The Next Step at The Confabulator Cafe

Some of you may know that I have spent the last year and a half taking writing classes through the University of California at Berkeley. I didn’t write horror in those classes, at least for the most part. The final story that I wrote during the program was titled “The Next Step.” You can read it for free courtesy of The Confabulator Cafe. Given that the program is over, and I am now facing next steps of my own, the title is fitting.

It’s a literary fiction story. You won’t find any of my usual horror elements. It has a different sort of darkness, but it is very me, and I am very proud of it. You can read it here.

 

A Shadow in the Dark: Cornell Woolrich in the 40’s

Some people know that I have spent the last year or so taking online writing classes through the University of California at Berkeley. This semester, I took a Mystery Fiction class. As part of that class, we were required to work on a larger project. I decided to develop a website dedicated to Cornell Woolrich, a fairly unknown hardboiled writer. Woolrich’s stories were adapted in to a ton of television shows and films. This includes Alfred Hitchock’s Rear Window. Woolrich was a contemporary to guys like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain. Unfortunately, estate issues let to many of his books going out of print. That is slowly changing.

Woolrich was an interesting guy and an incredible talent when it comes to scenario construction and plotting. I plan on continuing work on the website, even now that the class has finished. Hopefully, it will help Woolrich get a few more readers, and as such, keep his work in print for a long time to come.

You can check out the website here: https://ashadowinthedark.wordpress.com/

As always, thanks for reading.

My Schedule for ConQuest Kansas City 2017

Have I been horrible about posting lately or what? For that I apologize, but we are coming up on one of my favorite times of the year, ConQuest in Kansas City (and my birthday). ConQuest is a long-running science fiction and fantasy convention. As usual, I will be taking part in several panels, which I will list here. You can find the full schedule here.

This is my panel schedule:

Friday (May 26th, otherwise known as my birthday)

3:00 PM – So, You Want to Be in Pictures – Jim Yelton, Leanna Brunner, Bryn Donovan, and I will discuss screenwriting and the applicability of its skill set to writing prose.

5:00 PM – Horror Novels/Short Stories Everyone Should Read – Earline Beebe, Sherri Dean, Jonathan Mayberry, and I recommend the best in horror fiction.

Saturday (May 27th)

11:00 AM – I will be reading, along Donna Wagenblast Munro.

1:00 PM – Comic Book Television and Film: Boom or Bust – Marshall Edwards, Brendan Beebe, Matthew Munro, and I will be talking about comic adaptations. Which are good, which are bad, and when the bubble is going to burst.

3:00 PM – Why Write Short Stories? – Karen Bovenmyer, Sean Demory, Dora Furlong, and I will be talking about the short story genre and why it is still important, despite diminishing markets and diminishing pay.

5:00 PM – The Running Man: The First Hunger Games – Craig Smith, Brian Pigg, Michelle Stutzman, and I will be talking about Stephen King’s The Running Man  and its influence.

Sunday (May 28th)

10:00 AM – Can Writing Be Taught? – Lynette Burrows, Jesse Pringle, Rachael Mayo, Paula Helm Murray, and I will be discussing a writer’s education and debating whether or not writing can truly be taught.

12:00 PM – A Writer’s Library: Books Every Writer Should Read – Lynette Burrows, Brooke Johnson, Rachael Mayo, Paula Helm Murray, and I will be discussing a writer’s library and what books belong in every writer’s toolbox.

It is going to be a busy weekend, but it should be a lot of fun. Hopefully, I will also get some homework done between the paneling and socializing.

If you haven’t made plans to join us yet, check out the website: www.conquestkc.org. There will be cosplay, gaming, a dealer room, and an art show in addition to the panels.

I look forward to seeing everyone there.

Whoops: A Cornell Woolrich Project

As many of you know, new speculative fiction has taken a backseat over the last year in favor of more writing training. I’ve been taking online classes through the University of California at Berkeley toward a certificate in writing.

As a few of you know, I just accidentally posted part of a project for my Mystery Fiction class to my old website. So, here is a quick explanation for those of you who were quick enough to click the link before I unpublished it. I will be using my old WordPress.com site as a backbone for my final project. I accidentally sent the first page out on all of my old promotional channels. The website is titled A Shadow in the Dark and explores the decade of work produced by hard-boiled pulp author Cornell Woolrich during the 1940’s. For those of you who are thinking “I should know that name…,” he is sort of the other guy when it comes to hard-boiled detective fiction.

