Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

I’m not sure why he thought it would be a good idea, but my first exposure to vampires came when I was about seven years old, watching Kolchack (the Night Stalker) and Hammer horror films on Friday nights on a tiny black and white television set with my father.  I remember hiding my head under my blanket on the sofa during the scary parts, peeking out just in time to see Van Helsing or one of his counterparts pounding a stake through the heart of a vampire just as the last lingering rays of sunlight are about to leave the crypt in utter darkness,  and I remember the ghastly countenances of Max Shrek in Nosferatu, and Kurt Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot. 

I remember being terrified of, but not wanting to miss, a single movie with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Lon Chaney Jr., or Bela Lugosi in them.  I remember waking up with nightmares after watching Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth, the 1964 film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend.  Most of all, I remember having an almost visceral understanding that vampires were inhuman, deeply evil, and insatiable creatures of the night.  Things to be feared.  And fear them I do.  I’d like to share with you my first attempt at vampire fiction, Stash.  It’s also my fledgling attempt at stream-of-consciousness narrative.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.  I wanted to tell a story about vampires that don’t glitter or wear eyeliner or suffer from existential angst.  I wanted to tell a story that will keep you up at night, and perhaps make you double check the locks on your doors and windows before you seek an uneasy slumber.  Enjoy!

I’ve never kept a journal before but I’ve never been in the business of stealing life before either, so like my dad used to say, there’s a first time for everything.    

I got this notebook at a Walgreens in Ferron, Utah.  The flashlight I found in the glove compartment of this car.  It’s a 1969 Chevelle – a sweet ride.  The flashlight is tiny, just a small Maglite, but it’ll do.  After sunset I’ve been locking myself in the trunk of the car.  Because I don’t want to make it easy for Nathan when he comes for me. 

I’m lying here in the dark, writing in this journal.  Waiting for sleep, sunrise, or death.  I don’t care which anymore.  There’s enough light in here from the flashlight to see my notebook and to make out a few other dim shapes that share this coffin-like space with me.  A sleeping bag, but I wadded it up and use it as a pillow.  I don’t need it in the summer heat.  A couple of old milk jugs filled with water.  A pneumatic jack.  Not the cheap ass miniature kind that comes with cars nowadays this is a nice one.  I don’t know why I kept it though, it just takes up space.  I had to ditch my spare in order to crawl in here, so if I get a flat in the desert, I’ll be shit out of luck.  I’ve also got a shovel and a Mossberg pump action back here with me.  Not that the shotgun would do any good if Nathan finds me and decides to peel the metal skin of this car away like tissue paper. 

I was cooking glass in an abandoned wreck of a house near the Missouri river when Nathan found me.  It was a dilapidated dump in the middle of nowhere and I was cooking with the Hawk.  Hawk’s real name was Lawrence or some shit like that, but everyone I knew called him Hawk.  He could sniff out 5-0 like he was psychic or something.  Probably he was just paranoid, but we cooked together for almost a year and never got busted so what does that tell you?  He could boost pseudo like nobody’s business too.  He was smooth.  Hawk would go on these “shopping trips” and come back with all sorts of good stuff.  I had to get the red P and the anhydrous.  I grew up on a farm in Indiana, so that was no big thing. 

It was raining and just before midnight when Nathan walked in on us.  Hawk – I said he was paranoid, right?  Well he had an itchy trigger finger and he popped off three rounds into the guy’s chest with his monster of a gun, a .50 caliber Desert Eagle.  He was at point blank range.  It didn’t do a damn thing except punch holes through the man’s white shirt and chest, and through the wall behind him.  I was half-blinded by the muzzle flash, but what I could see for sure was the man, standing there, leering at us.  I saw blood on his teeth and I guess Hawk did too.  The man walked over to Hawk, and I swear to God I can still hear the sound of his boots crossing the old, rotting wood floor.  I watched him touch Hawk’s cheek, running a long, thick, yellowed fingernail across it in some sort of sick caress.  Hawk stood his ground, I’ll give him that.  The man’s nail looked like a dagger and it slashed like one, too.  One minute Hawk was standing there, staring at the man, and the next minute he was clutching his throat with both hands, blood spurting between his fingers.  He tried to talk but the words just kind of bubbled and garbled in his mouth.  I could see fear in Hawk’s eyes, but what haunts me most is that last look of confusion in his steel blue eyes as he turned to look at me before he collapsed. 

