NaNoWriMo Week 2 at The Confabulator Cafe

I’ve been sick for a week, and it has significantly impacted my NaNoWriMo progress. You can read all about it in this weeks NaNoWriMo update at The Confabulator Cafe.

 

NaNoWriMo Week 1 and Illumen Magazine

illumen23National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, and I am working on a new horror novel titled The Dream Catcher. How am I doing? Well, if you head over to The Confabulator Cafe, you can find out for yourself.

A few days ago, I received a copy of the Autumn issue of Illumen, a speculative poetry journal from Alban Lake Publishing that contains my poem “Crow, Why Do You Cry?” You can pick up a copy at Alban Lake’s online store. I don’t write a ton of poetry, but I’ve had success with it, and I’m very proud of the poem.

I had a good time at the Longview Literary Festival a couple of weeks ago. I met some cool people and sold a few books. I hope that everyone enjoys All Manner of Dark Things. Next up will be the Topeka Public Library’s “Great Writers, Right Here,” a book fair full of great local authors on December 12th. I’ll be selling and signing books from 1pm to 4pm in Marvin Auditorium. If you have never been to the event, it is a fantastic opportunity to interact with some great local writers and pick up some fantastic books. Be sure to stop by if you are in the area.

First, I need to kick NaNoWriMo’s ass. I hope to see you all on the other side.

Longview Literary Festival

This Friday, I will be attending the Longview Literary Festival at Metropolitan Community College in Lee’s Summit, MO. It’s a one-day event, and I’ll be speaking on a couple of panels for “Combining History and Fiction” and “Writing in Multiple Genres.” There will also be panels and workshops on self-publishing, character creation, working with small presses, working with an editor, and many more.  All and all, it’s a pretty jam-packed day. The keynote speakers this year are science fiction writer Bryan Thomas Schmidt and romance author Claire Ashgrove. I will have copies of All Manner of Dark Things for sale, as well as the anthologies Faed and Rejected.

It all starts at 10 am on October 23rd at the Cultural Arts Center on the Metropolitan Community College-Longview campus, 500 S.W. Longview Rd., Lee’s Summit, MO.

I really enjoyed the festival last year. Many of the attendees are students at the college. They have a great outlook on the business and art of writing. It’s also free, so the price is right.

Speaking of students, I received a bunch of thank you cards from the writer’s group at Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. I spoke to their class and had a fantastic time talking to the kids. Their enthusiasm was inspiring, and I would love to go back to do more of a technical workshop and write something with the group. Talking to people about writing always energizes me. Things like Longview and the Young Writers of KC always raise my desire to keep writing to another level.

There are a lot of writers that I only see at things like this. I look forward to seeing a bunch of people that I haven’t seen since ConQuest. I hope to see the rest of you there, as well.

A Return from Vacation and October’s Publishing Schedule

Almost two years ago, Sara and I decided to go on to a writer’s retreat in a haunted mansion in California. Sounds cool, right? We thought so, too. Then the location shut it down out of fear of being known as a haunted house. We were pretty devastated. We’d already sank quite a bit of money in to the trip. We’d already paid for flights and had decided to extend our vacation with a visit to Napa. I had booked the bed and breakfast in Napa months prior to the mansion forcing the cancellation of the writer’s retreat. Rather than mope about it, I found a hotel in Pacifica, CA, and we decided to have a writer’s retreat for two and call it our honeymoon. (We are getting married this weekend.)

Pacifica was gorgeous. The hotel sits on the edge of the Pacific ocean, surrounded by large hills that I consider to be more like small mountains. Hiking trails lead to the peaks, which look out upon the waves crashing upon rocks that look like something One-Eyed Willie would use as clues for the Goonies. Orca whales patrol in the distance while surfers in full wetsuits ride cold ocean waves in to the beach. It was cool the entire time that we were there, and every morning fog rolled in off the ocean, hovering over the town itself. We were in Pacifica for about three days, and it was fantastic. Writing-wise, I made it about ten thousand words in to the revision of my novella Mama’s Little Boy. We also got to visit the Pacific Coast Fog Fest and relax.

