Shut Your Yap, Ray Bradbury: Advice To The Blocked

28 06 2013

So writer friend…
You’ve rolled out of bed. Your mind may be foggy. You may be out of ideas. Rejections may have fallen on your head like bricks made out of birdcrap. On your shoulder, the warm touch of your muse has turned into the cold grasp of the eternal grave. You need tools. Where do you go?

“Writing Excuses” Season Eight
The current season of this podcast has been especially useful. Look up “Short Stories”, “Writing and Personal Health”, and anything titled “Brainstorming.”
Brace yourself for quips, especially in “Brainstorming”. The panelists have very active minds and sometimes they bound over each other like eager puppies.
If you are prone to self-contempt, avoid any episode that has “In Depth” in the title. The

“Characters, Structure, and Viewpoint” by Nancy Kress
Truly useful.
How to link action with dialogue. Three escalations to resolution. How to structure a likable character. All the stuff that should be taught in college Writing 101 classes, but instead presented clearly and simply.

“2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better” by Rachel Aaron
If it isn’t fun to write, maybe you don’t need it in your story. If you hit a block, come up with details about setting and character until the answer appears. Prepare an outline. These and other ideas are brought out in quick, head-smacking examples. Modest and sympathetic.

“About Writing” by Stephen King
A good book for the absolute beginner. Just enough soul-baring and hand-holding to inspire, coupled with enough practical advice without being overwhelming.

“Zen and the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury
This is damn near useless.
Ray was a Grandmaster, and he deserved the title. “The Martian Chronicles”, “The Banshee”, “The Pedestrian”, “The Fog Horn”, all are elegant and incisive and heartfelt works of literature.
However, this book is Ray celebrating being Ray, and encouraging everyone to find their inner Ray, and being bewildered why more people aren’t like Ray.
It’s “my photographic memory” this, and “grew up surrounded by my loving family” that, and “wake up bounding out of bed to start work” the other.
“There is only one type of story in the world. Your story. If you write your story it could possibly sell to any magazine.” This alone should have qualified him for institutionalization.

Shut your yap, Ray.

You ever read or watch something so good it makes you say “screw it”?

24 06 2013

I’ve gotten ten rejections since the end of May. This isn’t much compared to some of the authors I’ve posted, of course, but still it takes the wind out of my sails.
Sometimes, even the stuff that would inspire me makes me despair.
I’ve been trying to write a dark humored critique of the U.S., then I re-discovered “The Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” by Seth Fried. Wow. A town struggles with its free annual picnic, an event which invariably leads to horrible deaths, while being forced to keep the tradition alive by unseen forces. This is the story I wanted to write, done so well it leaves nothing left to say. It honestly should be required reading for every citizen, because I think everyone would agree with it Progressive, Conservative, anyone. And it won a Pushcart.

You ever read or watch something so good it makes you say “screw it”?
I’ve also listened to the frustratingly multi-talented yet pleasant Mary Robinette Kowal on Writing Excuses, and she plainly states on the episode for “Short Stories”: “Think up a character. Have them need something. Then keep them from getting it. A happy ending is them finally getting what they want. A sad ending is them not getting it.” I would add that a weird ending would be the character getting what he wants, then being taken in a brain canister by intelligent fungi to realms beyond time and space. I tend to write endings where the character gets what he wants, then realizes, no, he didn’t quite think it through and actually wanted something more basic.
But this structure doesn’t approach the structure of most horror or comedy, where the character wants something basic but is kept from it by an unforseen irony. Miles Funke statements mistaken as propositions while trying to remove a “Thing” Costume (New season of “Arrested Development”). A twin’s lifeforce absorbed by his sibling, due to their father’s dying wish to keep the family lands intact (Algernon Blackwood’s “Terror of the Twins”).

Meanwhile, Mary Kowal wrote “Evil Robot Monkey”, which does all it intends, is emotionally moving, and is less than 1000 words.

Double phooey.
There is so much in life to work with. In my case: working for a city government, being a white guy in an increasingly pluralistic society, being a frustrated artist in a transforming media landscape.
I’ve got three characters chasing around in my head looking for a tone and setting. All the while I have no commitment to my time while more productive artists are cranking out thousands of words while employed full-time, and care for families, and in some cases even have life-threatening diseases.

Have you ever read or seen something so good it made you want to say “screw it, I quit”?

Find Redundancies, and One Muscle Can Help You Focus

20 06 2013

Do you overuse words? These can help you find those redundancies. Paste in some text at


One flex of a muscle helps athletes stay “In The Zone” and not choke. Works For improvs and writers too? Try it and see.

Advice and tools for writers and comedia

17 06 2013

Advice and tools for writers and comedians. Joss Whedon and HootSuite and Macros!

Advice and Tools for Writers and Comedians Alike

17 06 2013

Are REAL Artists Just Born? Nah.

The Hidden Benefits Of Networking

(These two were via Jay Lake )

Joss Whedon’s Writing Tips Are Cinematic, Of Course

Have you had a look at HootSuite? It’s a dashboard that allows you to post to several social media at once, or schedule posts for when you can’t do it yourself. I use it and it’s handy!

And this is a line-editing macro you can insert into your MSWord. It hunts and highlights weak verbs. I had no idea how to program or use a macro and the instructions made it a breeze. I had it go through a finished story and found problems I had missed due to edit-fatigue.

