So I've been writing horror stories this year. My feelings about horror are that the less explained, the scarier the story. This has led to some issues, however, as I let people read these stories to gauge their reactions to them. One story in particular has caused several of my readers trouble. I just sent it to a horror anthology whose deadline was yesterday. I am worried because I don't want to hit readers over the head, explaining every goddamn thing, but I'm not quite sure just how much info I need to give before I can safely say, "All right, you're on your own!" Anybody out there have any ideas on this problem?
So folks on twitter are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Star Trek. The original series claimed it would be a five year mission. Well, Pulp Modern turned out to be a five year mission. I will no longer publish it since it doesn't generate a tremendous readership. I'm not a publisher, it turns out. I have no idea how to properly promote stuff. From here on, I will stick to writing, making movies, and if I can find the right musicians in Missoula, I'll put my punk band back together.
Before I say goodbye to the Pulp Modern experience forever, I'd like to acknowledge the 91 amazing writers who contributed stories to the journal between 2011 and 2016. Take a good look at this list--these are the authors you should be reading, not whatever mainstream shit Oprah's selling on national television...
Rob Zombie made two very interesting films in the early part of this century -- House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. He was given the reigns to the Halloween franchise (I fucking hate referring to movies as franchises, by the way) and decided to "reboot" one of the few movies in the history of cinema I feel should never be re-anything'd--Halloween. He took the mystique out of Michael Myers by showing a prolonged back story using all the cliches about serial killers (torturing small animals, coming from abusive homes, etc.) and, most egregious of all, he replaced the suburban setting of the original film with a "white trash" setting. These changes destroyed what made the original film so effective. Like the misguided sequels to the original film, he explained the unexplainable and gutted any chance for real horror to exist. Mr. Zombie followed that travesty with his version of Halloween II (the original Halloween II being a bad idea to begin with), an artsy-fartsy, violent LSD trip of a movie that made no sense and, seemingly, buried the "franchise" once and for all. In that respect, Mr. Zombie should be thanked.
But folks have been clamoring for a Halloween "III" (as opposed to the original Halloween III, which is the only decent sequel in the bunch, precisely because it has nothing to do with Michael Myers), or, for fuck's sake, another "reboot," or anything with Michael Myers running around slicing up teenagers. The project has struggled for over five years now, as discussions on IMDB will attest to, and the people who control the rights have finally come up with the one solution that should please die-hard fans of the series (that's a better word than franchise, isn't it?)--They've brought The Man himself on as an executive producer. John Carpenter will be involved with whatever they decide to do with this Halloween movie. I hate to be Bobby Bummer this soon in the game, but I just don't think another Michael Myers movie is necessary. What I wish would happen is this:
John Carpenter should insist on picking this series up where Halloween III: Season of the Witch was taking it, that is, an anthology series with a different Halloween-themed story in every installment. Halloween III "failed" when it was released because a large population of shit-for-brains insisted the movie was "bad" simply because it didn't involve Michael Myers running around killing people. Heaven forbid they be asked to consider a different story. Producers have since said the film should have just been called Season of the Witch. I say that's nonsense. What the film should have been called was Halloween: Season of the Witch. By eliminating the number three from the title, maybe half of the shit-for-brains who still piss and moan about Myers not being crucial to the film would have caught on ahead of time that the movie was going to be something different. Why not do that now? Why not create an entirely new Halloween-themed story and just use the Halloween name the way the Star Wars "franchise" is putting its name over these off-shoot movies like Rogue One? Has the general public grown up? Are we sophisticated enough to catch up with the very visionary idea Carpenter had back in 1982?
Nah, get ready for the guy in the Shatner mask to kill some more teenagers...
Just wanted to mention I recently contacted Marcia Clark on Facebook in the crazy hopes of convincing her to submit a story to Pulp Modern. In very little time, she returned the longest, most exhaustive, most convincing and polite excuse for not being able to contribute (she is, not surprisingly, very busy). It was the most gracious gesture any Big Time writer has offered to my requests for stories (though we must never forget Lawrence Block's agreeing to let me reprint a story of his for the very first issue).
How many other Big Time writers would have ignored the request altogether? I've never been so flattered by a rejection!
Recently, a student told me she'd had a dream about me after reading the first couple of acts of Hamlet. She said the quote, "To thine own self, be true," made her think of me, though she couldn't explain why. I thought about it for some time, and realized she must have been attuned to the fact that I am finally, after years of talking about it, writing horror stories again.
