Just Sent Out Novel Draft To Beta Readers. Here’s What to Ask Them.

30 06 2022

I have a primary irl writers group, an online writers group, and interested friends reviewing my draft. The first concern would be: with som many points of view, wouldn’t I get overwhelmed by detailed critiques? Yes, however! Critiques are like product reviews. You have a look at them, gather their commonalities and adjust based on what lots of people need for the work to be better.

Even people who don’t like my genre can help! Heck, even people who didn’t like the book at all can help.

How? First, for those people who bailed on reading, ask “where in the plot did you lose interest?” Chances are they lost interest where an enthusiastic reader would: at exposition, or dialogue which held no benefit to the story, or at a stylistic darling which jarred the tone. They may bail out if the stakes aren’t clearly described, so like I always say, summarize the stakes before or at the 20% mark of the complete work.

That was for the non-genre readers. For readers already fluent in speculative fiction, what questions can you ask them?

  1. Does this draft remind you of any other existing work? A resemblance to existing books or media may be a good thing, in that you may not realize you wrote “Moby Dick In Space” (did not write that) and people like both Moby Dick and Space. Or it may be bad because It’s Been Done and This Ain’t Fresh. For that reason, if someone tells me one of my drafts reminds them of another work, I seriously consider abandoning the project. I am a snob and this being a snob has made my life difficult. But it forces me to come up with better ideas.
  2. Can you relate to the characters? Not “do you like the characters”, because like actual people, characters exist for their own benefit and on their own merits. Your friends annoy you sometimes, and That Guy can be admirable sometimes. Judge the characters on the clarity of expressiveness and motivations.
  3. Is The Science too easy? Whatever powers warp drives or werewolves needs to be inconvenient in proportion to the benefit.
  4. I aim for three sensory details per page. I forgot to check for that before I sent out the draft.
  5. The Clean Silhouette. Characters need to be easy to imagine. Not stereotypical, because that is LAAAAAAZZYYYY. But if you were to turn off the lights so that you could only see their outline, could you tell one character from another?
  6. The Gut Punch Image/Good Kill. In “The Flesh Sutra”, I had a man birth himself from the tumor in another man’a brain. In “Saints of Flesh”, I’m going after cosmic horror (which I did somewhat satisfying) and body horror (yeah, some good stuff). Both present strong images.

Do any of you have questions you ask your readers?





Portents? Am I Magicking Myself?

14 06 2022

I woke last week with a muscle cramp in my right shoulder spreading from my forearm to outside my shoulder blade. I tried to gut it out over two nights bad sleep. Then I was reminded of the deep tissue massage kiosk at The Mall. I paid $30 to be pummeled over a total 30 minutes. Felt better just in time for a day off so I could work on the revision that I realized I had been procrastinating.

Drank a cola at lunch and the pain came back almost as bad as before. At Panera, in front of my laptop, it did not subside.

I looked at my hand. I honestly became concerned. The ache spread so badly. Would this interfere with my day job? Would I even be able to type?

A realization quieted everything.

“Would I be able to type?”

I thought the pain may be something like how my body reacted when it was time to become Big Time Publisher and throw panic attacks at me.

Immediately, I opened my draft. I began fixing the first sentence of the chapters. And the ache ebbed away.

Then the pain came back. No easy answer here. No such luck.

I did a pass on the last three chapters for clarity. Now that I’m done, the pain is like an ice-cream headache centered on my shoulder.

I’m rather happy for this book.

Had a dream after seven this morning, maybe based on the ibuprofen kicking in. I dream often of enormous wooden structures, boarding houses the size of stadiums. Usually they are in need of repair. This morning the building was seemingly brand-new. I was part of a loose-knit theater group that had forgotten that today they were to perform.

The performers were a few former members of my comedy group and a variety of 30-ish people like those at my day job. The performance was supposed to be a multi-media comedy/drama of some critical importance. My first reflex was to head for the hills.

We pulled together and created this piece that mixed back-stage preparations of the show with the show’s performance, which is something I had wanted to do for decades. Dozens of 30-ishes leapt in with big trucks and lots of their own props to assemble spaces throughout this small area of this enormous victorian house. The set pieces include existing stairways, storage rooms, porches, rooms where one wall faced the outside. Props were automobiles, stage lights, tapestries, junk, all in the earth tones of the discarded. Audience wandered through all day.

At one point, though, I am not wearing clothes. A few 30-ish audience see my genitals. They giggle or show disdain at my performance faux pas. The performance had taken a hit by my blunder. What I remember is a 30ish telling me that one of our performers Dean Martin (that Dean Martin) took off his shirt and did a GG Allin punk-rock body thrash on the small wooden stage.

