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FRESH DIRT: August- September, 2002
Scott Nicholson's Journal

September 23, 2002:
Work continues apace on the current novel, which is falling into a pattern that is different than my earlier efforts. It looks like every few chapters I will be delving into the protagonist's past, revealing a little more of the mystery with each flashback. This is risky, since flashbacks almost always slow a story down, but I think if I do it right, it will enhance the contemporary developments, especially since the plot idea I have is fairly complicated, though the story itself is straightforward. Of course, the result could well be a disaster and I may end up tossing out a couple of hundred pages later on. Well, it wouldn't be the first time.

I've heard that the magazine Black October has shipped, containing my story "Penance," though I've yet to see a copy. The story is post-apocalyptic, perhaps a bit muddled but with a raw emotion that appeals to me. Be sure to read the free story "The October Game," which will only be up until the end of the month. At that time, I'll be putting up an older story. The response has been good, so I will be putting up fresh fiction every three months.

September 15, 2002:
Not much action on the writing front. My entry in the Chesterfield competition didn't make the 50 finalists so once again overnight success eludes me. I'm still working on the "Point of View" writing workshop and I'm crafting a few exercises for it. It looks like I can do something in an hour, with maybe a short break, and then an extra half-hour to wrap up. I'll also be critiquing some samples through email and may expand it into a Web thing if it doesn't look too time-consuming.

I'm conducting research for two novels, one of them already finished. You might remember the "Triptrap" project I finished back at the first of the year. I haven't done anything with it since, though I have an idea for the rewrite which will help me feel more enthusiastic before I send it to my agent. The other research is for the novel in progress, which I hope will excite you because it will definitely be different from my other work. I can hardly wait to see what type of audience I have by the time that one comes out, if I'm even lucky enough to still be publishing.

I finally got some hardcover copies of "The Red Church." My order from the Literary Guild showed up so I can say these books in fact exist. I sent one to Sharyn McCrumb since her blurb was used on the cover instead of the Bentley Little one that appeared on front of the paperback.

September 9, 2002:
The first hint of autumn is in the air here in the mountains. It's my favorite time of year and traditionally my most productive. Something about the colors and that whole death-decay-promise of rebirth thing, along with all the spiritual implications of harvest season, seem to get my juices flowing. I've finally finished the last revision on "The Harvest," at least until the copy editor goes over it.

What I'm reading: "Thunderland" by Brandon Massey and the non-fiction books "An Unquiet Mind" and "Buried Alive."

September 2, 2002:
Just got back from DragonCon and it appeared to be a little more crowded than last year. The panels, even the writing ones, were well-attended, and book sales were good. I met some other authors, notably Garrett Peck, Teri Jacobs, M.W. Anderson, Brad Strickland, Thomas Fuller, James Moore, and Doug Niles. I had lunch with Brandon Massey, whose first novel "Thunderland" will be out from Kensington in December. I had a fun signing at the Coffee Shop of Horrors booth, and the owner is opening a store in north Georgia next month.

I also met a movie producer and a writer/director and gave them copies of my books as well as a "pitch." I guess I need to practice it a little, because in the movie world you only get 30 seconds to explain a project. My next one was simpler: "Deliverance meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers." I could see a gleam in their eyes from that one. Now I just have to catch up on my projects while roofing the house. I'm pretty much taking the month off from promotion, then doing a little bit in October. After a winter of work on a revision to "Frost And Fire" and completing the novel in progress, it's spring, lead some writing workshops, and then I start the whole crazy merry-go-round all over again with "The Harvest."

August 28, 2002:
Yesterday I got a copy of Flesh & Blood #10 with my story "The Night The Wind Died," a gentle young adult fantasy. Also, my much-traveled story "The Hounds of Love" was accepted for the zombie anthology The Book of More Flesh, with a little revision to satisfy the publisher about its moral resolution. I think people who read my different stories out this autumn will hardly believe they were written by the same person, because the subject matter and style are different for each. Part of that is because stories often take years to place somewhere, and part is because stories are still safe places for experimentation.