For a long time, I told myself not to write horror stories if I didn't think they'd be scary. I've come to the realization that that's a stupid reason not to try. What frightens some people amuses others, especially in these cynical times. People are so paranoid about things happening in the real world, they don't want to suspend their disbelief long enough to "get into" the world of a horror story. I can't be concerned with that; if you've allowed this shitty, fucked up century to deaden your sense of wonder, what can I say? Sucks to be you.
The very first story I ever wrote was a crime story. That was in the fourth grade. It was called The Tree and it was about a mad scientist who trains a tree to rob banks. It ended in horror, though, as the tree was cut down by law enforcement officials and the mad scientist put to death (I obviously didn't understand the parameters of the death penalty when I was nine years old).
The first time I sat down at a word processor, however, and banged out a thirteen page story (single-spaced, because I didn't learn about double-spacing until I was about twenty-seven years old!), it was a horror story. It was called The Mailbox and it was about a mailbox that wrote letters to its owner telling it to kill certain people. I was in the seventh grade then. I remember writing it late one Friday night and getting high off of freaking myself out.
Over the years, I have tried to recapture that feeling. Maybe it's like crack-cocaine--it only works the first time. Eventually, as a teenager trying to impress girls, I veered off into Kafka and Camus country, trying to sound more intelligent than I actually was (and am). While earning my BA at IU and IUPUI, my peers, who really shouldn't be called peers, convinced me that horror and science fiction were no genres for "serious" writers. Well, I took them seriously for a while. And maybe that was a good thing. I branched out and read Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. Eventually I read Raymond Chandler and then Jim Thompson and found that I enjoyed writing crime stories because, I felt, they required no generic, middle class morality. In a way, the crime fiction I've written over the last ten years is not that different from horror. My characters usually make bad decisions because of the terrifying economic positions this country has put them in.
[And now for a digression]
I'd like to share, for reasons I don't even know, the experience I had at the MFA program at MNSU a few years ago. It was the first class meeting of the first workshop of my first year. I'd been writing for my whole life and was only getting the degree so that I could pay my bills teaching at the college level. I had no idea that I going to get sucked into the cult-like, insecure world of twenty-something / millennial grad students who despise anything they consider different. The first thing the professor did was go around the circle of students and have each of us talk about the most recent book we'd read (or were currently reading). I was right in the middle. On the way to me, I heard the usual grad school favorites--David Foster Wallace, Junot Diaz, etc., I thought nothing of it when I admitted that I was currently reading a collection of Robert Bloch stories because I edited a fiction journal called Pulp Modern and wanted to contact his widow to see if she'd let me reprint one of his stories for the first issue.
Well, not since Village of the Damned or Invasion of the Body Snatchers had I been met with such strong, collective disdain. The professor acted as though I hadn't even mentioned the word 'pulp.' He sort of grunted and moved on to the next student, who raved about the latest AWP meta-tome about boring, middle class suburban bullshit. While I had some friends in the MFA program, for the most part, I felt like an outcast the entire time I was there. I was made to feel old and stupid for reading writers who couldn't be schmoozed at the next AWP butt-kissing contest because the authors I was reading were dead (to many millennials--though not all; my students, for instance, who are mostly working class, do not think this way--anything that happened before five minutes ago is "irrelevant").*
This hostile attitude was made especially clear when I had the audacity to question the greatness of Jennifer Egan. A woman about ten years younger than me cornered me at the school coffee house and berated me for not slobbering all over Ms. Egan's book like a junky. She said, "We're trying to get into this thing," as though, a.) being published were some sort of secret society only a select few are allowed into and b.) my existence as a white male over the age of 12 was somehow impeding the progress of all the younger, more affluent white people in the program. I realized then that MFA had a few letters missing...
I bring all this up because these sorts of things have enabled my shying away from writing what I really want to write, which is horror. The only genre more difficult is comedy, and those who write comedy (that's actually funny, that is, not the toilet humor Hollywood calls comedy) have my total respect. At this point in my life, there's no reason I shouldn't do exactly what I want to do. I am not an intellectual, I do not aspire to win great awards. I just want to write stories that make people feel the way I do when I read a good yarn late at night that compels me, for no rational reason, look twice at any movement in the shadows.
What shitty year for important music people dying. Holy shit. Motherfuck the Grim Reaper and the hellfire horse that sonofabitch rode in on! I see the Grim Reaper walking my way, I'm gonna belt the piece of shit with an ungreased bicycle chain, see if I don't!
Anyway, on to other things...
Pulp Modern number 10 is out and looks great. If you got a copy, please read and review, even if you hated the damn thing. Thuglit is publishing its last issue. I don't know what the hell is going on with some of the other giants that were here long before Pulp Modern and even All Due Respect. Not a lot of places to go for real, hardcore crime fiction anymore (sure as shit can't rely on the commercial pulps you find at the Big Time Bookstore -- Those fuckers aren't publishing anything radical!). Help me keep this thing alive. The more reviews, the more Amazon will recommend the damn thing to people who haven't heard of it, etc., etc. (Also, the print price is awful close to the kindle price, so why not buy the print version?)
