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Winners of the 24 Hour Flash Fiction Contest

Yesterday, to get you all excited for July’s upcoming workshop and to do something fun for May 1st, I put up a 24 hour flash fiction contest. I got five submissions on my page and one via PM but even with four prizes to give out, I still had some tough choices. Here are your winners and their flash pieces:

3rd place Chad Lutzke

‘Chad has won an ebook of A God of Hungry Walls.

Watching Sanctuary by Chad Lutzke

There’s a good chance it’ll happen tonight. A better chance than most evenings, anyway. And if I were a betting house, I’d lay money on it. It’s spring, the eggs have long since hatched, and the brood has left the web above the bed, exploring every nook. Every cranny.

Any orifice in his face will do.

Shifting and creaking are tedious tasks. And with a homeowner like mine, observation is very much like watching paint dry. That isn’t cliche, trust me. I’ve done both, and they are equivalent.

With the man working nine to five, followed by hours spent in a chair surrounded by TV dinners and empty bottles, it’s his sleeping that breaks the monotony. Watching in great anticipation as night after night the arachnids get closer and farther from his gaping, drunken mouth. Much like watching the races, I suppose. I place imaginary bets and root for the little creatures as they dangle above his snore, teasing me–climbing the wrinkled mountains of his dirtied T-shirt, making their way toward an ear.

Tonight there are far too many about for them all to ignore the man’s enticing, dark, fleshy holes. While the bed is still made, the man sleeps deep, still reeking from the day’s work.

The spiders descend. The spiders crawl.

One hundred dollars on number thirty-two!

She rests on the fold of his face, closing in on his naris, peeking, touching the interior with her curious palps. This could be it. In a perfect world, she’d hop onto his tongue and skitter down his throat. But should her exploration take her through nasal passages only, it will be satisfactory to see the irritation in the man as the many legs tickle and tap.

Sweet dreams, drunken fool.

 

2nd place

Rob Glasgow

Rob has won an ebook of A God of Hungry Walls.

 

Inside these walls of mine resides a man. Inside this man resides a hatred he himself does not yet understand; but I do. It is the same hatred I feel as I stare at him, immobile due to his own free will choice, whilst I am relegated to stillness out of anothers. Is it apathy? Is it self-loathing? I have as much respect for him as he has for himself. To devour him would be delightful, but I have no mouth with which to feed. Thus, I must get satisfaction from watching him devour himself. Slowly, and methodically, his ego chips away, leaving a husk of a man who should not exist. With each passing day, he becomes weaker; and I stronger. It is only a matter of time before he fades. I, on the other hand, will stand solid on my foundation, waiting…for the next one.

 

1st place

Lynn McSweeney

Lynn has read A God of Hungry Walls so shall instead receive a digital copy of Archelon Ranch.

Like canopic jars that cherished their desiccated organs, her collection of never-used vases lounged on various shelves, their dark wide mouths ever parched for roses and peonies and lilies. We envied her the busy tasks she set, dusting and rearranging all the useless objects that made up her life’s museum. Tea-sets in every color: an art deco jade green from China, a dragon-encrusted black and cream one from occupied Japan, the turn-of-the-century Austrian demitasse in a tutti-frutti paisley pattern. The home’s heart she was, centered in a hoard of domestic clutter, given meaning by eras past that had also valued the display of bric-a-brac as proof of time’s passing and wealth’s accumulation. And then she thrilled us all by meandering to the dollhouse.

Ah! This miniature of our own bones! Beloved twin viewed through the wrong end of a spyglass. We shivered in delight when she took a sponge to the jewel-like windows and roof, twinkling beneath her clever, spidery fingers. All at once we felt our own eyes shine, our own pate massaged with longing. Even though she had never, in fact, taken vinegar and newspaper to our rain-spattered panes, or wire-brushed our shingles crusted with bird droppings. But how sweet to view the exact duplicate of our own sovereign self earning such attentions and glowing beneath her teasing, tickling feather duster. Our shutters shuddered in sympathy, we spasmed in delight as she touched each little dollhouse item that corresponded to our larger body in every alchemical detail.