At DragonCon I'll be reading at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, on a panel at 8:30 p.m., and have a Sunday signing at 2:30 p.m. I'll also be signing a few times at the Coffeeshop of Horrors booth in the dealer's room over the weekend. Almost finished the last revision to The Harvest. I'm getting some strange Erskine Caldwell-type vibes from it. I like it better as I go along.

August 25, 2002:
I learned yesterday that I've reached the semi-finals of the
Chesterfield competition sponsored by Paramount Films. I don't know how many semifinalists there are, but I should know within two months whether I placed. I believe there are 50 finalists and up to 5 fellowship winners, so there's some opportunity to get some notice in Hollywood. Since this competition accepts fiction as well as screenplays (and one of my screenplays did nothing at the Nicholls competition), I sent in short stories. I picked 4 of what I thought were my best. The most interesting thing, to me, is that none of them were "horror," the genre I'm most associated with. Sure, there were ghosts, fantastic powers, even a vampire, but none of them were scary.

Visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago, my mother delivered to me a monstrous packet full of my teenhood writings. I have two cardboard boxes of manuscripts already in my closet, so I must have written a lot more often than I remember. Most of it is juvenile and plotless, but occasionally an interesting observation pops up. I may post some of those on the site if I find any that aren't totally ludicrous.

Example: I found an essay blasting an optimistic H.G. Wells quote, back before I even knew who he was. Now he's one of my favorite authors. Ah, the brash stupidity of youth.

August 20, 2002:
I've been receiving numerous requests (well, for me, anyway) to make presentations to writing groups, most of them coming from media coverage of my book signings. I'm working up a couple to make at Barnes & Noble in the spring, and putting together the first workshop to focus on character development and differing points of view. Since I'm a big believer in putting yourself into the mind of the character, whether you're the writer or the reader, this should give me an opportunity to preach what I practice.

I'm done with my "regular" signings for The Red Church, and it's been mostly positive. Only one event was truly a dud, and some were very successful. I expect a lull in sales now, since my 90-day window on the mass market stage is now over, but I'm hoping to get some extra interest around October when I do a few more appearances and interviews. Mostly, though, I'm eager to move on to future projects.

August 16, 2002:
My next novel from Pinnacle Books will be "The Harvest," a title which the publisher's sales staff liked the best from the list I sent (although I think I submitted something like "Dark Harvest"). At any rate, I like it; it's not so cheesy that it automatically screams disposable horror, and it might be evocative enough to lure the casual bookstore browser. I just finished a final brush-up on it, so I'm more or less content. I'll have a web page for the book soon which will contain a news update on the book's progress, a synopsis, and eventually the cover art and a sample chapter.

In other news, the anthology MOTA 2002: Truth will be released on Sept. 1 containing my Hubbard Award winning story "The Vampire Shortstop." Preorders are underway for the anthology Cold Touch which contains my dark fantasy story "The Shaping."

August 13, 2002:
I've been thinking about the nature of criticism and whether critical analysis of commercial fiction is worthwhile. If I disappoint a reader, then it's tempting to say, "Well, I can't help it if you're not clever enough (or hip enough, or twisted enough, or low-brow enough) to understand." But that's really a cop-out, and is the same sort of mentality that drives the most petty and shallow of critics, as if by pointing out the failings of others I can somehow erase my own failings.

I'm quite aware of my failings. Orson Scott Card told me in an interview, "It's never the reader's fault (if he or she doesn't get something), it's always the writers fault." The writer's job is to create as close to a universal experience as possible. Naturally, not everyone will buy into it, especially if the gap of personal experience between reader and writer is too large. For instance, translated Muslim fiction doesn't show up on our bestseller lists and neither does Chinese fiction. You can argue that those are repressive societies, where fiction is nearly unlawful and the act of imagination can carry a real threat of death.

