Kind Words For Ghost Of A Marriage

James A. Moore had some nice things to say about Ghost of a Marriage:

Richard Dansky’s voice is unique and compelling and his latest novel GHOST OF A MARRIAGE is a unique take on ghost stories and the tragedies that befall us, Funny, poignant, and terrifying in a truly phenomenal blend that stands head and shoulders above the average ghost story, Here is a ghost that will haunt you.–James A. Moore, author of the BLOOD RED series.

Now I’m blushing…

Miscellaneous Upcoming Goodness

Just some quick reminders as to what’s coming down the pipe….

There’s still time to pitch a talk at East Coast Game Conference, which happens in Raleigh April 19-21. I curate the narrative track, so if you have any questions, ask me!

I’m running three (count ’em) narrative round tables at the upcoming Game Developers’ Conference. I’ll be running those remotely, but they still figure to be a blast. That’s the week of March 21-25. And don’t forget the Game Narrative Summit content which I advise for!

And finally, there’s still room in my Game Writing seminar at Scares That Care Authorcon. Four hours of intense interactive game writing instruction from a guy in a sasquatch-patterned Hawaiian shirt (that would be me). Hope to see you there!

Five For Writing – Todd Keisling

Devil’s Creek is a stunning novel, mixing backwoods folk horror with Lovecraftian cosmicism. Its author, Todd Keisling, is a great guy and a very talented writer. He was kind enough to sit down for a five question interrogation, and so without further ado, here’s his Five For Writing

 

1-How did you get into writing?

I think it’s been in my blood for as long as I can remember. My dad has a photograph of me sitting at my granny’s typewriter when I was six or seven years old. Storytelling is something I’ve always done, no matter the medium. My interests varied throughout childhood, but there was always a creative element to it, and I gravitated toward making something and giving it a story. Comics, video games, movies, books—I went through a phase where I wanted to make something with each, either making up my own stories or writing continuations of other stories I loved. When I was in 2 nd grade, I made a comic adaptation of The Legend of Zelda. In 4 th grade, I attempted a comic adaptation of Evil Dead 2 (one of my favorite horror films). Sometime around 7 th or 8 th grade, I tried to write a novel adaptation of Final Fantasy 6 (I made it as far as the World of Ruin). Unfortunately, those early pieces of fan fiction are lost to time, but that’s where it all started, I think. By the time I got to high school, my interests had turned to film, and I wrote a short screenplay for a story that had been bouncing around in my head after the tragedy at Columbine. My senior year, I adapted that script into a novel; the following year, in college,
that novel won 2 nd place in my university’s writing contest. Got paid $200 for that prize. I’ve been chasing the dream ever since.

2-How does where you live affect your writing?

Where I live now doesn’t have much of an impact on my writing. Pennsylvania has been mostly good to me. That said, growing up in Kentucky greatly affected my writing, something I’ve only come to terms with in the last five years or so. Maybe it’s therapy, or maybe it’s just the process of aging, but I’ve spent a lot of time looking back at the events that shaped me into who I am today. I lived in Kentucky for 22 years before I finally escaped. In that time, I learned everything the hard way, growing up as an outcast, geeky goth kid who wanted a place to fit in. I was bullied, mocked, and abused by a social system that favored conformity, sports, and popularity. I just didn’t belong there, and I didn’t have a chance to leave until after I’d finished college. My life has only improved since then, but I dip back into that well of experience whenever my writing calls for it, because that kind of pain has an often-overlooked benefit: empathy.

3-You mixed the rural and the cosmic to great effect in Devil’s Creek. How did you come up with that pairing?

I fell in love with cosmic horror when I was a teenager. Lovecraft, mostly, and some Chambers. Although Lovecraft’s pantheon captivated me, I had a hard time relating to the predominantly New England setting, and I sometimes daydreamed about writing a cosmic horror story set in my hometown. What if there’s a pantheon that exists adjacent to Lovecraft’s, only instead of it being coastal, it’s further inward? Something ancient buried in the woods instead of buried at sea? A living, seething corruption from another dimension instead of a massive tentacled monstrosity. I stewed on that concept for years until the plot of Devil’s Creek finally came together. I had no idea if it would work; it’s so vastly different from contemporary cosmic horror, leaning more into the small-town tropes put in place by King (by design—Salem’s Lot was a huge inspiration), but I had to give it a shot. The book is more straightforward horror than I’d hoped, but I’m happy with the result.