She manipulated the five-inch plastic Poe with a raven on its shoulder, laying it lengthwise on top of the plaster girl broken off from an old Black Forest cuckoo clock. They tumbled from the delicate canopy bed made of carved toothpicks and ground their pelvises together on the silk printed carpet, a giveaway prize in tobacco packets from the nineteen-tens. We hummed together with her as the dollhouse couple spent themselves.

And we sighed with her afterglow sighs, and cried when she cried as she crawled into her own solitary bed with its velvet awnings, jealous of the dollhouse bed with its sheets of antique lace handkerchief, its tiny plaster Rhine maiden, its doomed romantic Poe guarding the front door. More company than she, or we, had ever entertained in the vast expanses of our own too-large and empty rooms.

How we longed for a new tenant, one who would invite the world in, throw frequent, frantic parties, lots of energy pouring into our walls, bequeathing us new memories. Alas, the mortgage was fully paid. She owned us outright. We’ll have to wait for her to die of old age… or we may have to plot.

Just HOW will we kill her?

 

And the winner of the July workshop slot is

Shawn Koch.

Congratulations, Shawn!

 

“Circles Go Round and Round”
Worm crawled in his burrow.
Worm thought he was a man. Worm thought he knew what a man was.
Worm couldn’t hear the voice that calling outside. His own screams and clawing against glass walls muffled everything else.
Long ago, Worm might have been something else, caked with serenity instead of filth. The cage acclimated. Worm had only his own offal effects to wade in.
Opening his eyes, Worm saw glass walls smeared in shit and scratches, a blinding glint reflection from lights unseen. If Worm just kept his eyes closed, dug around, worm could find solace in the warm of excrement.
There was happiness below the mess. Worm swore.
There was conformity in his tiny world. Worm smeared himself with refuse and called it identity. Confined in flesh and meat, Worm congested-sobbed and patted himself with filth, shaped the viscous hide into a mask that hid him from the glass screens and the strange sights there. To hide below, to wait.
Chains were not always made of metal.
Worm opened his eyes and hated everything he saw. When he was blind, the safety of the womb lulled him, it hung pregnant with false deceptions. There was no happiness when Worm opened his eyes.
The false hope in his sight lured him once again. Worm pushed his hands against the glass, smearing the view of his broken life. There was no real day or night, only patterns.
“Did you take out the trash?” the woman’s voice echoed from beyond barriers. Worm wouldn’t fall for the trick any more. It couldn’t be a real person. Just like the hazed images dancing on the other side of the glass every time Worm opened his eyes, this must be another deception.
Across the glass was a house. Worm was told it was his house. The dingy four walls encased him, bare, caked in a filth he could not clean off despite exhaustive scrubbing. When he directed himself around the house, Worm watched the room shift and move, as if his glass cage was travelling through it. And yet he knew the lie. The room didn’t exist, house neither, the woman who lived there, nor the job miles away his glass cage travelled to. The bills never ended, debts neither. His paycheck fed him enough to feel like starving. Food crossed the glass only by transforming the brown mud at his feet into the shape of food. It still tasted like shit.
No matter what occurred out there beyond the walls of his prison, Worm knew it was a lie. The greatest deception. He took out the trash, anyways, knowing it’d be full the moment he returned to the house. So he borrowed and hid again, closing his eyes. A thousand years he repeated this routine.
The devil had Worm and this was hell.
The images beyond the glass were only the false carrot of hope and Worm knew if he ever gave in, ever believed it for a second, he’d get the stick.

Thanks to everyone who participated! For all others, if you sign up for a slot in July or August’s workshop, you will get your choice of a free ebook from my catalogue! 10 slots remain in each and publishable work has come out of each, so hope to see you in July or August.

