Brain Babies: Envy And Stuff

I want to talk about envy for a minute. I mean, we all experience it, I’m pretty sure. I certainly do. When I come across a bit of prose that sings, a line that stops me cold, making me wish I was anywhere near that good, I almost weep with envy.

When that happens, I try (and sometimes succeed) to channel that into something closer to respect. I try to think to myself, “Wow… this writer is so great; someday, maybe I can be that good.” I try to use that feeling to motivate myself to be better at this stuff.

Sometimes, it even works.

Here’s the thing I try not to do, and I strongly encourage you to avoid it as well. I try not to be bitter, or angry, or resentful. I try, instead, to celebrate the skill and success of my fellow writers. I try to see their position (typically way the fuck above my own) as a place to which I should be ascending, so I can stand beside them. Not to knock them off.

See? That’s the thing: there’s enough room on top of that pedestal for me too. And you. And all of us. The readers out there don’t give a damn if one writer is more successful than another. They just want good stories. And, that’s what we should be giving them.

On a related note, the one thing I consistently tell people, when asked ‘what’s the most important thing for new writers to know?’ is “Don’t be a dick.” When I say this, I mean, of course, don’t be rude. Don’t start fights with other people in the industry. Don’t aggressively push your own work (seriously. Don’t be the one walking around shouting “Buy my book!” in everyone’s face. Don’t do it in person. Don’t do it online. Just don’t do it. If an occasion arises, and someone is talking about how scary hurricanes can be, for example, and you just happen to have written a novel about the devastation from the world’s most powerful hurricane ever… sure. Pimp that shit. Use the moment to sell yourself. Otherwise, unless someone asks you about your work, eat some fucking humble pie and keep that shit to yourself.)

Also, if you ask another writer for a blurb (this is a necessary evil, and I hate it a lot), be polite and respectful, and take “no” with grace. You’re going to get a lot of “no” responses. Especially if you ask big players in the industry. Most writers who do it full-time are extremely busy people, and, much as they might want to help (most do), they simply cannot. Thank them for responding and move on with your life. I imagine the writers I ask feel bad they can’t help. I know I would. I hope to find out someday.

I think we all want to be read widely and loved for our work. I think we all would like to be able to quit our day jobs and support ourselves writing. I think a small percentage of us will make it there. Most of us won’t. Sad, but true. So, if you are one of the struggling ones, who maybe has a small fan base of 10-30 readers (hello, my tiny, but loyal group of people. I love you guys!); if you’re putting the words out there for the world; if you expose your heart to the world… keep it up. The world needs you. We need art, and stories, and escapism. We need to shine the light on the ugliness (there’s a fuck of a lot of it) in the world. We need to read.

But, if someone else is where you want to be, instead of glaring at them, applaud them. Instead of being unhappy it’s not you there, be happy one of us made it. And, try to remember, we’re all human beings. We all have lives outside of fiction (or nonfiction, if that’s your thing. I try not to judge). We all have feelings, and hopes, and dreams, and struggles. People we love die (don’t get me started). We hurt. We cry. Our children break their arm in a fall (another real-life example from me. What the hell, my life? Why you gotta throw this shit at me?). We have bills to pay. We have a house that leaks (yeah. Me again). We have a sore back. We’re tired. We’re in chronic pain. Whatever. We’re all in this together. We all serve the reader. We’re on the same side.

Let’s act like it, huh?

 

Thanks for listening.

Ken MacGregor

Taking Submissions: Seasons of Rot: A Scourge of Storms

Deadline: December 31st, 2019
Payment: $.02 per word or $10 per poem

2020 will see the release of four quarterly anthologies of original fiction, poetry, and art from Carrion Blue 555 collectively titled Seasons of Rot. These volumes hope to explore seasonal themes in unique, surreal, festering ways.

Spring is cancer blossoming in new growth, a single breath of moist soil. Summer begets overripe fruit in Persephone’s withered right hand. True decay is beautiful and clashing in the cordyceptic autumn. All of winter flinches beneath the Wicker King’s gaze, intimidating even the light of day.

Interpretations of seasons are purposefully elastic for your artistic benefit. A season’s atmosphere is just as gripping as its setting. Less is more. We seek horror, fantasy, scifi, experimental, bizarro work.

