Are You Writing For Children? Are You Sure You Don’t Want To Kill Them?

14 06 2015

Funny and nerdly insightful about reading subtext. DO NOT MAKE THESE MISTAKES UNLESS YOU MEAN THEM.

Writing Advice from Poe: So, yeah.

3 06 2015

We all know Edgar Allen Poe invented the modern short story structure, the mystery story, the detective procedural, and also knew how to break the rules and still make great tales.

Open Culture opens a warehouse filled with artful advice, prompts, news, and obscurities.

Here is an article sharing writing advice from Poe.

Conventions for Writers: Are They Worth It?

26 05 2015

This past Memorial Day weekend, I attended ConQuesT in Kansas City. It was my fourth such visit and it was by far the best con experience I’ve had so far. How did I make that happen? Well, I’ll tell you.

Confluence of Efforts: My novel was out this time and on the table to be sold. And it sold five copies. People liked the texture of the cover stock (no foolin’. It made a difference!). Folks nodded and made DeNiro face at the “Preliminary Ballot of the Stokers.” The back copy and blurbs made people stare and wonder if they could risk reading such a well-received thriller.

So writers: Have your ad copy up to professional standards.

Surrounded By Help: The book sold at the table of my publisher, Noble Fusion Press. My publisher laid out a professional presentation with other authors of note like Lawrence Schoen, who has a Hugo nomination and two Nebula nominations, one Neb nom for his current offering on the table right beside my book.

Writers: You cannot do it all yourself. Find like-minded people like writers groups and coordinate your efforts and skills.

MAGIC ATTENTION-GRABBING WORD: Yes, there is a magic word that will pull in passers-by. No, not that one. Or that one. The word is “chocolate.”
I crooned, “Cho-co-la-a-ate.” I held a gem of Dove Bite aloft between my fingers. The passersby swayed to the siren call, then succumbed.

Writers: Offer chocolate. Good stuff. Quality chocolate means you respect your audience.

Volunteer for Panel Discussions: Concentrate on your areas of obvious expertise. If you contact early and offer to panel, the committee may solicit you for ideas for panels. If you don’t feel comfortable in front of people, offer to help the con committee in setting up. Either way, you meet people who do what you do and want to help you do it better.

Socialize: After programming parties are swell. Even the tipsy people act like grown-ups. Go to the hotel bar and look for a familiar face: “Hey, I really liked your panel…” or even say “Hi, I’m new here. How’s your day been?” Don’t try to sell. Just meet people. Everything is about people.

What did I get from the convention? Lovely face-to-face time with my publisher. Meeting another small press publisher. A regaining of confidence. Encouragement on two novels I will now write proposals for. A possible novel collaboration. A whole bunch of people who will remember my name and think “chocolate” and “nice guy who wasn’t pushy”.

It is a small foundation but it is solid and ready to be built upon.

The Top 10 Disturbing Movie Moments of 2014 via Bloody-disgusting

21 05 2015 shares the latest industry news and solid opinions useful for story design.

In Kansas City For ConQuest!

19 05 2015

Here is my agenda:
Friday 5:00 PM Is It REALLY Gothic? (M)
Friday 10:00 PM Body Horror: The Last Ewwww (M)
Saturday 10:00 AM Story in a bag
Saturday 12:00 PM Story in a bag
Saturday 4:00 PM NobleFusion Press Showcase: Readings and More

“Story In A Bag” is a writing session, improvising a story based on a prompt drawn from a bag.
“NobleFusion” showcase is me doing a reading along with other writers in my group. I’ll read from “The Flesh Sutra”.

Super Short Story Formula! This Is Boss and Should Be Read!

26 04 2015

How to write a short story from author Vylar Kaftan!

Ever Ask Yourself “Why Am I In THIS Skin?”

22 04 2015

We are four-dimensional bubbles filled with blood and illusions. Sealed at one end by our birth and at the other with the darkness we will never see until too late. Walled by a too-permeable membrane against a violent and cunning world.

That breath you just took could be your last. Or that breath. Or that one.

Why confront YOUR mortality?

Read about a doomed couple of awe-inspiring mystics as they confront THEIR mortality.

Your doom is waiting.

