Words from the Wise





(Write with honesty)

J S Breukelaar

J S Breukelaar is a writer I’ve admired for a while now. Her debut novel, ‘American Monsters’ (Lazy Fascist Press), was one of the most profoundly poetic and shocking books I read in 2015 – I still owe her a proper review, in fact (it’s an intimidating masterpiece). I had her earmarked as a blog guest for a long time but we just couldn’t synchronise schedules, now she’s finally making an appearance. Jennifer’s rapid rise to critical acclaim has been nothing short of inspiring. She’s talented, humble and keeps good company too, one of her closest associations being Seb Doubinsky!

J S says “Always give, write your ass off and write the truth.”


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?

JS – If there is one thing I’ve learned it is that there is always more to learn.


There is always a writer who writes better than you, who publishes more than you, whose posts are pithier than yours, who needs less sleep than you, and who even without sleep is still younger and prettier than you are (I HATE YOU JEREMY ROBERT JOHNSON). So my advice to young writers is this: writers give for a living.

They can’t help it—to paraphrase from Salmon Rushdie, creating worlds to add to the sum total of worlds at our disposal is what we do. I have consistently11111111111 found that the best writers, or the smartest ones, the ones who I would saw off my right arm to be half as good as, are the ones who are already sawing off theirs to replace it. The posts below are a case in point. I’ve had the good fortune to run into more angels than demons on this dusty road of broken words, and so my first tip for all new writers is to reach out to story-tellers you admire—to read their work repeatedly, to rave about it publicly, and in private to imitate it in the best of faith. In that way you, as a new writer are in a unique position to benefit from those divinely unslept beings washing their dirty wings in the arroyo right around the next bend. Pick up your pace because they won’t slow theirs—most writers can write as well with their left hand as their right—and if you do those hard yards, chances are you’ll see that there’s plenty of cool fresh water to go around.111111111

So my second tip, connected with the first, is to write your ass off. There is no way around that mountain of ten thousand hours, but through. It’s really that simple. And difficult as hell. But the more you write the better you get, the more you “imitate” (see above), the more your own voice will insist upon itself. It took me a long time to realize I wasn’t going to get better by wishing I was.

My third tip concerns writers of horror, weird, the fantastic and the macabre, and especially women. Write for yourself, ladies. It can be nasty. It can be bleak. It can be chillingly nihilistic. It can be everything that the world still doesn’t want you to be or to write. It can be about being ugly. It can be about being unlovable, political, filthy or invisible (thank you Nathan Ballingrud). Women writers of horror have as much to learn from our male counterparts as they from us—write for your sisters, but if you really want to make a difference, write the truth—terrifying as it is—as you have witnessed it, because the writer’s first duty (there’s that giving thing again) is to bear witness, to testify from the heart, and from the dark.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 25 – Helen Marshall



(The Anxiety of Autobiography)

Helen Marshall

When I was writing The Black Dog Eats the City I wanted to probe the subject of depression and come out with an authentic extrapolation. To me that meant — no happy endings, no redeemable characters, very limited humour, loads of cut-ups and non-sequiturs thrown in to piss people off, the lateral insertion of confusing, irrelevant nonsense then place all that in a thermodynamically unstable universe.

To do this I had to relive a lot of my own dark past, and plunge myself into the dark present of other people around me at the time. It was my way of communicating the black dog. People were offended, people I knew were hurt – even though I made a point of approaching the subject as compassionately as I could. Sometimes these are sacrifices you have to make to say something transcendent.

I’m honoured to present this special Women in Horror Month blog post from a truly courageous writer, the one and only Helen Marshall. Helen shares her very personal story of emotional and creative courage on this month’s Words from the Wise –


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?

The Anxiety of Autobiography

By Helen Marshall

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

–Anne Lamott


One of the issues I encounter from time to time—and which my students likewise ask me about—concerns the need to take risks as a writer.  The risks I’m talking about aren’t the ones that easily come to mind: financial insecurity or narrative daredevilry, for example. Rather, they’re the very real, very personal risks of exposure. To write is to say something about something and to sign your name to it. This isn’t always easy. There are situations in which it can feel dangerous or potentially fraught.

Let me give you an example.

In a writing workshop I was asked to write a scene based on a personal memory of mine, any memory. When I was just about to graduate from high school my dad was involved in a very bad car crash. He survived, but suffered a traumatic head injury that damaged his short term memory and has introduced a variety of complications along the way, including subtle (and less subtle) personality changes: irritability, anger, stubbornness. It’s a situation I’ve largely acclimatized to but which I still think about from time to time. My dad and I were very close before the accident and its timing coincided with big changes in my development in any case. It wasn’t long after that I left home for university and our relationship began to change.aejf

The story I chose to write about involved a road trip I took with my family a good seven or eight years later. My dad was driving the car as he normally does. We were on a long, empty stretch of highway in the Arizona desert. The highway was perfectly straight. Without warning the car to a halt. We didn’t pull off the road. We just sat there on the highway. He said he was feeling dizzy. My sister got out of the car and took over driving.

It was a scary moment. I couldn’t help but imagine a car ramming into us from behind, unaware that we’d stopped.

Writing about the moment was scary too. It meant acknowledging fears about my family, about my dad’s health and our own dynamic surrounding it. Publishing the piece also raised a host of other specters: Did I want my family to read how I felt? How would they take it? Would they feel as if I’d breached their privacy? Would my dad read it? I’m a naturally introspective person and I’ve felt a little as if this introspection makes my family uncomfortable.

Even writing this short article raises those anxieties in my mind. Am I saying too much? Am I revealing too nakedly things about myself I would rather keep to myself? Am I writing things about other people that they would not like to read? Or have others read?

I’m a fantasist. The majority of my writing concerns ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, but I’ve always found it difficult to write without an autobiographical element. There is a kernel of something true at the heart of every story, something true for me, in any case. Anyone who has written will have been asked about the connection between their writing and real life. It seems to be an endless source of fascination, perhaps because writing does involve exposing things we would not speak of in polite company. And yet the truth is often a starting point. Writing fiction involves mixing, mending, distorting, uncovering—but also obscuring, complicating, misrepresenting. Writing often comes from a position of uncertainty. We do not express life exactly how we see it. A good friend of mine says that many readers who he knows will look for autobiography in his work but they’ll always fix on the wrong things. Their own anxieties get in the way.

My sister reads most of what I write. She felt very uncomfortable about the scene I wrote in a way she doesn’t get about most of my fiction.

There are risks to being a writer. It’s perfectly normal to feel anxiety over this. And it’s also perfectly normal to be utterly heartless about it. Anne Lamott—one of my favourite writers, whose book Bird by Bird deals with the practical issues of the writing life such as crap first drafts and jealousy over your friends’ successes—is not wrong. Our lives are the best fodder we have for writing—and the best reason we have for writing too. I write not to expose my life to others but to understand it for myself. And I hope that by writing honestly I can help others make sense of their own lives.

So my advice is this: Be brave. Be heartless. Be honest. Be kind.

Do not write to hurt people. But understand that what we do can be uncomfortable.

Be graceful too. Be compassionate.

Write what you know.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 24 – Jeremy Robert Johnson



(The JRJ masterclass)

Jeremy Robert Johnson 

We’re back after a few months off! Time to get straight back into it…

So, I think there’s always a danger with a project like ‘Words from the Wise’ that the authors you ask to take part will start covering the same territory (the last thing that’s useful to a young struggling writer is when his elder-statesmen start  reiterating platitudes). It seems almost inevitable though, to overlap. I mean, how many times can you say “never give up man!”, “keep writing, keep rewriting” or “try your best to find your voice”? This kind of advise gets thrown around too often to ever be interesting or thoughtful.

That said, I think so far we’ve managed to avoid any glaring re-treads, but there have been some (we are 24 guest posts in guys!). Jeremy Robert Johnson is one the best writers of his generation (I mean that sincerely, ‘We Live Inside You’ is one of most haunting and significant books you’ll maybe ever read). Jeremy is fearless but humble. He’s also something of an indie-lit darling these days, but there’s still no trace of an ego. He is someone to truly aspire to. Like his fiction, his ‘Words from the Wise’ post is genuinely insightful and avoids platitudes like British royalty avoid taxes.

Here’s the JRJ masterclass…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?

13895352_1192556364112479_3622502725082606796_nExpect nothing from a writing career, but appreciate anything good that comes your way. Stop in that moment—first short story sale, first good reading, first time you don’t want to kill yourself after reading a final draft—and look at it and be grateful. Buy yourself a beer and a burrito and just be happy for a second before worrying about whatever the next thing has to be (and dodge the search for too much outside validation, as this can turn an actual achievement into a bummer). Writing is a career which features wildly intermittent reward, so recognize those tiny moments and ride that wave for as long as you can. It may help you through the horse latitudes.

Use reason when absorbing advice. Accept wisdom from only those proven capable in the field of which they speak. I don’t know Joe R. Lansdale, but his interviews and career are a guiding light to me. I stop before major decisions and take into account the following question—What Would Joe Lansdale Do? I sincerely believe this methodology has saved me from many stupid decisions, and boosted my day-to-day writing production and discipline.

If you’re going to marry or shack-up with somebody long term then sure, romanticize writing on the front end, but before the relationship goes too far it’s best to hit them with the truth: the odds are against you being rich, famous, or even read, and your job mainly involves you sitting still in a room, sweating imaginary bullshit and mumbling to yourself. Also be honest with yourself about how long the other person in your life might be willing to tolerate a bohemian lifestyle. Having a day job and writing ain’t impossible, it’s just harder. And there’s no solid reason your life shouldn’t be harder. Struggling’s no insult.


A couple pieces of advice which frequently pop up in my head are as follows (and are clearly paraphrased—I can’t replicate either writer’s wonderful syntax).

I don’t care if you’re on the smallest press or coming out of New York with the best publicist money can buy, you have to have the mindset that you are the only person on Earth who gives a fuck that your book exists, and act accordingly.—Tom Piccirill

Every word you leave on the page should have killed and drank the blood of five other words to have survived.—Cody Goodfellow


Don’t be afraid to take literature far too seriously and brood and fuss and wear the tightest turtlenecks. Don’t be afraid to take it as a lark and have fun and find joy in it and do readings where you wear colorful wigs. Either way’s fine. Do look for the balance between those modes, if that suits you.

we-live-inside-you-01Internet’s full of psychic pollution. It’s always good to check your own emission levels and adjust accordingly. Buy My Book Bots and jealous grumblers and posturing dilettantes and obvious troll reviewers are a few of the Hummers of our shared mental roadways. (I’ve got plenty of online behavioral regrets—I can mostly move past them but they like to come back around at 3AM and remind me of all the dumb shit I’ve done. Feels like the internet’s a hard place to be human, but I think it’s worth a try.)

Whatever you think you shouldn’t put on the page—whatever you’re afraid of folks reading—is probably the first thing you should write.

 The truth resonates.





