Tag Archives: Writing Advice

Guest Blog: Lee Thompson Discusses Ways to Measure Your Success (Plus a Giveaway)

A Texas Senator and his wife go missing… On the same day, their son is slaughtered by an enigmatic killer on the lawn of ex-Governor Edward Wood’s residence. Sammy, Wood’s drug dealing son, suspects his father of the crime. After all, his old man snapped once before and crippled his wife with a lead pipe. But there’s something more to these events…something deeper and festering just beneath the surface…

In direct opposition to Homicide Detective Jim Thompson, Sammy begins an investigation of his own, searching for the truth in a labyrinth of lies, deception, depravity and violence that drags him deeper into darkness and mayhem with each step. And in doing so, brings them all into the sights of an elusive and horrifying killer who may not be what he seems.

A brutal killer on a rampage of carnage…a hardened detective on the brink…an antihero from the shadows…a terrifying mystery that could destroy them all…

Welcome to Lee Thompson’s A Beautiful Madness blog tour!

This stop is a special one since I love Shock Totem magazine and the people who have made it such a monumental success, which strangely enough is what this post is about. They’re beautiful people over at ST, and so are the stories they publish, and the covers that grace their issues.

Since I’ve been in two issues, in addition to one person winning a paperback copy of my novel, I’ll also be giving away two copies of Shock Totem! Issue #4, which featured my story “Beneath the Weeping Willow,” and issue #6, where I have a story called “The River” and was interviewed by K. Allen Wood (the publisher and sexy beast). Very neat, yes? To win, make sure you leave a comment and share the link on Shock Totem’s website, lovelies.

(Note: We will also be adding a hardcover copy (19 of 150) of Lee’s limited edition Delirium Books novella Down Here in the Dark.)

Ways to Measure Your Success (Expect and Accept Change)

There’s not much worse than for five years to go by and for you to look back over those years and feel that nothing has changed. Especially since it’s our responsibility to learn, adapt, and change things. No one else makes our choices for us once we’re an adult. But did you know what you wanted back then? Did you have a clear, specific goal? Did you have steps to carry yourself to that goal, or did you keep doing the things you were doing and expect to conjure such success from thin air?

If so, you’re not alone. But where have you succeeded? There has to be some area, doesn’t there? Look deep, look back, be objective. If you haven’t made strides, it might be time to start from scratch and rethink the way you’re approaching your writing career. You’re going to have to change for the better.

Expecting to succeed—to sell your first novel or first pro short story, or to get interviewed in the paper, or whatever—without studying the craft and just winging it, is like a guy swinging a golf club and expecting to be a pro golfer in five years. He can be doing a dozen things wrong in his swing and practice those wrong techniques ten thousand times, but only hurting himself.

A great way to measure your success is to pay a pro for feedback. (Tom Piccirilli offers an editing service.) Look at their feedback and go through it one point at a time, through your whole book, looking for the places they’ve marked as red flags and learn to understand why those things hurt your story instead of help it.

You can measure your success by comparing yourself to your peers. But it’s a trap filled with frustration. They can only write what they write and you can only write what you write. You might be a better networker but they might write better stories, or vice versa. They might be getting what appears constant praise while you can barely get someone to review your first novel. They might be single like me and have very few distractions while you might have a job and a family to dole out time and energy. There are too many variables, and comparing yourself to your peers isn’t very healthy. If you find yourself in this trap, it wouldn’t hurt to slap some sense into yourself.

You can measure your success by reviews. Reviewers read a lot of books so they can usually spot big flaws and what doesn’t work for them pretty quickly. They’re also passionate about the genre they’re reviewing. I like measuring my success this way. If someone loves reading they’re going to offer something useful I can use to improve.

You can measure your success by word count. I’ve never worried about this, but it seems to be a popular thing among writers. It seems a double-edged sword, though, telling yourself you have to hit a certain number, shifting, at least in the back of your mind, from writing a quality story to worrying about how many individual words you finished today. And then there is a lot of guilt in this approach too. I’ve seen tons of writers cry and beat themselves up because they fell behind on their word count that day or week or month. It’s a distraction, if you ask me, that doesn’t have many benefits. If you ignore the word count altogether and just write the story with as much passion and skill as you can, it will end up whatever length it needs to be.

You can measure your success by the project. Each novel you write will be different in critical ways. I like to experiment and break rules. When I began brainstorming A Beautiful Madness I knew I was going to break one of the big rules, and I did it, and knew it would and did work. The challenge each novel creates is fun to face. If you’re testing yourself on each individual story, to try new characters, new storylines, new ways to manage the POV shifts, and searching your heart for the little details that make the story familiar but fresh, there is a lot of satisfaction in that.

