WALKING THE DOG (or How To Conquer Writer’s Block)

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Argue the legitimacy of writer’s block all you like—and people do—the fact remains that there are few things worse for a writer than sitting down at the keyboard with a headful of ideas only to find that the words won’t come. We’ve all been there at one time or another. Perhaps there’s a deadline looming so close you’ve lost the luxury of the time needed to organize your thoughts. Maybe the pressure is so great it’s hampering your muse. Or maybe you just have too many other things on your mind for the words to find a straight path to your fingers: bills, repairs, what’s on TV right now…

Whatever the case, it’s stressful, and it’s happened to me more times than I can count.

But, rather by accident, I found a way around it.

My problem was one of intimidation. There were days when I would sit at the computer knowing what I wanted to write but unable, or unwilling, to write it. It seemed like a task that was greater than my capacity to deal with it. How do I sit here and essentially create a world from nothing when I feel as if I’m missing half the tools? Gods of literature do not approve of ill-fashioned worlds. My situations seemed convoluted, my action stilted, my characters forced…

In the end, I looked out the window and saw a man walking his dog, and that became the solution. Did I start my story: “A man walked his dog”? No. Did I create the world in which this man and his dog belonged? Not at first. I reduced it almost entirely to dialogue and imagined the conversation this man might have with his dog, but not just an ABC run-of-the-mill conversation. After all, if you’re going to have the dog as one of your key players in this little tableau, you might as well make it interesting:

“Every day,” Patch said.

The old man raised his eyebrows. “What’s that?”

“Every day the same old walk.”

“You don’t approve?”

“I don’t not approve, exactly. But it wouldn’t kill you to change direction once in a while.”

“I suppose we could do that.”

“How about swinging down by the school? The children love me.”

“Yes, they love you. The older ones can be cruel.”

“You let me worry about that.”

“If I let you worry about that, we’re both in trouble.”

“How about the beach, then?”

“The sand is filthy.”

“That’s part of why I like it.”

“Plus, there’s that homeless guy.”

“I like him too.”

“I don’t.”

“Why not? He’s never interfered with you.”

“Maybe, but there’s something I don’t like about him.”

“Maybe it’s the fact that he stole your fashion sense.”

“Very funny.”

“And yet you didn’t even crack a smile.”

More often than not, I have no idea where this dialogue is leading me, but it spins out into a story of some sort by the time I get to the end. It creates itself based on the exchange. The characters let me know their thoughts, their characteristics, their dilemmas, and the conflict at the core of their tale. They work it out for themselves and for me, on the page. And even if I run out of steam and never complete the piece, I have overcome the block that kept me from writing anything at all. And that’s what I always do when the words are not coming with their usual aplomb. I start with dialogue.

Try it yourself. Have a look around you. Snippets of conversations caught in a crowd at the mall, or in the park, are usually enough to engage my imagination. A woman is on the phone and says: “Yes, but if it had been the blue one, nobody would have been angry.” Imagination kicks in. A blue what? Who was angry and why? It’s creative eavesdropping designed to engage the muse.

Even if you’re at home and looking out the window, you don’t even need the auditory cues to get your creativity in gear. That woman sitting in her car singing along to some song you can’t hear. Is she always this carefree and happy? Does that joy flee her heart by the time she gets home when she realizes that yet again she has to face….what? Or was she listening to a tape of her old band playing their biggest tune? Mixed in with that joy is nostalgia and regret that she left the band back when they were on the verge of superstardom. Perhaps she’s wondering where she’d be now if things had worked out differently. Perhaps she’ll get another chance…

And that’s where you come in. You’re a writer. You can time travel, teleport, read minds…it’s what we do. So when the words aren’t coming, rather than sitting there in frustration glaring at a white screen, find the words. Sometimes it’s like Where’s Waldo? but they’re there, hidden in the mundane, the ordinary, waiting like a lit match to touch the fuse of your creativity.

You just need to remember how and where to look.

And sometimes it’s nothing more complicated than a man walking his dog.

“I used to want to be a writer, you know.”

Patch looked up at his master. “I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you pursue it?”

“I didn’t know where to start.”

“At the beginning?”

“It’s not always that easy to find it.”

“Isn’t that where we are right now?”

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(This article originally appeared in Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers, edited by Laurie Lamson, Tarcher/Penguin Books, 2014.)

 

Discount Books/Dollar Drops!

