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FRESH DIRT: October- December, 2002
Scott Nicholson's Journal

December 29, 2002:
My story "You'll Never Walk Alone" will be published in the spring in The Book of Final Flesh. I'm pleased to have stories in all three of the Flesh anthologies, which are published as an ancillary to Eden Studio's "All Flesh Must Be Eaten" role-playing games. I just finished reading the first Harry Potter book. It was fun but I think it sufficiently satisfies my curiosity about the series. Right now I'm reading a Carson McCullers novel and some Edgar Allan Poe. I've also turned in the introduction to the "Spirits & Sleuths" anthology which deals with the connection between the mystery and horror genres.

I checked today to see if "The Red Church" was part of the after-Christmas sale, which it isn't. I was pleasantly surprised to see its sales rank had climbed under 10,000 again. I hadn't checked in months, losing interest when it was dropping steadily and was something around 35,000 (the sales rank is from the top down, meaning the lower rank is better). Hopefully it means people are still finding out about the novel.

December 23, 2002:
There's racket in the house, last-minute preparations, mad searches for last year's wrapping paper, a run down the list to see whose presents were forgotten, hasty holiday displays, a young girl opening her presents days too early, raw cookie dough, a movie we were supposed to watch, stubborn blinking lights, slushy weather that's not quite beautiful enough to offset its inconvenience, wet firewood, a dog with half an animal carcass in the yard, and the specter of a formal family dinner. Ah. These are the sounds of peace! May you and yours have the joy you deserve. Happy holidays.

December 17, 2002:
While doing the obligatory Christmas shopping and discovering things I wish I could buy for myself, I found a Hank Williams CD with the theme of "voice and guitar," the pitch being these songs were nothin' but ol' Hank sitting on the porch with an acoustic and twanging out a few tunes. Real primitive and intimate. Yet the CD also contained all sorts of extra goodies, like a Hank screensaver, photos, links, lyrics, and other modern wonders. Wonder what Hank would think about all that? (I also made the unfortunate discovery that there's now a Hank III plying the trade. Sorry, I don't care how many Roman numerals you slap down, there will always be only one Hank.)
Also, from the crusty-curmudgeon pulpit: Is it just me, or does every new CD (and re-issues of the classics) require a whole bunch of extra out takes, remixes, junk, and culls that never fail to weaken the overall power of the album? I mean, there's usually a reason why a song was left off the original version. There are very few bands whose garbage and leftovers inspire any curiosity. Maybe artistic vision is meaningless, but I'd rather have eleven passionate songs than 34 pieces of junk.

December 13, 2002:
My essay "The Cheesy Trunk of Terror" ran in this week's edition of Hellnotes, a respected horror genre newsletter that does a good job of taking the field seriously. I've always liked Hellnotes for its refusal to give in to the yapping hype of which too much of the industry's practitioners are overly fond. Hellnotes panned my first novel yet I still like it. A new owner is coming on board but I expect the same professional attitude. I'll be posting my essay on this site shortly after Christmas.

I traded in some books at our local swapper shop and picked up an Edgar Allan Poe collection, Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived In The Castle," a Carson McCullers novel, and an Erskine Caldwell novel. I'm developing an unhealthy taste for Erskine's trashy Southern Gothic.

December 9, 2002:
An ironic display of our consumer-driven society: I read a brief in a daily newspaper about a town that had suspended its "blue laws" to allow stores to open early Sundays during the Christmas shopping season. Here in the South, "blue laws" are fairly common as a way to encourage people to attend church and to respect those who choose to go. The basic idea is that there should be no distraction to compete with regular church hours or impede traffic to and from church. For example, it's very common for alcohol sales to be limited until after noon or later (or not at all) on Sundays. But to relax a law designed as respect for church-goers, who are overwhelmingly Christian in this region, for the sole purpose of more commercialism seems to fly in the face of the old saying, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Maybe it's yet another sign that money is our overriding value system. If Jesus were alive today, would he be in line at Wal-Mart on Sunday morning waiting for the doors to open? Don't think so.

