The City Lights

Hey everybody, back from Thanksgiving break. Hope my American followers had a great holiday (and that everyone else had a great week/weekend as well). Strange times, for sure; hard to get into the spirit of things with how warm it’s felt lately, especially on Thanksgiving itself. Found myself sitting on the porch in short sleeves and not particularly chilled. Compare that with last year, when we had snow on the ground. I can’t remember it ever being this warm this late in the season. Hope it doesn’t bode ill for 2016.
 
Otherwise, had a good time visiting family and taking lots of photographs. Found some interesting postcards in Harrisonburg as well, ones that you can expect to see soon as I discuss locations in my novels. For now, here are some photos I took Thanksgiving night in Downtown Harrisonburg, to try to get a little cheer in the air. Will be out for oral surgery later this week…not sure what that means for the update schedule. In the meantime, have a great week.
Downtown04 Downtown07 Downtown08 Downtown11 Downtown13

Recharging the Batteries with a Trip to the Dark Side

Everybody, you ready for another week? Ready to paint that smile on your face and press forward valiantly  I’m not sure that I am, but as usual lots of coffee and writing should get me through in a semblance of sanity. Let us pray that it works.

Now, I typically don’t talk too much about my weekend, or even day-to-day, activities on this blog. It’s hard to cite any one reason for my reticence. I guess I just don’t feel that many of those activities relate to the goals of this site, save for my writing and writing-related activities, and I mean, what am I going to do, update you on my daily word count? Nah. I don’t roll like that. I do enjoy telling you good folks about the development of my works, but even that can get tedious after awhile.

But hey, I’m lucky this week, and very happy to share something of my weekend with you folks. You see, this past weekend the wife and I attended first the Cox Farms Fall Festival, and then something called the Fields of Fear. Given the connection to horror and to the sorts of things that inspire my writing, I felt there was some relevance to offer to you, the reader. And if it’s not relevant, at least you can enjoy the pretty pictures.

So let’s be clear on one thing: I love Autumn. Seriously. My love of the season dates way back to at least age nine or ten. Back then I loved creeping around the deserted streets of my small hometown, watching the place settle down as the sun first set and then night fell. I thrilled to the sound of the wind through the skeletal branches that towered over me. I loved the aching feeling that I got in my bones when I saw nice warm lights in houses. It was desolation, but a nice sort of desolation.

It’s become very important for me to celebrate the arrival of Autumn and Halloween; every year I try to find some way to mark the passage of time, as my thoughts increasingly turn to my own mortality and the idea that I have one less Autumn remaining in my lifetime. Sure, that sounds morbid, but it reminds me of just how important it is to relish these things and celebrate them. It helps me to understand the root of the Halloween celebration.

This trip has become one of our shared traditions, and we both relish it. Thus, I feel fortunate to share some of it with you.

Let’s start by talking about the Fall Festival. This is, essentially, the more family-friendly, child-friendly version of Fields of Fear. We’re talking farm animals, lots of talk about what goes on down on the farm, hayrides, and…well, I’ll let some of the pictures talk for themselves.

The trip had an inauspicious start, as I first forgot to dig out the directions and then compounded the problem by not accepting the wife’s offer to print directions (male pride, hoooo). The real coup de grace on my dignity, however, happened when the GPS on both of our phones crapped out. So there we are in the sticks of Virginia, trying to find this place and knowing that they would stop allowing new visitors through the gates in the next 20 minutes. Moods were not exactly high, but I managed to stumble upon the right path, and we arrived with minutes to spare.

Hey, this guy was happy to see us.

We both really enjoy the day-time version of the festival – it’s “soft”, yes, but it has an enjoyably cheesy quality to it. And I mean, hell, who doesn’t want to see fluffy ducks and baby pigs? I don’t want to meet the person that doesn’t enjoy that sort of thing.

And I mean that.

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Five Reasons to Love the Short Story and Shockwave Ridin’

An illustrated guide to my mind.

Going round and round lately on which stories need to be priority after I finish Room 3, but one thing is certain: I’m starting to appreciate the short story in a way that I’ve…well, never quite experienced, even when I was cranking them out back in high school.