(PS -- Writers, the next reading period will be from August 1, 2016, to August 30, 2016; Also, anyone interested in participating in Revenge of Uncle B's Drive-in Fiction, get in touch with me ASAP).
What has turned out to be way more controversial than it ever needed to be, Unloaded: Writers Writing without Guns has been available for a short time. Those of you who know me know that I loathe and despise the so-called SJWs. Well, the gun nerds, as I call them, are just as reactionary and stupid. So far, they're the only ones talking about this collection in the media and it's a shame, considering not a goddamn one of these fucking morons has actually read the collection. I got a story in there called "Seesaw Sally."
I had a great time in April at Noir at the Bar in Atlanta. I met a lot of the Big Names in this pulp scene. The format was excellent--ten minutes per reader. Impossible to bore anyone that way (not that any of the hooligans who read are capable of boring anyone anyway!). I wish I'd attended more of these, but geography is always preventing me from being able to; I am supposed to move to the northwest in July, so if anyone is planning a Noir at the Bar in Seattle or Spokane, please let me know, I'd love to attend.
I should have a crime novella coming soon (relatively). In the meantime, I've taken up the task I set for myself a long time ago -- I've started writing horror stories again. Something clicked earlier this year and I'm confident I can do what I believe a horror writer should do, that is, scare the bejeezis out of the reader. More on that to come.
So I will finally be participating in a Noir at the Bar. It'll happen tomorrow night (April 3) in Atlanta, GA. For those able to attend, there will be a drawing for a copy of Uncle B's Drive-in Fiction, a book that is out of print, so that alone is a good reason to attend (not to mention the chance to hear some great crime fiction read aloud by the hooligans who wrote it).
I've got three of them there fancy college degrees. A BA from Indiana University (finished at IUPUI, actually), an MA from the University of Indianapolis, and an MFA from Minnesota State University. The BA took me eight years to complete. That was due to my alchemist-level of substance abuse.
I witnessed a horrific political witch hunt at Minnesota State and therefore have nothing but contempt for the school and the entire state, for that matter. You may call me irrational and immature if you like, you didn't see what I saw.
The only university I ever attended that I have fond memories of is the University of Indianapolis. In 2008, the economy crashed, I lost my sweet housing situation in Los Angeles, so I moved back to the Midwest with the intention of going to grad school. Most of the places I looked into weren't ready to forgive me for my shoddy undergrad work (which, at that point, was ten years in the rear-view mirror--shame on you Ball State and Indiana University!). I was able to get into a poetry class at the University of Indianapolis and the professor of that course, Dr. Elizabeth Weber, helped set me on the path to getting my MA and the terminal MFA degree, allowing me to teach writing at the college level. The two years I spent earning my degree were peaceful and, well, educational. I learned, for instance, that the novella I'd written in 2001 (Manifesto Destination) was not actually a hard-boiled detective novel, it was, in fact, a post-modern "commentary" on both detective and science fiction. Or something like that. I learned a great deal from Dr. Weber, Dr. Drake, David Lawson, and a history professor whose name I can't remember.
It is for this reason that I am excited and honored to be reading at the University of Indianapolis next week (March 7, 7:30 pm). I will be speaking with a couple of creative writing classes, have dinner with some folks, and then read at night. It should be a fine evening and I encourage anyone in the area to show up.
I've posted songs on facebook. I've posted key memories associated with David Bowie's records on twitter. Hopefully, this will be my last word on the matter. I hate celebrity worship and I hate how teary people get when famous people die. Bowie was a bit different, however. He was a hero to me and a whole lot of other people in this world who feel they somehow don't fit in with "regular people."
For the record, I was adopted six months before I was born. My biological parents were poor kids from the east side of Indianapolis. In the days before Roe v. Wade, social services encouraged girls like my biological mother to give their babies up for adoption. My parents, the people I call mom and dad because they cleaned my dirty diapers and have been putting up with me ever since, were post-WWII European immigrants. I grew up schizo, torn between my "white trash" inclinations to get wasted and listen to heavy metal music, and the influence of my parents (the ones who raised me), who wanted me to be an "intellectual," who exposed me to classical music and Kafka and all the "refined" things in life. In school, when I told kids I'd been adopted, they'd take three steps back and treat me like an alien. When I started listening to Bowie's music in the sixth grade, I realized lots of people are "strange." I learned to ignore the conformists and show them my middle finger if they ever got too obnoxious. For that alone, I should be grateful to Bowie.