The first volume, Seasons of Rot: A Scourge of Storms, will be released March 20, 2020. The following volumes will be released on their respective equinox/solstice, with subtitles to be determined.

Deadline: December 31, 2019.

Fiction:

No word limit, but we are only offering payment up to 5,000 words.

$0.02USD per word. $5 minimum, $100 maximum.

Poetry:

We are open to single poems or multi-poem cycles.

$10USD per poem, longer cycles will be negotiated.

Art:

Black-and-white only.

$10USD per piece.

All accepted authors and artists will receive one contributor copy of the volume(s) they appear in. We are asking for six month exclusivity for accepted works from time of the respective volume’s release. Important: due to payment issues in the past, we will only make payments via Paypal.

Attach word document (doc or docx) or image files as an email to carrionblue555 [at] gmail [dot] com. In your subject, please include the season you are submitting to and your name. We aren’t picky, but something like this will work:

AUTUMN SUBMISSION: three poems by Oswald Hullad

In the body of the email, please include your legal name, your name as it appears in print (if different), the title(s) of your submission(s), and a short bio that will be included in the anthology. We endeavor to respond to submissions within a couple weeks of receipt, but may ask to shortlist work until the end of the submission period.

No simultaneous submissions please. Multiple submissions are allowed, including for different volumes. Please attach all submissions to a single email. No reprints.

We have worked hard to make Carrion Blue 555 a home for diversity, and eagerly invite creators of all racial, sexual, and neurological bearings to submit.

By submitting, you are agreeing to all of the above, and acknowledge that the work is wholly yours to submit.

Via: Carion Blue 555.

Brain Babies: Speak up!

I want to talk about something. I mean, that’s why I write these. So, to set the tone, I’d like to quote the following bit of wisdom:

It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.” – Dianna Hardy

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard that the Game of Thrones series just ended. Now, I didn’t watch the ending. I’m still on Season 5. I know, I know. But, come on. I have kids. I can’t just watch that sort of thing with them in the room, and there are so many other amazing things I need to watch after they’re asleep. I’ll get to it.

Point is, though, that a lot of people are pissed about how it ended. And, that’s fine. They have every right to be upset. Fans get excited. It’s normal.

What’s not normal, and not okay, is this movement to have the show redone to fit their preconceived notions of how it should have been.

Now, I love readers. I truly do. I am one. And, as a writer, I’m nothing without my readers. But, you guys… come on. It’s art. It’s supposed to cause a reaction. You’re supposed to feel things. That’s the whole point! If a book, or movie, or TV show doesn’t end the way you want it to, well… too fucking bad! You want a different ending, you go ahead and write one. You want the story to go the way you think it should, then you need to write the story.

Don’t try to tell Mr. Martin what to write. Don’t tell me what to write. Neither of us is going to listen. In fact, we’ll probably write the thing you’re complaining about, because were contrary like that. At least I am. I’m betting George is too.

And, this is directed at the writers here (whom are also readers, I assume; I can’t imagine being one and not the other)… don’t try to write for anyone else. Don’t try to please everyone. You can’t. Some readers are going to hate your work. Some hate mine for sure. I’m okay with that. Some readers are going to love your work. That’s the best feeling right there. Some are going to think you’re just okay. That’s fine too.

When you try to appeal to all the readers, you’ll most likely appeal to none. Your writing will be washed out, pale, and unappealing. You want to piss people off! You want them incensed. You want them to motherfucking feel something.

That’s why we’re here. To shake shit up. To make noise. To make waves.

Go use your voice. Start an avalanche. If someone tells you that you should be doing it differently, you can say, “Thank you for your opinion.” And, then walk away, because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

Go art hard. Bleed on the page. Make some noise. Send the rocks barreling down on the readers’ heads. Hurt them. Kill them (This is hyperbole: don’t actually kill your readers. You need them.). Fuck their shit up. The good ones, the ones who matter, will thank you for it.

 

Thanks for listening.