Put it off by reading THE FLESH SUTRA. Read it today.


A Sympathetic Victim: What I Learned from “Unfriended” and “It Follows”

17 04 2015

How do you generate sympathy for your characters? Two movies offer an object lesson.
I watched “Unfriended” and “It Follows” over the last few weekends. Both movies deal with the perils of teen relationships and sexuality using rather rote horror tropes. How the movies differ hinges on culpability and betrayal, and their different treatments of teen community.
“Unfriended” is just as you see in the commercials. A high school girl is drunk-shamed on YouTube which makes her decide to commit suicide. A year later, the girl’s friends are visited during an online chat by the dead girl’s ghost.
“It Follows” features a distillation of all ’80’s slasher monsters: an implacable, mute, supernatural murderer visible only to its prey. The creature is a curse passed through sexual intercourse, making someone truly and well-fucked if caught by the monster.
In “Unfriended”, the ghost reveals the betrayals hidden among a group of friends. “It Follows” shows a group of friends rallying to help a girl being followed by “It”.
The basic difference between the two is that we want the contemporary kids in “Unfriended” to get their comeuppance. They make catty remarks about each other, speak ill of the dead girl, and indulge in lots of booze, drug-dealing, and sex. The kids in “It Follows” live in a more romantic, surreal world. Their suburb is 1960s generic ranch housing with 1980s vehicles parked out front, and their pockets filled with cellphones and e-readers. That romanticism plays out in the kids personalities. They hangout on each others lawns, chide each other gently, even apologize at offense.
It’s said that to make a character sympathetic, give the character a pet. In these movies, I saw that a supportive family made the kids in “It Follows” seem kinder, even more kid-like as parents and cops swoop in to handle break-ins, accidents, and deaths. Aside from an ignored yapping dog, there are no other signs of life or love in “Unfriended.”
So, getting along with others, having others care, and having a pet will get the audience’s sympathy?
Not quite. “Unfriended” is much like “Tales From The Crypt” in that the kids are transgressors (two of the boys are criminals) being forced to own up to their betrayal of their friend. “It Follows” has a group of who are protecting one of their own by passing that curse to someone outside of their social circle.
Depending on how a writer would resolve either situation, either group could be heroes or villains. The ghost wants regret. Does the Final Girl take responsibility for her actions? The monster seems unstoppable. Does that Final Girl contain it to keep society safe?
The assumption of responsibility creates sympathy. Keeping wits and guile creates sympathy. If the characters already have gained sympathy, their failure would heighten their humanity.
Hi Horror! How ya doin’?
So bravery, compassion, and mature responsibility aid in creating sympathy.
I’m glad I thought this out. I found this useful for upcoming projects.
By the way, go see “It Follows”. Its clever, artful, and its soundtrack kicks ass. Wait for “Unfriended” on a small screen. You’ll save money and the movie will actually improve when watched through your computer.

Writing “The Other”. Then Driving “The Other” Mad. Then Eating “The Other’s” Cat

2 03 2015

As a thinking human, I reserve the right to change my mind.

There are concerns in the genre communities about cultural appropriation and writing The Other, meaning a character who lives beyond the experience of its author. Being a heterosexual, able-bodied, European-descended, middle-aged man, for me The Other is anyone not sharing any one of my traits. There is a lot of discussion about the proper method of assembling The Other.

Let’s consider assembling a character and also the nature of identity. I have dozens of attributes. Only a few of these would have any bearing on the plot of a short story. More attributes, maybe a dozen, are needed to write a character rounded enough to maintain a reader’s interest in a novel.

I had an idea where the latest technologies could be combined to create a robot existing unseen in a population as it spread terror. How would I best demonstrate this critter? Turn it loose in Philadelphia.

How could a character get involved emotionally in this critter? Make her family a victim? Too easy, plus there’s nothing to keep tension. The authorities could be contacted at any time to combat the critter with guns blazing. I prefer to write tight, claustrophobic stories.

Ah! The critter needs a friend who shares its motives, or who it can seduce into its motives. Which would make this less “The Terminator” and more “‘Short Circuit’ Meets ‘Rosemary’s Baby'”.

