“Not so fast,” Fred said, and the reality’s
rumble dissipated like fading dreams once remembered but quickly forgotten.
“We’re not done here.”

An icy hand touched my shoulder
and I remembered Edna from my story, Fred’s wife who, although deceased, still
spoke to him. You need to listen to Fred,
dear,
her words slithered into my mind, and I realized that in this half-dream
and half-wakefulness anything could happen, that ghosts could manifest, could
whisper things into my mind exactly as I had Edna whisper dark things into
Fred’s mind while writing my story—HIS story,
I mean.

I jumped up, but immediately I was
sitting again as if I hadn’t moved, and here came Flo with another round of
black ichor, the remnants swishing around and slithering up the sides of the
ceramic cups she set on the table. The coffee had changed, had become like life
at the end: old age and withered skin and aching joints; rheumy eyes and
failing health; funeral plans and coffins and, at the very last, the embalmer
filling our veins with eternal illusion.

“Make it stop,” I whispered.
“Please.” I wasn’t in control anymore—not that I ever was—but this made it
worse, this dream that wasn’t a dream. “Make this dream or story—or whatever it
is—stop.”

“It’s not my story, son. It’s not
yours, either. It’s our story; we
tell it together. That’s why you can’t wake until we both get to the end.”

“But this is an interview, not a
story.”

That’s what you think, Edna whispered behind me.

I turned around but saw only Flo’s
hips sashaying back and forth as she carried our coffee back into the kitchen.
I wondered what went on in there, where all those luscious scents and sizzling
sounds emanated from. But the rumble of a diesel engine grew louder, and I felt
myself beginning to wake.

“We don’t have much time, son.”

Why did he always have to call me son? Did he feel a need to rub in the
fact that he was older and presumably wiser?

“Much time for what, pops?” I
countered, trying to take another stab at control.

Immediately I felt bad for saying pops. Fred had never fit in anywhere in
his life, and here I was ostracizing him by calling him pops, by exposing his weakness.

“Or is it YOUR character weakness?” Fred asked. “Maybe you took your
weaknesses and filled me with them.”

Was he reading my mind? And why
not? After all, he had crawled from my subconscious where I was conscious of
nothing, had slithered like primordial ooze through my typing fingers onto the
computer screen where he’d been created. Fred knew more about me than I knew
about myself. And now he was asking whether I injected him with my own
weakness.

How dare he!

“I thought this was your story, Fred. So it has to be your
weakness.”

“Our story, son. Our weakness.”

“Whatever.”

Mine, too, Edna whispered, her voice growing fainter. It’s my story, too.

Maybe it was all of our weaknesses,
all of our stories: Fred and Edna and me. Maybe we all got involved and took
control, writing the story to let our emotional truths out, exposing our
shortcomings and flaws, revealing our fears and longings and—

Edna sat beside me, solidifying
her substance into a corporeal bag of flesh and blood. She smiled and the chill
of the grave wafted out like breath, slapping my face. Fred grinned at the
waitress who asked, “Will there be anything else?” Before I could respond, the
waitress took the tip that I couldn’t remember putting down.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like
this,” I said, indicating the interview and life and death and everything
in-between. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this at all.”

Edna laughed and the chill of the
grave intensified. I felt earth worms moving in the ground around her coffin,
wherever her body rested. The chill of dank earth and the scent of soil filled
my nostrils. Dark and secretive things moved in the deep earth, moved and
devoured.

“Make it stop,” I whispered, but
like life and death the dream never stopped, because we never had any control
anyway. We only told ourselves we did.

Flo brought more coffee and the
rumbling diesel engine grew louder. Fred mentioned something about not having
much time again, and Edna’s form thickened and congealed like the fear growing
in the pit of my stomach.

I had to get out, had to move
fast. I stood but Flo blocked my exit from the booth. I shoved her and
immediately found myself sitting in the booth again, with Flo setting down a
cup of steaming coffee and Fred shaking his head with a forlorn expression as
if I had just betrayed him.