(invent a genre)

David Shields 

We’ve been running this series for a few months now and (I think) we’ve picked up some important pieces of advice from astoundingly talented writers. I first heard David Shields talking on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast where he argued against the novel in it’s traditional form, claiming it had no place in our largely fragmented contemporary culture, that it was fundamentally irrelevant and insincere somehow. It was a fascinating discussion – but, then again, David has actually written a couple of excellent novels himself (before abandoning the form completely).

A committed non-fiction writer, David is also one of the most respected commentators on arts and culture working today – a man who continues to pushes the envelope with his own writing and the way he approaches his subjects. David’s response might seem a bit reluctant or cagey, but he does offer an insight into how to stand out – dissolve the genres, or invent a new one! He was kind enough to offer us his Words from the Wise…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?
31yw01sX1aL._UY200_DS – Hi, Chris. Not sure how many words I have or how wise they are. In a way, my answer to all aspects of your question is the same, and my answer consists somewhat of undermining a lot of the question. That is, am I so wise? Not especially.11oi
What possible advice could I provide a young author? What writer isn’t riddled with insecurities? Who could possibly care about the publishing industry?
I’m not trying to be glib or flip here but rather urging Young Author to remember that when you’re uncertain you’re most alive; that the value of a work of art can be measured by the harm spoken of it; that all serious works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one; and that if you want to write seriously, you have to be willing to break the forms.





(Take pride in your work)

Lucy A. Synder

When you tell someone you’re a writer, chances are you’ll be met with one of the following — 1. exasperated looks that’ll make you feel dumb and pretentious 2. concerned, usually patronising, replies (“It’s not a REAL job, is it…?”, etc), or, on a rare occasion when you meet a kindred spirit, 3. a return glance that suggest this person shares your poor, empty, isolated little existence…

Lucy A. Snyder says “Have some pride in your work”. A science fiction story is never JUST a science fiction story. Lucy is a four-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author. Her writing has been translated into French, Russian, Italian, Czech, and Japanese editions and has appeared in publications such as Apex Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, and Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 5. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and is faculty in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction.

You can learn more about her atwww.lucysnyder.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?
L.S – I recently wrote a nonfiction book entitled . That book contains practically all of my advice for new writers, and it’s got chapters on subjects such as crowd funding, finding an agent, and marketing. But the really short nutshell advice I give people who want to become professional writers is:

Read as much as you can.
Read within your genre, absolutely: if you aspire to sell an epic fantasy novel to a major publisher, you have to be familiar with what other authors are doing in that genre. But don’t just read epic fantasies. Read noir detective mysteries. Read literary fiction. Read nonfiction. Read poetry. Read everything.

Write as much as you can. But don’t get down on yourself if you don’t or can’t write every day. Just do your best and keep working. The most important thing is that you get your stories and novels written, not that you do it according to someone else’s schedule.

Try new things. Experiment with different styles. If you write fiction, try poetry. Always look for ways to stretch yourself and expand your writing skills. Cross-training is just as important for writers as it is for athletes.
Don’t give up. Sticking with your writing is critical. You’ll probably get a lot of rejections before you get any acceptances. The people who succeed in this business are the people who don’t give up.
Act like a professional. Always strive to do the best work you can, read and follow editorial guidelines, proofread before you submit, respond to editorial requests promptly, and be polite. The writing world is a pretty small place, and people talk. Do your best to ensure that they’re saying good things.
Treat your writing seriously. This isn’t me advising you to flounce about declaring to one and all that you are an artiste and therefore a super-special snowflake; see the point above about not being a jerk. But you have to treat your writing like a job, because that’s exactly what it is. You need to set aside time to work, network, follow up on freelance leads, and everything else.

Unfortunately, sometimes family and acquaintances (I’m hesitant to call anyone who won’t support you a “friend”) will insist that what you’re doing isn’t a “real” job. This can happen even after you’re selling your work regularly. It’s always demoralizing, especially when the person who is poo-poohing your work is a spouse or parent or someone else you can’t easily distance yourself from.

Whether this happens to you or not: hold your head up and act confident that yes, this is “real” work that you’re doing. If you hang your head and shrug and act sheepish about what you’re doing (“Oh, it’s just a science fiction story …”) then people will cue off that and not take your work seriously because you aren’t taking your work seriously. If you want to be treated like a professional, you first have to act like one, and valuing your time and what you do is part of that.





(Art and Writing)

Tama Janowitz

Tama Janowitz was part of the famous late 80’s Brat Pack literary scene with Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney. ‘Slaves of New York’ is one of my favourite books about disaffected models and artists in down-town NYC and turned me on to other writers of a similar ilk. Like her characters, Janowitz is a true artist. She labours over her prose. The success she’s enjoyed is, in part, to do with the separation between the artist and the businesswoman. It’s important to labour over your prose, but it’s equally important to be savvy and alert. It was a pleasure to have her write a guest blog post. Here’s her Words from the Wise…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?

TJ – There are two parts of being a writer and they are complete separate. There is ‘art’ and there is business. The first part- ‘art’ is writing.
During that time it is imperative not to think of publication, of fame, of how successful other writers are or what is going on in the current scene. In this part, you write. you can’t think of the outside world, you have to give yourself up to the project. it’s more complicated than that because most of the writing will happen during the revision but if you have no text to revise, there is nothing to fix. You put words down, day after day, doing your best NOT to think. Because in thinking, the critical voice emerges telling you how stupid and bad and terrible your writing is. Your mind agrees and decides to start a new project. Of course there are some who are in love with their words and enjoy the process — and they are lucky, but even for them, the writing begins in the revision. If you write a thousand words a day, after one year you have 365 thousand words and maybe your novel actually doesn’t begin until page eighty. Or maybe it’s only pages eighty through one hundred and twenty five that are going to be worth starting from – before the book veers of course. Anyway, whether it’s short stories, or poems, or a novel, you have to just NOT THINK but WRITE. Which is not easy.
After your book is done, after you’ve re-written it and gotten into first-draft shape, THEN you can start thinking about the other stuff. What is ‘the other stuff’? You can find a book you admire or one that you think is similar to yours and you can call the publishing company and find out who the agent for that book was. you can contact that agency with a query letter regarding your own book. you can go to writers’ workshops and conferences to get aid or feedback. You can send your stories or poems to various literary magazines. You can buy one hundred books or look online — contests being held, retreats around the world, agents looking for books.images (1)
But none of that has anything to do with the writing. that’s the business part. You have to pursue this business part, and try your best. It’s all out there on computer or in bookstores or libraries. But meanwhile, you can’t remain in love with your work feeling rejected or unappreciated. You have to get on with the next book, whatever happens. And so you have to maintain a dichotomy, a separation, between business (the publication, or promoting your work) and the operation conducted by what is basically a totally separate, distinct individual, who is doing ‘the art’.
You just keep going and thinking about Kafka. He never had one book published in his lifetime. He wasn’t writing for the PURPOSE of publication.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 20 – Lynda E. Rucker & Simon Kurt Unsworth



(It’s all about the Work)

Lynda E.Rucker/Simon Kurt Unsworth

We’ve got a double whammy for you this month, two emerging raconteurs of the macabre. Lynda Rucker and Simon Kurt Unsworth are both on the cusp of obtaining their own eternal mantles in mainstream horror – but success wasn’t easy to come by for either of them, it took a lot of hard work and perseverance.

Here’s their Words from the Wise…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

LR – Well, if you’re a beginning writer, the first thing I would say is that if you’re worrying about the publishing industry, you’re putting the cart way in front of the horse. Throughout your writing career, it’s first and foremost about the work, the story, and the words on the page—not the publishing industry, not literary squabbles or personal feuds, not social media, not whatever you’re hearing about what’s hot in your genre right now.

 It’s all about the work. This is the most important piece of advice I would give to anyone, at any stage of their writing career.

 LYNDADon’t get distracted. By any of it. The writers who become great are not the ones who worried about what editors were buying this year or anything else like that. This sounds horribly pretentious, and I kind of want to slap myself for saying it, but it’s true: you have to find and follow your own vision wherever it takes you.

As for the publishing industry, one of the best pieces of advice I got early on was from Jeanne Cavelos, who runs the Odyssey Writing Workshop and used to be a senior editor at Dell. She said you should think of writing and publishing as wearing two different hats, and when you’re writing, you slap your writing hat on and you don’t even think about publishing, you ignore it completely. And then when it comes time to publish, then and only then should you put on your publishing hat and start thinking about things like marketing and become a hard-nosed business person. (Or, I would add to that, finding an agent to be your hard-nosed business person, because that is not something that comes naturally to most of us writers, and that’s okay.)


Keep at it. If what you write is even a little bit unconventional or not the flavor-of-the-month, it might take you a lot longer to get where you’re going than you could ever imagine. Writing is hard. Rising above the slush and getting an editor’s attention is really hard, lynddespecially in the first few years when you’re a nobody. People write a lot of words, a lot of short stories, a lot of novels before they hit on something that gets published…and then sometimes a whole lot more before anyone pays any attention.

Just because you aren’t getting published quickly or aren’t getting attention quickly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing it wrong. In fact, it might mean that you’re doing it very, very right—you’re telling the stories that only you can tell in a way that only you can tell them, and if that’s the case, it might take the editors and readers a little bit longer to catch up to you.


SKU – So, you’re riddled with insecurities? Full of doubt? You feel overwhelmed by the publishing industry? Good.


You should be insecure and doubtful, because to be secure and sure is to be smug and complacent and stop evolving. The trick is to not let the doubts and insecurity overwhelm you or prevent you from so starting in the first place, and there’s a simple way to do this. Are you ready to hear it? Are you listening closely? Good, because here is comes: write. Keep writing, and then write some more.lynr76y

The first thing you write will be terrible, the second a little better, the third a little better again until eventually, hopefully, you’ll start to be a good writer, but don’t ever feel that you’re as good as you can be because every time you write something you should be stretching to be better.

Listen to criticism that’s helpfully given, value your rejections and listen to the reasons why you’ve been rejected when they’re offered, learn how to judge when a thing is done, and stop tinkering with it right there and then. Remember that it’s okay to disagree with your editor’s suggestions for improvements if you’re sure that they won’t actually improve anything, be polite and support your fellow writers, and write.

And then write some more…





(Real friends)

Seb Doubinsky

There isn’t a lot about Seb Doubinsky I haven’t said a million times before.

He is an aberration – a writer of considerable renown who is humble, kind and seems to enjoy sharing his (akashic) knowledge of the creative process with budding writers more than witnessing his own success.

He is based in Denmark, of French extraction, speaks better English than I do, and teaches at the University of Aarhus. Seb has time for everyone, I mean EVERYONE. I’m convinced there is no one more accommodating in the alt-lit community. What’s the point of this gushing preamble? – He is a real friend. Someone I both trust and respect. Someone who, I believe, has my best interests at heart. Seb likes to see other writers do well. He lacks basic human foibles like jealousy or spite. You need to surround yourself with people of a similar constitution.