I knew he was dead before he hit the floor.  That was good because the thing that looked like a man fell on him, ripping even more deeply into his throat with sharply pointed teeth, tearing at his flesh with those terrible clawed fingernails.  Hawk’s blood was smeared all over his chin and cheeks.  His lips were painted cherry red with gore, like a cheap hooker.  When he had his fill he looked up at me and smiled, but his eyes were dead.  Bottomless orbs set deep into black-purple hollows above a gaunt, thin face and high cheekbones. He pointed at me and said something in a voice that sounded like sandpaper rasping in a mouthful of gravel.

Cook or die, he said.

Looking back maybe it would have been better if I had died, but maybe not, since Hawk got up and walked before the night was over.  He had the same dead eyes and same deadvoice as the thing that told me to call it Nathan.  Hawk brought back a small child from a nearby farm.  A boy, maybe eight or nine years old.  At first I thought he was dead but after a while I could see a faint pulse in his neck and when I kneeled beside him I could feel the feather touch of his breath against my cheek.  I took half a pint of his blood, filling the plastic bag Nathan had given me with a steady flow through IV tubing.  I had an aunt who went to college to learn how to take blood – there’s a name for that job.  I always thought she was creepy, but anyway stealing blood from another person – stealing their soul and vitality – is a lot easier than you might think. 

I don’t know if Nathan has the capacity for mercy.  Most likely he doesn’t care.  But I’m pretty sure the boy lived after we left him.  Twilight chased us into the cellar of a burned out house twenty miles away, near St. Joe, Missouri.  I slept that day with the thick stench of dirt, death, and decay in my nose.  I couldn’t run even if I had the nerve.  Nathan had handcuffed me to Hawk and we lay side by side under a pile of filthy tarps blocking the light of day.  At some point, I dozed off and awoke with a start at the feel of Hawk’s teeth against the soft flesh of my neck and I swear I stopped breathing when I saw his eyes.  No longer blue, but black as pitch with a dull red cast surrounding the pupil.  Nathan pulled Hawk off of me, striking him so hard across the face that I heard something in his neck snap.  After that, Hawk’s head canted slightly toward the right.  Somehow that was the worst, as if his deadvoice, black eyes, jagged wolf’s teeth, and breath that reeked of the grave wasn’t bad enough.  His head was just wrong on his neck somehow. 

Now every cook has his own signature, me included, but that night Nathan ordered me to cook glass but it wasn’t normal crystal it was crystalline maroon, nearly black at the tips it was so rich in hemoglobin.  At some point during that first cook I gagged until I saw black spots in front of my eyes and I was dizzy on my feet.  I puked into that first batch and Nathan beat me until I really did pass out.  I awoke to feel a tongue lapping at the blood that had welled up in the deep gashes in my cheeks and neck and chest, and I screamed until I was hoarse and my throat was raw.  It was Hawk.  He laughed in his deadvoice and I hoped he would just kill me then but Nathan returned with everything I’d need to start over and so I did.  What I created was unspeakable.  Nathan loved it.  He powdered out some of the crystals with the butt of Hawk’s Desert Eagle and snorted it from the tip of his dagger-like talon.  The one that had slashed Hawk’s throat open the night before, although it already seemed like an eternity ago. 

