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AN MbC MUST-READ: Ten Steps to Overnight Success…

(… or, How it Only Took a Decade to get Paid)

 

The top 1% of members of the Writers Guild of America — the folks who make between $600,000 and the “big money” (seven figures) number in the mere dozens. Of the rest of them — members of a group that as a rule has to get paid to even join — only the top 25% make $62,000 a year or more. And the average age of a person who actually makes it into the Guild — meaning they got that sale, or finally optioned enough screenplays to make it — is 35 years old.

 

Let’s talk now about some other averages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for salaried writers hovers just over $50,000. Only the top 10% of salaried writers make over $95,000. And it must be emphasized that these are “salaried writers” — narrowly defined by the BLS as people like salaried journalists, or professional technical writers. Fiction writers are, for the most part, freelance writers whose annual takes — even if they are “professionals” (i.e., occasionally paid) — is
much, much lower.

 

In other words, “the big payoff” of becoming a “real, published author” may have more in common with the salary of your average janitor than it does with the sixteen bizillion dollars J.K. Rowling makes every time she writes a postcard.

 

Of course, the chances of making money go up greatly if you are signed by a large publisher — Scholastic, or Bantam, for instance. However, this itself has an inherent earnings inhibitor built in: most of the larger publishing houses require that submissions be “exclusive.” This means that a writer is only permitted to submit his work to one large publisher at a time. The average wait time to find out if the work has been rejected or accepted can range anywhere from a few weeks (if the writer already knows someone “on the inside” who is in a position to fast-track the review) or, more likely, several months to a year and a half. Then, even if the book is accepted for publication, the large publishing houses will typically take, again, several months to a year and a half to actually roll out the book.

 

In other words, even assuming your book is picked up by the first major publishing house you submit to — and the odds are against you — you are looking at somewhere between half a year and three years before you start really seeing any money. And if your book is not accepted by the first major publishing house, then you are once again in a sort of voluntary limbo, consigned there by the “no simultaneous submissions” rule.

 

What to do?

 

The reality is, most authors have “day jobs.” I am considered an anomaly. I have optioned screenplays and done rewrites for major Hollywood production companies. I have numerous television shows in development. I have written over a dozen novels that have spent time on Amazon’s major genre bestseller lists, and have spent the better part of a year as one of Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Writers.

 

I make a living writing.

 

Now, to put this in perspective: I began writing at the tender age of four. I made my first “sale” of a short story to a local newspaper at the age of 15. I earned creative writing scholarships in college. I hold the record as the person who has had the most screenplays go to quarterfinals and semifinals in the history of the Nicholls Screenwriting competition. And in spite of all this, it took me fifteen years of rejection letters to actually start making money.

 

Still, through it all I have learned some things about writing, and about how to become a “successful” writer, particularly in genre work like fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. Following is my “road-map for success.” Which is not a guarantee that it will make you a millionaire…but it is a guarantee that you will never fail so long as you continue doing these things.

 

1) Write. This may seem obvious, but the simple fact is that if you wish to make a living as a writer, you MUST WRITE. Constantly and without letup. Write your books, your screenplays, your stories. And when you are done writing those, write about them. Start a blog. Issue press releases. Have a Facebook page. The “writing muscle” is one of the most easily atrophied muscles in the human body.
CONTINUE TO PART 2

 

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice, MbC Must-read, Writing Advice, 0 comments

Mormons and Horror: Light Within the Dark

Paper sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters,

presented at Life, the Universe, and Everything writing convention

February 18, 2017

 

 

I am a horror writer.

I am a Mormon.

Whenever these two intersecting – and yes, they are intersecting – facets of my life are discovered, the response is invariably one of surprise, if not outright incredulity. Contrary to most people’s expectations, no one at church has every said, “A horror writer? Well, you are definitely going to Hell.” Indeed, the first person I tend to call when I want to watch a scary movie is  my stake president. That being said, even he was surprised when he first found out. Because it seems… what? Wrong?

And yet, as will be stated shortly, horror is perhaps the best-suited “genre” for Mormons; and Mormons are themselves the most horror-laden people… and neither in quite the way you would expect.

 

  1. Our Thoughts on Horror

 

First of all, we must discuss what people think of as horror, for that is a large part of the reason that horror is thought of as anathematic to the Mormon lifestyle. And we must then discuss why the public conception is largely wrong – i.e., what horror is versus what people think of it.

 

  1. A short history of communication

Throughout history, information has been conveyed in a wealth of ways. The first is physical. People do not tend to think of purely physical movement as communication, but it is actually the most-used. Albert Mehrabian came up with the famous rule that intrapersonal communication is comprised 7% of words, 38% of tone of voice, and 55% of body language.[1] On its face, this can be easily observed, but at an even deeper level it becomes not just obvious, but certain. I.e., it is hard to misunderstand a person’s intentions when he/she is hitting you over the head with a stick: you have done something that person does not appreciate.

Physical communication can also be seen in dance, wherein entire stories are told. In modern forms they are typically coupled with music as part of the storytelling medium, but the earliest forms of dance were performed alone.

After nonverbal, however, there came the oral: the picture of an ape-man grunting as he discovers how to use a tool in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the most enduring in cinema. Underlooked, however, is the more important moment of evolution. The moment when the godlike Monolith appears to a bunch of creatures huddling in a cave, swatting one another in irritation as their only seen mode of communication; of thought. When it appears, they dance around the Monolith, they touch it, they dance back. And then, suddenly… they speak. The small punches and hits disappear, and all gather together to give the most primal, principle form of communication: they worship. They, in essence, speak together for the first time. The discovery of a tool is the evolutionary step most noticed in cinema studies, but the oral communication – the gathering together in communal grunts to each other and to something greater than themselves, is surely just as important a moment, unobserved in the movie before that time. Tools bring obvious evolution, but when the New Men gather and sing – community is born.

From this, then, was born writing – a natural confluence of tools and oral communication. From Sumer in ancient Mesopotamia around 3200 BC, and via the Olmecs or Zapotecs of Mesoamerica circa 900 BC spring the oldest-known “original” examples of writing – not just numbers, but fully-formed series of symbols conveying complex thoughts and information. The movement from tools to speech to writing should be a fairly obvious jump, given that the last one is a marriage of the first two. Speech focuses abstract thought, and that speech is then recorded in writing.

