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#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour

No one likes a chain letter, but linked blog posts along a similar theme are actually sometimes treasures. I was lucky enough to be tagged by Jeffrey Ricker on a blog tour about writing process, and really enjoyed his entry. Having had the ability to read The Unwanted about a month earlier than most, I can say insight into the book - which I freaking adored - was very welcome. You should buy it, by the way. Like, now.

A week later, it's my turn to chat about my own writing process. I think I might even have one.

What am I working on? I've just finished edits on a novella and sent them in to the wonderful Jerry L. Wheeler. It's called "In Memoriam" and it's the kind of story I think people who enjoyed my first short story, "Heart," will like. "In Memoriam" feels awesome to me for two reasons. First, the length: I've written twenty-nine short fiction pieces prior to my first novel, Light, and to be completely honest, the thought of writing anything other than another twenty-nine short pieces was pretty foreign after Light. A novella isn't as challenging time-wise as a novel, and yet it's not just like writing a bunch of short stories end-to-end. So I got to (happily) surprise myself by really enjoying the process. Second, I finished it. I've been hitting a really rough patch in writing these days. I've been fighting for every moment I can somehow channel into prose. Partly the weather, partly the day-job (mostly it's the location and the commute) and also just not feeling a whole lot of inspiration.

I don't always need the whole "deal" in my head before I write (in fact, quite the opposite) but these days the sparks are running slow and far between. I know that'll change, so I'm not forcing it.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I mostly write short fiction that kinda-sorta belongs to contemporary-set gay speculative fiction/fantasy, so while I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm wandering a pretty empty genre, I would say it's not crowded. That's fine by me - it's not a complaint. Where I maybe have a signature style is in the exploration of second chances and the echoes of the past. Many of my stories involve a past where - with a dose of magic or something "other" - a new opportunity is made available. Recently, my very first short story, "Heart," was reviewed by N.S. Beranek, and the review said, In every story by him that I’ve read so far there is a magic pool of energy or life force that some people—usually kind, deserving people—can tap into to right wrongs or even the playing field or just make life a little less painful. Would that it were so.

I like that a lot. Second chances, a dash of magic, and making life a little less painful.

Why do I write what I do? It's not that I don't think the world is magic, in fact, I think it's far more magic than we get to see on a daily basis. I write the kind of books I always loved reading - Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman - but putting it through a gay lens. Speculative short fiction, like I said, wasn't a genre were I bumped into a lot of gay characters, and a gay voice is one I want to use.

I say that with a half-political intent. When I was a kid, I saw nothing positive and gay for so long, and especially not when I was younger. I've received a couple of e-mails (and one actual letter) from younger people who've read a short story of mine, and those letters were a balm for the soul. In a way, it's like reaching back in time with a bit of magic and giving that younger version of myself the second chance I write for so many of my characters.

How does my writing process work? Generally, writing short fiction, I'm writing to a call for submissions. That means there's a loose theme already given (the aforementioned Jerry L. Wheeler is brilliant at this, by the way), so I spend some time pondering with that "loose theme" as a lens over everything. I'll go through a few days like that, jotting notes or bits of ideas down. For example, when I was working on my story for Night Shadows, a collection of gay horror edited by Greg Herren, I revisited every bad dream and nightmare I could remember. One of them struck a nerve, and that gave me my starting point - I had a spark to work with.

After that I find a scene - often the end scene or the climax of the narrative - and plot that out. From there, I'll work backwards or forwards and flesh out the story. I should mention that this approach was a truly bad one for me to take when I did make the transition from short fiction to novel. Plotting and structure on such a larger scale are not as easily re-arranged and tweaked, whereas a short fiction piece I find much more comfortable tearing apart and reorganizing.

At no point while I'm writing the story do I usually have a title. Nor character names. I've had a lot of fun talking to other writers about that, but the fact of the matter is I just really suck at titles. At least half of them have come from the editors and weren't the title I originally gave the piece. That's for the better. As for character names, I just find it takes me too far out of the flow of writing itself if I stop to name a character as I write, so I use a trick of square-brackets throughout the draft and use find/replace when I'm ready to name the individual. So [SISTER], for example, becomes "Janie" after I'm done. Using square brackets makes it easy to search and find those "go back and name this character" moments, too.

I do the same with research, transitions that aren't working right, and even entire scenes if I need to. It's more important for me to ride the wave when the words are flowing than it is to end up with a pretty and complete draft right away. So entire scenes can be trapped in those little square brackets the same way, or details about something I want to get right. Because I know if I go to the internet to look up what a particular church might look like or some other detail, I'll lose a few hours to Facebook, I just don't look until I'm done writing the draft. And in the meantime, my draft says something like: [CHURCH DESCRIPTION].

Once I've written the clunky draft, flushed out the square brackets, named everyone, and gone through my list of things I need to do ruthlessly (such as chop the 'that's and adverbs and so on), I'll print it out and attack it with a pen for a first round of edits. After that - once I edit the file on the computer - it goes to a beta reader (or two) and then I take their notes and do another round (or two) of edits before I send it to the editor.

I write anywhere and everywhere I can - on my phone or iPad, on scraps of paper (to the never-ending frustration of my husband) and in journals, but the vast majority of the work is done on my lap-top.

That's more or less my process. Unless you also count drinking a tonne of tea and eating mini-eggs, chips, or gummi bears.

Who's Next?

Next week, you'll be able to hear from these lovely ladies, both of whom have written books I adore.

jennifer lavoie Jennifer Lavoie

Jennifer Lavoie lives in Connecticut in the same city she grew up in. While growing up, she always wanted to be a writer or a teacher and briefly debated a career in marine biology. The only problem with that was she’s deathly afraid of deep water. Starting during a holiday season as temporary help, she worked in a bookstore for six years and made it all the way up to assistant manager before she left to take a job teaching. Jennifer has her bachelor’s degree in secondary English education and found a job in her town teaching middle school students. Along with another teacher and a handful of students, Jennifer started the first Gay-Straight Alliance at the school. She is also active in other student clubs and enjoys pairing students with books that make them love to read.

I recently read Jennifer's novel Meeting Chance, and I adored it. Lavoie is such a strong voice in YA, and I hope she'll continue to bring these nuanced characters to life for the next generation of readers... and me.

Jess Wells Jess Wells

Jess Wells is the author of 12 volumes, including the historical novels, A Slender Tether (Fireship Press, 2013) and The Mandrake Broom (Firebrand Books, 2007). Wells was awarded a San Francisco Arts Commission Grant for Literature and she is a four-time finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Her short stories and essays are included in more than three dozen literary anthologies and journals, included in university curricula and published internationally. She is currently teaching writing courses on historical fiction, time-management for creatives, settings, theme, and the power of the short story.

I loved A Slender Tether by Wells, and I have been lucky enough to be privy to her talent in writing workshops in New Orleans. Her blog is a must-read.
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Short Stories 365:12

I love novellas.

It's not really fair to call a novella a short story, but I'll defend myself thus: novella are short(er) fiction than a novel, and usually only found in collections, just like short stories. That, and this whole 365 thing is going to be somewhat loose on interpretation anyway (I've already discussed some graphic novels), so I'm not going to limit myself if I see something worth talking about.

Besides, the novella in question rounds out Night Shadows, and does so with a freaking bang and a whimper.

"Ordinary Mayhem," by Victoria A. Brownworth

Oh. My. Gods. This was so damn good. I'm not sure I can do this novella justice given that I'm trying to be spolier free, but I'll try to at least hook you. The tale centres around Faye, who is being raised by her grandparents, and who develops a love of photography beside her grandfather in his dark room. But the photos that develop in the girl's mind are far more disturbing than the ones her grandfather takes for his clients. Thus begins a journey into the mind of a young girl who has - perhaps - seen (or done?) things that are best left unsaid.

So atmospheric, so creepy, and just so damn well written, "Ordinary Mayhem" caps off Night Shadows in such a satisfying way that you're left pondering it - and the collection as a whole - for days after. I would warn you not to start this story until you're ready to finish it. I was in a hotel room at a conference and stayed up far later than I should for Brownworth's story.
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Short Stories 365:11

One fear I think we've all had at some point is the fear of the dark. I think - usually - the older we get it is generally supplanted by something of a different type of darkness: the fear of the unseen, yes, but more like the things unseen in our bodies (cancer) or minds (dementia) or any number of other things we can't see coming that can throw us off kilter.

But the fear of the dark never quite goes away.

"Crazy in the Night," by Greg Herren

The penultimate short story in Night Shadows is Greg Herren's "Crazy in the Night." What starts with a break-in and a relationship that should be more stable than it is slowly twists into a slower bubbling fear. A new apartment seems great at first, but living there alone soon seems to invite something darker out to play. Something unseen.

It's creepy, and like most of the tales in Night Shadows it has that slow build that makes you nervous throughout the build. Like the character, you'll want your nightlight.
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Short Stories 365:10

I mentioned earlier my love of the notion of ghosts, and I also mentioned how wonderful it is to be in anthologies because I get to meet so many new authors. Sometimes, I get to meet them face-to-face, and this is the case with the next author in my trip through Night Shadows, who wrote a creepily unsettling ghost story.

Jeffrey Ricker and I are anthology brothers a few times over. He's a wonderful fellow, and - if I can slip into the vaguely maudlin for a moment - one of the people (many of whom inhabit Houston or New Orleans most of the time) that I wish lived close enough to see whenever I had a hankering for good company, wine, a phenomenal Wonderwoman impression and some of those 'you want a dog!' telepathic rays.

"Blackout" by Jeffrey Ricker

In "Blackout" we meet a loving couple who have moved into a new home, but the spectre of the former occupant - a man none to kind to begin with - might be reached from beyond. And it's not a welcoming hand that's being offered.

The chill of this tale is bone-deep, and as the story progresses, I was cringing with the impending sense of doom that Jeffrey Ricker slowly unwinds for the reader. The cold, the dark, the noises and movements of the house, and an impending storm all coalesce into a shiver-worthy (and satisfying) ending.
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Short Stories 365:9

Skipping past my own stories is a kind of tradition when I talk about anthologies. Way back when Fool For Love came out and I walked story by story through the anthology I paused when I got to my own tale, and decided to skip it. Feels weird to chat up about your own stuff.

All that to say the next story in Night Shadows is mine. Skipping on by, however, we find ourselves walking the streets in the 90's with a woman who has been alive for one hundred and fifty years.

And who hopes to make it through the next few days without truly dying...

"Saint Louis 1990," by Jewelle Gomez

If you've not met Gilda before, you might want to nab a copy of The Gilda Stories, which won not one but two Lammies. If you don't, however, it doesn't matter. The incredibly wonderful vampires you're about to meet are phenomenally self-contained in the story itself (I came at this character all backwards, through a couple of other stories, with various times, before moving back to the beginning).

The horror in this story comes from the fear of retribution aimed at someone Gilda loves, and is there any greater fear than the fear for a loved one? It's wonderfully written, brilliantly captures a decade and time (as all the Gilda stories do) and it was a joy to revisit the character.
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Short Stories 365:4

I've always loved a good ghost story.

Ghosts, echoes, imprints - whatever you want to call them, they've always been a favorite of mine. I think it's the notion that we there's enough magic or spirit or soul in the world to give us a wee bit longer than mortality - long enough to say a proper farewell, or to pass along words that are needed, or to protect someone.

Of course, the reverse might also be true...

"The Roommate" by Lisa Girolami

The next tale in Night Shadows: Queer Horror is Lisa Girolami's "The Roommate." A woman's budding romance is moving just a bit quicker than perhaps she might like - thanks to some financial distress on the part of her new girlfriend - and a few bumps in the night of her old home make her turn to EVP. EVP, or "electronic voice phenomenon" is where you record white noise, but upon playback, the electromagnetic influence of a spirit leaves a voice on the tape.

Except the words on the EVP aren't kind ones, and there's a maliciousness invading the home. Every recording seems to grow darker, and soon it's not just noises on a tape that are threatening her.
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Short Stories 365:3

I fell behind sometime in November discussing all the stories from Night Shadows: Queer Horror. The real world horror of retail snuck in, and I did what I had to do - y'know, go to work, smile, maintain the facade that I wasn't exhausted or frustrated and genuinely attempt to make everyone's day a bit better and solve their problems.

Much like the character Dale in the next story.

