The Writing Process Blog Hop

It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this site, but trust me – I’m not dead. Although this post would be very interesting if in fact I was dead. I mean, trying to figure out the metaphysics involved alone…

Anyhow, I’ve been invited to participate in a spec-fic blog hop, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to get acquainted with some very talented writers like this one:

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Michael Patrick Hicks has worked as a probation officer, a comic book reviewer, news writer and photographer, and, now, author. His work has appeared in various newspapers in Michigan, as well as several The University of Michigan publications, and websites, such as Graphic Novel Reporter and Leelanau.com. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from The University of Michigan in Journalism & Screen Studies and Behavioral Science. His first novel is CONVERGENCE.

http://michaelpatrickhicks.com

Go check him out, folks!

Now, onto the topic at hand: my writing process. I’m sure many of you have lain awake at night, tossing and turning, wondering how it is I come up with my stories. You’ve probably racked your brains trying to discover the method to my madness – I know I have. So when I saw the questions we blog hop participants were being asked to answer, I thought, “How in the world am I supposed to talk about my ‘process’ when I don’t even know what it is?”

Well, since I’ve deemed 2014 my year of introspection, I’m going to attempt to make sense of what’s going on in this crazy head of mine. Bear with me, Dear Readers – this could get messy.

1) What am I working on?

I have several things going at the moment. First, I need to finish one final story for a new short collection (Grindhouse, release TBD) I’ve been working on since November (!). All three stories in Grindhouse are very different from anything I’ve ever written. For starters, they’re more violent. They also have a ton of graphic language and explicit sex – it’s like a 1970s B movie in print. Or a Tarantino film. Same diff.

Then I’m getting back to my roots with an erotic horror novella. I’ll be tackling a second zombie novella, and of course, I’m always trying to craft the best pieces I can for my Dark Tales series. eVolume Three needs to be released soon and I kind of want to mine classic horror tropes again since eVolume Two was more thriller/suspense.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think my work is different, but maybe it’s not – maybe it’s incredibly derivative. I’ve been heavily influenced by film and television, oddly enough more so than books. Maybe a lot of what I put in print is something Carpenter or Craven or Argento have already done. I don’t know; I haven’t seen every film they, or their peers, have made. But I know I take inspiration from them, as do many of my peers, so I can’t claim to be a special snowflake in that regard.

I would also say my stories are darkly humorous, but again, that’s not unique to me. Stephen King does dark humor better than just about anybody. He’s the first author I can remember reading so of course some of his style would rub off on me.

When I read this back, I’m like, “Damn – I’m not original at all.” This realization would probably bother me if I didn’t know there are only something, like, seven plots in literature and they’ve all been done before. Hell, even Shakespeare cribbed things from writers who came before him.

So maybe the point isn’t to try and be original. Maybe the point is to give audiences tropes they’re familiar with, but do it in such a way that it feels fresh and new. Context is everything. If you tweak and twist a trope enough, it becomes something else entirely. Throw in interesting, vivid characters, sparkling dialogue, and a killer hook and ending, then voila! You’ll have a kickass story that nobody else has (assuming you can tell a good story to begin with). I think I do a decent job of this. I’m always striving to improve my craft, though, always pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and always trying new things.

For instance, I never thought I’d write about zombies. I love zombies as much as the next person, but I thought, “God, that’s so played. How many ways can you tell a post-apocalyptic zombie story?” Turns out, there are an endless number of ways to do it, some of which have been brilliant. Others…not so much. Still, I knew I couldn’t do it. If I was going to write about zombies, I had to do it on a more intimate level. So I wrote a novella called Good Eats and took the zombie myth back to its Haitian roots. There’s no virus, no survival camps, no bullets to the brain. It’s all hoodoo and dark magic. I wanted to write a novel about grief and loss; how those two things can drive seemingly rational people to do unspeakable things in the name of love – and the devastating consequences that occur once those wheels are set in motion.

Like most things I write, most people either love Good Eats or hate it. Some folks thought it was just “eh.” I’d never written a novella before so I thought I did a decent job of it my first time around. Plus, I love the story. It resonates with me; it’s one of the few things I’ve written where I’ve been physically moved while pounding out a scene. And the rising action all the way through to the denouement was wicked fun times.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I’ve said it once before, but it bears repeating: I love to be afraid. It’s perverse, I know, but facing Big Bads in fiction and coming through it (relatively) unscathed makes me feel I can do anything in real life. I like to think there are others who feel that way too, so I write for them as well.

