Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Professional, The Amateur, and All The Regrets

 After reading "The Soldier, The Dancer, and All That Glitters" by Tom Callahan in "Dark City Lights: New York Stories" (edited by Lawrence Block), I reached out to Tom via Twitter to tell him how much I enjoyed the story. 

He DM'd me immediately, and soon we were exchanging emails over the next several years. I was an amateur writer, never having published a single word except for an occasional Facebook post. We learned about each others goals, hopes, and dreams, why I wanted to write, what I was working on, what he was working on (a novel and screenplay titled "Bronx Rhapsody", an extended version of the aforementioned short story above). 

But, mostly, Tom unselfishly devoted his words for encouraging me to write for all the correct reasons. He warned me about falling into "the current trend trap" because what's hot now won't be by the time the work is published. "We have enough of whatever that is anyway", he had said. "Write stories from the heart, with heart, keep writing and reading, and you'll be fine. One day you'll have a pool in your backyard." :0)

He recommended "A Drinking Life: A Memoir" by, his friend, Pete Hamill upon learning about my sobriety. Others, such as "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield and "Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print" by Lawrence Block, proved essential in those early days of my floundering on the page, trying to organize my imagination, navigating the business, etc. 

Tom adored Block, considered him not only America's greatest crime fiction novelist, but America's greatest novelist. Personally, I think he viewed Block in the same fashion that most horror novelists perceive Stephen King—the best at the craft. Period. Case closed. He was honored to have a story in Dark City Lights, and I think he considered it his greatest achievement in fiction, which gave him the confidence to pursue an agent for "Bronx Rhapsody". After all, he was writing both the screenplay and novel at the same time. Readying the story for whoever came knocking at his door first: A Big Five publisher or Hollywood. Either way, that story was his ticket in.

A few years went by. I changed careers, my wife had our second child, and we moved out to the country. Engagement on social media and email went to the wayside with what little time the day provided for me to write.

But every now and then I would wonder about that soldier and dancer of Tom's so I reached out to him a few days ago only to learn about his passing in 2018.

You can learn about Tom's influence as a journalist and college professor here, and what he meant to his students and the faculty at Manhattan College.

It saddens me that I hadn't reached out to him sooner. Tom had no business engaging with me, encouraging my dreams. But he did. He wanted to learn about me, who I was, where I was from, get a sense of the person, you know? Some folks only wish to engage with those who have several notches in their belt, have some clout in the industry. Not Tom. His agenda was not for personal gain.

And what of "Bronx Rhapsody"? Well, it's a true shame we'll never have the chance to know, but at least some of us got to know the man who penned it. 

May the truth always shine, and may his soul glitter into the Great Beyond. 

Rest in peace, my friend. 

 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Country Life Part 2: The Hogfather

A groundhog lives on our property. He has two homes. One by our house and another at the far corner by a wire fence. My wife calls him the Hogfather. He's an easy twenty pounds. Honestly, I thought he was a dog the first time I saw him.

I was recommended by folks at our local feed store to smoke him and his pals in their tunnels because of my aspirations to start a massive garden in our backyard. "The bastard and all his buddies will eat all your crops!" said the man resembling Jud Crandall from Pet Semetary.

Trapping them and shooting them was another option, but damn, I'm not big on having guns around the house, especially with two toddlers. Something about holding a loaded firearm (not for sport, necessary hunting, or protection) really makes me nervous. And look, if we didn't have twenty four hour grocery stores and a farmer's market at the corner of every street in this town, I'd have no problem offing a creature stealing food from my family and me.
I'm a good shot too, but I don't have the heart to do it. I once purposely missed killing a rabbit for sport.

So I went with the smoke bomb, which really looks like a stick of dynamite. Three weeks ago, I lit them, shoved them in the holes, buried the holes, and put a heavy rock on top. A few breaths and they'll never even know the eternal sleep they're about to have. Completely painless, I thought. One hundred per cent humane.

Have you seen Caddyshack? Of course you have. You're not a monstrous savage! Last week I checked where I supposedly buried the Hogfather. He left me a message, a little token to let me know who really runs our four acres. Not only were fresh exits dug up from the Hogfather's passages, but guess what lay on top of the mound of dirt next to the openings?

If you guessed burnt out sticks resembling dynamite then you'll be in the Showcase Showdown, baby.

The Hogfather, he mocks me.

The garden will have to wait until 2020.

