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FRESH DIRT: Scott Nicholson's Journal Jan-Mar/04


March 27, 2004
There's a review of "The Book of More Flesh" appearing at horrormeister Joe Bob Briggs's site. The reviewer calls my story "The Hounds of Love" "one of the darkest stories in the collection, which is really saying something." That has always been one of my favorite stories, and I expected and received an uneven reaction. It has a couple of taboos but I couldn't figure out any way to skirt the issues, so I just drove over them.

I've been playing some guitar lately, brushing up some old songs and getting calluses on my fingers again. I may even do some recording and try to work up some of the songs that have been laying around for ten years or so. If I get some equipment to turn them into digital files, I'll expand the Scottmusic section of the website.

March 23, 2004
I recently got an email from someone in Denmark who learned about my books from an American backpacker in Thailand. It's a bit humbling to think how these little pieces of paper I made on my computer are able to get around the world. My books have turned up in the Philippines and Australia, and though there haven't been any foreign translations yet, it's nice that the stories are able to cross cultural boundaries.

I've posted my first-person zombie (yes, such a thing is possible) short story "Need" in the
Freefic section since "Angelorum Orbis" is going off to appear in Revolution SF. My friend Jayme Blaschke is editor there, and I met him in LA in 1998 at the Writers of the Future workshop. I predicted at that time he would eventually become a genre editor and now I can claim that I've been right about one thing in my life.

March 22, 2004
The newspaper where I work was in an adult spelling bee today and our team dressed as 1920's reporters. Well, that was the idea, but we came off looking more like wino gangsters. At any rate, we won the prize for "Best table" with our assortment of liquor bottles and old cameras and manual typewriters. We even did okay in the spelling part, beaten out by only two teams on the word "piranha."

I'm buying a new computer so you may see some lapses in updates as I try to figure things out. I'm hoping to add some sections that are more interactive so you can participate in things at the site without my having to be here. One of the ideas is a floating sequel to "The Red Church" but I need to work out some more details first. Or possibly a round robin short story, some polls, or a section on folk beliefs. If you have any ideas, drop me a line.

Here's a fun link we sometimes play with at work:
Ebaum's World, where you can use celebrity sound bites to make your own prank phone calls. I'm partial to the Sling Blade and Dr. Phil ones and of course Jack Nicholson is appropriate for any occasion..

March 18, 2004
If you want to catch a fun radio show on Saturday, tune in to Scifi Zone radio, 540 WFLA-AM, Orlando, Fla. or listen live on the Internet. The show airs beginning at 11 p.m. EST and I'll be on as guest for about ten minutes beginning around 11:15 or so. These guys are wacky, so a good time will be had by all. Maybe we can get the FCC riled up.

I'm about to start a new project which I probably won't talk about too much because that will take some of the fun out of writing. It's a screenplay I've had on hold for about a year, but now so many of the pieces are falling into place that I have to go through with it. There's a point where the characters are putting lines into your head and you must set it down on paper or your head will explode. Or maybe that's just me. It's a nice night for depressing music so I'm thinking The Smiths, Paul Westerberg and Joey Ramone's last album. I've been listening to Bob Dylan because he'll be playing here next month and I'm starting to like him a little more. He's certainly not afraid to put it all out there.

March 14, 2004
PBS was running its regular survival plead this morning and I got to see REM's appearance with the Sesame Street muppets. They wiggled their yarn to the classic "Happy Furry Monsters." One thing I'd forgotten was the red-headed puppet made to look like Kate Pierson of the B-52s, who sang back-up on the original. She also sings on one of my favorite REM songs, "Me In Honey."

March 11, 2004
About three weeks left to enter my book giveaway contest. Go to The Manor page for more information. Fellow writer Jon Merz gave me the heads-up that The Manor was mentioned in a brief snippet in an article in Publisher's Weekly. I used to read PW a lot when it was online for free, now I have to drag down to the local college library and catch up on several months at once. You can read the article here if you want to sign up for the magazine's free trial period. Yeah, you don't want to do that, but I tried.

About to watch "Alien," one of my favorite movies. I haven't had time to watch much of anything lately, though I watched Cronenberg's "Shivers" last week. Pretty good in a lean, plotless way.

March 9, 2004
One of the oddest questions I've received is, "How is the book doing?" I usually assume the questioner means how well is my latest release selling. That question can never be answered accurately, because the truth is, few people know, and if they do, they're not saying. Barring the bestseller list, there's no place to dial up and ask how many copies have sold, and even if you could get the data, it's usually fixed at a certain point in time. You can call up the largest distributor and find out how many copies are currently on order, you can look at Amazon and see what your sales rank is (though that is only significant under a narrow set of circumstances), or you can ask your editor, who will probably be just as ignorant as you are. So I usually say, "The book's doing fine for what it is."