We traveled across the Midwest in an old white cargo van, taking the back roads and stopping for a few days at a time in dead and dying towns in Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas before Nathan decided to head west.  Personally, I think he hated the humidity.  It accentuated the reek of offal and death that emanated from the van, and the stench from our cooks hung over us like a coppery yellow curtain.  It was time to move on, but we left a trail of corpses in our wake.  Sometimes we just took blood and left men, women, and children behind – deathly pale, comatose, barely breathing.  Their souls belonged to Nathan.  Their essence and flavor was trapped in the rock.  He could come back for them at any time, and sometimes he did.  Other times Nathan killed them slowly, taking perverse pleasure in my horror, making me watch.  Then making me cook. 

Did I tell you they sold the stuff?  Nathan and Hawk smoked that blood red crystal constantly.  It made them edgier and more violent, but it also made them faster.  And it made their bloodlust run hot.  The grams of rojo skante that they didn’t smoke up they peddled.  I saw them selling it in seedy motel parking lots, behind truck stops and strip clubs, in dark alleys, outside bars and frat houses, one time in the men’s room of a Quik Trip in Norfolk, Nebraska.  There was always a demand, and there was always plenty of blood.

I lost track of time but we had been holed up on the outskirts of Vegas for at least a week the night Nathan went out to hunt and forgot to shackle me.  We were staying in a trailer house on the edge of town.  No one had lived in it for at least a decade by the looks of it.  The roof had caved in over the bathroom and the rear bedroom.  Nathan and Hawk didn’t seem to mind; they just pissed blood in the kitchen sink.  I could hear rats scurrying beneath the trailer at night, and could glimpse them occasionally through holes in the rotted floorboards. 

Nathan had gotten in the habit of chaining me to something during a cook so he could go out and hunt.  I cooked because there was nothing else to do.  Sometimes Nathan shackled me to a pipe, or an old radiator, and once heaven help me he cuffed my ankle to the wrist of a dead woman in a pale yellow floral print dress, her face beautiful on one side, ravaged by his teeth on the other.  But that night outside of Vegas he forgot – or maybe he was testing me – but I found myself alone and not wearing a chain.  I sat in the moonlight outside the trailer for at least an hour, frozen with a sick paralysis.  It wasn’t until I heard the shrill scream of some small animal turned prey in the clutches of a coyote, or maybe an owl, that I was able to act.  I lurched to my feet and I ran.  I ran toward the city lights glowing like a mad carnival in the distance.  My feet pounded and echoed on the pavement in the inky desert darkness and it sounded as if I was being chased by Satan himself.

I had no money and my clothes were filthy from living rough in them the past three or four months.  Truth is, I didn’t really know how long I had been Nathan’s hostage.  Nathan’s cook.  I stole some clothes – they were baggy and ill-fitting but clean – from a Salvation Army donation box.  I stole a woman’s purse from a dingy bar while she tried to sashay but mostly staggered around a pool table with her boyfriend.  I doubt if they even noticed me.  I ended up with $76 in cash and a handful of coins, ditching the purse in a dumpster behind the bar.  Sixty-six dollars got me a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Ogden, Utah.  The bus didn’t depart until 8 o’clock in the morning, so I watched television in the brightly lit waiting room and relaxed for the first time in months in a grimy plastic chair, surrounded by the living.  I bought a couple of cheeseburgers from a Burger King across the street, but only managed to choke down half of one.  I could taste the blood in it. 

I spent a couple of days wandering around Ogden, enjoying the view of the mountains, the feel of sunshine on my face, and the clean, fresh air.  When it was time to leave, I stole the Chevelle from the faculty parking lot at Weber State University.  I didn’t even have to break out a window.  It was unlocked.  The V8 Super Sport didn’t purr – that thing growled its way to Ferron, where I knocked off a liquor store and got gas money and enough scratch to pick up the Mossberg from a pawn shop after I made my way to Moab.  By then I’d also ditched my spare tire, and started locking myself into the trunk at night.  I’d been hearing Nathan’s voice on the wind.  Calling my name. 