Music:

In case you've been holed up in a groundhog hole over the past 13 years, highly anticipated new music from TOOL released this week. The title track of their new record and single "Fear Inoculum" (along with their entire catalog) is on every streaming platform (I believe) and kicks every ass on the planet. The song really showcases Danny Carey's percussion. But I'd be amiss to say Justin Chancellor's bass doesn't compliment the hell out of Carey's drums. I think they both carry the song throughout it's ten minutes of breathing, panting, and eventual heaving of awesomeness. The song builds and builds and builds, with Maynard's vocals sprinkled throughout. His range comes in at the perfect moments. Unlike most bands, the front man isn't the center of the song. If you've ever seen TOOL live, you'll know Maynard poises himself somewhere on the side of the stage. Their music is meant to be the forefront of the TOOL experience and I dig the approach, even though I wouldn't be disappointed if they stuck with the tradition of keeping-everything-else-behind-the-vocals because Maynard has amazing range.
This single was well worth the wait.

Movies:

Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood might be Tarantino's finest film to date. It's hilarious and heartbreaking and serves as a much deserved F-you to Charlie Manson. Magic is witnessed whenever DiCaprio and Pitt are on screen and Margot Robbie is spectacular as loving and carefree Sharon Tate, especially when she goes inside the theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew.

The Jungle is streaming on Amazon and is free to Prime members. Daniel Radcliffe digs deep in his performance and I won't spoil anything here but the ending left a huge lump in my throat.

Television:

The Sinner Season 2. I haven't finished it. We have two episodes left and I'm already ready for Season 3. Bill Pullman plays a detective with a troubled past that is revealed along the story line of a boy who admits to killing both of his parents in a motel room. Just like Season 1, Season 2 is smart, imaginative, calculated, and executed with style.

Books:

I'm 600 pages in Stephen King's IT. I took a break when the latest issue of Cemetery Dance arrived. Phantom Heart by Terra LeMay and First Person Shooter by Wrath James White stood out to me. Phantom Heart is a real heart breaker about longing while FPS goes down the darkest road imaginable. I mean, it's gruesome but not for gruesome's sake. It has a ton of heart and is full of not-so-innocent sin. While I saw the twist coming, it still devastated me once it was final.
On the docket is the Bram Stoker Award winning Crota by Owl Goingback. This one's been on my radar for a while and the cover is beautiful.
You can order it here.

Writing:

My story Murdock's Magnificent Emporium and be found in Dig Two Graves Vol. I. That's it for new releases. I'm working on my third novel since releasing my horror collection A Looking In View. If the cover art style looks familiar that's because Elderlemon Design made it. It's a great company and I can't recommend them enough. One novel is waiting acceptance from a small press and the other is with beta readers and the editor I work with. This novel, titled Admonition, will be queried to agents.

I think that's enough for now. Be good to each other out there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Country Life

May and June have been busy in the life category.

I caught a nasty virus at the beginning of May and powered through it until it became pneumonia near the end of the month. During all of that, we sold our house in the suburbs and moved out to the country. The housing market, it seems, had been quite good to us. And although the cough has lingered on, I'm back to my regular exercise routines.

So here we are, almost completely nestled into our new home (built in 1964, so your mileage may vary on whether or not you'd consider it new) and I've finally made time to write a blog post.

Things are beginning to balance out since we've caught up on all the maintenance. The gutters had been neglected to the point plants began to grow out of them. In some areas, heavy vegetation caused them to sag. We power washed the roof since the house faces north, clearing the shingles of the green fuzzy stuff (algae?) that had accumulated over the years.

Probably a good time too to mention the house had been vacant for over a year.

The maintenance on the acreage is still up for debate. We bought the working lawn tractor from the seller at a great price only to have it sputter out on us a quarter of the way when we mowed and we still haven't got it back from the repair shop. However, a good friend of ours dropped by with his zero-turn mower and knocked out the mowing last week. But the rain that has drenched the mid-west has caused the grass to grow faster than normal and we're all beginning to feel like Jordy from Stephen King's Weeds.

Carbon fiber beams have been installed on the sagging basement wall. Because of the generosity of my father, who is a skilled plumber, we got all the basement leaks repaired and soon will have water to the upstairs half bath.

My wife shocked the well. For four days we didn't have clean water but after her effort, the test came back negative (a good thing) and we were able to safely shower and brush our teeth without the use of distilled water. And that wasn't all bad, felt like we were all camping really.

In addition to shocking the well, we had a new water softener unit installed.

Then our washer died. Thankfully, that appliance was covered under the home warranty. Had to pay a little out of pocket for it but was considerably less than what a new washer would've cost us.

We were lucky to have the seller pay for most of the basement repairs. This weekend a super high grade epoxy will be painted on the basement walls to help keep the moisture out.

