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.

Being Interviewed

Posted in Interview, News with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2013 by SeanMDavis

On Friday, I gave my first interview for a feature article about me and Clean Freak. It was a thrilling experience. The interviewers (there were three of them!) were quite nice. Most of the questions were pretty straight-forward, but one surprised me. They asked what I hoped my readers would take away from reading Clean Freak. So I told them what I took away from writing it. That seemed to satisfy them. Afterward, one of the interviewers told me that she would be getting my book soon and that, based on what I said in the interview, she couldn’t wait to read it.
Look for the article soon.
I’m also being interviewed by Cassie Carnage for her blog, House of Horror. She too is nice. I read through her questions this morning and am looking forward to answering them.
Look for the link soon.

Thoughts on selling all my books at Dally in the Alley

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2013 by SeanMDavis

My table of Clean FreakYes, you read that correctly. I sold all the books that I brought to Dally in the Alley. That morning, as we were getting ready to go, I turned to my girlfriend and I said, “A horrible thought occurred to me as I was waking up this morning. What if I don’t sell a single book. But then I thought, what if I sell them all?” But I tried to be Zen about it.
The day started off well. A couple friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and a friend’s mom bought books. Let me just clarify this for anyone who might dismiss that with something like, “They’re your friends, they have to buy it.” No, they don’t. I had other friends drop by the table and they oohed and ahhed over the book, told me they were proud of or happy for me, but then didn’t buy it. And that’s okay. I don’t want anyone to buy it just because they’re my friend. I want people who buy Clean Freak to enjoy it, maybe even want to read it again.
Those sales happened almost right away, and then I sat there for about half an hour while nothing happened. We had some browsers, but no buyers. Then a group of three people stopped in, and one of the girls picked up my book. She listened to my pitch, read the back while I waited pensively, then said, “Yeah, I think I’ll buy it.” The feeling was incredible, absolute elation because I think that every first-time writer has the fear that only their friends and family will buy it. It was one of those moments that I felt like a writer, because I was.
After that, the sales kept happening steadily. I even sold a Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers anthology that I’d brought with me. Two of the four people that I was sharing space with packed up their stuff and left, and the other person said that she was going to pack up in about a half hour. Then, half an hour later, she said that she’d start packing up in half an hour. I think because I didn’t really show signs of going anywhere, she was waiting for me. I could say that I was waiting for her, but I’m pretty sure that I would have sat there with my last copies until the event ended, if necessary.
My empty tableMy last two sales came back to back. When that person walked away with that last copy, I raised my fists in the air and shouted, “I sold all my books!” It was the most incredible feeling of my entire life. Imagine that you’ve bought a lottery ticket. You tell yourself you shouldn’t get your hopes up, but in your mind you’re buying that big house, taking that great vacation, driving that cool car, etc. You try to keep your cool as you watch the drawing, but your heart beats a little harder and faster as each number is drawn and announced and you realize, “Holy shit, they’re drawing my numbers.” You’re pumped up on adrenaline because you’re so close you can taste it, but a single number that doesn’t match your ticket could mean it all goes up in flames. Then, they draw the last number and you have the winning ticket after all. I didn’t get millions of dollars for selling all my books, but I had that I-can-do-anything feeling. Suddenly, being a professional author seemed like a completely reasonable dream.

Dally in the Alley

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 7, 2013 by SeanMDavis

Unfortunately, THRUST has been postponed, but I’m the kind of guy who turns lemons into opportunities. I’ll be at Dally in the Alley in Downtown Detroit today selling and signing Clean Freak as well as a few other tasty tidbits from the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers.

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