When I think about it, I think maybe Nathan understood why I had run.  Understood way down deep, in that part of him that had once been human.  What Nathan didn’t understand, and I don’t either, is why I stole his stash. 

I parked the car as the sun was lingering low and gold on the horizon, pulling off the highway beside a lone Joshua tree.  There’s been almost no traffic since.  From the sound of it, four or five semis and a handful of cars have passed since I started writing in my journal tonight.  Most of the pages are full anyway, and I am not sure what else there is to say.  I’m going to put my notebook in a ziplock bag and bury it beside the Joshua tree.  Maybe someone will find it one day.  Maybe not.  In the end, it might not matter.  After I bury the notebook I’m going to start walking east by the light of the full moon.  I don’t think I’ll have to walk very far.  I heard shrill laughter outside my car last night, you see.  I heard the sharp rasp as my trunk got keyed, but I don’t think it was with a key.  I heard a deadvoice whisper my name through the lid of the trunk in a sibilant hiss.  No, I don’t think I will have to walk very far at all.  Nathan wants his stash back.

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Having just concluded a two-month marathon of watching all six seasons of Lost, I started thinking about what I’d want with me if I ended up on that island.  Especially if I was stationed in the hatch, punching in a numeric sequence every 108 minutes.  I tend to pack light when I travel, so if I’d actually been on Oceanic flight 815 I might have found myself short a few of my favorite things, but as for books, here’s a list of the top ten novels I would want populating my bamboo bookcase:

1. The Stand (Stephen King)

2. It (Stephen King)

3. Summer of Night (Dan Simmons)

4. Farenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)

5. The Alienist (Caleb Carr)

6. Boy’s Life (Robert McCammon)

7. I Am Legend (Richard Matheson)

8. 1984 (George Orwell)

9. Twilight Eyes (Dean Koontz)

10. Hell House (Richard Matheson)

As for the second shelf (no bookcase is complete without a second shelf, right?) I’d have to include Just After Sunset, the Shining, and Duma Key (Stephen King), Heart Shaped Box (Joe Hill), Timeline (Michael Crichton), Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury), Velocity (Dean Koontz), Compulsion (Jonathan Kellerman), Swan Song (Robert McCammon), and The Last Ship (William Brinkley).  If I could get Fed-Ex to overnight me a few more (maybe on the Dharma sub), I’d also include the entire Gunslinger series (by King, of course).

And I would need an Underwood typewriter and several reams of paper. 

How about you?  What are some favorite books or stories that populate your Desert Island bookcase?

Halloween has been my favorite holiday since I was a kid.  It is the one day of the year that is fraught with a spooky kind of transformative magic.  It’s the day when we’re allowed to tug on costumes and become someone, or something, else.  It’s a time for capering about in the darkness, a time for tricks and treats, a time for hayrack rides, apple cider, and spooky tales around the bonfire, a time for monster movies and a waltz with ghosts and ghouls, a time when the line between what is – and what could be – becomes just a little thin. 

Halloween also marks the time of year when we are caught between seasons; not quite within the fell grasp of winter, but a night breeze runs its bony, chill fingers through our hair and pulls at our costumes as we walk the darkened streets.   

I’ve long believed, and Stephen King has often suggested in his stories (such as It), that the mundane and rote responsibilities of adulthood drive away the innate capacity to recognize magic we have as children.  Robert McCammon explored this idea as well in the opening of Boy’s Life.  Halloween is the one day of year that gives us the latitude to let our imaginations run amok, to revel in tales of things that lurk in the darkness and go bump in the night, to sample again – however briefly – the exotic flavor of magic under the orange glow of an autumn moon. 

