This year, I understood (perhaps for the first time) that just reading books on writing wasn’t cutting it and that the two oft-quoted bits of writing advice are, in fact, immutable truths.
First, write. Put words on the page. Stop self-editing as I go. Then re-write. Repeat.
Second, read. Read with a critical eye, with a student’s eye. Look for what works. See how the words rub against each other. Discern what the writer is doing in each sentence (more than one thing).
I was introduced to this style of reading while taking Richard Thomas’ class over at LitReactor (highly recommended). Each day, Richard would refer to a couple of stories and provide notes and annotations to illustrate the day’s lesson. Very effective, as was the writing part of the lesson where we could focus on a specific aspect and get one-on-one feedback. The only downside is that the class is only a week long and I needed to do a lot more reading like that: pulling apart the words to see what was going on inside.
Late in the year (was my last post, actually), I found ReadToWriteStories.com, which does the same: break down a piece of writing to see how the writer achieved their goal and then turn around and write something based on the lesson.
I also started selecting books of short fiction in genres and from writers that I love. Stories that I wish I had written. Who knew there were so many?!?
My first choice, was THE NEW BLACK from Dark House Press and edited by the aforementioned Richard Thomas. My little have-to-have-a-reason-for-everything brain told me that it made sense to study as I had just finished Richard’s class and had an understanding of his methods. The truth is that I really want to be able to write like the folks in this anthology. Every story is an example of what I want to achieve in my own writing. For me, Paul Tremblay’s It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks was the high point in this collection of high points. Buy it, read it, then study it.
I also read (or re-read):
- WHEN THE PEOPLE LIGHTS HAVE GONE OFF by Stephen Graham Jones
- STARING INTO THE ABYSS by Richard Thomas
- HERNIATED ROOTS by Richard Thomas
- NORMALLY SPECIAL by xTx
- OMINOUS REALITIES from Grey Matter Press
- IMAGINARIUM 2012 from ChiZine Publications
- IMAGINARIUM 2013 from ChiZine Publications
- SUPERNATURAL NOIR edited by Ellen Datlow
- BURNT TONGUES edited by Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas and Dennis Widmeyer
- GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL
- MONSTROUS AFFECTIONS by David Nickle
- KNIFE FIGHT AND OTHER STRUGGLES by David Nickle
- TOUCH THE SKY, EMBRACE THE DARK by Matt Moore
- FEARFUL SYMMETRIES from ChiZine Publications and edited by Ellen Datlow
- YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION edited by Laird Barron and Michael Kelly
- SHADOWS AND TALL TREES edited by Michael Kelly
- THE YEAR’S BEST HORROR series, edited by Ellen Datlow
There are a lot more literary magazines that I was aware putting out wonderful work in the genres I love. Copies of SHOCK TOTEM, SHROUD MAGAZINE, NIGHTMARE MAGAZINE, JAMAIS VU, PANTHEON, BLACK STATIC, UNLIKELY STORY, CROSSED GENRES, BLIGHT DIGEST, THE DARK are all stacked on (and around) my writing desk.
And then there are the writing books:
- WONDERBOOK by Jeff VanderMeer
- TO EACH THEIR DARKNESS by Gary A. Braunbeck
- HOW TO WRITE TALES OF HORROR, FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION edited by J.N. Williamson
- HORROR 101 from Crystal Lake Publishing
- ON WRITING HORROR edited by Mort Castle
It took me a while to find a print copy of HTWTOHFASF, but was well worth it. If you get your filthy hands on one, be sure to read Steve Rasnic-Tem’s essay on creating character in Chapter 4.
There were, to be sure, many more things — too many to list — and I learned something from every one of them once I learned how to look.
Time to get back to that first truth. Time to write.