So now we have writing, and from this, written stories.

Almost.

 

  1. The arrival of stories

It is interesting to note that, though we have writing that dates back to 3200 BC, the first surviving work of “great literature” – The Epic of Gilgamesh (hereinafter “EOG”) – appeared over a thousand years later, circa 2100 BC. Again, it makes sense: a student does not jump from “I see Spot” straight to “Enlil made him terrifying guardian/Whose mouth is fire, whose roar the floodwater.”[2] A burgeoning civilization, tens of thousands of individuals struggling to work and live together for the first time, is even less inclined to make the leap.

That said, EOG, miraculously,[3] came to be. Humanity had enjoyed stories for its entire existence – Adam himself was told stories of Life Before, of Life to Be, and why Life was (the famous Mormon questions: “Where did we come from, why are we here, and where are we going?”). But EOG is the first great story to live that is not merely a recounting of what the Gods did, but of how we make sense of them.

And, appropriately, it is pure horror. A tale that centers around men and man-beasts who come to challenge one another in death and blood; of friendship found, only to be torn away by extraordinary pain followed by death; and above all of a king who is slated from the first to discover that he will die.

But in this death, he finds life. In this horror, he finds joy.

And this is the key.

 

  1. Books and booksellers

Long after Gilgamesh returned to Uruk, long after he discovered immortality was and ever would be beyond his grasp, written stories had passed from a thing of kings to a thing of commoners. Stories were bound in books. At first these books were still things of riches, beyond the dreaming of “normal” people. But eventually cheaper methods of paper production were found. The printing press was invented. Stories could not only be heard and seen, but read.

With the increased demand for books came an increased demand for something most of us fail to think of: booksellers. Mostly men, they opened small shops that catered to the needs and desires of their patrons. Though booksellers had existed in ancient Greece – it was, after all, quite fashionable to have a library if one could afford it – it was not until the 1800s that bookselling really took hold, primarily in Europe and the United States. Then came bookstores such as that of Kenyon College – the oldest continuously-operated bookstore in the United States, and third-oldest bookstore in the Americas – which was primarily to supply the Christ-seeking men of the college itself. Following shortly after, one could find neighborhood booksellers, catering to the men and women of the area, the people of their own communities.

In Stephen King’s horror novel Needful Things, a man comes to a small town. He operates the eponymous shop, a place of curios and antiques. It is only too late that he is recognized as what he is: a devil incarnate. Similarly, the bookstores came, cheap stories could be found…

… and with them, came horror.

 

  1. The booksellers’ prosperity, the root of our pain

As books became more popular, and booksellers more ubiquitous, a strange thing began to happen: the sellers no longer knew what they sold.

Early booksellers knew exactly where every book in their store could be found. A person came in and asked for a medical text. The proprietor took his customer to the third row, fourth shelf from the bottom, and… “Ah, here it is: Leidy’sAnatomy,’ in Lippincott’s Medical Works, is really quite excellent.”

“Do you have something frightening and strange, good sir?” “Ah, yes, there in the back is a new arrival: a book called Frankenstein: the Modern Prometheus.” Thanks are given, along with pence, and new book owners depart.

The pence do not.

The booksellers take them, invest them, and small bookstores are gradually supplanted by larger and larger ones – even chains of them. The bookseller cannot work alone, he must hire assistants. And, as is usually the case with assistants, they know less than he about the books.

“Excuse me, where may I find a book on the history of wars?” “Sir, this man wants a history of wars?”

And the bookseller, eventually tired of having to answer every single patron’s questions (why did he even hire an assistant?), now says, “I put up a sign on the fifth row. It says, ‘War.’ Our friend will no doubt find something there.”

“What, a book by Jane Austen? Try below the sign that says, ‘Romance.’”

“Oh, you wish a ghost story? Perhaps something by Poe?

“Try… horror.”

“Genre” was born, and with it that particular thing we call “horror.” But “horror” in the fashion that so many of us think is not a particular thing, it is nothing at all. It is a shelf. It is wherever Barnes & Noble have placed a particular book for purposes of finding it easily. It is whatever website label Amazon has given a book for purposes of selling it faster.

“Genre” is just a bastardized spelling of “sales.”

Many will no doubt point out that when they think of horror, they do not think of a bookshelf, they think of a story. A story with pain, violence, bloodshed.

To which I, the bookseller, respond, “So… Saving Private Ryan?”

“No, no. It’s got insanity. Men with knives and hatchets.”

“Ah, you mean like, Helter Skelter.”

“No. There need to be nude young people and illicit sex.”

Lady Chatterly’s Lover is in the ‘Romance’ section. Or perhaps ‘Erotica.’ Forgive my memory, there are just so many bookshelves – oops, I mean genres – now that it’s hard to keep up with them.”

This is an imagined exchange, but it highlights a very real set of facts. Namely:

 

1)     “Genre” is a forced fabrication.

2)     What most people think of as genre is in fact a list of “story elements.”

3)     The story elements most people think of as “horror” are found in other – mostly more acceptable – “genres.”

 

It is this last which is most interesting. Because horror was not always unseemly. There is no doubt that Shelley’s Frankenstein features almost every element of horror. So why do people think of it as literature? Not because it is so old (by today’s standards at least): even people who read it when it first came off the presses in 1820 (written anonymously by then twenty-year-old Shelley) did not say, “Bookseller, where can I find the horror book about the monster?” They asked for no horror, just for a rousingly good book that asked searching questions about the nature of man’s relationship to God.

Because there was no horror. There was only story.

Until there wasn’t.

 

  1. Why we believe horror is what it isn’t

If the “horror genre”[4] is really nothing but a space on a shelf, how is it that so many people know what horror is… and know the same things about it?

Because what they are thinking of is not horror. It is a horror poster.

As touched upon above, when people asked for Frankenstein, they did not ask for “that horror book.” They asked for Shelley’s Frankenstein. Books were all there were, and the only meaningful distinction between types of written fiction were whether they were told in poetry or prose.[5]

Books rose in popularity, and eventually supplanted plays as the most popular long-form storytelling media. That was, however, not to last. In the late 1800s, two inventions changed stories forever, and began the lie that we think of as “horror.”