“What is it that you want?” I
shouted at Fred, I shouted at them all. The patrons looked at me as I stood,
and Fred and Edna and Flo just laughed. “Just what the hell do you people want?”

“What is it that YOU want, son?” Fred asked. “When you’re
writing stories and ruining the lives of your characters and hurting them like
you hurt Edna and me, what the hell is it you really want?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I
just don’t know.”

“Just tell us what it is you really
want, dear,” Edna said, her voice loud and her body fully tangible.

“To write… simply to write,” I
said. “What else is there?”

“To live on through your fiction,”
Fred said.

“To live and never die in the
minds of others,” Edna offered.

“Each character in your fiction,”
Fred said, “each minor person who dies, lives on in the minds of the readers, and
thus they never die.”

“None of us do,” Edna said with a
smile. “Even when you kill us off.”

“Except for you,” Fred said.
“You’re going to die, John.”

The rumbling of the engine grew
louder, shook the window beside the booth. The table vibrated and spoons
wiggled. Ripples circled within the coffee mugs, rippled outward from the coffee
and spread throughout reality, spiraling outward with truth. And the truth was
that my characters might possibly never die, not if they lived on in the minds
of others.

But me?

I was going to die. The finality
of the situation grew louder, like the rumbling of the diesel looming closer.
The spoons bounced on the table and the window cracked. The minute-hand on the
clock spun around faster and faster as life slipped away like seconds and
minutes and hours bleeding into eternity. Time was slipping away with each
story I wrote, with each word spoken and each day lived.

I was going to die… !

It was through my characters that
I wanted to live on and be remembered. It was through the death of Fred and
Edna that I hoped that I would continue to exist in the minds of others.

How ironic to use death in order
to live, to use fiction for truth, and to write words in order to replace
reality’s illusion. Or was that merely wishful thinking?

Suddenly the rumbling grew louder
and I awoke. My wife’s snores filled the bedroom, the smell of sleep saturating
the air. The warmth of coziness oozed over my body, but I forced myself up into
the darkness with a gasp. It was a half hour before the alarm was set to go off
at six o’clock. Gradually, I calmed down. All
a dream… that’s all.
My breathing returned to normal and I wiped sweat from
my brow.

The scent of coffee lured me toward
the kitchen. My wife mumbled something in her sleep, the diesel engine almost
forgotten.

I sat at the kitchen table, a
ceramic mug of steaming coffee in hand, voraciously hungry. But hungry for
breakfast or hungry for life? I heard the alarm go off and then it died. Had I
been sitting there an entire half-hour?

A few minutes later my wife moved
into the kitchen past Fred who sat across from me. She didn’t see him, but that
was okay because he existed only for me, a fantasy come to life, a character I
had breathed life into. He had been created piecemeal from portions of myself
and others, cemented together by my own emotional truth. Fred existed only for
me and no one else, unless they let Fred into their minds by reading my
fiction.

Did you enjoy the interview? Fred asked.

I grinned. My wife asked what I
was grinning at and I cleared my throat.

“Just waking up, honey.”

She poured herself a cup of coffee
and sat down in the same exact spot that Edna was sitting; Edna and my wife
occupied the same space. When did the dream end and reality begin?

“I understand,” I told them all,
but my wife only knew I spoke to her.

“Understand what, honey?” she
said.

Edna and Fred reached across the
table and held hands. I did the same with my wife. Arms crossing dimensions,
hands from different worlds, clasped on one table in one time and space; the
dream bled into reality, or maybe reality bled into the fantasy. Regardless, we
were all there, in one place and under one roof. Together, with our arms
crossing over and through each other as we held hands with our partners.

“My stories aren’t just
expressions of who I am,” I answered my wife. “They’re eulogies.”

“What does that mean?”

I shook my head. “Never mind.”

