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Fresh Dirt Archives: April-June 2005

June 26, 2005
Thursday's event with Brian Keene and Dale Bailey was your typical rural signing--a few people there at the beginning, then the cobwebs settled on us. At least we got to chew the gristled fat, and writer Kevin Bozard came up from South Carolina to sit with us. We sold maybe 15 books in all and signed some others already purchased, but hopefully the store will give us featured display over the coming weeks. It's the first time I'd ever met Brian. He is more laid-back than I thought he'd be and pretty easy with people. It's really fun to meet people starting out on the same career path, like Dale, with whom I've done several events, and knowing you'll be seeing each other often in the years ahead. It really is a small pool, so people should be careful not to pee in it. I should have some pictures of the event posted in a couple of days.

June 26, 2005
I've put my hat in the ring to run for trustee for the HorrorWriters Association after firmly believing I was done with volunteer work for the remainder of my days. Here is my platform:

I am running for trustee with great reluctance--and I think that's my best qualification for office.

I have been a member of HWA since my professional career began back in the late 1990s. I came in with a great deal of respect and even awe for the organization's history and membership. The respect has lingered even through sometimes-lackadaisical leadership and turbulence. I firmly believe the HWA has rediscovered its essential mission and has steadily improved during that time, thanks to the dedication and vision of a number of people. Otherwise, I would have left long ago.

Writing organizations aren't necessary for individual success. HWA could fold its tent and slip off into the night and it wouldn't stop any of us from dreaming, persevering, and crawling the hard, unlighted road. We're here because we want to be, not because we have to be. I could tell you that I've sold a few books and stories, and published a decent number of articles about writing, but that doesn't mean I'll make a good trustee. Some of the most ineffective "leaders" have great careers and are simply far too busy to roll up their sleeves and contribute to a communal effort. What I have to offer is a Pandora's box of ideas and a little bit of courage to admit failure.

Frankly, I think the board of trustees, at least during my time as an HWA member, has failed to generate real ideas, take prompt action, be fiscally responsible, and absorb some of the weight from the president's shoulders. I think the board has failed to communicate with the membership. I think the board has functioned more as a wall than a bridge.

I have nothing but the greatest respect for the individual trustees, and have met or communicated with most of them. Therefore, I think any fault (if indeed it is a fault, because the best governance is clumsy and hotly debated) lies with the way the bylaws are set up and the way the board has traditionally operated. I have covered a number of boards as a journalist, and I've found new voices are often muted by the dull drone of "experience." The positive idealists who should be serving are usually those who end up quitting in frustration or sulking in silence. I'd like to see if this seemingly universal trait of boards could be overcome. Not that I arrogantly expect to serve as a single-handed agent of change-quite the opposite; I am very eager to learn what the other trustees really think and what their goals are for HWA.

To address what I see as shortcomings, I offer a little real-world experience. I recently served as secretary and voting board member of the regional chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, where I kept minutes of board meetings as well as membership records. I'll contribute my experience with record keeping whether or not the membership approves the proposal to require board minutes. I am currently involved in MWA's agent access plan, in which agents have agreed to fast-track the work of new writers who have been vetted by published members.

My main ideas are pretty simple. The Stoker Awards are a great publicity tool but they have consumed too much of our time, money, and attention. I would like to see it be one component of our efforts rather than what seems to be the only thing we have to show the world. I favor joint promotional efforts of our active members who have works to market, including an expansion of Joe Nassise's Dark Whispers effort, so that we have a cheap and easily distributed newsletter to go out to readers, bookstores, and libraries, and a separate public newsletter available to writers of any stripe. I support expansion of HWA presence at publishing trade shows, fan conventions, and writing events-not necessarily to recruit new members, but to raise our collective and individual profiles. Affiliate members should be encouraged not to rely on HWA to help them along, but to inspire them to greater heights by embracing our resources and following the positive examples of our more successful writers. Recruitment just to boost numbers and funds doesn't help us; better to add one beginning but contributing and professionally minded member than 10 established writers who will complain and quit.

If elected, I will continue to express my opinions and even publicly criticize the board and HWA if necessary, and I welcome criticism of my own actions or lack of actions. I will continue to offer ideas and plan ahead. I will work with the board majority when I agree and vigorously oppose it when I disagree. In short, I won't accept mediocrity and ambivalence. Because I still believe.

I believe HWA's future is so beautifully dark we can finally take off our shades.

