Monday, July 26, 2010

The Werepig Show


Just wrapped up a busy convention weekend (Confluence 23) with a 90 minute interview at Greg Hall's The Funky Werepig Show, where we talked about great teachers, influential editors, worthwhile causes, the craft of writing, and (of course) the books -- Visions, Veins, Vipers (Fantasist Enterprises) and This Way to Egress (Ash-Tree Press). It's all available for download at Blog Talk Radio and iTunes. Check it out . . . and share the vision!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Kicking Forward


These are busy times. I'm in the process of gearing up for Confluence 23, where I'm scheduled for a string of readings, panels, and book-related sessions all day Saturday. Then, on Sunday, you'll find me on Blog Talk Radio's The Funky Werepig Show, hosted by the always entertaining Greg Hall. If you've got time, I hope you'll drop by, give a listen.

This weekend's events are the first in a string of appearances that I'll be doing in support of the new book, which has just received a terrific review from Publishers Weekly.

Things are definitely popping.

But today's topic is Kickstarter and the campaign that William Horner is running to help underwrite the production of his next volume of Fantastical Visions. The previous four volumes of the FV series featured strong stories by a host of up-and-coming writers, and the current volume looks to be the best yet.

Here's how Horner describes it on his website:

Fantastical Visions V will feature 16 fantasy short stories (each accompanied by one or two illustrations), including Sarah Totton’s “Ride,” in which a boy of mixed race attempts to earn acceptance in his community by riding through a haunted forest. In E.J. Alexander’s “The Most Daunting Task of All,” a warrior trapped in a perilous land must overcome his prejudices to survive. A woman discovers her seemingly innocuous magical talent may be the key to toppling a dictatorship and saving her people from oppression in Stephen Couch’s “Threads,” and in Nancy Fulda’s “A Song of Blackness,” a man obsessed with restoring his children to their rightful heritage finds that victory may come at the cost of horrendous sins.

It sounds like a terrific lineup, and as a reader and someone interested in supporting markets for emerging talent, I'm eager to see Horner's fundraising campaign succeed.

A few days ago, the campaign passed its 1/3 mark, but with only ten days to go, it's going to take more support from people who care about good books to make this fundraiser a success. If you like to read, the incentives alone make this a project worth supporting . . . and it's a terrific way of paying forward.

Here's the link. Check it out. And pass it on!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paying Forward


A few month's ago, on Greg Hall's The Funky Werepig, author Thomas F. Monteleone told of how sf editor Damon Knight once line edited a story for him. The edits put the young writer on a path that eventually led to a string of bestselling books, but when Monteleone asked how he might return such generosity, Knight suggested that, instead of paying back, the young writer might one day consider "paying forward."

Paying forward is a long-standing tradition among writers, a tacit understanding that the student will become the new master who will, in turn, guide the next generation of students.

Last month, during my summer residency at Seton Hill University, I heard David Morrell tell a story about his teacher Phil Klass. It's a story that I had heard many times, from both Morrell and Klass, but it's one I never tire of hearing. Basically, it's about how a young man in search of a writing voice and a father figure found both while attending Penn State University in the 1960s. At that time, Phil Klass (better known to sf readers as William Tenn) was the resident writer at Penn State. Working with Klass, Morrell created a thesis project titled First Blood (which he dedicated "to Philip Klass and William Tenn: each in his own way").

Last month, when I saw Morrell in a Seton Hill lecture hall talking to an assembly of young writers about the process of becoming a novelist, he was practicing the art of paying forward.

In a way, I was also one of Phil Klass's mentees. For a while, I lived down the street from him in Pittsburgh's South Hills, and once a month we got together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was never just the two of us. Other writers attended, so many that at times we talked of calling ourselves "Tenn's Nine" or "Tenn's Dozen." But regardless of how many of us there were, we all learned from the master.

Phil passed away last winter, in the thick of a week-long snowstorm that blanketed the Pittsburgh area with 3-4 feet of snow. Travel was treacherous, making a suitable memorial impossible. But now the roads are clear, and this coming weekend a Phil Klass memorial is being held at Confluence 23. I'll be there.

