I went upstairs and saw the continental breakfast was the sexiest and hottest thing I’d ever seen. Turkey sausage, homemade waffles, fresh fruit and my dilly ass was eating donut holes in my hotel room, packing.
Consider this a learning experience.
We meet in the room and have to share our stories we wrote from the one line we were given. I have to say, even I felt improved. My story went in a strange direction. I’ll end up putting a photo of it in here because I’m feeling pretty lazy today.
Either way, everyone was shocked. We weren’t supposed to reveal who wrote what, but I did make a squat with glee sound when Chet Williamson read my story. Oh, he did the damned thing. I was sure everyone knew, but nope…I was being my paranoid self.
We were also able to make our exchanges of the critiques of people we didn’t see, which was odd because there was this algorithm in place. It did not work very well, I kept ending up with the same faces.
In closing, we were given advice. I remember Chet’s advice the most:
“Fuck doing Nano in a month! Take a year to do it! Do it forever! You can’t get anything done in one month.” (silent nods from the room of yes, true)
“Have these books in your ownership and fucking use them: “Eats Shoots and Leaves”, “Elements of Style”, “Chicago Manual of Style” and “Sister Bernadettes Barking Dog”” (scribbles like crazy and makes mental notes.)
“Readers want to know what’s going to happen next, not what happened.”
“For God’s sake, read all dialogue aloud. Read it out loud several times to make sure it sounds real.” (even I can’t stress this enough)
“Cut down on your attributions-like he said/she said. Use other words like growl/grunted/hiss”
We lingered for a bit. Purchased some books. And we left. That was the end. Some of us exchanged phone numbers, vowed to see each other again…stuff like that.
I went out for coffee with some new friends, which was fun
I also came home with a shitload of papers and missed my train by two minutes, but was able to catch up on my podcasts.
One complaint-the price of the hotel seemed to fluctuate. On the last day there, I saw a lot of questionable things but I was glad I was leaving.
Would I go again? Yeah, you betcha! It was fun but I’d make sure I had all the batches of work and reading beforehand, instead of second guessing myself.
Headed into Day Two of Borderlands with a binder full of interesting stories that I have read and given a decent critique.
This is how it goes: We were given a schedule on Friday along with a number and a small piece of paper with a sentence. Based on the numbers, we were to go to specific rooms to speak on our critiques. The small piece of paper was a “starter” for a story we were to have ready for Sunday. Aaaand the story was to be based on everything you learned today. Yeah, Saturday, Day Two.
My sentence was: So you think you know the truth?
My brain shut down. I folded the paper and stuck it in my writers notebook.
Friday night, I made plans to get up early and do some yoga. Then, I was going to check out the continental breakfast (which normally is yogurt or a homemade waffle-no meat). I had big intentions. Especially after I took the picture with F. Paul Wilson and fan girled to death. Now, you know my big plans.
I woke up late as fuck.
Dammit iPhone alarm!!
Fastest shower in history. Thank God, I stole my kids donut holes and turkey sausage (thanks, sis for that idea), think about yoga as I grab the piece of paper with my location and run down the hall. I made it.
First session was with Tom. Tom was a super laid back guy. Head of the whole Borderlands event and a New York accent that comes and goes. He was a hoot.
Feedback time…my story seemed to cause a bit of controversy. I didn’t name the sex of the protagonist, which confused everyone. There was discussion on the trope I chose but I gave it a lovely twist. (No, I’m not gonna share). Tom liked the twist.
Sadly, because of my old grandma like age, no one knew who in the hell Robert Johnson was. And this meant, I would have to explain this all the rest of the day.
It seems I wasn’t emailed the first batch of stories, so I missed out, but I did have another person email me them later. It turns out those were the most fun stories and I didn’t have them. Ugh.
We received feedback. We sat and everyone went around the room-not necessarily shitting on you (but it felt like it)-and in the end, you are able to explain or share anything you felt relevant to enhance your story. It went like this for a few hours (maybe two?)
