The Road of Fear – More of the Story

Yesterday I published my friend Melissa’s story about her connection to The Dukes of Hazzard, the Confederate Flag, and a road that runs between Sharon and York, the town we grew up in and the “city” where we went to high school. Sutton Springs Road is a back road, a windy country road that twists and turns around trees and hills and hollers.

Melissa tells in her essay of her mother’s fear when taking Sutton Springs Road home from church, probably in the 1940s or 50s, because sometimes in the summer the Klan would be having meetings out in a field along that road, complete with burning crosses and Confederate flags waving. Melissa’s essay was the first time I’d ever heard about that, despite having ridden Sutton Springs Road all my life.

You see, there was something else on Sutton Springs Road in addition to the field where the Klan met, something in addition to the curve where my brother wrecked two different cars in two consecutive years. There was the old Feemster place, my great-grandfather’s land. And the old Hartness place, my other great-grandfather’s land. And my Uncle Erskine, the war hero from WWII, who got a Silver Star and survived the Battle of the Bulge – he lived in a trailer on Sutton Springs Road right in front of his daddy’s (my great-grandaddy’s) house. So I spent a lot of time on Sutton Springs Road as a kid, and nobody bothered to tell me that the Klan used to meet there. Of course, I was a little young to be fitted for a white sheet, so it really didn’t matter. And my father was never associated with the Klan in any way, and as far as he and I know, neither was his father.

His grandfathers, however, may have been a different story. When I was home last week I mentioned Melissa’s story to him, and her mother’s stories of the Klan meeting on Sutton Springs Road when she was little. I knew that my dad was older than Melissa’s parents, and that he’s known them forever. He just nodded and said, “yep, they did.”

Then he told me a story about a flogging on Sutton Springs Road, which, if Melissa’s mom had told her that when she was a little girl, I don’t know if she ever would have taken that shortcut as a teen. I don’t know when this story happened, and Daddy doesn’t remember it, but I suppose it would have been in the 30s, because he remembers some of the aftermath. But there was an African-American preacher beaten and left for dead by the Klan on Sutton Springs Road, which led to a crackdown on the Klan’s activities in York County. At least as much of a crackdown as can happen when the presiding judge in the one case that went to trial was a high-ranking Klansman.

Daddy remembers, and I don’t know if this is memory or story passed down, my family’s involvement in the beating death of this minister. As Daddy tells it “I don’t know if they had anything to do with beating that preacher, but the next morning my two granddaddies, Granddaddy Hartness and Granddaddy Feemster, they went and cut him down and took him home in a wagon, and that’s where he died.”

Daddy tells another story “Now my Granddaddy Hartness would stay over at Erskine’s, and he’d sleep in that front bedroom, and he had this mean old dog that slept on the porch. And this dog was just mean as a snake, wouldn’t let anybody get near Granddaddy without raising Cain. But one night these two old boys came up on the porch and asked Granddaddy if they oughta run, or stand trial for killing that preacher, ’cause a bunch of ‘em, they was running, you see. Some of them boys went to Texas, some of them went to West Virginia, but Granddaddy told them boys they might as well stay. And the whole time they was there, that old dog never made a sound. Now I don’t know if it was just because them boys was that damn mean, or if that dog knew them boys, but it never barked the whole time.”

So I don’t know my family’s involvement in making Sutton Springs Road my friend Melissa’s Road of Fear, but the fear is real, and it touches all of us in some way or another, even if we don’t know it at the time. Obviously I’ve never worn a white sheet, or burned a cross in anyone’s yard, and I work against the racism I see in myself. But it’s important that we not ignore our heritage, and our history. So yeah, the Confederate flag is part of my heritage, but I’m trying not to make it part of me anymore.

The Road of Fear – Guest Post by Melissa McKnight Rouse

Every once in a while a friend asks for help with a writing project. I’ve known Melissa since we were five years old in kindergarten, long enough to call her “Erlene” out of habit because she went by her middle name in high school, and long enough to remember her brother as the fastest runner and biggest hitter in Little League. So when she asked me to look over this essay, I was happy to oblige. What I found was a deeply personal essay about the world I grew up in, and the parts of it I never saw. This is not posted here to start or continue any controversy, but to help her get her words out to what might be a little wider audience. 

I’m not going to discuss this post in the comments, I’m not going to debate this in comments, and if you’re a dick to my friend in comments, I’m not going to approve the comment. We clear? Good. This is her story, and I think it’s got a lot of deep meaning. I’ll tell you a little more about this road tomorrow, the parts of the story Melissa doesn’t know I know, and may not know herself. But for today, lend your eyeballs to one of my oldest and dearest friends, a woman whose entire family I hold in the highest esteem – Melissa Rouse. 

