Monday, January 28, 2013



From the time we’re old enough to read a children’s book, each boy and girl is taught about great historical figures who overcame unprecedented opposition to advance a mission or succeed in a chosen pursuit. Even though we live in a culture that rewards greed and often punishes selflessness, the prominent individuals we’re taught to admire from an early age are not CEOs or advertising executives. Instead, the better angels of our families and teachers wrap our minds in the tapestry of stories about religious figures, war heroes, and courageous political leaders. There’s one thing this group possesses that the former does not.

Make no mistake about it. Throughout the civilized world, each person grows up with a keen understanding of humanity’s secular religion: the worthy garners esteem among their contemporaries, by performing one or more acts of bravery to ensure a noted place in history.
In fiction, we use this notion of honor to build heroic characters that the masses can identify with and root for throughout a written story, live theatre, or motion picture. Mythology master, Joseph Campbell, discusses this kind of human psychology in his book, The Hero’s Journey. His thesis is that mankind throughout human history has bestowed honor and courage onto legendary figures in myth and religious doctrine. The point being, these myths are used to teach us (or inspire an instinctual belief) in what makes a moral and honorable person.

Hell, even in modern storytelling, the antihero is a dishonored person or coward that’s forced to strive for an honorable outcome in a story’s plot. Rarely, if ever, do we see a complete aversion to the myths of honor that mankind has perpetuated for millennia.

In modern life, we see the importance of honor play out most commonly in the biographies of our political leaders. They are the one group of people who have the financial resources and power to advance heroic story lines that play into the mythological needs of a population. It doesn’t matter how true or false their stories are. It’s the perception of honor that matters.

We as a society also place a value of honor onto our soldiers, sailors, firefighters, nurses, and police officers. We find it comforting that these people are looked upon as heroic figures in our social narrative. These people forego financial rewards and risk their lives on a regular basis to earn the respect that comes with the elevated distinction of being an honorable professional. Sure, there’s an argument to be made about the human need for adventure, but that need is often fulfilled by self-serving acts of skydiving or bungee jumping.

Honor is about the virtue of sacrificing one’s personal desires or needs for the good of others.
That’s why Captain James Kirk in Star Trek is a less honorable character than Commander William Adama in the modern version of Battlestar Galactica. Both lead thrilling lives and take risks to accomplish their goals. Both carry the responsibility of thousands of lives on their ships. Both fight technologically advanced enemies on a regular basis. But Kirk does it because he believes he’s the only one that can. Adama simply rises to meet the challenges presented. Kirk fights because he believes it’s his life’s work and therefore, he’s sacrificing little. Adama accepted retirement until the Cylons obliterated his civilization.

Think about it this way. Kirk freely admits that he “cheats death” and places his trust into the hands of Spock and McCoy to handle the challenges of each storyline. On the other hand, Adama tells his crew they have to “roll the hard six,” an indirect statement that they’re sacrificing much to accomplish a goal. He tells Starbuck to “Grab your gun and bring in the cat,” to reel her in from Kirk-like theatrics so he can absorb the brunt of honorable sacrifice.

Lastly, Kirk never fully accepts the Klingons as true equals. They are always adversaries to never be trusted. Adama wrestles with the moral definitions of what it is to be Human vs. Cylon and grows into a better man from learning. He literally sacrifices part of his own humanity to accept others.
To test our understanding of honor, let’s choose who is the more honorable figure: Obi Wan Kenobi or Han Solo?

Most would immediately say Obi-Wan, because he’s a noble Jedi that dedicated his life to the Force while Han is considered scandalous. Obi-Wan worked all his life to ensure peace and advancement of his faith in the universe...and he sacrificed his own life for Luke Skywalker.

Yes, Obi-Wan is an honorable character and his place in George Lucas’ story is paramount. But Obi-Wan didn’t break the mold of his conditioning. He didn’t reach beyond his own training or mindset to achieve his goals. He played a noble cog in the machine of morality.