Everyone knows Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but Cornell Woolrich gets forgotten. Should you know him? Absolutely, but probably from Hollywood since many of his books are out of print. Rear Window? That’s Woolrich. Original Sin? Woolrich. No Man of Her Own? Woolrich. His stories became inspiration for episodes of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Boris Karloff Mystery Playhouse, and many others.

My project will focus on Woolrich’s work during the 1940’s, which was his most prolific decade for crime writing. It will be finished by the end of the semester. At that point, I’ll be sure to drop the link on my site. Until then, I’m sorry about the early peek.

On another note, things are still happening. My story “A Dead Man’s Dirt” is slated for Volume 2 of Let Us In from Time Alone Press. It should be out in the next couple of months. I’ll keep you posted.

I start a class on developing the novel in a couple of days. I’m not sure what project I am going to work on during the class. I’ve bounced back and forth between a couple of ideas. Whatever I choose, I am sure it will be fun.

Post-WorldCon Hangover

Wow…five days is a long time in con years. By the end of the week, it seemed like I had been there for most of my life, and I had trouble imagining a world that didn’t involve name tags with decorative ribbons, beer at lunch, and conversing with elaborately costumed individuals.

This was my first WorldCon, and the first time that the convention had been in Kansas City in decades. There are a lot of things that I am going to remember for a really long time.

  1. I finally met John Hemry, who writes The Lost Fleet series under the name Jack Campbell. He told me, jokingly, “I’m proud of you, son.” This is the first convention that we’ve both attended. There was also a mix-up in the pocket program. They left the “Jr.” off of my name. This meant that I had a room full of people at my reading, but several of them showed up for military science fiction. Fortunately for me, about half of them stayed for atmospheric horror. All weekend, his fans were very nice to me, and it became a running joke to find out if I was somehow related to Hemry or to influential science fiction editor John W. Campbell Jr. (I am not, as far as I know.)
  2. I was in THAT panel. The one that you may have read about on one blog or another. THE STATE OF SHORT FICTION! Or…whatever. You’ve read the story. Maybe, you’ve heard the recording. I won’t go in to all of that here. David Truesdale’s expulsion from the con has been addressed fully by all sides and by much more famous writers than me. You can find it all over the internet. I don’t feel the need to add to it, and I don’t think anyone particularly cares what I think anyway. However, I was a bit perturbed that I am a short story writer who showed up to a panel to learn about the state of my craft (expanding markets, shrinking readership, low payments) and got…that. Unfortunately, it was evident five minutes in that I was never going to get the panel that I had expected.
  3. I was actually on the panel that got Mary Robinette Kowal suspended for the day. It was an innocent mistake. She goes in to it on her blog. She also owned up to it like a total champ. Beyond that, she did an amazing job moderating the panel, even when she realized that she was probably in trouble. I have a ton of respect for her. I love to see people who are so passionate about literature. The panel was fantastic, and I really need to read Northanger Abbey.
  4. I have better reflexes than I thought. I had a girl pass out on me. Pretty much literally. Being a good person, she’d given blood as part of the Heinlein emergency blood drive and got light-headed. Fortunately, I was able to catch her with one arm and toss the beer in the trash with the other while my friend Laura Croston contacted her mother. She was fine after a few minutes, and her family was awesome.
  5. Orrin Grey and I had a conversation at the bar about how famous writers aren’t any different than the rest of us. We’re essentially the same crowd, but some of us just get paid more. Everything I experienced this weekend proved that to be the case. Whether a fledgling writer, a New York Times bestseller, or an editor that had rejected me many, MANY times, everyone that I met was great. This a tough industry, but its generally a supportive one. Most of my favorite memories this weekend involved talking to people before or after panels, in the Con Suite, in the hallways, or at the bar. Some of them I see quite often. Some I see once a year. Others, I previously knew only as names on dust covers.  All of them made the experience worth repeating. I could go in to the stories and the conversations, but those are just for me.
  6. The Zen Scavenger Hunt was so much fun.

Cons always recharge my batteries, a bit, but this one also left me wanting more–more cons, more writing, more publications, and everything else that comes along with them. I’m a realistic guy. I know that I can’t afford these things every year. I’m probably not going to make it to Helsinki (2017). I may not make it to San Jose (2018). But I will be back. My first WorldCon was a landmark in my writing career. I can’t wait to see where I am by my second one.

Now, I am going to go lay down. I am so tired…

World Science Fiction Convention Schedule

HeaderImage_092015MidAmeriCon II is coming up sooner than you would think. The full programming schedule has been released on the MidAmeriCon website. You can find it HERE.