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May Day Twenty Four Hour Flash Contest

Sometimes when you freelance and self promote, you feel like things are getting a bit stale, or you’re shouting into the void or nobody’s having fun anymore . You can accept it and post your links every twenty four hours, or, if you’re a creative person, you can try something new. So, I’d like to give some of you a fun opportunity, have a little fun myself and drum up some energy on what some faiths see as one of the most powerful and dynamic days of the year. Here’s a way to win a copy of my perverse, weird haunted house novel A God of Hungry Walls.

I’m giving you all until midnight to win yourself one of four prizes, either a slot in July’s short story writing workshop or one of three ebooks of A God of Hungry Walls. How about we make some magic?

Participants have until midnight to write the best description of themselves and an activity they’re doing from the perspective of their house. This scene can be up to 500 words long. If you want to enter, post your scene on the Facebook page for my editing services.

I will then pick the four best and hand out the prizes. Also remember that anyone who decides to snag a slot in my next few workshops gets a free ebook of their choice. Good luck!

 

God of Hungry Walls front cover 2(1). I will pick the four best.

 

 

Photo Contest Finalists and Winner Announced

Hello, everyone. You will see my previous post was about a photo caption contest courtesy of photographer and writer Kristopher Hensel. Well, the contest played out and we got a bunch of entries. This was a tough decision for us but we managed to narrow it down to a top five and then to a victor. Here’s a statement from Kristopher:

“Everyone engaged in creative pursuits is a winner. Keep your pencils sharp – we’ll do it again soon.”

Hear that? More opportunities on the horizon. Exciting, huh? Well, not as exciting as it will be for one lucky writer.

Here is the picture that all five finalists had to work with.

Neptune

There’s a lot you can do with that. Is it literal? Is it metaphor? Is it magick? Is it art? All the contestants wrestled with this and came at it from different angles but five did it best.

Gary Arthur Brown

Lee Widener

Lynn Mc Sweeney

Chad Lutzke

Baz Harrigan

These are the five that impressed me most. From here, Kris and I conferred and we picked one standout whose work absolutely blew Kris away.

That standout was Lynn Mc Sweeney.

Congratulations, Lynn! Bragging rights and the 119 dollar prize are yours. Keep watching my page for more opportunities like this. Finalists will be eligible to enter the next contest but Lynn, the winner, will not. You could be next!

 

An Opportunity Courtesy of Photographer and Writer Kristopher Hensel

I do a lot of different jobs for a lot of different clients. Sometimes this means I get to provide special opportunities for writers, or artists or publishers I know. This December and January, I get to provide another such opportunity. Photographer Kris Hensel documents the magic and mystery of life in Mexico. His work captures the vibrancy of an exciting, organic culture.  But he wants to try and do more with these pictures. That’s where some of you come in.

Kris is having a contest. There’s no entry fee. There’s no newsletter to subscribe to. There’s no restrictions on who enters. Kris and I will be judging who can write the best 1000 word story using this photo as a prompt. The winner gets 119 dollars. That’s more than 10 cents a word, which is pretty damn generous. The winning story will also appear in Kris’ upcoming book of photos and prose.

Here is the photo.

Neptune

Send a 1000 word story about and inspired by this photo to thecentercannothold@gmail.com by February 14th. Kris and I will then decide who wrote the best story and award them the prize. There are no restrictions on entry and don’t worry about whether you have worked with me or not.  I have high expectations of authors I know, so they’ll be working as hard as writers I don’t. Good luck to everyone!

New Bizarro Author Series 2015

This year, Rose O’ Keefe of Eraserhead Press gave me a beautiful opportunity and an amazing challenge. She asked me to put together and edit a lineup for the New Bizarro Author Series imprint. Each year, Eraserhead Press takes on a group of authors who don’t have an established presence in the Bizarro genre and gives them a chance to strut their stuff and market themselves with one novella. Thanks to my workshops and my client base, I saw a lot of manuscripts and a lot of promising talent trying to get into the genre and I was thrilled to be able to help. I am proud to say, I found nine authors who I felt each represented something I love about Bizarro. We worked together and gave you the nine best we could.

