#Romance Writers are Not Beneath You

Of all the things I have in mind to write about now that I’m reviving the blog, this one got shoved to the forefront. A comment was made in a writing group on Facebook the week before last that nearly set my hair on fire. Someone asked a question about why it takes so long to write a novel.

Most of the responses were decent enough – day jobs, families, every writer being different, etc.  Then there was one…

“Romance novels take like a week or two. I’d guess most others take a few months.”

My initial response was less than professional. I immediately wanted to tear the guy a new asshole in thirty different ways. I wanted to point out all the issues with that statement and how obnoxiously untrue its implications really are. Then I walked away from the internet, took a breath, and remembered that people tend to talk out of the sides of their necks.

My actual response was a suggestion that unless it was meant jokingly (there’s another issue here…we’ll address it in a minute), then it was highly offensive to actual romance writers. Of course the guy came back immediately with the “I’m just joking around” statement, but the damage was already done.

Contrary to what the internet troll community seems to believe, romance writers are not just horny ho-bags sitting behind a computer looking to get laid. We aren’t sleazy barflies. We’re not strippers or hookers or any of those ridiculous stereotypes the internet has built around the concept of “romance writer”. Nope…we’re hard-working women (and men, because I know quite a few men who write fabulous romance) with families and morals and a very keen understanding of human nature.

We’re the woman next door, or in front of you in line at the grocery store. While some romance writers base their books on their experiences, most of us don’t. Most of us are dreamers who love the idea of a happy-ever-after. We create ideal relationships as we would love to experience them, and then we share our dreams with the rest of the world so they can fall in love with us.

But it’s really more fundamental than that… forget that we’re romance writers. We’re still writers.

Here’s the thing, kids… writing any book of quality is hard work. It doesn’t matter what the genre is, if you’re going to write a story that has a plot and substance beyond sex (another point for down the post), then you’re going to be doing character and world building, plotting, planning, and research.

Being that I write in multiple genres, I can honestly tell you that writing romance is harder than writing speculative fiction. When you’re playing with human emotion, you have to get it right, and there’s no room for error. Your characters have to be believable, relatable, and consistent. People read romance for the emotional value and gratification. They read it so they can experience what the main characters experience. They do it to fall in love.

Yes, some people prefer Erotica. Erotica is a totally different animal – the focus of the story is on the sex, not on the relationship. In many cases you get both (hence Erotic Romance — which, by the way, uses sex as a plot device to further the romantic relationship), but the primary motivator of the text is explicit sexual gratification. Humankind has proven more than once that you can have sexual gratification without emotion, and you quite often find that emotionless dynamic in erotic literature. I know many, many authors who write erotic literature, and yes, they do finish books in a couple of weeks.

By book, we’re usually talking 20,000 word or less novella. Single scene, no through-story. One and done. That’s their market and they write to it. There’s very little that changes in sex. Tab-A, Slot-whatever, repeat, repeat, repeat. They just find creative ways of framing the act. I can tell you from experience, writing sex is much easier and faster than following an extensive plot.

There’s nothing wrong with that, either. It gives readers the opportunity to explore new scenarios without diving into lifestyles they know nothing about. It also offers that gratification in a safe and secure manner, in the privacy of one’s home.

But erotic literature isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about romance. Yes, they are different things. Pretty much any writer of either will agree.

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Back to the point…or points, as this post would have it:

Point #1: “Writing Romance is Easy.”

This pisses me right the hell off every time some asswipe says it. It isn’t easy, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either not doing it right, or an idiot. It seems there are a fair few who had this brilliant idea that “hey, I’ll write a romance novel and get rich”. Uh, no. Sorry. It doesn’t work that way in most cases. Yeah, there are some who got extremely lucky, but to expect that every time is insane. Romance is the largest literary market out there, which means there are a LOT of other books and a LOT of other authors to compete against. That means you can’t just write a bunch of crappy slush and shove it onto the shelves. In order to make any money at all, you have to write GOOD romance. Which ain’t easy, kids. And it takes a hell of a lot longer than a week.

Point #2: “Writing Romance is Fast.”

Hmmm…nope again. Sorry. While yes, everyone writes at different speeds, there does need to be some real thought behind the words. (See point one about slapping out slush.) Slapping out a poorly edited book is going to do awful things for you as a writer, for the market itself, and for the genre as a whole. I’m willing to bet a large portion of the reason romance writers are frowned upon by others is that there are so many who DO push out unedited slop just to make a buck. I’ve stopped being nice in reviews about that, too. And yes, I DO review.

But back to the idea of “fast”. Everyone is different. Some people can push out a novella in two weeks or so. I can’t. I also don’t know anyone personally that can. But I an my local contemporaries write much slower than a stay-at-home-mom who has two kids in grade school and six hours a day to sit in front of the computer uninterrupted. I have a day job, small children, and other obligations. My time is limited. My process is also much different than hers. I think very hard about every word that goes onto the page. I’m not a “write it all first and edit later” kind of person because the typos will run me up the wall and across the ceiling. While process plays heavily into the end product, the end product still has to have substance to stand up in the market.

Point #3: It Ain’t All About the Sexy, y’all.

Your focal point is what dictates whether you’re writing romance or erotica. Yes, romance can have sex and erotica can have plot, but there’s a very clear distinction between the two. As I said above…it’s emotional vs. physical. Some of the best romance novels I’ve ever read don’t have explicit sexual content. Hell, some of them don’t even have sex. You don’t have to have physical activity in your work to tell a satisfying story. They’re two very different things. And while neither of them should be denigrated by anyone, there needs to be a bit of education among the masses. There’s nothing wrong with writing either, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with erotic romance. And anyone who wants to say otherwise can kiss my lily-white ass. Please and thank you.