I’ll have a reading on Thursday morning at 10:30. My plan is to read “Bottoms Up” which recently appeared in 9 Tales at the World’s End and will be part of a longer novel titled The Rest of Us.

I’ll also be speaking on panels with a number of great writers. Here is my schedule:

Austen and Shelley

Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, 2504B (Kansas City Convention Center)
A look at the roots of so much science fiction and fantasy in the works of Jane Austen and Mary Shelley. While Shelley’s Frankenstein is an obvious predecessor to science fiction and horror, Austen’s literature has also had a tremendous influence on modern authors.
Jack Campbell Jr., Heather Rose Jones, Mary Robinette Kowal (M), L. Rowyn, Evey Brett

The Future of Forensics

Thursday 12:00 – 13:00, 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)
As part of “The Future of” series we look at Forensics.

Forensic scientists analyze scientific evidence in criminal investigations and as with all science the methods available grow and change and improve on a regular basis. This panel of experts discuss what is current and lead to where it might go next.
Jason Sanford, Gerard Ackerman (M), Jack Campbell Jr., Diana Rowland, Anna Yeatts

Utopia, Dystopia and the Default?

Thursday 14:00 – 15:00, 2502A (Kansas City Convention Center)
Certain kinds of imagined futures are currently dominating the SF field, to an impressive and interesting degree. For example, we usually find settings in either grand interstellar deep space futures or trapped-on-Earth dystopias with the rare exception. What about the futures that land somewhere in-between these who extremes? Is the “middle future” to reminiscent of the Golden Age of SF? Is it coming back? Is it too close to our current/probable future? Let’s discuss the “middle future” in SF, how it compares to earlier eras in SF, and where it falls on the Utopia/Dystopia spectrum.
Jack Campbell Jr. (M), Thomas K. Carpenter, Sarah Frost, Mr. Peadar O Guilin

Zen Scavenger Hunt

Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, 2503B (Kansas City Convention Center)
Panelists each bring seven items. Audience members ask for a type of item, a la a standard scavenger hunt. The panelists will then have to show one of the items they’ve brought and try to convince the audience that their item is the best match for what was requested.
Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell Jr. (M), Mark Oshiro, Howard Tayler

Social Media, or, Why I Haven’t Finished My Novel

Saturday 13:00 – 14:00, 2502B – A/V (Kansas City Convention Center)
Social media is addictive. So much so it can impact upon the work of authors. Our panelists discuss the importance of limiting themselves, differentiating between Social Media interactions for personal and professional reasons, and maybe even inspiration gleaned from Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Snapchat and the myriad sites available.
Melissa F. Olson (M), Jack Campbell Jr., J.R. Johansson, John Scalzi, Mur Lafferty

A Love Letter (sort of) to Hastings

I bought my first screenwriting books (written by the legendary Syd Field) at Hastings. This began my foray in to creative writing. Prior to that, I was a visual and performance artist. The drum set and guitar sit dusty in the basement, and I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in years. My keyboard, on the other hand, is missing letters because I’ve typed so much.

I bought Zen and the Art of Writing at Hastings. Ray Bradbury’s passion for writing rubbed off on me, and I went running to the word processor to write out my dreams and fears with reckless abandon. My process is still heavily-influenced by Bradbury, even if my style has changed over the years.

I worked at Hastings for two months in college, just before moving to Lawrence. I spent almost as much as I made, thanks to an amazing discount program, and the readership program gave me a good collection of classic books that provided the base of my extra-curricular literary education. I still have copies of Great Expectations and The Count of Monte Cristo that are missing covers, the price of their liberation from the store shelves.

I spent my lunch breaks walking through the stacks at Hastings, smelling the books and trying to soak in words, as if each aisle was a pool filled with nouns, verbs, and adjectives. When I got down on writing, or felt that things were hopeless, I saw all of these books by all of these writers who found the shelves, and it brought me back to work. You can’t place a value on that, but I bought it at the price of a mocha frappaccino and the occasional book.

I had my first book signing at Hastings. I sat in the front of the store, heard my name announced over the PA, and talked to every customer that came within earshot. I was nervous, but excited. I met other writers. I sold a couple of books. Mostly, I got used to selling myself as a writer to the public.

I sold more copies of All Manner of Dark Things at my local Hastings than anywhere else other than Amazon. For six months, I rode the end cap display, until I was displaced by a number of books by politicians in order to capitalize on the primary election season. I sold several copies, including one to a Hastings employee. She asked me to sign it when I came in for one of my lunchtime strolls. It gives me a thrill to know that complete strangers in my community have my book on their shelf.

