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on writing

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.

Mutagenesis is my second collaboration with Skull Island eXpeditions, the fiction publishing arm of Privateer Press, and it is now loose in the world. It’s also the longest finished thing I’ve ever written, clocking in at over 30,000 words. (And hey, as a bonus, it’s got three really fantastic, full-color interior illustrations that I didn’t even get to see until I was looking at my author copy!)

Mutagenesis_cover

Back when I talked about writing “Under the Shadow,” the first thing I did for Skull Island, I mentioned that one of my favorite things about Privateer Press and the Iron Kingdoms setting was how they handled dragons. IK dragons are beasts of such inhuman age and cunning that they approach the quality of Lovecraftian god-monsters, and of course that goes right into my wheelhouse. Apparently, my editors as Skull Island liked my take on dragons and the relationships that their mortal followers have with them in “Under the Shadow,” because I was allowed to play some more in that particular sandbox with this project.

With Mutagenesis I got to tackle a much more direct relationship between a character and a dragon, as I told the origin story of Thagrosh and, consequently, the Legion of Everblight. For those who don’t play the game, the Legion is one of the core factions, one based entirely around a dragon, and Thagrosh is their flagship warlock. So this was a lot of fun to do.

Mutagenesis was also an interesting experience for me in terms of the writing process itself. Since this was only my second time doing licensed work, I was definitely still learning as I went. Normally, when it comes to writing, I’m not much of a planner. I write stories by feel, sort of like walking through an unfamiliar room in the dark. I’ve never been someone who did a lot of outlines or note cards or that kind of thing. I take notes for stories, but they tend to be more disorganized; snippets, thoughts, sections of story written all out of order, kind of whatever I think of at the time.

With Mutagenesis, I was not only working from a fairly detailed outline, I had a lot of input from editors and writers at Privateer Press about everything from what should happen in the story, to where things were located, what people drank, etc. It was a different experience for me, but a lot of fun, and it let me work some muscles that don’t usually get much exercise in my writing. I also think that, like with “Under the Shadow,” I was able to bring a lot of my pet obsessions to the table as well, and I definitely consider this a part of “my” work, whatever that means, and I think that for fans of my stuff, there’ll be some familiar territory here.

I love the Iron Kingdoms, and I’m happy to be returning. There’s some more projects in the pipeline, and as soon as I can say more about them, you’ll hear it here.

2012 was an extremely busy publishing year for me. My first collection came out, along with my first book as editor. By comparison, I didn’t do much publishing in 2013, but I certainly kept busy.

I only published two short stories in 2013: “Ripperology” in Ross Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper and “Night’s Foul Bird” in the special “wings” theme issue of Innsmouth Magazine. I’m pretty proud of both stories, and both publications would make great holiday gifts, wink wink, nudge nudge.

I also wrote the introduction for the reissue of J.B. Priestley’s novel Benighted for Valancourt Books. It’s the book that The Old Dark House was adapted from, and both book and movie are among my favorites, so I was very proud to get to write the introduction. The book looks absolutely great, too, with one of the best covers I’ve ever seen. Another great gift, if you’re in the market.

A lot of the energy that might otherwise have gone toward getting some of my stories written and published in 2013 instead went toward another project. I was approached by Skull Island eXpeditions, the fiction arm of Privateer Press, to do some licensed fiction for their Iron Kingdoms setting. Having been an Iron Kingdoms fan for years, it was a pretty big deal for me, and I approached it with due excitement. My first project was a novelette about General Gerlak Slaughterborn, which appeared in their Called to Battle anthology. I also spent a chunk of 2013 working on a novella for them, which will be coming out sometime in the beginning of the New Year. Entitled Mutagenesisit tells the origin of Thagrosh Hellborne and the Legion of Everblight. You’ll be hearing more about it soon.

I’m really happy with both of them, and I regard them as a part of my body of writing every bit as much as my own short stories are. So if you like my work in general, I think you’ll like these, too. I’m looking forward to doing more work with them in the coming years.

