Saturday, October 26, 2013

Borderlands Press Writers' Bootcamp - Training the Next Generation of Horror/Genre Writers

I got to thinking the other day about my experiences at Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp after reading a Facebook post written by Michael Bailey, author and editor of the Chiral Mad anthology series. He was reminiscing on his time at Borderlands, marking it as the turning point when he got serious about his writing, and I whimsically commented that very soon, Borderlands Graduates will take over the genre.

And of course, mostly, I was joking. Mostly. The genre's a bit big for a handful of writing camp graduates to conquer. However, it prompted me to think of my first Boot Camp experience, back in 2008. I'd only sold a handful of stories, had just slogged my way through a badly OVERWRITTEN first draft of Hiram Grange and was working as a contributing editor for Shroud Magazine. I'd done pretty well on my own, thanks very much, and in only a few years.

However, I'd chosen to put myself at the feet of the best in the business: Mort Castle, F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, Doug Winter, Ginjer Buchanan, Gary Braunbeck and others. Everything I thought I'd learned I chucked out the window, I checked all my preconceptions at the door, and my blooming confidence (ignorant arrogance?) got taken down several healthy notches. 

And it was the best experience ever. So awesome, I signed up for a second tour the following year.

 Brad Hodson, Gardner Goldsmith, myself, Karissa Milbury
And I remember very clearly, that first year, having dinner at a bar within walking distance of the Borderlands hotel with the other "grunts." It occurred to me, in a very fanciful way, that perhaps I was sitting and eating and drinking with the next generation of  horror/genre writers. 

Five years later, and I wouldn't say that "generation" has lit the genre on fire. However, I thought this morning it would be interesting to look in on those folks - from both years - and see what they've done, how far they've come. 

However, one thing to note: everyone's writing career moves at a different pace. Some find traction more quickly than others. And some of those folks were pretty young (making this thirty-something writer look pretty ancient) so they've got lots of time yet to fire it up. 

Michael Bailey -  The first edition of his Chiral Mad anthology made some serious waves, and the TOC of Chiral Mad 2 reads like an All Star roster. His own writing has garnered awards, and he's published nearly 30 short stories since Borderlands. Also, I have it on really good authority that Michael and I will be working together in a pretty cool venue in the near future...

Nancy Greene - Nancy has landed short work all over the place, (like this one at The Lovecraft Ezine) has written for FlamesRising.com, Fearnet.com, Cemetery Dance and others. She was one of the first folks to read Hiram Grange and say nice things about it. Nancy attended both bootcamps and has been pretty active within the genre since, and I count her as a good friend. 

P. Gardner Goldmsith - Gard is one of my favorite guys. Excitable, positive, enthusiastic - he's the epitome of someone who's just happy to be writing. I met Gard my second time tour of Borderlands. We've shared a few TOCs as of late, most notably the upcoming Horror Library 5, which, ironically, features stories BOTH of us ran through the Bootcamp Gauntlet. My best memory is Gard and I randomly deciding to meet at Ithaca College's Rod Serling Symposium one summer, the key aspect being that Gard randomly decided to drive across SEVERAL STATES to get there. His first novella Bite just hit the streets, through Pendragon Press.

David Agranoff - I met David my second year at Borderlands, and it was the first time anyone had ever mentioned that they'd read my work before, and liked it. He was already really active then, and has since been published multiple times through Eraserhead Press, among others. Really enjoyed my time with David, and hope to run into him again soon.

Venessa Giunta - I also met Venessa my second year at Borderlands, and she's been extremely active as an editor and teacher. I remember reading a paranormal, FBI/X-files story of hers I really liked.

Michael Pignatella - Michael's been all over the place. Stories in Nameless, selections in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror...definitely making use of his Borderlands education.

Ted Krever -  Ted Krever's Mindbenders was one of the best selections I read at Borderlands my second year, and I feel like he got the jump on a lot of us by heading straight into the self-publishing market through Kindle. With blurbs from Tom Monteleone and Paul Wilson, you know Mindbenders is quality work. 

Brad Hodson - With short stories landing alongside the likes of George RR Martin, Chuck Palahniuk, Neil Gaiman, and a novel out through Bad Moon Books, Brad is definitely doing the instructors of Borderlands proud.