December 3, 2002:
Hard to believe that my next novel The Harvest will be released in less than nine months. It's about time to start planning the publicity campaign for its September launch. I may actually use a professional publicist this time and see how it works out. I want to do a few things differently this time, mainly in timing the bulk of the promotion to coincide with the book's appearance on the shelves. From experience with The Red Church and what I've known all along, a mass market paperback will only be in the stores for 90 days, barring good sales or a sweet deal from the publishers. I was lucky in that Barnes & Noble seems to have continued to carry my book for at least an extra 90 days, though in smaller numbers than in the first batch. The truth is those company computers look at the numbers and tell the stores how many of each title should be in stock. So unless you sell out the first batch fast, you probably won't get a long-term place on the shelves. Waldenbooks and Borders, which are usually smaller in size, may not carry a new title at all, and almost certainly won't carry a backlist book by an unknown author.

It makes perfect sense, too, from a business perspective. There's a reasonable chance someone will want an old Dean Koontz or Isaac Asimov title, but not much chance of a customer's clamoring for an "old" new title by Scott Nicholson. Luckily, the online booksellers have filled that void and provide a limitless shelf space. Despite their many shortcomings (including allowing the anonymous postings of reviews and letting Internet hucksters undercut the author and publisher on money), the online bookstores help new writers stick around long enough to reach an audience after the initial buzz dies down.

If you're a writer or a fan of The Red Church, you might be interested in my latest article On Character: Here's the Church, Here's the People... While there are no obvious spoilers in the article, you'd probably enjoy it more if you read the book first.

November 30, 2002:
Is Rupert Murdoch a conservative or what? The Fox News channel has been criticized for its brazenly right-wing politics, and of course this is obvious if you watch it for as much as five minutes. We call it the "all-Iraq" channel at work, where for some reason my editor likes to have it turned up to "stun" as she works. I can hear those war drums pounding even from my distant cubicle.

Well, Murdoch paid for his toys and he can play with them as he wishes. We do have remote controls, right? Except you can't escape it in other Fox programming. I am a football fan (the American, oblong version with violence and committee meetings) and the differences between the two networks' "trimmings" on their NFL coverage during Thanksgiving was astounding. CBS was demure and peaceful, kind of like an old traditional Thanksgiving dinner at grandmother's. Fox had the sort of star-spangled bombs-bursting-in-air extravagance that has led many parents of teen-aged boys to check the immigration requirements of Canada. Fox used liners that featured joyful and waving members of the military sitting atop their tanks and other weapons of mass destruction, and even the transition wipes featured sweeping military aircraft. Is America great or what? Or what?

November 24, 2002:
I was revising a chapter of a novel and found myself growing bored with it and that immediately set off a warning flare. The scene is actually one of the most pivotal of the book, marking a major change in relationship between the two main characters. Additionally, there's a minor character in the scene who has information about one of the characters that is nothing short of life and death. I realized that I overlooked a lot of possibilities in the scene and took the easy way out. So, scalpels and band-aids, or else axes and duct-tape.

For something completely different, read my essay "My Favorite Baseball Card" that appeared in Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan's Soul a couple of years ago. Those who say I don't have a sentimental bone in my body might have to give me a second appraisal. Also new at the website is "Moonshiners and the 'Deliverance' Banjo Boy," an article I wrote a few years back about Appalachian stereotypes. I'll be collecting a few more of those in conjunction with the publication of my next novel The Harvest, since I'm determined to hype it as a modern Appalachian folk tale.

What I'm reading: the first Harry Potter book, Black Lightning by John Saul, One More Sunday by John D. MacDonald.

