Sleep, who needs it?

Subway is a nefarious band of lowly olive hoarders. This really doesn’t have anything to do with anything, but I have to get it off my chest. With all the meats and cheeses they have that you would think cost them so much more, how has the simple black olive come to be the most valuable ingredient under their roof?

Black gold.

Subway’s black gold.

They put, like, six little rings on a footlong, and only a few more if you ask for extra. Maybe they’re regulated by the fearsome Black Olive Mafia (BOM, for short), and are only allowed one olive ring per two inches of sandwich, or risk severe fines and penalties. And you don’t want to piss off the BOM.

Anyway, moving on…

I did have one piece of writing-related news I forgot to mention in my last post: my short story Of the Beholder is being published in the horror anthology Robbed of Sleep: Stories to Stay Up For, Volume II, which is out in e-book format TODAY! (and coming soon in paperback) RoSV2 features 19 authors and is edited by Troy Blackford. I’m thrilled to be a part of it, and I really like the story included for a couple of reasons:

1) It was the product of a writing prompt, which I had never thought of as a way to produce a good, viable story. I saw prompts just as a way for people to get over writer’s block and nothing more. I know now I was wrong.

2) I rewrote, edited, revised, and ultimately finished the story while I had a lot going on in my life, both personally and professionally. I had become incredibly unhappy at my job and was deliberating the pros and cons of looking for work elsewhere, and this was around the time my wife spent 3 nights in the ICU. Working on the story provided me with both a distraction from my problems and a release of frustration.

During the writing of this story I realized that writing was more than just something I did in my spare time. It had become a part of me and who I was—I realized I need to be writing to be happy (although for a few years writing was replaced by making music, so maybe I just need a creative outlet), and that’s around the time I really tried to kick myself into high gear in regard to my productivity, with mostly positive results.

I say all that so to say this: check out my story, Of the Beholder, in Robbed of Sleep: Stories to Stay Up For, Volume II. It’s an awesome assortment of scary stories told by some really talented writers. Besides, sleep is highly overrated anyway, don’t you think?

Don’t call it a comeback! No, seriously—don’t.

Ah, December. The temperature plummets, people stop complaining about Christmas decorations being out too early and start complaining about Christmas music being played too often. It’s a special time, and it feels like the time is right to return to my friends here in the blogosphere (Blogtopia? Blogopolis?). Yeah baby, I’m back!

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So, what can I tell you about my vacation from blogging? Well, I stayed true to my word and wrote like a freakin’ bandit. I mentioned before I went away about the opening of the vomit hatch; said hatch has stayed open and the vomit speweth forth like a geyser (you’re welcome for the visual).

I can’t call the (sorry to say) as-yet-untitled novel I was working on completely finished yet, but it’s close—I’d say 85-90%. Mostly just some minor tweaks here and there, quintuple checking for typos and punctuation errors, and then I think we’re cooking with gas. I put it aside while I figure out a solution to my printing dilemma—i.e., I can’t print right now—and to get some much needed feedback from eyes other than the ones in my head, and then I think I’m popping the cork on some champagne and celebrating the completion of my first novel. With any luck, it will be finished (and titled!) by spring.

In the meantime, as I said the vomit hatch couldn’t be closed if I tried, so I let it flow. I had started a novel that I had to stop to do some research (a wiser man may have done the research before starting the novel, but I digress), and decided to dig back in. Instead of picking up where I left off, I decided to start over with a complete rewrite and currently stand at 21k words. I’m anxious to tell you about how I’ve kept up my incredible (for me) word count, but not now. Next time.

I’m still having a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to what to do with the blog. Between how much I’m writing and my work schedule I’m not watching as much TV (enjoying Gotham, on the fence about this season of American Horror Story), and movies only here and there (finally saw World War Z—liked it but it seemed a tad anti-climactic).

I’m still reading steadily, but I don’t really have much interest in littering the blog with book reviews of every single book I read. I may still post the occasional review for any book that really rocks my world, but otherwise I’m thinking of posting little micro-reviews on Goodreads, so if you utilize that particular facet of social media and haven’t done so already, friend me on the double, buster!

(On a side note, no review, but I just finished 11/22/63 and thought it was pretty superb. I would point to this book for people who don’t like Stephen King and suggest they maybe give it a shot; it’s something special.)

