Tag Archives: Stephen King

Need a Dark Fiction Fix?

Ah, October. Leaves turn different shades of death and fall to the earth. A sudden chill takes flight with the wind and cools down a scorched land. Families take out warm blankets and put away their shorts and tank tops. The night comes sooner, the morning later. All to set the mood for some spectacularly creepy fiction. Please allow me to recommend some of my favorites. Let me know your favorites in the comments, and if you picked up any of these recommendations!

Magazines

Nightmare Magazine: Horror & Dark Fantasy.

Editor John Joseph Adams sure knows how to pick the stand-out short stories and non-fiction pieces for this magazine, not to mention the spectacular and vivid art. It’s worth subscribing to this periodical, but you can also read it online for free: http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/.

The Dark Magazine.

A relatively newer magazine of two years old, The Dark focuses on dark, surreal, and speculative fiction instead of straight horror. I look forward to my copy every quarter. Again, a subscription is worth every penny, but you can also read parts of each issue on their website for free: http://thedarkmagazine.com/

Short Stories

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson.

Before there was Young Adult dystopian, there was this masterpiece by Shirley Jackson. If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, read it’s great grandmother: “The Lottery.”

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor

This classic will leave you uneasy, that’s for sure. You can find this short story in O’Connor’s popular short story collection The Complete Stories. All of them are worth your time, especially this one.

Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson

This is a fantastic compilation of short comics/short stories illustrated by the incomparable artist Bernie Wrightson. Read it for the art, stay for the creepy stories. Perfect for Halloween.

Books

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Carnies. Need I say more? Okay, I will. This near-perfect novel by Katherine Dunn explores a world where being a freak is commonplace. Sibling rivalry and the question of what is beautiful are just a few themes rolled into the mix.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.

C’mon. What’s a list about creepy books without Stephen King? While it’s helpful to read The Shining prior to reading this book, it’s not absolutely necessary. But you should read The Shining anyway, because it’s fantastic. Doctor Sleep focuses on Dan Torrance as an adult, and while he escaped the Overlook Hotel all those years ago, demons of all sorts still haunt him.

Favorite How-to-Write Books

Sometimes, the best solution to a story or writing problem is to sit back, read a how-to book, think and then write. No one book has a solution for every problem and for that reason, I have several in my library. I find most books on writing more useful AFTER the story is written. Once you’ve read applied some of the techniques and lessons in these books to either an outline or a revision, your skill as a writer grows and subsequent first drafts become richer and better written.

My five go-to books are:

RandThe 10% Solution: Self Editing for the Modern Writer by Ken Rand
Are you saying what you intended to and are you using the best word choices? Use the ACBs of editing – accuracy, clarity and brevity. Rand lists the syllables (such as -ly) and words which may signal a writing problem. This systematic approach is good for line edits because it allows you to see the words without getting involved in the story.

21stWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Story Telling by Donald Maass
This book is great for both brainstorming and examining the first draft’s effectiveness. The chapters provide a good foundation for all the questions Maass suggests writers should consider when writing about a character or scene or the plot. I must admit that it would be too much for me to apply all the questions to an entire novel, but addressing even one or two of them, I have found can enrich a scene or the story immensely.

DummiesWriting Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy
From fiction writing basics, to what makes a great story, to creating compelling setting and characters, story structure, theme and getting published, this book is a great how-to for beginners and a good reference for everyone.

 

The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! By Nina MunteanuNina
Take every workshop you’ve attended, develop cheat sheets for quick reference, and you’ve got The Fiction Writer. This book focus on the writing side of getting published with tips on everything from world building, to the hero’s journey, plotting, writing query letters and synopses to the zen of passionate writing.

BellRevision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells by James Scott Bell
Written in two parts, Self-Editing, and Revision, this book is a compendium of the items that are non-negotiable in writing a novel. It’s written concisely and filled with great examples. The chapter “The Ultimate Revision Checklist” has great points to strengthen beginnings, middles and endings along with scenes, setting, theme and how to polish your manuscript.

Other books recommended by my critique group (thanks everyone!):

FarlandWriting Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland
This book is part of David Farland’s Million Dollar Writing Series. Learn how to analyze an audience and outline a novel so that it can appeal to a wide readership and become a bestseller.

ThesaurusThe Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Designed to enrich your ability to express emotions on the page, this thesaurus tackles 75 common emotions by defining them, listing physical signals, internal sensations experienced, mental responses and cues for suppressed or long term encounters with the emotion.

McKee 2Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee
It may have been written for screen writers but the elements of story, the principles of story design and the elements of craft used to tell a good story are universal. It explains the principles that shape the art of storytelling and the realities, not the mysteries of writing.

KingOn Writing by Stephen King
Entertaining and empowering, Stephen King not only teaches about writing, but provides a practical view of the craft and a writer’s life.

 

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence BlockBlock
A fun approach to writing and the writing life chapters include: Washing Garbage (revision), Creative Procrastination, and Creative Plagiarism.

 

Damn good novelHow to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, Parts I and II by James N. Frey
Filled with down to earth basics, principles, and suggestions, this book helps writers recognize, analyze and correct problems in their work.

