Author: Ken MacGregor

The Ten Commandments of How Not to be an Asshole (Writer’s Edition)

The Ten Commandments of How Not to be an Asshole

(Writer’s Edition)

 

  1. Thou shalt read the guidelines and having read them, thou shalt follow them.
  2. Thou shalt seek out thine editor’s name(s), and thou shalt spell it correctly. If thine editor’s name is unknown to thee, thou shalt refer to them as “Dear Editor,” as this is accepted throughout the land.
  3. Thou shalt not begrudge others’ successes but shall instead celebrate them.
  4. Thou shalt patiently await statuses, edits, contracts, and publication dates, no matter how damn long they might be taking. This doth not apply to pay. Get that shit ASAP.
  5. Thou shalt not, immediately upon meeting someone, attempt to sell thine book. This applies to social media and meatspace. Just don’t.
  6. Thou shalt not ever promote your own work on another’s platform unless they hath specifically invited it.
  7. Thou shalt not cultivate friendships with professionals to further your own career. Seek them instead because most of those people are freaking awesome.
  8. Thou shalt not leave bad reviews on another writer’s work. Good reviews are wonderful. If thou dost not like a thing, keep thine damn opinion to thineself.
  9. Thou shalt not respond to bad reviews. Do not engage. It will not endeth well.
  10. Thou shalt do thine level best to remember that editors, publishers, and other authors are all real people, and not just a cluster of words in thine inbox. They have feelings and should be treated with respect and kindness.

Will Authors Be Replaced By Robots?

Will Authors Be Replaced By Robots?

I am Not a Robot

Ken MacGregor 2021

 

We’ve all seen those clickbait links where someone feeds a thousand types of a script or story to an AI and then asks it to produce one of its own. Robots writing romantic comedies. Robots writing obituaries (hilarious!). Robots writing superhero movies.

What if it was real though? What if an artificial intelligence could actually create something so good that you couldn’t tell it wasn’t written by a human?
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How Do Writers Come Up With Ideas?

Where do You Get Your Ideas?

As a writer, I get asked a lot of questions. The most common one, aside from “Why are you like this?” or “What’s wrong with you?” is “Where do you get your ideas?” I’m sure most of you have heard this time and again too.

I mean though… where the heck do they come from?

I like to imagine they come from a colossal warehouse located in another dimension. Endless aisles of file boxes stacked infinitely high, sorted by type. Scurrying, gnome-like creatures with glasses bustle about, pulling down the correct box, extracting the exact file needed, and rushing to the pneumatic tubes that connect to writers’ brains.

There’s a command center where larger, more intelligent goblins track incoming requests for ideas, sent either directly from the writer, or their muse. They operate a massive switchboard, like something out of an Earth-circa-1960s telephone company, scrambling to fill as many idea orders as possible at breakneck speed.

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How Do Writers Use Pathos?

Pathos: a Greek word meaning both ‘suffer’ and ‘experience.’

Interestingly, one of your goals as a writer is to make your characters experience suffering. Because happy characters make for pretty dull fiction.

When people say you should make your readers feel something, they’re talking about pathos.

There are a number of ways to do this—some more efficient than others. Some will, undoubtedly, work better for you than for someone else. Writing is one of the most personal and subjective things there is. It’s important, as with all aspects of your craft, to employ this tool with caution. Too much pathos and you risk overwhelming, and subsequently emotionally deadening, your reader. Too little and they’re not engaged at all.

The key is to strike a balance—make ‘em feel but don’t beat them over the head with it.

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Brain Babies: The Horror of Genre

The Horror of Genre

So, I have this friend, also one of my editors, who classifies what he writes as “dark Speculative Fiction.” I like that. Rolls off the tongue. Sounds classy. I use it myself sometimes. Mostly when I’m talking to someone who likely sees horror as something vile, repulsive, grotesque.

Now, I have no problem with those adjectives, and I know most of you probably don’t either. Horror, as a genre (I know it’s an emotion, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to refer to it as a genre), is supposed to evoke a reaction of fear, revulsion, and/or shock. Horror is supposed to make you uncomfortable. That’s a big part of its draw, I think.

Now, for me, writing as well as reading, I care far more for the quality of the story than for whatever’s happening on the page. I can take or leave gore, but I need solid writing.

