W. P. Johnson

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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.

 

The Road To Publication Part V, or How I Wasted Three/Four Years Of My Life

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2017 at 8:04 pm

Updates.

I recently received a rejection by an agent I was given a referral for. This particular agent was very generous with his time and gave me his thoughts on my work. The pitch was solid, the writing was good, however he did not feel confident in being able to sell the material, as he does not typically represent fantasy. It was bitter sweet, sweet because I feel like, once again, I am on the right track, bitter because I am tired of writing query emails. In addition to his own inadequacy in representing fantasy, he felt the mainstream market was not quite friendly to my genre and tone, which was gritty, dark, weird, a bit hard to place I suppose. His opinion is that another agent more familiar with my kind of work would fare better in finding a home for it and he was kind enough to give me a specific referral, one which I promptly queried today. Afterwards I hunted for some more names, tweaked the pitch again. One of the items this aforementioned agent mentioned was that it would not be wise to not speak on how many pitches have been sent, but anyone reading this blog knows it’s been a project I’ve been trying to sell for quite some time and an agent only has to a dig a little to see how far this journey has taken me (with titles such as the one of this particular entry to add to the pile of evidence). But why hide the truth? I believe an agent’s pass with the caveat that it was “not for them” is made with sincerity and that this also suggests that there is an agent out there for whom this book is a perfect fit. I just have yet find that person.

I digress. I was not upset by the rejection because to be honest, I did not think he’d bite. In fact, I predicted the very thing he did, which was to say no, give me his thoughts and advice, and suggest an agent I would be wise to query. My wife was probably more upset than I was, which is understandable, as we often don’t fully grasp the approach a person has with a process like this. What can I say? I’ve been doing this for so long; writing, submitting, editing, getting rejected. Rejection has become a part of the “process”, almost as much as the act of writing itself. At the end of the day, I rolled my sleeves up, got back to work, and continued writing.

Which brings me to new projects! My novella Dream Dress will be available soonish as a self published novel to be sold at conventions as soon as I have cover art for it. In addition to that, as soon as I get the go-ahead from the publisher, I’ll be able to announce more concrete details about the short story collection Eight Eyes, which features Dream Dress among seven other stories about a drug called “silk”. I’m also nearly finished a first draft of a script version of Dream Dress, which I’m really enjoying and may try my hand at a few more film ideas before tackling the next book, which I’ve also started broadly outlining. I don’t have a title for the new book, but it’s a mix of The Exorcist meets A Visit From The Goon Squad, giving a panoramic view of a boy who is plagued by demonic possession, and my own personal meditation on faith, how we gain it, lose it, and what it means under different circumstances and for different people. It’s also got a rural vibe to it, which is closer to my upbringing having grown up in Pennsyltucky.

As for A Song For John? Recently I skimmed the pages, curious about this narrative I hadn’t really looked at it since this past December. Time makes a stranger of old work. All I could think was- this is a story I still believe in. This isn’t to say it couldn’t be better, or that I would resist any notes or suggestions from an agent or an editor. But all I could think was- don’t give up on this. It’s worth fighting for, it’s worth pitching, it’s worth querying again and again and again. And maybe it isn’t “mainstream”, but I know in my heart it’s a story that will resonate with people and it’s a story an agent is waiting for. So, you won’t see me shelving it any time soon, you won’t see me giving up. Not after I worked so hard to make it shine as much as it now does. As I said in my last entry- what’s a dozen passes? I’ll keep going until it’s a thousand. After all, I wouldn’t want my office chair to have been nearly destroyed for nothing.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

The Road to Publication Part IV, Or How I Wasted Three Years Of My Life

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2016 at 10:02 am

A Song For John has been effectively cut into a “stand alone with series potential”, which is vomit inducing publisher lingo for having written a book that is intended to be a series but could just as well be published alone just in case it tanks sales-wise. Wouldn’t want Random House to take any chances I guess, and who could blame them? There are literally thousands of books being published every week (hell, with kindle, probably every day).

The change was suggested by the last agent I had pitched it to when I first started sending out queries almost an entire year ago. Well, not so much suggested as a prerequisite, informing me that she wouldn’t even look at the damn thing if it wasn’t under 100k. How dare she! I thought. This novel is a work of genius and it can’t possibly be cut down to under 100k! She should be arrested for even suggesting such a thing.

But the idea was planted. That is, the reality that no agent with any brains would ever look at a 150k epic fantasy about a punk rock girrrl vs a death god. On the other hand: two agents did look at it, and this is what told me I had something special, that it was worth salvaging. After all, who could scrap something they spent almost two years putting together? So I asked myself- how would this work exactly? How could I trim the book down and introduce a resolution to the conflict before the 100k mark?

Without going into all the plot details, I managed to take a subplot and make it the main conflict of the novel without losing any of the other plot points and ideas. The book ends, all is well, our hero saves the day. Then there’s that moment where the dead hand twitches and we realize the bad guy isn’t really quite finished yet, not to mention all the peripheral details that sets the stage for books two and three. Whether or not we get to see a second or third book has yet to be seen, as I don’t think I can invest any more time in this until there’s an actual deal on the table now that the first book is finished (and a tidy 97k at that).