“The Road of Fear”

1981- A Black Mom’s History Lesson about the Confederate Flag to her 8 Year Old Daughter

If you were an 80’s child raised in the South, you probably watched “The Dukes of Hazzard” on Friday evenings. Mom fried fish for her and my father and me and my brother had our favorite; pork ‘n beans. This was well before Beanie Weenies. Back then you cut up a couple of hot dogs and put them in a pot of baked beans and voila, pork ‘n beans! I grew up in a very small town; Sharon, South Carolina, a town of five hundred or less in population. Black and white folk were cordial, but there wasn’t much in the way of mixing; however, there weren’t major problems. Everything was pretty under toned. Before I went to Kindergarten, my experience with white people was in the grocery story or out in public. Although the neighbors down the street would help my dad and vice versa, there was a mutual respect more along the lines of work ethic. If you had a good work ethic, you were respected. So there goes the line in the sand.

Back to the point at hand; Friday nights as a youth. My brother and I loved to watch “The Dukes of Hazzard.” I can name all of the cast from memory: Bo and Luke Duke, Uncle Jessie, Daisy, Cooter, Enis, Rosco and his dog Flash, Boss Hog and of course the car that Bo and Luke Duke drove, The General Lee. Man that car was fast! A two door 1969 Dodge Charger, doors welded shut, bright orange with a beautiful red, white and blue flag with a big capital X with stars on the top. Remember this is coming from the eyes of two young and impressionable black children who had not been previously exposed and educated about the Confederate flag, nor the naming convention behind the infamous car. One Friday evening after eating our delicious meal of pork ‘n beans and watching an episode of the “The Dukes of Hazzard”, it occurred to us that we should draw the flag that was emblazoned on top of the General Lee! I know it’s sad, but we didn’t know any better at the time. We pulled out our papers and crayons and began to feverously draw the best renditions of the Confederate flag that a 10 and 8 year old Black American child could possibly draw! Once we were done with our masterpieces, my brother being the oldest and most competitive, called our mother over and asked her to be the judge and pick the best drawing. Well, let’s just say that it went downhill from there.

“What in the world is this?!!” she yelled. My mother grew up the daughter of a sharecropper in York County, South Carolina in the height of Jim Crow. Everything was separate and unequal during those times, so she has a lot of segregation history stored in her memory bank. She hadn’t told us the hardcore truth about our history before then, but our eyes would soon be opened; wide open! My brother and I stood there with blank faces and explained that we were drawing the flag that was on top of the General Lee. In a short history lesson, my mom told us about how her family would travel down a cut through road, Suttons Springs Road, on their way to church. Sometimes on a late summer’s night as they returned home from church, the Ku Klux Klan would be out in the field having their meetings, right off of Sutton Springs Road. She recounted that they would be out in plain view, white robes, pointy hats, crosses burning and the Confederate flag swaying in the wind.

“That flag means they don’t like you because of your color! They brought us over here as slaves and they fought to keep us as slaves! You are never good enough in their eyes and you have to work twice as hard to get ahead! You hear what I say?!” She ended her lesson, shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and stated in a soft hurt slow tone, “That’s just the way it is.”

So, in a span of five minutes we got a very rudimentary crash lesson on the Confederate flag and why I was not liked and wouldn’t be liked by some white people for the rest of my natural born life because I have a beautiful brown skin tone. It just couldn’t be, I thought. I explained to my mom that some of my classmates live off of Sutton Springs Road and that they were nice to me. Her response, “That may be true, but don’t you go down that road. We ain’t got NO business driving down that road!” From that point on, Sutton Springs Road became the road of fear in my eyes, and the Confederate flag, a symbol of hatred.

As I got older and began to drive and take on more risk, I drove down that road. It shaved off 10 minutes commute time. I pay South Carolina and York County tax, so why wouldn’t I drive down that road? As I turned onto the road, my heart fluttered a bit as I envisioned the sight that my mom saw as a youth. The flames rolling off of the burning crosses alongside that big X swaying back and forth, as if to say go back, you are not wanted.

I realize that some believe that the Confederate flag is part of their heritage and not hate; however, one of the primary reasons behind the Civil War as well as the flag being used as intimidation following the lost war gives pause to most Black Americans. Many old pictures from lynch mob gatherings and Civil Rights conflicts occurring post Reconstruction have some form of the Confederate flag being displayed by white supporters along with their look of disgust. The flag not only represented the South in a lost cause, it also became the face of Jim Crow backed racism.

