Interviewed by Michael McHenry
You wrote “Paper Cut” and we loved it! Tell us about what led you to this plot idea.
This story was initially written as a flash fiction piece for a onehour flash challenge over at the Shock Totem forums. It’s really more writing group than contest, and one person posts a prompt, usually a photo, and then you have an hour to jam out a story under 1,000 words. The participating authors read the stories and vote for a winner. There’s no prize, just the dubious honor of posting the prompt for the next challenge.
Anyway, the idea for “Paper Cut” was born out of this text prompt: The Origami Project. When I read those words, I immediately saw the antagonist from the story and set to work. Obviously, I expanded the story quite a bit from its flash origins.
According to your website www.rejectomancy.com, you have pretty amazing accomplishments, holding positions in multiple venues as EditorinChief, working with such big names as Wizards of the Coast, working on the Iron Kingdoms world, and many more prestigious honors. What is your driving force to keeping the bar high for yourself not only as a highlyesteemed editor but also carving your path into writing fiction?
Well, the bar is staying employed! I’m definitely a “working” writer, and I certainly try to produce the best quality I can for my employers and clients so they’ll, you know, hire me again. Of course, there’s always that drive to improve, to make the next story better than the last, address the flaws (real or perceived) in your work so you can put forth the best possible example of your writing to the world.
Historically, as an editor, what are some of the consistent weaknesses you see in submissions these days? Any overly done plots or ideas that just need to go away for a decade or two?
I think the biggest flaw I’ve seen is failing to capture the reader’s attention right off the bat. I’ve certainly been guilty of that myself. When you’re submitting work to the big markets, those magazines and periodicals that receive hundreds, maybe thousands of submissions a month, you better get their attention fast. In my opinion, a slow opening on even a good story is likely to net you a rejection letter.
I don’t believe there are overdone plots, per se. A lot of it comes down to execution and that little twist that makes your take on things different and fresh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told no one wants stories about vampires and zombies anymore, even though I’ve published some.
If you could meet/kill/fall in love with any fictional character from any story, who would it be?
I’d like to meet Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery. As a horror writer, I think it would be awesome to have someone love your work so much they want to kill you for it.
You submit a lot of flash fiction. Is this the first step to writing novels or is this just what keeps the mojo running so you don’t fall behind in your creativity?
You know, I never used to write much flash fiction until I started participating in the Shock Totem flash challenge I mentioned earlier. At first, it was just a writing exercise, and then I found I really liked the form and that I had a bit of a knack for it. Flash isn’t a means to an end for me; it’s a length I really enjoy writing. It’s a great challenge for any writer because a flash piece has to have all the things a longer piece does: a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s not a vignette. So, in order to write decent flash fiction you MUST learn to cut out the extraneous and the unneeded. That’s a good exercise for any writer.
I peg you as a “Two Steps From Hell” kind of guy…do you have a taste of music or band that plays in the background when you’re creating something?
Hah! Fair enough. I listen to a lot of death metal and other types of extreme metal. For those unfamiliar with the style, imagine a Metallica song, then run it through an industrial wood-chipper, and, finally, make the vocalist gargle acid while he sings. Bands like Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, Grave, Entombed, and the like are often playing in the background when I write.
What are some of the best writing resources for new writers that you’ve seen throughout the years?
Writing groups are always good resources. Well, good in theory, but you’ve got to find a good one, with people who will actually give you honest feedback and have some understanding of your genre or style (much harder to find than you’d think). Personally, I think a couple of brutally honest beta readers who aren’t afraid to rip your guts out is the best way to go. That’s what’s worked well for me, anyway.
As for more conventional resources, I think Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of the best. It’s chock full of down-to-earth, nobullshit, nutsand-bolts writing advice. Obviously, King’s writing style isn’t for everyone, but it works for me, and I recommend this book every chance I get.
What is your most proud moment as a writer? As an editor?
I guess I don’t think of the “big” moments in my career with pride, per se. Gratification or validation, maybe, but pride scares the shit out of me, honestly. I feel like the moment I’m actually proud of something I wrote, it’s all gonna come tumbling down around my ears. Silly, huh? I’d be willing to bet large sums of money that I’m not alone in this feeling, though.