Ken MacGregor

WIHM: An Interview With Jessica McHugh

HorrorTree Interview with Jessica McHugh

Nosy Person: Ken MacGregor

I first encountered Jessica’s work in an anthology we were both in. It was called VIGNETTES FROM THE END OF THE WORLD (Apokrupha 2014; edited by the extremely selective Jacob Haddon). It was a touching and moving SF story that had a lot of feels in just a few paragraphs. Since then, I’ve read a few of her books (she has a bunch!) and enjoyed them all. Jess has a broad range, tackling middle-grade, young adult, and (some very sexy) horror. She’s a writer with guts, a unique voice, who is unapologetically herself, both in her fiction and in real life. I’ve only met her once, at a con, but I’ll never forget how her boisterous personality filled the room. She’s one of a kind, and I wish her runaway success in her writing career; few people deserve it as much as she does. All right. Let’s get on with the interview.

 

Hey, Jess. First of all, thanks for being willing to do this…again. Last time I interviewed you, I worked from a template of questions. This time, I’m making it up as I go, so it may get weird. I’ll start off simple. Do you have a favorite character, or moment, or scene, from one of your stories? A bit of dialogue that cracks you up on a reread? You know. That stuff.

Thanks so much for hosting me on Horror Tree, Ken! It’s always nice to get into the nitty gritty of writing with one of my favorite inky cohorts.

As for your question, I absolutely love Perry Samson from “The Green Kangaroos.” Despite Perry being a pretty sleazy fella with lots of unappealing issues, writing/embodying him was so much fun. His observations and conversations with other characters in the barn-house chapters still crack me up, especially his interactions with Benito. Oh, and in case readers weren’t aware, the name “Benito” is a play on my maiden name, “Bonito,” because this is the most personal novel I’ve ever written. When people ask which book in the McHughniverse they should start with, I usually say “The Green Kangaroos.”

 

You have, what? Four jobs? I know I would love to support myself writing someday (that’s still a ways off, for sure—Yay, day job!), and I imagine you would too. Do you have a plan of attack? A projected date for autonomous author status? What still needs to happen to get there?

I was working as a production associate in a GMP biotech firm in Frederick when I dropped everything to try my hand at writing full-time. It went pretty well for about two years–actually paid bills with story sales and royalties–but as time went on, it became clear that it didn’t make enough financial sense to continue on. That’s when I started collecting my beloved part-time jobs. It’s actually been a wonderful experience working as a creative writing and science instructor, a tour guide, and an escape room gamemaster because I’ve discovered skills and sources of inspirado I wasn’t aware of before. I now feel like so much more than an author, which is why I have no current aspirations to return to full-time writing. In the beginning I thought all the writing time in the world would be worth the financial struggle. Well, I’m here to tell ya, friendos: it’s super duper not. I’ve found I’m much happier working a handful of jobs that don’t eat up all my writing time but also take the financial pressure off my creativity.

 

You’re outspoken about, well, everything. (I respect the hell out of that, by the way.) On social media, you boldly proclaim your position on politics, sexuality, body image, and whatever else is important to you. Has this ever negatively impacted you? Have you had blowback from fans? Friends? Family?

I’m certain there are family members who’d prefer I didn’t speak so frankly about these issues, but no one’s ever confronted me about it. If I’ve lost friends or fans, I haven’t noticed. And I’m not sure I’d kick up much of a fuss if I had. The fact is it’s taken me over 30 years to find the confidence and power to be myself, unapologetically and joyfully, and I refuse to let anyone derail what I hope will be a continuous evolution of myself and my work.

 

When you were a stripper, you got naked for money. Is writing really that much different? Other than the first one pays a fuck of a lot better, I mean.

Ha! You’re right, stripping pays a LOT better. But you have a point about the professional similarities, especially when it comes to bearing it all. It takes a long time to get there though. When I was dancing nude, I emulated the other dancers until I found that confidence to be myself, just as I did when I started writing. I copied a lot of my favorite authors’ styles in the beginning until I felt comfortable and courageous enough to strip down and expose the stories secreted inside. By the end of my stripping career and now in my writing career, there’s little need to copy or cover up. I might still be slathered in makeup and glitter, but I’m also strong enough to climb and spin and slide down the pole, and fearless enough to bend right over and risk my tampon string glowing in the blacklight.

😉 Of course I’m kidding.