My honest answer should be the question, "Which book do you mean?" Because once I'm done promoting a new book, it goes to the back burner of my thoughts. One day years after release I can lay out all the royalty statements and track the book's actual sales. But until then, why bother? "The book" can also be the one that's about to come out, or the one that's currently under consideration for next year, or the one that's about to get finished. But I guess to me, "the book" is always the one that I'm about to start, the one I hope will be better than anything ever written, that makes people laugh and cry and forget Shakespeare. So when someone asks how the book is doing, I should always say, "It's not living up to my expectations."

March 7, 2004
I had a great time at yesterday's workshop. The participants were inquisitive and bright. I've used the "Whose Story Is It?" format about six times now and each time it turns out differently. The goal of the project is to get people thinking about story conflicts and character, and most people intuitively understand how to ask those questions that will lead to an interesting plot. I would guess one or two people at the workshop will end up benefiting from the exercise, but those are probably the people who would challenge themselves anyway. The others hopefully will be able to think a little more creatively, whether or not they use it in their writing.

Of course, the most popular workshop question is "How do I get an agent?" The answer is, "Whichever way you can." In truth, you send out query letters and hope something rings a bell somewhere. Or you marry an editorial assistant. Or go to school with someone who later works in the agency's mailroom. Or you're already a celebrity and the agent comes to you. Or you get an agent drunk enough at a convention. Or you sell your book to a publisher and then see if any agent wants an easy commission. Or, as is happening ever more frequently, you become an agent yourself. But then you have to ask whether you really want yourself for a client.

March 3, 2004
Just about finished the current novel project. It's taken a James M. Cain-Jim Thompson turn near the end. Nasty, nasty characters. It's the type of story that will make my friends say, "How could such a nice boy write something like this?" Personally, it's been a drain and upsets me a little to write it. I just want to get it done, but I think it will need a lot of revision and I'll probably have to let it stew for a few months before I can face it again. Whew.

Next up, definitely something much lighter. I'm working on a children's book idea with an artist friend. It's going to be fun and totally different from anything I've ever done, though I've written some young adult stories before. We're planning to make it a series with at least three books. We both have children at about the same age, so we're just going to do the type of story we want to read at bedtime. Sounds simple enough, but if you try to dumb down a grown-up idea, you usually come off as both boring and stupid. So I think the trick will be to stay clever and entertaining without being too smart.

February 29, 2004
I've finished going over the copyedited version of "The Manor"-- very straightforward. I think I only erased four or five suggested changes, and most of the work involved changing my original computer files to match the finished book. In case I ever need to republish somewhere down the line, or release it in a different format if and when the rights revert back, then I'm all set, assuming anyone even cares at that point.

No big surprises in the copyedit, though "artist's retreat" became the plural "artists' retreat." I think either way is defensible, but the plural makes more sense. There were a few words that I hadn't joined, such as "trapdoor," and other words I put together that I shouldn't, like "hay rake." One time I had to change the grammatically correct "lay" back to to "laid" because the dialogue belonged to an unschooled person. I only made one big gaffe in names, when a character gets called by the wrong name. There were a few other minor errors that mostly popped up in parts I had changed during the last draft. I feel really good about this book, and I appreciate someone's looking over it so carefully..

I'm going swimming today. I haven't been in a while and I'm woefully out of shape. I even got one of those dorky white swimming caps so I'll really look like Moby Dick when I hit the water. I used to swim three or four miles a week a few years back, but I'll be lucky to last 20 laps this time. If I don't drown, that is.

February 27, 2004
Got the copyedited manuscript of "The Manor" back from Kensington Books today. Now I get to go over all the little red marks and sticky notes to make sure everything jibes. I always get a tingle of pleasure when the editor's instructions to the copyeditor are "Light edit, ms. is very clean." That means all my diligence in going through the numerous drafts is worth it. I'm not bragging about it, because that's my job. I know some writers who turn in any old thing, who still haven't mastered eighth grade grammar, and they expect the publishers to, as they call it in the recording industry, "fix it in the mix." My attitude is that the final published book is on my head, with my name on the front in big letters, and any mistakes that slip through are ultimately my fault. Trimming errors early in the process reduces the chance of their showing up in a bookstore. I have less than two weeks to turn the copyedit around, but I'll probably get it done this weekend. I'll pull out some samples of things later and post them here so you can see what amazing skill a professional copyeditor employs.