Han Solo is actually the more honorable character. He’s the man that sacrificed everything to join the good guys. His character went through a metamorphosis from unethical smuggler to ardent supporter of a just cause. By mythological definition, Han Solo is the most honorable character in the Star Wars story...and that is specifically why girls like him best. Everyone thinks it’s because he’s the edgiest and falls in love with Leia. In psychological truth, it’s because he’s the only one that gives up everything he knows to embrace what’s right and good.

When writing your next story, (fiction or nonfiction) keep the true definition of honor in mind. Every story contains an honorable character. By defining those attributes correctly, your hero or antihero will be more broadly understood and accepted by a larger readership. That understanding will secure a permanent place in the minds of your readers.

It’s not always easy, but sometimes you gotta roll the hard six. Now, go make it happen!

Good hunting.

BIO: Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ron Gavalik is a seasoned freelance journalist and fiction author of the successful Grit City thriller series. As Publisher for Grit City Publications, he oversees the Emotobooks Revolution. Ron holds an M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a B.S. in Marketing Communications from Point Park University. When not writing, you can find him in the outdoors of Southwestern Pennsylvania on his trail bike, hiking, or fishing.

Sunday, January 27, 2013



It's about that time my neurotic little friends, and this time around, I have something extra special for you. I'm currently working on a story about a grave digger named Chera Slate, and when I went to visit my brother in his cell this morning, we brainstormed a bit and started working out a plot. Turns out Patient Slate ended up in the Madhouse a lot earlier than expected, and my dear, long gone brother fell madly in love with her.

Not a poem this time, folks. But maybe something a bit better?

Here are the lyrics... feel free to sing along!
Oh and give my CrAzY brother a shout-out on twitter at: @scotydoesntkn0

By Stephanie M. Wytovich
Reworked from Kayne West's original song, Gold Digger.

She take my organs when I'm in need
Yeah she's a trifling fiend indeed
Oh she's a grave digger way over town
That dig's on me

(She gives me ograns)
Now I ain't sayin' she a grave digger (When I'm in Need)
But she ain't messin' with no live niggas
(She gives me organs)
Now I ain't sayin' she a grave digger (When I'm in need)
But she ain't messin' with no live niggas

Dig down girl go head dig down (I gotta leave)
Dig down girl go head dig down (I gotta leave)
Dig down girl go head dig down (I gotta leave)
Dig down girl

Just a little scary
Met her at a cemetery
With a head kinda hairy
Up under her arm
I said, I can tell you Chera
By the words you just said
If you keep moving your lips
You gonna wind up dead- in my arms
But I’m looking for the one, have you seen her?

My psychic told me she have an ass like Serena
Trina, Jennifer Lopez, corpses
And I gotta take all there bad ass to show-biz
OK get your stiffs but then they got their friends
I pulled up in the Benz, she all got up in
We all went to the inn and then I had to pay
If you fucking with this girl then you better be payed
You know why
They all like to touch her
From what I heard she got a liver by Busta
My best friend say she use to cut up Usher
I don't care what none of you all say I still love her

