Happy Halloween!

Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! 

Prizes! Ghost! Spooky! Another ghost! Gross! Dark Spirit!

Quick Win: Leave a comment with the phrase “Mother Nature is not just a metaphor” to win Stolen Climates!

Today is the crowning wonder of the year for horror aficionados. It is also the last day of the 2012 Coffin Hop. I’ve enjoyed the variety and inventiveness of your posts, and hope you had a good time at my party!

Until 11:59 PM PST tonight, you can still enter to win several prizes, including the Grand Prize!

Grand Prize Scream!

Stolen Climates inspired goodies!!

One lucky, lucky reader is going to get a pack of fiction by The Emissaries of Strange, authors of Speculative Fiction.

How do you enter? By leaving a comment. I’ll post the winners here on Sunday, November 4th.

Happy Hopping!

xoxo,

aniko

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Grace for the Asking

There is courage in opening up and bravery in asking for help.

I am neither courageous nor brave. My default response to any difficulty is to wall myself off from the world and figure out a solution on my own. I am independent to a fault.

Work, writing, and life have all been in varying stages of overwhelming at some point this year. Recently, I wrote a message to my writing group, The Emissaries of Strange (TESSpecFic). I told them I could no longer be a part of the group, that I was taking down my blog, and quitting fiction. I couldn’t take the immense, crushing sense that I am not measuring up, that I’m falling behind, that I’m never going to get it right. And by it, I mean writing, life, everything. I sat poised to send the message.

And then I deleted it.

I asked for help instead. I told The Emissaries I was overwhelmed and unsure of my path. The responses were immediate and heartfelt. Not only did hearing from my friends make me feel better in the moment, it showed me a vital truth: it is easier to carry a heavy load when you have help. No one can write my novel for me, but other writers can help me understand I’m not uniquely cursed with this horrid pressure. I’m not the only one who feels like I can’t write well enough, fast enough. I’m not the only one missing self-imposed deadlines because of a story that turned out to be far more complex and challenging than expected. I’m not… alone! Asking for help allowed me to engage with my community, and to feel accepted despite my doubts. Independence is a useful and necessary quality, but there is warmth and fellowship in accepting help. This is the grace in asking.

In my discovery of this grace, I have learned something else: I am ready to accept help in my writing process. Given that I am independent to a fault, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I rarely let anyone read my stories before they are finished. Sure, Stolen Climates had an editor and beta readers, but I only engaged them once I was 99.9% certain of the story’s overall shape.

Now I am struggling with my second novel. It is a looming fright of a task. I am afraid that the book is confusing because of the complexity and the fact that most of the characters are duplicitous. I am afraid that I am both being too technical, and not technical in enough of the right ways for sci-fi. I am afraid that my world building is too weak, but fearful excessive detail will bog down the story. I am afraid that it is not going to ever be good enough. I am afraid I am not strong enough to write this story’s soul.

The solution?

Ask for help. Or, more accurately, accept the help that was extended to me before I even realized I should ask. Mr. Aniko has offered to be my reader and brainstorming partner, and I have accepted. It will take courage and bravery to share an early draft, but I will. I am open to grace.

 

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Aniko’s Steps to Overcoming the “This is Crap!” Phase

Revision is hell. Whereas mediocrity is expected in the first draft, revision is the fabled realm of shiny, awe-inspiring perfection. I tend to forget that revisions are like climbing a up a pyramid: the first step will only get me a little ways up from the cruddy, muddy bottom. On an intellectual and experiential level, I know that this is a phase. From a metaphysical vantage, I’m looking up at the dense clouds obscuring my path and wondering if there is really even anything there to attain.

Here’s an excerpt from a Sunday brunch conversation:

Me:  “I just realized I’m writing the world’s dumbest book.”

Mr. Aniko: “I guess we’re at this stage again.”

Me: “Stage? What stage?”

Mr. Aniko: “Where you say your story is stupid, and maybe it would be better to stop. You did this four or five time with Stolen Climates.”

Me: “I did?”

Mr. Aniko: “Yes.”

Me: “Well that was silly. Stolen Climates is good. Not at all like the dumb story I’m writing now…”

May your words flow like spilled nail polish...

I have entered my first This Is Crap Phase of the revision process, and thought I’d share a few tips on what I am doing to overcome it. Yes, I am sharing these tips to avoid revision. I am also sharing because Mari Biella, author of the delightful novel The Quickening, has nominated me as a Beautiful Blogger! I hereby declare the first step to overcoming the This is Crap Phase to be:

1. Befriend other writers that you admire. Find writers who are fierce in their dedication to craft and honest about the legion of difficulties inherent to writing. I am fortunate to have the members of #TESSpecFic as well as Mari in my circle of writer friends. There are others, both online and off, and I can’t tell you how often they have given me the courage to keep going when all I want to do is curl up with other people’s books and ignore my own.

Once you’ve assembled a climbing party, the next thing to do is:

2.Tackle your overgrown yard. Yes, this is a metaphor for revision. It works best if your yard is so very, terribly, embarrassingly, non-HOA-compliant that when you drive down your street, you wonder where your house is.  By clearing away the canopy of overhanging limbs, twining vines, and (really!) impressively tall weeds, you discover that you have a house. A cute house. Not perfect, but not the worst house in the entire world. This is the essence of revision: weeding, chopping, rearranging, and discovery.