It was understood that overall the show had satisfied, in the way an ensemble piece satisfied; my own performance had not been good that evening, but it was the performance and its dialogue with the audience that had created a unique, satisfying moment. I awoke feeling that a portion of me had briefly reawakened; that bit of brain from being an impulsive kid at heedless play, something more basic than professional improvisation, or maybe a place without consciousness. The feeling opened a sunny, living part of me I had forgotten.

If I’m lucky, I have thirty years of life before me. If I can get back to that state of mind, I will count myself fortunate.





Prepping My Beta Readers

9 06 2022

As you already know, I have two writing groups who are reviewing the first finished draft of what I’m calling “Saints of Flesh”. One group has published authors and editors, the other has extensively well-read spec fiction fans. They would seem formidable advisors for shaping my novel. Problem though: none of them are horror fans.

So I am preparing my account on Online Writers Workshop. For every piece of writing submitted, I have to review three submissions by other members. That is done and I believe I have enough reviews to cover my whole novel.

Why Online Writers Workshop? They have editors experienced in horror. I’ve been a member of this site off and on for years, and I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing early works by Nicole Cushing, who has gone on to greater acclaim. The fellow members do not seem great in numbers or high in polish, but the editors of the site review everything submitted.

I am cynical enough to tell say this may be a good networking/promotion opportunity if those editors take a shine to my novel. But I’m glad to have the work out of my head. The process of submitting/publishing seems exhausting. I haven’t even revised, after all.

Friends of mine expressed interest in reading as well.

Still struggling with the alternate denouement. The finished one lacks body horror, you see, and I think bringing that back and incorporating some story elements would bring the endeavor to a more satisfying close.

Found a new podcast’s that agreeable in aesthetics and politics: Rite Gud with Raquel S. Benedict

It’s for advanced writers with a contrarian bent. Like me, the podcast has a problem with the industrialization of spec fiction, where everything has to be a series, has to pointedly have a demographic, seems to not express but assuage.

It talks philosophy and technique. Have a look at the guest list and topics to see if you’d like it.





NOVEL FIRST DRAFT DONE. You Know How I’d Been Spinning Four Subplots?

19 05 2022

I landed all of them. I resolved all of them in the same, one scene.

Hell yes, I rock.

The novel is at approximately 45K words. Second draft polishing to begin tomorrow.

Casualty count: two dead, perhaps to be resurrected in a new reality. One new god, who is a Bubbling Chaos of Flesh and Consciousness in a Silver Bowl. One character reincarnated. Two new supra-powered adepts of the new god, wreaking havoc.

This is Gothic, Flesh, and Cosmic Horror with religious subtexts.

I have started collecting the names of small indie presses. At the time, I’m not bothering with agents until I get a contract.





Kij Johnson on Good Ideas

13 05 2022




More Thoughts On WIP and Magick

11 05 2022

Currently figuring out the big climax. All the characters are in one location. I realized I could resolve the Doppelgänger character by having the protagonist realize her core personal conflict. But I’ve got unwieldy cursed tumors and a near-immortal antagonist. How do I deal with them? Rather than be overwhelmed, I waited. I gave myself space and took a couple of days off.

A random listening to the “Psycho Analysis” podcast about Frankenstein gave me an idea — maybe THE idea as to how to resolve them to gruesome satisfaction.

I’m starting to look at publishers and I’m feeling my chest clench again. So, one step at a time. Get it finished first.

It’s worth mentioning that when I began this novel, and was writing from Alecsis’s perspective, I was doom- scrolling seven websites every day, several times a day. My spiritual concerns were limited to “what version of Christianity will keep me out of Hell?” I gnawed at decades-old regrets. My mind had a constant drumbeat of “must do”, “get done”, and “be more”.

At the same time, I was painfully aware that I had only one life, maybe only one opportunity at anything, and I should NOT SCREW UP. Which made mistakes and learning curves difficult.

Now, writing from Olivia’s POV, I am down to doom-scrolling only political Twitter, still several times a day, but a vast improvement. I am accepting that I do not understand myself. I relax more in the moment and do more of what I enjoy. I am comfortable that each person is their own solitary religion, picking through everything that came before. I am a more comfortable and accepting person, and am trying to forgive my mistakes and misunderstandings.

Olivia quested after meaningful goals, while Alecsi worked toward redeeming a mistake that couldn’t be undone. Olivia and Alecsi had both killed Thomas, and both had pledged to improve the world to atone. But in time, Olivia settled into accepting what they had done and making the best of her situation. Alecsi still wanted to be perfect.