I use a Diva Cup.

 

 

I know you sometimes write for themed anthologies, and that you also come up with wildly original material. Do have a preference for what you like to work on? Is it helpful for you to have a prompt? Do you split your time equally between writing for yourself and others? (I’m not good at asking just one question at a time. Sorry.)

Themed anthologies are definitely my toast and jam these days, mostly because I feel like I can conceive of and write a story faster if I have that constant inspirado screaming in my ear. Whether it’s a theme, a word or phrase, or a piece of art, I always find a prompt helpful. I do enjoy developing stories and characters from scratch, but I haven’t been doing that much lately. I’ve been trying to cut back on writing short stories to focus on novels–a task at which I consistently fail, as I went from 1 story due by March to 5 stories due by June in just the last few weeks. However, I am very close to finishing my first novel in over 3 years…though it’s felt like much longer. I’ve talked a lot about how hard it’s been for me to rewrite and revise “Hares in the Hedgerow,” as it was originally written during a time of stress and grief for me, but this long-awaited sequel to one of my bestselling books, “Rabbits in the Garden,” will be out later this year from Post Mortem Press. Once that’s out in the world, I feel like I’ll be able to breathe enough to really tackle “A Motherfucking Heist Novel.”

 

A lot of writers complain about how awful the business is, and what a struggle being a writer is. There’s a perception of writing as being painful, a struggle. Personally, I don’t see it that way. If it was horrible, I’d stop. I’m curious about your take on this. (To make up for the last multiple-question question, I made this one a statement.)

I agree that writing is kinda pointless if you’re not enjoying it. Even if it’s just a hobby, you should be getting something out of it besides frustration. That said, I think it’s extremely hard work, and a lot of new writers come to the table thinking it’s going to be a breeze. Even if you’re enjoying something you’re writing, or if it comes easy, there’s still the business side, which requires a lot of promo and hustle that introverted folks simply aren’t comfortable with. And jesusfuck, we haven’t even gotten into the rejection side. It’s tough to set aside your ego and accept that you might not be as good as you think. I’ve been a published author for almost 11 years and I believe I still have a lot of growing to do. I try to learn from every rejection and bad review (though sometimes you have to take the latter with a grain of salt), and I strive for every story I write to be better than the last. It doesn’t get easier. If anything, it gets more difficult to write an entertaining and poignant piece of fiction and stand out in a crowd of authors you admire. And what if you don’t stand out? What if there’s no financial reward or critical praise? You need to have that personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, or it gets a little rough to maintain the creative flow.

 

What are some of the challenges of being a woman in the writing field? Particularly in horror? Do you believe we’re anywhere close to breaking out of the pointlessly misogynistic attitudes?

I don’t encounter many misogynistic attitudes in the writing community anymore, but that’s probably because I’ve either blocked those good ol’ boys or they simply slither under my radar like the slimy smegsharts they are. I’m actually shocked I haven’t had more vitriolic encounters with these types of dudes, but that might be because they know the strength of my presence and the sheer magnitude of inky cohorts who’d rally behind me as I’ve rallied behind others. For me, dudes who say women can’t write horror or bizarro or get peeved at the notion of publications dedicated to female-identifying authors and LGBTQIA authors aren’t worth discussing longer than it takes to turn a page. They have nothing to offer artistically or professionally. In the words of Ariana Grande, “Thank U, Next.”

 

Pimp your shit here. Tell us about what just came out. What’s about to come out. What books should people be buying from you to get a feel for your style? Personally, I haven’t read anything from you I haven’t liked. And, let me tell you, that’s not something I can say for too many writers.

Thank you, Ken! My recent short stories releases are in anthologies chock-full of some of the best writers working today. My story “Ghosts of Hyperia” appears in Adrenaline Press’s Lee Murray-edited subterranean horror anthology, and “Amity in Bloom” explores a unique brothel in late 1800s NYC in Nightscapes Press’s “Ashes and Entropy” anthology. My work also  appeared in Perpetual Motion Machine’s “Lost Films” anthology and will soon cook up some trouble in their forthcoming pizza horror anthology. I’ve also had some icky flash pieces published by Forbidden Futures recently.