I write because words possess their own kind of magic.  Words have their own special rhythm and resonance, and when combined in the right order and proportion by those of us who practice literary alchemy with a pen, or a typewriter, or by the glow of a monitor, they transform into a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.  When I was a kid, I loved Halloween.  I loved dressing up and becoming someone else, if only for a short while.  As a writer, I am gifted daily with the opportunity to create and explore other realities and other lives, and to share this magic and these worlds with others.  So enjoy some magic this Halloween night, be it at a costume party, a trip through a haunted house, a stroll past the cemetery gates, a scary movie flickering in the darkness, or a creepy tale read by the pale glow of a bedside light.  Whatever you do, savor the magic, and have a happy Halloween!

Some days the best I can say for myself as a writer is that I am consistent. 

At least stylistically and in terms of narrative voice, I am consistently me, regardless of if I am penning a bit of flash, a short story, or even plugging away at the ground war that on good days I like to refer to as a novel.  Part of what I love about my favorite authors are their unique voices; often immediately recognizable, comfortable, and familiar.  Take Stephen King, for example.  I suspect that he could write a technical manual for assembling a swingset, or for wiring a do-it-yourself death ray using common household objects for under $50, and I would know it was him.  I want to continue honing and refining my own narrative voice, but I am pleased to have developed some degree of consistency in that area over the years. 

On the other hand, sometimes I am frustrated by how my writing always wants to gravitate toward zombies.  It is as if the ravenous undead have some sort of bizarre tractor beam aimed at my temporal lobe, forcing me to helplessly spew out page after page of horror that tastes like braaiinssss.  I appreciate zombies for their metaphorical power, and also for their capacity to horrify.  What could be worse than an existence predicated on a continuous, base hunger for human flesh while you slowly decay into a puddle of putrefaction and tattered clothing, retaining nothing of your former self or of our collective humanity?  But I do sometimes wonder if it is also a bit of cognitive laziness on my part, a way of writing about what I already know (so to speak) and not stretching myself in terms of subject matter.  I have little doubt that I will remain firmly entrenched in the world of genre horror – it’s what I love and I certainly do not have a romance or sordid mystery in me – but I wonder what would happen if I tangoed with some new partners?

This November, as I take on National Novel Writing Month, I am going to challenge myself to engage in a little monstrous diversification.  That is, I will be giving up the oh-so-hungry, cannibalistic reanimates for Thanksgiving.  Part of me wants to take a crack at putting the ferocity and evil back into vampire literature, although I would be equally excited to toy with a few shapeshifters or spirits.  Vengeful, angry spirits.  It may even be fun to poke around and find out what unknown and unnamed horrors lurk in the recesses of my mind.  I’d guess that something is already hiding in a dark corner, scuttling away when I creep around in there with a flashlight and a clipboard.  Throughout October, I am going to be thinking a lot about monsters old and new, and this year, when I trot out a tale for NaNoWriMo, something other than a horde of ravenous zombies will be shambling around beside me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  What are your favorite traditional monsters?  How do you keep them fresh (in your writing, not in your refrigerator)?  What elements are you looking for in a truly terrifying denizen of the darkness?

So here I am, ensnared between two competing priorities and passions at opposite ends of the literary continuum.  As much as I love novel-length works of fiction, I have also been enamored with short stories since I was a kid.  In his introduction to Just After Sunset, Stephen King discusses the art of the short story and describes the process of writing short fiction as a “fragile craft,” a skill that can atrophy or be forgotten with disuse.  I think he’s on to something.  My short fiction, at times, has seemed to suffer from a bizarre version of a literary eating disorder: skeletally anorexic, or feasting upon itself in bloated splendor.  This has resulted in too many of my short stories blissfully blimping their way into novella territory, or worse (perhaps) being truncated to the point that the richness of the potential tale is lost. 

I started exploring flash fiction this year in an effort to fight the battle of the bulge and to improve and hone my writing skills.  It is a challenging and demanding medium to work within.  Flash fiction can be broadly defined, but often it is described as fiction of less than 1000 words, or stories within a range of 250-500 words.  In other instances, it borders on micro fiction: tales of 100 words or less, or is dictated by a wide range of more prescriptive guidelines (often for challenges, contests, or writing prompts) such as fiction of exactly 50 words.  Writing effective flash fiction can be daunting, but it also offers huge payoffs.  Writers really have to bring their A game when trying to weave an evocative tale with word count limitations while paying attention to such elements as story arc, plot, character development, and resolution.  It is a great cure for bloat.  I’ve found that writing flash fiction has tightened up and improved my writing considerably.  Writing flash is not without its frustrations, but when you pen a story that works, it works.

