Demon House

A change in my schedule has landed me temporarily on the night shift and allowed me a relatively large amount of free time during the hours when most people are dead to the world. I’m trying to use that time to get back on the proverbial horse in regard to my writing (of which I’ve done woefully little this year), and started with this relatively simple story. Anyone who knows what I’ve been dealing with the past few months—and the last week in particular—should have no trouble spotting the metaphor.

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The foundation had cracks. The floorboards were warped and swollen from moisture. Shingles were missing from the roof and there was a hole over the kitchen where a hailstone the size of a baseball had broken through during  a storm the previous spring.

None of that phased Doug. Nor did the termite damage, the poor insulation, or the rusted old pipes that jetted brown water out of the faucets before clearing up. The first time he looked at the house, the realtor’s apologetic tone fell on deaf ears as Doug gazed at the small patch of blue sky visible through the hail-born skylight.

“It’s perfect, he said. “I’ll take it.”

The realtor’s jaw hung open momentarily. He blinked. “You’ll take it? You want to make an offer?”

“I want the house.” Doug found it difficult to put what he was feeling into words. He looked at the scuffed up wall where an old refrigerator had presumably stood for decades, crying for a fresh coat of paint and gestured around the room. “It’s got character. This is the house for me.”

The realtor was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and get Doug back to the office to start the paperwork before he changed his mind. Fourteen days later, Doug had the keys.

It went smoothly enough, to start. Doug patched up the hole over the kitchen and replaced the missing shingles on the roof, then began slowly replacing floorboards and installing new plumbing. He adored the house in spite of its imperfections. Possibly even because of them. It was about a month after he moved in that the real problems started.

At first it was little things—a faint puff of air that sounded like a whisper but was probably just the wind, things falling off of shelves that he must’ve left too close to the edge—Doug didn’t think much of it. Soon doors started slamming behind him and the faint whispers became moans and groans. Doug got less and less sleep, spending much of the night picking up broken knickknacks, the rest of the time forcing himself to keep his eyes shut while he lay in bed and ignore what was happening around him.

He soldiered on, fixing what he could and picking up the pieces as more broke, never asking himself what he should do about it. Things were just the way they were. He dealt with the issues as they arose and carried on, slowly realizing he was absolutely exhausted. Months went by until one day he mentioned his woes to a coworker who asked him a question profound in its simplicity.

“Why do you still live there?”

Doug frowned. “What do you mean? It’s my house.”

“There are houses everywhere. Literally, everywhere. You can find another. It sounds to me like the one you’re living in has some ghosts—demons.”

The notion hung in Doug’s mind. Was that really all there was to it? Could it be a matter of just finding another place? Something about it seemed to him like cheating, like he was taking the easy way out. Was it really that simple?

Over the next few weeks Doug began to seriously consider moving—usually when he was somewhere else, lest the  house know what he was thinking—and the idea started taking hold, putting down roots in his brain. His co-worker was right, his house was haunted, and he’d gotten so used to dealing with the moans and groans, the slamming doors and breaking knickknacks, that it had become commonplace. The thought of living in a house where those things didn’t happen seemed almost too good to be true.

Doug began mentally taking stock of what he would pack up first and and browsing through the real estate section of the newspaper. Excitement and anticipation grew in his belly as moving out of the ghost-riddled pit that had been his home became closer to being reality.

As if it knew, things began to escalate at the house. One night as Doug was padding into the kitchen for a glass of water, the cabinet door opened and slammed shut hard enough to rattle the windows and the chef’s knife that had been siting on the counter teetered and fell point down, stabbing the top of his foot. Doug shouted a wave of profanities, knowing it was no accident. It wasn’t a coincidence. The house was actively trying to hurt him.

After his second time tripping over and stepping on things in the night that hadn’t been there when he went to bed, Doug slept with all the lights on. He started parking in the driveway after waking one morning to find his car running in the garage and the house filling with exhaust. The house wanted to keep him there, all to itself.

