101 – writing tips

Rejections and Reactions

If you’re a writer, you should keep this word in the back of your head at all times: Grace.

If you’re a reader, the writers who don’t understand the definition of that word will be very easy to spot.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about how people respond and react to rejections. Because whether you’ve published one story or one hundred stories, there’s never a reason to not be professional. To have grace.

You see, there are those who write, and then there are those who submit. That first group is quite content to scribble volumes for their own eyes and never ever become published. And then there are those of us who are mildly sadistic at best and may actually enjoy torture at worst. We submit our words and then pace, while waiting to hear back from an opinion we purposely asked for.

Are we always happy with that opinion? No. Should we have a tantrum, whine, bitch, piss and moan? No. The golden rule of rejections? You absolutely should not, under any circumstances, ever ever do either of these two things:
1. respond to the rejection
2. whine about it publicly

That first faux pas? Responding? No. Just no. Why would you? You do nothing to change the mind of the editor who sent you the rejection (and keep in mind, on some level you should be thankful for receiving one in the first place, since many publications only contact you if you’re accepted). The editor had to read a lot more than just your story. If you respond, even to say thank you, you are wasting their valuable time. And if you think they won’t remember that, you’re wrong. If you think they won’t tell their editing and publishing friends, you’re wrong. Slowly, for those in the back, do not—do (period) not (period)—respond to a rejection.

And that second one? Seriously? Let me just remind all of you of one tiny, very very important fact: the Internet is forever. Don’t believe me? Waybackmachine.com. But also, and more immediately, screenshots have become the law of the land.

Recently, there was an amazingly bizarre call for submissions. You may have heard about it—they were asking for pizza stories. I saw the guidelines and I giggled, and then a little voice in the back of my head said, “Heyyyyy, don’t you actually have a story about pizza. You put it in the trunk because, well, pizza.” I did indeed. I had written it several years before and never ever thought I would publish it, so I literally trunked it without submitting. (Not something I would necessarily suggest anyone do.)

I hemmed and hawed for all of twelve seconds and then got curious. It had been a while since I’d seen it. What the heck, I thought, and I pulled out the story.

I read it. I read it again, out loud. I even read it to my daughter (you should know, she’ll be the first person to tell me something sucks… well, right after my mom gets done telling me why it sucks). And I thought, huh, this isn’t bad. The language was a little out of date, and you could tell it was an older story by my archaic style and voice, but with a little polishing… who knows, right?

I polished it. Sent it to my prereaders. Edited it a final time. Submitted it. And waited.

And it got rejected.

Why? It was a form rejection, so I’m not sure. Truthfully, I’d be willing to bet the stories they kept leaned toward blood-fest, scary, or more “traditional” horror veins, rather than my normally quiet, chilling or unnerving style. Nothing wrong with that. It just didn’t work for them. It doesn’t mean I can’t write. Remember, a rejection isn’t a statement on you as a person—it just means that one story, at that one point in time, didn’t work. It doesn’t even necessarily mean the story sucked. And it certainly didn’t mean I should do either of the items above: respond or react.

But others out there were either never told, or they outright chose to ignore the golden rules. Suddenly there were people posting online, openly, angrily, about how they were going to make their own pizza anthology out of their rejected submissions from this one.

Re-read that. Slower.

Yeahhhhh… you read that right. And the editor responded beautifully—telling them to feel free to do so, as it will be the worst thing no one’s ever read. I laughed. Oh my god, did I laugh. I mean, I gasped at the balls and willingness to knowingly damage their own careers. But then I laughed, because wow. Then I went to KillerCon and hung out with said editor for a good chunk of the weekend. We laughed and laughed about all those souls having little hissy fits online.

Once more, for those in the back: the Internet is forever.

And what else? Do you remember? Yes, those you annoy with less-than-professional behavior will tell others, sharing your foibles with all their editing and publishing friends. As I write this, there are currently three different threads on my various social medias discussing someone who reacted poorly in public. Three. Today. And that’s just in my little corner.

This world we call a genre is a small little island of misfits. It’s not a family, though parts can feel like it. The circles can be tight, but most are welcoming. And at the end of the day, it’s far too small a community to think you can do anything remotely close to responding or reacting, and not have it become a scary lesson whispered to newbies—to frighten them as they’re tucked in at night.

Grace, people.

Find it. Hold it tight. Never let it go.