In the midst of my current obsession with writing flash fiction, I’ve also been working on a novel-length work preliminarily titled Scorch.  While Scorch is not, er, blazing along at warp speed, I am making reasonable progress.  It has been an interesting daily juxtaposition, working with one foot in the world of flash fiction and the other planted firmly in a novel length piece.

Complicating matters further – a bit of a plot twist, if you will – is National Novel Writing Month (sometimes referred to as NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo), which launches in November.  Essentially, the goal of nanowrimo is to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1 and 11:59 p.m. on November 30.  For me, that means cranking out words at roughly Mach 3.  During November, that explosion you hear in the distance is probably someone’s keyboard breaking the sound barrier.

This year I will again seek to complete National Novel Writing Month, most likely letting loose my zombie hordes to sate themselves on the flesh of the living.  But I’ll also keep pushing myself to crank out some flash.  November will be a heck of a ride!

What about you?  Eagerly anticipating NaNoWriMo?  Working on a large scale project or exploring a little flash fiction?  What formats are you currently working within, or enjoying reading?  I’d love to hear from you.  If you’d like to post a link to some of your own flash fiction, please feel free to include it in your comments – I always love a good tale!

I can recall two very distinct moments in my childhood that completely changed the course of my life – at least in terms of my reading preferences and my proclivities as a writer.

The first took place sometime in 1980, when I was about nine.  I’d always been a voracious reader, with a propensity for the creepier stories or the scifi tales in the children’s section of the library.  But truth be told, I have never been genre-monogamous and I read anything I could get my hands on if the first sentence was strong enough to capture my attention.  If I’d been asked on the first day of fourth grade, I would have said that my favorite author was Madeleine L’Engle.  If I’d been asked on the final day of fourth grade who my favorite author was, I would have replied Stephen King. 

At some point in 1980, I discovered my father’s stash of horror paperbacks stacked and wedged against the back wall of a clutter-filled closet in our house.  Books with names on them that included Peter Straub, Richard Matheson, and F. Paul Wilson.  I don’t remember why I was looking in the closet in the first place.  Certainly not because I was seeking reading material.  But I do remember picking the first book off the top of the stack.  The cover art terrified me and I refused to touch the image when I tentatively opened the book.  It was a dark face embossed on a black background.  Blood dripped from its lips.  The book was ‘Salem’s Lot.  The first sentence captured my attention; I wasn’t pulled into the story, I was jerked forward into it headfirst.  With a vague feeling that I was doing something illicit, I grabbed three of the books from the pile and hid them in my room.  I’d taken that book with the horrifying cover art, along with The Stand and The Shining.  My life was forever altered.  I snuck back to that closet many times until we moved, treating it like it was my personal library. 

Of the Stephen King books I devoured that year, my favorite was The Stand.  It was my first exposure to post-apocalyptic fiction.  The very idea that the world’s population could be decimated by a virus that didn’t seem too different from the common cold (at least at first), and that a battle of will and courage could play out in that barren landscape was chilling to me.  As a nine year old, that seemed entirely too real and too probable.  I was, after all, a child of the Cold War and no stranger to paranoia.  I fell in love with King’s use of words, his decriptive artistry, and his ability to develop his characters so quickly and effectively that they may as well have been my best friends.  When I delved into that literary treasure trove, I had no idea that every story I would write over the next thirty years (and hopefully many decades beyond) would be graced by the influence of Stephen King.