November 18, 2002:
I met actor Robby Benson yesterday and he was very laid-back and humble, an all-around nice guy. He overcame being a teen idol in the 1970's to go on to a really diverse career, and now he is a playwright, voice actor for animation, screenwriter, director, and occasional TV and movie actor. It was a relief to see someone who had worked to earn creative freedom and economic freedom and could now take on all his pet projects.

I'm currently in revisions for "Frost and Fire," which should be the third book from Pinnacle, though there's no telling what the final title will be. I like mine, especially as it relates to both the physical and metaphorical elements of the story. Right now I'm thinking about four projects at once, though I'm primarily working on two.

November 15, 2002:
Anyone who doesn't believe there's too much waste in government should try to get an answer from a government agency on a Friday afternoon.

As a reporter, I often have to jump through the typical hoops of contacting a specific state office, then being bounced to a "public affairs" division who has to contact that office again and then ask my question for me, get the answer approved by a higher-up, and then (sometimes days later) returning my call with the sanitized response. More often, I get bounced to an answering machine. We all expect PR firms to put the positive spin on the companies that hire them, but public agencies funded by taxpayers should have no spin, only the honest answer. I couldn't even get a section of our state's fire prevention code because everybody was afraid to talk, lest I somehow link them to some dark conspiracy.

It's even worse when they trundle out a "spokesperson" who can't speak, doesn't know the answers to any questions, or has "no comment." It all goes toward my theory that mediocrity is an American standard, too many people are in bureaucratic jobs where they don't want to be noticed because they're afraid someone might realize they don't actually do anything, and half of the country is job-scared. I despise mediocrity, especially when someone is content with it. The cynical and issue-less election campaigning this year has also led me to register as a member of the Libertarian Party. While some of their platform is really wacky and I disagree on several major points, I think the issues should at least be brought to the table to challenge two parties that are ideological oatmeal. Okay, rant over!

November 7, 2002:
My review of two nonfiction books, Horror Films of the 1970s and The Frankenstein Myth, is at
Really Scary. I've just begun the rewrite of what should be my third published novel if all works out. I needed to rename the antagonist for various reasons, and the one I discovered actually has some cool connotations. I get a lot of lucky synchronicity when I start exploring, which serves as a reminder that maybe there is a little magic in all this creative nonsense.

I'm also hashing out the details for a free writing workshop I'm giving at the local library next week. I enjoy teaching for the same reason that I write articles about writing, because it gives me an opportunity to think about this stuff and see if I've learned anything, or if there actually is anything to learn. I'm hoping to post some of the material on the Haunted Computer for those of you who want to play along at home.

I'm finishing up Dean Koontz's novel The Bad Place. It is deliciously dark, he takes great care in setting up these likable characters only to have them killed off. He's definitely a master of the game.

October 29, 2002:
Finally, the contract is complete for the next two books from Pinnacle. Last week's Destinies radio interview was apparently not live on the Internet due to technical difficulties, but it will be re-broadcast through probably Election Day or so by Cosmic Landscapes. Destinies host Howard Margolin is knowledgeable and passionate and understands radio as a medium. The previous week's interview with Interstellar Transmissions will also be available in the "Cosmic Landscapes Redux" section. I've enjoyed discovering the world of Internet radio. It's much more intimate and user-friendly than live chats, which tend to be choppy at best and conducted in an undiscovered foreign language at worst.

I'm enjoying this new novel and I hope you will, too. It's definitely different and it will be hard to accuse me of being derivative. I've certainly never read anything like it, though it feels sort of like a cross between Ira Levin and a less literate Hemingway. I also have a new novel idea percolating which might be next, before I tackle the "haunted farm" story. All depends on how I'm feeling about the supernatural by this winter, when hopefully the current project gets done, although lately I've been less able to meet my self-imposed deadlines as I try more complicated things.

October 23, 2002:
Okay, it's the last week of boring everyone with exploits of "The Red Church," but there's a feature article currently in OUTline Magazine and a review coming up in Sunday's Greensboro News & Record. Saturday, Oct. 26 will be my last official signing for The Red Church this year. On Nov. 12, I'm conducting a free writing workshop at the local public library co-sponsored by the library and arts council. Most of the rest of the year will be spent working on the novel in progress.