You can measure success by hitting deadlines. I like to set myself a deadline and have been doing so for years. (You’ll have to start doing that to be a professional writer, so why not start now?) I usually take a week to brainstorm the characters and the major beats of the novel and then write down the date I want to finish the first draft. Normally I have two deadlines. I set a high goal of six weeks. And then I set a more relaxed deadline of three months. Usually I hit somewhere around two months for a first draft but have finished some novels in two weeks. They’re all different.

You can measure success by copies sold. I’m setting a goal of moving 10,000 copies of A Beautiful Madness in the first year of its release, mostly because I want to gain a hefty new fan base and secure myself a position as a Crime writer to go to for a certain type of story.

With three years of publishing history, I can tell you that book sales spike and plummet if you have a small audience (there will be more on this in another guest post). Since there are such peaks and valleys, I’m shooting for the yearly goal of copies moved instead of a monthly one. If I’m six months into it and have only sold a quarter of what I want to get out there in readers’ hands, then I will have to get creative and up my game to hit my goal. It’s nice motivation. I think it’s doable too, with the publisher I have, and the fans I’ve gained over the last three years. And since A Beautiful Madness is my first Crime novel, it will always have a special place in my heart no matter how it’s received.

You can measure success by reader feedback. I’ve got awesome fans. They’re so warm and intelligent and funny. I wouldn’t move any copies if it wasn’t for them and my publisher because I’d rather be writing and reading than spending time online trying to pimp myself. A lot of them have become friends over the last three years too, although at one time they were complete strangers, opening one of my novels or novellas for the first time. It’s pretty cool. I measure my success in this way a lot, because it’s tangible, and if you ever feel down there are always people there shooting you an email saying they just finished your book and loved it and recommended it to their friends. They thank you, which is weird, but I get it because every time I read a great book I want to thank the author for taking the time to write it too.

You can measure success by professional feedback. I was fortunate the last four years to receive feedback from professional editors and agents and writers. I think it was important for me to have those people tell me I had talent and imagination and energy, but needed to work on characterization. Listening to them is what helped me start selling fiction.

You can adapt an attitude of I-don’t-give-a-fuck. Readers, editors, reviewers, some will love your work, some will hate it, some will never be more than lukewarm about it. You can just write for yourself if you want, like you probably did when you first started and you were thrilled by simply writing and finishing something. There’s no pressure in that. And it’s your life. Do what you want, what you feel is right, for you and your work.

How do you measure your success?

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Kindle): http://amzn.com/B00K36ITGS

Buy A Beautiful Madness (Paperback): http://amzn.com/1940544297

Lee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A Beautiful Madness (August 2014), It’s Only Death (January 2015), and With Fury in Hand (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation. He is represented by the extraordinary Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary.

Visit Lee’s website to discover more.

There will also be a grand prize at the end of the tour where one winner will receive A Beautiful Madness and four other DarkFuse novels in Kindle format! Simply leave a comment on this blog and share the link.

Thanks to those who participate.

Happy Reading,
Lee

Posted in Alumni News, Blog, Guest Blog, New Releases, On Writing, Recommended Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Bloodied Halls of Academia: How I Survived As an Undergraduate Horror Writer

As anyone who has spent any amount of time writing fiction at the college level will tell you, genre bias is rampant in academia. As a recent graduate from a state university, I experienced this bias firsthand. Repeatedly.

While some professors remain open-minded, others turn their noses up at the first sign of science fiction or fantasy in their workshop classes. Many have never heard of your favorite horror or romance writer, nor do they care what your idols have written or what awards they have won. A select few ban genre fiction from their classes altogether, highlighting such clauses in their syllabi.


“Elves? Seriously?”

Some of you are probably nodding in agreement, thinking back to the times when you also hit these roadblocks. I tip my hat to you, brothers and sisters in arms. However, this article is not aimed at you. Rather, this article is aimed at those still wandering academia’s halls, as well as those about to enter them for the first time. College may not welcome genre writers with open arms, but that doesn’t mean they can’t thrive there, provided they know how to go about studying the craft in such an environment.

It is also important to note that I do not support the division of so-called “literary” and “genre” fiction. I am merely using such terms for the sake of clarity as well as to properly represent the division as it exists within academia.

The first and perhaps most important thing undergraduate genre writers need to realize is that the instructors are not their enemies, even if a few of them do ban any manuscripts containing zombies or elves. In my experience, this tends to be one of the hardest lessons for students to learn. In order to understand this, one needs to first examine the situation from the point of view of the instructors. Most professors do not read or write anything that could be considered genre fiction. They are literary through and through. They don’t know the tropes. They don’t know the shorthand. Writing that kind of thing is simply out of their element.