Napa was strange. It was the primary draw of the extended part of the trip, but I think we would both say that we enjoyed the isolation of Pacifica a bit more. Napa looks a lot like Kansas. Sure, the crops are different, and there is the occasional palm tree, but it is an agricultural area, full of farmhouses, barns, and cows. Really nice farmhouses and barns. The cows are probably okay, too. I didn’t get that close to any. The interior of Napa was reminiscent of downtown Lawrence, but with more wine. Overall, I think we were both shocked at how familiar it seemed. I wrote a little bit in Napa, taking care of my Halloween-themed Confabulator Cafe story, as well as some edits for an anthology. It might seem odd to be working on a honeymoon, but we are writers. Stephen King always claimed to work every day other than Christmas and his birthday.

Speaking of publications, October is generally a big deal for me, as various magazines release Halloween-themed issues. This year is no exception, as I have several things scheduled for release.

My short story “Voids,” which was written in a Noir class taught by Benjamin Whitmer, is now available at Saturday Night Reader. You will have to have a subscription to read it. $4.00 will get you a month-long subscription.

“Patchwork,” which originally written as part of a contest at LitReactor, will be appearing in Typhon: A Monster Anthology from Pantheon Magazine.

My poem “Crow, Why Do You Cry?” will be in the next issue of Illumen Magazine from Alban Lake Publishing.

“Blood and Dust” will be in Theater B from A Murder of Storytellers.

Wrapping up the end of the month, my haunted house short story “Party at Pinehurst” will be up at The Confabulator Cafe on October 29th.

It should be a fun month. I will post links to all of the publications as they are released. We had a good trip, drank some good wine, hopefully wrote some good words. Now, it is back to the grind. But first, the wedding.

All Manner of Dark Things, 99 Cents on Kindle, This Week

allmannercoverfinalRay Bradbury’s birthday is today. My writing process is essentially borrowed whole from Bradbury. His book Zen in the Art of Writing inspires me every time that I read it.

My son’s birthday is tomorrow. Eight years ago, his birth changed my life, and he continues to inspire me every day.

In honor of them, my book All Manner of Dark Things is on sale as a Kindle Countdown for the next week. Drop by Amazon and pick up your digital copy for 99 cents.

Thanks for reading!

Stay Classy, plus Sanitarium Magazine

No, this isn’t a post full of advice for navigating the stormy waters of social media, although my personal motto has always been “Try not to say stupid shit.” This isn’t a post on the author-reader relationship. See my previous motto for advice on that one. Today, I am going to talk about taking classes.

I love school. I love classes. I get excited about the possibilities provided by a good essay test. They give me a rush. It’s weird, and I can’t explain it, but there it is. Unfortunately, we all have to leave school at some point, whether we are on the four-year, five-year, or fifteen-year plan. If you didn’t go to college, it is the same thing. High school ends, and suddenly there are no classes. They take away the number 2 pencils and bubble sheets that have been our constant companion and say “no more.” There is no one left to fight, Caesar.

It’s a damn shame, and you shouldn’t stand for it.

I’m always looking for something to get me to the next level in my writing. I read all the books, even the ones that I don’t agree with. I peruse the websites. I receive every issue of The Writer and scan them for advice. Recently, I decided to enroll in a couple of classes.

I’ve been a member of the LitReactor website for a few years, now. I’ve participated in the writer’s workshop for much of that time. I highly recommend it, if you write any type of transgressive literature and want like-minded people to read it. Most people find the website through Chuck Palahniuk. It sprung up from the writer’s workshop that was hosted on Palahniuk’s website.  As a result, there area  lot of great essays there from writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Craig Clevenger, Jack Ketchum, and many more.

In addition, they also offer classes. I finally gave in and took two classes. In June, I took a horror class benefiting the Shirley Jackson Awards taught by Helen Marshall, Jordan Hamessley, Nicolas Kaufmann, and Simon Stantzas. In July, I took a class on Noir with Benjamin Whitmer, author of the excellent Cry Father.