4) How does my writing process work?

Okay, this is the part where things will probably be nonsensical (note: you were all warned at the top this was coming).

I don’t have a process per se. If I did, it would probably look something like this:

– turn on laptop

– stare at blank screen and flashing cursor on white page for twenty minutes

– stare at the ceiling and count how many cracks are in the old plaster

– stare out the window at all of the fancy rich people going in and out of the private club across the street from my apartment

– wish I drove an Audi or Jaguar like those fancy rich people

– go back to staring at my blank laptop screen until I go cross-eyed

– slam the laptop shut and turn on old Buffy episodes and wish I could write anything half as inventive and witty

– two hours later, weep because I’ve made zero progress on my WIP

See? This is why I dread questions like this because that’s legitimately how my actual “process” works. At some point, I’ll get hit with enough inspiration/energy/luck/whatever to get off my lazy ass and put words to page, but for the most part, the above is how I spend my evenings when I’m supposed to be writing.

Hey – maybe if I am dead, I can be reanimated as a more efficient, more disciplined version of me?!

Ah, who am I kidding? I’d come back even slower, and more brain dead, than I already am.

***

Next up on the blog hop?

S. Elliot Brandis has studied both psychology and engineering. He can tell you not only how they built that bridge, but why they felt the need to in the first place. Or so he would have you believe. In truth, he enjoys the little things in life: Bloody Marys with too much tabasco, and jeans that haven’t been washed. He often wears a cowboy hat when he writes. It keeps the light out of his eyes.

In May he publishes his first novel, Irradiated: a tale of two sisters living in Brisbane, Australia, post-civilization. He invites you to visit him at selliotbrandis.com.

***

Before signing off, I’d like to thank all of the writers, editors, publishers, cover artists, etc. who nominated “Child’s Play” from Dark Tales: eVolume One for Best Short Story for the 2014 eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook Awards! I had no idea this was a thing, I only heard about it Saturday for the first time on KBoards, so imagine my shock when I clicked on the link and saw my story listed as a nominee. I still keep refreshing the page expecting it not to be there, as if it were a figment of my overactive imagination. But it’s there and I couldn’t be happier. Even if I don’t make it to the finals, I’m thrilled to have been acknowledged since I’m still a noob to the industry. I had no idea other indies knew I existed, let alone read my work. So thanks for the shout out. I’m in good company.

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Good Eats, a horror novella by Elle Chambers: Excerpt

20131117-193940.jpgGreat news, folks—Elle Chambers has a new horror novella debuting TOMORROW on Amazon! Smashwords users will be able to purchase the book one day early. For readers who have read her Dark Tales ebooks, you can purchase Good Eats for just $1.99. And for those who haven’t yet gotten around to reading the books, don’t worry—Good Eats is also being released as a deluxe edition, bundled with four stories from the Dark Tales series, for only $2.99!

Here’s a taste of what you can find in Good Eats:

Blurb

Good Eats is a 34,000 word novella that tells the story of the Crawford family in 1960s Louisiana.

The Haitian-Creole people, their religion, Vodoun, and the rumors of hoodoo rituals have brought esteemed cultural anthropologist Michael Crawford, his nine-year-old daughter Libby, and his Haitian-Creole nanny, Virgine Santiago, to the area. Michael’s a skeptic of the Vodoun faith and hoodoo in general—until the day his daughter is discovered lifeless at the bottom of a creek. Devastated and unable to let go, Michael makes a deal with the local bokor (sorcerer)—bring his daughter back and the bokor’s debts will be paid for life. Two days later, Libby returns. The question is: as what?

The deluxe edition also includes four short tales of terror (“When Daddy Comes Home,” “Child’s Play,” “The Storyteller,” and “Old Flame”) from the Dark Tales series.

Excerpt

Libby rose the next morning, groggy and out of sorts. She couldn’t remember waking up the night before—she must have slept through the rest of that day. First thing she noticed that was different were her eyes. They were a little cloudy and she saw lingering dark spots whenever she blinked. Second thing was her skin. The sun shining into her window was bright and made her face and neck tingle. Her arms and legs were spared the irritation, being hidden beneath long sleeves and her comforter.