I am proud to see these authors manifest and proud that their work is now available for purchase. The paperbacks don’t launch for a little while but if you have a Kindle, you can now explore strange new worlds the like of which you’ve never seen before, created by eager, driven authors seeking to establish a career. Check out these nine books. I’ll leave a link to buy the Kindle edition at the bottom of each description.

Elephant Vice by Chris Meekings

elephant-vice-by-chris-meekings

Cover art by Jim Agpalza

Vincent Van Gogh is a cop with a dark past. He painted some of the greatest artistic masterpieces of our time. He cut off his ear out of love for a prostitute. He was a great painter. He isn’t anymore. He’s a tough as nails loose cannon cop who plays by his own rules. When a drug called **** hits the streets, it starts turning people into the object their essence most resembles. Van Gogh is put on the case. But this hard case has a new partner. His methods are unusual, his attitude incompatible and he has the head of an elephant. He’s the Hindu God Ganesha. Can these two put aside their differences and learn to work together? Probably. It’s a buddy cop thing.

Get it for your Kindle!

Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks by Christoph Paul

slasher-camp-for-nerd-dorks-by-christoph-paul

Jason Voorheesberg has struggled to become the great slasher his mom believes he can be and has as bad case of Slasher Anxiety. He is sent to one of the worse ranked camps for young slashers: Slasher Camp for Nebulous Youth #987.When she drops Jason off at the camp, he gets bullied by the Jock Slashers and is attacked by the rich, snooty protagonists of the rival Final Camp across the lake. He hates the camp and is considered the worst slasher by the Pred counselors. Even though he makes a friend with Slasher Candybee Wamack and develops a forbidden relationship with a Slazer (Final Girl who slays Slashers), he struggles even more with his slasher anxiety. Can love (and homicide) conquer all and save Jason from a life of mediocrity?

Get it here

Towers by Karl Fischer

Cover art by Whitney Fischer

towers-by-karl-fischer

After fighting giant monsters for a thousand years, a sentient guard tower is set to go to heaven with his soulmate. But for reasons unknown, the lovers are reborn as lowly humans living inside the Towers they once operated. Separated by thousands of miles and trapped within menageries of horror, only a profound transformation of mind and body can reunite them.

Get it here

Pixiegate Madoka by Michael Sean Le Sueur

Cover art by Roxy Almblade

pixiegate-madoka-by-michael-sean-lesueur

Julian Argento is a socially-awkward, Reddit-obsessed nerd about to start his junior year of high school. He finds his foreign exchange program request to Japan has been approved, and he’ll be joined by an “almost perfect” dream girl that looks just like his crush Jennifer Lawrence—That is, until he enters the wrong transfer rocket and is sent to Urobochi High, academy for Magical Girls. He is assigned to the “kitchen appliance” squahttps://wordpress.com/post/68013897/139d, and he must learn to be good-hearted, maintain friendships, and spread love in order to become a true Magical Girl… all while stopping his psychotic sister and her sea punk boyfriend from destroying Japan with their dark powers. Shouldn’t be too hard. After all, he’s a “nice guy”!

Get it here

Benjamin by Pedro Proenca

Cover art by Sarah Sindorf

benjamin-by-pedro-proenca

The mall shouldn’t be a dangerous place. You shouldn’t have to fear green men abducting you and feeding you to a tentacle monster. You shouldn’t have to fear the anaconda that serves as the staircase to the movie theater. And you shouldn’t have to face off against ice cream men with a strange knowledge of black holes. But if you’re Benjamin – a sentient yellow balloon – or the Boy, his headless chubby teen sidekick, you have to fear all those things. Because this mall is sick, and it’s your job to heal it, or go insane trying.

Get it here

King Space Void by Anthony Trevino

king-space-void-by-anthony-trevino

King Space Void is a planet-eating entity whose consciousness resides in the body of a gargantuan machine made to look like a man and powered by thousands of people. Dane Shipps is one of the best workers of in King Space Void, until the day he finds a mangled woman named Scarlet still alive and intertwined in the machine’s ductwork who convinces him to step outside of his routine. Together they plan to take down King Space Void and everyone inside.

