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on writing

Well, it took me a while to get to this, so here we are almost two months into 2016, but here’s a recap of how writing went in 2015. First off, it was my second full year as a full time freelance writer. It was also, by far, the hardest year as such, but unexpected factors came into play to help get us through it, and so far 2016 is looking up (knock on wood).

Of course, the big writing event in 2015 was the release of my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts from Word Horde. The second-biggest piece of writing news last year was probably my ghost apocalypse story “Persistence of Vision” getting reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 7, marking my first (and so far only) best of the year publication.

Besides Painted Monsters and the three original stories contained therein, 2015 saw the publication of six new stories by yours truly. I also continued to do freelance work for Privateer Press and started doing regular freelance gigs for The Lineup. Plus I got to check something off my bucket list by making my first sale to Clarkesworld in the form of a nonfiction piece about bugs in the films of Guillermo del Toro.

So in spite of being a rough year in a lot of ways, 2015 was also a pretty great year for writing in a lot of other ways. And 2016 is off to a promising start. I’ve got at least one book coming out this year, Monsters from the Vault, a collection of my Vault of Secrets columns from Innsmouth Free Press. (More on that very soon.) I’m also in talks to get a new edition of Never Bet the Devil back into print sooner rather than later.

I’ve already got six stories in press that should be coming out in various anthologies in 2016. Some of them I’ve already talked about, others are still a secret for now, and there’s one that’s still under wraps that I’m very excited about. Besides that, I’ve also got four stories in various stages of progress for various anthology invitations, plus a project that I’m working on for Dunhams Manor. And I’m working on a pitch for an illustrated mid-grade book with Eric Orchard, among other projects. So 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting year.

Cthulhu Fhtagn!Yesterday was the 125th birthday of that cantankerous Old Gent from Providence himself, HP Lovecraft. Today, just about everyone I know is at the NecronomiCon in Providence, a convention celebrating the works and influence of one of the most important writers in the history of weird fiction, even as debates continue to rage within the genre about his racism, and various other problematic aspects of his life and work.

My name is one that is, I think, pretty closely tied to Lovecraft’s, whether I want it to be or not. Of the fifty-plus stories that I’ve published or sold to various places over the years, more a dozen have been in explicitly Lovecraft-themed publications, the most recent being Ross Lockhart’s Cthulhu Fhtagn! which was just released from Word Horde. In October I’ll be attending my third consecutive HP Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest. I don’t guess I get to deny that I’m a Lovecraftian writer, but at the same time, I’ve worked very hard to avoid dipping more than just the very tips of my toes into what I think of as the Mythos, instead taking cues from Lovecraft’s themes, the atmosphere of his tales, and running with those.

For last year’s HPLFF, I drove from Kansas City to Portland, picking up fellow guest and good friend Jesse Bullington on the way. During the long drive through countryside that was at turns bleak and beautiful, we talked of many things, and one of the topics that came up was “Why Lovecraft?” What was it about the man that made his legacy endure, while others were, if not forgotten, then certainly not remembered with such fervor by so many? I hypothesized that Lovecraft’s lasting influence had a lot to do with the fact that he was a kind of crossroads where many prior traditions of weird and supernatural fiction intersected, and from whence they then spread out again to go their various new directions. It’s a thought that I expanded upon a bit for my contribution to last year’s online DelToroCon.

Like a lot of people–maybe most people, in this day and age–Lovecraft was essentially my introduction to weird fiction. I came to Lovecraft by way of Stephen King, whose obvious homages to him in stories like “Jerusalem’s Lot” led me inexorably to checking out the work of the Old Gent himself. From there, Lovecraft was both the key and the door to an entire pantheon, not of hideous and ancient god-monsters, but of other writers of weird and spectral fiction both before and since.

On that same long car ride with Jesse, while acknowledging that I was considered a Lovecraftian writer, I said that, in a more perfect–or perhaps simply more accurate–world, I would instead be known as a Bensonian writer, or a Jamesian one (MR, not Henry), or a Hodgsonian or a Wellmanian one, and so on. Lovecraft was my introduction to that world, and as such he will always have a place in my DNA, but as far as the shape that my own writing has taken, there are hordes of other names that share at least equal blame in making me the creator that I am today. Jean Ray, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, and countless others all threw their particular influences into the mix. And of course none of that is even mentioning movies, which have had a huge impact on my imagination and my writing, or the person who is undoubtedly my greatest influence, Mike Mignola.

