Posts Tagged ‘Joe Hill’

Front_End_Loader

One trick for starting a short story is the trick of front-loading, so that the overarching fantastic element, source of melodrama, or underlying theme or emotion, is presented to the reader immediately or shortly after the story commences. This technique is often useful because within the first few lines or paragraphs of your story, the author still has the readers’ complete trust. The reader has not had a chance for doubt to creep in and impinge upon their suspension of disbelief. In short:  At this point, they’re still open to buying what you’re selling.

Now before we go any further I should probably point out that this is just one technique which can be used effectively when commencing a short story. It is not the be-all-end-all of how to start a story. There is no single one right way. To quote Nick Mamatas once more from his fantastic collection of essays, Starve Better:

Write what you want, when you want, and how you want to write it. If you keep finding yourself staring up at the lights while the ref counts to three, try another strategy. There are plenty to choose from … whatever gets the story published and enjoyed is what works.

Getting back to the idea of front-loading: Using the term “curse” as a byword for melodrama in plot, Ansen Dibell says in her book :Elements of Fiction Writing – Plot:

There are straightforward ways of setting your curse in the middle of solidly credible things and declaring it right from the beginning. There are other methods of misdirecting attention so that the curse has already happened and been accepted before the reader has a chance to holler, “Hey, now, wait a minute!”

I’ll start with the front-loading ways first—putting the unusual right up front and making it part of the story’s fundamental reality.” (Simon: Emphasis mine)

Ansen then goes on to list a number of ways to do this, and gives examples of:  the protagonist in Kafka’s Metamorphosis awaking and realising he is an insect, the opening scene of Star Wars: A New Hope being laser fire between spaceships, and the vampire talking into the tape recorder at the start interview with a vampire.  (Note:  Ansen’s book is a great book, buy this book.)

Kristi DeMeester, author of Split Tongues, whose short fiction you can find at places like Black Static Magazine, Shimmer zine, and Shock Totem Magazine, says:

“That great short story idea you had? Put it up front. Make it your lead. If your story is about a woman birthing plastic dolls who is then deemed the new Madonna/Mother Mary, start there with the shiny, plastic birth.”

And what a start to a story that would be! In fact, I want to read that story. (Kristi, fill your boots!)

Joe Hill, author of novels such as The Fireman, Heart Shaped Box, NOS4A2, and fantastic short story collections such as 20th Century Ghosts, says on his blog Joe Hill’s Thrills:

“Readers are inclined to just go with you at the very beginning of a story, which is why it’s the best place to drop a whopper on them. I began my short story “Pop Art” like this:

My best friend when I was twelve was inflatable.

The reader’s response? Oh, okay, Joey! Inflatable friend. Got it.

Also: think about if you saw a U.F.O. or a ghost. If you were telling a friend about it, you’d probably drop that shit on them right away: Dude, I was driving back from work last night and I saw a fuckin’ U.F.O. And it landed! And a ghost got out of it!!

You wouldn’t tell him about the business account you lost during the day, the conversation you had with your Mom that made you angry, and the nap you took under your desk. You wouldn’t even *think* of telling him about that stuff, not at first. YOU SAW A U.F.O., DUDE. Start with that part. Don’t be afraid to be amazing right from the beginning.”

Often this kind of declaration of intent that a writer makes, is actually a method of introducing that The Event as well (Refer to Part 1 of this series for more on that)

The following except is from the beginning of Angela Slatter’s British Fantasy Award winning story, The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter and I think it makes a fantastic case study of several cool techniques, including front-loading:

The door is a rich red wood, heavily carved with improving scenes from the trials of Job. An angel’s head, cast in brass, serves as the knocker and when I let it go to rest back in its groove, the eyes fly open, indignant, and watch me with suspicion. Behind me is the tangle of garden—cataracts of flowering vines, lovers’ nooks, secluded reading benches—that gives this house its affluent privacy.

The dead man’s daughter opens the door.