Friday, January 25, 2013


My good friend, Lawrence C. Connolly, tagged me in "The Next Big Thing" post.  So without further adieu, I give you HYSTERIA.
What is the working title of your book?
The title of my book is Hysteria, and it’s a collection of 100+ poems that operate around an asylum theme. I chose Hysteria as the title because of its double entendre; the flexibility of it being defined as mass panic and a female treatment plan worked to my advantage.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Hysteria bred inside me for a couple of years before I decided to let it out. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of insanity, and its relation to medicine, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when I started to notice a definitive theme weaving through my work.
For research, I spent the night at The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and did an overnight paranormal investigation at The West Virginia State Penitentiary. For me to truly understand the nature of the beast, I had to become the patient, the nurse, the prison guard and the doctor. I sat in the seclusion cells, walked the wards of the infirmary, and stood where they hanged the inmates.
It was surreal. Something straight out of a nightmare.
What genre does your book fall under?
Psychological Horror.
I love the monsters and beasties that slither throughout the genre, but there has always been something about the horrors of the mind that just plain terrifys me.  I want my readers to feel the decline of sanity, witness the moment a patient snaps, and experience what it feels like to be alone.
I don't think anything is worse than the encroaching sound of blackness.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
As this is a poetry collection, it would be hard to pin-point specific people since there is an overflow in Ward C right now. More patients keep showing up and it’s hard to keep track of them all…
You understand.
What is the one-sentence synopsis for the book?
Madness lies within us all; it’s just a matter of knowing when to hide it, and when to let it out.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Hysteria will be represented by Raw Dog Screaming Press, and sit next to works by John Edward Lawson, Michael A. Arnzen, and Jason Jack Miller, to name a few. I couldn't be happier with the home it's found.  
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The collection took about six months to draft, but it also includes some of my earlier work as a poet. As a whole, I finished the manuscript in a year, as I’ve been simultaneously working on my first novel, The Eighth, which tends to possess me on a regular basis making it hard to travel back and forth between worlds.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’ve been told that my poetic style includes a healthy dose of Plath, Sexton, and Poe, and as I base myself within the trials and tribulations of the mind, I think works like The Bell Jar,“The Abortion,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” describe the insufferable madness that my patients struggle with.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always viewed poetry as a very raw and visceral outlet. More often than not, exhaustion took over me when I finished a piece, like a cathartic release of toxins were being drained out my fingertips. Sometimes it was freeing, other times it felt as if I were fading deeper into a permanent blackness. Either way, the experience is one that I’ll treasure because if I’ve learned anything as a poet, it’s that you can't have darkness without a little light.
Except for my patients.
They're beautifully doomed.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My biggest influences in the genre are Edgar Allan Poe and Clive Barker, so one can expect a great deal of body horror paired with Gothic subtleties that show the beauty of the grotesque. Oh, and some of the patients I wrote about were already dead when I met them. Score one for the spirit world.

Monday, January 21, 2013



When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write it?

I wrote my first story on ruled tablet paper in second grade. My teacher passed it on to the elementary school principal. He read it at a meeting of the local Lions Club, of which my father was a member. As president of the chapter, Principal Sprunger fined my father a dime because the preacher’s son had written such a sordid tale full of skeletons, witches, and blood. I've always loved horror and crime and psychological thrillers. More about this in Why I'm a Horror Writer. 

Where you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I journaled in secondary school; I don't anymore. When I come across intriguing articles on the Internet, I'll print them and put them in an idea file, although now that I think about it, I rarely use them. Most of the ideas that I've turned into stories come by inspiration. I'm faithful to jot them down and then create a file in my electronic ideas folder. Or I'll start working on one immediately, like my current project about a homicidal bedwetter. That's right, I leaked the story here first, on Stephanie Wytovich's MADHOUSE blog!

What’s a normal (writing) day like for you?

Because of my job, I don't get to write fiction every day. But last weekend I met someone for lunch to interview him about his job, which I plan to use for my protagonist (they can't all be writers). Then I spent the afternoon in a coffee shop developing characters. When I got home I edited a story for someone. The next morning I went to another coffee shop for breakfast, then worked on some plotting. Since I work at home full time, I often go out to a coffee shop (where else?) to get an hour or two of writing work done on weeknights.

Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

I love Patrick McGrath's Asylum--dark, psychologically complex, and beautifully written. I'm currently in the middle of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. I wish I'd read that as a kid, but... what am I saying? I never grew up! In fact, I still sleep with stuffed animals. As a special favor to me, the taxidermist sews their eyes shut.

Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?

I used to write poetry in high school and college but haven't since, although I would like to study more about it and try again. I write mostly prose: non-fiction and fiction (novels and short stories). My left-brained ideas require more development than I can express with poetry.

Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

Until recently I required absolute silence to write because any kind of noise shattered my attention. Now I can write in a coffee shop with music and ambient noise. But if the TV is on, I can't do anything except watch it, the primary reason I stopped watching for a decade.

Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?
I begin every writing session by sacrificing a small woodland animal. Just kidding. They're actually quite large. I haven't written exclusively in longhand for 20 years, although if I have a printout with me (you guessed it, at a coffee shop) I will handwrite inserted sections on the backs of pages and key them in later. When I edit, I use Uni-ball Roller micro pens (0.5 mm, red or black).

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser?
I'm definitely a plotter. I couldn't write more than a scene off the top of my head, and then I'd be lost until I did some plotting and outlining. I don't like wasted effort. The more my writing moves toward the crime genre, the more planning I must do ahead of time.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?
Marketing. I hate it. But I understand the necessity and am focusing my efforts this year on building a bigger following and getting my work out there in front of eager new readers.

Current projects?

Death Perception is due for release early in 2013. This novel combines my love for crime with my experiences with Spiritualism and the supernatural. Spirits, murder, and marshmallows! And a smidgen of kink. You can read the first chapter at

How do you balance being an editor and being a writer? (Or double jobs, being a mom/dad, husband/wife etc.- apply to your situation)

I'm a technical writer for a software company and work from home full time. So I write for my day job using left brain skills. If I have any brain left over at the end of the day, I use the right side to create fiction. And because I'm stuck in the house all day, I need to get out evenings and weekends. That means coffee shop. I also do freelance editing for others, both fiction and non-fiction. But I consider all of this part of being a writer. Even my work as a medium and metaphysician uses the same creative channel that inspires my writing. More about this at Psychic Development for Writers

What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

Lee_greenbay.jpgI hope readers expect an interesting story well told--and well written. There are plenty of people dumping stories and books out there that aren't ready for prime time because they aren't sufficiently edited. I strive to make my stuff as smooth and clean as possible. Considering what I have out there for sale, I think readers can expect a generous helping of misery in my fiction, served up with a side of creepiness,

Advice for aspiring writers?
I thought I deserved publication long before I did. It often takes much longer than you think it should to become successful. But: 1) Keep learning about the craft of writing (read books, take classes or workshops, join a critique group, hire a developmental editor like me). 2) Read and review the work of others, because you'll need karma in your favor later. 3) Keep writing. 4) Strive for excellence in every aspect. "Good enough" will not get you published. 5) Don't give up. When you're ready, your work will find a channel for expression, for this is the reason you are inspired.

Death Perception small.jpgLee Allen Howard writes horror, dark fantasy and supernatural crime. He’s been a professional writer in the software industry since 1985. Besides editing fiction and non-fiction, Lee has served as a book publishing consultant and now publishes fiction and Spiritualist classics for Kindle. His publications include The Sixth Seed, Mama Said, Desperate Spirits, Night Monsters, and Stray. Death Perception is due for release in 2013 (read the first chapter at He blogs about writing and editing on his writer’s site: Lee also discusses metaphysical and spiritual issues at He works part-time as a Spiritualist medium and healer.

Monday, January 14, 2013



When did you start writing?

I started writing in the sixth grade. I had been a pretty avid reader since third grade and thought it might be fun to try.  I didn't try until our new sixth grade teacher turned out to be this 23 year old beautiful girl.  I wanted to impress her so I wrote a murder mystery short story. She was impressed, but not nearly enough to fall for an eleven year old.

Her loss.

However, I found I loved writing the story and coming up with all the little twists and creating the characters. It was a pretty easy mystery to figure out and I knew it, but just the act of creating a world was pretty exciting to me.  It started me off into writing from there.

Why did you pick the genre you write it?