The last to give feedback was Tom. I could listen to him talk forever but alas, this is but a summary. Our time was up and we headed to the next room for critiques.
Next session was with Ginger. She’s an editor and works with Tom. She has bright red hair and she’s tiny but has an aura around her of power. I was first and we chatted before everyone else arrived. Repeat of the first session.
And then, lunch.
I felt a cold coming on. I hooked up with one of the other girls from the Horror Writers Association and we both decided we wanted soup. We walked around downtown Baltimore, searching for soup. (I didn’t even see the damned Chik Fil A across the street…duh!)
We found a lobstah joint. She got a lobster roll. I asked to try the lobster bisque. (There was chow-dah but I didn’t have a good experience with clam chow-dah years ago) It was really good. I got a cup with fresh lobster on top. We had a nice chat and talked about the stress of writing and stuff like that.
Back to class. Next session was with Douglas F (Prime Evil) Winter!! It took me a minute but when I remembered him, oh the crushing came in strong. It’s like, “I used to read your books in bed, under blankets late at night.”
No, Tracy, that didn’t sound perverted at all. Not one bit.
We took a picture together. After everyone came in the room, he closes the door (albeit dramatically) and walks over to our little group, “I just got over pneumonia.”
I stood up. Nope. Not today Satan.
He said he was cleared and had a note from his doctor. Instantly, I felt my throat tighten and fluid fill my lungs.
Sadly, pneumonia made his voice soft and scratchy. I had to crane to listen and of course, didn’t have some of the stories I needed to critique. I listened and took my critique like a man.
The best was last-F. Paul Wilson. We’re friends now. And I was first and goofily walked in and probably said something incredibly stupid. (Hey Paul, pigeons can’t fart. Did you know that?)
This was a fun group. We’d all passed out our critiques, so we came in empty handed. I’m not even going to get into it but I will say that Paul is a fun guy. Worth the wait.
We went off kilter because I was the black dot in a snowstorm, one of the other women asked me a question about writing about people of color. She said that she went to a conference and a guy led a seminar that basically said, “People of color don’t like to be described in the terms of food. Like no chocolate or fudge.”
I looked at her like she lost her mind, “Huh?”
“Well,” I cleared my throat, “I don’t mind. I mean, my kids are mixed. My youngest kid’s dad is Latino. Someone referred to her skin color as cafe con leche. I wasn’t offended because she is cafe con leche colored.”
“Look, you can describe skin without being offensive. But, in short, and on behalf of the black race, no problem describing skin as food. I mean, I like to call myself the ‘chocolate girl wonder’. It’s no biggie. My sister, the poet, does it better and with more eloquence than me. But no offense taken.”
Then, my boy, Paul, backs me up, “Some people just look for something to bitch about. I mean, do what you need to do.”
I asked for more “Repairman Jack” books for my friend. And the chicks of the room discussed our writing assignments for the night. One girl had the first line from Fahrenheit 451. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew.
She had a good idea for me to work on mine and we all got advice from Paul. It was dinner time and we still had one more group session together.
I turn to the Southern gal that asked me about race and said the following, “Where you from?”
“Where can I get some fried fish?”
“Girl, I know just the place.”
“I knew you would. It’s a Southern thing.”
We had fun. She said it felt like she knew me but I know it was my mother’s Southern side taking over and exuding Southern warmth and kindness.
Everyone needed a drink. We went to what was a pub. Fish and chips were good. Then, we looked up and another group of writers entered the joint. We waved and finished eating.
One girl wanted ice cream. I decided to go with her to get ice cream, which was an adventure because it was located in a fried chicken joint! They had this interesting way of making it and it looked like a rose. She had a small bowl of mango roses with other stuff on top (like coconut and mango sprinkles). It looked good but I knew my body. I pushed my limit with the creamy bisque. I would be surprised if I didn’t fart my way back to the hotel.
One more group meeting. We all were a bit more familiar with each other. I made some new friends. This was the wrap up.
One of the grunts gave the panel some liquor. Paul opened the liquor and everyone on the panel seemed to partake.
A very big takeaway is that writers can drink. Like DRINK!! But, they got nothing on Librarians. Oh, they can tear a house down and come to work the next day like nothing happened.
We learned a lot that night. I learned about editing and how Paul was like, “You guys-everyone in here-lays a lot of exposition, cut it out.”
Tom said, “Fuck the simultaneous queries. Just send your work everywhere. It’s better to turn someone down than wait for one person to turn you down.”
Chet Williamson gave an awesome, funny speech which basically said, “Don’t quit your day job, be sure your partner has medical benefits, write and submit. Never stop.” He said a lot of stuff. He is a really great speaker, he showed even more greatness on Sunday.
In the end, a fun time was had by all. Sadly, I can’t party like I used to and this was the second time for midnight in a row. I am not like these other writers. A new friend and I snuck out to work on our stories at 1100. I felt like I let the team down.
We needed to send our print jobs to the front desk to be printed. I finished my opus at 1230 and looking like anyone’s mammy, I went downstairs to get my print job. I step off the elevator and there is the panel, going out for drinks!
Let me elaborate. I attended the Borderlands Boot Camp in Baltimore, Maryland. I was selected. I’m not gonna lie, initially, I was the black dot in the snow. But, it didn’t bother me. I’m used to being an anomaly. I do need to put the brakes on though…or at least slow the speed limit.
After a particularly dismal day at work of checking me email 8000x in an hour, I got the email. Welcome to the Borderlands Boot Camp. In summation, we will book your room-you pay-and read a lot of stuff. Don’t come with your heart on your sleeve because that’s not what we are here to deal with, you sniveling grunt. Now, here’s the first packet of shit you need to read.
Okay, I got this.
My life decided it needed a full upheaval in 2020. I finally got the transfer I NEEDED, I joined a writing group I WANTED, two anthologies I was in were published and of course, my family went into semi turmoil (but that’s what families do-and my sneaky sister and brother in law hid a pie I made).
Everything felt like, “What next?”
Life said, “Okay, bitch.”
Sitter (aka my mom) for the conference couldn’t come, my sister (plan b) got SUPER DUPER SICK, I started to get sick, my book for class showed up a week late (FYI-I’m still behind) and pretty much anything else you can add.
But, Plan C came through, I got tickets and went to the conference.
Upon arrival-Frank Zappa winked at me in the lobby. I went to my room and realized I needed a full body mirror in my life. I also need to embrace all the tenements of minimalism. Oh, hey Frank was in my room and Adam Duritz was over my toilet. Not cool, yo.
First meeting was that night. I grabbed my bag and dragged my ass upstairs. Okay, I tried not to fan girl out but there sat F. Paul Wilson (author of “The Keep” and my intro to horror after Matheson and Beaumont). Holy shit! At the end of the table was “Prime Evil”-Douglas Winter-who I swear stared a hole through my shirt (you gotta look at this shirt. What the fuck is she wearing?)
We had a lecture, which was informing. We listened to why we should not take shit personal and then we listened as our work was eviscerated. I almost went into a fetal position but, I held strong.
We received our Sunday assignments-write a story based on a sentence. The sentence starts the story. My sentence was: So you think you know the truth.
I started to panic. How? Who? What? I can’t think in any language and I’ve got 8000 pages of reading to turn in. Okay, be cool. Paul grinned at me. I got a friend (new friend-Nicole) to take a picture. I felt all stalker like but Paul was mad cool. He was also like a grandpa that you want to hug…only he would crawl into your brain and snatch that horror out of it and use it against you. Anyway, I’m a dork. Here’s the pic:
And that was the first day. Also, there was drinking-but not by me-and let me say that the panel is all over 55 and we, the grunts, were falling out like little bitches at 11:00 pm. They (the panel) could have gone all night. I knew I was tired. I was running on adrenaline, Burger King and coffee. Bedtime: 12:46 am
If you’ve ever watched old Saturday Night Live Episodes, you’ve seen Steve Martin doing the whole, “Excuuuuuse me!!”
