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Fresh Dirt Archives: October-December 2004

Dec. 30, 2004
I have a new interview out in issue #3 of the UK magazine Midnight Street, with fiction by Joel Lane and Jay Lake, among others. Chapter Three of The Manor also appears in their online extra edition, so you can read Chapter One here and Three there and have about four percent of the novel for free! "But," you may be wondering, "is it the good four percent?" To which the shrewd author responds, "Buy the book and decide for yourself."

It's time to start accumulating all the paperwork and start calculating income tax. The worst thing about freelance writing income is that you essentially earn about half of what you make, after taxes and agent commission. I try to keep good records and I don't mind that end of things, but it would be nice to earn enough to hire an accountant.

After a lifetime of neglect, I'm finally reading Stephen King's "The Stand," and the "author's preferred" version at that. I wish I had read the edited version instead--life is very short and those middle-era Stephen King novels are long.

Dec. 20, 2004
I'll be featured spotlight writer at Rain Tiger beginning Jan. 1. It's a pretty neat site, with a variety of different literary styles. I've finally taken the plunge and started reading "The Stand," a book I've long neglected because of its length. Just like I neglect Shakespeare because there are words/figures of speech that are outdated. Well, silly me. I raced through 250 pages of Mr. King's opus in two days. I'm reading the long version, and I can tell which parts I would trim if I were the editor, but for the most part, I enjoy the depth of the characters.

I'll soon be adding an addendum to the Virgin in the Church series, something to the effect of "Everything I've Learned Since Then." I look back on the publication of "The Red Church" and it almost feels like that was something a different person did. But the words were mine and the feelings were real at the time. If nothing else comes out of my writing career, I hope each of my books captures a little bit of my real life--which will happen whether I try to insert it or not.

I'm not a big Christmas type of guy. In fact, I am offended by the commercialism of the holiday season, but I also think it can be a spiritual time of year despite all the negative aspects. I wish all of you peace and happiness, the two most valuable gifts in the world once you get past the big word LOVE.

Dec. 13, 2004
I was just thinking about how much less fiction I write now that I have a computer, Internet connection, DVD player, and e-mail account. When I first began my career (in the sense that I wanted to be a professional writer, beginning in 1996), I was writing on a Brother word processor that had a limited spell check and the capacity to save work on disks. It literally typed out the pages, and I must have purchased a dozen print wheels, because the e kept breaking off. At $30 a pop, and the cost of the ribbon cartridges, I was probably spending about 15 cents a page to print. But I got a lot of work done because there were no other functions on the word processor to distract me.

I eventually had to scan in those early manuscripts so I could put them on a "real" computer, but I miss those simple, carefree days. I didn't have a web site to maintain, no e-mail correspondence, no promotional activities. I learned of story markets by subscribing to print magazines. I was in blissful ignorance of the state of modern publishing and the horror genre. I compiled my publishers' and agents' list by going to the library and checking out books like the Literary Market Place and scrawling down prospects with a pen and paper. It all seems so terribly old-fashioned now, but I didn't become a daily computer user until about four years ago. Now I would probably go into withdrawal if the power was out for longer than two days. But in some ways, I should seek to simplify my life and get back to all the fun I had when I didn't know what I was doing. Ah, well, the wisdom of old age...

Saw "Jacob's Ladder" the other night, starring a young Tim Robbins. It was a pretty tight psychological thriller. Recommended. I'm currently reading some history essays and Dean Koontz's "Odd Thomas." I recently received royalty checks for The Red Church and The Harvest, very nice mail clutter for the holiday season. Both still seem to be selling pretty well, and it's satisfying that both books earned out their advances, meaning everybody along the line made money. I hope readers will come to the older titles as the new books come out, both to keep the books in print and to give everyone a broad range of my interests, because I certainly don't expect any two of my books to be much alike.

