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.
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.
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.
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!
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about awards with John Scalzi (the man most hated by Puppies both Sad & Rabid), Edmund Schubert (2015 Hugo Nominee, withdrawn), Gray Rinehart (2015 Hugo Nominee), Wendy Delmater (2015 Hugo Nominee for Abyss & Apex Magazine) & Misty Massey (wonderful human being).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.
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!
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: Yasamin. Order 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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s totally what I should have called it. As always, NSFFW (Not Safe For Fucking Work).
Those three words can pretty much sum up the plot of any story I write: An old man refuses to evacuate his home as a hurricane approaches, and then bad things happen. A police inspector finds the dead body of his childhood friend in an alley, and then bad things happen. A man returns to his childhood home to help take care of his ailing mother, and then band things happen.
You get the picture.
Some members of my family ask me why I don’t write sweet love stories with puppies and rainbows and pink cotton-candy unicorns. I usually just smile and shrug, but the truth is I really don’t have a good answer to the question. I’m not sure why I like to write stories where bad things happen. I never went through a “Goth” phase. I have a very close-knit, supportive, loving family (despite the pink cotton-candy unicorn thing). My dad is an ordained Baptist minister. My mom is a schoolteacher.
Whatever the reason, when John announced that he was putting together an anthology of short stories all from the point of view of the bad guy, I was all aboard. The resulting story, “Any Other Way,” was an experiment for me. Despite the fact that I write urban fantasy and horror fiction, my writing style is normally more on the literary end of the spectrum. I deliberately wrote “Any Other Way” in a voice that was not literary. In the end, I had a story with a lot more swearing than my stories normally have, but I also had a world I really, really liked—a fantasy noir version of Los Angeles, where the things that go “bump” in the night are just underneath the surface and not hard to find for those who know where to look.
The two main characters in “Any other Way” are Lucas and Vincent, two members of a West L.A. werewolf street gang in the midst of a turf war with a rival pack. There is a third minor but very pivotal character, however—Valentin the hipster Russian vampire who sells party drugs to rich kids in Brentwood and Bel Air. When I heard that there was going to be a Big Bad II, I knew that the story I submitted would be his story. The end result is “I Think of Snow.” The voice in the story is closer to my natural style, because Valentin comes from an upper-class background (and is two hundred years old), but I’ve tried to keep the same dark, gritty noir tone of the first story.
Like “Any Other Way,” “I Think of Snow” explores the themes of obsession and betrayal, and asks the question, “What are you willing to do to get what you want?” Of course, bad things happen. Valentin is not a nice guy, but if I’ve done my job, you’ll sympathize with him and the situation he finds himself in.
Because here’s the trick: it’s not just about the bad things.
Margaret Atwood once said, “All writers are optimists.” There’s no point in writing if you aren’t, and I’m not really a doom-and-gloom kind of person. There’s always room for hope. Even if my characters don’t always (or never) make the right choices, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t, and if your only reaction after all the bad things happen is, “Gee, I’m glad I’m not that guy,” at least I made you glad about something, right?
Yeah, not sure how much I’m going to be able to comment on that title and stay married, so I’ll just shut my damn mouth and let one of my favorite writers take it away.
So as you can see from the title, there are two topics on the table around here.
Over the last few days, I’ve been following the great debate as to why we would even need Women in Horror Month. Ask any female horror writer and she’ll tell you, this is a tough fucking road to travel. The fact that there is even a distinction between male and female horror writers is exactly the reason why we still need it. We can’t all just get along and be horror writers, and if a chick chooses a gender-ambiguous name under which to write (like I have), said person catches hell for doing so.
“Oh, she’s just trying to confuse the audience.”
Bullshit. I’m angry about that. I chose to use my initials because it doesn’t clutter up a book cover. Heaven knows people can look at my last name and still get it wrong, so my true rationale was to give readers as few letters as possible to have to remember.
“Girls aren’t scary.”