The Confederate flag should not fly on or above our state capital, as we have two flags that should be honored, the American flag and the South Carolina State flag. However, I think any American has the right to fly whatever flag they so chose on their own personal property, unless of course your homeowners’ association discourages that type thing. As well, confederate memorials should not be desecrated, as we all should have a reminder from whence we have come.

June 17, 2015 was a sad day in not only South Carolina history, but in American history as well. Nine lives were taken because of racial hatred, but for me the ensuing issue surrounding the Confederate flag has given me pause to rethink how I now chose to view it.

“It’s an ugly callous that reminds me to always try to love and never hate. It’s that reminder, that there is a brighter day and to keep on pushing regardless of what someone thinks of me. It reminds me of scripture, “Though they slay me, I will trust Him…” (Job 13:15). Regardless of my connection, it’s a reminder to call out a wrong, even when the wrong side of history has been taken. The Confederate flag, a choice to continue in love or to falter back in the line of fear and hatred. My choice is to love without hesitation.”

It’s been more than 34 years since my mama stood over me and my brother and gave us a quick life lesson on race. She now travels Sutton Springs Road from time to time. Little by little, hearts begin to meld and life brings about change.

 

Melissa McKnight Rouse

Rock Hill, SC

Two Flags

My Facebook feed this week has been dominated by talk of this flag.

rebel-flag-silk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And whether or not it deserves to fly on the grounds of the state capitol of South Carolina, or anywhere. For the record, I think it belongs in one place – a museum. I’m a southerner, and proud to be one. I think the South has given us some of the greatest examples of art and culture in our nation’s history, from the Delta Blues, to Memphis Rock n’ Roll, to Nashville Country, to Atlanta Hip-Hop. I think some of the most amazing writers in the nation’s history have come from the south, including Wolfe, Williams, Conroy, Dickey, Ron Rash, Maya Angelou and Harper Lee. I love the South with all my heart and can’t imagine ever living anywhere.

And I hate the fact that the Confederate Battle Flag flies in so many places in the region that I love. This flag is not a symbol of my heritage. A banjo is a better symbol. A jug of sweet tea is a better symbol. An ice cream churn with a kid sitting on top of it turning the handle is a better symbol. Sunrise over Battery Park in Charleston, sunset on the grounds of Wilkes Community College, the fog across the Blue Ridge Mountains – all of these are better symbols of My South.

The Confederate Battle Flag is a throwback to a time when men thought it was okay to own other men and women as property. And it is a symbol of a war fought in part for that principle. Yes, there were other things that went into the Civil War, but slavery was a guiding principal of the war. And this flag was not erected on the SC State House in the aftermath of the Civil War, it was erected in 1962, as a great big “fuck you” to the US government over the 14th Amendment.

Nothing in my heritage supports the segregationist movement in the United States. Nothing. Nothing in my heritage supports the KKK. Nothing in how I was raised or what I was taught is right says it’s okay for me to carry around a symbol of hatred and oppression because I think it looks cool, and besides, I never owned slaves.

I have been a flag defender. I have been a Civil War denier. I never denied that it happened, but I denied that it was about slavery. Even today, I don’t know enough history to name all the causes of the Civil War, but slavery certainly was a huge part of it. I sit here today, telling you that I’ve used the words “heritage, not hate” to describe the battle flag.

I was wrong.

Symbols are how we communicate as a people. Symbols matter. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t care if anyone burned the American flag. And the power of symbols is in what they mean to people. To me, the Rebel Flag doesn’t really mean much. But I’ve never been told I can’t sit at a counter or in a restaurant and eat my meal. No one ever owned my grandfather or great-grandfather. No one ever shipped my family over from our home and sold us to work in some rich asshole’s field. That’s not my heritage. But for my African-American friends, that flag is a symbol of a society that considered them property, considered them 3/5 of a person, considered their life’s worth to be 40 acres and a mule.

Fly the flag on your private property if you want to. I won’t stop you. I won’t visit you, either, but I won’t stop you. But flying the flag of an oppressive regime on state property is telling part of our population “we don’t care how this makes you feel.” It says “you’re still lesser, because we used to own you.” It says “we can do whatever we want to you, and don’t you forget it.” We are very close to a racial boiling point in our country, and I think it’s critically important that we find more ways to band together, rather than rallying behind divisive symbols of wars fought and lost decades and centuries ago.

But today my Facebook feed is populated by flags of a different color. Or more to the point, flags of every color.

pa-equality-watch-rainbow-flag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The United States Supreme Court has issued its ruling on gay marriage, affirming what many of us knew and understood all along – that marriage is a right of all people, regardless of color or sexual orientation. It was a surprising 5-4 decision, surprising to me that four educated justices could disagree with this concept. To say that I’m happy with this outcome is a spectacular understatement. I’ve worked in my small ways for gay rights for years, mostly through theatre but also in my writing. I try to portray gay characters as no different than straight characters, unless I’m overblowing something for comedy, which I am wont to do.