Dec. 6, 2004
What can be more debilitating for a modern writer than to sit down and read some Shakespeare? Without doubt, he is the best writer to ever set quill to pulp. Only a few lines can give a reader enough to chew on for days if so desired. I am far from one of the pompous literati so my praise can arrive not with a grain of salt but a dash of vinegar--

At a Writers of the Future workshop in 1999, one of the instructors, Dave Wolverton (best known as a fantasy writer under the pen name of David Farland) asked the class, "If Shakespeare were alive today, what would he be writing?" To which I replied, in probably my longest oration of the entire week, "Horror, and he wouldn't be getting published," which elicited howls of laughter from the workshop participants.

I've never been a notebook type of writer, in that I don't jot down interesting notes or story ideas as I go through the day, but recently I've taken to writing down quotes from geniuses. Shakespeare will have some pages. Currently reading "The Rape of Lucrece," in which Shakespeare casts doubt not only on the rapist, but the victim and her husband as well. In a remarkable study of human nature, Shakespeare turns a multi-faceted mirror onto the key players: the husband's boasting that first ignites the seed of desire in Tarquin's soul, Lucrece's role as the chaste wife in which she obsesses over her own virtue, and Tarquin's own lust which is as much to blame on Nature or the night as it is to the man himself. Combine a God-given gift of the music of language with a startlingly empathic view of human nature and you get the "best-selling" and "most popular" writer of all time. And forget the theories that Shakespeare was a pen name for Ben Johnson; Johnson had a tenth of the talent and Shakespeare was far too prolific to have been a side project.

Recommended movie: The Experiment (Das Experiment). This movie is loosely based on the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which volunteers are randomly assigned to be either prisoners or guards. While the actual experiment was shut down after six days due to the frightening results (human nature being what it is, and absolute power always corrupting absolutely), the movie prolongs the idea to one logical conclusion. Harrowing, and amazingly void of all the nasty things that should lead to an "R" rating. This movie had my guts tight and is the most intense movie I have seen since "Session Nine."

Dec. 2, 2004
A new interview is up at Wicked Karnival #2. I also got a nice note from Stewart O'Nan a couple days back in which he had trimmed a half-dozen phrases from the "The Manor" and singled them out for praise. It's always a nice stroke when a far superior writer sees some hope in a newer writer. The book also popped up on the Dark Delicacies store bestseller list for the third different week, so at least a few people in California are still buying it.

Today I bought myself a Christmas present: 101 horror movies in a bulk package deal from horrormovies.com. Some of them are actual classics, but a lot of it is unprocessed cheeze. Like "Sorority House Vampires in Hell," billed as "Death, Demons, D-cups." I plan to write a couple of low-budget scripts next year, and figure if I can see the worst then I can try to aim higher, or at least steal the parts that look like they'll fit.

Currently reading "The Six-Day Horror Movie" that's a basic guide to independent guerilla filmmaking. I'll probably have a review posted somewhere soon. I'll also be working up a feature on John Kenneth Muir, a prolific writer on cinema and pop culture.Here's a photo of me (on the right) with author Dale Bailey at our November workshop at the Gastonia library.

November 27, 2004
Time for a little side rant: Watching televised football is one of my peculiar habits and I was noticing how many of the commercials had warnings at the bottom to the effect of "Don't try this at home." There's one where a guy uses a truck to yank his neighbor's garage door down so the driver can recover borrowed tools. And there's a footnote warning American idiots not to yank their neighbor's garage door down in real life. Another car commercial shows a guy doing a flailing dive off a rocky ledge, again with a warning "Professional diver. Do not attempt." And most car commercials carry the standard warning of "Professional drivers on a closed course," just in case some beer-swilling baboon thinks cutting figure-eights on a crowded interstate is okay because they "saw it on TV."

Of course, this is the country where all our five-gallon buckets carry warnings that a baby may accidentally tip its head into the bucket and drown. A conservative might blame lawyers for all the warnings, but let's not forget the tobacco industry still argues that their product isn't necessarily linked to cancer and where energy company lobbyists claim that global warming is just a theory.

I'll be a guest at Trinoc-Con in Durham in July. Literary guest of honor is Joe R. Lansdale, a gifted writer and one of those "unique individuals who marches to the beat of hisown drummer." Nuff said.