Get it here

Rainbows Suck by Madeleine Swann

cover art by Bill Purnell

rainbows-suck-by-madeleine-swann

Tilly, an aspiring artist has been chosen by a race of evil rainbows from space to become a work of art. Works of art are forced to entertain people and gain votes on a crazy reality program to avoid being devoured by the rainbows. What seemed like a dream becomes a nightmare as Tilly is forced to indulge in escalating acts of degradation and insanity to protect herself from these colorful abominations.

Get it here

Rock ‘N Roll Headcase by Lee Widener

Cover art by Jim Agpalza

rock-n-roll-headcase-by-lee-widener

Chaino Durante works at the worst fast food restaurant ever. He has the worst job in this fast food restaurant. And the worst life he possibly can. When he discovers a mysterious bag in the fryer, he takes it home. The bag contains the head of rock and roll icon Alice Cooper. This is unfortunate. What’s more unfortunate is that Chaino gets the gun he’s going to use to rob his workplace stuck in the head and the head stuck on his hand.  A new weapon is formed. A weapon that lets Chaino rob his workplace and subvert the order of the world around him. A weapon that blasts holes in reality itself, which does not come without consequence. A no holds barred psychedelic cartoon in the tradition of Bill Plympton and Ralph Bakshi, with Pink Floyd’s The Wall thrown in for good measure, Rock N’ Roll Headcase explores the ins and outs of expanding consciousness with a madness that grabs hold and does not let go.

Get it here

Arachnophile by Betty Rocksteady Cover art by Betty Rocksteady

arachnophile-by-betty-rocksteady

Alex’s arachnophobia may be old fashioned, but he’s able to live a life of relative peace despite it. That all changes when a spider moves in next door. His girlfriend is sick of his attitude and begs him to give the new neighbor a chance. He overcomes his fear, but finds a twisted sexuality in its place. His attraction to the spider affects all areas of his life, and changes everything he thought he knew.

Get it here

These are the nine books that we brought forth. I hope, dear readers that you can enjoy the fruits of our labor of love. These authors worked hard, Rose worked hard, Jeff Burk who did the book designs worked hard and all of the cover artists worked hard. Support their work.

The Start of Something Big

Hey. The last week of September’s upon us. It’s been a huge month. Soon, you’re going to see just how huge. First, I want to reiterate to all of you that the chance to participate in my workshops is dwindling quick. There are no slots left for October’s workshop and only two for January’s novella development workshop in which you write a book from pitch to completion in a month.  In a similar vein, I will tell you that now that this September’s project (which I will be able to tell you about soon) is over, I am once more looking for projects of all sizes, novel and novella alike to edit.

But that’s not my news. This week starts off big because my horror novel A God of Hungry Walls is now available and is already attracting good ink. It’s a dark, extreme and experimental take on the haunted house genre, letting the haunting tell you the story. I went into some dark and awful places on this one and I’m glad I did. Nothing validates this like getting some good early reviews like this one from The Horror Fiction Review and this one from author Michael Noe. So, as you can see if you’re looking for something genuinely intense, this might be the book for you. You can buy it HERE.

God of Hungry Walls front cover 2(1)

Also, if you are in Portland, Oregon on October 1st come join me as I join the HP Lovecraft Film Festival and my publisher Deadite Press celebrating not just the launch of my book but the launch of the Film Festival at Portland’s Lovecraft Bar! You’ll see performances by myself, author and Deadite Press publisher Jeff Burk, authors Danger Slater and Vince Kramer, storyteller Ilana Hamilton and author, Buddhist monk and ghost hunter Jess Gulbranson! Party starts at 8 at the Lovecraft. Hope to see some of you there.

This is all the news for now but keep your eyes on this blog for another big announcement later in the week!

Spoooky Update September

Hi again. Last time I posted on this blog. I had a series of pieces of excellent spooky news. This news ranged from a story announcement in an excellent antho where I got a lot of good ink to the announcement of my next book and workshop. Well, I have some follow up on that. There is not only another story announcement but a status update on the book and some other exciting news.

