Category Archives: Writing Life

WHERE DO YOUR WORDS GO WHEN YOU DIE?

Death has preoccupied me more than usual this past week. I’ve had several friends pass away in the last month or so, not to mention watching my mid-twenties neighbor be wheeled out his front door under a sheet. On top of that we just got vaccinated and news of the Omicron variant is all over my media… but I’m mostly preoccupied with death (not Death) because of Neil Gaiman.

I passed through his blog a few weeks ago and I noticed this posted in the sidebar:

“My current crusade is to make sure creative people have wills. 
Read the blog post about it, and see a sample will.

I thought about all my writer friends that have recently passed away. What has happened to their intellectual property? I’ve had intentions to make my will for years but I’ve never gotten around to it. Every year brings me closer to needing one (unless I can find a willing vampire). This seems like an appropriate item to put on the bucket list before I kick anything. Thanks to Neil (& Les Klinger) for doing the heavy lifting, I finally put it in my schedule to do.

Read Neil’s post here, and pass it on: https://journal.neilgaiman.com/2006/10/important-and-pass-it-on.html

NEW BRAM STOKER AWARDS® CATEGORY: SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL

The Horror Writers Association (HWA) is proud to announce the addition of a brand new category in the Bram Stoker Awards®: Superior Achievement in a Middle Grade Novel.

For purposes of this Award, Middle Grade novels are defined as novels (see clause IVe) intended for the age group 8-13 with word length beginning at 25,000 words. A Middle Grade novel that is deemed to be a ‘First Novel’ according to Rule IVf may qualify for consideration in the ‘First Novel’ category (see Rule IVr) if the author insists in writing that the work be considered for ‘First Novel’ rather than ‘Middle Grade’ novel; otherwise, said novel will remain in the ‘Middle Grade’ novel category. The work may not be considered for both the ‘First Novel’ and ‘Middle Grade’ novel categories concurrently.

Clause IVe defines a Novel in general as a work of prose fiction. It may be illustrated or include symbols or representations other than printed letters but the essential character of the must be prose. Non-linear texts or hypertext novels may qualify if and only if the central narrative—the shortest prose telling of the complete story, beginning to end—by itself, without commentary, footnotes, alternate paths, or other optional adjuncts meets the required word count.

Works published in 2022 will be the first year eligible for the award and will be presented at the Bram Stoker Awards ceremony in 2023. 

The Board of Trustees is delighted to add this category to the Bram Stoker Awards®.

For any additional questions, please email: stokerchair@horror.org 

TIME BLOCKING AS A SUPERPOWER

I used to believe in saying yes to every opportunity. The more nervous it made me, the better the opportunity. Then came the fall of 2020, my exhilarating (and crushing) year of opportunity. I learned three important things from the last year:

  1. You can say yes to everything, but you can’t do everything well.
  2. Sleep really isn’t optional. This is not an area you can use mind over matter.
  3. Time blocking makes it possible to give more yes with less stress.

What is time blocking?

Time blocking is a time management tool which involves dividing the day into blocks of time with each block dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or activity and only that specific task or activity.

I’m no expert and it’s taken me two tries to get the hang of it but now it’s working really well for me. Because I have part of my day divided and dedicated to certain tasks, I now no longer feel stress all the time about what I’m not doing at that moment.

Hard truth I had to learn: you can’t do everything all of the time.

I also use another management trick called task batching. This just means that I have certain blocks of time set aside, and I bunch all those tasks together. So everyday from 3-4 pm I answer emails. All email and nothing but emails. In just a week this has brought my inbox from over 5,ooo to under 1,000.

Another hard truth: having over 1,000 emails in my inbox stresses me out.

There are a ton of videos and articles on the magic of time blocking, so I’ll just lists some of the ones I used at the end of this. Things that made the difference for me was using my Google calendar instead of a printed version, seeing my time blocked schedule more as an adjustable journal than time incarceration and being kind to myself.

I think the key to unlocking the power of the time block yourself is customizing it to what works for you. I use my Google calendar all the time, so it makes sense I would integrate my blocks of time into it. Someone who doesn’t use their Google calendar would probably do better printing one.