November 20, 2004
My Public Radio East interview is running this week, airing Monday at 6:51 a.m. and Tuesday at 8:51 a.m. EST on North Carolina public radio affiliates: 89.3 WTEB, 88.5 WZNB / 90.3 WKNS / 91.5 WBJD / 88.1 Greenville NC. None of these stations broadcast on the Internet, apparently, though I hope to appear on some specialty radio shows in the coming months. I got a letter from Peter Straub yesterday thanking me for sending him The Manor but he's far too busy to write a blurb. That's what I figured, but it's also cool to have a Peter Straub signature!

I'm busy with house plants right now, trying to get some green in the house. I have five at the moment but will probably add some hanging things. I've never been interested in them before but I think gardening this year has caused my green thumb to swell.

November 17, 2004
Reading a Christopher Pike young adult novel from 1994. It's wonderful so far--characters with flaws and problems, teens who think about sex and drugs and misbehavior and death--just like real teens. It's all the more poignant because "The Midnight Club" is set at a hospice and the characters are all terminally ill.

Work continues on the novel in progress and I recently finished a short story to submit to the Mystery Writers of America's "Relationships Can Be Murder" anthology. Actually, I have several stories that could work for that! Another short story is in the works that may end up being a long story, set in the world of small-town journalism. Plus I have to expand a novelette into a novella, but that may have to wait until after the holidays.

Here's a photo by Marie Freeman of Randy Jones (best known as the Cowboy from the Village People), me with my ever-present notebook, and director Don Cosentino from the set of "A Tale About Bootlegging." If you missed it, you can read about My Life in the Movies at the site or my article in the Watauga Democrat.

November 13, 2004
It's the time of year here in the Appalachian Mountains to begin bracing for winter. I ordered my propane tank over three months ago but due to passive-aggressive tactics by my service provider of choice, I've taken off several portions of days to sit at home and wait for them to install it. It's one of those unfortunate things that happens when you sign a service agreement with any public utility. Once you're bound for a long-term commitment, you suddenly become unimportant. After a bout with the phone company earlier this year, when I was billed over $100 for a service that was never connected, and recently, when I changed auto insurance providers and ended up being billed by both, I've learned to keep careful records of any transaction made over the telephone: date, contact, content of the discussion.

I have a heat pump and also a small oil-filled electric radiator that seems to be efficient. An energy company official (who wasn't trying to get my business) told me the heat pump was more efficient than propane, which I find hard to believe, despite the jump in propane prices. I guess I'll use all of them this winter and see what happens. I don't have a chimney or I would be burning wood. I like flames and the busy work of keeping wood stocked.

My interview with George Olsen for Public Radio East went well. George always manages to ask some unexpected questions and does a thorough job of editing. It should air soon on a handful of eastern N.C. public radio stations and be available to other NPR affiliates. I'll post an exact air time when or if I find out.

November 9, 2004
I'm not the kind of person who likes to put my personal life in my blog. I was reading Laurell K. Hamilton's blog and she was talking about pulling some of the personal stuff off her site. I hide a lot of my personal life and in some ways what you get here is a carefully crafted persona. That doesn't mean it's not real, just that there are some things I don't want to share with strangers. If you know me, then you know me, and I'm sure this blog would be a lot more interesting if I unveiled all the foibles and screw-ups that are part of any person's life.

I've never aspired to be a "personality," though if you read my books you'll know more about me than even some of my close friends do. All experience gets filtered through the blurry eye of my fiction and tossed back out to the world. That doesn't mean my life is boring, or that I occasionally won't come out with some reckless comment (such as, many of us horror writers aren't really that good), it's just that I've had some weird incidents and encounters already that suggests there is wisdom in a little reserve. The clues are there if you have nothing better to do. But I'm betting you DO have something better to do.

Currently reading a manuscript from Kensington that looks promising, by Terese Pampellonne. Should be out next year. Looking at M.C. Escher and listening to Rolling Stones. Hey, being out of character is perfectly in character for me.

November 4, 2004
The newsletter subscriber winners of the drawing for copies of my story collection have been selected, with emails going out to grdaw, jandl, mwest, SarahStNy, and Shadowmidnight. Thanks to all who signed up. My website visits have gone up steadily and my book sales appear to be increasing, so once again thanks to everyone who walks through the intangible door here at The Haunted Computer.