First up, my story “Pas de Deux”  will be appearing in the next issue of Splatterpunk zine. It’s a relief to be hitting more horror markets as my horror novel arrives because most of the work I have out there is Bizarro. I know some fans expect weirdness and dreamlike imagery and (for some reason) humor from me, so to see stories like this and “Hello, Handsome” get positive feedback always feels great. I’ve been writing and editing horror for ages but have only had stories like this in the genre out.

Which moves me onto my next piece of news. A God of Hungry Walls, my horror novel from Deadite Press, is currently at the printer. It will only be another week or so before I get to share this particular bit of mayhem with you. Here is the back cover copy:

“When you are within my walls, I am God.

I have always been here and I will always be. I have complete dominion. I control what you see, what you feel, and how you think. I will bend reality to whatever I wish. I will show you your worst fears and make you indulge in your darkest desires.

Your pain is my pleasure. Your tears are my ambrosia. Your despair is my joy.

I will break you.

I will ruin you.

Once you enter me, there is no escape. I will own you, forever.”

From Wonderland Book Award winning author, Garrett Cook, comes a haunted house novel unlike any you’ve ever read. Told entirely from the perspective of the haunting, A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS is a perverse, violent, and soul-crushing take on supernatural horror.”

If perversity, gore and a whole new take on hauntings sounds good to you, you’ll like this book. I’m proud of all the emotional and intellectual leaps and bounds it made me take and of the alien voice it’s told in. I’ve been told by everyone currently reading an ARC that it’s pretty damn scary and I’m inclined to believe these particular individuals. And take a look at this cover by Alan M Clark.

God of Hungry Walls front cover 2(1)

In the foreground here is a model of a haunted house, a collaboration between generations by the artist and his father. The background is painted. I like the mixed media quality of this and the eerie vintage horror vibe it projects. I’m proud to have a book out with this cover. If you’re in Portland,  Oregon for HP Lovecraft Film Festival, or if you just live here, come to the Lovecraft Bar on October 1st. The launch party for the book is also going to be the preparty for the festival and will feature performances by myself, Jeff Burk, Bizarro authors Danger Slater and Vince Kramer, storyteller Ilana Hamilton and a testimonial from author, Buddhist priest and ghosthunter Jess Gulbranson. You do not want to miss this event.

Speaking of can’t miss events, my online Bizarro and horror workshop only has two slots left. These workshops have helped launch books, have helped authors start getting stories out there and have helped students develop into different and better authors. It can help you too. The workshop starts in October and costs only fifty dollars for four weeks of exercises you can do or for critiques of existing stories. In January, I will once again be doing my novella development workshop, in which we find the right pitch for the right book for you and we work on developing it into a book by the end of the month. This costs 100 dollars but could be what you need to get that first book out and make it stick. There are also only two slots for this.

I will only be accepting one or two novel length clients until October, so if you want my services, get in touch with me now. It’s going to be a dark, scary and magical season and I want to see you all there and to help make this process a little less scary.

Spoooooky Stuff

Hey. In addition to editing books, I’m also a writer and critic. I’ve done a bunch of articles for Cinema Knifefight, did a couple for Examiner a few years ago and was film critic for Withersin for awhile. So, I watch and think about films a lot and what we can learn about from them. Recently, I did an article on a controversial film that frankly a lot of people flat out hate, part of a franchise that a lot of people flat out hate. I flat out hated this franchise until I saw it was a bigger ,more elaborate project than I thought. While not always perfect, it is a series that has some things to teach us about conviction, follow through and having big old castiron balls that drag along the ground, forming trenches that could protect a bunch of World War 1 soldiers from a mustard gas attack. For some thoughts that might make you want to burn me as a witch, check out Why the Human Centipede 3 May Be Better Than the Book You’re Writing and What You Can Do About It. Obviously, this is not safe for work. Unless your job is making human centipedes. Find a better job, you maniac! I am proud of this article and proud to have earned a mention on Twitter from Human Centipede director Tom Six, a classy, smart, dapper gentleman who might not make films you like but is still awesome nonetheless.

