Blog Tour for An Aberrant Mind by Ken MacGregor

Posted in Fiction, Genres, Give Aways, Interview with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by SeanMDavis

AnAberrantMind_KenMacGregor_PostCard
KenMacGregorKen MacGregor writes horror, fantasy, mystery, comedy and children’s fiction, the elements sometimes overlapping. His short stories have appeared in anthologies by Siren’s Call Publications, Hazardous Press, Blood Bound Books, Mystery and Horror, LLC and more. Cellar Door, which includes one of Ken’s stories, won the Gothic Readers’ Choice Award in 2013. Ken is a member in good standing of The Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. He lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with his brilliant wife Liz and astounding children Gabriel and Maggie. An Aberrant Mind is his first fiction collection, published by Siren’s Call Press.

I had a chance to take a peak at “First Person Shooter,” from An Aberrant Mind, his debut fiction collection. Naturally, I had some questions.
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Hi Ken, how’s it going?

Very well, Sean. Thanks. Hope it is for you too.

First, can you tell me how this fiction collection came to be?

A little over a year ago, I was putting out a lot of short fiction with several publishers, pretty much answering every submission call I could find. Two publishers approached me about doing a collection of my stories. I was flattered, of course. It had never occurred to me that such a thing was even possible. Which is silly, because I’ve read dozens of collections by other writers. Anyway, one of the publishers was Sirens Call Publications; I had worked with them several times, and had grown to appreciate their professionalism and we’d developed a good rapport.

Do you feel you have an aberrant mind?

Yeah. I mean, I don’t think I’m crazy or anything, but I know I look at things differently from other people I know. I can tell, because I often forget to filter the stuff that comes out of my mouth and I get some very weird looks from my friends. So, yeah – I’m different. I’m good with that.

What made you want to write horror?

I get a huge kick out of it. It’s like playing a game where you make the rules and get to kill all the other players. Haven’t we all wanted to do that? No? Just me? I’m good with that, too.

Reading the title, I thought this story was going to be about video games in some way, but you surprised me. Without giving anything away, the title is a pretty good glimpse into your sense of humor. I won’t presume to ask where you got this idea, since the answer any writer gives will always be a shrug and a fumbling explanation about what your were doing at the moment of inspiration, as if that has anything to do with it. But I will ask, how did you develop this idea from its initial conception to the finished story?

First Person Shooter is an intentionally misleading title. I wanted the reader to assume they were going to read a story about a video game. Then, once they realize who the protagonist is, the play on words rears its head. It’s hard to talk about this without spoilers, but I had long been fascinated by the idea of someone stuck somewhere forever. What would they do? How do they feel about it? How long before they run out of patience with the whole thing and do something drastic? I like to think it would pan out pretty much the way I wrote it. I’ll tell you one thing: I had a blast writing the dialog for the Big Guy.

You dedicated An Aberrant Mind to your children, who aren’t allowed to read it until they’re older. How does being a father affect your approach to writing dark fiction?

Being a father affects everything in my life. Any time I’m making plans or someone asks if I want to do something, the first thought is always, how will this affect my kids? Once you have kids, your whole life revolves around them in one way or another. The biggest impact lately is that my son, who is seven, can now read. So, I have to ask him to step away from the screen if I’m writing or editing my work.

What are you working on now?

I have several short stories that are works-in-progress and I’m trying to nail down a novella. This is daunting as the longest piece to date has been seven thousand words. But, I have this weird urge to write something significantly longer. For me, this is aberrant.
In addition to the novella, I also want to write a novel by the time I’m fifty. Well, I’d like to at least write a first draft of one. I’m forty-seven now, so this deadline is way too close for comfort.

Thanks for dropping by and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to reading more from you in the future.
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AnAberrantMind_KenMacGregor_FrontCoverPromoAn Aberrant Mind
Ken MacGregor

ABERRANT is defined as unusual, abnormal or different. The stories in this book not only differ from most of what you read, but also wildly from each other. A retired school teacher takes on an elder god and his minion; a werewolf picks fights with sea creatures; a neighbor’s lawn may be eating people. Twenty-two stories: scary, funny, weird and different.

In these pages, you will find darkness and fear, revulsion and terror. Mixed with it, however is quite a bit of humor. Sometimes both happen at the same time. So, open it up, join Jim as he fights off zombies with a potato cannon; witness the bloodbath reunion of the first man and his homicidal son; enjoy the monsters, the demons and the deranged.