If you are rejected, look at why. If they sent a form letter, it may simply be that it didn’t fit the theme or feel or gore factor or whatever other thread there was connecting the accepted stories. If they were kind enough to tell you why and there’s a critique or suggestion, look at it, consider it heavily, and then adjust and/or edit as you need. Either way, with or without comments, your job at this point is not to say thank you, it’s not to whine on your social media, it’s to resubmit the story. Get it out the door. No rejected story should ever spend the night. They are not welcome company, but rather relatives who don’t know when to leave.

Except when they need to be grounded. This particular piece needed to stay home. Not because it was crap, but because it was very specific. Pizza. And I know what happens to the market after an overly specific anthology sends out their rejections—because once upon a time, many of us giggled and some gasped in horror, as every open submission call out there received rejected stories about “pirate cats from outer space.”

No, specific themes need to sit for a bit—maybe forever. Some can be reshaped into something more generic, some cannot. Either way, I had a pizza story and it got rejected. What did I do? I didn’t respond. And I didn’t react.

Dallas (Jack Ketchum) once told me the most important words ever when it comes to a rejection, “Move on. They have.” Wise wise words, from a wise wise man.

For those who need it, maybe put a post-it note on your screen, keyboard, wall, whatever—wherever you’ll see it and remember. You can write his words if you want. Or you can write “don’t respond, don’t react.” Or you could even write “be professional.” Or you can reduce it to just that one really important word. Say it with me… Grace.

 

Killercon Austin

I didn’t post that I was going to Killercon Austin before the convention, because I wasn’t. And then that changed. So instead of getting a heads up, you’re getting an afterthought. Not really a write-up, just a written version of my proof-of-life pictures.

I was a teenage… no wait, wrong story! I was a last-minute decision/stowaway. Just coming from Scares That Care, I had almost no inventory left—a handful of these and maybe two or three of each of those. But I boxed them, shipped them, and hopped a plane to sit at a table. I sold out rather quickly (which was lovely and unexpected and delights me). And then, because I wasn’t a planned guest—I had no panels, I had no reading, I had no responsibility—I just enjoyed the con.

And enjoy I did. I got to see, hang out, and barely behave with old friends. I was fortunate enough to make some new friends. I enjoyed wandering and chatting and panels from the audience side. It was wonderful. And yes, I’ll be back.

I’m here to tell you, you need to go to this.

If you are a beginning writer wanting to learn, go. If you have books to sell, go. If you are a reader, go. Killercon is an amazing little convention that mixes the traditional horror crowd with the bizarro gang and tosses the splatterpunks in there to mix things up. It’s all horror. All love.

And (shhhh, come closer) the dates have been chosen for next year, but it’s not officially announced. (August 16-18, 2019 shhh…) Stalk the facebook page or twitter account for the official “go!” post.

In case you didn’t get it yet, Killercon was a great convention, full of friendly faces, and run smoothly by people who care about writing, writers, and readers—props to you, Wrath James White, you made it look easy! To everyone who helped or were otherwise a part of the background, good job. And to those who came and participated… wasn’t that fun?

Thanks for letting me make that decision at the eleventh hour and show up… I’ll see you all there next year!

 

Hiding in the Corner

 

Just a quick note for those wondering about the silence of the blogs. It’s not truly quiet, it’s just been hiding behind a microphone for a while.

All my normal snark and sassiness, my opinions and epiphanies, still happen—they’re just shared on the podcast rather than written out on the blog like the old days.

But here’s the thing. The decision has been made to stop doing the podcast. My time needs to be focused elsewhere. I will be doing one final episode this summer, after I get all caught up on the other demands on my list, and then it will be gone. Finished. Over.

You can still listen to all of the aforementioned snark and sassiness, as the episodes will remain online for a while. Check out the Buttercup of Doom on the podcast page of the menu here, and listen while you can…

I may or may not snark on the blog as I have in the past. I will most likely post mini writing101 podcasts on my patreon page. And of course, I’ll be writing. Which is what I should have been doing the whole time. But things are shiny and sometimes we have to investigate them for a while and see what happens. I did. But now this writer, is returning to her regularly scheduled pipedream.

Inside the Isolation Tank

When Rebecca Snow isn’t working on her own writing, she interviews other writers on her website. Here is one such interview, with me!

I discuss Jack Ketchum, Kealan Patrick Burke, Stone Temple Pilots, Queens of Dogtown, and answer some fun new questions that made me think… really think… about things I don’t normally think about! Check it out here.

NaNoWriMo 2016

nanowrimoDid you know Six Days was actually started, and the first 50k completed, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those unfamiliar with the acronym)? It was. And it’s that time of year again…

6days16-cover300I would like to wish all the participants the greatest of luck. Write everyday. Don’t panic. Don’t edit. Just write. Editing can come later, in December. For now, just write. A little before work, a little on lunch, a little after dinner, a lot on a day off, whatever you can squeeze in… because every little step it a step closer to your goal. And new reading material for me, so get to it!!