I received word that my writing article "Nurture Your Inner Hack" has been accepted by Writer's Journal, a glossy magazine with a decent national circulation. To be honest, I can't even remember what the article's about, but I'm pretty sure it's another cannonade in my war against literary pretension. We had a big snow here in North Carolina, probably a foot, but it's melting fast.

February 24, 2004
The Last Pentacle of the Sun anthology is coming together, and it's looking like a great line-up. Peter Straub, Bentley Little, and Poppy Z. Brite are contributing, and Clive Barker is donating some drawings for the book. I've been reading more about the West Memphis Three case and I hope this book helps bring some attention so the questions can get answered. The thing that bothered me was one of the three teens accused in the murders confessed and implicated the others, but has a developmental disorder and his interrogation seemed to have been unorthodox. One of the convicted is on death row and fast running out of appeals. Apparently this anthology from Arsenal Pulp Press will come out in October, about the same time as another book and movie about the case. Hope it makes them some money for more investigation.

Listening to Elvis Costello lately, feeling all sassy and bruised. We've gone over a week without snow now, one almost dares to hope for spring. The robins are starting to show up.

February 21, 2004
I'm clearing out my bookcases and many of the books are going to the local library sale but I'm holding out two cases of horror & sci-fi paperbacks for a giveaway through the website. Each box has about 55-60 books by authors such as Koontz, Clegg, Lovecraft, Farris, Asimov and some decades-old science fiction titles. These are reading copies, not in collecting shape, though some have never been read. I haven't finalized the details yet, but essentially all you have to do is visit The Manor webpage to get a chance to win one of the boxes. The two winners will pay shipping, which I expect will be around $10 a box because I'll send via the cheapest rate (probably US Postal Service media mail).

I went to a media law workshop on Thursday and learned about public records and closed sessions. Government officials tend to have this idea that the public doesn't really need to know what they're doing as long as they're acting in what they consider the "best interest" of the people. The "Trust me" thing. I hope everyone is paying attention to the way national power has been concentrated in the hands of a very few who are secretive about their decision-making, though they don't try to disguise their overall agenda. One positive aspect is that, in talking with a U.S. Congress member's office, I've learned Congress is not at all pleased at the way the system of checks and balances (White House-Congress-Judicial System) has tilted so heavily toward the White House. And this member is a Republican. So I wouldn't be surprised to see weakened support for the President as the election nears, and I also wouldn't be surprised, if Bush is re-elected, to see this country experience the second-worst term of the last 100 years. Guess whose current term is the worst?

The utter failure of Republican economic policies is reflected in our record deficit, expected to exceed $2 trillion dollars and leaving a large payback looming in our future. A lifetime's worth of zeroes. I have a pet theory that Democratic largesse actually stimulates the economy more, because when they are in power, we have hundreds of people stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars. When Republicans are in power, we have only a handful stealing billions. So I choose the "tax-and-spend" Democrats over the "borrow-and-spend" Republicans, at least when no Libertarian is available.

February 17, 2004
Been pretty busy so I haven't been able to update the way I'd like. This has been one of the cloudiest of all my winters spent in the NC mountains, and even when the sun makes a rare appearance, it's hard to find time to get out and play. They're having school on Saturday this week because of the missed days.

I'm on the sixth draft of the next novel, but it's mostly done, so it should be in the mail by the end of the week. I like it better now that I've had a chance to trim some of the repetitive stuff. It's a little different from my others but I think it will fit in to the continuum of weird Scott stories. I hope my editor responds with enthusiasm.

One of the joys of writing is looking up obscure items. The last couple of days, I've researched Robert De Niro movies, electromagnetic resonance imaging, and how much money visitors paid to watch the lunatics at Bedlam. I think it was Raymond Chandler who said, "There are only two occupations where you need to know how to rob a bank, and one of them is bank robber."

Reading: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, and Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham. Listening to "Beneath These Fireworks" by Matt Nathanson, an indie rocker who's playing here in a couple of days. Manic-depressive lyrics and jangly guitars, a combo that always works for me.

February 11, 2004
I have a radio interview scheduled March 20 on the Sci Fi Zone show originating in Orlando, Fla. I'll give more details when it's hammered out. I haven't done any radio interviews in a few months. I really like the medium, especially when it's live.

Deena Fisher, a friend I met through her librarian husband Greg, has been working on a Manor bookmark and some other electronic chores for me. She's skilled and fast, so if you're looking to hire someone who's easy to work with, drop me a line and I'll forward her information.

February 7, 2004
The N.C. mountains have been socked with hard, yucky water for about two weeks now. There's a layer of snow sandwiched between layers of ice, and just for fun, a little bit of cold rain falls on top. This is one of those weeks when we're surviving instead of living.