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So that having been said, next time you decide to let fly an aloof and insulting comment about romance writers, think twice. We aren’t stupid. We practice our craft just like any other writer. We take pride in what we do. And you’re likely to end up as the next adulterous prick in one of our books.

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Just Pay the Writer Already!

There’s been much controversy this week over whether artists should be paid for their work. Until now I’ve remained silent because I didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction. I wanted to know my facts and present sound evidence as to why these arguments are so ludicrous.

Some of those arguments include:

  • I can’t afford to buy books because I don’t make much money. [Understandable, but not an excuse. KU is cheaper than Netflix, btw.]
  • I deserve to read any book I want without paying for it because I’m a special snowflake [yes, I’m paraphrasing this one specifically to be spiteful].
  • Authors shouldn’t make the same amount for the first copy as they do for the 500th since each copy isn’t a new item. [Let’s address this in a minute.]
  • Art should be free for everyone to enjoy. [And some art is. Enjoy that.]
  • If an artist wants to be paid he/she should get a patron. [Ha!]
  • I’m not really stealing. I just downloaded it from someone who did steal it.

Let’s address that last point:

Yes, 95% of us on the internet are guilty of downloading illegal content at some point in our lives. My point here is not to villainize those who don’t know any better. It’s to educate people so they understand why what they’re doing is wrong. Sadly, the majority of those involved in this self-entitlement hoohah are too young to remember the Napster incident. I admittedly still chuckle at the Napster Bad videos and comics making fun of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield from Metallica. On a serious note, while they may appear more Neanderthal than man, they do have a point. File sharing sites are bad, because they subvert the system.

First and foremost: COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS ILLEGAL. ACQUIRING PHYSICAL OR DIGITAL GOODS WITHOUT PAYMENT UNLESS RECOGNIZED AND PROVIDED AS A GIFT BY THE OWNER OR CREATOR IS THEFT. It does not matter if you’re just getting it from someone else; you’re still stealing. You can go to jail for this, and you will deserve it.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, sweetness, but that’s the cold, hard truth. Your “innocent” actions are breaking the law. You aren’t special. You can’t break the rules and expect preferential treatment [We are not even going to talk about that little jackass rapist in the news right now or I will have a stroke.]. END. OF. DISCUSSION.

PoePoe
Because we need some levity. And because the police are coming for you, you damned, dirty thief.

MOVING ON.

I sat down and did something very unusual for a literary type: I did math. [Insert awestruck gasps here.] Anyone who has a job should be able to appreciate what’s coming. This is a salary breakdown for writers. We as artists would love nothing more than to make our art our full-time jobs, but most non-artistics don’t understand just how much work goes into the things they think don’t deserve a price tag. So let me break it down for you.

THE NOVEL:

Let’s assume I write one novel which tops out at 80,000 words, and I’m going to publish this novel in a traditional manner (i.e. through a publisher, small or otherwise). This means I’m not paying for edits, artwork, or formatting.

Now, let’s assume I’m an average-speed writer, fairly clean. I’m going to write 1,000 words per hour for decent copy. First novel draft: 80 hours of work.

Now we have revisions. Assuming clean copy and minimal self-editing is required on my part, we’re going to estimate another 15 hours for reading and revising. Accumulated total: 95 hours.

Then I hand my labor of love over to the publisher. I will then have at least one, possibly two or three, more rounds of edits with a professional editor. Let’s assume two rounds of edits at another 15 hours each. That’s 30 additional hours of work for this one book. Then it’s released into the wild.

Final total: 125 production hours.

For one book. Base rate. We aren’t going to factor into this the endless hours of promotion which goes with the successful release of a novel. Right now it’s irrelevant and the cost will increase so exponentially it will outweigh the benefit of writing the book. Today we’re figuring out how a writer can be full-time based on today’s financial standards JUST BY WRITING BOOKS.

THE CONTRACT:

Say my publisher is a generous one and offers me 40% of the net royalties for my book. If we list this ebook on Amazon at $3.99 (which, by the way, is MORE THAN FAIR for an 80,000 word novel), Amazon is going to pay the publisher at a 70% royalty rate, or roughly $2.80 per domestic copy. This, in turn, means I’m going to see approximately $1.12 per copy sold.

US LABOR STANDARDS:

Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25. This means the average full-time minimum wage worker brings home $15,080 per year, pre-tax. Net income is going to hang out somewhere around the $12,000 mark.

Now, let’s compare minimum wage standards to a single title, shall we?

THE UGLY TRUTH:

125 hours at $7.25/hour is $906.25 pre-tax. Once we make it, we’re going to have to put back 20-30% to pay our taxes because we’re contractors, not on payroll.

Assuming we’re steadily selling books, that’s 809.16 copies sold in a year JUST TO BREAK EVEN.

Now there’s a national movement to raise minimum wage to $15/hour because we’ve firmly established that American inflation rates make it impossible to support a family on $15,000/year. Let’s revisit the numbers under this new standard.

$15/hour means a gross annual income of $31,200 pre-tax.

125 hours at $15/hour is $1,875.00

That’s 1,674 copies I have to sell in one year. 140 copies per month.

This means an author making minimum wage writing full-time (while only being reimbursed for the time accrued by writing and editing) would have to publish 16 ½ novels a year. That’s 1,320 hours of work to produce enough fiction to make a living.

Unless an author is already established with a wide following, selling 1,700 copies of a book will take longer than a year. The average indie author is selling somewhere between 5 and 50 copies a month. Which means assuming the best (50 copies per month), we have to triple our output to 49 books per year. 

3,920 hours of work in one year to make a lower-middle class salary.