I wouldn’t have tried Olivia’s POV if it weren’t for my friends in Noble Fusion Eastern Court. Life dictates Art which guides Life.

Many people I know needed to change their lives so dramatically, they changed their names to allow for that radical growth. Patty put her traumatic childhood behind her by embracing her nickname Bunny. Al put his past behind him by using his middle name Randy. Pseudonyms allow exploration of personas uncomfortable for the artist. Artists performing under their own names talk about their “stage persona”, sometimes referring to that persona as a separate being. Performers talk about how the audience expectations shape their performances, even their performing styles.

This is all kind of Jungian. The story is outside and inside, waiting. It may not be an ingenious work, but it must be told for you to grow.





Is Writing Magick?

3 05 2022

As mentioned before, I am nearing the end of my first-ish draft of “Saints of Flesh”. My primary writing group Noble Fusion Eastern Court have been impressed at how I’ve kept a lot of plates spinning in the plot. The problem now is bringing the plates together while still spinning, stacking them together, then lowering them to the floor to rest in a satisfying manner.

Some days I look at descriptions of other books and think “damn, my stuff is a bit goofy”. Then I look at other books and think “maybe my book is supposed to be a little over the tops like these guys”. I can’t honestly say that I’m writing a book that I’d want to read. I am writing the book that is there in me right now.

There are so many small press publishers out there. I am encouraged by this because having read many small press through Kindle Unlimited, I know I have a solid book. We all know the trick with small press; get a publisher with a good track record. I had been interested in one publisher with a good track record, but then they published something controversial and now have gone to ground. I passed on going to the writers’ fest in Williamsburg VA because I have nothing to market quite yet and I have a reflexive aversion to try to work into existing social groups.

The good thing here is that I do enjoy writing every day. It’s becoming easier to focus on that. Writing has been fun lo these many years, but lately I’m wondering if my subject matter is harming my outlook.

I am anxious and depressed, less so than I used to be, but still it’s something I work on. I had quite an interest in writing humor. Over the years, though, as I discovered that good writing comes from the heart, I lost a lot of my mirth. Jokes still come when I talk with people, but not so much when I write.

Jokes were my way of distracting myself and being endearing to others. Placing a distancing TV frame around everything helped my anxiety. That frame is my earliest childhood memory. So I realized that joking was not so much a choice as a compulsion. Did I choose to daydream all the time? Did I choose to create? Maybe I did.

Humor has disappointed me in these past years. My stabs at sketch comedy and movie production lost their momentum when I needed to risk my ego by going to the next level. I could go on about how comedy in the U.S. relies way too much on improvisation, and how Lorne Michaels is killing creativity, and that I don’t laugh at movies because I can see the stitching in the fabric. I’m still sussing out how I feel, but it just may be that no one makes anything quite to my taste.

Horror became a means of being outrageous with catharsis.

I’ve realized that horror reinforces my anxious view of the world. Someone said somewhere that Horror is Fantasy for atheists, and I agree with that. Is writing horror bad for my health?

A last thing I have noticed: writing is cathartic, but it also helps to process problems at a less-than-aware level. Concentrating on Alecsi in “The Flesh Sutra” reinforced a doomed romanticist perspective. In this book, Olivia is more proactive and does a mind-bending amount of personal examination and growth. These reflect my states of mind during their creation. I would like to experiment with writing a Marty Lou for the purposes of hacking my own psyche, much like Grant Morrisson did with King Mob.





Nearing The End of Draft One, Here Is How My Supernatural Stuff Works

26 04 2022

I’m at 41K words into “Saints of Flesh”, a sequel novel to “The Flesh Sutra”. As I write, I’ve developed a working theory for superhuman capabilities, how they may be achieved, and how societies have appropriated stories of these abilities to support established religions. Join me, won’t you?

The Science of “The Flesh”

  1. Supernatural Ability Latent Within Humanity

Supernatural capabilities seem more created by discipline than by virtue. While discipline does encourage virtue, the powers of the holy seem prevalent among only a select few within those adhering to the discipline. Not all nuns come back as visions.

Superhuman capabilities can be learned. It follows that those predisposed to ability can have the ability enhanced through discipline.

Supernatural or numinous experiences can be provoked by specific stimuli. Magnetic fields, infrasonic sound, strobe light, extremes of exhaustion and pain, concentrated repetition of any type, etc. Religions use resonant spaces, patterns of color, group invocations, and other stimuli to create numinous experiences. These create changes in the brain.

