Category Archives: Shameless Self-Promotion
Wow, it’s been two years since I last wrote anything on this blog. That’s because I was writing a novel that went haywire and needed a lot of re-writes, and after that I just wanted to go supine on the couch and read. Which I did. For a long time.
A lot’s happened since then. The cliche about how awful 2016’s been just goes to show how awful 2016’s been. So, there was that. I’ll blame 2016. 2016 kept me from updating this blog.
So, anyway, I’m writing a new novel now. You know that last post I did about writing and editing? Well, I talked there about how I’m too lazy to plan novels. Yeah, about that …
I’m actually too lazy to undergo the kind of re-writing necessary to get the story right if I don’t plan novels. Because I had to completely re-write my previous novel. A lot. More than a lot. Because I kept getting the story wrong. I know now that this kind of thing happens if I don’t plan my novels at least a little bit. And all those wall-to-wall re-writes weren’t in the least bit fun.
So, after reading my last novel about three or four times (bless her), my kick-ass agent suggested it might not be a bad idea if I worked the story and pacing and beats out a little bit before I tried writing it again. Once I got over the ego-bruise of enduring the intolerable suggestion that my writing routine could use a tweak or, well, an entire re-think, I got a copy of the book she recommended I look at. It was a book for screenwriters, and there was a lot there I disagreed with (for instance, I love the film Memento), but the gist of it made sense, and I’ve always appreciated a certain cinematic immediacy to fiction, so I did what the book said. I even bought a corkboard and covered it in notecards. And what I discovered is that I kind of like the whole panning thing. Okay, so, it was easier to plan and corkboard something when you’re on your fifth draft of it and already mostly know what’s going to happen. But, I ended up with a better novel. One that was suitable to send out. Yeah, okay, it crashed and burned when it went out to publishers, but it crashed and burned to high praise, which is something, right? Most editors said it was better than my previous novel. (Yeah, I figure they say that kinda thing to a lot of authors.)
Which brings me to … my current novel. This one, unlike any other novel I’ve written, was planned in a fair amount of detail from the start. I even wrote a blurb first, the main pitch. The planning took me a couple months. It gave me headaches. But it also gave me a condensed version of all those a-ha moments I got from previous writing. In other words, it wasn’t a dry, formulaic process. It was imaginative, and satisfying, and it has made the actual writing much less exhausting, much less stressful. Because I’m not simultaneously trying to write good fictive prose and also trying to figure out what’s going to happen. Gone is that big dense white wall of nothing that used to sit right there one cursor space beyond the end of the sentence I was writing. Now, there’s story beyond that sentence. And that takes some of the pressure off. I’m not flying along, frantically flinging words onto the page, free-styling at the very edge of the storyline, hoping that sheer momentum will propel me into whatever the next story event may be, so that to miss even a day of writing might mean the pace and the story simply die because I’ve dared to slow down and I need that speed, speed, speed to show me what’s going to happen next, and next, and next, pant, pant, pant. No sir, confident in the knowledge that I have a good idea of where I’m going, the pressure to write five or six pages every single day, and the panic that ensues if I miss a day, has evaporated. Yes, I still write everyday (mostly), but if I miss a day? If I take a weekend off? Not a big deal. I do have a family and a job and a life and all that. And those things need attention, too.
So yeah, it’s a more deliberate process. But I like to do things on purpose, rather than stumble through them by accident. It makes me feel a little bit like I know what I’m doing. And there are still surprises. Characters have still popped up and said, You know, I think I can fit into your plan, so have some fun with me. And I like that.
So, for all its otherwise nauseating and downright terrifying, depressing shittiness, 2016 did see, for me, the discovery of a healthier, saner writing process. Now, just don’t get me started on Trump, or Brexit, or Bowie, or, or or ….
To celebrate World Fantasy Con 2013, myself and several authors, all of us represented by the fabulous Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group, have decided to write Halloween-themed shorts. As Andrew Reid (a member of “Team Mushens”) has explained here, we will cross-link the stories via Twitter. Since the convention opens on Halloween night, and I add another year to my life two days prior (no wonder I think scary is fun, eh?), I suspect I’ll be lucky to remember this year’s debaucheries at all. If you see me in the bar, and I’m a mess, please be kind.
Anyway, here’s my entry. Enjoy!
PARTY AT THE WITCH HOUSE
As a nine-year-old on my first day of 4th grade, I endured three fights, one each recess, a different kid each time—and each time, I lost. I was new; everyone expected their shot. The next day brought fresh opponents and fresh defeats, but the days passed. I worked my way through the boys in class, and started tying, then winning. My rank in the pecking-order was established. Certain kids knew they could pick on me. Others knew to back off. Problem was, where I came from, I was near the top. Middle wasn’t my style. So I kept challenging those top three, the ones who’d started it.
And kept losing.
One afternoon, they all followed me home, jumped me from some bushes, and beat me silly. Luckily we were practically in my backyard, in view of the kitchen window. By the time my mom stormed out, they had me pinned to the ground, taking turns stomping on my chest. After they’d run away, she said, in her hippy earth-mother 70s way, “The universe will balance it.” Then, she added, “It sure as hell better, anyway.”
That night, my dad called their dads:
“I got no issue with one-on-one. But three-one-one doesn’t cut it with me. How about you?” Same words each call.
I think he got through to them, because next day at school all three top boys ignored me. Until one, Karl Ward, a kid so muscular for a nine-year-old they called him Boulder Shoulders, approached me at lunch and said, “You really live in that house?”
Our house was big and old and needed a coat of paint.
He blew out a breath. “How you still alive? I mean, that’s where the witch lived.”
It gave me an idea.
