Tag Archives: Fiction

Author Interview: G. Wells Taylor

[G. Wells Taylor was the guy who got me started with self-published books. Years ago I knew such things existed, but I’d never had the incentive to try them out. All that changed when I stumbled across the site manybooks.net and downloaded a copy of Mr. Taylor’s book When Graveyards Yawn. In the pages of that book I met “PI in zombietown” character Wildclown; it blew my mind. Since then I’ve been addicted to the amazing and unfiltered weird that the channel of self-publishing opens up. Today’s it’s my great joy and pleasure to present to you my interview with the man who started it all…]

All of your books seem to feature the undead in one way or another. What is it that fascinates you about zombies and vampires? Is it simply the horror of imperfect immortality, or is there something more?

Zombies and vampires are fitting tools for exploring the horror of imperfect immortality, as you say; but I also see them as dire warnings against imperfect mortality, since they inhabit negative aspects of our own collective identity. Zombies fly in the face of the democratic ideal of safety in numbers and instead invoke the image of mob rule and soulless conformity. Vampires suggest the hypocrisy of individual superiority mocked by an utter dependence upon and envy for their inferior prey. These uncomfortable contradictions make these monsters so human and therefore, captivating to both readers and writers.

In my experience the journey to becoming a seasoned writer is more tangled and complicated than most readers will ever know, so what’s your story? When was the moment you realized, “I want to tell stories,” and how long did it take your dream to come to fruition?

In the early days, I used to illustrate and write stories for my own entertainment. I did well in art class, and thought painting and illustrating would be my way of figuring out my personal puzzles. However, during my first year of art college, I realized that I had many more than a thousand words to say about each picture I generated; so I began to suspect that I would find commercial or fine art to be lacking for me as a sole means of self-expression.

I dropped out of college to work for a few years before eventually returning to study journalism and English literature in university. In the meantime, I had been writing stories and banking manuscripts.

I did annual submissions to publishing houses with little success, but was not discouraged. I knew my stories did not fit the mold. Imagine pitching Wildclown to a publishing industry that was shifting to a more conservative and risk-averse business model.

I thought of myself as a writer despite the fact that people pointed out I wasn’t making any money at it. I didn’t get the point and kept writing anyway.

I mentioned before that you write fiction that primarily focuses on the undead —a topic which has gotten more than its share of attention in the past few years— and yet your stories put a fresh spin on the established tropes: the World of Change posits the question: what if every living thing became effectively unkillable? In Bent Steeple your villain is a pedophilic vampire. In the Variant Effect a wonder-drug makes certain people begin to crave human flesh. And my question is, what is it that drives you to take these tropes that everyone thinks they know backward and forward and say, “Fellas, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet”?

I yearn for something original when I read books. I want to be surprised and entertained by the experience, so I am obsessed with putting something new into the over-worked and overpopulated genres in which I write. I have to be passionate about a book before I can write it, so discovering something unique is essential to lighting that fire.

If you were given the power to imprint a unique monster of your own creation into the cultural consciousness what would it be?

I think my “skin eaters” from the Variant Effect are leaving a mark on readers. I sure have a lot of fun writing them, and I suspect their back story might be sufficiently believable and unsettling to leave a lasting impression. They give me the creeps.

[Albert here: ya’ll can meet the skin eaters for yourselves in Mr. Taylor’s books The Variant Effect and The Variant Effect: GreenMourning. They are super creepy. But don’t take my word for it. Go. Read.]

Conversely, if you were given the power to completely remove one single work of fiction from the pages of history and the minds of men, what would it be?

That’s a hard one. I’ve got too many favorites to focus on a single work of fiction that doesn’t turn my crank. It is a rare book that I will put down once I’ve started reading it. There is usually something of value in every piece of fiction.

From what I can tell, you’ve started self-publishing your books digitally before it was “cool”. What led you down that path? Were you rejected by the mainstream publishing world, or did you always know you wanted to be a solo act?

Historically, the Canadian government has subsidized Canadian publishers in an effort to mitigate the cultural impact of the much larger American publishing industry. Those subsidies went to Canadian publishers and fiction writers that focused on Canadian stories: culture, immigration and history.

So Canadian genre fiction writers were “solo acts” whether we liked it or not.