I think that what a lot of people fail to understand is that horror is so incredibly diverse. That it is layered, nuanced, and encompasses a vast spectrum of styles.

If you want to get readers interested in your wonderfully diverse genre, you might have to cleverly spin the whole thing. “Oh, this isn’t horror,” you might say. “It’s dark, Speculative Fiction.” Of course, it is horror. We know that. And that’s wonderful. Horror is great! It’s my favorite genre.
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Stitched Lips: How An Anthology Came To Be

I want to talk a little about my dead wife. That’s a good opener, right? Grabs your attention right out of the gate. Liz Dahl MacGregor and I were together for 21 years. Married for 17 of those. She was brilliant, funny, quick-witted, and sassy AF. She also had the biggest heart of almost anyone I’ve ever known. And she was tough. Liz fought hard for what she believed in. She went to law school with the goal of someday getting into politics and making some real positive change in the world. I bet she would have pulled it off, too. She was that kind of person.

I’ll give you an example: we were hanging out in a park, by the river, a short walk from our house. Our kids were throwing rocks in the water and my older asked why there wasn’t a playground in this park. Liz said, “You know what? That’s an excellent question.” She then went on to help organize a committee to petition the city to build one. She helped raise money for it, and was instrumental in ensuring that it was accessible to all sorts of children. That playground exists today because of my dead wife. A plaque dedicating it to her memory is prominently displayed next to it.

This is who she was. She would see a need that had to be filled, and she would do what it took to fill it. She knew hundreds of people, and she was constantly making connections. Someone would comment that they wanted to start a bakery; Liz would say, “Oh, hey. You should totally meet up with [name]. They are looking to back a small business, and the love donuts!” Then, the two people would meet, introduced by her, and within a year, we’d have a new bakery. It was kind of amazing.

When she died, we held three memorials for her: the first was small, close friends and family. We told stories about her, songs were sung, and a lot of tears were shed. That was where the mayor told me she was going to make sure they dedicated the playground to her. The second was her family’s memorial. That was cathartic for them, and, to a lesser degree, myself. The third was held in a large public building (donated by the organization that ran it), catered (mostly donated as well), where a band played for free, and a lot of us got up to speak (and sing again). The hall was packed, with over 300 people in a cavernous space with no A/C in 90+ degree heat. This is how much she was loved.
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Brain Babies, Head Spinning Edition

Content warning: left-leaning politics (though I try to stay polite and stick to facts, my views color the following narrative; I make no apologies, but thought it prudent to mention it).

I’m not actually going to pull a Regan and rotate my head around completely, freaking out the priest in the room (though you know I totally would if I could). This is more of a metaphor thing.

It’s 2021. First of all, as a person born in 1966—you know: well into last century—this is freaky enough all by itself. Secondly, what the hell is going on!? It seems like the entire planet is falling apart around our ears!

A Global Pandemic

The United States rent in two by raging sociopolitical factions

Leadership riddled with incompetence and staggering selfishness

Riots

Overstressed hospitals

So much anger, and pain, and frustration. It’s all rising to the top and boiling over. And, naturally, everyone around is getting scalded, burnt, killed.

It’s overwhelming. It’s frightening. It’s appalling. It’s hard to know how to cope with So Much Stuff! I’m sure many of you, like me, wonder if, the next time you step outside, will some maniac run me down with their car? Will I lose my job? Be homeless? Will a disease-carrying person breathe tiny vapors in my face, passing Death to me, maybe without even knowing they’re doing it? Will they do it on purpose, just for kicks? Will I go to pay the property taxes on my house and happen to be at City Hall the same day some asshole decides to shoot up the place? Will I catch a few rounds to the chest, clutching the envelope with the check in it, wheezing out my last breaths as some deluded psychopath cries “Freedom!” and runs away? Will my children be orphaned? Will I lose the woman I love? Hope not. You don’t really get over that shit.

Deep breath. Okay. So, there’s all of that worry. That fear. And it’s justified. The world is scary right now. But it’s easy to focus on the negative, right? We’re conditioned to it, aren’t we? I think a big reason for this is that bad news sells. It draws people in like a car accident, a train wreck. We, as bystanders, are certainly horrified by the blood in the streets, by the limb sticking out of the train window, barely visible through the smoke (is it attached?). We feel horrified by the events at hand, but we also think “Oh thank god it’s not me!”