4-You do cover art and design for numerous publishers. Does being an author impact your process for that?

I think so. I’ll explain, even at the risk of sounding pretentious. Every author knows the cover is important. It’s that first impression with a reader, before they’ve even read the synopsis, so the cover design must make that connection. It should be provocative, easy to read, attention-grabbing. You could argue that a great cover is like a good hook in the first paragraph. The same goes for a book’s interior. I approach the interior with the goal of continuing the “visual conversation” that begins with the cover. If it works the way I hope, the reader is met with a visual experience that is contextual with the story they are reading. Most folks probably don’t even notice, or if they do, it’s on a subconscious level, but the idea is to create a design that enhances the mood of the text. Together, they set an expectation that this book is going to be something special, one the reader will remember for years to come. Knowing how important that connection is from an author’s perspective helps inform the overall design.

5-There was a big gap between books two and three of the Monochrome trilogy. What made you decide to pick that back up?

So, there’s a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is, I didn’t plan on it being a trilogy. The long answer is, I didn’t realize I needed to write a third book until performing some necessary and heavy revisions to book two. My longtime editor, Amelia, put it bluntly: either write another two hundred pages to justify the ending I’d originally written for book two, or write a third book. I chose the latter and proceeded to spend the next several years stressing over what the third book needed to be.

As more time passed, the less I felt inclined to write it, and for a long time I told myself I wouldn’t. I’d moved beyond the series, my writing had evolved, etc. But after I finished Devil’s Creek, I felt like I’d reached a watershed moment in my writing career, and I wanted to start the next phase with a clean slate. That meant finishing that one book I’d abandoned. I reviewed my notes to see what could be salvaged, which turned out to be more than I expected. I also made a list of things that had to change in the first two books to make the third work. In the end, I revised books one and two to set up the plot of the third. It was a lot of hard work and heartache, and while I don’t plan on writing a linear series ever
again, I’m glad I finished it. I can look back with pride and say, “I did that.”

 

So there you have it, straight from the source. Huge thanks to Todd for taking the time to provide such thoughtful answers.

Until next time!

Five For Writing – P.D. Cacek

A winner of the Bram Stoker and World Fantasy awards, P.D. Cacek is a superb, versatile author who just happens to keep a mannequin named Sebastian by her desk at all times. (More on him below). I have known her for well over twenty years, ever since she agreed to write a short fiction piece for me back in the White Wolf days, and she doesn’t hold that against me. Witty, wise and wonderful, here’s Five For Writing with P.D. Cacek.

(Just cover your ears when you get to the last question. Trust me.)

1-Werewolves or vampires? Which do you prefer and why?

Hmmm…hard choice, but I think I prefer werewolves over vampires…and that’s not because my grandfather was from the Carpathian region of Romania and sounded like Bela Lugosi, or that I’m allergic to garlic and have a tendency to burn in the sun. It’s not. Really.

Vampires are fine, but they tend to be a bit more arrogant about themselves and their needs, seeming to delight in the hunt and flaunting their total disregard for their formal corporal selves (unless I’ve written them*). Okay, so you’ve lived centuries…get over yourselves. I feel werewolves, even though they are monsters, still retain more of their “humanness” for the simple reason that not only are as much a victim of their curse as the poor (slow) souls they hunt, but are doomed to live with the knowledge of what they have become. They have no power to
fight the transformation that turns them into ferocious, ravening beast (again, unless I’m writing   them**).
And the fact that I sometimes get a little twitchy around the time of the full moon and love my steaks so rare they might be could be considered bleeding has nothing to do with my answer. Really.
[* NIGHT PRAYERS, NIGHT PLAYERS. ** CANYONS. Yes, they’re plugs…sue me.]

2-You bounce back and forth between Colorado and Pennsylvania. Which is more conducive to horror writing?

Although I do the majority of my “keyboarding” in Pennsylvania where my desktop computer is, I have been known to grab a pen (!) and legal pad (!!) and write longhand (!!!) in Colorado. It doesn’t matter where I am when inspiration strikes, and I’ve used both states as backdrops. [Stand by for another plug] I set SECOND CHANGES in both CO and PA, (CA for SECOND LIVES) and while bunny-sitting in the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado (Home of Frozen Dead Guy Days) used it—modified for creativity’s sake—as the setting for my current work in progress.

3-You’re an experienced first reader for a publisher. What is it like being the editor’s first line of defense?

Sometimes it’s very, very hard.

