Posts Tagged ‘writing’


There’s been a lot of commotion happening in the online horror writing community this week over the editorial work of one Anthony Giangregorio of Open Casket/Undead Press – and with just cause, I might add. So before I launch into this, let’s get two things clear. ONE: A good editor works WITH a writer to shape a story into the best piece of fiction it can possibly be. TWO: A bad editor insinuates themselves all over the work and gives the writer absolutely no recourse in the matter, except to scream about it on the internet after publication when it’s too late to do anything about the travesty that his or her name has been attached to. And that is exactly what Giangregorio did, with a side helping of freshly grown grammatical errors (in the story’s title no less!) and an extra serving of beastiality for the plot. Who wouldn’t be upset?

I feel for Mandy DeGeit and the other authors involved who are starting to come out of the woodwork and tell their stories. I had a similar experience once upon a time, as a newbie author, with a different small press. It was so devastating and embarrassing that I actually stopped writing for a whole two years of my life. Unscrupulous companies like these find easy prey in new writers who don’t know what to expect from the publication process or how they should demand to be treated during it. When it happened to me, in my early twenties, I didn’t know that I should be asking for a final proof of the book to sign off on before it went to print – I trusted that the publisher knew what it was doing. Trust, as I quickly discovered, is a dangerous thing when put in the wrong people.

I ended up starting Burning Effigy Press as a direct result of this humiliating experience. It was my way of turning a major negative in my life into a positive, and moving on. The original idea behind the press was to give up-and-coming authors a supportive and quality first publication experience. Over the past thirteen years that direction has changed fundamentally as we’ve become a genre imprint for more established talents, but the love and care and author involvement in the publishing process hasn’t changed one iota.

For those who care – and for Mr. Giangregorio, who seems to need a primer – this is how we do a book:

Once we buy a story, we do a full edit complete with fully visible notes and changes. Minor things such as grammatical errors, duplicate word usage, occasional adjective replacement, issues with sentence structure and other mechanical errors, I tend to correct and/or make suggestions for. Larger plot problems, namely continuity errors, unbelievable character arcs, scenes that require a little bit more emotional weight and/or resonance all get sent back to the author to correct themselves, with specific notes from me. It is still their story after all, not mine, even though I paid to publish it.

The author then gets this entire edit to go over, tweak, sign off on and make the requested changes to. The author also works with their edits/changes fully visible, so that I can see what has been done to the story when it returns to my desk.

At this point I do a sign-off/copy-editing pass. If there’s anything we are still butting heads over or not quite seeing eye to eye about, we have a meeting where the author can argue his side and I can relay mine. The meeting does not conclude until we are both in absolute agreement about the story. That’s not to say I’m a push-over – anyone who has worked with me knows that there are certain things as an editor I slam my foot down on firm and hard about – but I always like to give an author a chance to prove me wrong, and I kind of love it when they do. I think these sorts of debates and challenges only make for a stronger, tighter, toothier story. Editing should be a collaboration, not a steam-rolling tanker truck.

And as an editor, I don’t want to steal your story or splatter myself all over it – I have my own writing to do that in – I just want to finesse it into something we are both 100% proud of publishing, which is why nothing at Burning Effigy goes to print without full sign-off from myself and the author, and this includes both interiors and covers. I would rather delay a book, than release it without these checks and balances in place.

Maybe that’s why four of our titles have made it onto the final Bram Stoker Awards ballot, and maybe that’s why we have the reputation that we do.

Either way, I don’t buy that excuse about writers not being able to edit. I’m both a writer and editor professionally and other than struggling to find the time to do both, I’ve never found it particularly challenging to keep them separate. I don’t edit because I can’t write or can’t succeed as a writer, I edit because I love stories.

In fact, I’ve often thought that being a writer may make me an even better, more intuitive editor, because I know how writers like to be/should be treated, and I have a unique perspective of both sides of the business. If anything, a writer should have more respect for his or her colleagues, because they are members of the same creative tribe. But just as not everyone is meant to be a writer, not everyone is meant to edit.

