Got Writing?

“I try to help people become the best possible editors of their own work, to help them become conscious of the things they do well, of the things they need to look at again, of the wells of material they have not even begun to dip their buckets into.”  ~Tobias Wolff

If you’ve been a regular follower of The Asylum, you’ll know that at one point we’d had the ambitious idea of producing an anthology. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a serious lack of publishable material, we decided against it in the end. One reader, whose story had been accepted, responded that this move on our part didn’t surprise him and that for future reference, we shouldn’t promise something that we can’t deliver.

Frankly, we never promised anything. Sometimes, believe it or not, shit happens. I was heart broken over the decision. I’d previously extended the deadline for submissions because I didn’t want to let the idea go (this is likely why said reader responded so negatively. I suppose he thought I was pissing my time away, when in reality, the fact that I pushed the pub date out was my polite way of saying that all I’d received was unpolished material). He wasn’t alone in his negativity. Several contributors were curt in their response to my email. Why do I mention it now?

Because I was just graciously offered the position of Associate Editor at Suspense Magazine.

In other words, there is a lesson to be learned here: Be professional no matter how much something disappoints you. I recall those names quite clearly and I assure you, I’ll remember them if they show up in my inbox. It isn’t retaliation. It’s my unwillingness to work with that sort of an attitude. If you can’t grant me grace during an experimental project (which I was CLEAR about up front when it came to the anthology), then I’m not going to extend you any grace, whatsoever, now.

There are some folks, whose stories/essays were accepted, who I will likely solicit material from because of how they handled themselves.

It’s kind of like those kids in High School who were picked on, only to become their bully’s boss later on. You never know where you’ll run into someone again. You never know what bridge you’ll need to cross back over to reach your goal, so it is in your best interest to refrain from burning them.

I responded as gracefully as I could to the negativity. I’d already apologized for any disappointment I’d caused, so I went on to assure one writer in particular that there would never be a next time. I wasn’t ever going to attempt an anthology again. And I meant that. I’m not. I am now, however, involved with a well-known, established, magazine that needs good writers … with good attitudes.

Oops … guess who I won’t be emailing?

SO, what am I personally looking for? (disclosure alert: if your feelings get hurt easily, stop reading now)

Damn good short stories in the thriller/horror/mystery/dark fantasy genres: And when I say damn good, I mean it. My name is now attached to this stuff, so unless I’m excited about giving my recommendation, I won’t accept it. Period. I might love you like a sibling. Doesn’t matter. So, don’t send me stuff unless you know it has a clear beginning, middle and end. If it doesn’t, then the writing itself must be strong enough to carry the narrative. I’m OK with excerpts from larger works so long as they can carry their own weight. Teasers are fine too. But don’t send me some random snippet of whatever from your unfinished work. If it’s an excerpt, I want to see a publication date attached to it (it’s OK if you’re publishing it yourself, I’m cool with that).

Pieces on the craft of writing. I LOVE stuff that looks like it ought to be a guest post here. If you’ve got something genuinely inspiring and helpful to say, then PLEASE send it my way and let’s make me look good, lol. Don’t send me the stuff you read everywhere else: The Pitfalls of Praise, etc. I HATE that crap. If it’s glaringly obvious, then leave  it in your ‘filler content’ file on your computer.

Interviews. Right now, anyone who manages to track down Bentley Little, will be on my hero list for life. I’m working on it, but if you can track him down first I will owe you a serious favor. Will I accept interviews from debut authors? Sure! But please remember that I need really thought-invoking stuff. It’s in their benefit and mine for you to ask the tough stuff. Dig deep. Make it interesting. If they sound like stock questions (where do you get your ideas from?) then don’t ask them!!

Artists. You’d better be Oliver Wetter or Eve Ventrue calibre if you send me stuff for consideration. Just because your grandmother bought you colored pencils for christmas doesn’t mean anyone else wants to see your stuff. Oliver and Eve work their hind-ends off, so don’t expect to do a half-ass job and have it work out for you. This, above all else, annoys me the most. Why? My mother is a professional artist. I’ve grown up in a house full of oil, acrylic and water color paints. I know what good art looks like and if you think your stuff is high enough calibre to submit it to me, then you’re tough enough to hear me tell you it isn’t. SO, before you hit submit, check your pants to see if you’ve got the balls for this. I won’t be kind if you send me one of those anime/manga sketches that you drew in chem class. And for the record, I’m OVER wolves. So unless yours has Red’s cape hanging out it’s realistic-looking mouth, I don’t want to see it.