A word of warning, though: you may never eat a bagel with lox again.

Available for purchase at:
Amazon:
US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | India | Brazil
CreateSpace
Smashwords

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in over fifty anthologies, magazines and podcasts. Ken is a member of The Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. You can find Ken on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, and at ken-macgregor.com. Ken’s the kind of guy that, if he found himself stranded somewhere with you, would probably eat you to survive. Ken hopes you enjoyed the stories in this collection and that you sleep just a little less well because of them. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two unstable cats.

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Giveaway information:

Sirens Call Publications will be giving away digital copies of An Aberrant Mind by Ken MacGregor to 5 (five) lucky winners! Follow the link to enter for your chance to win!

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Blog Tour Post

Posted in Interview with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2014 by SeanMDavis

This week, I’ll be answering some questions about my writing process for a Blog Tour that Michael Cieslak included me on. Michael is a Board Member for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and writer and editor. His latest anthology, Desolation: 21 Tales for Tails, includes tales of loneliness, isolation, and abandonment. A portion of the proceeds goes to benefit Last Day Dog Rescue. To learn more about Michael, please visit him at The Dragon’s Roost.

What are you currently working on?
I have several projects in the mix right now. I’ve worked in theatre for years and love live performance, so I’m turning my debut novel, Clean Freak, into a stage play. I’m primarily working on short fiction for a while. The story I am most focused on is for the I Am the Abyss call for Dark Regions Press. The idea behind the anthology fits pretty well with my metaphysical beliefs, so I’m having a lot of fun writing the story. You can read more about the anthology and DRP here.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?
I tend to focus on psychological horror, so I try to inject an unsettling sense of uncertainty into my stories. Another thing that intrigues me is horror in every day situations. The idea that evil is in your neighborhood, in your home, in your loved ones, lurking and biding its time is what truly scares me.

Why do you write what you do?
I think every writer has that one book, that one poem, that one story that made them want to be a writer. For me, it was Thinner by Stephen King. It was the first King book I’d read and until that, I’d read what might have been called YA fiction before that label existed. The thing about those stories – the heroes always won. A few died here and there, but they were noble sacrifices to be venerated. Moral quandaries were overcome. Good eventually triumphed. Not that I didn’t enjoy the ride, but +SPOILER ALERT+ the hero doesn’t win at the end of Thinner and it knocked my socks off. It was like reading To Build a Fire by Jack London as a kid, but at the time I didn’t understand what I was reading. I’d always been more fascinated with the darker side of literature, but when I read Thinner, I thought, “I want to be the kind of writer who can make other people feel how I feel right now.”

How does your writing process work?
You’ll probably read this answer often on this blog tour: it changes from project to project. For Clean Freak, I did a lot of character work that involved writing journal entries as if I were them. I wrote about four pages of character thoughts in the first person that became the beginning part of Chapter 1. To get inside the mind of my little girl character, I drew pictures and stories with a purple crayon. This was all in my book journal, of course. For other stories, I didn’t write a single word outside of the story, nor did I have any idea about the arc of the story when I started it. That worked for that one because it was a post-apocalyptic world and everything needed to feel uncertain.
Outside of a daily word count goal, I purposely try not to let myself become ritualistic. Routine is fine, but ritual is a killer. If you need perfect quiet at home so you can write in three-hour chunks, you’re setting yourself up to have excuses not to write when those conditions aren’t met. I write on my laptop at home, of course, but I also have a tablet now, so my ability to write is even more mobile because it fits in my bike’s saddlebags. I’m rarely without some kind of journal or notebook, so I can work long hand for notes, character thoughts, etc. Lacking everything else, I have my phone. I wrote the initial idea for Clean Freak to my girlfriend in seven text messages.
I think the best piece of advice I’ve received in a while came from Shane McKenzie at World Horror in Portland. “Stop making excuses not to write. Start making excuses to write.”

So I hope you learned something you didn’t know, that intrigued you, or maybe even helped you. Here are the next links in my chain.

E. S. MagillI met E.S. Magill at the Borderlands Press Writers’ Boot Camp. She is the editor of the recently released DEEP CUTS Anthology, 19 short horror stories to give you shivers plus 60 recommendations for powerhouse horror tales written by women. By day, she teaches middle school English; night is a whole other story. Southern California is home to her and her husband Greg and their menagerie of cats and Corvettes.