But David Bowie taught me something more important than not giving a shit about the conformist fatheads in the world--Bowie taught me what it means to be an artist. The key word: Evolution. An artist must always move forward, never wallow in a particular style or genre simply because they've experienced some fame or notoriety for that particular work. I love how he made "Low" when the Sex Pistols were stomping around putting down anything that wasn't three chords and a cloud of dust. I love how that record pissed off executives at RCA and how, allegedly, Bowie didn't give one ounce of a shit what they thought."Low" is my favorite Bowie record and serves as a constant reminder that an artist must never do what others expect, only what he or she feels is right at the moment.
With all my rantings about Hollywood's lack of creativity, Bowie's life and career serve as a vital reminder what the responsibility of an artist is: Again, EVOLVE. Rather than say, "our prayers are with his family," or shed tears for someone we (most of us) never met in person, let us take advantage of this moment to remember what we love about being artists, why we are artists, and how commercial expectations have shit all to do with creativity. For those who are like me--broke as joke and in possession of hardly any audience to speak of, as well as those who have "made it" and have an audience, let us tell the suits and ties who insist on producing the same shit, over and over again, NO MORE. Let us take this moment to have a revolution in the 21st century, let us return to the times of anti-materialism, when the stock market didn't determine what artists would produce.
Let us take the power back from the greedheads and provide the world, once more, with art that is both entertaining and meaningful.
The problems started with Jaws. Stars Wars cemented them. Hollywood had lost control to a bunch of snot-nosed boomers who showed the studios just how dark and cynical American audiences could get. These kids produced films like The French Connection and Taxi Driver. One of them came up with the perfect cinematic retelling of 1984--THX1138. Another couldn't quite get that originality thing down, but still produced a hell of a Bonnie & Clyde ripoff called Sugarland Express (hey, even Scorsese's name is on a B&C ripoff [Boxcar Bertha], so give Spielberg a break).
Two of those youngsters went off the adult course and made a monster movie and a science fiction western that grossed so much money the hacks in the studios couldn't help but notice. And so the lights on adult cinema (not porn, you pervert!) slowly faded. By the mid-1980s, "comic book" movies (as William Goldman called them back in '82) had taken over. These were drive-in movies with big budgets. The early ones, like Blade Runner and John Carpenter's The Thing, are masterpieces compared to the processed bile Hollywood produces today. "Comic book" is no longer a figurative expression--every other film released today is based directly on a comic book. Thanks to Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Hollywood thinks producing a Howard the Duck "reboot" in which Howard broods over the existential angst of being an alien duck passes for "serious" entertainment. And so we've come to a point where Hollywood makes exactly three (or more, depending on how much you want to split hairs between sequel, "reboot" and remake) types of movies: Comic book movies--movies that insist on taking stories originally written for six year olds seriously; Sequels, reboots, and remakes--the most blatant proof there is that not one fucking scum sucker in Tinsel Town can produce an original idea; and closely-monitored "independent" films about middle-class liberals coping with the extraordinary pain of being affluent and somewhat concerned about lesser people (so long as those lesser people don't live in trailer parks). Independent films, in fact, are nothing more than the modern versions of Kramer vs. Kramer and On Golden Pond that used to be considered mainstream until Hollywood decided they couldn't market them to twelve year-olds.
And so we are left with the current state of motion pictures in America: There are no original films being made. Thanks to studios monopolizing the "independent" scene, there are no independent films being made. Too bad, because a really, really good drive-in movie, traditionally, is both original and independent.
Which brings us to the new Star Wars movie.
I've waited long enough to have a thorough say on this topic. I saw the movie the night before it opened. I did so because I'm a sucker. I saw the original Star Wars movie opening day and have made it a habit since then to see all the sequels on opening day or as close to it as possible. I already knew in 1983, when I was in the fifth grade, that the series had run out of ideas. Return of the Jedi was about a bigger, badder death star. The characters spoke to each other in winks and nods to the fact that they were now part of a giant franchise that cared less about storytelling and more about toy marketing. Nothing like The Empire Strikes Back, which took the awe from the original film and knocked it out of the park with a logical extension of the story and great dialogue and character development to go with it (not that I understood all that in the second grade when it was released, but I knew I wasn't being cheated--this was a definite, linear progression from the first story). Lucas decided, appropriately, to stop making Star Wars movies after episode XI. Even as a child I understood this was a good thing.
And then Lucas discovered CGI and eventually made the prequels that a lot of people seem to hate. I've never been a fan of the idea of a prequel since there can't possibly be any suspense, but I watched them and was mildly amused. I was almost moved by the nostalgia generated at the end of "Episode III," at that point having been in my 30s and on the way to a midlife crisis nostalgia merchants love to cater to; And then along came "The Force Awakens."