I support gay marriage because i think that all people should be able to love and live as they choose. I believe that two men who are committed to each other shouldn’t have to make secret trips to South America and have one of them adopt a child as a single parent because the government wouldn’t let a gay couple adopt. I believe that anyone who has stood by someone as a life partner for decades should be able to sit by that person’s bedside and contribute to end-of-life and hospice decisions. I believe that gay people should pay the same “marriage penalty” on their income tax as the rest of us!

And do you know the impact this has had on my marriage?

None.

Not one bit. There are only two people in the world who have any impact on my marriage – me & Suzy. My marriage will be completely unaffected by the gay marriage ruling, except that I expect to attend many fabulous ceremonies!

I’m thrilled for my friends that can now get married, and my friends who no longer have to worry about whether or not the state they’re moving to will accept their legal documents. And I’m thrilled to see the rainbow flag replace the rebel flag all over my Facebook wall. Maybe we could get the rainbow flag to fly on the SC statehouse grounds.

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My feelings on Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlin Jenner

I’ll tell you a parable, as it were, in the fashion of another sandal-wearing dude who didn’t like to shave.

There once was a devout man who lived a religious life. He went to church every Sunday, sang in the choir, tithed regularly and performed volunteer work for his church. He was a good man. He never hurt anyone, never had a bad word to say about anyone. He was a good man, a real rarity. His house lived near a river, and one day, in a time of torrential rains, the river overflowed the banks and threatened his home and entire neighborhood.

Emergency workers came to his door in a Hummer to evacuate him, but he refused to leave. “I’ve given my life to God, and God will take care of me.” The emergency workers pleaded with him, but eventually had to leave him. Before long, the water rose so high that he had to climb out onto his roof. As he sat on his roof watching his possessions float away, a man in a boat came by and tried to talk him into leaving the house. The old man refused. “God will take care of me,” he said, as his dining room table crashed through the picture window and floated down the street.

The water continued to rise, and darkness fell on the old man’s street. Eventually the water was so high that he had to climb on top of his chimney to keep from being swept away. A helicopter came over him and lowered a rope, but the old man refused. “God will take care of me,” he shouted to the rescue workers. They tried to convince him to get in the basket they lowered, but eventually they left him there. A few hours later, the waters swept the old man away, and he died.

When he came to the pearly gates, they swung open for him, and he looked up at the kindly man there with a confused expression. “I gave my life to the Lord, why didn’t he save me?”

Saint Peter laughed and said, “We sent a Hummer, a boat, and a helicopter to save you. What more could we have done?”

What does that have to do with Caitlin Jenner? Valid question, I suppose. My friend Trish posted on her Facebook page today her ire with people saying that “God doesn’t make mistakes” and thus transgender people should live in the bodies they are born in and just cope with it. Well what about my cousin with the cleft palate? Should his parents have not had surgeries performed when he was a baby to fix the problem and let him live a normal life? Or should they have sat on their roof and said “God will take of us?” Should my friend Dave still be mostly deaf or should he have the hearing aids that let him live a fuller life? Should I stumble around the world bumping into everything, unable to drive or probably read? Or should I wear glasses and contacts and live a better life?

If you’re a religious person, and where I am on that scale fluctuates daily, you believe that all blessing flow from God. So do all medical advances. So do all scientific advances. So all the technology and medicine that allows Caitlin Jenner to live the life she feels she needs – they all come from God. God allowed her doctors to perform any surgeries that have happened, prescribe any medicines that have happened and basically have allowed her to find her life. God doesn’t seem to have a problem with Caitlin. Why do you?

Note that if a plague of locusts suddenly descends upon LA I reserve the right to change my opinion on whether God has a problem with this. But if THIS is the thing that finally gets a plague dropped on Los Angeles, then somebody wasn’t watching the last three Star Wars movies.

New Bubba out today!

Rest High on that Mountain, the latest Bubba the Monster Hunter short story, releases today! It’s exclusive to Kindle for 90 days, but my Patrons can get it free! So head on over to Amazon and check it out, or go over to Patreon and become a patron at the $10/month level and get it free!

High on that Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bubba’s back, and so is baby brother Jason! This time, Jason has sent a pack of wolves to terrorize Bubba’s Aunt Marion for a family heirloom that he thinks will help him take over the supernatural world. He hasn’t taken into account the strength of a mountain woman, or the love Bubba has for home and family. There’s a pack of wolves on the loose, but Bubba’s here, and he’s ready for a fight!