As an example, here’s mine. You can see everyday before two is mine. I can do an art project, I can spend it reading, spending family time, walking dogs… it feels luxurious having all that free time. Then I like to start with a house task to get myself in the work mindset. This isn’t just something like dishes (unless that’s what needs to be done). It more like tackling a shelf of clutter, washing dogs, or painting baseboards.

That gets me in the work mindset, so when I launch into answering emails an hour later I am focused and ready to clean up an inbox. I start my work day. That’s a simplified version. The idea of this isn’t to lockdown every minute of my day but to make sure the important things are all getting done while I have more time to be a person. So far, so good.

Have you tried this yourself? Any tips or tricks? I’m a time block noob, so feel free to share.

Related posts on time blocking:

CALLING ALL SMALL PRESS EDITORS

Time is running short to send in your Pushcart nominations! Each year all small magazine and book press editors all over the world are invited to send up to six nominations for any combination of poetry, short stories, essays, memoirs or stand-alone excerpts from novels to include translations, reprints and both traditional and experimental writing. Print and online publications are welcome to submit.

Unfortunately, Pushcart Press doesn’t do email or use a submissions manager so physical copies of the work (not the whole publication) must be snail mailed. Nominations must have been published (or scheduled to be published) in the current calendar year. No entry forms or fees. Any of your nominations can add “Pushcart Prize nominated” to their bios which is a nice way to recognize work you thought was exceptional.

Of course, I can’t bring up Pushcart noms without bringing up the Pushcart nom debate. There are some people (*cough* John Matthew Fox) that say since so many people get nominated and so few win, it’s “embarrassing yourself.” This is in his oft-quoted “Open Letter to Pushcart Nominated Folks.” If you want to make yourself feel bad, you can read that here.

I get it Fox, many get nominated, few win. But in my opinion (and last I checked I was still entitled to one) this doesn’t make it less important. Many get nominated, but not all. Editors only get six pieces to nominate out of everything they publish in a year. In 2019, Space and Time published well over 100 pieces. That’s worth something.

Even for those that think it’s no big deal (and no one is claiming it’s the same as being shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award®, mind you) isn’t it tough enough to be a writer without replacing the few golden moments we have with shame?

I say include it. Throw a damn Pushcart party if you like—some people celebrate Cheesecake Day FFS—a Pushcart nom is a bigger deal than that. Why tarnish the joy? From me, a hearty congratulations to all Pushcart nominations everywhere. An editor thought your work was exemplary, worthy of note. Good job.

And to all my small press editor friends (magazine and book, online and print) get those nominations postmarked by Dec. 1. For the cost of a stamp, you can give someone a good day. We need more of those. Full details on nomination here.

Birthday Was Happy

Thank you Laura D. for the amazing birthday gift basket!

It’s a new year for me as I turn 49 years. I spent my birthday celebrating quietly. As the clock turned over I was busy finishing a story for the Kansas City Star on  The Roasterie Kansas City Air Roasted Coffee and the amazing thing Danny O’Neill did for Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City.

Later it was lunch out and then a nice surprise when an awesome birthday gift basket from “the Birthday Fairy”was delivered. Loved it, and we’ve already pigged out on most of the treats.

The rest of the day was spent unpacking, walking dogs and other odds and ends. It was a perfect day.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes everyone!

The Roasterie: Local Coffeetopia

I just discovered another reason to love Kansas City—The Roasterie. Air roasted coffee heaven done fresh right here. We can take a factory tour and I’m told that the smell of roasting coffee wafts through the city in the winter.

Yesterday we bought a bag of their Full Vengeance Dark Blend from the local grocery. Aromatic and dark, this coffee became a staple after three sips. I predict Vengeance will remain a favorite of mine, but I plan to try the rest of their dark roasts asap.

I usually only have two cups in the morning and an occasional afternoon boost. This was such a good coffee it became a four cup morning. Will be visiting the factory soon.