A friend of mine corrected me on my shit. I’m woman enough to say, “Yeah, okay, I can accept that I was wrong.” Which I did. Then, ol’ Steve does it again.
Allow me to roll back the clock-I wrote a blog about why I couldn’t get down with Stephen King-magical negro-ness etc and now, he made these remarks about the Oscars. #oscarsstillsowhite Man, I have never seen a man try to back pedal so hard in my life. Like running in fresh puppy dog shit.
I participate in a writing group. I’m sure I’ve written about it before. My submission was something I worked on for Nanowrimo. I was nervous-when you see a lot of red or highlighting, I think, ‘Wow, time for revenge!” It wasn’t the case.
We are down to three (maybe four) members and I discussed my story with one member. He was cool with everything. Not many corrections. Some nice input. (An aside, my kid was there, the wifi was straight up ass/spotty. He let her play games on his phone but it was spotty and worked off and on)
Second guy comes to the table. We chatting and it’s all fun. Not many corrections but he said something that I was like, “What the hell?”
“I like it. It just reads a bit dated.”
Dated? Like what?
“Your references-Twilight Zone, Bloody Mary…you know stuff like that.”
Aw, shit. I guess you’re right. I write what I know and being older, this is what I know. Sadly, what I know would scare Generation Z ? Generation X? Hell, I don’t know. Either way, it’s what I know. Which got me to thinking…where are the monsters of now?
He had a valid point. Horror can be dated by decades. Some monsters are timeless, which is cool. Like in the 80’s it was Jason. In the 90’s, it was Freddy Kruger. See where I’m going? Now we have “Final Destination” with no monster. We’ve gone cerebral. It’s all in your head or the monsters have become us. It’s strange.
And Hollywood keeps recycling the same old shit and variations on a theme-“Look it’s remake of a remake of a remake! Why isn’t it successful?” “Look! We did this and tweaked it, now it’s scary!” I mean, we don’t need another “Saw”-they get weaker with each one. A movie called, “The Collector” was more interesting. They made two: “The Collector” and “The Collection”. Horror done right but once again, we were the monsters.
I forgot about the entire zombie revolution but guess what? We are still the monsters. We fear a different variation of ourselves. A half dead, cannibal version of ourselves. Hollywood milked the shit out of that and didn’t even do it right. (Looking at you, “World War Z” which could have been really good.)
Even as I look up at my movies, I’m realizing, we have no monsters. I watched a movie called “Freaks” (not the original…this was new) and once again, we are the monsters. “Midsommar”-we are the monsters. (Dammit! You guys are Swedes! Not this savage! I’ll never be able to go to Ikea again!) “Us”-(we are doppelganger monsters), “Escape Room”-(we are the monsters)…you see where I’m going with this.
There is a bright star. I’ve seen “Brightburn” so many times, it’s almost up there with “Aliens” (I know most of the dialogue of “Aliens”). “Brightburn” basically gave the finger to all the superhero movies and turned the world upside down. I am hoping for a sequel or something. It gives a girl like me something to look forward to.
I know there are monsters out there and I know there are monster movies waiting to be made. However, Hollywood seems to have its collective head up its collective ass and just can’t stop with the remakes. And for the record, I didn’t really like “Us”. But Jordan Peele is having a good run, so keep on going until they get sick of you, bro. Also, them “Twilight Zone” remakes-no bueno. I really tried but nah.
Don’t get me wrong. I am such a lover of horror stuff, it’s insane. I write horror. I am in a horror group. I am saying it’s about time we have a monster that makes me scared to get out of bed and close my closet door…a monster that I’m hearing when I walk down the street from the bus stop that’s not somebody on that synthetic shit.
I want to imagine claws wrapping around a tree…something scampering across the road and hiding that’s not human. Can you dig where I’m going with this?
I plan on contributing to the new monster phenom in 2020. I’ve got a short story coming out in an anthology with a monster with claws in it. I’m going to be in a cyberpunk anthology with monsters in it. And this for Nanowrimo-aw hell yeah, I’m embracing the fear.