 

  1. New media

Radio and television. By the early twentieth century, radio shows predominated. They changed elections of the highest offices, they provided news at a rate hitherto unimagined… and they told stories. Little Orphan Annie, The Lone Ranger, Inner Sanctum. Story after story enthralled, excited… horrified. Still, even this innovation paled in the face of what was to be the most life-changing invention of communication of all time (though the internet is poised to take over that spot): the motion picture camera.

With the motion picture camera, stories could at last truly be seen. Stage plays could be seen, true, but motion pictures allowed for a verisimilitude that could not be believed by most who first witnessed its final product. The world had, seemingly overnight, become a predominantly visual place.

The biggest booksellers – the publishers – saw a threat to their once-high position in media (by which it is meant they saw a loss of market share and corresponding loss of income). Books were books, no matter what – they were a collection of dark squiggles on light paper. But there were still places where they could accommodate the public’s desire to see things. Internal artwork became more prevalent, so people could see what their heroes looked like, or could witness a moment in the action. Even so, it is obvious that a dozen pictures – black-and-white, no less – tucked in the pages of a book will hardly create a media firestorm or a rise in sales.

That left the covers. And here we see where the idea of “what is horror” gained its first foothold. In a space of twenty or thirty years in the early 1900s (from around 1910 to 1930), covers went from predominantly black ink denoting the title, author, and publisher; to colorful artwork.

It should be no surprise, then, that people’s impressions of what a “kind” of book held were dominated by the largest publishers, who paid attention to one thing: what sold. If a book with romantic elements sold a million copies, the booksellers could take the cover element – an elegantly-dressed woman with a torn blouse, swept off her feet by a pirate with dashing looks and a muscled chest – and reproduce it over and over. Romance became a thing of rough, oversexualized men yanking beautiful, oversexualized women away from their boring lives and into adventure. Horror merited the same treatment, as booksellers inevitably discovered that a stark cover with “Frankenstein” etched across leather sold far less than a cover showing a hideous green face… and also covers showing a dark, oversexed man standing slightly behind a beautiful, oversexed woman with a ripped blouse laying on a bed.[6]

Still, even these methods would not gain every possible reader. Capitalism demands that money be made, and once the low-hanging fruit is taken (i.e., people attracted to oversexualized men and women), diversification must occur. Booksellers knew there were more people out there, waiting to be swayed and to part with their “pence.”

So what about showing the monster? Would that not gain readers attracted to that particular element, that desire of humans everywhere – the desire to be frightened? Or would that be going too far?

What about a melding of the two?

Now readers could find books that featured dark monsters framed in the light of an open door, hunched over and creeping toward women asleep on their beds. Suddenly, scary books had sex as a main element, regardless of whether the text actually delivered on the promises of the cover.

And movies, as they always do, made everything worse.

 

  1. Movies

By the 1950s, the covers of scary books featured sex and monsters galore. However, they were still tame by today’s standards: blood was hinted at but rarely shown; bosoms were evident, but shielded under carefully-placed swathes of fabric; and the monsters were, as often as not, shown by shadowed outline rather than by detailed rendering.

In the 1960s, two events in movies made everything change.

First of all, the Motion Picture Production Code (“MPPC”) was abandoned. This was the code through which Hollywood had self-censored for three decades. Before that, violence and sexual situations had been present – but the mores of the times still kept most films subtle as far as graphic violence or sexuality.[7] In the 1950s, however, the MPPC began its decline, sharpened when the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, ruled that motion pictures fell squarely under First Amendment protections and that the New York State Board of Regents could not ban the short film “Il Miracolo” (“The Miracle”), which was part of an anthology film, and which featured the impregnation by a villainous man called “St. Joseph” of a disturbed peasant woman who believed herself to be the Virgin Mary.

The trend continued in the 1960s, as actors, producers, and directors clamored for more than the MPPC would permit. It was eventually abandoned in favor of the Motion Picture Association of America’s (“MPAA”) voluntary ratings code. Now, graphic violence and nudity could be shown with the mere appendage of an “R” rating. Even explicit sexual intercourse could be found, if a producer were willing to accept an “X.”

This was not the only change wrought in the 1960s. In 1962, as part of its anti-communist policies, the United States began a period of heavy military involvement in Vietnam. By 1963, there were over sixteen thousand U.S. soldiers in Vietnam. Nor were they the only newcomers: hundreds of journalists arrived, as well, providing coverage of the war at a level never before seen in history. Indeed, Vietnam was dubbed “the living room war,” with families gathered in their living rooms to watch video – often graphic, depicting violence and even on-screen death by various means. Never before had so many people been offered a window into the true horrors of war. Never before had the average person known so much of a faraway conflict.

And never before had media executives realized just how seductive the call of overt prurience could be. With the advent of the “living room” war came the realization that ratings could be bought with violence and sex. Pushed by the need for ever-greater profits, media organizations began pushing overtly violent and sexual advertisements and – almost as an afterthought in some cases – explicitly violent and sexual content.

This was fueled further by the “sexual awakening” of the 1960s. Bras – before then just another undergarment to be carefully covered and ignored – were now shown in public, sometimes the entire subject of news reports. “Free love” could be found on news and entertainment alike, not to mention its reality for many people’s day-to-day lives.

Violence. Sex. A perfect marriage – or perhaps a perfect storm.

The level of graphic content in movies surged, in no small part because people gradually became inured to what had previously pushed the envelope, and now demanded more and more. Sex sold in abundance, and violence did not push people away, it called them in.

Horror was not the leader in this, it was simply swept up in time’s current, along with everything else.

The 1970s and 1980s continued this trend, though “horror” movies and stories still carried something in common, a characteristic that all such stories carried from the beginning: they were morality plays. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Beowulf to The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, scary stories invariably existed within the framework of a moral universe. Gilgamesh finds out he must die, then realizes that his flawed, short life is the best gift he could possibly receive. Beowulf realizes the harsh effects of envy and vengeance. Dr. Faustus realizes that repentance is powerful, but it must be exercised in God’s time.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was more of the same. Teens discovered that drinking, smoking weed, and having premarital sex was a sure recipe for disembowelment. Young girls found that strength in the face of nightmares could win out. Parents were taught that their children had value, and should be listened to (both relatively new cultural ideas). Scary movies were simply educational tales. Never take candy from a witch – or strangers. Do not be taken in by the sensuousness of foreigners (as in Dracula) – or by the forbidden pleasures offered by a classmate. Strength is not found by seeking to rise above the Gods – or by anything other than your own inner self.