Let me point out here that a full time job consists of 2,080 hours of work per year. 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. That means to break even at “minimum wage” standards, we authors have to work 1,840 hours more per year than the average fry slinger at Mickey D’s without receiving overtime pay. That’s 75.39 hours of work per week to make the same money you make in 40… with no guarantees that we’ll even meet that minimum.

So please allow me to call bullshit on this self-righteous notion of art for art’s sake. You can take that shit back to MGM and let them keep it on their logo.

To those who want to say an author’s work should be prorated and they should make less per copy the more copies they sell, I pose this question to you: how would you feel if your boss approached you today and told you the following: “Yeah, we really like your work but you’ve been here several years and we’ve already paid you your value. We’re going to start paying you less money for each hour you work.”

You’re pissed just thinking about it, aren’t you? It’s unfair, right? Well guess what, sugarbritches… THAT is EXACTLY what you’ve suggested for us. It’s disgusting. It’s despicable. And to us, you’re now an asshole.

These epithets aren’t coming from the minimum-wage crowd, either. This is coming from the middle class – people who have the luxury of cars, cell phones, blu-ray players, coffee addictions, and expensive hobbies. You can pay $5 for a cup of coffee to enjoy once, but you’re too damned cheap to spend $3 on a book which will last forever? If that’s the case, then you don’t need the book. And if you’re willing to go to jail over $3, then please have a nice life, wherever it may lead you.

By the way, the days of patrons are pretty much over. The plebeians don’t need the support of the patricians because they can do most of the work themselves. That and the patricians tend to be the ones demanding freebies, so your argument is invalid.

This is why you need to stop poor-mouthing and pay the damned writer.

But you still want free books because somewhere five years ago your mama told you that you were special and you can have anything you want. Well, you can. And you want to know how to get them?

Become a book reviewer. Reviews are a form of currency in the literary world. Most authors and publishers are more than happy to hand over free books to reviewers – to people who actually leave reviews. Unfortunately, Amazon’s system is built on a review-based algorithm, meaning books with more reviews receive more visible promotion space. If you leave a review, good or bad, you’re helping that author.

Even if you insist on stealing the book to read, the least you can do is review it. If you refuse to pay money, you can significantly lower your douchebaggery level by giving two minutes of your time. And for god’s sake…don’t tell the writer you think all of their stuff should be free and pirate sites are a good thing.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get punched in the face.

Manic Monday: State of the (Writing) Union Address

Guys, I’m having a moment, and it’s not pretty.

So I found myself wandering through the digital racks of Amazon this morning, perusing the freebies in the hopes that I might find a fun new author (like I really need ANOTHER book to read) or discover interesting new concepts not yet apparent to this world. Unfortunately, the farther I wandered, the more disheartening and, quite frankly, disgusting, it became.

People are giving away their blood, sweat, tears, and time for chump change. Books are releasing and within a month have hundreds upon hundreds of glowing reviews – none of which come from verified purchases, mind you. From my research, the majority of the verified purchases appear to give these “masterpieces” one star and generally tell prospective readers the equivalent of don’t freaking bother.

All the goodies are hanging out there, cheap and/or free, in the hopes someone might stumble by and happen to snatch that particular piece of low-hanging fruit.

Now we all know I’m not the world’s best or most prolific author. At this point in my game, if I’m completely honest with myself and y’all, I’m still struggling to attain mid-list mediocrity. My own fault, yes, but that’s another rant for another day.

I bust my butt to produce quality work and I take pride in the finished product. I’m not out there schlock-hocking, writing to a formula or a trend for the sake of making a buck. I don’t just slather words on a page and slap a pair of half-naked people on it to throw up on Amazon for free just to get attention. I’m doing my best to do this the right way.

[Pause: I’m not saying self-publishing isn’t the right way because (1) I’ve done that too, and (2) there is no right way to go about publishing… what I’m saying is I make sure my work meets a certain standard in editing, artwork, and overall production, which is what readers deserve.]

The problem I have is this:

I just find myself dumbfounded time and again at the low quality and lack of concern people have for literature. Everyone and her best friend seems to be thinking these days, “Oh, I need to make a quick buck. I’ll just go write a book and be a bestseller!” And you know what, kids? Goshdarnit, it just don’t work that way.

I hate to break it to you, but not everyone in the world is cut out to be an author. You might have the best, most original idea ever conceived, but I have a pretty strict policy around here – if you don’t have at least a basic grasp of grammar, punctuation, and dialogue, you are not a writer. And you’re dragging down the quality of something I love, so step off.

Writing truly is a dying art. And that cold, sad fact makes me want to sit down and cry fat, ugly tears. This rise in I-can-do-it-myself-ness has made a complete mockery of what we as professional authors do.

Guys, we can’t let this stand. We have to take back our craft, to rise above the masses of people scrabbling for the petty change at the bottom of the basket. It’s going to take some work, but we can do it if we stick together and demand that change.

Screw that… we’re not going to demand change and wait for it to happen. We’re going to make the change.

Well, yes…but how?

I’m so very glad you asked! It appears the problems with our market boil down to five simple rules, and we’re so busy keeping up with the Joneses that we’ve lost track of what’s important.

1. DON’T GIVE AWAY THE GOODS.

no-freebies-480_thumbMy mother is a voracious reader. So am I. So are the people by whom I’m surrounded. Yes, we do troll the bargain bins from time to time, but that isn’t where we spend the majority of our lives.

We, as respectable authors, need to step out of the cheap-trap. If our work is truly worth its salt, then we need to recognize and respect it by not giving it away. Promotions are one thing – go ahead and have a freebie week to gain interest. Give a short story away as a teaser. But don’t fork over a three-novel set for $.99 because you think it’s going to get you somewhere. By giving away your best work, your readers will come to expect it of you. Now that’s not to say a short story can’t live at that $.99 mark for it’s entire life. But you don’t want to take that kind of horrible cut on a novel. You’ll never get anywhere like that.

