Face-up to the Afterglow

Back again. What is it they say in Twin Peaks? Ah yes…


Did I mention I’m a big fan of the show and can’t wait for the return? I’ll have to get around to that post about the show’s symbolism someday.

Anyway, last week I examined why I left the dark fantasy/horror genre; today I’d like to discuss my issues with self-publishing and the indie community circa 2012, which boils down to bad behavior, specifically the sockpuppets, reviews for cash, and endless Goodreads. Obviously not every or even most indie writers participated, but enough that I became uncomfortable associating my name with the movement.

At first I hoped to set a good example, but the events that I described last week made me quite aware of my own irrelevance and I became frustrated, sad, and exhausted. It didn’t help that I felt very insecure and had no idea what I wanted, either. Of course, knowing the genesis of my own issues doesn’t change my struggles with them. I had to work through them.

Truth is, I didn’t understand what I wanted from my career. I was chasing the dream of mass readership without understanding what it would take to achieve such a goal. Pollyanna as it may seem, I thought that I could write what I wanted and the market would come to me, not understanding how rare such an event can be. I would need time to come to terms with this; in the meantime, I decided to walk away, divine just what I needed, and reinvent my career.

Best decision I ever made. No regrets whatsoever. I realized that money is not a motivating factor for my fiction. It’s a “hobby with benefits” for life. Of course, I still want some external rewards, specifically some recognition. Nothing wrong with wanting that, but it won’t fall in my lap, either. I recognize the uphill battle that I face, and I’m ready for it. In fact, I’m working on some plans to get there, which I’ll talk about next time.


Last week I described my new writing process, in which I focus on each chapter, honing it to a fine point using a multi-pass system, each ending with a 10-minute free write highlighting the needs for the next pass.

Execution of the second pass relies on the free write but does not necessarily use it as gospel. Chapter 16’s notes mandated a deeper dig into Dean’s feelings on using drugs in the hospital waiting room in order to highlight why he went ahead and did it anyway. That was a must, while a note about the new meth head character’s (she was still the young mother in the notes) abusive boyfriend got cut when it didn’t make sense in the context of their discussion.

With the second pass done, it’s time for another free write, this time focusing on theme and nuance. The notes for the third pass of Chapter 16 re-introduced the boyfriend as part of a short exchange in which the meth head, now known as BC, tries to gain Dean’s confidence. Here you see a key difference: in the second pass the boyfriend stood as a throwaway line to explain BC’s past. In the third pass he shows how she uses anyone in her life as a tool. Key difference in usage that highlights the importance of theme in the third pass.

Each chapter gets a minimum of three passes, with a few getting up to five, depending on what the chapter requires. Critique group fits in here somewhere as well, as their changes are included in the final pass of this draft.

Still not clear on the final editing process, but the goal is to make it much quicker, reading through it as a novel in its own right, taking notes for changes. This should prevent a chapter-by-chapter redo, allowing for smaller touch-ups and corrections, but each step has surprised me thus far. Expect to see more on that in the future.

The Drug

Ativan-Oral-pictureAnd now we talk about Ativan, AKA Lorazepam, and its role in the novel. Introduced in 1977, the drug is a hypnotic intended to treat anxiety (Dean’s initial intended use), insomnia, and acute seizures. It has a high physical addiction potential and, sadly, impairs memory loss, which leads to the practice of using high doses as a date rape drug. It’s also sometimes used a pre-anesthetic, to help calm the patient and inhibit memory formation as anaesthesia is performed. It’s relatively fast-acting, hitting the system much faster than most drugs in its class, which is also important to the story.

Speaking of drug class, Ativan is a benzodiazepine, or benzo. Benzos work on the brain by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA, a chemical which enhances sedation. These drugs are known for being highly addictive, having a quick onset of tolerance, and generating a horrific withdrawal, which can include amplified anxiety, muscle spasms, psychosis, and hallucinations, to name just a few. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this withdrawal, have a video of a guy who took benzos for far too long. Keep in mind that he only took these as prescribed.

