|Fresh Dirt Archives: April-June
Maria, the cute little tame goat, is still relatively bearable, she will remain, especially since it technically belongs to my daughter. Let this be a warning to any parent who is thinking about a pony, drum set, or ATV for his child. I'm currently negotiating with her to trade in for a puppy, or, with luck, a hamster or gerbil.
Since I just bought a car, I would like your money. But not for free. What I offer is my story collection THANK YOU FOR THE FLOWERS at half price. It contains a few award winners, including "The Vampire Shortstop" that won the grand prize in the international Writers of the Future contest. Anyone who buys it directly from me gets an exclusive write-up I did that details the creation of each story and the thinking behind, which might be either instructional or humorous if you're interested in writing. Paypal me at hauntedcomputer at Yahoo dot com, price includes shipping--overseas, contact me for exact shipping price. I don't like whoring myself too much on these pages, but hey, I'm a whore. I'm on my back--do me and pay me.
Article "The Last American Horror Writer," published a couple of months ago in the International Thriller Writers newsletter, is now posted on the site.
I'm working on projects on multiple fronts because it seems to be the right time to do it, especially being between book contracts. No telling where your friendly neighborhood Scott Nicholson will turn up, or if he'll even be "Scott Nicholson" at all. Don't worry, I'll keep the site going no matter what (you WERE worried, right?--yeah, sure you were...), and I will soon be putting up more writing articles that I've hoarded away for a while.
There are more extensive Hypericon updates on my Myspace page but in brief, it was fun, cool people were there, too many to list but I shout out to my friends Deb LeBlanc and Fred Grimm and Mark Hickerson in particular, and Ronald Kelly, who is back in the horror writing game after a long absence. I was on the "Dirty Dirty Words" panel sandwiched between two women and, well, just use your imagination and the topic was probably covered. Although the phrase "your purple travesties" is probably NOT what instantly springs to mind.
What people are really buying is a dream. No doubt this disturbs those MBAs who make all business decisions and let's put aside that silly and long-dead notion (if indeed it ever had any validity whatsoever) that the publishing industry is a noble enterprise who places profits secondary to the enlightenment and improvement of the masses. But it's all built on dreams--even the finished book. To have faith that an author can write a singly scintillating page that promises a bestseller must be a scary leap for a lot of people.
I believe a lot of the overhyped deals and bidding wars for properties that seem a little dubious or unattractive stem from fear--nobody wants to miss out on something the competition might snag. And for every case where a publisher overreaches and an expensive book tanks, that's 10 other working, lower-level authors who didn't get a book deal because of it. Sometimes even 100 writers--go learn about former Republican golden boy Newt Gingrich's "alternate history" novel and how it nearly wiped out an entire publishing house because of his rapid fall from grace.
Yes, you guessed it, I hate outlines. I've only written a few, usually after a book was already finished and the publisher wanted the outline before the entire book because "that's the way you're supposed to do it." The last time, the editor found the outline confusing, which was understandable, since it confused the hell out of me, too. I mean, how am I supposed to know what's going to happen until I write the damned book? So now I choose the middle way--take the typical one-page synopsis I do anyway (you can find them for each of my books by clicking on the individual Web pages) and simply stretch it to between three and five pages. I can appear like I know what I'm doing without actually revealing any significant details. And, of course, turn in a few well-written, butt-kicking chapters. My agent says the publishers are looking for reasons to hem and haw and turn something down, and who can blame them? Writer's Digest has a circulation of 120,000 and many of those people are putting stuff on editors' desks. A fast "no" is a survival mechanism for the editors.
Is my passive-aggressive response to this need paying off? I don't know yet. Writing fiction is an escape, a spiritual endeavor, a dream. Writing an outline is too much like Mrs. Thornapple's sixth-grade class, where you had to make sensible, boring lists featuring Roman numerals and an ordered collection of perceived facts. Get it? One is fiction, one is fact. This dreamer knows where his bread is buttered, but he also knows who holds the jelly jar.
At the time I didn't quite have enough self-confidence to step on a magic carpet that had no helm. Maybe I don't even have it today, except I now know who is blowing the carpet around. I had my friends in a band here, and that was Plan A. I often wonder where I would have ended up in Nashville but I can really only picture two possible outcomes--success and all that goes with it for emotionally unformed people, such as indulgence and premature death, collapsing in a bed with six teenaged girls, empty bottles of four prescription medicines, and a snowfall of cocaine. Or failure and all that goes with it for emotionally unformed people, slumped on a sidewalk, pallid face gone cold, arms pocked with needle marks, another horseless cowboy poet gone to Boot Hill.
