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Fresh Dirt Archives: April-June 2004

June 30, 2004
The summer squash is here. I'll probably be eating it Friday. The tomatoes are looking good, though I'm hearing scare stories about blight. I did learn that blossom-end blight can be reduced by applying lime, which boosts calcium in the soil. Another type of blight is air-borne and harder to fight. The best defense is to plant early-yielding varieties and give the plants plenty of breathing room. Cucumbers and peppers are doing well so far, and I've put out bluberry and Japanese wineberry bushes.

I've had a couple of nice early reviews for The Manor. I'm not sure if reviews matter all that much, but it's better than a bee sting. My story "Angelorum Orbis" is reprinted at Revolution SF with a cool illustration from comic book artist Jaxon Renick. The anthology The Book of Final Flesh, containing my story "You'll Never Walk Alone," won an Origins Award for game-related fiction. I guess I deserve maybe five percent of the credit!

June 26, 2004
I recently finished reading
Cemetery Dance #48, which featured the usual good slate of horror and mystery stories, plus Mike Marano's hilarious movie reviews. The best tale hands-down was by James Ireland Baker, who apparently is also a screenwriter. His story "Worried Man Blues" is a perfect example of sustaining suspense throughout without leaving any question marks for the reader. I'll be looking for more of his work.

My Poe story "Last Writes" will appear in the forthcoming anthology Poe's Lighthouse published by Cemetery Dance. The writers were asked to "co-author" a story with Poe based on a manuscript fragment called "The Lighthouse" that Poe left unfunished. It's a great concept for a book, and some top-notch authors like Mike Resnick, Tim Lebbon, and Tamara Thorne are participating. A friend let me borrow some CDs and I'm enjoying a live Violent Femmes record. I also received the complete Tommy Keene collection from Doug Seymour, a Charleston artist. Keene is cool and I've corresponded with him and sent him some of my books.

June 20, 2004
A nice Father's Day present--a hug from a little girl in pigtails and a collection of drawings.
This is her hippopotamus, which I hope isn't an editorial statement on daddy's middle-aged belly. Being a good parent is very hard, and in an era when the word "hero" gets bandied about a half-dozen times in every television newscast, it's easy to forget the real heroes are those who are there all the time, giving their best, making sacrifices. Good parents are the real hope of the future, because without them, children have no moorings and no direction. The Marines Corps may have a trademark on the phrase, but parenting really is the toughest job you'll ever love.

June 16, 2004
My royalty statement for The Harvest arrived yesterday and it looks good. Even subtracting the book club advance, for which I was paid separately, the book came just short of earning out its advance in a mere four months. It sold more in that period than The Red Church did in its entire first year, so it's good news both that people are finding the book and that my publisher is showing faith by bumping up my print runs. There's a delicate formula in place: the publisher has to print enough books to get bookstore buyers to think they mean business, the bookstore buyers then have to buy enough copies to give them a solid presence in the store, and the individual customers have to be intrigued enough to plunk down their hard-earned cash. With any luck, the formula is repeated again and again, with each category increasing over time.

Many writers complain about the publishing industry and their own publishers in particular, but I have been extremely lucky to get to the right place at the right time. Sure, the publisher could do more to make me happy, such as back up a truck full of cash to my door, but I think we're on the right track to really accomplish something worthwhile together. I've been treated as well as I deserve and in return have worked hard on my end. And that's the simplest formula of all.

June 14, 2004
I've rekindled a dormant interest in the '80s band The Clash, largely from seeing the video "West Way to the World." A couple of bands I was in covered some Clash songs, and that blend of punk and reggae was a nice transition from the angry new music of the late 1970s. The Clash didn't quite last long enough to join the all-time greats, I suppose, but they carved their mark in the sonic landscape. Among my favorites are "Straight to Hell," "Lost In the Supermarket," "Train in Vain"," and "Death or Glory."

I'm finally launching my "Recommended Reads" page after working on it a while. I'll be adding to it as I go along, as I read more and as I remember some books I read long ago that are worth a nod. I can't say all of them will work for you, but you'll notice I'm never one to overdo it on the hype (unless it's one of my own books!). I'll be adding a recommended movies page someday, though I'm notoriously underqualified to offer any type of real film criticism.

This fall I'll be a guest author on Dark Fluidity, a site operated by John Urbancik, a talented writer himself.

June 8, 2004
I've planted a type of purple-hulled cowpea and some okra in the garden. My broccoli was planted too late and bolted due to the warm weather. I'm going to let them go to seed and try another planting late in the year. I think my spinach also started too late. The tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers are doing well. Now I need to get my apple, pear, and cherry trees planted, along with a few blueberry and gooseberry bushes.

