My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I am almost perfectly one whole week late in answering these questions, which probably says more about me than anything that follows. I was asked to participate in this Writing Process Blog Tour by Michael Cieslak of the Dragon’s Roost. If you get nothing else out of this post, at least check out the benefit anthology he’s just edited “Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails”. He and the other folks of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers have given me great support over the past couple years as I’ve transitioned from calling myself a writer of “Literary Fiction” to “Dark Fantasy/Northern Gothic/New Weird /Speculative Fiction.” More aptly put, I now consider myself more a “horror” writer though I continue to write pretty much the same strange stuff I have always written. Meet the new genre; same as the old genre.

But I honestly can’t imagine that anyone would be really all THAT interested in how I write, even those people who like what I write. This isn’t modesty; it’s just a curiosity to me. We don’t assume that folks who like to eat eggs must necessarily like to look up the tail feathers of a chicken to see how they’re made. Evidently some folks must have that predilection, so here goes a look at my “Arse Poetica:”

1) What am I working on?
I have just completed a rousing good draft of a novella, titled “Rent-Beast.” It’s a heart-warming tale of a werewolf sex-worker with high ideals who strays into neo-pagan rituals, demonic possession and the corrosive effects of crappy jobs. And it IS quite heart-warming, because “Rent-Beast” is at its core a love story. Sort of.

I say this in full cognizance of the closing lines of the movie “Ed Wood” but this is the one. This is the one I’ll be remembered for. I realize I’m at that stage of composition where delusions of grandeur often occur, but I sincerely believe this is the work I was meant to write, my great work. It’s about aesthetic theory, identity and the place of art in society. I am also quite deeply horrified by this book. I have told my grown children I will never, ever let them read it, and I am rather happy both my parents are dead, for that matter. Writing “Rent-Beast” has taken more courage than just about anything else I’ve ever written. I sincerely thank David C. Hayes and in particular his deeply twisted little book “Pegged” for this achievement. You’ll scratch your head bald if you look for textual similarities. What David’s work gave me was a sense of permission, permission to follow the tale I had to tell to the darkest, weirdest, hardest places that it lead. You see, David C Hayes appeared to me in a dream, floating over my bed on wings made from the pages of his crazy, repulsive, obsessional stories. I’d fallen to sleep reading “Pegged” his story of a foot-fetishist who goes cold-turkey in the most extreme manner. I don’t recall that this levitating vision said anything, though he gave me a pursed-lip fart-face expression that communicated very clearly. This look asked: Do you want to write “pretty” or do you want to write “real?” For me, at least for “Rent-Beast,” that was a true revelation.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Since I am a relative new comer to dark fantasy/new weird, I’m afraid I track in a lot of the mud and guck of “literary” fiction since it’s stuck to my boots. To be clearest, I *think* I’m writing in whatever genre includes Flannery O’Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, Caitlyn Kiernan, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, David Foster Wallace, Alan Moore, Carolyn Forche, Angela Carter, Thomas Pynchon and maybe that guy who wrote House of Leaves, which is the single most scary thing I’ve ever read. Naw, don’t include him; swap in Salman Rushdie. And William Burroughs. Can’t forget the late Burroughs (Cities of the Red Night, Place of the Dead Roads, The Western Lands.)

I also think I am particularly sensitive to location, to the “poetics of place” as I’ve heard it called. I suspect the weirdest, wildest worlds I imagine are all within driving distance of the Great Lakes, even if you might have to hop aboard an interstellar transport or soul-depth pathworking to get there. I am also fascinated by how “horror” reveals facets of the human condition, how these silly “escapist” tales might unexpectedly also provide the antidote for living our lives together through the day to day shit we encounter. And I am fully post-post-modern in that I despise irony, satire, camp… heck even comedy is a hard sell for me. You’ve got to step up to the line, unzipper your chest and put something vital, bloody and beating on the table, IMHO. Life’s too short for quaint, self-knowing winks to the audience.

3) Why do I write what I do?
I live a bi-polar existence, one torn between heart-wrenching beauty and nauseating atrocity. My brain chemistry allows me to notice how we humans are remarkably horrible to each other most of the time yet are also capable of moments of delicacy and grace.

4) How does your writing process work?
5:00 AM, every damned day, me, keyboard and words. Often coffee.

Though that probably doesn’t say enough. It starts with that first sentence, and I don’t mean that facetiously. I carry dozens of story ideas around with me at any given times like pockets of an old suit. Sometimes I’ll over hear a scrap of dialogue and I’ll tuck that away, knowing it’ll appear in the second act of some story or another. Or maybe I’ll squirrel away a particular sensation or some cool “what if” trick of world-building. In a sense, I’m always pickpocketing my life for these treasures. But it doesn’t matter how full my own pockets get, I don’t start writing, I mean REALLY writing until I have the first sentence. At that point, I can turn out my pockets and empty out all the cool trinkets I’ve gathered because I’ve got something to hang them on. There are a couple things I look for in that magical lightning bolt of a sentence too: main character, already beset with a problem, likely the core problem of the story and already making a mess of it. Maybe. Usually that sentence has to be rather pretty with words or intriguing with situation. And, though it only sounds obvious, that first sentence has to occur relatively near the beginning of the actual story. Most things I’ve written–I venture to say, most unpublished things that most people have ever written, don’t start close enough to the beginning of their actual story. Like making a bead necklace, I slip my trinkets on that sentence one after another after another until my magical snake comes to life and bites me.

Then I’ll set it aside at the back of a jewelry box maybe for a few weeks, a couple months and take the thing out, rap its head against the table to see if it’s still alive. If it is, I’ll get out the knives and start revising it. If it’s lucky, it’ll live long enough for me to submit it somewhere.

But that’s just how I write NOW. I went through a whole decade where all I wrote was drama and those suckers were meticulously plotted out in advance. I like to believe I have internalized that sense of structure but then again, I haven’t written for the stage in…

Sweet Merciful Thor, if I digress again, it’ll be ANOTHER week before I get this post up. There. You’ve probably learned more about my writing process than you want to know.

“You Cannot Feed us Beans and Expect Us Not to Fart”

This is my motto. At least, it’s been something I’ve said for the past few years in defense of what I write.

Lots of folks think mottos must be in Latin, especially if they’re using naughty words like “fart.” so I’ve asked friends to translate it and have received variously:

et non simus, ne comederemus et ne faba crepitum facere.

and

Nos autem non potest, et fabam, et expecta ad crepitum facere non

But I suppose if my scant knowledge of Latin can’t tell which is better, then I better stop putting on airs and leave the Latin to the Pope and the Romans.

I came across the real quotation accidentally today, that the motto sort of recalls, that is, Telemachus’ defense of Polemius in The Odyssey, Book One (Butler translation):

“Let the bard sing what he has a mind to;
bards do not make the ills they sing of;
it is Jove, not they, who makes them,
and who sends weal or woe upon mankind according to his own good pleasure…”

though Homer gets all cosmic and theological where my version is more socio-political and scatological.

But to the point, I get a degree of shit for writing horror, dark fantasy and pointing out uncomfortable realities. When we live in a world of lollipops and gumdrops, peace and justice, joy and fulfillment, maybe I won’t transcribe my nightmares.