Price your books accordingly. Let the tramps have their pennies. Eventually the readers will tire of wasting good money on subpar writing and start looking back toward the more reasonably-priced works, where you’ll be hanging out in the henhouse with us.

2. DON’T FALL INTO THE NICHE TRAP.

Let’s face it…by the time we recognize a trend, we’re already behind it. Unless you’re writing ten of everything out there right now in the hopes the market will circle back around to your favorite type of critter, you’re never going to be that guy who writes that book and becomes the next Stephenie Meyer. Writing to the market may make a few people marginally successful for a month or two, but it’s never going to sustain a career for anyone. Rather than doing what’s already been done, we should be focusing our strength and energy on creating the next thing. We should be writing the books which will define the new trends, not follow in the footsteps of someone else. Sure, werepenguins are the hot thing right now, but that doesn’t mean the wereskunk will follow.

Be original. Write your own story, and let the trendy schlockfest continue without your participation. Make yourself that new and different thing everyone wants to read.

3. HIRE SOME OUTSIDE HELP.

You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

I repeat: You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

Should I say it again? Because I will. And here’s why you need those things:

Because if you’re fighting the good fight, you want to put your best foot forward. A reader is not going to want to pay fair market value for an unreadable turd, which is why a professional product is the bet thing we can ask for at the end. Yes, sometimes it’s a pretty hefty outlay of cash on the front end, particularly for good editing, but it’s worth it in the end [this is where the credit publishers never get comes into play…they pay all of this for you so you don’t have to]. A professional product will go the distance and will likely suffer less returns than an unpolished hunk of words.

I learned to format out of necessity. I had a background in digital artwork so I was ahead of the curve with covers. I got lucky in that one of my good friends has a Master’s degree in English and will cut me a break. I also offer these services to other authors for reasonable rates because I want others to succeed. I can’t fix your technical ability, but I can make your book pretty.

Your readers deserve quality, so give it to them.

4. DO NOT PURCHASE REVIEWS. EVER.

Product_review1.jpgThe Perfect Review DOES NOT EXIST.

You might think you’re doing yourself a favor and putting yourself ahead of the game, but YOU AREN’T. Trust me on this… if you’re going to shell out huge chunks of cash for something, see Step 3. A review from a verified purchase is going to go much farther than some nobody giving you the digital equivalent of a tongue bath. Because the dirty little secret is this: 300 good reviews from a questionable origin will not hold a candle to that one verified critical review. Readers who consider reviews are going to read those low ratings first because those are the ones which tell the truth.

Now that’s not to say you can’t offer your book to reviewers for an honest review. I’ve done that. Yeah, it’s bitten me in the butt a time or two, but you know what? I’d rather have an honest opinion than a “OMGILOVEITSOOOOOOOMUCH” review any day. You know why? Because honest reviews keep me honest, and show me my mistakes so I can learn from them.

Expend your resources elsewhere, kids. You owe it to yourself to be honest.

5. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ.

I believe this, above all others, is the most important rule. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re writing, how can anyone else enjoy reading it? Writing on autopilot reads on autopilot. Believe me, I’ve read enough poorly-executed, trend-trailing garbage to know the difference between a story with heart and a kc-readstory for cash. I love reading as much as I love writing, and I often find myself disappointed by what I’m reading because it doesn’t share the love I feel for the craft. Emotion plays heavily into writing. I want to feel what the characters feel and see what they do. I don’t want to go through the motions of being in love because this chick is supposed to fall for this half-vampire werepanther. If she’s going to be in love with something so sensational, I want to suspend my disbelief and be in love with her. Likewise, if a psycho clown is on a killing spree in my bedroom, damn it I want to feel like I’m next.

We’re readers, not statistics. We aren’t dollar signs. And if we aren’t willing to pick up what we’ve written and read it, then we’re writing the wrong thing. As I said, it’s time to take it back, to do what we love for the sake of the craft. This…this is how we’re going to do it. We have to rise above, to band together and stay strong.

Yes, the market sucks at the moment. But with persistence and forcing quality back into our products, we can turn that around. Who’s with me?

NaNoWriMo: A Writer’s Perspective

It’s November 15th. Yes, I know… thank you, Captain Obvious… but I say that for a reason: It’s November. We’re nearly half-way into that lovely Writing Nightmare known as NaNoWriMo. Don’t know what it is? Click the link back there and the website will tell you all about the organization that hosts it, the event, the philosophy, and the craziness surrounding it. Want the Reader’s Digest version? It’s an event sponsored by a non-profit organization that encourages people to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November.

I participated in NaNoWriMo for five consecutive years. I even “won” two of them. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with NaNo which ultimately stems from my published work.

There are pros and cons to this.

Let’s start with the pros. I polled my writer friends on Facebook awhile back, and I got some fabulous answers. Here are a few of the positive opinions I received:

Rie Sheridan Rose: “I love it because it gives me a deadline to stick to. I don’t always finish, but I have three finished novels and a first draft from NaNo, two of those finished ones published. I try every year since I started in 2003, but I don’t feel pressured to make 50k words if something happens in November. I think it is a great tool, and a good discipline builder, even if I’m not particularly disciplined.”

Lucy Blue: “I have to say, it’s a powerful motivator. I’m a very lazy writer; my usual pace is about a chapter a week. So far with NaNo, I’m averaging about a chapter a day.”

Vicki Locey: “I love it. It teaches discipline big time. Once you`re disciplined it`s amazing how much writing you can get done.”

