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Fresh Dirt Archives: Jan-Mar 2008

June 29
What does Scott sound like when he's channeling a zombie-slash-circus freak? Download my audio file Carnival Knowledge and find out.

Right now I'm listening to Larry McMurtry's "Leaving Cheyenne"--he has such an ear for dialogue, up there with Elmore Leonard. Stephen King is no slouch, either, and I am more and more amazed by "'salem's Lot" and the artful mix of literary interludes broken by dramatic conflict.

I'm rounding into the final phase of the new novel and it should be wrapped up by next weekend. I already have the next novel, graphic novel, and movie script percolating, and of course there's some revision along the way on some older projects. The words going on the page feel really good, taking their fluid route along the conduit as if they've already been written somewhere and I'm just taking dictation. The work is fresh and joyful, and the clouds are parting a little for the next steps. The fellowship of other writers, artists, and creators remind me of the real purpose of this business of art, which is to fight the good fight and put it all out there.

My friend Harry Shannon's movie "Dead and Gone" has a trailer out. This week, I'll have a short video piece up on the Green Park Inn as part of the "Haunted Trails" map I'm compiling for Watauga County, NC, and my paranormal conference. Also coming soon is sample art from The Gorge comics project and

June 25
Donald Maass, longtime agent and also a multi-published pseudonymous author, has released a useful free e-book called "The Career Novelist." The irony is that the book was published on paper in the mid-1990s, at a time when Maass was one of the most fervent champions of protecting electronic rights for authors because they would soon be a gold mine. Twelve years later, he's giving the book away as an electronic file. The point of this blog is not to debate the value of e-rights (they're nearly worthless and are likely to remain so for another generation or two), but in what I learned from Maass so far. I received two or three rejection slips from Maass in the few years after that book was published, back when I didn't know anything much. He read a couple of chapters of "The Manor" and said, "This book is too slow," and I thought, "Gee, the second chapter starts with a long, sustained death with supernatural flavoring!!! How can that be slow?" Easy. That novel is probably the least successful of any of mine, on both a commercial and artistic level, and I wasn't smart enough to know it.

Maass's book also arrived to me as I am reassessing all aspects of my writing career. Most of my books are out of print at a time when I should be entering into the more relaxed midlife of my professional development, with a steadily expanding readership, occasional royalty checks, and increased presence in both stores and the hearts of readers. I don't really feel like a failure, because I've got about 100,000 copies of my books out there, and tens or hundreds of thousands more in anthology and magazine circulation for my short stories, and uncountable numbers of readers from various Web sites. I've reached a lot of people, and I've received loving feedback from you, my loyal readers, fans, and friends--and, yes, I consider you a friend if you visit my blogs or read my work, because that is a rather intimate meeting of minds, even if I never hear a peep from you.

I can blame people--publishers, agents, the cold, uncaring universe, God, slack publicists--for where I am but there is really no blame, and I'm really not in a bad place, despite the Numbers Game that dominates the New York publishing industry. There are things I certainly could have done better or differently, particularly in networking and reaching out more when I just wanted to be reclusive and write. I'm not bitter, and I don't feel like the books have been wasted because they were treated as disposable products instead of enduring testaments to the human spirit. Instead, as befits my taoist philosophy, I am looking at the lessons I've learned, particularly in light of Maass's book. I think the most distinct mistake I made was to not create a career plan right from the beginning. I had this idea that all I had to do was write good books, do some Web publicity and book signings, and the audience would find me. I have found a great audience, a loyal audience, but apparently not one large enough to sustain older books or generate industry enthusiasm in my future prospects.

This is no whine or screed. More of a confessional than anything. Because I actually feel refreshed and invigorated. My books and your support have helped me move toward my life goal, which is to pay off my house and then make the move to full-time fiction writing, with assorted side tasks like editing and teaching at conferences to bridge the inevitable gaps in finances. Also, I wasn't mature enough to grasp my good fortune, so I squandered energy on pointless, negative behavior and selfishness. Somehow I was able to keep writing through it all, and though in a way I am starting over, with a new publisher and a new vision and new media, I am carrying the many gifts and treasures I've accumulated--I've spent over a decade on the craft, I've written plenty of material, I am growing and learning every day, and I am still excited by whatever story is on the keyboard in front of me at any given time. That's the true dream I had at the very beginning, and that is the dream that never fades, that no amount of money can imitate, that constantly replenishes itself.