I had a story accepted by
Cemetery Dance Magazine, which is the holy grail for short horror fiction writers. It's called "Watermelon" and I'm rather fond of it. It's a great honor to appear in a magazine that has featured work by people like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

Over the next week, I'll be re-writing what may be my Pinnacle title for 2005. It's been sitting for about six months and has undergone a few drafts already, but as usually happens, I stumbled across some more nifty ideas to work into the story. The only down side is that I have to put the current project on hold, and it was going through a second draft though it's not quite finished. I know the ending but I want to go back and tie up all the loose threads to make sure they become a big tangled knot by page 400. Have I told you lately how much fun all this crazy stuff is? I feel like one of the luckiest guys alive.

February 4, 2004
My reading with Dale Bailey at the Drips Coffeehouse in Hickory, NC, was a blast last night. Dale and I play off of each other very well, and after we read some, we answered questions from the audience. Then the audience members read their poetry, and it was amazingly good. I'm normally skeptical of poets because, to be blunt, there's no money in it, so I get suspicious of motives. But the passion shining through reminded me that sometimes creativity is its own reward.

A cousin of mine in a nearby town saw the reading listed in the newspaper and came over. Turns out she is a poet and writer, too, but she didn't bring anything. I gave her one of my poems to read and she did great, so she's going to try some of her own work next time.

Speaking of nonprofessional endeavors: I'm putting up the long-promised musical files over the next couple of months, starting with the song "Robert is Dead." You can read about my musical misadventures here or go straight to song downloads page here.

Today marks the official end of my two-year term as secretary of the Southeastern chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. The gig was fun, and I got to work with some great people, but it's also cured me of volunteering for a while. Our membership increased by a third during my tenure (not claiming credit, I just kept records) and we got some other good programs rolling that I hope helps writers along their individual paths. If you write mysteries or suspense, it's a group work checking out.

January 31, 2004
I've put the front and back covers for The Manor online in the Press Kit section. Other cool news: I secured permission to use a Robyn Hitchcock quote as an opening quote in a forthcoming novel. Hitchcock is quirky with great lyrics and has a large cult following, though mainstream success has eluded him.The line in question comes not from one of his many songs but from a poem he wrote that was read to the audience at his fiftieth birthday party.You can read the entire poem at his site in the Auditorium section. It's very sad and beautiful.

I've shopped for my Super Bowl eats-- five pounds of chicken wings. I'll barbecue most of them, and half will be hot. In case you can't tell, I'm a Carolina boy so it's hurray for the Panthers. I've been a fan since they kicked off the preseason in 1995, and I don't care much for other sports. It's been a fun season, whether it ends in victory or not. To be honest, I don't care about the Super Bowl commercials or entertainment. All I want is a good game, because it will be six months before the next one.

January 29, 2004
The cover proofs for The Manor arrived today. I like the color scheme and the evocative image. The back copy is pretty accurate, too, and the presentation is nicely mysterious and understated. I think it will attract some readers who aren't typically drawn to the horror genre ("horror" is stamped on the spine on the book). My editor is in tune with what I'm trying to do and it shows in the packaging. I'll add a larger image of the cover soon, along with the back cover. I'm still developing the official Manor page, and it will have links to some Appalachian folklore stories I've written.

January 26, 2004
There's a great essay by author James Lee Burke that I found yesterday, it sums up a lot of my feelings more eloquently than I could ever state them. Even with the cynicism inherent in being a journalist and following world news, I've always considered myself an optimist, which is a bit of a contradiction. The human race is often bewildering in its actions, and we need to look no further than the way we rationalize our pollution of the very planet we call home. I still drive to the store and consume disposable goods, but at least I pat myself on the back for feeling guilty about it. Most of my friends think that's what we're meant to do, as if we have a sacred mission to mindlessly make use of every available resource with no thought to the future. I sometimes wonder if my books have enough redeeming value to "pay" for the trees that were killed for their production. I'll stick by my mantra of "Make it matter," whether it's literature or politics or love.

