Fantastic Fest Report

For the first time since 2012, I made it to Fantastic Fest. Shane McKenzie convinced me to return, and I’m glad he did. I forgot how fun and exhausting the festival can be. Yeah, watching movies is exhausting. You forget what the sun looks like. It’s a very weird vibe.

So, what movies should you look for on the horizon? For me, the film of the week was 3Ft Ball and Souls.  It’s a trippy and emotionally affecting comedy about four people trying to commit suicide via fireworks.  I don’t want to give you too much beyond that admittedly ridiculous description, but I will say I was in tears at the end.

Other highlights included The Endless, the new film from Resolution and Spring directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead, the upcoming Stephen King adaptation 1922, and pretty much every short film involved in the annual Short Fuse program.  Five years ago, that block was the one thing I needed to see every year, and I’m glad to report the quality has remained incredibly high.

Time will tell what becomes of Fantastic Fest.  Hopefully, I can go back next year.

Appearing at STAPLE!

Ahoy, mates!  Or some other weird greeting.  I dunno.  I’m awkward.

Okay, then….

So, I’ll be appearing at STAPLE! The Independence Media Expo on September 9th and 10th in Austin, Texas.  STAPLE! is it little comic con that could, and I’m thrilled to once again be a part of it.  Sunday the 10th, at 2:30, I’ll be on a panel with Lee Thomas, Gabino Iglesias, Wrath James White, and Nicky Drayden discussing genre writing.  Come check us out and say hi, and then come see us in the dealers’ room!

What’s New?

It’s been a long time.  Sorry about that.  As you may have noticed, the website’s been having some issue. It appears we’re now back up and running, so I figured I should update everybody on life and stuff.

First off, I have a new short story collection available. Selected Stories, published by Independent Legions, is now available in both paperback and ebook.  It’s a pretty comprehensive collection.  Any short of mine you want to read is probably in there.

Also, I’m dipping my toes into that Patreon stuff all the kids are raving about.  The Barnyard Series will be a quartet or serialized strange crime and horror novellas.  Just one dollar gets you access.  You can also sign up for additional material, like bonus essays, never before seen stories, recipes, or to become a character in the series!  Check it out….

Finally, Sinister Grin Press has released several of my previous books.  If you’re looking for Red Sky, Lights Out, or Just Like Hell, you can grab ’em below:

Red Sky

Lights Out

Just Like Hell

It’s good to be back, friends.  More soon….

Where Ideas Collide

“Where do you get your ideas?”

First off, ugh.  Second…no one’s ever asked me that.  Seriously.  It’s such a stereotypical, annoying question, and no one has ever even hinted like they were going to ask me.  Maybe that has to do with having a relatively small readership, or maybe it’s working in the small press, where the fans are generally more knowledgeable about both the genre and the writing process. Shit, maybe it’s my generally abrasive demeanor.  I dunno.  All I know is no one has ever asked me where I get my ideas.

“Nate, get to the goddamn point.”

I’m working on it!

So, last night I was talking to an old friend of mine, and somehow we started talking about how ideas eventually turn into stories. For me, a good idea is seldom enough to hang a story on. The way I work, I sort of collect ideas and information, and eventually a few of them fit together in a way that makes for a good story (yes, this is also what Warren Ellis does, proving there is nothing I can do that a better writer can’t do…better).

A great example of this (and one I used during last night’s convo), is my recent story “Bottle. Paper. Samurai.” The earliest seed of this story idea is eight years old, when I had an idea for a book called Firewater. In that idea, a dying angel gives a homeless man a bottle of whiskey that may or may not contain the soul of Christ (holy shit, that sounds dumb). I took a stab or two at writing it, but it never really came together. the idea was too thin.

Years later, I tried to write a story called Omizawa about a man who is so good at origami that the things he creates become real. Same deal: took a few shots at it, but it never came together.

Finally, I had this idea for a voice, a clipped, fractured voice from someone whose mind had broken in some way.  I tinkered around with it some, seeing if I could get a feel for it. While I liked it, I didn’t know what kind of story I could use it to tell. As I was driving home from work one day, I was creating little sample sentences in my head, and suddenly it happened…

First fold. Easy.
Second fold. Easy.

By the time I got home, I had the first few hundred words in my head, and everything made sense. This fractured voice had brought together Firewater and Omizawa.  It was the bridge that took pretty good ideas and brought them together to become a great one.

So if you have an idea you can’t make work, just file it away until later.  Maybe it’s missing a piece.