That left me sending manuscripts to American publishing slush piles. As you know, just prior to the eBook Revolution there were few traditional publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts. So the search was on for an agent. When I read that few literary agents were accepting unsolicited manuscripts, I began to think that my books would end up in an attic to be discovered by a relative long after I was dead. While an imperfect outcome, it would have to do.

However, a friend in IT and now business partner, Richard Van Dyk had assured me over the years that developments in technology would eventually push the old publishing industry model to the wayside, and opportunity would come for independent writers through digital content, electronic reading devices and the Internet. He used the rapidly changing music industry model of the time as an example.

While I had my doubts, I soldiered on and started publishing my work online, then after a few missteps with the under-utilized print-on-demand technology, the eBook came into being. That eBook publishing technology validated independent writers, and allowed me to connect directly to the reader.

Compared to many of the people I know in self-publishing you’re substantially…more mature. Do you feel that your age and experience gives a leg up on your younger competition? Or does the generational gap cause more problems than good?

I think Indie publishing is moving onto a relatively even playing field where talent is free to trump all other factors. Age and experience have just made me more disciplined. I’m better at committing my time and doing the work.

I’m gonna geek out for a minute here and say, that I absolutely LOVE your “P.I. in Zombietown” character Wildclown. Where did the idea for a hardboiled private investigator who happens to dress in full clown regalia come from?

Years ago I was working at a psychiatric hospital in a northern Canadian city that was also home to a doomsday cult. Its members dressed up as zombies and the Grim Reaper. They seemed to do this randomly, appearing Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon or Friday night, at any time of year.

Needless to say, after the initial amusement wore off, they became a little depressing. Imagine strolling down the street on a sunny day and passing a gang of fake zombies chanting about the end of the world. I had at that time developed a voracious appetite for hard-boiled detective fiction, a genre I wanted to try my hand at writing. So one day as I passed the zombie horde, I heard a wisecracking voice inside my head that I soon recognized as Wildclown. Mix in a few late nights, a typewriter and Canadian Club whiskey and you’ve got a P.I. in Zombietown.

The doomsday cult’s costumes may have inspired Wildclown’s need to disguise his true identity. The fact that he chose a gothic clown might have had something to do with my interest in Shakespearean tragedies in which insightful “fools” are always popping up at the worst of times.

Speaking of hard-boiled private investigators, a lot of your leading men tend to be hard-drinking, fast-living, loners. What is it about that kind of character that speaks to you?

I find the hard-boiled perspective an excellent way of viewing our world where the gray area has bled into the black and white. It is a practical mindset soaked in defiance, humor and skepticism. The first-person narrative of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op was an echo of the inner monologue I was already hearing on the long nights I spent writing.

Shoot us some sage words of writing wisdom. What can the rest of us struggling writers do to up our fiction game?

Just do the work and add something to it every day. Take lots of notes and organize them. Be prepared and trust the process. Get someone to edit, and someone to read. If you feel anxious, depressed or grumpy, you should probably be writing.

Coming Soon: Sons of the Damned

Life in a small town sucks no matter who you are. But for Vinny, grossly overweight and chronically underemployed loser, it sucks harder than a souped up Hoover.

But as bad as Vinny thinks he has it things are about to get a whole lot worse. Because the one friend he has in the world, the excesively paranoid and possibly crazy Regis Emanuel Lightbringer Camden (or Frog to his friends), has just started acting even stranger than usual.

And when Frog disappears in a set of bizzare circumstances Vinny finds himself thrust into a labyrinth of sinister characters and unearthly forces, caught up in a struggle he can’t begin to understand. If he’s going to survive Vinny will have to overcome the fear and self-doubt that have followed him all of his life. And if he’s going to save his friend, he just might have to save the world in the process.

So this is it. I’ve been working on the upcoming serial “Frog Got Bit” (now officially titled Sons of the Damned) for the past few weeks and I think I’ve got a handle on the shape, tone, and theme of the story. Which means that next week I’m going to take the plunge. The first chapter will be posted on Tuesday, May 8. Mark your calendars.

I’m excited about this one, guys. I’m really thrilled with how Frog and Vinny have manifested themselves as characters and I hope you’ll enjoy their journey as much as I am.

