It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, mostly because I’ve been busy working on things to be able to post about. I’m going to start with Penguicon 2016!
Yes! I am back at Penguicon, one of my favorite weekends of the year. Here’s my schedule as of right now. Although I haven’t been given a reading slot yet, rest assured I will be somewhere, sometime.
Speculative Poetry Starter Kit:Who to read, where to look and exactly what the heck IS speculative poetry. Speakers include: Jim Leach, Sean M Davis – Friday April 29, 9p Executive Meeting Center IV
Speak Your Words: We are all made of stories and sharing them can be powerful and life changing. Come and share our version of an open mic night. Bring your poetry, personal manifesto, or short-short story. Speakers include: Jim Leach, Matt Betts, Sean M Davis, Jessica Roland – Saturday April 30, 8p Executive Meeting Center IV
Self Editing Tools: Before you expose your precious words to others, you want them to look their best. Clif will discuss a few of the off-the-shelf tools for grammar checking your work with emphasis on checkIt, a tool written by a writer for writers to make their prose stronger. Speakers include: Clif Flynt, Sean M Davis – Sunday May 1, 12p Algonquin D
On October 24, I had the great pleasure of doing a group reading with some of my fellow Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers.
I read two unpublished poems, “The Leaf Pile Monster,” which is a Shel Silverstein-style poem about the dangers of raking leaves, and “The Moment Before,” which is a tie-in poem to Clean Freak.
Shad Kelly read “Sounds the Trumpet” from Erie Tales: 666.
Cassie Carnage read “Cancer’s Requiem,” which will be available in an upcoming anthology that will be released in November. The current working title for it is “Nightmares and Demons.” Cassie is the editor-in-chief of Bloodywhisper.com, and the producer and writer of the Carnage Cove podcast. Her debut horror science fiction novel, “Symbiosis” will be available at the end of October.
Peggy Christie read “We Were Here First” from Erie Tales VII and “Too Soon” from her collection, Hell Hath No Fury (currently out of print).
Montilee Stormer read “Bloody Run” from Erie Tales IV, which is collected along with Vol. I – III in Erie Tales: Omnibus, “Lost … If Found” (unpublished), and “Who’s There” from the upcoming Quick Shivers, #4, expected in 2016.
David C. Hayes read a chapter from his novel, Keeping Molly, available from Splatter Theatre Press.
Michael Cieslak stole the show, reading “Greetings of the Season,” an audio story released by Nightmare Fuel 2: Silent Nightmares (currently unavailable). You can visit him at http://thedragonsroost.net/.
Continuing with questions from my afternoon at the mercy of the Flint Horror Collective, I’ve rolled two into one, since they ask almost the same thing.
The hardest thing about being a writer is finding the balance. I’ve got a day job with a fluctuating schedule, so it’s next to impossible to establish a permanent writing schedule. I have a partner whom I share my life. I have cats and a dog. I have divorced parents that are getting on in years. I have a brother who’s married with children. I play soccer, commute by bike, play the bass, have a house to work on, books to read, TV shows and movies to watch, friends to see.
All of those things are excuses not to write. It’s time to start making excuses to write.
Take yourself seriously. Make it a priority. Do you eat a Thanksgiving dinner every day? No. So why do writers feel that they need to write for three hour stretches? You might stuff your face in the car going from one job to the next. You can write the same way.
I carry a notebook 90% of the time. I have Polaris Office on my phone. I also have a Voice Recorder for those times I can’t write, but still feel creative.
When I’m not writing, it’s because I’m doing all those things I mentioned before. But I’m still thinking about stories and characters. But that’s not really enough, is it?
Writing is like exercising. You need to do it regularly to get any benefit from it. That being said, you may come out of the corner swinging in the first round, but it’s important to push yourself through second day drag (or third, or thirtieth day drag).
Couple pieces of advice:
1) Make a goal. If it’s a page, or a paragraph, or a sentence, whatever it is, make it a goal. Make it a priority.
