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FRESH DIRT: Scott Nicholson's Journal 7-9/03

September 26, 2003
Next year's novel "The Manor" has made the semifinals of the Chesterfield Film Writers competition sponsored by Paramount Pictures. Apparently this places it in the top 15 percent of several thousand entries, with the five or so finalists to be announced in about six weeks. No holding my breath but it beats a sharp stick in the eye.

Anyone who wants to join the Literary Guild or Mystery Guild can get a free signed copy of my story collection of "Thank You For The Flowers." If I sign you up as a friend, I can get three free books (which I intend to use to get more hardcover copies of "The Harvest"). You get to choose five of the book club books for $1 plus you get a free tote bag in addition to my signed book. After you join, you only need to buy 4 books over the next two years. Email me if you're interested or learn more about the Literary Guild or Mystery Guild.

September 24, 2003
You ever notice how literary novels often get the qualifier "A Novel" after the title? I was doing a signing and looked at the Book Sense catalog that had the favorite titles of all the independent bookstores. All of the top ten were titled like "The Life of Pi: A Novel," except one, which was something like "Blah Blah Blah: A Memoir." I think this must be shorthand to inform us that this is indeed Something That's Good For Us Whether We Like It Or Not. So I think cheesy genre novels ought to start coopting the colon. How about "Bloodhouse: A Novel." Or "The Cheesening: A Novel." Next thing you know, our cultural gatekeepers in New York will become even more precious and start using things like "The Life of Pi: A Fiction." Or maybe we should all agree there's no need to be pompous and if it says fiction on the spine, then it's probably a novel.

Review of "The Harvest" as part of a well-written column by Joseph Nassise is posted at Midnight Fantastique. Make that "The Harvest: A Novel."

September 22, 2003
I'm giving away a copy of Stewart O'Nan's new novel "Night Country" to a randomly selected newsletter subscriber when the next issue comes out in mid-October. You can subscribe for free by sending an email to scottnews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and then reply to the message you are sent. I'll also have an exclusive link to one of my early writings available only through the newsletter, plus a second round of writing tips. I've got a few newspaper articles coming up in the near future and I'm sending out the last round of review copies for "The Harvest." I'm looking forward to the winter so I can squirrel away some writing time.

September 19, 2003
It's a busy weekend with signings and interviews. What's been most interesting so far on this tour is that I sell as many copies of "The Red Church" as I do "The Harvest." Maybe Church is easier to explain or something. Of course, some people buy both, which is always nice. The stores have been great and most of the people I meet at the bookstores are from out of the area and are visiting. Maybe bookstore browsing is something people like to do while on vacation or as a day trip.

Hurricane Isabel did very little damage here, a few scattered power outages. It was a bit awe-inspiring to see the first wave of clouds rising over the mountains from the east.

September 16, 2003
I've written a few articles on writing lately and decided to shop them around before I post them here on the website. I don't follow the magazines too closely so it's been a bit strange submitting the articles. Some of the magazines have articles by big names while other articles appear to be written by people who have had little publishing experience. It is refreshing to get some rejection slips, since I haven't submitted many short stories lately.

One of the radio hosts was asking me about publishing, and I told him about my hundreds of rejection slips, and he laughed as if I were joking. I didn't want to shatter the moment so I laughed, too. When you think about it, it does seem kind of silly that humans enter a field of endeavor in which they are repeatedly told "no."

September 14, 2003
The review of "The Harvest" in Fangoria is so bad that people are warning me not to read it. Hah.On the other hand, I got a nice email the other day from someone who accused me of being Stephen King writing under a pen name. As if Mr. King would willingly trim his reading audience by 99 percent just to see if it was indeed his work and not just his name that made the books so popular! Check out more in the new feature Reader Mailbag.

The signings are going well, but each time I have to ask myself why I do so many when I should be home writing. I guess the short answer is, if I don't do it, then no one else will do it for me. It's also the best way to meet new readers right at the point of contact and a chance to talk shop with those on the front lines of the publishing industry.