With a lot of searching and a little luck, Doug found a new place. It wasn’t as big or nice as the house he’d be moving out of, but he could feel the different energy in the new place. No ghosts. No demons. Nothing but walls and a roof and a floor.

On each subsequent trip back to the house to pick up the last of his things it got a little harder for Doug to leave. Not necessarily for sentimental reasons but because the house made it physically difficult for him to get out. A bookshelf falling over, blocking the door; his car battery somehow going dead despite being brand new; the couch sliding in front of him when he had his arms full in an attempt to trip him.

The last time Doug was in the house, he was having a look around seeing what was left to be taken out. There were still some things he wanted to grab, but most of the essentials had already been taken to the new place. As he was walking down the hall, Doug noticed a chunk of drywall that had fallen away at some point since he’d been there last, exposing a stud full of rot and mold. Frayed electrical wiring hung haphazardly along the the board. Doug stared wide-eyed at the potential disaster, wondering how he’d lived there as long as he had relatively unscathed.

He reached up instinctively with a pointed index finger to touch the frayed wire then hesitated and took a step back, something telling him to use caution. As if on cue, the wire sparked and Doug recoiled. A second spark shot out and the wire began to smolder upwards. A chunk of the stud crumbled away and a puff of dust floated down from the ceiling, surrounding Doug’s head, and the ominous feeling grew inside him. Something bad was about to happen. Something worse than bad. Another piece of the beam crumbled and the ceiling above him buckled. Doug took a step back and a piece of tile crashed down, landing where he’d been standing five seconds earlier. A faint rumble carried through the house and the rotted, exposed stud gave way. The ceiling fell in a domino effect through the room and Doug took off in a sprint. The house collapsed behind him as he ran. At first he thought it was chasing him out, then he realized he was wrong—he was outrunning it as it tried to trap him inside.

Doug burst through the front door to the driveway, the house quaking on its foundation. He made it to his car before turning back to look, just in time to see the place he had called home collapsing in on itself like it were being consumed by a black hole. A small mushroom cloud of dust plumed up from the rubble, and for a moment Doug considered trying to go back and sift through the debris for anything left that could be salvaged, before wisps of smoke wafted up from the heap. The stuff went up like tinder; flames licked at the dry, brittle wood that had made up its frame, engulfing it all in under a minute. Doug leaned against his car and watched it burn as he called the fire department. He could hear the sirens but there would be nothing they could do. It would be little more than ash by the time they got there.

When he thought back, he had mixed feelings about the time he spent in the house. Although it ended in a flaming pile of rubble he would still always have fond memories of those early days—gazing through the hole in the roof over the kitchen, thinking about all the potential, how much could be done to turn it into the house of his dreams. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. As far from it as you could get, actually. But in the end one thing went through his mind like a gunshot in an echo chamber:

At least he got the fuck out of that godforsaken house before it collapsed and trapped him inside forever.

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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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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The Oddity That Is The Encouraging Rejection

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I’ve become accustomed to rejection. I’m still in the early stages of my collection, as yesterday I received lucky number 13 if you’re scoring at home. But this one was different.

To paraphrase, it read, in part: Thank you for submitting your story to our online magazine. Unfortunately, our editors did not feel your story was a fit for out site. We liked your writing style and the story did a good job of building tension, but we felt the climax was too drastic a step and too far a leap for the protagonist to take. We thought there wasn’t enough motivation for such a drastic measure. Thanks again for submitting, and please consider submitting to us again in the future.

They didn’t want to publish my story, but they liked my writing style and wouldn’t mind seeing me submit something else. I can live with that. I like the site/magazine I submitted to, so if they liked my work, I’ll take that compliment. Still, it’s a bit weird.

I play guitar, and although three is a pretty small collection, if money were no object I’d certainly have many, many more. So I imagined a scenario where someone is trying to sell me a guitar. “Oh, that’s nice. Yes, fine craftsmanship, made out of good quality wood, very nice. What’s that? Oh, no, I don’t want it…but it’s nice.”