Over the last few months, I’ve seen the signs. More used and clearance books than new. Large, empty shelf spaces. Fewer employees. Earlier this week, I saw the story that I feared would be coming. Hastings will have declare bankruptcy if they do not find a buyer. Another bookstore down.

As much as I would like for someone to buy and save my local Hastings, the truth is that the model is out-dated and the products are over-priced in comparison to their online counter-parts. They can’t compete. Few can. If this is the end of Hastings, as it was for Borders before it, as it probably will be for Barnes and Noble unless they do something drastic, then I have to say thank you to them for being there.

Hastings is a chain, but they always treated me like a local business would. They contained so many things that I loved, and as a result, I was able to pursue those loves. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in their stores, and even though that wasn’t enough, their closure will leave a vacancy beyond the strip mall storefront that they occupy.

No more random CD’s or DVD’s that I never knew I wanted. No more midnight releases. No more comics. No more lunchtime book section strolls among the works of my peers and idols. No more book signings. No more hope of seeing my name in the horror section next to Ramsey Campbell, rather than in the local author section. That’s a lot of no mores.

I hope they save it, but if they don’t, then I am thankful for the memories. Hear’s to you Hastings. We’ll always have Lawrence and Ames.

Why Write Short Stories?

“So, why write short stories?”

It was an innocent question and an understandable one, at that. I’d just completed a panel on navigating the world of short story submission. I’d told the crowd that short story writing is a tough gig.

Acceptances are the exception. Rejection is a constant reality. The money is pretty much non-existent. You could make more money working anywhere else, doing almost anything else. It’s not exactly a popular format. Market’s open and then shrivel and die quicker than roses after prom night. You end up at the mercy of publishers and editors who may or may not know any more about writing or publishing than you do–especially if you are a newer writer.

So…why? I rattled off some quick answers to the attendee in the hallway, but I wanted to expand upon them here.

There are LOTS of reasons to write short stories.

  1. They are a great way to learn writing. Ray Bradbury swore by learning through short stories. In most writing workshops, the short story is still the preferred format. The process is sped up remarkably. First draft on the first day. Re-write on the second. Polish on the third. Ship it to your writing group on the fourth. If something you did sucks, you spent a few days on it, rather than a few months. You go back to the drawing board the next week and try again.
  2. They are built for experimentation. Sometimes, you need to push the envelope and see what you can do. Write an entire story in second-person. Write it all in iambic pentameter like one of my friends. Write the entire thing from the perspective of a pair of pants, which another friend of mine did very successfully. Get ridiculous. Get weird. If it doesn’t work, you never have to speak of it again. Pieces of writing are like relationships. Short stories are flings. Novels are long-term. Until you know that the kinky shit works, save it for the flings.
  3. Short stories are like cookies. You like cookies. Some culinary historians believe that cookies were first invented in order to test the heat of an oven prior to baking a cake. They would throw a little batter in their to see if it baked. That’s not all that different than what you are doing with a short story. Sure, they are great for testing out all of the tools in the writer’s toolbox, but they are pretty damn delicious on their own. As much as we complain about the market, the short story has a very long and proud tradition, particularly in horror.
  4. Because you can…or because you can’t. Short stories are an art form. Some people are fantastic at them. My hero Ray Bradbury was a master of the short story but had a hard time making the transition to longer work. Some people rarely, if ever, write short stories. If you have problems writing in one form or the other, ask yourself why that is. Short work tends to expose errors very easily. All that bloat that you should have cut out of your novel becomes PAINFUL in a short piece. If the reason that you have trouble with writing one or the other relates to some flaw in your process, then that would be a great thing to know. Self-awareness is key to a writer’s development.
  5. The industry reads them. I read once that most of the short story market is comprised of hardcore readers, other writers, editors, and publishers. These are all people that it would pay to have on your side as a developing writer. Writing is a solitary endeavor, but publishing is a team sport. That reader who likes your style could someday be championing you to an agent or publisher.
  6. Everyone likes samples. When you go in for a tattoo, you look at the artist’s portfolio. You wouldn’t let some guy carve your skin up just because he said he knew how to do it. When you want to paint your house, you don’t go throw random paint colors on the walls, you look at samples. You buy an album because you like the single. You are the guy in the apron standing in the corner of the supermarket. The idea isn’t to just get them to try a bite of sausage, its to sell the whole kielbasa. If someone finds your story and it speaks to them, they might seek out more of your stuff. Or they might not. Damn grazers.
  7. You need a palette cleanser. Sometimes, you just need to get away from that monster novel of yours. The grind can be relentless. Months or even years of work can wear you down. Popping out a short story is like a bite of a good pickle. You’re able to appreciate that sandwich, again. It also creates some distance between you and your last narrative, which is an essential part of the revision process. It’s the fling that gets you over your broken heart. You need to come back to that manuscript as a stranger.
  8. They are fun. Short stories are just damn fun to write.