June 15, 2005
Today marks the launch of an exciting new project: Storytellers Unplugged. I'm one of 30 writers who take turns posting on this joint blog. I'm keeping good company there with Joe Nassise, Kelley Armstrong, Brian Keene, Douglass Clegg, and other dark fantasy and horror writers. It will be interesting to see how the "plot lines unfold."

June 11, 2005
I usually keep three scraps of paper while I'm revising: a running list of chapters and which characters appear in them; a map of the novel's fictional setting; and a list of items I need to research. At the end, I have a litter of centipede tracks punctuated with coffee cup rings. But the research is for odd things. The latest round involved the date of the Spanish Armada, lilac bushes, and the nutritional and caloric content of a microwave burrito. With the Internet, I only have to make a trip to the freezer section of the grocery store (I've never eaten a microwave burrito--it's so easy to make a scratch one). I try to make the place names important and appropriate to the setting, which in my case means they need to sound "mountain." However, I used a main character named Smith just because it's pretty rare for a protagonist to have that name, despite its frequency in real life. I like to use local cemeteries and the obituary column to get my names, and plenty of local color can be found in the simplest details.

Hard to believe The Home will be out in about six weeks. I feel like I haven't been very organized with my pre-release promotion this time, though I think it will be reviewed more widely than my previous books. I'm planning to do a couple of different things this time that are geared toward the Internet.

Apparently The Farm is okay at its current length, which will come out to 416 pages in the printed book, assuming I don't get wordy in the revision. Okay, back to work. More later.

June 9, 2005
A kid was hanging out at work as part of our informal day camp for kids whose parents don't have child care when school is out. He is probably seven or eight, and he was playing a video game in the break room. It was one of the versions of Grand Theft Auto, one of the most popular games on the market. I watched for several minutes while my lunch was heating in the microwave. After seeing his male character grab and repeatedly punch three women, mug a hooker, shoot a cop, roll over an old lady with his motorcycle, hijack a taxi and throw the driver out onto the highway at high speed, I was prepared to change my liberal anti-censorship views. Sure, fake violence doesn't lead to real violence, but I was chilled by the thought of all these kids playing violent video games who will be running the world during my golden years. Guess I'd better forget about the 401(k) and starting investing in AK-47.

Sold a sarcastic ghost story "Must See To Appreciate" to the Third Alternative, which will soon be changing its name to Black Static to denote a more horrific slant. Editor Andy Cox has a keen eye for talent (of course!) and puts together some of the most respected magazines in the fiction world, including Crimewave and Interzone.

June 7, 2005
Finished the new novel "The Farm" this morning. I think I'm trouble, because it clocks in at 630 pages. The editor suggested I make it longer, but I had no idea it was sprawling like this. Plus I still have at least one scene to put in, and in rewriting I usually write longer. We'll see how it shakes out. Fat novels are good if they hang together, and in a recession maybe readers want more "words per dollar." or I might be up all night with scissors and duct tape. I think it's a good'un, though.

Since the Stoker Award balloting is over, here's my predictions for the winners, to be announced June 25 in Burbank, Ca. Please note that I have no inside information, and in some cases my predicted winners are not who I voted for and obviously not who I think is most deserving. These awards are technically for superior achievement, not "best," so I suppose it doesn't really matter which is best, huh?

Novel: Stephen King, Dark Tower VII
First Novel: James Kidman, Black Fire
Long Fiction: Tim Lebbon, "Remnants"
Short Fiction: Chuck Palahniuk, "Guts"
Fiction Collection: Thomas Monteleone, Fearful Symmetries
Anthology: Jeanne Cavelos, ed., The Many Faces of Van Helsing
Non-fiction: Bev Vincent, The Road to the Dark Tower
Illustrated Narrative: Jai Nitz, Heaven's Devils
Screenplay: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, "Shaun of the Dead"
Young Readers: Clive Barker, Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War
Poetry Collection: Charlee Jacob, The Desert
Alternative Forms: Brett Savory, ed., Chizine

Wow, typing them out, it's obvious there are waaaay too many categories. The Horror Writers Association addressed this by cutting four categories for next year. Buy me a hot chocolate someday and I'll tell you the reasoning behind my choices.