Resistance to cold, heat, fire, fatigue, suffocation are well documented, as well as physical abnormality and genetic mutations that enhance these abilities.

Learned abilities and traits can be inherited genetically.

Generations studying an ability will create generations for whom that ability will be second nature or even enhanced beyond normal capability.

Genes can become latent or regressive.

The human record encompasses over forty generations.

Stories of the paranormal abilities have considerable consistencies that span cultures.

Stories telling of abilities outside these consistencies can be attributed to cultural propaganda.

An ability does not have to be understood by science for that ability to be valid.

Given these statements, we can assume humanity is capable of these abilities: survival of severe mutilation; resistance to fire, cold, suffocation, and electricity; precognition; post-cognition; generation of illusions; influence over people and animals; speaking with spirits; banishment of spirits; remote viewing; astral projection; levitation; bilocation; teleportation; communication with the dead; regeneration even of dead tissue; the curing of illness; revivification of the dead; reincarnation.

Many abilities did not make the cut: telekinesis, telepathy, pyrokinesis, walking on water, control of weather, invocation of earthquakes, creation of matter. These abilities are not generally found throughout the world’s folklore.

Note also there is a difference between a human exhibiting these abilities versus the invocation of an outside force; Moses (who may have not existed and may be propaganda) did not part the Red Sea, but invoked God to do the work.

This is not to say that humanity cannot learn new abilities. That happens in this novel.

This is where writing has led me so far. I’m half-persuaded that this is the truth.

2. How Is It Cultivated?

Supernatural abilities are most often associated with those engaged in sacred rituals or working in sacred spaces. What do these rituals and abilities have in common?

Sensory discipline: the deprivation or over saturation of sound, sight, or activity. Monasteries deprive acolytes of stimulation and force repetition to subsume the ego. Cathedrals and mosques subsume the ego by overwhelming the ego with resonant sound, colorful patterns, and ritual. I have tiny knowledge of shamanisms and other religions, but can make a case the use of drugs or frenzied activity redirecting consciousness.

Inspirations: being told that others have achieved the desired abilities.

3. Conclusions

By distilling the most effective sounds and color patterns, an “ur-sainthood” could unlock latent abilities.

4. But Godhood? And Reincarnation?

Just as science can be mistaken for magic, this ur-sainthood would be mistaken for a supernaturally empowered superiority.

Gods, devils, angels, demons throughout history and all over the world behave like really dopey people. Because these beings are really dopey people who have achieved this ur-sainthood. Religions are attempts to understand these unwieldy, even dangerous beings.

Reincarnation beliefs around the world implies a spiritual realm similar to the Akashic Field or an astral plane, that is a nil-space of pure consciousness. Religions are attempts to understand this realm.

These ideas aren’t new. How do they fulfill the needs of the story?

Two tropes in fantasy fiction bother me greatly. The first is “achieving ability without sacrifice”. Gandalf seems pretty well adjusted to wielding Godhood, which he wields by being born into power. Hogwarts students study books and wave their wands, which works because they were born into it.

IMO, this is bunk. It implies that by luck of birth, the reader too could be supernaturally enabled. It implies that such an enabled person could become well-adjusted within a “Third Age Muggle” world.

It is bunk because in reality, anyone who excels sacrifices anything resembling a normal life. Olympic athletes socially stunt themselves, become exposed to abusers, become the focus of mania and vitriol. Garth Ennis’ “The Boys” better reflects how Gandalf and Hogwarts would be treated in reality.

Related to that, supernatural “sacrifice” is always some variation of something the average bookish person would really want. Gandalf is a loner? Hogwarts keeps to themselves? How are these sacrifices? I cannot speak to other magic systems from other authors, but even if a magician is cutting off body parts to empower themselves, these pains are all voluntary. Did he really need that finger compared to rearranging reality itself?

The second trope that bothers me is “Devastation, Oh Well”. How much carnage have we seen in superhero movies, in both Stars Trek and Wars, in even the Potterverse, and dang no one seems traumatized or shunned. The best example to me is “Supernatural” where as the seasons progress the writers have to up the ante of shock by killing families, then filled diners, then hospitals, then entire towns. But to create pathos, the writers ran out of ideas except for killing every woman character (until the fans got po’d and the two sheriffs were spared).

My preference is for power beyond reason, my characters should suffer beyond reason. For the story to remain plausible, everything should be so small and personal that the world will not notice.

I did that with “The Flesh Sutra” and I’m truly enjoying doing that with “Saints of Flesh”.





