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FRESH DIRT: Scott Nicholson's Journal

March 31, 2003
My review of the horror movie book "Let's Scare 'Em" is posted at Really Scary, covering horror films from 1930 to 1961. McFarfand Publishing does some very nice film and media titles, in addition to sports and other special endeavors. Their books are geared primarily toward collecters and libraries, I've been on their reviewer list for a few years and can speak for the high quality of the books. The company has also started making the rounds of various conventions, hoping to reach a new audience.

I also wrote a column for the Watauga Democrat today about how America's status as the last superpower may be ending. The thrust of the article is that, unless Saddam Hussein uses chemical weapons or massive stockpiles are found, the U.S. will have a difficult time regaining the world's respect.

March 28, 2003
Now that the ink is dry on the contract, I can officially report that my novella "Burial To Follow" will appear in a limited edition hardcover and possibly a trade paperback from Cemetery Dance Publications. It's 20,000-plus words of strangeness set around a character created by editor Kealan-Patrick Burke. Other contributors include Thomas Monteleone, Harry Shannon, Michael Oliveri and Tim Waggoner. Something a bit different from me, and I expect the other contributors will be knocking off socks as well.

March 24, 2003
The advance check for my next two novels arrived today, so I guess I get to go out to dinner. I may even have enough left over for a fast food biscuit tomorrow.

My story "The Timing Chains of the Heart" will appear in the e-book anthology "Wicked Wheels." The story originally appeared in June 1998, maybe the third or fourth story I ever published. Wow, hard to believe that was nearly five years ago. Where has the time gone?

March 20, 2003
All right, I'm going to be the only person in the world who is ignoring the war...hmmm...still ignoring it. Yep.

Seems trivial somehow, but a new article "Scots-Irish in Appalachia" is posted here. Coming soon, information on the origin of the term "redneck," which I always assumed came from farmers getting sunburned. But, as usual, the real truth is much more interesting and less stereotypical. I've also booked the Boone NC Wal-Mart for an April 12 presentation for their Literacy Day campaign.

March 17, 2003
A new article is up "War: It's What's For Dinner"
StellarCon was a mixed bag, a bit of fun but not much in the way of authorly exposure. The panels were better attended this year than last, and I got to see some old friends. I was also reminded that the percentage of authors who are jerks is exactly the same as the percentage among the general population. And some authors have trouble distinguishing between their contrived characters and actual people who aren't lucky enough to appear in their books.

March 13, 2003
Coming soon to the website will be a special "Blast From The Past" feature in which I trundle out some of the short and embarrassing material from my teens, when I thought I was Vonnegut and Hemingway rolled into one. The catch is, the links will be "secret" and the only way to get the URL is by subscribing to my Scottnews newsletter. Consider it a bonus for putting up with my quarterly ramblings. I hope to add more general stuff as well, so even non-writers and non-readers can enjoy it.

My interview at Dragon Page aired today on Book Crazy radio, though I didn't get a chance to hear it. I'll link to the archive at Cosmic Landscapes when the show is added. Off to StellarCon in High Point on Saturday, to see some old friends and people in Spock ears.

March 8, 2003
Psst-- there is an online survey at Locus Magazine for readers' choices of best work of 2002. While the magazine (which is wonderful and informative, BTW) is geared mostly toward science fiction and fantasy, The Red Church is one of the 12 candidates for "best first novel." Voting is free, fun, and easy.

An interview with yours truly, along with a new photo by Marie Freeman, is posted at I finally received the contract back from Kensington Books, so it looks like everything is set for last year's deal. It's interesting how the production process and the business process move at such different speeds. Kensington has been very good to me so far, and fair on all fronts. Once the royalty stream begins, I'll be able to make more realistic projections of what my books are actually worth, but Kensington has certainly laid a foundation upon which to build a successful career. Unlike some publishing houses, they seem eager to retain their writers and help them build careers instead of giving them a quick flush if they don't pan out a little gold right off the bat. I'm working on a strange short story for an anthology that's bound to be highly competitive and also will soon begin the last revision for my third novel, The Manor.