Mignola has a story that he tells in interviews, about how it was reading Dracula that made him really realize that all he wanted to do was draw and tell stories about monsters. My similar clarifying moment came about as a result of reading Mignola’s own work on his ever-expanding Hellboy universe. The fact that Mignola–like Lovecraft–proved to be a portal through which I discovered many of the other writers and creators who have most influenced me was icing on the cake.

So here’s to you, Mr. Lovecraft. If you’re not already chilling with the ghouls in the Dreamlands, may our continued excavations leave you and all your forebears and descendants restless in your graves.

About a month ago, at the urging of several different people, I finally took the plunge and started a Patreon account. I’m far from alone in this, as many of the authors and artists I know have them, and many others have strong opinions about why they’re a good idea or a bad one, depending on who you ask. I’ll admit that I’m still not completely sold on their practicality, but I like the concept. The patronage model has always appealed to me; the notion that people who like someone’s work will choose to pay a little bit in order to make certain that work continues to happen. It is, to some extent, an idea that everyone who sets out to write fiction, make music, or create art probably holds to at least a little. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t bother.

Anyway, after a “soft opening” and a trial run through the end of June, my Patreon is now up and running for realsies, and you can head over there anytime you like and throw some money into my hat in exchange for exclusive, behind-the-scenes access into my creative process, such as it is. You can expect mostly snippets of works-in-progress that you’ll get to see well in advance of the general public, as well as the occasional original piece exclusive to Patreon backers, and insights into whatever oddball movies I’ve been watching lately. As my number of patrons continues to grow, so too will the amount of involvement that I have in the site, and the amount of patron-only content that shows up.

I’m still learning my way around the whole Patreon concept, and so the endeavor is still something of a work in progress. I’m working on Milestone Goals that will hopefully go up soon, and I’m very open to any input that anyone might have as to good options for those, or even alternate pledge tiers and so on. I want this to be a pretty flexible and fun undertaking, both for me, and for my patrons, so feel free to leave comments here or there or wherever. And, of course, the more patrons I get, the happier I am, so please share this post or the link to my Patreon far and wide.

Come September, I will have been working full-time as a freelance writer and editor for two years. When I first started out, I had more work than I could really keep up with, but since then I’ve had a couple of my bigger clients reduce the amount of work they’ve been asking for, which means that I am currently actively seeking new clients for just about any kind of freelance writing, editing, critiquing, or content creation. I’ve done SEO work, blogging, written websites, done licensed fiction and RPG writing for Privateer Press, critiqued and proofread both fiction and nonfiction, as well as producing lots and lots of short stories. So if you or anyone you know is looking for fast, reliable, and high-quality freelance work in any of those areas, drop me a line at orringrey [at] gmail [dot] com for rates and specifics.

Daniel Mills​ tagged me to name “seven things about my writing that you may not already know,” which is the sort of thing I would normally agonize over for several days before unceremoniously dumping it onto the Internet in the middle of the night. However, I don’t really have time for agonizing right now, so I’ll just skip straight to unceremonious dumping. Here are the first seven things that came to mind that might possibly qualify:

  1. While I don’t really have a process–it changes pretty drastically from story to story–I try, whenever deadlines permit, to write everything out completely at least twice. I find that in the course of writing it the second time, I catch things that I wouldn’t have noticed if I had simply been revising.
  2. I used to write to music compulsively, but these days I find that I can’t do it. Just about any kind of music seems to kill the rhythm of writing, with the recent notable exception of John Carpenter’s Lost Themes.
  3. Nathan Ballingrud once lamented that he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be William Faulkner or Robert E. Howard. (I believe I got those names right, Nathan?) I told him that I was pretty sure I just wanted to be Robert E. Howard (though Mike Mignola or E.F. Benson would probably have been better examples), and he basically told me to go out and do the best job of that I could. I’ve been trying to live by that advice ever since.
  4. I’ve known that I wanted to write pretty much forever, but probably the biggest turning point in my development as a writer came when I was introduced to Roger Zelazny through his Chronicles of Amber books. Something about Zelazny’s prose transformed me from someone who wanted to write, into someone who wanted to write better.
  5. Though it is, I think, somewhat unfashionable to admit such a thing right now, my writing is heavily influenced by film, though less, I hope, in the form of “here’s a thinly-veiled fanfic of my favorite TV show” or “here’s a story that I really wanted to be a screenplay but I figured I could sell it quicker this way” and more simply that years of watching and digesting movies has left an indelible stamp on my imagination. In his own version of this meme, Daniel mentioned that he was “critical of the influence of film on contemporary fiction,” and went on to enumerate a number of reasons, all of which made good sense. One of those was that “the first-person tense is eliminated.” A look over my stories shows that I am, at least, not in any danger of that, since I dearly love writing in both first- and the much more oft-maligned second-persons.
  6. I currently write for a living, but the majority of my income doesn’t come from fiction–licensed or otherwise–but from content work for various corporate websites and blogs. Which is not as much fun as writing about wax museums, lost films, and unlikely ghosts, but it does pay better, at least for now.
  7. If I were ever to print out some sort of motivational saying and have it framed above my desk to inspire me when I’m writing, it might well be a quote from Alan Moore’s introduction to the second Hellboy collection, Wake the Devil: “The trick, the skill entailed in this delightful necromantic conjuring of things gone by is not, as might be thought, in crafting work as good as the work that inspired it really was, but in the much more demanding task of crafting work as good as everyone remembers the original as being.”