Here’s Seb’s Words from the Wise –


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

SD – First of all, don’t trust any writer who gives you advice. Never. Each writer has a personal experience and career that is unique, as well as working methods that might or might not work for others. Probably won’t, as a matter of fact.

ASo what I am going to tell you is only the way I see things, and if they can help you – good. Otherwise, forget all about what I am saying.

First, about feeling unsecure: true insecurity is the best way to write good things. Pseudo-insecurity is the most dangerous for talent, because it actually is a narcissistic way to fish for compliments. You don’t need compliments if you’re a good writer. And you don’t need insults either. What you need is solid friendship and respect – you need a small crowd of people you trust (not necessarily people you love, either), but people who can tell you things you don’t want to hear without making you angry or wanting to kill yourself. These people are people who focus on what is written, not what they think should be written. What I mean by that is in “constructive criticism”, the most important word is “constructive”. If you don’t get real constructive feedback, don’t ask again. Ever. It’s no use. Your friend might be good to go out drinking with, fooling around with or travelling with – but not evaluating your manuscript. And it’s perfectly OK. My wife doesn’t care much about most things I write. I love her anyway – or, should I say, she loves me anyway.That’s the important part. As for my own works, I am lucky to have people around I can trust and who give me the feedback that I need (Chris Kelso is actualkly one of them, by the way). I don’t need to hear that I’m a genius, or that I completely suck: I need to hear what works in the story and what doesn’t. Period. The rest I can read on Goodreads, Amazon and blog reviews.


Friendship and respect are therefore very important, in my eyes, in the construction of the writer self. And they always have to go both ways. Don’t be a prick: help others too, the same way you have been helped. I have never forgotten the great people who have read my stuff in the beginning and treated it with respect. “It” – not “me”. That’s very important: you are not your work, and your work is not you. People who compare works to babies should be shot. A work is a work. A book, a short story, a poem, whatever. And you wrote it, yes. But when people read it, when it begins to circulate, it becomes itself and you have to accept that. If you have many readers, then you will have many readings, and you’ve got to chose which ones YOU find adequate. Don’t defend your work if it’s attacked, don’t justify yourself, but listen to good criticism and to good compliments. You’ll know what I mean when you hear them. I can’t tell you. I am not you. I will never be you. Remember? So you have to find out for yourself.

At the same time, you should also know, deep within yourself, at the core of your bleeding heart, that yes, you’re a fucking genius and that nobody can take it from you. But keep it to yourself and only use it when you’re thrown on the ground and that nobody will help you back on your feet. Use the secret flame only when yiou need it – otherwise it will poison and destroy you. Many famous writers have fallen to its charm, and many unknown assholes too. So you be careful with that flame, but it’s OK to blow on it once in a while, when the winter night gets really cold.

A2Second: publishing. Ah – yes. That is a very difficult question right here. I am going to be very honest with you: there are only two main factors in getting published. The first one is who you know and who can help you. To have good friends who are already published is the greatest help, not to mention those who are publishers. This why the friendship and respect part mentioned above is so important. Writers do help writers, if they’re not assholes. (But yes, there are a lot of assholes). Networks, in the positive sense of the term, are therefore essential: get in touch with other writers you feel close or related too, join poetry clubs, get in contact with magazines, online or print, go to readings, if that is possible… – in a word, move your ass and get out there. That’s how you will meet people, get read and eventually get published.

The other thing is luck. Pure and simple. Many famous writers are famous because they were born in a literary network, or went to the same school as other famous people, etc. That is where Fate is tilted from the start, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But luck is blind, and you’ve got to believe in your lucky star. That’s actually what happened to me – and still is. To meet the right person at the right time, when you’re the least expecting it. It’s like love or a white shark. Except a white shark is generally considered bad luck. So be ope to everything and take your chance when you see it. The old Greeks said that everybody meets a God in disguise in his or her life once. I can tell you it’s true, and that it can be a God or a Goddess. And I’ve met quite a few, now.A3

Finally, don’t get sucked into the romantic vision of “being a writer” only if your book sells well. Books don’t sell well if they’re not calibrated products. Period. I don’t sell well – and yet, yes, I am a writer. Absolutely. I even have some fans. Selling books is the necessary consequence of being a writer, but the number doesn’t matter, unless you want to live off it. But you’re not THAT naive, are you? You’re going to keep your day job, right? And your night job too? Promise? You are still a writer if you do other things than write for a living. Hell, you can be an asshole and a teacher. Why can’t you be a writer and a teacher? Or an asshole and a writer and a teacher? Mono-identities are for losers anyway.

OK, I guess that’s it. As I said in the beginning, you can take it with you, or throw it in the garbage can. I don’t know you, what do I care? And yet – strangely enough – I do care and I want you to make it. Big, Huge. Enormous. So you can eventually, in your turn, help other writers.






(Get out of your comfort zone)

Pat Cadigan

It’s easy to fall into bad writing habits, to let your ego get in the way or fall into the oncoming traffic of a rambling narrative. Another problem – one I myself am guilty of – is writing the familiar. In fact, I’ve written seven books set in the Slave State for the past 4 years, without any real deviation from that universe. There’s only so much you can do with the premise that we’re all 4th dimensional prisoners who work in mining enclaves at the behest of alien overlords! Pat Cadigan has been awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1992 for Synners and again in1995 for Fools and a Hugo Award for Best Novelette for The Girl-Thing who Went Out for Sushi. Here’s her ‘Words from the Wise’…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

PC – For writers, the most important thing is that we *write*––which is to say, we apply ourselves. Instead of procrastinating, we sit at the desk (or, as in my case, lie on the sofa with iPad and keyboard on lapdesk) and stare at that blank space, paper or screen, until beads of blood form on our foreheads and the words come into being.


However… The words have to come out of something, out of some source experience that gets fed into the black box of imagination so that it comes out as vivid, three-dimensional story. Reading, of course, is absolutely vital. But reading isn’t *everything*. Sometimes you have to go out in the world and have an adventure. I’ve had a lot of adventures. When I was four, a carnival set up long-term on an empty piece of land next to our trailer behind the gas station where my father worked. It was there for quite a while. I remember being taken there with my cousins on my father’s side. And then one night, when things were particularly bad at home, I ran away to join the carnival. I guess the carnies recognised me because they kept me sitting in the food tent until my mother found me and took me home. A little over 36 years later, I had the privilege of travelling with Carnival Diablo for the sake of writing an article about them for Omni Magazine (thank you, Keith Ferrell, for giving me the go-ahead). Now, I was a theatre major at university (although for various uninteresting reasons, my degree is actually in general studies), but I was well out of my comfort zone with Carnival Diablo––and I loved it. It wasn’t an easy trip––it was December and we had to drive from Calgary, Alberta to British Columbia, which took us through the Canadian Rockies. (In a van. And only two of us could drive.) We were so high up at one point that we drove through a *cloud*, and it’s not like driving through fog.AA1

CK – How important do you think it is for writers to expand upon their contact lists and creative relationships to other types of people? I imagine it’s common that writers all cluster together in daily life, or even at conventions, because of their shared medium.

Setting up, solving problems, finding things we needed, making sure the performance went as it was supposed to––in return for access, I helped out as much as I could, ran the videocamera, made sure the bugs and worms stayed alive so they were obviously squirming when Lady Julianna had dinner onstage, and on one occasion, informed a motel manager that no, there was no way we were staying in or paying for rooms where the temperature was below 40 degrees Farhenheit and if he didn’t turn the heat on before we were in for the night, we’d be going elsewhere, thank you so much I’m sure. It was glorious. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I came back with a head full of ideas and experiences that still haven’t run out…and the friendship of a lifetime, with Scott McClelland, who will always be among those who are for me what brothers and sisters are for other people. My point––and, as Ellen DeGeneres says, I do have one––is that writers have to write…but they also have to have something to write *about.* Get out of your comfort zone––if you can, make friends with people who *aren’t* writers, people who inhabit other worlds, other realities.AA2

CK – So, be bold – run away with the circus basically?

You don’t have to run away with the circus or the carnival but you can go to an event that maybe you wouldn’t consider ordinarily, or take a class in something you never thought you’d be any good at––pottery, cooking, photography, jewellery-making, dance, acting/improv, I don’t know what-all. Meet different people, talk to them. Maybe you won’t become BFFs…but then again, maybe you will, and maybe they’ll open up a world of something new and different. Maybe you’ll go somewhere you’ve never travelled gladly beyond all experience. Maybe you’ll have the time of your life, maybe it will be thrilling and scary and wonderful and you’ll be glad you were in the right place at the right time. Serendipity: chance favours the prepared mind. If your mind is prepared and receptive, the most amazing things can happen to you. It’s good to be alive.

CK – Any other pieces of advice before we sound off Pat?

The other piece of never-fail advice I have for writers is, never give up. I took writing workshop at university with students who were light-years beyond me in terms of raw talent. I would tell you their names but I don’t remember them now. They didn’t pursue their writing as tenaciously as I pursued mine. Maybe it just wasn’t what they wanted to do, I couldn’t say. But when I started out, I was unremarkable. No one pointed at me and said, Hey, she’s going to win awards someday!


Writing is a muscle. You can improve a muscle with exercise; you can improve your writing
simply by doing it. It won’t seem like you’re making much progress for a while; then suddenly you’ll realise you’re doing a lot better than before. You’ll write something and then realise that you turned a pretty good phrase, or you’ll find that not only is your plot motoring along nicely but a lot of details are falling into place that give it even more momentum. Lawrence Block says writing can’t be taught but it *can* be learned. You learn by doing, and you do it because it’s what you want to do





(Find out who you are as a writer)

Usman Malik

Usman encourages us to get introspective by asking ourselves the question –‘what kind of writer am I, and what kind of writer do I want to become?’


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

UM – Find out who you are as a writer.


This seems obvious, but I see a lot of new writers (myself included) struggle with this and themselves for a bit. Are you someone who labors over every word or can you write lightning fast and are usually happy with the product? Are you largely a stylist or a minimalist? What sort of audience would you like and what sort of vindication (awards, money, fame, controversy) would satisfy you?

I think these are useful questions to ask yourself and even though the process may take a while, in my opinion, it’s worth it. Otherwise, I think most writers just need to read, read, read. The better quality of fiction and nonfiction you read (genre doesn’t matter), the better your own produce will be.

Usman’s website – http://www.usmanmalik.org/






(Kathe’s seven points)

Kathe Koja

There aren’t many writers who have achieved what Kathe Koja has achieved in her career (this includes a Locus Award and PKD nomination). In this weeks ‘Words from the Wise’ Kathe imparts seven simple points which have served her well over the years. One of the most interesting and, dare I say it, wise pieces of assistance she offers us here involves keeping a hold of your old work. It might be utterly cringe worthy delving into that database of archived stinkers – but the more you cringe, the more you may have developed as a writer…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

KK – Stop worrying about the publishing industry, unless you plan on making it your career. You’re going to be, you are, a writer. That’s entirely different.


Read as much as you write, read promiscuously, passionately, thoroughly, critically.