Really? Pick a random chick out of a crowd and piss her off. I guaran-fucking-tee you she’s going to be more cruel and more vindictive than any man you come across. Why? Because we remember. We remember when you hurt us, and we wait until you’ve forgotten why we’re pissed before we make our move. We know how to twist emotions and lay on guilt. We have the innate ability to make you believe whatever we want you to believe just by virtue of our nature. We are capable of great love, as we have the power to create life within ourselves. But we also carry great darkness. We are monsters cloaked in beautiful façades. Isn’t the rule of nature that the most beautiful specimen is often the most deadly? Case in point, good sir.
“Women are only good at writing romance, and romance isn’t real fiction.”
Oh, up yours. I do happen to write romance (under a REALLY confusing and hard to spell female pen name, mind you), but that’s totally irrelevant. It’s still fiction, and if you really want to be picky about it, it’s harder to write than horror. Either way you’re still manipulating human emotions to cause a very specific reaction. After all, sex and fear both cause the human body to release adrenaline, and there is no greater and more pleasurable death than la petite mort.
My point here is that gender and genre shouldn’t matter. A writer is a writer any way you twist it, and I am a writer. My being a girl is totally coincidental, and it’s exactly the reason why I dislike the concept of Women in Horror Month. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a necessary evil in this caveman society, and I appreciate the opportunity to showcase my work, but the fact that (and I’m not sure whether to call this feminism or anti-feminism here) there’s an entire month dedicated to women who write horror sort of bugs me. See the above statements. Personally, I don’t want the distinction of being a female horror writer. I don’t want to be good for a girl. I just want to be good, damn it. I am good, and I know it.
Which brings me to my next point: my personal Evolution of Evil.
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself evil, but I can write some really wicked shit when I put my mind to it. I target emotions. True evil is knowing your adversary’s fears, then using them to your advantage. It’s that creeping mist crawling across the carpet or the icy fingers along the back of your neck. It’s the sensation of being completely out of control and knowing there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.
In the case of the first Big Bad, I took it upon myself to destroy my favorite fairy tale. Wolfy was probably one of my favorite things I’d written until that point just because Charles is such a twisted bastard. And John liked it enough to take it so I considered it a win. Then (and please don’t ask where it came from because I don’t have a clue) I sat down and wrote Skippin’ Stones. And again, John took it. I’m not sure what that says about either of us.
See, my evil manifests itself in the form of the characters’ voices. They talk to me, just like I’d sit down and talk to you if we were in the same room. They tell me things I don’t necessarily want to know, and I write them down. It’s the only way to make them shut up. Nine times out of ten I don’t have a clue what’s going on until I’m told the punchline of whatever sick joke they’ve created for me. Seriously, it’s not like I intended to write the memoirs of a soulless manchild; it just happened, and I was helpless to stop it. Those voices, they know my fears. They know how to manipulate me.
There’s a reason I sleep with the television on… to keep the owners of those voices away. You see, I’m afraid they’ll come to get me when there’s nothing I can do about it.
Stories Beyond Good and Evil
By Neal F. Litherland
Have you ever heard of the gods Czernobog and Belobog? These were old Slavic gods, a Black God and White God respectively, who were responsible for bad things and good things. In some myths they were brothers, in others the same being who changed with the seasons (a common motif). While there’s still research going into understanding the beliefs of the Slavic peoples these gods come from, the point is that these figures represent one of the earliest points in world religion where there was a definite good god and a definite evil god. There was an angel and a devil, a light and a darkness, and you could always count on them to be responsible for their chosen deeds.
Before that was chaos. One day your crops might get rain, because the gods have deemed it so. The next day savage predators might sweep down from the mountains, kill all your livestock, and cripple your son because the gods have deemed it so. The gods were to be feared and placated, and their favor curried, but there were no labels put on their actions. Whether they were helpful or harmful the gods did as they pleased. There was no good, and there was no evil; only power.
My story “Little Gods” takes that sort of old-world chaos and sets it down in Chicago’s seedy underbelly to play in the muck.