Either way, I know I caught the right wind. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else but here, emotionally, physically, spiritually. In this Now. It's a good place.
So, back on point: the assistant manager showed me the books the Corporation had sent him--25 copies of "Tennessee Birds" that had languished in the sales bin, without a single sale, for months. This store was in central North Carolina, and Tennessee was a good three hours away as the bird flies. Maybe they figured, "Hey, birds DO fly, and maybe those Tennessee birds will show up right here in this abandoned mall where even a bunch of zombies would be an improvement, though if they ate at Pork N Brats they'd be dead all over again and the irony/social parody would be completely lost. Yeah, maybe the birds will be around enough for people to figure out they are actually Tennessee birds and not North Carolina birds, at which time they're sure to flock to the store and rapidly deplete the meager supply of Tennessee-bird books."
Yet he had to place a special order to get books by a nationally distributed writer (me) who was born about 18 miles from the store (in an area where they ain't much literary to brag about, 'cause nobody's yet written that North Carolina bird book. Or maybe all those went to Tennessee.) This is the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I saw more ball caps bearing the Number 3 (the car number of the very late Dale Earnhardt, who may be walking brainless around a mall at this very minute, lusting for bad pork n brats) than I did Tennessee birds, and this is even the late migratory season. But I am not bitter about it at all. Heck, I'm grinning. I went to the only other store left in the mall, booted a few zombies aside, and traded my laptop for a pair of binoculars. There's bound to be some birds around here somewhere, and there's bound to be a book in it.
And it's working out great for us to keep only two. Now they are fairly tame, I let them out of the pen and they go down to the neighbor's briar patch and eat for a while, then come home and try to eat my trees. A whole forest around them and they want the ones I'm trying to grow to shield my house. And they grin while they do it. I don't really use a rope anymore, just leave the pen open and act like one of them. Much better than when I roped them and played tug-of-war and struggled for control.
Finally put out tomato plants, all that's left is peppers, squash, cucumbers, and a few oddities. It's been so cold and dry here that by the time I get through watering the garden, the water has already soaked and evaporated. Combined with rising gas prices, I'm guessing food prices are really going to jump this year.
Yesterday, Girl made a burrito of whipped cream, a carrot, and turkey bacon. And she ate half of it. Considering some of the weird things Dad has put in his mouth, I say nothing.
The clerk said, "People ask about your books all the time." And, of course, I wanted to ask, "Well, why don't you carry them?" Then I figured maybe they just like making conservation with the customers, because if the book is there, the customer buys the book, goes home, and reads it; there's no drama and no interaction besides the cold exchange of cash. Then comes, "If you set up a signing, the manager will order some." That's wonderful; the least efficient way to sell books is to sit in one place for two hours and hope the right person walks by. Sort of like fishing in a mud puddle using gummi worms for bait.
The best you can hope for at a signing is that the store actually puts the books on the shelves both before and after the event (I don't want to think about all the times I've shown up at a signing and the manager has kept 20 copies carefully hidden away in the storage closet, lest some nasty evil customers actually fondle them with grubby fingers, or worse, shell out money for them--and I don't want to think about all the times the manager promptly rips the covers off and ships them to the publisher for credit instead of giving them 30 days to find a home).
At this same store, I've reported before that they have no copies of my book and could they please be so kind as to reorder. Answer: "Computer shows we have two." But they are nowhere in the store, so an employee either took one into storage to sop up spilled coffee or someone shoplifted it. (I prefer the shoplifting, because even though the act is morally repugnant, there's no cover to tear off and ship back and so the book eventually gets credited as a sale). There is simply no arguing with a corporate computer.
I've walked into stores with the cover of my new book, introduced myself, and asked if they could stock them. Answer: "Let me check the computer." First they have to verify that I exist, that I'm not some lunatic who shows up and scribbles in other people's books (don't ask me about the book signing at Miss Vernell's Pawn and Book Shop--it was so surreal it must appear in a postmodern metafiction someday). At any rate, unless the computer tells them they can order my book, and how many, they have little idea how to deal with the problem. And it is a problem. You think things are complicated enough when it's just a customer wanting books, it ramps to a factor of 10 when you have a writer wanting to put them in the customer's hands.