September 9, 2003
Back from vacation, so I've hit the ground running. My hometown book signing is tonight and my name is up on the marquee. I'll try to post a photo in my "bio" section. I'll also be changing my email contact to help avoid some of these spam and virus problems. If anyone tired to contact me in the last few days and didn't get a response, please try again at scottnicholson AT(you type the "@") hauntedcomputer.com. Unfortunately, the spam spiders have been crawling all over my pages so I'm having to take down the direct email link and you'll have to type the address to contact me. Sorry for the extra trouble but I always try to answer every email, so if it's worth it to you to do that, then it's worth it to me to write you back.

Being at the beach was a great lift. The ocean is a wonderful reminder of the relative importance of all things. I could toss a copy of "The Harvest" into the waves and it would be shredded to sand in a single day. The ocean erases all mistakes.

September 4, 2003
Had a fun launch for "The Harvest" in Hickory, NC, last night. Met some true fans and also got to talk shop with Dale Bailey, author of "The Fallen" and numerous short stories. He had some interesting perspectives and our paths have been a bit different. He's been writing since childhood while I am mostly a "sudden writer." Hickory had an unbelievable amount of books, maybe 60 or so, and a dozen of "The Red Church" and even a few copies of my short story collection. Apparently my books do well there, and I owe it all to the enthusiastic Barnes & Noble staff. I also had a couple of newspaper features, though one preview listed the signing date wrong. C'est la everything.

"The Harvest" got a good review in Locus Magazine: ""Nicholson has constructed a small wonder...a story with the outlines of a B-Movie narrative, but with complex, sympathetic characters (the reader can even sympathize with the alien!) and an emotionally satisfying plot." A new interview is up at
The Web of Horror. Off to Atlantic Beach for a few days. One radio interview and a couple of drop-in store signings, but mostly sand and sunburn. Look, ma, no typing!

September 2, 2003
Busy on everything but writing. A week off for promoting "The Harvest," a trip to the beach, presenting evidence to a zoning board, promoting some more. And day job. Never forget day job. Today is official release date for the new novel, though it's been available in some places for a while. Kind of a mixed feeling this time around, some excitement about its prospects but also uneasy about its potential reception. Will readers mostly hate it? Will they want it to be exactly like "The Red Church"? Is it just plain too obtuse and straining your suspension of disbelief? Fortunately, I've already received a few positive comments, so I'm taking that as proof that it's all going to be okay. Thanks to all of you who continue to help my dreams come to life.

August 26, 2003
Apparently copies of "The Harvest" are starting to trickle out into the distribution system, with several people reporting actually purchasing the book off the shelves (hooray for them!). I have my first radio interview Friday, and I'm in the awkward position of not having a copy to send to the host. Next time I suppose I'll have to watch the online booksellers and order a few copies (Books-A-Million seems to have been the fastest on the draw this time around). But the host seems more interested in discussing libertarian Taosim (long story best left for another day) than analyzing the intracacies of my new novel. He did read and enjoy "The Red Church," so this will be familiar turf for both of us. Good news is that I hear Science Fiction Chronicle gave a thumb up for "The Harvest" in its new issue. Maybe I'll read that one.

August 24, 2003
Some of my family members have expressed concern that sooner or later I would be the object of a deranged fan's obsession ("Get a PO Box, Scott, so nobody finds out your street address"). I always thought it laughable because my audience isn't large enough to include a nut case. But then last week somebody called the phone company, pretended to be me, and had my phone service disconnected. (Yeah, the phone company lets people do this unless the customer asks for a password system beforehand). While such a subversive and anarchist tactic appeals to my sense of the absurd, it was a big inconvenience and the phone company wasn't very prompt or sympathetic in correcting its error.

While I'm pretty sure the action was taken by someone local who didn't like my sometimes-controversial editorial columns in the newspaper, the incident served as a motivator to have as much of my public information erased as possible. I am still, and always will be, accessible by email, but the rest is off limits to the casual observer.