Featuring Great-Grandpappy Beauregard, first seen in Fire on the Mountain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Knight #5 – In the Still of the Knight Cover Reveal

The pre-order is live. The cover is here. The book will be in your hot little hands on June 30. Buy this bad boy now and make this my best release ever! Enough of you folks click the link, and we can maybe blow up Amazon or something.

 

In the Still of the Knight

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ConCarolinas

Since it’s only a week away (shit! gotta make sure I have books ordered!) I figured I’d post my ConCarolinas schedule so that y’all know where to find me.

I mean, other than the bar. And at my table, selling shit.

FRIDAY

4PM – Selling & Pitching – A workshop for writers – This is for the writer guests and anyone else who has stuff published or ready to submit and has trouble working on their pitch. I’ll go over back cover matter, query letters, elevator pitches, log lines and hand-selling. I’ll talk about how to profile a customer, how to tell who’s going to buy shit and who’s just there to hang out, and how to upsell into a more profitable book or more books overall. This is a zero-bullshit, NSFW, hands-on workshop where I will listen to pitches and tear them apart. Not for the faint of heart, or for anyone who doesn’t have anything to sell. If you think writing is all rainbows and unicorns, stay away. If you’re here to make a buck, sit down, shut up, and strap in.

6:30 PM – Paranormal in Literature – Me, Emily Leverett, Tally Johnson, Sharon Stogner and a bunch of folks I don’t really know. I’m not moderating, so expect me to be my usual charming (read: smartass) self.

9PM – Those Winchester Boys – We’re gonna talk about Supernatural, y’all. I’m only on Season 6, so I got a LOT of binge-watching to catch up on by the time Friday hits!

SATURDAY

5:30 PM – This oughta be the most easily politicized panel of the weekend – What’s an award worth, anyway? I’m on a panel about awards with John Scalzi (the man most hated by Puppies both Sad & Rabid), Edmund Schubert (2015 Hugo Nominee, withdrawn), Gray Rinehart (2015 Hugo Nominee), Wendy Delmater (2015 Hugo Nominee for Abyss & Apex Magazine) & Misty Massey (wonderful human being). This could get heated, and I just hope none of my friends get their feelings hurt. There are a lot of nasty things swirling around the Hugos this year, and hopefully we can cover some of them with everyone remaining civil.

9PM – The Bad Ones – I edit an anthology series called The Big Bad. I think I’m qualified.

SUNDAY

3PM – Supernatural Detectives – Yup, I’m down with that.

4PM – Do I need a writing group – This would be a great time for me to channel the asshole hat I’ve worn on this blog for the past couple of weeks and send little baby writers running out into the world crying. And at 4PM on the last day of a convention, I’m liable to be pretty punchy.

 

This is one of my favorite cons of the year, what with the entire guest list being a who’s who of my friends, and with it being close enough for me to sleep in my own bed every night. So I hop you’ll come out and say hello, and pick up new print copies of Raising Hell, Straight to Hell and Fair Play!

Why your self-published book looks like a pile of ass and won’t ever make you any money

So last week I might have pissed a few people off and maybe opened a few eyes when I listed Five Reasons You Won’t Make it as a Writer. In reality, there are a lot more, including just sheer bad luck, but those five are a good place to start. So this week I figured I’d keep the ball rolling and be a dick about self-publishing on the interwebs. And it’s one word, regardless of what my goddamn autocorrect says.

Now before any of the Disciples of the Church of Konrath’s Beard get all up in arms and storm my house with pitchforks (and seriously kids, I’m a redneck – do not bring a pitchfork to a gunfight. It will fuck up your whole day), let me remind you that I started off self-publishing and continue to self-publish to this day. So I don’t have anything against self-publishing. I plan to continue self-pubbing as a part of my career path until it is no longer viable, which I hope is never. I enjoy a lot of the parts of self-publishing, including the vaunted “control” that self-published authors talk about all the time.

SIDE NOTE – I am not an “indie” author. I am a motherfucking self-published writer. I don’t wear horn-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans. I’m only ironic accidentally, and I don’t ride a fixed-speed bike. I’m not fucking trendy enough to be “indie.” I’m the biggest goddamn sellout you’ve ever met. Anybody in the world wants to write me a check with the appropriate number of zeroes, and I’ll stop self-publishing tomorrow. I have a wife, two cats, a stupid dog and my own fat ass to feed, so my hipster artistic integrity rode off into the sunset before we even started worrying about the Y2K issue. I don’t call myself an author, because I’m a working writer. I throw poop at the page every day and pray some of it sticks. I don’t sit around drinking wine with my pinky extended and discussing Shakespeare. When I discuss Shakespeare, it’s over beer or vodka. I’m self-published and I own that shit. If you want to crow about the control, don’t be fucking ashamed of the label. Own it, with the shitty history of AuthorHouse and every other goddamn thing that comes with it. /RANT

So what am I bitching about now? I’m bitching about the fact that you are making me look bad. I can do that perfectly well on my very fucking own, I don’t need any help from you. So here are some things to fucking stop doing, so you’ll fucking stop making me and the rest of the self-published world look bad.