As mentioned before, “Hares in the Hedgerow” will be out in 2019, and though you don’t absolutely have to read “Rabbits in the Garden” to understand it, I highly recommend picking it up. If for no other reason than the beautifully horrific illustrations by Philip R. Rogers.

And speaking of horrific, there are good reasons I include an apology in inscriptions to readers who’ve purchased print copies of my Raw Dog Screaming Press novel, “Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven.” A rewrite and rerelease of a novel I started writing at 19, “Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven” is perfect for people who like a heavy grimdark revenge story.

Thank you so much for having me, Ken & Horror Tree. And thank you for continuing to support women in horror all year round.

 

Thanks for your time, Jess. Hope to run into you again someday. You’re one of the cool ones. -Ken MacGregor

Brain Babies: Writing Through The Pain

I want to talk about this, but even thinking about talking about it is hard. It’s been a while since I wrote anything for the Brain Babies column on HorrorTree. Some of that is because I’m busy, some of it is laziness, some an utter lack of ideas for topics. But the main reason I’ve been quiet is that my life was torn apart on June 9 of this year.

My wife Liz died suddenly.

She had high blood pressure, and was taking medicine for it, for a long time. She’d been suffering headaches, off and on, for as long as I’ve known her (21 years). But, nobody had any idea this was coming. In her sleep (thankfully), her brain hemorrhaged, and she died.

She was 43.

The death certificate said the time elapsed from “the event” to “actual death” was seconds to minutes. So, she likely didn’t suffer. Small comfort there.

Her family and mine, and many good friends have stepped up to help take care of me and my kids, for which I am profoundly grateful. Another comfort.

She left me a substantial sum in life insurance, and Social Security is paying survivor’s benefits for my kids. So, we’re not in trouble financially anymore. Comfort number three.

But, she was more than just my spouse. Liz was my best friend. She was my sounding board for ideas. My audience for new jokes. My barometer for what’s too fucked-up for mainstream readers (if she hated it, only a few publishers were gonna touch it). She was my touchstone. My go-to for comfort, solace, laughs, snuggling, sex (she really, really liked sex. I miss that a lot).

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the different stages of grieving. I’ve hit ‘em all. But, the two overriding emotions, the two defining characteristics of who I am now, are anger and pain. They are my constant companions.

Sure, I can joke (usually gallows humor, but that’s not new for me). I can laugh, and play, and have fun. I go to work, five, sometimes six days a week. I function. People tell me I’m doing well. They’re impressed. But, they don’t know. They have no idea how fucked-up I am. Always.

I am writing again. And, just like before, sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s pulling teeth. But, here’s the thing: when you lose your partner, when your life has been shattered by something so catastrophic, it affects you in every way. My grief bleeds into my fiction. I see death everywhere. This is actually a plus for a guy who writes mainly horror, I guess.

I edit, too, for a small press in Washington State. It’s uncanny how many horror stories feature a dead spouse (or partner) as a pivotal plot point. Every time I read one, it triggers me.

I don’t want to be a tragic figure. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable when I walk in the room (“Oh jeez. There’s the guy who lost his wife. What do I say to him?”). I don’t want pity.

I do want people to cut me some slack, which they mostly do. I might miss deadlines. Don’t hate me for it. I just can’t seem to get motivated to work on stuff right now. Seems so unimportant. Once your spouse dies on you, pretty much everything else in life fades into who cares?

Except my kids. My kids are still paramount above all else. I mean, of course. Also, we’re all we have left, me and them.

I’m not sure I’m going to submit this to Stu. I’m not sure I want this out in the world. It’s not even so much about writing through grief as it is about just coping with it. But, maybe that’s enough. Maybe someone out there reading this is going through something similar. Maybe seeing that you’re not the only one feeling this, not the only one suffering a thing that cannot be abided, will help.

I’m trying to keep it together, and most days I do a passable job. But, it’s a thin veneer between me and despair. I have help. I hope the rest of you do, too.

So, there you go. My rambling, semi-coherent rant about grief with a nod to how it affects my writing. Thanks for listening. I don’t know if any of you will get anything out of it, but it helped me a little to write it. It helps to articulate my pain. A little. Comfort number four.

 

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