I know all too well what it’s like to put your heart, soul, and, on occasion, spleen into a novel which, after countless hours spent polishing it, reworking it and suffering the critiques from readers who may or may not “understand” what you’re trying to do, you send it to a publisher only to have it rejected. It’s the worst feeling in the world and I think about that each and every time I read a submission.

In a perfect world, each manuscript I read would be a masterpiece…but this is not a perfect world and all too often the hopeful author’s hopes and skill are not equally matched. I was once of the opinion that “anyone can write” and as far as it goes, that part is true: anyone can put words down on paper or screen. The question then becomes should they? Sometimes the answer is very obvious and then it’s my job to take the hit, so to speak. But there are also times when gems appear and I get to forward it with a “YES! READ THIS!”

And those make it all worthwhile.

4-Your upcoming novel has a unique premise. Where did it come from?

[This plug was requested, so shush!]

My upcoming novel from Flame Tree Press is about the relationship between a man and his world-famous photographer mother…and their relationship with a small mannequin named SEBASTIAN.

First, a little bit of personal background of yours truly: I don’t like dolls. Never did, although, beings a female child, I was given a number of them from baby dolls to those high fashion icons with oversized…endowments.

And while I don’t suffer from automatonophobia, I’m not overly found of mannequins. Always thought they’re just a little too creepy, especially the molded plastic, faceless kind.

Another personal bit of info is that I love what I call “vulching,” which, in my case, is to swoop in like a vulture on a “Going Out Of Business” sales in search of bargains. Usually I come away with a few things, so when I saw that the JC Pennys in the King of Prussia mall was going out of business, I swooped.

The “bones” had been picked pretty well clean by the time I got there, but I wandered around a bit and found a few things. While standing in line I noticed a herd, flock, assemblage of mannequins along one wall behind an EVERYTHING MUST GO/60-75% OFF sign. All of the mannequins were adult-sized (made of molded while plastic, faceless but with enough gender features to distinguish male from female)…with one minor, and very small exception. It was near the middle of the flock/herd, half hidden behind the legs of those in front of it…about the size of a two-year old, faceless, child.

I didn’t think anything of it until the cashier rang up my purchases and asked if there was anything…at which point I asked if the little mannequin was for sale and how much it cost. It was and cost me a whopping $36.00.
So I bought it and the moment I picked it up, not only did the whole novel popped into my head: beginning, middle, and end, but also his name: Sebastian.

Sebastian stands next to my desk as I write this, dressed for the season. What? You want I should have a naked mannequin in my office? I’ll have you know that Sebastian has a full wardrobe, plus a couple Halloween costumes. My hope is to one day do a SEBASTIAN calendar which means he needs those outfits, right? Right.

5-You’ve notably given public performances as a banshee at a festival in Pennsylvania. How do you get that job?

By accident.

A bunch of us were whooping it up at the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis (back in 2002) where I shared the stage with Neil Gaiman and others, to perform a script in hand radio play of Gene Wolfe’s “The Tree Is My Hat.” My character was Mary, who, as it turns out, gets eaten by a shark god.

Our first read-thru went well but when I got to the point where Mary gets eaten, the stage direction said scream. Now, I’d never screamed professionally before this, but I thought ‘how hard can it be?’ As it turned out, not hard at all. So I screamed. I mean I screamed as was befitting a woman being eaten by a shark god. Method acting. I honestly didn’t realize how loud (and long) my scream was until the doors at the opposite end of the massive room burst open and two hotel security guards raced in.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Gene Wolfe seemed pleased with the show and only a few people left the play rubbing their ears. I did offer to teach Neil’s daughter the scream but he politely refused on her behalf.

If you’re ever in Phoenixville, PA, the second weekend in July, head over to The Colonial Theater for BLOBFEST and hear for yourself.

And there you have it, folks – P.D. Cacek, author, reader, and banshee. Many thanks to her for taking the time to answer some unusual questions!

Next week, strap in for Five For Writing with Todd Keisling, author of Devil’s Creek!

Game Writing Seminar

I am pleased and proud to announce that I will be giving a seminar on how to write for video games at the upcoming Scares That Care AuthorCon, in Williamsburg, VA. Attendance is limited to 20 folks, so grab your spot now! You can find out more about it here!

