W. P. Johnson

No More Devil’s Advocate

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm

On May 13th, 2017, White Nationalist Richard Spencer led a group of demonstrators in Charlotte Virginia to protest the removal of a monument of Robert E. Lee. You know… the general who fought on the Confederate side of the American Civil War, which, despite whatever arguments could be made by contrarian history dorks that it wasn’t “about slavery”, I tend to think that, like World War II and Hitler’s intentions with European Jews, the South wasn’t exactly planning on doing anything pleasant with their slaves in the event that they actually won the fucking thing.

I digress. The pictures of the aforementioned demonstration was a weird scene, coupled with Spencer’s own denial of being a bigot. Who could forget one particular interview promptly ended by a punch to the face, where he stated that the KKK didn’t really like him all that much? It’s weird because, beyond whatever thrill there is to be had by really pissing off Social Justice Warriors (hate speech is also free speech guys), I can’t comprehend why anyone would admire the South’s battle to secede given the circumstances. Especially when the admiration is coupled with a denial of bigotry, that the Confederate Flag isn’t a symbol of hate, blah blah blah. I mean, technically speaking, the Nazi symbol is a ancient Indian symbol for peace… or something.

Who gives a fuck, it’s not that anymore and neither is the confederate flag a symbol of whatever passive aggressive nonsense shit kickers want to flaunt in the face of people who probably have legit reasons to be uncomfortable when they see a pick up truck with the stars and bars haul ass out of a bar parking lot while a dude tosses used shotgun shells on the side of the road like cigarette butts.

When Trump was elected, I tried to play devil’s advocate. Not because I thought there would be good, rational, reasons to elect him. I just wanted to try and understand why someone would vote for a person like that, just like I wanted to try and understand why someone like Richard Spencer would think it was a affront to his whiteness to take down a monument of General E. Lee, and that the alt-right was not a “movement of hate”. Sure, there are moments when trigger warnings and Berkeley-esque outbreaks are obnoxious, when social justice warriors pile on the latest outrage like so many flies on unintentional sharts. And while I wish these same people displayed a little more forgiveness towards those unfortunate enough to catch the spot light during their unwanted public moment of shame, the judgment at least makes sense to me on some basic level.

When Trump was elected, I argued with myself that the reason he had/has supporters is because social issues lost all their weight the further you traveled into “Trump Country”. Who cares where a transgender person uses the bathroom if there’s no jobs? Who gives a flying fuck about racial profiling when an entire industry is collapsing around you? These people would argue, “we need food, not laws protecting net neutrality”. Outside of Philadelphia in “Pennsyltucky” the only thing that matters is, “when is the manufacturing plant opening again, when and how are all the jobs going to come back?”.

But here we are,  more than a hundred days into Trump’s presidency, more than a hundred days of the alt-right openly stating their demands that they be allowed to exist as a presence in our society. And you know what? I don’t care why someone voted for this guy or why someone would protest the removal of a confederate monument. I don’t care if the air conditioner factory closed in Ohio. I don’t care if migrants are sneaking through the Mexico/Texas border. If these are the reasons why you ignored all the negative bullshit about Trump and chalked it up to him just “saying it like it is”, if, at this point, you still like the guy and feel like he’s doing a good job, if, at this point, you still don’t think there’s something weird going on with his connections to Russia, or his refusal to release tax returns… then you are a fucking idiot. And I really do mean that. You, Trump supporter, at this point in the game, are a fool. And this is coming from a guy who is super cynical about the news and finds them almost as gross and disgusting as Trump does. This is coming from a guy who begrudgingly “stood with her” for lack of a better choice. This is coming from a guy who really wanted to find a rational reason for why someone would advocate for this shit. But I think it’s clear at this point that the Devil is not evil, he’s just a fucking idiot.

But, hey, that’s kind of the catch-22 of America’s freedom. We all have the right to be as stupid as we want to be. So thank god for spell-check and pass the ammunition.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

The Road To Publication Part VI or How Did I Get Here?

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2017 at 11:29 am

On June 4th, 2014, I emailed myself the first part of A Song For John, neurotically ensuring I had multiple saved files. It became a routine of sorts. Write a chapter in google docs, proof it, edit, etc, then save it as a document and email it to two different emails. That email marks the date and gives me a record of sorts, and with this, a timeline. So, we are, more or less, at the three year mark since I wrote the first page of A Song For John, contrary to my last “Road to Publication” entry, clocking it closer to four years.