June 5, 2005
Friday night's event with Eric S. Brown, Jon Hodges and Robert Strauss went well. Not a big crowd but some good questions and responses. The different perspectives about the publishing industry, particularly the small press, were interesting. Hodges said he takes only about one percent of the submissions he receives for his small-press magazine Wicked Hollow. He also runs Project Pulp, a dot-com bookstore for the small and independent press, as well as writing fiction. Brown is a hyper, over-striving writer with hundreds of short stories sales in places few have heard of, but his persistence should get him where he'd going soon. Strauss is a librarian who proofreads and copyedits for a few small presses. Pictures available in the "In Action" section.

Looks like some of my novels will be published in German with a small press. I've had a short story published in Germany but this offers a chance to reach a European audience. The books probably won't be out for three or four years, though.

May 30, 2005
I think what the world really needs is a war between England and France. It's been, what, a couple centuries? Sure, they don't have any colonies left to fight over, but maybe they can battle over the relative merits of spotted dick versus escargot. British orthodonistry against French hygiene. Hugh Grant versus Gerard Depardieu. The world could really use one of those good old-fashioned love-fests like the Seven Years' War to make us forget all about Iraq and Afghanistan. We deserve a few laughs, so come on. Frogs versus Limeys, what do you say? Do it for world peace.

May 25, 2005
My writing column "The Ghostwriter's Desk" should be launching soon at Hellnotes. A group of Horror Writers Association members have petitioned for a vote calling for the HWA's governing body to keep minutes of their meetings. While the meetings are conducted electronically for the most part, the supporters feel that if the board keeps track of their proposals and actions, it will be easier to create a timeline and map progress. I don't know if it will pass, but with continuing concern over the HWA's disorganized budget, maybe it will be a step in the right direction. The HWA has improved in each of my six or so years, and I think it has room to grow.

We've also secured an HWA table for DragonCon this year, so hopefully members will attend in good numbers. DragonCon is one of my favorite conventions, though it's not necessarily a greta place to sell books because of all the distractions.

May 17, 2005
Interview up at Really Scary, you can hear me say the usual spiel, compliments of Elaine Lamkin. Also have a review of The Six-Day Horror Movie up at About.Horror.com but can't find it now. Scott Johnson delivered the first review of The Home, soon to appear at The Horror Channel: "The Home is a great piece of horror fiction, supplied with deft expertise by a remarkable wordsmythe."

May 14, 2005
Wow, this week has really flown by. Guess I have too many irons in the fire and too many carrots in the stew. My story "Dumb Luck" has been accepted for the Exit Laughing anthology from Hellbound Books. I learned a few new garden techniques so there will be more time spent outdoors, getting sunburned, and squozing dirt between my toes. I've learned the secret to good family gardening: just give my daughter the garden hose while I dig. Some spinach and kale are finally coming up, and broccoli and cabbage are well established, but the late freezes may have prevented germination of many of the early crops. Looks like the moon phase favors planting this week, so I'll probably be re-seeding.

May 7, 2005
Forgot to post a link to Mark Steensland's interview with me at Broken Frontier. It was up last week, but should be archived at the site for a few more weeks. While you're at it, check out some of Mark's cool video work at Channel 99.

May 5, 2005
My entry for Mystery Ink Online is now up in their "Overnight Success?" section. My article "Spirited Inquiry: Where Mystery and Horror Meet" was published in today's Hellnotes. I've agreed to contribute a monthly writing column to Hellnotes.

Saw a great concert last night. Paul Westerberg put on a show, with broken guitar strings, cigarette smoke, blown lyrics, and impromptu jams that wandered off into the land between notes. In short, everything you expect in a great rock'n'roll show. He and the band played a number of songs from his former band, The Replacements. A highlight was his performance of "Mr. Rabbit," one of my daughter's favorite songs, and I shouted at the title between songs every time Westerberg cocked an ear to the audience for suggestions. I think I had added to my high-range hearing loss, but those are the tones I don't want to hear anyway: fire alarms, whining dogs, literary critics.

April 29, 2005
I got a copy of the Ulster-Scot newspaper, sent by Alister McReynolds, that contains an article about my work. The newspaper is sort of a cultural-historic newspaper published in Ireland. McReynolds used an article on my website and my novel "The Harvest" to show how Scots-Irish culture lives on in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The things that some reviewers were calling hillbilly stereotypes are recognized here as noble cultural icons. Pretty cool.

I've been recruited to write a story set in "The Red Church" universe, so I'm letting ideas simmer for that. Approaching the climactic showdown of next year's novel. The first chapter of "The Home" is now posted at the site. The bookmark distribution is ghoing so well, I'll have to get more printed. I've already gone through 5,000. A big thanks to everyone who is helping out by taking them to their local stores.