This movie was probably doomed, in my mind, from the get-go. There's no way Disney will ever do anything daring or original at this point and I've never been a fan of J.J. Abrams. The film had two strikes before the camera had even started rolling. But as the release approached and the hype reached its fever pitch with brainless jock football announcers getting in their required plugs on college and professional broadcasts, I decided to step back and let the film speak for itself. Right away, however, I knew I'd been duped again. Something important lodged in a robot, an adventurous young person on a sand-covered planet called into action for a bigger cause, and, of course, a bigger, badder death star. I tried like crazy to give in to the special effects spectacle, which I'd been promised, over and over, would be primarily optical effects, and then that giant evil guy with the big head showed up, worse than any CGI in the "prequels," and I slumped in my seat and waited patiently for the movie to be over. I made one comment on facebook, but mostly kept my opinion to myself. The country (and the world, it seems) is going along with the mirage; you've seen the comments yourself:
"There's just enough old stuff to balance the new stuff"
"It's nostalgic and ground-breaking at the same time!"
"I couldn't stop smiling and crying!"
And so on...
There are grinches out there worse than me--they've seen the film several times to make solid arguments about plot holes and other issues with the movie. I don't have the time or the money to make such a thorough investigation. As I walked to my van after the first and only time I'll watch it, I felt a kind of rage, that I live in a time when Hollywood can't do one fucking thing original, when, as a middle-aged man, all the shit that was new and exciting when I was young is being recycled and the stars of that shit are being asked to put aside their walkers and Depends for a moment to don their old costumes and make everyone feel good about the fact that 1977, or 1982, or 1992 once existed and was a hell of lot more fun and creative than 2015/16. We're getting X-Files and Twin Peaks reboots because, yes, those series were awesome when they were new, and Hollywood has no ideas, so now we see an aged Mulder and Cooper going through the motions so that old farts like me won't have to think about, well, how fucking old we are!
You know what would be better? Something new. Something the young generation can call their own and something us old farts who ARE creative can help create.
I remember when Harry Potter books became popular. My baby sister was twelve or thirteen at the time. She read and loved those books. She named her first email account after a character from them. I was thrilled that her generation had something as meaningful to them as Star Wars was to my generation. I haven't seen anything since then for today's twelve and thirteen year olds (or younger). That's a fucking shame.
But I digress, as I'm apt to do when complaining about the senior citizens on my lawn...
Perhaps I would have liked The Force Awakens if I had seen it at a drive-in. My tendency over the last ten years has been to watch the "comic book" movies at the drive-in. It makes them so much more tolerable (and I can see two or three of them for less than the outrageous price they charge at the multiplexes). They're turds, which a lot of traditional drive-in movies were, but they're polished turds. And since they're essentially continuing the tradition started by Jaws and Star Wars of aping drive-in territory with bigger budgets, the drive-in is exactly where they belong.
And if ever there was polished turd, The Force Awakens is it.
Let me just get to the point: Uncle B's Drive-in Fiction was a labor of love that didn't get a whole lot of love. I've always suspected the main reason was that the novellas were too long and the entire volume looked too damn intimidating (not one reviewer I sent it to ever took the time to read it and review it). It was a great idea that didn't quite get executed properly. Two of the novellas in it have gone to become novels by their respective writers and a third novella won a Spinetingler. So, obviously, something good was going on. Thus, for the long-awaited sequel (at least by the five or six people who actually read the original collection), I will be having an open call for novellas of (about) 10,000 words in March. I'll look at queries first and then, if the idea sounds right, I'll ask to see the full manuscript. So, if you have an idea for a novella that would have made a great drive-in picture somewhere between the 50s and very early 80s, go ahead and write it and when I make the call for queries, let me know what you've got. If you have any questions, post them here or send them to: email@example.com
So I've contemplated whether or not to continue publishing Pulp Modern because it takes a LOT of my time and I just don't know if enough people read it to make it worth it (despite the fact that many stories end up in various other anthologies).
HOWEVER, in light of recent debates and/or arguments (or really just insult matches) I've either had or witnessed regarding censorship, I've decided it's my DUTY to continue publishing Pulp Modern.
As stated earlier this year, Pulp Modern is now a CRIME only journal. Let it be further stated that NO SUBJECT is taboo. Too many journals have taken the cry-baby route of prohibiting stories with unsettling subject matter. This is NOT the case at Pulp Modern. You have a story that involves something horrible happening to animals or children? If it's relevant to the story and the story is well-written, send it over. You have a story about rape? If the rape element is relevant to the story and the story is well written, send it over. Your story has a liberal slant? Great, send it over. Your story has a conservative slant? Great (and rare), send it over.
