Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Late Night Walkspirations

If you've been around this blog for awhile, you know I like to take late night walks. Really, I like to take walks and hikes whenever possible, but there's something special about the night. I don't have to risk having to stop and be social, or walk the long way around a group of people. No one's dog tries to jump on me. There's no dodging of bicycles. And sensory-wise, it smells and feels wonderful. Especially in the summer when it's so hot during the day that a walk isn't realistic.

On these walks, interesting things sometimes happen. They can be the impetus for a story, because the little things one sees can be translated in multiple ways. For example, the other night there was a car parked, running, outside a house at nearly midnight. There was a window A/C running in that house, so I didn't realize the car was on until I was right on top of it. The passenger window was open, and a teenage girl was sitting in the driver's seat, giant doe eyes staring at me as I walked by. I started wondering what she was doing there. Waiting for a friend who was sneaking out? Waiting for a friend to gather her things and leave an abusive situation? Perhaps she was supposed to be watching the house while the owners were on a trip, and was freaked out at the late hour. Maybe it was completely above board, and her car-mate just had to run inside really quickly. Or perhaps her mom was in labor, and she'd been told to start the car and pull it around while her parents gathered necessary items.

It could have been a billion different things, but letting the mind wander on something like this is a great exercise in writing. Even better if you go home afterward and write a story after choosing one of your theories.

The next night, I went for a walk earlier. Probably closer to 10. On this walk, I came upon a darkened house, the garage door wide open, two cars parked inside. This happens more than you might think. I always make an attempt to knock on the door to get someone's attention to let them know. The problem with this house was that it was in a cul-de-sac on a mostly moonless night, and none of the houses in the cul-de-sac had any exterior lighting on. It was pitch black, trees swaying in the wind, so I couldn't hear anything beyond the rustling. They did have two exterior lights that were on, but they were flickering and only barely giving off a dirty glow. I'm always a little jumpy approaching a front door like this at night, because the possibility exists that someone armed may come to the door or that something nefarious has already occurred inside, and that's why the door's open. This particular house had an inset door, so I had to walk around, past a tree and a giant shrubbery, into the alcove that held the door.

Ultimately, no one came to the door, no interior lights turned on, so I continued on my walk. As I stepped off the porch, lights flickering to either side of me, a rabbit burst out of the shrub at my side and startled me. Heart pounding, I kept going. I had just rounded the corner out of the cul-de-sac when I heard voices. I paused to figure out where they were coming from, and there were two men exiting a house together. They headed to a locksmith's van parked on the street. One was telling the other, "Yeah, she called and said she needed the lock popped out tonight. No idea why."

Both of these last two items could inspire a story. One might be an obvious tale of horror (the flickering lights, exposed dark house, home invasions, robberies, all manner of awful things), while the other could go in any possible direction really. Who needs a locksmith to pop a lock out at 10 PM? One could easily run with it, writing mystery, suspense, literary, women's fiction, horror, you name it. It's all fodder.

Speaking of mystery and suspense, if you're ever writing something about a burglar, robber, or other criminal who might break into homes, go for a night walk. I'd recommend after 11 PM, when most people are sleeping (disclaimer: only do so if it's safe in your area, and be sure you take whatever necessary measures to be safe and/or take a friend.)

You see, I realized the other night that I'd inadvertently cased the neighborhood. By now, I know who leaves a main level window open, who leaves the garage door open a smidge for a cat (often more than a smidge--if a toddler can walk under the door without ducking, anyone can get into your garage). I know who has a window A/C unit that's so loud they wouldn't hear someone breaking a window or picking a lock. It's obvious who has kids, and sometimes even where their bedrooms are, because of a pink nightlight or stickers on the window (which made me evaluate what my kids' windows look like to someone standing on the street). I know where the darkest areas are, because several neighbors in a specific spot don't put on exterior lights. And all of this data is in my head, not because I intended to put it there, but because I mark places where, for instance, someone might hear a call for help. I pay attention to who's awake and who has a bedroom window open for the same reason. Obviously, I pay attention to where it's darkest, so I can avoid it or at least be aware of it.