In the 1990s, though, audiences became jaded and grew tired of the morality framework of previous “horror” movies. They turned to cynical, meta-views of their own lives, and their own horrors. It is no surprise that the most successful horror franchise of the 1990s was Scream, a slasher-style film whose true genius is not in finding a new way to punish sinners, but in its ability to point out the (perceived) silliness of the stories that had gone before. The killer Ghostface is almost an afterthought, providing fewer kills than opportunities for the characters to discuss how film intersects with life, what happens when people break rules, and whether any of those things really matter.

Morality turned to cynicism, and cynicism then morphed to nihilism. The new millennium saw the rise of a new kind of horror, and one that indelibly linked the genre to a new level of pain: torture porn, which, like Scream, provided the new decade’s most profitable horror franchise.

In 2004, the movie Saw was released. At its heart, it was actually a throwback to an older style of horror and was highly redemptive. Its antagonist, Jigsaw, kidnaps a number of men and women and offers them chances to escape various deathtraps. The outcome will be either death or a new appreciation for the life they have (shades of that first story, The Epic of Gilgamesh). However, the story received far less notice than the methods it employed to tell that story. The tortures devised were complex and ingenious. They were also bloody to the point of near-obscenity.[8] Among others, Jigsaw employed a trap that would rip the victim’s jaw completely apart, a scenario that required its victim to saw off one of his own feet to survive, and a man given the choice to either kidnap a woman and her young child or die of a slow-acting poison.

No one knew, noticed, or cared that much of the gritty, dark, bloody look of the story was more about budget limitations than intent.[9] It was, suddenly, for a large percentage of the movie-going audience, all about the kills.

Is it any wonder, then, that when most of us think “horror,” we think not of a reasoned definition, but of a movie poster representative of our time? Of a woman hanging upside down, implicitly nude and awaiting torture. Of dismembered fingers spelling out the number of the newest movie installment. Of pain-ridden women whose tortured bodies form the figure of a skull.

This, for most people, is “horror.” And this, for all people, is what horror is not.

But what is it?

 

  1. Our reality

 

The penultimate sentence of the last part is something of a deception. Though Saw had a definite moral center, and clear hope by the filmmakers for some pedagogical effect, its followers did not. Each succeeding movie in the series became more and more about what kind of cruel deathtrap could be composed. Ditto a step-child series: Eli Roth’s Hostel movies, which centered around places where the rich could pay to torture and kill victims – mostly hormonal college kids out for a last fling before real life set in – in any way they could devise. The characters in these movies matter little. The blood and the nudity matter a great deal.

The very reality of these movies proves that there are, indeed, “horror” stories which fit fully and exactly with most people’s conceptions of the genre. But they are not all. They are not even the most important. And that, finally, is where Mormons and their relationship with horror makes its entrance.

There are two kinds of horror. The first are those that, like the progeny of Saw, exist to shock and dismay their audiences. Essentially, these movies and books exist to kick their audiences into a psychic sewer. They do not merely describe the offal that passes below our notice every day of our lives, they take their audiences into the sewers themselves, kick them until they have no choice but to fall in… and then leave them there. For most Mormons – and a large percentage of the general populace – these movies serve no good purpose and are best ignored.

But what of the second kind? This is the type of horror that not only attracts some Mormons, but actually represents the most important aspects of this religion.

I was once asked an important question while walking between meetings at church. The man who asked was not being spiteful or making fun; he honestly wanted to know: “How can you write those things? Why do you want to cut people’s hearts out like you do?”

I knew that this brother member had never read any of my books or stories, or seen any of the films that I had written. He was asking not about what I wrote, but how I could write a story like Saw V or Hostel or The Human Centipede (all of which feature grotesque ad images).

My response was simple, and true: “I don’t cut out people’s hearts. That’s not my goal. What I want to do is rip their hearts out, take everything away, then throw the heart into the darkest crevasse I can find.”

The brother was agog. “Why would you do that?” he finally stammered.

“Because it’s only when you take everything away from someone, and throw their heart – their essence, their soul – into the deepest dark that you can show them what happens next. Only in the lowest places can we see that we are enough to climb out. That we don’t need a fancy car or a beautiful girlfriend or anything else to climb into the light. We just need the one thing given to us without interruption our caveat: our spirits. And if the dark is too thick, the pit too deep for us to climb out of, then so much the better. Because that is the moment when we receive Grace. The darkness falls away, and the hand of God reaches down to pluck us up from the place where we were lost.”[10]

The first kind of horror pushes us into the dark for the dark’s sake. The second kind pushes us into the dark so that we may see the light. And far from being anathema to Latter-day Saint (“LDS”) beliefs, this is a core LDS truth.

 

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. (2 Nephi 2:11-13; emphasis added.)

 

As a basic matter, LDS beliefs demand that good be paired with evil. Without evil, good cannot be seen – or at least, cannot be seen for what it is, and appreciated. Without the dark, light cannot exist. Without horror, there can be no redemption.

More than this, though, Mormons positively revel in horror. Not in going to the movies to see what new trap Jigsaw has created. Not in watching nude teens bounce until they are inevitably massacred in buckets of gore. Not in any of the “first” kind of horror.

But our entire faith is built upon Christ. And the chief cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6) is steeped in horror. In the darkest hours, followed by the light. In the second kind of horror.

To return to the brother who questioned how I could write such tawdry things. He asked about the blood, the sex. I reminded him of Zarahemna, who was not only scalped but actually saw his scalp affixed to a sword and waved about in the air – an image comparable to anything in the Saw series. I talked about the story in Judges 19:27-29:

 

27 And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.

28 And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.

29 ¶And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.

 

Yes, he cut his lover into twelve pieces and mailed them all over the country.

“What about sex?” asked the brother.

I will not go into detail here, but suffice to say the scriptures are replete with sex, some of the tamest of which involves King David looking upon a nude woman as she bathes, and eventually having her husband killed so he can sleep with her.