And what else is new? The website, for starters. I don’t know how apparent it is on mobile devices, but I gave the site a much-needed facelift and reorganized the menus. Also, most exciting of all, I added a few of my stories! I became increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I’m a fiction writer and had none of my fiction available to read, so I did something about that. There’s now a drop down menu with some of my flash fiction for you to peruse at your leisure, so if you haven’t read ’em before (two were on the blog previously, the others are the ones I got published this year—the rights reverted from the magazines back to me, so I put them on here), give ’em a look.

That’s about it for now—just sort of an awkward wave hello (after all, awkward is what I do best) to let you guys know I’m back in the saddle. It’s really good to be back. So, how have you all been?

And Now, For a Brief Intermission

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 20 months (almost to the day, coincidentally) since I started the blog. I’ve taken it seriously and I think it’s done wonders both for my writing itself and my mental state while trying to find my footing as a struggling author. The friends I’ve made and support I’ve gotten from WordPress and beyond has far exceeded my naive expectations when I sat dumbly in front of my computer in February 2013. That being said, it’s time for a wee little break.

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It’s nothing serious, no big departure, just a little break. And believe me when I say, it’s not you, it’s me.

See, here’s what happened: when I started the blog, I was still figuring out what I was trying to do with my writing (something I’m still trying to figure out, but that’s beside the point). Even though I’d finished a novella and thought (god help me, I really did) I was ready to try and get it published or self-publish, I still had no real idea what I was doing. I was like the monkey they say you could sit in front of a keyboard and eventually it would write Shakespeare—except instead of Shakespeare it was a mediocre-to-poor kidnap/torture thriller.

But I really wanted to get after it and make things happen, and so I forced myself to jump in with both feet and start blogging. As I did so, I realized how far behind I really was. I was nowhere near ready to publish anything but blog posts, and I decided the best thing to do was stick to a strict schedule and keep at it. I’ve tried my best to crank out at least one post a week and, with a few exceptions, I’ve done a pretty good job of doing just that. I was using the blog as a crutch to hold me up and keep me writing while I tried to hone my skills and strengthen my story-telling muscles. There were ebbs and flows, but I kept at it.

Then I hit a patch a couple months ago where I felt dead in the water. I had drafts of short stories that I didn’t know how to finish, and longer projects that I couldn’t wrap my head around. I finally decided on a project to make the first novel and went to it, writing about 16k words before the new job and life caused me to stall out a little bit—then I got stuck again.

I went into the comments on one of Chuck Wendig’s posts and whined about how I felt stuck and couldn’t seem to make myself put words on the page. I received a comment back from author Kay Camden (link to her awesome website). It was simple, succinct, and to the point:

“Stop thinking. Start writing. Open the vomit hatch. Let it out.” (NOTE: DO NOT GOOGLE THE PHRASE “VOMIT HATCH.”)

That might not sound like much, but it was exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it (sidenote: what is it about vomit as a metaphor for writing? it’s so oddly fitting). I said to myself, You know what? She’s right. What the hell are you waiting for? And so I kicked myself in the ass and started typing. In the two months that followed, I proceeded to knock out about 50k words and finish the rough draft. Not exactly the Tasmanian Devil behind the keyboard, but as productive a stretch as I’ve ever had.

And the best part? It’s hasn’t really let up. I wanted to let the story breathe a little before I jumped into edits and rewrites, so I turned to three unfinished short stories and have made tremendous progress with those, finishing two and hopefully wrapping up the third in the next few days. By next week I should be ready to tackle the second draft of the novel.

My late friend Mike (RIP, buddy) once compared writing to having a fever (there it is again—writing as a kind of sickness), where you’re consumed by this need, this compulsion to get the stories out of your head and onto the page. I never really felt that way. I mean, I have stories to tell and all that, but I could go a day without writing and be just fine. Two days, even. Hell, a week. But once I opened the vomit hatch I haven’t been able to close it completely since. Every spare minute I have I want to be writing, rewriting, or editing, or it’s time wasted. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch my  TV shows and movies; I still read my books. But you know what I mean.

I have Vomit Hatch Fever.

All of which brings me back to this dear, sweet blog o’mine. There have been more than one occasion in the last year and eight months where I felt like I had run out of things to write about, and I would manage to pull a post out of thin air and make my self-imposed weekly deadline. Lately it feels like all I’ve been writing are book reviews, and to be honest I’m bored with that. Couple that with the fact that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), when many writers (and bloggers) are strapped to a chair with a coffee IV and a catheter (possible slight exaggeration) trying to meet the challenge of writing 50k words by the end of the month, and it just seemed like a natural time to take a little break so I can focus solely on writing and recharge the blogging batteries.