The Great and Terrible and Awesome and Stupid Food Idea

Anybody who knows me knows I love cooking.  I’m not sure when it started, because, as a kid, I wouldn’t eat anything.  There was even a point when I thought pizza was disgusting.  Maybe it started with my first serious girlfriend.  I didn’t want to be the 22 year old guy who wouldn’t eat his vegetables, so I just tried everything that was put in front of me.  Slowly, I started loving it all.  From there, I guess, it worked the same way my love for reading turned into a love for writing.  Wanting to eat amazing food made me want to cook amazing food.

Flashback to two years ago, when I was seriously considering going back to school.  Austin has a pair of culinary schools, and I thought I’d take a crack at it.  I ran it by my friend Ek, who’s an amazing chef, and he said something that changed my life…

“Don’t go to school for it, man.  Just start working here.  I’ll teach you.”

So I did.  For six weeks, I staged (basically, kitchen intern) at Ek’s place SPIN Modern Thai.  I picked cilantro, chopped onions, cooked rice, and made tempura batter a few times a week.  It was an excellent beginning, a good starter course on how to get around in a kitchen.  Sadly, infrastructure problems killed the restaurant, but I learned a bit, and I fell in love with the work.

Six months later Ek was helping his sister reopen her restaurant Titaya’s Thai Cuisine.  I had the silly idea to submit a resume (job experience: six weeks staging at your brother’s last restaurant).  Honestly, I just wanted to stage again, to keep learning.  I even said as such when I interviewed with Titaya, who is one of the hardest working and most terrifying people I’ve ever met.  When she started talking about pay at the end of the interview, I was stunned.  I’d just sat there and told her I didn’t really know my ass from a hole in the ground, but she was still going to give me a shot.  When Ek told me a few weeks later I’d start out working the wok station in one of the city’s most popular Thai restaurants, I thanked him for the vote of confidence before going home and having a three-day panic attack.

Training happened the night before we opened, kitchen manager Bob (or Pop…he answers to both), stood by the woks with Michael (another SPIN alumn, and a great cook) and me and said, “Here’s how you make pad thai, here’s fried rice, here’s a regular stirfry…everything else is pretty much the same.”  Wait…what?  I didn’t have time to panic for another three days, so I went home, curled into a ball, and screamed for an hour or so.  The next day, I went to work.

Opening night hit Titaya’s like a goddamn tsunami.  Packed dining room, lines out the door, and me standing over a wok, sweating my ass off and hoping I did everything right.  Michael saved my ass more than once, as did Ek, and I can’t tell you how thankful I’ll always be for not telling Titaya to just shitcan me right away.  For weeks, they coached me along with their mix of support and shit-talking.  Fun story: a month ago, I asked Michael how good he thought I was.  I wanted an honest opinion.  A drunk Michael hemmed and hawed a bit, then said, “You’re starting. You work part time.  You’re as good as you should be.”  Very true, and, honestly, as close to a compliment as I deserve.

After four months, I left Titaya’s to follow Ek to his new place, the Thai/Southern Comfort place Kin & Comfort.  I’ve learned even more there, the benefits of a smaller kitchen and closer staff.  Since June, I’ve been there, usually popping in a night or two a week to make sauces.  It’s been great, and the food’s been amazing.  Do yourself a favor and stop by either place the next time you’re in Austin.

All of this new experience has led to a lot of thinking.  See, a while back I got an idea for a novella that would take place in a food trailer.  I still haven’t gotten around to writing it, because I decided the first thing I’d do is come up with the trailer’s menu.  I spent almost two weeks tinkering with that damn menu, a menu for a trailer that doesn’t exist.

Then, I did something I didn’t expect.  Instead of starting the novella, I started testing out the menu items.  I tried a few every weekend, playing and tinkering and refining.  I used some of them for a holiday meal for my ex and her family, used them again for a friend’s going away party.  They went over well.  Shockingly well.  This past weekend, I experimented a little more, and everything clicked into place.

Holy shit.  Do I want to start a food trailer?  At the age of 38, do I want to throw every ounce of my life into opening a goddamn food trailer?

No, I couldn’t.  It’s a terrible idea.  I’ve spent one year working in restaurants part time.  My chops aren’t where they need to be. I don’t have anything resembling start-up cash.  Diving in would mean me leaving my job with its livable wage and health benefits and paid vacation.  I’d be so busy, I don’t know what would happen to my writing.  And food trailers fail on a daily basis.  It’s a terrible, stupid idea.

But it’s also an awesome and inspiring idea, the first thing that’s really excited me in years. It’s scary (hell, terrifying), but it’s something I think about more and more every day.