October 20, 2002:
My favorite band The Cure is putting together a show in which it plays songs from three entire albums. The albums comprise what the band calls its "dark trilogy," but unfortunately the shows will all be in Europe. And then there will be a new album. The last one, Bloodflowers, was supposed to be the last, but I suppose the call of the creative wild must always be answered. Heaven knows, none of the members need the money.

While you have to admire somebody who goes out at the top of his or her game (Jim Brown in football, Michael Jordan the first time in basketball, novelist Harper Lee who wrote only To Kill A Mockingbird), you also have to wonder what those people are going to do with the rest of their lives. Brown went into acting and social activism, Jordan tried baseball and two more rounds of the NBA in addition to corporate interests, and I don't know how Harper Lee spent her days or money. I have a hard time imagining Stephen King retiring when he probably writes on automatic these days. Maybe he will try a new kind of literature or get serious about touring with the author band Rock Bottom Remainders.

If you're on the net this Friday night, Oct. 25, drop in to the Destinies radio show at 11:30 p.m. EST. If you're in South Carolina, you can pick up my pre-recorded appearance on the Walter Edgar Journal at noon, carried by the eight stations in the SC public radio network. Last Friday's interview with Interstellar Transmissions may be posted as an audio file at their website. I'll post a link if that's the case.

October 17, 2002:
At last I have found my rightful place in the literary world. A Hellnotes reviewer said The Red Church "possesses a goofy breathlessness that keeps one turning pages despite its numerous flaws." Since all along I have aspired to be nothing more than a commercial hack, it looks like I'm getting a little closer to achieving my goal. Well, the worst part is that I respect the reviewer. But I've had worse and I'm still around, and the good has far outweighed the bad.

I'm excited about this new novel project, even though it's probably going to be a few years before anyone else sees it. It's definitely new ground for me, and whether it succeeds or fails, I like the way it's been going. I still have one more horror novel I want to write, probably early next year. In other news, the story "The Shaping" that was to be in the now-defunct anthology Cold Touch will now be out in April in the anthology Vivisections II.

October 8, 2002:
I got a rejection slip today from a big webzine. I don't get a whole lot of those lately, but it's mostly a factor of not sending out many things, or that the editors that have them are hanging on for inordinate amounts of time. Rejections still don't bother me all that much. My agent told me he had a couple of UK rejects for "The Harvest." I almost told him not to send them to me because they didn't matter, and I know the UK is not buying many supernatural novels these days. Then I remembered I'm saving all of my slips for some future dramatic purpose.

My philosophy is still the same has it's always been. I don't take rejection personally, and while there are still a few magazines I'd like to appear in, my life will still be full if I don't achieve that goal. There are many factors involved in a story's placing, and it sometimes amounts to nothing more than simple luck and good timing. Some editors will never like the kind of stuff I write. That's okay. I found some readers who do, and that's worth a lot more to me personally. I'm still getting some great e-mails from people who liked "The Red Church," and those messages are constant reminders that you should do no less than your very best, no matter the field of endeavor.

October 1, 2002:
This is the month for horror writers to hype themselves to the point of silly excess. To that end, I have four radio interviews and three signing dates this month, and a couple of newspaper interviews should pop up as well. If you're not in the area of broadcast, in most cases you can catch it online. Check here for the schedule. I've got some feelers out for TV stories but those are hard to grab. It's one last chance to get The Red Church back in the public eye before it yields to the landslide of hardcover releases which make their annual and miraculous appearance just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

If you're a fan of horror or dark humor, you might be interested in my current freefic offering, "Do You Know Me Yet?" Where do horror writers really get their ideas? Heh heh... (slobber)... heh heh heh. There's also a little trivia game at the end of the story.

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