And while I am not officially participating in a tracking, overt manner, I’d still like to celebrate 2016’s NaNoWriMo… so for the month of November, I give you the ebook for SIX DAYS at a 75% discount when purchased through payhip (<— use that link). Simply enter the coupon code: NANOWRIMO16 when checking out.

Those of you doing NaNoWriMo, you can read it in December… right now you’ve got writing to do. Get to it, and again, good luck!

(and yes, that’s a new cover… there’s more new things coming as well — audiobook coming soon!)

Wag the Fox and FLOATERS

I did an interview. I talked about stuff. And as sometimes happens, the website is no longer available, but I have the backup and am able to post the content for you. Here you go… a nice warm chat with Gef Fox of the old Wag the Fox website.


 

What was the spark behind Floaters?

It’s almost “where do your stories comes from” but not quite, which is usually very difficult to explain because it’s like asking a crazy person what’s wrong—but this time, I can actually answer that. The “spark” for Floaters came directly from a twisted childhood memory of the local graveyard floating away in the high waters of a spring thaw. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as that, but when you’re a kid, you imagine this crazy visual. I wrote that visual, and asked the question, what else was buried in there. And then I broke the riverbank free and let it all float out into the general public and cause havoc.

What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous titles?

 For starters, it’s closer to horror than some of my other works. Not quite the red shirt blood bath of Live Specimens, but definitely more than White Picket Prisons or Six Days, which are often called and generally considered thrillers with horrific elements, rather than horror. This is a monster, with tentacles, there’s no sugar coating that—it’s horror. Also, because it was based on a real graveyard with a twist on some real history, I had google maps printed and bodies plotted and my table looked a bit like a strategic war room.

Other than that, I knew from the very beginning that I never hated the monster. I loved it. I loved what it was, what it stood for, the pain and suffering it had gone through, and the general agony of its history and current situation. This monster was my nod to Frankenstein, and *spoiler alert* I didn’t want it to die but knew it had to, or I’d get yelled at for open endings and setting up sequels, neither of which this story needed.

What was the allure to Lake Superior as your setting?

I grew up on Lake Superior. I’m intimately familiar with her temperament, cold weather, bad attitude, and ability to change moods like a hormonally raging teenager. And yes, she does occasionally cough up her dead. Dotted along her shores are remnants of Indian settlements, mostly relocated by will or force to large reservations and other communal gatherings, but I know they’re there. In my wanderings, I’ve stumbled across the old foundations and forgotten grave markers. My bloodline includes Ojibwe Chippewa from the Bad River Tribe thick enough that I’ve had relatives on the council, and been to a powwow or three. Between the lake, the Indians, and the topography, there’s a rich history in that area just waiting to be tapped and given some monster to come crawling up from the depths.

I can’t say there’s been any “floating” mishaps with the graveyards in my neck of the woods. Well, there is the legend of Charles Coghlan’s coffin getting washed out to sea by a hurricane that hit Galveston, which floated all the way up from the Gulf of Mexico to his home of Prince Edward Island. So the story goes. Any odd local legends that compare in your stomping grounds?

No legend, there really were bones poking out of the ground at that mass grave on the hillside. They were still disrespectfully left exposed last time I was there doing research with my mom and taking pictures for the book, long before it even had a title. I’ve heard they’re planning on transporting them back to Wisconsin Point and I hope that actually happens.

Other crazy things? Well, I grew up being told horrible campfire tales my mother later pulled me aside to explain were real and based on Ed Gein, so there’s that. The lake has sunk a damn lot of ships, boats, and small craft other than the famed Edmund Fitzgerald and there was always the panic of something touching your foot in the water being not a fish. And then we had the Fairlawn Mansion (which is supposedly haunted), and the abandoned orphanage (haunted) I spent way too much time at as a teen that has now been torn down, and many tales of “bad things” in graveyards. Creepy area, deeply supernatural people, lovely fodder for a young overactive imagination.

How intensive does the research process get for you on a story like this? What little tricks have you picked up with approaching the research phase of writing?