So go, write them. You probably won’t find fame or fortune, but you will find something out about yourself as an artist. You may even become a better writer. In this business, that is really what we should all strive for.

ConQuest Wrap-up and $0.99 Sale

My collection, All Manner of Dark Things is still on sale for 99 cents on Kindle through Monday. You can check it out here.

ConQuest is over. I’m tired, but I had a good time. There are a lot of people that I only see at ConQuest, although with WorldCon in Kansas City, 2016 might be an exception. The panels were a lot of fun. The crowd was smaller than last year, but was no less passionate about Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. I served on several panels and had a reading. While my body and wallet are feeling the sting of a long weekend, I can’t wait for next year.

I picked up some vintage copies of Weird Tales and The Magazine of Horror. I drank and ate and talked about everything from books to fandom. It was a productive weekend.

To everyone that made ConQuest memorable, I sincerely thank you. The creative batteries have been recharged, and now it is time to get back to work. I have critiques due for my Berkeley writing class and books that need to be written.

Let’s get to it.

 

ConQuest Kansas City Schedule

Memorial Day weekend is approaching, and that means two things: my birthday and ConQuest. I always have a lot of fun at the convention. I’ve met some good people there over the years, first as a fan and then as a writer. Last year, I took part in a bunch of panels. It was so much fun that I am doing it again.

Friday (May 27)

Writing Groups 3:00 PM: I’ve been a member of the LFK Writers Group for a few years. I’ve been a member of several others in the past. We will be talking about different types of writing groups and what sort of things you may want to look for in a good group. I’ll be on the panel with other members of the LFK Writers Group.

Writing Prompts 5:00 PM: Myself and the other writers who contribute to The Confabulator Cafe come up with writing prompts every month. I personally use several different techniques in order to generate story ideas. We will give suggestions, take suggestions, and maybe even come up with some prompts on the spot. This will also be with the LFK Writers Group.

Horror from the Headlines: Current Events as Inspiration 8:00 PM: Is there anything scarier than the evening news? Current events can be good fuel for horror stories, but they can be a double-edged sword. We’ll talk about using headlines for inspiration and some of the pitfalls that you need to avoid. I will be joined on the panel by Orrin Grey, Sean Demory, Kristin Helling, and Jim Yelton.

Saturday (May 28)

Publish Like the Pros 10:00 AM: Independent Publishing is booming due to e-books and technological advances, but there is still a lot to learn if you are tempted to take the plunge. Bottle Cap Publishing will talk give tricks and tips for creating a professional product and promoting it as such. I will be joined by Kevin Wohler, Sara E. Lundberg, and R. L. Naquin.

Reading 2:00 PM: I will be reading from my next novella Mama’s Little Boy, as well as “Assholes with Guns,” my short story that appeared in The Literary Hatchet and will be in my next collection Whispers and Proclamations.

Film Adaptations: The Best and Worst 6:00 PM: My first writing love was not fiction, but screenwriting. These days, film adaptations are Hollywood powerhouses. Some are good and some are really, REALLY bad. We’ll discuss adaptations that succeeded as well as those that failed.  I will be joined by Orrin Grey, Robin Wayne Bailey, and Dora Furlong.

Sunday (May 29)

Navigating the World of Short Story Submission 11:00 AM: Short story submission is a scary thing. You send your work to strangers, and you often get rejected by them. We’ll talk about how to find markets, submit to them, and how to deal with both acceptance and rejection. I’ll be joined by Lou Antonelli, Jude-Marie Green, and Tom Trumpinski.

The Big Three of Weird Tales 3:00 PM: In 279 issues, from 1923 to 1954, Weird Tales Magazine helped spur a resurgence of dark fiction. Powered by mainstays such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft, the magazine became a major influence for the future of weird fiction and featured a large number of legendary writers. We will discuss the “big three,” their legacy, and what readers can learn from them today. I will be joined by Orrin Grey and Donna Munro.

It should be a fun weekend. I’ll even have a few copies of All Manner of Dark Things for sale if folks are interested. Check out the full line-up on the official Conquest website. Or you can skip straight to the programming schedule. I look forward to seeing you all there.