”Rue Morgue Magazine’ article about

13 06 2013

”Rue Morgue Magazine’ article about ‘Pseudopod’ audio podcast. “…some of the most popular of which…Tim W Burke’s ‘Guru Keresh'”

Reviews of the new Ramsey Campbell horro

9 06 2013

Reviews of the new Ramsey Campbell horror collection and the found-footage horror anthology “V/H/S 2”!

Reviews! New Ramsey Campbell Collection and “V/H/S 2”

9 06 2013
“Holes For Faces” (yet to be released)

Have you ever grown up, even grown old, with a writer?
When I was a kid, I read collections of horror stories. One of the first names I recognized was “Ramsey Campbell.”
I liked his relatable characters and settings. As a fan of Monty Python and Hammer Films, I liked his Britishness. Most of all, I liked his ability to create suspense and unease in mundane locations; cul-de-sacs, theaters, residential streets.
I lost track of Campbell for some years, but eagerly grabbed his novel “A Grin In The Dark.”
Oy, was I disappointed! The novel had such great ideas (laughter as an ur-language? Hell yes!) but the ending struck me as flat, and the protagonist’s fate sealed without a sporting chance.
Since then, Campbell’s work had seemed repetitive and his menaces had turned from familiar to caracatures. Boy or man of education and lower-middle class. Having an urgent errand. Bullied by someone stupider, boorish, or poor. In a public place which was now unkempt, and slowly becomes more surreal and disorienting. Vague but horrid fate.
“Holes For Faces” is a collection of short stories written by Ramsey Campbell. There are a few formulaic stories in it, but where before I saw fear of the lower class and changing times, I now see the fear of growing old and infirm.
Being of a certain age now, I can relate to these stories.
Campbell’s strengths are still evident. He writes characters who are vulnerable skeptics fumbling to control their lives.
A boy with his family at Christmas, as they try to adapt to Grandma’s advancing senility. An old man with a decades-old grudge against his teacher. A husband trying to find his injured wife in a labyrinthine hospital. It doesn’t take much to turn these very real situations into something appalling.
For all his limitations, Ramsey Campbell is still refreshing and necessary in today’s horror scene. His style is a claustrophobic, third-person limited. There is no gore, violence is only implied, and his language is vivid and lyrical. He is an always-welcome change from the splattery and the Big Themes offered by many other writers.
I recommend this collection, but do not read it all at once. Grab a couple of stories every few days and then do some errands, or talk to your nicer neighbors. You’ll be surprised at how easily you can imagine these stories happening to you or your friends, and that will give an even more fulfilling chill.

“V/H/S 2” (available through streaming and on PPV)

There are classic horror anthology movies (“Dead of Night”), and classic found-footage movies (“Blair Witch”). The “V/H/S” franchise of horror found-footage anthology is not quite classic, but has shown great improvement. The premise of the franchise is that an odd collection of frightful videos causes supernatural things to happen to those who view them. The wrap-around tale in “1” had a group of teens ransacking a house, finding these tapes, then coming to a bad end. In “2”, a pair of private eyes break into a house in search a missing boy, to discover the same malicious collection.

“V/H/S 1” held a lot of promise, but was hampered by the weaknesses of low-budget productions and raw ability. At two hours long, its stories meandered. The acting was weak. And there was the very logic that if demons were chasing you, why would you keep holding the camera?

Now, the cheap wearable camera has given new life to the found-footage movie. “V/H/S 2” has adapted and came up with satisfying explanations. One story has a prototype eye implant with recording technology. The other stories have spy cameras, helmet cams, even a dog cam, and they are all used believably.
The trailer for “1” gave away all the important plot points.
The trailer for “2” did not give away the best scares, and as a pleasant surprise, did not tip off moments.
Another improvement is that goals and motives are clearer. The pacing is faster. The acting is better. In particular, I liked the story of a slumber party attacked by aliens. The kids were engagingly energetic, abusive, and profane.
Still, it suffers from writing more interested in making shocks than in creating motives or logic. Extraterrestrials can’t find the hiding teenagers. In other stories, a cult leader’s evil vaguely causes a pregnancy to become hellish. Cellphones are forgotten. Whole arsenals are left lying on the floor. A zombie infection takes hold with inconsistent results.
What does watching these videos do to the private eyes, and why?
There still seems to be a maturity issue with “V/H/S.” The young, white, male directors in “1” had a lot of topless women as monsters, and an almost all-white cast. In “2”, there was only one set of boobs, and the only people of color were in the segment written by a new, foreign director.
It is not enough to put someone who looks like me on screen and have them say “I love you.” I have to see that someone be lovable.
Some segments have the problems found in most found-footage horror: sound or music stings come out of nowhere, people pull aside curtains with bloodstains, a quick turn away means a ghoul will be there when you turn back.
“V/H/S 2” has moments of chills and suspense, and is stronger than its predecessor. I look forward to seeing the next installment. Hopefully, it will be a classic.

Some writing advice I’ve found, and a w

3 06 2013

Some writing advice I’ve found, and a writer I like…

Writing advice I’ve found and a writer I like…

3 06 2013

I have a story that has been rejected fourteen times. I still send it out because I believe in it, and others in my writers’ groups have liked it.
Here’s another reason why you should keep trying:

Write a lot. Here’s why:

Like dialects and accents? Though it doesn’t take tempo or idioms into account, click the green dots for audio samples:

Do you know Chet Williamson? He’s a writer I’d like to be. He has written humor for The New Yorker and he writes wonderful dark humor. I’m only familiar with his short stories, but he’s a novelist who’s done well-received media-tie-in work. Have a look at him: