Category Archives: Essay

Seeking a Genre

I’ve had a difficult time lately trying to figure out what kind of writer I am. Do I write horror? Am I a scifi writer? What about fantasy? Does it even freaking matter?

I’m not sure what’s prompting me to pigeon-hole myself to a particular genre or not, however maybe it’s best if I gravitate toward something. The phrase “Jack of all trades and master of none” keeps coming back to me.

Of all three genres, I think the one that I most identify with is horror. It’s what I’ve read the most, watched the most, and what interests me the most.

I don’t feel I have the credentials to call myself a scifi or even a fantasy writer, though my background in medieval history does give me a foundation for the kind of fantasy I enjoy. I’ve not read many of the scifi classics. I have tried to navigate my way through some of the mainstays of the genre to have a working knowledge of what’s been done before and the major players in the field. Still, it doesn’t feel like I’ve “paid my dues” and learned enough about previous authors to jump into their genre. Does watching a lot of scifi shows count? I don’t know. Maybe? Do I have to have those works read in order to write my own stories?

thinker-1294493_1280I imagine purists would scoff at the idea of someone with a basic knowledge of science fiction calling themselves a scifi writer. I kinda agree. Start throwing questions at me about Heinlein or Asimov, I might give you a blank stare and change the subject.

Same goes for fantasy. I know a few pillars of the genre, but I’ve not read many of them. My first real introduction to fantasy was through Robert Jordan and I know there were many before him like Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett and more. I love fantasy for the idealized medieval worlds they tend to portray (and yes, I’m aware of the Euro-centric bent of most fantasy) though I’ve not read extensively in the genre. Do I have to in order to call myself a fantasy writer?

When it comes to horror, I do have a greater background through reading and movies than the other two genres I gravitate toward. King, Barker, Jackson, Oates, Ramsey Campbell, and countless other authors have all been my go-to authors when I want something to read. I love the dark themes and ability of authors to scare the crap out of me. I feel much more confident calling myself a horror writer though to date, I’ve not written much more than several flash fiction and short stories in the genre.

So why question all of this? What’s the point?

skull-3026666_1920As I continue to grow my readership and reach out to new readers, I don’t want to confuse them. I love using elements from all three genres in my writing. One day I feel more like writing fantasy, while another I want dark, scary horror. I don’t want to be forced into a genre I’m not entirely 100% all in on (or at least don’t feel like I belong because of a lack of rudimentary knowledge of the field.) Yet, readers and especially other authors want to know “what do you write?” Damn good stories? I mean, that’s how I want to answer.

Lately I’ve come to use the term “Speculative Fiction Author” to describe what I write. It’s a term not without its drawbacks and controversy, though for the most part, it encompasses all that I enjoy writing. It allows me the freedom to flow between genres without feeling stuck or unable to try something else. It’s like when King wrote the Dark Tower books. He’s known as one of the most popular horror authors ever, yet he wrote a fantasy series. Of course, it sold because his name is on the cover, but in my case, I have a long way to go to establish my name. If I call myself a “Speculative Fiction Author,” readers generally understand I genre-hop and can pick and choose what stories of mine to read.

If I take a big step back, this entire discussion about genre really is all about marketing anyway. When bookstores sell books, they need to know where to put books to make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for. When Amazon categorizes books, they get down to fine detail about the genre. It all goes back to marketing: How do we sell this book? Who is the market for this one? Have a monster in it? Good, call it horror. Is the protagonist a seventeen year-old girl? Call it young adult. It makes it easier for readers to discern what to buy and not buy. I get it.

The more I can figure out who I am as a writer, the easier it’ll be for me to market myself. If I claim “Speculative Fiction Author” as my title, then I’m open to marketing myself in all three of the genres I enjoy depending on the books I’m writing at the time. It’s not that I’m chasing the latest trends, but writing stories I enjoy and hope others will too. I don’t even know what the latest trends are! Reverse harem? Who knows!

I hope to figure this out soon. I’d like to sell a few books and begin making a profit off my work. I haven’t yet, however I have earned a few new readers in the process.

 

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Behind The Story

Not many readers know I like to hide surprises in my writing. I want to share one of those with you today.

 

My young adult scifi series “The Forgotten Chronicles” is set on an alien world similar to ours yet orbiting a red sun. I based it off of a NASA travel poster released several years ago for the planet Kepler 186f. I wanted an Earth-like world where readers were familiar enough with how it worked yet still completely alien. If you’ve read The Selection or the follow-up book Rise of the Forgotten, you know what I mean.

What hardly anyone knows is they may have read a story about this series before it was ever released. I had it hiding in plain sight.

I honestly didn’t know if The Selection would ever see publication. I enjoyed the story but still wasn’t sure if I was going to put the time and effort (and money!) into making it a novel I wanted to release. I wrote the book leaving the ending in a way that if enough readers enjoyed it, I could continue the series. As it happened, many readers loved the book and that gave me the impetus I needed to write Rise of the Forgotten. The final book in the series, The War for Truth, is due out in May (and can be pre-ordered for the ridiculously low price of .99. Go here to get it: The War for Truth)

However, one of the questions I often get asked is why are there so many boys born on the planet Anastasia? What causes this? Why does it happen?

AlmostAs an origin story mostly for myself, I wrote a short story called The Long Sleep which answers these questions. If you’ve read any of my short story collections, you may recognize it. I released it in my first ever book, (Almost) Average Anthology, back in 2016. It was the last story in the collection and gives a great explanation as to how things got to be in The Selection.

I released (Almost) Average Anthology in Jan. of 2016, well over a year before I released The Selection. The story The Long Sleep isn’t my favorite of the collection, but it most certainly belongs with my series as an origin story.

So, for fans who like to know behind the scenes info, there ya go. You can get the entire 16 story collection (Almost) Average Anthology for .99 or if you subscribe to my newsletter, you get it for FREE. Either way, I hope you enjoy the dark tales and I hope you continue to follow along with my scifi series. It’s been so much fun to write and the reader response has been amazing.


For those interested in the series, here are the links.

The Selection: ebook, paperback, audiobook.

Rise of the Forgotten: ebook, paperback.

The War for Truth: ebook (special low pre-order price)

 

Self-Doubt Sucks

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know I’ve been kinda down on myself the past few weeks. I’m not normally one to share a lot of personal info (like do you really care that I ate nothing but fruit for breakfast or how work is going?) however I did take the time to share how discouraged I’ve been with my writing.

depression-2912424_960_720Like most writers or creatives, I doubted myself and my skills. I doubted if I should even continue writing. It’s not like many people are reading it! But an amazing thing happened.

I had support.

By sharing my doubts about my craft, many others (maybe even you!) stepped in and told me to slow my roll. You encouraged me to continue what I’m doing because I do indeed have a tiniest clue as to what I’m doing. I do not suck as bad as I thought I did.

I think I go through this mentality about once a year or more. When it passes, I blissfully continue what I’m doing and spend my time writing new stories that will one day entertain and delight readers.

I’d love to make writing a full-time paying gig, but for now it’s not there yet. It may never be, but with encouragement from those brave enough to try my work and like it, I know I’ve got support from those who truly care about the next adventure I write.

It helped me so much to see how many people believed in me. I don’t like sharing my doubts because I don’t want others to see my weakness. I don’t want them to pity me. I have a hard time accepting help and encouragement, a trait I know is not the best. But sometimes, it just needs to come out.

If you’re experiencing something like this, I’m here to talk if you need it.

Indie Thoughts

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always held a strong independence about myself. Sometimes to the detriment of others around me.

I recall distinctly when as a young skater punk wearing denim jackets with band patches sewn all over them (think Metallica, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies and more) and I had a girlfriend who had a hard time with it. She was a little embarrassed when she said “everyone’s gonna talk about you.” My reply? “Great! At least they’ll be thinking about me!” I didn’t care what they thought, just that they thought of me. Owning a small slice of space in their minds for free was awesome.

FreeNow, I didn’t go out of my way to be different, I was just being myself. If that meant denim jackets with patches, then that’s what it was. I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I knew myself. I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I did things my way how I saw fit.

That doesn’t mean I always did the right thing. Just ask my mom or my wife about the crazy haircut I had. (If you go through my posts from August you’ll see a picture of me in a yellow shirt. That’s the haircut I clung to). I wanted to try something different and I let the style linger through my senior year in high school. Not my finest moment but then again, I did things my way. At the time I could care less what anyone thought of it. Looking at it now I can laugh, but you know, I don’t regret it. How many times do we want to try something but don’t because we let fear rule us?

My tendency to do my own thing leads me away from a lot of things too. If some book or movie or band is the newest thing, I purposely stay away from it. Call it my old punk rock spirit. Call it being non-conformist. Call it whatever, but that’s kinda my reaction to things. I still haven’t read the Harry Potter books, mostly because “everyone loved them” and my natural tendency is to steer clear of super-popular things. I’ve never watched Dr. Who because it’s expected of scifi fans. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but it is who I am.

The indie spirit, so prevalent in the music I listened to (and still do!) is alive and well within me. I’m myself. I make no apologies about it.

 

Going Full-On

I’ve written before about moments in my writing “career” where I’ve felt dejected and full of self-doubt. This is not one of those posts.

I have a strong tendency once I get past my initial doubts where I go full-on confident.

man-1902765_960_720You see, there are times when I don’t give a damn what someone else thinks. I know I will succeed. I have no doubt. I believe in myself when no one else will.

I’ve never been given anything. If I wanted it, I had to work hard for it. My family didn’t have money. I started working when i was 13 or 14 as a newspaper carrier for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland, OH. I got up every morning before the sun and delivered the daily paper all along my street.

Not having money taught me to work hard, learn from my mistakes, and suck it up. I didn’t always enjoy the jobs I had, but I dealt with it and gained strength from it. Everything I gained is because of determination.

I can’t tell you how many times my stories have been rejected (Well, actually I can. My stories have accumulated 74 rejections since 2014 with only 4 acceptances). Many for good reasons. It’s ok. I know they’re good. I know they belong somewhere. So I continue sending them out.

The thing is, I can’t let those get to me. What’s the saying, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” I feel that way about my stories. They weren’t right for some places but a perfect fit for others. I gotta find that fit.

So for those who reject my stories just know, you’re gonna be part of my success. You will push me to prove you wrong. It might not be the most healthy attitude, but it keeps me focused.

Coffee With a Side of…Peanut Butter?

The old saying goes, there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. I’d like to alter that statement.

There are only two things I can’t live without in life: coffee and peanut butter.

Now before you go bashing me for not mentioning my wife or son or something substantially more important than coffee and peanut butter, let me state clearly they are the most loved people in my life.

However…

coffee-1576552_960_720I started drinking coffee when I was in college. I worked at a fast food restaurant and had free access to coffee. I was going to school studying history and though I loved the subject (still do!) most historical works are boring to read. I’d get tired eyes fast. Working the overnight shift at times didn’t help either. So, I started drinking coffee on the regular. I’m enjoying the delicious beverage now as I write this!

At first it was all cream and sugar with a touch of coffee. My taste slowly evolved until I drank it black. Now, I’ll add a splash of some flavored creamer. Every morning I brew a pot of steaming goodness and drink most of it before I go to work.

peanut-butter-350099_960_720I honestly can’t recall when my peanut butter obsession came into being, but it’s common knowledge at home and work that if something has peanut butter in it, I’ll like it.

I’ll eat a toasted english muffin with peanut butter for breakfast and a peanut butter sandwich at lunch. Sometimes if I have bananas at home, I’ll add some slices to the sandwich. I don’t do the classic pb&j, just peanut butter on whole wheat bread.

My peanut butter obsession knowns no bounds. Give me peanut butter cup candy, blizzards from Dairy Queen with peanut butter, peanut butter pie…you name it, I’ve probably tried. Heck, there’s a local burger restaurant that has a bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter on it. I had to try it! The result? Pretty darn good!

I’m not ashamed of my addictions. I stand behind them waving their proverbial flags trying to entice others to join me. Where do you stand on these? What’s are the two things you must have? Share with the rest of us!

 

Youthful Dreaming

When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be a superhero.

I recall when I seriously considered how hard it would be to become Spider Man. I thought through what it would take to cross myself with radioactive spiders so I’d obtain the traits of the spider while still human. I wanted that possibility to be so real.

SpidermanI imagined myself running through the streets of Cleveland, jumping from building to building, in search of criminals and making the city a safer place. It felt so real and so possible that when it dawned on me it wouldn’t happen, I was crushed.

Then as I thought on it further, I realized the chances of that happening were slim. There was no way I’d find a spider like that and no way to tell if the desired effects would actually occur.

With those hopes dashed, I turned to a more realistic hero in Batman. I figured if I could create or obtain enough gadgets like him, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. Having no money or technical skill to create those devices, I soon found myself distraught once again with the realization it would never happen.

BatmanThe thing is, I wanted these to be real possibilities in life. I wanted to be a hero, to save others, and do good. I felt an ache inside when I couldn’t make it happen. I blurred fantasy with reality and when reality won, I had a difficult time reconciling that harsh truth.

I suppose reading comic books and being aware of bad things around me made me want to do something about it. As a young pre-teen, I had no control over evil. Murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers-I could do nothing to stop them. Visualizing myself as a superhero was my way of trying to contribute to a positive outcome in an otherwise difficult world.

I’ve yet to find a radioactive spider or create an arsenal of cool gadgets, but I have tried to do good as much as possible in all situations. I fail, but my mindset is always to do what’s right. It’s not the same as jumping between buildings with the strength and dexterity of an oversized spider, but I do what I can.

 

Choose Wisely

Shortsighted thinking often results in less than ideal situations. Not seeing beyond the present can have consequences that last a lifetime.

When I was in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I considered Radio and Television to prepare for a job as an on-air radio personality. I love music and thought that would be the coolest job. I had to choose a minor and one of the three available choices was history, which I was a big fan of.

I told my guidance counselor about my plans and she yelled at me. She scolded me for picking history. So, in my stubborn arrogance, I chose History as my major.

books-2606859_960_720That’s all good, except I never considered becoming an elementary or high school history teacher. All the ones I knew were “coach” first and teacher second. They treated the subject as secondary while I thought the importance of the subject was paramount to everything else. Every field of study has a history to it and in order to fully appreciate the current trends and future prospects, we have to know what came before.

So I completed my undergraduate studies with a Bachelor in Arts in the field of History. I had no idea what to do with my degree, so I continued on to graduate school where I focused on early Medieval history. I studied the British Isles and Ireland extensively. My Master’s thesis was on the Christianization of Ireland with a focus on the figure of St. Brigit who shared one two many similarities to an ancient Celtic goddess also named Brigit.

During my entire time in grad school, I never considered taking education classes to earn my teaching certificate. I studied history for the sake of knowledge with an eye to maybe teaching in college, but never in high school.

Now, over 16 years removed from my last class and thesis defense, I’m no where near where I thought I’d be. I joke that I have a master’s degree in history and I sell t-shirts. The truth of it is—that’s exactly what I am.

For the past 17 years, I’ve worked as a sales rep. for a screen-printing company, steadily growing my customer base and increasing my output to the point where I sell over $1,000,000 worth of t-shirts, coffee mugs, pens, and other items annually.

doors-1767562_960_720I’m not sharing life altering historical knowledge with anyone, but I do enjoy my work. Our company has a laid back feel (I mean, I can wear t-shirts and shorts to work every day!) but we’re also highly professional and one of the best in the business, all while staying in rural Southern Illinois with customers all over the country.

There are times when I wonder what it would be like if I’d have made the decision to add education courses to my college career and earned a teaching certificate. I wonder what kind of an impact I could’ve had on kids learning to figure out what this world is all about. I don’t dwell on it too much. As I’ve grown as a fiction writer, I do feel these past 17 years have given me the foundation to sell my books to potential buyers and made me comfortable in that role.

I guess the moral of the story is this: when those critical decisions are to be made, think about the long-term impact. Don’t get caught up in what consequences it will have in the next couple of years, but think how it might effect you far down the line. Do you want regrets or satisfaction from your decision? I can tell you which one I’d rather have, and it doesn’t include regrets.

Sacrifice for Greatness

Nothing worthwhile has ever occurred without tremendous effort and sacrifice. You must be able to set aside your “wants” and make it happen.

Anyone’s who has ever wanted to be a writer, a musician, or an athlete cannot attain greatness without some sort of sacrifice.

I’ve heard time and time again from would-be writers that they want to write. Ok, well do it! You cannot call yourself a writer if all you do is wish to be one. Add pen to paper, scribble a word, and add more. Sit at your computer and type those glorious words one after another. Those are what begin to make you a writer.

guitar-1837044_960_720Learning to play an instrument isn’t easy. Figuring out chords, notes, and timing takes…well, time. You have to practice a lot. There’s no other way around it. Wishing to be a musician doesn’t make it happen.

You must do something in order to achieve these goals. You must get up off your chair and lift weights if you intend on improving your physical strength. You must go out and run if you intend on improving your cardio health. Sitting down and wanting to do these things doesn’t make them happen. Actually doing them does.

runners-373099_960_720In order to achieve any of this, you must be willing to sacrifice something. All of these take time. So instead of playing video games, lift weights. Instead of sleeping in late, you have to get up early to write that story. Instead of watching television, you should practice your scales.

Time is both finite and infinite. We as humans only have so much of it, limiting what we can do with it. How you chose to spend your time will dictate how successful you are in your endeavors. You must be willing to give up whatever time you dedicated to doing nothing to activities that will get you closer to your goal.

Wanting to do something is one thing, but putting your actions into play–actually giving an effort into it–will get you closer to your dreams. Doing so means not doing something else. That’s the sacrifice required to achieve your goals.

How willing are you to let go of what’s holding you back? You’ll be amazed at the results when you are willing to give up your fleeting entertainment in order to focus on your dreams.

Musical Inspiration

Sometimes when I write, I’ll use music to set the scene within my head. I’ll allow the music to enhance the mood and my words flow from it.

Several years ago I started this part of my writing process when I “won” my first NaNoWriMo. My novel was about a guy who goes into a place called “the void” where he turns from a normal, nothing special person, into a master of fighting. He’s the only one who can make things happen in the void so he’s welcomed with open arms.

The thing about it was, he was an alcoholic. He’d drink certain types of alcohol and find himself in different situations in the void. For example, when he drank moonshine, he’d end up as one of twelve hillbilly brothers. When he drank tequila, he found himself coming to the new world with Cortez. When he drank vodka, he was on a Russian expedition. He’s not aware of how he gets to those places till later on in the story, but the novel follows his trials and adventure in these various locales.

I used music heavily when I wrote the scenes of him in the void. When I wrote the hillbilly scenes, I created a playlist based off of the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and it was perfect. The bluegrass and old country music set the tone in my mind which helped me feel the scenes so much more.

When I had him on the Russian expedition, I listened to a ton of Tchaikovsky, one of my favorite classical composers. Those sweeping Russian nationalistic pieces made those scenes feel alive in my mind.

The following year as I attempted (and won!) NaNoWriMo again, I wrote a horror novel. The story was about child sacrifice in a small town. It was a dark story where demons forced the sacrifices and had to be defeated. For those writing sessions, I listened to heavy doses of Slayer. Their dark music helped me set the tone in my work.

Lately I’ve not used that method to assist my writing, though on occasion I will turn on the music to help inspire my words. I find it helps to block outside distractions and create the right mood in my mind for the story I’m working on.

If you’ve read any of my “Author Spotlight” interviews this year, you’ll notice I ask that question of all my guests. I think because it’s been such a vital tool for me I wanted to see if it worked for others.

What about you? Do you use music to help with your writing or does is distract from your efforts? I’m genuinely curious to see if this is something others do or if I’m some kind of anomaly.