Find what works for you, what concantenation of schedule and desire makes it possible to get your writing done, then stick to that. Every day. Every day.

Keep some of your old work. If it begins to embarrass or infuriate you when you reread it, rejoice, you’re further down the path!

Remember it is a path, never a destination – you want always to be traveling, improving, not arriving at some dead pinnacle of “success.”

Honor your mentors. Help your colleagues. Encourage the ones who come after you.

Love the words that make the worlds you make.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 15 – Jonathan Maberry



(Jonathan’s five points)

Jonathan Maberry

Philadelphia horror writer Jonathan Maberry lets us in on the five steps that got him to where he is now – New York Times best-selling author and five times winner of the Bram Stoker Award…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

There are several important things to know about becoming successful as a writer. Things I wish I’d know earlier in my career.11416405_10153947960298270_3763899961815504375_o

First –be very good at what you do. Having a natural gift for storytelling is great, but you need to learn the elements of craft. That includes figurative and descriptive language, pace, voice, tense, plot and structure, good dialogue, and many other skills. Good writers are always learning, always improving.


Second –learn the difference between ‘writing’ and ‘publishing’. Writing is an art, it’s a conversation between the writer and the reader. Publishing is a business whose sole concern is to sell copies of art. Publishing looks for those books that are likely to sell well. There is absolutely no obligation for anyone in publishing to buy and publish a book totally on the basis of it being well written. It has to be something they can sell. A smart writer learns how to take their best writing and find the best way to present it to the publishing world, and then to support it via social media once it’s out.


Third –you are more important than what you write. A writer is a ‘brand’. That brand will, 12654503_10205107522280269_3989685437378407991_nideally, generate many works –books, short stories, etc. Each work should be written with as much passion, skill, love, and intelligence as possible, but when it’s done, the writer moves on to the next project. And the next.


Fourth –finish everything you start. Most writers fail because they don’t finish things.  Be different.


Fifth –don’t try to be perfect. First drafts, in particular, are often terrible. Clunky, badly-written, awkward, filled with plot holes and wooden dialogue. Who cares? All a first draft needs to have in order to be perfect is completeness. It is revision that makes it better, and makes it good enough to sell.

So, don’t beat up on yourself if your early drafts are bad. Everyone’s early drafts are bad. Everyone.





(It’s OK to be insecure)
Rick Moody

We’re all insecure about something–in fact, I’ve re-written this introduction twice already. It’s tough being a creative person these days too, especially when your average writer has to be a multi-platform marketing expert. Blogging strategies, click-bait titles, SEO and social media distribution are all as important as good grammar, luscious prose and a killer plot-line.

But the thing is, even people like Rick Moody get insecure – and he’s the award winning author of cult sensations ‘The Ice Storm’ and ‘Garden State’ (both were adapted for the screen to similar praise) AND The New Yorker listed him on their “20 Writers for the 21st Century” list. Rick says ‘insecurities are a good thing’.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

RM – These strike me as two slightly disparate issues you ask about. The first issue is: the young author is riddled with insecurities. And so let me address this issue first.149970_1629806338805_8243220_n I too am riddled with insecurities. And it has always been this way. While it is fair to say that I used to have more of these insecurities than I do now, I am not free, nor do I ever expect to be free of them. And yet I imagine this to be a good thing not a bad thing. Why is that? Why are insecurities good? Because insecurity indicates sophisticated thinking about the possible outcomes in life. Life, as any thinking person knows, is incredibly difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, but also frequently joyous. It is noteworthy for its moral ambiguity and its frequent lack of justice.  Also for its fleeting and ephemeral poignance.

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To write into this conundrum, to write into the uncertainties and difficulties of life is to speak the truth about what it means to be human, and that is the job of the writer. Confidence, or at least the veneer of confidence, is easy to come by, and it is usually the province of people who are a little deluded about their ambitions.

While it is not infrequent that writers are ludicrously certain of their greatness, the best writers, the most insightful and lucid writers, are the ones who see how frail beauty and joy are in the category four hurricane that is modern life. They are right to be riddled with insecurities.

The perfect work comes from this very place.

Now, the second issue is: the young author is also, apparently, “overwhelmed by the publishing industry.” This is exactly not the thing to be insecure about, in my view, because it’s not worth thinking about for very long at all. The industry, that den of thieves, cannot be trusted, doesn’t care about you, will never care about you, is constantly heading downhill toward the crassly commercial and poorly written, it even celebrates its crass and commercial interests, etc. etc. But these facts are ancillary to writing entirely. Great writing does not depend on the publishing industry. It depends on the will of the writer. The goal, every day, should be to get up and write a few lines regardless of what else is happening in the world, such that you might feel some pride and joy about a paragraph or two, or at least a sentence.


If you do that for long enough, you will have a book, and then you can, if you like, bother yourself about what to do with the book. But that’s not a requirement. It is not a requirement that you publish your book with the publishing industry. The life of a writer is made out of episodes of craft, not out of publications. The writing episode is the part you can control. I happen to think it’s true that all work that is good at a certain level will ultimately be published, simply because writing of great quality is rare. But I also think the question of publication is secondary to the craft of writing, which is the part that I really love. So I say don’t ever worry about the publishing industry. Just worry about trying to capture the poignant uncertainties and complexities of life.

That’s plenty daunting enough! And well worth the effort.





(Take it seriously but have a back-up)
Nick Antosca

Making a living off of your writing is going to be a long shot – unless you’re willing to sacrifice all artistic integrity by making Xerox models of 50 Shades of Grey or Twilight just to make a buck (it can be awfully tempting). Even the best writers had day jobs. Burroughs worked as an exterminator, Bukowski as a mail carrier in a post office…even Agatha Christie was an Apothecaries’ assistant by day!

Nick Antosca has five books to his name and has written teleplays for shows such as Hannibal and Teen Wolf. Today he kindly bestows some of his infallible wisdom.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

NA – Have a backup plan or a day job so you can write what you want.  Otherwise (unless you have money in the bank or family that will support you) you will always be chasing the next freelance paycheck or notion of what publishers will be looking for… No one really makes a living just from being a fiction writer or journalist.  I mean, a few people do — literally a few hundred in the entire world.  The rest teach or have day jobs.  1619094_10100877822413644_2333326650173338650_nZadie Smith teaches.  Jonathan Lethem teaches.  They all teach for extra money.  Treat writing like a hobby even if you are earning money at it — do it because you love it.

And AT THE SAME TIME treat it like a job and take it very seriously.  Treat it like a job where you are both the boss and the employee.  Write every day, ideally in the morning when your brain is fresh, before the day gets screwed up.  Your most productive hours are almost certainly going to be the first two hours after you wake up.  Also, read a lot.
It provides nourishment and makes the writing come more easily.
Write with an outline.  Writing the outline counts as writing.  A lot of the most important creative work is done before the writing begins.
If you have no plan and don’t know how the pieces fit together, you will run into trouble.  You will find interesting surprises, but you are undermining yourself by embarking without a map.  You don’t have to stick exactly to the map if you find yourself disliking the route, but you’re in better shape if you have it.
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 Also, consider writing for TV (if you like watching TV).  It’s very difficult to get the first job but, unlike in movies, writers control the medium, and you actually can make a living doing it.

Find out more from Nick – HERE


Info about the upcoming Friday the 13th project Nick is attached to write – HERE


Nick’s Twitter – HERE





(Be prepared/Learn to write)
John Shirley

Now…it might sound like an obvious piece of advice, but knowing how to write is one of the most crucial parts of getting your stuff picked up. It doesn’t always have to be flowery or convoluted – but it does have to be mindful of pace, structure and, of course, the flow of the prose. John Shirley is the Bram Stoker Award winning author of Black Butterflies, Demons, City Come A-Walkin’, the A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy, Doyle After Death, Wyatt in Wichita, Bleak History, and many other books. He was co-screenwriter of THE CROW and has written for television. Here’s his Words from the Wise…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

12308245_10153427876003585_2082481953368552587_nJS – Chris Kelso: In answer to your question re the young writers tormented by uncertainty about the publishing industry and what to do…that’s funny, so am I. That’s because everything has changed. The industry is both vaster–and more selective. It’s both larger and more restricted. It’s huger–and more specialized. The peculiar truth that has always been true, however, is that on the one hand, it’s hard to break in; on the other, they are always looking for new, fresh talents. They do ask themselves who will write the new Hunger Games, and so on. So while it’s hard to break through, weirdly–they’re always looking for people. Persistence helps. But you’ve got to have a good product too.

Something that’s quite new is the fact that people occasionally do, now, jump from general self publishing and ebook self publishing, to successful book publishing. The extreme case of this was The Martian–the novel was self published. It sold enough that it was picked up by a major. I haven’t read the book–my wife has and assures me it’s very enjoyable and intriguing and generally well researched. Well written. So you see, you can’t just spout some new story idea you have–“zombie children that you adopt and turn vegetarian!”–and because it’s a new variation, really have hope that it’s going to break through. Just a variation is not enough-cultivate originality and strong, gripping writing, based on being steeped in the strong gripping writing….It really has to be well written. And it has to be fairly literate–that is, the writer reads, and absorbs more than comics and books based on anime, or comics and books based on their favorite movie or television series. They don’t do most of their reading online, either. They read a lot of successful books, and classic books. They read books of short stories of all kinds. They get a feel for voices and language and sentences and paragraphs and pacing and chapters and, especially, characters. They get a sense of what good, fun to read but realistic dialogue is…from reading. I mention this because it seems to be lacking in lots of new writers.images (1)


When you read, read as if interrogating the writing. Enjoy it, but also notice how it’s put together. Some people do this more naturally than others. I absorbed it like a sponge; some people have to work at it. They have to notice what makes one writer’s voice, their style, different than another’s. This may mean reading the same text two or three times. Once for enjoyment, later for analysis.

The markets out there seem to me to be less penetrable than they used to be–there are fewer companies reading manuscripts that come in unsolicited. So, this means, you can 1) try and make a name with yourself with short fiction in magazines that consider fiction from unknowns and 2) Try to get a literary agent. You can try to meet an agent (and editors) at a convention for the kind of writing you like. Science fiction, mystery conventions, whatever. You can finish an entire novel–typed according to the formats you can find described in books and articles–and one with an interesting title and simple but fairly original concept, then find places to pitch it to an agent. Research that. It happens…

Go to readings and literary events. Follow journals that describe the publications and markets for the genre you like, if you’re writing genre (and know what genre means–look it up if you don’t know). Locus Magazine is a good one to start at for science fiction or fantasy. Google these things.

But most of all, write–to learn to write, write. Write what you would want to read…and try to be original enough that you’re going to grab people’s attention…

You can check out more advice from John HERE





(Stop listening to yourself)
Weston Ochse

Writing isn’t just an isolated act, it’s also an introspective one. Too much free time sitting at your computer desk means more opportunities to let your mind ramble on and turn those petty, irrational insecurities and doubts into unshakable psychological handicaps. So, what do you do?

Weston Ochse says – ‘stop listening to yourself, dammit!’