Benjamin Kane EthridgeI attended a reading by Benjamin Kane Ethridge at World Horror in Austin 2011 and was hooked. He is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of the novel BLACK & ORANGE (Bad Moon Books 2010). Benjamin lives in Southern California with his wife and two creatures who possess stunning resemblances to human children. When he isn’t writing, reading, videogaming, Benjamin’s defending California’s waterways and sewers from pollution.

Meghan ArcuriMeghan Arcuri and I met at the Borderlands Press Writers’ Boot Camp. She writes fiction and poetry. Her story, Inevitable, appeared in Chiral Mad. She lives with her family in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Appearances at Penguicon 2014

Posted in Appearances, Conventions, Fiction, Genres, Presentation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by SeanMDavis

This weekend, May 2-4, I’ll be at Penguicon. Here’s their cool trailer.

I’ll be presenting on several panels with some cool authors. Here’s my schedule:

Friday, May 2:
6p, The Hidden Subgenres
The number of genres into which Speculative Fiction may be divided approaches infinity. Most are familiar with Hard Sci-Fi, the Space Opera, and Urban Fantasy. There are also lesser known sub-genres like Bizarro Fiction that fall in the SFF spectrum. How would you define Bizarro Fiction? What are the must reads in this field?
Speakers include: Jim Leach, Sean M. Davis

Saturday, May 3:
11a, Digging up the Same Old Ground
Are there any new stories left, or is everything just a retread of an old idea? What is a retread, and what is a legitimately new angle?
Speakers include: Sean M. Davis, Ferrett Steinmetz, Nicole Castle, Jon David

2p, When Did We Get Cool? The Explosion of SFF on Screen
In a world where some of the most watched shows deal with SFF themes or have been adapted from SFF material (Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, The Avengers et. al.) where does the line get drawn? Why is it suddenly acceptable for the SFF genre to be viewed? Has this translated over to the written word? Side question: why has mystery always been more or less accepted but SFF is a more recent explosion?
Speakers include: Ernie Cline, Sean M. Davis, Michael Cieslak, Nicole Castle, Jim Leach, John Scalzi

5p, Line? What Line? Taboos in Speculative Fiction
Incest, rape, children as warriors, the wholesale slaughter of children… there are many distasteful acts which are performed in speculative fiction. Is there anything which is still off limits, or can anything be used as a plot device so long as it is germane to the story?
Speakers include: Ken MacGreggor, Sean M. Davis, Ferrett Steinmetz, Nicole Castle

6p, Obligatory Undead Panel: Is Undead Dead?
Shoot ‘em in the head, stake ‘em through the heart, the good old silver bullet…it doesn’t matter, the undead keep coming back. Have zombies, vampires, and werewolves finally run their course or do these creatures still have legs? Is there a division between genre fans who have grown tired of these creatures just as they’re taking off in the general public?
Speakers include: Mary Lynne Gibbs, Michael Cieslak, Sean M. Davis, Ken MacGreggor

Sunday, May 4:
2p, Author Readings
Come see me and all the other talented authors attending Penguicon read.

It will be a great time and I’m looking forward to it.

Borderlands Press Bootcamp

Posted in Business of Writing, Conventions, School, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2014 by SeanMDavis

