Earlier this month I ran across Grinning Skull Press. I was looking for open submissions and they were one of the many that I was interested in submitting something to. Then I saw they were taking submissions from children ages 5 to 12 for a horror anthology for kids, written by kids. Woah! I instantly turned into that dad that wanted to live his life through his kid (who am I kidding...I fight the urge often). The jock's dad in The Breakfast Club comes to mind. It was time to make my youngest child a published author at the ridiculously young age of 9. I emailed Grinning Skull and asked about the limits on helping the little minion write. I assumed I would be helping with some grammar and punctuation and even some light sentence structure but keep the rest intact with a 9-year-old's flavor all up in it. That's pretty much what they emailed back to me. It was on!
I asked my son if he'd be interested and he was--a little apprehensive and a little unsure of himself but he agreed. A day or two went by and the little guy and I headed to the office. It was time to write this masterpiece of his. I just knew it was going to be his little swan song. We pulled up some comfy office chairs, cracked our knuckles, and began to create. I transcribe for a living and type 90+ words per minute, so I figured I'd just let him babble while I typed...and typed....and typed.
What began as a horror story about a zombie squirrel turned into this detailed day of calling Grandpa, making fishing plans, waiting on Grandpa, then heading to Grandpa's for some lunch before fishing time. Not exactly horror. I wrote everything word for word including every "and then, and then, and then". When he finally breathed, we were sitting at Just over 1,000 words....made up of about eight run-on sentences. We would fix that later. I told him he should sleep on it for a day or two and we would come back to it.
(Fishing for geese or zombie squirrels?)
Some quick history on the origin of my son's story. A few years ago we had a squirrel in our yard that very much resembled the "monkey rat" from the movie Dead Alive. Apparently it traumatized my son, because when I asked him if he'd like to be involved in submitting a story for possible consideration, he already had his "zombie squirrel" concept brewing based on said squirrel.
(Actual squirrel from our yard)
A day or two went by and we opened up his epic zombie-squirrel-fishing-with-Grandpa story. I read it out loud to him. After about 300 words, he turned his head away and shook it in shame. His hands over his ears told me he had heard enough, but I finished the remainder of the grueling 1,000+ words. We talked about it swaying too far from his original concept. He told me he wanted nothing at all to do with that draft and to trash it. We opened a shiny new document, typed the tentative title at the top (Zombie Squirrel) and started from scratch. Between his play time and my work, we've had little time to work much on it, so he is now experiencing his first episode of deadline anxiety, though I must admit I'm much more worried about it than he is. Off to write...well, transcribe!
I love dialogue in movies. Some of my favorite movies are dialogue driven. Being a writer, I tend to pay attention to the dialogue from a different perspective than most. I'm critiquing it the whole time; much like a grammar Nazi may read a heartfelt letter. Movies like Tape and Spring Forward come to mind. Tape is filmed with 3 characters, and the entire film takes place in a single, small hotel room. Sounds boring doesn't it? It's not. It's amazing. Both the acting and the dialogue is excellent. I bring up movies because the very beginning stage of a film is a written story, a screenplay/script that is often overlooked and taken for granted by a large amount of viewers.
Of course for film, if the actor can't pull it off then it's butchered regardless of how well written the script may be. Actually, sometimes it's the director's fault. Case in point: I wouldn't call Mark Wahlberg an Oscar-winning actor, but if you look at his stellar performance in Boogie Nights vs. the laughable tripe that is The Happening, it's clear Mr. M. Night Shyamalan doesn't always get his actor's mojo going, whereas P.T. Anderson makes everyone shine.
This piece of dialogue comes from a story I wrote that will be available early November 2014:
Forcing myself to cut the healthy laugh short, I replied to Johnny's last statement. "Okay man, details. Let's hear them. Her boyfriend not showing up in the bathroom mirror?" I started to chuckle again but successfully held most of it back. Snot nearly shot out my nose in the attempt.
"It's not like that. That's a fallacy."
"It's not true. The whole vampires and mirrors thing. It doesn't work like that. That's all a myth."
"Yeah, myth is right." I started to laugh once more.
Johnny shook his head. "Angela brought him home for the Christmas Eve meal. He's cold. He's pale. He smells like coconuts, wears sunglasses, and he just stood at the door until my dad welcomed him in."
"So, a polite albino with good hygiene, standing in 30-degree weather who isn't a fan of being snow blind and you come up with vampire?"
Though it's meant to be lighthearted and humorous, depending on who reads this and how they read it, it could come across different than expected
This week I watched a video on youtube of Stephen King reading an unpublished short story he had written. He read it very well, perfect emphasis exactly where it needed to be with tones and mannerisms pointing to dry humor that could easily be missed. I noticed as I watched, that had I read the story myself I think I would have missed some of the cues to laugh. Text can do that. How many of us have gotten our feelings hurt or in an argument as a result of purely text? They're more than monotone...They're toneless, emotionless, and can easily be read wrong. I suppose reading things differently is just another thing that makes us all unique.
I've mentioned before that I blame my school for my complete disinterest in books growing up. If it wasn't Fangoria, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Cracked, Mad or the latest metal zine, I just wasn't interested. Apparently the only--though crucial--criteria for this teenage brain was visuals.
When, by the time I was 14, the only literature thrown my way was Diary of Anne Frank, Romeo & Juliet, and All is Quiet on the Western Front, can you blame me for raising my nose from the pages of a gore-filled centerfold only long enough to say "No thanks!" ? Your average teen in the 80s wasn't running for the library shelves in hopeful anticipation of getting the latest world war tale or a romance set in a time completely unrelated to their own in a language that may as well have been Klingon.
