For the Love of Story

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I’ve decided to keep Raymond Day in my novel. I feel the story is going to suffer greatly without it; he needs to be there. Day, who first appeared in The Queen of Crows, is a problematic character for a few reasons. First, his origin story dates back to the Westward expansion in the 1830s era. He is a vampire (not spoiling anything by telling you that) and how he became an undead being that can only survive on human blood is the stuff of nightmares. But that particular detail, mind, is tied to what happened historically. Yes, it’s alternate history. However, to make his Native American character believable, certain details reflect what happened at the time. I haven’t settled on a specific tribe yet, as he played a minor role in the short story, but thinking Cherokee might be the best fit.

I have a stack of books on the subject, and the one I started reading last night is by Peter Nabokov. It’s called Indian Running, Native American Testimony: From Prophecy to the Present 1442 – 1992. I’ve decided to take the academic approach, by reading first-hand accounts, to make Day’s character believable — but also handle one of the trickier bits about him. That is, often when Native American characters are presented in fiction (if at all), there’s a tendency to put them in a historical context as if they are invisible in the modern world. (This is a PolicyMic article that gives a brief overview of some of those issues.)

On the flip side, there is also a tendency to lump every tribe together, so a character becomes representative of all Native Americans; much like when whites are all lumped together and the distinction between the French and the English, for example, is completely erased. Saying that all tribes got along just fine is like saying all of Europe is one big happy family. Really, the lumping occurs from a lack of knowledge. It’s easy to categorize when you don’t know the details, and as a writer it’s my job NOT to do that.

Am I obsessing about research? Oh hell, yes. I’m going to get parts wrong, but at the same time? I would rather be smart about characterization, which is often embedded in the style of language and descriptions I use, than be like: “Oh hey, here’s this pulp-y character that comes along and is there to move the plot forward.” There are very few Native Americans in modern-day fiction. Few. I can’t remember the last time I saw one in a film; The Prophecy, maybe? Native Americans are not fantasy elves with mystical powers that have their own form of magic because of their deep connection to the land. Beliefs? Yes. Aliens from outer space? No.

And what of those beliefs? Well, you see this is the other reason why research is a requirement for me. No two tribes are alike, and beliefs vary widely. The vast majority of Native American beliefs don’t match European goals and thought processes, either. That’s where these accounts are helping me, because I am reading and seeing exactly what people from the era believed, what they experienced, and how they viewed the expansion. Hey, big hint folks: it’s not what Hollywood has depicted. Ever.

I’m lucky, I suppose, in that there’s no shortage of materials out there. I think the only reason I’m not (lucky), is because it’s going to take me longer to finish writing the book, but once I have his character down it’ll go much faster. I mean, sure it sounds like an excuse. Research can be a way to procrastinate, but the thing is: I’m not reading any of these books or diving in because I don’t trust myself as a writer, or because I’m freezing up, or any of those other “lets-beat-ourselves-up” reasons… I’m reading all this to internalize the information, so that I do the best job I possibly can. With so few Native American characters out there, that’s immensely important to me, and I’d never forgive myself if I was sloppy about it even though I’m writing fiction knowing what I know. Call it pride or whatever you like, but that’s just how it’s gotta be. I LOVE BEING A WRITER. And this? This research? It’s part of my job.

    Mood: Strangely strange.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Quite a bit.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I moved. Well, kind of.
    In My Ears: White noise. ZZZzzzzzz
    Game Last Played: Ninjas versus Zombies
    Book Last Read: Indian Running, Native American Testimony: From Prophecy to the Present 1442 – 1992
    Movie Last Viewed: Kill Bill II
    Latest Artistic Project: Art classes. SON OF A BISCUIT! That reminds me…
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Mortal Remains
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, short stories, and novels.

Yes, I’m working on a COMIC!

