Jonesing

I haven’t written in two days.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been productive.  It just means I haven’t worked on anything new.  In the past two days i’ve proofread the second draft of a novella and the galleys of a novel, searched for a home for a short story, scheduled a shoot for author photos, and dug a little deeper into the Great Agent Hunt.  I’m happy for these distractions, because soon I’ll be handing that novella off to my final pre-reader, and that means I have to dive back into two novels that I’ve been working on for the past year and continue to push me as a writer.

But I’m jonesing.  Jonesing hard.

A couple of days without writing–without creating–and my skin starts to crawl.  Story ideas creep into my head and demand their spot in line.  The cover of a book makes me envious (the beautiful covers on ChiZine Publication’s books are really bad about this).  I start to look for vacation days so I can spend gigantic chunks of time just typing.

But I can’t. There are things in the queue.  A novella.  Two novels.  A few years ago, maybe even last year, I might have just busted through them and decided I was done.  They’d either sell or they wouldn’t (hint: they wouldn’t).  Now, I want to spend an eternity on them, crafting and carving and making them perfect.  I don’t want to be a hack.  I want to be a writer.

Sometimes the jones helps.  Sometimes it doesn’t.

Juggling

Well, this is something new…

If there’s anything positive about being a new, not so in demand writer, it’s the time.  See, deadlines aren’t really a problem for me, because I don’t have any.  I decide what I want to work on, and then I generally work on that project until it’s done.  Shorts, novellas, novels: all of ’em are usually seen through from beginning to end in short order.

And yet, that appears to be ending.

Trust me, that’s a good thing.  If there’s anything I want to be, it’s in demand.  And no, “In demand” still ain’t how I’d describe myself, but there’s enough interest recently that I’ve been forced to juggle projects a bit.

Late last month, I started working on a new novel.  I figured it was a good time, as I didn’t have anything scheduled for release until Autumn.  But about a week into work, I got pulled aside to go over final edits for an upcoming novella I wrote with Lee Thomas.  No problem.  Lee and I knocked them out in a few hours, and I went back to work.

Then about two weeks ago, an editor asked me to submit a short story.  Reprints were the thing (a best of antho), but I had to go through the stories I have that fit the theme before sending something in.  A few days later, an editor I’ve long admired asked me to submit a short to another antho.  Great.  I dropped everything and got to work.  The next day, I got another request, this time for a 20,000 word novella.  Awesome!  What was that novel about again?  Don’t matter.  Daddy has requested materials to write!  Hee hee!
So here I am, juggling projects for the first time and having a ball.  Who could ask for anything more?

Without A Net

I can’t remember where I read it, but I remember an interview (or maybe it was a section of On Writing) where Stephen King said he started a novel with a list of characters and an inkling of an idea, nothing more.  That impresses the hell out of me.  Really, it does.  I rarely write anything without a clear idea where it’s going.  Just Like Hell was outlined pretty extensively.  The novel I have coming out later this year was written purely so I could get to the next-to-last scene, which had been stuck in my head for months.  Every long piece I’ve written (and nearly all of the short ones) at least had an ending in place before I started writing them, and most of them had pretty clear outlines, at least in my head.

I’ve tried it the other way, of course.  My files are littered with half-finished manuscripts, things that started out on a wing and a prayer only to crash and burn.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now.

Well, I’m doing it again.

About ten days ago, I started writing what I thought would be a short story.  I didn’t have an ending or even a story in mind.  Truthfully, I only had the characters and their initial situation in mind.  Everything else, I figured, would work itself out in 5000 words or so.  Almost 25k words later, it looks like I’m crashing through a novel.

And I’m having a blast.

I’ve never made it this far on the seat of my pants before.  Things are falling into place, and the action keeps charging forward.  I’m still not sure how it’s going to end, but the ride is sure to be a wild one.  Seriously, I’ve never had this much fun writing something before.  With any luck, this could turn into something special.

So wish me luck.  I’m diving back in.

Good weekend for riding

The sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds Saturday, so I decided to take The Late Late Show out for some miles.  A little bit of research led me to believe FM 1431 would be a fun road, and goddamn was I right!  This twisty little road that snakes through the Hill Country from Cedar Park to Marble Falls was the best time I’ve ever had on my sportster.  The Late Late Show handled every dip, rise, and curve like a champ.

Yesterday, the sun was gone, but the rain hadn’t arrived yet, so I took the bike out Highway 620 to Bee Caves Rd, then on to 360 and home.  A different ride, since much of it was highway, but there were still twists and turns to be had.

It was around this time last year when I finally decided to get my ass in gear and work toward buying that motorcycle I’ve always wanted.  I’m happy to say that weekends like this one really tell me I made the right choice.  There’s nothing like the feeling of twisting that throttle and getting the wind in your face.  It’s just amazing!

On Blank Slates

I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions.  Not sure why, but it’s something I’ve never really got around to doing.  Maybe there’s a reason for it, and maybe there isn’t.  I guess it’s not important.

What is important to me is the start of a new year and everything that comes with it.  Even more importantly, there’s everything that gets left behind.  2009 wasn’t a great year for me.  It was right up there with 2008 on the “Awful Shit” scale.  It’s my sincere hope that 2010 is an improvement.