I didn't really pick it as much as it seemed to pick me. I started watching horror movies at a really young age- I saw the original "Nosferatu" on PBS when I was about 5- and when I was able to read, I read a ton of books I shouldn't have... I did get in trouble for doing my 8th grade book report on "Christine."  Got in trouble for that one.  I do write other things that aren't horror, but I still view myself as a horror writer.  I don't have any illusions or trepidations about being considered one either.  There is great writing in horror and I'm proud to be one.  It's just more fun for me and it is always a challenge.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

The ideas just tend to pop in, for which I'm grateful, but as I get older I tend to take situations of what I see around me and juxtapose it.  During the start of the whole "Twilight" craze, I wondered how a vampire would feel being portrayed in such a manner.  Would the vamp find it hilarious or insulting?  From that scenario, I wrote "Where the Apple Shine Won't Reach" which later became the launch pad for my web comic "Forever After" about decidedly un-sparkly vampires.

I've tried relentless to journal, but I tend to zone out when I'm writing about myself.  As a writer, you are your first reader and audience.  I bore myself to tears most times when I journal, although I have been trying to blog more frequently on my site ( these days.

What's a normal (writing) day like for you?

I've trained myself to get up at an insane hour every morning, seven days a week. I try to write for two hours in the morning and then every free chance I get.  A lot of the newer works I've finished oddly enough have been done at odd hours, and at a pretty rapid clip.  I'm pretty undisciplined about a lot of things, but I've gotten very good at getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning and hitting the words.  I've very used to it by now.  Still, there's never enough time in the day to write as much as I'd like.

Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

My favorite author has to be Joe R. Lansdale.  He's the modern Mark Twain as far as I'm concerned. He makes the writing look so damned easy...his dialog is effortless and his stories are so diverse in subject.  I've been reading a lot of Lovecraft as of late.  It continues to floor me with the ideas that guy had flowing out of him for the time period.

Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?

I actually like them both, although I tend to embrace prose more these days obviously.  Poetry is a lot more refined and harder to pull off I think.  I love poetry, and I can even write some with a gun to my head but my forte is prose.

Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

I usually write in silence because it'll screw me up otherwise.  I know writers who put mood music and mood lighting on to create an atmosphere and I've tried it over the years, but eventually, I just turn it all off and get back to work.

Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?

I type on a PC or the laptop, but I used to love getting an old typewriter and bang out on the keys all night. I'm going to write a novel on an old typewriter one of these days.  My writing habits are honestly, the only non-weird things I have in my psychological makeup.  Well, I do speak my dialogue out that weird?

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pancer?

I'm somewhere in between really.  I will cook up enough of a plot to figure out where I'm going in general, but once I've been writing for a while and the characters let me hear their voice, the plot sometimes will change and I just let them take me where they want to go.  With the short work, I usually know where I'm going, but I also believe that the journey sometimes is way more fun than the destination.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

I'd have to say editing.  There always seems to be this little bone of contention about altering your own work, even if it's to make it better.  There is a certain point that I just can't stand to read my story anymore and it's usually around the fifth rewrite.  I have to leave it alone for a while before I can look at it again.

Current projects?

Right now is surprisingly busy for a bunch of reasons.  My short story supply is dwindling and I have to go and refill it.  I like to have a small stack of them around and then shop them all at the same time.  I'm working on a massive third issue story for the comic book; it's been on hiatus since summer as my artist was doing some different work for a while.  I need to get back to my second novel, which is a semi-sequel to the first one.  Hopefully, I get the work that the first one gets to see in ink.  I also host a podcast called The Wicked Library and we're about to go into our second season.  It's a log of fun and we're starting to get noticed.  We just made the transition to iTunes, so there's some urgency to step up the game.

How do you balance being an editor and being a writer (Or double jobs, being a mom/dad, husband/wife etc.)

Simple. I really don't. Not all things are equal at all times.  Sometimes, I have nothing but time to do it all, and that's usually when I slack off. When there are a million things being thrown at me at once, that's when I snap to attention.  It's stressful, but in a good way. I love writing and as annoying as editing is, stories aren't written as much as they are rewritten.  It's cliche, but it really is a labor of love.