There's even a house I will cross the street to avoid, because they have a huge delivery-type truck with no business information on it parked on the street, and in their driveway is a big van with the old logos painted over and no windows. Of course it's all probably harmless, and they've started their own business, but it's been years, and there's no logo on the big truck still. So when I'm letting my mind wander, there are many reasons a person might have big vehicles with no windows or identifying marks.

I also know where several police officers live, so I'd know to avoid those houses if I were a criminal. And probably the ones within their view and hearing. (Of course, not being a criminal, those are the houses I'd make a point of going to if there were a problem.)

In this particular neighborhood, the wildlife is the biggest concern on night walks, as we have several larger predators that hang around, including mountain lions. I always used to hear coyotes at night, yipping and yelping away while they cornered a deer or other prey animal. (I haven't heard any this year, so far, and I'm afraid it's because of mange, which was going around.) Would one take similar precautions if it wasn't regular wildlife they were trying to avoid? What about monsters? Zombies, vampires, cryptozoological beasties?

No matter when you take a walk, there's always a chance you'll happen across random inspiration for stories based on the things you see. I tend to get story breakthroughs while on walks, and frequently I get home with at least one idea for a new story. There's something about moving your feet and freeing your mind that gets it brewing. So if you're stuck or looking for inspiration, try a walk or a hike and see if it works for you. But be sure to take note of even the mundane, as it might factor into new ideas or background details for stories you're already writing.

Now for some links. Bear in mind I'm not endorsing these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting to a market.

Accepting Submissions:

Outlook Spring is seeking poetry, fiction, and non-fiction tinged with the strange. Up to 7500 words. Pays $10 to $25. Deadline July 15.

Helios Quarterly is seeking fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art for their September issue. Current theme First Contact & Conversions. Up to 1500 words (unless a serial story). Pays up to $.03/word. Deadline July 15.

Third Flatiron is seeking slipstream short fiction for the anthology Strange Beasties. 1500 to 3000 words. Pays $.06/word. Deadline July 15.

Franklin/Kerr is seeking post-apocalyptic and dystopian horror. 2000 to 8000 words. Pays $5 per 1000 words, plus royalties. Deadline July 21.

Splickety Havok is seeking holiday mashups for their October edition: Holiday Cauldron. 300 to 1000 words. Pays $.02/word. Deadline July 28.

Aliterate is seeking literary genre fiction. 2500 to 8000 words. Pays $.06/word. Deadline July 28.

Do you like to go for walks? Do you find them inspiring? Seen anything strange on a walk lately? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

*Pedestrian, by AA,
*Haunted House, by Chrizz4,
*Burglar, by OCAL,
*Small truck USPS postal service, by OCAL,

Friday, June 16, 2017

Horror List Book Review - 20th Century Ghosts

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.

This week I'm reviewing Joe Hill's 20th Century Ghosts.

This is a collection of short stories, at least one of which I'd already read in one of the Year's Best type anthologies. It would probably be a good collection for someone wanting to dip their toes in horror, but not wanting anything too extreme. A lot of these stories are haunting (though only a couple were supernatural in nature, despite the name). Some of them linger more on the fantasy end than the horror end.

An example of one that leaned toward the fantasy end (though it was decidedly still horror), was "Voluntary Committal." In this story, the POV character's brother is special needs. He builds an involved maze out of cardboard, full of rooms and decorations, but the tunnels ultimately lead somewhere no one comes back from.

Even more out there is "Pop Art," in which the POV character's good friend is a balloon boy, picked on by the other children. And yes, he's really inflatable. This one was whimsical and full of heart.

Probably the most viscerally disturbing was "You Will Hear the Locust Sing," where a young boy turns into a locust with a taste for people.

"My Father's Mask" is very "Twin Peaks"/"Twilight Zone." Creepy and odd.

The title story (20th Century Ghosts), was sweet and supernatural. I grew in movie theaters since my mom managed several, and I have a special fondness for the world.