In other spoooky news, a few months ago, I appeared in the anthology Giallo Fantastique, edited by Word Horde’s Ross Lockhart. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and appear alongside Adam Cesare, Cameron Pierce, Brian Keene, Ennis Drake, Orrin Grey, Nikki Guerlain, Anya Martin, Michael Kazepis, Katherine Tobler Ross, John Langan and MP Johnson. This anthology features a bunch of stories inspired by Giallo cinema. Giallo is a genre of Italian crime film that sparked up the imaginations of such directors as Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci, it explores crime, madness and perversity through a lens of beauty, decadence and psychological mad science. The films are beautiful, lush and gory, as are these stories. If you like your horror strange and beautiful this is the antho for you.

The last piece of horror news I have may directly impact some of you. I’ve been doing copyediting for Deadite Press, contributing to film reviews on the horror genre and getting horror stories in print for quite awhile now and know the ins and outs of the genre. I also have done this for the Bizarro genre. Finally, you will get to learn about both these genres in one place, workshopping stories and seeing how the texture of dream and nightmare can be used to improve your weird fiction. In October, I will be doing an online Bizarro and horror workshop. This is a chance to be critiqued by peers and get the input of a professional editor with experience in two genres. Email me at thecentercannothold@gmail.com for information. 8 slots remain so get ’em now.

The Da Vinci Factor: A Quick Thought on Integrating Other Artforms

It’s easy to forget what art used to look like. We have only had videogames for about forty years. We have only had film for just over a century. Even novels are a relatively new artform when compared to other forms of expression. We have had music and painting for far longer than we have had long narratives. We can trace the genealogy of literature to the narratives told in cave paintings and songs and to epic poetry. As such, it is important to remember that we as a species are predisposed toward stories with visual and auditory components. What can we as writers take in from other art forms, whether we practice them or not? What can practicing and trying out these forms do for our writing?

The first storytelling was visual. Cave paintings became carvings. Carvings became tapestries. Urns and pots were frequently inscribed with scenes. Now we have comic books and films and as such, we get visual stimuli with a lot of our narratives. Many of our comics writers are also artists. Directors like David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Tim Burton are also painters. Alan M. Clark, an acclaimed horror artist I know is also a fantastic author of morbid, fascinating historical fictional. Just as Lynch and Burton turn their skilled eye to storytelling, so too does Alan turn his attention to aesthetics, detail and scenemaking to his fiction. If you watch a film by Lynch or Burton or look at a painting or read a book by Alan, we get a richer sensory experience than we would in the hands of an artist who doesn’t pay attention to the eye. When we’re writing we should remember this. We don’t just need to let readers experience the scene but to find interesting things inside it, to build sets and create captivating details and images that are not necessarily one hundred percent relevant to the understanding of the story.

Visual details are extremely important in fiction. But we shouldn’t forget the ear. Writing might seem like a visual medium since mostly when we read, we do so quietly and relate to the text with our eyes. This is not entirely so. The rhythm and cadence of our language changes our experience as readers. Before there were novels and short stories, there were poems, before there were poems with our songs. We read with our ears. The rhythms and line lengths of a piece change how we relate to it. A long, plodding, monotonous sentence that seems to have no conclusion in sight, one that does not give the reader much time for respite is one that will instill in the reader a sense of lethargy or tension or a desire to either put down the text in hand or to skip ahead and hopefully reach a point at which the language begins to move at a crisper and more organic pace which creates a sense of immediacy and urgency and presence in the situation. See what I did there? That long, plodding interminable sentence provides you with the information but you really want it to end. The rhythm of short, sharp sentences does the opposite. You write. The scene seems to be progressing too slowly. The fight scene doesn’t seem urgent enough. You shorten your line lengths. The story speeds up. The readers eyes progress faster through the page, the voice in their head reading it speeds up. The action happens quicker. Rhythm is your friend.