But teaching isn't the only way to pay forward. Tomorrow, I'd like to share an update on W. H. Horner's Kickstarter campaign and talk once again about how you can get involved with helping provide a showcase for a new generation of writers. I'll also have a few announcements and surprises, so be sure to check back.

In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, check out Horner's video . . . and share the vision!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Guest Blog at "Tattooed Head"


While you're sitting around waiting for the next installment of TV (Teaching Visions, of course), why not drop over to one of my favorite blog sites, "Ramblings of a Tattooed Head" (by Simon Marshall-Jones ), where my guest blog attempts to answer the timeless question: How long does it take to write a novel?

As much as possible, TV postings occur every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday . . . with occasional specials and more than a few long hiatuses.

I'll be back tomorrow with a Kickstarter update and a Confluence preview. See you then!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Approaching the Finish Line: Part 2


It had a garish dust jacket and I remember being embarrassed by the violence, bad taste and slippery look of it. It looked the book jacket for a book of bad science fiction.”

The quotation is from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. It’s about Francis Cugat’s cover for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and it contains one of the more enduring typographical errors in American literature.

We’ll get to the error in a moment, but first let’s talk about book covers.

As the story goes, when Fitzgerald saw Cugat’s preliminary sketches, he was so intrigued by the image of eyes in the sky that he added a new sequence in the novel. Here’s a slice of it:

[…] above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic--their retinas are one yard high.

Incidentally, that passage contains another one of American literature’s most enduring errors, but for the moment we’re considering the benefits of artistic collaboration. The topic of editing will come later.

As I mentioned yesterday, the illustrations that artist Gerasimos Kolokas did for my forthcoming novel Vipers helped me clarify elements of the book while I was doing my final revisions. In one instance, an illustration of a character sitting in an antique chair inspired a revealing bit of description that had not been in the novel’s first draft. I added the following after seeing the illustration:

[…] it was a heavy antique, an heirloom taken from his father’s study. He eased into it, feeling the slow wisdom of its weight, the purity of its construction. He set his hands on the armrests. The wood and leather spoke to him. We are brothers and sisters, plant and animal, children of the earth. And beneath those whispers, the deeper voice of brass accents and iron nails. We are the fathers and mothers. Iron and alloy. Ancient as the stars. Eternal.

The details are perfect for a book about temporary existence in the face of eternal forces, and yet that antique chair was not mentioned in the book’s first draft. It took an artist’s reinterpretation of the scene to show me the way.

And writers do occasionally need to be shown the way.

Vipers is being released by FE Books, a relatively new publisher headed by W. H. Horner, a young and gifted editor who would like to become known as the Maxwell Perkins of fantasy and horror. He talks about his ambitions in a recent video he made for Kickstarter, and as I work with him on the final edits of Vipers, I am more convinced than ever that he is on his way to realizing that goal. I’ve been writing for a while, and I’ve worked with some of the top editors in the business. W. H. Horner certainly ranks with the best of them.

We started this week’s series of postings by considering the element of time in the novel-writing process, but writing a novel takes more than time. It takes planning, visualizing, and careful editing. As pointed out in Monday’s post, I started work on Vipers with a detailed plan (synopsis) and a collection of rough visualizations (maps and timelines). But as I near the finish line, I’m benefitting by working with people who are helping me hone my vision. It makes the job a bit more demanding, but the results are richer for it.

The errors in the above passages? You saw them, right?

In the Hemingway quotation, the second sentence is missing the word like.

In the Fitzgerald passage, the word retinas really should be irises.

In the passage from Vipers . . . there isn’t one. It’s gone. W. H. Horner flagged it during final editing.

Back next week! See you here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Approaching the Finish Line


Finishing a novel is a lot like running a race against Achilles’ tortoise. You know the story, the one in which a tortoise convinces Achilles that a finish line can’t be reached. You can find a summary here.

Of course, as anyone who has faced a deadline knows, finish lines are real. Thesis projects have due dates, and books have scheduled launches. The trick is making sure the work itself is truly finished, and doing that requires planning, daily effort, and demanding editors.

I had all those things on Vipers.

The book started as a detailed synopsis assembled back in May 2009. Since Vipers is a sequel, I needed to take care to build on the details laid out in the first book (Veins 2008). Such building requires attention to the placement of landmarks and roads as well as the relationships of the primary characters. Moreover, since both Vipers and Veins employ scenes that overlap and backtrack in complex ways, I needed to make sure I had the sequence of events clearly established before I started writing.

To that end, I augmented my synopsis with detailed maps and timelines that I could consult (and modify as needed) during the writing process.

Some writers feel that detailed outlining and planning
diminish the joys of discovery. They want to write their books as the action plays out. They want to be surprised in the same ways that the book’s readers will be surprised when chains of events lead to unexpected twists. I want the same things. I love that moment when details that I’ve put in motion lead down unplanned paths, and I experienced many such moments while working on the synopsis for Vipers. Timelines, maps, and synopses don’t diminish such possibilities, they enhance them.

The actual writing of the book took four months, with the preliminary manuscript being submitted right around the time of World Fantasy in October 2009. After submitting the book, I got straight to work on This Way To Egress, the story collection that Ash-Tree Press released at World Horror in March 2010. I also wrote some new short fiction in that period, endeavoring to clear my plate in time for the rewriting and editing of Vipers, which began this past April.

The final steps toward the finish line involved working with the editing and design teams at FE Books. Part of this final process involved collaborating with FE artist Gerasimos Kolokas on the book’s illustrations, which further helped me visualize the book’s characters and scenes. There’s a story about how the artist Francis Cugat helped F. Scott Fitzgerald visualize one of the key symbolic element of The Great Gatsby, and I found myself thinking about that relationship as I worked with Gerasimos on his illustrations for Vipers.

More about that tomorrow. Until then, remember . . . they’re coming!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Writing and the World at Large


A few months back, we were talking about time: where to find it, how to use it, where it goes.

Time is certainly one of the most precious commodities in a writer’s life, and apparently one of the scarcest.

I’ve recently returned from my summer residency at Seton Hill University, and, although it pulled me away from some writing projects, I must admit I had a terrific time.

One of the highlights of the residency was a reading forum organized by the students. The point of the event wasn’t so much to share work (since the graduate writing program offers plenty of formal activities for doing that), but rather to give students experience reading work aloud at public venues. To that end, each reader was given five minutes to read, with the timekeeper starting the clock after the work was introduced and calling time with stopwatch precision when the five-minutes were up. The time limits gave everyone a chance to read and still get to bed at a decent hour (classes resumed early the following morning).

One of the highpoints of the evening was a reading by WPF faculty member Scott A. Johnson, who read “The Night Before Christmas,” a flash pastiche from his Dreadtime Stories podcast series. It was a terrific performance from a seasoned writer who, not coincidentally, would be giving a three-hour module titled “Reading Your Own Work” later in the residency.

The students were also kind enough to give me a couple of reading slots. Like Scott, I read selections that fit easily into the five-minute time limit: “Step on a Crack” (Vision) and “Shooting Evil” (This Way to Egress). You can hear studio recordings of the stories by clicking on the titles.

If you’ve been following this blog, you already know my views on the art of live presentation, and I’m glad I got the chance to sit in on the student-sponsored reading . Yes, it took me away from some projects I was anxious about completing, but sometimes the best writing-related activities take place in the world at large with people you really enjoy being with.

Tomorrow I’d like to talk about the elephant in my room, the biggest thing going on in my life right now, and the main reason why I wasn’t sure I had time to take part in this summer’s SHU residency. The project is called Vipers. It’s a followup to my previous novel Veins, and I’ve just finished what I trust will be my final batch of edits and revisions. The book comes out September 7 from the good people at Fantasist Enterprises, who are planning a big preview at GenCon in Indianapolis in early August.

I’m really excited about this one, and I’d like to give you a little preview. So check back soon, big things are happening, and I want to make sure you hear about them first.