Stay tuned…

Shoot the Cat

The eternal curse of being a writer is that you’re no longer able to look at stories in the same way. You can’t just sit back and watch a movie or read a book and enjoy it. You find yourself saying, “Hey, that bit really worked. I wonder why?” or “That was so boring I want to remove my left eye with a corkscrew. I wonder why?” You’re like a freshly-minted mechanic, no longer able to simply drive your car in blissful ignorance and stare in befuddlement when it breaks down. You have to know why.

For instance the book Save the Cat takes its name from the idea that a story’s protagonist needs a moment to be the hero, to shine through in such a way that the reader will want to pump his fist in the air and let loose an exultant “HUZZAH!” You can’t build a whole story out of that kind of moment, any more than you can build a whole car out of spark plugs, but it is a necessary piece of the completed whole.

But lately I’ve taken note of a different kind of moment in many of the stories I’ve been reading, the television and movies I’ve been watching. It isn’t the kind of moment you cheer for. When it hits there will be no fist pumping, no getting up out of your seat and walking around the room with the book in your hands because you’re too excited to sit still, but too enthralled to stop reading. (You guys do this too right? Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.) This is a moment that stabs into your gut like a rusty machete and then twists.

This is the moment when everything goes wrong.

Of course, if your story is any good, things have been going wrong all along. An easy path does not compelling reading make. But up until this point there was hope. Before the reader was saying to himself “Well golly, I wonder how he’s going to make it out of this one.” But now the mood has changed. The reader is reeling, swaying, staggering from the sucker punch you’ve just delivered. A main character has just died; the romantic interest had just professed his love to the wrong woman; the earth has been destroyed by the Vogon Constructor fleet. In short, thing are looking very very bad indeed.

This is what I’d like to call the “shoot the cat” moment. And I’m increasingly of the opinion that every story should have one. It’s a chance to remind your audience that you’re not messing around, a moment that will make them wonder exactly how far you’re willing to go.

As far as I can tell this moment can happen at virtually any point in the story, as long as the reader is vested in your characters. This means that unless you’re writing a book in a series or a serial television show (Season 6 of Doctor Who has a fantastic example of this in the opening scenes of the second episode) You should probably save this for somewhere in the second act.

Always remember, keep the stakes high and personal. Triumph means more after tragedy, and the further down into defeat you can drag your hero, the more it will mean when he overcomes it all and soars high above the clouds victorious once again.

Flash Fiction February: Day 29

Happy Leap Day everybody, and welcome to the end of having to read about my struggle to write twenty-nine stories in twenty-nine days. I’d like to tell you that all of those twenty-nine days were amazing, but the truth is that some of them sucked, and some of them were just kinda “meh”. Since we’re wrapping things up today, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned this month:

1. Writing is a Roller Coaster

I feel like a broken record saying this, but it still amazes me how variable this writing thing can be. Some days you write and it lifts your spirits and gives you strength to power on through even the darkest of times. And other days it seems as if it sucks you dry, leaving you hollow and soulless, exacting a terrible price for the words you have written. And the funny thing is, the quality of the writing rarely lines up with how you feel about it. Days when writing feels like chore sometimes produce great stories. Why? No, really, why? If you know, please let me know.

2. Flash Fiction is a Lot of Work

Comparatively at least. I mean, I’d far rather be sitting around thinking up stories than shoveling concrete under the hot Florida sun (this was my first job, and everything else I’ve ever done seems like cake in comparison. Moral: the secret to happiness is understanding how bad things actually could be.) But even though my wordcount for the month was far from prodigious it feels like coming up with a new story every day is more taxing than writing longer fiction where you at least have an idea of where you’re going. Or perhaps it is taxing in a different way. The same, but different.

3. People Like Reading Short Stories

In the past I’ve always shied away from putting too much short fiction up on this blog, opting instead to make it a relatively small proportion of the posts I made. But in Flash Fiction February, because I was spending time writing stories instead of blog posts the balance of that output changed to about 50/50. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that people responded. Views are up, comments are up, sales of my ebooks are up (though most of that is probably due to the Kindle Select promotion I ran this month). Which means you can expect to see more of that kind of thing from now on. Don’t worry I’m itching to get back to posting regular blog posts too, but from now on I’m not going to be so afraid of “story overload”.

4. In 1920 Italian Anarchists Blew Up a Wagon Full of Dynamite and Sash Weights in Front of the New York Stock Exchange, Killing Forty People and Injuring Hundreds.

That’s not related to Flash Fiction February, it’s just something I learned this month. How did I not know about this before? Did you know about this? And you didn’t tell me? Not cool man.