Each project requires a different kind of research. If it’s completely fictional, fantastical, then you can just make up whatever you want. But if it’s specific, or touches on reality, then it’s a different story. Then it needs to read like reality. It may be location, it may be a people, tribe, or nationality you’re unfamiliar with, or it may be historical information to twist into a legend of your creation. Trick-wise, I try to do the research I think I’ll need before I even start, but there are times when you’re happily typing along and all of sudden you need a three hour lesson on Blah. Off to the internet you go, careful of rabbit holes and unnecessary side visits to social media, and you get through your on the spot research. It’s quicker than the days of stopping everything, packing up, going to the library, digging through the aisles and tomes, and then going back home—but there was something romantic about the library that the internet lacks.

With this one I did a bit of google image mapping for the area so I could logically plot out the creature’s feeding grounds and radius of travel, as well as have a visual for the line between the mass grave and Wisconsin Point, and know Granny’s house and trek to the cavern. There was a lot of research into the truth of that mass grave, rather than relying on my childhood memories. And there was a ton of fun research into Indian mythologies, because I had a monster I needed to be able to slip into that mythology logically and smoothly. Floaters, overall, probably had more research into different things than most. In comparison, my next project will have no research, as it can be located anywhere and relies on the people rather than the environment.

What is the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Kill your babies. Meaning, if you’re writing and you find you really love a turn of phrase, or a sentence strikes you as poetic and beautiful, you should immediately rewrite it because if you feel that way you’re not being objective and there’s something wrong with it. No. There’s more to it than that, but I wasn’t told that and it wasn’t explained to me properly, and there was no google way back when.

Horribly, I listened to that incorrectly and followed it for years, but it’s wrong when explained as just that. I think when it comes to the overly pretty turns of phrase, sentences, etc., if anything you should notice them and question what about it is so pretty, and why isn’t the rest of the work as attractive. What makes it stand out. It’s not an automatic death sentence, but rather a call to examine it. If it’s purple upon closer inspection, kill it, but if it’s not, then appreciate it came from somewhere inside and keep going. I have a couple I like. Not many, but a couple.

The phrase is talking about killing off prose that will improve your story. Not killing of a sentence here or there that you are fond of, but rather, overall improvements and admitting and willingly axing those things that drag the storyline, slow an arc, or otherwise do not further the story on a whole—even when you really like the sidebar, random character, offshoot, or whatever it is that requires a literary guillotine. Take it out. And for those new writers who don’t fully understand this phrase, please research it and get a full idea of what it means before you start randomly rewriting sentences just because they’re pretty.

Who do you count among your writing influences?

I’m actually technically influenced by what works for me, what scares me, because I wanted the ability to do that to others. So I would actually try and figure out why one thing scared me but another didn’t, and sometimes from the same author. But if I looked at what did work for me over the years, at what things I was drawn to, or authors I continued to return to, well then it becomes the broader definition.

And in that case, my influences go way back to kindergarten and Mary Shelley, then they bounce around my dad’s bookshelf full of HP Lovecraft and Dean R Koontz (note there’s still an R in there when I think of that time). Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickenson were discovered on my own and requested for Christmas and birthdays. I’m fairly certain I had the complete set of Nancy Drew at one point. A countless number of school bookclub purchases, including one I remembered only the cover for and spent twenty years tracking it down. And then there were the horror paperbacks of the 80s, my teen years and a time when my tender sensibilities didn’t always appreciate my horrific imagination, especially after sundown.

I remember some very specific books to this day, which can only mean they had an impact on me and influenced something: The Amulet (omg the laundry scene!), Baal, Howling 2 (which is completely not what the second movie was, so if you didn’t read the books, go do that), The Keep, Nathanial, Pet Sematary, Mirror, Phantoms, and probably more if I thought about it. Oh and the novelization of Halloween—that messed me up for a bit and led to a whole month at the library learning everything I could about the Celts.

When I started making friends with my mentors and becoming colleague to my influences, the lines began to blur, and my adult influences are mostly found on my friends list at this point.

What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Cooking? Projects? Well… I am currently working on Forgotten, a wonderful little tale about a young woman found with no memory and an empty car seat, but I have to finish it to know how much I can say after that without spoiling it. That will be the next thing out, and should be released in time for Christmas. After that, in no particular order because they’re all currently battling for alone time with the muse, are: The Man in the Moon (my coming of age tale), Magic Man (yeah supernatural ghouls), and a sequel to Wilted Lilies with the current working title Passages. We’ll see who wins…

My shenanigans are everywhere! www.kelliowen.com is a good place to start. From there you can reference any and all of my books and where to find them, as well as get to my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, find info about the podcast Buttercup of Doom, and for those paying attention, now there’s Wattpad as well.

Thanks for having me!

 

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Travel Plans

—· Scares that Care ·—
August 2-4, 2019

—· Killer Con ·—
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—· Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival ·—
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