Until then, share the vision . . . and watch out for flying snakes!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010



We believe in supporting the good guys, right?

I’d like to tell you about one of them.

A little over a decade ago, W. H. Horner launched Fantasist Enterprises with a plan to publish quality paperback anthologies that were as well designed as the stories they showcased.

Over the years Horner has succeeded with a line of beautifully illustrated, carefully edited, and wonderfully readable books, the flagship of which is the Fantastical Visions series.

From the beginning, Horner established Fantastical Visions as a place where new writers could get feedback from professional editors and, if their work was strong enough, have their words appear alongside those of established professionals. But Fantastical Visions isn’t only about writers. Most of all, it’s about the reading experience. As Horner puts it:

We are dedicated to reawakening the sense of wonder that our modern society can so easily suppress and disregard. We want our readers to recapture the wide-eyed glee they had as children, thinking that old trees contained spirits and clouds hid floating castles. We want them to study the shadows, trying to catch that strange movement they thought they saw, and experience visions that linger on the edges of their waking minds.

The hardworking people at FE are currently assembling Fantastical Visions V, an anthology that looks to be their strongest collection ever. The book will feature 16 tales, each accompanied by one or more full-page illustrations commissioned specifically for the work.

To help underwrite production, FE has teamed with to help cover some of the printing and payment to contributors. (FE has always endeavored to pay competitive rates for art and fiction.) Through Kickstarter, people who wish to support FE can pledge support in exchange for gift incentives that in most cases match or even exceed the value of the pledge. In other words, every one wins.

If you enjoy reading fantasy anthologies that are as expertly crafted and edited as the stories they contain, or if you are a writer or artist interested in supporting a series of books that continues to serve as a showcase for new work, consider making a Kickstarter pledge. More information about the campaign can be found here.

For more about FE’s titles, please visit their website.

You can also drop by a special display at my own website, which I plan to update as I follow the progress of FE’s campaign.

Take a look, make a pledge, and share the vision!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Finding Time


Time for one more question, and here it is:

How do you find the time to write?

That's a good one. Fortunately, finding time isn't really the issue. There's plenty of time. It's all around us, flying by every second. The trick is setting some of it aside for writing, something that can be pretty daunting for a new writer, especially if he or she is a graduate student with a job, family, or anything resembling a social life. Sometimes my students talk about taking leaves of absences from school or work. Other times they might consider locking themselves away from family and friends for a few weeks, long enough to get a good start on a project or meet a deadline. But I've never been a fan of those approaches. Walking away from or shutting out the stuff of life for weeks at a time isn't the answer. Working smart and prioritizing is.

Suppose you can set aside two hours a day for writing. That two hours needs to be productive, and it's during that block that you shut out the world's other demands. If your writing space has a door, close it. If it doesn't, put on some earphones and hit play. I favor electronica, jazz, and classical -- stuff without words. While I'm writing, the only words I want in my head are my own.

In my experience, it's also vital to tune out the telephone, email, instant messenger, and tweets. That stuff will all still be there when you finish your writing session. Remember, you're not abandoning those things, only asking them to retire back awhile, suffice at what they are, but never forgotten. (Thank you Uncle Walt.)

Then, for two hours, you write. Nothing else. Multitasking is a myth. The world of fiction demands concentration.

I have a colleague who, using this approach, has written a string of novels on his lunch hours at work. For me, I find the evening is best. Find a time that works for you, set it aside, and use it productively.

Naturally, there is a limit to what you can accomplish in two hours, and sometime you will find you have various writing projects competing for your attention. When deadlines loom, you may be faced with the prospect of setting one project aside in favor of another.

At the moment, I'm facing a number of looming project -- each growing ever closer as I sit typing these words. One is the final rewrite on my next novel. The other is a string of spoken word performances that begin in early February in anticipation of my forthcoming collection This Way to Egress (due out in March). And then there are two new short stories that I have promised to deliver before leaving for World Horror. That's a lot. Clearly, if I'm going to get those things done, something has got to go.

Can you guess what that is?

I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to shut the door for awhile, take another break from Teaching Visions, and hope to be back just as soon as I've got a handle on those other projects.

In the meantime, if you have any comments, please post one or drop me an email.

I'll be back as soon as I can. Until then, keep prioritizing . . . and share the vision.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Taglines - Part 2


Here are a couple of good taglines I've seen recently, ones strong enough to make me pick up the book:

The city is alive tonight . . . and it's her job to keep it that way.
The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay

In the fight to save humanity, she's the weapon of choice.
Bitter Night by Diana Pharoah Francis

As for ones I've seen that didn't work, how about these:

Can the hidden colony of Marseguro survive rediscovery?
Marseguro by Edward Willett

Beneath Boston's historic streets, and ancient power stirs...
Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald

The two that work both end with clever twists, something that the tag for Spiral Hunt tries to do as well. But "an ancient power stirs" seems tepid, needlessly vague, not particularly ... well ... stirring.

To be fair, the tags that didn't work for me are hardly the worst I've seen. For some truly dreadful ones, let's go to the movies:

When all else fails, they don't.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra

The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.

He was dead, but he got better.
Crank: High Voltage

Of course, in all fairness, I'm sure that the Crank tag is supposed to be goofy.

Coming up with one of these little verbal trailers is far from easy, something I found out when I decided to try my hand at coming up with one for Veins. I started by looking at models, hanging out in Barnes & Nobel, pulling books off the shelf, making lists of tags that grabbed me. Then, using those as models, I set about making lists of my own tags.

Since Veins is set in an abandoned surface mine, I tried coming up with phrases that dealt with scars, wounds, blood (always a good word to use when tagging a horror novel), and coal. The worst one on my list? I suppose that would have to be this one:

In coal blood.

The list was long. Two pages. More than fifty tries, but gradually something started to emerge. Near the end of the list, I came up with these:

If you abandon a wound, it will never heal.
Abandoned wounds never heal.
Some wounds never heal.

That last one made it to the cover, and I'm pleased with it. Those four words represent the essence of the book: setting, theme, and conflict. After writing them, I knew that the book would hold together. Better yet, I knew that it was marketable.

For me, that kind of confirmation is why I think coming up with your own tags is worth the effort. Doing so enables you to better understand the book by capturing the essence of your project in a kind of verbal snapshot.

I don't have a formula for writing tags. Only a process: study models, make lists.

And since the first part of the process involves looking at book covers, please let me know what you find -- the best as well as the worst.

We'll round out the week tomorrow with one more question. Until then, remember this: the only thing better than tomorrow's question are the ones I've already answered.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Taglines


That's Adrian Rawlings and Lee Blakemore in a scene from Charly Cantor's Blood (1999), a film that Fantasia Magazine called "one of the most intriguing films ever made on the subject of addiction." It was Cantor's second film, and would have marked the beginning of an impressive career had he not fallen ill shortly after its completion. He died a few years later, leaving the world with two films, a few unproduced screenplays, and a sense of what might have been.

One of those as yet unproduced films is This Way to Egress. He finished the screenplay shortly before his death. Last week I filled you in on the origin of the title. Today I'd like to talk about taglines.

You know what a tagline is, right? It's that little phrase or clause that sometimes appears on a book cover or movie poster, an aphorism designed to attract attention, induce interest. Want some examples? Check these out:

When you can live forever, what do you live for.

Jaws 2
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

In space, no one can hear you scream.

Long a staple in film marketing, taglines have become increasingly visible on book covers. But I never gave them much thought until Charly and I had that conversation about the title of Egress. (See last week's blogs for more details.) That was the night that he also shared the tagline for the screenplay. It was simple, concise, and dead-on perfect for the story:

Reality is a contract we make with ourselves.

I thought it was an intriguing way of conceptualizing the story. More than the title. Not quite a summary.

Although tagline development has traditionally been the job of publishers and ad departments, it doesn't hurt to try coming up with a good one on your own. If nothing else, it might verify the marketability of your work in progress. It might also serve you well in a pitch session. Moreover, in this age of short-staffed publishers, the tag you come up with might well appear on your book.