Available Now! Spiders Are Everywhere

Spiders Are Everywhere is finally all done and live on Amazon. This is probably the most beautiful book I’ve ever put together with all the color and the full bleed illustrations by Amber Beach.

My name is on this one as a co-author, but this one was primarily written by my husband, R. A. Smith. He originally wrote it as a prompt to get me to do a follow up to Monsters Are Everywhere, but he did such a good job we just tweaked what he wrote.

Available on Amazon now, it’s the second book in the Everly Everywhere series.

From Soraya: Interview with Owen King

Soraya Murillo Hernandez

Another interview today from my friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.

She has sent me a dozen or more of these interviews she conducted in the past for me to reprint here. She has so many, incredible interviews, I’ve created a category for her work. You can find all Soraya’s interviews at From Soraya. Today, she shares her interview with Owen King.

It has been told about you that you have the ability to capture the macabre side of our daily lives. Do you think we have a good side too or is it that you prefer the negative part of human being? Why?

Owen King

Owen King—I’m attracted to characters who are flawed, who are deeply conflicted, who make mistakes. Which is to say, I like characters who are like real people. So that’s who I try to write about. And I’d say I’m in good company.

Whether we’re talking about great mainstream fiction – The Corrections, for instance – or classic fantasy fiction – The Hobbit, for instance – the characters that grab us certainly have their positive qualities, but they’re also distinctly imperfect.

You have written short tales and a short novel. Which one do you feel more comfortable during the writing process?

Owen King—Both forms are incredibly challenging. I’d say that, in either case, the key is finding the groove of the story – just the general way that narrative wants to be told. That’s often difficult. A concrete difference between the two forms is that novels tend to require a bit more research. That’s an extra burden, although I usually enjoy research.

In an interview I asked Jack Ketchum what was fear for him. He answered that for him was everything that you couldn’t control. What’s fear for you?

Owen King—His answer is an excellent one: that fear is lack of control. You don’t know what’s next, or what’s right, or who’s out there. Fear is also aloneness. It would be awfully scary to find yourself alone in this world.

You grew surrounded by horror, literally. How did that influence you when writing?

Owen King—I literally didn’t grow up surrounded by horror, though! There were no vampires in my childhood home; zombies never came groaning up from our basement. I grew up around people who made believe for a living. My parents went to their offices every day and did their work and that was it. That’s what influenced my writing: their dedication.

How is being your father’s son? Is it hard to catch your place under the shadow he casts?

Owen King—I can’t complain. Certainly there are expectations that some readers bring to my work, and some of them are disappointed that what I do doesn’t slot into the horror genre. That said, I do dabble in fantastical areas now and then. While my latest, the graphic novel Intro to Alien Invasion, is primarily satire, it also functions as a good old-fashioned science fiction adventure. But lots of readers who have come to my stuff as fans of my father’s work have been willing to give it a chance and I couldn’t be more appreciative. I’m very lucky.

As a son and brother of writers, have you ever considered the possibility of writing something in collaboration with one of them?

Owen King—Oh, for sure! I have, in fact, collaborated on a couple of different screenwriting projects with my brother. I hope we get to do that again at some point down the line. He has a wonderful sense of humor, a tremendous imagination, and a really devious knack for narrative. Joe’s just a pleasure to work with.

What are your present and future projects?

Owen King—I’m working on a couple of novels right now. One of them is a little bit stalled, but I still have high hopes for it. The other novel is flying right along. I’m also pushing forward on a handful of different tv/film projects.

Soraya Murillo Hernandez

From  Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.

Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.

 

Review: Small Spirits by Marge Simon

Dolls: replicas of people made of cloth, clay, wood, bone, porcelain… used for religion, ritual and play. From the wooden paddle dolls left in Egyptian tombs in the 21st century BC to the plastic, highly stylized dolls of today, these replicas of people hold a unique place with us as something we both cherish and fear. Marge Simon captures that duality with her poetry collection, Small Spirits: Dolls of Darkness.