Opinion/Essays on the industry, your experience as a published author (successfully self-pubbed or traditional), or on being an author in general. This is a little different than the whole, ‘stuff on the craft’ bit because it deals directly with you, not the craft. In other words, if you got shit for years from family and friends, before becoming a full time writer, I want to hear all about it—juicy details and all. Got an, I Told You So that you want voiced to the world? Let her rip.

What do I NOT want to see?

Stuff that hasn’t even been spell-checked. I don’t care about your learning disability. I’ve got one too, but I’ve learned how to deal with it. If you can’t turn in a polished, professional piece, then you won’t get my recommendation. End of story. I’m not talking about typos. Hell, I make typos ALL THE TIME (I’m sure there are some in this post). I’m talking about consistent issues and laziness. If I see it, I WILL tell you it’s unpublishable.

Poetry. Yeah, I know … there is a trend right now to crank out story-length dark poetry, ala Poe. But unless you are Poe, then I don’t want to see it. No, I mean this utterly. You aren’t an exception.

Graphic erotica, tons of cursing, or anything else I’m not allowed to turn into my own publisher. Look, I just spent two hours taking most of the F-bombs out of Icarus. I’m not saying you can’t curse or slip in an act of gratuitous violence here or there. But, it has to have a point. The fewer words you have to impress a reader with, the stronger your narrative has to be to hold their attention. In a short story, you can’t waste 15% of your verbiage on pointless vulgarity.

So, where do I submit?

I’ll respond to you within two weeks. I WILL RESPOND. To everything. If you don’t hear from me, don’t bitch about it, send it again. A lack of response means there is something wrong with the correspondence. I’m not ignoring you. If you don’t hear from me after sending your sub a second time, track me down on FB or here. On FB you can reach me under my pen name J.S. Chancellor (fan page) or my real name, Breanne Braddy.

Thanks guys! I look forward to seeing your stuff!

A Conversation With Jack Ketchum

“Who is the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum.” ~Stephen King.

It’s been a damn good week for me.

Yeah, I know … I just posted. I’ll likely lose a subscriber or two for posting twice in one day, but the good news is … you’ll live. You oughtta be stoked that the reason I’m posting again today is because I’m bringing you a conversation with one of my all-time favorite horror authors, Jack Ketchum.

1. As authors, seeing our novels transformed into movies, where flesh and blood people are acting out scenes we’ve already seen played a hundred times over in our heads, is something few of us will ever experience. What has that been like for you? If I recall correctly, you’ve been able to get a little more hands-on in a couple of the films, what was that like ?

When it’s good it’s a total kick in the head, when it’s not it’s…disappointing.  I’ve had more of the former than the latter, happy to say.  It’s pretty amazing.  You write a book in the privacy of your own room, it comes out of one mind and one mind only — or in the case of THE WOMAN, two —  and then you get this whole group of talented people all bring their own skills and minds to it, their own energy.  I’ve been on the set for at least a day or two with all my films and it’s always amazing.  With THE GIRL NEXT DOOR I probably spent over a week on set in several locations.  And on THE WOMAN was there for nearly the entire shoot.  That was an experience.  Working with Lucky McKee and watching actors the caliber of Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis and Sean Bridgers bring these people to life.  You want to see a couple of writers smile!

2. What is your greatest fear as an author? As a human being?

As an author?  That crazy sonovabitch will shoot me in the head for writing THE GIRL NEXT DOOR.  As a human being?  Alzheimer’s.  I think in general we mostly fear an old age in progressive lingering pain.  That and the aforementioned crazy sonovabitch.

3. The first novel I read of yours was the uncensored version of Off Season. From the outside, it appears as though you’ve moved into a place in your career where you aren’t at the same kinds of mercies that you once were in terms of censorship and word count, etc. Did you know, or have faith, back then that you would arrive at the place you are now, or was there a fear that you’d always be fighting to keep things as you’d originally penned them?

The only books I really had a censorship problem with were OFF SEASON, because of the sheer degree of violence and SHE WAKES, where I had a secondary but important character who was a male transvestite.  Berkeley Books said “you can’t do that!”  And I was new with them and had already been dumped by Ballantine and Warner so I buckled and changed it.  I think I’ll always have a problem with word count among the major publishers because I tend to write short and tight.  But maybe not.  E-books seem to be changing that, making shorter offerings acceptable.  We’ll see.  And you’re right, I don’t have to fight much these days, and pretty much knew that the day would come when I wouldn’t.

4. I promised not to ask you anything too cliché, but selfishly I have to ask: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written?

I’m not choosing a favorite daughter.  Sorry.