January 24, 2004
I forgot I was supposed to do a wrap-up of weird moments from last fall's book tour. As usual, I met some really great people, especially in the bookstores. None of the signings (I think there were 20 or maybe 22) were complete disasters, and City Lights, Malaprops, and Book Warehouse hosted great events. The chains did a good job all in all, and probably the most satisfying thing was getting more copies of The Red Church back out there on the shelves. The miles blur together (I think I logged over 5,000 miles last year) but one weird moment stands out that probably reveals the plight of the modern author more than anything:

At the Barnes & Noble in High Point, NC, a guy walked past my table once while another guy was trying to save my soul (a not-uncommon occurrence in itself). The first guy walks by again later, sort of squinting at my books out of the corner of his eyes. Later, he makes his purchases and goes outside. Then after a minute or so, he comes back inside. He looks at my books and his upper lip kind of curls, as if I'd been selling curdled goat meat. He shakes his head to confirm this isn't subject matter that interests him, then asks if I've had lunch. At first I thought he was inviting me to lunch because he figured I was a starving writer, or wanted to tell me about a book he was writing. I said, "No," then he drops a ten-dollar bill on the table and hurries out the door. I can only assume he was performing a charitable act. At any rate, that was more than I made on royalties selling books there, so I'll take it. That was even better than the "Step right up, pay five bucks to see the freak-- an actual horror writer, in the flesh!" we did a few years ago.

January 19, 2004
You may be familiar with the "West Memphis 3" case, in which three teenagers were convicted in the murder of three children in Arkansas. It's been the subject of two films and a book called "Devil's Knot," and a lot of controversy surrounds the case, particularly the "Satanic Panic" involved and the apparent attempt to portray the three teens as Satanic. I've done a bit of reading about the case, and I'm not convinced of either their guilt or innocence, especially since one of them confessed. However, enough loose ends and question marks remain that I hope the case gets another look.

Last year, writers M.W. Anderson and Brett Savory started an anthology to raise money for the defendants' legal fees and they invited me to donate a story. I declined at first, primarily because I was troubled taking a political position on something I wasn't up-to-date on, but I recently agreed to let them use my flash fiction "Carnival Knowledge" if they wanted. The antho is called "The Last Pentacle of the Sun: Writings in Support of the West Memphis Three." I think everyone involved would rest more easily if the lingering questions were finally answered.

January 16, 2004
You ever wonder what happened to somebody and then plug a name into a search engine? With the modern miracle of the Internet, you can find info on just about anything. In this manner I found Tommy Keene, who had a couple of great albums out in the early 1980s. He had a few college rock hits like "My Mother Looked Like Marilyn Monroe," but I assumed he'd slipped out of a career in the same way that so many uniquely talented people seem to do. Lo and behold, he is alive and well and still recording. If you like clean, guitar-driven songs with hooks and harmonies, then this guy is worth checking out.

Just finished reading the new Cemetery Dance magazine. It's amazing what a little beehive of activity the horror genre is, with so many writers and small or specialty presses. As in everything, a certain large percentage of it is utter junk (probably including my work, too), and the bulk of it goes largely unnoticed by the world outside. But it exists and even thrives, so who cares about trying to justify its worth?

January 11, 2004
I'm not the type to make resolutions, at least on New Year's Day, but since Janus is a two-faced God, I was looking back at last year and was surprised to see that I only published two short stories. However, I was very pleased at some other developments that are much more significant: a growing audience for my books, especially in the book clubs, good positioning and support from my publisher, progress on some of my other projects, and getting to meet a ton of new readers. Occasionally one hears moaning about the decline of literature, but there's still a fervent core of devoted readers around, despite all the other, easier entertainments. I still maintain that readers and writers have a relationship unlike those in any other art form, because reading requires so much work from both parties. The reader has to mentally create an entire world, in essence build the story from the scratch of our common experiences. Hope you haven't broken your resolutions yet!

January 8, 2004
It's that time of year to count up my expenses and tally all those miles traveled for book signings and the like. While I don't make enough money on my fiction to improve my standard of living much, I still resent having to fork a third of it over to a government whose spending is irresponsible. So I make sure to keep all my receipts and make every legal deduction I can find. I'm one of those people who doesn't keep a close eye on my money (I haven't balanced a checkbook in 20 years or so) but I pretend to run my writing like a business. Maybe one day it will be a real business, but the day it stops being spiritually fulfilling, there won't be enough money in it to continue. Not that it has to be fun, because writing is often a dismal chore, but at the end of the day, you'd better feel like you have something to say and tell stories that matter.

For those who rarely visit other areas of the website, there's a new article "Ten or Fewer Writing Rules" and a couple of new photos in the "In Action" section.

January 4, 2004
I watched a good movie the other night, The Devil's Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro. I'd heard about the movie before, but read more about the director at an interview at man seems intelligent, and though this movie isn't exactly horror (despite some supernatural elements), it was a welcome break from the run-of-the-mill, teeny-bopper slasher stuff that passes for horror these days. Now I'm on the hunt for some good suspenseful movies in this vein, including foreign movies. If you have any good suggestions, please send them along to me at nicholson at There are two good indie video stores here so finding them shouldn't be a problem.

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