The second event that changed the course of my life as an aficionado of horror came two years later, while visiting a friend’s house.  I’ll never know if it was on cable or a video rental (in those halcyon days where Beta and VHS were still battling it out), but I glimpsed George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead on the television and that solidified my calling as a writer.  I collapsed in a heap in front of the TV, mesmerized.  This was another empty world, a post-apocalyptic world like the one I had first encountered in The Stand, but this one was populated by zombies.  Gruesome, shambling, hungry zombies.  I was hooked.  Zombies were now a permanent part of my world.

A few years later I started writing.  When I was nine and ten, I told stories.  When I was somewhere between the ages of thirteen or fourteen, I started trying to capture those stories on paper.  All of those stories were awkward, predictable, and hopelessly juvenile.  But most of those stories, and all my stories since, strove to be character-driven, evocative, and inclusive of an element of the  horrorific intruding upon the everyday world, or of zombies lurching their way into day-to-day living, of characters that the reader (hopefully) cares about and with whom they have established a sense of rapport. 

When I no longer walk this mortal coil, I may leave little else, but at least I will leave my words behind.  And I hope that my stories reflect my profound gratitude and deep appreciation for all that my literary and cinematic heroes have given me.

What movies, books, authors, or events shaped your life as a reader or as a writer?  I’d love to hear your stories!

Some days I wonder if I am writer, or if I am really just a masochist who likes words. 

I checked my email before I could get the sweet nectar of the Gods – more commonly referred to as caffeine – into my system.  That was a mistake.  Nothing beats a rejection email first thing in the morning.  Yup, rejection email.  When I first started writing stories, I pounded ’em out on a word processing typewriter and my rejection letters arrived by mail.  Two decades later, if want a rejection letter I have to print it out myself.  Today’s rejection was from Kindle Singles.  No big surprise there, I had already gotten a sense of the caliber of material the editors were most likely looking for and suspected my tale of madness in a world populated almost entirely by reanimated corpses – very hungry reanimated corpses – wouldn’t cut it. 

“Our editors have carefully reviewed your submission, and it has not been selected for inclusion in the Kindles Singles store.  Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to consider it.”

Sigh.

The rejection slips that at least have a scribbled note of encouragement or a few words which offer suggestions as to how I might improve my writing are like gold.  I welcome those.  But I hate the form letters, the ones that seem to scream INADEQUATE but don’t tell you why.  When I first started writing around the age of sixteen, I had no idea how difficult it would be to become a published writer.  For a kid, I was fortunate to have at least a vague understanding of how prevalent rejection could be, largely from an interview of Stephen King, in which he’d talked about pounding a nail in the wall of his bedroom and spiking his rejection slips on it.  What I had not anticipated was how insidious rejection slips can be.  Their weight eventually exceeds their mass.  My first rejection, scrawled on my own manuscript returned by SASE sometime during the waning years of the 80’s, contained only three words:

Formulaic.  Not bad.

Looking back, the story was an awkward, juvenile, cliched, predictable, monstrosity.  But the “not bad” part kept me writing.  A few years later I received a rejection slip from the Silver Web, edited by Ann Kennedy.  Her handwritten note gave me hope for several years:

Good writing.  Sometimes less is more.

I took her words to heart and worked to use them to become a better writer.  But at some point, I stopped submitting, and not long after, I stopped writing.  I regret those lost years.  Now I am at a point in my life where I can look quite a long way forward and quite a long way backward.  Writers write.  Writers who don’t write, aren’t writers.  I very intentionally renewed my commitment to writing this year, but I had forgotten (or repressed) the power of rejection, and I feel it weighing very heavily on me today.

I read a well written blog post on this very issue yesterday.  In her entry, Sue Healy offers several good suggestions on dealing with rejection for aspiring writers.  I especially liked her analogy of multiple submissions as being ships at sea.  I’ve had many torpedoed into the murky depths and others completely lost, never to be heard from again.  Maybe someday one will return to port.  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and keep the zombies shambling around.  They’re hungry, you know.