As I continue my journey, I'd like your help. If you're of the mind, you can tell me what you like or don't like about my stories, what you'd like to see less of or more of (more gore, more sex, more ghosts, more old geezers spitting tobacco juice, more flesh-eating goats), how you gauge my strengths and weaknesses, what do you think of when you pick up a Scott Nicholson book? Be as honest as you like; I am not sensitive, and my pride is geared toward improvement, not ego. (email at hauntedcomputer if you like, even anonymously) Your feedback will give me more food for thought and, as I collect it, I'll also reflect here on the various attitudes I've had toward my own work. It might surprise you. I know it surprises me. Thanks for sharing the journey.

June 14
I've always enjoyed the early Stephen King novels and for some reason I'd never gotten around to "'salem's Lot." I picked up a copy in a local thrift shop, a first edition paperback with a chipped cover and an inscription from Austin, Tex. Makes me wonder how a book can travel across three decades and 1,500 miles to my fingers. It had sat there on the rack by the thrift-shop counter for a couple of months, and I didn't buy it because I have so many other books I don't have time to read. Now it's mine and I am carrying it everywhere, sticking it in my back pocket--the guy is that good.

He breaks plenty of "conventional rules," like dumping in backstory and shifting POV in the same scene. The edition has some typos and apparently King hadn't yet mastered the hyphen in compound modifiers. Once he used "indolently" and redolent" in the same sentence, which any writing instructor would have red flagged. And there I was trying to nit pick one of the greatest storytellers to ever sit at a keyboard. He has such an elegant simplicity about his work that compels you to keep reading, yet he's also poetic and deeply insightful. Stephen King reminds me of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place--to engage people and deliver my version of truth and what it means. Plus the guy knows how to nail off a scene.

June 10
In taking stock of my mid-career identity crisis, I've been reviewing my habits and seeing where I shy away from being "writer." It came from a friend who said she tended to describe me as a "novelist," while I usually say I'm a "reporter" simply because it's something people can relate to more easily. In a way, I was distancing myself from the fiction, even though that's what I felt like when I was safe at home--some crusty-eyed dreamer sitting at the keyboard in ratty sweat pants.

Not only have I been jumping around in genres and trying on pen names, I've also slacked off on the short stories and articles. Part of it is the new commitment to screenplays (four in the last year) and graphic novel projects (two) and working on three novels at once. But another part of it is discontent with the way I let things slide over the last few years. While I have always promoted rather energetically (yeah, I was the dude who gave away three of my own teeth in a contest), I tended to do it from behind a curtain instead of going out into the world as Scott Nicholson, successful novelist. I even caught myself referring to "Scott Nicholson" in third person, as if I had discarded him (me) and was ready to dress up in a completely new author persona.

I also noticed how I had even slowed down on reading. As a journalist, I spend all day reading and typing, and though I have plenty of enthusiasm for my fiction, it's harder to tackle a novel for fun and insight these days. So I reverted to my old habit of listening to books on tape, figuring I can squeeze in an extra 50 books a year that way. Plus, there may be a creative way I can deduct those miles from my taxes (I hope none of you work for the IRS!)

In short, I was not taking my own advice of being a student of the game, dedicating myself fully to the craft, snipping the safety nets so I had no fallback plan. Writers should believe their work is so important that virtually all else doesn't matter--not success, sales, personality, or peer standing. True, if you sell a buttload of books, you reach and influence more readers, and there's a slight chance your books will outlive you. There's more to writing than just writing, but there's also value in writing toward a high ideal instead of just cashing out with shallow work that pushes contrived buttons. I wonder, if I had the choice, which I would really do. Thank goodness rejection doesn't really end, even after you're published. Every sentence is a new invention and every book is another chance to deliver something really special. No matter the byline.