April 24, 2005
A late snow here has everyone huddled indoors. It's not even one of those fun, gentle snows like we usually get in late April. This one has a howling wind that carries intentions of death for my blueberry buds and broccoli seedlings. It's interesting to note the shock to the natural order. The horses next door stand still with their rear to the wind. Crows are fighting over my compost heap, and smaller birds have regained interest in my porch feeders. I suppose the late cold will help keep down the insects this summer.

Stephen Sommerville's interview with me and Stephanie Simpson-Woods is in the webzine Insidious Reflections. You can download the PDF for free. I also have an article in there on horror sections in bookstores.

April 19, 2005
I've had a great response for
The Inner Circle, and thanks to everyone who is distributing my bookmarks to your local stores. If you haven't signed up yet, I'm planning a big giveaway at the end of May. Only people who sign up before that date can be Charter Members and eligible for inside secrets, giveaways, and good stuff.

In my forthcoming novel "The Home," my mad scientists use an experimental electromagnetic treatment to cure mental disorders. Lo and behold, my hokey pseudo-science has actually become a real thing. The researchers call their version "repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation" or rTMS, which is about as cheesy as the "Synaptic Synergy Therapy" or SST that is featured in my novel. I don't think their version causes paranormal activity, though!

April 14, 2005
Some recent music discoveries: The Fire Apes, a clean guitar-driven band with clean melodies and good old-fashioned hooks;
Clem Snide, an alternative country band (did anyone think that would ever be a subgenre?); and the Futureheads, who seem a modern-day version of the Buzzcocks and have a great version of Kate Bush's "The Hounds of Love."

I've got my taxes done like a good American and scraped the bottom of the barrel to send in my share. I'll just take a leap of faith and assume money will be there when I need to eat next month. I also need to get cracking on the next Scottnews newsletter. It will have a brief excerpt of The Home, so sign up if you want to be among the very first to read some.

In gardening news, I've planted seven different kinds of greens: a variety of lettuce, spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and turnips. We had frost last night, and snow in the higher elevations, so I hope my seeds will wait a couple of weeks before they come up. The soil is really looking great; the worms are fond of the llama poop I laid down last year and my compost heap managed to break down a little despite the cold weather. Next up for planting are some of the root crops.

April 8, 2005
Recent story acceptance for
Corpse Blossoms, an anthology with stories by Ramsey Campbell, Bentley Little, Gary A. Braunbeck and others, available in three hardcover editions. Payment was prompt with a good contract. The editors, R.J. and Julia Sevin, had originally planned a non-paying project, but after hanging around on the Horror Writers Association message board, decided to shoot for a professional anthology that everyone could be proud of. Proof that education works. Now all we have to do is sell 1,000 copies of the anthology (I figure the 26 limited "lettered" editions will sell by themselves).

I've been reading on some of the message boards about concerns over high prices on the secondary market for limited edition books. Part of the concern seems to rise from the fact that a lot of people buy two copies of a 300-copy or 500-copy print run. They'll keep one copy and hoard the other as a short-term investment. Some books apparently fetch obscene prices, up to 10 times the original selling price in less than a year of release. I don't know much about the book collecting market, but I was a dealer in the 1990s heydey of the sports card and comic book fads, and I see some of the same warning signs of a crash: contrived collectibility, where the product is sold for its investment value rather than for the object itself; sale prices that seem totally out of whack with the intrinsic worth of the item; a feeding frenzy in which the sellers seem almost as desperate to unload as the buyers are to hoard; and no concern over the long-term health of the field. At least there isn't a book-collecting price guide yet, a harbinger of the death of comic and card collecting. (I know, I know, people still collect them, but you don't see them being sold in every store in America, the way they were 10 years ago).

Maybe I'm wrong, and book collectors are happy with their purchases because of the words themselves or the wonderful design and production elements. But when underestablished writers are selling new books (some of which are poorly edited) for over $100, I don't see how there can be a secondary market for that book in a decade, especially if the writer doesn't improve. And when new books sell for many times what it costs to own a classic first edition of a proven bestseller, you have a risky market.