So, okay, as a writer, the first time I was actually paid real money for something I wrote sticks out. What I mean by that is the kind of money you can pay the bills with. I don’t want to sound mercenary, and the money itself is not so much the important part, it’s what it means. I think Stephen King summed it up best:
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
As an editor, there really isn’t a single moment that stands out, but getting to share in someone’s first publication, be it a magazine article, a short story, or even a novel, is certainly gratifying. That was my favorite part of the job, anyway.
What is your biggest distraction when you are writing and how do you deal with it?
Oh the usual stuff: the internet, video games, life in general. I deal with these distraction with a reward system. I write 2,500 words a day when I’m working on a big project, no exceptions, and I break that 2,500 words into chunks. Sometimes it’s 500 words, sometimes it’s 1,000. When a complete a chunk, I get a reward. That reward is 15 minutes of playtime on the internet or something of that nature. It’s worked pretty well for me.
How important are the first few sentences of an author’s submission?
In my opinion, pretty damn important. Stephen King wrote an essay called “Great Hookers I Have Known” that’s a must read for anyone interested in this subject. You see, that catchy first line used to be known as a hooker in the publishing biz, and it was considered to be very important. Oddly, King admits to not being great at writing hookers, so, obviously, a good first line isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success.
But, as I said earlier, when you’re submitting work to a publisher that sees a lot of submissions, hooking them with that first line or lines can make all the difference. Not every story I’ve written had a real zinger of an opening line, and for shits and giggles I went back and looked at the first lines of just about every story I’ve published and compiled the following evidence. Those stories that had good opening line (in my humble opinion) averaged about three rejections before an acceptance, those with a weak opening line (again, in my opinion) averaged six rejections. Yeah, I know; that’s anecdotal as hell, but it’s strong enough evidence for me to at least try and write a snazzy first line.
Since finding you, I am now a huge fan of your website because it shows that “rejection” in the creative arts field is not a bad thing, but also a tool that aspiring writers can use to hone their craft. What led you to creating this website and the vision behind it?
I wanted a platform where I could speak to other writers, especially those just starting out, and offer a little support in the form of shared rejections. Writing can be such an isolating experience and knowing that everyone gets rejected, from the beginner to the best seller, takes the sting out of the NO just a bit, enough, hopefully, to pick yourself up and send that story somewhere else.
A place to shamelessly promote my own work might have been one other reason Rejectomacy came to be.
I hear that you are a “dinosaur nerd”…any thoughts on modern dinosaur movies? Any scary dinosaur trivia that few people know about? Do you think we finally found the kraken?
Oh, man, you don’t want to get me started on modern dinosaur movies. I’ll resist the urge to launch into yet another diatribe about scientific inaccuracy in Jurassic Park/World/Whatever and just say: FEATHERS!
Dinosaur nerd is a bit of misnomer, though. I’m really more of a paleonerd, I guess, and dinosaurs fall into that broad category. As for scary dinosaur trivia, let me throw you a curve ball here. Look up Sarcosuchus imperator, a fortyplusfootlong crocodile from the Cretaceous whose diet almost certainly included dinosaurs that wandered too close to the water’s edge.
What did you grow up reading and playing? I certainly don’t see you as the Cops and Robbers kind of guy…
I read a lot of speculative fiction, with horror and fantasy being my two favorites. I discovered Stephen King at the age of twelve and was instantly hooked, and he’s probably had the greatest influence on my writing of any author I’ve read (maybe you could tell by the two dozen times I dropped his name in this interview). I got into Dungeons & Dragons in my early teens, which was a fantastic creative outlet and became a lifelong obsession that eventually led to some of my first publications as a professional writer.
Anything you wish to share with your fans about what to expect next from you?
Well, my first novel Flashpoint is available from Privateer Press, and I’m working on the next two books in the trilogy. I’ve got a bunch of other irons in the fire as well, and if you’re really interested in what I’ve got cooking, the best way to find out is to visit my blog www.rejectomancy.com.
If you could go back and give yourself some advice before your adventures began in the creative field, what are three things that you would make sure you said?
Off the top of my head?
1. Stop being such a coward and get your work out there. (I started writing early, but I didn’t start submitting my work until much later. I had a hundred excuses as to why, but it really just boils down to fear. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, and so on.
2. Dude, seriously, write vampire romance novels for teens. No, really
3. For the love of all that is good and holy, stop using so many goddamn adverbs!