All in all, it's a good collection with a lot of diversity in subject matter, although many of the stories revolve around youth and have younger characters. The stories range from sweet to horrifying. Surreal to gritty. Familiar to bizarre.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Needful Things (Stephen King)
8. 1Q84 (Haruki Murakami)
9. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
11. 20th Century Ghosts (Joe Hill)
12. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
13. Dark Forces (Kirby McCauly)
14. Dawn (Xenogenesis, Book 1) (Octavia E. Butler)
15. Wet Work (Philip Nutman)
16. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
17. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
18. The Witches (Roald Dahl)
19. Psycho (Robert Bloch)
20. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
21. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
22. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
23. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
24. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
25. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
26. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
27. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
28. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
29. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
30. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
31. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
32. World War Z (Max Brooks)
33. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) 
34. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
35. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
36. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
37. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
38. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell) 
39. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)
40. Naked Lunch (William S. Burroughs)

Have you read anything by Joe Hill? Did you see the movie "Horns?" Did you know he was Stephen King's son when you first read him or was it a pleasant surprise later on?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

IWSG: The Dangers of "Just," Podcast, & Links

It's IWSG day! I almost posted last Wednesday, thinking it was June already. Luckily, I caught myself just in time.

Before I jump into IWSG, I was interviewed again, this time by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I'll be speaking at their writer's conference this coming fall. Mark Stevens was great fun to talk to, and we discussed Deconstructing Horror, my post and the workshop I'd recently done for RMFW. You can find the episode 86 podcast for Rocky Mountain Writer HERE.


Now onto the Insecure Writer's Support Group, which takes place the first Wednesday of each month. Created by Alex J. Cavanaugh, this is your chance to air some insecurities and offer support to your fellow writers.

This month's co-hosts are JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner!

Anyone is welcome to join. Just sign up at the website linked above.

My insecurities frequently lead me to add the word "just" to things I say. "I just write short stories." "I just write horror." "I've just been published in short stories." "I've just been published x number of times." "I'm just a writer."

"Just" is a completely unnecessary modifier, and definitely an unnecessary self-judgment. What I've learned in the last year or so is that no one else is using that word when they speak about what I've done, so why am I?

I know I'm not the only one who does this, as I've frequently caught other writers doing so. So to all of you who do the same in an attempt to lower yourself before someone else can (which would hurt far more, yes?) stop using "just" to describe yourself. You're not "just" a writer, poet, etc. You ARE a writer, a poet, a screenwriter.

It matters. We shouldn't be diminishing ourselves. Instead, set lofty goals. Then meet them. And own them.

The optional question of the month is whether I've ever said "I quit," and what brought me back to writing if I did. At this point, no, though there have been times I've considered it. At the same time, over a decade ago I tried to submit a couple short stories. They were rejected, which back then meant my manuscript returned in the SASE I'd sent with it, and a several page listing of submission guidelines and possible reasons for rejection. I submitted two stories, each to one place, then gave up once the rejections came back. It wasn't conscious; I simply didn't bother to submit anymore. Plus, I was working full time and attending college, all while going through some serious medical treatments, which included surgeries, so even if they'd been accepted I wouldn't have written and submitted more until years later, when I did so anyway. I did still fiddle around with writing when I had the down-time. There just wasn't much of it, and since I hadn't decided to make a career of it, I didn't make it something I MADE time for.


Each month I post my stats for the previous month to keep myself accountable.

Submitted 6 stories (1 to a publication I was requested to submit a story to)
Got 7 rejections.
Not much going on this month!


Now for some links.

Accepting Submissions:

The Literary Hatchet is accepting dark short stories, poetry, art, and essays for their next issue. 1000 to 6000 words. Pays up to $10. Deadline July 1.

Red Room Magazine is accepting dark extreme horror and crime fiction short stories. Up to 4000 words. Pays $.03/word. Deadline July 1.

Spring Song Press is accepting fantasy short stories, preferably noblebright ones. Must address the theme "Still Waters." 2500 to 10,000 words. Pays $.01/word. Deadline July 1.

The Lascaux Review is accepting literary stories, poems, and essays. Pays $100.

Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things is accepting flash fiction, short stories, poetry, and creative non-fiction. Must be appropriate for ages 10 to 18. They also take submissions from kids 10 and up. Up to 12,000 words. Pays $.02/word.

Black Ice Magazine is accepting Cyberpunk speculative fiction. 1000 to 6000 words. Near future. 1000 to 6000 words. Pays $5 to $10.

Strange Fictions is accepting short speculative fiction, poetry, reviews, and essays. 1000 to 10,000 words. Pays $5 to $10.

Do you find yourself qualifying your successes? What are your insecurities? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.