F&SF Interviews Dave-o about Witches, Guns, Lawyers, Ohio Militias, etc.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction interviewed me about my latest horror story, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta.”F&SFNov-Dec2017small

…when I go to sum up the story in a Big Picture way, I end up saying the same thing that I said about that election:

I totally hear where folks—angry, aggrieved, not-gonna-take-it-anymore folks—are coming from, because I totally agree with them:  They are getting screwed.  We just totally disagree on who is screwing them, or what is a sensible way to address that.

This story is about that, in a fundamental way.

I also tell an anecdote about seeing a homeless guy get ejected from a Coney in the mid-1990s, and make mention of Michigan trespassing laws, the sovereign citizen movement, my neighbors from Chennai, and Dave-o’s patented “magpie and junk drawer” speculative-fiction drafting strategy.

The Nov/Dec issue of F&SF is still on newsstands—but only for a few more days. Nab your copy soon!

Dave-o’s patented “magpie and junk drawer” speculative-fiction drafting strategy @fandsf

If you write fiction long enough, interviewers will start to ask you “Where do you get your ideas?”

Readers love this question (it’s also a dreaded chestnut of con Q&A panels). Writers hate it.  It’s like asking “Where do you get the time to write?” Every one of us gets the same 24 hours each day; doctors spend some of those doctoring; drug addicts spend some of that getting high; writers spend part of one of those hours writing stories.  One person can be any or all of those, and more.

Likewise, we all see/hear/mis-hear/read/misread/imagine all sorts of crazy crap every day.  Those are ideas. That’s where ideas come from.

But that’s maybe a cheap answer, because it takes the question too literally.  I think maybe what folks are asking when they ask “Where do you get your ideas?” is “How do you store/catalogue all the weird shit you see every day so that it’s useful to you later?”

And to that, my answer is this:

My brain locks on to odd shiny things and hordes them.

Most of the fiction I write comes out of a collision: I’ll stumble across some interesting fact or idea or snatch of plot or dialogue, but won’t really have any use for it, and so it just sorta bobs around in my head. Sooner or later, as other shiny ideas catch my notice and get tossed into that cranial junk drawer, several will bang together and stick in some interesting way. When ideas stick together they make a distinctive POP!ing sound. I listen for the pop, then start writing.

This is the essence of the “magpie and junk drawer” approach to research and writing. I stumbled into it as a kid having to do research papers, and it’s served me well ever since. Go forth, apply this in your life, and sin no more.

Amen.

RECOMMENDED READ: “Angel, Monster, Man” (with props to @sentencebender and @nightmaremag)

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like this (and the audio version—also free on the Nightmare Magazine website—is really good).  

Nominally a horror story, Sam J. Miller’s “Angel, Monster, Man” is, in fact, a really interesting piece of speculative fiction.  Gets me thinking about how frequently fiction that speculates on a disenfranchised group getting power gets slotted into “horror”—and once you start thinking that way, all horror starts to look like a liberation fantasy as seen through the establishment’s eyes: Is Night of the Living Dead more about zombies, or more about the terror experienced by rural whites and the patriarchy when confronted with a competent black man? Is The Exorcist about demon possession or the threat of women’s liberation (see also, Carrie)?  Is Psycho about a “psycho” or about the terrifying prospect of homosexuals no longer shackled by shame/guilt?

Start NaNoWriMo Right! Smash Writers Bloc!

Lots of you are creative sorts, and all creative sorts struggle with the same million-faced goblin, under a variety of: Writer’s Block, procrastination, “activation energy,” the Lil Hater, Imposter Syndrome, not inspired, “so busy!”, obligations, etc.

I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life wrestling this same sinister, slippery blob, and talking with other creative folk about what we each do to try and wrangle that ass-jackal into a corner so we can Get Shit Done.

I’d like to share the choicest bits with you.  Learn to:

  • Use “Sprint Bursts” to build your writing muscles
  • Eat the frog and puke up the draft
  • Harness the power of the Pomodoro
  • Work with “The Guys Downstairs” to do the heavy lifting before you sit down to write

This is all wrapped up in a tidy little week-long clinic, waling you through the process of laying the groundwork for a solid Daily Writing Ritual.  The clinic is totally free, with no lingering hassles.  This list doesn’t get combined with my newsletter or anything else, and there is no hard sell, because I don’t have anything to sell.  Just the benefit of my experience and that of the other writers I know.  Sign up, get the first email the following Monday, and the final check-in/thank you a week later.  That’s it.