Getting a chance to work with Privateer Press would be big enough news for any one normal year, but even that wasn’t the biggest thing that happened to me in 2013. Because 2013 was also the year I quit my proverbial day job to start writing full time. That was about three months ago, and so far it’s gone off pretty well. I’ve had flush spells and dry spells, but overall it’s been great, and I’m very happy to see where it takes me in 2014!

Under the Shadow

It’s not really a subject that I’ve talked about a lot here, but I grew up with tabletop wargaming. Warhammer was probably my biggest introduction to the fantasy genre. I didn’t have the money to play very often, and I never collected a lot of miniatures–and certainly lacked the patience and skill to paint up those I did have–but I read the books voraciously, and inhabited those worlds more than perhaps any others, save maybe those of superhero comics.

By the time I encountered Privateer Press and their Iron Kingdoms setting, I had moved as a writer away from fantasy stuff to the darker corners of the horror genre. But the Iron Kingdoms and the games set therein reminded me of what I had fallen in love with in the first place, and IK quickly became one of my favorite settings of anything, ever. I played for a while, dabbling in Mercenaries and falling in love with Trollbloods before finally settling on Gatormen as my default faction. I even bought a few of the miniatures, though I’m still no good at painting them. And once again, I read all the books I could get my hands on, voraciously.

Recently, Privateer Press unveiled a newly-minted fiction publishing arm in the form of  Skull Island eXpeditions; putting out ebook stories and novellas in the Iron Kingdoms universe. To say that I was pleased when they approached me to do some work for them would be the understatement of a lifetime.

The first product of that collaboration has now seen press. My story “Under the Shadow” is one of four stories in Called to Battle, an anthology of tales concerning solo characters from the Iron Kingdoms. Mine concerns General Gerlak Slaughterborn, a blighted trollkin who hails from the Cryx faction, an army of necromancers and undead robots that is exactly as cool as that sounds. I loved writing “Under the Shadow,” and found plenty of room to explore some of my own pet themes within the bounds of the Iron Kingdoms setting.

One of my favorite things about the Iron Kingdoms is how they handle dragons. Rather than the fairly generic critters that populate many fantasy settings, the dragons of the Iron Kingdoms are borderline Lovecraftian in their antiquity, power, and scope. Consequently, one of the things I enjoyed most about working on “Under the Shadow” was exploring the relationship between Slaughterborn and Lord Toruk, the first dragon and god-king of Cryx.

“Under the Shadow” was only the first of what I hope to be many pieces I do for Skull Island and Privateer Press, and the subject of dragons is one that I’m looking forward to exploring more in future stories. Keep an eye on this space for more news on that front. In the mean time, if you’re curious for an introduction to the Iron Kingdoms, there’s worse places to start than Called to Battle, which you can pick up from their website now.

“I’m gonna be sophisticated and have no job. Or a job that looks from a distance like I do nothing.”
– Troy Barnes, Community

This is it. Final countdown. When I ride the elevators down at the end of the day today, it will be for the last time. And not just at this office, but anywhere, at least for a while. Today’s my last day of full time employment in the 9-to-5, day job kind of sense. Starting today, I work for myself. Freelance writing, full time.

I didn’t sell a novel for a six-figure book deal or anything. In fact, I still haven’t written a novel ever, and it may be that I never do. I’ll still have “day job” work in the form of work-for-hire writing which will make up the vast majority of my income, some of it SEO and web content work, some of it more exciting stuff. Beyond that, I don’t really know what it’ll be like. I haven’t not had a full time day job of the traditional variety since I was about sixteen. I didn’t work a full time job during college, but I took a full load of classes (and by that I mean full, I graduated in three-and-a-half years) and worked two or three part time jobs at all times. And I technically didn’t have a job of any kind for a period of a week or two several years ago, between the time when I got laid off from one law office and the time I got a full time temp job in the mail room of another one. So this is going to be a real change for me.