What’s Compelling About That?
The story’s premise is simple enough. Warlock-for-hire Richard Blackheart is given a job by a disgraced Santera to help her steal the mantle of the little god of murder. If she can usurp the Hook Man’s place in the pantheon of the city then she’ll gain immortality and power, finally able to leave mortal flesh behind and step into the demimonde where mortals can only tread on little cat’s feet. She can’t do it without one of the city’s occult heavies backing her play, but The Bad Luck Man has motives of his own when he agrees to help her.
Why should you want to read that? On the one hand it’s a dark modern fantasy that steps off the path and drags you through the dark forest alongside the wolves instead of to the path to grandma’s house. Also because without a hero or a villain you’re left to make your own decisions about what’s right and wrong, what’s deserved and what isn’t. In the absence of a white knight (or really any sort of knight) every reader has to decide for themselves what the story means. Or if in the end it’s another of the myths we tell where there is no hero or villain; only the gods throwing rocks into the little mortal pool and making the ripples that shape our world.
It seems fitting that this story is our launch day Evolution of Evil, because it’s one of my very favorite stories in the book, by one of my favorite writers and people, Edmund Schubert. Edmund certainly could have called me up and said “I want to be in the anthology,” and with his talent and publishing credits my answer would have been “Hell Yeah!” But he didn’t. He submitted through slush, following all the submission guidelines, with a professional cover letter, just like he expects folks to do to IGMS. I appreciated that professionalism, then I read the story and was blown away. Now we get the story behind the story, which is always the best.
I’ve long avoided writing about anything within a thousand miles of the zombie genre because I felt like there wasn’t anything new to say on the subject. I’ve run into a few great stories, a slew of bad ones, and enough competent ones to feel like what ought to be said on the subject already has been said. I’ve immensely enjoyed the best of them (the original Night of the Living Dead was brilliant, Carry Ryan has done exceptional work in both novels and short stories, and I’ve devoured (pardon the pun) The Walking Dead, both the TV show and the graphic novels). But a lot of writers are beating what’s starting to feel like a dead horse, and even if that horse comes back to life and starts eating people… well, okay, I think I would actually consider reading a story about that, but you really do to have to go that far out there to hold my attention any more.
Inevitably, tragically, karmicly, once you express a sentiment like that, the muses will punish you with what feels like an original idea that you simply must explore.
So there I was, with an angle I could get excited about. But then, I always have a variety of ideas nibbling at the fringes of my ADD-ridden brain, and although I dabbled with a draft or two of this particular idea, nothing seemed to come alive for me in that way I need it to in order to see things through to the end.
That’s when an open submission call for Big Bad 2 was announced. The first book had already been published and I really wanted an opportunity to work with the editors, John and Emily, as well as see my own stuff in a table of contents along with other invited authors whose work I admired. I also immediately saw that it would not be difficult to shift the POV character in this zombie-idea of mine from the ‘good guy’ to the ‘bad guy.’ In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I knew that switching POVs would make for an even stronger story. Getting inside this ‘bad guy’s’ head and seeing him commit extreme acts of violence against his fellow humans in order to protect a zombie—and feel completely justified in doing so—was a darkly fascinating exercise. I’m not sure what that says about me as a writer or a human being, but it was absolutely fascinating.
So a big thanks to Emily and John for conceiving the Big Bad concept in the first place. You always hear the advice that every character should be the hero of their own story, even the bad guy, so as anthologies go, The Big Bad is one of those ideas that seems simultaneously brilliant and obvious—so obvious that you have to ask why no one else thought of it sooner. But then that’s the true test of genius, isn’t it? It always seems so obvious… in hindsight.
I also have to give a shout out of thanks to Emily, who, during the editing phase, pointed out that the revelation of certain information would be more effective if presented later in the story, and she was 100% correct. It may seem like a small detail, but the details can make all the difference. Her (accurate) argument was that revealing key information too soon ran the risk of making the main character sympathetic, and we weren’t going for sympathetic, we were going for horrible-but-relatable. That’s actually no small detail; it’s a vital one.