March 6, 2003
The copyedit proof of The Harvest is on its way back to New York. All in all I am pleased with the manuscript, especially since it's a blend of both where I was emotionally in 1997 and the writing experience I've since gained. To celebrate the fact that the rest is out of my hands (except for planning the promotional campaign) and now the publisher's responsibility until the book is on the shelves, I've posted the article "The Seeds of the Harvest," detailing a little bit about the book's development while also enticing you, the prospective consumer.

Tuesday's workshop went very well, with about two dozen in attendance and a good participation on the impromptu exercise. As usual, I think I confused some people with my singular, seat-of-the-pants approach to writing, but I also think I may have inspired one or two to cut loose a little in their own work. If even one person benefited, then it was worth the effort. The presentations to the high school classes were a bit like what you'd expect. I had to keep threatening them with returning to class if they couldn't come up with any questions for me. Overall, they seemed far more impressed that I used to play in a rock band than the fact that I have been referred to as "the Stephen King of the South." Though all seemed to enjoy the ghost story that inspired The Red Church.

March 3, 2003
The Red Church has made the preliminary ballot of the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award in the categories of "superior achievement" in both the "novel" and "first novel" categories. While winning any award is a longshot, considering there are so many great and exciting writers both old and new, it's still an honor to be recognized. I try not to worry about awards, since they are pretty much out of my control, and I'm not interested in engaging in any sort of political campaign besides the on-going mission of getting people to buy the book. Some of my favorite writers have won a Stoker, and I have a pretty established position on such things, as covered in my article "Awards, Reviews, and Other Things That Don't Matter." So I'll cross my fingers because I'd be very pleased to win a Stoker, but I won't slash my wrists if I don't win, and I sincerely wish good luck to all the other nominees in the numerous categories.

If you like Internet radio, you can catch an interview with yours truly at Dragon Page on March 13. The interview will also be re-broadcast at Cosmic Landscapes as part of a set of shows that repeats in a cycle for a week. Live links will be posted as they come available. Tomorrow I'll be in Waynesville, NC, to facilitate my renowned characterization workshop "Whose Story Is It?" for a regional writing group. Wednesday, I'll visit my old high school and speak to some of the English classes about the wonderful world of being a fiction writer. I'm also right in the middle of proofing the copy edits for The Harvest. I've already done the basic run-through, now I'm midway through keying in the changes on my personal files so they match what Kensington Books will print. The routine also gives me a chance to catch any final errors or make dramatic last-minute decisions.

February 28, 2003:

My riff on an evil doll story, "Sung Li," originally published in 1999, is currently up at Horrorfind. Okay, everybody has to write at least one of these in his or her life.

So the 1980's featured cheesy horror thrillers about killer crabs, mutant rats, salivating slugs, and more evil dolls than you can shake a hatchet at. They earned their rightful place at the pantheon of the silly. But those smirk-invoking tropes have nothing on today's hot literary buzz-books. For your perusal, with descriptions culled from the recent pages of a large Sunday newspaper's book section:

A literary reinvention of "Gilligan's Island" that the reviewer describes as "a thoroughly postmodern piece of comic metafiction that is as brilliant, devious and maddening as the old TV show was stupefying and banal." Don't know about you, but I'd rather watch a 16-hour Gilligan's Island marathon without a bathroom break than read even one page of such horseclabber.

"A charming novel about a man and his fireplace, celebrating the ordinary." Yaaaawn.

"The Boss Queen strikes again, with a hilarious book about bacon, butter, money and men." Gee, I'm laughing already. Where are all the piano tuners and horse whisperers when we need them?

February 23, 2003:
The anthology Vivisections with my story "Doomsday Diary" is available for preorder from Shocklines, a great shopping place for horror stuff. The book features some notable authors, among them Ramsey Campbell, and is billed as "emotionally invasive" horror, so I would expect a little change of pace over the typical horror territories. I know my story is certainly different from my usual, and I'm interested to see if anyone notices. There's nary a ghost in sight and it probably could have appeared in a publication billed as "literary" or "fantasy."