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I’ve mentioned my desire to write more comics before; right now I have two floating around in my head. One is definitely a webcomic/comic; the other is a dark science fiction story that I’m adapting into a novella. (Partly, because the latter doesn’t have a home in a script format, and it’s the kind of tale that’s better as a screenplay/comic. I have a better chance of selling it in prose, actually.) I’ve also said, however, that writing comics requires something else — an artist, letterer, inker, etc. The creating good art part of my brain has long since fallen into disrepair; art direction is no problem for me, mind, but all those skills associated with drawing and graphic design are now rudimentary at best. I make stick figures cry.

Enter my friend Mark Stegbauer. Mark volunteered to partner with me, and I’m giving him a co-creator share. I may be bubbly about this comic and whatnot, but as I’ve explained to Mark, I’d prefer not to make any announcements until we’ve got content down. The business side of the equation is sorted, but with comics? If the creative aspect isn’t done and we’re not ahead of the game? No point in getting folks excited — even if it’s ONE fan — and have nothing to show for it. Not cool.

Yes, that is a more conservative tack. Especially since everybody’s aggressive about announcements and whatnot. Thinking long-term, as a newbie coming into the field, however, I’d prefer to take the freelancer’s approach and do-as-I-say rather than say-and-maybe-do. After all, this is my original work and my paying projects do take precedence. Right now, this is a hobby that I hope will turn into something way cool. Either way — EXCITING!

Be sure to check out Mark’s website: steg-art.com. Wooo-hoooo!

    Mood: I [F-bomb'ing] hate moving.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: *coughs*
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I went for a walk.
    In My Ears: Ummm…
    Game Last Played: Tetris
    Book Last Read: Love is the Law by Nick Mamatas
    Movie Last Viewed: Captain America: the Winter Soldier.
    Latest Artistic Project: National Craft Month
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Firefly RPG corebook
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

Shameless Comic Plug

Monster Edition

Over at Red Stylo Media, you can get the Monster Edition of UNFASHIONED CREATURES along with two other literary-based graphic novels POE TWISTED and SHAKESPEARE SHAKEN for $50. Here’s a link to the monster bundle. Enjoy!

My first comic Last Man Zombie Standing is included in both the monster edition and standard edition. You can get your hands on a digital copy now and see a preview through DriveThruComics.com and Red Stylo Media. The print editions of both will be available early 2014.

Announcing “We Are Dust” a New Apocalyptic Anthology Release

We Are Dust apocalyptic anthologyWhether or not you believe the world ends on Friday, I have good news for you! “We Are Dust” (an apocalyptic-themed anthology) was released yesterday! This end of the world collection of stories features my story titled “The Button,” which is a Lovecraftian-themed tale featuring a female nuclear physicist.

Download a copy of We Are Dust here.

“The Button” is loosely related to the Mythos and is written in first person. I also built out the world some to serve the character, the plot, and the theme. Creating new gods and writing about Romans was a lot of fun!

I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy this collection of fantastic stories. Forgive me if I got a little over-salesy… I’ve always wanted to tell people to read a story before the world ends — and now I have! The anthology is available in multiple formats for your Nook, Kindle, laptop and other devices.

Enjoy!!!

Answering Reader Questions Squeefully

Today, I present you with a reader-driven interview of fantastic indeterminable quality and size.

Scott R. Asks: Have you ever loved a character concept but found it just would not fit into the project you were working on? If yes, how did you work that out?

    In fiction, I suppose I’m rather odd, because I feel the most connected to my work when I hear character voices. Those voices usually “talk” to me after I decide what type of story I want to tell. So I begin with the elevator pitch or concept first, and then match characters to that. When I start the other way ’round, the story just doesn’t flow like it should, because I’m so giddy about that character I don’t have a plot. I’ve never heard a character that needed to be silenced for a story; but I have had plots that didn’t work for characters.

    In games, though, this sort of thing happens all the time when I’m outlining. “Oh, it’d be so cool to…” occurs frequently. This is why line developers (a.k.a. gaming gods) exist to rein me in. (Or, when I’m developing, to handcuff myself.)

Mark B. Asks: What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?

    There is some reason why you did. Either it’s an emotion, like insecurity or boredom, or it’s something deeper but just as annoying, like the realization that you really can’t stand writing “X” or you have given up on working for “Y” or you can’t write with someone singing words in the background. Find out what that trigger is so you can recognize the warning signs and make better decisions for yourself, your mental health, and your career.