Like horror, however, the best of Christianity is not defined by sex or by violence. Like the best of horror, the best of Christianity is defined by light followed by darkness, and darkness by light. At the end of our conversation, I leaned in close to this good brother, and whispered, “You know what the darkest horror story I’ve ever heard of is?” He looked interested, so I continued. “It’s awful. Truly horrific. A man does nothing but good, and instead of being treated well, he’s betrayed by a friend, has the skin literally torn in chunks off his back by a whip designed with just that purpose in mind, has three-inch-thorns plunged into his head, and then is nailed to a cross while people watch him suffer for hours.”

My friend blinked. A small smile curved his mouth. “I get it,” he said.

 

  1. Mormon horror, Satan’s horror

 

Horror is like anything else. It is a thing that can be used for good, or for ill. Sex can be perverted to pornography, service to a quest for power over others. Horror can be used to show the evil that looms everywhere, including within us, or it can be used to show that redemption is possible – even inevitable.

I frequently hold forth that horror is the most moral of all genres – or at least the most potentially moral. People who have never read a book by Stephen King or Dean Koontz will often judge them as sleazy or evil, while unaware that, unlike in your average scifi or fantasy, both men are not only concerned with the great questions of our religion (Where did we come from, why are we here, where will we go?), they are positively obsessed by them.

In The Stand, widely seen as King’s best single-volume work, two groups gather after a plague that nearly wipes out humanity.[11] They are explicitly evil and good, with the evil group gathering in Las Vegas (obvious thematic reasons why), and led by a character who appears in many of King’s books. Known as the Walkin’ Dude or the Man in Black in The Stand, he promises his people safety and security. They just have to bow to him and abdicate the power of all their decisions to him. And the effect (at least for a while) is that the people in Las Vegas are united and safe, and quickly moving back to the civilized world they recently lost.

Contrast that to the group of “good” people, who constantly bicker and fight amongst themselves. Defections to the “bads” are regular, and little work can get done because the people in the good group for some reason feel themselves free to disagree, to argue, to fight about every little thing. In sum, to choose for themselves.

They are also led by a Prophetess.

This is no error, and it is no unusual moment. In thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy, people who profess to speak for God are either dubbed insane or malicious, or (in the case of fantasy) are mouthpieces for the gods of that universe, who rarely bear any resemblance to the gods worshiped by humanity today. In both cases, pedagogy is rare, and when it appears is often if not usually confined to the idea that Religious People Are Bad.

In horror, however, as in The Stand, prophets and prophetesses are not only real, they are the only path to salvation. The prophetess in King’s story leads the people to a promised land, where they will not be safe with no condition, but can become so if they make the right decisions. Her power rests not on physical force (she is an old, old woman), but in the fact that she is close to God, and the twin fact that those who listen will come closer to Him and His protection.

In the end of The Stand, King goes a step further as he all but testifies that God does live, and does watch out for us. The Walkin’ Dude’s people are set to kill all the righteous, and most of the good people’s leaders are set to be tortured and killed in view of all. What happens? The Walkin’ Dude conjures forth a ball of fire to destroy a dissenter, and in that moment “The Hand of God” (literally, that is what it is called in the text) takes the evil leader’s magic and turns it against him, setting off a nuclear warhead and destroying the wicked en masse.

The Hand of God. The good people have done their best, but it is not enough. Only intervention, saving Grace, can save them. In the words of a Book of Mormon prophet, King’s protagonists are saved “after all [they] can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). Again, this is a uniquely “Mormon” concept… unseen in most religions, that is, but prominent in works of horror.

In a similar vein, Dean Koontz’s novel The Taking features a second flood, set to destroy the earth. Only the righteous are saved, and these by the intervention of creatures that are explicitly shown to be angels.[12] In The Face, a soul is literally shown descending to Hell, only to be redeemed by an angel who takes that soul to Heaven instead. In The Darkest Evening of the Year, a dog is vested with God’s power and saves a child who suffers a mental disability (which renders her innocent and incapable of sin).

The list goes on.

 

  1. The “Horror” Part of Horror

It is true that horror exists with pain. The same could be said of life. Horror is often interwoven with sex as a motivating factor. But sex, we know, is part of a holy sacrament, and sexual interaction was part of Gods first commandment to Adam and Eve. Unlike many religions, Mormons do not shun sex, they embrace it, though they believe it is to be exercised within the boundaries the Lord has set, which we call “chastity” for short.

Pain can be used as an end, or it can become a way of recognizing joy. Sex can be used to grow closer to a spouse and to bring more of the Lord’s waiting souls to Earth, or it can be misused and perverted in fornication, pornography, and more. None of these facts make trials (the Mormon name for pain) or sex into evil things. They simply show the reality that Satan knows well how to pervert the good. In like manner, the fact that some horror misuses its power does not make the “genre” into a bad one.

Instead, horror can be seen as a uniquely “Mormon” experience. In redemptive horror, blood is not the principle subject, sex is not gratuitous. Both are there to set the stage for final reward and ultimate release.

This is not to say that “good” horror stories must end happily. In my novel Apparition, for instance, all the characters suffer painful – even deadly – fates. But what makes it (in my opinion) bearable, is that the pain exists within that all-important moral framework. For me the story was, first and foremost, about the effects of child abuse and parents who put themselves above their children. Such things do not end well – not for the parents, not for the children. So the story I told ended badly. But it ended badly with the aim of telling a greater story: that we can change. That we can be better. That our mistakes can be forgiven, and our souls redeemed.

 

  1. Conclusion

 

Redemption. The word has come up often in this paper, and that is because it must. For horror is all about redemption. Horror stories can be about evil for its own sake, but they should be – and so often are – simply retellings of the First Story. The story of a man who, before we were born, volunteered to save us. Who “is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). A man who literally bled from his pores (and what a horrifying scene that must have been!) as he suffered not just our sins, but our infirmities and pains of every kind (Matthew 8:17). Pain suffered by one man, who was literally tortured as he knelt alone in Gethsemane, followed by the torture of scourging, having a crown of thorns pressed into his flesh, and finally the long misery of crucifixion.