5. One of my personal fears as an author is that I’ll die before I get all of the stories out of my head that need to come out. This is ridiculous of course, because we never truly run out of stories. In some cases, there are stories that refuse to be written, despite how hard we try to pen them to the page (pun intended). Do you have any stories like this? If so, how long have they been lingering and do you think they’ll ever come to fruition?

A quote I like a lot comes to mind.  “Take your time,” he would say to himself, “if the cat’s in a hurry she has peculiar kittens.”  That’s Louis de Bernieres, from BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS.  Some stories just leap out at you, beg to be written right away.  Others gestate — or in my case, sometimes fester — for quite a while.  You can’t rush them.

6. Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction have, for too long, been the redheaded stepchildren of the literary world. How have you dealt with criticism from that elitist society, and what kind of advice could you give those of us who are in the midst of, or about to be bombarded with, the same sort of cold reception?

Feggeddaboudit.  Write what you need to write and what you enjoy writing.  It’s important to keep in mind that writing’s just high-level play.  You’re doing the same thing, basically, that you did when you were just a little kid, inventing games for yourself.  They’re your games, and sometimes the other kids will want to play along and sometimes they won’t.  So long as you’re having a good time, so what?

7. I’ve never read a horror novel of yours that didn’t have depth behind it. In fact, I’ve seen more depth in some of your novels than I have in most of the purely literary novels I’ve had to read for professional review sites. I can’t help but to wonder, psychologically, how it is that with seemingly little effort, you get straight to the heart of so many unmentionable issues. You’ve tackled subjects such as rape, incest, drugs and violence, fluidly and without the need for overly ornamental prose. What do you think the differences are between works such as yours, and works that deal with similar subject matter, other than the obvious? Could it have anything to do with the fear of ourselves—the fear of what we’re truly, utterly capable of?

Thank you.  I think the key here might be that I don’t want to waste your time, or mine.  That is, I don’t want to write pure escapism — fancy-dress vampires and such.  I’d like to engage us both in a bit of dialogue about something important while at the same time telling you a good story.  I think all good writing, literary or genre — and both of these should be in quotes, to my mind — should remind you that the world is so much bigger and more diverse than your own, richer than just your experience of it for better or worse, that people are like you and not like you at all.

8. What is your definition of evil?

Lack of empathy and conscience.

9. If you could go back in time, to the days when you were writing merely for your own pleasure—before you were published or even submitting—is there any advice you’d give yourself?

Yeah, don’t try to be so fucking literary.  Don’t try to reinvent writing.  Just write.

10. The darkness of human nature, in my opinion, seems to be a common theme throughout your works. This begs the question: Do you think we are born inherently good or evil? Is it all in how we’re raised? Or a little bit of both?

I’m an optimist about human nature.  There are those among us masquerading as humans — those are the sociopaths, the ones without empathy and conscience — but they’re by far the minority.  We should watch out for them, but not despair because they happen to be there.  Most of us do as the Greeks say, go with the good. Whenever you get too down on human nature, ask yourself what other species on earth tries over and over to protect the existence of other species?  We’re still new, still evolving, and we reinvent ourselves every ten or twenty years or so.  We’re communicating right now via computer!  Good grief!  We’re practically magic!

** A HUGE thanks goes to Jack for taking time out of his seriously hectic schedule to drop by The Asylum! We sincerely appreciate it and of course, as always, thank you for sharing your awesome work. The world of horror simply wouldn’t be the same without you!!

Dance with the Devil

Hell's Belles--Deviant Art

I don’t leave lights on. I don’t double check locks or closets. I suppose this could be my serious stomach for frightening things—and hot food since we’re on the subject (never met a hot sauce or a zombie I couldn’t handle). So, while brainstorming this horror novel—the one that won’t be touched until sometime early fall (draft wise), I have stumbled across the age old question: What do you fear?

I asked this in a post on facebook and received a handful of good answers. Overall, one thing was clear: The most elemental fear is the fear of the unknown. We have some very fundamental ways of dealing with this, which is why I chose to be a psychology major instead of an English major. I may have a harder time structuring sentences than most, but by God, my characters will be solid as stone. We deal with fear by trying to organize, and thus gain control, of what we don’t understand. We’ll make it understandable. Be it through religion, science or a 9mm, we’re going to make sure that whatever we fear is under our ‘not to be worried about’ category. Why do people make the comment, “You aren’t near a hospital” to those living in the country? Because there is a reasonable assumption that the hospital will spare you death or dismemberment or both.

We use religion in the form of ritual; faith by believing in an ‘all good’ higher power; justice by assuming that only the guilty suffer; science by assuming everything has an explanation and even survival of the fittest with an assumed understanding of the human body and its inherent weaknesses. We assume the efficacy of weapons or illness on all sentient beings. Thus, as an author, if we are to psychologically affect our readers, we must systematically take it all away.