So this will be my last post for a while, probably until the beginning of December. I’m going spend November knee deep in semicolons and em-dashes, with piles of unnecessary commas littered about like punctuation shrapnel in the Great Writing War. Whenever I think of something that would be a good idea for the blog I’m going to jot it down so I have things to write about when I come back, and I have a feeling the site is due for a bit of a facelift, so things may look a little different when you visit next.

Any of you that want to keep in touch outside of WordPress and haven’t done so already, feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

I hope to come back revitalized and full of great posts. My biggest fear? That you wonderful readers will find another insecure, socially awkward writer to follow in my absence, and when I confront you about it, sitting in the glow of your screen reading that other person’s blog, you cry out defensively:

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I’m finally finished (by which I mean I’m really not even close to being finished at all)

A little over a year ago (okay, it was 06/17/13, I got curious and looked it up) I wrote a post proclaiming I’d finished the rough draft of my first novel. I won’t/can’t go back and read it because it will make me cringe too hard, but I remember not feeling the sense of pride or accomplishment I thought I would or should.

There were a couple reasons for that: the story’s word count was simply too low for it to be considered a novel, as it was solidly in novella territory, but I also just didn’t like the way the story turned out. It was a good idea, and one I’m itching to rewrite in the near future, but that first draft was mostly unusable crap.

I mention all that because after writing still another rough draft that was novella length (one that was much better and will take significantly less to make it into a something workable), I finally have a legitimate rough draft of a legitimate novel. And you know what? It feels pretty good.

It’s a rewrite of a novella I wrote maybe a year and a half, two years ago. I was proud of it then, and gave it to a couple people to read. Their opinions were unanimous—what I thought was a cool cliffhanger ending to the story left them coldly unsatisfied. “It stopped right when it was getting good,” one of them said.

So I went on to other things and kept writing, but the story burned in the back of mind constantly (as all unfinished stories do), until finally I had an idea that I thought might work. Then a few months ago I got to it and started writing, which has left me where I am now—with just over 65,000 words of raw mass. A giant hunk of clay, waiting to be formed into a bizarre-looking ashtray. Or, as Mr. Eloquence Chuck Wendig calls first drafts, a big vat of vomit with a bunch of legos in it. So now begins the task of sifting through the vomit and snapping bricks together.

And it’s not like all the short stories I’ve been writing don’t count for anything—on the contrary, I still have a handful I’m trying to get done and at no point will there never be an end to writing them. They’re fun, after all. But there’s something about knowing I wrote an honest-to-god book, you know?

So now the real work begins. Fleshing out characters, fixing clunky dialogue, shrinking plot holes, all that junk. It’s going to be hard, but I’ve already come this far, too late to stop now. The editing (and continued writing on whatever project I pick next) will continue to eat into my blogging time—if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been fairly inactive on here, and that’s likely to continue, at least for a while—but I’ll get into that with my next post.

In the meantime, I need to find some hip boots or some waders or something: I’ve got to go looking for legos in enough vomit to fill a kiddie pool.

Just in time for Halloween!

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Just a quickie to let y’all know issue #2 of Jitter Magazine hit newsstands today (do any of you have newsstands where you live? I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one in person, other than at an airport—inquiring minds want to know!), and features my short story Randy’s Bad Day, as well as 18 other stories and poems from the world of horror.

Perfect timing, really. Get yourself in the Halloween spirit—read yourself some scary stuff and get your spook on here:Jitter Magazine #2.

(Did I really just write ‘get your spook on’?)

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Optimism Can Be Exhausting

There are a lot of words that could be used to describe me. For the purposes of this post, though, the word we’ll go with is ‘mellow.

I've been compared to this character on more than one occasion

I’ve been compared to this character on more than one occasion

I may be cynical with a healthy dose of sarcasm, but on the whole I wouldn’t call myself overtly negative. I don’t think most people who know me would think of me that way, either. It’s not that I have no reason not to be—quite the opposite, actually. If I chose to, I’d have plenty of reasons to be pissy and miserable. Without going into too much detail, the last year hasn’t been all puppy dogs and rainbows around here. Truth be told, it’s been a struggle at times, and a different attitude may have resulted in getting pretty down, if not flat out depressed. But I’ve always had an inherent belief—others may call it faith—that things will always work themselves out in the end. I don’t always know exactly how or when, but they just will. And just when I was getting tired of trying to force myself to be optimistic all the time, changes are coming that will make things a little better.