With about 60 agents queried and one full out to the agent that originally suggested I trim the book, I find myself with that great empty feeling I felt the first time I finished and sent out all my pitches. The journey is over and there’s nothing else left to say about these characters (for now at least). The idea that it will not get picked up by an agent and, following that, a publisher, stings even more than it did before now that I’ve done the extra work and made it more “marketable”. Every rejection (fifteen so far, but who’s counting?) feels like a chisel scraping away the very fiber of my being, making me feel like I’m disappearing. Worst still, no longer can I excuse the rejections due to the length. Instead I must accept that my work will be judged fairly based on the content and my talent as a writer. In the end, I must take it in good faith that the sample pages were actually read and that the word count had nothing to do with the “dear author” form letter.

I digress. I’m working on new material, short stories, a script, and thinking of that next novel. I have a collection of work coming out next year by a small indie publisher (waiting for the contract before making it official). Yes, I do feel depressed, stubborn, and even, at times, angry. Another rejection? Fuck you. A year from now, I’ll pitch you another book and you’ll see. Then another, and another. Maybe, I think, I’m the chisel wearing them down. But I know its just how it is, that most writers finish 5 or 6 books before finally selling one (this is my fifth attempt for those keeping score). Even my wife says to me, “So what if they all say no? Write another book.” One would think it is her believing in me or being encouraging (maybe it is a little of both). But I think the truth is, she knows it’s what I’ll do, that no matter how many rejections I get, I won’t stop.

How could I? When you spend nearly fifteen years trying something and getting close, how do you stop just because someone writes you, “Dear Author…” In truth, many writers before and many after have weathered worse than me. I doubt I have yet to earn their sympathy. I sure as hell don’t have any for those just starting out, asking the world, “why not me?” when they get their tenth rejection.

Dude… get back to me after you’ve gotten a thousand.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

The Theme of Misogyny II

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2016 at 1:10 pm

I listen to my wife.

Watching HBO’s newest offering of crime noir, The Night Of, we found ourselves paying attention for different reasons. Like most people, I was sucked into the story because the plot mechanics were so, as many have said, addictive. Who could look away as Naz painted himself into one corner after another through unfortunate circumstances and mistakes that prompted your average audience member to scream at their TV, ‘Seriously, put the fucking knife down! Why are you getting your knuckles tattooed!?’.

I’ll admit: this is a man’s worst nightmare, to be falsely accused of a sex crime. In this way, the story is manipulative of your average male viewer who finds himself compelled to comment “not all men” in whatever feminist social media flareup there is on a given week. I, for one, tend to stay the fuck out of those things, especially if it’s a friend’s page and she is holding her own. Besides, if I have to admit my true feelings, it’s that these arguments are complicated and I rarely find myself completely siding with either view. Any commentary would be playing devil’s advocate and, justifiably so, be accused as suggesting I side with the potential rapist. Besides, there’s simply too much anger to have your actual thoughts heard. In recent stories demonizing comedy writer Kurt Metzger and the UCB rape scandal, I started to feel as if all the points became lost in vitriol, both sides so unwilling to listen to anything but their own voices, unforgiving and too furious to let the dust settle and consider even one iota of an opposing view.

I’ll admit that The Night Of and the UCB scandal stoked my shitty male gaze fears of being falsely accused of sexual assault. In the age of social media where mob mentality is the norm, it’s scary to think how easily a person’s name can be tarnished, and the story line of The Night Of is nothing short of that idea played out in very real terms. When all is said and done, it becomes more an indictment of our justice system, demonstrating how flawed it is that an institution that is supposed to rehabilitate people usually leaves them worse off than when they started. And who can say this isn’t the case even when they are guilty? Convicted rapist Brock Turner, being the current poster boy for white male privilege and rape culture (both very real things, in case you were wondering my stance), went from a potential sixteen years to just six months, and managed to serve only three. The outrage is justified. But then I wonder: what do we do about someone like Brock? And what punishment will satisfy us while, simultaneously, rehabilitating him?

My wife, to all this, would say: what about the victim?

And this is where I start to ask myself: why is it that I fear more for my own imagined reputation than the very real fact that nearly every woman I’ve ever been close to has told me about an incident where they were sexually assaulted?

To answer honestly? Like every person, I have flaws. Who can say why a person fears heights any more than they fear being falsely accused? And how do I deny those feelings in face of these stories? I try to be objective, to listen, and in circumstances where I do actually voice my opinion and make attempts at being an ally of women, trans, or people of color, I leave behind the irrational fears as best I can, discarding any notion of playing devil’s advocate. Over the course of watching The Night Of, I started to leave behind these same fears and I began asking myself the question posed by my wife: what about the victim? And do we really need another story about men whose sole conflict is the misery they face in having to deal with the rape and murder of the women they care about? As opposed, say, to the misery women face when they are sexually assaulted or the reality that they will likely be, at some point, sexually assaulted?

In my previous entry on misogyny in fiction, I talked about True Detective and the self awareness it had to its own male gaze. I stand by the stance and still feel it did a great job with Rust and Marty, demonstrating the consequences of their flaws. Over time Rust became so cynical to his own desires and the sexual violence of men, it drove him into drinking and severe depression. Likewise, Marty lost everything because of his male gaze, indulging again and again with women (and let’s not forget the obvious shift in the way he perceived his daughter, from protective to outright judgmental). Rape culture has a way of making the lives of womanizing men seem appealing, treating women like disposable fuck toys. True Detective, in my opinion, showed you the full outcome of such behavior and the visceral reality of what it means when a man treats a woman as a disposable object. In short: it didn’t make any of the men, or their behavior, look good.