But! It’s not all bad news, folks. It’s really not. There are good people out there, doing good things. Sometimes, in the face of the horrors too. Nurses, EMTs, doctors…wow, you guys! I cannot imagine how difficult this has been for you. My deepest respect goes to you all. (more…)

Brain Babies: I Don’t Think I have a Niche

I guess I’ve always had this issue. When I was in high school, I was a theater kid; I was also on the track team; I hung out with stoners; I played D&D with the geeks. I flitted and jumped from one clique to another, fitting in with all and none at once. I guess I was a kind of social chameleon.

I’m not sure why I was this way. Maybe I was just indecisive. Couldn’t figure out who I wanted to be. I doubt very much I was the only one. For as long as I can remember, I’ve refused to allow anyone to pigeonhole me; I won’t be put into a box for your convenience.

Still, to this day, I feel that way. Do I write horror? Yes. Is that the majority of my output? Yes, it is. Do I also write fantasy, SF, magical realism, weird, slipstream, Bizarro, kid-lit, mainstream, pulp, mystery, and erotica? Yes…yes, I do.

Here’s the thing: I write the story I want to write. The one I wanted to read that no one has put down in words yet. The one that wants to be told. I don’t think about genre when the idea starts poking me in the brain. I don’t worry about to whom I’m going to sell it, or how I should market it. I don’t care. None of that matters at first. What’s important is the story. The characters whose lives are in my hands (poor things). These are the things on which I focus. This is where my energy goes. I let the story dictate the genre, or mixed genre, or utter lack of easily defined genre. I don’t care what it ends up being, as long as it’s the best story I can tell.

Only when it’s finished, when I’ve gone back and edited all the horrible, first-draft mistakes, polished it until it shines… only then do I start to think about where I can sell it. And, I’ve sold a lot of them, so this seems to be working out okay.

I don’t always do this, I have to admit. Sometimes, I’ll see an open call for a specific type of story, a theme. Sometimes, this will resonate with me and I’ll write something for it. Sometimes, it won’t especially resonate with me, but I know the editor is a good one, or the pay is high enough, so I’ll take a crack at it anyway. I’ve sold some of those too.

Sometimes, and I have to admit loving this, I will be invited to write for something. I always try to produce for those, because I’d like to be invited again at some point. If you are asked and blow it off, I imagine you will stop getting asked. I’ve sold one or two of these as well.

And, finally, sometimes I want to see a whole book out there for which I cannot write. When this happens, which has been precisely twice so far, I find a way to create it. I did this with BURNT FUR (Furry horror anthology from Blood Bound Books, and my first time curating a book), and I’m doing it now with STITCHED LIPS (horror anthology of oppressed voices). I feel this one is incredibly important. There are so many opportunities for me, a cis/het, white man in his fifties. I have no obstacles with which to contend, other than my own limitations of skill and talent. Doors open easily for people like me. So, I intend to hold that door for the people for whom it doesn’t open. I plan to keep it open as long as I can.

So, maybe this is who I am. Maybe I’m a chameleon because I want to be part of all the groups, and to be excited to be in the room, no matter where it is, or who else is in there with me. Maybe I’m a genre-jumper because I want to experience All the Things! I honestly have no idea why I’m like this. But, I love writing. I love supporting other writers. I love reading good books. I love it when something I wrote (or edited) touches someone, makes an impact. There is no greater pleasure for a writer, I think, than to have a reader reach out to tell you that your work meant something to them.

If you, like me, find yourself writing all over the genre map, maybe don’t worry about it too much. Maybe look at it this way: you’re keeping your readers on their toes. They won’t know what to expect next. As long as your style (that’s a whole different topic!) remains the same, I think you can write anything you want. Look at Neil Gaiman. His work is all over the place. But you can always tell it’s him. That’s the secret maybe. I don’t know. I’m no Neil Gaiman. I’m just a guy who feels comfortable hanging out with the jocks, the freaks, the weirdos, and the drama kids, or whatever equivalent exists in the grown-up world of writing and editing.

As always, thanks for listening.

Ken