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

WO – If I’m unable to enlist him (or her) into my cult of personality and make him an FOW (Follower-Fan-Friend of Weston), which is doubtful, then I’d probably, grudgingly, give advice, knowing that I’ll soon be competing with the young upstart for literary work.

westonI mean, the field is small enough anyway, to give advice is to cut off my own arm. Dispensing my hard-won knowledge would be akin to slitting my own creative throat. Still, in a Ghandiesque moment that would make Ben Kingsly and Martin Sheen proud, I’d sit the young sad sack of a writer down and have them attend me at my knee. What I’d say to them was said to me, when I was a young upstart and the likes of F. Paul Wilson, Tom Picirrilli and Peter Straub had their own Ghandiesque moments, as I attended them at their knees.

I’ve since synthesized their words into this statement.

“You’re a new writer. You don’t know what you don’t know. You haven’t been widely published, if at all, and no one knows who you are. Basically, you don’t know much. So why are you listening to someone who doesn’t know anything?”

This means you. Stop listening to yourself.WESTON2

How is it possible you can judge yourself or give yourself advice if you don’t know anything?

You shouldn’t have any insecurities at all. You should be free to write whatever you want in whatever style you want. You might invent a new style. You might create a new way of employing narrative. Stop listening to people who don’t know anything and free yourself. Just write, dammit, and don’t pay attention to anything except the page and the characters cavorting in your brainpan.







(Bleed for the reader and kill the ego)
Hal Duncan

I’ve known Hal Duncan for about five years now and been aware of his work for years prior to that–I’d read his début tome, ‘Velum’, long before we became friends.

In fact, it was my fan-mail to him which initiated dialogue (which is kind of embarrassing to read back to myself now). Since that cheesy, gushing letter to my idol all those years ago, Hal has written stories for my Dog Horn magazine, Imperial Youth Review, contributed to my shared world collection Slave Stories – Scenes from the Slave State, and we’ve even edited a beautiful anthology together called Caledonia Dreamin’ (published by Eibonvale). It’s kind of a surreal experience and i’m grateful for his friendship and guidance to this day, but why did Hal bother replying to my fan-mail? I was an unpublished and insecure nobody. If you ever meet the man himself, Hal’s most attractive feature, outside of his remarkable prose – is his complete lack of ego. He’s won the Tähtivaeltaja Award, Gaylactic Spectrum Award For Best Novel and been nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel,World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, Locus Award for Best First Novel. Still no ego.

Here’s Hal…

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

HD – To turn Freud on his head: Where ego is, there id must be.

halOK, so we’re starting with the assumption that this young author isn’t just pottering away, making shit up for the fun of it, not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks. They have their ego invested in their work and want to see it actually published, but they’re acutely aware that they’re unpublished and unskilled–in some way, shape or form. You’re not intimidated by the publishing industry unless you’re desperate for that validation. And you’re not insecure about your writing unless you’re at very least missing the skill of judging it objectively. Both of these are ego problems, issues of insecure stance.

Our young author is presumably seeing a lack of publication as a lack of legitimacy, regardless of the fact that e.g. Kafka was never in print until after he died while innumerable piles of crap hit the bestseller lists daily. And they’re presumably angsting over quality, torn between the buzz they get from rereading what works, recognising its power, and second-guessing themselves based on the fact they know fine well they were blind to flaws in early writing which they can now see to be shite. In either case, without a specific problem in this or that domain (Which agent would be most sympathetic to my writing? What do you mean my omniscient PoV is crumbling into muddled third person limited?) it seems to me that our hypothetical young author is looking to me as a figure of perceived legitimacy and confidence, asking a question broad as can be:

How do I get to where you’re at?

Unpack that question to the core desire: a secure stance. If you want legitimacy, validation by publication, you can get any old shite into print via any vanity press, or by self-publishing, right? But is that going to really satisfy you? Is it going to be a legitimate feeling of legitimacy? No? Strip away the shallow lust for cash and/or kudos, and what you’re really yearning for is to know that someone got it. That someone clicked with your writing. That it mattered to them–really, seriously, as much as it matters to you, maybe even more. That’s a desire straight out of the id, a desire for communion, masked by the ego casting it in terms of bestseller lists and award nominations. You want to sate that desire, the only way to do so is listen to it, obey it by opening yourself up to write what matters to you. Commit to the stance of seeking communion.

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Open up and bleed for the reader and you’ll get that sense of legitimacy no matter if you’re languishing in small print runs and being overlooked for awards. Someone, somewhere will come back to you and say, This blew me away; and the only thing that will stop you hearing them and knowing that you made the connection, that the communion happened for them, is ego lying to you. The damnable self-sabotaging ego of a quasi-depressive outlook, a nagging voice in your head, shit-tinted glasses filtering out the truth. That ego needs to be taken out into the desert, shot and buried in a shallow grave.

Fuck the ego. Nothing will ever be enough if you listen to that bastard. Let that reader give you the confirmation of communion having happened, let the id be sated, and knowing that honesty works, your id will double-down on it. Poverty and obscurity will be only a pragmatic concern, inconveniences to a writing identity invested in communion and so taking that whole industry with its print runs and trophies as… means to an end. Side-effects and distractions, nuisances to be negotiated. Are you eating? Do you have a roof over your head? Are you making sweet sweet love to your reader(s) with your words? Well then, job done. In all the trials tribulations of unpaid bill and Amazon reviews, this is a stance to keep you steady: the communion is what matters.

That confirmation may not come back to you any time soon, to be sure. All the more reason to kill the ego, because if all you have to go on while you’re struggling to make the connection is the hope that you’re not pissing in the wind, then until such time as you get that payoff–not in cash or kudos but in a reader telling you how well it clicked for them–you need objectivity in reckoning your own work to underpin that hope with confidence. If you’ve passed the point where you think everything you write is awesome, if your eyes have opened up to the deficiencies in your craft, you can master this skill or that, grasp this or that technique, but there’s one craft skill that is fucking crucial, that will level you up, and that’s the skill of recognising what works and what doesn’t without ego interfering–preening over plus points to distract you from flaws or latching onto flaws as an excuse to throw in the towel.

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Pretending you didn’t clumsily stumble, crumbling in defeat because agility takes work–these are the stances ego will hoodwink you into thereby hamstring your development as a writer. Trusting the id is something you have to learn, I think. Inculcated with ego’s strategies of denial and defensiveness, shame and self-flagellation, we’re wired with this lying obfuscating fucker that serves only as an obstacle to self-improvement. Ego is bad stance out to perpetuate itself with fuckery and warp. Kill it with fire. No fucking mercy.

That’s my two cents worth, for any young author coming to me as some sort of figure of legitimacy and confidence, if they’re essentially seeing themself as on some sort of lower tier, unworthy by dint of a lesser publishing history (as if that was really an indicator) and/or inadequacies in their craft skills (in their opinion.) That part of yourself that’s on your knees as supplicant to the wise elder? That part of yourself looking for a received wisdom to resolve insecurities, to reveal the path by which you might ascend to “proper author” status? You want to leave that ego kneeling on the ground as you step up and back out of it, put a gun to the back of its head, and kill it execution-style. I mean the “want” part literally. Look inside yourself, and I’ll lay odds your id is yearning to be shot of this insecure bullshit. Go for it, I say. You know you wanna. Kill your ego.

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If you can do that, and thereby look at your writing from there on in with ruthless honesty, it’ll stand you in better stead, I think, than any sage advice I can dispense about dealing with the industry and/or perfecting one’s craft. I’m crap when it comes to the pragmatics of publishing as a profession, and distilling all the technical skills down to pithy axioms would be superficial. All I can really do, if you come to me as some sort of authority on this shit, asking me how you achieve the same, is tell you that I learned to trust my id’s judgement by learning when not to trust my ego’s. Stance seeks its own stability. Id, like water finding its own level, drives toward the resolution of niggles and irks. The more you trust it, the more you’ll have grounds to, as with each satiation you savvy a bit more of the craft that achieved it, your ego’s lies ever more transparent, your stance ever more secure.






(mental spreadsheets)
Lavie Tidhar

I was tracking the edits of my next novella, ‘The Folger Variation’ (and starting to get very frustrated and drained by the process!), when I decided to shut the document down and come back to it when I was feeling less demoralised by my own grammatical incompetance – Microsoft Review kept crashing too. Fuck it, I thought, time to scroll through Facepuke.

I was extra pleased to see a message pop up in my inbox from Lavie Tidhar. Lavie is a highly decorated author who writes across multiple genres. I asked him to offer a few of his ‘words from the wise’ and he replied almost instantly with the following bitesize nugget of insight. Keep a spreadsheet, apparently. You heard the man…

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

LT – A friend is just an enemy you haven’t made yet. You can write for posterity or you can write for money – it doesn’t matter, you’d get short-changed either way.

aaaaw1I’ll keep it short. The definition of a writer is someone who looks with seething envy and resentment at anyone more successful than them, and with unmitigated contempt at anyone less fortunate.

Keep a mental spreadsheet up to date at all times to know where you are. Review it endlessly. Conjure it up at three a.m.

It’s harder to sell a second (or third, or tenth) book than a first one. … always use ‘said’.

Never pay for drinks if you can help it. You can’t afford them anyway.

Never abuse a semi-colon.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 7 – Arthur Nersesian



(Control the little things)
Arthur Nersesian

With so much of your writing career depending on the decsions and opinions of other parties, it’s easy to feel powerless. Arthur Nersesian has created a framework diet for the budding, overwhelmed writer that focuses on taking hold of the aspects of your career that are controllable. Arthur received the Anahid Literary Prize for Armenian Literature and is the managing editor of the literary magazine, The Portable Lower East Side. Recently, Arthur was an English teacher at Hostos Community College, City University of New York, in the South Bronx.

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

AN – When young authors come to me “riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry and asks for my words of wisdom,” I’d interpret that as they’re wondering how – or if — they’ll ever get published. The short answer is, there are no guarantees. Ultimately it’s one huge leap of faith. If lucky, you might see some cash here and there, but for most it’s trench warfare and you’re surviving on scraps. The only reason to be a writer is because you love writing: That’s it! It’s easier to make money doing absolutely anything else

A dHere’s how I did it: In the late 1980s, there were a couple of reference books, which still exists today, like the Guide to Literary Agents, and the LMP, that listed all major New York agents. I wound up flipping through these pages and eventually submitting my first novel — or more frequently a synopsis and opening chapter — to fifty-three of them. Six months later, I was shortlisted by two and finally selected by one. When he said he would represent me, I thought, this is it! I made it! He methodically sent my manuscript out to about thirty corporate publishers. One by one, over a two-year period, they rejected it.

I could write an incredible non-fiction thriller about how I wound up self-publishing my first novel, which would honestly implicate me in a few crimes but that turned out to be the easy part. Try going from bookstore to bookstore and hand-distributing your first work. Unless they had a consignment shelf, I usually got rejected. Even when it sold out and I was asked for re-stock, I usually wound up getting ripped off. But gradually the print run moved, and it even got a couple of early reviews.