As for The Night Of, it felt like a failure to me in trying to acknowledge the victim or show any kind of self-awareness in the ways men treat women. The victim’s lifestyle was prodded, as if somehow justifying what happened to her. Aside from the prosecutor, there wasn’t a single female character one would characterize as being strong or admirable. Consider Naz’s lawyer, whose flawed behavior makes so little sense, it does nothing more than suggest women are incapable of doing their job without becoming emotional, using this flaw as a flimsy way of resolving the plot’s main conflict. What could have potentially been a brilliant indictment of our justice system became, in my opinion, overshadowed by the way it burdened us with the tragic problems of a man who can’t get an erection. Perhaps, if they had shown a self awareness to these flaws, I’d forgive them, but it’s hard to ignore.

Especially if you listen to women. Or people of color. Or trans people. Or any other perspective that isn’t your own.

So my take away is this: listen. You don’t have to agree. And if you like, you can even respond. But once in awhile, just shut the fuck up and listen.

As for my work? Two agents are still reading the full manuscript of the novel (and I have this weird spidey sense that a third is about to request a full, but I’ve been wrong about that before). One in particular followed up with promises that I’d have an answer soon, which is always helpful in lighting the fire under the other agent’s ass as far as getting an actual response. My novella Dream Dress is in the midst of edits and will likely be self published sometime next year. Also I will hopefully be announcing details about a collection of stories to be released next year, tentatively titled The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die. Fall is coming soon, which means it’ll be September-ween and all things spooky.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

The Road To Publication Part III. Or, How I Wasted Two Years Of My Life

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Another layer of dust brushed off the blog.

Truth be told, I fucking hate writing a blog, but they say a writer needs a platform in order to become successful. And by they I mean whatever Trilateral Commission of half human half lizard people there are that control the publishing industry (thank you William Cooper/acid for ruining my brain). Likely they were born from the dirt after a hooded figure mixed presidential cum with the blood of unbaptized children in a used starbucks coffee cup (sorry to tarnish the reputation of cum with starbucks). After which, they crawled up from the muck fully clothed with blackberries in hand and questions regarding the number of twitter followers you currently possess and how often you hashtag #amwriting (less than 300, and NEVER, if you want to cut to the chase). Truth be told, I’m too busy writing to bother finding creative ways of hashtaging about it. Same goes for my disdain of NaMoWriMo, which has been every month for me since I started. No offense…

…okay, so I think it’s stupid to wait all year just to pressure yourself into writing a shitty book in under thirty days when you could be writing twelve shitty books a year.

I feel like, in many ways, my smarmy cynicism, foul mouth, and overall nastiness makes me a terrible candidate for literary agents. As much as I try to be friendly and get along with everyone (which I do!), I find myself rolling my eyes to most positive and or cute forms of creative expression. Examples include vapid endorsements of whomever is the social media flavor of the week (Caitlin Jenner), memes (Philly Girls Are The Best, Share If You’re A Philly Girl!), doing the “happy dance” for pretty much any news that cannot yet be shared, or writing letters to non-living things as if they can respond (dear winter, could you go home already? sincerely me). UGH.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m being a real sour puss. And truth be told, I’d never disparage anyone of these actions, or publicly trash someone unless I felt like there was some moral obligation to call Donald Trump a cunt. I’m a fan of “if you can’t say anything nice, just shut you stupid fucking mouth”. I just wonder if my lack of social media presence makes an agent raise an eyebrow when they see that I’m looking for representation.

On the other hand, I love to work. I mean, no bullshit, I’m up every morning typing on this goddamn thing, so much so that I’ve gone through three shitty laptops and half an office chair.

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My soon to be wife asked me if I wanted to get a new one, but I kind of want to see how long it’ll put up a fight with my ass. Spoiler alert: unless it gets cancer, my ass will win.

Point is, I HUSTLE. Maybe I don’t have any workshops I’m teaching soon, or big name writerly friends that will surely endorse my work, but I bust my ass as a writer and I busted my ass on the book I’m now trying to sell.

As such, as it has been in previous installments of this column, it behooves me to share a few nuggets of wisdom for those in this stage of novel writing: pitching it to publishers/agents.

First off, make sure the book is ready to be seen. Did you do a spell check? Good, then tie it to a brick and throw it through the window of the Random House offices in NYC. Because it’ll illicit the same effect as showing them your two hundred thousand word pile of dog shit you wouldn’t change a word of because its your “baby” and you’ll hopefully, justifiably so, be arrested for obscenity charges. Truth is, you need to throw a bottle of plan b at your book and cesarean twenty percent of that shit, and that’s the minimum. If you don’t think I subscribe to this, know that the original draft of my novel A Song For John was over two hundred thousand words. Even Stephen King was like, “I don’t got time for this shit…” So I cut it down to a tidy 150,000.

Now, once you’ve done a spell check, and cut 20%, you need to get people to tell you why it sucks. This can be difficult, but easily done if you’ve got good friends that are kind of shitty people, especially if that’s why you are friends with them. At the very least it helps to have a few writing friends you’ve critiqued for (especially if you were hard on their work). After that, you are done!

NOT. You need to write it AGAIN and send it to a post beta reader reader that can not only provide you with feedback, but can also make sure you’re not spelling Mississippi wrong.

My circumstances are unique in this respects, as I have family that offered services which I promptly accepted like the leech I am when I can get something for free. Once I made sure all the words were spelled right and cut the remaining fat, I was finally finished.

So what then?