1) Get your shit edited –  I know, I know. It’s expensive. It takes a long time. It’s fucking hard. Wah-wah-wah, my rectum bleeds just fucking listening to you. You can’t write well enough to edit yourself. No one can. I don’t edit myself, Neil Gaiman doesn’t edit himself, Pat Rothfuss doesn’t edit himself, Brandon Sanderson doesn’t edit himself. And you’re not as good as they are. I’m nowhere near as good as they are. I fuck up dialogue tags all the goddamn time. So I pay somebody to fix that shit for me. And she also asks me awesome questions about things that don’t make sense. Because sometimes what’s in my head doesn’t all make it onto the page. And with apologies to a dear friend of mine – YOU MAY NOT HAVE YOUR SHIT EDITED BY A SIBLING, SPOUSE, PARENT OR ANYONE YOU SHARE DNA WITH OR ROUTINELY SWAP FLUIDS WITH. I don’t give a fuck how tough you say your wife is on you, she’s not going to be as tough as somebody who YOU’RE NOT FUCKING. Because she knows you, your husband knows you, there is a set of shortcuts in their understanding of everything you say and do that a stranger LIKE YOUR FUCKING READER doesn’t have. Something that may be crystal clear to the man you’ve banged for the last fifteen years may not make any fucking sense to a reader picking your book up for the first time. Because they don’t know that a fibbertygibbet is your made-up word for a Colt 1911 .45 semi-automatic handgun. And that’s going to matter to a reader. So get your shit edited. It can be a friend. But it cannot be someone who you’ve ever fucked or who you are related to. And we’re not going to discuss the states in which those may be the same people. This isn’t that blog.

2) Learn to lay out your fucking pages – I fucked this up when I published the first edition of The Chosen, and it was Allan Gilbreath who called me on it. I printed the book like it was a blog, with a blank line between paragraphs instead of running them together and indenting shit. You know, the way fucking books look. So I had a book that looked like a printed blog. And my page numbers were jacked up. And my headers and footers were bad. About the only thing I did right with the print edition of that book was I picked a decent font. You can’t go too far wrong with Times New Roman, although there’s apparently a backlash now against Times. So used Garamond. But pick a nice serif font, something that looks classic and clean. A perfect example of this was a book from a couple of guys I met last week. They have a nice looking product, awesome cover, but their typesetting looks like a blog. It doesn’t look like a book that Pyr or Baen or Tor or Roc published. And that’s the point – if you think you’re good enough to compete with the big boys, you’d better present as well as the big boys. And if you don’t think you can run with those big dogs, keep your ass on the porch. If you want to see an example of a self-published book that looks as good as or better than most NY-pubbed books today, go get Matthew Saunders’ new book Daughters of Shadow and Blood Book I: YasaminOrder the paperback, and you’ll see what an amazing job Matthew did with the layout, the back cover, the front cover, the spine, the whole fucking thing. That’s my current gold standard for what a self-published book should look like. My shit’s not as good as this, but I have a little bit of a following, and they all know I’m a drunk, so I get a little bit of a pass.

3) Get a better cover – For fuck’s sake why am I even still talking about this in 2015? Covers are easy, they’re cheap, and they look good. The covers I got for the Quincy Harker series look awesome, and I paid under $100 for the pair of them. Spend the time to get a good cover done professionally. Here’s the first cover I did for The Chosen.

The Chosen Cover Art

Now in defense of the artist, this is exactly what I asked her to create for me. It references a specific item in the story, Lucypher’s keychain with an apple on it. It also says not a goddamn thing about the book and doesn’t look anything like a fantasy novel.

Chosen Cover 2011 4x6

This is the revised cover. This has a lot more interesting elements, more engaging typestyle, and a lot of neat things going on there. There’s a fire, an apple, an angel – a lot of fantastical elements that draw a reader in.