So, I’m jumping the gun a bit on this, as we’ve still got a couple weeks of 2014 left, but there’s pretty good odds that I won’t see any movies or read any books or publish anything that I don’t already know about or anything else of note between now and then, and if I do, I’ll put up an addendum to this entry. So, looking back at 2014, what’s the biggest thing on my mind, besides how amazingly fast it went? Well, the main thing is that this means one full calendar year of me running my own business as a full-time writer, and it’s been pretty great. There have been periods that were financially lean–we’re actually in the midst of one right now–and ones that have been fairly flush, but all in all, it’s been a ride, and even if everything goes pear-shaped from here, I’ll at least have known what it was like for a while.

It turns out that having nothing else to do all day–and having your mortgage depend on your doing it–does wonders for your productivity, and I’ve sold and published quite a lot of fiction in the past year, even while it wasn’t my main source of writing income. I published seven stories in 2014 and one reprint, as well as selling several others that have yet to see print, and writing a decent body of licensed work for Privateer Press, some of which has seen print and some of which remains to be announced. I got to see my name in an actual core rulebook for Hordes, which was a pretty fantastic feeling. All told, I sold or published around two dozen pieces of fiction, including licensed work, over the course of the year. That’s a pretty big jump, especially considering that in 2013 I only published two stories, three if you count licensed work.

I also put out Gardinel’s Real Estate with my friend M.S. Corley, which sold out in only a couple of weeks, though you can still get a digital version via Gumroad. I participated in the online Deltorocon convention, attended the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival as a guest for the second year in a row, and wrote my first introduction for a collection by a contemporary writer, The Nickronomicon. Along with a host of other stuff that either hasn’t been announced yet, or that I’m forgetting to mention.

My goals for next year are mostly more of the same. I want to diversify the revenue streams for my business, so that slow months don’t hit as hard, and I want to keep on keeping my head above water, which, only a little over a year in, still feels doable, but like a big enough goal, thanks. The one really big piece of news on the horizon that I already know about is that 2015 will see the publication of my second fiction collection, this time through Ross Lockhart’s Word Horde imprint, where you can expect some really big things in the coming year. The collection is tentatively titled Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and you’ll have to wait a bit longer to learn too much more, but I can tell you that I just recently wrapped the first draft of a brand new novella for the book, and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Another goal for 2015 is to read more. I’ve actually seen a big dent in my reading time since I quit my day job. Previously, I spent the couple of hours a day that were otherwise consigned to the limbo of the city bus reading, and without that bracket of pre-loaded time, I’ve found it harder to put away the books at the pace I once could. I only read about 20 books in 2014, and as usual for me, most of those were graphic novels. Of the non-Hellboy stuff I did read, some of the standouts include the first collection from Daniel Mills (The Lord Came at Twilight), the latest collection from Slivia Moreno-Garcia (Love & Other Poisons), a couple from Adam Cesare (Video NightAll-Night Terror), and The Children of Old Leech, which also contained my story “Walpurgisnacht,” but hopefully that doesn’t make me too biased.

Movies, on the other hand, I had no trouble watching in 2014, though I still only managed to catch 21 that were released this year. My top ten list is currently live at Downright Creepy, but there are literally piles and piles of almost certainly great stuff that didn’t make the cut simply by virtue of my not catching it yet. Of the ones I did see, though, that’s a pretty accurate representation, and I didn’t have to leave anything on the cutting room floor due to DRC’s rubric of only allowing horror, thriller, sci-fi, and comic book flicks. (It was, as you can see, a great year for comic book flicks!) I may do some kind of total movie watching metric once the year is actually closed out, but we’ll see.

