How to Be a Better Writer

 

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Write write write write write!

Seriously, the only way to get better is to practice. I have been reviewing all of my old blogger blogposts. I have been editing them and transporting them into this website. Some of my posts from 5 years ago make me cringe, but now I know how to edit. I also have more of a sense of writing for others and some of the posts are just being deleted.

In addition to just getting better at writing by writing more, it becomes easier. If you show up every day, the muse knows where to find you. I think Stephen King might be the one who said that. This morning I was listening to an Open Book podcast featuring Nick Harkaway. He talked about being the son of writer and so he knew it was just a job. He knew that you got up in the morning and started writing. No mystery about it. Editors and publishers love him because he gets the job done. He is not waiting for mystical intervention, the right mood, inspiration, or any other hooey. He is just doing the job.

So to start to be a better writer– write!

Author Interview with Horror Writer Tracie McBride

I had the pleasure of interviewing up and coming horror author Tracie McBride who recently premiered a special edition release of “Ghosts Can Bleed,” an anthology published by Dark Continents Publishing. Dark Continents Publishing is an exciting venture. It is a co-operative publishing company and I will have to see about interviewing Tracie again at a later date in regards to this bold enterprise. For now, I was curious about her chilling fiction.

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Why? Or when did you first decide and why?

When I was about four years old, I wanted to be an actress or a model, in the same way that my daughter at the same age wanted to be a mermaid. I think it was shortly after starting school, when I discovered that I could learn to string written words together in ways that made sense, that I decided I wanted to be a writer. From that moment on, I thought of myself as a writer, even although I didn’t make any serious moves towards realizing that ambition until I was in my mid-thirties.
Why? Probably for the same reason that many other writers took to the keyboard. I love books. And I wanted to create the things I loved.

2. Who are your favorite authors? Who would you recommend to people looking for a good read? Why would you recommend these writers?

I have to confess to being quite fickle and promiscuous in my reading tastes. I was passionate about Robert Heinlein’s work when I was fifteen. In rough chronological order, my literary crushes moved on to Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Julian May, Clive Barker and Margaret Atwood.
Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is one of my all-time favourite novels, although judging by the literary forums, it’s a polarising work. I think it suffered from being described as a literary novel, when really it’s a science fiction novel, exquisitely plotted and startling in its complex depiction of time travel. Oh, and it’s also a genuinely moving tragic story, AND it’s a literary novel.
My current favourite is China Miéville. The scope of his imagination is jaw-dropping. I’m reading “Kraken” right now. I’m a little jealous of his talent. OK, a lot jealous.

3. You write dark fantasy and horror short stories. Where do you find your inspiration?

Dreams and nightmares. Odd little thoughts, random images or sentences that come into my head and won’t go away. Real life experiences and observations that I smoosh together with speculative fiction tropes to see what results.

4. Which of your stories bothered you the most and you found yourself thinking about it after writing it?

“Lest We Forget”, published in the Spectrum Collection in 2010. My husband, a former armed forces serviceman, had just taken our young son to his first Anzac Day Dawn Service. He commented that he had been to many Dawn Parades over the years, but he had found this one the most moving. I got to thinking about the nature of war, of sacrifice, of all those parents over the years who sent their children off to fight for the greater good and never welcomed them home again. It was an intensely emotional, personal and difficult piece to write.

5. What do you think is the essence of horror?

Oh boy. Talk about a hard question… Horror is visceral. It’s physical. It’s that feeling of having your intestines squeezed in your fist. It’s that creeping sensation on the back of your neck. It’s that surge of adrenaline, that racing of your pulse, that overwhelming desire to run far, far away, only there’s nowhere to run to and no way out. Unless you close the book, but if it’s really good horror, it will creep after you off the pages and lodge in your subconscious. What sends you into that state will vary from person to person, but some fears seem almost universal. The fear of the unseen, the unknown, or the unfamiliar. The fear of having control over your life forcibly wrested from you. The fear of being powerless in the face of an unstoppable amoral force.

6. Which of your characters do you like or admire? Why?

Now, that’s a funny thing – I will often find myself halfway through a story and I’ll think, “You know what? I don’t like this character very much.” It makes it easier for me to do horrible things to them, I suppose. I do sympathise with many of my characters, though, especially the ones who are loosely based on me, like poor dead Sharon in “Last Chance to See”. And I am rather fond of Nim of the Kamankay. Who wouldn’t love a big, strong warrior woman with a leather skirt and facial tattoos?

7. Which of your characters do you think you would not like to meet in real life? Why? Where did you get the idea for them?