I'm working on an Edgar Allan Poe story for a project, finishing the last third of a screenplay, and taking notes for a new novel. I was looking at my bibliography and noticed I haven't had a short story published in over a year, though I should have a few coming out soon.

I'm having a contest to give away a cover blow-up of "The Harvest." Go to the
contest page for details. The press release for The Manor is posted in the media kit.

June 6, 2004
ConCarolinas was fun, and, as usual, seeing friends was the best part: Fred Grimm, Cindy Tallent, Kelly Goldberg, Stephen Euin Cobb. On one panel we were on together, Kelly took a guy in the audience to task when he first declared poor people were in that state because of moral flaws. Then he added that people who were mentally or physically disabled had earned their situation through moral failures as well. A strange night. Eventually the guy backed off after about a half-hour in which he all but threatened Kelly with violence. Yes, my friends, there is one in every crowd.

I bought a neat limited edition print by Deborah Woods. It's part of her "Baby Dragon" series, although the one I have isn't posted on her website. The art at the convention was excellent. The artists always seem so much more laid-back than the writers. I guess the artists get an instant reaction without having to pester someone into reading their work.

I met indie film maker Mark Barinowski and his wife, actress Ryli Morgan, who is Joe Bob Brigg's favorite B-girl. They are cool people who live in Charlotte, NC. I bought one of their videos, a thriller called "Sin By Murder." I'll give a report on it at some future date.

May 29, 2004
Children receive signals on frequencies grown-ups don't even know exist, similar to the upper audio frequencies that only dogs can hear. My four-year-old daughter, exposed to an episode of Dr. Phil, said, "In Dr. Phil's world, there is no God. There is only Dr. Phil." While I have no doubt of the truth of that statement, I wonder how I missed the message myself. Sounds like I'd better keep her around to inform me of all the other bits of wisdom to be gleaned from the reality stream.

I'll be at ConCarolinas in Charlotte, NC, next week. I'm looking forward to seeing some friends, though I've found cons aren't efficient places to promote books. My strategy these days is to just go and enjoy them and try not to spend much money. I'm itching to get back to New York because I was unable to visit the Met Museum last summer and now I'm drooling over the permanent collection. Two dozen Renoirs, some Van Goghs, many of my favorite artists. No Magrittes, however. If I ever become madly wealthy, I think buying art pieces would be exceedingly cool.

Some new articles on Appalachian folk beliefs are up on the Manor page. I wrote them for a newspaper several years ago. For short story writers, there's "Don't Sweat The Short Stuff."

May 26, 2004
I saw a couple of good movies recently. "The Bunker" is a quiet British film that reminded me of "Session 9" in its treatment of psychological horror that was implied rather than splashed about in the old buckets-o-blood. "M" is a classic Fritz Lang picture with a young Peter Lorre as a child murderer. It's a play on morality, mob mentality, and honor among thieves.

Right now I'm reading Watchers by Dean Koontz. I've heard good things about his new novel, The Taking, so I'm looking forward to that one as well.

May 21, 2004
The first chapter of The Manor is now posted online and the front page of the site should be up soon with the graphics.

I received a box of advanced reader copies for The Manor and now I have to get organized to send them out. Some people who are aware of my promotional efforts must think I am hyper-organized, but the truth is I'm a bit scatterbrained and pretty much have to start over again with each new book. My interview tonight is live at 11:30 p.m. EST at http://www.wusb.org with the knowledgeable Howard Margolin. Should be lots of fun. You can also catch it over the next few weeks at Cosmic Landscapes.

In organic garden news (which is coming to dominate far too much of my time but is so good for mental health): corn, cucumbers, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and a local heirloom bean have joined red, yellow, and green banana peppers. About six varieties of tomatoes, two of which are yellow, my favorite kind and less acidic. Pumpkins are starting to come up. Three kinds of squash. Believe it or not, the garden is pretty small right now and I don't know how much I can handle, but it should take care of itself once it gets established. Slugs and bugs have made a few dents but I planted enough for all the critters to get a nibble. I am still undecided on the goats. I'm afraid they'll eat the trees.

I did a story on a local agritourism effort at Maverick Farms in the NC mountains and now I want to get into exotic spring greens, though it's probably too late for this year. Maybe when the weather cools a little in the fall.

May 18, 2004
I'm reading a novel by Cornell Woolrich, a noir writer from the early part of the last century. His style is a little slow and he uses an omniscient viewpoint that's a little dated, but he has good insight into human relationships, especially between the sexes. I almost gave up after the first few pages but now I'm glad I stuck it out. It's called "Waltz Into Darkness." Also finishing up "The Thief of Always" by Clive Barker, a young adult book that uses an idea I like-- Evil defeating itself.