Chris Garrison: “I love it for the deadline to keep me focused, and the focus to keep the novel in my head every day. That momentum is what makes it possible, and lends a breathless intensity to the resulting books. I love the reckless abandon of writing now, knowing I’ll have time to fix it later.”

Amber Kallyn: “I think it’s great to get people in the habit of writing, which can be used the rest of the year. Plus, it’s a fun community writing event.”

Helen Davis: “I’m just having fun with it. And joining the National Bandwagon means that my family and friends actually respect the time I spend on it. “I didn’t mop the floor because it was a NaNo catchup day flies a lot better than the truth “I was lazy and just wanted to play.””

Ali Justice: “You know I fully support NaNo, I have been doing NaNo for 3 years now, the first year I failed misarably the second I wrote the 50,000 words and loved every minute of it. It’s not all about Winning and losing though. Its about getting to know other writers, newer people finding out that they love writing, it’s about coming together as a writing community and thriving. It doesn’t matter if you write 50,000 words or 10 words. It’s just an outlet and I think it’s a great one!”

Now, my positive opinion:  The idea of NaNo is a great way for fledgling writers to learn the process of writing a book. It teaches consistency and determination. It gives new authors a support system and a feeling of belonging. It comes with its own cheering section and forums to discuss the process among like-minded people.

The key here is discipline. Any self-respecting writer knows consistency and discipline are what we need to get to the end of a manuscript.

As a general rule of thumb, I try to write 1,000 words a day. To accomplish NaNo at a reasonable pace, one must only write 1,667 words a day. There isn’t a big difference between the numbers, but in terms of writing a book, that additional 670 words is enough to cause serious damage. On a good day, I can write as much as 5,000 words. That’s a huge accomplishment for me.

Unfortunately, now that I’m an actual working writer, that’s where my love affair with NaNo stops.

The last few years have been hell on wheels for me in a personal sense. I know that doesn’t have f***-all to do with my professional front and the need to push out word counts and secure book contracts. It’s an excuse, but unfortunately it’s an unavoidable one. The majority of 2015 has been spent staring at a blank page, unable to think of a single interesting thing to write. This year, I have finished two short stories. That’s it. Two. We’re talking about less than 20,000 words of marketable material. And the idea of subjecting myself to the breakneck pace of NaNo for the sake of winning a badge to display on my Facebook wall makes me physically ill. I’m talking serious panic attack material here.

The pressure to finish can be constricting. For someone as competitive as me, it’s crippling. I’m the type who typically doesn’t want to start something I know I won’t finish, and the idea of strapping on a hefty word count every single day knowing my personal state of mind scares the Bejesus out of me.

You see, I don’t believe in writing for quantity. I believe in making each word committed to paper count. That’s not to say I don’t go back and delete whole sentences or paragraphs or sometimes even chapters. What that means is I don’t believe in writing words simply for the sake of padding a word count. When I write, I edit as I go. I think about what I’m writing. As an author, I’ve learned to self-edit as I go and make sure I’m really saying what I want to say as I put words on paper. I’m a relatively slow writer, but I’m okay with that. I’m writing for the love of the words, not the length of the book.

I even considered trying NaNo again this year just to get myself back into the habit of writing all the time, but the idea of physically signing up and showing the world that I’m doomed to failure made me stop dead in my tracks and walk away. I do, after all, have a newborn child and a three-year-old to contend with, and getting any sort of legitimate word count with my little girls around ain’t easy, folks.

So when it comes down to it… if you’re a NaNo fan and participant, great show and I wish you the best of luck for the remaining 15 days of this nutty month. For those of you like me… look me up and let’s talk. Perhaps we can find a better way to motivate ourselves and each other without fear of psychiatric committal.

A Bloody Valentine: Julianne Snow

Ever heard that phrase “save the best for last”? I have, and I plan to. I’ve read a bit of this lady’s stuff, and she’s pretty freakin’ good. Just sayin’.

Final victim of the night: Julianne Snow.

INTERVIEW WITH JULIANNE SNOW

It’s Valentine’s Day. What’s your take on the “Most Romantic Day of the Year”?

Honestly, it’s really just another day to me. Sure, romantic gestures tend to take place and you’re more often than not likely to receive flowers, but does one really need a day especially for romance? Why can’t every day be a romantic one?

What made you decide horror would be your genre of choice?

I’d like to think it was a conscious choice, but it truly wasn’t—when I picked up the pen, horror is what came out of me…

From where do you pull your horror inspiration?

From the world around me would be the simplest way to say it. Sure, I may write about supernatural creatures or monsters some of the time, but the crux of what the story itself hinges upon are pulled from real world experiences or occurrences.

What is one horror stereotype you absolutely despise? What is one you love?

I think it’s the stereotype that horror itself is not a viable genre or a worthwhile one to explore. Horror fanatics exist, even those who aren’t willing to admit it to themselves. As for one that I love—how can anyone pick from all their darlings?? I suppose there are a few that are fairly tired, but someone always finds a way to rejuvenate it!

What scares you?

I don’t get scared all that often, but there are a few things that truly frighten me (and yes, I consider them different things… A scare is something that momentarily shocks you, but to be frightened is an altogether different kettle of fish!). I think the state of the world frightens me, especially a lot of the events happening overseas at the moment.

THE STATE OF HORROR SERIES

Edited by Jerry E. Benns
From Charon Coin Press

Julianne Snow is featured in Illinois and New Jersey.

State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror: North Carolina
State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror North Carolina
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A Bloody Valentine: A. Lopez, Jr.

Another State of Horror Victim! I’m feeling lucky today! Meet A. Lopez, Jr, please.

FIVE QUESTIONS WITH A. LOPEZ, JR.

It’s Valentine’s Day. What’s your take on the “Most Romantic Day of the Year?”