I want to see the most shocking, outrageous crime stories ever written. Fuck the wussified masses. Those who remember the guidelines I posted on the All Due Respect site way back in 2011, multiply those convictions by a thousand and send me something drenched in blood and bone fragments and scar tissue and all that other good stuff.
Pulp Modern shall be the only literary journal that truly exercises freedom of speech.
Reading period for the winter issue will be December 1 to December 31. I look forward to seeing what writers produce when all the shackles are removed.
As George Harrison and some religious folks said, "All things must pass." While the "themed issues" period of PULP MODERN has been interesting, it's time to move on. From now on, Pulp Modern will be a strictly crime fiction (crimes, NOT mysteries) journal. I am taking things back to when I started the All Due Respect website four (or five?) years ago. From here on, I want to see nothing but hardcore crime stories. Because of my busy schedule, I will not be able to open Pulp Modern for submissions until December 1, 2015. The reading period will be from December 1 to December 31.
If you haven't already read Manifesto Destination, now's your chance to do so at a very cheap price. The definitive edit of the book is available at Amazon thanks to the folks at All Due Respect.
When I wrote this damn novella back in 2001 (about two months before September 11), I had no idea I was predicting what a big baby the American population was about to become. I had no idea kids were going to start mixing and matching chemicals to create newer, more dangerous highs. So when you read it and say, "Wow, this guy predicted the future!," just know that I did not. I wrote the fucking thing in a hurry to meet a deadline and fucking rodents were chasing around my tiny, one room apartment while I did so. And in a fucked up way, I miss those days.
The fall semester has started. I've been busy teaching college freshmen how to write essays and sophomores how to write about reading. I had forgotten my original topic for the fifth and final installment of my brief but pretentious writing tips series. No worries, my students have provided a replacement topic.
When I delivered my style presentation, a lecture I've been giving students for three years now, a mini-riot broke out. My livelier 101 class did not like the idea that flowery language was frowned upon by contemporary writers like me. The presentation consists of long, convoluted sentences with giant, thirty-cent words, and rewrites of those sentences in a more minimalist, rational phrasing. I finally explained that I was not forcing them to write in a nice, concise manner, merely showing them how to do it. They worried that if they wrote long, convoluted sentences with flowery language, would I dock their grades? I explained that their primary obligation was to make claims, support them with credible sources, and do so in an orderly, structured manner.
It seems to me that the "maximalists" have gotten to my students. You remember "maximalism," don't you? This was a movement started in the late 1990s. Short story writers were worried that movies would wipe out fiction (an alarmist cry I heard as recently as 2012, when a jaggoff film professor from Minnesota State University told me I was wasting my time writing fiction). In effort to combat the "damage" film had done to fiction, "maximalist" writers rejected the tidy, efficient minimalism that had been developing in fiction since Hemingway. They decided to cram as much as they could in an 8000 word short story. Or maybe they were just trying to get paid more by writing more. Who knows? The result was/has been nearly twenty years of The Best American Short Stories volumes crammed with excruciatingly long, boring narratives about upper class twits pondering the mortality of their belly-buttons.
I suppose young people, having grown up with "maximalism" being the dominant form of fiction, have developed a myopia that prevents them from seeing the value of concision.
Well, I do recognize the value of concision. Readers don't have time to count the fibers in the lint of a writer's belly-button. So get to the point.
I've read numerous mystery novels where the patterns on the drapes of a room are described before it is revealed that there is a dead body on the floor. This is problematic. I realize fans of the genre are detail-oriented. There's nothing wrong with that. But let us know essentials before you delve into the architecture of the room (UNLESS, of course, the architecture is crucial to solving the murder).
I don't know when the war on adverbs started. I know it made me paranoid as hell for many years. During revision, I would weed out any and all adverbs until there wasn't a single -ly word to be found in the manuscript. It eventually polluted my ability to enjoy older fiction by the likes of Jim Thompson and Phil K. Dick. Holy shit, those guys used a lot of adverbs!
In recent years, I've backed off my own fear of adverbs. What it comes down to is this: How relevant is the action you're describing? If it's not terribly crucial to the plot, if it doesn't add some insight to the entire story, an occasional adverb isn't such a terrible thing. Of course, it's always better to be concrete, to say, instead of:
She balanced on one foot precariously.
She balanced on one foot.
If she's on one foot, we know it's a precarious situation.
If you're describing a character's attributes, it's always better to be specific rather than general, mostly to help illustrate the character for the reader. Thus:
Her face twitched nervously.