It wasn’t until about a decade after finishing that first book that I received a barely legible postcard from a young fellow who said he was starting a small press. I thought it was a prank, but he had scribbled down his phone number, so I called it and we went for a $2 breakfast at a greasy spoon. There, he said he had enjoyed my little tome. Would I be interested in joining him in this maiden publishing voyage? Every bone in my body said, this was a bad idea. But nearly forty, single, broke, what had I to lose? With almost no expectations, the book finally came out. He sent out the ARCs, and surprisingly it started getting good reviews. It went through three printings quickly, until it finally got noticed up by a new agent who took it to a big press. Eleven years after I had written it, the book got picked up by a major publisher. Between music videos, MTV ran commercials for the book and it kept selling out. They kept reprinting it over and over and over. Currently it has sold over one hundred and twenty thousand copies and is still selling. What did I learn from all this? What could I have done differently? Nothing. I did everything I could. I wrote and hustled it as best as I could. It was all pretty much out of my control.

tryytOver the years, I’ve extracted four tiny pearls of wisdom, little things that you can control that do slowly make a difference. First and foremost, keep writing. During those eleven years, I never stopped writing. You can’t decide if you’ll get published, much less the amount of your advance, but no matter how poor and neglected you are, you can keep writing. And by writing, I don’t just mean spitting out pages, I mean maturing, getting feedback, expanding out of your comfort zone. Every aspect of your writing grows simultaneously: With time, you do find your unique voice that they all talk about. Out of cardboard cut outs you slowly draw and dimensionalize characters. From hackneyed formulas, plots slowly emerge, growing more sophisticated and intriguing. Most of all, you learn to edit, both your best and your worst. Reading is important, but steadily writing is absolutely vital.

Second, get to know your literary scene. Meet other writers. They can be valuable resources. Become familiar with your area bookstores and check out their reading schedules. The large corporate publishers rely on agents to find potential bestsellers. But if you’re not a literary rockstar, the small indies are more receptive and offer more opportunity for growth. The newer the publishers, the more eager they are to fill their catalogs. Learn who is publishing what and how the work you’re writing could potentially fit in. Hit the larger functions, like New York’s Brooklyn Book Fair, where editors stand at tables hustling their wares. These are great place for the quick approach. Sign on to their email lists, work your way in. You don’t need to be a big personality or a stalker, but a brief chat in which you introduce yourself as a writer, a few cursory words perhaps about the publishers’ books, can be surprisingly effective, something you can build on over time. Check out their websites. They usually mention whether they’re considering manuscripts and they constantly advertise their upcoming events where you can drop in.

yrtytrytMy third pearl of wisdom is find other streams of revenue. Specifically, look for jobs that don’t exhaust or demean you — jobs you can do while still writing. Though I was fired a couple of times over the years, the only time I ever quit a job was when it left me so exhausted I was unable to write before or afterward. Even if your first book gets a decent advance, keep in mind that if you divide that one-time payday over the years it took to write the book — minus the agent’s cut, taxes, etc. – it is usually less than a weekly pay check at a fast-food dive. My own diminished definition of a financially successful book is one that paid the rent (and only the rent) during the time it took to write it. The painful truth is, though you might see some nice pay days, you will still need to work in order to write.

As a young man, I did almost everything, from busboying to cooking, carpentry to housepainting, street vending to home attending, theater managing to legal proof reading, I taught English (and still do, ESL) to fiction workshopping. I run an affordable workshop in New York’s Greenwich Village, and invite anyone interested in joining to message me through Facebook. In short I have grabbed opportunities when and where they came up. And for the record, working while writing only made me stronger. It gave me greater value of the free time I had. It also grounded me, providing endless fodder for fiction. If I had massive trust fund and lived in spacious loft, I’m sure I never would’ve written a word.

When people are young, they are inclined to see the world in absolutes. Young writers want to MAKE IT AS A WRITER, or they are LOSERS. To me success is a daily task. At best it varies from book to book, and though it would be nice to have security, at very least, these precarious conditions do make life interesting. I won’t deny that for most, this is a tough life. You really have to want it, but it can be rewarding.

My last pearl is a little cliché, but vital. Life is a like a rocket ship. A little off course now leads to a lot off course later. Trying to bolster up or ease down with drugs or booze or even overeating — joys I’ve known only too well, but will eventually cost you in the end. Although writers are notorious addicts of every variety, consider healthy habits: jogging, yoga, or long walks. The physical release is a great counter-balance to the sedentary act of writing. It really does reduce the stress, a major cause of writers’ block, and keeps the body toned. Ultimately, if there’s any chance to reaching some pot of gold at the end of this precarious rainbow your odds are greatly improved.


WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 6 – Graham Masterton



(Establish rules of writing)
Graham Masterton

Rule are important. They protect us, enforce rights and solve conflicts. In a way, writing needs to follow a similar set of guidelines. We need structure and stability.
Graham Masterton has pretty much done it all. He has 10 rules of writing for you. Maybe he’s worth listening to…

The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

GM – My answer to your specific question, Chris, is that new writers don’t have to be afraid of the publishing industry. They are always on the lookout for fresh talent. But do remember that they are running a business and so they are looking for work that will appeal to a specific market.. By all means be highly original, but don’t forget that publishers have to sell books to real people in order to make a living, and so they are not going to be interested in stories that are very difficult to understand or (on the other hand) that have been written about a million times before. My first horror novel THE MANITOU wasn’t about vampires or zombies or werewolves…it was about a Native American demon which had never been written about before and it sold half a million copies in six months. I am attaching some “Rules of Writing” which you may find helpful. They are not really hard-and-fast rules…more like suggestions..but I think new writers would do well to bear them in mind.

Rules of Writing
by Graham Masterton

10473200_905377139479276_2533824218907295254_nLESSON ONE: Don’t write, talk, and use your natural voice, as if you were telling the story out loud to a group of friends. If there is a knack to writing it is to tell a story without consciously ‘writing’ about it. So many amateur writers have a good tale to tell, but are too concerned about making an impression on the page. Forget the fancy similes and the impressive metaphors, just tell it like it is. But do learn your grammar, syntax, spelling, etc, otherwise your amateur status will really show. Just like a motor mechanic’s amateur status would show if he or she didn’t know how to fix an alternator.

LESSON TWO: Don’t describe, be there. Create a virtual world inside your head with weather, wind, noises, background music, smells and tastes. Forget about your PC … let it melt and walk through it.

LESSON THREE: Never use cliches (except in dialogue where a character might reasonably be expected to talk in cliches). I recently read a new horror novel by quite a respected writer (well, bits of it, anyway) and he described total darkness by saying ‘not even my hand in front of my face … only darkness in its inky totality.’ I mean, please. That’s like saying night ‘was like a coal-cellar … only night in its nighty nightness.’ Later he says ‘a mental alarm bell jangled faintly deep inside my head.’ Where else does a mental alarm bell ring except inside your head?

LESSON FOUR: Be surprising. Use metaphors and similes that nobody has ever thought of before. This requires thought, observation, and a sense of poetic rhythm and above all simpicity. Don’t make the metaphor or simile so complicated that the reader is brought to a halt trying to work out what you’re saying. I described a pretty but dumb girl as ‘a small-town beauty queen who looked as if she had been hit in the head by half a brick.’

LESSON FIVE: Be rhythmic, and sensitive to the balance of your sentences. That’s why the study of good poetry is so important. It teaches you how to rearrange a sentence so that it reads more easily and yet emphasizes the words that you want the reader to pick up on. Read some Rupert Brooke:

‘In your arms was still delight, Quiet as a street at night; And thoughts of you, I do remember, Were green leaves in a darkened chamber, Were dark clouds in a moonless sky…’

Hear that brilliant repetition of ‘Were’? And at the end of the poem:
‘O infinite deep I never knew, I would come back, come back to you, Find you, as a pool unstirred, Kneel down by you and never a word, Lay down my head, and nothing said, In your hands, ungarlanded; And a long watch you would keep; And I should sleep, and I should sleep!’

Do you see how much emotion is conveyed by those repetitions and re-statements?

LESSON SIX: Do your research and then throw it away. Unless your readership is of the Tom Clancy/Clive Cussler type, who relish reading about 3455 XY-cluster missiles, tell your story secure in the knowledge that you know where it’s set and what your characters are like … give them expertise in what they do … but then tell the story.

LESSON SEVEN: Give your characters complete consistency. Don’t twist their motivations to suit your plot. Even if it gives you a headache, try to think what they would actually do. Writing fiction is acting out a play on your own. As Ivor Cutler said in Turkish Bath Play … ‘You’re going to do a play with just yourself?’ ‘Yes, there are 345 parts and I take all of them.’

GMI write with only the loosest of outlines since characters take on their own personalities and carry the story into all kinds of unexpected directions. With thrillers like Condor and Ikon I deliberately started writing several disparate plot-lines in order to set myself the challenge of tying them all up at the end. With Outrage, which I finished earlier this year (2003), I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end until the last 25 pages.

Nothing beats character and character-driven events. Real people behave in unexpected ways. That’s how life works. And that’s why so many thrillers are so wooden.
LESSON EIGHT: Avoid purple prose … something grisly can be much more convincing and disturbing if it’s described very simply. You don’t have to tell your readers what to think. If you’ve described it vividly enough they will have their own reactions. ‘If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, where is the man who has so much that he is out of danger?’

LESSON NINE: Write with your eyes. Don’t see words, see people. Look out of the window and see the thunderclouds gathering on the other side of the river. Be conscious while you’re doing it of the woman standing close behind you. You keep lookng out of the window but she lays her hand on your shoulder. You can smell her perfume. She says, ‘You’re frightened, aren’t you?’ And you say, ‘No. Maybe. I don’t know. It was the way he looked at me when he left.’ ‘I don’t understand,’ she says, and you turn around to face her. ‘Nobody ever looked at me like that before. He looked as if he wanted to cut my guts out and hang me up on a hook.’

LESSON TEN: When you have finished writing a story, go through it and delete as many adverbs as you can, he said strictly. You’d be surprised how often they’re not necessary, and you can convey your effect without them. They tend to slow down the narrative and distract the reader by interjecting an authorial voice in the middle of the action. ‘I like you in that sweater,’ he said, pointedly. My writing advice is always the same … the message that William Burroughs gave me … disappear, vanish, don’t be there … pick up your keyboard and walk.

RESEARCH: Buying a few local papers is always a great way to get detailed background on a community’s character, the people who live there, and general social conditions. Another method I use a lot is to talk on the telephone to the information officers of the local chamber of commerce, usually with a specific query about ‘what’s the best hotel in town?’ or ‘where do young people hang out at night?’ which will yield more interesting results than ‘I’m writing a novel … tell me about your town.’ I also like to talk to police and fire chiefs about their day-to-day problems.gmn

I also try to get hold of as many photographs of the town or city as I can, such as postcards and guidebooks. You can learn more from what a town is trying to say about itself to the world at large than you can by living there. Guidebooks subtly expose weaknesses and senses of inferiority as well as ‘the unparalleled views from Snake Mountain’ or ‘the sumptuous colours of New England in fall.’