5. C. M. Stewart is a Fantastic Human Being and a Wonderful Writer.

So I had this crazy idea about writing twenty-nine stories in twenty-nine days, and fellow blogger C. M. Stewart got on board. I mean, some people said, “Oh yeah, I’ll give that a shot,” but she took it to the next level. You know the one; the level has the zombie dragon on it? Yeah, that next level. She not only participated in the challenge, but she took on the role of unofficial cheerleader, and, perhaps most impressively, she’s posted every story she wrote this month on her blog. Let me tell you my friends, that takes major cojones. She’s a good friend and a writing force to be reckoned with. Go and check out her work.


Looking forward, I’ve got a lot of idea for what I want to do next, and most of them involve editing. I want to take a look at the very first book I ever wrote, Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption, and hopefully take another stab at making it viable for the market. After that I’m going to be working on my NaNoWriMo novel from two years ago The Dark Mile. In between, there are a few stories I wrote this month that I’m considering expanding into longer short stories and releasing as ebooks, including one called “How to Be a Serial Killer” that may make it up into novella-length range. That one…that one’s going to be interesting.

Stay tuned my friends. Same Bat Time, same Bat Station.

Flash Fiction February: Day 22

The rains have passed and the sun is out. All the doors of the house are open, and the breeze is perfect.

Which, if it wasn’t true, is a pretty good metaphor for how Flash Fiction February has been going this last week. Things have just been…clicking. Finally I’m feeling like I’m getting something good here.

I think it started when I switched to writing with pencil and paper instead of typing on the computer. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that the medium of composition has some invisible effect on the outcome. Then again, maybe that’s just the Romantic in me getting all mystical about stuff.

Whatever the cause, things are looking good. I’ve had that feeling like the form of the stories is bubbling up from somewhere inside. There are verses in the bible that refer to the seat of the emotions being in the stomach, the phrase “our bowels did yearn” used to describe that deep aching longing feeling that you get when you’re about to see someone you’ve desperately missed. That’s what this feels like. It’s not writing from the heart, but writing from the gut.

And if one or several of the pieces I’ve written on these last few days have not turned out to be actual stories, then that’s okay. There are no judges, no rules, not even an audience to please. Just me and my notebook, and a hand that really starting to cramp up because I can’t remember the last time I wrote down more than a few words on paper.

Actually, that’s not true, I can. It was the Krampus story. And I felt the same way about that one as I do about these: they may not be right for everyone, but they’re surely right for me.

Announcing: a new short story; the mistreatment of children; and Flash Fiction February

Greetings dear readers,

It has come to my attention that there might theoretically be some of you out there wondering, “What might be the goings on in the life of small-time self published author and applied retro-phrenologist extraordinaire, Albert Berg?” And because I do not wish you to lose any more sleep puzzling this matter over I have taken it upon myself to inform you dear readers, that these be the goings on:

1. I have published a new(ish) short story.

Some of you may remember that I wrote “The Fisherman’s Nightmare” a while back as a response to one of Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenges. It was one of the few times he posted a challenge without a wordcount limit, and the story that grew in my mind took the better part of a week to write. By the time it was finished I was close to the deadline so I posted it pretty much as a rough draft, and promptly forgot about it.

But a few weeks ago I was mucking through my files and happened to take another look at “The Fisherman’s Nightmare”. To my utter shock and surprised, it actually wasn’t half bad. So I polished it up, read it aloud to myself (writers, for serious, do this when you edit) polished some more, tweaked the ending and voila!

Voila: like a voilin but smaller

Its available from Amazon for money, or you can get it from Smashwords for free.

2. I am inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on my foster kids.

Okay, folks, don’t report me to Child Protective Services, but well there’s no easy way to say this: I’m turning off the televisions in our house for a month.

I know, right? A whole entire month! What kind of sick person could be so cruel to himself and others. Clearly there is something wrong with me.

But the thing is, and I don’t know, maybe this is just me, but I can’t help thinking that maybe there are other things we could all be doing with our time than soaking up TV. I’m not necessarily against television, but I know I managed to go for more than ten years of my childhood without it, and I’m thinking maybe we’ll be able to manage it for a single month.

Maybe we’ll listen to some old-time radio shows or play some games or, I dunno, talk to each other? Is that thing people still do? I guess we’ll find out in a week.