There are a few avenues you can take. You can either self publish, sub it directly to publishers, or seek the representation of an agent. My personal feeling is that a self published book is rarely a book that will be read without a reputation that precedes you. As far as subbing it directly to publishers, only the indies will likely be open to unsolicited submissions, and while many are great, there are a few that are dicey when it comes to paying their writers on time (or at all). Not to mention the fact that you probably wouldn’t receive any kind of advance. So as exciting as it would be for Farty Pants Books to release a digital copy of your magnum opus, ask yourself- will they fulfill all the needs a larger more established publisher would? Needs include: good artwork, widely published reviews, a decent amount of ARCs, promotional trailers, ability to get good blurbs or to get you on panels, or an advance that you might actually be able to pay your bills with.

Again, indie publishers have their place and serve a great purpose. An indie publisher will take a chance on a newer writer. An indie will take a chance on something that’s kind of fucked up and weird, so much so that a larger publisher won’t touch it (like my collection of novellas, The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die, as an example). In fact, novellas in general have become something of a trend for indie publishers, and they can be a great way of promoting yourself as a writer.

However, my personal feelings, with no disrespect to indies, is that a writer should shoot for the stars and try to score a big pay day, or at least get something more than a royalty based contract. However, due to the fact that larger publisher won’t even acknowledge your existence without an agent to grease the wheels, it is beneficial that an author seek representation.

Doing so is a bit tricky in the onset, but no more than publishing in general. With short work, I used duotrope and learned how to write brief letters of submission, as well as paid close attention to what a publisher required when it came to the format of a story. Agents and agencies are similar with respect to their expectations that you give them what they ask for, no more, no less. The glaring difference I noticed was that, unlike short story submissions, agents want a little song and dance, what is commonly known as the “query letter”.

My initial attempt at a query was really awful. It went something like: Hi, I wrote a book, fart, burp, its like really long and shit, and its about music and stuff (scratches nuts), do you want to buy it? Well, anyway, there’s a few chapters attached that might be viruses, hope this doesn’t end up in your spam folders, lol. Anyway, let me know. Laters.

Okay, so that wasn’t my actual pitch. But here’s one I did use in the first 10 emails or so, summarily burning a bridge with those agents:

Kristin Callihan,

Below is a very short description of my dark fantasy novel A Song For John followed by the first ten pages and my bio. The novel blends horror, weird fiction, dark fantasy, mystery, and gothic horror. It also features a strong female lead, which is very much lacking in genre.
Note, this novel can also potentially be pitched as a duology or a trilogy of novellas.
Thank you for your time, I look forward to your reply.
-W. P. Johnson (Bill)
 So, aside from it being not that great (I listed 5 different genres), I also misspelled the agent’s last name. How the fuck I got Callihan from Nelson, I’ll never know. What I do know is that her bridge is burned to a crisp, and its unlikely that Kristin, or any of the ten agents I sent a similar pitch to, will ever open an email sent by me again.
I regrouped, wrote another query after realizing agents want you to actually describe the book beyond the obvious that its not yet published and you’d like help with that. Here’s my second pass, which is a little better:
I am currently seeking representation for my debut novel A Song For John. It is an epic urban fantasy that blends various genres including weird fiction, gothic horror, and mystery. Featuring a strong female protagonist inspired by Joan Jett and Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, it’s Lovecraftian horror if Lovecraft was a record obsessed punk from Philadelphia.
Clocking in at 150k, the novel’s length is a challenge, however, I believe it can also be pitched as a duology, titling the first book as A-Side, and the second book as B-Side, representing the halves of a record (and, yes, the entire novel IS finished). It could also be pitched as a trilogy of novellas similar to Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, titled A-Side, B-Side, and Ghost Tracks, respectively. Only instead of nature, it would be weird fiction about rock and roll!
As a horror writer, I have had work published by or forthcoming from Dark House Press, Blight Digest, Pantheon Magazine, Fox Spirit Books, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Kraken Press, Dark Moon Digest, Thunderdome, Spark, Pulp Modern, Shroud Magazine, One Buck Horror, Niteblade, and Pseudopod. You can also follow me on social media via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram.
Below you’ll find a very brief description of the novel, a plot synopsis (minus spoilers!).
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.
-W. P. Johnson (Bill)

 

Not terrible, but still not great. It fails to even remotely state what the plot of the book is exactly, and is somewhat apologetic about the length, which suggests that I lack the confidence to pitch it as a duology. Also note that I wrote a synopsis for the agent without “spoilers”, which I only point out to remind you that it is super important to pay attention to what these people are looking for as opposed to just shotgunning a hundred queries to every agent listed. In that sense, I got a small part of the query right.

