Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
I was sent a copy of this book by Crystal Lake Publishing for review purposes and, initially, I thought it would be a set of essays repeating the same usual advice lines for writing your first book, overcoming writer’s block etc. So I didn’t have any great expectations. How wrong could I have been? Joe Mynhardt has put together an extremely readable and inspiring set of articles from a range of different authors, most of which have a slant towards what we might call ‘Dark Fiction’. In this respect it will appeal to up and coming authors in this rather select fold of creatives. This omnibus edition pulls together four previous books (hence the title of ‘vols 1 – 4!’) and has seen me absorbing the collective experience of well known names like Jack Ketchum on a daily basis.
These are not dry craft essays laying out the mechanics of good writing, but genuine homilies of encouragement, practical advice and guidance to steer a would-be author.
I won’t give a detailed critique of each article but, instead, mention a few highlights that will hopefully encourage you to grab a copy:
THE WRITER’S PURGATORY: Between Finishing the First Draft and Submitting the Manuscript by Monique Snyman
This piece kicks off the anthology and deals with the often laborious process of self-editing through to submission/self-publishing. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive manual but touches on the most important aspects of this journey in an engaging way.
GO PACE YOURSELF by Jack Ketchum
This was one of my favourites. A very good piece about how to create different moods by structuring sentences e.g. varying length, tone etc. A true lesson from the master.
A LITTLE INFUSION OF MAGIC by Dave-Brendon de Burgh
Much is said about a writer ‘finding their voice,’ but Mr Brendon de Burgh gives some motivational advice on writing what you love to read and dealing with lack of motivation and discouragement.
NEVER LOOK AWAY: Confronting Your Fears in Fiction by Todd Keisling
An excellent essay for the horror writer. It encourages writers to be visceral where such scenes are required and not to shy away from describing the unthinkable.
ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING by Tim Waggoner
Where finding the emotional theme of your story comes to the fore. This one really got me thinking about my own outlining process, and also how to analyse classic horror stories in terms of telling the story that lies underneath the plot.
11 SIGNPOSTS FOR GOING ALL THE WAY by Brian Hodge (in two parts.)
This chapter brings home another strength of the collection – advice that is up to date and relevant. Here, Brian Hodge gives his slant on living the writer’s life, dealing with conflict and being professional. It also includes my favourite phrase in the book – ‘They squandered it on goblins.’
EMBRACING YOUR INNER SHITNESS by James Everington.
This one starts with that famous quote from Hemmingway and then proceeds to give one author’s view about how to navigate through this stage of novel writing. It includes the suggestion that writing 1st drafts benefits from the old pen to paper approach. Not everyone will agree about the specifics. For example, the exhortation to not read yesterday’s work is not something that I adhere to. I find I benefit from Val Mcdermid’s approach, where looking over yesterday’s writing helps a writer get into the flow of the coming day’s scene. However, I will be taking on board the tip to underline the bits that are good in the first draft as well as looking for the mistakes, and the practice of reverse engineering the outline.
THE FORGOTTEN ART OF SHORT STORY by Mark Allan Gunnells.
I was drawn to this one because of the reference to Ray Bradbury. The short story lends itself well to dark fiction and every author should at least travel down this road once or twice. The golden nugget in this excellent chapter was the notion that the reader of a short story should feel like the tale is finished and not merely a tease. Something I was guilty of in my last publication. Something else I agreed with was the nudge to buy anthologies of short stories to get a feel for an author you wouldn’t necessarily have sampled by other means..
SUBMIT (TO PSYCHOLOGY) FOR ACCEPTANCE by Daniel I. Russell.
Fascinating chapter from a writer with a psychology background. Have you heard of Self serving bias and false uniqueness effect? This might be a very grounding article for most authors – it certainly was for me..
CHARACTER BUILDING: How Not to be a Stalker by Theresa Derwin.
In which the idea of letting characters lead you as a writer is de-mythologised and includes some great tips for moving from character generation exercise to an actual scene. Also, how to introduce backstory without info-dump.
HEROES AND VILLAINS by Paul Kane.
An unusual treatise about the interplay between these two archetypes. Many examples are touched upon, including Sherlock Holmes and Moriarti. The question of can one survive without the other? is also addressed.
CHARACTERS by Hal Bodner.
Another one of my favourites. Concrete examples dealing with the tricky skill of ‘showing’ character’s traits and drip feeding their descriptions in your narrative, using devices that employ the reactions of the character to their circumstances.
FICTIONAL EMOTIONS; EMOTIONAL FICTIONS by James Everington.
Another good one. Something at the core of writing – how to emotionally engage the reader. The importance of allowing them to fill in the blanks, and that engagement for the reader can be with characters, the plot and the setting.
NETWORKING IS SCARY, BUT ESSENTIAL by Doug Murano.
The mindset you need for successful networking. This was pertinent for me as it highlighted the Horror Writer’s Association (which I have recently joined) and the benefits of getting involved in such organisations.
These were just a few of the essays on offer, and there was a wealth of information presented in the remaining articles which I haven’t included above.
To sum up, this is a worthy tome that will make its home on any writer’s bookshelf alongside Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Kurt Vonnegut’s list of 10.