Still, the reader and writer both must head in the same direction, and with luck and sacrifice from both parties, they will meet halfway. Both reading and writing fiction are voluntary choices, at least outside the confines of literature classes. We go there because we want to, and if it becomes too much of a struggle, we close the book or shut down the computer file. It's sad when we are compelled to read and we must carry our misery through to the last page, whether we are preparing for an analytical essay, a test, or to write a review. I promise you, whenever the writing turns into a chore, I will stop. I also ask, if reading my work ever becomes a chore, that you close the pages and set me aside. Life is too short, for both of us.

If you've read this far, you might chew into the essay "Your Opinion Is Only Worth 48 Cents."

August 11, 2002:
Had a good return to my hometown for a signing at City Lights, a great independent bookstore in Sylva, NC. We not only sold out all the store's copies of "The Red Church," I also had to loan seven review copies to the store to meet demand. It was gratifying to meet people who are avid readers of horror, and also to reconnect with some long-lost people from my past, including one of my high school English teachers. She said "The Red Church" was going to be her first ever horror novel. Perhaps it will also be her last, but if nothing else, I've expanded the horizons of at least one well-read person.

Of course, the next day's signing at another small bookstore returned me to earth. You could hear tumbleweeds drifting through the place. I believe my personal library has more titles than this store.

I've met a few aspiring writers along the way, and I'm going to beef up my writing articles section, maybe expand it into an online workshop. I'm doing workshops for the local Arts Council in November and one for a Raleigh Barnes & Noble in the spring. A western NC group has also asked me to lead a workshop. I enjoy teaching but I'm not sure writing can be taught. I do have a few ideas to share, though.

August 7, 2002:
More changes will be going on here at the Haunted Computer. For one thing, I'll be updating this journal slightly more often. I had always intended it to be ongoing and fresh but I seem to have lapsed into a weekly update. While the wheels of the publishing world turn slowly and not much can happen for long periods, I do have a life outside my writing and I'll occasionally be sharing it. (Though family and personal matters will always remain off-limits.)

One thing I'm going to be doing is offering more free and exclusive material at the website. I'm not posting as many author interviews these days, but I'm going to expand my "writing advice" section, collecting some of the things that I think I've learned over the years. I do have a ten-year plan for a "writing advice" book, but it depends on my subsequent success before we can all decide whether I ever learned how to write, much less write about it.

First freebie is the short story "The October Game," which originally appeared in the e-book New Voices From Kensington, also available for free here at the website. I'm planning an Archer McFall story as an ancillary to the novel The Red Church, which could serve as the seed for a sequel. I've never been interested enough in any one fictional world to want to commit to a series, but several people have asked for more and I am intrigued by that old phrase, "What happens next?"

August 3, 2002:
My recent novella got finished on time and has received a "pre-acceptance." Hopefully the project will move forward as planned. I'm a little snakebit lately as I've killed a couple of magazines with my stories. "Honesty" appeared in what looks like the last issue of Future Orbits and "The Weight of Silence" was to have appeared in the last issue of Twilight Showcase, but the magazine appears static since February.

Next up is a minor rewrite of my second Kensington novel, formerly known as "Metabolism" but still without an official title. It will be slightly different territory though still in the speculative vein (nope, it's not a vampire novel!) and set in the Appalachian Mountains, also a bit fat at 120,000 words. I'm sure some who liked The Red Church will feel I'm "betraying" the horror genre while no doubt some people will buy it who would never touch the Church, depending on what the cover presentation looks like.

I've sent along some digital pictures of misty mountain farms to the publisher and have been trying to plant the idea that it's character-driven rather than generic horror cheese. We'll see. This time around, I intend to make more friendly suggestions about marketing, since I've been hearing a lot from booksellers and readers about what qualities drew them to the book. Response has been very positive, all in all. Though I have to say I'm a little surprised that a small number of people have either not liked the ending of "The Red Church" or wanted things wrapped up a little more neatly. Not so many that I think I failed, but enough to realize that the ending has many interpretations, which I view as a positive. Nobody seems to be going, "Huh? What happened?"

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