Back to other stuff, I have heard "The Harvest" will be raked over the coals in the next issue of Fangoria. The odd part is that it doesn't bother me a bit. I'm not going to read it, and I'm of the opinion that there's really no such thing as bad publicity unless it involves pederasty. I'm actually kind of honored to be criticized by a magazine that heralds "Freddy v. Jason" as the nadir of western civilization's cultural achievements.

August 21, 2003
One of the more amusing signs that building a writing career is a sideways venture: The foamboard cover blow-ups the publisher sent for "The Harvest" book signings are about a fourth the size of those for "The Red Church." Or maybe it's just a sign of the recession. But I'm grateful for the things, because they add some élan to a signing table decorated by nothing more than a confused author and a stack of books. I've been blundering ahead with my promotional efforts, wishing I were an organized person, but I have managed to secure some radio interviews. I'll try to keep the list up to date and hopefully add a few mpg3 clips. A variety of worms have been infesting my Internet provider's network so I haven't been able to upload files for a few days.

August 17, 2003
There's a line from a song that goes "Sometimes life sends you lessons wrapped in ridiculous packaging." Living in a small town with tremendous growth pressures, mostly due to the local college, I always figured growth would hem me in sooner or later. Now plans have been submitted for a student apartment complex within shouting distance of my house. So I'll have 114 new neighbors and 114 new reasons not to delay finding a nice big place in the country. Right now, we're thinking of keeping this house and renting it out, though thanks to the same zoning laws that allow a huge student apartment complex within a hundred yards of our home, we're not allowed to rent to anybody but single families. By renting to students, we could probably make several hundreds dollars more per month over what the average family can afford.

I spent Saturday laying new vinyl and installing a new toilet in the bathroom, and I did a more thorough job knowing we might have to sell this place. I like working with my hands and probably any place we could afford would have to a "fixer-upper." My wife says roosters are out but the goat is optional.

August 12, 2003
I've just learned The Harvest is available in hardcover through the Doubleday Book Club, Literary Guild, and Mystery Guild. I got my Literary Guild catalog today and saw it offered on the top of the back page of "The Insider." (I had to join the guild to get copies of The Red Church, though apparently those are all gone now). Rather nice placement, though the price is $1 higher this time around. But at the low, low cost of $11.99, what the heck. Of course, you can do like I did and join the Mystery Guild instead, then you get six copies for a buck.

I really like the book club's presentation of The Harvest: "If films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers keep you up at night, you’ll. be wired till dawn with this newest chiller from 'a wonderful storyteller' (Sharyn McCrumb) who 'knows how to summon serious scares' (Bentley Little). Tamara Leon, an anthropologist in the small Appalachian community of Windshake, North Carolina, has been troubled all her life by 'the gloomies.' Now, her dark visions and premonitions of evil are taking on the physical form of an inexplicable, deadly force that consumes the town of Windshake. The citizens are changing into monstrous beings with only one thought in mind: death and destruction. And the shattered town can only wonder when the hunger will be sated."

Compare that with the Ingram sales catalog passed out to bookstores, which merely says: "Deep in the Appalachian mountains, an evil presence consumes the citizens of the small town of Windshake, spreading death and destruction."

August 9, 2003
Okay, I occasionally make these silly promises to myself and then justify breaking them later. Hopefully, this one will stick. I'm not submitting any more original short stories to anthologies that both a) don't pay advances and b) are printed only as print-on-demand paperbacks or in electronic formats.

My record keeping for short story sales is not quite as good as it should be, but to the best of my knowledge I have been in several, three with my stories have been canceled in mid-stream, and only once have I ever seen a dime. In the latest case, I've yet to get a contributor's copy, which even the lowest nonpaying magazine usually guarantees. The editor of that one even canceled two other planned anthologies with the "publisher" in question. One of them would have contained one of my stories. I'm not mentioning any names, since I still hope to get my copy, but they know who they are and haven't put much effort into salvaging their reputation.