Dean used Ativan in college to help him get through tests and quit cold turkey when he realized that he had become addicted. He stayed clean for close to 20 years, but he couldn’t resist when his friend and dealer, Goose, offered them as payment. Here’s a teaser of that scene:

Goose, it seemed, had a sense of mercy, for he shook his head. “Naw. I think I’m ready to go home. Can you drive me? I normally wouldn’t ask, but…”

“Of course you would,” Dean said, and they both laughed.

Goose shrugged. “Guess you got me there. I’d appreciate it, though.” He dug in his seemingly never-ending pocket, producing a small, tight ball of tinfoil. “This should cover my gas.”

Dean took the foil ball without quite comprehending. “This…uh…”

Goose patted his hand before withdrawing. “I meant what I said about you needing to calm down. It’s a handful of atties. That’s some good money right there.”

He stared at the ball, licking his lips, a roaring in his pained head. He shouldn’t take it; once you built a physical addiction to benzos that shit stuck with you. He had not forgotten the pain of withdrawal. “I don’t know if I should…”

“You should, and you will. Doctor’s orders. Now can we please get out of here?”

Don’t open the door to pain, his father had said, and he knew it to be the truth, but a tickling in the back of his brain kept taking him back to the good times. It hadn’t all been pain; in the early days the drugs had eradicated all anxiety, allowing him to focus, work hard, and, most importantly, avoid any emotions whatsoever. Wouldn’t they help just a little in dealing with the frustration of quitting his habits? No anxiety about being alone forever, no fear of what he might dig up in his past, just sweet bliss. At last he nodded and slipped the ball into his pocket. “Yeah. Let’s head home. I could use some sleep.”

“Good man,” Goose said, and patted him on the shoulder. “Onward, Jeeves.”

The message here is nothing so facile as “don’t do drugs”. Ativan has helped me to fly in situations where I would have been terrified and I think they can be a great tool in limited use. Dean’s problem is more that he’s on a slippery slope with an already-shaky sobriety. The drug opens him up to behaviors that put him in jeopardy, ultimately leading to a mistake that will haunt him for years.

Next week we’ll talk about Dean’s relationship with his parents and his propensity for prostitutes. How’s that for alliteration?

This week’s photo was taken at the remains of a motel just north of Front Royal, Virginia. I don’t know a whole lot about the General Lee Motor Court, but it appears to have been a decent place back in the mid-20th century, as seen here:


Not much remains today. It’s difficult to access by road, but I did get a shot of the rusted hulk of a sign, which perfectly captures that “lonesome yet comforting” aesthetic that I described last week:


That’s all for now. See you next week, with our Valentine’s Day special!

Coffin Hop Day 1: Abby the Hero, Part 5 (AKA The Conclusion!)

Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! Before we get started with the “main feature”, a little introduction to my regular readers. This year I’m participating in the Coffin Hop Blog Extravaganza, which brings together over 100 horror authors in a week deadicated (see what I did there) to terror, all leading up to Halloween, naturally. This is why I’ve had that annoying little sticky at the top of the site for the last few weeks.

The Coffin Hop is not just about discovering new authors (though we have that aplenty), it’s also about fun prizes, and I would be remiss to not offer some myself. Now I’ve done giveaways with elaborate rituals before, you know, dig up grave dirt at midnight on a full moon, mix it with blood from fruit flies, that sort of thing. If you haven’t read to this point, here are the rules for entry: all I want is your comment. One comment is one entry, at a limit of one person per post. Don’t worry, I have at least five posts lined up for the next week so you’ll get at least five entries.

What are the prizes? Glad you asked…

This banner actually needs to be updated, as we’ve added a fifth book to the collection – Penelope Crowe’s 100 Unfortunate Days, a brilliant book that’s very much worth your attention. So that’s right, five eBooks from the Emissaries of the Strange. That’s package #1. I’m giving away three of these.

Package #2 is a complete collection of my works, including the Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of Room 3, due for release on November 12th. I’ll also happily replace your ARC once the book launches, but this is a chance to read something a bit early. I’m giving away five of these packages.

All entries must be in before Midnight EST on Halloween night. I’ll be drawing the winners on November 1st and announcing them right here. So be here for it all!