That being the case, would it be responsible of them to try to teach an aspect of writing they have little to no experience with? No, it wouldn’t, so they don’t. Instead they teach you what they do know, which is a lot. Lucky for you, this is mostly stuff you don’t already know, the stuff from the other side of the fence, which is great because you’ve got your side covered, or will with enough practice. Let them pass on the skills they’ve mastered. Read those James Joyce stories. Do those John Gardner exercises.  Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

The second thing, which is really just an extension of knowing instructors are not the enemy, is that genre writers need to let others know they are there to play ball. Work hard, get assignments in on time, and step up when it comes to commenting on the work of others, especially in class. If the instructors know you care, they will be more likely to take your genre of choice seriously. Instructors can be skeptical of students in general, and rightfully so.  I find that most undergraduate writers, even most creative writing majors, are nowhere near as serious about the craft as they think they are.

Another thing to realize is that you are likely working against a history of garbage genre fiction that has flooded their classrooms for years. I can’t even recall the number of manuscripts I had to read about teen mermaid romance or two-dimensional, clichéd vampires. I mean really terrible, awful, wouldn’t-wish-it-on-your-worst-enemy fiction. It can take some time to navigate through all that debris and gain an instructor’s trust, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Early on in my college career, I was waiting for one of my writing classes to start when a fellow student began complaining about comments she had received for a piece of fiction in a different class. Apparently the instructor told her the story was riddled with clichés. This upset the student because, as she explained to the rest of us early arrivals, genre fiction was supposed to be full of clichés. Wrong. This is what instructors are seeing, what you are working against. Bring the heat. Show them you can offer up originality with style.

Another way to gain the respect of instructors is to find the middle ground. Find the bridges between your world and theirs and use them to the fullest. One of the easiest ways to do this is to read writers whose work most closely rides the line between your genre of choice and the literary world. Instructors may not know who Richard Matheson was, but they’ve read Cormac McCarthy, and they’ll be more than happy to discuss horror elements when you put them in the context of The Road.

When I was attending classes, several of them used The Anchor Book of New Short Stories, edited by Ben Marcus. If you’re taking college writing courses, buy this book immediately as it will give plenty of examples of authors I’m talking about. There’s a story in the book called “Two Brothers,” by Brian Evenson, which features a religious fanatic who attempts to cut off his own leg with a kitchen knife, people eating birds, and other strange elements. Another story, “The Paperhanger”, deals with the disappearance of a child. Both are straight-up horror. In fact, the former is one of my all-time favorite horror stories. However, they are also literary stories featured alongside a host of stories by other literary authors.

While Stephen King’s fiction may have a stigma in the college classroom, the bloody antics of Brian Evenson’s work does not. That same anthology contains a story by Aimee Bender, who focuses primarily on magical realism. Bender is often spoken of in the same breath as Kelly Link (I actually heard them both mentioned no less than a dozen times at a writing festival at the university a few years ago when all the grad students were experimenting with that kind of thing). Kelly Link edited the fantasy half of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for years. Bridges. Use them.

The third thing current and prospective students need to know is they should be doing as much learning outside of the classroom as inside of it. I’m not just talking about reading and writing on your own either, although you absolutely need to do those things. What I’m talking about is creating your own learning environments. The easiest way to do this is to start or join a creative writing workshop. As someone who has run a workshop for the last five years (it’s still going despite the fact that many of its members have graduated), I can honestly say you’ll learn just as much, if not more, about writing from a private workshop as you will from a workshop class—if you do it right.

How does one go about creating an effective workshop? The biggest thing is that you don’t let just anyone join. That may sound elitist, but believe me when I say it’s necessary. From my experience, the average writing class of 20 people contains anywhere from three to five students who actually know what they are doing and are dedicated to writing. These are the people you listen to in class, the people whose comments you read first when you get a manuscript back. Unfortunately, the rest of the class is usually more obsessed with the idea of being a writer more than they are actually interested in writing.

Pull aside the go-to people and ask them if they’re interested in a private workshop. Odds are, they’ll have some go-to people themselves. After you have a core group, only bring in people that ask to join. This makes sure you’re getting people who take the initiative. However, always remember to say no when the need arises. If the girl from class who is constantly checking Facebook while everyone else discusses manuscripts asks to join, tell her no, you’re full. If the guy who always turns in assignments two days late wants in, tell him no, you’re full. Often these people like the idea of being part of a workshop, but don’t actually do any real work.


“No workshop forda you!”

I also recommend focusing on the level of commitment people have rather than their current skill level, though it’s important to have at least a few people in the group that are better writers than yourself for the sake of growth. Ideally your workshop should contain no more than seven people. Any more than that and things get unwieldy.