Okay, so 2009 wasn’t all bad.  It saw the release of my first short story collection, Broken Skin.   I published additional short stories in Shroud, Cemetery Dance, the first issue of Brian Keene’s newsletter Of Keene Interest, and at Horror World.  I sold He Stepped Through to Bloodletting Books, and two other books have been snatched up by another small press, though contracts haven’t been signed on those.  My writing took several strong steps forward, thanks to the help and advice of great friends.

But y’know what? 2010 feels like a blank slate.  I can do anything I want with it, and I think I will.  I’ll still be writing, and I’ll continue to improve as a writer.  I’ll still be living, and I’ll continue to improve as a person.  That’s good enough, I think.  Don’t really need any resolutions for that.

Have a great 2010, everybody.  May it be better than your 2009.

Christmas and The Family

My second Christmas with Shawna, I heard what has become my favorite Christmas song.  We were out in Abilene, spending the holiday with her family (now my family).  On Christmas Eve, while taking a break from the regular activities of drinking and bullshitting, Shawna’s uncle put in a Robert Earl Keen CD.  Seconds later, I was listening to “Merry Christmas from the Family.”

I’m not sure if I can explain how this funny song that’s almost a novelty can be so touching to me.  For myself, it sums up the small things that make families, well, family.  It’s a simple, heartfelt song about keeping those special in your heart close to you.  At least, that’s what it is to me.  While it used to make me laugh, it eventually started making me thankful.  This year, it also makes me cry.

Have a happy holiday, everybody.  Tell your family and friends how much you love them.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE FAMILY
By Robert Earl Keen

Mom got drunk and Dad got drunk at our Christmas party
We were drinking champagne punch and homemade eggnog
Little sister brought her new boyfriend
He was a Mexican
We didn’t know what to think of him ’til he sang
Felis Navidad, Felis Navidad

Brother Ken brought his kids with him
The three from his first wife Lynn
And the two identical twins from his second wife Mary Nell
Of course, he brought his new wife Kay
Who talks all about AA
Chain smoking while the stereo plays Noel, Noel
The First Noel

Carve the Turkey
Turn the ball game on
Mix margaritas when the eggnog’s gone
Send somebody to the Quickpak Store
We need some ice and an extension chord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of tampons and some Marlboro Lights
Halellujah everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the family

Fred and Rita drove from Harlingen
I can’t remember how I’m kin to them
But when they tried to plug their motor home in
They blew our Christmas lights
Cousin David knew just what went wrong
So we all waited out on our front lawn
He threw the breaker and the lights came on
And we sang Silent Night, Silent Night, Oh Holy Night

Carve the turkey turn the ball game on
Mix Bloody Mary’s
Cause We All Want One!
Send somebody to the Stop ‘N Go
We need some celery and a can of fake snow
A bag of lemons and some Diet Sprites
A box of tampons and some Salem Lights
Halelluja, everybody say cheese
Merry Christmas from the Family

Felis Navidad!

My 2009 songs

Last year, I didn’t create a list of my top songs of the year.  I really don’t know why not.  Just never got around to it, I guess.

Well, this year I’m going to almost give you such a list.  This isn’t a list of my top songs of 2009.  Hell, most of these songs didn’t come out in 2009.  At least one of them came out more than ten years ago.  Instead, this is a list of the songs that were important to me this year, the songs that got me through a really shitty 365 days.  They appear in no particular order and contain a sample lyric just for shits and giggles.

1) “Two Words, Mr. President: Plausible Deniability” by Driver F.  This high energy and goofy as hell Austin band delivered a very infectious record with Chase the White Whale.  This, the lead track, is one of the best, most pure pop rock songs since Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys were recording. “Hey Angel, won’t you shed your wings and stay a while?”

2) “Call of the Playground” by Shudder to Think.  Back in 1997, Shudder to Think released 50,000 BC.  To date, I’m the only person I know who loves that record.  “Call of the Playground” blends wonderful melodies with quirky dynamics and tempos.  Craig Wedren’s soaring, trembling vocals just make things perfect. “Is that a bruise or a kiss?”

3) “Summer, Man” by Taking Back Sunday.  I’ve dug Taking Back Sunday since their first record, and their latest continued to impress.  “Summer, Man” is the highlight.  From the tripping guitar intro to the thundering chorus, this could be TBS’s best song to date.  “The summer is over, and I doubt I’ll be seeing you around.”

4) “Word Forward” by Foo Fighters.  After a record so disappointing I can’t be bothered to look up the title, Dave Grohl and company recorded one of their best songs ever for their greatest hits collection (ironic, no?).  “Word Forward” isn’t just a semi-poignant meditation on growing old and up, but also a rock song that starts quiet and then builds into something just… amazing.  “Goodbye Jimmy, farewell youth….”

5) “The Bitch of Living” by the cast of Spring Awakening.  Sure, this song may be a rather coy discussion of masturbation, but there’s also a lot of lines in there that really ring true about just how fucking hard life can be.  In a year when I lost both parents and spent most of my time hating myself, it really meant a lot to me. “It’s the bitch of living and living in your head.  It’s the bitch of living, just getting out of bed.”