I prefer to research a book as I’m going along, since you can come across all kinds of interesting facts and odd perspectives when your mind is attuned to the subject that you’re working on, which might not normally strike you as relevant. Occasionally I have started a book and stopped dead, completely at a loss to know where it’s going to go next. The first chapter of Tengu remained an orphan for almost a year, as did the first two chapters of Spirit … and Trauma was only completed when Richard Chizmar asked me if I had any old novellas knocking around that he could publish for Cemetery Dance, and it ended up being shortlisted for an Edgar Allan Poe award.

Finally … remember that ultimately you are writing fiction and you are allowed to make things up. Research is simply to give your story ‘feel’ and ‘solidity’ rather than to impress your readers that you happen to know the name of the girl behind the florist’s counter at the corner of Woodward and Main.





(Read and Write)
Mary Turzillo

Writing is a solitary act, but this gives you time to structure your daily regime. Mary Turzillo is a rare gem. She’s won numerous awards (including the prestigious Nebula) and is also a really lovely, thoughtful person – she’ll do right by you, trust me. She’s been good enough to offer some basic guidelines for those novice writers who want to take their fiction to the next level.
The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

MT – Write what you love. Have faith that of the millions, maybe billions, of potential readers in the world, some will be thirsty for exactly what you love.

maryWrite every day. Set a goal for yourself: a page, two pages, five pages. Something you can do as a minimum. You grow as a writer by writing. It’s a muscle. Every skill involved in writing, whether plotting, style, characterization, setting, or just being original, is a muscle. You have to grow those muscles.

David Eddings, or maybe Ray Bradbury, or maybe Jerry Pournelle, or maybe Marion Zimmer Bradley is credited with telling novices they should write a million words, then throw them all away. I say, you’ll get better the more you write, but don’t throw away anything. Maybe it’ll seem like crap in five years, but maybe in ten you’ll read it and see genius.

Finish what you write. Sometimes, even for pros, it’s difficult to come up with a satisfying ending, but with practice, plotting will be easier. The ending will be like a distant landmark seen through mist. March steadily toward it.

But if the first ending doesn’t work, try again.mmmmmmmm

Middles are a beast. Just keep feeding your audience titbits of suspense to keep them with you. If you’re bored with the middle, just write enough to get to the ending.

Polish, but accept that no work is ever perfect. At some point, stop revising unless an editor asks for revisions.

Have courage. Subject your work to editorial scrutiny. By that, I mean, find a potential paying market for it, then submit it there. Don’t ever pay to be read. When a story comes back, submit it again. Aim to get a thousand rejection notices.

Read what you love, but also expand your palate. If a book is popular, but you don’t like it, don’t just notice its flaws; ask yourself why it became popular. Learn from what you read. Take notes of clever things writers do.

Have friends. Have friends who are writers, and friends who are not writers.

People who don’t honour your writing time are not your friends.

Writing is a lonely occupation, and writers are prone to depression. Find a physical outlet. Running might work. Martial arts are good. Fencing works for me.

Just write. Every day. Preferably at the same time, maybe when everybody else is asleep. Just . . . write.






(Be Jealous)

Nick Mamatas

Jealousy, reactive or suspiscious, can destroy a person. It can ruin relationships, careers and is generally associated with being weak of character. I imagine that to be a professional writer one would require a certain degree of motivation and resolve, right? To be prolific, to develop your craft, to simply keep up the habit. What’s the source of this hunger? Nick Mamatas thinks it might be a certain kind of jealousy…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

imagesNM – Writers are almost universally both envious and jealous of one another. Envy, of course, is the state of hungering for what another has. Jealousy, that green-eyed monster, is a fear of loss, or at least of the possibility of losing. Both are species of anxiety. Writers might envy some best-selling writer, or some award a colleague has received, while being jealous of another person’s success somehow serving to eclipse one’s own. Readers can only buy so many books. Better my friend is miserable along with me instead of becoming a success who leaves me behind!

As this column is about a notional young author who is “riddled with insecurities”, I suppose I should advise against envy and jealousy, but such a thing is not possible. A writer who isn’t anxious about something, who isn’t desperate to find out what’s at the end of their own story, is no writer at all. People with no anxieties simply don’t become writers. I am prepared to entertain responses from writers declaring “I have no anxieties!” but only because all the missives would prove my point.

A writer, however, can to a certain extent choose her anxieties. Between envy and jealousy, I recommend jealousy. This is counter-intuitive—wouldn’t envy be better? Wouldn’t young writers be best served by a desperate hunger for shelf space, big checks, awards, and acclaim? I say that envy is destructive; it is the enemy of art. The envious writer will abandon her aesthetic goals to write to fit what she perceives to be commercial imperatives, suck up to all manner of awful people in the hope of winning an award or gaining some publicity, make decisions based on proximity to power rather than ethics or even plain’ ol fellow-feeling for her colleagues. The envious writer is driven by feelings of inferiority, which will never do. A writer, hands on the keyboard, has to feel that she is master of the world. (Even masters practice and struggle, but they don’t feel inferior for doing so.)nick

A jealous writer will be anxious, upset, ever-betrayed by the universe, and ready to spit fire. A jealous writer sees the risks of failure and loss at every turn, feels it in her guts. The world has to pay! “All my fond love thus to I blow to heaven.

‘Tis gone.Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!”
Now you have something to write about. Be jealous.






(Never settle)

Matthew Stokoe

It’s important to know the landscape and to conduct yourself professionally. Like any industry, publishing is a big ugly money-starving motherfucker and you need to know how to survive out there. Be ‘brave’ and ‘insane’; be mindful of frauds, hacks and swindlers, of course – but make sure you never settle for anything less than you deserve (if you’re serious about being a full-time writer that is). Getting ‘in’ though, well, it’s all about who you know…

Matthew Stokoe will give us advice on how to find and promote our niche’…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

MS – Novice writers all think they’re going to be picked up immediately by a major, by Harper Collins or Random House etc., and that they’re going to get a half-million-dollar advance and start doing TV interviews, maybe sell the film rights to Hollywood. It’s natural. Writing a novel is such a monumental achievement, the writing of it should be enough. Trouble is, it isn’t. This thing you’ve created, this stack of pages, this collection of your own blood and pain and fear and hope, this thing that is so REAL to you, doesn’t really exist until it’s out in the world. Until it’s in the form of a book that others can read.

You can do this yourself, of course, both in paper format, through companies like Lulu or CreateSpace, or in ebook through Amazon/KDP and multiple others. But you don’t want that. Not when you’ve just finished your first novel. You want the legitimacy, the kudos, the bragging rights, the vindication of having someone else, someone in the publishing industry, an expert in the field no less, deem your book to have meet the secret, subjective and ever-changing criteria that separate the amateur from the professional. You want someone other than yourself, your partner and your granny to shout to the world YOU ARE A WRITER! THIS IS A REAL BOOK!


So, until you’re forced to rethink this paradigm, you’re left with no choice but to find a publisher. And to do this, unfortunately, you’re almost certainly going to have to get an agent – a process that, in the majority of cases, will provoke suicidal ideation on more than one 3am awakening. I’m not going to tell you how to find one, because I don’t know. Though I have had agents in the past, I don’t now. One thing that I do know is true, though, is that you will be a million miles ahead of the game if you get yourself an “in”. What’s an in? An in is something that everyone else doesn’t have.

(trailer from ‘Dog’, written by Matthew)


It might be something as banal as having Facebook friended the wife of a literary agent a couple of years back because you liked the pics she posted of the organic wool sweaters she knits. By the time you’ve finished your novel, you alone, then, of all the hundreds (I’m not exaggerating) of writers querying that agent that month will be able to start your email with: “As a friend of your wife and a fellow admirer of handmade woolen outerwear, I wonder if I might take a few minutes of your time….”

Ok, not the best example, but you get the point. Any connection you can make in the world of writing and publishing may, one day, be something you can use to make an agent pay that life-transforming little extra attention to you and respond to your query with those glorious words: “Please provide three sample chapters (double spaced, Time New Roman font, no attachments) at your earliest convenience….”

Two points here. One, it’s actually my personal opinion that social media is next to useless as a marketing tool for an unknown writer or for forming connections with people deep enough for them to bother helping you. You need to do more than just friend people. Two, and pay attention, all agents are not equal. Some are good, honorable, talented, hardworking people. And some… well, they’re just fucking criminally useless. So research them. This is your life we are talking about here. Literally. If you want to be able to support yourself financially, and if you want your books to reach the number of readers they deserve to reach – if you just want to get published, for Christsake – then choosing an agent who is too lazy, uncommitted or inept to sell a book that could otherwise have found a buyer may mean you end up pumping gas for forty years instead of having sexy book-nerds queue up to ask for your phone number at readings.


On to publishers. My warning above applies here too. Many, many times more so. Agents don’t generally sign you to long-term exclusive contracts. Publishers do. The starting point for the life of a publishing contract is usually the length of copyright. I say the starting point, because contracts should be open to a certain amount of negotiation and even a novice writer (via his/her agent, of course) should attempt to limit the period during which the publisher has rights to his work. I’ve generally not had too much trouble whittling things down to around 7 – 10 years. If things go well with the publisher you can always extend your agreement. But if it should happen that the publisher is no longer promoting or effectively selling your book you’ll at least have the opportunity to take your work back and start selling it yourself.

But even 7 – 10 years is a long time to have to suffer a publisher who does not perform as you would have them perform. So it behooves the novice writer to choose wisely. I opened this piece mentioning Harper Collins, Random House etc. And this is where, in your imagination, as you slog your way through your tenth rewrite, you’ll no doubt see yourself starting your publisher quest. But this may not be the best thing for you or your book. There is no point submitting your work to a publisher who simply does not publish the kind of book you’ve written. All that’s going to happen is you’re going to get a gut-freezingly demotivating rejection letter. And you’re going to get plenty of those anyhow from publishers who do publish your type of book. Finding the right publisher is your agent’s job. His knowledge of what all the various publishers are looking for is why he charges his 15%, and this knowledge is one of the things you should look for when choosing him or her.

By the way, the other two important things to consider about an agent are the number and strength of his personal connections to key players in the publishing industry; and his knowledge of contracts. Unless you’re a contract lawyer yourself, you’ll rely on this knowledge to protect you from unfair or disadvantageous clauses in your publishing contract (it’s not unheard of, though, for an agent to hand this off to an attorney).

Now, it may be that the major publisher you daydreamed about as you wrote your book, after being approached by your agent, actually does accept your book. Great! Congratulations. But what if that doesn’t happen? Because, you know, there’s a really, really, really good chance it won’t. Well, this is when you start working your way through all the other publishers out there. But don’t despair. It could be a good thing to be published by a smaller publisher – you may get more attention from them and, if you don’t write mainstream literature, they may be able to better target a niche audience for you.