But how do you protect yourself as a newcomer from the bad eggs? Talk to people. Google the company. Read a book they’ve put out. Don’t just blindly submit. Find out about a publisher’s reputation first. Ask someone who has worked with them what the experience was like. The internet was still in its infancy when this happened to me, but now information is as close as your fingertips twenty-four hours a day – so use it!

When people ask me about what Burning Effigy and I are like to work with, I encourage them to ask some of our authors. After all, why should they just take it from me? Go to the source, see if it’s an experience you want to have.

Remember, writing is a job, so treat it with that same level of commitment, even if you are just starting out. You wouldn’t apply to work at a sketchy sweatshop, so don’t allow your fiction to get the same ghetto treatment. And when it does, don’t be afraid to name names and point fingers. Because if this week has taught us nothing else, it has taught us that the genre world is wonderful at self-policing and calling out those committing wanton douche-baggery. So yes, use that too.

 

DarkMediaCity.com, an online magazine and burgeoning social network for genre fans, recently grilled me about writing BLEEDER, teen lit and the state of horror. You can check out the interview here.

While there, you should definitely consider taking part in the community they are building, especially if you have a passion for the darker side of the arts. Horror fans unite!

If you are not yet reading BLEEDER, you can find it at BleederBook.com and on Wattpad at http://www.wattpad.com/deathofcool, where I’m giving the YA vampire subgenre back its teeth one fang at a time.

The latest issue of Rue Morgue (#119, Jan/Feb 2012) hit newsstands this week, and features my cover story on the upcoming feature film The Woman in Black. I had the opportunity to interview director James Watkins, screenwriter Jane Goldman (Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) and Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Mr. Harry Potter himself) for the piece. The mag can also be obtained digitally from Yudu.com and for iPhones/iPads via the Apple App store.

Also in this issue, my Library of the Damned column where I discuss the upcoming House of Night comic books with P.C. Cast, author of the best-selling YA vampire series of the same name, and a whole bunch of other incredibly cool stuff, including our annual best and worst of the year round-up and an exhaustive list of horror cons and film fests. Essentially, everything you need to plan your next twelve months in horror.

…and I wonder if I’ll ever get better. Well, there’s always try, I guess.

Today is the final day of 2011. A year that, by all accounts, I’d rather forget. But a year that ultimately taught me how I don’t want to live. Of course, change is the hard part.

However, I have much to be thankful for too. Particularly, more fiction writing than I have ever had to show for any one year of my life. A serial novel – the prospect of which still scares the crap out of me even though it is launching tomorrow – that wasn’t yet a twinkle in my eye twelve months ago.

This is going to sound terrible, I know that, even though it was well-intentioned. But in many ways I was raised to believe that I would fail in any creative endeavour I attempted. This conditioning was supposed to channel my intelligence towards medicine or law or whatever, but all it ultimately did was mould me into a desperately creative person with failure issues to the point of neurosis. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that, but it’s part of the truth of who I am.

I know some of you are going to say, “but you’re so confident and successful.” And I say, to a point. I still have to slay the self-doubt dragon each and every day. And doing to a certain degree is a necessity for survival.

I’m been writing fiction in secret for years, and maybe that’s another reason why I never finished any of the novels, because I knew I’d never have the courage to show them to anyone, so no matter how much I loved doing it, it seemed pointless.

That’s the other thing this past year taught me, that I don’t want to be so afraid anymore and certainly not based on something that was said to me more than a half a lifetime ago. I want to get past that, so I can live whatever life I was meant to live.

I mean this in regards to my writing and the bigger picture as well.

My only resolution is to continue this journey I’m on in 2012.

Because at the end awaits something like freedom.