Now that you’re at your desk, looking out on a recognizable yard & not a jungle, you need to:

3. Paint your nails. You’re going to be looking at your hands a lot because you have a LOT of revision to do. Extra points for nail polish that has a clever name, like “So Much Fawn” or “Commander in Chic.”

4. Tie your hair back. Yes, even the blonde-streaked bangs you got by accident, but turned out to look pretty good. Hair is a distraction you don’t need when fighting off a hydra of hyphens.

5. Wear your most comfortable, jersey stretch skirt. Nothing ends a writing session faster than a tight waist band. If you can wear a matching shirt, go ahead, but comfort trumps style.

Now for the difficult part. Bravery, bravery and nerves of steel! It is time to:

6. DISCONNECT from the internet. Yes, it hurts. Do it anyways.

The final, yet crucial step:

7. Open the file for your Work in Progress, put your pretty hands on that keyboard, and prepare to haul your jersey-clad booty up another level of stony, revision hell.

May your climb be happy!

 

PS – For those who got an early email with incorrect numbering, sorry! This puppy chose to publish itself before I was ready. A little less polish to it than I like, but my nails sure are pretty! xoxo

 

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All Round the Table, “What is Horror?”

Horror is the implacable reality of death. I once heard the phrase, “All love stories end in death.” I would simplify the statement, shorten it.

All ends in death.

As a genre, horror embraces that truism. It may do it in a nearly slapstick way, overdosing the audience with gore and gross. It may do it in a calculated, bloodless way, and approach the cold reality by gut-wrenching degrees. Horror pays homage to the innate and powerless truth of our existence: all ends in death.

Marie Loughin is chief of  The Emissaries of Strange (TESSpecFic), a speculative fiction group of which I am a member. Marie posed the question: what is the difference between horror and dark fantasy? The Emissaries are taking a round-table discussion approach to answering Marie’s question, each of us posting a response on our own blog on a predetermined day. Today is my day, and I am the fifth member of TESSpecFic to reply.

Marie’s answer is Aristotelian, giving a categorization of elements that must be present for a work to meet her definition of horror. I challenge anyone to come up with a work of horror that does not contain at least one, if not several of her elements. Marie’s elements are:

1)   Creepy atmosphere.

2)   Suspenseful.

3)   Victims experience psychological trauma (i.e. they are aware and helpless).

4)   Inspires fear and/or dread in reader.

Jaye approaches the question from a more Platonic stance. She locates the definition somewhere beyond the bounds of plot or story elements. The ultimate determination of whether or not something is horror, for Jaye, is to be found in the effect it has upon the reader. A work is horror if the reader is left with the question: “How do you live with that?”

Paul takes a Utilitarian approach to answering the question, stating that the purpose of any genre label is to help guide potential readers to a particular type of book. Definitions of “horror” or of “dark fiction” fall to the side, replaced by the  practical question of how to least mislead potential readers. The difficulty is that the definitions the publishing industry uses may not match the definitions that the general public applies; muddy as they are, these are the linguistic waters upon which our marketing terms float – or sink.

Kim chimes in with  characteristic metaphysical flourish, giving a response as Phenomenological as they come. She says the roots of what can be defined as horror are found in the psychological reaction of a person to reading a particular work. Horror is a core emotion, and as such is subjective. Like Jaye, Kim takes the onus of definition and puts it out there, in the reader. However, Kim agrees with Paul that labeling has a purpose, and feels the angst of trying to find the right term to categorize her work.

I argue that to fully define horror, you need to include the work and the audience. A horror story is the sum of its elements plus the effect it has on the reader. Of course, the same could be said of romance, sci-fi, dark fantasy. The difference between genres, then, would seem to be given by the specific, intended effect a collected set of story elements has on the reader.

I don’t mean to say that only the author’s intentions matter; no, the elements that the author arranged will have varying effects on different readers, although the general reaction might be in the same vein. In that sense, I agree with Paul that the labels matter because they help readers winnow their choices. I have a general impression of what I’ll get when I pick up a supernatural thriller, or a gaslight romance, or a steampunk fantasy. Do I think that a particular label, even these compound varieties in vogue of late, give me the full picture of what I will experience within a given book? Of course not. It is a label. It is a guidepost. It is not the substance of the work, it is not the thing-in-itself. I am happy to find that my gaslight romance has a dash of horror, or that my horror has a sprinkling of steampunk. The wonderful thing about art – and life, for that matter – is that labels can’t contain the essence of the thing. When it comes to books, not even the book itself can contain what it truly is. A story, no matter how labeled, does not come into true existence until it has interacted with a reader’s psyche. Only then is it real, and only then can it horrify.

To answer Marie, I would say that horror has the intent of making the reader feel the inevitable approach of death. Dark Fantasy, to me, would have the intent of giving the reader the option to believe there is something beyond death, something beyond the boundaries of our implacable outcome. By my own definitions, I would have to class Marie’s novel, Valknut: The Binding, as Dark Fantasy.

Please visit the other Emissaries for the full round-table discussion  – and don’t forget to mark your calendars to catch Penelope and Jonathan’s upcoming posts!

Marie Loughin: Just what the heck is “Horror,” anyway, and how is it different from Dark Fantasy?

Jaye Manus: What is Horror? The Answer is in the Question

Paul Dail: Potential Perils of the Horror Label… or … The Difficulties of Defining a Genre

Kim Koning: Shivers down my spine…

Jonathan D. Allen: Monday, May 14

Penelope Crowe: Tuesday, May 15

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