The Manor is available for preorder at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, BooksAMillion and other online booksellers. If you're a regular shopper at those places, then please consider placing an order if you like my work. I encourage you to buy it through your local bookstore if possible. Not only does it help keep a store in your neighborhood and the money in your community, you may find another interesting book you might never have crossed otherwise. Books are one of the few purchases that actually make your life richer.

May 13, 2004
Since I don't have a television or phone, I am woefully and proudly out of touch with world events. However, the Nick Berg incident was such a topic of conversation that I had to check it out, including-- yes-- watching the gruesome video. I have a cynical streak (gasp) due to being a reporter and my first thought was here was a guy who had been warned to get out of Iraq and who had to have known he was literally risking his neck by being there. I figured he was there hoping to get kidnapped so he could escape and get a book deal and five seconds of fame. But no one deserves that kind of treatment. The saddest thing is this kind of violence goes on throughout most of the world every day. My friend Marie and I were talking about how in Rwanda such violence is a fact of life, only no webcams are around to record it. We both agreed that Americans are a little spoiled in our complacency, despite the sensationalistic news media and our violent entertainment fare.

I have a number of crops planted: several varieties of tomatoes, three kinds of squash, pumpkins, peppers, and cucumbers. I need to add just a few more. I like my garden. It's an oasis of sanity in a land where the choice is between Bush and Kerry. I saw a great bumper sticker the other day. I'm not a bumper sticker person but I'll look for this one: Enough is Enough-- Vote Libertarian.

May 9, 2004
I just read an article in a psychology magazine about the link between creativity and madness. While obviously not all "crazy" people are creative, an analysis of noted artists, writers and musicians shows they are much more likely to suffer from manic depression, mania, or depression. One study suggested they are 18 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are unafflicted. The question remains whether it's the disorders that lead to the creativity or whether the creativity is an attempt to ward off the troubling emotional effects. Do we write because we're crazy or because we're trying not to be? The article points out the disorders aren't pretty, but they also afford an array of emotional views and a complicated series of thoughts that might contribute to new ideas. I have never been diagnosed with anything of the sort, but certainly there are people around who would vouch for my insanity. Maybe it's just a case of "You don't have to be crazy but it helps."

I have an interview coming up on May 21 on WUSB. It's live at 11:30 p.m. EST and you can hear it on the Internet at www.wusb.org.

May 6, 2004
Paperwork always seems to come in flurries, so a week after closing on my house, I get both the final galley proof of The Manor and the contract for the next three books to read over. The contract is much the same in details, though there seem to be a couple of obscure new clauses that bear researching. Indemnification is of particular concern, with more and more publishers seeking to protect themselves in case an author is sued for some reason or other. While I'm not likely to be sued for works that obviously require a "suspension of disbelief," we all know anybody can sue anybody else for anything. So I have to make sure the publisher faces enough liability that it has an interest in fighting frivolous suits without being given the full right to settle with outside parties and then sticking me with the bill

I got my tomato and pepper plants yesterday and today I picked up my squash seeds. Broccoli and corn will probably round out this year's crop, since I'm not going to have enough time to break ground on a new garden. I basically use hand tools, so it's more exercise than anything else. We went from frost two mornings ago to mid-80's yesterday, so I guess we call this spring in the mountains.

May 4, 2004
I just got through one of those gluttonous, all-you-can-eat deals, a fund raiser for the local Habitat for Humanity. It was a chance to sample the food of all those restaurants that are too expensive otherwise. Of course, the tastes all slopped together after a while. After the second variety of artichoke dip, there's really nowhere left to go. Still, a full belly is always a thing of comfort. And all I had to do was take pictures for the newspaper.

I started sketching last night and I'm getting interested in art again. I can't really justify the time for it, but somehow that makes it even more alluring. The full moon rising over the mountain, with the soft light spilling onto the tops of barns and shadowing the cemetery on the next hill, just called to me to try to capture it in some form or fashion. Maybe I'll try a crayon sketch tonight, then move on to pastel crayons. I'll post one on the site as soon as I get something not too embarrassing.

May 2, 2004
I've been moving into my new house over the weekend so the updates will be sparse. I've got a little breathing room out in a little community 13 miles outside town, very rural with lots of pastures, horses, and cows. I should be able to break ground on my garden today. My ambitions aren't that great for this year, just getting out some of the basics like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers. The house already has a number of flowers and shrubs that I'll have to learn about. A nice row of tulips popped up during the last rain.

The community is one of those farming centers that used to be a thriving railroad stop along the river, with a general store over 100 years old. The profile is diverse, with wealthy seasonal residents beginning to buy up property among the traditional farming families. I pass three Confederate flags on my way in to work, and one statue of a black-faced boy fishing in the creek. I wonder what those people would say if they knew their descendants would just have likely been Union as Confederate, since the N.C. mountains had mixed alliances during the Civil War. But as long as they keep their sentiments restricted to their property, I can live with that.