The third thing she noticed was the gnawing pain in her stomach. It churned and growled, sounding very much like an old car engine trying to start. She was hungry. Her stomach felt empty and she needed to put something in it.

Libby climbed out of bed. She knew she was supposed to wait until Virgine brought her breakfast, but she couldn’t wait that long. The clock on her nightstand said it was seven in the morning and Virgine usually didn’t come up with breakfast until eight o’clock. She had to eat now—the growling was getting louder and her belly cried out in pain.

She opened her door and crept down the hall to her father’s room. Michael’s door was open. The bed was made and no lights were on—he was awake, probably downstairs in his study. Libby figured she could sneak downstairs if she was quiet and make it to the kitchen without him seeing her. She’d get herself a bowl of cereal and maybe a couple slices of bread, and perhaps a couple of bananas, then sneak her bounty up to her room. No one had to know.

Libby took to the stairs, careful to tread lightly. The old floorboards sometimes squeaked and she didn’t want to risk her father catching her. She’d be in serious trouble if she disobeyed him again.

Her stomach continued to rumble as she slipped into the kitchen, hiding behind the door. She peeked out—no Malcolm in sight. Good. He must have had the day off because he’d usually be in the kitchen making eggs by now.

Eggs. She could go for some right now.

Libby hurried over to the refrigerator and opened the door. It was packed full of casserole dishes filled with all kinds of delicious food: ham, mashed potatoes, candied yams, a full chicken, Shepherd’s pie and all sorts of desserts.

Libby was in heaven. She reached inside and pulled out the full chicken. The minute it was in her hands and she got a closer look at its golden, brown skin, her stomach bubbled and groaned. She took the lid off and ripped a chunk of meat out of the center, shoving it into her mouth. Once the white meat hit the back of her throat, she was gone. Her eyes rolled back into her head and the hunger took over.

The container fell to the floor and shattered into shards of glass. She dropped down to her knees and dug into the chicken, tearing at it with frantic hands, shoveling the meat into her face, barely stopping to chew before gulping down the food. She stuck her whole face into the chicken carcass, chomping down through the baked flesh, her teeth hitting bone. She sank her teeth into a hunk of dark meat and yanked her head back, chicken strands dangling from her grease-covered lips.

It was no good. She was still hungry.

NaNoWriMo Progress Report

Here we are at the end of dreaded Week 2 of NaNoWriMo. Frankly, I don’t know why everyone thinks this week is the hardest – I find that this is the time of the month where I’m most in the zone. But that may also have something to do with the fact that I loathe beginnings. I really do. The three years I’ve done this main NaNo event, I’ve barely cracked 1,000 words in the first week.

This year I did slightly better, but I didn’t really begin digging into my first project (I’m doing two – more on that later) until Tuesday. I took off Tues.-Fri. so I could write and I’m proud to say I kicked NaNo ass – my first novella, Good Eats, was completed yesterday at 35,000 words. It will be released around Christmas this year and here is the cover:

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and the synopsis:

Good Eats is a 35,000 word novella that tells the story of the Crawford family in 1960s Louisiana.

The Haitian Creole people, their religion, Vodoun, and the rumors of hoodoo rituals have brought esteemed cultural anthropologist Michael Crawford, his nine-year-old daughter Libby, and his Haitian Creole nanny, Virgine Santiago, to the area. Michael’s a skeptic of the Vodoun faith and hoodoo in general until the day his daughter is discovered lifeless at the bottom of a creek. Devastated and unable to let go, Michael makes a deal with the local bokor – bring his daughter back and the bokor’s debts will be paid for life. Two days later, Libby comes back. The question is: as what?

I am in need of beta readers for this story so if anyone’s interested, drop me a line using the contact form at the top of the blog, leave a comment with your email, or email me directly at indiespiritpress@yahoo.com. I need one or two betas who can give me a pretty fast turnaround (like a week) and I’ll be providing a questionnaire with the story so I can direct the feedback. Betas will receive a free copy of the ebook and a mention in the acknowledgements section. Plus – good karma 🙂

Now, got to get ready to finish this challenge with three short stories for a collection I’m releasing the end of next month. The cover for that is awesome and I can’t wait for people to see it.

Good luck to everyone participating in NaNo this year!