 Ken Lillie-Paetz - Ken's not only a writer, but also a pretty darn good artist. I remember, sadly, us discussing the sad fate of Doorways Magazine our last day at Borderlands...

ShelbyRhodes - Shelby's been published in Shock Totem and several Michael Knost anthologies, definitely making his mark on the genre...

Mathew Dow Smith - Matt's a fabulous comic book artist turned writer. Definitely a double threat Borderlands should be proud of.

Martel Sardina - Martel was in the 'novel category' my first time at Borderlands, so I didn't really get to interact with her, but she's definitely been an active member of the genre since.

Kim Despins - I don't read erotic horror. Just not my thing, and most the time, I think it's just an excuse for writers to "let loose" with some smut. Not so with Kim Despins. Her story "Skins" - which went on to be selected in Horror Library 4 - gets UNDER your skin in a way that erotic horror is supposed to. I definitely felt uneasy after reading that one...

Kyle Steele - Kyle hasn't necessarily landed anything yet, but I've seen good reports on his Facebook about interactions with publishers and agents, and his Borderlands submission was top notch, so I think good things are coming for Kyle. I also remember Kyle being one of the few Borderlands "grunts" with little kids the same age as mine, and he - like me - appreciated the simple pleasure of having quiet time to actually THINK about our writing...

Mike Smith - Mike was my roommate my very first year at Borderlands, so he's become an indelible part of my Borderlands experience. I see Mike at all sorts of Cons, and was jazzed to see him at our Wilkes signing last week. Mike and I also share at TOC in Shroud Publishing's Northern Haunts, and he wrote a WONDERFULLY funny story for Borderlands about a boxer who loses his head...literally...

Nicole Wolfe (Ferweda) - Nicole hasn't gotten any fiction out there yet, but we interact on Facebook all the time, and she's a consistently positive, supportive voice. Definitely glad to have met Nicole my first time out.

Yvette Tan - I remember hanging out with Yvette, Erik Willams and Jess McGill,  knocking back a few beers, just talking about whatever. Her Borderlands submission, “The Bridge,” was a fine piece of mythic horror. She was also one of the first to give Hiram Grange a thumbs-up review.

Jess McGill - If I remember correctly, Jess was invited to Borderlands simply because a spot opened up, and a friend of a friend recommended her. So, she threw something together last minute, and spent a lot of time apologizing for that all weekend. The piece, however, was fantastic, and I've always hoped to see more writing from her.

Erik Williams - My biggest memory of Erik is him talking about attending Orson Scott Card's writing bootcamp, and me feeling awfully small in comparison. He's definitely been working his mojo in the genre, and when a fellow gets blurbed by John Skipp, folks gotta take notice...

Erik Smetana - Erik is the founder of Stymie, and an all around, cool guy to hang with.

Brittany Muscarella - I remember Brittany - a New Yorker, like myself - especially because I thought she took an unnecessary pounding for her selection, which in my opinion had an excellent Dark Tower vibe. Like me, Brittany also labors in the sometimes thankless world of secondary education, but I hope she turns her attentions back to the page soon... 

John Dixon - I don't remember meeting John at Borderlands that first year, because he was in the novel category and I was in the short story category, but I met him at subsequent NECONs. A fellow lover of Bradbury, John's living the dream right now - a novel coming out with Simon & Schuster, which has also been picked up for an NBC televisions series. But the best part? John's the best guy, ever. And he loves sharing his beer...

 Brian J. Hatcher - Brian's definitely made his mark on the genre, with frequent appearances in some top-flight Michael Knost anthologies. When I first announced my acceptance into Borderlands on Facebook, his comment was prophetic: "It will change your career, completely."

That's A LOT of folks, and only two years worth of Borderlands graduates. A note, however: there's lots of folks who attend Borderlands and then sort of slip away into the night, never to write again, or to simply rest in gestation, biding their time while attending to more real-world concerns like finishing school or just living life. That by no means diminishes their efforts. They're just moving at different speeds, is all. 

Regardless, Borderlands Press Writers' Bootcamp is one of the best genre writing schools around. You're not going find better instruction and critique, and the experience is worth every penny, because they're in the business of training genre writers for the future.  Which isn't to say that someday, Borderlands graduates will rule genre fiction. But I'm immensely thankful to be part of these "graduating classes" of genre fiction, and am eager to see what the future holds for all of us.