Where are the Monsters?

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.

In other words, wait til they get a load of me.

How I Learned to Write Great Dialogue

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.”

Hmm…

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.

Then go home and write your little hearts out.

Why I Can’t Get Down With Stephen King

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.

“More?”

Mom ran her finger along the shelf. She passed the Stephen King books, “Nikki Giovanni.”

“Ma, that’s…uh…sure.”

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.

I digress.

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.

Nigger.

“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.”

“Really?”

“Yes. A nigger.”

“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.

Now you know. And that’s half the battle.

knowing is half the battle

The Time Has Come Today

I made it through another Nanowrimo. What they need is a category for people who start one project and end up working on something else. I did that.

I started writing my super planned out novel but I wasn’t feeling it. I felt like I was overdoing everything. I went with a side project I’d been thinking about for awhile and destroyed! It started out small and blossomed to about 35K words. I need to check, but I’m touching on novella status.

Nevertheless, I need a break. Hence The Chambers Brothers quote…the time has come today. (Which is a loooong song. I remember my dad joking that midway through the song it sounds like someone gags.)

Well, today my glands are swollen and I am home. I am excited and dreading the new year. I need a fresh start. And after the bizarre day at work yesterday, I need a break. (It was like a cloud was over us and the sky kept dropping out more and more bizarre things and challenges. We should all get a day off for that. But, as the holidays near, shit is going to get crazy.)

I talked to a cool friend of mine. She invited me axe throwing, which was cool. It was the “DW Stress Relieving Sessions” (DW-Disgruntled Woman) I’ll try to add a few pics before my next big adventure begins…

The place…

The Axe

Me winding up…

The pitch!

My graceful follow thru

One of the good hits I got! Yay!

And that’s it for me. I’ve gotta get knee deep into something I’ll share next month. It’s also gonna be really big and I’ll be kicking off 2020 with some awesome news!

From famine to feast…

Are You Okay?

Who knew three words could have such significance?

My kid is genetically enhanced and she and I do a daily check in. I learned that at her former school-Junior High-they had this note on their desks/work areas. It looked like several index cards put together. It was laminated and big enough to see on all the work spaces from anywhere. Three words:

Are you okay?

Once a day, she will sense something and ask me, “Are you okay?” Somehow, her little voice brings perspective to everything I’m doing. I take a moment to stop and self evaluate. I come into the moment.

“Mom’s okay. Are you okay?”

A few years ago, my sister and I went to our youngest sister’s midnight party. It was out of state and my kid stayed with my brother in law and his two kids (with my sister). He was having a rough time with someone following directions (house full of kids under 13 at the time…yeah). So, my kid waits until he’s alone and sitting down. (He said he was tired). She walked over and asked him, “Are you okay?”

He said that one little expression…one small question really helped him in that moment.

While you are doing Nanowrimo, here’s the secret-lean back in your chair, once in awhile and ask yourself, “Are you okay?” You can even call up someone or ask a stranger across the table at a write in, “Hey, are you okay?”

You’d be surprised at how it works wonders.

The infamous “Are you okay?” from my kids desk.
It is now on my fridge with my magnet from Italy.

Dress for Success and other tips

You’ve started Nanowrimo. Here’s a few tips from everywhere to keep you going-at least to keep my head in the game, anyway:

1. Dress for success – for one day or two, dress like the writer you want to be. At least this is what they said on Write Minded. Interesting enough but how about…

2. Dress like your character-seems like more fun, right? Just become fully engulfed in your character all day. Be that person. Writing a male protagonist or MC? Act like your dude would act.

I would straight up purge every damned day during Nanowrimo if I could…

3. Don’t get hung up on numbers- I use Scrivener. It drops a number count every time I do or type anything. Sure, we are all trying to reach 50K but don’t force it. If you say to yourself that you are going to write exactly 1667 words every time you sit down…nah. When you don’t reach the goal, you will be upset with yourself. Do what you can, it will all fall in place, trust me.

4. Go to a write in-In DC, there are so many places to go for write ins. Try to go somewhere you’ve never been or a part of the city you e wanted to go to but never had the time. The bus or car ride over should inspire you even more. Seeing different people, immersing yourself in different places will be inspiration enough.

5. If you go to a public place-take headphones. For real, there’s nothing like being in the middle of a scene and a baby starts crying or there’s a tantrum being thrown. Be vigilant of your surroundings, but be sure you can also work.

6. Get proper rest and eat-However many hours of sleep you need a day, get it. Be sure you have enough food in your belly to write and always take snacks. There is nothing worse than being in a sprint and your stomach growls because all you’ve had was a cup of coffee and a Madeline and it’s three in the afternoon.

7. Your mental health matters-I get it. You entered this thing to write 50,000 words. You’ve made announcements on Twitter, Facebook and wherever that you will be back in December. Yet, you start falling short. Don’t stress. Nanowrimo has several other events during the year where you can shine. Just because you didn’t make it this time, doesn’t mean you won’t ever make it. I think I didn’t make it the first to Nano’s I did.

That’s all I got. Hope you are getting it in and I hope this helps.

Yeah…gotta love November

Take care…

Go With Your Gut

I decided to write a novel for my Nanowrimo.  I wanted to incorporate witches and magic into my novel. A few of my friends said that I needed to have a magic system. Not just magic but an entire, functioning magic system.  I freaked out fully. I decided to abandon my project. All the work and planning will be flushed down the toilet.

Then, I went to the Folger to see “I Put A Spell on You”. While I was there, I spoke to a practicing witch. Her name is Annie Finch. She was there to read from her book called, “Spells”. So, after an introduction, I pulled her aside and asked her if I could talk to her about “witch stuff”. Considering my sister introduced us (as it was my sister’s program), she didn’t have a problem.

a subtle nod to Deborah Harkness (book is from 1647)

I explained to her that I was writing a book…blah blah…magic system…is it really necessary.  She looked at me. Like, really stared at me. I explained, “You know, like if you are a water elemental and you pull water from somewhere, then there has to be an after effect, no or yes?”

She was confused. She laughed and said, “No. you don’t need any type of system. None of the witches I know have this entire ‘magic system’. It’s usually a dab of this here and a dab of that there but no system.”

I felt a weight lifted. I was relieved. She saw the look on my face and laughed. We made small talk and I voluteered to send her some of the stuff I was working on…I mean I have an actual practicing witch willing to look at my stuff. (This goes to the credence that you need to do your damned research people!)

me in straight up stalker mode with the super cool Annie Finch

The next day, at the bus stop, one of the women I chat with-when we see each other-told me her roommate was a practicing witch. Just for shits and giggles, I bounced the magic system off her and she said the same thing, “Uh, no. There’s no need for all that.”

All the research, all the Pinterest pages and all that stress was for naught. I talked to a voracious reader and he told me that Jim Butcher has a wizard in his books that simply says simple spells. He also has “Laws of Magic”.  It’s not all that complicated.

Next time, as my sister says, “Go with that inner  critic, the inner frustrated teacher and make your edits and corrections there.”

Nanowrimo is Upon Us…

I’ve planned the book. I’ve written out everything. I even made a Pinterest page for inspiration but somehow, I’m not feeling it.

Yeah, I’m not feeling Nanowrimo. I’ll do it. I believe one of the texts I read says to basically write, even when you don’t feel like writing.

I have no advice to offer except this-take care of yourself.

Writing can be lonely. You and your brain are allowed to create worlds. You even live in them while you work on spilling the words on the page. But, it’s just you. So, since Nanowrimo is all about writing for the month of November uninterrupted-check out some Nanowrimo events! Don’t feel like you need to sit inside and write alone. Hell, go to a write in and talk to other writers-just make small talk and see where it goes.

I have an accountability person. She is going to hold me accountable for my writing and I’m doing the same for her. Like a check in buddy. Because, I have to say right now, I’m not feeling it.

And that is the secret to everything. I know I’m not feeling like writing (as I write this post like a gun is being held to my head). I feel like I’m forcing myself to do everything or anything. I’m taking a brief break from class, work and responsibility. Tonight, I’m going to see an event at the Folger Shakespeare Library. (See all this below)

I Put a Spell on You

Annie Finch and Kiki Petrosino

Annie Finch and Kiki Petrosino

Monday, October 28, 2019, 7:30 pm

Folger Theatre

Two poets explore the realms of witchcraft and womanhood in all seasons of life. Accompanying the reading is a display of rare books on witches and magic from the Folger collection at 6:30pm.

Annie Finch is a poet, translator, librettist, editor, and critic. Her books of poetry include Spells: New and Selected Poems and Calendars, shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award. She is also the author of The Body of Poetry: Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self.

Kiki Petrosino’s three books of poetry are Witch WifeHymn for the Black Terrific, and Fort Red Border. Recipient of a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Al Smith Fellowship Award from the Kentucky Arts Council, Petrosino is a Professor of Poetry at the University of Virginia.

Hopefully, this will pull me out of my writing rut. I’m going with a fellow writer and she’s a good person. She’s got a relaxing energy around her.

One other thing-here’s some writing advice from Neil Gaiman. He seems like a really nice guy.

Take care.