Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year's Resolution: To Harness My Own Fears

I'm not big on the whole "let's look back on this past year and chronicle what I've done and look at what's ahead in the New Year" thing.  Suffice to say, some cool things have happened this past year, both writing-wise and personally.  Also, some very challenging times were weathered personally, and I've endured my share of writing-related frustrations.  And, the year ahead is bound to offer the same mix of opportunities, triumphs (both personal and professional), closed doors, let-downs, failures and rejections.

Here, however, is one New Year's writing resolution, and it may surprise some of you.

To write fewer stories.  Submit to fewer markets.

So I can dig WAY deeper in the stories I am writing.  Dig deeper into myself, my experiences, my life, my failures, dreams, hopes, nightmares....and fears.

I had two of my "better" stories rejected from a reprint anthology recently. Granted, it was a pretty prestigious anthology edited by a prestigious  editor, so I imagine the competition was stiff.  You can bet I'll be buying a copy of this anthology when it comes out, scope out the folks who trumped me.

But I wasn't upset.  In fact, I had sorta expected to get rejected, which is why I submitted.  The editor is also someone I've studied under, so after both stories got rejected I felt free enough to open a dialogue with him about these stories' weaknesses.  This editor had also read Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, so I asked for his opinion on that, too. 

Mechanically, I think this editor is happy with my progress.  He praised the action sequences in my Hiram, which is pretty high praise indeed. Still, he noted something very important, a lacking in my storytelling that I'VE come to note myself over the last six months or so.

My stories aren't ALIVE.  Not yet.  They move and function exactly as "stories" should, but according to this editor - whose word is as close to gospel about fiction for me as you can get - my work still reads an awful lot like someone "doing the writer thing".  Probably the most telling critique was that the characters all appear as skilled actors who only live for the length of the story, and that it was hard to believe they'd actually exist OUTSIDE of the story itself.

We talked a bit about how to make my work come alive.  One his quotes that will always stand out in my mind is this: "The real stuff, the stuff that lives and lasts, comes out of late night conversations with your very own self."


Now, this both challenged me and encouraged me.  Challenged me, because it made me consider all the anthologies I'd thought about submitting to over this next year.  Was I thinking about stories that really reflected the above sentiment? Or was I just trying to "get into the anthology?"  

It was an encouragement, however, because while I leaked a little of myself into Hiram Grange, I couldn't put all of myself into him because of how all the Hiram Five were building Hiram together.  It was a group effort, so while a lot of Hiram belongs to me, not all of it does.  My current project, all me.  Almost painfully so.  Seems like I'm on the right track.

Also, this editor suggested I pick up To Each Their Darkness, by Gary Braunbeck, a nonfiction tome on writing horror.  Luckily, I'd already pre-ordered a copy.  Any of you serious about being a horror writer should pick this up NOW. I'm only a little way into it,  but I've already discovered the best reason to write horror that I've ever encountered:

"What I see is pain and isolation that empowers not the sufferers, but that which afflicts them. I want a reason for this.  I want a reason for babies born with cancer, for the endless supply of thoughtless cruelties both little and large we inflict on one another on an everyday basis, for old folks who are abandoned to die alone and unwanted and unloved.

I want an explanation, please, for all of the soul-sick, broken-hearted people who become so hollowed by their aloneness that they turn on the gas, eat the business end of shotgun, or find a ceiling beam that can take their weight. I want sense made of this.  I want to know the reason why...and since none is forthcoming, either from above or those around me, I've decided to try and find an answer on my own.  So far, the best - the only - way for me to work toward this is through writing horror stories." 

- Gary Braunbeck, To Each Their Darkness (Apex Publications)

So that's my only writing resolution.  To only take on writing projects that resonate with me, personally.  If I can't find an emotional hook I can associate with, if I can't bring my own darkness and fear to it, I won't write it.  This will result in fewer stories.

But hopefully much better ones that actually LIVE.

Happy New Year!