I'll admit, my policy is not going to send any editor diving under the sheets for a good tremble, but this also means I am recommending any serious and professionally minded writer avoid such markets unless you really admire the editor, because that association might be all you ever get out of the deal. Iffy publications are still worth tossing out a reprint, because you don't lose much if the house of cards collapses. But I'd rather get a rejection slip from a real pro than a hundred acceptances from a pretender.

August 5, 2003
If you like free stuff and you love books and reading, you should visit Dear Reader and sign up for some of the great books they offer. You can subscribe to the genre of your choice and receive a short book excerpt in the mail each day. The excerpts go out to libraries and bookstores across the country, as well as to any individual reader who cares to sign up. The service has been a big success so far, and the potential is limitless. This method allows you to sample a variety of work before you make your purchasing decisions and will also give you a sampler of what's getting published these days. I can't recommend this site highly enough. The first 7,500 words of The Harvest will be running there in the horror genre in mid-September.

August 2, 2003
After spending the day rebuilding the bathroom floor, I'm thoroughly grateful I've been able to make my living in the brainless media for the past seven years or so. I spent a lot of my youth in hard labor (not the prison system kind, but the growing-up-poor kind) and gave up a potential life of ease by dropping out of college and pursuing a rock'n'roll career. That career led to more hard work in various day jobs ranging from house painting to carpentry to apartment maintenance to plenty of shovel time. Now that I've got that soft middle age belly, I occasionally enjoy a good masochistic stint of homeowner repair. But when those muscles get sore, I am able to remind myself that being a reporter and writer beats the heck out of actually working for a living.

My latest screenplay didn't make the semifinals of the Nicholl Fellowships, so I guess overnight success will have to wait. Most "overnight successes" I know took 20 years to get there, anyway. Hey, they don't know what they're missing. Yet.

I got to read an advance copy of Jenna Glatzer's "Outwitting Writer's Block." I'm not sure when it will be out, but it's great. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments as well as some useful tips. She's editor of
Absolute Write and has published in numerous fields. While I'm usually suspicious of writing advice books, I can confidently give this one the seal of approval.

July 31, 2003
Planning a publicity campaign for a book involves a lot of small and subtle actions, because there's an effect similar to the build-up of an ocean wave. A tiny tremor in a distant section of water heads in one direction and then is pulled and pushed by all the other forces of wind, gravity, and tide. Before you know it, there's a sudden swell, a peak, and then a splash. The casual observer sees only the splash, but the myriad energies that go into the making of the original motion are quite formidable.

While some authors loathe having to generate publicity for their books, my attitude is that if you don't believe in your own work, how can you expect anyone else to get excited? Any writer who thinks promotion is anti-artistic and therefore "beneath" them is only giving us hungrier writers an edge over them. Marketing is not a dreary chore best left to faceless executives. It requires real creativity and passion. If you think writing and selling a book to a publisher is hard, try competing for attention with all the media outlets, movie stars, video games, reality shows, wars, diseases, fast food restaurants, domestic beers, spiffy new brands of personal care products, Internet porn, eBay, and used car dealers.

I get pleasure from the fruits of my labor, whether it's watching the tomatoes ripen in the garden or seeing my book written about in a small newspaper. I like setting up my book signings, contacting the bookstores (though I admit cold calling is the one chore I would just as soon hire someone to do), and sending out releases to newspapers and radio stations. While I took a rather haphazard approach to promoting The Red Church, it turned out pretty well despite not having much money to invest. I'm not a whole lot more organized this time around, except for having all the previous positive contacts and a small clutch of reviewers who are looking forward to The Harvest. All the investment in energy adds up to a positive vibe that builds on itself, not with massive sales or world fame as the ultimate desired outcome, but rather simple satisfaction. Besides, it's fun!

July 27, 2003
Editor Ellen Datlow posted her photos from the annual Horror Writers Association conference at her site. I have the gleaming thousand-yard stare that signals the onset of rabies. I don't know when I'll be back in New York, so it's fun to have these kinds of reminders. Since I've now visited the three major cities in the U.S., I think it's time to hit Texas and Canada. Now all I need is a tax-deductible excuse.