A few paragraphs back I suggested the new writer to choose their publisher wisely. This is sound, obvious, common sense advice. The only problem is, that for a lot of writers, even writers who have published a book before, it can turn out to be meaningless. Because, after having spent two years, three years, five years writing your novel, and then another year finding an agent and then maybe another two years looking unsuccessfully for a publisher (and this timeline is by no means unrealistic), when someone does finally say yes it will seem, and understandably so, that you and your agent have succeeded in locating the only company on the planet who is willing to take a punt on your book.

When this happens, then no matter how good or bad the publisher, it’ll feel like you have very little choice indeed – either to go with them, or to spend another unknown number of years checking your inbox twenty times a day for emails from your agent.
I suspect the majority of writers will grasp at the immediately available straw. And, who knows, it may turn out okay. You get your book into print. You can start legitimately telling people you’re an author. And maybe the book will take off and the publisher will actually be good enough to pay you your royalties. But if things don’t turn out okay, they you’re a long time stuck with someone else controlling this beautiful thing that you poured so much of yourself into. To see what you’ve created, what you know is a good book, what you know should have made you successful, being mismanaged to the point where you get nothing back from it beyond a few copies to show your friends…. Well, that’s the kind of thing that can end up destroying a writer.


So how do you make the decision? How do you decide whether to go with what appears at the time to be your only option, or to hang tight until some point in the future when a more enlightened publisher – maybe – enters the market? Well, that’s something you’ll have to figure out on your own – there are just too many variables and it’s too personal a choice. But here’s something to think about….

Publishing is about money. Editors and publishers love to crap on about art and culture and giving society a voice, and reflecting the zeitgeist, etc., etc. But underneath everything, publishing (and agenting, too, in fact) is a business, and businesses exist for one reason and one reason only – to make money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting at all that you force your writing to conform to this dollar-driven ethos. But when you understand that the publishing business is, when considered broadly, nationally, globally, as impersonal and resource hungry as a car manufacturer or an industrial-scale food producer, you’ll understand why, if you don’t write stories about vampires, teen lovers or safely conventional middle-aged detectives, it is so fucking hard to get published.

indexPublishers want to publish good work, of course. They don’t set out to publish shit. But more than wanting to publish good work, they want to publish work that sells.
And this means you have to decide what kind of writer you want to be. If you want to sell a shitload of copies, get flown around the world, bank six- and seven-figure advances, then write the kind of stuff the big publishers want and be happy doing it and be happy spending the money.

But if you don’t want to write that kind of stuff, if writing is more to you than just cobbling together a darn good tale, if you want to talk about things that aren’t ordinarily talked about, say things that challenge the majority, that champion the minority, that call bullshit on all the bland gutless hacks who make sure their wallets are firmly in their back pockets each time they sit down to write, then be that kind of writer. Be that kind of writer. Because somewhere in the world, at some point in time, your book will be needed. Not to wile away an hour or two before sleep, not to pass a holiday weekend lying on the beach, but to show someone, some other lonely, lost, hurting human being that they are not alone. And even if it is only one person, and even if that person lives on the other side of the planet, it is enough. It is enough, when they turn the last page and set down your book, that they find their life forever changed because of what they have just read. Because of what you have written.

But if you are brave enough, or insane enough to write this way, don’t expect a big advance and a contract with a major publisher. It might be safe not to expect even to earn a living. I’m not saying it can’t happen – there are a handful of notable cases that prove it can – it’s just that…….it probably won’t.






(Stand out)

Jeff Noon

So you can write. You got published. How to you go from small indie magazines to the higher paying genre markets?

It’s not easy. You’ll have to develop a voice, nurture it and, above all else – STAND OUT! Jeff Noon, please take the stage…


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

JN – The publishing industry has changed so much since my first book came out, because of digital processing. It’s tempting to go down that pathway; I did, when I came back to novel writing after a few years away. I regret it now, and wish I’d gone with a more traditional publisher. So I think that’s the first decision to make for any new, aspiring writer: do I want my book to come out through traditional channels, in paper, or am I happy to just see my work online. I’m aware that at my age, the digital realm seems less substantial than paper, and I can’t really answer for younger people who have grown up in the digital age.Jeff NoonBut if you fancy doing it yourself online, well, the world is yours. The trouble is, how do I get my book to stand out from the thousands that are being published in the virtual medium? It’s so difficult. I would say this: make your book as different as possible, give it a unique viewpoint or style or subject matter, anything to make it stand out from the crowd. You’re waving your flag in  a field full of flags: make sure it’s colourful!

If you fancy the old find way of finding an agent, and a proper publisher, well the same virtues of yesteryear apply: they’re looking for three things, preferably in combination, a good story, complex characters, and an interesting but clear style. And to create those you need to work! And work, and work! Keep writing, keep sending things off, to agents, publishers, short stories sites, anthologies, anywhere. There’s a new breed of independent publishers coming up now, who work in both paper and online; they’re usually run by one man or woman, and they’re very enterprising. I have two books coming out next year with one such: Spectral Press. It’s perfect for the more experimental side of my writing.

So, there are avenues, if you seek them out. I will finish on the point I made earlier: be different. Find your own style and subject matter through experimentation, hone it, keep working at it. And hopefully one day someone will recognise your worth, and publish your work. Good luck!







Peter Emshwiller

Most people, usually people who don’t write, think getting started on a project is the hard part, but the rest of us know different. You know how it is, the kernel of a really cool idea is there, the motivation to get going is there, heck, maybe the first thousand words are there too. But ending a story effectively, that’s not quite so straight forward.

Acclaimed novelist, illustrator and voice actor, Peter Emhwiller, will tell you to man-up and just finish the damn thing!


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

Peter – Your question is a great one. And a tough one. The first thing I always pass on to young writers (and also to creaky old folks my age who are new at writing) is that the most important thing to do is finish. Sounds silly, but finish. Just finish. Finish that novel about that ex who stole both your heart and your silverware. Finish that screenplay about space llamas. Finish that short story about zombie gerbils. Finish that epic poem about the sentient foot fungus.

I’ve had new writers come to me and say, “Well you’re a REAL writer because you’ve had novels published by a real publishing house.” I tell them, “No. That’s was as much about luck as anything. What makes a person a ‘real’ writer is finishing.”peter

I run into folks all the time who’ve got half finished screenplays in their trunk or half done novels on their hard drive. In my humble opinion what makes someone a “real” writer (if there even IS such a thing) is getting to the end. That, to me, is what separates the amateur from the pro. Getting published can be a roll of the dice; as much about timing and connections and random luck as it is about talent and the quality of the work. But finishing? That’s on you. Get to the words “THE END” in your first draft, and you’re a winner. Then it’s all about honing and tweaking and rewriting, and, of course, trying to get the damn thing in the hands of an agent and a publisher. (A whole ‘nother challenge.)

When I was writing my very first book, I had absolutely no prospects for getting it published but I plodded away at in anyway. Halfway through I got stuck and had a huge amount of trouble finishing. So I wrote something on the front cover of my legal pad clipboard in big black letters with a sharpie pen (yes, I wrote the first draft in longhand, crazy as that sounds these days). I wrote: “Make It Crap. Fix It Later.” Seeing that every time I sat down to write helped a lot. You’ll note I didn’t write, “It’s Okay If It’s Crap, You Can Fix It Later,” or, “Don’t Worry if It Isn’t Perfect, You Can Rewrite It.” I wrote, “MAKE IT CRAP. Fix it later.” I gave myself permission to go ahead and write a totally awful first draft. A horrible mess of a first draft. Just to get to the end. It was incredibly freeing.

And when I was done with that “crap” first draft, I’d have a lump of clay to work with when I rewrote it.


As for navigating the troubled waters of the publishing business nowadays, I fear I might not be much help. Because of the changes in technology, the industry is in the middle of huge transitions, so it’s hard to say what the right move is. The only advice that still holds true, I think, is the classic one: to just keep sending your stuff out, no matter how many rejections you get. Send and send and send. Be tenacious. And do what you can to connect one way or another with agents and editors at various events so that, when you send your manuscript (or fungus poem) to them, you can write, “it was a great pleasure to meet you when we both peed in the bathroom at unicorn-con,” in your cover letter. Those kinds of “we met briefly” connections actually make a huge difference.

And, of course, in between sending your stuff out over and over again, write new stuff. Don’t ever stop writing stuff. And, most importantly, finish it all. Finish. Finish. Finish. Get to “THE END.”





Laird Barron

Let’s call a spade a spade – getting your writing published is hard. Being a successful writer is even harder (trust me, I know!). And, ok, let’s say, you do carve out a career for yourself… how do you make that all elusive step to the next plateau? – the plateau where all the full-time writers of the world are sitting in their mansions, their fans salivating in anticipation over each new release as they throw cash at pigeons on their forecourts instead of breadcrumbs…yes, well, you get the idea. I’ve decided to run a series of interviews with well-established writers to offer guidance to young budding creative types. I’m hoping they’ll share their own insecurities and offer an insight into how they got to where they are today.


The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”

Laird – To new writers, and especially to young writers: expect resistance. I am in my forties. I’ve written since I was five. I know one thing if I know anything.

They will try to stop you.

Resistance to artistic aspiration is typical. In general, people aren’t going to leap onboard your dream train. It’s cute for a teenager to talk of becoming a novelist, or a poet. The gloss is tarnished once you travel beyond the solar system of middling youth and into young adulthood. If it has not already begun, it will begin. If it has begun, it will now begin in earnest. People will gently, or not so gently, undermine your artistic endeavors. How will you pay off your loans? How will you pay off a mortgage? How will you afford a family? What will become of you?

Grow up. Get real. It’s for your own good. We love you. Stop, just stop.laird pic

They will attempt to subvert you. They will attempt to cajole and coerce you. They will roll their eyes and shake their heads and talk about you in hushed tones of mourning. When you pursue the dream of being an author, people always mourn you. They will bargain with you. They will read your words and pronounce you No Hemingway, no Jackson, no McCarthy. They will probably be correct in this latter judgment. It doesn’t matter. Hemingway was no Faulkner, Jackson was no Shelley, McCarthy is no Steinbeck. None of them were Shakespeare. Be sure they were told this or something like this and by someone who loved them, wanted the best for them.

Print is dead. Publishing is dead. No one reads. We love you. So stop.

They’ll do anything to blunt your progress, to deflect your trajectory. They’ll offer you a raise at the sausage plant. They’ll marry you, knock you up, or get knocked up. They’ll send you down the trail behind a team of huskies. They’ll jail you. Drug you. Withhold love. Punish you. Blast your mind with a 24 hour news cycle and infinite cartoons on the Cartoon Network. They will guilt you for the hours you spend apart, writing, dreaming. The most insidious of them will publish you, review you, praise or condemn you, encourage you to rest on your laurels or to simply quit, the world is better off without you, because you’ve made it, or because you never will. And so they say, Stop. Quit. We love you. Come back to us, don’t leave us here.

They will do anything to stop you. Remember. They love you. You have to be ready for that.