I rewrote it again, finding a pretty good tone:

A Song For John is an epic urban fantasy that blends various genres including weird fiction, gothic horror, and mystery. Musically driven, it features a strong female protagonist inspired by Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females, making it a Lovecraftian horror tale if Lovecraft was a record obsessed punk girl from Philadelphia. Having spent nearly a decade playing music and living in Philadelphia, this is a story that is very close to my heart.
Inside of Fox is a long dark hallway with many doors and eleven Collectors whose rooms rattle and glow with the light of their collections. Fox is a collector himself, wandering the earth in search of the transcendent memories of musicians, memories he hopes to one day spend eternity dreaming of inside the body of the next Collector. When his body begins to die, he approaches Jolene, the lead guitarist and singer of a Philadelphia punk band called The Flu Shots. Offering her immorality, all she had to do is let go of her past and give them the house that is her body. Meanwhile, John Larkin, who is Jolene’s estranged father, revisits his childhood home in order to regain his forgotten past and reconnect with his only daughter. When the smoke clears from his mind, he learns the dark truth about his family’s history and what must be done in order to stop the cycle of the Collectors.
With a word count of 150,000, the novel’s length is a challenge, however, I believe it can also be pitched as a duology, titling the first book as A-Side, and the second book as B-Side, representing the halves of a record.
As a writer, I have had short work published by or forthcoming from Dark House Press, Blight Digest, Pantheon Magazine, Fox Spirit Books, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Kraken Press, Dark Moon Digest, Thunderdome, Spark, Pulp Modern, Shroud Magazine, One Buck Horror, Niteblade, and Pseudopod. You can also follow me on social media via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram.
Below you will find the first two chapters of the novel. If interested in reading more, I am able to send the entire manuscript upon request.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.

 

Almost there! I showed this particular query to my writer friends and they suggested that I shuffle a few things around and sent me links to a few craft books on how to write a query. What I ended up with, and what I am now using is this:

A Song For John is an epic urban fantasy in the vein of Joe Hill’s Horns, blending weird fiction, gothic horror, and mystery. With an antagonist whose origin story spans nearly a thousand years, the novel’s main plot is centralized to the modern day punk scene of Philadelphia and a haunted house in Carbon County Pennsylvania over the span of just three days before Easter. Musically driven, it features a strong female protagonist inspired by Joan Jett, making it a Lovecraftian horror tale if Lovecraft was a record obsessed punk girl from Philadelphia.
Our antagonist Fox is the twelfth in a long line of Collectors, collecting the memories of musicians in hopes of one day spending eternity dreaming in these stolen moments. When his time as a Collector comes to an end, he approaches Jolene, the lead guitarist and singer of a Philadelphia punk band called The Flu Shots. Offering her immorality, all she has to do is let go of her past and give the Collectors the house that is her body before becoming a Collector herself. Meanwhile, Jolene’s estranged father John revisits his childhood home in Carbon County in order to regain the memories he lost after a rock club fire left him with amnesia nearly twenty years ago. When the smoke clears from his mind, he learns the dark truth about his family’s history and what must be done in order to stop the cycle of the Collectors.
The novel’s word count is 150,000 words, however it could be effectively split and pitched as two stand alone books, titling the first book as A-Side and the second book as B-side, representing the halves of a record..
As a writer, I have had short work published by or forthcoming from Dark House Press, Blight Digest, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Kraken Press, Spark, Pulp Modern, Shroud Magazine, One Buck Horror, and Pseudopod. You can also follow me on social media via the moniker “americantypo” on twitter, wordpress, and instagram.
Below you will find the opening chapter of the novel. If interested in reading more, I am able to send the full manuscript upon request.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to your response.

 

What this pitch does is a few things: it immediately describes the tone of the book by comparing it to a popular novel of the same genre by a well known writer, it articulates the time frame and setting of the story, as well as what kind of person the main character is, and it succinctly describes the plot without off roading into other details or sub plots. Also note the confidence in which I suggest pitching it as a duology (also, it’s kind of a sick idea and is in keeping with the themes of music).

As far as who you send it to? Query tracker is a great resource and helps you keep track of who you’re querying, hence the name. Its only a few dollars and well worth it. My only last bit of advice would be to have some patience in sending your query out. Make sure it’s tight before you start pitching, otherwise you’ll end up like me and send a terrible query to ten agents that might have otherwise liked the book.

Thus far, I’ve gotten about ten rejections out of nearly sixty queries. But, I did receive a request to read the full manuscript by a professional agent! Better yet, she didn’t even get the good query, which means she had to trudge past the awful email to get to the content itself before deciding it was worth asking to see the entire book (which means she really liked the opening chapter). So, in the end, there are no absolutes trying to find an agent, just a bunch of stuff we think works and usually does. Now and again, the thing that isn’t supposed to work does anyway because life is like that.

That is it for me tonight. I hope you enjoyed it and hopefully this will keep you from making the same mistakes I did in querying agents.

Until next time, here’s to being funky.

 

The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Halloween is over and winter is slowly but surely creeping towards the North East. With the extended warmth, the pumpkins are growing mold pretty fast and have already sunken into themselves like I took a bat to a few of them. There was a cold snap today, and it’s a promise of what I hate, which is winter. The cold makes it hard for me to type and the early darkness is miserable. But hey, at least there’s Christmas and New Years to look forward to. Overall Halloween was great! A new tradition has been started, that of spending the night at my sister’s and handing out candy with my younger sister and her children. It’s nice to break up the year with family and I’m surprised it’s taken this many years for Halloween to hold any place in our yearly get together’s.

I digress. It’s been goddamn busy since I last wrote. Aside from the obvious work schedule and daily grind, I’ve started a collection of novellas and short stories that all revolve around the same mythos introduced in my long story “The God of Dead Dreamers”, which was published in Shroud last winter. For those who haven’t read it, read it, but if you don’t feel like it the basic premise is that there is a group of people addicted to a drug called silk, which comes from petrified gossamers from a species of spider that no longer exists, or never existed or came from “above”. So far I’ve finished about four, and will write an additional four in 2016 between other projects (edits on A Song For John, short stories, and a few scripts). It’s a fun concept and it’s cool to build the mythos from different perspectives and characters, and some characters mention other characters as well as other events that transpired. Currently I’m wrapping up a first draft on “Dream Dress” which is one of the eight stories featuring the spider mythos and probably the longest so far. “Dream Dress” in particular is about a girl who becomes obsessed with a designer called Dream Dress, discovering a dark secret about the material used. After a round of edits and rewrites it will be self published and sold as a physical chapbook, hopefully with some cool art work. And, for those who are familiar, it features a heavy dose of lolita culture, a community of which I’ve seen alot of these past few years thanks to my fiancee Mildred. In fact, it was her that said, “you write write a horror story about lolitas and we should sell it at cons”. So if the story is good, you can thank her!