I get compliments on my writing-which is cool. One of the compliments I get is my dialogue. “How do you write such realistic dialogue?”
I’ll tell you my secret. I listen.
Friday, I was talking to a coworker, I’ll name “E”. E and I were talking about stuff and I told her about my dialogue compliment. She looks at me and says, “Well, you write well because you read books by men and women. Most men don’t venture out of their genre, so they don’t know how to really write woman speaking.”
Here’s the deal. I listen. I catch public transportation. I feel like we, as writers, have an obligation. If someone takes the time to pick up your work and read it, the least you can do is put something decent on the page. Like some halfway decent dialogue. Back to my truth…
I catch public transportation. I read a lot of graphic novels and books. I read YA, romance, horror, thriller…even nonfiction. The key is to listen to people talk. Because I live in a diverse city, I have the opportunity to hear people from everywhere talk. I listen. I listen to people on the bus and on the metro. I listen to people when they come into the library and have casual conversations. I listen to people sprinkle small Spanish words into their conversations. I listen to children talk to their nannies, nannies talk to other nannies.
I think, since I feel like I’ve been invisible most of my life, I have a skill at listening. I enjoy listening because this way, I can incorporate new slang or whatever into my work. I can make my work sound and feel real because this is how people really talk.
That’s my dirty little secret. Listening to people talk should help you write better dialogue. Don’t feel like you need to jump in and add something to the conversation. Sit back and smile, wave your hand to pass over. Anything, but the best thing you can do as a writer is listen.
My mother was a consumer of books. She read poetry, books in Spanish, mystery and horror. It seems as though she read whatever she could get her hands on. I remember browsing the shelves on weekends, looking for something to read. I ran across her Stephen King collection.
“What’s this one about?” I held up “The Stand” and showed it to her as she sat on the couch.
“Ugh,” She rolled her eyes, “Big build up, leads to nothing. Try this one.”
She gave me “Carrie”.
I read it in a day, “What else you got?”
Mom scanned the shelves, “Ah, try Sidney Sheldon. I like him.”
I read “Master of the Game”. It almost gave me a heart attack. People smuggling diamonds out of mines by slicing their calves open and hiding them inside. It was really good.
Mom ran her finger along the shelf. She passed the Stephen King books, “Nikki Giovanni.”
She read the look on my face, “Okay, try ‘On Wings of Eagles’. Ken Follett is pretty good writer.”
I wondered why she kept passing the Stephen King books. There was a book about a dragon with a green cover. As I remember, there were quite a few books. I figured something was wrong with those books, “This guy?”
“Carlos Castaneda?” She laughed, “Took a bunch of peyote, went out to the desert. Nope. Not for you.”
I rode my bike to my aunt’s house, “Deb, do you have something I can read?”
My aunt was a flight attendant. When she was in town, it was rare. She pointed me to her study. I walked in and picked up “Kindred” by Octavia Butler.
She tilted her head to the side, “Not sure if you’re ready for that. Try this.”
” ‘Interview with a Vampire’?” I asked.
“She gets wordy, but it’s good.” My aunt smiled, “Finish that, you get this.”
(A good point to insert here is that my aunt is my dad’s sister. Not related to my mom but they were both readers on different sides of the spectrum.)
I consumed some of my aunt’s books. Some of them went over my head. I fell in love with Lestat, I learned Spanish from my mom’s books, I learned about ‘Hollywood Babylon’ and hedonism, adventure and mystery until I approached the Stephen King books.
“Mom, why don’t you say these books?” I pointed.
“Ride your bike to the library. Get something else. I don’t think he’s for you.” She seemed a touch angry, “You’ll understand soon enough.”
I rode with my sister and read books about suicidal fans and rockstars, “Perhaps I’ll Dream of Darkness”. I stumbled into the series books, I can’t even remember. V.C. Andrews was hot stuff. I read most of her stuff. (I needed to stop, there was too much incesty sex happening in there).
My cousin read comic books. I jumped in with both feet. I read my dad’s comic books-“All’s Fair in Love and War”, “Sgt Fury”, “Batman” and a lot of Captain America. Until I was exhausted. I burrowed my way back to Stephen King.