Ravenous Ghosts displaycoverAs if Halloween freebies weren’t enough, I’ve recently dropped the prices on some of my novels and collections. Here are the new prices:

KIN: $2.99 (was $3.99)
MASTER OF THE MOORS: $2.99 (was $3.99)
CURRENCY OF SOULS: $2.99 (was $3.99)
NEMESIS: THE DEATH OF TIMMY QUINN: $2.99 (was $3.99)

RAVENOUS GHOSTS $2.99 (was $4.99)
THE NUMBER 121 TO PENNSYLVANIA & OTHERS $2.99 (was $4.99)
MILESTONE: THE COLLECTED STORIES: $2.99 (was $4.99)

Happy Halloween!

A Halloween Treat from Kealan Patrick Burke

kpatrick:

Blue Gilliand, author and reviewer extraordinaire, has a nice piece on my DEAD LEAVES giveaway over at his blog THE OCTOBER COUNTRY. Check it out!

Originally posted on October Country:

DeadLeavesKealan Patrick Burke is a favorite here in October Country, an extremely talented (and, in my opinion, under-appreciated) writer who combines a keen eye for detail and atmosphere with an innate understanding of the importance of the human element in horror fiction. He’s got a deep catalog of stuff out there, but if I had to recommend my favorites I’d include his update/overhaul of the hillbilly slasher genre, Kin, as well as his excellent Timmy Quinn series: The Turtle Boy, The Hides, Vessels, Peregrine’s Tale and Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn).

Those are all longer works, and they’re all excellent, but Burke’s greatest strength as a writer may be his short story work. So it’s great news indeed that Burke has made a collection of his Halloween-flavored short stories, Dead Leaves: 8 Tales from the Witching Season, available for free from Smashwords through November 1…

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DEAD LEAVES: 8 TALES FROM THE WITCHING SEASON Free Until Nov. 1st

DEADLEAVESTo celebrate my favorite holiday and season, I am making my autumnal collection DEAD LEAVES: 8 TALES FROM THE WITCHING SEASON free from today until November 1st at Smashwords, who cater to all digital platforms. In this book you’ll find the short stories “Someone to Carve the Pumpkins”, “Haven”, “How the Night Receives Them”, “Tonight the Moon Is Ours”, “The Toll”, “Will You Tell Them I Died Quietly?”, “Not While I’m Around,” and “The Tradition”. Also included are my lists of recommended movies and books for the Halloween season.

Download your free copy at Smashwords.

From the Catalogue: Halloween Horror

Halloween is my favorite time of the year, the one in which I feel most inspired to write the dark stuff. It’s hard not to when ghouls and ghosts adorn every door and the days begin to smell like damp earth and smoke. Already this season I’ve penned two short stories and two essays set in or around Halloween, and I’m about to start another one. The likelihood is though, that given how slowly the wheels of publishing turn, you won’t see these until next year, so here are some of the Halloween stories I’ve written that are already out there for you to pick up if you so desire.

MASTER OF THE MOORS (Novel)

Although not my first published novel, this was the first one I successful completed, by offering a chapter a week to subscribers through my newsletter back in 2002. The story is an homage to the classic Hammer horror films of yesteryear, and is set in the fog shrouded village of Brent Prior in England at the turn of the 20th century. Long before The Strain popularized the concept of strigoi, I employed them to terrorize my poor villagers by means of an equally nasty infection, only in Master of the Moors, the monsters are closer to hideously mutated werewolves than vampires.

DEAD LEAVES: 8 TALES FROM THE WITCHING SEASON

A collection of my short horror stories set either at Halloween or in the fall season. dead leavesIncluded are “Someone to Carve the Pumpkins”, “Haven”, “How the Night Receives Them”, “Tonight the Moon Is Ours”, “The Toll”, “Will You Tell Them I Died Quietly?”, “Not While I’m Around”, and “The Tradition”. Also included in the book are a new introduction, and a list of my recommended books and movies for Halloween.

THE TOLL

the tollIf collections aren’t your thing and you’d prefer a short sharp shock to enjoy with your pumpkin pie, this tale about an industrialist who wakes to find himself in a coffin with only a lantern, a note, and a “coffin bell” for company should do the trick.

So those are my Halloween offerings. Thank you in advance if you choose to try out any of them, and Happy Halloween!

R.I.P. Graham Joyce

Graham Joyce portraitI’m reluctant to log in to Facebook or Twitter anymore, as it seems quite often the first thing I see is the news that another colleague or friend is gone, and the frequency of such sad news over the past few years has been terrible.