In the mean time I’m going on a Doctor Who watching binge to tide me over through the dark days ahead.

3. I am founding Flash Fiction February

What is Flash Fiction February? Well, think of it like National Novel Writing Month, only instead of writing an entire novel in a month you write a new flash fiction story every day.

Really this is a challenge I’m making for myself, but I’d love to have some of you join me. I think coming up with a new and different story every day for twenty-nine straight days would be a great way to exercise our mental storytelling muscles.

You don’t have to do anything with the stories you write. They don’t even have to be good stories. Like NaNoWriMo the concept here is to get those fingers typing and build up consistency as a writer.

If you’re interested in joining me in writing a flash fiction story for every day next month, drop a line in the comments. Also if this is an idea that interests you, I’d love some help spreading the word. Tweet, blog, send smoke signals, whatever.

And as always, happy writing!

Bizzaro Internet TV Review: The Booth at the End

I’m gonna start right off the bat and say that I absolutely despise the term “internet TV”. In my mind there is a sharp line of demarcation between television and the internet, so smooshing the two together like that just feels wrong. The problem is the term “web original” doesn’t quite do the job either, because it raises the question, original what? Original book? Original movie? Original steampunk origami sculpture? Perhaps we need some new words for this type of media. I propose we adopt the term Moving Images Propagated In the Digital Ether, or MIPIDE for short. This is the new thing. Tell your friends.

This naming confusion highlights just how odd something like The Booth at the End really is. Not that people haven’t put their own shows directly online before, but many of those feel at least a little home-spun, whereas The Booth at the End, looks like the real deal. In an era where more an more people consume the majority of their entertainment via streaming videos, The Booth at the End is a harbinger of the idea that professionally produced content can be distributed exclusively online.

But frankly I’m not writing this review to talk about the changing culture of entertainment. Because no matter what medium or method of propagation you choose for your fiction, the core question remains: is it any good?

For The Booth at the End, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.”

The Booth at the End is as clear an example I have ever seen of how a simple concept and minimalist execution can lead to an incredibly complex and nuanced story. The premise is this: Somewhere in middle America there is a nondescript diner. If you enter this diner and walk all the way down to the final booth you will find a man sitting, waiting. If you tell this man what you want, literally anything your heart desires, he can make it happen. For a price.

No name is ever given to the man who sits in the booth at the end assigning task after task out of his well-worn notebook, guiding his clients toward the things they claim to want. At first blush, the Faustian nature of his bargains and his seemingly supernatural abilitiy to make wishes come true casts him in the light of a demon in human form, perhaps even the devil himself. Yet, as the show progresses we begin to see sparks of humanity, flashes of frailty, insinuations that the nameless man is not the chessmaster of the game, but rather another piece on the board, and his clients are not the only ones who want something, nor are they the only ones willing to pay a terrible price to get it.

The Booth at the End is about the people who come to this man, the things they want, and the prices they pay. Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. Because rather than being a show about people having their wishes fulfilled, it is instead an exploration of the nature of desire. It asks the question, do you really want what you think you want? And how far would you be willing to go to get it?

Because while the man in the booth at the end can give you the thing you ask, the cost is higher than you can imagine. The price for each wish takes the shape of a task that must be performed, and it is in the execution of these various tasks that the meat of the story lies. Some of the tasks are terrifying on a purely moral level, a man asked to kill a girl in exchange for healing his son’s cancer, an elderly woman charged with building a bomb to set off in a crowded restaurant so that her husband can regain his memory. Other tasks, seemingly less horrific, lead those chosen to complete them through the darkest chambers of their own hearts, forcing them to face unsettling truths about themselves and the world around them. It is this revelatory experience that lies at the core of The Booth at the End, men and women from every walk of life coming to terms with who they truly are.

If you’re looking for something different, something with depth, something that will challenge you to think, then you can’t afford to miss the small marvel that is The Booth at the End. The entire series is available to watch for free on Hulu.

And while you watch, ask yourself this question: how far would you go to get the thing you want the most?

Bizzaro Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I didn’t know it was possible. I mean, really, it shouldn’t be physically possible for me to simultaneously love and hate something this much. But Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has done it. And since I intend to enumerate the reasons for both my boundless adoration and my untethered fury you should be aware that spoilers shall follow.

I suppose I should start by saying that this is an amazing book.