The sports card market was largely built on the hype over rookie cards of rising stars. A few busts, a few off-the-field disasters, and a few slides into mediocrity, and those cards fell to a fraction of their peak value. When's the last time someone asked for a Jose Canseco card? Overproduction certainly didn't help. Probably 20 million Shaquille O'Neal rookie cards are in circulation. When the baseball card market died, a funny thing happened. The old cards, the ones truly limited not because of planned investment value but because of natural attrition, continued to climb. Tiny cards stuck in tobacco packs between 1908 and 1911 were worth about $75 in 1995, even for no-name players, while Honus Wagner's card was worth several hundred thousand dollars. Today those no-names book at around $275, while Wagner is an auction item for the very elite.

As for comic books, the fad of creating multiple covers for the same book seemed to ring hollow eventually, and gimmicks such as trick numbering or foil-stamped covers drove up prices in the guide books. Today it's rare to find any of those comics that are worth more than the original selling price. Yet the Golden Age comics continue to climb in value.

Maybe books are entirely different, but the law of supply and demand is an undeniable force in all value systems. Personally, I wouldn't want to be caught trying to peddle a stack of modern limited editions when it's time to pay my daughter's college tuition.

April 3, 2005
I recently served on a committee for the
Horror Writers Association to select a "Lifetime Achievement Award" winner for this year. Our selection of Michael Moorcock inflamed a lot of people, both within the organization and beyond. The core of the controversy seems to center on "Is Moorcock really a horror writer?"

Well, the answer, as in most things, is "It depends." The HWA's expressed charge is to promote "dark literature," which historically has embraced both horror and dark fantasy (and, in some cases, when the membership so desires, even the psychological thriller). I supported Moorcock's selection for a number of reasons, none of them being an attempt to broaden the definition of horror or to ridicule the genre. The pool of candidates wasn't that large because of eligibility criteria (the long answer is on the HWA site, but basically the writer must be alive, at least 60, or have been published 35 years earlier). The key language in selection is the candidate must have been "influential" in the field. I liked some of the other candidates, who are probably more associated with the genre labeled "Horror," but for various reasons I thought Moorcock was a better choice this year.

I assumed the committee would present a united front and that would be that. However, some committee members chose to distance themselves from the selection once it was criticized. Fair enough. There were no vows of secrecy, no conspiracy, no ulterior motives that I could see. But if you acknowledge Moorcock is a dark fantasy writer, and if you acknowledge that dark fantasy constitutes "dark literature," and if you acknowledge that Moorcock has been influential, then there is no controversy. For my part, I read Moorcock when I was reading Vonnegut and Brautigan, before I ever read anything labeled "Horror" (and before the genre had become a marketing category). I'm not even sure I would have picked up a horror novel if not for Moorcock. To me, that's influential.

Some of the other eligible LAA candidates are among my personal favorites (namely, Dean Koontz and James Herbert), but I didn't support them this year for various reasons. I'm sure they'll be so honored in the next few years, when future committees make no-brainer decisions which will result in no discussion, no controversy, and no interest on the message boards.

As I stated on the Shocklines message board, Moorcock's selection is no more controversial than recent Stoker Award winners or finalists such as American Gods, Lullaby, The Lovely Bones, Veniss Underground, or the Dark Tower Books. Horror has always been flexible, which is a source of irritation for the dyed-in-the-wool, supernatural cheeser fan, or a poke in the eye for those who think their writing is a little more "high-minded" and shouldn't be dragged down into the genre ghetto. Big deal. None of us own "Horror," and horror could care less what any of us think. It does fine with or without us.

As for me, the whole incident reminded me yet again why it is wise to never be put on a committee of any kind. Rock on, Moorcock.

April 2, 2005
Amazon.com has "The Home" up for preorder. I haven't checked Barnes & Noble. I'd rather you order it or buy it through your local bookstores and keep some of the money in your community, but if you usually do the online thing, then I appreciate your ordering it soon. Good advance sales might bump up the print run a little.

One of the cool quirks of my house is the occasional outbreak of ladybugs. I suspect they moved in with a ficus tree I bought last fall. About every two months, I'll come home to find a couple dozen of them clinging to the ceiling or pressing against the sliding glass door. Since they eat harmful aphids, I'm glad to have them around for the garden. But coaxing them outside sometimes takes a bit of doing.

Our local national guard troops are returning from Iraq, including a guy I work with. I'm glad they all made it back safely, despite my aversion to the war itself. It will be interesting to see how the public welcomes them. I'm sure there will be at least one protestor, our local militant pacifist, but I think most people have gone on with their lives. Too bad the war didn't give us cheaper oil, but I guess there is no perfect world.

-- copyright 2005 by Scott Nicholson

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