In a similar vein, many thanks go to James Maxey, who read an earlier draft of the story and pointed out the absence of other key piece of information: the main character’s underlying motivation for doing what he was doing. On one level I felt justified in making the argument that since the primary ‘good guy’ never finds out, the reader ought not to know either. But James correctly observed that since we were seeing this story unfold through the mind of the man committing such inexcusable acts of violence, it would feel to the reader like a cheat not to know, too. Plus, it wasn’t really all that difficult to let the reader know without revealing anything to the other characters.
I hated James for that. The problem there—for me as an author, anyway—was that I honestly didn’t know the answer to James’ question. Why? Yes, I knew the surface reason for his killings, but not the story behind the character’s story. So back to the drawing board I went. The new material I produced only amounted to a paragraph or two, but it was the hardest part of writing this story (which is probably why I was subconsciously avoiding it). (Writer’s Tip #413: If you ever find yourself writing a story but avoiding something, take that as a clue: it’s important stuff and your brain knows it, and has gone into hiding to avoid the accompanying difficulties.)
I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that I’ve bent over backward trying to provide insight into the creation of my story without providing spoilers. This is simply one of those stories that works best if you don’t know ahead of time what’s coming. Well… let me restate that. You pretty much know exactly what’s coming. Corpses, and lots of them; both the living variety and the dead variety. The joy is digging down into the ‘why’ of it. That’s the part I want you to discover for yourself; the part I’m being so intentional about avoiding.
But then that’s kind of the point of these essays, isn’t it: to make you want to read the story. I hope you do, because I honestly feel like it’s one of the best things I’ve written in a long time. I can always tell when a story is going to turn out well because I have a lot of fun writing it. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun reading it.
Of course, if you do, you’re a sick fuck. But there’s not much I can do about that.
by J. T. Glover
Late in 2013 I sprained my back, and several months passed while it healed. During the period when my spine looked less like a straight line and more like a question mark, I wrote “Mercy’s Armistice” for The Big Bad II. Most of it was dictated using speech recognition software, because sitting down for long periods was out of the question—standing was only somewhat less painful, but lying down actually worked all right. Things came together, I submitted the story, and John & Emily took it.
What does my tale of woe have to do with the evolution of evil? Just this: by the time I actually started writing, the pain was large enough that I was distracted. Decayed noblemen with fangs and capes seemed patently ridiculous, and the same went for most everything else from the canon of Big Bads. The zombie apocalypse is a very distant concern when you’re dropping mugs, showering is a fraught activity, and getting into a car involves an IKEA-like diagram of turns and shifts.
One afternoon in December I wound up re-watching The Godfather for the nth time, and something clicked. The world that Mario Puzo described and Francis Ford Coppola immortalized is made up of those who are family, those who are not, and those who wish they were. What, I started to wonder, about the people who weren’t part of any of that, or of the square world? What about the true outsiders—skip the heroin chic, dodge the beautiful gutters—what about the truly desperate?
And then, as often happens for me, I put two and two together. What happens when hit men get old? Luca Brasi wasn’t a young man when he went to sleep with the fishes, but we saw little of his mundane life. Everyone ages, contracts this or that illness, eventually dies—but most of that doesn’t happen on screen. “How” I asked myself, “would it work for a couple of aging supernatural predators who had to take care of a sick relative?” That was the point at which the engine actually turned over and the Muse took the wheel.
I like the tight, well-plotted headliners of horror that sweep me along, but I also like the quiet and mundane: Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Standing Water,” T.E.D. Klein’s “Growing Things,” David Searcy’s Ordinary Horror, any number of stories by Shirley Jackson. The empty spaces between the evisceration of hapless victims and the howl of the Beast can be horrifying, too. In those moments, I think it’s easier to look past the fur and the fangs and see the so-familiar face that hides underneath the mask.