Mom rolled her eyes, “You’ll see.”
She saw me carrying a book upstairs-“Different Seasons” maybe.
Either way, I’m cruising and reading at a decent pace until I came across a word. Then, I saw it several times after that. I finished the book, confused. I took it back downstairs to my mom raising her eyebrow, “You see, yet?”
I held up a finger, “Ah…one more.”
I grabbed a different book. I read a lot of Stephen King until I was sure I saw what she saw. I knew what she knew.
My mother was born in the deep south. She was used to segregation. Hell, she was two when the whole “Little Rock” integration incident happened. The kids going to the high school.
She had an outhouse in her backyard . Her mom moved her and her sister and brothers up to Cleveland when my mom started high school. It was a culture shock. I remember she said it was the first time she saw snow and it was interesting but it freaked her out because the cold was something she never knew.
Mom’s looking at me, “You see?”
“Mom, why does he use that word a lot?” I flopped on the couch and watched her do some type of chore.
“I don’t know. That’s one of the reasons I stopped reading his stuff. You get tired of stuff like that. Over and over.” Mom kept doing her work.
My sister ran downstairs with “Eyes of the Dragon”. She was super excited and loved the book. She yammered with my mother and I faded back into the background.
“I’ll give you one more chance, Steve.”
I picked up “Skeleton Crew”, “Four Past Midnight” and some Richard Bachman books. I read…no consumed them…on the bus, at ballet, in my room…wherever there was light, I was reading and I kept running across the same thing, over and over.
“Why does he have to use that word in like most of his books? Why do all the black people in the books look like some type of caricature? I mean, my dad doesn’t look that. My uncles don’t look like that. And all his black people are either really dumb or some type of savior.”
Mom nodded her head, “Now, you get it.”
A lot of people say to me that since I’m a horror writer, I should read some Stephen King. I say that I have but he’s not my jam. Oh, well why not? I can’t go into all my reasons. I just reiterate, “He’s not my jam.”
“But you write horror.” They say.
“There’s other really great horror writers from the 50’s I like. Bradbury, Matheson, Beaumont.” I shrug.
“B-but Stephen King?!”
I’m backed into a corner, “He uses the word ‘nigger’ too much in his books. It was his earlier works. And I’m not apologizing because I won’t read his newer more modern stuff. I feel like they’ve gone from ‘niggers’ to ‘magical negroes saving the day’.”
I actually had this conversation with a friend of mine. He’s a guitarist. An old head, cool guy I talk comic book shit with and he reads twice as much as anyone I know, “I can see where you get that.”
I don’t feel like I have to justify myself to anyone as to why I don’t read Stephen King but I’ll add this. Once, I watched an interview with him and they asked him about his gratuitous usage of ‘nigger’ in his books…his descriptions of black people. He responded with something like this is what he knew. He’s from Maine. Not a lot of us up there. And the ones that are usually fit the description in his books.
So, ol’ boy never went anywhere and saw an educated black man. Or a thin, intelligent black man. Or a young, talented black man playing guitar that was not a felon. Right.
I’m watching “The Shining” as I write this. And guess what, I’d never seen it (it seemed super long and just ugh…) right in the middle, two characters are discussing Scatman Cruthers coming to save everyone.
“Your son is trying to get help.”
“Yes. A nigger.”
“A nigger cook.”
“You don’t say?”
Dude, I don’t fucking say and this is why I can’t get down with this shit. It’s all not necessary. I’ve known good and bad white people. Hell, I went to a school where white people didn’t want us to go inside and we had to go into a different entrance. (Busing and the 70’s…what fun) . I’ve dealt with white people that were kind enough to help me if I was lost or give me a hand. I’ve dealt with black people that are horrible and I’ve had black friends that were awesome.
I guess, because I’m from a different generation, I really never understood why all this racist shit was necessary. A lot of other writers didn’t use the word and I can’t jam with someone who did for some bullshit reason.