I’m all for celebrating romance, and Valentine’s Day puts the focus and some might say, the pressure on, to show your affection to your loved one. Either way, I feel it is a great way to consolidate and show your appreciation for the one you love. As writers, we tend to get into our own worlds and disappear, with our loved one, no matter how much they may support us, feeling shoved aside at times. My take is that I don’t necessarily need Valentine’s Day to show appreciation and thanks for being there, I do like how the date allows us to refocus and reset our priorities to not only your wife or girlfriend, but to those around us who may put up with our never-ending passion to build our words and stories. On the other hand, if things aren’t going so well in a relationship… it can truly be a horrific day. Plus, what horror fan doesn’t enjoy a holiday laced in red?

What made you decide horror would be your genre of choice?

That happened a long time ago, I mean back in my early youth. It has always been a favorite of mine and everything about it was fun, even when I was scared to death by something I didn’t expect.

From where do you pull your horror inspiration?

While I have watched many movies and read many books in the horror genre, and those things have set a well I can pull from when I need, I am inspired to write things that not only scare me, but things that scare others. I like to plant a psychological root and let the reader’s mind work its own tricks and magic on them. So my inspiration and drive comes from creating things that will scare you, and at the very least, make you think about something you may have never considered before.

What horror stereotype do you despise? What is one that you love?

I despise the stereotype of horror being of only blood and violence. To the not-so-well-informed, or the ones whom despise horror, it has nothing to do with bloody violence, killings and physical torture. For me, it’s all about the psychological.

The one I love most is: What’s hiding under the bed or in the closet? Although cliché, that’s my favorite, but for a different reason. The way I see it, is that as a storyteller, half the work is done (the reader is already on edge…wandering) and all we have to do now is create what’s under the bed or in the closet. The point of this is to realize that it’s not actually what’s under the bed, but more so the fear of not knowing what that may be.

What scares you?

The unknown. That can range from what lurks in the dark to the future of our own or loved one’s health. That may sound broad or strange, but when you think about not knowing what the future holds, from a health standpoint or other, especially in these times, that to me is the scariest thing of all.

THE STATE OF HORROR SERIES

Edited by Jerry E. Benns
From Charon Coin Press

A. Lopez, Jr. is featured in State of Horror, Illinois.

State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror: North Carolina
State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror North Carolina
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A Bloody Valentine: Claire C. Riley

Next on deck is another of those lovely State of Horror Authors. All the way from across the Pond, we have the lovely Claire C. Riley. She’s pretty, but don’t let that fool you…she’s quite the scary one too!

INTERVIEW WITH CLAIRE C. RILEY

It’s Valentine’s Day. What’s your take on the “Most Romantic Day of the Year”?

I know a lot of people don’t like or agree with Valentines day, seeing it as just another marketing opportunity and such, or that we should show our loved ones how much they mean to us every day, personally I like it. My husband and I don’t buy each other expensive gifts and I always tell him not to buy huge bouquets or whatever. To me it’s about making time, no matter what, to express your love and appreciation for your loved one. We’re busy people, and we have busy lives, but I think Valentines gives us, and others, that push we need to put on the brakes and remind each other why we spend our lives together. ‘Sure, honey, you drive me crazy with your snoring and you always forget t put the bins out, but I love your crazy ass!’

What made you decide horror would be your genre of choice?

Well really, horror chose me. I read in most genres, always have done, yet when I come to write, even when I’m aiming for ‘non-horror’ my brain always twists the story into something more horrific. I’ve decided to just go with it now.

From where do you pull your horror inspiration?

I love old school horror. Bram Stoker style vampires and George Romero style zombies, I also love silly horror like ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ I would say that’s where my style stems from. Rotting zombies and inappropriate humour, mixed with lead characters that you won’t instantly love.

What is one horror stereotype you absolutely despise? What is one you love?

I don’t like any stereotypes. I think a good story and a good writer, writes how they feel without taking it apart. The same goes for reading. If I dislike a book, I won’t take the story apart and list the reasons it didn’t work for me.

BUT, If I had to say something that irritates me, I would say this. Writers that seem to have a little tick box of things that ‘should’ go into a good horror book.

It’s almost like they’ve looked at all the popular books and taken notes. ‘Hmm, this story had a dog, I’ll use a dog to’‘Inappropriate humour? Check’we need a little romance, perhaps with an army dude, yep, that’ll work’

And the thing is, you can see it as clear as day! Just write the story from your head. Don’t worry about lists, and sales, at least not yet. Just write it how it needs to be told. That’s the only thing you should be concerning yourself with. The voice of your characters.

What scares you? 

Hahaha! So much scares me. Heights – but I’d love to do a sky-dive one day, getting lost (seriously), ants, spiders or generally anything with a lot of legs!

 WHO SHE IS

Claire C. RileyClaire C Riley is a Best Selling British Horror Author, whose work includes: Odium The Dead Saga, Limerence (The Obsession Series) and several other full length novels including  Thicker Than Blood co-authored with USA Today Best Selling author Madeline Sheehan. She writes dark twisty words, is a lover of epic romances, and an eater of cake! She writes characters that are realistic and kills them without mercy.  She lives in the UK with her three young daughters, husband, and scruffy dog.

https://www.facebook.com/ClaireCRileyAuthor

http://www.clairecriley.com


THE STATE OF HORROR SERIES

Edited by Jerry E. Benns
From Charon Coin Press

Claire is featured in State of Horror: Illinois.

State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror: North Carolina
State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror North Carolina
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A Bloody Valentine: Eric Dean

Oh, what a treat this is! One of the State of Horror authors must really like me, because he answered my questions AND gave me a short story to post, all for nothing! I feel so loved!