Anyone who’s read this blog or has had the patience to hear me talk about this book knows how much work went into it. When I first started it, my job had lost a bartender and I was working overtime for nearly three months. Yet, I still persisted in getting up every morning at 7 AM to write for three hours before showering and working a double at my bar job. I did this for about three months until the stress of it became too much, prompting night terrors, acid reflux, and full blown burn out. Even my wife was starting to notice. I scaled back my alarm to 8 AM instead, then 8:30, giving myself that extra hour and a half of needed sleep. At work I was a zombie on auto-pilot. None the less, when a new bartender was finally hired and my schedule resumed a manageable 30 hours, I found myself so keyed into this morning routine that I have a hard time sleeping in to this day, waking up around 8:30 even if I’m up until two.

This is the routine that got me to my first draft, a whopping 200K that took me about nine months to write. After that, it took me another six months to cut it down. Then came the beta readers and another draft after that,  cutting it down to 150K (roughly 7-800 pages). At that point, I felt it was as good as I could make it. The pitches went out and I waited, knowing deep down it was a uphill battle to pitch a book that long from a new writer.

Flash forward to April 20th, 2016, and I get my first request of the full manuscript. I was a little shocked, to be honest. An actual agent wanted to see my bloated fantasy book. Then that same week there came a second request. Then… nothing. If there’s anything to being a writer, its the numbness one acquires when dealing with failure. I think Chuck Wendig described it as pounding our heads against a brick wall, uncaring how thick it is with the stubborn belief that, eventually, the wall will lose that battle.

Still, I knew, despite the length, I had something here. Agents aren’t in the business of making friends or being polite. One does not request a book just for the hell of it. These two agents saw the pitch and the sample pages and the 150K didn’t scare them off. I had something special. I just had to keep going with my head against that brick wall. Smash, smash, smash.

Following that came a third agent that asked to see the book, then doubled back saying it was too long. BUT, if I managed to cut it under 100K, she’d take a look. My first two agents were unresponsive (which happens constantly, btw), so what did I have to lose? Having just finished the last of The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die (collection forthcoming in 2018) I mulled it over and thought about how I could take the first two acts of the original draft and make it stand alone. In the end it made the story stronger, setting the stage for book II and III. As many have said hearing about my dilemma in pitching a book far too long: make it a trilogy. Turns out they were right.

Flash forward again, to this past November, 2016. The newly cut version goes back out into the wild. The original agent that requested the cut passed (ouch). The first two agents that asked to see the 150K version are still unresponsive. The wall is not cracking, no matter how many times I smash my head against it.

But then… another agent building her list asks to see the book. Then another. Maybe it’s not night and day, but it seems like an easier sell this time around. Randomly, I do one last follow up email with the first two agents that requested the book, letting them know that I had made these drastic changes to the manuscript if they wanted to see it. The first agent is unresponsive. The second responds, saying some personal things came up but that they’d still like to read the new version if it was still available.

A month later, they offer provisional representation. Meaning, we’ll work on the manuscript, pitch it, and if they can get me a deal, we’ll sign a contract making their representation more official.

The wall cracks a little. Not alot. But enough for me to think that maybe there’s light on the other side. My head hurts, but it’s not broken. And I have an agent.

How the hell did I get here?

I busted my ass. I made sacrifices. I blew off drinks with friends. I slept less. I read more. I wrote ALOT. At one point, I was writing the book on my fucking phone while between waiting tables. I ignored all the fear and anxiety of pitching a project that might possibly go nowhere. I believed in it. I kept doing the work, and every time I felt like maybe I had done all I could, I found more that I could do. And that’s why, now, I don’t know if it’s fair to label these entries, jokingly, as a documentation of how I “wasted my life”. Because I learned so much and have grown so much during this process. I became a better story teller. I think, in some ways, it has made me a better person. But most importantly, I didn’t take any shortcuts because, well, there aren’t any shortcuts. And this is what I would tell the old me and anyone else who looks at a writer announcing a deal they got or an agent they just acquired: if you want this, if you really want this, you have to do the work. And if you want to know what that means and how long it takes… re-read what you just read and the all the entries before that. Because if at any point you think “I don’t know if I can do that for that long a period of time”, then you’ll probably never get there. But if you’re like me, you’re too stubborn to care how long it takes. You can’t be told no. And in that sense, there’s nothing I can say to help because you don’t need it.

That wall is gonna go down, no matter how hard and how long I have to smash my head against it.

See you on the other side.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

 

Dream Dress and The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2017 at 5:20 pm

DDimage

-cracks knuckles-

It’s been a busy couple of months between the ongoing task of pitching the novel to agents and working on other projects, not to mention the day to day of having an actual life and breaking to eat now and again. Then there’s sleep- HA, who needs sleep when you have coffee? Having just returned from a vacation in Barcelona, where I drank lots of booze and coffee and ate more iberian ham than one should (instagram americantypo for pics), I was ready to get back to the grind. Hopefully I’ll be starting a new bartending job soon, as well as finishing up recording for my band Night Film and editing a script (more on that below).