And so we arrive at this week's question.

Do you have any advice on how to come up with tags for your book? How do you identify the most important ideas to represent and condense them down to a phrase?

We'll consider that tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Titles - Part 3


Back in the early 90s, I sold a story to Borderlands 3, the non-theme anthology of imaginative fiction edited by Thomas F. Monteleone. I titled the story "Traumatic Descent," which at the time seemed like a darn fine title.

The story centers on a character coping with the psychological trauma of a failed marriage -- trauma that has plunged her into a world where dark shapes move about in lumbering indifference. As the story progresses, the protagonist realizes that the trauma has caused her to descend into a lower sphere of existence, one from which there is only one way out, an exit so unthinkable that even the promise of release cannot compel her to take it.

There is a pivotal scene late in the story, one in which the protagonist sees a dim sign beside a dark doorway. The sign reads: "This Way to Egress." She doesn't take the door. Instead, she opens another that plunges her into her biggest nightmare of all.

The hardback edition of Borderlands 3 was released in 1993. It had a powerful cover by Rick Lieder. That's it in the upper left.

The following year, White Wolf released the paperback edition with a cover by Dave McKean. That's it on the right. Startling, isn't it? If your taste leans toward the surreal and you see that book in the store, you are definitely going to pick it up, and that's exactly what happened when a young filmmaker entered a London bookstore in the late 90s. That filmmaker was Charly Cantor, best known for the cult horror film Blood. He finished Blood in 1999. The following year he contacted me about securing the rights to "Traumatic Descent." If we could come to an agreement, he wanted to adapt my story as his next project.

A few months later, after I'd signed the option agreement and cashed the check, Charly asked me if I'd mind going with another title for the screenplay.

"You don't like 'Traumatic Descent'?" I asked.

"It's not that I don't like it," he said. "It's just that the producers think it sounds a bit like it an airplane story."

I'd never considered that, but once he said it I knew he was right.

"We were wondering," he said, "if you'd mind very much if we went with 'This Way to Egress'?"

Did I mind? Not at all. Indeed, it struck me as perfect for the story -- so perfect that I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me before. And to think that it had been sitting there in the story the whole time, waiting for me to pull it out and use it for the title.

Therein lies my final bit of advice: sometimes the search for a perfect title need go no farther than the story itself. In fact, I am now so sold on that title that I have decided to use it for my next book -- a collection of horror stories from the multiple-award winning publisher Ash-Tree Press. The book, featuring an incredible cover by Jason Zerrillo, will be released this March. Interestingly, the film has yet to enter production.

Now there's one more piece to the story about my title-changing conversation with Charly Cantor. It involves something called a tagline. Come back on Monday, and I'll tell it to you.

But right now, if you'll follow me . . .

I think it's this way to egress.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Titles - Part 2

I heard a story once about how Orson Welles was excited about the look of the title Citizen Kane because it had both a Z and a K in it. I don't know if the story is apocryphal, but there's no denying that Citizen Kane is a great title, appealing to both the sense of sight and sound. Now I don't suggest that writers get bogged down worrying about such things. And yet, it's prudent to remember that the title you give your manuscript will (if the publisher doesn't change it) eventually appear on your book's cover. How big do you want that title to be? Do you want it to display well and still leave room for some cool cover art? If so, then you'll want to keep that title short. And if you can come up with a word or phrase that includes a few distinctive consonants, so much the better.

And don't forget the sound. I recall a reviewer once complaining about The Book of Baraboo by Barry B. Longyear. It wasn't that it was a bad book. (Indeed, as I recall it was, it was quite enjoyable.) It was just that the reviewer thought that "The Book of Baraboo by Barry B. Longyear" sounded funky. Then again, it's memorable.

The titles of my books for Fantasist Enterprises (Veins, Visions, and the forthcoming Vipers) were all selected to be short, resonant, and visually interesting. I thought that each might look good on a cover, and I'm pleased how the artists have begun using that initial V to create a uniform design, lending a bit of brand recognition to the books.