I suppose it's really true what they say about time passing faster as you get older. Whether it's a trick of consciousness or simply the demands of more responsibilities, distractions, and loose ends, that's difficult to explain. You look down one day and you have spots on the back of your hands and the words you type suffer the weight of impermanence. But you go ahead and do it anyway because you have no choice. You look at some moments and think how you'd like to capture them and bring them out for examination at some distant future date. But you never get the same feeling and experience, so you get all you can out of them as they pass. And each moment is really a miracle, and each life is the sum of a trillion miracles.

February 21, 2003:
To amuse myself (for I am usually the only person I'm able to amuse), I looked at the records for a story I recently submitted to an anthology. Of its fifteen prior rejections dating back to 1997, a full third of the magazines that gave me the kiss of death have since expired. One magazine that "accepted" the story also died. The three anthologies that rejected the story were published with very little fanfare and disappeared, not that I would have been able to help much in that regard. Of the remaining magazines on that list, two have undergone name changes and three are published so sporadically that I would never submit there again. Essentially, having the story published in any but a few of those endeavors would have turned out to be worthless in terms of career-building and audience. And one can never assume that the check wouldn't have bounced, either.

I suppose the lesson is that it doesn't matter a whole lot whether you are accepted or not, and that if you do any consistent writing at all, you're bound to outlast a lot of publications. Maybe the formula is a little different now that there are so many webzines, but I haven't seen that the ratio of those who succeed is any higher despite the reduced financial risks. It's a pleasant reminder when a faceless editor overlooks your obvious genius that not a whole lot of editors can claim genius status themselves. Or at least infallibility.

February 18, 2003:
I was reading a little about some of the noir writers, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Jim Thompson in particular, and how they were among the first writers to use main characters who weren't necessarily heroic. Since most commercial fiction has an upbeat ending, you seem to be shooting yourself in the foot if let your people stray into dark territory. Yet at the same time, the work somehow seems to have more staying power if it challenges conventions in one way or another. Thompson was a self-destructive alcoholic who spent most of his life in debt despite a good bit of publishing success. He predicted on his deathbed that he would become "accepted" 10 years after his death, and of course, now he is cited as one of the pulp writers who has influenced the modern generation of thriller writers. By the same token, 1984 is anything but upbeat yet it's resonant enough to be both studied in college lit classes and also squirreled away as sneaky reading by inquisitive ninth graders.

The reason I've been reflecting on all this is that I found myself looking for ways to make my current work turn out happily. I think it was an attempt to balance the dark emotions I wanted to address with the potential to reach some sort of broad audience. At last I came to the realization, a truth I already knew and had forgotten, that I had to let the story be what it wanted to be and to heck with the consequences. So, to make it easier on myself, I decided I wouldn't even worry about trying to sell the novel. I would just write it the way it has to be and leave it at that. Nothing so pretentiously banal as "writing to please myself" but rather, giving myself permission to go for it and fail if necessary. It's really quite a liberating decision, because I've believed all along that if you write what your heart tells you to, there's no way you can lose.

February 13, 2003:
There's something a little dodgy about fiction writers who are also fiction reviewers. While a few are wise enough to do it well, combining analytical skills with a little extra insight into the story process, I think too many can be undone by their own biases and egos. The best reviewers are those who have no ambition to be writers. I think one of the main traits that separates the good ones is a sense of personal security, so they aren't tempted to compare the work they review against either their own work or their own shortcomings relative to the piece being reviewed. Those writers who I think do it well and maintain an academic distance are Tim Pratt, Garrett Peck, Brian Hodge and Stewart O'Nan. There are probably some others, but I don't read widely enough to name them off the top of my head.

Since I write a book column when wearing my day-job journalist hat, I long ago decided that I wouldn't praise or pan any fiction. I would present a basic plot summary and a few choice observations regarding elements which might appeal to a reader. Those who subscribe to my newsletter know that I occasionally give something short shrift there, but that's a more informal platform. I think of my newsletter readers as friends with whom my relationship is a little more intimate than you get from my "professional persona." I would never dream of openly criticizing another writer, especially one who is obviously doing his or her best. I guess it goes back to that basic rule our mothers taught us: "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." And sometimes silence speaks for itself.