She is pink and peach and creamy. I want to lick at her skin and see if she tastes the way she looks.

“Hepsibah Ballantyne! Slattern! Concentrate, this is business.” My father slaps at me, much as he did in life. Nowadays his fists pass through me, causing nothing more than a sense of cold ebbing in my veins. I do not miss the bruises.

In this scene, Angela does a number of cool things:

  1. The arrival at the house of the dead man is The Event. The house, more specifically who lives there and the business the protagonist Hepsibah has there, is central to the entire story. So her rocking up on site really is the beginning of the story here.
  2. By describing the door and the knocker she impresses upon the reader the importance of what is behind the door and instils a sense of trepidation. What horrors lurk behind this portal?? Perhaps also mixed with wonder or intrigue, as the description of the plush garden and reading nooks, and the general affluence of the house is raises questions. Who lives here??
  3. Then the dead man’s daughter opens the door, leaving us thinking “Who died? And what importance does their death (and perhaps death generally!) have to this story?” Additionally, the contrast of the pale, peachy, lickable maiden who answers the door versus the suspenseful description of the door from the preceding paragraph and the horrors it implied,  is masterful.
  4. And finally, and most crucially as far as this post goes, she front-loads that fantastic—she reveals Hepsibah’s dead ghostly father is beside her berating and beating her “as much as he did in life”.

Within 4 short paragraphs, I’m anticipatory; I’m intrigued and tantalised; I’m not even blinking my eye when she’s telling me there is horrid ghostly fathers that follow around their children cursing them. Hell, I’m buying what Angela is selling, folks!

Alternatively, rather than front-loading the element of the fantastic, an author can front-load the theme of a story or the underlying emotion of a piece for incredible effect.

I’ll use the opening paragraphs (which includes one of the very best opening lines I’ve ever read) from Jack Ketchum’s novel The Girl Next Door:

You think you know about pain?

Talk to my second wife. She does. Or thinks she does.

She says that once when she was nineteen or twenty she got between a couple of cats fighting—her own cat and a neighbor’s—and one of them went at her, climbed her like a tree, tore gashes out of her thighs and breasts and belly that you can still see today, scared her so badly she fell back against her mother’s turn-of-the-century Hoosier, breaking her best ceramic pie plate and scraping sick inches of skin off her ribs while the cat made its way back down her again, all tooth and claw and spitting fury. Thirty-six stiches I think she said she got. And a fever that lasted for days.

My second wife says that’s pain.

She doesn’t know shit, that woman.

Yes, that poignant question is the opening line of a novel rather than a short story, but it illustrates the point I’m trying to make here. Straight away we know what this tale is about. We have some idea of what the subject matter is, the primary theme the novel is going to explore. When you read that opening line you immediately  question yourself, you question that knowledge you think you have about pain.  I know about pain, asshole. I think. Don’t I??

When you read the following description of the lady who got mauled be the cats, and the narrator’s assertion “My second wife says that’s pain.”, you know know this novel is going to be a treatise on or an exploration of pain. And, indeed, that’s what it is (along with an extreme social commentary on rape culture, mob mentality and many other things).

Important notes/sub-essay in the margin:

When I’m talking about front-loading, I mean front-loading the element of the fantastic or melodramatic; front-loading the theme, front-loading the central emotion of your piece etc. What I’m NOT talking about is front-loading exposition (scene, descriptions of the fucking weather or descriptions of characters) or back story.

When you start up front with backstory, you’re missing the Inciting Incident Describing back story, Donald Maass, literary agent and owner of the Maass literary agency, says in his book The Fire In Fiction:

Backstory is the bane of virtually all manuscripts. Authors imagine that readers need, even want, a certain amount of filling in. I can see why they believe that. It starts with critique groups in which writers hear comments such as, “I love this character! You need to tell me more about her!” Yes, the author does. But not right away. As they say in the theater, make ’em wait. Later in the novel backstory can become a revelation; in the first chapter it always bogs things down.

