Monday, September 26, 2005

Call and Response

Another post, another productive nothing to report, at least on the novel front. On the blogging front, however, something rather cool and unexpected happened today.

Dorothy Thompson, editor of The Writer's Life Magazine and all-around lovely person, had some very nice things to say on her blog about my recent post regarding my first-ever literary award, which can be read here. It seems that she had a similar experience, and reading my post got her to wonder whether all writers might not have a similar story to tell. Her ponderings were both sweet and insightful, and made me look at my initial post in an entirely new light.

I think that perhaps my favorite part of all of this (apart from being referred to as "utterly charming") is that she and I could not be from more disparate genres, and yet we share a common experience, a common history. What I thought of as a fond remembrance of a fairly peculiar event might in fact be something shared in one form or another by just about anyone who ever picked up a pen or clacked away at a keyboard.

Go check out her blog, and The Writer's Life as well. Both are entertaining, and both are informative. More importantly, though, is the fact that both of them are run by someone who could have easily just passed on through, but who instead stopped to have a conversation along the way. Kind of the point of this whole thing, I think.

And for the record, it was the post she referred to as "utterly charming," not me personally, but I'll take what I can get.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On Writing (and little green men)

After a couple of weeks off to write, polish, and submit The Toll Collectors, I’ve refocused my efforts on finishing my novel, which means there’s little to report. There’s progress aplenty, but I suspect if I were to document it in detail, it’d look a lot like this:

Wrote five pages today. Brilliant. Utterly, utterly brilliant. Best pages ever.

Read yesterday’s pages. Crap. Utter, utter crap. Worst pages ever.

And so on. So rather than boring you with the details of slogging away at my work-in-progress, I’ve decided to regale you with a tale of adventure, intrigue, and aliens. A tale of my loftiest literary achievement to date. A tale of my first-ever award for writing.

I was six years old.

I remember sitting on the institutional metal chair, my feet swinging free several inches above the floor. I was nervous, and I had reason to be – I wasn’t the kind of kid that got called down to the principal’s office with any regularity. In fact, I couldn’t remember ever having been called down to the principal’s office, though certainly I’d heard the stories. Yelling. Crying. Calls to parents. I wasn’t sure what I’d done, but I was sure it couldn’t be good.

The door to the principal’s office swung open, and out came a kid a couple of years older than me, eyes rimmed with red. He looked like he’d just been to war. I watched him disappear out of sight down the hall with growing dread. I was told I could go in. Reluctantly, I did.

The principal, a Mr. Hayburn, I believe, was leaning against the corner of the cheap metal desk when I came in. He told me to take a seat. He towered over me as I sat in that chair, and I was sure that at any second, he’d begin to scream, or breathe fire, or something equally terrifying. Instead, he handed me several sheets of loose-leaf paper, carefully stapled together.

He asked me if I recognized it. I did. It was a story I’d written for class, entitled The Alien Death From Outer Space. It was three pages long, and lavishly illustrated; I still remember gleefully wearing my red crayon down to nothing as I waged my epic battle between man and beast, the fate of Earth hanging in the balance. My recollection of the story is hazy, and doubtless colored by my mother’s many retellings, but I believe it went like this:

Aliens came from outer space.

They killed a lot of people.

We fought back, and killed them all.

Note the strong three-act (er, sentence) structure, the economy of prose. I’m sure that that was precisely what Mr. Hayburn had noted, that and not the violent Techicolor carnage. He asked me several questions about the story, and I answered them as best I could. I have no idea what he or I said, really. All I remember is that I was terribly relieved he wasn’t yelling. He seemed very friendly, in fact – he smiled and nodded at all my answers, and in the end he gave me a Hershey bar, and made me swear not to tell anyone where I got it.

At the time, I was sure that my story was so fantastic that I’d been called down to the principal’s office and rewarded. Now I realize that I was questioned and given a bribe in the interests of me not killing my fellow students. Either way, there’s a lesson to be learned – if you can scare the pants off of your audience, you will be rewarded. Of course, those were more innocent times; today, I’d have just been put on some sort of federal watch-list. Maybe then I’d have been inspired to become a First Amendment lawyer.

A funny post-script – when I strolled through the front door that evening, I was munching happily on my newly-won candy bar, and my mother asked me where I got it. Not one to renege on a deal, I shrugged and said nothing. She of course freaked and made me tell her where I got it. So be careful what you say to a kid – they may take it pretty literally. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up creating a writer.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Lost Highway

This weekend, I completed a short story entitled The Toll Collectors, which is as I type this now at the mercy of the United States Postal Service. With luck, it will be accepted for publication before the new year.

The Toll Collectors is a ghost story of sorts, about a man who takes an unplanned detour onto a long-abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Fitting, since the story itself was somewhat of an unplanned detour; I was researching something else entirely when I happened upon a website dedicated to exploring this abandoned stretch of road, which actually exists, nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania a little east of Pittsburgh. The landscape was so eerie, so evocative, that it seemed ideal for the setting of a classic horror story. Hopefully, those responsible for reviewing it will agree.

A great deal of the credit for getting the story out the door should be given to my lovely wife Katrina, who, apart from being somewhat nonplussed by the fact that she is apparently the worst natural disaster ever to strike our fair country, is quite charming, patient, and a damn fine editor to boot. So if you're reading this, do her the favor of saying "Hurricane Katrina." I know at least one person who would greatly appreciate it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Going Live

So. Um. Hello.

Hmm. It seems to me that I ought to have something to say at this point. One would have thought that, having taken the time and the effort to put together a website, I might be a little more prepared in the posting-on-it front, but alas, I am not. But there you are, reading this, so here goes. Shouldn't you be working, by the way? What if your boss were to catch you reading this? You'd best check and see that no one's coming. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Anyways, welcome to my on-line journal. (I would have said "blog," but every time I type it, I have this nagging feeling that it is lacking an apostrophe, and so I thought I'd avoid the matter altogether.) My name is Chris, as you can plainly see peppered around the page, and I am a writer, in the sense that I get up in the morning and I write. I write mysteries, often (but not always) containing supernatural elements. If I were to have my pick of classifications, I suppose I'd label my writing speculative noir, though that would make for a pretty small section at your local bookstore, and could very well place me alphabetically on a shelf beside Gaiman and Gibson -- good company to keep, but I'd perhaps not fare so well in the company of giants. So I'll simply say that I write what I hope will be considered mainstream thrillers and leave it at that.

A couple of years ago, I began writing a novel. A lot of early mornings and a few hundred pages later, it's nearly done. What, you might ask, does it take to be a working writer? Stick around -- maybe we'll both find out.