    Then? BE CREATIVE. Pick up some silly putty. Draw a stick figure. Learn how to bead or cross-stitch or paint or scrapbook. Choose anything — anything at all — that you can pick up and put down at your leisure and do it in a space where you can be completely free. No judgement. No feedback. No money exchanging hands. You do this hobby because you enjoy it immensely to get a creative break. Do this for a set period of time. Fifteen minutes. Half an hour. Then get back to it!

    Other methods that work are: switching projects, using a timer, or diving into a creative writing prompt. I do not recommend sitting at your computer until the words flow for the thing you’re working on because that will kill your productivity. If you turn writing into a punishment, whether that’s mentally or emotionally or not, you’ll do less of it without even realizing it. Yes, you have to write and I firmly believe this, but you also need to be good to yourself or you’ll kill that which you most desire.

Ursula M. H. Asks: What do you wish you had learned in school?

    I desperately tried to understand the business side of writing when I was in college. My Creating Writing program was outstanding because it offered me the flexibility to master form and function, but making money was something I did not learn. That, more than anything, would’ve helped me move forward with a career in writing as opposed to just storytelling. I very much lament the two paths presented in front of me — a literary career (a la The New Yorker) or a career in academia. Neither of which appealed to me at the time, but *shrugs* you never know.

Tiara L. A. Asks: How do you transition from short-story pacing to novel pacing? This is a constant struggle, and I don’t seem to be improving, even after years trying. I can rock a short story but my novel attempts just run out of gas, always about the same point.

    The software that helped me the most was Scrivener, because I was able to separate out the pieces of a novel. If you think about the pieces as interconnected (I always write short stories with the promise of more, more, more…) then you’ll have an easier time with it. More than that, I cannot say, because my novels aren’t out yet.

    I also feel, as I alluded to above, that if you’re stuck on a particular form you may have something else on the emotion side that’s blocking you. I feel you need to figure out whatever that is, perhaps take some time to meditate on the subject, so you can work through it. It may be simple as: “I’m really insecure about writing a novel on spec because I’m not sure if I can sell it and I have other projects people are paying me for.” (Which was my hold up.) Or, it may be complex as: “I’ve never done this before, there’s no one out there to teach me, and I’m worried I’m going to suck.”

    I know others have said to just power through that blockage, but the reality is that you have to do what’s best for you. You may determine that you aren’t a novelist or you only have the one book in you or you have resigned yourself to writing short stories. If that’s the case, own that. Be the writer you want to be, not the one you feel pressured to because everybody else says you won’t be a real writer if… These are your stories, your legacy. Own your own destiny as a writer, and you’ll be so happy you just never know what’ll happen.

David J. Asks: Out of all the things you’ve written, what’s your favorite?

    The novels that haven’t been published yet. I love them so hard… You have no idea. I’m so deeply emotional about these stories that I’ve been very selfish about not sharing them and not polishing them for submission. Soon, though. It’s time.

    In terms of what stories have already been published? I’m enamored with Atlas, my mysterious vampire who first debuted in modern-day noir story called “Fangs and Formaldehyde” for the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press. This story was completed a little over two years ago and was part of a very successful Kickstarter. It’s my commentary on the vampire genre (MY VAMPIRES BLOW UP IF THEY GET TOO EMOTIONAL!) and there are more stories to tell in this world.

Preston D. Asks: At what point does more coffee become counter-productive?

    Apparently, Preston follows my blog… So, yes. It’s true. *raises hand* I am a coffee snob and a caffeine addict. To manage said addiction, I have been marking down what happens when I have too much of it. Soda is… Whoa. Bad. Very, very bad. I try to limit myself to one 20 oz. per day (or less) if at all possible. My recent addiction to cardio workouts has also reduced my caffeine consumption, because here’s what happens to my sensitive system when I have too much of it…

    …I’M SO ENERGETIC AND EVERYTHING IS VERY LOUD AND ALL THE IDEAS CRASH AND BURN LIKE A MICHAEL BAY BLOCKBUSTER ONLY NO ONE IS THERE TO PAY ADMISSION…

    …soooooooo it has to be managed and stuck into the queue of moderation. Provided (key word there) I have a strong focus. Caffeine without focus is counter-productive. But? Caffeine WITH focus is a worthy time for consumption. Indeed.