I’m telling you now folks, this is as true of the first scene of a short story as it is of a novel.

Here I’ll turn to Thomas B. Sawyer, head writer of the classic TV show Murder, She Wrote and author of Fiction writing Demystified:

Don’t front-load your exposition.

Sure, you’ve fully imagined your characters, given them complexity and dimension. You’ve created concise and solid biographies for them. You know a lot about them (though you’ll learn more as your story progresses), and you’re anxious to use it, to tell your readers about it.

Resist, with all of your strength, the temptation to squeeze all that great stuff into the first scene, into those first moments that this or that character is onstage.

Why? Because, as far as the Theory of Locomotion is concerned, exposition is dead writing. It’s not moving things forward at all. Rather, if we do what was suggested in Part 1 of this series and start with or near The Event, and then frontload our story with something appropriate, the start of your story can be a powerful and adroit delivery. On time and on point, so to speak.

Having said that you can still have a slow burn story—one that starts slow and builds up. It doesn’t have to begin with vampire fangs, ghosts, or the apocalypse. There is no requirement set in stone that one must, or necessarily should, front-load the fantastic/theme/etc. There are different horses for different courses, and there are no rules. At the end of the day, what works is what works, what gives the best effect, and what results in a fiction sale is what was appropriate.

For example, one might start near the Event, yet not really front-load anything.

In my own “Little Spark of Madness” (forthcoming 2016, Morbid Metamorphosis, Lycan Valley Press) , we can see that I open it like this:

“She wore a fluffy, pink dressing gown and a vacant stare. The lady stood outside the large red brick house at the end of the cul-de-sac, set well away from the other houses; a building cast under a shadow, as though a cloud had parked itself directly above.”

In this instance, The Event is the character Brodie is meeting the other main character, Sally,  in the story for the first time. It’s equivalent of the “Stranger comes to town” archetypal beginning. In this story, and particularly in this beginning, there are no UFOs, no ghosts or full moons, no overt element of the fantastic. There are no laser beams. What relationship or effect this lady is going to have on the protagonist is not immediately apparent. And that’s OK. What I hope the reader might be thinking at this point is:  “Who is the woman? Why is she staring vacantly? Is she sick/sad/etc?”. Perhaps they might too consider the contrast between the pink and fluffy dressing gown and the lady’s catatonic appearance.

Nick Mamatas says the following in Starve better, and I think he makes a good point here:

“Start with a hook” is bad advice, ultimately, because of the word ‘hook’. A hook is an important part of a story to be sure, and could do anywhere. It is the motor of the story—it can be the twist at the end, the broad concept, the compelling change the character undergoes, the language or clever structure of a piece…whatever makes a story worth reading is its hook. A hook may go in the beginning, but it need not. Beginnings are for something else. The start of a story, its first paragraph, should assure the reader that they are in capable hands. The beginning of the story should tantalize, not hook, the reader.

Starting with a “strong hook”, front-loading the fantastic, grabbing the reader by the balls, laser beams—is just ONE way to start a story. It is ONE technique.

Try it. Experiment with it. See when and how it works for your fiction.

Advertisements

Hey folks,

One of the awesome writerly people I’ve met in recent weeks via facebook is none other than Kristin Dearborn. I picked up her latest release Woman in White and while I won’t be reviewing the novella, I was pleased to discover an author who was experimenting with story structure, and touching on serious issues (gender politics/patriarchy/domestic violence) while delivering it within the vehicle of a pulp horror tale.  Many thanks to Kristin for stopping by my blog for a quick chat!

Dearborn Head Shot

Kristin Dearborn

Q: You have a new novella out with DarkFuse Press.  It’s called Woman in White.  What is your favourite aspect or part of Woman in White?