Should probably be:
The side of her lip looked as though someone had attached a fishing hook to it and yanked it upwards every other second or so.
BUT, if that twitch isn't so important to the rest of the story, if it's not going to reveal more about the character, then go ahead and use the abridged sentence.
The key to adverbs is like the key to just about everything else in life -- Moderation. Don't overdo it, but don't ban them from your work completely.
(I will do one more post in this series next week and that's it, I'm not giving away all the secrets!)
There are various crooks on Amazon trying to sell Manifesto Destination for absurd prices. The best way to combat that is to make the book available once again. All Due Respect will be putting out an edition similar to the Full Dark City version that was published a couple of years ago. This is the definitive version of the book. The editing is top-notch.
Here's something I see quite a bit of-- Pages of fiction with so many character names repeated that the whole thing looks more like a screenplay than a short story. Somewhere somebody got the notion that there's something wrong with pronouns. This is incorrect. If the reader knows who's speaking, we don't need to see the character's name. This is especially true when a conversation is taking place between a man and a woman. He said and she said are perfectly fine (I'll get to that adverb I just used in a future writing tip). Once a character's actions and place in a scene have been established, we only need to be reminded of his or her name if another character's actions have interrupted and momentarily dominated the scene. So, let's try an example:
Bill put his shoes on. "Baby, it's cold outside," he said to Marissa. Bill found his coat in the trunk, next to the corpse he'd been driving around. "I hate burying bodies in the wintertime." Marissa disagreed. "I like how the wind keeps that dead body odor from attaching itself to your clothes." This didn't stop Marissa from bundling up as well. She also stretched, perhaps preparing her muscles for the brutal task of digging into solid ground all night. The last time they'd buried a body, Bill had complained of cramps, made her do most of the work.
Now this is all off the top of my head, so I may not be providing the best example. But in the first paragraph, we've established right away that this section is about Bill. Even though Marissa's name is mentioned, we don't need to remind readers that the male in the conversation is Bill unless something major changes. In the second paragraph, nothing major has changed. In fact, the first paragraph has set up the second paragraph so that no names need be mentioned at all, hence:
Bill put his shoes on. "Baby, it's cold outside," he said to Marissa. He found his coat in the trunk, next to the corpse he'd been driving around. "I hate burying bodies in the wintertime." She disagreed. "I like how the wind keeps that dead body odor from attaching itself to your clothes." This didn't stop her from bundling up as well. She also stretched, perhaps preparing her muscles for the brutal task of digging into solid ground all night. The last time they'd buried a body, he'd complained of cramps, made her do most of the work.
Now that last sentence is tricky. There are some hardcore grammar folks who might say the three different pronouns violate some rule. They may be correct. But we're not writing for the elite. We're writing pulp fiction for people who actually have a pulse, and that sentence makes perfect sense to the average person.
When dealing with more than two people, or two people of the same gender, things get more complicated. Just remember, only repeat a character's name if not doing so will confuse the reader.
So last week we talked about attributing thoughts to your pov character. Let's continue that line of discussion. I am especially fond of third person close. It's almost first person but without the hassle of seeing the word I all over the page. Remember: Third person close means just that--We don't EVER know the thoughts of other characters, only the protagonist (or whomever you've attached your third person close to).
How do we know what other characters think? By their actions, of course. Our protagonist witnesses what the other people in the story do. He or she might even develop an opinion about those actions. A clever writer, of course, will allow the protagonist to develop an opinion that may differ from the reader's opinion. The important thing is, those actions are observed only.
It is tempting to write something like:
John saw her put the bottle of cough syrup in her coat pocket.
But since we are, essentially, the mind of the protagonist, there is no need for the John saw.
John walked past the aisle of cold remedies. He saw Cassie open a box of Robitussin DM. She put it in her coat pocket.
Now, for those paying attention, you'll notice that there's still too much information in that sentence. Thus, it should read like so:
John walked past the aisle of cold remedies. Cassie opened a box of Robitussin DM. She put it in her coat pocket.
There's no need to ever tell us John saw, or looked at, or heard anything. Simply state what the protagonist is witnessing as a matter of fact.
I'm not the biggest fan of writers telling other people how to write, but I figured I might offer up a tip once a
week or so, and so, here's the first one:
If you are writing in third person close pov, you don't need to tell the reader your protagonist "thought" something. For example:
Bill thought Felicia had a pretty mouth.