But it’s also what I’ve always wanted to do. A writer (and occasional editor) is all I’ve wanted to be for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my mom kept one of those “School Days” books where you put in report cards and class pictures and stuff, and there was a space on each one of them for you to write in what you wanted to be when you grew up. For the first couple of years it said stuff like “archaeologist” (when I’d just watched Indiana Jones) or “scientist” (when I’d just watched Ghostbusters), but after about second or third grade, all it ever said was “writer.”

And now I get to do it for a living, every day. I’ll admit that for now the prospect is still probably about as terrifying as it is exhilarating, but still, you can’t get much better than that.

“And a day of playing ball is better than whatever most people have to do for a living.”
– Rube Baker, Major League 2

I’ve got two books coming out this year. One of them I wrote, the other I co-edited. I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one I’m more proud of.

The first is my debut short story collection Never Bet the Devil and Other Warnings, due out pretty much any day now from Evileye Books. What you see up above there is the full cover spread for the collection, and over the weekend I got the uncorrected proofs in PDF. As soon as I get through those and get any notes sent back to the publisher, it should be on its way to the printers. It features ten stories (including my out-of-print novella The Mysterious Flame) and every story has an illustration by the great Bernie Gonzalez, whose work you can also see there on the front cover. It’ll be available in paperback and ebook formats, and I’ll be posting more about it just as soon as it’s ready to order.

The second is Fungi, the anthology of fungus-themed stories that I co-edited with Silvia Moreno-Garcia for Innsmouth Free Press. I’ve talked about it at some length before, and you can learn more and see the full table of contents at its website. It’s going to be coming out in ebook, paperback, and hardcover (what you see above is the cover spread for the hardcover edition), and it’s available for pre-order at 20% off the cover price from now until November 16. I know that I’m a bit biased, but personally I’d recommend picking up the hardcover. It’s got three extra stories, and ten illustrations, these also by Bernie!

As you can imagine, October is a busy season around our household, and this year that’s been especially true. Last weekend, Grace and I got dolled up and went out to see a ballet interpretation of the Carmina Burana at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It was the first professional ballet for either of us, and we were duly impressed. (The Kauffman Center was pretty nice, too.) Tonight, we’re heading to the Plaza to see The Oatmeal talk about his new book. And this coming Saturday we’re having some people over to watch Monster Squad, since the Alamo Drafthouse is being renovated for the month of October.

In spite of all that, I still managed to watch The Tall Man, Pascal Laugier’s follow-up to Martyrs. While it was pretty enjoyable, it wasn’t really as suitable for Halloween viewing as I had hoped. (For those of you thinking maybe it has something to do with Phantasm, sorry to disillusion you.) It’s really only a horror movie for about the first third, before it switches pretty sharply into something else entirely. It didn’t keep me as on my toes as Martyrs did, but I certainly wouldn’t have guessed where it was headed from the first reel, and that’s something.

The latest issue of the Lovecraft eZine is a tribute to Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, and it features my story “The Blackbird Whistling, or Just After.”

Roger Zelazny isn’t quite the fabled “writer who made me want to become a writer,” but discovering his work marked maybe the biggest turning point in my journey from being a kid who wanted to grow up to be a writer to growing up to kind of be a writer after all. And while I discovered Zelazny through his Amber novels, A Night in the Lonesome October is, of course, the novel of his that speaks most to me. It’s a perennial favorite, and I try to re-read it about every year. So when the call for submissions to the Lovecraft eZine tribute issue came out, I knew I’d have to do something for it.

It was actually harder than I’d have expected. It came with a deadline, of course, and I was pretty busy, so the story was going to have to be short, and I found myself having trouble thinking of what I could contribute to Zelazny’s vision that was also still in keeping with my own stuff. I finally settled on a brief story, sort of a soliloquy, about what happens after the “bad guys” win the game.

Since my game was taking place after Zelazny’s (obviously), I decided to try to update the tropes a few years. Zelazny mined the great figures of gothic and Victorian literature for his characters, so for mine I went to the pulps and movies from the 40s and 50s. Hopefully I wasn’t too coy in my descriptions, and, if I was, there’s a handy illustration with the story that does them a bit more justice.