Saturday I'll be at the Gastonia (NC) Public Library with Dale Bailey at 2 pm, so drop in if you're in the Charlotte metro area. I'll be interviewed Monday for Public Radio East, which covers the coastal region of North Carolina. I'll post a link soon for those Internet heads who like to listen to computer audio.

I haven't mentioned elections here because I think everyone is very tired of it all. Let's just all get along and do good work within our own small realms of influence and let those efforts expand outward.

Forgot to mention a new article at the site, All Hallows Pagan Rites, a little late for the Halloween season but if you're interested in Wiccan or pagan beliefs, or are just a general Halloween fan, here it is.

November 1, 2004
All Saints Day. I watched a wonderful movie yesterday, "Bubba Ho-Tep," based on a short story by the great Joe R. Lansdale. It features an aged Elvis and JFK fighting a revived Egyptian mummy in a nursing home. It is funny but also incredibly moving. I know this movie was hot last year, and I try to be a good decade or so behind the trends, but I can safely report this one as a "Must See." I also recently watched "Cabin Fever," which impressed me because it played with the teen horror movie stereotypes. I'd met one of its actors on the set of A Tale About Bootlegging, in which I appeared as an extra. You can read about in My Life In The Movies.

The Manor got a great review in the Greensboro News & Record yesterday. It's the state's third-largest paper. I was also in the fourth-largest paper a few weeks ago, not as enthusiastic a review but still intriguing. So it feels good to be noticed a little bit, especially since I shared the Greensboro review with fellow writer Stephen Mark Rainey, who is a long-time editor in the horror field and a gifted writer to boot.

Reading: The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton; The Boxes by James Sleator

Tomorrow I'll be covering local elections. All I can say is, I don't care who wins at this point, let's just get it over with.

October 31, 2004
It's Halloween, except Halloween apparently happened yesterday, at least in most small Southern towns. Even the local pagans had their ceremony on Oct. 30. I wonder if the old gods are grumbling. I was pretty lame myself, I donned a plastic Smokey the Bear hat. My small Puss-n-Boots wandered the local mall and got treats in a ritual that could only be described as totally unceremonial.

Here's a picture of my neighbors. They are good folk, I scarcely ever have to ask them to turn the music down. They like to come over when I cut the grass but other than that we get along fine. I finally have an image editor on my new computer so I'll be able to share more photos soon.

October 23, 2004
Big news is I will be in a movie! I got to be an extra in "
A Tale About Bootlegging," an independent film shot locally starring Sonny Shroyer from "The Dukes of Hazzard," Randy Jones of The Village People, and Robert Harris from "Cabin Fever." You can read about the movie in the article I wrote for my newspaper. I'll have a column posted soon about my experience. I did learn that I wouldn't want to be a director: too much to keep track of.

My Raleigh trip was great. I'll post some pics soon of my event at The Achievement School in Raleigh. You can read a little about it here, including the interview for the school paper. At the Barnes & Noble signing I got to meet authors A. Leigh Jones and Jack Crosswell. Both were very entertaining. Over the three events, I sold somewhere around 140 books. I wish I could do that every day!

Shot some pool with my friends in Durham where I stayed during the book trip. Needless to say, I won't be a "road agent" playing for money anytime soon. I'm not sure what I'm doing for Halloween besides taking a tiny "Puss In Boots" door-to-door to beg for candy.

October 17, 2004
I was interviewed a couple of days ago for a piece to appear on WNCW, an NPR affiliate in the western NC/SC/east TN area to air Thursday, Oct. 21, on the morning show. You can also listen on the Internet. A busy week--Thursday I'm speaking to a women's club near Raleigh, then the next day I'll be at a private school in Raleigh. The students have written essays about some of my work. It's all very exciting and fun, and every time I meet young people I'm pleased and surprised to find they are still reading. That night I'll be at a Barnes & Noble, which I guess is the last official event on The Manor tour, which was practically invisible compared to the shoe leather and tire rubber I wore out on the other books. Plenty of reasons for the drop-off but I'll also be staying public in the coming months in different ways, so stay tuned--a number of broadcast events are coming up. I promise to never bore you, and if I do, at least I'll do it with flair.