Today, I was devastated to hear that Graham Joyce has passed away. In addition to being a phenomenal author and a great guy, his frequent spirited updates about the cancer he was enduring were, to say the least, inspirational. Somehow he turned the darkest event in his life into a source of humor, so much so that he frequently had me chuckling about a subject that’s never funny.

I read his novel THE TOOTH FAIRY in my teens (it ranks as one of my favorite horror/dark fantasy novels of all time) and have been a fan of his books ever since. I am also, and will continue to be, a fan of the man who wrote them, for all he taught me about where to find the light in the dark.

R.I.P. Graham, and thank you. You, and your words, will be deeply missed.

Movie Review: BLOOD GLACIER (2013)

Since I’ve been covering a lot of foreign movies in my lists lately (here, and here), it seems only proper that my first full film review in ages should continue in that vein. This time it’s the Austrian creature feature BLOOD GLACIER, directed by Marvin Kren and written by Benjamin Hessler, the team who brought us the quite excellent RAMMBOCK: BERLIN UNDEAD.

Blood GlacierRAMMBOCK was a very low-key and intimate zombie film. BLOOD GLACIER, as can probably be gleaned from the very Syfy-like title, is anything but. And while it may sometimes seem a natural progression for a filmmaker to go from low-key to loud for their second feature, I can’t help but wish, after seeing BLOOD GLACIER, that Kren and Hessler had resisted the urge and stayed true to their roots.

The premise of the film is simple (and more than a little familiar to anyone who has ever seen THE THING, the not-quite-as-bad-as-expected Val Kilmer vehicle THE THAW, or Larry Fessenden’s decidedly underrated conservation-minded chiller THE LAST WINTER): Scientists working in the Austrian Alps discover that a glacier is leaking a liquid that appears to be affecting local wildlife.  Without spoiling it too much, this “effect” means that various types of local wildlife get a lot of mutated grossness bursting out of them that then decides to infect, or eat, or both, our unfortunate scientists. In the meantime we get some heavy-handed ecological education on how we’re fucking up the planet (that would have made for a more terrifying movie.)

There are a lot of laughs to be had in BLOOD GLACIER. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that was intentional, and so it hurts the film. The first reason for this is not the fault of anyone involved: the dubbing. Dubbing is generally a crapshoot, and it’s why I avoid it whenever possible. Sometimes it works, more often it doesn’t, and in the case of BLOOD GLACIER, it reduces a moderately interesting creature feature to MST3K-levels of absurdity. The dull, emotionless, mismatched voices are painful to listen to, and one wishes they had gone with subtitles instead so at least some of the integrity of the film could have been maintained (I watched this on Netflix, so maybe the DVD has the option of subtitles over dubbing.) It’s hard to take a film seriously when someone dies and the actor expressing his concern for the survivors sounds like Tommy Chong on the toilet. I can’t even comment on the performances (which seemed fine) because I was too distracted by the voice work.

I did, however, love the hilarious (and intentionally so) line, which ranks up there as one of the strangest and funniest I’ve ever heard in a horror movie: “Stop eating that banana while you’re crying!” WTF?

The second reason the film falls flat is in the special effects work. If done right, a low-budget does not always equal terrible effects, or an absence of scares, and to be fair, Kren does his best to hide his monsters or just show squishy glimpses of them for the first half of the movie, but when at last we see them in their full glory…ouch. They look like shopping carts covered in fur and gore with bad Halloween masks tacked onto the front of them (the goat-thing is particularly awful). The CGI creatures are only marginally better, but even the titular glacier looks bizarre whenever an actor stands before it, like the digital effects guys couldn’t figure out how to balance the colors.

All that being said, I have to admit that BLOOD GLACIER is fun. It’s just not fun in the way I’m sure the filmmakers wanted. It isn’t, however, bad enough for me to write them off as an interesting duo to watch. RAMMBOCK was good enough to ensure I’ll check out anything else they do, and indeed is what led me to BLOOD GLACIER in the first place. This film just seemed a little too ambitious for the budget, and the addition of horrendously comical dubbing didn’t help in the least. I may, however, revisit it if subtitles are available on any future editions to see if it makes a difference. Sadly, I suspect it might not, but if you’re in the mood for some badly rendered hand puppets chowing on people who sound like they’ve been smoking crack in an air balloon while being reminded that we’re basically all a bunch of bastards who are destroying the planet, this just might be the horror film for you.

4/10.