As a poet and singer/songwriter, I see the importance of keeping your ear attuned. A lot of writer neglect the sound of their prose and the rhythm of it because they don’t stop to listen. This can sometimes create an emotional disconnect or prose that plods and is less pleasing to the reader. Remember what the poet, the songwriter and the painter know about storytelling and mood. You can take that with you. A story with nothing for the mind’s eye and ear won’t stand out for readers and might be harder for you to write because you lose your emotional connection with it. Read out loud. Tap out your sentences. Your readers and editors will be grateful if you do.

Speaking of music, I have an ulterior motive for this post but not a particularly sinister one. My songwriter partner Wick Hill and I just dropped our second album Things That Can Never Happen Again. You can listen to it or download it here. I sing on three tracks and was involved in the writing of almost all songs. You can see in this how songwriting and poetry can inspire and inform a writer and editor’s ear. You can also buy it because we worked hard on that shit.

GET IT HERE

Trope vs. Tripe: the Sincerest Form of Failure

Genre fiction has been built on a foundation of pulp. Pulp has been built on a foundation of modern myth. When a writer takes to genre writing, one of the first impulses is to see if their work looks like other genre writing to see if it fits comfortably into that stable. Depending on the writer’s level of familiarity and comfort with genre, this will mean either a.) they will try to see if their work looks like their favorite author in the genre or b.) they will see if it looks like the most popular author currently working in the genre. These two might be one and the same in some lucky cases but that’s exceedingly rare and is rarer depending upon how well read the author is in said genre. For example, there are very few contemporary crime writers who will tell you that James Patterson is their favorite crime novelist of all time. Some will say Donald Westlake, some will say Raymond Chandler, others will say Ed McBain or occasionally even Mickey Spillane.

What happens next is what separates a lot of good writing from a lot of bad writing. The reactions to passing or failing this test can determine the trajectory of a writer’s work for some time to come. If a writer sees that their work looks like their favorite writer in the genre, how they decide to react can change how they approach fiction. The writer has two options here: 1.) continuing imitating author x because author x is awesome or 2.) see how their work differentiates from author x and work with that. The writer who has chosen choice number 1 has a set of challenges ahead. The biggest of these challenges is that when they submit to anyone who has read author x, they will be compared to author x and the editor will know that author x did it first and probably better. If the author imitating author x chooses self publishing, readers will know the same thing but the author can try to bet on the populace not being well read enough to recognize their influences. This gets very difficult when their influences are Harry Potter or Underworld.  If you want to base your well-being on whether somebody has never seen a McDonald’s or had coffee at Starbucks, you will probably not win that bet. There are some readers that wlll not care that you look exactly like author x and will think “oh boy, more Tolkien!” And this might look like a blessing, until you realize that if author x is that popular, then a lot of authors will be imitating author x, and you are not just competing with author x for readership but with several other people whose work looks exactly like yours.

The author who takes the second road risks people not recognizing them as a disciple of author x. Is this a problem? Only if you were trying to bank on your brand being “I’m just like author x”. They have to figure out what their fanbase will look like and whether their unique take on the genre does not knock them outside of its hallowed halls. There is still a chance that people will say “this is like author x” but they are more likely to use the term favorably. If the author on the road of differentiation stretches genre too far, he meets up with the author who has failed the genre test in an awkward but potentially wonderful place. These authors meet at the place where they either change the genre or become their own genre.

The writer whose work looks nothing like the rest of his genre risks rejection a lot. Editors might look at the work and say “dude, this is a horror magazine. I don’t know what this is but it ain’t horror.” But this author has two of the three weapons of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition at their disposal: fear and surprise (devotion to the pope optional). They get the benefit of an editor saying “hmm, this horror story looks like no other horror story. I am trying to edit a publication that stands out from other publications. I will take this because it will help me stand out.” Depending on how driven the writer is, how ready the market is and how competent their allies are, this can lead to either a series of rewarding small victories or long term changes in the genre they want to work in.

Imitation is the sincerest way to flatter, yeah. Tolkien and Stephen King don’t need to be flattered though. You’re the one who needs to look good.