But this is not all. This is not what makes the Savior’s story True Horror. It is the redemption that does this. The moment where He descends from Heaven, and shows Himself to Mary. The body He still holds, and which shows we will all live again in the flesh. The fact that He will one day return, and finally destroy the pain that has gripped us all.

Horror is not about the pain. It is about the relief. It is not about the blood, but about the healing. Even if the healing leaves scars, those scars can then be used to prove the reality of the blessing, just as Christ used his scars to prove who he was and that his blessings were real.

Horror – good horror, real horror, true horror – always asks questions. Three, in fact:

Where do we come from?

Why are we here?

What comes next?

And horror, for that reason, is not only appropriate for Mormons, when properly executed it is a uniquely Mormon experience.

[1] Mehrabia, Albert, Silent Messages (1971), Wadsworth.

[2] Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet II.

[3] And, in a very “Mormon” fashion, this miracle is not the only one, nor do such miracles cease in ancient days.

[4] In a stunning exhibition of hypocrisy, in spite of all that has gone before I will refer to “genre” often moving forward. This refers not to the actual definition of the word that I have set forth, but to the “idea” that so many hold of what a genre – particularly horror – really is.

[5] Prose is actually a relatively new form of storytelling, which only slowly gained in popularity after the invention of moveable type.

[6] This is not a facetious example. See Lion’s Publishing 1957 edition of the book.

[7] Though there are notable exceptions, such as Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross, in which female nudity is highlighted; and others which contained profanity or fairly graphic violence.

[8] Obscenity in a legal sense. Obscenity as a general impression is an extremely plastic thing, but as a legal category there are specific steps taken to determine it. This is important since, as opposed to mere pornography, obscenity enjoys no First Amendment protections.

[9] See Scott Tobias, “Saw creators [sic] Leigh Whannell and James Wan,” The Onion A.V. Club, October 29, 2010 (recovered February 12, 2017 at http://www.avclub.com/article/isaw-icreators-leigh-whannell-and-james-wan-46975).

[10] This is actually not a “prettying up” of my response; I gave it verbally much as it is written here, because I had long thought about this and realized its veracity. If not, I could never have begun writing horror for a living.

[11] Itself a story with obvious scriptural parallels.

[12] Interestingly, most of those saved are children, and the reasoning tracks that in Moroni 8.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Life Advice, MbC Must-read, 1 comment

Dealing With Bad Reviews

Okay, so, you’re published. Your book is “out there.” It’s “in the world” and “up for grabs.” People can “read it” and “peruse it” at their “leisure” (I like quotation marks).

And at first, things seem all right. Fairly predictable. The book doesn’t become an instant bestseller, but it is selling. Your mom bought it, and your dad bought two copies, and so did that slightly weird person who sits in your closet and mumbles a lot. Or maybe that’s just what happens to me.

Regardless, your work is now on its own. Living, breathing, and (hopefully) being passed from hand to hand by readers who are — slowly but surely — going to become Your People. Your Followers. Your Army.

And then it happens. Among the four- and five-star reviews that have made you feel higher than a kite on meth, suddenly this rears its ugly head on Amazon:

A TERRIBLE read

I picked this boock up because of all the good revuews. But I guess the revuews were all dun by, like, the writers’ parents and stuff. Because the book stunk. It stunk a lot. It stunk like a dead skunk that has severe dysintary and then drowns in its own poop. Also, the author is a ca-ca doodie head and probably has lice and kix baby seals and stuff. Dont read this book, it will give you cooties.

– 1 star

You read it. And the questions start. Is my work really that bad? How could this reviewer have so completely missed the point of my book? Where did he learn to spell? What if I do have lice?

And, most urgently . . . how do I respond?

To that last, I have three little words: Ig. Nore. It.

Okay, maybe that’s four words, I don’t know. I’m a writer, not an accountant.

Seriously, though, when you get a review like the above, you must simply rejoice within yourself. Why? Because it means your book is being read. It’s getting out into the world, meeting new people, getting beyond the closed circles of your family, friends, and writers groups. It will inevitably meet up with people that hate it — because it’s not their style, because you did an objectively terrible job writing the piece (it does happen), or even for no good reason at all.

And like any good parent, you will have the urge to rush to your “child’s” defense.

RESIST.

There are really only two likely outcomes if you choose to wage war on the review or (even worse) on the reviewer himself.

1) You try to show the review is “wrong.” The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you. You now have a dedicated enemy who will attack you at every possible turn, giving you low ratings wherever possible and urging his/her friends and family to avoid your work like a sack of rotten meat. You have just accomplished nothing more nor less than magnifying the effect and range of the viewer’s bile and hatred. Result: you lose.

2) You try to show the review is wrong. The reviewer takes offense and goes to war with you. You mobilize your friends and followers and fight back. A comment war ensues! You beat back the scummy, evil, poor-spelling reviewer. He/she is silenced forever. Huzzah! But wait . . . those comments are there forever. And you look like nothing more nor less than a prima donna bully. This will keep people from buying your books in perpetuity. Result: you lose.

Of the two, the second is gratifying to the author, but far more damaging. I am friends with a great many authors, some of them legitimately Famous People. And occasionally one of them will get their undies in a wad over some disparaging comment made regarding their work and will mobilize their fans to attack. The fans attack. Or some of them. Some don’t. Some become “un” fans, turned off by the author’s childishness. And though maybe Famous People can afford to lose fans, the average author just can’t.

An example: my most recent novel, Darkbound, just came out. It’s a deeply disturbing horror novel about six strangers who get on a subway train that turns out to go everywhere BUT where they want it to. When it was released, a very eminent horror review site called Hellnotes wrote up a stellar review. So did several other review sites. A friend who had received an advance copy sent me a note saying he was . . . well . . . less than enamored of it. It was too dark, too violent. Worried, no doubt, about typical author ego, he asked what my response would be if he posted such a review.

My response: “Do it!” People have a right to know others’ thoughts. The fact that this reviewer didn’t like Darkbound as much as he had liked other books I’d written was a bummer. But it didn’t mean the end of the world, and insisting that he love everything about my work, all the time, would be not merely ridiculous, but counterproductive.