July 26, 2003
The fun part of being a writer (besides the tidal wave of rejection slips) is that you get email from the strangest places. In the past couple of days I have received, in addition to several dozen spams: a letter from a writer in Norway asking about book promotion; a note from a Scientologist thanking me for presenting my views on the religion with an open mind; the cover art for a friend's story collection; and the unsolicited opportunity to prove the world is wrong for not giving the email's author a fair shake in the cruel, close-minded world of publishing, because of course the Publishing Industry is spending all its spare time and untold wealth on keeping unknown writers away from what no doubt would be a large and adoring readership.

I quit a newsgroup list after two of the authors bragged about being censored because some places refused to run their ads or sell their books. They write what they have described as "pornographic horror." When I pointed out that it was an unfortunate situation, but not really censorship, since magazines have no obligation to take any ad just as no store is required to carry any product, I was immediately persona non grata. I'm always amazed when someone courts controversy and then acts hurt and attacked when that controversy leads to consequences. It's like playing with a snake, yelling "Look, everybody, I'm playing with a snake!," and then acting surprised when you get bitten. Then you either blame the snake or blame everyone else for not warning you. Puh-leez.

July 24, 2003
The Haunted Computer is getting its new "look," which is a lot like the old look with the addition of banners at the top of each page. From my stats page, I noticed that a lot of visitors zoom in from left field for some of the non-writing articles, such as the Civil War and Appalachian stereotypes stuff. Hopefully, those visitors will see the books and want to browse around a bit more.

I've got most of my signing events set up, and will probably only add three or four more stops. It's fallen into place pretty well, and so far there is only one city that I wanted that I couldn't find a store. After doing this a few times, I'm learning which stores to avoid and which stores are my preferred locations. It's a great feeling when there is at least one employee in a store who digs what you're writing. New article up,
Ticket To Write, examines why you don't need to spend money to be a writer.

July 20, 2003
A lot of horror and thriller writers are getting new book deals and movie options right now. It's really an exciting time, and also good for me because soon it will be time to shop the new books. It's hard to tell if these are leaps forward or just the inevitable result of natural ebbing and flowing. Of course, I have a long-running theory that a Republican administration throws gas on the embers of dark literature and entertainment, because a Republican administration is usually accompanied by war drums, long unemployment lines, massive deficits, and a socially repressive atmosphere (not a political statement; more or less a historical fact, with limited exceptions). Eisenhower gave us big bug movies and "The Twilight Zone," Nixon begat "The Exorcist" and "Carrie," Reagan birthed the entire 1980s cheesy monsters and slasher boom, and Bush II is spawning a whole new nest of slithery things, a Pandora's box that people need to peek into for their psychic comfort, because the news media and the TV pundits certainly aren't giving us any insight into what's happening to us.

Coming soon is a slight redesign of the site, mostly in the banners and top link line. All content will remain more or less the same, with a little more consistency of layout. What I'm reading: Greg Iles, Mortal Fear; Sharyn McCrumb, Ghost Riders; a book on the twisted painter Heironymous Bosch.

July 15, 2003
I saw "28 Days Later" tonight, the first theater movie I've been to since probably Harry Potter I. I was amazed how many advertisements there were before the start of the movie, maybe 8 minutes' worth. I liked the movie, especially some of the photographic effects (as opposed to special effects, which usually don't excite me much). The movie also had some good morality issues and a bit of a story. Apparently a lot of the summer blockbusters are tanking because there's nothing to fuel the word of mouth or inspire repeat trips to the theater. We know The Hulk is going to get very angry and when Hulk angry, Hulk smash. We know Arnie will give his usual mechanical performance in T-3 even if he's supposed to be a little more humanized. Now we need a story, something to make us care. It's almost like the audience feels obligated to go see whatever they call a blockbuster, then we act surprised when we leave the theater with nothing added to our lives, only two hours and seven bucks taken away. But then some surprise movie sneaks in and owns the top slot because it has that magical something. Sixth Sense. Shrek. Almost any animated Disney feature. Oh, yeah, they call that "story."