"All the Pretty Boys" by Michael Rowe.

A pick-up. Young cute fellow, "older" man (in his thirties, which, to the young guy is - of course - downright elderly), motorcyle and leather. Start of a sweaty tale, no?


The variety of stories in Night Shadows: Queer Horror really drew me in. Rowe's story was a darker turn, where the monster in the story isn't the horrible slavering beast that you associate with the word, but instead the answer to a simple question: "what would you do for love?"

The veneer of kindness over top the horror here is disturbing. What I mean will become clear when you read the tale, but it certainly left me shivering. Well done, Mr. Rowe.
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You know how sometimes something startles you and you let out one of those nervous laughs? It always seems like an odd thing to me. "That triggered my evolutionary 'fight or flight' response and my heart is beating a mile a minute and instead of biting or running now I'm going to chortle." Brains are odd.

I say this because I wasn't expecting the next tale in Night Shadows: Queer Horror edited by J.M. Redmann and Greg Herren. The story in question, with the deep-breath-required title "A Letter to My Brother, relating Recent Events with Unintended Consequences" by Carol Rosenfeld, made me giggle and chortle, and not just because of the language and characters therein.

The whole story is the letter in question, where a lady writes to her brother about her encounter with someone in the vampire scene - except, of course, things aren't always as "scene" as one hopes when you're living in a horror story world. The consequences in question - and the incredibly funny voice delivering the letter - combine into a clever mix that brims with wit.

It was also a nice pause - just a second for the reader to catch a breath and laugh nervously. As a piece of the anthology, it adds to the whole in an unexpected way, this laugh. Your guard goes back down and you're in a fun place, admiring Rosenfeld's turn of phrase.

Of course, in every horror story, there's laughter before the screams, right?
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I love pulp art. You know, like the covers of Amazing Stories or so many wonderful detective series. The age of the pulp magazine - especially the spec fic ones - was a trove for me to discover (an occasional but loved treat when I find piles of them at a used bookstore), and it makes me incredibly happy that there are still outlets out there for short fiction (and speculative short fiction in particular).

I bring this up because the sixth short story in Night Shadows involves a cover artist, his model, and a very disturbing muse. Steve Berman's "Capturing Jove Lunge" drips with the sense of the period. The language, the big stocky lunk of a guy who would be better suited to breaking fingers (or skulls) and the mission to recover a young woman who may (or may not) have been kidnapped by an eccentric in a rambling old estate - it's all just so evocative. There's a sense of the crime story to it, a bit of detective work, a femme who might have been fatale if the protagonist of the tale was the sort to appreciate womanly curves. Gus (the aforementioned cracker of skulls) is a little out of his usual range. The owner of the building wants to paint him for a cover of one of the pulp stories. Gus as model is the cover, but the mission is one of recovery - regardless of whether the woman in question wants to come home.

Again, I don't want to ruin any of these wonderful stories. Berman's slow build to the payoff is creepy and atmospheric: completed with a disturbing butler, the eccentric cover artist, and a young fellow whose innocence and youth are both on the borderline. To say that I didn't see the specific end of this tale coming would be putting it mildly, and the last few lines are sure to chill.
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Less is More

Well, after a couple of weeks in vacation land, I'm back to the world of gay horror.

Uh, I'm not talking about my day job.

The fifth story in Night Shadows is Vince A. Liaguno's "Matinee."

In "Matinee" we meet a fellow who has a distinct enjoyment of horror flicks - like Hallowe'en. The gore, the screams, the punishment of the characters who do the wrong things (such as daring to have sex) - these are the bright moments of his day. We progress with the character through a good chunk of time, and watch as he makes what he thinks is a connection with another movie-goer.

There's something about a particular kind of horror that has always gotten to me. I dislike gore on the screen because it squicks me out, but it's the off-screen horror that is more debilitating to me. That last moment where the hint of something horrible about to happen is revealed and then - cut to a new scene! I cringe, because now I - like the characters in the movie - am just waiting to stumble onto the horrible. Liaguno's story has that "less is more" approach. You know something bad is going to happen. But it's handled in a deft way that leaves you all the more disturbed.

I'll certainly shiver the next time I'm at the movies.
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'Nathan Burgoine
Nathan Burgoine
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