Some chain stores do allow the manager flexibility, and some of those stores sell hundreds of copies of my books--they know who I am, they know what I write, and they know what their customers like. Other stores won't carry my books until I publish under a different name, because some faceless salesperson didn't like the cover or didn't like my publisher's salesperson's tuna breath that day or saw the word "horror" on the side of my book or looked at the computer records that showed their stores sold no copies of my last book because they never carried it and we all know history repeats itself if you let it.
Yes, it's a crazy business. Just as the the public school system is saddled with the most rigid bureaucracy of any public institution in the country when you'd like to think it is driven by imagination, passion, and invention, the business of dreams and fantasies is driven by technogeeks and salespeople, most of whom read nothing but "Dilbert" and "Who Moved My Cheese?" I don't blame the 16-year-old assistant managers at the bookstore counters. After all, they're in school, where they are actively learning to despise books. And the people who write them.
On June 2, 11 am-2 pm, find this horseless cowboy poet at Bookland in Signal Hill Mall, Statesville NC, I'll have a guitar there...
You get a goat and put it in what you think is a perfect habitat, one conveniently constructed to fit your allowable boundaries. You think it has everything a goat could possibly need to be happy: greens, shed, hay, water, occasional rewards of sweet cracked corn. The goat is indeed happy, at least at first, because it is exploring its secure pen.
Soon it begins rubbing against the fence, sometimes even breaking through, so you return the goat to its desired location and strengthen the fence. The season changes and, ignorant of the goat's operating rules, you continue to give it hay, not knowing that now with winter's passing, the smell of chlorophyll is driving it wild and only fresh grass will do. You placate it a bit by tying a rope around its neck and letting it explore a narrow territory around your border, but it still must return to the pen every night. You learn it is easier to herd a goat, or push a goat, than it is to drag it.
Soon spring deepens and mere grass isn't enough, it is now the potent aroma of flowers and new leaves that attracts the goat. Perhaps its digestion isn't as good as it could be, because it is not eating what nature intended. But you have no grass so you return it to the pen and give it the same things as before, then wonder why the goat grows discontent. The goat bellows and you become annoyed with it, and tell the goat all the reasons it should be happy. You have given it everything you think it should need.
But you have forgotten it is a goat. And you don't own the proper habitat that will make it happy and keep it nurtured throughout the changing seasons. You loan it out, but always make sure the goat and its new keeper realize you are in fact the true owner. The goat finds greener pastures and a healthier, more varied habitat, and soon is at peace. You miss the bellowing. You get your goat and return it to the pen.
It has greens, shed, hay, water, occasional rewards of sweet cracked corn. Everything you know a goat should want. And still you wonder why it does nothing but gaze beyond the fence.
May 3 again
Girl said water running down the drain was "wasted water" as she valiantly fought to scoop back the last collected puddles in the tub. (This, of course, was such an obvious delaying tactic that even dumb old Dad could see through it.) I explained the water isn't wasted, it's used, and goes outside and into the ground and cycles back through. It all gets in the water table far underground and the well has a pump that works like a straw to bring it back up to the house again.
She narrowed her eyes and asked, "Do scientists know about this?"
The only possible answer was, "Well, scientists are pretty smart."
"How do we know it's down there?"
For those in the Teeth contest, I'm randomly selecting winners tonight. Great participation, thanks everybody, and boy, you sure are creepy to want somebody else's teeth. I dig it.
If you're waiting for a cover proof from the Myspace "Top Friend Me" thing, I promise to mail them out as soon as my packet arrives from Canada (hey, I blame all those migrating mallards who are hijacking postal planes. Or is it still too soon to joke about hijacking planes?) If you are really impatient, I have a stack of cover proofs from my story collection I'd be glad to mail instead. Drop me a line. You know where I am.
Enough of the funny stuff, and more of what you're really here for: looks like I found a kind neighbor (read: deluded patsy) to take a couple of my goats for a while and see how this grass thing works out. Butthead a.k.a. Weasel Wart (though her social security card refers to her as "Magenta," looks like she's ready to drop. Lots. At least twins. Girl has quoted me as saying, "If she has triplets, I'm moving to Antarctica." Good stuff out here in the country. Collards and onions are up, plus some weird tomatoes or something in the big window. Green may reach the top of the mountain after this long, slow-set-in rain.
Newest Pod of Horror cast is up at www.horrorworld.org/poh.htm, hosted by the funny and talented Mark Justice, author of Deadnecks, featuring the lovely and talented Brian Keene, author of a bunch of books, and the charming and talented Edward Lee, author of a bunch of books, the sexy and talented Nancy Kalanta, Horrorworld operator, and the honorable and talented Scott Bradley. And me and my goats.