February 8, 2003:
An interview with political satirist, humorist and author D.A. Blyler is posted in Ghostwriter. I sat down with him at a restaurant and it was comforting to meet someone who wasn't afraid to have a strong opinion on politics. You would think that, since I work for a newspaper, I would be surrounded by the so-called "liberal media," but the truth is that most American media is distressingly conservative, and not just in a political sense. I feel less able to express myself at work than I do anywhere else because of the atmosphere of always having to "honor heroes" or "salute unsung angels" or risking offending faceless readers.

I'm sure part of it is because our country is in a deep slump, with tragedy and economic hardship mingling with the usual doubts of war and safety. I love this country dearly (hey, I'm the guy who won a fifth grade essay contest with "My Country, My Flag, And Me") but I am saddened by the loss of vitality America seems to be suffering. Personally, I believe it's only temporary and we'll come through with flying colors, but in the short term, a lot of people seem willing to surrender some personal liberties in exchange for a stronger sense of security, no matter how illusory that security might be. That's the opposite philosophy we should be adopting: instead of arrogance and defiance, we should be celebrating and embracing our desire to further freedom, no matter the price. This doesn't mean dropping bombs on distant enemies, it means speaking up, debating, respecting diverse opinions, and renewing our determination to set an example for those who are jealous of our way of life.

Coincidentally, darker fiction of the type I write is more likely to thrive and appeal when the social climate is bleak. So I will probably benefit from these New Dark Ages, but I hope I can use the opportunity to plant some of my ideas. Not because I think I have all the answers, but because I am, at the core, an optimist.

February 3, 2003:
The anthology Mystery in Mind is now available for ordering through the Rhine Research Center. The book contains a reprint of my story "Haunted." Proceeds will benefit America's pre-eminent center for the study of ESP and paranormal phenomena. Good enough reason to shell out the bucks, whether you believe in that kind of stuff or not.

I think the human mind has amazing potential. I don't know whether telepathic powers will ever truly be proven, but way too many strange things occur to rule the hidden mind completely out. Likewise, I have never seen a ghost and would welcome some sort of solid evidence of their existence. I guess in the old days such sightings were regarded as "religious visions," whereas today they are usually called "schizophrenia."

January 31, 2003:
I got a great idea for the current novel, after becoming stagnated at a certain point. As usual, I turned to research to help me out of what seemed to be an ordinary sort of plot. While the research itself didn't directly affect the project, it sparked a couple of related ideas that will go into the mix. Maybe they won't work, but at least I'll have enough fun trying to get me near the final confrontation.

January 25, 2003:
I got notice that my story "A Socketful of Blather," which had been accepted way back in 1998 for Aboriginal SF, will now appear in Absolute Magnitude. To make a long story short for those who don't follow magazines, Aboriginal folded and the publisher group that owned it, DNA Publications, wanted to honor all the outstanding agreements by printing the accepted stories in its other magazines. To me, that is quite noble and professional of DNA in an industry that sometimes seems to have so little regard for the writers that fill the pages. So, six years after "acceptance," the story's new version will see the light next summer. It's a little bit of a reach for me, more into Vonnegut science fiction cyberpunk territory. Ah, the stuff I could get away with back in my younger days...

January 22, 2003:
I received the cover proofs for The Harvest today and I am ecstatic. The cover art and overall presentation are far better than I could have imagined or hoped for. The back copy is great and pretty accurate, and the whole package has a mysterious Appalachian feel. I'm sure there will be some minor changes later, such as some updated blurbs, but it's a nice boost that helps fill the long void between the completion of the novel and its publication. It's obscenely gratifying to see my name on the top of the cover, too.

Now to forget all that and get back to work on the current project and remember to have as much fun as possible while telling the story as best I can. Sometimes it's tempting to take all this stuff entirely too seriously.