Every week had a lecture and an assignment. Students then critiqued each other’s assignments. I could go in to what I learned, but it really comes down to breaking out of your comfort zone.

Everyone has a different process. They use different exercises. They harvest ideas in different ways. Sometimes, you can get in to a rut with your writing, especially when you are still developing your skillset. You need to try new things, and that is a lot easier when you have people telling you what new things to try. There were things I will probably never use again. There were other things that I will add to my toolbox. Most importantly, I shook my process up a bit and ended up with ten short stories in a two month span that are no doubt a bit different than the ones that I would have otherwise produced.

There is another benefit, as well. The writer ego is fragile. This is a rough business. I’ve had a fair number of short stories published, but I’ve made well over 100 submissions in order to accomplish them. My acceptance ratio of right around twenty percent is higher than average, according to Duotrope. So, I get a “no thanks” on eight out of ten submissions. That can grate on a person, especially if you are going to spend months working on a book.

The instructors of these classes are solid, accomplished writers. Their support and praise meant the world to me. Having writers that you admire tell you that you are a great writer–money can’t buy that. Their critiques gave me things that will hopefully turn a few of those no’s in to yes’s. I got reading recommendations, suggestions on things to work on, and just general reaffirmation that I am doing some good stuff.

I came out of the classes feeling good about my writing and feeling justified for the sacrifices that I have made in order to chase that illusive dream. I had a lot of fun in the last couple of months, and I am sure I will find myself in another class at some point.

If  you are feeling stuck in an artistic rut, or you just seem to be trudging through the publishing landscape with no sense of progress, remember that you aren’t the only one trying to find your way through the swamp. Take a class. Find a workshop, Shake things up. At best, you will try things you never would have considered. At worst, you will come out of it with a bunch of stories to send off to those publishers.

On a last note, my short story “Copy Rights” is in the latest issue of Sanitarium Magazine. In the story, a genius slacker invents human cloning technology to get out of his shift at the health insurance call center. You can get a copy from a number of different sellers. Just follow this link.

A Confabulator Sneak Peek at The Rest of Us

A couple of months ago, I woke up from a dream. All the rich people in the world had hopped on rocket ships, destined for some Martian colony.

I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t speculate on the mental mechanisms that caused such a thing. Was it all the talk of the one percent? NPR stories on Greece? Conservatives saying that the rich would leave if taxes were increased? I really have no idea. I’m not particularly interested in politics and I don’t dwell much on the organic nature of creative development.

After playing with the concept for awhile, I came up with preliminary ideas for a science fiction novel titled The Rest of Us, which is the story of those left behind.

This month, our Confabulator Cafe prompt was to write a story that takes place entirely in a dining room. I started a totally different story about a student at Miskatonic University who is back home in Kansas for spring break. That story, “The Cow of Cthulhu,” got away from me a bit and didn’t want to stay in the dining room.

I started out again, approaching the assignment like a one-act play. Somehow, The Rest of Us got stuck in my head, and I wrote “Bottoms Up.” The story takes place in that world, and the protagonist will likely be one of the main characters in the novel. I haven’t even started on the actual novel, yet. God knows, the last thing I need is another project to work on. That being said, you can get a really early sneak peek at one of my future projects.

I hope you enjoy the story. You can read it here.

“The Red House” at The Confabulator Cafe

Some of you might not know that The Confabulator Cafe has a meeting once a month. In that meeting, we decide what prompt we are going to use for the stories the next month. Around the same time, Clarkesworld editor Neil Clarke shared a wordle of the story titles submitted to his magazine.

It’s pretty common for me to start out with nothing more than a title, and that is what we decided to do. We’re using titles created by that wordle as prompts. The only rule was that the words had to be touching. I created several titles from the wordle that will probably get used for one thing or another in the future. For this story, I used “red” and “house.”