This past weekend, I attended the Borderlands Press Writers’ Bootcamp. If you’re considering attending the Bootcamp or other retreat or seminar or six week course, I have two words for you:
Do it.
If you think that you don’t need to because you’re already a good writer, you’re wrong. You can always get better.
Here’s a basic rundown of the weekend. Friday night, we met with the instructors, Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson, and Doug Winter. They talked about the rules of writing for a few hours, then we did an exercise as a group. Then, the instructors gave us an assignment due on Sunday. On Saturday, each grunt met with each instructor and three other grunts on a rotating basis and critiqued each other’s work based on specific criteria for each session. Saturday night, we had a guest speaker, Richard Chizmar, who talked about how he started Cemetery Dance, what writing and publishing means to him, then answered our questions. Then we had a chance to ask the three instructors questions about the art, rules, or business of writing. Sunday morning, we turned in our assignments, which another guest read aloud, not naming the author so we could critique the stories anonymously. Then, there was another Q&A. Then, we all checked out of the hotel and hung out in the lobby until our taxis arrived.
A little later, I am going to tell you the most important lesson that I took away from this weekend. But first, a concrete example of how this 41-hour experience has made me a better writer already.
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We all know the signs of bad writing. Among them is using the passive voice, constructing sentences backwards. For example:
Tom was shot by Paul.
“Tom” is the object of the verb “shot” and “Paul” is the subject. Sentences like these should be converted to active voice. For example:
Paul shot Tom.
It’s the same sentence, but simpler and stronger.
Yes, we know that’s passive voice. We all took sixth grade English. Well, let me give you a more complicated example from the piece that I took to the Bootcamp.
It was the smell of Siani-Grace Hospital that Jack Kensey hated the most.
Can you see it? Because I sure as hell didn’t. Well, here’s the active way of writing that sentence:
Jack Kensey hated the smell of Siani-Grace Hospital the most.
“Was” does nothing for a story other than take up space. The same goes for all conjugations and tenses of “to be” and all other linking verbs. Notice the other verb in that sentence? Know why it’s there? Because “was” isn’t enough substance to justify a sentence. It’s a verb of being. That’s an adjective. That’s passive voice. For example:
The teens were scared.
That’s not enough. Roll it into another sentence in which the teens do something. For example:
The scared teens ran away from the monster.
Then, you look at that sentence during the self-editing phase and decide that it’s pretty self-explanatory that the teens are scared. They’re running away from a monster. That renders “scared” superfluous. Cut it.
The teens ran away from the monster.
Not only have you eliminated the sentence in passive voice, you also showed a stronger image that involved your reader, forcing them to infer the teens’ emotional state by their action, thus eliminating the extraneous adjective and the entire reason that the passive sentence existed in the first place.
With this in mind, on a break from working on my assignment Saturday night, I decided to search my current WIP for “was.” Keep in mind, I only searched for that word, not any of the other conjugations or tenses. Out of a 1750 word story, I used “was” 21 times. You’re probably thinking that 21 times in a 1750 word, six page WIP isn’t bad.
But it is and I can prove it mathematically.
That’s 1.2%. The length doesn’t matter, because the law of averages dictates that when the story reaches the 3000 word mark, which is where I think I’ll land with this particular WIP, the percentage will likely stay the same. That means 1.2% of my story conveys no meaning, accomplishes nothing and exists only as an enemy to clarity.
That is unacceptable.
I won’t be able to cut them all. Several of them are in dialogue, which gets a pass on a lot of broken rules in the interest of verisimilitude. Others are in dependent clauses which can be either replaced by active verbs or cut completely, moving the predicate of “was” somewhere else.
Even if I still can’t get rid of all of them, here’s the rule which I live by:
Break the rule once, it’s art. Break it more than that, it’s ignorance.
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Everybody wants the quick fix. This seems especially true for writing. People want to know how to write, how to find that elusive chimera, their voice, and they want to know now.
Well, I know the secret now. I suppose you want me to tell you.
First, write something.
Then, make the passive sentences active. Cut those that can’t be.
Cut the adverbs.
Cut the words that do nothing. For a list, go here.
Cut clichés.
In short, cut everything that’s bad writing.
What’s left is your voice.
Practice writing in your voice.
That’s the “lather, rinse, repeat” of writing. “Write, edit, write.”

Clean Freak Reviewed

Posted in Review with tags , , , on December 19, 2013 by SeanMDavis

Sherri White from Horror World reviewed Clean Freak. It’s a nice, positive review and I couldn’t be happier.
Read the review here.
If you don’t have your copy yet, you can buy it here, here, or here.

Theme

Posted in Appearances, Fiction, Presentation, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2013 by SeanMDavis