I needed someone who was suffering and faced huge social challenges. Not me.

Statistically, I needed woman from a racial minority. How should I attempt to write a young black woman in the U.S.?

The essays and comments I’ve read about Writing The Other fall within a spectrum. On one end, writers say “You cannot write outside of your experience capably. Do not try.” The other end: “Research as much as you can, then have the character vetted by a person sharing the traits of The Other, then use that finished story as the beginning of a dialogue with your reader, so that critiques become learning experiences.”

This other end is more reasonable. However, it does bring up a further perspective.

Every character in a story is supposed to be plausible and elicit sympathy. Even the ones who are just like the author.

Every individual outside your skin and not wearing your shoes is “The Other”.

Every character has fears. Every character has A Need (One Need per story). Every character has a rationalization that makes her the hero of her story.  No matter race, creed, preferences; the writing process makes every character into the Un-Author.

With this perspective, I began writing. I based the character loosely on a woman I knew. She had a cat, and pets are great foils and empathy-creators. She was educated and had been laid off from retail jobs. She was a reader of F & SF, which I used as the critter’s entre into her confidence. The critter used her yearning for a meaningful life to manipulate her into a quest against society. I included her tastes and preferences. I tweaked the character enough to suit the story’s needs, had the story vetted, then in a move that still unsettles me, I emailed the story to the woman.

It seemed the right thing to do. If she approved of the character, I must have done it right. The days of waiting for a response was unnerving. Had I offended her? Then I got her critique.

She was happy I kept the cat’s death off-page. Otherwise, she seemed content. Except she said, “This is a horror story? I thought she’d gone off and had adventures.”

I was startled. Then I realized I made the one big mistake: the story drove her instead of the other way around.

I rewrote and had the critter give her choices. Had her be more aware of what was going on, and knowing that she was in an ambiguous situation: was this a quest or some means of terrorism?

Does the story work? I got good critiques from my writers’ groups, but no one’s bought the story so far.

If this story gets published, I foresee getting mail from people taking issue with my writing someone who is not like me. Because the character is a woman and a minority in these tense times of the U.S., the mail may be confrontational.

I want to be a nice guy. I do not want to offend.

No level of research is going to be comprehensive. Not all criticisms are valid. In short, even if you get it right for the story, it will not be universally approved.

The best I can do is remember that no character should be taken for granted. Attention to details may not circumvent criticism, but it will make me more confident in all my choices.









Who Wants Your Fiction? Be Sincere With Yourself.

28 01 2015

For beginning writers, I cannot say loud enough or enough times: read the publications. All of them. Including Cat Fancy.

It also goes for published, aspiring professional writers. Read all the professional level publications. Not all the way through; just enough to know what their editors are looking for.

Everyone else says this, too.

I don’t recall ever being told what I’m about to tell you.

First, here’s what I learned and how I learned it.
I was tempted for years to go out and conquer all the pro level publications. If I am a professional, I figured, I should be able to published anywhere. So many big names seem to swagger from ToCs of “F&SF” to dark erotic anthologies to cute YA publications! Surely that flexibility is a hallmark of the true writer.
Such things are not working for me.
There are publications I would not read for fun. There are publications which I find to be holy shrines where I slap myself in the forehead and say “Oh God, what is this?” Plots where little seems to happen, or are lists broken by typesetting and layout, or blatantly not in their professed genre.
Many times I thought “Ha! The style of this pub is such piddling stuff! I can write a story and show them up!”
Don’t do it! Don’t! I wasted so much time doing this.
While spite has gotten me out of bed more times than I can count, I can only write what I want to read.
I found through enough rejection letters and workshop crits that if I didn’t like writing the story, no one will like reading it.
The first ten years of writing for me was not only finding my style, but also finding my audience, then becoming comfortable with the results of that style.
You will find an editor who will respond to what you write and give you advice. Keep sending to that editor. If that editor buys what you write, keep sending to that editor. Do not bother to send to others just to see if you can “get in”.
Learning to write publishable work means finding what you like to write, the ways to write it, and what rules you can break to create your own style. It also means finding the venues which best suit your style.

So: Finding your editors will be just as important as learning how to seize attention with your opening line.

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