In addition to seeking out like-minded individuals on campus, connecting with other writers via the Internet is hugely beneficial. The wonderful thing about the writing community is that people are so willing to help others. I find this to be particularly true when it comes to veterans wanting to pass on their knowledge to the new blood. Join a forum. Join a Facebook group. Drop another author an email. Build connections. Be a part of the online writing community. Aside from interning at Shock Totem, I’ve recently been given the opportunity to do some freelance work in the game industry. Both of these developments evolved out of meeting awesome people on forums. I can’t stress enough the importance of making connections with those who share the passion for the craft.

So if academia has got you down, fear not. There are plenty of wonderful resources waiting to change your college experience for the better. Connect with the instructors. Connect with other students. Connect with fellow writers online. Writing genre work at the college level needn’t be painful or alienating. In fact, surviving as an undergraduate genre writer can be remarkably easy, provided you know how.

Posted in Articles, Blog, On Writing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sunday Reads: On Writing, Podcasts, and Zombie Ants

Here’s a handful of links from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

First, over at Liberty Conspiracy, Gard Goldsmith has posted two podcasts featuring over an hour’s worth of interviews and commentary recorded at this year’s World Horror Convention in Austin, Texas. You can listen to part one here and part two here. Great stuff!

On the writing front, here’s something for the struggling writer: Thirteen tips to help you get some writing done. And this would probably fall under the category of Struggling Writer, but specifically, here’s a little something for the depressed writer. But maybe you’re neither struggling nor depressed, so how about a Writer Reality Check? Can’t hurt.

Right?

For those of us venturing into the world of e-books, check out Nathan Bransford’s enlightening piece on the 99 cent e-book and the tragedy of the commons. It’s bananas (while they last).

Now for the fun stuff: Zombie ants! Heard of them? Have you read Spore, by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (dude, you need a website)? Either way, check out another example of art imitating life.

And with that, I’ll leave you with these amazing images.

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Sunday Reads: On Writing, Rejection, and Spiders

Here are a handful of links from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

First up, some stuff on writing. Shane Staley of Delirium Books posted an interesting essay on the current state of small-press horror. A more upbeat piece comes from Adrienne Crezo, where she tells us that the “Big Debate” doesn’t matter.

Here are a couple tips on handling rejection: Jacqueline Howett responds to a review of her book, The Greek Seaman. Read the comments, then always do the opposite. Though a bit one-sided, presented as it is, over at Crossed Genres we were shown yet another example of a not-so-recommended rejection response.

Now, how about some fun and cuddly arachnids? A man in Dortmund, Germany is killed and then eaten by his creepy-crawly pets. And in flood-ravaged Pakistan, spiders have taken to the trees in what can only be described as something out of a nightmarish fantasy.


[ Photo by Russell Watkins ]

Scares the hell outta me, anyway!

Posted in Blog, On Writing, Recommended Reading, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Getting Beyond the Door

Note: This post does not reflect how things are handled at Shock Totem.

So you just finished a 5,000-word story. Read on…

Have you ever heard an editor say a story needs to grab him—or her—within the first few pages? Have you ever thought about what that means for you, as a writer? What it really means?

In the business of reading slush, where hundreds of stories pour in weekly, those first couple pages can mean the difference between rejection and acceptance. Some editors say a story needs to grab hold from the opening line, and while some authors pull this off with ease, others take a slower approach. Some authors start with explosions, while others light small fires that grow and grow…

Because some stories beg for the explosive intro, and others require a slow build. It all depends on the tale (excluding flash fiction, which has no excuse not getting right down to business). But how often is a great story overlooked because an editor—and there are plenty who subscribe to this school of thought—thinks a story needs that WHIZBANGPOW! opening?

I recently finished a 5,300-word story. In standard submission format—12pt Courier font, double-spaced—it’s 29 pages long. Now let’s discuss exactly what that translates to: Changing the format to Times New Roman, single-spaced, the story shrinks from 29 pages down to 11. What was once the first three pages an editor sees is now barely a quarter of the way down page two, and the story starts halfway down page one! So we’re talking a mere 483 words.

Frightening. But it’s worth thinking about.

We, the writers, must impress within the first few pages, right? We’re told this over and over again. But depending on the publication that standard may be an illusion, because in standard submission format, those pages represent but a handful of words—not pages. And that’s just to keep the door from closing, let alone getting your story across the threshold! And beyond that there’s a whole new set of obstacles.

Less than 500 words…

Scary.

Posted in Blog, Essays, Publishing, Writing Advice | Tagged , | 5 Comments