Okay, so, this is the fifth and final installment of my serial short story Abby the Hero. Wednesday Fiction is my ongoing attempt to write serial shorts “off the cuff”, a way to prime the pump and share some fiction as well. Each entry can only be edited once – and no more. So every version you see here is a second draft, warts and all. The cleaned-up, fully edited versions will be available in a collection next year, but this experience is designed to be very different from that experience; in a way, you can share in the creation of these stories.

Abby the Hero is the story of Abby, a teenage girl who loves urban exploration. For weeks she rides by an abandoned house that catches her attention, but never has a chance to explore it under the right conditions; that is, until the fateful day that the story begins. As she explores it, she discovers a personal link to the house that she never expected, along with a shocking revelation about the nature of herworld. If you’re interested, you can read the other parts here: 1 2 3 4

For those who have followed to this point, well hey, thanks for sticking around. This has been a fun one, and I’m looking forward to releasing the full version sometime in the coming months. I’m discovering an odd affinity for these stories where kids and teenagers stumble across secrets and ancient horrors (in fact, I’m working on a story that does something similar with a group of middle school boys). I suppose it makes some sense, as The Talisman and IT are two of my favorite stories.

Just a note, this will be the final Wednesday Fiction for a few weeks, as my plate is currently full with prepping Room 3 for release and writing the aforementioned story for an anthology. Look for the next story to debut in just under a month, on November 21st, and do expect a holiday theme. I’ve been dying to write a holiday story for ages.

So let’s get on with the end, shall we?

Abby heard her father before she saw him. As he spoke, he became clearer to her. He sat in the corner near the stairs (she didn’t understand how she had missed him), wrapped in a well-worn yellow blanket. “What do you mean, she’s back?”

Daniel raised his head and Abby recoiled. Someone had wrapped his head in a bandage that stretched from ear to ear, covering his eyes. She thought of a horror movie that she had seen once where a man had dug out his own eyes.

He didn’t seem to mind, though. He just cocked his head, searching with a vision beyond any of theirs. “Abby. She came back again.”

Her mother moved now, in the corner opposite her father. “Where?” she said. Abby studied her closely, but her features refused to resolve into more than a muddled mess, like a face glimpsed in a dream.

A voice whispered in Abby’s head. She can’t cross over into our world as easily.

Daniel turned his head and Abby imagined those sightless eyes set upon her mother. “She’s right here. In front of me.” Continue reading

Capturing Your Emotional Landscape

Today I want to talk a little bit about emotions, or at least capturing our emotions in our writing. That is, after all, our goal, right? To communicate our interior world to another person? It’s certainly my goal, right up there with creating a compelling story – but to me, those are the same thing. A compelling story is infused with the writer’s emotion. It has to be.

Said bottling plant during happier times.

I was prompted to visit this topic during a trip to Frederick, Maryland this past weekend. As we cruised the streets trying to find a spot to park and visit their historic downtown, we passed a few empty factories, including the remains of what was once a thriving Coca Cola bottling plant. Mary made a comment about how I’d like to live in a rundown place like that, and I replied that it wasn’t quite that – I would like to visit, but not live there. That sent me down a train of thought that I haven’t visited in some time: my somewhat offbeat emotional life and the things that can trigger it.

Let’s get it out of the way right now: I have some very odd emotional inclinations, and I think my writing reflects that fact. I’m fascinated by urban decay and urban exploration; I find beauty when the natural world pushes through our constructed world; I get an emotional charge when I imagine a certain type of isolation in the dark, hidden places of the world. I tried to explain this once to an ex who preferred to dwell exclusively in the sunshine and couldn’t quite understand my emotional landscape. The best attempt that I could make to capture it (aside from my fiction) was to describe the feeling that you get when you’re lying in bed at 2 AM and can’t sleep. You hear the lonely sound of a train whistle as it passes through and imagine the isolation of the lives that the men on board lead. There’s sadness to the whole thing, yes, but there’s a certain bittersweet beauty to it.

She still couldn’t grasp it, but at least I had finally put words to the emotion. Continue reading