The Dark and Deadly Valley anthology is now shipping, buncha cool war stories including my thang "The Night Is An Ally." Also has Keene, Brian Hodge, Graham Joyce, David J. Schow and a lot of other lovely and talented writers. Exalted and talented Alex McVey did the cool cover art. Get your copy today.
"Goat on A Rope" passes for high entertainment. The goats for some reason have boycotted hay and insist on being let out in the yard (and the neighbor's briar patch). I am appalled at how much time I spend chasing them, luring them, tying them up--I think today I spent an hour messing with them. And "mess" is the only word for it. It's not play, and it's not work, since there is no profit and no reward and not even any real satisfaction. They are never happy. They are like every ex-lover you've ever had, with the additional problem of being undumpable. No, they do all the dumping...and dumping...and dumping. I've taken to calling them "Weasel Wart, "Weasel Spit," and "Wormy."
Oh, yeah, got the revision finished and turned in. Working on one of the two novels tonight. Five chapters done--I have been postponing writing the outline but now it's time. Ugh. I guess I'll just have to tell lies about what I think it's going to be about instead of spinning the real lies that are the actual story. I sort of know what is going to happen but why take the suspense out of life?
Despite its being complete, the project's taken some time because it was written on an old Brother word processor, with the old print wheel and everything (I remember how I could get about one typed novel out of the print wheel before the letter "e" snapped in half--the wheels cost about $30 each and the print ribbons were about $5--it cost about $50 to print out a novel, if you count paper.) So I had to scan those typewritten pages in to a real computer (I had no backup copies of any kind besides the ancient Brother discs that won't work in anything else) and now format them, revise, and basically whip the story like a recalcitrant puppy.
An article on "Vacancy" screenwriter Mark L. Smith is posted in Ghostwriter. The movie opens this week and I hope it breaks big. Mark is a supernice guy, very humble for somebody so successful, and one who takes his craft seriously. He bucks every stereotype you ever heard about Hollywood--though some of his war stories confirm why the stereotypes exist.
The signing was wonderful because it reminded me that people still like books and some people like my books. Somebody told me a kid went by the book table before I got there and said, "Hey, it's the new Scott Nicholson book." I wasn't sure anybody even realized there were old Scott Nicholson books. And people talked about the older books as if they were alive, which of course the stories are, assuming someone remembers them. And to think I worry about the wrong thing, like staying in print or selling lots of copies. At one event, a "writer to writer" talk, I told people writers often worried about the wrong things, like how to get an agent or promote books, when the real deal is putting your honest heart on the page, with all the soaring joy and sickening pain of your experience. There's no advantage in suffering for art. Life offers plenty enough by itself, should you choose to seek it.
I received a copy of Paul M. Strickler's "The Calling" today. When I get a book by someone whom I haven't read before, I crack it to the middle and read a paragraph, expecting to find grammar shortcomings or laziness. This one looks pretty tight so I'm going to start at page one.
Kurt Vonnegut died today--he was one of my formative literary heroes. I binged on him in high school. He was a writer and he lived to be 84 and loved his family. Not too shabby of a run. My story "A Socketful of Blather" is sort of a riff off his "Harrison Bergeron." God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
My interview on "The State of Things" is archived at WUNC. It's one of the most fun interviews I've ever done, with a well-prepared Frank Stasio as host and an excellent production team. Frank wasn't afraid to be both serious and funny, which many people fail to grasp about the horror genre--that ultimately it's cheesy entertainment but addresses the fundamental spiritual questions of all good storytelling.
A new story, one dear to my heart and quite different from my usual fare, is up at Spacesuits and Sixguns. It was actually one of the first stories I ever "sold," taken by the ill-fated Aboriginal SF in 1998 or so. When that magazine folded, DNA Publications took it over and promptly proceeded to sit on it for another five years before that endeavor apparently collapsed (to this day, I've never found out what happened to the company and it's all ancient history anyway). Long and short, I like the story and os does David Duggins, and Liz Clarke delivered a wonderful illustration. The magazine has features on all the contributors, so you can learn how Liz pursues her craft.
Thanks God for the day and reviews it for any screw-ups that might have unintentionally caused pain to other people. And can't decide whether this is a wonderful day or a truly tedious repetition of uninspiring events, but sleeps well regardless. Rinses and repeats.
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