Spooky Inspiration

( Welcome, Coffin Hoppers! Prizes. Ghost story. )

I’m not surprised the sexy gypsy won the costume contest, but you were robbed. Your costume is more authentic, especially the way your innards dangle over your belt. How are you getting your eyes so glassy?

Okay, not much of a talker, are you?

The keg’s just been replaced. Now it’s Devil’s Backbone, named for a road near Austin that’s claimed its share of travelers. Guys who probably look about as bad as you do, now that I think of it!

It’s funny stuff like this, the little coincidences or glimpses that inspire the horror I write. Stolen Climates is the Muse-child of a few major artistic inspirations. Since you’re so quiet, and the line for beer is long, I’ll fill the space by telling you about one.

front porch of Hill HouseI love The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. I enjoy the supernatural aspects of the story, but what really captures my imagination is the main character’s stubborn insistence on fabricating a better, more interesting version of herself. She lies to everyone, building a story of a life that doesn’t exist. Just as I pluck details from the chimera of reality to weave my tales, so too did Jackson’s character. Her stone lions and ‘cup of stars’ make cameos in Stolen Climates. My character, Prentice Feyerbach, is the male, iPhone-toting version of Jackson’s character. That’s why I include a copy of The Haunting of Hill House in the ‘I Won the Grand Prize!’ Scream; they are companion pieces, meant to match up like two stone lions on a high-rise balcony.

Where did that guy with the bad-ass fatal car crash costume go? You didn’t see him? He was right here a moment ago…

Don’t forget you can get a free ebook edition of Stolen Climates just by leaving me a comment that includes the phrase, “Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.”

May you find your blue cup full of stars,

-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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Summer Solstice in a Small Town

I like to take road trips, and the stranger the destination, the better. I like small towns that literally aren’t on the map. Breaker, Texas is one such town.

In Central Texas, scrubby trees grow up twisted from constant wind. The farther West you go, the hardier the stunted trees – at least, until you get to Breaker. There are no trees within the Breaker city limits, and no other vegetation of any kind: no grassy yards, no prickly pears, not even any potted plants. Breaker wasn’t always barren, but it is now.

That makes it all the more remarkable that the Makepeace Orchard survives at the edge of town. The peach farm has been continuously cultivated since 1822. Prior to that, a tribe known as the Cayalanzuvan grew sytra there. Urban legend links sytra to the bloodier aspects of atavistic paganism, and Goddess worship in particular. If that doesn’t compel you to put FM-6060 on your itinerary, consider this: a petrified tree stands just inside the gate. It is bone white, but certain sensitive people report seeing a black haze rise from the surface. Touch the tree, and those people say they hear a woman talking. Spooky? Perhaps, but even if you aren’t the type to enact your own personal episode of Supernatural, you can get a good deal on peaches. What’s not to love?

This is my fifth summer in Texas. I still haven’t made it to Treeletting, Breaker’s annual Summer Solstice celebration. Treeletting is a multi-cultural event held in the orchard, and gives prominent place to Cayalanzuvan ritual. The allegations of human sacrifice making the rounds of the tabloid circuit booked Breaker’s only hotel, The Gauss, for this whole week. I know because I tried to make reservations. Even without the (probable) journalistic embellishment of cannibalism, the true tragedy of 2007 is probably enough on its own to draw a certain kind of crowd.

Dubbed  “The Treeletting Tragedy,” the events of 2007 resulted in multiple deaths by fire and a possible abduction. Helena Makepeace, a mentally unstable young woman with ties to the orchard, is still on the Missing Persons register. You’ve probably seen her on those sad brochures that show up in the mail, the ones with a time-lapsed photo and information about what the missing individual was last seen wearing; she’s the one who would have been beautiful, if not for the accident that mutilated half of her face.

There is also bounty out for a father and daughter who disappeared shortly after the  ’07 solstice. The tabloids occasionally run with that, too, purporting that a small religious group known as the La Zaliites is behind the reward money. The La Zaliites think that the daughter, who was only three at the time of the incident, is the human incarnation of their Goddess.

If Breaker were on a map, it would at the epicenter of strange.

Happy Summer Solstice!

PS If you liked this post, consider adding Stolen Climates to your Goodreads bookshelf. You can also click Like on the book’s Amazon page. Neither costs you anything, but they mean something to me. Thanks!

Aniko Answers – An Interview

As promised, I’ve put together a video response to the questions you posed via Twitter or my blog. I thank Erika, Mr. Erika, and the rest of their family for letting me hijack their Saturday evening for filming. I thank the following contributors as well: J. Aric Keith, Hunter Shea, Kasia S. , and Mari Biella.

Before you settle in with your popcorn and wine to watch my video, I recommend hopping on over to Strange Amusements. Nicholas Strange, author of the blog, has posted a review of Stolen Climates! Here’s a quote:

While there is some connection to traditional tales of ritual sacrifice, much of what unfolds is a unique hybrid of family drama, pagan horror, and other influences that combine for one of the most interesting and effective horror novels I have read in a long time.

I hope you enjoy the video. It’s just under ten minutes, and I have tried to keep it on topic and interesting. There are some places where the splicing that resulted from cutting out my rambling is a tad rough, but overall, I think it turned out well. I had fun recording, and I hope you have fun watching.

 

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