January 19, 2003:
I've gotten quite a few emails lately regarding "The Red Church" and I've come to appreciate the contact with readers. In fact, it's about the only "real" thing in the publishing process. The money is nice but not a practical way to support a family. The writing is a great meditative act and spiritually satisfying even when it always turns out less than perfect. The book on the shelf bearing your name is a pleasant little stroke to the ego. But the work actually doesn't exist in the universe until it's touched, probed, and sniffed by a reader. That's when the Frankenstein's parts crafted in the diabolical lab of the writer's brain get that spark of lightning that brings the whole to shambling life. So always drop me a line whenever you have good or bad comments or just want to say, "Keep up the good work," or "Do the world a favor and melt your keyboard."

I'm scheduled to go down to Stellarcon in High Point NC for Sat., Mar. 15. One of the guests is Dave Wolverton, the writer and editor who bought my very first story back in 1998 (well, not the first one I wrote, but the first one I sold). I look forward to buying him lunch.

January 15, 2003:
Recently received word that a college-era friend of my passed away by his own hand over the weekend. Though I hadn't seen him in years, he was a fellow traveler during a significant period of our lives, when we were figuring out things about ourselves and the world. I hope he has found the peace he deserves and that his children are left with only the best of memories.

It also reminded me of my own mortality and that life is a fleeting and precious gift. Do yourself a favor and make contact today with someone in your past who has fallen out of your daily realm. The new free fiction offering is dedicated to Frank, "When You Wear These Shoes."

January 9, 2003:
Kensington Books has accepted the outline for The Manor (the working title was "Frost and Fire") with a tentative release date in summer of 2004. I'll have a little bit of time to make one more pass at it before I turn in the full manuscript. A new interview is up at Soul Java.

January 5, 2003:
Just finished reading a book about singer David Bowie, one which dwells less on the largely staged and calculated controversy of his early career and more on his artistic accomplishments (including his making hundreds of millions of dollars, which is also an art form.) I admire Bowie not only for his prodigious musical accomplishments, but also for the way he's embraced a variety of different art forms and taken chances even when he's aware of the necessity for commercial success. Quite simply, commercial success buys freedom, which is why writers would do well to aim for a broad audience instead of clinging to the safety of "cutting edge" and "experimental" and "splaterotica" forms. Too often it seems unsuccessful writers blame the audience and editors for being too small-minded to understand them. Not true at all. Art at its very core is communication. A writer has to go at least half the distance in that bargain, if not more.

Also finished "Reflections In A Golden Eye" by Carson McCullers. I am definitely going to read more of her books. She used wholly unsympathetic characters and was quite dark, and fits into the Southern Gothic tradition alongside Flannery O'Connor, Erskine Caldwell, and some of William Faulkner's less obtuse work.

January 1, 2003:
A new interview is up at All About Ghosts, a cool paranormal site.

In honor of Janus, the two-faced Roman god, the end and beginning of the year is a time to look both back and forward. For me, the best part of the year was the publication of
The Red Church and the generous support I received from readers. I probably got more accolades than I deserve and it was humbling to take a couple more small steps toward my dream of a writing career. I actually wrote less this year than in previous years, though I did extensive revisions to two novels, including my next The Harvest. I only wrote a few short stories in 2002, but I did write my first official novella, a 21,000-word thing that should be published in the next year or two. I made good headway on a new novel but didn't get around to the new screenplay. So, all in all, I didn't produce as much as I wanted but I also accomplished a lot in the career-building arena. Emotionally and psychologically, it was a year of ups and downs (like everyone else's) but I have to say I'm a reconfirmed optimist.

Looking ahead, I want to finish the new novel, revise two existing novel drafts, and get around to that new screenplay. I have one more idea for a novel and one idea for a collaborative project that could be really big if it doesn't collapse under the weight of its own complexity. I have a couple of anthologies to write new stories for, but other than that I'll probably stick mostly to novels. I also want to be a little more organized on my promotion. I'm not the kind who makes resolutions, since each day should be a time of reflection and self-examination, not just once per year. So I want to live each day to its fullest, continue the search for spiritual peace, and hope I can extend that peace and optimism to the greater world at every opportunity. Big dreams, huh?

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