I’ve never read a book that made me want to leave the light on. Rarely does a movie really strike me as truly frightening. I want to write a story that not only causes you to leave your light on for a month—I’d love for you to double check every lock in your house, start attending mass again and maybe even memorize a prayer to the patron saint of  please for the love of God save my sorry ass. lost causes. My homework: Study the anatomy of fear. Sounds fun, huh?

I don’t like blood and gore—it has its place, but I prefer otherworldly. Consider the barbed wire man in Silent Hill—the dude in the bathroom, for those of you who forgot. The sheer inconceivability of his predicament is what is utterly frightening. How would any sentient being wind up like that? Those things frighten us because if the outcome is so awful, how much moreso must the doer of such an unfathomable act be? Also consider the drawings by Stephen Gammell, for the Scary Stories series. Haven’t seen them? If you call yourself a horror fan and you haven’t, you’d best be googeling. The man’s got talent in spades. I mention him because all of his drawings have roots…I mean this literally. The edges of the objects, even stationary insentient ones, have root-like things growing from them. Ah, hell—I’ll include a thumbnail to save you the google (you’re gonna google it anyway). See what I mean? I grew up reading ghost stories, seeing illustrations like the one below and hearing my mother’s awesome
rendition of Little Orphan Annie and the Goblins. I had no choice in the matter—I was born and bred to love the supernatural and horrific. So, you tell me—what makes your skin shiver and your bones shake?

Sam's New Pet

Sweet Dreams

Last Rites--Yogoro

I’ve been asked on more than one occasion where I get my ideas from. I’ve said loosely that I get most of them from dreams, and perhaps that answer has been thrown out insincerely by others. I was never joking (weird, right?) when I said it. Which can only lead me to one conclusion: I’ve got one hell of a twisted mind to come up with some of the dark, eerie things that wind up taking form in my dreams. Consider the image I chose for this post—welcome to my world.

What brought this on? I had another dream night before last that had me furiously scribbling images before they could flee. The novels of ‘undetermined genre’ that were wrecking the pool table, well, this was one of them. I laughed when I woke up, right after breathing a sigh of relief that I had been in fact dreaming, because I knew it was coming. And all of this got me thinking about things that are truly, deeply, terrifying. What scares me? Well, subtly scares me worse than anything blatant. The moment in the movie where the camera is focused on the main character and pans across something in the background that makes your skin crawl, that has you clutching the arm of your chair going, “Wait, WTF? Did you just see that?”

The trick will be figuring out how to do that in a novel. I’ve never written horror before—and being me, this will of course be dark fantasy and not truly Horror in the purest sense of the genre. Nonetheless, it will be as close to horror as I’ll ever come as an author. Because the images are so random in my head, and trying to string them together right now to tell you a story is impossible, allow me some room to give you a brief glimpse of what I dreamt.

The beginning of the story (and what I saw first in the dream) shows a girl who is either with friends or alone in a car, driving at night, and suddenly wrecks. Nothing is said as to what happened next or how it relates to the rest of the story.

The main character is a man, somewhere in his thirties, a physician. He is playing a game with friends—maybe at a holiday party, or birthday party, something. Somehow this will lead them into a world that feels like a cross between that of Silent Hill/Pan’s Labyrinth & American McGhee’s Alice in Wonderland. There is clear, yet dying goodness beneath all of the dark, otherworldly stuff—flowers choked by weeds, figuratively speaking. He realizes somewhere along the way that they are inside of the girl’s head, where she is trapped by whatever ‘evil’ force rules that world. The main character comes to this conclusion after it is revealed that he is her doctor—she is in a coma at the hospital where he works. At some point the others (those left alive—lol), will have a chance to escape and he will decide to risk his own life and stay behind, to go after her. So, there is a classical fairy tale element here, but much, much darker than anything I’ve ever written. This is not to say that I’m new to these types of images though. I’ve spent years telling these stories—and for some of you reading this on Facebook, who have known me for a while, you may remember me at some point scaring the pants off of you. Sorry about that, by the way.

I’ve always loved horror—movies, novels, the whole nine yards. I’ve always liked the rush and adrenaline that comes with feeling like you’re flirting with death. I guess it’s no different than people who go bungee jumping or cliff diving. I prefer to do so with my imagination. My mother asked me lovingly at lunch the other day, where she went so wrong? (She was kidding—right mom?)

Ah, I’m perfectly sane. Balanced. Just darkly imaginative. My mind is always speeding at ninety to nothing—can’t help it. Wouldn’t want it any other way. So what about you? What frightens you? What makes you leave the light on?