And I can’t seem to stop thinking.  Weird….

38 with a sludgy bullet

Yesterday, I woke up after four hours of sleep to discover I was 38 years old.  No big shock or anything.  I’d been expecting it.  Hadn’t expected to reach it on so little sleep, but that’s my fault.  Sometimes movie rentals get the best of you.

After I scraped the ice off my car, I treated myself to a pretty sedate birthday: hot pho lunch, shopping at Target and the book store, then a quick hour of prep work at the restaurant.  It felt good.  At the tail end of my thirties, I’m too often broke and stressed.  Sometimes relaxation is what I crave.  The simple pleasures of buying a new belt and a plain gray T-shirt.  I’m old and boring, and I love it.

Next month, I have two writing projects coming out.  I’m the featured writer in the next issue of LampLight, so if you pick it up you’ll get both an interview and a new short story, “Bottle. Paper. Samurai.”  It’s something a little different from me.

Second up, Broken River Books releases my new collection Will the Sun Ever Come Out Again?  Containing four novellas, I hop you’ll pick it up and dig it.  There will be a contest involved, which I’ll drop details on soon.

So yeah.  It’s 2015.  I’m 38.  Let’s go….

Smell ya later, 2013

Wow.  More than two months since my last post.  Sorry about that.  Sometimes, it feels like I spend more time apologizing for a lack of blog updates than I do writing blog updates.  Interesting.

Anyway, 2013 is winding down hard.  I figured that means it’s time for my pseudo-annual recap and promise to keep better track of things in the new year.  Let’s dig in, shall we?

In retrospect, I suppose 2013 was neither good nor bad, just one of those mixed bags we find outselves in as we trudge through our adult lives.  Honestly, that feels a tiny bit depressing.  There’s a little bit of a “This is the rest of your life” feeling to it, but I’m self-aware enough to know the rest of my life will be what I want it to be, so I suppose there’s no reason to be bummed.  Ha!  Have at thee, feelings!

Professionally, it was a year that was somehow relatively slow, disgustingly frustrating, and amazingly powerful.  It appears it was also a pretty good year for adverbs and adjectives. PALE HORSES, a book I’ve worked on for at least the past five years, was released in October.  While I’ll probably write better books in the future, PALE HORSES is the best thing I’ve written to date.  I mean that.  At no other point have I written something with characters that sing like in this book.  Of course, that’s just my point of view.  What I’m trying to say is that I’m very proud of PALE HORSES.  I sincerely hope you guys read it and enjoy it.

Four other books came out from me this year.  Abattoir Press released THE PALE MAN, fifth in their Sam Truman series.  Working on someone else’s property was a fun challenge.  Sinister Grin released a signed limited edition of THE SLAB CITY EVENT, a zombie novel told as a series of short stories that proved to be an interesting experiment. Deadite Press released a trade paperback of my vampires attack a prison novel LIGHTS OUT, and they also released the paperback of SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD, a collaborative novel between myself, Brian Keene, Shane McKenzie, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Wrath James White, J.F. Gonzalez, Ryan Harding, and Bryan Smith.  Proceeds from that book go to benefit the great Tom Piccirilli, who is successfully recovering from a bout with brain cancer.

2013 was also the year I finally started working in kitchens again.  Back in the late nineties, I worked in a casino buffet.  After two years, I left that job knowing exactly as much about cooking as I had when I started, which is to say nothing.  This year, I interned at a local Thai place (that sadly shuttered six week later).  I learned more in six weeks than I had in two years at that casino.  Most importantly, I learned that I really do love cooking and that I want to do it professionally.  I’m happy to report that 2014 will see me start my first pro kitchen job, the kind where I’m really expected to cook instead of just shoving large amounts of chicken pieces in an oven and hoping for the best. 

But what does 2014 have in store, writing-wise?  Well, Thunderstorm Books will be releasing a new novelette of mine called SAFE HOUSE, and later in the year they’ll be releasing a signed limited hardcover of PALE HORSES.  Sinister Grin will eventually release a paperback and ebook of THE SLAB CITY EVENT.  After that, I’m not sure.  I’m currently working on two novels, but I have no interest in trying to sell them until I feel they’re ready.  I’ve reached a point in my writing career where I’m not worried about “Keeping my name out there.”  I want to tell the best stories I can, to write as well as possible, and that takes time.  How much time?  We’ll see.  I’ll let you know when I know.

So that’s 2013.  It had its ups; it had its downs.  Once again, I can say I survived the year relatively unscathed.  Here’s to 2014.  May it rule hard.