What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

I always try to make the twist or the punch in the story come from nowhere.  I will telegraph it sometimes, but only if it's fun.  That, and I think people can expect believable, likeable characters.  If you can get your readers to really like your characters, when one of them gets chased by the boogeyman, they'll be worried. And I'm usually good for at least one gross out.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Three things. One is read. Read anything. Read everything. Absolutely anything and everything you can. Even if it sucks.  Take it all in, find your favorite.  If you don't have time to read, you aren't going to have time to honestly write.

Two is write. Write anything and everything. Write and submit your work. Your work will not publish itself.

And three. Don't be afraid to get a rejection letter.  You're going to get them.  It's part of the process and a badge of honor.  The writer who keeps stories in a box and never sends them out will never be published. Don't be that writer.

416834_4300734009354_343386765_n.jpgBIO:  Nelson W. Pyles is an author of horror fiction residing in Pittsburgh, PA. Originally from New Jersey, Nelson has written several short stories, screenplays, and is at work on his second novel.  He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and his work has appeared alongside bestselling authors Harlan Ellison, F. Paul Wilson, Jack Ketchum, Jessica McHugh, and Lucky McKee to name a few.  His latest work is in the new anthology FEAR THE ABYSS from Post Mortem Press and is available at  He also hosts a podcast called "The Wicked Library" where he reads the work of a featured up and coming author each week. 

You can find out more by visiting and

Also, check Nelson out at: 
Twitter:  @nelsonwpyles and @wickedlibrary

Monday, January 7, 2013



When did you start writing? Why did you pick the genre you write in?

I've been writing since I was a kid. I still have a "Masters of the Universe" fanfic that I wrote in 1st grade. Illustrated, too. I've always liked action and adventure, so that is what led me to the mystery/thriller genre. Having said that, I love exploring the other genres as well, thanks in large part to my two stints in Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction program.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I've always spent a lot of time in my own head, so I guess my ideas mostly come from playing "What if" games with myself. I hate journaling from the very depths of my soul. The only journals I ever kept were from writing classes that forced me to keep them. They've since been burned.

What's a normal (writing) day like for you?

Thanks to an Evil Day Job, I don't have writing days. I mostly find snippets of time here and there to jot down a hundred or so words. Which is horribly inefficient, at least for me. The few days where I can actually sit and write, I tend to do so in sprints, usually around 1,000 words or so. That way, I can really get into the flow of the story. Short breaks don't seem to interrupt that. Rather, they allow time to plot out what will happen next.

Favorite author or book? Who are you currently reading?

"Favorite" is a tough one. My top three are usually "The Road Back" by Erich Maria Remarque, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, and "Snoopy and the Red Baron" by Charles M. Schultz. At the moment, I am reading "Carte Blanche," Jeffery Deaver's offering in the James Bond canon. I'm also reading a couple of series by Victoria Dahl, because a)I edit e-roms and b) her Tweets make me laugh.

Do you prefer writing poetry or prose? Why one over the other?

Prose, since I suck at poetry!

Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

I've always got music on, whether I'm writing or not.

Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?

I have plenty of weird habits, but none of them are really writing related. I long ago dismissed the notion of needing a favorite notebook or pen; probably about the time I started typing my drafts. I'll occasionally write long-handed if I am stuck or brainstorming. But I type all of my drafts. I enjoy it, and that way I can actually read what I've written.

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pantser?
Pantser, for the most part.  But then again, I run a lot of scenarios through my head before and in between writing sessions. So while I don't write to or with an outline, it would be disingenuous for me to claim that I don't plot things out in advance.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?
Can I go with "whatever part I'm currently working on?" I think this will vary from writer to writer and situation to situation.  Right now, the hardest "big picture" part for me is finding balance so I can keep up with all the plates I have spinning in the air.  As far as the mechanics of writing, I usually find that coming up with ideas is fairly easy.  Making them work together in a coherent narrative is not.

Current projects?

Two adventures and one romantic suspense, all of which currently have uncertain fates.  Several short stores in various stages of developments.