If Bill is the POV character, than any commentary on anything else will be attributed to Bill since it's his mind we're in. I see this quite a bit as an editor at Pulp Modern. POV characters constantly telling the reader they thought this and that. It's wasted words. Just make the observation, the reader will figure out it's the POV character's thoughts. Sometimes I'll put the POV character's thoughts in italics, especially if the character's speaking voice and narrating voice are different (i.e., unreliable), hence:
Felicia spoke in a French accent. She asked Bill what he was doing in New Jersey. "Visiting my nephew," said Bill. "He's a leprechaun from Hoboken." You sure got a pretty mouth. "Fascinating," said Felicia.
In fact, POV characters often get too many attribute phrases and sentences. I'll go into that more in a later tip.
I wrote a Drifter Detective novella. It's called Between Juarez and El Paso. It's now available here. This is a link to the paperback version, which I hope you'll buy. There's a kindle version as well.
Thanks to David Cranmer and Beat to a Pulp for letting me write a chapter in this excellent series! And if you haven't read the other books, they're by Garnett Elliott and Wayne Dundee, so, you know, get to it!
Dangerous women populate the pages of this super-charged, double-sized issue of Pulp Modern! From little girls luring old perverts to their deaths to shape-shifting women in the wild west, your appetite for new, engaging fiction will be thoroughly satisfied! Including work by the following writers: Math Bird, Monica Clark, Jen Conley, Janna Darkovich, Christopher Davis, Coy Hall, Michael McNichols, David Rachels, Melody Reams, Mike Sheedy, Max Sheridan, Deborah Sheldon, Parnell Stultz, Liam Sweeny, and John Teel. Edited by Alec Cizak (author of CROOKED ROADS and BETWEEN JUAREZ AND EL PASO). Now available at Amazon, for those of you who feel comfortable ordering from a place you've heard of on television. It is also available at createspace, for those of you who want to really help support the Uncle B. cause, as createspace pays twice the royalties that Amazon does. FYI -- The next theme for Pulp Modern deals with The South. I'd like to see stories where the hillbillies don't sleep with their relatives and eat poor, "innocent" city slickers whose cars just happen to break down in the country. Pulp Modern will open for submissions again from October 1 to December 1.
Beat to a Pulp has just put out a collection of short fiction by the writer who, in my opinion, sets the standard for all contemporary crime writers. Garnett Elliott's Scorched Noir rounds up eight tales that take place in the southwest, mostly Arizona. I've seen a lot of people attempt to compare various noir writers to Raymond Carver, but I think only Mr. Elliott actually lives up to that comparison. While Carver made the bleak lives of lower middle class and impoverished Americans fashionable with the latte' crowd, I always got a sense that Carver looked down on his characters. Garnett Elliott does not. He presents these desperate folks--prison guards, holdup artists, junkies, and even the small night staff of a local hospital--as they are, without judgment. The 'scorched' part of the title of the book is well represented throughout. One feels that a slight change of environment might help some of the characters. The sun is always present, always beating down and increasing the odds against them. As usual, Elliott's prose is darn near flawless, something I really value in a writer's work (it shows the writer has taken the time to carefully revise and think about the job each word performs in each sentence). If you want a crash course in writing contemporary noir, this collection might well be a good place to start.
Well, it's been a rough spring and a cruel summer so far, but after going through the greatest batch of stories I've ever received for PULP MODERN, I've selected work by the following fifteen writers (and anybody who had a story rejected, take heart, I had to pass on A LOT of great, great stories)--
Look for issue nine in paperback and kindle in July!
Some updates, links, and shit you need to know if you're an avid follower of Mr. Cizak (or just a casual, weekend fan) --
I am in the process of finishing a Drifter Detective novella for Beat to a Pulp. It's set in 1956, on the border between El Paso and Juarez, and has a cameo by someone I dearly hate. Look for it later this year.
I have been invited to read at the Kellog Writers Series at the University of Indianapolis in 2016. I earned my MA from UIndy and had an excellent time doing it (as opposed to the horrific time I spent getting my MFA at Minnesota State in Mankato). It is a tremendous honor to return to the university and read for the students and anyone else who shows up. That will be on March 7, 2016. A Monday. If you're in the area, be there, or be publicly humiliated by me on social media!
I got sick just before my 25th high school reunion. Thus, I have yet to attend a reunion. My former classmates should not take it personally.
In case you missed some of the reviews on the web of CROOKED ROADS, here are some links:
The razor-sharp noir writer William Wallace explores the disparity in the book with regard to subtle violence and all-out gore (something I struggled with as I decided on which stories to include):
If you haven't bought and read the book yet, you're missing out. According to Amazon reviewer Mary Effertz, "someone should give" me "a Pulitzer." I've been saying it for years, and finally, the public agrees!
(For the record, Mary is the biological mother of my old friend Chuck Yates, so there is slight bias).