KD: Woman in White was particularly fun to write. I got to blend a creature feature kind of campy vibe with feminist issues—especially domestic violence—which are near and dear to my heart. I think the juxtaposition works particularly well blending the “monster of the week” atmosphere with really powerful, flawed, female characters. I had a blast with Mary Beth, Angela, and Lee. I wanted to make the three of them imperfect in various ways: Angela is a domestic abuse victim who’s had an abortion. Mary Beth is overweight and more interested in video games than hunting or being a mom. Lee is career-focused and is sleeping with a married man. These complexities made them fascinating to spend time with in my head.

Q. So in WIW…the mayhem that is going on… is this just a vengeance on the bad men of the town, with a few innocents caught in between, or is there a deeper statement here about patriarchy in general?  Was this a conscious theme you set out to write on or something that developed organically for you?

KD: The idea of Woman in White was inspired by the plight of the male angler fish, specifically as described by a cartoon written by The Oatmeal. The male angler fish, for those of you who won’t click the link and read the cartoon, has a really shit deal. He’s tiny and weak and spends his entire life searching for a female angler fish, who lures him to her with terrifying, wonderful pheromones. He thinks she’s the most beautiful thing in the world even though in order to breed he winds up literally melding with her and losing every part of his identity. I wanted to create a monster that operated in a similar fashion, and in doing so, I found it impossible to avoid gender focused themes. I’m tired of seeing the same old story where a bunch of dudes save the day. I wanted the men in town to be the damsels in distress. In WIW, Jason is one of my favorite characters. In any other book, I’m pretty sure he would be the hero. I think I went easy on him, though…

Q. Do you find it easy to let a story go when it’s time to write “the end”, or even when it is published? 

KD: Honestly, and I feel like I lose author street cred points here, I don’t feel like I have a problem letting this stuff go. I’m well aware it can be tweaked to death, and I don’t want to do that. I think I err on the side of under-tweaking. I like to finish a draft, then let it sit for a while before I let myself or anyone else look at it. I’ll give it a go, send it along to some of my beloved beta readers, then, like a bird, set it free out into the world.

Q. Do you read your books once they’re published? (Simon: Once something of mine is in print, I can’t actually can’t bring myself to read it. It’s bizarre.)

KD: When I see my own work in print, it’s like every little flaw crawls off the page and boops me in the nose. It’s not the same with galleys, those always look great. That said, it’s pretty rad to see a thing I made out there in the world that people can hold in their hands.

Q. Do you find after publication that the creativity tanks have been drained? What do you do to fill them or recharge the creative battery?

KD: I find publication charges my batteries more than drains them. What gets me kinda down is the time when I’ve polished a manuscript (as much as I’m going to) and I’m starting to send it out. That’s not particularly energizing for me. I have a few tricks for my creative batteries: I have found NaNoWriMo a fun opportunity to just pour out something I don’t care about that gives me a chance to practice plotting, pacing, and production. I have never looked at one after the fact, just pump out the words, learn from the experience and forget it. The other thing I like to do is switching between short stories and novels or novellas. The thing that most recharges my creative juices, however, is the act of being in an environment with a bunch of other writers. The Seton Hill University Alumni Retreat in Greensburg, PA and NECON in Bristol, RI are the two I enjoy the most.

Q. You ride a motor bike – When did you get into bikes? I heard something about a rustbucket. Tell me more!

KD: When I graduated from college, I bought myself a non-functioning $600 motorcycle on Craigslist and got my motorcycle license. I was convinced I could teach myself how to fix it and learn to ride. That bike never moved. I was terrible at motorcycles, and kind of gave up on the whole thing. I referred to myself in that dark time as “the world’s least enthusiastic motorcycle enthusiast.” Fast forward three years to my moving to Vermont, where a former boss decided he was gonna sell me his motorcycle. We agreed on the price of one hundred US dollars. Former boss got the bike out of storage, checked it over, then let me know he could not, in good conscience, take any money for the thing. Thusly, I was given Rustbucket, a 1982 Yamaha Maxim 400. (Not to be confused with the Maxim 650 I had a few years later. That thing was a battle tank and I loved it dearly.)

KD1

Rustbucket!