The reviews of our work will at times be insightful, helpful, warming. And sometimes it will be shallow tripe that looks like it was probably written in crayon by a five-year-old struggling against some weird form of Tourrette Syndrome. Both are part of being a writer. Don’t respond to either (even the good ones — that can be a bit “stalky” and can also mess with your fan base). If you want to interact with fans, get a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or stand on a box in Hyde Park.

But leave the reviews — and reviewers — alone. Ig. Nore. Them.

It is three words. I counted with my fingers.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Writing Advice, 0 comments

A Snowball’s Chance in Marketing

I recently received an email from someone on my “official Michaelbrent Collings Facebook Fan Page” (which is still kinda weird to have, truth be known), asking in essence what he could do to sell his books to more than just his close personal friends and family… and promising me a kiss on the lips if I could help him out.

Now, first of all, please let me be clear: if you know a famous author, or a successful author, or even a semi-famous or semi-successful author, this is generally not the way to get help. It is considered “solicitation” in a lot of cases and is illegal in many states. However, because he and I have had a lot of previous interaction and he buys all my books and seems nice and has never (as yet) tried to make a lampshade out of my face-skin, I answered. And I thought the answer might be germane to others who have gotten over that huge first hurdle of getting a book published, but now face the surprisingly bigger hurdle of actually trying to sell the durn-dang-darn thing!

Rest easy. It never gets easy. I’m one of Amazon’s bestselling horror writers, nearly every book I write hits one of their major bestsellers lists and most of them stay there… and I still have to spend about 40 percent of my time doing PR work and getting the word out. So it’s always going to be a job, folks. But… well… here’s what I told my fan:

If you ever want to dissuade someone from helping you, promise them a kiss on the lips.

Seriously, the thing of it is that there’s no easy answer. It’s like rolling a snowball down a mountain, I suppose. The bad news is that at first… you have a snowball and it’s tiny and it rolls really freakin’ slow and you’re going to be coaxing it along every step of the way. Telling people you know about your book at parties, random gatherings, funerals. Telling people you DON’T know about it at bus stops, waiting in line at the supermarket, funerals. Carrying around business cards with your website on it. A great tactic I like to use is engaging people in conversation and then saying slyly, “So what kind of books do you like to read?” after they say anything I can use to segue into that. Like a statement about their baby, or the weather, or the fact that they hate reading. You basically have to hear everything as an invitation to talk about your writing.

This does not get you invited to the cool parties.

The bad news is, at the end of the day you still have to push that freakin’ snowball along constantly. The GOOD news is… the bigger it gets, the more surface area it has. And that means that eventually it will start picking up snow at a faster rate. Hopefully.

Again, there’s no easy answer. Talk to people you don’t know. Google book review sites, looking for folks that might be interested in reviewing your novel and offer to send them a free e-copy. Google podcasts and internet radio stations that might want to talk to authors of books like yours and send them your SHORT (like, three sentence) bio and offer to chat with them at their convenience. Push that snowball.

Patience. Work. Tenacity.

Luck!

Now, again, this is not the fistful of flowers and sunshine that most people want to get when they ask about selling their books. But the reality is that the hardest work starts when you type “The End” and turn off the computer. The difference between a great author and a successful one is that the successful one knows how to get out and sell, to work the system and network and make contacts. Anyone can do it, I think, but precious few people really want to.

Be one of the ones that does.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Writing Advice, 0 comments

Musty Writing

When considering self-publishing on Kindle, there are four things you must do (“Must”y writing – get it? Ha!). They are like the mustard on my hot dog: a non-negotiable element. Without it, you may as well not even try. ‘Cause I won’t bite.

Now, before I dive into what those elements are, I should probably tell you how I know about them. So y’all know I’ve got street cred. And mad skillz (part of having street cred is always spelling “skillz” with a z).

I’ve been writing for most of my life. I sold my first paying work when I was fifteen. Going to college, I won a bunch of creative writing scholarships and awards. Then I became a lawyer, where my job involved mostly (wait for it!) writing.

Oh, yeah, and somewhere along the way I became a produced screenwriter, member of the Writers Guild of America (which is statistically harder to do than it is to become a professional baseball player), and a published novelist. Throughout all this, I had a book that I really liked, called RUN. And though I had done all the above, no book publisher would touch RUN with a ten foot cattle prod. Largely, I suspect, because it was very hard
to figure out how to market it: it was a sci-fi/suspense/horror/thriller/apocalyptic novel with romantic elements. There is no shelf for that at Barnes & Noble.

But I believed in the book, dangit! So I researched around, and discovered self-publishing through Amazon’s Kindle service. I decided I didn’t have much to lose, since RUN was just sitting on a shelf anyway, so decided to try my hand at self-publishing an e-book on Kindle.

Within a few months, RUN became a bestseller, topping Amazon’s sci-fi chart, and eventually becoming the #61 item available for Kindle, out of over ten million books, games, puzzles, and blogs. I also published a young adult fantasy called Billy: Messenger of Powers which has hovered on various genre bestseller lists on Amazon for the better part of a year now. And followed those up with another e-book, and another, and another. Some of the others became bestsellers, some didn’t. But all have made money, and all have increased my fan base.

Now I don’t say this to brag, but I want you to understand I know a bit whereof I speak. Through the process, I have learned the ins and outs of Kindle publishing (and e-publishing in general), learning as much from what didn’t work as from what did. And that’s how I’ve come up with these four important things to do:

1) Make a kickin’ cover

This is one place where approximately 99% of self-published authors get it wrong. Look at most self-published books, and they look less professional. And like it or not, a lot of people go strictly off the cover. You have about ten seconds to wow them with your cool cover before they click the button and move on to another book. For the Kindle edition of Billy: Messenger of Powers, I spent days upon days designing the cover. Everything from the cover image, to the typeface, to the composition of the elements. It was critical. And it paid off. Same for RUN, and another of my books, Rising Fears,
all of which have been praised for the fact that the covers are interesting enough to “hook” readers. Some of my other covers aren’t as effective, or as professional looking, unfortunately. And guess what? They also don’t sell as well.