6) “Learned to Surf” by Superchunk.  I’ve been hoping for years and years that Superchunk would put out another disc.  Well, that wish came true this year with Leaves in the Gutter. This song is everything a Superchunk song should be: poppy, rocking, funny, and sung up high. “I can’t hold my breath anymore.  I stopped sinking, learned to surf.”

7) “Spread Like Fingers” by Cruiserweight. I’ll end on a more upbeat note and with another Austin band.  I’ve long been a fan of Cruiserweight, and when their record Big Bold Letters came out, I found myself listening to it for months on end.  This was my highlight, a slightly sad, slightly sweet take on love and friendship.  “Thank God we keep our roots close together, and I promise to keep your name where I go in big bold letters.”

Heading for the Holidays

Well, December is here, and the holidays are right around the corner.  For me, that means a lot of weekends spent in my pajamas and plenty of worries about what to buy so and so and how on earth I’m going to afford it.  It also means I can put egg nog in my coffee (when I’m not putting pumpkin spice creamer in it).

The first issue of Brian Keene’s newsletter, Of Keene Interest, has been released.  It contains my short story “Work Pit Four,” which is possibly the best peace of writing I’ve put together in the past few years.  Of course, if you’re not already a subscriber, you’re kind of screwed.  Sorry about that.

Looking for a Christmas present for that special someone?  A not-so-special someone?  Yourself?  Well, maybe you should head over to the bookstore and do a little shopping!

As things head toward the end of the year around here, I’ve got to make a few blog-related decisions.  Namely, I have to figure out if I’m going to post a top ten books of the year.  I’m always behind on my reading, so it’s usually a Top Ten Books I Read This Year list.  Normally, that doesn’t bother me, but this year saw the release of both King’s Under the Dome and Simmons’ Drood, and I haven’t had a chance to read either.  Really, it just feels kind of ridiculous to write a year’s best when I haven’t read the two biggest horror releases of the year.

So that’s where the first full week of December finds us. Enjoy!

Snatching at ideas

I don’t know how every writer out there writes, and I certainly won’t pretend to know.  If nothing else, I like to be honest about how little I know.  It keeps me humble and makes me look slightly amusing, two qualities I enjoy.

One thing I do know, however, is how the ideas bouncing around in my head turn into stories, and I felt that would make for a nice return from the holiday weekend.

Again, I’m not speaking for anybody but me.  So there’s that.

At any point in time, there are dozens of ideas bouncing around in my head.  Some are more fully formed than others, and some bounce around a lot faster, really grabbing my attention.  None of them, however, is a complete idea for a story.  They’re pieces, fragments.  Without something else to go with it, they’re useless.

Luckily, most days the ideas will find each other.  A little something from here will latch onto a little something from there, and the ideas turn into something new.  If that happens enough, I’ve got a story.  It’s tough to say when the ideas have turned into a story except to say it just feels “right.”  When that feeling hits, there’s nothing quite like it.

Sometimes, however, that feeling doesn’t hit at all.  There’s been one idea floating in my head for seven years now, but I haven’t been able to find something that fits with it and makes it a story… yet.

Deeper Waters from Broken Skin is a good example of things coming together the right way.  For years, I’d been sitting on the idea of a small rivier town that’s been flooded up to the second story.  I knew there was something in the water, but I didn’t really know what.  Only when that idea came together with the notion for white trash magician Charlie Crawdad and the memory of a town that had been filled in after a flood did the story start to take shape.  Without coming together, those ideas would have just been a bunch of parts.

So that’s how I do it.  Equal parts construction, magic, and dumb luck.  Kinda like everything else.

Eat me! It’s Thanksgiving Day!

So Thanksgiving is two days away.  Maybe you need a side dish, and maybe I need a blog topic?  Maybe there’s some way we can help each other out?

You bet your sweet ass, there is!

See, I’m a meat eater from way back, and I’ve only recently reached the point where I can eat vegetables without making gag faces.  While I realize this doesn’t make me a paragon of maturity, it down put me in a position to expound on vegetable dishes that the non-vegetable lovers out there might like.  For instance, here’s one I’ve made for the last three Thanksgivings that has gone over very well.  Feel free to try it.

(You’ll notice everything is sort of tossed in without much precision. You won’t find a lot of measurements here.  Sorry about that.)

Nate’s Green Beans and Sundried Tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced (show some self-respect and don’t use a garlic press, okay?)
3-4 sundried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
About a tablespoon of diced white onion
A big bunch of fresh green beans, as many as you want (I usually do enough to fill a 14″ cast iron skillet)
About 2 tablespoons of butter
A few splashes of white wine

Okay, so heat up your skillet and sautee the garlic and onions in the butter.  Wait until they’re good and fragrant, then toss in the tomoatoes.  Give those some time, then add the green beans .  The goal is to sear the beans and tomoatoes a bit, so cook them for a good while, splashing now and then with the wine.  Once you’ve got some good black marks on them, splash one last time and then cover.  Leave it for a couple of minutes to cook the rest of the way, and then you’re done!

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.