With haunting illustrations by Sandy DeLuca, Small Spirits explores the many personalities, often split, of dolls. Some of her dolls have dark intent. Malignancy is woven through the verse as their voices travel to the reader. Particularly the poem, Vanessa’s Fae Doll, chilled me as the doll speaks to us of her recent deeds. Another terrifying example of this is simply titled Hair.

Other dolls, like those in Refuse of the Cotton Club and Mummy Doll, are for remembering. Loss and regret flow from the words along with a sense of preservation. The dolls in these poetic stories are monuments to children, and lives, now past.

A history is told in Small Spirits. The voices whisper past porcelain lips—comforting, threatening, memorializing—small voices for small spirits that sit among us.

Whether they are worn from love or preserved untouched, Marge Simon’s dolls refuse to be depreciated playthings. They represent us, women, in all our diversity.

Sometimes victim, sometimes victor, these dolls are as diverse as the women and girls who hold them. Without judgement, Marge Simon explores that polarity of the feminine, and allows them voice.

From Soraya: Interview with Peter Straub

I am excited to introduce a personal friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.

When I was accepted for Borderlands Press Boot Camp, I mentioned to her that I was going to get to meet Peter Straub in person. She replied, via translation, “Oh yes, I interviewed him once.”

“THE Peter Straub?” I asked, also via translation. “Horror novelist and poet, winner of literary awards such as as the Bram Stoker Award, World Fantasy Award, and International Horror Guild Award?” “Oh yes, him.” she replied.

Turns out, my online Spanish friend ran a magazine for horror fiction in her past life and has interviewed some of the best and brightest names in the genre. She has graciously agreed to let me reprint some of her interviews here, all translated to English. ALL the credit for these amazing interviews goes to  Soraya Murillo Hernandez, along with my deep gratitude and appreciation for her generosity. You can find all Soraya’s interviews at From Soraya.

From  Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.

Jan 8, 2016, Soraya Murillo Hernandez—Your first publishings were poems and poetry. Why did you change of genre and started writing horror? Is there a poet still inside of you?

Straub in 2009

Peter Straub—I still read a lot of poetry, but do not write it any more. I began writing fiction because I had long thought of myself as a novelist, and at the age of 23 feared that if I did not jump in might lose whatever capacity that justified this fantasy.

Three years later, I began writing horror because I wanted finally to make a bit of money. It seemed–now this sounds lunatic– the most literary of all the genres, the one with the deepest connections to literature. I liked that.

Soraya Murillo Hernandez—You are one of the most awarded writers. What did it mean for you? It was a motivation to keep on writing or you would have anyway?

Peter Straub—Awards are always very welcome. They amount to a validation from my basic community that my work stands up, that it, is worth reading. If I’d never won a single Stoker, though, I would certainly have kept writing. I’m not sure that Stoker Awards mean a great deal in the wider world.

Soraya Murillo Hernandez—Your novel Ghost Story is considered your best novel. It was told to be one of the best horror books of the century. Do you think it is your best work?

Peter Straub—The reception of Ghost Story was one of the least expected, most reassuring, and most transformative experienced I’ve ever had. I knew the book was good, that it was nicely structured and well-paced, and above all, that it has been deeply pleasurable to write.

I was absolutely certain that it was the best novel I had written to that point, and that it was going to do quite well in the market place. By that, I meant that it would probably make it possible for me to work for a other couple of years without worrying about money. What actually happened was way beyond my expectations. It still means a lot to me that so many people should have taken it to heart.

Soraya Murillo Hernandez—To me your best book was Koko, that madness settled on the mind of a Vietnam War veteran. Some of your stories, like Koko are interconnected. Is there a “Straub Universe”?

Peter Straub—But… With all that said, I still agree with you, and feel that KOKO is probably my best work. When it was done, I had yet to recognize that I was not at all finished with the emotional landscape I’d been examining.

That recognition arrived only when I admitted that I wished Tim Underhill to be involved in my next project–the recondition that I wasn’t through with him yet, that he still had things to teach me. Actually, that feeling was really strong.

Thank you, Soraya for letting me reprint this interview!

From Soraya, in Spanish: Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.