The title comes from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” and there you have an author’s note that’s almost as long as the story itself!

The issue has a bunch of other stories in it too, from folks like William Meikle and Josh Reynolds, among others, and every story is illustrated and has an audio version (including mine!) and there’s an essay about the book itself, and even an introduction from Zelazny’s son Trent, now an author in his own right. So seriously, check out the issue, and not just for my little story. And if you’ve never read the book, I heartily recommend you track it down, at least from the library or something, because it is well worth getting to know, and especially appropriate for this eeriest of seasons.

I haven’t had a lot of time to post lately, but I wrote something up when this went badly, so I figure it’s only fair to write a little something when it gets better. Yesterday the Readercon convention committee released a statement that is, for my money, a pretty good example of how this sort of thing should be handled. No excuses, no equivocation, just apologies and a statement about how they’re going to improve going forward. So, hats off to them, and I’ll be putting Readercon back on my list of possible conventions in the future.

So, for those of you who haven’t heard, there’s something rotten in Readercon. Here’s a quick summation of what happened, along with Readercon’s verdict. Here’s Nick Mamatas’s takedown of said verdict. And here’s Readercon’s statement about why they decided to completely drop every possible ball in this situation.  I think that’ll be enough to get you up to speed, at least more or less. Also, Nick Kaufman wrote a letter saying a lot of the same things I’m feeling, and better than I will.

To say that the Readercon board’s reaction to this situation is a disappointment would be a supreme understatement. It feels more like a betrayal, and it sends a powerful message that is, I hope, not the one they intended to send. Many other people have articulated these things much better than I can here, but I feel that it’s important that I say that, yes, this is unacceptable.

A lot of people have chimed in saying that they won’t be going back to Readercon unless and until there has been some drastic change for the better. I’m one of them. Readercon was my first major con experience, and it remains my best. I felt welcomed and safe, even though I was just starting out as a writer then. I felt like I was surrounded by friends. Readercon has always been the con that I recommended to people, the one I said was the best of those I had attended. It’s always been my favorite con, filled with my favorite people. It is with a lot of regret that I contemplate never going back.

At this point it isn’t even their failure to permanently ban the offender for his actions that is most troubling to me; it’s their assumption that this was an acceptable way to respond. That they thought they could say, “No no, he’s a nice guy, and very sorry,” and that would be sufficient cause for an exception to be made for him. It doesn’t even matter whether or not that’s true. This assumption that its okay to make special exceptions, that only bad people do bad things, that it must not have been that big of a deal, aren’t you just overreacting a little bit, you wouldn’t want to get this guy banned would you?, is the bedrock upon which so much of the violence and hate and harassment and inequality in our world is built. That is what’s most troubling to me, and that’s why, until I see some very compelling reason to reconsider, I won’t be going back to Readercon, and I’ll certainly not be recommending it to anyone else.

This is going to be a short post, but I couldn’t go without mentioning that the incredible M.S. Corley has been so kind as to take inspiration for his latest Carnacki pin-up from one of my own stories:

The story is “The Reading Room,” which first appeared in Bound for Evil from Dead Letter Press, and which will be reprinted in my collection Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings. It’s a favorite of mine, so I was really thrilled when Corley decided to use it as a point of departure for his latest Carnacki drawing.

If you don’t follow me on Google+ or Facebook or other such places, this may be the first you’ve heard of Corley’s version of Thomas Carnacki. Basically, Corley has been drawing his own version of William Hope Hodgson’s famous paranormal investigator in a series of incredible pin-ups, some of them drawn from Hodgson’s own Carnacki stories, some from other classic weird tales, some just from Corley’s own imagination, and, of course, one from my own tales. To say that this was a big thrill for me would be the worst kind of understatement. If you’ve not seen Corley’s earlier Carnacki pieces, you can see them all here.