July 10, 2003
The mystery of the missing Red Church has now been partially explained. People have reported a little difficulty in getting the book, as is only natural given that it's been over a year since release and another 200,000 or so new books have pushed their way onto the shelves. The local store order 25 copies for a book fair and was only able to get three. The book is currently out of stock, meaning the publisher and distributors don't have any copies, and the book won't be available for about 6 weeks or so. Presumably, any current orders will be filled once a new printing is done in late August.

The print run is fairly small and likely portends the remainder of the book's existence-- sporadic periods of non-availability followed by occasional print runs, until the book is completely out of print or something dramatic happens, such as a big sale on a later book that gives new life to an old title. If the book is out of stock, that means all the original copies are either sold, sitting in a store, or have had their covers ripped off and mailed back to the publisher for credit. The book club versions apparently dried up some months again, though Doubleday still holds a license to reprint the title for four more years. I guess I won't know the whole picture for a couple of more years, when the publisher's accountants eventually crunch all the numbers on the royalty statements. It's sort of scary that my first novel is half-dead before my second novel even hits the press. But it's one of those good news-bad news things. Better to run out than to have never sold at all.

July 7, 2003
Material possessions are such a burden. Our washing machine, a sturdy old model which is no longer made (of course), finally gave up the ghost in the form of gushes and spurts. We had trouble-free use of it for more than five years, when we rescued it from the back of a pickup whose owner was disposing of it because (yeah, really), the handle had come off. So a pair of vise grips was the only repair needed, though occasionally blue sparks would jump from behind the panel if you pushed the vise grips too hard while starting a load. Now it must make the return trip to the dump, though since it was probably built in the 1970s, it's rest is well-deserved. But the chore of buying a new one remains. Since our laundry room is in the unfinished basement, we have no concerns over style or matching the color of the dryer. But the whole idea of becoming an appliance consumer is daunting. Which model? How much? Energy efficiency? What will the neighbors think, assuming any ever crawl into our basement in the dead of night?

It's the same with buying a car. My old junker is on its last rubbers and I have the money put away to buy another one, but I can't get motivated to even shop. For one thing, I hate shopping, though I've generally had good luck with cars because I've always stuck to a few simple principles: buy them as cheaply as possible, care not a bit about appearance or their supposed reflection on me as a person, and drive them until they have to be hauled away by force, with teams of horses and a plump, sweaty whipmaster.

My wife bought me a very nice digital camera for Christmas, with quality suitable for taking professional photos (some of those taken with it ran in my newspaper). But I worried about that camera almost every minute I owned it, even when it was tucked away in a drawer. Finally I lost it (I think I left it on the roof of the car when strapping in mon petite cherie) and the relief nearly outweighed the regret. I got a cheaper, simpler digital camera for my birthday and haven't lost a single wink of sleep nor a photo opportunity.

To make a long point sharper, everything you own comes with a price. Even when it's already paid for.

July 4, 2003
It's been a pretty nice holiday, and even the coerced and obligatory patriotism hasn't dampened the day. Apparently it's cool to be cool with the United States again, without the feelings of panic and insecurity. Heck, when it comes right down to it, it's all about the hot dogs and the watermelon. Just don't get me started about fireworks. Let freedom ring (but hopefully not in your ears all night).

July 1, 2003
My story "Thirst" was accepted for reprint at Eternal Night, a good multi-faceted website of speculative fiction.The site will also be running an excerpt of my new novel "The Harvest." I have an interview there from 2001. I've been busy on my bookstore mailings and scheduling of book signings, so far it's gone pretty well but I haven't tackled it in full earnest yet. The theory is to get my biggest and farthest cities down first and then fill in weekdays with the closer stops. The book release party will be at Barnes & Noble in Hickory NC on Sept. 3, though I may have a local event the night before, which is the official release date of the book.

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