I remember my biological father sending a small stack of Andre Norton books all the way from the Mile High City. The covers were appealing, but I couldn't sit still long enough to read them...and of course they failed to meet my criteria (still have them; never read one). He also sent me a copy of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, which I did end up reading but not until I was well into my 20s (great book...don't bother with the movie).
There was one book that almost got me reading. In the very late 70s/early 80s there was the phenomenon known as The Amityville Horror. Jay Anson had written a book about the "true events" surrounding the Lutz family (ironic eh?) who were the residents/owners of an alleged haunted house. They were proclaiming what every imaginative teen longed to hear: Ghosts were real and were haunting houses. With the rising popularity of the Doubleday Book Club, my mother had purchased the book to sit along with the other dust collectors on the shelf. Not quite old enough to watch the movie, I took to the book. I "read" it much like one would read the bible: Searching it for tidbits. I thoroughly scanned the book for any and all frightening paragraphs reading them over and over again. I'd like to think I actually read the book but in a way one would fast forward through a movie only to watch the good parts.
In my late teens I did end up reading a few Clive Barker and Stephen King short stories, but by this time in my life the scales were different. Go skateboarding....or read? Go to band practice....or read? Hang with girlfriend....or read? Other than the occasional short story (and I mean short. I'd pick up Skeleton Crew or Books of Blood and make sure to read the shortest one only), reading would have to continue to wait.
Something happened in my early 20s, and I thought I wanted to be a teacher (Yeah, not sure what I was thinking). After a semester and a half, I quit school. I sucked at writing papers. You'd get ADD just reading them. I was all over the place. No wonder I didn't read. Soon after, I actually started reading books; in particular lots of Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Heck, I recall the year I started, I read Needful Things in 3-4 days. Have you seen that thing? It's a door stopper. Other than maybe It and The Stand, it's the War & Peace of horror. Quite the trophy for this new reader.
Now that the interest is there, there's not enough time in my day to read like I used to. Work, family, and writing leaves little time to escape into that story. I know I'm not alone. In an age where everyone is used to having it our way, RIGHT NOW, it can be asking a lot from yourself to sit down and relax between the pages (virtual or not) of a good book. I would encourage you to make the time. Kick it old school. Read that book you've been putting off.
Do I write like H.P. Lovecraft or Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind)? According to an online writing analyzer, I write like both. I submitted some paragraphs into this silly analyzer from a few different stories I had written. The results were surprising considering I've read only one story by Mr. Lovecraft and zilch by Ms. Mitchell.
If my writing has been influenced directly by anyone it's King, Poe, Koontz, McCammon, and/or Matheson, though I can see how traces of Lovecraft and Mitchell would still end up in my writing and here's how:
I can best demonstrate this using music as the subject. Naturally, one would not say that the music of Metallica is reminiscent of blues greats like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, or Howlin' Wolf. Some younger people may have not even heard of most of the musicians I just named, but it is important to note that the bands that Metallica were influenced by were heavily influenced by all of the above, however, indirectly.
Metallica, as well as 99.9% of every other band out there--with at least a little bit of aggression and distortion in their sound--have been influenced by either Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin or both. Both Sabbath and Zeppelin started out as being heavily influenced by black roots blues. Sabbath and Zeppelin acted as a middle man for the next stage in rock and metal. In other words, without Sabbath and Zeppelin (among others...I'm just using two of the most influential as an example) you wouldn't have Metallica. They'll be the first to admit it.
Some of the new bands just coming out, instead of growing up on Sabbath and Zepp (though both bands seem to be timeless), they are growing up on, and directly influenced by, Metallica. They copy Metallica's sound, the distortion, the "chugga, chugga, chugga." Though some of the original sound of early rock from the old blues greats is lost in translation, the influence is still there, and so it is with writing.
If Stephen King (or another of my influences) reads Lovecraft and/or Gone With the Wind; it can comes out in his writing. To be reminiscent of Poe is not to necessarily be in the first person point of view with your story riddled with "woes" and "nevermores," or other poetically romantic 19th century lingo. It's the feel and telling of the story and often times the theme. We get influenced by the influence's influences, but hey, if some online writing analyzer wants to compare my writing with that of one of the most influential horror writers in the last century, as well as the author of one of the most popular literary classics, then I'm okay with that.
Nevertheless, we are unique.
The internet is filled with ridiculous quizzes telling you what state you should be living in, and in what era, with what job, and what fictional character you're most like. I'd like to think that most take these with less than a grain of salt. The results are all based on the most minute of information about you. We're all unique individuals. Each one of us likes and dislikes things for different reasons. I fancy the 70s soft rock band "Bread" because they take me back to a wonderful time in my life. They're not for everybody. For me it's nostalgic. It means something different to me than Joe Blow. Sometimes I watch an indie film that I realize nobody I know is going to be able to appreciate, so I won't bother sharing it with others. I can tell I enjoyed it for personal reasons...because of my individuality. I'm just thankful for the experience.
We, as individuals, are so unique from one another that things affect people in completely different ways. One person can smoke for 60 years and die from something completely unrelated to smoking, whereas another can smoke for 20 years and die from lung cancer. We all have separate attractions based on nostalgia, positive somatic markers, life experience, and circumstance.
We are individuals, and we are unique.