You want me to pick just one? Most of my stories feature unsavoury types, be they supernatural or mundane. They all have two things in common; they have unnatural abilities or an excess of power, and they lack a moral compass. That is genuinely scary to me – someone or something that possesses both the ability to seriously mess you up, and the lack of restraint not to do it. Here’s a random selection:
Zero in “Whipping Boy”. He came to me in a dream. He is both victim and villain, and all the more dangerous for it.
Creepy Doll House lady Susan in “Life in Miniature”. I got the idea for this story from a piece of flash fiction I read years ago about a peculiar form of bonsai.
Sh’teth in “Baptism”. She was inspired by the malevolent mermaids in the 2003 movie version of “Peter Pan”.

8. Do you think that ghosts and other paranormal creatures might be real? Have you ever had something happen that you could not explain?

Vampires, werewolves and zombies? No. Ghosts… maybe. I haven’t experienced any supernatural visitations, but several members of my immediate family have. So I maintain an open mind.

9. When you write, do you have a particular creative process that works for you? Or a particular set of steps that you go through to write a short story?

My process is very simple. I seldom do plot or character outlines. I just start at the beginning and write until I can’t write any more. Either the story has enough legs to carry it through to the end, or it hasn’t. Sometimes I’ll take on an unsatisfactory ending and give it to one of my critiquing groups to read in the hope that they can help me tease some meaning from the narrative.

10. How many short stories have you published? What anthologies can they be found in?

Numbers. I like numbers. They’re my second favourite thing after words. As I write, I have 38 stories and 20 poems published or forthcoming. 22 of those pieces have been reprinted. You’ll find my work in print and online magazines, anthologies, and the occasional audio publication. Recent anthologies include Dead Red Heart, Roll the Bones, Devil Dolls and Duplicates, Big Pulp (Winter 2010) and Horror Library Vol. 4. And of course there is The Spectrum Collection, a sampler of short fiction and poetry by the members of the writers’ co-operative Dark Continents Publishing, of which I am vice-president. Dark Continents has just released a collection of my previously published speculative short stories and poems, entitled “Ghosts Can Bleed”.

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Links –
Dead Red Heart http://ticonderogapublications.com/tp/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=126:dead-red-heart&catid=77:dead-red-heart&Itemid=97

Roll the Bones
http://www.amazon.com/Roll-Bones-Fantastic-Tales-Magazine/dp/0983311927/

Devil Dolls and Duplicates
http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/devildolls.htm

Big Pulp
http://www.bigpulp.com/

Horror Library Vol 4
http://cuttingblock.net/books.html

The Spectrum Collection
http://darkcontinents.com/catalog/

Dark Continents
http://darkcontinents.com/

Tracie McBride’s Blog
http://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com/

Author Bio

Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 print and electronic publications, including Horror Library Vol 4, Coyote Wild, Abyss and Apex, Space & Time, Sniplits and Electric Velocipede. She won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent for 2007. She is active member of the HWA, an associate editor for horror magazine Dark Moon Digest and vice president of the writer’s co-operative Dark Continents Publishing. Her blog can be found at http://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com/

Please look for “Ghost Can Bleed.”

All Things Neil Gaiman

Photograph by Mike Gallagher, a friend from Glasgow whose blog can be found at: http://www.mikegallagher.info/

One of the panels that I went to during World Con was about Neil Gaiman the human being. It was entitled “The Many Interests of Neil Gaiman” and featured Cheryl Morgan, a friend of Mr. Gaiman’s, and Neil Gaiman speaking on Neil Gaiman.

I can honestly say that Neil Gaiman is very charming and very funny. When he smiles or has an amusing thought his eyes light up like he is a kid. It was very nice to be able to sit and listen to him speak about his life and his many interests.

He and Cheryl began the panel discussion with his fondness for bees. If you read his journal, it is possible to find out about his fondness for bees. He won two blue ribbons in the county fair for his honeycomb and another type of honey. He creates special labels for the jars of honey. Cheryl suggested having a type of convention honey. Neil Gaiman thought this was a good idea except that he would need more hives.

He has had other hobbies in the past– growing exotic pumpkins. Growing exotic pumpkins is entertaining because they just grow and come up everywhere. His battle with the ground hogs discouraged him from growing pumpkins. One year he planted pumpkins and the ground hogs would eat the shoots as they came up. He decided to try to combat the ground hogs. He went to find out what to do to get rid of the ground hogs. He was told to get wolf urine or lion urine. He sprinkled it around and the ground hogs ate more of the pumpkins. So he bought the little sponge flowers that one is supposed to use to keep the scent of the urine around the garden and soaked them with the urine. And the ground hogs ate the sponges.

Cheryl related a story about her mother who had had a badger traveling through her garden and digging up her prize flowers. She called about the badger and the person was excited and wanted to come see the badger rather than help Cheryl’s mother be rid of the beastie.