Five For Writing – Jay Posey

Jay Posey is a veteran of the video game industry with credits on titles as diverse as Ghost Recon Future Soldier and Star Trek: Bridge Crew. He’s also a multitalented gentleman, and has published seven novels, including the Duskwalker Trilogy and most recently, Every Star A Song. He and I have worked together for many years, and I am pleased to say that he is still talking to me after all this time. And like his character, Jay is hyper competent at anything he sets his mind to. Now hear what he has to say in Five For Writing:

1-You tend to write in series instead of standalone books. What’s the appeal of a series to you?

Hmm, besides the comfort of knowing I’ll get paid for more than one book? I think the main draw of writing a series for me comes from how it gives me time and space to reveal world and character details in a way that feels organic.

I often have a complicated knot of ideas that I’m trying to untangle and explore in my books, and I don’t necessarily know where any of it is going to take me. There’s always a temptation to firehose my readers with information that isn’t necessarily relevant to the immediate story but that my brain really wants to get out on the page so it can stop thinking about it.

My first series (Legends of the Duskwalker) is probably a good example; the main character Three has some unusual traits that make him unique among everyone else he interacts with, but it isn’t really until the third book that it becomes clear why he is the way he is. I kept trying to find a place to explain it all in that first book. There just wasn’t space. It wasn’t relevant to the story that was unfolding, and the amount of context that readers would have needed for it to make sense was just too much to fit in as an information dump. But after a couple of books’ worth of exploring the state of the Duskwalker world, I felt like readers had lived in it long enough that the third book could reveal that background in a natural way that was integral to the story instead of an “As you know, Bob, Three is special because …” kind of thing.

Knowing that I don’t have to rush into anything is helpful, though it has occasionally bitten me too. I left some loose ends in my Outriders series that I still haven’t had the chance to tie up (yet). (Which is probably why about 98% of email I get from readers is of the “When is the third Outriders book coming out?” variety.)

2-You dramatically expanded the scope of your writing for your last two novels. What led to that?

Mostly a direct challenge from my agent, the esteemed Sam Morgan. After the Outriders books, when we were discussing what to tackle next, he said he’d really like to see what I could do on a more epic scale. My first two series were focused on small groups of people, so when Sam said “how about more epic”, I went from “small group with personal stakes” to “galaxy spanning empire with the fate of the human race in the balance”. It was quite a challenge for me and really stretched me creatively, but I’m really glad that Sam pushed me to give it a shot.

3-Your debut novel, THREE, fused elements of westerns, horror, cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic fiction. How did you arrive at that combination?

I had been working on a different novel off and on for a few years and was having trouble making any headway. At some point, I finally realized it was because I wasn’t a good enough writer at that point to accomplish what I wanted to with it, so I decided I’d just pick another idea and make it a goal to finish it, without really worrying about whether or not anyone else would ever want to read it.

So I think the weird combination of elements grew out of the fact that I was writing THREE for myself first and foremost, and I just decided to build a world where I could include all the things that I thought were cool. I remember thinking about George Lucas and Star Wars: A New Hope, and how watching that movie, you can see his love of Westerns, samurai movies, hot rods, and WW2 dogfights all happily co-existing together. I think I just figured if I wanted to write a book about a cyber ninja gunslinger trying to help a dying woman and her child cross a wasteland filled with bad people and scary critters who only come out at night, there wasn’t anything stopping me.

4-The defining trait of many of your characters is utter competence. What’s the appeal of writing
about characters like that?

I’m secretly envious of competent people. Life must be so much easier for folks who have some idea of what’s going on!

There are a couple of things in particular that appeal to me about writing hypercompetent characters. First, I think it’s interesting to explore the humanity that exists even in people that seem so different from the rest of us. I’m pretty sure my background in writing for Tom Clancy video games has had a hand in that. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with a lot of combat veterans from the special operations community, and it’s really impacted how I view members of our armed forces who serve in those elite groups. I used to imagine that they were all just a different kind of human from the rest of us, more like superheroes I guess. The fact is that they’re just people too. So that’s always been interesting to me to explore.

Secondly, I think it also has something to do with the kinds of scenarios I can put those characters into, and still have it seem plausible that they can find their way out. I feel like I can barely navigate a grocery store successfully these days, so it’s fun for me to be able to drop these characters into extremely challenging circumstances and know that they can handle it.

5-What’s the book you’ve always wanted to write that you haven’t written yet?

Probably that very first novel that I worked on for so long that has still never seen the light of day. It’s a fantasy setting, but not unlike the Duskwalker series in combining many different elements that I just find interesting personally. With seven novels under my belt now, I feel like it might be about time to circle back around to it and see if I’m ready to tackle it or not.