The collection itself is tentatively titled The Eight Eyes That Watch You Die and I’ve pitched it to a few editors and gotten some good responses. Nothing has been signed yet or anything like that, but I definitely plan on writing the remaining four stories regardless, just to put them out there and try to get some more short work published.

Aside from that, I started playing music again in a band called Night Film (yes, based no the book, which I loved in parts and hated in others). So far it’s been great, really fun writing music again, and the people involved are super talented and overall just great to work with. Hopefully sometime next year we’ll record and play out. Hell, if the planets align and A Song For John gets picked up, it has always been my day dreaming fantasy to do a book release that doubles as a show. So who knows, maybe sometime in the next couple of years Night Film will play the book release show for A Song For John.

So there you have it. Book is being beta read, a collection is being put together, scripts will be written this winter, and a band is starting. I hope you all enjoy whatever comes of it and thanks for reading and enjoying my work.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

The Road To Publication II. Or, How I Wasted A Year And A Half Of My Life

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2015 at 11:02 am

brushes inch of dust off blog-

Ahem.

My first novel, A Song For John, is finished. I mean, for real this time, the fucking thing is done.

Heavenly light falls upon me and harps start playing.

Well, sort of…

Cue fart noises and the collective groan and all humanity.

Okay, okay… so I wrote a draft (too long). Then I wrote it again (definitely too long now). Then I went and cut it down to about 170,000 words (still too long). At this point, it is as good as I can make it and as short as I can make it without getting some outside input, so a draft is now in the hands of three beta readers who will adorn it in all that glorious red ink we dreaded as high school students (though now I hear they use neutral green). Personally, I prefer the red ink as I want to feel like Satan himself is jotting down notes in his own blood on these pages if only to compel me to cut the adverbs, redundancies, and that one scene in a church that can be cut completely, lest the devil himself fuck my eyeballs out with hornet cum until I learn that their and they’re are two different things.

Note: none of my beta readers are Satan. Not that I know of…

I am hoping to resume work on the book sometime this winter when I get notes, have it edited again by a professional, then do a clerical edit, and then, hopefully, start pitching it in the spring at the HWA Stokers Con in Las Vegas (among other avenues). I have yet to develop a concise pitch, as it is difficult viewing your own work with an objective eye. The best I’ve come up with so far:

An immortal wanderer collects the memories of musicians, their shine, in hopes of one day spending eternity dreaming in these moments. A girl from Philadelphia wants nothing more in life than to play music and take her band as far as it can go. An estranged father returns home in hopes of regaining the memories he lost after a deadly club fire more than twenty years ago.

Or something like that… erg, I kind of fucked that up, can I start over again?

Elevator opens, Random House editor rushes out onto wrong floor and I’m left with drool running down my face and piss staining my jeans because, you know, I had a few cocktails before braving the trip to Manhattan and they wouldn’t let me throw up in their bathroom prior to bum rushing the elevator when I spotted what I could only assume was SOMEONE IMPORTANT.

I’ve learned a lot from writing this book. Are you thinking of writing one? Well, here’s all the advice I have for you, because, really, what the hell is this blog for?

For starters: don’t. It’ll make your body flabby, your acid reflux boil, and your hair go grayer if you have any left. It’ll carve out some made up path in your own mental labyrinth wherein you start to quickly realize that there is no road map to this imaginary world, no wikipedia for any of these characters, and you will constantly wonder if it is just as well that one thing happens over the other because you are the petty god of these people and you don’t have a fucking clue what it is you’re doing in the first place because who the hell are you to write a book? You’re not a genius. If you were, you’d have a book out already and people would actually like you.

You will get a hundred pages into a story only to realize you’ve been digging the wrong way. You will get carpel in your hands. You just will. Your sex drive will wane like you never thought it would years ago when you first decided to write a book. Your dick will probably fall off and you’ll start carrying it around in a paper bag until you accidentally leave it on the subway and some homeless guy sells it for drugs. You will probably spend hundreds of dollars on coffee and liquor every month and will pick up a few other substance abuses on the way (check). You’ll have night terrors after many years assuming they were bullshit. You’ll also probably lose whatever conversation skills you’ve had in lieu of actual human interaction, wishing there was a way to communicate via smells. You’ll also start to smell (badly). Many of your friends will ask you how the book is doing, to which you’ll struggle to find a new creative way to say “good” when what you really want to do is bore them with every tiny detail about the characters you’ve grown so irrationally attached to.

Then again all of this happens alongside the good stuff.