How do you balance being an editor and being a writer?

Not terribly well, I'm afraid.  The Evil Day Job is a huge time and energy suck.  Editing for others is very rewarding, but I can't easily switch from "editor" to "writer" if my own muse strikes.  So production really depends on sheer force of will.  Some days I win out, and others I simply have nothing left in the tank.

What do you think people expect from you with your writing?  EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

I suspect people expect me to push envelopes, buttons and boundaries.  I try not to pull punches in my writing, which sometimes can backfire painfully.

Advice for aspiring writers?

The best advice I ever received consisted of two words, courtesy of Dr. Michael A. Arnzen: "Go there." You can apply that to just about any stage in the production of a creative work.  Whether it's exploring the darkest depths of your creative soul, trying out a new genre, or seeking out new and exciting forms of publication: "Go there."

The other advice I have to offer: FTFT, which stands for "Finish the Fucking Thing." Now, if you're just writing for yourself, you can do whatever you want.  But if you want to publish and sell, you have to have finished product to offer.  I know far too many talented writers who never let themselves finish a project.  I don't know if it's fear, or if they simply enjoy the romantic notion of being a struggling writer or what.  That's really between them and their therapists.  But if you want to sell, if you want to be read by more than just your critique partners, and frankly if you ever want to grow as a writer, you eventually have to get to "The End."

Chris Stout is the author of the novel "Days of Reckoning" and several short stories. He holds a MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013



When did you start writing?

I reckon I didn't really start writing, other than a little scribbling here and there, until the mid-to-late 90's. Short stories mostly, by far.  Though I did write some books back in elementary school: The Elf and the Dinosaur was one; another was The Bloodcurdling Bony Fingers (I had issues with adjectives), about this hand that apparently had no arm, no body, no head/eyes, and it went around killing people. Our school library would shelve our books. The kids wrote and illustrated them, and the mothers- my mama was one of 'em- would stitch them together with covers made out of wallpaper or something like that. But it's really in the last 2 years that I've decided that I want to do more than publish short stories here and there in journals, magazines, and anthologies, and all. Pulling together my collection, Back Roads and Frontal Lobes, was kind of a way of telling myself that I was serious.

Where do you get your ideas from? Do you journal at all?

I get them from everywhere. I know that's vague, but I do. I am an obsessive people watcher. And I love observing the smaller details of settings. I'll look at just about anything and ask myself, "What's the story behind that?" The fun is, I never know what it is when I start. I just like to compile images and see where they take me, whether the images are weird people, peculiar settings, odd objects, or all in one.

I do journal. Primarily, I have a journal full of first lines and first paragraphs. I have over 1,000 first lines in it now. But I'll paste things in there, too.  Things written on receipts and napkins and all from when I'm driving. Weird sidebar news stories. But the first lines are the main thing. I'll see something and write a first line based on it, and then I can come back to it later. My latest is, "Ursula ate dry spaghetti from her purse while waiting for the bartender's attention." Where do I go now?

What's a normal (writing) day like for you?

I've never had one! I try to write at least a little bit 4-6 days a week. Generally, writing includes things like a cat puking, a dog chasing cats, my four-year-old daughter climbing on me, me cooking meals and taking out the trash, me spilling coffee or bourbon, me teaching or grading papers, me answering questions for my teen about her homework, something being broken in my house, me hanging out with my daughters, me messing around on Facebook, more being climbed on by my four-year-old, me getting a few words of writing in, me fighting crime as a superhero...

Favorite author of book? What are you currently reading?

This changes monthly.

Favorite novelist is Robert McCammon. Favorite book may be The Keeper by Sarah Langan. Favorite short story author? Probably Charles L. Grant and Kelly Link.

I'm reading Bad Apple by Kristi Peterson Schoonover right now- excellent book, so far.

Do you prefer writing poetry, short stories, or novel length pieces? Why one over the other?