April 26, 2004
Got the new issue of Cemetery Dance magazine today. It has an interview with Stewart O'Nan, author of a couple of my favorite novels. There's also a good review of The Harvest, pretty much in line with what most reviewers said-- enjoyable B-grade horror with a fast plot and a few flaws.I'm curious as to how people will react to The Manor, as it's different from and little more sophisticated than my first two novels. And better, I think.

I taped a radio interview Saturday that will air on a local talk station in a couple of weeks. It was fun and informal. Sometimes the radio interviews get a little too wild and it's difficult to be coherent, but this one flowed pretty well. It's finally spring here in the mountains and almost time to set out tomato plants. A short growing season but a lot of things will grow well here-- particularly cold-weather crops like cabbage and broccoli. And zucchini, which grows anywhere.

April 23, 2004
The award season is upon us, and it seems like every writing organization in the world, from the three-member group that meets at the local library to the largest international professional organization, is in the midst of patting itself on the back and giving applause all around. In my job as a reporter, I must attend a number of political and civic events that I refer to as "clapfests." It's the kind of self-congratulatory fare that I suppose boosts the self-esteem of some people, but I don't see much practical benefit, since I believe in self-motivation for its own sake, not the promise of eventual rewards. In fact, if the applause was eliminated from such functions, I'd be home in half the time and have more time to spend on my own writing.

I don't condemn the awards process, but I do think organizations spend far too much energy on them, and they often seem to be the dominant business of the group. Since I've garnered a few minor awards in my time, I can report they are strokes to the ego, but I'd still rather have the satisfaction of a wide readership any day. A direct link between awards and commercial success has never been proven. Often, the opposite is true, in those instances where an otherwise worthy work is overlooked because it was too widely embraced by the masses, who presumably wouldn't know true talent if it jumped up and bit them on the wallet. The organizations, of course, believe the annual awards are their showcase event and a chance to grab 15 seconds of the spotlight in a world where fame is as fleeting as the commercial break of the latest reality show. So care about the awards if you care, and ignore them if you don't care. The awards themselves won't even notice.

April 20, 2004
Still working on the screenplay. I'm on the middle third and I like where it's headed. I think there's enough complications to carry it the rest of the way but then again I always run into surprises near the end. I know writers are supposed to be in complete control but often I'm flying by the seat of my pants. The story is about Renoir and relationships. Funny, even though I'm contracted to write three more horror novels, most of what I've done lately has nothing to do with the horror field. It's been a refreshing change. Spiritual reasons.

April 16, 2004
New on the site is the song file Popsicle in the Sun. My article "Don't Sweat the Short Stuff" was just published in Hellnotes Newsletter. I've bought a house a bit deeper in the country so we'll see if the birds drive me batty and if the cows turn out to be sacred after all. I'm going to be flat broke for a year or so, but I should scrape by if nothing major goes wrong. But I guess we're all day to day, huh?

The children's book project is moving along. I've got two rough scripts down, although it looks like we'll jettison the rhyming scheme for the planned series and do a couple as stand-alones. My friend has some sketches for the series characters, so hopefully all of it will come together.

April 9, 2004
It's not signed in blood yet, but I have agreed in principle to a three-book contract with Kensington Books, likely under their Pinnacle imprint. Look for The Home to be released in the summer of 2005 as the first book of the deal, after this September's The Manor. I'll have the same editor and presumably there's a commitment on both parties to build an audience together. It's a good move for where I'm at in my career and the stability is welcome. The money is a step forward and about on the track that I feel is appropriate. It looks like the books will be coming out one per year or so, and my pledge to you is that if you keep reading them, I'll keep writing them. Until my fingers fall off.

Regular Fresh Dirt visitors will note how slack I've been about updates. There are several reasons, but suffice to say lack of an Internet connection and the purchase of a new house are the culprits, not any weakening in my desire to tell you of my adventures. So be patient and I promise to soon flood you with news and witticisms regularly.

April 2, 2004
The winners in the boxes of books giveaway have been notified. Thanks to the many who participated and I hope the books have found a good home. I'll be doing more giveaways in the months ahead so check back here often.

I've got my new computer up and running. It's the first computer I've ever had that says "Please" when it gives instructions. A nice touch. Saw "Dawn of the Dead" today. It was pretty good, though a little bit gory for my tastes. I prefer my thrills be a little drier and less red.

We're working on a new book deal with Kensington and I've started a new screenplay. More on that news as it develops.

-- copyright 2000 by Scott Nicholson

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