Your mileage may vary, but these are some of the things that I think of when brainstorming titles. There are no absolutes, no formulas for what makes one title better than the next, and you may have some very good reasons for going with a title that follows none of my suggestions. Sometimes a title just feels right to the author, as is the case with the title of my next book -- a title that at first might seem to disregard most everything I've covered these past two days. And yet, I think the title works.

Tomorrow, well talk about This Way to Egress.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Writing Genre Fiction: Titles - Part 1


As mentioned in the previous installment, I'd like to devote some time to responding to questions submitted by the MFA candidates who attended my most recent talks at Seton Hill University.

So here's the first question:

How have you come up with compelling titles?

Great question. Not only does it deal with an often overlooked element of writing, but it implies that the titles I have come up with are good ones. Indeed, I'd like to think that most of them are.

In 2008 Fantasist Enterprises launched my series of supernatural thrillers set in the coalfields of western Pennsylvania. The first book is titled Veins. The second, due out this summer, is Vipers. Considering that my recently released collection of fantasy and science fiction stories is titled Visions, one might assume that I favor one word titles, and sometime I do. But there's more to it than that.

Let's consider what I was going for.

First of all, the name that you give to a book has got to do more than simply get a reader interested. It needs to inform as well.

Veins is a visceral novel. Characters are maimed along the way. Blood is shed. The reader who expects such things will not be disappointed, but the veins of the title are not human veins, not blood veins. They are, instead, the veins of the earth -- the coal veins that line the strata of exposed hillsides in western Pennsylvania. Such veins are a major part of the novel's landscape and symbolism, and as a result, the novel's title resonates in a kind of three-part harmony with the book by conveying aspects of the narrative's setting, themes, and violent conflict.

Visions functions in much the same way, not only because many of the stories deal with hallucinations, but because the book itself is presented as a visionary experience. If you've read the book, you know what I mean. If you haven't, go read it.

The title Vipers also carries multiple meanings, though I will say even less about that one here. All will be revealed when the book debuts at GenCon this summer.

So the first thing you want your title to do is accurately represent important aspects of the book's contents. Ideally, the reader should go in expecting one thing, but along the way he or she should begin to realize a deeper significance -- a sense of irony or nuance that gradually becomes evident during the reading.

You will also notice that the titles are plural nouns presented without articles (Veins, Visions, and Vipers as opposed to The Veins, The Visions, and The Vipers). Nouns are generally a good choice, and articles, since the role they serve in sentences is usually not necessary in single words or phrases, can generally be omitted.
And what about all those Vs? What's up with them? We'll discuss that aspect tomorrow.
Until then, share the vision!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Return of TV


I've just returned from Seton Hill University and my winter residency in the Writing Popular Fiction Program. It was a great time, a chance to get together with colleagues and some talented up-and-coming novelists. I always leave there wishing that the next residency weren't so far off. So now here I am, back home and eager for it to be June.

My lectures this time were "Exposition Through Dramatization" and "Structure and Synopsis Writing." Each ran three hours, which always seems too short.

I like to begin these lectures (or modules, as we call them in the program) by giving the students index cards to use in submitting question that occur during the presentation. The cards are not intended to replace verbal questions, which may be asked at any time. Instead, they're for tangential queries -- things that might be off-topic but worth addressing. I usually try to respond to some of them when I collect the cards , but this time -- given the volume of material that I had to cover -- I responded to fewer than usual.

And the questions are darn good.

So now that I'm back home, I'm thinking it's time to once again fire up the old TV. (That's TV as in Teaching Visions, or course.)

With the exception of a couple of book events in February, I'll probably be free enough to keep blogging until my next book comes out in March.
(That book, by the way, is This Way to Egress from Ash-Tree Press. The cover is by Jason Zerillo, design by Jason Van Hollander. I'll be telling you lots more about it before it debuts this spring at World Horror in Brighton.)

So be sure to check back here every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday -- starting March 18, for some poignant Q&A on exposition, dramatization, synopsis writing, and whatever else seems relevant at the time.

In the meantime, let your friends know that TV is coming back. Spread the word. Share the vision!