Wanna invest 10 minutes a day into getting the words flowing?  Check it out:

Clearflow Creative Writing Clinic

Come Read a Transcription of Dave-o Babbling!

I was interviewed by Lisa Haselton for her Reviews and Interviews blog this past summer.  This was technically part of the publicity for Expiration Date, but mostly ended up being about other things.  I tell a long anecdote about “When I First Knew I Was a Writer” (i.e., “The Most Important Thing I Learned About Writing at 15-years-old”) and “My Most Interesting Writing Quirk”:

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I subvocalize almost constantly. Like, this sentence I’m typing right now, I’m thinking about saying it as I’m typing it. I can feel it on my tongue. It’s the same when I’m reading (and a big part of why I’m such a slow reader). Almost every thought I have is composed as an imagined dialogue with someone. Very little of what I say is spontaneous at all. I guess, for a lot of people, their process of reading/writing as actually fairly divorced from their process of speaking/hearing. For me they’re mashed into a single thing.

A good read, I guess, if you have a deep and persistent interest about what the heck is wrong with me.

Recommended Listen: “The Madness of Bill Dobbs: A Tale of Snuff Movies and Cannibal Cults” by Sean Pearce

I pretty much always at least like the stories included on the Pseudopod horror podcast, but boy-oh-boy, is this one spot-on for me. It starts like this:

Eaters is regarded by some as a flawed masterpiece and an underground classic. To others, it is vile, racist, ethically bankrupt, and derivative.

It makes for peculiar viewing. The plot follows the formula of the Italian cannibal movies for which director Bill Dobbs had an unashamed fondness. An anthropological expedition into the Amazon jungle encounters and brutalises a tribe of ‘savages’ in the name of science, and find themselves pursued, captured, and finally gruesomely eaten alive.

(The film was originally going to be released as Dark-skinned Cannibals of the Tropics, though thankfully someone more enlightened than Dobbs suggested the title we now have. It almost goes without saying that Dobbs has been unanimously described as a completely unrepentant racist.) …

And gets much better from there.

Check it out online: PseudoPod 530: “The Madness of Bill Dobbs: A Tale of Snuff Movies and Cannibal Cults” by Sean Pearce

The first five chapters of EXPIRATION DATE are waiting for you!

The good folks at Arbor Teas have now released the first fifth chapter of my latest ExpirationDatenovella, Expiration Date. (All current chapters are available for free online in both a lovely web versions and nice, tidy PDFs, perfect for offline, ebook, and tablet reading—click on the chapter’s “Print” button to open and save that PDF).

What’s more, the good folks at the Ann Arbor District Library have included Expiration Date in this year’s Summer Games: You can earn points and badges by sussing out clues found in each chapter (scroll down to the “Expiration Date” section of the badge list to get started).

We have four chapters to go, oh my Best Beloved—and, trust me, you have no frikkin’ clue where this one is going (but, SPOILER ALERT!: Bram and Lizzie do indeed die on October 10, 2017, around 8am.)

BONUS: Wanna know more about how the sausage gets made?  You can check out this interview with Gabie at Tea End blog.

1,022 Days (or “But I Need to Suffer for My Art!”)

I don’t wanna belabor the point, but this tweet got me thinking:

Part of the reason this story took so long to go from this first longhand page to hitting newsstands was because, over the course of the winter that followed that tweet, I was steadily loosing my mind

Since my adolescence I’ve always had seasonal affect issues, my mood steadily sinking until February—I’m from Michigan; Bob Hicok famously characterizes us as “a people who by February / want to kill the sky for being so gray“—then rebounding with the thaw.  Lots of people are like that, especially here; no big.  But that year the mood never rebounded; it just sank and sank and sank.  I ate more sugar and drank more coffee and skateboarded as much as I could, and soldiered on.  But by summer the hole was too deep.  Once I’d slam a coffee and another coffee, eat some cookies, skate hard, and be OK.  But by July I’d skate so hard I was seeing stars and woozy, and 20 minutes later feel like crap and be desperate to go back to the skatepark.  My speech was getting slow and ponderous, my behavior erratic.  I got in a fight with my wife over something—I can’t even recall what, something our son had done—and lost my temper.  I don’t remember what I said, just that I was in the backyard screaming, my chest collapsing, so angry I was dry-heaving and chanting “I’m sick; I’m sick; I’m sick.”

