Date Yourself!

Some novelists find fleshing out their characters difficult, which can feel all the more frustrating because you spend most of your life surrounded by characters — how can you actually know that many people yet have trouble coming up with a handful of your own to push around for about seventy thousand words?

You can find entire books on how to develop characters, but their exercises can be dry and feel like homework. If that sounds like a slog to you, then I think I found a shortcut that isn’t too embarrassing to admit you’re familiar with nowadays: fill out an OKCupid profile for your major characters.
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Recycled Con Notes: Turning Your Idea Into a Story

Since half the panelists including the moderator didn’t bother showing up for one of the panels I was on this weekend, here’s a write-up of the notes I didn’t get to use for “Turning Your Idea into a Story.” I don’t have a lot of stories to my name, but I’d like to think the ones I do have were at least wrought from some pretty odd ideas. Here are three suggestions I’ve used when stuck with an idea that wasn’t quite ready to get written. Suggestion 0.5 would be, “Salvage your unused scraps to make something else out of ’em.”

1) Overthink your idea.
There are always new approaches you can take to old stories, and if you’re the kind of person interested in writing fiction in 2018 then odds are you’re at least a little bit neurotic. So put that tendency to good use: trap yourself in your own head with your fledgling idea and over-analyze it until you’ve teased out some specifics.

Say you wanted to write a story about a pirate raiding ships and discovering buried treasure. Not the most original, but you can find a new angle on it if you look hard enough. What is it about the basic idea that makes you want to write it? Maybe it’s the romanticized freedom and self-determination of piracy that attracts you. Maybe you’re actually really interested in the nuts and bolts of seafaring, to the point where you’re annoyed that I think nuts and bolts were used on pirate ships. Occupy your hands by doing the dishes or dusting so that you’ll have nothing to do but think your idea to pieces, then pick out the ones that still look good when you separate them.

2) Have you tried… two ideas?
I have a list of things I’ve been meaning to try writing about in a Google doc. Nothing developed, just a three or four word description on each line. When I find something new I want to add to the list, I’ll go through the list and see if my new thing could dovetail with any of the old ideas.

For example, I’d been interested in the physiology of Baba Yaga’s hut for a good while. Was it a chicken whose body she turned into a hut, or an existing hut to which she added legs? Are the legs made of chicken meat? Does the house have blood? The line “Baba Yaga hut meat?” sat near the top of my list for about a year. Then, after hearing a friend of mine talk about his experience on a Food Network game show, I thought that might be a neat little story idea. I took it to the list, paired it up with the Baba Yaga idea, and then this happened. So throw something totally unpiratical at your pirate if he still isn’t going anywhere.

3) Figure out your characters.
Ideas are static things, but stories aren’t. I mean, there are experimental ones that are, but if you’re writing one of those then you’re already beyond the realm of general advice.

How your story progresses depends on the choices characters make, and the choices they make depends on who they are — their temperament, approach to problem-solving, Myers-Briggs type or zodiac sign or whatever you use to figure out how your characters tick. Is the specific pirate you’re writing about the sort who’d go looking for a map with a giant X on it, or just run their ship aground and start digging on any island they come across?

Six More Weeks of Halloween, plz

I had to work on Halloween and the morning after, so I feel kind of robbed and we don’t have any more costume-mandatory days until Mardi Gras season starts. Join me in keeping the spirit alive by reading horror novels and novellas straight through to Epiphany and ignoring all those other costumeless holidays standing in the way. Here are some of the best horror books I’ve read this past year if you need to know where to start. They weren’t all published in 2018, but they’re at least close enough for government work.

Ecstatic Inferno, by Autumn Christian
It feels like comparing writers to Philip K Dick is becoming kind of meaningless due to overuse, but I genuinely can’t come up with a better comparison for a short story collection that features God’s body washing up in a trash bag on the beach. There’s a story with a needle-toothed incubus where THAT ISN’T EVEN THE MOST UNSETTLING PART OF THE STORY. Most of the stories have a dreamlike lack of structure without feeling disorganized, with vivid surreal imagery and the sort of language use that you can’t quite explain why it works but fuck if you won’t be turning certain phrases over in your head for days afterward.

iHunt: Killing Monsters in the Gig Economy, by Olivia Hill
iHunt features several vampires and a werewolf, but the economy manages to be the bloodthirsty creature in the book and it doesn’t even have to exaggerate anything. The cast of characters are well-drawn and relatable to any millennial, and the quippy comedic action should satisfy any Buffy fan while presenting none of the weird Nice Guy hangups that series had.


Come Back to the Swamp, by Laura Morrison
It’s difficult to balance dramatic weight with quippy characters, but Laura Morrison always manages to do so without either feeling out of place. In addition to being both fun and ominous at points, Come Back to the Swamp makes great use of the novella format by leaving the nature of the swamp a mystery. Sure there’s probably interesting detail to what the swamp is up to and how it’s really operating, but that’s not strictly necessary for Bernice’s story and the decisions she has to make. The narrative is delivered with such an engaging voice that you won’t even have time to miss the exposition.

All Hail the House Gods, by Andrew J Stone
This novella has an amount of narrative tension that might seem a little unwarranted going in to a book about sentient houses, and I can’t quite quantify WHY it actually works, but it seriously does. It builds a great atmosphere of desperate pathos and near-hopelessness for the little human colony, the houses and the mystery surrounding them are genuinely foreboding, and it feels like it’s a metaphor for so much that’s been wrong with society but it never reads as moralizing or didactic.

Polymer, by Caleb Wilson
Take one of those hour long “Glitchwave/Retrocore MEGAMIX” videos from Youtube, pour it into a form fitting yet breathable jumpsuit, and make it the protagonist in a side-scrolling beat ’em up arcade game. There’s some clever and really well-executed literary trickery going on in this book: the first-person-collective narration, playing with ideas of spectacle and celebrity culture, the gleeful magic-techno-horror aesthetic mashup of the castle. But don’t let all the postmodern stuff throw you off, watching a rockstar monster hunter fight his way through a multidimensional deathtrap with a synth-powered sword is awesome enough on a surface level.

Podcastin’ the Runes

My To Another Abyss tie-in story, “Oh Ghost of Mine,” was produced in audio by The Overcast last week — check it out here! I couldn’t be happier; J.S. Arquin did a great job with the comedic delivery. It’s also¬†substantially different from the original audio recording which inspired the title, which is definitely a good thing in this case. I’m not much in to the shrieky vocals these days.