All in all, we weren't scared of the condition which drew many potential buyers away. The sellers had a heart and understood this is probably the place we'll live in for the remainder of our time here on Earth. We're grateful for their generosity. 

The writing side of my life has been productive. This month saw the release of Dig Two Graves Vol. 1, a revenge anthology. My story "Murdock's Magnificent Emporium" is sandwiched in there with the likes of Christine Morgan, Kenzie Jennings, and Robert Essig, among many other great talents.

I have a book called "An American Monster" pending publication at a dream publishing house. Another book called "Admonition" is still sitting and I'll get to the final edit of that in July before sending to beta-readers and the editor I work with. My plan for Admonition is to query agents with it. If I'm lucky enough to land an agent, then they'll have to sell it. And if my luck still hasn't run out, it'll go through the publishing process which I understand takes longer than publishing with a small press or independently. And that'll be a-okay with me.

Several short stories are out there floating around waiting to be either accepted or rejected.

Currently I'm working on a book called "Best Weekend Ever", where a group of college grads go to a cabin for a bachelor party. The bride and her bridesmaids show up unannounced along with a mob of snakes. I'm about 10,000 words into it. It may turn into a novella. We'll see how much gas is in that tank.

And I just remembered I have a load of laundry to do. More on the country life in the next post. Until then, be good to each other out there.

-Sean

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dig Two Graves Volume 1

I started writing about five years ago. Over that time I've received my share of rejection slips. All writers do. My heroes often speak about not giving up and by all means keep writing. Thanks to the good folks over at Death's Head Press, their advice has paid off.

A story I wrote called Murdock's Magnificent Emporium is a dystopian creature-western. It marks my first professional short story sale and can be found inside Dig Two Graves: An Anthology Vol. 1. I'm thrilled the story found a home and to have its inclusion among the diverse writers making up the TOC. I hope if this blog post finds you, you'll check us all out.
It goes live on June 15, 2019.
You can pre-order the ebook now! 

Here's the synopsis:
Have you ever wished you could get revenge on someone, but the idea of prison, or bloodstains on your clothes made you decide against it? Now you can enjoy the arterial spray, and the joy of someone getting what they deserve from the relative comfort of your favorite reading spot. Twenty-two tales of not turning the other cheek. We take you down the low road, the road less traveled. Whether you like your revenge served red hot, or ice cold, you will find both within these pages. Be warned, you can’t travel to the pit and come away clean. Payback is a bitch. If you come seeking revenge, it is best that you dig two graves.

And the beautiful cover:


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Say, Baby!

I proposed a statement on Twitter: 

How many writers would submit to a Primus-themed anthology, and, more importantly, how many writers would be interested in reading such a thing?

Primus' founder and front man, Les Claypool, is quite the story teller. He even published a book, South of the Pumphouse. I enjoyed it. Here's the back cover blurb:

A dark, clever tale of two brothers, a fishing trip, drugs, and murder, this novel skillfully combines classic motifs of epic struggle and intelligent layers of imagery, reminiscent of The Old Man and the Sea, and the raw, tweaked perspective of a Hunter S. Thompson novel.

Even if Primus doesn't suit your musical taste (and I can't blame you there, they're definitely a quirky band), I'd still check out South of the Pumphouse. 

I think the bizarro community would be all over an antho sprinkled with the odd and ingenious way Primus delivers story through song. But alas, I have no real writing cred to my name, don't know the first step in even pitching such a project, and wouldn't have the slightest idea on how to construct a book serving as editor. The other hang up is diversity. I doubt a submission calling for stories told through the lens of Primus music would attract many artists of multiple race and gender. I've seen the band over a dozen times and besides middle age white dudes like myself and a few of their children, there ain't much else in way of diversity. Then again, I haven't seen them outside of Ohio. My mileage on the assumption is limited. 

But, man, I gotta think songs like "My Name is Mud", "Tommy the Cat", "John the Fisherman", "Jerry was a Race Car Driver," and "Shake Hands with Beef", would make fun and entertaining stories. 

Maybe some day. 

Meanwhile, the trenches are fine this time of year. In seeking my first professional sale, I got a new story out to beta readers that I'll submit once it's polished and a new manuscript called Admonition that'll be ready for them soon. 

I'm still slugging through all the query letters over at Query Shark, learning the ins and outs about how to write a great query to agents, what makes them good, bad, etc. and will be querying Admonition once it's ready. 

The other manuscript, An American Monster, is currently pending acceptance at a small press. I might not query this one. I'm afraid the trunk might be the only suitable home for it, yet another noble but failed effort. But I'm stubborn, so probably not. 