I didn’t want to be alive any more, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being separate from my children, and the thing running constantly in my head was how I could get careless enough to be killed in an accident where my life insurance would still pay off.  Then my family would be on easy street and not burdened by me; my kids would be able to afford college, my wife would own our house outright, and I wouldn’t have to be me anymore, because I wouldn’t have to be at all.  And being, it had become apparent, was my core problem.

PRO-TIP: If you need to quickly diagnose depression that has become dangerous, just ask them:  “If you could push a button and have never existed at all, would you do it?  No pain, no trauma, no one mourning you, just *poof!* and you never were.”

If the answer is “Yeah, sure,” then that person needs to talk to a doctor very, very soon.

At any rate, by the time I had that screaming fit I had already made an appointment to talk to a doctor—something that I’d kept a secret for reasons I can’t really explain any more, because they make no fucking sense; I’d made that appointment under false pretenses, telling my doctor I’d re-injured my ankle—the whole point is that nothing I was doing then made a lot of sense.

But part of that logic had to do with this poisonous, murderous goddamn myth we have that taking meds for your psychiatric illnesses is somehow “weak” or “unnatural” or damages the purity of your artistic fucking whatever.

I wrote 50,000 words of stories while my brain was collapsing that just aren’t much of anything.  I sat on revisions of my novella “Where There is Nothing, There is God” (which was in Asimov’s in 2016, and was a finalist for the Asimov’s Award) for a goddamn *year.*  I’d sent it around, got feedback from Ann VanderMeer at Tor and C.C. Finlay at F&SF—really good advice, advice that ultimately made it the strong story it was—and then did nothing for a full calendar year.  I wrote “There Was a Crooked Man…”, put it through my writing group, got great feedback, and then just sat on it.

And I have no idea why. 

Or, more to the point, I know precisely why: Because my brain had drifted from doing a fairly crappy job of managing serotonin to not really bothering to manage it at all. 

I started taking 50mg of Sertraline every morning about two years ago (with the ongoing support of a psychiatrist).  It’s cheap, I haven’t suffered major side effects, it’s been really good for my personal relationships, and has spared my wife and children having to plan and attend my funeral—and it’s done fuckall to harm my “art”:

This story, “There Was a Crooked Man…”, saw the better part of its Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/Aug 2017revision after I went on meds.  The last three pieces I’ve sold—Expiration Date, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” (forthcoming in F&SF) and “In the Sharing Place” (sold to Asimov’s)—were entirely written on anti-depressants.  These latest pieces are among the best work I’ve done, precisely because (*SPOILER ALERT!*) it’s a lot easier to do good work when you aren’t struggling to keep being alive.

If you need help, please get help.  Needing psych meds is no more a moral failing than needing a cast when you break your leg, and seeing a therapist isn’t touchy-feely “snowflake” BS any more than seeing a physical therapist after you wreck your car is touchy-feely bullshit.  Your brain got injured, you need some medicine and therapy to get it back on track; that’s fine.  Go do that thing.  Don’t waste ~300 days that you could spend Getting Things Done or hanging out with your kids or having a beer or reading or playing video games.  Go get well; if that’s not possible (because, the fact is, it often isn’t), at least get better.

FREE READ FRIDAY: The first three chapters of EXPIRATION DATE, and more!

Looking for that perfect comic-dystopic-romantic sci-fi beach read? ExpirationDate You’re in luck: The first three chapters of my novella Expiration Date are now available online (in both slick-as-hella web versions, and some pretty damn fine looking PDFs, perfect for offline, ebook, and tablet reading—just clicking on the “Print” button to open and save the PDF for that chapter.  As an example, here’s the chapter 1 PDF.) And don’t worry, this isn’t a cheap tease: All nine chapters will be released, free to read, one each week for the rest of the summer.

If you want some inside-baseball about the novella, you can check out this interview with Gabie at Tea End blog.