Jim C. Asks: Is creating an outline really a necessary part of the writing process?

    Gods, no. I would even drop an F-Bomb or two in there for extra special emphasis. My process varies depending upon what I’m working on, where it will be published or submitted, and who I’m working for. Outlines are not always required. They are necessary for certain types of publishers and genres (I’m thinking romance, my friends…) but you can also get away with writing down milestones or reminders for yourself.

    I mentioned this earlier, but if I’m writing something, I prefer to begin with my goal or logline. When I don’t, the story evolves and shifts and changes as if it has a life of its own. And, well… If you’ve met me, you probably think they do, since my nickname is Miss Random USA.

    An example of this is what happened last week. I saw a contest I wanted to enter and I had a concept floating around in my head. It began with a title and a specific scene. I heard the voice in my head and I started writing. BAM! 2,500 words later… I realized that the story was too big for the contest parameters, so I trimmed and trimmed and trimmed and pared and found another story that tried to sneak past me. So I focused on that and cut off the original idea like a bad habit. Mind you, I really like both concepts, and I did get not one, but TWO stories out of the effort — but if I had been writing for a publisher? This would have been bad. “I asked for ‘X’ — but you gave me ‘Y’. That’s not what I wanted!!!”

    Regardless of how you write, there’s a fair amount of technical skill involved — especially when you start involving other people in your process. While I don’t believe outlines are a requirement for you, persay, I do believe they are necessary as part of the professional writer’s toolkit.

Anyhoo… OY. Now hitting that over-caffeination point I was referring to earlier… (In my defense, I’m answering these question as I prepare for the midnight showing of The Hobbit… BUT I LOVE THE WORLD AND TOWELS AND EVERYTHING AND ZOMG!)

Eric C. Asks: Any subject matter you feel is taboo and you won’t touch?

    Okay. (Puts on serious face.) I despise anything that goes in the realm of “creating for the sake of…” Writing for shock value, a la rape/incest/sodomy/etc., is so far removed from what I want to do as a storyteller it’s not even funny. When I tell stories, my goal is not to grab you by the throat to shock the living beejeezus out of you — even though that is a type of story to tell — it’s to entertain you in a way that leaves a different, softer lasting impression through a sense of wonder and mystery.

    Take rape for example. Rape is ugly and common, overlooked and not socially forgiven (e.g. the woman is often treated like the culprit), and is very, very, very wrong. When a writer defaults to that in a horror story, at the exclusion of all other possibilities, there’s very little room for plot. You see vengeance. You see character motivation. You see the victim becoming the antagonist/protagonist. But that rape is a story in and of itself and when it’s not? It turns into gratuitous violence.

    I feel an overemphasis on that (gratuitous violence) against women or people of color or any other “minority,” gross body behaviors (e.g. focus on defecating), and slaughter are cheap tricks that overwhelm plots. There are so many other dark dimensions that can be explored — which I do to highlight that little pinprick of light. In my storytelling world, death means something.

    Other writers may choose to go the shock and awe/gore pr0n route, but that’s not me. Not unless there is a very tangible reason related to the plot and I can write it in a way that does not serve those tropes up on a platter or overly disgusts the reader. There’s already enough of that out there.



****BONUS!!!! GUILTY ADMISSION!!!!****BONUS!!!! GUILTY ADMISSION!!!!****BONUS!!!! GUILTY ADMISSION!!!!****

Here’s my guilty admission for the day: my favorite lunch to make is a variation on macaroni and cheese. I’m a huge fan of Annie’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese and often add in things like: tuna, buffalo chicken, broccoli, jalapenos, portabella mushrooms, etc. I could write a whole cookbook just on the 100 varieties of mac-and-cheese we’ve come up with!

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