2) Don’t stack goals. You’re on your way to bed, feeling guilty because you didn’t write your page for the day. That’s okay. Stuff happens. Saying you’re going to write two pages tomorrow is the worst thing you can possibly do. First off, it’s like saying you didn’t bench your 100lbs. today, so you’re going to do 200lbs. tomorrow. It’s not likely to work and you may hurt yourself. Second, what happens when you psych yourself out of writing two pages the next day because… whatever. Now you need to do three pages to catch up and you’re more nervous because you’ve never written that much all at once before and is this story actually good and doubts, doubts, doubts. Just do your one page. That’s enough.
I give the advice but I don’t always follow it. I’m not perfect. No one is. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
As for process…?
Writing gurus (usually with advice books to sell you) are always talking about developing your voice. I’ve talked about developing my voice as a writer. But I recently read an article that gave a compelling argument saying that writers must have many voices. These are the voices of your characters, which are in turn the voices of your stories.
So I don’t have any one process. I’ve drafted long-hand. I’ve written on my computer. I’ve written with and without outlines and notes. I’ve recorded myself doing character voices. I’ve acted out scenes. I’ve written poetry for character thoughts. I’ve written in crayon. I’ve written with my left hand. I’ve scripted out dialogue, then written the narration around it. It all depends on the story and the character and how it speaks to me.
Instead of answering one of the questions from Flint Horror Collective’s Beyond the Book panel, I wanted to post my schedule for Penguicon, happening this weekend, April 24-26, at the Westin in Southfield, MI. If you live in the Metro Detroit Area, I highly recommend attending. It’s a lot of fun and it has something for pretty much everyone.
Here’s my schedule:
Saturday, April 25:
How to Do Dystopia, 10-11a, Hamlin: The Hunger Games, Divergent, Mad Max — dystopian settings are populating books shelves and movie theaters, especially when it comes to the Young Adult market. The panel will discuss the popularity of the dystopian future and what makes one believable. Speakers include: Sarah Hans, Janea Schimmel, Sean M. Davis, Steven Saus – Track: Literature, Film
Editing for the Uninitiated, 2-3p, Hamlin: You’ve finished your masterpiece, now what? Our panelists discuss the importance of the editing process and how to turn your unfinished gem into a gleaming diamond. Speakers include: Sean M. Davis, Sarah Hans
You Can’t Kill the Undead, 9-10p, Board of Governors: Year after year we wonder if this will be the year that people get sick of zombies and vampires. Year after year we get a resounding no from the audience. Join us as we explore the most recent explorations of the undead and brainstorm with us, wondering what may be on the horizon: angels, ghosts, demons? Speakers include: Nicole Castle, Mary Lynne Gibbs, Michael Cieslak, Sarah Hans, Ken MacGregor, Steven Saus, Sean M. Davis
Sunday, April 26:
E-Books: An Examination of the Current State of Digital Publishing, 9-10a, Algonquin C: Years ago there was a panel at Penguicon about the rise of the e-reader and what it meant for the world of publishing. It’s safe to say that digital reading is not going to be a passing fad, but it does not appear to be the death of paper publishing that it was once seen to be. The panel will examine how things have changed for authors, readers, and publishers and how things have stayed the same. While we may examine the Hatchette vs Amazon debate, it will be in terms of how it has affected things, not taking sides. Speakers include: Mary Lynne Gibbs, Sean M. Davis, Karl Schroeder
Author Reading: Steven Saus and Sean M. Davis, 1-2p, Hamlin: Come and listen to two authors voted most likely to become mad scientists read and discuss their latest works. Speakers include:Steven Saus, Sean M. Davis
The good people of the Flint Horror Collective had me up to the Flint Public Library this past weekend to join a few other writers and answer some questions. I’ll do this one at a time.
What first inspired you to write?
It wasn’t any one thing. I just remember always writing. I have a story, “The Killer Morning,” that was written on construction paper in thick-penciled, childish handwriting. I wrote poetry through my childhood and into high school. When I finished my first Stephen King novel, “Thinner,” I was so blown away, I thought, “This is the kind of writer I want to be.”