Some things were best left
unexplained. How could I explain that Fred and Edna were with us although I’d
killed them off? How could I tell her that each story I penned was nothing more
than a tombstone, the words nothing more than epitaphs etched into the mind of
others. But only if I sold those stories, only if others actually read them.

An image of a solitary tombstone
came to mind. It rested on a grassy hill, and no one knew it was there, no one
ever read its words or knew who was buried there. When I looked around the
table, Fred and Edna were gone, and only my wife remained.

I squeezed her hand tighter.

 

A sophomore release, The White Faced Bear is R. Scott McCoy’s pulse-quickening concoction of action, horror, and Native American folklore.

The story follows Jeff Bennett, who has come to Kodiak to fulfill a promise to his recently deceased father. His arrival stirs an unknown enemy—Aouachala, a Sun’Aq shaman trapped forever in the body of a brown bear. To destroy the bloodline of his adversary, he uses his powers to hunt Jeff and anyone else who gets in the way. Jeff must seek the assistance and friendship of Merrick Polasky, a descendant of Aouachala as well as a modern day shaman who has yet to realize his powers, in order to save himself and Kodiak. From Alaska to Minnesota to the desolation of Siberia, the men must work together to defeat the White Faced Bear, but before they can take down the powerful magician, they must learn to say goodbye to their fathers and conquer their inner demons.

Indeed, this is a ‘man’s book’ all the way through. The primary characters possess extraordinary survival and hunting skills, are extremely intelligent and dead-on marksmen. (If you want to learn a thing or two about firearms and effective ammunition, this is the book for you!) They work hard, play harder, enjoy a few beers at the bar at the end of a long day… and do not shirk away from a good brawl when the mood hits them. These are the underdogs you root for in the movies. They always win.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

At SNM Horror Magazine, my story Cracks is Story of
the Month! YIPPIE!

Go here to read it (and scroll down): Cracks! (Remember
to scroll WAAAAAY down. They put the Story of the Month at the end, to try to
get readers to read all the stories… which you will probably want to do
anyway. I get $30.00 for this story, and it will go into their next anthology.
YIPPIE!!)

Here’s the top finishers:

SEPTEMBER WINNERS /
STORIES OF THE MONTH:

1st Place – John JAM Arthur Miller – Cracks /
SOTM

2nd Place – Matthew Nelson – Sunset Consequences

3rd Place –
Marius Dicomites – Where The Dead Live

Dying Inspiratioin

Posted: September 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

This was supposed to be about the greatest story ever told, but Jesus beat me
to it. This was then to become the greatest self-help essay for the everyday
writer, something that would rain brimstone from heaven coupled with sinful
fragrances from hell to lift the creative spirit. This was to be about the scent
of water, the clasp of pain’s tines clanging from steeples, the regret in tears
forming circles around a coffin.

This was to be so many things, when I
first sat down to write: the bird that landed in Nick’s hair when he spoke the
word Mother during the eulogy for his mom who had died in 911. I wanted
to capture that baby bird landing in Nick’s hair, capture that magic moment and
liquefy it into words, until it distilled in the power of Zoetrope’s red and
white pages. The touch of Nick’s fingers upon baby feathers as the tiny creature
allowed him to pick it off his head. He held it, looked at it, but it didn’t fly
away. Not until someone picked the bird out of his hand so that he could
continue the eulogy, not until then did the bird take flight. And Nick’s smile,
the transformation of grief to hope, that his mother was there, speaking to him
through downy feathers.

I wanted to capture that, but failed.

The
glint of sunlight on a dandelion’s dewdrops; the kiss of yesteryear on the
vainglorious backside of today; the hint of tomorrow in the aching joints that
pulled us from this morning’s bedside covers; the warmth of touch with the one
you love; and the seep of mystery before the fire.

I planned it all,
really I did. It was all to go into each little jot and tittle of these words,
and from there it would travel through the corneas of your eyes, then bleed into
your brain—all the pain and pleasure and mystery described before this atrocious
sentence—until the words would slide down deep inside you, where the deep things
are—Subconscious things! Terrible things!—until you couldn’t deny that
these little markings on your computer are etched in God’s own truths and forged
by lies of man; until you realized epiphany wrapped in… What? Wrapped in
something, that’s what.