The Hardest Part

Sometimes, I wonder what the hardest part of writing might be.  I’m not sure why I do this.  Maybe I just like torturing myself.  There’s certainly evidence to support that theory.  Then again, writing is a huge part of my life.  It makes sense that it would infect my thoughts more than a little.

So what is the hardest part?  I think it’s different for everybody.  For some, it’s just sitting down and doing the work.  For others, maybe it’s finding markets for their work (though let’s be honest: if you think there aren’t enough horror markets out there, you have far too narrow an idea of horror).  A few find promotion to be a chore and a half.  For one of my friends, the hardest part appears to be sitting down and writing without chain-smoking.  For another, the hardest part appears to be success.  They really appear to hate being successful.  Weird.

But what’s the hardest part for me?  I’ll admit I have a few problems with promotion.  The gears in my brain just have a lot of trouble working that way.  Other times, it’s writers’ ticks.  My good friend Lee Thomas is usually my first reader, and not a story/book comes along where he doesn’t find some character train or turn of phrase that pops up again and again.  In Scavengers, for instance, characters kept getting sick.  It seemed the zombies weren’t dangerous becuse they could eat you so much as their presence made you lose your lunch.

If I really had to choose the hardest part of writing for me though, it would have to be improvement.  More to the point, it’s very difficult for me to improve my craft as quickly and thoroughly as I’d like.  A long time ago, I decided I wanted everything I wrote to be better than what came before it.  I made constant improvement as a writer one of my longterm goals.  That, at least, I can control to some degree, which isn’t something I can say about finding an agent or landing a book with one of the big New York publishers.  So now, every time I write I find myself constantly analyzing.  Is the prose tighter?  Are the characters deeper?  Almost always, they are, but I find I improve by inches.  There are no great leaps forward.

And this drive to improve really kicks the self-doubt up a few notches, let me tell you.  Recently, I wrote a 10,000 word novelette for an upcoming anthology.  When I landed the assignment, I thought it would be easy.  He Stepped Through was roughly the same length, took about a week to write, and was one of the best pieces I’ve written.  However, when I turned in the story two months and four aborted attempts later, I felt like I’d been in a bar fight.  Everything about writing that novelette just exhausted me.  Every sentence I had written filled me with emotions ranging from frustration to sadness to disgust.  The novelette was good–really good, the editor tells me–but I thought I could do better.

Now, I’m moving on to the rewrite of a novel.  Three months ago, I thought the book was in great shape.  Lee Thomas eviscerated it, though.  It needs a ton of work, and I’m just hoping I can fix it instead of having to scrap it.  I’ve had to do that in the past.  In fact, both Down and the upcoming Pale Horses were each written at least three times.  I’m not even talking editing/rewriting.  I mean I finished the book, thought I can do better, and started over completely from page one.

Look, I don’t know if I’ll ever land an agent or get that big book deal.  I can’t promise I’ll keep putting out books with the frequency I have been.  There’s no telling if I’ll ever be successful enough to have a ‘writing career’ in the long run.  All I can control is my writing, my craft, and my desire to constantly improve.  So that’s what I’ll be doing.  For me, it’s the hardest part, but it’s also the best part.

Winding down the year….

Hey there, folks.  I wanted to drop in and catch you up on all things Nate.  Or both things Nate.  We’ll have to start writing and see how many things there are.  Might be a few, might be a lot.

So this past weekend was Thanksgiving, and it was a good time.  Got together with my ex on Wednesday to watch Sons of Anarchy and drink bourbon.  I am thankful for a lot of things this year, but one of the biggest things is tht I’ve managed to stay friends with Shawna.  It means a lot to me, and the fact that it weirds out everybody we know is a fun little cherry on top.

I spent my Thanksgiving dinner with Wrath James White and his family.  The dinner was amazing, though incredibly filling.  I’m still working on my leftovers, which includes 99% of a pumpkin pie I took because I didn’t know the White family had already baked four pies.

Friday was spent with my family, wondering why my brother likes to bring up personal things in front of children.  I made a mental note to finally stop telling him personal things.  I broke that promise two days later.  Took the pie with me, and no one touched it.  Who wants a pie?  Er…most of a pie.

Sunday night, I made my second appearance at the Cap City Comedy open mic night.  It went amazingly, much better than the first time.  I still don’t know how far I want to go with this comedy thing (or how far I can go with what talent I have), but right now it’s very fun, and I’m looking forward to doing it again as soon as possible.

I have a few more things to announce in the coming weeks/months, but I want to make sure I have all my ducks in a row, first.

And now…bring on the holidays!