One of these covers sells a hell of a lot better than the other. I’ll let you decide which one. No I fucking won’t, that’s the whole point! The second cover is obviously better, but some of you are still putting out half-assed covers. It drives me nuts and drags me down by association.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) Get better back cover matter –  If I read another self-pubbed back cover that tells me everything about the character and their backstory then tells me how much I’ll love the book, I’m going to fucking vomit. Have none of you ever gone to a bookstore and read the back cover material on a book? What the fuck? Do you think this shit just materializes from the word fairies? That they just sprinkle this shit all over the shelves and descriptions appear? Go read back cover copy! Rip off the best ones! Every fucking body else is doing it, why should you be the special goddamn snowflake that has to write some Pulitzer-winning bullshit for the back of their book?

Do you write horror? Read the back cover of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. Do you write fantasy? Read the back of some awesome fantasy books. Do you write romance? I got nothing for you. Duh! Read the back of romance novels. But don’t give me this bloated, hyper-descriptive shitball of a back cover with eighteen paragraphs in 8-point Helvetica telling me the entire prologue that you wanted to write but didn’t because some other dickhead on some other blog said that prologues are out this season, like skinny jeans and floral prints.

5) WRITE BETTER – Seriously, goddammit, work on your fucking craft. If I read another opening page that’s a dream sequence I swear to Jebus I’m gonna wipe my ass with it. Don’t tell me every fucking thing about your character’s morning ritual. I don’t give a shit how many squares of TP she uses to wipe after she pisses. I don’t care about how she scratches Mr. Pibbles, her Maine Coon Cat behind the ears as she passes him on the way from taking a piss to putting on clean undies. I care about the fucking zombies coming up the fucking stairs. Get to the point. Tell me the story, no bloat.

And show me the action. Show me the relationships. Do not tell me that your main character loves his sister, even though he picks on her all the time. Build the fucking characters. Show me through their actions, expressions and dialogue that they love each other. You spent so much fucking time describing the wallpaper in the shitter, but you won’t take three paragraphs to develop the character? That tells me you haven’t learned what’s important to the story yet.

Avoiding passive voice is a given. Adverbs weaken your writing is a cliche because it’s true. Avoid filter words is a maxim because it’s something everybody needs to remember. Show me, don’t tell me runs off the lips of every editor because it’s the truth. Polish your craft. Work on getting better every single day. I spent four years and over four thousand articles writing about internet poker before I moved to fiction.

Between five years of blogging almost daily and four years of poker writing, I worked my way through a million shitty words before I ever started work on The Chosen. And I’ve still got a lot shit I work on in my writing. But I’m working on it. Everything I write this year is better than anything I wrote last year, because I’m writing all the time. I’m reading all the time. I’m working on my craft. If you’re not willing to do the same thing, get the fuck out of my profession.

I fuck off a lot. I make wisecracks, joke around a lot, but there is one thing I am deadly serious about – my craft. Do not come in here thinking you’re the next fucking Hemingway and you don’t need to work to get better. Because I’ve got over forty titles out, I’ve sold over 50,000 books since I started this journey five years ago, and I still have a loooong way to go. I’m nowhere near the best I can be, but I write the best I can each day. And I make sure that every single product I put out with my name on is the absolute best I can make it. Because that’s all you get in this world – your name. Your reputation is what you make it, and so is your career. You might judge success differently than I do, and that’s fine. But there are benchmarks for quality, and if you can’t hit those benchmarks for quality – don’t hit “publish.”

But if you’re willing to work hard, and you’re honestly ready to bust your ass and get things done, then jump on. Let’s ride.

If you enjoy this shit, please consider buying something from my Amazon Author Page or becoming a Patron on Patreon. 

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Five Reasons you Won’t Make it as a Writer

I’ve decided to just embrace my role as the Simon Cowell of the writing world. I’m honestly tired of being nice and supportive to everyone who comes up to me with a half-baked idea or worse, a half-baked product, and asks what I think. Because they don’t want to know what I think. They want to hear how awesome they are. And most of the time they aren’t awesome. Most of the time I’d be better off trimming my toenails than reading their godawful attempts at a book or story, because at least that can get exciting if I trim a little too closely. So here goes – unexpurgated Hartness on why you’re not going to make it as a writer.

Let’s start with a definition of “make it.” You’re not going to ever be able to quit your day job and write full-time. If you make $40,000 per year at a nice comfortable job, you’re going to need to make at least $50K as a writer to cover the self-employment tax and other costs associated with being self-employed. And that’s if you live somewhere cheap.

But let’s be honest – that’s not everyone’s goal. Some folks just want to sell well enough to make a bestseller list, or see their book in a bookstore without having to sneak it in under their coat. Some folks want to sit on panels at conventions, and maybe even be a Guest of Honor. Those are also reasonable, achievable goals for a lot of writers.

And here are the reasons you won’t get there.