But my words failed and the moment for
inspiration has passed. The beating heart slows even as it thumps a little
harder in the old man’s chest. The child across town sleeps as the old man dies,
and somehow the writer tries to tie a connection betwixt the two, but can’t
because the time has come… and gone… like air breathing in… and out…

Until only expulsion remains, one great sigh of regret. The bones ache
and flesh hangs limp from brittle bones. Old age creeps in, dulls the senses,
blurs vision and memories and history books.

What was I saying? You
were describing what you almost wrote.
Oh, yes. Thank you.

I would
have written it, really I would have, had it only come to me as if a dream. So,
alas, I have instead written what I wouldn’t have had true inspiration inspired
me instead.

(Inspired by This Is Not to Say by Amy Lee Scott from
The Best of the Web 2010, a story originally published in the online
magazine Bevity. I spent minutes writing this, while Amy probably spent
her whole life writing two-pages of fantastic stuff. She was truly
inspired. Besides, she edited hers while I didn’t touch mine.)

Online magazines, sometimes referred to ezines, are everywhere. They spring up, last less than a year, then become defunct. It
happens all the time. Some pay contributors ‘something’ for their hard work, and there is nothing worse for a writer or poet than seeing a publication announce its demise. It’s difficult enough to get published without still yet another market folding. So I’m going to editors of online magazines for tips about not only how to survive, but how to be successful.

 

Who am I to tell you what to do? The facts speak for themselves (and actions, as I constantly inform my children, speak louder than
words). Liquid Imagination Online received 66,647 internet hits for the month of August, with a daily average of 2,149 hits. We received 6,520 total visits and 1,708 total unique URLs. We’ve interviewed award winning recipients of the Bram Stoker, Nebula and World
Fantasy awards. We’ve also interviewed nationally and internationally known artists, converging media and art forms.

 

How did we do it?

 

Well, there’s a keyword in that question: WE. But I’ll get to that later. For now let’s examine the fledgling ezine.

 

One person wants to begin an online magazine. Before I tell you what you SHOULD do, let me tell
you what you SHOULDN’T do:

 

Don’t expect readers to peruse a sloppy website; make it as organized and easily navigated as possible. Provide plenty of links; the more links the better.

Don’t publish poorly edited stories or poems. Nothing shouts LOSER or AMATEUR more than typos.

Don’t simply paste text in empty boxes and consider your work done (see No. 3 below).

Don’t do it alone.

Don’t give up.

Don’t use your publication merely to stamp your name and work all over the internet; your publication isn’t a medium to be used solely (or
even mostly) to promote the fiction you’ve written that nobody else wants.

Don’t immediately accept fiction or poetry written by other editors merely to try to get them to accept your own work, unless you want to remain an amateur.

Don’t give up (yes, this is a repeat).

Don’t do it alone (another repeat, but one of the most important DON’Ts because without
help, you won’t be able to copyedit and do some of the other DOs).

 

What you SHOULD do:

Get help. An old masochistic adage says, No man is an island. Another cliché says, You’re only as strong as your weakest link. Too many beginners try to do it all alone. They want to make all the decisions, and they want all the control. The best way to burnout is to do everything yourself.

Stamp this word on your forehead, preferably forward and backwards so that you can read it the mirror: copyediting. Too many small-press publications don’t copyedit. This means you will have to solicit help looking for typos. The best possible scenario is finding three people to look at each story you’ve accepted for publication. These people should be experienced writers and avid readers, and you should impress upon them that the editing has already been done. Did you hear that? THE EDITING IS ALREADY DONE! But most editors aren’t perfect, especially new editors, which is why copyediting separates the wannabes from quality publishers. Your copyeditors should realize that they’re not to
workshop the story, change scenes around or edit out characters; your copyeditors are to find mistakes only and highlight them, sending the
manuscript back to the editor for finalization. Not doing this implies that you’re not serious about publishing a quality product, and probably indicates that you’re in it only to promote your own writing. Also, if you don’t do this but are promoting your own writing (above and beyond the other contributors in your online publication), it’s probably riddled with just as many typos as the other stories and poems, and you’re an amateur.