I’m not complaining about getting another rejection, and I’m not trying to make too much of the fact that they paid me a compliment (for all I know they may say roughly the same thing in every rejection letter). It’s just that it was a weird combination of feelings to experience; the sting of rejection followed by the glimmer of hope. The spank and the rub, if you will.

In an environment where rejection falls on and around you like torrential rain, even the smallest of compliments is like a momentary break in the clouds. And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to look the story over and submit again, so I need to brace myself for the storm.

What Do You Do When You Don’t Know What to Do?

I’ve been keeping up with my bizarre new ritual of getting up about an hour early every morning to spend some time on my writing. It’s allowed me time to catch up on other people’s blogs, check my email, try and find publishers accepting novella submissions (which is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought), check Facebook…basically do anything but write.

It’s not that I don’t want to write. On the contrary, I’m itching to write. I did write another flash fiction piece, but I’m anxious to write something a little longer. The problem? To borrow a phrase from Ned Flanders, I’m in a dilly of a pickle.

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I have a rough draft just sitting there, waiting for me to work my magic, but the magic well appears to have run dry. I see (some of) the problems with it, but haven’t had any light bulbs going off about how to fix them. And so I sit. And read. And wait. And nothing comes.

I’ve read that the hardest part is getting the idea out of your head and onto the computer. Once the rough draft is out of you, whatever you are left with can be shaped and fixed. I’m at a loss here, and don’t see an immediate solution. I guess what I’m wondering is…

Is it a cardinal sin to just set a WIP aside and start a totally new project?

Of course, even if I do that, I’m not totally ready to begin on my new project either. I’m still researching some, and I’m trying to outline and develop the plot a bit more before I start writing. Am I transforming from a pantser to a planner? That’s a topic for another post.

So what’s the popular opinion among the other writers on WordPress? Commit to finish the project before starting a new one, come hell or high water, or start something new and resolve to go back to it later? Of course, there’s also a third option – finish editing the novella I pulled back from submissions. God, there’s more that I could be doing than I realized…your opinions and advice are encouraged and welcome.

Rejection, Dejection, Commendation, and Inspiration

Quite a ride on the Aspiring Writers’ Emotional Tilt-A-Whirl yesterday. I checked my email just before leaving for work to find that my second submission to a publisher has been swiftly rejected. Nothing heartbreaking or earth shattering there; to be honest, I’m not completely surprised. The novella was not necessarily the best fit for the publisher. Despite my twisted nature, this story is more of a conventional, straight-ahead crime story, and was probably not “dark” enough for them. That’s okay, I will continue submitting. That being said, I was able to express exactly how I felt upon receiving the news with two simple words:

Well, shit.

Even though I may not have been surprised, it was still a crappy way to start the day. I spent the drive to work wondering if there was anything I overlooked in regards to the plot or characters. After thinking it over, I still feel pretty confident that it’s a solid piece of work. I’ll take the advice of an excellent fellow writer whose opinion I trust and continue to submit at least a few more times before I let the succubus of self-doubt start to creep back in.

At 10am, however, I was still fighting off gloom and grumpiness when I took my morning break and checked my email again – because, you know, the publisher may have changed their mind. What I found instead was a message from Readwave, the Pinterest-type website for writers and readers where I’ve been publishing most of my short stories, telling me that my latest short story, Blue Skies, was chosen as a Staff Pick, and was promptly getting moved to the site’s front page. What good news! It may not have been ‘hey, we love this 28,000 word novella you spent hours and hours writing and editing’ good, but it still brightened my day considerably. After feeling a bit low for a couple hours, here was confirmation I had really been needing for a while – to know my writing doesn’t suck.

I’ve gotten plenty of wonderful words of encouragement here on the blog, and I’m extremely grateful for all the comments, especially on the infamous Freshly Pressed post; it’s really boosted my confidence, which is an area where I’m severely deficient. The thing is, my fiction is still largely unread at this point. Beta readers are damn hard to come by, and so I just keep on truckin’ with only my own opinion to go on. So to finally get a piece of mine recognized as being un-sucky felt pretty nice (shameless self-promotion: it’s only 400 words, a mere three-minute read. If you haven’t already done so, check it out here. Go on, I’ll wait.).