How amazing? Let me tell you. I picked up this book in the book section of the Walmart were I work on my lunch break. I cracked open the first page, and the next thing I knew I was sitting cross-legged on a bag of dog food in the pet department wishing I could put off clocking back in for just five more minutes.

The story begins with a boy named Jacob recounting the tales of wonder his grandfather used to spin about the magical place where he spent his childhood, an enchanted estate where the “peculiar children” could go to hide from the “monsters”. Of course as Jacob grows older he comes to realize that the peculiar children his grandfather told him about weren’t really magical, and that the monsters were the human kind.

Or were they?

Really, the magic of this book is contained in those three little words. Or were they. Were the peculiar children nothing more than displaced Jews, and the monsters nothing more than Nazis? Were the pictures Jacob’s grandfather shows him clever fakes or something more magical? Is the monster Jacob see’s just before his grandfather’s death real, or nothing more than the product of a fevered imagination?

For Ransom Riggs it seems the wonder is in the wondering, in following the clues of the mystery to far and distant places to see what the truth might really hold.

The problem is that the search for answers ends halfway through the book. Everything is revealed, nearly all the questions answered. And from that point on, Jacob enters the strange and wonderful world of the peculiar children themselves.

I say, strange and wonderful, because in theory those things should be true. There should be something amazing about a boy with bees inside of him, something unnerving about a child who can remove the heart from an animal and bestow its life into something inanimate.

But somehow Ransom Riggs manages to write these things not with a sense of wonder, but rather with the drudgery of the mundane. The eponymous home for peculiar children holds nothing more than novelties, mere trinkets of awe that do a poor job of taking the place of the all-encompassing mystery that defined the first half of the book.

But that is not the worst. Not by far. For this book to have devolved from something amazing into nothing more than a magical adventure story, it might have been forgiven. But the crime it commits in the end is so heinous, so unthinkable that it has nearly sent me into fits of rage over the last few days just thinking about it.

What is this crime against the laws of literary justice? It can be summed up in a single name: Miss Peregrine.

Miss Peregrine, the titular matron of the home for peculiar children, is the living embodiment of well-meaning evil. Her crime is nothing less than stealing the lives of her peculiar children, keeping them hidden from the world and keeping the world hidden from them. She has created a loop in time, a single day repeating itself over and over, while the rest of the world marches on. In order to keep her charges from wandering out into the rest of the world she has censored their knowledge of the future to include only the worst things. In the face of forces that would like to destroy her and her charges she has done nothing to prepare them for the battle. In short she is the epitome of protective parenting, the embodiment of the philosophy that children should be shielded from any and all adversity without ever being trained to fight the very real battles the world will throw at them.

But somehow Ransom Riggs has gotten it into his head that she is one of the good guys. The obvious monsters, the ones with rotting black skin and ten foot long tentacle tongues, those are of course dispatched with gleeful violence. Never mind that the self-righteous Miss Peregrine is the children’s sole source of information about the monsters, the one who has described them as being literally soulless.

Of course, we all know that it’s perfectly fine to murder people that don’t look like us as long as the powers that be assure us that they have no souls.

Wait WHAT!?

So now you understand my dilemma. There is so much to love about this book. The creepy vintage photographs woven more or less seamlessly into the story, the mounting tension built in the first half of the book, the deft use of language…

But there is also so much to hate.

If you haven’t read the book yet, I can’t tell you whether you should. Perhaps you can be more tolerant of its failures, more forgiving of its mistakes than I. But perhaps you will find yourself as I find myself, pouring back over the story in your mind, sifting through the missed opportunities with mounting outrage.

Only time can tell.

The Mulch Pile

You’re not going to believe this story. Maybe that’s for the best. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I really believe it myself anymore. Maybe it’s just a story I tell myself so that I won’t have to remember the Truth. But Terrence is dead; that much you can believe.

He should have been the one to write this, Terence I mean. He was always real good with this kind of thing. But now he’s gone, and it’s just me left to tell the tale. You probably won’t believe it, but for my sake, for Terrence’s sake, remember.

The Mulch Pile lives! If you’ve been following this blog for very long, you know that this is a project I’ve been working on for a while.

You could say it has its roots all the way back in my childhood when my dad dug into our garden mulch pile and told me to put my hand inside.  I lowered my palm into that cavity and felt waves of heat coming off the rotting vegetables and grass clippings inside. It totally creeped me out.