2) Market yourself

Here’s a fact of life in general: people generally don’t give you things for free. You have to earn them. And that includes getting people to read your work. When I wrote Billy, I spent over a month designing a website that was interesting, conveyed a message about the book, and had a look and feel that I felt would intrigue people and make them want to find out more. Same with the website for RUN. And my own website, michaelbrentcollings.com, took even longer. But that was only the start. I also had a Facebook “fan” page, a Twitter feed, and did the rounds of book and genre conventions. Not to mention doing interviews, podcasts, guest blogs, and generally talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. You have to do more than write a book. You have to create an event.

3) Have a grabby description

“What do you do when everyone you know – family, friends, everyone – is trying to kill you? You RUN.”

That is the description on amazon.com for my book RUN. Two sentences that I spent an extremely long time writing. Like the cover of your book, the production description is something that has to grab people, reel them in, and not let them go. Some self-published authors think the best way to get someone to read their work is to describe every jot and tittle. But in reality, the secret isn’t information, it’s captivation. You have to intrigue your (prospective) readers. You have to leave them with serious questions that they want answered. Describing what your book is about is less important than creating a specific feeling in the mind and heart of your audience: the feeling that they will be better off reading your book than not.

4) Write something worth reading

This may seem obvious, but the fact of the matter is you have to have something pretty darn special. I’m not saying this to depress anyone: I firmly believe that most people have great stories in them, and have the potential to learn how to tell them. But make no mistake, it is something that takes practice, dedication, and perspiration. Writing is a skill. It is a discipline. Anyone can knock out a sentence or two. But getting those sentences to grab a complete stranger to the point that he or she is willing to fork over hard-earned cash to read them is another matter. Let alone getting them to like the sentences enough that they want to tell their friends to spend their hard-earned cash on them. Again, I really do believe that most people have it in them to do this. But I also believe just as stridently that to get to that point takes practice, practice, and more practice. I have spent thousands of hours learning how to write… and I continue to learn. Any author who wants to charm people into buying his or her work has to be willing to put in the effort to make it happen. Because without the skill to back up your work, no matter how good your basic ideas are, they probably won’t sell. There are exceptions, but for the most part a book has to be extraordinarily well-written in order to get people to buy it.

That’s not to say that everyone will like your book. Some people don’t like RUN, or Billy: Messenger of Powers. Or Harry Potter or anything by Stephen King or even the bestselling book of all time (the Bible). But if you don’t care enough to develop your writing skills in service of your storytelling, you can bet that few (if any) will like it at all.

And so…

… there you have it, folks. Again, I think most people have interesting stories to tell. But without doing the four things above, the great story will probably sit quietly in a dark corner of your closet. And that, my friends, is no fun at all.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Writing Advice, 0 comments

I Love You I Love You Now PUBLISH ME

Some time ago I had a phone call. It went like this:

“Michaelbrent! Hey, it’s John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.*”

“Hey, JJJS,” said I. ‘Cause that’s how I roll, baby. “What’s up?”

“Not much,” he said. “Hey, I know we haven’t talked in about five years, but thanks for sending me an update every so often.”

“Welcome,” I said. I am pithy that way.

“We at ABCDEF Production Company* want to option a script you gave us five years ago. We’d also like to pay you a borderline-obscene amount of money to do rewrites on it.”

“Okay,” I said. I hung up, then ran through the office where I work screaming something like “I RULE!” over and over again. I may also have been nude. The details are hazy.

Okay, so did you catch the most important part of the above? No, it wasn’t the “obscene money” part (it’s my FAVORITE part, but not the most IMPORTANT part).

Anything? Anything? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

The most IMPORTANT part of the above was the part where JJJS mentioned my periodic updates.

Creative writing is a lot like dating: you never know who will turn out to be “the one.” The one publisher who puts your work in front of a million people. The one agent who will get your work in the right hands. The one producer who will call out of the blue to offer you a bucket o’ cash to do work on your own work. So, because you don’t know who will be “the one,” you treat them ALL like they are prospective life partners.
This doesn’t mean “be needy.” Nothing turns off “the one” like you – yes YOU – calling every day in the vain hope that he/she/it will realize that you are “the one” for them.

But everyone likes to know they are important. This is true as much in publishing and movie-writing as it is in dating. So you must walk that fine line between “needy” and “forgetful”: any time you make a significant contact – someone who loves your work (for real, not in the “I loved it but no thanks” kind of way you see in so many polite rejection letters) but who cannot, for outside reasons, help you or move forward with it right now. This could be a publisher who has his next two years of publications already mapped out, an agent with an extremely full dance card, or even a new friend you meet at a book convention who may someday provide a nice review of one of your books. In any of these types of situations, make sure you follow up your new contact with a personal note – email or the “old fashioned” kind.

The note should do three things:

1) Remind them who you are (e.g., “It was nice to meet you during the panel at ABC Book Conference the other day,” or “I had a hoot listening to your lecture at Barnes and Noble last Thursday,” or “Thanks for not pressing stalking charges in court over the weekend”). These people meet lots of folks, so say something to give them a gentle hint of where you met and who the heck you are.

2) Thank them for any advice or kind words they gave you. People like to hear gratitude. Be sincere, not fawning, but be appreciative. “I LOVED EVERYTHING YOU SAID AND DID FOR ME… IT CHANGED MY LIFE” is not as effective as “Thanks for reading my book Billy: Messenger of Powers – your kind words were appreciated, and even though we can’t work together right now because of your busy schedule, your courtesy and professionalism were wonderful to see.”

3) Let them know you will keep in contact. Not “I look forward to seeing you as I peep out from behind your closet door tonight” – this is definitely a turn-off to “the one.” But you might consider something like “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep you in my list of contacts so I can drop you a line from time to time.”

Then, after you’ve sent the missive, schedule a follow-up for three months, six months, or even in a year. Just enough so that when they run out of work, or need some writing services that you would be great at providing, you will be there for them. You goal is not to consume their lives, but to position yourself as someone who is always on their “short list” of people who can do something for them at a moment’s notice.

Because folks, chance and fame only come a-knockin’ once in a while. So you better be home when it does.

And it also helps if, when fame looks at its schedule for the day and sees it has an opening or two, your name is the first one that pops into its head.

Make relationships. Then maintain them. Because you never know…you might have met “the one” already.

* The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Except mine. I ain’t innocent: I stole a candy bar in fifth grade, and the whisperings about me having something to do with the assassination of Darth Vader are entirely true.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com in Writing Advice, 0 comments