The final thing that’s been going on with me over the past few days is inspiration. You see, all the writing I’ve been doing over the past year and a half, these two novellas and the (will it or won’t it turn out to be a) novel I’m working on are all ideas that have been in my head for a long time. Several years, actually. I began to worry once I got them all written I wouldn’t have another single good idea. I managed to crank a few short stories out of thin air, but nothing else had lit a spark in this tar pit I call a brain. Until, that is, something did.

If I told you exactly what lit the spark it would sound like the corniest thing you’ve ever heard (oh, screw it, I’ll tell you-it was the song Santa Claus is Coming to Town). But it stuck, and within ten minutes I had ideas bouncing around and colliding with each other like coked-out pinballs. This is the first time since I started writing again that I’ve had an honest to goodness moment of inspiration, and it feels invigorating. I can’t outline and research fast enough; I just want to start writing the damn thing. Which brings me to a bit of a problem. I have a rough draft in need of some serious TLC, and I don’t want to just chuck it aside for something new. I’ll have to judiciously divide my time, writing during the week when I only have limited time, and editing and rewriting on weekends when I have a little more time to focus and pay more attention to detail.

One last fairly random item: I’m planning on going on a ride along with the local Police Department in the very-near future. This new Big Idea I got involves police procedure to a degree I’ve never written about before, mostly because I’m ignorant to it all. I figured what better way to learn than to get in the patrol car and hit the streets with the real deal. Has anyone done this before? I was planning on riding with one of my good friends when I lived in California, but things got in the way and it never happened. If it’s interesting at all I’m sure I’ll make a post out of it.

In the meantime, I’m going to get some rainy day weekend sleep (is there any better kind?) and get busy writing. Feel free to share your moments of pure creative inspiration, your own highs and lows on the emotional tilt-a-whirl, or your experiences with the police (good or bad) in the comments below.

In the Name of the Author, the Editor, and the Almighty Publisher…Please Let Me Call This Work Finished

After I spotted a serious problem with my novella, I went back to rework some of the scenes even though I had boldly declared the work “finished” months ago. Since then, I’ve been tweaking out on it every moment that I have to devote to writing (is ‘tweaking out’ a universal term? Having lived for so long in one of the methamphetamine capitals of the U.S., it sort of just became a common term for paying strict attention to detail).

All this week I’ve been getting up at 6am, approximately30-45 minutes earlier than I have to get up for work, to devote some time to fixing the scenes and plot points that need tweaking. To people who only know me from this blog and don’t know me personally, that’s a HUGE deal. I’ve always been able to get up  as early as need be for work, but anything other than that is nearly impossible. For a while in my twenties, when I was at my physical peak, I would get up super early to go for a run, but that was almost like another life.

That’s how badly I want to get this finished. I want to move on. I have the rough draft of (what may or may not turn out to be long enough to be) my novel sitting, waiting for me. Although, truth be told, I haven’t had any real ‘a-ha!’ moments on what to do with that yet. I’ve submitted my other novella to a publisher, and I submitted a short story to a website for consideration, so fingers crossed on those.

What’s somewhat ironic to me is that this novella I’m trying to fix once and for all has been like The Work That Will Not Die. I’ve rewritten and reworked the story several times, and every time I think it’s done I find something else wrong. Novella # 2 wasn’t like that. It flew out of my head and into the computer in mere weeks, and I barely changed a thing in terms of the plot or characters. The rough draft was pretty much complete. It was practically effortless in comparison.

Has anyone else had a project like that, where you just keep thinking it’s done only to find ‘one more thing’ wrong with it? Is it something that can be chalked up to being a perfectionist, or is it some sort of odd attachment issue I have that keeps me from letting go?