Years later, in 2009 to be exact, while I was casting about for a concept for my National Novel Writing Month novel, the idea of a monster mulch pile sprang into my head, and I knew that was the story I was going to write.

I had to write it. Because no one else was going to.

But along the way it became so much more. I’m not much a fan of pantsing these days, but in the November of 2009 sitting in Walmart’s parking lot with my laptop, pounding away on this story when I should have been eating lunch, pantsing took me to a place I never dreamed of finding.

And instead of writing a simple story about a monster mulch pile, I uncovered layers of meaning about brotherhood, identity, and the dark side of love.

Consequently, this story is really two stories. One is the story you will read. The other is the story between the lines.

Confused? Think of it like this painting:

On the one hand you can see a normal bowl of vegetables. But hidden within those vegetables is a pattern of something far stranger.

Similarly The Mulch Pile has two sides. One side is about a monster mulch pile. The other side…well let’s not spoil that shall we?

The Mulch Pile is available for all your favourite electronic reading devices. Kindle, Nook, whatever. I’ve got you covered.

The going rate from all those websites is $2.99.  But if you’ve got an ereader that can process .epub files, then I’ve got an extra special offer. The ebook is available directly from me for $1.99. Just click   and save!

I’m really excited about this story, guys. It’s been a long time in the birthing, but I’m thrilled to be finally releasing it into the wild.

And, as always, if you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it, my work will have been worth it all.

From the Mail Bag (Sort of): On Description

Last week, you may remember, I made this post about minimalism in writing, particularly in the area of description and information.

In response to that post one reader, Alex Keir, posed this question:

“Is it not the job of the author to paint a picture? I think we can all agree that genre subjects, science fiction, fantasy, etc., and specialized genre, spies, wall street, political, etc., all require additional description to bring the reader into the world.”

Mr. Keir (I realize Alex could also be a girl’s name, but I’m choosing to assume the masculine here, because frankly there ain’t enough dudes in this writing game) went on to share the concern that keeping descriptions to a minimum is really a symptom of our TV junky society, trying to dumb things down as much as possible.

I answer to both of these concerns, I’ve decided to elaborate a bit more on my original post.

It is true that some worlds require more description than others. For instance, me and Ellie Soderstrom just finished the first draft of a steampunk/fantasy novel in which there are clockwork robots and insectile aliens in addition to several other quirks of setting.

Clearly, those things are going to need a fair amount of description if the reader is going to fully understand what is happening in our story. But even so there’s a very real danger in doing this wrong.

For instance the alien species first appears during “hook” of our book, the first action scene that really lets the reader know they’re in for an exciting ride. But to stop in the middle of the chase scene to describe the sun glinting off the gleam on the alien’s shell, to describe the horror of it’s multifaceted eyes, to paint every hair-like bristle on their multi-segmented arms in the reader’s mind and…

Hey, where did you go? I’m making a point here. Okay, where was I? Oh, yes. We want to give the reader a few details to give them the impression of what our protagonist is facing, but we don’t wont to overload the action with description.

Why? Because reading a book isn’t like watching a movie. The visuals aren’t the important part. Most people won’t even notice when they’re missing. In fact there are stories built around this “blind spot”, seemingly normal scenes that are only revealed to be abnormal through the revelation of previously unknown details.

You can’t do a scene in a movie where the two men talking about trying to keep an animal alive in a zoo turn out to be aliens talking about a human child. But in print you can totally get away with that stuff.

I’m not saying you should do that. I’m merely making a point. Before you explicitly state some detail about a scene, your reader is already making assumptions.

And that is exactly what you as a writer want. Because the world the reader will build in their own head will be far more elaborate and detailed than anything you can describe on paper.

The purpose of description is not to tell the reader everything about your world, but rather to give them a nudge in the right direction, so that they can create the world for themselves. After all if they’re just sitting there, might as well put them to work right?

And don’t dump it all in their lap at one go if you can help it. Remember, little details go a long way toward making your world seem more real. Scatter little tidbits of world-building throughout your story, and build on the details you’ve established already. That way your descriptions won’t become ponderous paragraphs of story-stopping information, but instead they will arise organically from the flow of the story.

Remember, description is like salt.

It can bring wonderful taste to your cooking. But if it becomes the main ingredient you might want to check your recipe.