You will learn to be disciplined in a way that you’ve never been before. You will find value in your life never thought possible (goodbye suicidal thoughts). You will learn to be healthy despite the hours spent sitting and typing (hello kale). You will make time for your friends and family and loved ones without having a panic attack that you didn’t finish your word count for the day. You’ll get used to less sleep and develop the willpower to say no to that extra drink because you have to get up early the next day. You will find your characters don’t really need you anymore and will talk and do things on their own and that you are not their god but just an observer dictating the events of their complex lives. You will probably cry more than once while writing despite all previous notions that you don’t take yourself that seriously, and it will be extremely cathartic (and yes, I did cry twice writing this book). You will give yourself excuses to celebrate a made up thing, that of completing your book. And you’ll probably celebrate more than once.

Pop a bottle for every chapter finished, what the hell, you only live once.

You will start a story with the intention of it only being a few pages and find that there is far more beneath the surface than you ever imagined.

So… in the end, I suppose I can only say that if you’re anything like me, I can’t tell you not to write your book anymore than I can convince someone who isn’t made for this life to start writing no matter how much I urge them to jot down their brilliance. It is a compulsion like any other. It’s been rewarding and stressful, boring and crazy. I’ve definitely snapped a few times at the people around me and there were quite a few scars collected while sleep walking (I also starting swearing in my sleep). There is fear, you see. There is the fear that all this is for nothing, that no one will want to publish or read the book. There is fear that a year of your life has been wasted when time is a precious commodity one cannot buy more of.

But this is a mistake. The notion that time spent on any creative endeavor as valued according to its reception is a misguided one. We all strive towards some kind of perfection in the way we express ourselves. What we must understand is that the failures are stepping stones towards the moment when we speak and people listen in earnest. We stumble, and then one day we walk.

Yes, I sure as hell hope this book is me walking. But if it’s not, the next one will. Or maybe the next. Or the one after that.

Until then, I’ll keep stumbling.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

A Cruise To Remember

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2015 at 12:19 pm

People sometimes wonder where stories come from. There’s a short story collection by Stephen King whose name escapes me, but at the very end of this collection there’s a list of the stories and a small snippet by the author explaining the origins of these strange tales. I’d always enjoyed taking a peek behind that curtain, as it reminds me how ordinary inspiration can be in the face of it’s outcome. What was once a simple observation can, given the time, grow into something truly extraordinary. So, with that in mind, I’d like to write a little bit about where I came up with the idea for “The God of Dead Dreamers”, which is featured in the current issue of Shroud.

I’ve been on two cruises thus far in my life. The first one, a Norwegian Cruise Line, I took about five years ago out of New Orleans. It’s hard to say if who I am now would have enjoyed that cruise, but from what I remember, the whole experience was a lot of fun. Starting off in New Orleans, I took to the French Quarter with my family and later just my brother, going from bar to bar to bar to strip club, which to this day was the best strip club I’d ever been to (despite the basics of strip clubs, there are good ones and bad ones). When I finally left it was four in the morning and I kept thinking I’d open the doors to an empty street and my brother and I would have to rush home to avoid whatever awful things await people when they stumble around the French Quarter by themselves at four in the morning. Instead, I opened the doors to a street just as filled as it was when we started. To quote myself, as my family often did following this vacation, “They just don’t stop!”

At any rate, the cruise itself was an extension of this energy. Great food, drinks, perfect weather, and overall just some of the friendliest waitstaff I’d ever encountered.

Fast forward to my second cruise, also Norwegian Cruise Line.

We left out of New York in December, so right off the bat, it’s cold as hell and since we left that day there was no partying in New York prior to leaving for the cruise. I should probably explain something about myself as far as this detail is concerned: I hate the cold. And when I mean hate, I mean with every fiber of my soul (if a past life exists, I’m sure I lived somewhere very hot). To me, there would be no worse torture than having to live in a cold place or to be cast out in the cold without warm clothes. Every winter I think about moving to Key West or maybe California. When people post on social media that it’s snowing (SNOW!!! they type) I want to spit hot coffee in their faces and throw my laptop out the window to avoid any more positive tweets about an incoming blizzard. Of course, I don’t do any of these things and instead of fuming about something that can’t be changed, I put on however many layers it takes to get the job done and shiver till March.

People always have a favorite season. Spring is mine. You know why? Because it’s when the cold dies what I hope is a brutal death.

With that said, our cruise out of New York was three days at sea both ways, so it took about two days for the weather to become tolerable, and an additional day before we were allowed to leave the ship. The thing about cruises is that you’re kind of trapped on this floating mall for however long you’re at sea. This can be alot of fun depending on the staff and the other people that are trapped with you. However, despite all possible outcomes of fun, we found this particular floating mall to be more like a floating prison. Without going into every detail, compared to my previous cruise experience I found this one to be lacking in all the aforementioned positives: bad food, awkward service, so-so weather, and a choppy sea that left me nauseous pretty much the entire trip (my fiancee was dizzy for a month after we got home). With seven bars, or however many there were, you’d think you’d be able to party your way through the boredom, but it’s kind of hard to find the energy to party when the bars are either empty or filled with wheel chairs and oxygen tanks. There’s only so much drinking a person can do.

For the most part we spent our days at sea doing absolutely nothing, and while that can be a great way to spend a hungover Sunday afternoon, my fiancee and I realized in taking this vacation that we like to actually do things. Case in point, our favorite part of this entire trip (and by favorite I mean the only part we actually enjoyed) was our stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we walked through Old San Juan and wandered around the outskirts of the city, looking down at the shanty town of La Pearla and seeing the Castle San Felipe del Morro in the distance (a tourist trap, sure, but still pretty cool to look at). Late in the day with hours before we were due back on the ship, my family left us to do our own thing and rather than eat for free from the cruise buffet, we took to restaurant hopping in Old San Juan and ate probably some of the best cerviche we’d ever had, walking along the port of San Juan past dusk where it started to rain a little, making small talk with vendors packing their things up for the night and taking advantage of every last second we had off the ship.