But the moment that really did it for me happened in my senior year in high school, I had a writing class that did a paper a week. For our narrative assignment, I turned in a story about four girls who kill themselves publicly to get back at their boyfriends for dumping them. When handing back the stories, my teacher got to mine about halfway through the stack, started to hand it back, but then stopped and said, “Actually, I want to wait on this.” I went to a Catholic high school, so I thought, “Shit, I’m in trouble.” When he got to my story again, he said, “Sean, I just wanted to say before I handed this back to you. This is writing.” Immediately, three people asked me if they could read my story. That was the first time I seriously thought about making a career out of writing.
Today’s post is brought to you by an overwhelming and year-long feeling of failure.
As I logged into WP to write this, I saw my previous post about all of the successes I’ve had over the last couple of years since I last applied for a Kresge Fellowship. Despite those successes, I’ve been grappling with my feelings of failure and diminishing drive to write for at least a year now, but probably longer.
Now, I think I’ve figured out why.
I was brought up to value work. I’ve been working professionally since I was 14, but I’ve had summer jobs since I was eleven. As I worked these jobs for okay – sometimes bordering on decent – money, I dreamed of the day I could make my living at writing. It was what I loved to do and I wanted to make enough money at it so that I could build what I considered to be a successful life.
In college, I eschewed a career that, to me, would just be another Joe-job. I went back to Wayne State’s English Department, graduated, and set about the work of becoming a successful writer so I could build my successful life.
Along the way, I developed a strong, supportive, and loving relationship.
I got a job making decent money regularly and good money sometimes. Then, I became full time at my job, so my money become good regularly and great when I could score some Oscar Tango.
I moved out of my mom’s house into a rented house, then bought a house last fall.
I was building a successful life for myself. Although writing was still a big part of my life, it was no longer my ticket.
I continued to educate myself as a writer and fulfill my goals. My first book was published, but it wasn’t what I expected at all. I went to conventions and street fairs and sold books and had a good time. I didn’t start on a new book right away, but that was fine because I was working to sell and promote Clean Freak. But I wasn’t worried. I’d start work on a new project when it felt right. I was invited to submit work to a couple places that I was excited about. Things seemed to be going okay.
Then, things started going wrong.
I decided to part ways with my publisher after the expiration of our year contract because of my perception of his handling of the business side of things. (We parted amicably and are still in contact. This isn’t going to turn into a tell all like the recent flare up with Damnation Books.) I submitted work to the couple people that asked, expecting answers and feedback that weren’t coming.
I hit rock bottom when I tried writing something for a submissions call – which is something I don’t normally do, and did only because by that time I was desperate to write something and I felt that a deadline would be the motivation I needed – and was unable to bring myself to finish the story. I doubted everything. The story’s originality and quality, my abilities as a writer. Everything. In desperation, I submitted the unfinished manuscript with the secret hope that the publisher would like it and tell me they wanted to see the finished story, which would validate me.
I didn’t get a response, which is perfectly fine because that’s not how this game works.
With all of these perceived failures mounting and my continued success in my non-writing life, writing became less of a drive. Maybe an obligation. A chore. Something I thought I should be doing, but couldn’t bring myself to do. Or, when I did, I’d start on a project and have immediate doubts, not coming back to the desk after the first burst of creativity.
That’s where I’ve been languishing for the past six months. Not even wanting to write, but desperately wanting to want to write, unable to muster a compelling reason why I should continue to bang my face against a wall that didn’t seem to be moving.
Today, my loving and supportive partner tagged an article for me on Facebook, a list of inspirational quotes from JK Rowling about failure.
Reading the article, I remembered the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose failure as an opthamologist led to his having time to write detective stories.
And it hit me what had been going on. The full picture. Not just being disheartened by one isolated incident, but how all of my failures of the past year have conspired with my successes in my non-writing life to try to lure my away from writing.
I’ve decided I don’t want that to happen. This is only the first step of what I hope will be a transformative process, but I feel good about my decision. I can feel confident in saying, “To be continued…”