When I first considered changing my process for writing my novel – because, to be completely honest, the other way damn well wasn’t working – I don’t think I had any inking of the surprises that a rather simple change in routine and methodology would have in store for me. And thankfully all were rather good, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have some apprehensions at the onset.

 

The rules were straightforward:

* Write for a minimum of one hour each weekday (excluding production week at Rue Morgue)

* Write the novel from beginning to end (no jumping around aside from making short notes or sketching out specific flashes of inspiration for later scenes/conversations)

* No going back and tinkering (apart from correcting major continuity errors that can be addressed quickly and succinctly – thankfully, since the whole book is vigorously outlined most of that stuff falls into this category)

* Post daily word counts to the social networks (for accountability, it’s harder to quit when everyone’s watching)

 

When first embarking on the new routine my biggest fear was writing front to back. I’d tried to write books in sequence before and it had ended terribly each and every time. BUT this time was different for one key reason: I knew the story. I had an eight-page, chapter-by-chapter comprehensive outline. When I thought back to my previous failures – got too busy, writer’s block, got stuck on a plot point, got distracted by a shiny new project – most were not at play this time out. Well, except for the writer’s block one, that was big fear number two.

Now you may be wondering just how I could get writer’s block when I have a rock-solid outline, but the thing is, the big emotional scenes and action sequences are easy, the connective tissue is often not. For instance, the early chapters where it is all-important to set up the world that you will eventually fracture, to introduce the characters that the readers will hopefully root for and loathe, and to drop the first guarded yet delicious hints that something sinister is brewing. This kind of stuff requires finesse – at a time when your characters may not yet have fully formed personalities. (While I certainly knew who my characters were when I started writing, it wasn’t until some time later that I truly understood them, and now more times than not they tell me what they should be doing/thinking/saying.)

While you may personally disagree, for me, first sentences are easy, but first chapters are hard. How many times have I reworked the first chapter of The Cold Ones since I first conceived the story a couple years ago? More than a dozen easily. Will I do it again? Maybe. But hopefully not.

This was another valuable lesson learned here. If something isn’t coming out smooth, get it done as best as possible and then move along with the book. This is a first draft. The story may – hell, it will – evolve as you are telling it. Getting hung up on the minutia at this stage is helping nothing and no one. In fact, it’s impeding progress. It’s surprising how easy it is to keep moving forward when you no longer allow yourself to go back. (Perhaps this could also be a bigger life lesson as well??)

So how do I prevent the writer’s block? Mostly via one handy little trick. At the end of each day of writing I leave myself on a cliffhanger – not necessarily a big one, could be something as simple as a line of dialogue that sets up a heated confrontation – so that when I sit down at my computer the next morning, I know immediately what happens next. I rarely stop writing at the end of chapter, or at any other place in the story that naturally gives pause.

Among the other things I’ve discovered along the way: I’ve really grown to cherish and look forward to that hour of writing each day and I miss it terribly the week my responsibilities lay elsewhere; the further I get into the story the easier it becomes to write; while I’ve had to revise my outline several times (once removing an entire character from the book’s climax) I feel strongly that each change has only made the narrative more potent; the deeper I submerge myself in this novel, the more the plot lines for the next two books in the series continue to develop and solidify; and lastly, that the daily public word counts definitely keep me honest.

I’m at 170 pages now. Yes, that’s right. Twenty pages past the rough halfway mark. And even if I never manage to sell this novel to a publisher, I still consider it one of the best things I’ve ever done. And I’m not even talking about the story here. The sense of fulfillment doing this has given me and the vivid return of my creativity are worth it in and of themselves.

If the series does take wing and fly. Well, it’ll begin with this book, The Cold Ones. And continue with Feral and The Blood Sorceress and perhaps others. But those next two already have functional outlines. That’s surprising too, and so are the different ways the stories are shaping up to intertwine – all things that weren’t there yet just a month ago. Who’d have known? Certainly not me. But I’ll tell you something, I’m absolutely having one helluva great time discovering.

Stuff I Wrote

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