1) You are Fucking Lazy - If I’m wrong, prove it. Stop whining about how much time you don’t have to write, or how much “real life” gets in the way, or how much time it takes to raise your kids, or work your job, and how you’re too tired after working all day, coming home, fixing dinner, feeding a family, cleaning up after dinner, bathing the little ankle-biters, getting them to bed and then performing your husbandly duties so your wife still loves you. Yeah, shut your cake hole.

Somewhere out there is someone who is doing all that shit while wiping the ass of their Alzheimer’s-riddled father and taking online classes at the University of Fuckstickery just so they can get a $1,500/year raise at their cube farm. And they’re still jamming a thousand words a day. That means that while you’re all caught up on Agents of Shield, they’ve cranked out 250,000 words in a year. That’s not just a novel, that’s a fucking Brandon Sanderson novel.

So before you send me hate mail about how hard you’ve got it, go read this – The Road to Publication. If you read that and have had half the fucked up shit happen to you that Sherrilyn Kenyon has lived through, then you’ve had it rough. If you’ve gone through all that and THEN pulled your shit back together and blown the doors off publishing – then I promise I’ll never call you lazy again. Sherrilyn Kenyon is a motherfucking inspiration to me and I go back through that story whenever I feel like I’ve got it rough. Then I shut the fuck up and write.

2) You don’t want it badly enough – This is tied to the first one, but different. I’ve spent my life in the arts. Theatre and writing are how I’ve made my living, at least tangentially, since I got out of college. I’ve spoken to many high school theatre kids and I’ve always told them the same thing – if there is anything else in the world that will make you happy, please go do that. This (theatre and writing) is a lonely, bizarre, world-destroying, soul-crushing business where you accept rejection as the norm and the tiniest bit of encouragement is like the first rainbow after Noah docked that fucking ark.

A life in the arts will destroy your health, relationships, and any hope of routinely seeing sunlight. It is not a career, it is a calling, it is an addiction, it is my church. If you can imagine yourself doing anything else – go do that. Save yourself the suffering. Because you will get rejected ten or twenty or fifty times for every acceptance, and you will fall down so often your knees will feel like mashed potatoes, and you will spend more time flat on your ass than a Floyd Mayweather opponent. So go do something else – this isn’t for any reasonable person.

3) You have a huge ego - If you can’t accept honest criticism and understand that sometimes your shit just isn’t good enough, then you’re going to be a dick and no one will want to work with you.

4) You don’t have enough ego - If you don’t think you’re fucking amazing and the best thing since sliced bread, then nobody is going to believe in you and no one will give you a shot. I’ve given kind of short shrift to these two points, but the heart of it is that there is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance, and you need to dance along that line. I tend to land a little more on the arrogant side of it (I’m writing a post on how to be a writer, after all), but you should find out what works for you.

5) You don’t know how to write - Let me be clear here – I am not a great writer. I am a very good storyteller, and I have some skill with putting words together for a desired effect, be it humor or horror. But I am not a great writer. I don’t have to be. Neither do you. The world has one Neil Gaiman, one Pat Rothfuss, one N.K. Jamison, one Ken Liu. It doesn’t need more than one. But it does need a cadre of people who understand the basic tenets of storytelling and can string words together in a coherent manner. And that doesn’t come easy to anyone.

Stephen King says you have to write a million terrible words before you get to the good ones. Malcolm Gladwell says you have to spend 10,000 hours working at something to be good at it. Before I wrote The Chosen, I spent five years working for the internet poker industry, churning out roughly 500,000 words of poker tournament coverage. I spent half a million word trying to make the flop, turn and river interesting and trying to find new ways of saying “This jackass got all his money in as an 80% underdog and crushed his opponent’s soul when one of this eight outs came one the river.” I also blogged for six or seven years, turning out another few hundred thousand words.

I wrote my million shitty words, and still there’s a bunch of crap that comes out in my first drafts. I have a degree in Theatre, with an English minor, and a fair number of Creative Writing classes under my belt. I’ve studied my craft. I read books on writing. I attend workshops and panels on writing. I continue to work on my craft. If you don’t know what passive voice is and why it’s bad, don’t waste my time.

 

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about talent. I don’t give a fuck about talent. Talent doesn’t do a goddamned thing for anyone that skill won’t do better and more consistently. You want to make it in this business? Then go write. Write a thousand words a day, five days a week, at a minimum. And the comments you send me telling me what an asshole I am to write this post? Those words don’t count.

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Literate Liquors Episode 18 – How to Suck Less at Writing

That’s totally what I should have called it. As always, NSFFW (Not Safe For Fucking Work).

Literate Liquors Episode 18.