Neil Gaiman stated repeatedly that he is not a dog person. He did not plan to have a dog. However, he is the hero of his own story on his blog and while he did not know that he would have a dog he firmly believes that everyone else who reads his blog knew that he was going to end up owning a dog. He was heading home on the freeway and saw a large brown animal heading towards the freeway. He stopped and hauled the incredibly large, muddy dog into his mini. The dog took up his mini and was covered in mud and it smelled as though covered in cow poo.

He took the dog to the humane society because it had a chain and he posted signs.

At this point people reading his blog knew that he had a dog. He thought he was done with the dog. The humane society called him and the dog belonged to an old farmer who thought the dog was a nuisance. The lady on the phone had told the farmer that the guy who had dropped the dog off seemed fond of the dog. SO the farmer told him to get the dog.

At first he thought he had a brown dog. He has a white dog. A white german shepherd. When people tell him that they did not know that there were white german shepherds he gives them the history of the breed. He smiled mischievously and said that that is the moment that he knows he has people trapped because he can go on and on about the dog.

Amy Palmer. Both of them are in transit. They nervously started dating and then had another date when their travel schedules overlapped. Jason Webley put them together. Neil had linked to a song of Jason Webley, Jason experienced website failure, and he sent more music, and then suggested that Gaiman meet Amanda. He had always been a fan of the Dresden Dolls. They had emailed quite a bit and she emailed and told him about the photographs of herself posed dead. She asked him to write stories around the photographs. Check out www.whokilledamandapalmer.com/

He, Amanda, and Kyle Cassidy took more photographs for the project.

Neil Gaiman talked about “liner notes” and how there was a relationship with a whole album and the sequence of the albums was important. He talked about the moment he switched to CDs was when he could hit random and have the songs randomized. His daughters only buy songs– not albums. They see patterns in songs.

He says he loves introducing things– he likes telling why things are cool. His agent has banned him from doing more because he was doing too many. Cheryl said he is always enthusing about stuff that she doesn’t know about and it is kind of embarrassing. Neil said that that has to do with that Cheryl has to stay on top of the critical canon and he gets the freedom to pull from where ever. For instance, Robert Aickman is an author that he enjoys– he is an author’s author. He writes about strange things that have happened to people. Mr. Gaiman says Mr. Aickman’s stories make the world odder and are wonderful but very few people know of them.

Neil Gaiman’s first World Con was in 1987. It had many wonderful moments and one very odd one. He was put up in a room by Titan who was publishing one of his comics. He stayed up all night talking to people in the bar. Then he realized people were going to have breakfast so he went and had breakfast. Around eleven he went to his room and a woman answered the door. His room had been given away because the hotel staff thought that he had left without paying. He stood in the lobby nervously. Then someone with Titan spoke to the manager and pointed out to them that they were renting quite a number of rooms and had scheduled a couple events. Neil got a room. He never got his things back including items that he had personally purchased from the dealer room and had been stashing in the hotel room. He said that to this day he hates that hotel.

Cheryl pointed out that that was when he started wearing black. He agreed. He liked the idea of monochrome but he had been wearing all grey but there are lots of greys. Brown greys and greens greys and a whole assortment of greys. His grandmother had told him he couldn’t wear all black because of the black shirts of the 1930’s. After his grandmother had been dead for five years he bought his first black t-shirt.

London Things. Dr. Who. He felt that Dr. Who was uniquely his even though it first came out when he was around three. He could remember drinking his school milk and walking it around saying “exterminate” like a dahlek. Patrick Troughton was the doctor for him– the others were actors playing the doctor.

Neverwhere. It was the London underground.

Dr. Who changed his perspective of the universe and gave him a perspective of the fragility of the universe. Also a sense of the optimism. The new Dr. Who has undone the things that he would have undone– the time lords. In Dr. Who there is no continuity. The same discontinuity as life. And you can always go back in time and change things.

Sushi. He and Terry Pratchett survived the book signing tour for Good Omens with sushi. He had had one prior bad experience with sushi. He was taken along to pretend to be someone’s boyfriend. He figured his job was to not embarrass his friend. He started with the most unfamiliar and worked towards the most familiar. He ate different things until he came to the “avocado” bowl. He took a large ball of wasabi and saw the face of god until he could spit it out.

When he and Terry Pratchett were on tour they would each write something to build off the comments of the other. “Burn this book” and then the other would write: “Apply holy match here.”

With The Graveyard Book he knew the feel of it before he knew what the book was going to be. He talked about the next book being the LOTR to The Graveyard Book’s Hobbit so look for more great things coming from Mr. Neil Gaiman!