Converge as many media forms as possible within your online magazine; you should enhance your fiction or poetry with art, photographs,
audio or video. Readers today are spoiled by the eye-candy of video and imagery; you cannot compete without providing the same eye-candy. Remember: art is NOT eye-candy, it is an art form and you must get expressed permission from photographers and/or artists to use their work.

Create an online presence. Exchanging banners with other publications seems to be popular, but we receive few internet hits from such exchanges. That means it’s not very important based on our experience. Instead, you should promote yourself through avenues much more powerful than the simple exchanging of banners with other online publication. Something guaranteed to bring in more internet hits than exchanging banners are active blogs. Remember, you can’t have an “active blog” without reading the blogs of others and leaving comments. An active presence on Facebook with a Facebook Page representing your publication is a good idea. You can hook your online magazine’s blog to
Facebook with Networked Blogs (located at http://w.networkedblogs.com/news). Getting involved at Goodreads.com is good, too. All this takes time, and if you’re an editor with only one person helping, you won’t have time to do all this (get help).

Go to the library and read books about marketing. What are the four types of marketing used today? The old adage (made popular by Field of Dreams) says that if you build it they will come. Judging by the online magazines that never hit their one-year-anniversary, this isn’t true. You have to do more than build superior product; you have to know how to promote it. And knowledge is FREE at your local library. If you sell
POD books, you would be wise to read about publishing. Everything you need is at your library, and if they don’t have it they can order it for you.

Prominence. That’s an important word, too. Seek prominent people to interview, to associate with. If you have a superior product (online magazine), then you won’t be embarrassed asking to interview award-winning authors. Trust me, I truly believe that reputations must be made before financial success happens. Our reputation at Liquid Imagination Online has been made—only time will tell if the rest of our plan falls into place (but it will).

Now that you’ve made it to your one-year-anniversary, step back with your team and create a mission statement. Your mission statement
should direct everything each team member does. Our mission statement is on the homepage at Liquid Imagination Online. Without a mission statement your online publication will go off on tangents. You need to be concrete and have steadfast purpose, hitting the same theme or style over and over. You also need to be unique, but I’ve found that many fledgling ezines (fledgling means less than a year old, but isn’t indicative of
quality) aren’t able to create their mission statement until they’ve hit the one-year mark. The reason is because the original idea of the original editor is enhanced, altered, changed and modified by each and every single team player joining the fray (copyeditors, artists, photographers, editors, web designers and layout, business directors, etc.).

You are not Superman or Superwoman. That means you are not the best person for each and every single job. For example, I’m a good editor
but I’m not GREAT! That’s why Kevin Wallis edits all the literary and speculative fiction at Liquid Imagination Online; that’s why Brandon Rucker edits all the micro-fiction at Liquid Imagination Online; that’s why Chrissy Davis edits all the poetry for us; and that’s why Sue Babcock directs our business, keeping us on a time schedule, while at the same time creating the fabulous layouts. I used to do all the web design, all the formatting and layouts. I’m proud of what I did. I used to edit, too, choosing the fiction. But why should my online magazine suffer because of
personal hubris? If someone is better at a singular task than me, why not turn that job over to that person? We’re not in this to pump up our fragile egos; we’re in this to produce something that will go around the world.