October 16, 2004
I'm currently in the "Hot Seat" at the Horrorfind fiction forum so if there's anything you've been dying to ask but didn't want to email me, here's your chance. Registration is free. I think it runs for a few days but the posts stay up forever, or at least as long as the site is up. Horrorfind has become the biggest horror film/literature/music event in the world in just a few short years, with three conventions planned for next year. I hope to be able to make one or two of them, and I encourage you to attend if you can. The one in Phoenix is coming up on Halloween.

I'm reading my first Laurell K. Hamilton vampire hunter book and I'm enjoying. It's easy to see why her voice makes her so incredibly popular. Listening to Paul Westerberg today while I paint the laundry room.

October 13, 2004
I was interviewed today for the regional NPR affiliate WNCW, to air Thursday morning, April 21. The station can be picked up throughout western North and South Carolina at 88.7 FM or on the Internet. It's a great station playing a mix of traditional and eclectic music and the interviewer, Ellen Pfirrmann, is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Hope you can check it out.

I received my contributor copies of Last Pentacle of the Sun today and I'm really looking forward to reading it. I had time to browse some of the work and it's inspiring.

October 10, 2004
I have to say I was let down by Thomas Harris's "Hannibal." Good writing and characters, but I felt he sold out Clarise Starling in the end, turning her against her nature without convincing reason. The movie version veered away from that ending, no doubt to protect its franchise and keep the door open for future Hannibal sequels. Right now I'm reading a David Bowie book delving into his songs through 1980. I saw a wonderful "Live By Request" concert he did a couple of years ago and he was great, really humble and at peace with his various personae. He's one of those artists who remained true to his artistic vision through fame and criticism, success and failure.

New developments in the West Memphis 3 case just as a benefit anthology Last Pentacle of the Sun is about to come out to benefit their defense: a key witness has recanted her testimony. I contributed a story to the anthology because I wasn't sure justice had been served in this case. The anthology has art from Clive Barker and writing from Peter Straub, James Morrow, Poppy Z. Brite, Elizabeth Massie and more.

Author E.E. Knight won The Manor sighting contest and will receive signed cover proofs of each of my four books. My newsletter will be going out next week with a peek at my next novel "The Home."

October 5, 2004
The Manor book sighting contest was a big success and thanks to all who participated. I learned a lot about how my books are displayed in stores. I'll be notifying the winner shortly. The next contest, now underway, is open to everybody--I'm looking to boost the number of subscribers to my newsletter. At the end of November, I'll select five subscribers at random to win a signed copy of my story collection Thank You For The Flowers. If you're already signed up, you're eligible.

A guy at work asked me if I'd canceled my subscription to the Winston-Salem Journal. Since I don't subscribe, I answered in the negative. He said there was a bad review of "The Manor" with some positive things mixed in. I found a copy and it was a lukewarm review, all in all, but as I told my friend, in two weeks nobody will remember the review but they might remember the book cover if they see it in a store. The things the reviewer didn't like might be the very thing a potential reader is looking for. And I'd take a bad review in a 110,000-circulation Sunday paper over a good review in a small magazine any day.

October 4, 2004
It looks like this election will eventually lead to more divisiveness that goes beyond concern over the Iraqi war. Here in western NC, people with Democratic candidate signs on their lawns have had their houses blasted with paintball guns. Someone threw cinder blocks through the front window of the local Democratic headquarters. The rhetoric has brought out the worst in many people, and while I think Bush is the worst president in my lifetime, I would never dream of hating someone just because they support him. In fact, I think it's a symptom of Bush's "leadership" that our country has been reduced to such petty bickering even at a time when our civil rights get more constrained with each flexing of the Patriot Act and "patriotism" is equated with unquestioning acceptance of government actions. There's a wise saying, "The fish rots from the head first." It's an era in which even writing something like this in a public forum opens the writer up to suspicion, and that's pretty sad. Maybe one day we'll recover the democratic spirit that we're attempting to export to other countries.

-- copyright 2000 by Scott Nicholson

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