The financial situation around here is poised to take a turn for the better. I know they say money can’t buy happiness, but I believe it can make happiness much more affordable to rent. I’m not really going to go into detail, but it’s been a lean year around the homestead, and there’s finally some relief in sight. It’ll still be tight, but we can finally loosen the belt a notch or two. Yay, money!

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This is not representative of our new financial standing, but I really like this picture.

Also, we’re fast approaching my absolute favorite time of the year. Late September through the end of the year is when I’m usually at my happiest. My birthday is at the end of September (and since hitting the big 4-0 last year this one won’t seem so traumatic), followed by Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I’d be hard pressed to say which is my favorite of those holiday. The weirdo in me of course loves Halloween, but I’m also a big fan of Christmas, too.

Aside from the holidays, it’s my favorite time of year because of the weather. In case I’ve never mentioned it before, I hate summers in the Midwest. The humidity makes me want to die, the mosquitos try to eat me alive, then there’s the lawn mowing, yard work, and lest I forget those godforsaken bugs.

But then, around late September, something magical happens. The weather cools off, the grass stops growing, the need for yard work dissipates, and the bugs—although just temporarily—go away. Early fall marks the end of oppressive heat and the start of good things to come: autumn leaves, the eventual first snowfall, and more time to write, which is really what this blog is all about, isn’t it? Something about the cooler (even downright cold) weather just seems to make my brain run better. I tend to want to write more than in the summer, when I feel like I’m forcing myself. Combine that with the extra time to write that the cool weather brings, and who knows, maybe I’ll have a passable draft of this damn novel done by the end of the year.

As tired as I get sometimes of trying to stay positive when things around me suggest I shouldn’t be, I know what’s just around the corner. So I laugh, I make jokes, I stay optimistic, stay a goofball. To do anything else seems unthinkable.

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Finally, a Routine

We’ve all heard that change is good; we should embrace change. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job at that the last couple of months, to be honest. New job, schedule all over the place. Not that I’m complaining—far from it, I love my new job—but finally I’m back into a routine and I’m so relieved, because now I might be able to get seriously back into writing again.

It hasn’t been absolutely zero productivity these last couple months, though. I managed to write a few stories, two of which I really like and the other I think will end up being cannibalized and put into a different idea I’m chewing on in the back of my mind. But the Big Work In Progress, the novel, has set idly by since around Memorial Day. I just haven’t had the time or energy to think about it. Well, that and I had some ideas that would require going back and either adding scenes in or rewriting altogether. At this point I don’t know which I’ll do; the fact that I finally have the time to do either is what matters.

All this means I’ll probably have more time for the blog again as well, so set you blocking preferences accordingly. 🙂

Oh! I can’t believe I got this far without mentioning it: I got another story published!

That's me, and the belt is my acceptance letter from the publisher.

That’s me, and the belt is my acceptance letter from the publisher.

 My short story Randy’s Bad Day is being published by Jitter Press, a division of Prolific Press specializing in horror and dark fiction. Details are still to come, of course, but you know I’ll be passing them along as I get them. It’s the story of an angry man in a cabin, his hangover, and a whole mess of mutant frogs. They say you should write the kind of stuff you’d like to read, and I definitely did that with this story, because it’s gross, scary, and, dare I say, funny. It makes me laugh, anyway. I hope you guys like it.

I also got a pair of very encouraging rejection letters a couple of weeks ago, which, as weird as it sounds, it really cool. One told me they liked my story but it wasn’t right for the issue they’re getting ready to put out, and asked me to send more work in the future. The other said my story was “a hell of a lot of fun” but needed just a bit of tweaking, in their opinion, and it could find a home easily. We’ll see about that, but it was a nice way of being told ‘no, we don’t want your story.’

I’m going to cut this short, because as happy as I am to have a routine again, I’m still getting used to it. I work much later in the day now and my days off are in the middle of the week, so there are some adjustments to be made before I’m totally used to it. So I’m gonna go and read for a while (if I still remember how—my reading time has been cut drastically short lately, too) and relax a little before heading to work. But there will be more to come, so stay tuned.

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