Lastly, (and I’m repeating myself again for emphasis), you cannot do this alone. If you want to leave a lasting legacy, your online magazine must be able to survive without you. If you are doing everything yourself or with too few people, you will burnout and everybody will forget about your online magazine. Contributors will become angry because you let them down, and they won’t be able to post links to their works that you published. You’ve not only let yourself down, you’ve let down the people working for you as well as every single contributor who ever took a chance submitting fiction or poetry to your online magazine. If I die tomorrow, there is no doubt in my mind that Liquid Imagination Online will survive in some form. Our mission statement guides us. We have multiple staff all working toward one goal. We can’t be stopped, and each member of our team is invaluable.

Lastly (this is the 2nd lastly), you must promote those who work for you in some measure. Since we’re producing a free online magazine for the public (usually intended to be a marketing device to entice readers to buy our products), you have to make it worthwhile for your staff. You have to promote them and any books they have, because it’s a two-way street. So, let me show you the best team players in the online community. In my mind, these are the best of the best. I’m not exaggerating. As I’ve said, ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. I know that the overall presentation, layout, editing and chosen submissions speaks much louder than anything I can say. All of this (from the internet hits to the editing and artwork) is due to these highly qualified individuals:

Editor in Chief Kevin Wallis. He’s over all speculative and
literary fiction at Liquid Imagination
Online,
and his anthology of Beneath the Surface of Things has been endorsed by
heavy hitters in the publishing world.

Sue Babcock. She took over web layout and design from me,
completely transforming the entire online magazine. She’s also the business
director and knows how to use a mean whip to get us going (thanks, Sue). She
also learns whatever she needs to enhance the publication, whether it be
Photoshop or various software programs to enhance the web layout. Sue is an editor at our sister publicaion Silver Blade, too.

She really is
Superwoman.

Chrissy Davis. Like Kevin, she’s been with us from the very
beginning and she accepts and edits our poetry. She has multiple books of her
own poetry for sale at Raven’s Brew.

Brandon Rucker. Not only is he a talented editor over our
micro-fiction, he’s an accomplished editor for Zoetrope-owned products and an awesome musician.
Visit Brandon’s blog at Brandon Rucker Writes.

Robert Eccles. Bob is our voice talent, a professional
anchorman who has revolutionized our fiction with his amazing voice. Beyond
that, Bob is an awesome horror writer who has had some close calls with the
publication of his short stories.

Jack Rogers. Jack is our resident artist. While he’s in
college fulltime now, he’ll be coming back upon graduation to help enhance the
poetry and fiction published at Liquid
Imagination Online.

Jezzy Wolfe. She’s one of our book reviewers, and Jezzy is
an awesome writer in her own right. Publishers are known to seek out her
crowd-pleasing material to include in anthologies and print publications.
Catch up on her blog here, or follow Jezzy on Twitter.

Stephen W. Roberts. Stephen is our second book reviewer, and
has a book out. He’s participated in editing at other publications and has
hosted blog-talk-radio programs. Learn all about Steve here, or check out
the Dark Fiction Spotlight he’s involved in.

 

Note: I have taken great pleasure in NOT editing this blog, in being as unprofessional as editorially possible. It feels… good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vote for Best Story!!!

Posted: September 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

Did you know that you can vote for best speculative fiction story at Liquid Imagination Online? Come to the online magazine full of convergent media and sink your teeth into some crawley, creepy horror and fantasy stories. Then vote right on the homepage! If you know one of the writers, don’t be shy! Let them know about the competition/poll! Just go to Liquid Imagination Online and see the poll right next to my piece called “Determination.”

Note: This contest isn’t for micro-fiction or literary stories, just the speculative fiction (horror and fantasy).

Awesome Quote about Writing

Posted: September 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

[Stock responses] have their opportunity whenever a poem invokes views and emotions already dully prepared in the reader’s mind, so that what happens is more of the reader’s doing than the poet’s [emphasis mine]. The button is pressed, and then the author’s work is done, for immediately the record starts playing in quasi- (or total) independence of the poem which is supposed to be in its origin or instrument.

Method and Madness: The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante, page 7 (quoting I. M. Richard’s Practical Criticism)

Although the above quote deals with poetry, it’s taken from my creative writing text book