The Anatomy of a Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by TrubyJohn Truby
A story consultant for the film industry, Truby challenges writers to dig deep within and explore their own values and world views. From making an audience care to making characters grow in meaningful ways writers will learn how to move an audience.

BulliesBullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys in Fiction by Jessica Page Monell
The title says it all! From moral codes and personality traits, every character needs a specific level of integrity, decency and honesty filled with complicated yet believable motivations.

CardHow to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
A long standing favorite, the MICE quotient – milieu, idea, character and event- will help you structure a successful story. And if it’s science fiction or fantasy you’re writing, you’ll learn enough about the genre to ensure your stories are publishable.

This list is by no means comprehensive, so please share your favorites with us. Which books do you recommend?

The Thin Line Between Memoir and Realistic Fiction

“When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.” – Stephen King, Joyland

imgres-3In the summer, my brother and I would walk to our small town library. Sometimes, we’d cross paths with a man walking his mountain lion on the sidewalk. One time, the mountain lion bit my arm, and I needed fourteen stitches.

It’s crazy, but it’s actually mostly true. I was afraid for my life when I saw the mountain lion, but it never actually bit my arm. But it’s plausible, and who’s to say I’m wrong? It’s my memory, after all.

I technically could sell this story as a memoir. But when someone starts digging into my history and finds that, although there was a man in my hometown that had a pet mountain lion, there are no hospital records of me getting stitches.

This sort of thing is nothing new to the literary world. The most recent case of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces brought this to the public’s attention. Frey’s gritty, gripping tale of addiction was marketed as a memoir, although years earlier, Frey had tried to sell it as contemporary realistic fiction. When no publishers picked it up, he pitched it as a memoir. When Clifford Irving received a three-quarter million advance for The Autobiography of Howard Hughes, he delivered. Only, Hughes proved he had never met Irving, and Irving spent 17 months in jail for his lie. Misha Defonseca wrote a harrowing tale of her childhood during the Holocaust, only to be disproven by a genealogist who found that Defonseca was Catholic. “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish,” said Defonseca. “There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world.”

These transgressions were surely career-killers, amiright? imgres-1

Well, not exactly. James Frey became a household name. His book Bright Shiny Morning, released after the scandal, was a bestseller. His lie only seemed to make him more popular.

I can understand how a reader would feel betrayed. I felt a twinge of it. But here’s the thing. I don’t expect most memoirists to tell the truth. I expect embellishment, because our memories are dirty liars. A Million Little Pieces is still one of my favorite books, even after The Smoking Gun revealed factual inaccuracies. Because a good story entertains or reveals some truth. And if it’s a really good story, it does both.

While I don’t care if a memoir’s facts are proven false, many people do. Like, say, publishers. Readers. Higher ups in the publishing world. While A Million Little Pieces sold even more copies after the scandal, you can bet that no one wants to publish another “memoir” by Frey, unless it’s about how he lied.

imgres-2Remember the story I wrote at the beginning of this post? Here’s an interesting experiment. What is the first thing that you remember about it? I doubt that the first thing you remembered was that part of the story wasn’t true. And that is the power of story. A story doesn’t necessarily tell the truth, it just reveals it.

Never Surrender!

With so many people officially on the self-publishing bandwagon, there have been a lot of proclamations going around to the effect that grand success as a self-published author is no longer possible. Even our own guest, David Dalglish, a paragon of self-pubbing success if ever there was one, has admitted that a significant factor of his triumph was timing. And now, it seems, the moment has passed.

The secret is out. The vast sales a few authors achieved in the early days of ebook self-pubbing led to an avalanche of me-too-ers. The market is flooded, and now the chance to have your book become a blockbuster requires you to compete with horde upon horde of writers who had the same idea as you. The picture painted by the self-publishing statistics floating around on the interwebs seems a bleak one indeed. Having seen it, some people may even decide that it is not worth the struggle.

But when taken in context, nothing has really changed on that front, at least not in a negative way. According to a recent survey, the average yearly take of a self-published author was $10,000, with a majority making less than $500 a year. How is that a bad thing? Before self-publishing was a viable option, failure was much harsher. Failure meant no money and no readers. I would gladly take $500 a year and a paltry following over nothing at all.

I should also point out that I hate statistics as a guide to personal action. The reason is that it’s easy to look at a given pie chart and think, “Oh, I have a 78% chance of failing to achieve my goals, so I’m not going to bother.” But no graph can ever tell you who you are. You are you, and there is a 0% chance that you are anyone else. Always keep that in mind when looking at statistics that attempt to tell you what kind of life you will have and thus how to live it.

Besides, there are exceptional writers out there. Imagine if your favorite author had looked at the odds of getting published and said, “Meh. Not worth the risk.” They would have never taken the plunge; they would have filed their TPS reports, always wondering, “Could I have been a success?” And the world, deprived of their creations, would have been a dimmer place. Perhaps you are one of those outliers. Perhaps you are really as good as your mom says you are.

And if you are that good, if you are the next Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen King, or [insert favorite author here], and you quit now, I am going to be very, very pissed off at you.

Hopefully, none of this means anything to you, because deep down, you are a writer. And writers write, no matter what anybody else says.

Never surrender.