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03william-mortensen-l-amour_900I first discovered the work of William Mortensen on Pinterest, of all places, when someone shared the image that accompanies this post, “L’Amour.” Upon seeing it, I immediately knew that I had to learn more about its history and context, and, in my seeking, I wound up learning more about the man who had created the photograph.

Called “the anti-Christ” by Ansel Adams (and we writers think that our squabbles get heated), Mortensen was a fascinating photographer who used various techniques to create captivating, often grotesque photographic effects that frequently look as much like paintings or drawings as photos. Thankfully, about the time I was being introduced to his work, he was experiencing something of a renaissance in popularity, and I had several books available to learn more about him, including the recently published American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen and a reissue of one of Mortensen’s own books, The Command to Look. (If my story intrigues you at all, I highly recommend both.)

In researching Mortensen, I became fascinated, not merely by his methods and the images they produced, but by his life. And gradually, I knew that I would eventually write a story about him, at least roundaboutly. And that story eventually became “Mortensen’s Muse.” In it, I took as my jumping-off point the real-life relationship between Mortensen and then-undiscovered ingenue Fay Wray. Given my fascination with Golden Age Hollywood stories, the combination was too tempting to resist.

At one time, the story was probably going to go ahead and feature William Mortensen, but as I wrote it, I discovered that, as much as it hewed close to the facts in many places, it also diverged from them in important ways, and not just in its supernatural denouement, so I decided to change some names. William Mortensen became Ronald Mortensen, and the names of our “unidentified” narrator’s films all changed subtly, though her co-stars and directors remained the same.

“Mortensen’s Muse” was written for Ellen Datlow’s anthology Children of Lovecraft, where I’m ecstatic to say that it represents two very important firsts for me. It’s my first time in an original Ellen Datlow anthology (my story “Persistence of Vision” previously appeared in her Best Horror of the Year Volume 7) and my first time behind a Mike Mignola cover. Considering those have both been life goals of mine, you could say that I’m pretty happy with this publication, and not be at all incorrect. Below is a photo of my contributor copy, which came packaged very neatly from Dark Horse, and just today a very positive review of the antho went live at Cemetery Dance Online, in which the reviewer says of my story, “If H.P. Lovecraft had written for The Twilight Zone, this could have been the story he would have written.” There is definitely worse praise to get than that…

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Tonight is Walpurgisnacht, which, if it means nothing else, means that we’re at the halfway point on our trip back around to Halloween. Along with your bonfires and whatever else, I recommend some seasonally appropriate reading to mark the occasion. As you probably already know, I’ve got a story called “Walpurgisnacht” that takes place tonight and which initially appeared in The Children of Old Leech, though you can also read it in my second collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, both of which are available from Word Horde. Want a taste? You can read an excerpt from the beginning of “Walpurgisnacht” right here.

And speaking of Word Horde, this auspicious day also marks the debut of Mike Griffin’s, well, debut collection, The Lure of Devouring Light, published by, well, you guessed it.

If your reading card is all filled out for the night, might I recommend a suitably witchy film for your Walpurgisnacht enjoyment? Suspiria is always a good bet, but may be too familiar. Hammer’s The Witches is a little less often-seen, and is a particular favorite of mine. And though I don’t actually remember much about it, I’ve now got an ingrained soft spot for Virgin Witch, thanks to a late-night viewing with Simon Berman of Strix Publishing on the heels of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival a couple years back.

Whatever particular form your libation or revel may take this evening, happy Walpurgisnacht to all who celebrate! Tend to your bonfires, watch out for strange shapes in the sky, and beware of music from beneath the ground. See you all in May, when we’re on the downhill slope toward All Hallow’s Eve.

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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.”