Back to work. Have a fine week and if you're not, just remember, at least your kiwi's didn't get bit by Wynona's big brown beaver. Poor Rex ain't pissed for a week!

 Be good out there, folks!


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Tangled up in Blue

As the polar vortex approaches Ohio, I'm doing something I never thought I'd do: listen to Bob Dylan. The Blood on The Tracks album is in full swing and so far, I'm digging it.

Groceries are bought and the furnace is working. We're ready to hunker down for a few days while the vortex passes and spring-like weather arrives, reminding me of the old adage: "If you don't like the weather here, just stick around for a few days."

So, there's the Blue. But where's the Tangle?

When someone asks me how I became a writer, I tell them I gave myself permission. Permission to fail, permission to suck. Just permission. I'm not an English major. A teacher never told me to pursue writing after finding I had rare talent, which I don't. Nope. I just wanted to.

But I got some help.

During my second attempt at sobriety (I'll be five years sober on October 15th of this year), I dove through the internet rabbit hole after watching a movie called Rounders, and landed on a Vine snippet of one of its writers, Brian Koppelman, giving everybody permission to pursue their dream. That let me to his podcast, The Moment with Brian Koppelman. On today's episode, he and Steven Pressfield have a deep conversation about "fighting resistance and finding your best self" (note: I took the quotations from the show notes, they are not my own.).

Steven Pressfield wrote many books, The Legend of Bagger Vance being his most popular, I'm sure. I haven't read it, but I have read (and own) The War of Art, where he talks about the Resistance. Or, the Tangle. Or, as Julia Cameron calls it, the Censor. Whatever that thing that keeps you from doing something creative.

I encourage anyone who wants to pursue something that seems far and away to listen to The Moment. Brain speaks with artists from across all platforms and genres. Actors, magicians, writers, directors, even chefs. I find the conversations inspiring and incredibly useful against the Tangle that attempts to sabotage my daily word count.

This blog is probably one of them.

After telling people to give themselves permission, I suggest reading the three books that helped me before I began and still do.

1. The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
2. On Writing  by Stephen King
3. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

It's one thing to read The War of Art; it's a wholly different experience to listen to the author speak about it. Not about the book, but about the Resistance and how to counter it.

So give it a listen, will ya? I think you'll find you'll be glad you did.

Meanwhile, I'm going to attempt to link the podcast here on my blog and get back to my own work. And maybe put some hot cocoa on the stove. Now go, untangle yourself, and get to work on what matters to you.

Stay warm, fellow travelers.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Right Thing

A small press published my first book. A week passed after they accepted the manuscript. Then—poof—like magic, iBooks and Amazon had it in stock, ready for print, ready for download. What an exhilarating feeling. I got past the gatekeepers. Yay me.

I now have reservations about that experience and am honestly a little ashamed it's available. In fact, I'm wholly ashamed that I self published my last two books. Because, between us, I don't think any editor would've accepted either of them.

But, art is subjective, and who's to tell me what's right and what's wrong? No one. They can speak, but I don't have to listen. Nah-nah-nah-nah-boo-boo.

Here's the thing. None of my books have been past a professional editor, meaning that no one whose primary job is to line edit and make a book better based on their education and learning had seen them. I had committed a cardinal sin.

To spite the publisher who published my first book, I went the indie route. The wrong way. Plus, I didn't know any editors. You expect me to pay $1500-$3000 to someone who claims they're an editor to review my work without knowing if said book would even sell enough to recuperate the cost?

The answer is yes. However, I've found some editors work cheaper than the above prices and do just as good a job. I'm happy to report I've found one.

Although I can't remove myself from my first book, I can definitely fix the other two or abandon them completely. The former is happening now. Based on those results, the latter may come.

There is nothing wrong with self-publishing. But it has to be done right. Like hire a freaking editor. Readers deserve it and I'm afraid I haven't put my best foot forward with them in that regard. This is not to say I'll never self-pub again. I might, but not after exhausting all agents and small presses, both of which will provide a bigger reading audience than I ever could on my own. Also, having someone back you solely on your work is powerful.

If you don't make mistakes, you'll never grow as a person. Or, in this case, as a writer. After attending a writer's workshop last year, listening to professionals who write full time, and reading up on essays by other full time writers, I've decided to take hold of the reins. To not shy away from my errors. I'm in the driver's seat, steering my career in a new direction on the right path. I'm studying query letters before I write my own, having beta readers review my material before I submit to magazines and anthologies.

I've listened.

And I'm still yet to sell a story to a publisher. I came close once, receiving a powerful personalized rejection now framed on my office wall, but the tale wasn't believable enough to buy in their eyes. And that's okay. Craft takes time.

And I'm ready to wait.