INTERVIEW WITH ERIC DEAN

It’s Valentine’s Day. What’s your take on the “Most Romantic Day of the Year”?

To me, Valentine’s day is 2/3 crap. If you’re single, it’s a painful reminder. If you’re in a long term relationship, it’s one more day you’re forced to spend money because society said so. If you’re in a new, exciting relationship, then yeah, it’s one more exciting excuse to get buzzed and make love, as if you NEED an excuse. For those people, in those circumstances, it’s great. For everyone else, it sucks.

What made you decide horror would be your genre of choice?

Fate. I originally wanted to be a fantasy and sci-fi writer, but it turns out I’m much better at horror.

From where do you pull your horror inspiration?

Usually, my dreams. I dream often and vividly, and I’ll usually take the most interesting kernels from my dreams (or nightmares) and expand them into stories.

What is one horror stereotype you absolutely despise? What is one you love? 

I absolutely hate the dark and mysterious tough guy who is always prepared and never afraid (a la Batman). I absolutely LOVE the opposite – the average Joe or Jane who may not be adequately equipped for the situation at hand, but through blind courage and dumb luck manages to pull through (Billy from Gremlins).

What scares you?

Three things: The idea that I’m less than think I am, and others are too polite to tell me, the idea that I might be crazy, and the thought of dying alone. Real talk.


THE BLACK MEAT

by Eric Dean
Posted with Permission of the Author

The first time I tried the black meat was also the last, though not for lack of interest. As a journalist, I’d written many articles about the product – the one you’re reading being, obviously, the most recent. It was cloudy and raining the day I received my hostess’ unexpected invitation, by private courier. It was unusually warm for early January, and I’d left the house in only a wool shirt. A driver picked me up at my home at 3:00 pm. He stoically checked my driver’s license and matched it to a picture he’d been given, and then silently opened the rearmost door of the black limousine and motioned me inside. The letter the hostess had sent was hand written on a fine natural paper. It requested that I leave all electronic devices, including my phone, and that I bring only a pen and paper for taking notes. It asked that I give the letter itself to the driver, who arrived precisely when the letter said he would, and that I politely not photograph or transcribe the exact text therein. I complied with all requests. We drove in silence save for classical music at a very low volume – I think it might have been Debussy. I was given a blindfold and a flute of champagne, both of which I used as implied.

***

The black meat had been described by a certain surly, sarcastic TV chef as “like chewing through decomposing wood… wood that tasted like an odorous French cheese with a vinegar edge… notes of molasses and bourbon. Not pleasant necessarily, but not entirely bad. Dare I say… fascinating?”

The production of the meat was steeped in as much mystery as its ingredients. Saffron robed monks with ash caked skin hid away in log-built smoke-houses and hummed surreal melodies over their fires. They’d emerge, faces striped with gray ash cut by rivers of sweat, humble and bowing, and trade out with their replacements in a nearly silent and well-rehearsed ceremony before retiring to nearby tent or yurt barracks. They’d have crates and packages shipped in whose contents were protected by special laws – the same special laws that protected the production and consumption of the black meat. “Government sanctioned cannibalism,” had been thrown around in the early days, to no avail. No one really knows where it started, or with who – someone in the 1% had discovered it during travel abroad; no doubt, exposing it to the elite of the elite. The quiet, old money was first, and the young new money followed in never ending emulation of extravagance.

It became fashionable contraband, like cocaine and Cuban cigars. Rock stars made references to the infinite complexities of the flavor in the lyrics of “fictional” ballads and tabloids were plastered with stories in which certain leading men of Hollywood were rumored to have tasted the black meat. Moral debates raged across the aisle as new bills were proposed to ban consumption, and calls were made for the UN to publically denounce it. Amid the fervor, a bill was quietly presented with bipartisan support – aged senators with red and blue ties and American flag lapel pens spoke of “religious ceremonial freedom” and “traditional memorial practices”. The bill mentioned nothing of the black meat, nor its consumption, but ensured that one’s remains could be dealt with as one saw fit, in keeping with one’s religious traditions and practices, despite any pre-existing laws, so long as the wishes of the deceased were clearly laid out in the proper legal documents and no unwilling parties were involved or directly affected. The bill passed with a comfortable margin, and a subsequent Supreme Court case found that consumption of the black meat could be protected under the new law, given that close controls be put in place to ensure valid legal documentation of a party’s wishes to be processed prior to their passing, validation by a licensed coroner that the party’s passing was natural or accidental, as any hint of foul play or unusual circumstances would be in violation of the “non-incitamentum” (no incentive) clause. A further appeal from the moral minority ended in a compromise – an amendment to the law which required that any portion of the black meat sold be procured from a single party, and that the party’s (previous) identity be clearly labeled on any packaging.

It wasn’t long before various churches of the black meat sprang up on the internet. Sign up from the comfort of your own home, attend an occasional web-service on YouTube, and print out your own certificate of membership. The churches’ dogmas were tongue-in-cheek lists of variations on a theme – a theme of mostly libertarian, sometimes borderline hedonist, personal freedom and privacy. “Thou shalt drink whatever thou wishes to drink, in whatever amount thou wishes to drink it, so long as thou does not drive inebriated or in any way harm another person outside of thyself.” Membership in many of these churches also required proof that the applicant had also drafted what became known as the “black meat clause” into their legal will. Many lawyers provided this service at a discount until the option showed up on the automated will-builder of a popular legal document website.