After about a thousand bucks of repairs, I rode Rustbucket for a season, even though its functionality was dubious. Eventually it died and I sold it for $50. I’m now riding a 2013 Harley, and put on many thousand miles every summer (riding seasons are pretty short here in the frozen northland of Vermont). Last summer I survived an incident I’ve been fearing since I first started riding…the dreaded bee in the helmet. I’d always thought a bee in my helmet would just, like, make the bike spontaneously explode. Instead, I lifted my visor and shooed the flying hypodermic needle away and didn’t even stop. Simon shouldn’t have asked about this because I could talk about motorcycles FOREVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

KD2

Q: What new or forthcoming books are on your radar? Whose work are you loving right now? 

KD: I’m super super pumped for Joe Hill’s Fireman, Bracken Macleod’s Stranded (I’m a sucker for a wintery story), and Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. Right now I’m in the middle of Stephen King’s most recent short story collection Bazaar of Bad Dreams. I don’t think it’s got quite the same teeth as Skeleton Crew or Night Shift, but still pretty dang good. Other things I’m pretty into at the moment are James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series. Space opera goodness.

Q. What are your goals in the year or two ahead for your own writing?  Got any story markets you’re trying to crack, or working on a novel or collection or are you working on novel etc? 

KD: I have a couple novels up my sleeve. One with a finished first draft that needs some serious grooming and polishing, one halfway finished, and one in the larval idea stages. It’s all about getting the butt in the chair and producing some words


 

Check the synopsis below and fantastic praise of Kristin’s Woman in white \ and click the cover image to visit Amazon and pick up a copy!

woman_in_white-2

Synopsis

Rocky Rhodes, Maine.

As a fierce snowstorm descends upon the sleepy little town, a Good Samaritan stops to help a catatonic woman sitting in the middle of the icy road, and is never seen or heard from again. When the police find his car, it is splattered in more blood than the human body can hold.

While the storm rages on, the wave of disappearances continue, the victims sharing only one commonality: they are all male. Now it’s up to three young women to figure out who or what is responsible: a forensic chemist, a waitress struggling with an abusive boyfriend, and a gamer coping with the loss of her lover.

Their search will lead them on a journey filled with unspeakable horrors that are all connected to a mysterious Woman in White.

Praise

“Horror born straight from a nor’easter, Dearborn’s Woman in White is a great read for a winter night—with a monster I’ll never forget.” —Christopher Irvin, author of Federales and Burn Cards

“Kristin Dearborn’s Woman in White is a rip-roaring monster tale with sharp-eyed characterization and something to say about the power dynamics between men and woman. Thought-provoking and entertaining as hell!” —Tim Waggoner, author of Eat the Night

“Great stuff! Suspenseful, quickly paced, unpredictable and wonderfully evil tale. Kristin Dearborn’s best yet!” —Jeff Strand, author of Pressure

website-logo

Hey folks, this is one of my surprises for Women In Horror Month – an interview with Lauren Beukes!  (I’m still reeling from the first surprise, Ellen Datlow! Wow.)  I first came across Lauren’s writing years ago in a South African horror magazine and anthology, Something Wicked. Something Wicked showcased some pretty cool authors  (see also: Sarah Lotz, Cat Hellisen, Karen Runge, etc) and one of those was  Lauren! She’s since gone on to serious fame and favour, after releasing a number of fantastic novels.  I’m super thrilled to have Lauren visit my blog for a chat. Thanks so much, Lauren!
image001

Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m an ex-journalist who got into writing cartoons for kids TV and then strange and twisty cross-genre novels, including Zoo City, The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters, which have been translated into 26 languages and won awards various, including the Arthur C Clarke Award and the August Derleth Best Horror Novel Award. I live in Cape Town South Africa and growing up under apartheid has influenced the way I think about the world and the themes that show up in my work and how I define what evil really is.  That Nietzche quote about looking into the abyss? The worst thing we’ll find looking back is us and all we are capable of.

Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where you something mad you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?  

I love monsters and the terrifying things that lurk in the dark, under the bed, in the cupboard, creeping between the walls and in the shadows, especially as I absolutely don’t believe in the supernatural.

I’ve never specifically set out to write a horror story, but because I have this mash-up of influences, there’s always a darkness that emerges in my books. I was surprised to hear Broken Monsters described as a horror, but I’ll take it.

Oh, wait, with the exception of Survivors’ Club, the original horror comic I’m co-writing with Dale Halvorsen with art by Ryan Kelly. That’s straight up a riff on our love of the genre, with the premise: what if the 80s horror movies were real and where are those kids today? It’s been really fun to take old tropes and twist them in truly horrible ways. We’re always pushing the story and the characters to try to show you something you haven’t seen before, that pays homage to the classics.

Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies? 

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, two stories unfolding in parallel with crazy footnotes, like a “found footage” of fiction about a young man discovering a manuscript and what’s written in it, chronicling a house with unsettling dimensions. It’s creepy and claustrophobic and strange and riveting, as much as what’s between the lines and the white spaces of the page as the story itself.

Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?

Moxyland, about a dystopian corporate-apartheid state where cell phones are used to control you, not like the real world right now at all… Oh god, it’s so depressingly like the real world right now.

Zoo City, which won the Arthur C Clarke Award, a phantasmagorical noir, about a young woman with a sloth on her back and the magical ability to find lost things who is asked to track down a missing pop star in the inner city slums of Johannesburg.

The Shining Girls, which won the University of Johannesburg Prize, the Strand Critics Choice Award, the RT Thriller of the Year and was a notable book on Amazon, Goodreads and NPR, about a time-travelling serial killer in Chicago and the survivor who turns the hunt around.

Broken Monsters about strange murders happening in Detroit, art parties, ruin porn, haunted places and haunted people, which won the August Derleth Prize for Best Horror.

 Survivors’ Club is an original Vertigo comic by me and Dale Halvorsen with art by Ryan Kelly about six people who survived terrifying events straight from a horror movie as children, who find themselves drawn together as adults. But are they survivors or the chosen ones?

I have a short story collection, Slipping & Other Stories, coming out in the middle of the year.

I’ve also directed a documentary, Glitterboys and Ganglands, about Cape Town’s biggest female impersonation beauty pageant which won best LGBT Film at The Atlanta Black Film Festival.

Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling?  E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook

I love the creative collaboration of writing comics and TV scripts, but if story is a drug, the novel offers the purest hit of fiction, straight to the vein. It’s the deepest and most intimate form for me.

Q. What are you working on at the minute?

A new novel which will be out in 2017

Q. Is there any quality or skill etc that makes a good author specifically? 

I have an illustration above my desk, which shows a girl who has ripped her heart from her chest and is eating it. That’s how you should write, fierce and bloody, with all your heart.

Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?

Just one? Gah. Jennifer Egan.

Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with? 

Sarah Lotz and I have been threatening to write a kids book for aaaages.

Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?

The Apartment by SL Grey (aka Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg) Zodiac by Sam Wilson, South by Frank Owen (aka Diane Awerbuck and Alex Latimer) – all South African genre writers, are on my TBR pile. I’ve just finished Joe Hill’s incandescently good The Fireman and Alexandra Olivia’s The Last One, most of which are still to be released, later this year, because I get to read a lot of stuff before it gets published.

Q. Are there any challenges encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?

All the usual – about how men are less likely to pick up a book by a woman writer, how female authors are less likely to be reviewed by significant percentages in the major papers. I once straight up had an acquaintance say to me, “Congratulations on all your success, but I’m never going to read your books because I don’t read books by or about women.” It’s tragic and absurd.

Q. Why is Women in Horror month important? 

To make up for the way female writers often get sidelined as I mentioned above.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Finish the damn book. Nothing else matters.

Lauren Beuke’s Links

Website: http://laurenbeukes.com/