Hey, it’s been a long time. Too long. I will endeavor to be better about posting here regularly with what I’m up to, appearances, progress, thoughts about writing and all the other fun stuff in this writer’s life I lead.
I’m going to begin catching up with what’s happened most recently. Today, I and some fellow members of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers presented in conjunction with the folks from Three Corpse Circus on Aspects of Writing, specifically Plot, Character, Mood and Setting, Theme, and Revision. I made a recording of the whole presentation and as soon as I work my audio engineering magic on it, I will post it here and elsewhere as an mp3. In the meantime, here are my notes about theme, translated from my short-hand chicken scratch. Enjoy!
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Theme
Introduction
I’m going to tell you what theme is and give you some examples, both in general and specifically from Dracula, one of my favorite novels. Then I’m going to tell you how keeping your theme consciously in mind can improve your writing. Then, I’m going to give you an exercise to generate your own themes.
First off, everyone says, “Write what you know.” That means that you should work with the themes that you know and understand. I often write about isolation and loneliness. My characters feel isolated from society through choice or circumstance and I write about the effects that has on them.
Theme, in general
So (fucking) what?
Themes represents the larger ideas that are behind and that drive a story.
They are universal concepts that allow your readers to connect to the specific events of your story.
Some examples:
Death
Identity
Isolation
Loss
Prejudice
Spirituality
Themes are universal concepts, not universal truths. There can be several possible treatments of the same theme.
For example:
Poverty leads to crime.
Poverty does not define a man; he can rise above.
Specific example: Dracula; repression of female sexuality
Almost a cliché to equate death and blood with sex and the exchange of other—bodily fluids—in Victorian literature, but I’m going to do it anyway.
Lucy Westenra—described as sweet and pure
Even in her sweetness and purity, she wants to marry 3 men.
Violation of social mores; she must be brought in line.
Becomes Dracula’s victim through acts representative of adulterous sex
Four men transfuse their blood into her in a repetitious sequence that tries to satiate her needs. (Gangbang of blood)
After Lucy becomes a vampire, she engages in perverted motherhood by preying on the children of the neighborhood.
Killed (controlled) with monogamous sex; i.e. Arthur (her fiancé) ramming a big, wooden stake while Lucy spurts gouts of blood, finally succumbing to death (orgasm being known at that time as “the little death”) .
One story can have multiple themes
For example: Dracula
Repression of female sexuality
The New Woman
Xenophobia—fear of that which is viewed to be foreign or strange
Urban decay
Isolation
Shift into modern age
Interrelationship of themes in a story
Shift into modernity; repression of female sexuality (Lucy); the New Woman (Mina)
In horror, theme can reflect a deeper fear
Lucy is an aberration that needs to be controlled by patriarchal society. Lucy, while not an outright threat, is still a curiosity that needs to be treated with caution.

Every story has a theme, conscious or unconscious
If a character does anything, the reader infers motivation, then draws conclusions as to the theme and how the author feels about it
For example: Van Helsing describes Mina as the perfect being, with the brain of a man and the heart of a woman; he describes Lucy as wanton, that her actions are a perversion and, for the good of her soul, must be killed. We infer this to mean that however respectfully curious Stoker was of the New Woman, a sexually liberated woman was a threat that must be controlled or, failing that, destroyed.
Theme is the motivating power behind everything and is important because the reasons behind events, not the events themselves, are what interest us. Otherwise, stories would read like lists.
Writing with your theme consciously in mind strengthens your characters, plot and setting as well as the mechanics of your writing, such as word choice, structure, etc.

Exercise:
If you have the story first—examine characters’ thoughts/actions in relation to the plot
Why are they doing what they are?
How does that relate to a more universal idea?
From that, draw a conclusion and form a statement
This statement is your treatment of your theme
Revise with this treatment consciously in mind
Theme first—premise
Simple statement that contains a thumbnail synopsis of character, conflict and resolution
For example: Dracula; repression of sexuality
Unbridled sexuality leads to destruction
I’ve subtracted the gendered aspect of that premise because Dracula, the epitome of unbridled sexuality, is destroyed as well.

One last note: Statements are stronger than questions. Your treatment of a theme will be stronger if it makes a statement rather than begging a question. Simply presenting a theme without deciding how your characters (and through them, you the author) feel about it and asking your reader to make up their own minds is weak writing because readers will draw their own conclusions anyway. Your job is to make readers connect with your treatment of your theme. You do this by writing with conviction.

Grammar Batman

Posted in Day in the Life with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2013 by SeanMDavis

A moment from my life and day job. For exposition’s sake, Jim is my boss.
Jim: Just double-checking. “Who’s” is “who is” and “whose” is possessive, right?
Me: Yeah, that’s right.
Jim: That’s what I thought. Just thought I’d double-check with the Grammar Police.
Me: I’m not the Grammar Police. I’m more like a Grammar Enforcer. I’m Grammar Batman.

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