June 5
I managed to pose with the lucky face of Hannibal at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans, though I am not sure which of us look most deranged. For the record, I'm not all that fond of liver.

The city experience was bizarre--from the Disneyland quality of the French Quarter to the psychotic bums on the ferry landings, it definitely was rich and ripe and crowded. I don't know how Bourbon Street looked before the hurricanes, but I felt like taking a hot shower after walking through it. I guess if your idea is to get plastered and pickpocketed and pimped on, it's the place to be. Then there was the old guy bumming change on the ferry who said, "We had a storm here, you hear about that?" His world was so small that he didn't realize Katrina had been international news. As near as I could tell, the city had returned to normal, despite some ongoing construction.

One of the topics to come out of the writing retreat was to "craft your author persona." I guess I never really took to the "horror" thing because it felt too hokey as a stage costume, though I love the genre. In talking to industry professionals, I saw the most interest in the Southern Appalachian flavor of the work. So I'm going back to being "The love child of Stephen King and Sharyn McCrumb." Even when I'm straying from the folk-legend stuff, I still use the mountain settings, so there's no real reason to stay gone too long. And that Rebel cap thing is kind of fun and is easier to take off than a spider tattoo on the forehead.

May 31
Reporting from a coffee shop on Chartes Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I'm having the most incredible experience here finishing up the Pen to Press retreat. So many gifted writers and so much progress made in a week. I am reenergized and inspired to see fellow writers pursuing their dreams with such passion, dedication, and talent. Deb Leblanc did an amazing job organizing the conference and bringing in teachers like Alexandra Sokoloff, Sarah Langan, Cherry Adair, Hank Schwaeble, and Natalie Collins. Look for photos, mini memoirs, and recollections soon --and if you're a writer, start bugging Deb right now about scheduling the next! I'm sure you'll be hearing many success stories coming out of the conference in the weeks and months ahead.

May 21
Nailed off the last bit to the latest script project; now it's time to let it set and ferment for a while. I'm now down to two projects, though I'm thinking of two more new ones for "down the road."

Getting ready to head to New Orleans for the Pen to Press writing retreat. I've never been there so it should be an adventure, and I will have some time off from teaching to see what the city's like. I like zydeco music and cajun food so it should be a merry experiment. Sold a reprint of "Playmates" to WrongWorld for their Halloween audio project and getting ready to record another piece for Third Alternative Press.

I'm spending more time in the garden than probably I should, but it's a nice zen escape. I'm feeling a little reclusive at the moment, which may be why I'm not updating much, but I promise more more more soon. The Green Park Paranormal Conference and prelim planning for my New River Writing Retreat are taking up more time but I'm still getting in my chops, reading some graphic novels, and picking guitar. And I am brainstorming the "Communal Writing Workshop" here, writing a sequel to one of my novels, with YOU doing the work and me doing the editing. Crazy experiment! Stay tuned.

May 9
One of the joys of this gig of writer-dude is to get mail from cool people. Joel Kearney, an aspiring writer, sent me a copy of a book to sign and his son Timothy sent along this picture of me holding a copy of The Red Church. The back of the card says, "My dad loves your work!!"

Joel also sent me back some of my own advice: "Just write the next sentence." Sometimes when I get too caught up in where I "ought to be" in my career or craft, or how many projects I need to roll out and complete, I forget that simple bit of wisdom. Sometimes that's all there is. The next rep, the next word, the next sentence, delivered as skillfully and thoughtfully as possible.

May 7
Tao. Every story has two sides. At least two sides. Every "evil" is good for some person or ideology or purpose. Every natural disaster gives a competitive advantage in its aftermath to a certain set of plants and animals. Every death is a cause for celebration and every birth a cause for despair.

Consider this parable of the roadkill: Your beloved pet cat is run over by a car. You don't find out until you see the picked-over corpse hours later. You implore God and curse God's indifference and cruelty and unfairness. Yet the raven and the buzzard who fed from the corpse received it as proof of God's benevolence and generosity.

The table of contents for the anthology Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet is being slowly undressed at editor Vince Liaguno's blog. My story "The Shaping" is among the many fine works to come.