The Scariest Part

Some of you may recall my good friend Nick Kaufmann’s Five For Writing, wherein we discussed his fungus-centric new novel The Hungry Earth. Well, Nick runs a series of essays on his website called The Scariest Part, wherein he gets horror authors to talk about the scariest part of their new books, and he was kind enough to ask me to contribute. So you can read all about the scariest part of writing Ghost of a Marriage here.

Five For Writing – Gary Astleford

Gary Astleford has an entry on Wookieepedia, which automatically makes him cooler than I am. He’s also an experienced video game scribe, with experience on titles like Warhammer: Age of Reckoning and Wildstar, as well as the wildly successful Rainbow Six: Siege. Currently a Senior Narrative Designer at my home base of Red Storm Entertainment, he is currently working his mighty wordcraft on The Division: Heartland. Without further ado, I give you Five For Writing with the thoughtful and talented Gary Astleford.

1-What about game writing appeals to you?

As a long-time tabletop game master, I’ve always loved world building and telling interactive stories.

2-What do you think are the main differences between TTRPG and video game writing?

Tabletop RPGs have a dynamic edge that computer and video games lack. There’s always a chance for TTRPG players to do the unexpected, so a certain amount of flexibility is required to ensure that things run smoothly. Though printed adventures are often written with a central storyline in mind, it’s not uncommon to provide game masters with alternatives and suggestions for when things go off the rails.

Conversely, the stories told in video games are limited by available tools and game systems. They tend to be linear, scripted, and on rails to a large degree. While improvements have been made developing procedural content, as well as branching dialogue and storylines, we’ve still got some distance to go before we can emulate the dynamism of an imaginative human storyteller.

3-What were the challenges in writing for Rainbow Six: Siege, a game that doesn’t necessarily have a traditional narrative structure?

In Siege, the narrative elements are by necessity presented outside of the core game. Siege’s stories incorporate the game’s extensive and evolving cast of characters amidst a narrative backdrop delivered in an episodic fashion. Certain in-game features, such as special events, use a more traditional approach to delivering in-game narrative. However, more dramatic stories and interactions between characters are conveyed via other types of media—CGI and anime videos, comics, online articles, etc.
These various narrative assets are quite focused and specific. One challenge in creating them is to stay on-message, as there is rarely room to write in the proverbial margins. Another concern involves the scope and cost of the assets (which can be tremendous) and ensuring they are as polished as they can be right out of the gate. In this process, Narrative is only one of a number of key stakeholders involved in the creative process. Consensus and agreement across disciplines during production is vital.

4-What says good game writing to you?

I value internal consistency in game writing, as well as due consideration of the player’s agency and their role in and effect on the story. Players should absolutely feel as if their actions in the game make a difference. Providing tangible results for those actions is an important part of my own creative philosophy. While I don’t feel it’s necessary for all player actions or accomplishments to be broadcast or rewarded, there’s definitely a sweet spot I aspire to.
Beyond that, content should be internally consistent—any surprises or plot twists must make sense within the framework provided by the game’s narrative.

5-What are the next steps that need to be taken in improving game writing?

As creators I believe it’s our responsibility to usher in new perspectives rather than cling to those we’re
familiar with and accustomed to. While strides have been made in increasing diversity in games, we still
have a long way to go. Representation, both within our industry as well as within the content we create,
matters a great deal. There are voices we haven’t heard yet and they have their own stories to tell. The
inclusion of these voices can only improve the narrative tapestry of the games we make.

 

Many thanks to Gary for taking the time to sit down and answer the questions! Next week, tune in for five questions with science fiction novelist and all-around excellent guy Jay Posey!

Good News Everybody

A couple of notes.

First of all, today marks the release of the ebook version of Ghost of a Marriage, available at fine purveyors of electronic books everywhere for the low, low price of $2.99.

Second, I am pleased to announce that my short story “The Taste of It Fresh” has been accepted for publication in the anthology Counting Bodies Like Sheep. This story is my first experiment with body horror, as opposed to my usual weirdness, and I’m very proud of it.

Oh, and just a reminder, I’ll be running virtual round tables on the subject of game narrative at the upcoming Game Developers Conference.

There’s more good news in the pipeline, but I’ll hold off on that until I have more details to share with you. Just a hint, though – if you’re interested in learning about writing for games, keep the weekend of April 1 open…