“The Red House” is sort of a haunted house story, but not quite a traditional one. It’s pretty brutal, but I am proud of it. You can read it here.

Saving the World through Science Fiction

Recently, I attended the Campbell Conference at the University of Kansas. The Campbell Conference is an annual event named for science fiction legend John W. Campbell Jr. Despite the similarities in names and interests, we are not related–at least not that I am aware of. This year’s conference, hosted by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction focused on how science fiction is being used in the classroom.

Two of my greatest passions are books and education. I was delighted to see that so many universities are taking a proactive approach to getting genre fiction in to the curriculum. George Tech, Arizona State, Florida Atlantic University, The University of California-Riverside, The University of California-San Diego, The University of Glascow, and of course the University of Kansas all made presentations about their science fiction curricula, which are fantastic and really set a foundation for the utilization of genre fiction in both the sciences and the humanities. I encourage everyone to check out what these schools are up to. From creative writing to literary criticism to scientific research, they are doing some really great stuff. Besides, who wouldn’t want to go to Scotland for a year to study fantasy literature?

I believe strongly in the academic relevance of genre fiction. While it has been looked down upon in the past, I feel that we are reaching a juncture where it will become a vital part of literary study. It can tell us so much about the way that we perceive the world. It takes our deepest fears and our most desperate hopes and then puts them on display in the “safe” realm of the fantastic.  James Gunn, KU Professor and science fiction legend, talked about “saving the world through science fiction.” He believes that science fiction teaches a way of looking at the world that too many people lack in this day and age. I tend to agree with him.

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy. The writings of Clarke, Aismov, et al. were instrumental in my development both as a person and as an artist, although I fall more in to the line of Bradbury than I do of the hard science fiction pioneers. Like Bradbury, I tend to rest on genre boundaries. Horror writers are odd things. We are sort of like that weird relative that gets invited to all of the family functions, but whom no one is quite sure about. We show up at science fiction and fantasy’s gatherings. We crash mystery and thriller’s parties. We carry on and draw attention to ourselves at literary fiction’s picnics. We simultaneously belong everywhere and nowhere. That being said, I think most horror writers would admit owing a lot to other literary genres.

The Campbell Conference was a great chance to immerse myself in the academic side of science fiction, as opposed to the reader conventions that I am used to attending. Being around other people with similar passions is always great for my creative energy. I came away with a long list of books to read, new perspectives to consider, and a lot of respect for what these universities are doing. I will take a lot of pride in finishing Heaven’s Edge, my science fiction noir novel, in hopes that I can live up to their examples. It was a pleasure to talk to everyone, and I hope to see them again next year.

P.S. Cory Doctorow won The Sturgeon Award for his story “The Man Who Sold the Moon” in Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future and Catherine Webb (Claire North) won The Campbell Award for her novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.  I have not read either book, but both look fantastic. I can’t wait. I also saw some great academic books on Ray Bradbury from the University of Illinois Press that are now on my research wishlist. Great weekend, indeed.

New Website!

header-page-001Welcome to the new website. I’ve migrated over to a new host. The new site has more functionality and will improve as I work my way through the available options.

The first thing you might notice is that I have a newsletter subscription form on the right side of the screen, just below my name. Please, sign up for the newsletter. I promise that I will not spam you. On the contrary, my newsletter subscribers will be the first to know about new books, new stories, and upcoming personal appearances. You will see the covers and tables of contents before the general public. I also plan on sending out free stories to my subscribers from time to time.  You won’t receive emails that often, but when you do, they will be full of good stuff. You can also find a button to sign up for my newsletter on my Facebook page. It’s on the left side and looks like a little envelope.

The storefront has also improved. If you go to “The Store” in the top menu, you will see more than just a link to another site. New books will be added to the storefront as they are released. I will personally sign and ship any books ordered through my site.

Thank you to my good friend, science fiction author Kevin Wohler for helping me with the site migration. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the site should be much better for it. Like anything in writing, it’s about getting a little bit better every day. Thank you for being here to see it.

-Jack