What I Learned About Writing While My Guts Were An “E” Ticket

15 02 2022

If you don’t understand the headline, an old head can explain it.

This week I’m recovering from food poisoning, probably from raw honey. I don’t know. This week has been a wash. That said, I’ve been doing more reading and listening to podcasts. The books I ordered while I had Covid had arrived and before this latest fresh hell, I got some reading in. I listened to some podcasts and learned two things to apply to my work in progress:

Writing Excuses. When you leave a red herring, have your most liked character notice it first and be distracted by it. I lucked into doing this right because my novel has few characters. And to have a charismatic villain, just give them a goal and turn them loose. Have them make mistakes and vulnerabilities. Did well with this, thanks to guidance from my writing group Noble Fusion.

Body Shocks: Extreme Tales of Body Horror. edited by Ellen Datlow

You don’t need to be queasy about Extreme Body Horror anymore. It seems that prose masters of gore like Ed Lee are no longer considered “Extreme Horror” and are now called “Splatterpunks”. Now “Body Horror” is less about grotesquerie and more about social commentary, as in Cronenburg or Del Toro movies. Look up Sam Miller’s story in Pseudopod for his sequel to Carpernter’s “The Thing” from a queer perspective.

Or look up Johnson’s “Spar”, which won the Nebula for Best Short Story. The collection span this now-seemingly quaint story of amorphous alien sex, to collectors of anatomy, to forced paralysis, to murder victims. There is a being made of candy and I found that a neat idea. The whole book is worth reading. I enjoyed it. My enthusiasm may be a little wrung out from my recent experience, if you catch my drift.

“The Wide Carnivorous Sky” collects John Langan’s stories. Think Stephen King with less monster, more dread. (This is terribly reductive, but I’m dehydrated okay?) I am on the fence about this collection. He writes dense and compelling descriptions, sets just enough mood, then it’s an info dump of a monster or a rather pedestrian kill. Langan is a college professor who teaches fantastic fiction, and he comes up with great ideas. But these stories seem more set-up than execution, so to speak. He does grittier, more lived-in people than King, though, and should be read if for that reason.

All in all, most of what I read from both books seemed less about sensation than about sensibility.

Yet I’m squeamish about Ed Lee, so your milage will vary.

The body is a skeleton wrapped in a meat gundam suit powered by a bowl of electrical jello that may be haunted, all made from stardust, standing on a rock spinning in space. Any of these elements can fail at any time. You’re welcome.





At 32K On WIP and A Step Closer To Understanding My Purpose In Life

1 02 2022

Hi guys,

At this point, I’m working on the first fight between protagonists and the Big Bad (who is also a Big Reveal and even a Big Protagonist Insight, lotsa layers here). The protagonist will come out the worse for wear, as you do. I had no idea how to set up the Big Final Fight, which had to happen on the Protagonist’s turf for it to be meaningful and use these neato set pieces I am itching to use. It took a few minutes mulling while making dinner for the answer to appear: Big Protagonist Insight is that Protagonist and Big Bad want the same things, so yeah, Big Bad will want to seize Protagonist’s turf. With a little goading and insulting, Big Bad would charge in recklessly. A little trite, but it works.

Am I being too abstract?

The take-away here is by giving clear goals to your characters can fulfill plot needs more easily. “Motivation” is a basic detail, granted, but giving characters relatable motivations is more satisfying and provides more opportunity. The Big Bad could just be Evil and destroy just for the heck of it, but that would be lame. My Big Bad wants because it is a second-tier replacement for the Protagonist, and the BB knows that. Best to eradicate the Protagonist, be saved that painful reminder, and become a step closer to being the optimum replacement.

As in all things in life, what does this have to do with me?

When I started personal counseling (this phase of it), my counsellor stated the goal was to get me back to creating things the way I had as a child, scrawling stuff in the corner just to enjoy it. My past couple of years had brought me to realize my perception of the world was warped, my goals were warped by my perception of the world, and I daydreamed-imagined-created to avoid the world.

My perception was warped. I wanted relationships, experiences, growth, and I self-sabotaged because I thought the world barren of compassion. Knowing this, shouldn’t I push myself into new experiences? Aren’t my existing goals inherently flawed?

I grew up entertaining myself. It may have been a coping mechanism, but is entertaining yourself bad? Does I need a relationship? I’ve met only a few people in almost sixty years who “got me” and who “I got”. I’ve been sitting in Panera Bread and writing for almost ten years now. Have I been wasting my life?

I feel myself becoming more comfortable with my cloistered little self. I think that’s a good thing. Maybe it will help lead to other experiences.








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