But why I’m writing today is to announce that my collection The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die has been picked up by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and will be published sometime in the spring of 2018!

I’ve mentioned this collection a few times before and have already had several stories within the collection published, but it’s been nothing short of a thrill to work on it. Writing the novel was a blast, but this collection took so many odd turns and presented me with so many opportunities to flex my writing muscles and experiment, I feel that I have truly come out on the other side of it a much better writer for the experience.

There are eight stories in the collection, two of which have been previously published in some form or another (“The God of Dead Dreamers” in Shroud, and “Shelob Headlines The Ox” in one of Fox Spirits’ Books Fox Pockets). The former is about a man pressured to smuggle drugs onto a cruise ship, the latter about a trans girl named Scar living in a punk warehouse in Philadelphia. Out of the remaining six, one is written as an unfinished stage play  entitled “Julie’s Scars: A Two Act Play”, referencing Marquis de Sade and focusing on the life of a sex worker. Another story satirizes white privilege and is told through a series of recordings made by a man in therapy who believes his wife is not who she says she is. Paired with this is a story entitled “The Laughing Tree”, which delves into the topic of race in America from the perspective of a black stand up comic, with each section of the story shorter than the one before it (much like the rings of a tree). “Bitten” is your standard horror short story and will hopefully be featured by another publisher when the full collection is printed (though I can’t say who just yet). “A Walking Shadow” occurs long after the events of the previous stories in the collection, wrapping things up, and aside from the fact that it takes place in a world we don’t necessarily recognize, it features almost no genre elements.

“Dream Dress”, however, is what started all of this in many ways.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I had written and sold “Shelob Headlines The Ox” followed by “The God of Dead Dreamers”. Both featured spiders and drugs, though the two stories were unrelated otherwise. At this point I had not started my novel, but I had been writing a decent amount and had gotten roughly 20 stories accepted. At the time, my wife had suggested that I write a story about lolita culture, which is the fashion sub-culture she is a part of and something of a feature at most anime conventions. If I managed to put something good together we’d work on it, get someone to edit it professionally, and hire someone to do cover art and sell it at the conventions as a way of promoting my work (after all, I was frequently helping her at these cons).

I chewed on the idea, letting it gestate. The idea grew. What if there was a designer of dresses whose work was so good you didn’t buy the dress, but applied for the privilege of wearing them? And what if every time a girl was approved, she disappeared?

And what if, somehow, this story featured the same mythology I had introduced in “The God of Dead Dreamers” and was somehow connected to “Shelob Headlines The Ox”?

I started writing down ideas for more stories. I decided, for better or for worse, to challenge myself with each story, to tackle a different voice, a different style. I would write in first person, second, and third person. I would write the story as recordings. I would write the story as a play. I would write from perspectives not my own to the best of my ability while somehow commenting on these perspectives in a way that was as honest as I could be about the subject matter. Following that, I tried, to the best of ability, to have each story vetted by someone of that perspective in order to ensure I was not appropriating a culture or identity, and that I had written these characters with respect without parading them as the “other” to make my work more exotic or interesting. And let’s face it, is there anything worse than a narrative throwing in a transgender character or a sex worker to spice things up? Or how about all of the times a culture contrary to the narrator was presented in order to add color to an otherwise bland pallet? I can’t change who I am, which is your standard issue straight white male, but I sure as hell can try to write narratives I find compelling about perspectives I think are important in American culture. In the end, each story became a conversation of sorts, one I was having with myself and these other identities that I was not.

And all of them were tied together through a mythology first introduced in “The God of Dead Dreamers”.

Of all the stories mentioned, “Dream Dress” is the longest, nearly a hundred pages. And while I don’t know if it’s the best in the collection, it’s one of the stories I enjoyed writing the most. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time with lolita girls that the culture and the narrative felt easy to me. The voices were there. I just had to type them up. More so, I was happy to have something to present to readers prior to the collection being released, which is why my wife and I are printing this as a stand alone novella (or novellette if you like). It’s only in print form, and it’ll be available for sale at conventions, but you can also buy it through amazon or createspace, whichever floats your boat. If you happen to read the story, be sure to leave a review! It definitely helps.

Until then, I am back to the grind on a new project and continuing the hustle of finding an agent. I also tried my hand at a script, taking “Dream Dress” and transcribing it as a screenplay, which was a lot of fun. Other than that, it’s the usual. Beer, cats, negronis, rinse and repeat.

Until then, here’s to being scary.