Unsurprisingly, this clause evolved into a very specific form in which a party could not only dictate their wishes to be processed into the black meat, but also dictate a specific party or parties that could then receive the product – assuming either party could afford the exorbitant cost of processing. Crazed fans left themselves to rock stars. Lovers left themselves to one another in a final and ultimate act of intimacy. Controversy arose when a frightening number of terminally ill patients began leaving themselves to wealthy patrons “as a thank you” for said patrons charitably relieving their families of their medical expenses. These charitable acts soon included college scholarships and luxury items as the poor had begun bidding for the opportunity to ceremonially thank the rich, and the rich, as it were, had begun to literally eat the poor.

The ash-masked, saffron clad monks (if they were even really monks at all), faced competition from a commercially mass-produced product out of China. It was generally agreed upon by the culinary elite that this was a vastly inferior product, often leaving less wealthy consumers with strange parasites, and in a few documented cases, a fatal variant of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

Many dubious internet articles claimed to know the secret traditional recipe of the black meat, and though each varied slightly, most seemed to rely on the same general protocols. The body was skinned, and the skin cleaned and put aside to dry. The meat was separated and packed in rare spices and various dried berries while the rest of the body was cremated and pulverized. This pulverized ash was mixed with salt and packed into earthen jars. The meat was buried in this salt and ash mixture, and the jars were capped and set aside to allow the meat to cure. After some time, the meat (including the ash, spices, and berries) was removed and coarsely stone-ground into a dry, charcoal-gray hamburger. Other spices and oils were added, and the meat was packed tightly into the now plasticine skin, tied with natural fiber twine, and left to smoke above the other crematory fires.

***

We arrived about an hour later. I stepped out onto wet, well-manicured grass, though as dead as my own humble lawn. We walked through what appeared to be an outdoor shooting range. I kicked aside the occasional broken bits of orange clay and a single yellow shotgun shell. The driver checked over his shoulder to make sure I was still following. An icy breeze swept across the large yard from somewhere over the surrounding pine forest and made me regret not wearing a jacket. He led me toward a high wooden fence, or wall, more accurately – built not with planks but 8-foot wooden posts driven into the ground side by side, like the defensive walls of an early colonial settlement. Smoke billowed from the other side of the wall. A large wooden gate was opened, and my hostess, whose exact description she requested be kept undisclosed, was, suffice it to say, a beautiful and well-known old-money socialite. We exchanged formal greetings and she motioned me inside. She was dressed pragmatically, with rain boots and a large golf umbrella – a duplicate of which she offered to me. With our matching umbrellas, we crossed the large inner courtyard, leaving the driver at the gate, standing in his suit and tie, stone-faced against the rain and cold.

My hostess reiterated the conditions she’d laid out in her letter, all of which I, again, agreed to, assuring her that I had complied, to the letter, with each. She led me toward a log-built smoke-house. She explained that she’d tired of navigating the legal channels that bottle-necked the product in the face of high demand, and that her own standards of freshness and quality were far above what had become the standard. She admitted that this, her private operation, was both very illegal and very expensive, but that she complied with all moral and ethical criteria laid out by law. “I have an application process,” she explained, “and interested parties must meet certain physical and genetic guidelines. I also demand a level of freshness that simply isn’t possible under the federal protocols. For this,” she smiled, “they are compensated far beyond the norm.”

From the smoke-house emerged an ashen-faced monk clad in saffron robes grayed with ash – exactly as I’d imagined. He bowed, and we returned his bow. He presented to my hostess a parcel wrapped in oily brown paper and tied with string. My hostess guided me to a nearby table set up under a crudely built gazebo. The driver had prepared two more flutes of champagne, and offered me a cigar. “For after,” he said quietly. I politely declined. The hostess placed the parcel between us and unwrapped what appeared to be a human hand, twisted into a Buddhist mudra. The hand seemed to be translucent and over-stuffed, like a partially inflated latex glove. Before I’d come to terms with the situation, my hostess had casually cut into the meaty, outside edge of the hand, opposite the thumb, and carved out a small wedge of densely packed, black meat, flecked with exotically colored spices and small, dried berries. I took the oily wedge in my hand and turned it, noticing tiny hair-like spices protruding from the coarse mixture. I smelled it – indeed, an odorous French cheese. Then, after a quick sip of particularly good champagne, I took a bite, chewing slowly and allowing the oils and flavors to flood my mouth and my mind.

An odorous French cheese with a vinegar edge. Perhaps notes of molasses and bourbon. Spices I could not identify. Beyond this, an infinite and overwhelming complexity of incomparable flavors I can only describe as…sentimental. Bittersweet. The familiar voice of a long lost lover somewhere in a crowd. A quiet, comfortable shame. An ecstasy of solitude on the tongue, and after, the familiar sorrow of loneliness at the back of the mouth. I felt the lump in my throat even before I’d swallowed. A knot that rose… and I began to softly weep. When the bit was gone, and I again opened my eyes, the grays and browns around me had become somehow more vibrant. The gemlike eyes of my hostess, also wet with tears, were now the eyes of a friend… the eyes of someone who knew, and who knew that I now knew, that we were on the same page.

I don’t remember the drive home, nor the rest of the evening I spent in darkness, sucking on my tongue and swallowing my own saliva. It’s been two days now, and I remember only the impossible flavors of the black meat, and the feelings I can’t adequately describe. I no longer know what’s right or what’s wrong… I don’t even know if it matters. I only know that I’ve seen beyond the veil. I know the orgasmic bliss of surrender to the black meat, and I know I’ll continue to seek the experience. Until then, I know I will taste it on my tongue until the day I die, and I know, now, what I would like done with my body.

THE STATE OF HORROR SERIES

Edited by Jerry E. Benns
From Charon Coin Press

Eric Dean is featured in State of Horror: Illinois.

State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror: North Carolina
State of Horror: Illinois State of Horror: New Jersey State of Horror North Carolina
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
CCP Store
Amazon
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Kobo
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