May 3
Okay, now that you've blown your economic stimulus package on my new book, you can get ready to preregister for the Green Park Inn Paranormal Conference. I've updated some of the info, including the conference price and the hosts. Links to register will be up next week. It's sure to be a November to remember.

Old/new story "Letters and Lies" is up in the free fic section and I'll soon be adding a short audio version of a story. Also posted is the somewhat snarky article "Writing for Hollywood."

Apr. 28
Order information is now available for my forthcoming novel
The Skull Ring, which will be a limited edition hardcover from The Full Moon Press. The basic version, signed by me and artist Alan M. Clark, will be $45 and limited to 500 copies, while the ultraspecial fantabulous lettered edition is $225 is leatherbound, etc. and limited to 52 copies. Yeah, that's a lot for a book, but usual for the hardcover collector's market. Yes, $225 is more than I paid for some of the cars I've driven, and $45 is more than I've been paid for some of my short stories, but I can't think of a better way to invest your tax rebate. Unless, of course, you have the opportunity to purchase a handgun and become a bank robber.

The Skull Ring arose from my interest in wacky psychotherapists. I've always viewed the headshrinker field with a heavy dose of suspicion, because there's a certain smugness in believing you deserve the keys to someone else's head. My research into false recovered memory syndrome, where shrinks basically planted destructive ideas in their patients' heads to glorify themselves (in much the same way that multiple personality disorder became a popular diagnosis). The issue coincided with "Satanic Panic," the notion that there were hundreds of underground Satanic cults offering up tens of thousands of human sacrifices, which made great copy except for the fact that there was never a shred of evidence, not a single bone, not a confirmed missing-persons case linked to a Satanic cult. Of course, the Devil's greatest trick is getting people to believe he doesn't exist.

Anyway, meet Julia Stone and her shrink Pamela Forrest. Throw in some smoke and mirrors, a bloody dagger, and let the games begin...

Apr. 15
Sorry for the infrequent updates--I've been busy forging alliances for the
Green Park Paranormal Conference in November. I've made some great contacts and my presenters include The Hauntmaster's Club, who invited me to their ghost hunt at the inn last year and is partly responsible for this whole shebang; Jeremiah Greer of EPIC, who will be hosting the event live and is broadcasting his own ghost hunt Sunday in Wilkesboro, NC; Paranormal Scene Investigators; and my friend, the talented Deborah LeBlanc.

I finished the first issue and a good bit of the concordance for the new comic series--now I need to sketch a map and outline a few more issues before the puppy can go to market. I'm also exploring an interesting web-based project, which will entail drawing more people to the Web site and engaging a community of writers and artists. Essentially I want to tackle a communal writing project and develop it as a "how-to-write" lesson as we go, based on one or more of my properties. So if you're creative, stick around, because I want to share what I've learned and also generate some interest in new projects.

Apr. 6
Time to plug a few projects of other people's--Dan Ronco's future-tech thriller "Unholy Domain" has just been released by Kunati Books and definitely worth a read. I blurbed it in comparison with William Gibson and Robert J. Sawyer. If you like your thrills with a dash of social theory, then this is one for you.

Also, Barton Carroll's new CD "The Lost One" will have you singing the songs in your head days after exposure. I had a good conversation with him for an article, and in some ways our paths are similar, though I left the music "business" long ago. He's a plumber who keeps putting his songs on paper and his recordings in the can, balancing desire for "stardom" with the peace of leading a relatively simple life. The tao of the starving artist, no doubt.

Been busy in the garden, working up horse poop and dirt, sowing seeds of green dreams. But also been busy on the new comic project, which is so interesting and odd that it might be my first true "serial" idea, one that will keep me engaged enough to want to stick with the characters for years instead of months or days. I can easily see the journeys continuing in many different directions. On other fronts, I have an audio-visual work coming at Wrong World (I'm still not quite sure what form their product takes) and I'm also recording an audio version of my story "Must See To Appreciate" for Third Alternative Press. Interesting to note how much of my work is moving into multimedia forms. If only I could draw worth a lick, I'd really have it made. Or at least enjoy myself more as my belly grumbled. Life is rich and full.

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