See, I was born two days before Halloween, and that year, Halloween was a Saturday. The next five or six weeks saw me playing class clown and joking my way into trust of the top three, so that when the time came, they saw my invitation to a sleepover birthday party on Halloween night in the Witch House exactly how I wanted them to—as a challenge to their bravery. They couldn’t laugh that off. Or refuse.
On the day of the party, my mom helped me rig up her stereo and prepare the basement. We placed one speaker in the entry hall, and another in the laundry room near the basement door. We played an album any 70s child will know, The Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House—howling winds, thunder-storms, cat screeches, ghost groans and phantom shrieks.
The top three boys, my only guests, arrived at dusk. While the stereo speakers gusted and moaned, each boy entered a house lit only by candles that painted the walls with dancing shadows. Dressed in black, with her face powdered deathly white, and with a smile that revealed her glow-in-the-dark fangs, my mom led each boy one at a time to the basement door. There, she said, “Descend these steps and kneel to the witch.”
The basement floor was unevenly cobbled. Lining the walls were cobwebbed wooden shelves, empty but for a few dusty glass jars containing rusty nails. Hand-saws and garden shears and screwdrivers, all coated in years of rust, sat on wobbly wooden tables like instruments of torture. The space smelled of dust and rot. And the corners were dark. They were haunted by shadows that shifted in the candlelight like lurking things. The candles were arranged in a circle, and positioned in the middle of it, in an old rocking chair we’d found in the attic that day, sat the witch, stuffed with dried leaves and wearing a black pointed hat. The nose on her rubber mask was long and curved like the blade of a scythe. In a row at her feet were three plastic jack-o-lantern baskets for trick-or-treating. Each bore the name of one of my guests in black magic-markered calligraphy. Like an incantation.
I hid to one side, in one of those dark and haunted corners, wearing a skeleton mask and a white sheet. Around one wrist was a plastic ball-and-chain. Karl Ward came first, dressed as Evel Knievel. He stepped down the rickety stairs, entered the circle and, visibly shaking, knelt. That he followed my mom’s directions to the tee didn’t surprise me. When I’d asked about the witch at school, I’d heard how anyone who visited her house ended up dead. My dad said it was idiocy, that he’d heard she was a lonely old lady. He said, “Don’t listen to foolish playground stories.”
Well, Karl Ward listened to them. As soon as he entered the circle and knelt, I was filled with a sense of loving protection, as though embraced by those shifting shadows, cold against my skin, but warming through me with an ageless charm. Thus strengthened, I leapt, and Karl Ward’s scream was satisfyingly genuine. He threw his hands in front of him and wimpered. That’s right. Boulder Shoulders cowered before me. Laughing, my trick a success, I picked up his basket and offered it. But, to my bewildered delight, he kept screaming. All the way up the stairs.
Same with the next two. The top three boys went straight home that night, and never bothered me again.
Did the universe, via my mom’s trick, balance things out? I thought so. I thought that was the end of it.
The next year, my dad’s fortunes improved, and we left Archangel, Illinois for good. I’m in my 50s now, and live in Oregon. But the other day, that little town made the national news. A spate of mysterious deaths. Animals in the countryside, then people in town. It got me to thinking about it again.
Online, I found that none of my party guests numbered among the recent dead. Because, as further surfing showed, none of them had lived past their 20s. Hunting accident. Car-wreck. Boulder Shoulders was murdered in prison. Then I remembered something, a detail from my sleepover I’d never properly registered. Yes, I had leapt from my darkened corner, and yes, those kids hadn’t stopped screaming. But they weren’t scared of me. Their eyes told me that.
Because—now that I think about it—their comically terror-popped eyes were fixed on something taller, behind me.
Year after year like an angry god, through the alders, the plane trees and the yew.
Backward eventually craned their branches to allow the blast
to more easily pass
their bent-back frames.
Such adaptation suggests this calculation:
Trees, like all living beings, can feel.
So when they fall, it need only be themselves and their companions in the forest
Who render that collapse real.
I’d originally intended this to be a bit of shameless self-promotion. Which it still is. However, I found the process of creating an audio version of the first chapter of my novel useful as an editing tool. I realized that, if I can’t speak it so it flows, if it has no variation and rhythm and pace, something’s wrong. And through the process of reading it outloud—as a performance—I found that not just the problems became obvious, but the solutions, too. I recommend this for every writer. Read your stuff outloud. But not just as a way of looking for errors. Do it for real. As a performance. Record it. Listen to it back. Would you like it to sound this way as an audiobook? Why? Why not?
Anyway, so … here’s Chapter 1 of what is called, for now, Branches And Wings. I consider this chapter done. It’s in its final form, and little will be changed between now and when I send the completed novel off to agents or publishers. I’m nearing the end of the penultimate draft, clocking in about 1500 – 1800 words a day, and working on the the final draft at a pace of about 500 words a week. Bit by bit, as I finish new chapters on the final draft, I will release them as audio versions. But not often. No faster than about every month and a half at first, until I really get in the swing of that precious Final Draft.
Yes, I’ve associated myself with the most obscene and sickening filth that’s ever dirtied your frail little ears. I have read – outloud! – the full text of Joseph D’Lacey‘s short-story, Son Of Porn (from his collection, Splinters), and I’ve recorded the results. Surprisingly, the author and his publisher, Timeline Books, have decided to turn this rot loose upon the world. For free. Yes, that’s right. You can drench yourself in its audiofilth and pay nothing for the experience. In fact, I should pay you for wasting your valuable time listening to such degenerate discharge. I won’t, though. If you want to pollute your imagination, that’s your business. But I’ll not lose money over it. After all, I’ve already lost my innocence by being exposed to D’Lacey’s fecal and putrid imagination.
If you want to subject yourself to this indisputable proof of civilization’s moral decline, it’s here: Son of Porn by Joseph D’Lacey
I take no responsibility for what happens to your soul after that.