At this rate, I may have to wait until we’re a ways into 2015 before I do a Year In Creatures roundup, because while there were plenty of creatures in at least some of the movies I watched in 2014, very few of them really stood out. It seems that, whatever the best creature of the year was, it must have been somewhere outside of my experience so far.

The end of my first full year as a full-time writer is a big milestone, and I’m hopeful–if also a little anxious, as is usual and customary for me–for more good things to come in 2015. As I finish out the last few days of December, I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve had, and for all the friends and family who’ve stood by me. One of the best things about doing what I do is that I get to meet and work with some of the best, coolest, and most exciting people I can think of, and I couldn’t have done it without the lot of you. Thanks to all of my friends both online and off, particularly to my dear friend Jay, who this year honored me immeasurably by asking me to be his best man at his wedding. Perhaps most of all, though, I couldn’t have done it without my loving and supportive wife, Grace, who has always believed in me, even and most especially when I myself did not.

Here’s to the end of 2014, and the beginning of bigger and better things for all of us in 2015! Soupy twist!

I fear that I’m going to inevitably be guilty of a bit of vaguebooking (vagueblogging?) here, which I generally try to avoid as much as I can, but which is occasionally an inevitable peril of the writing life, but I did something recently that felt like a big deal to me, and I want to talk about it, to the extent that I am presently able:

Though I have been writing for a living for more than a year now, and almost inevitably write something just about–though not quite–every day, that something is not always fiction. In fact, though I currently have more than 20 short stories either sold or published in 2014 (a big jump up from the two or so that I published last year), the lion’s share of my income–and thus, the writing that I do–comes from freelance content work, producing blog articles, press releases, and even tweets for various companies and organizations, never with my own byline attached. So writing new fiction is still a great feeling, when I get the chance to do it, and recently I completed, in three days no less, what will probably be my third-longest published work, once it is published; a novella (or novelette, depending on your definition) that currently clocks at around 14,000 words and will be the centerpiece of my next collection, about which I can’t actually say much just yet, but there’ll be an official announcement coming soon, I promise.

I say that I wrote it in three days, and that’s true, in the sense that I typed 14,000 words over the course of three days (with a one-day break in-between when I had to do other things instead), but I have been working on this story for more than a year. I don’t know exactly when the idea for this story first came to me, but I know that it was before the HP Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland back in April, because I was already talking about it with people there. Over the months that this story took shape in my notebooks, it underwent several permutations, and I probably wrote the first 5,000 words of it half-a-dozen times. It has been sitting at the top of my perennial to-do list for so long now that I was beginning to think it would never get crossed off, before I finally sat down and knocked out that rough draft in three days of more-or-less continual writing.

I haven’t actually re-read the story since I (figuratively) typed “the end” on it–I try to always give my stories at least a few days before I so much as look at them a second time–but my first reader has taken a look at it already, and I feel pretty good about it. I’m excited about this one, and eager to talk, but I can’t really, not yet. So why am I writing a post about something I can’t really talk about? Well, it’s not the story that I felt warranted the post, so much as the process. The combination of a few days of intensive writing after months of notations and brainstorming felt like something that I wanted to document, though I don’t know how much anyone outside of my head is actually interested in reading much about process.

I’ve never been much of a process person, really. While I have things that typically work for me–on most shorter stories, for example, I always type the thing out at least twice, because I find that rewriting, rather than simply revising, catches things that I might otherwise miss, things that aren’t quite mistakes, but that do make the story better–I also find that different work requires different approaches, and my process tends to change from one piece to another. That said, it’s worth noting that, in addition to being one of the longer things I ever finished, this is also the second thing I ever wrote entirely in Scrivener. (The first was Gardinel’s Real Estate.) I didn’t come anywhere close to using the full potential of the platform on this project, mostly just writing in it exactly as I would any other word processor, but I did make extensive use of the separate “notes” feature in order to store snippets for later use, and keep timelines and stuff straight. For Gardinel’s Scrivener was far more indispensable, since I was constantly making reference to Mike’s incredible drawings as I was doing the writing, and Scrivener let me toggle back and forth easily without switching windows.

The vagaries of freelance work often mean that it’s much more convenient to work in Word, but after this second run, I have a feeling that Scrivener will become a major fixture of my fiction toolkit, especially for longer and more complex works like the novel/la/ette I just completed.