Here are my current top reasons for loving short form fiction:

  1. The most obvious – some ideas are just not novel length. There was a time that I’d dismiss such stories out of hand, but no longer. I mean, why not? With short fiction making a comeback, it just makes sense to follow those ideas, as some of them are really quite fun, and I’ve always loved a well-crafted horror short story.
  2. A short story makes it easier to preserve a sense of mystery. Short stories demand an economy of words and, as such, it’s just not a good idea to pontificate too much on this idea or that idea – less is more, in other words, and that includes leaving out every single thing that is not relevant to the story at hand. For instance, in my story The Station, there is an entire backstory to what occurred in The Station during the distant past, but only a handful of events are relevant to the protagonist, so we only see outlines of those events through his eyes. You can tantalize the reader a little more. By the way, if the story ends up teasing you a little too much, City of the Dead will elaborate on some of the mysteries, with the rest becoming clear in Portal of the Dead, where we actually witness those events in the past.
  3. You can explore more of a universe that you’ve created without having to tie it all together. In the case of The Station, I’ve chosen to tie some of those things together, but it’s entirely possible to have a standalone tale within that universe. This allows you to see more of what might be going on in a rather expansive universe, exploring more ideas that might not have fit into a novel.
  4. It’s a lot easier to explore more bizarre concepts, as a story framework ensures that said concept won’t overstay its welcome. This is actually very big for me – I might not be willing to take certain risks in a longer-form work that suddenly become much more attractive when I’m looking at only 20-25 pages.
  5. They’re short. That’s not to say that I don’t throw everything I have into a short story. They often take me more than a month from start to finish with the drafting and polishing process; it’s just that if I need to feel I’ve accomplished something during those long slogs through novels, I can put one out with relative ease, allowing myself some time away from the long-form work and firing my imagination with a new scenario. That’s invaluable.

In other words, expect to see a lot more short fiction from me, including a couple of anthologies at the end of the year.

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I’ve updated Found Music again, this time with a fantastic album from Virginia band Shockwave Rider:

Hey, kids! Do you like Big Star? How about Guided by Voices? Maybe Spoon, or Hum? If so, I have a treat for you this week. We’re featuring the defunct Virginia band Shockwave Rider, who kind of fit all of and none of those descriptions.

Shockwave Rider’s The Shining is a big, crunchy, fuzzy bit of rock that never fails to excite me, even with repeated listens. I am a huge Guided by Voices/Bob Pollard fan, and I can’t help but hear their influence most clearly on this album; especially in the first track, King Corduroy, which sounds like it could be an outtake from that band’s 1995 LP Alien Lanes.

If that sounds appealing to you, scoot on over there and check it out.

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Out of Office: A Writer’s Vacation

As I post this, I am on vacation. I will be splitting vacation this year between the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where I grew up, and New York City.

Returning to the Shenandoah Valley is something of a right of passage. Autumn in the Shenandoah Valley is very important to me. Of course, I developed my love for writing in the Valley, growing up, but Autumn in particular was a very productive time for me. One of my favorite pastimes as a child was to go for a walk across my small town (in a time when a child could still do such a thing) in the chill Autumn twilight, with perhaps a cinnamon disk or a starburst mint melting in my mouth. I soaked in the autumnal atmosphere, loving the scent of woodburning stoves and fireplaces on the wind. It was a small both warm and inviting and, yes, desolate.

Now that I’m older I can see that I associated the smell with family. A family gathering around the hearth, or watching television while the fire burned in the stove. We never had such a thing. Thus, the desolation of being on the outside looking in. That actually helps me to understand why I’m so drawn to writing outsider characters, but that’s a subject for another time.

So returning to the Valley for Fall has become an annual tradition, like I said, a rite of passage. If we ever move far enough away that I can’t do it on a regular basis, it will be a deeply missed tradition. The colors down there are just spectacular, too, and I know of some back roads into the mountains that side-step the plodding pace of Skyline Drive. Places where you can get out and stretch, go into the woods for a bit.

Being a former local does, after all, have its advantages.

On the backside of the trip, we’ll be leaving for New York City. I’ve never been to NYC. I know, I sound like some bumpkin just fresh out of the country, but somehow I just missed out on it. I’ve been to Boston, I’ve been to the Twin Cities, I’ve been to Atlanta and Indianapolis and a host of other smaller cities. I’ve driven through others. I’ve just never been to New York for some reason, but the fiancee wanted to visit again, and I thought it would be worth my time to get the experience.

Strangely enough, there is a connection between the two places for me. I’ve always associated Autumn with New York because I had a desire to see Central Park when the leaves had changed. There was a time, in fact, when I had planned to propose in Central Park in the Fall. But those plans fell by the wayside. I am, however, very excited to get to see it.

Experience is just so important as a writer. I mean, sure, there are great tools these days to write like an authority. Wikipedia. Google maps. Google Street View. You can fake just about anything, but there’s something more about actually walking under the sky you’re describing, about understanding the cracks in the sidewalk. I’m eagerly anticipating the whole thing.

So in the meantime, for regular readers, I worked my heart out last week to ensure that there’s a strong cache of quality posts ready to go. And, of course, I’ll be sharing some of my experiences over on Twitter at @crimnos, if you’re curious about what I’ll be up to. Have a great week!