Maybe we could just stay, I thought. But then what? Money was tight and my family would be furious if we bailed on the trip. Realistically, I don’t think even if we could afford to just stay there and fly home we’d actually do it. After all, we had three more stops to make and maybe San Juan was just the beginning.

To make a long story short, the remaining stops were a bit of a bust. The same wishy washy tropical beaches, locals haggling/hassling you, prepaid excursions through whatever tourist friendly stretch of land they were able to carve out, and awful food that you eat because you don’t know where the good places are tucked away. It isn’t long before you feel like you’re less on vacation and more like you’re on a field trip that serves booze. Everything is scheduled and mapped out for you and going off the beaten trail often entails risk that you’ll be mugged, lost, or be left behind by the cruise ship (this happened to a few people that didn’t make it back in time). Worse still, the looming three days at sea to New York made every second off the ship go by far too fast and it wasn’t long before our last stop came and went. If memory serves me right we were in the Dominican Republic, drinking mojitos on the beach. When the clock wound down to the final minutes we both sighed, packed our things, and trudged back to the ship like petulant children embarking on a three day stretch of detention. It’s over, we both thought. And now we have to spend three days on that fucking floating mall only to be dumped back into a frozen New York City.

More bad food, more “activities”, more mediocre shows, more drinking for the sake of doing something. Often times we’d walk the edges of the ship and watch the ocean, and despite everything, there was something picturesque about that, especially when the sun set. But all I could think was that we were sailing towards the cold again and before long we’d be huddled in our room wearing sweaters and long johns to keep out the sting of the cold ocean.

What if we kept sailing south instead?

That, more or less, was the seed for “The God of Dead Dreamers”.

There were, of course, other tidbits of inspiration. Notably, I had decided to write a story for Lovecraft Ezine. The editor had rejected three of my submissions with the note that while the stories were very good and well written, they weren’t “lovecraftian” and that I should keep submitting. “The God of Dead Dreamers” was my more earnest attempt at trying to write a Lovecraft tale, though midway through I found my instincts wrestling all the intent out of my hands in favor of just writing a story I wanted to write. Truth be told, I kind of don’t care much for Lovecraft and am a little tired of people gushing over his influence. Aside from Cthulhu and a few of his other mythos, I don’t really see his contribution as being any more significant than Poe or other Gothic writers, and his prose is overwrought dog shit. To boot, he was a text book racist and for all the liberal leanings of genre writers, I’m often surprised how easily they overlook or defend this.

Though I did love the film adaptation of From Beyond.

But I digress. The third bit of inspiration came out of my general fear of spiders. I don’t necessarily hate spiders, as they’re fairly harmless and serve a purpose. If one is hanging out in the corner of my shower, I’m likely to leave it be or if it’s warm outside, I’ll transfer him to the tiny garden in our backyard. Conversely, spiders freak me out a little with their black eyes and fanged mouths, and the way they quietly crawl about is creepy.

There is a memory in particular I have of spiders that I think of now as I write this. When I was a teenager I occasionally helped my father work on junk cars, and by that I mean I watched him do all the work and begrudgingly turned a screw or handed him the wrong tool. To me the inner workings of a car engine are incomprehensible, looking like something out of dystopian sci fi movie. To put it bluntly, I was terrible when it came to working on cars and did the bare minimum. Conversely, the Volvo station wagon I was helping him fix was my Volvo station wagon when it was finished, so there was a bit of a personal investment in all of this and despite how awful I was at working on cars, I tried to do something.

Anyway, I don’t remember what the specific task was, but I was instructed to get underneath the car and unscrew some bolts. The thing about old cars, especially during the summer, is that they become the homes of all manner of insect. Wasps love a junk car, and spiders will nest in all the nooks and crannies available to them, building their nests in the husk of flat tires. Since the car wasn’t moving and the job in question didn’t require a lift, I had to slid underneath the car, giving myself inches of space to work. Reaching the set of bolts in question, I clicked a flashlight up into the belly of the car, my nose a mere six inches away.

Within the housing of these bolts was a spider in it’s nest. It had tiny legs that looked like bitten off fingernails covered in dirt, a cluster of eyes that resembled caviar, and a bulging belly of what I could only assume was blood. Under the flash light’s glow, it twitched a little and shifted about in it’s tiny web.

I slowly slid out from underneath the car and told my father point blank, “I can’t do it.”

To this day I kind of wonder if he knew why, or if maybe he himself had an aversion to spiders and was hoping I would do the job with that fearless attitude some boys have when it comes to bugs. Little did he know I fell more in line with the stereotype of young girls, thinking bugs were “icky” even at the tender age of seventeen. Though I don’t think the term “icky” really did my emotions justice. I remember feeling pale, like the color had drained from my face. If I had to guess, I would say that my father probably let it go with the assumption that I was having another one of my nervous spells of anxiety (I was, generally speaking, an anxious kid growing up). In the end he did the job himself and I took my previous position of handing him the wrong tools again and again.

That, in a nutshell, is where “The God of Dead Dreamers” came from. To date it’s my longest story and certainly one of my most ambitious ones. I hope you give it a chance and read it.

Until then, here’s to being scary.