Short stories. I just love the condensed form compared to novels. Really good short stories can develop a character in such a short space just as well as meandering novels do.  Good novels give me a big swelling-belly feeling, and I love that- but only short stories deliver the sudden punch.

Do you write in silence or with noise (TV, movies, music)?

I write with noise. Outlaw country like Waylon, country ballads, rock and AC/DC, bluegrass, classical with a dark feel. But I have to rewrite and edit with either silence (yeah, right) or common background noise.

Do you have any weird habits when it comes to writing? Do you type or write longhand?

I have to be dressed. By that, I mean that I'm not a pajama writer like some (not that I own pajamas, except a pair of Bud Light pants that were a gift). I have to approach it as "going to work." This may be because of all the normal dad/household/work distractions. It would be too easy to say that I'm too tired and just fall asleep reading in a chair if I didn't. So, yeah, I have to have on jeans and a shirt. And, of course, I'm never without a hat, unless I'm sleeping or showering. And I do those things rarely. Ha!

Would you consider yourself a Plotter or a Pancer?

It is all about discovery with me- that's why I write. Even with longer forms. I know it works with short stories. I'm finding out how it works or doesn't with novels now- we'll see. But the first draft has to be a mystery to me. Second drafts and beyond are about cleaning up messes and creating meaning.

What do you think is the hardest aspect of the craft?

Self-doubt. I've taught college creative writing for 14 years and can see a great writer right away. I can see one with potential right away. I can see one, harsh as it sounds, that just doesn't have it. But it is hard trying to view your own stuff objectively.  But as far as a specific element of craft, like you asked, well, I still have trouble with overwriting- I have to cut a lot in late drafts, things that I think are poetic and unique but they're often the types of things that Elmore Leonard says to cut- the things readers skim.

Current projects?

A bunch of short stories, as always- I have a ton of first drafts that I'm rewriting and editing. I can't stop starting new ones, either.

Beyond that, two things: (1) a massive rewrite, which I'm falling in love with, of a novel called The Disharmony of Frogs and Toads. And (2), a novella project with three other writers (D.A. Adams, James R. Tuck, and Steven Shrewsbury)- we're doing a book with four Weird Western novellas, one by each of us. The book is called Lowdown, Desperate and Damned, and my novella is tentatively called "Cathouse for the Dogs of War."  I'm also going to pitch a horror anthology idea called Chow to publishers this year, and work on another novella project with Thomas Erb and another author to be named.

How do you balance being a father and a teacher with being a write?

I don't. Father comes first, always. I try to balance teaching and writing, but the mountain of teaching work always wins. I am a terrible insomniac, so rather than fight it, I reckon I've just decided that the Good Lord meant for me to be doing something else- writing is the logical choice.

What do you think people expect from you with your writing? EX: Can they always count on a good gross out?

Haha! There are some gross-outs. But I hope there is nothing that can always be expected. I don't want this to sound arrogant, but I truly strive to surprise and to be unique. I aim for variety with style, voice, POV, genre, even subject matter.

That said. Expect things to be weird and/or brutal or have a lonely, sad, or nostalgic flavor. Or so I'm told.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Nothing new. It's simple: read and write as often as you can. All kinds of stuff. But...I would add the suggestion of finding ways to be in touch with other writers and readers, whether it be conventions, via the Internet, or whatever. There is comfort in similarly weird people.

BIO: Brady Allen is the author of Back Roads and Frontal Lobes, a collection of 23 tales in the genres of horror, crime, the road story, soft sci-fi, dark fantasy, surrealism, existentialism, the weird tale, and even some plan ol' realism.  He has published numerous short stories in magazines, journals, and anthologies in the U.S., England, and Ireland and has received honorable mentions for a couple of them in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror volumes from St. Martin's Press, as well as an Individual Artist Fellowship in fiction from the Ohio Arts Council for three others. Allen writes in Dayton, Ohio, where he lives with his two daughters and teaches writing at Wright State University. He loves Reds baseball on a transistor radio, and the sound of a train in the still of the night calls to him.