If Only It Was Fiction…

Imagine this:

You’re a young writer and you dream big, just like any new writer does.  You stand around at work, day after day, letting your imagination be carried away by your muse, so that, night after night, you can go home and pound away at the little black laptop keys and tell the story that begs to be told.  You hope and you dream that someday, someone out there will read this story/book and be entertained, if even for ten minutes.  You hope that maybe…possibly they remember your name long enough to look you up on the internet, track down your other work, then buy and enjoy it.  You dream that some kid, maybe not far off from your age might be inspired to start up writing…all because of you.  Though you’d never say it out loud, you hope that maybe you’ll hit big, sell a few great novels and have that young writer approach you at a convention or a book store, nervous, shaking, just waiting to tell you that you were the reason they wanted to be a writer.

But until then, you keep writing.  You focus.  You learn.  You submit, submit, submit.  You sit, even when there’s something better on TV that you would rather be watching, and you prove to yourself why you deserve to be heard.  You spend four years, against popular standards, writing that novel idea that wouldn’t let you go.  Sure, you should have started out writing short stories, but, hey, everyone’s different.  By the time you finish that novel, you’re prompted to get back into writing shorts because you need to get your name out there.  And you do.  You spend most of the year working on short fiction, trying to figure out how to keep your ideas under 5,000 words–some ideas work, some don’t.

Then it happens.

An editor likes your story, boy howdy, and he/she wants to buy it.  You see that email and you can’t believe your eyes.  This is it!  You’re finally doing it!  Hell, you call your parents to celebrate and they take you out for a Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream cone, but then you go home right after and keep writing.  And you sell another.  And another.  And another.

2011 is YOUR year!

Then you get the word that one of those books is coming out.  You order your copies.  And you wait.  Then you get home one day to find that box on your doorstep.  THE box.  Your breath catches in your throat.  You leap from the car, grab the box, rush inside, open it, take that first book out, smell it, feel it on your fingers.  This is what you’ve been waiting for!  You crack that fresh new copy open, find your by-line and your story on Page 32, then flip to find…

This is not your story.

This is what I’ve been dealing with for the last six days of my life, and you may or may not have noticed that I’ve completely erased not only two of my blog entries, but two stories from my Biblio page and two pictures from my Facebook page.  The reason is simple.

Earlier this summer, after my first two story sales and placing in the final eleven (out of 110 entries) in the Cemetery Dance Amateur Writing Competition, I sold not one but two of my stories to a gentleman, of who I will not name.  These were going to be placed into an anthology showcasing talent from a particular Mid Western state, one boasting horror stories, and the other science fiction.  I kept in regular touch with the editor, and from what I could tell was a fairly nice individual, who was extremely excited to edit what he believed would be an annual anthology based on these two genres.  I was excited as well.  I thought: Hell yes, here’s something I could be proud to be a part of on a yearly basis.

Last Wednesday, when my Amazon shipment hit my doorstep, I opened my book to discover that what was placed between pages 32-37 was not  what I had submitted, but what the editor had decided would be fitting to his needs.  Mr. Editor took what I believed was a mature, psychological story of a man with a debilitating phobia and what he does to conquer it into a poorly edited, incompetent sex romp, complete with phrases like “piece of limp-dick shit”, “your tiny little cock and skinny neck”, “you fucking, pathetic excuse for a man” (notice the awful comma placement), and completely made up words like “Strangulophobia”.  To say the very least, I was outraged.

For the next twenty-four hours I did some private eye investigating, and come to find out, I wasn’t the only one this happened to.  Again, I will not mention names, but from what I gather it seemed as though the few who had received their copies weren’t thrilled about what was done with their stories.  And from what I gather, mine was by far the worst.

Through word of mouth, the editor contacted me and asked me why I was so upset.  And I gave it to him.  He was completely in breach of contract for these two reasons: One, it is stated in the contract that he wrote, that any major altercations made to this story would need written consent from the author, which was not given.  And two, although briefly mentioned as an option, no e-rights were signed for this book, and yet there’s an e-book version sitting happily on Amazon.

The editor, who was extremely apologetic, gave me three options on how to rectify this situation, but I took it upon myself to give him my own option: You are to immediately remove my story (or, your version of my story) from the anthology, remove my name from the Amazon page, the Facebook page and webpage, and shred my contract for not only this book but the other I’ve been signed for.  And it was done with numerous “sorry’s” and “this was my first time doing this’s”.

It was completely shame it had to be this way, but the editor brought it upon himself.  After speaking with two of my very good friends, they gave me two options of their own: We can be loud and boisterous about this and let the world know of this bullshit, or we can quietly sweep this under the rug and try to forget about it.  I chose the latter.  Even though I wanted to spread the word about this nonsense, to scream and rage in frustration, after a few days I calmed down and leveled out, and decided to just forget the whole damn thing and move on, because there are bigger fish to fry.

I guess the point of this lengthy blog to make people aware that there is a dark side to publishing.  Like any entertainment business, whether it’s loud movie or a quiet book, there are other people out there who are willing to fuck it up for you, whether they know it or not.  Do I believe Mr. Editor did this on purpose to screw with my story in a way that it completely changed not only the language but the tone and point of the story?  No.  I believe he truly thought he was making better, doing what he thought would make it something he would read.  But like any writer, we know that’s not the way it’s done.  If he didn’t like the story or the way it was written, he could have either passed on the story, or, like stated in the contract that he so blatantly ignored, suggest how to make it better.

My point is: Get to know who you’re submitting to.  If you find a market that interests you, then study up.  Find authors who are featured in that magazine/antho and ask them about their experience, what they thought of the editor, and what sort of rights were they asking for.  And for God’s sake: READ YOUR STORY BEFORE IT HITS PRINT!!!  As newbies, we’re tempted to send out our work to anyone who’s willing to throw $5 our way just to see our stories in print.  We’re naive and we’ll trust anyone, even when they decide to stick it in and break it off.  We have to aim higher, and we have to beware.  There are good people out there who are more than willing to help you along the way–that I can guarantee–you just have to watch yourself and those you decide to associate with.  I wouldn’t wish what happened to me happen to anyone else.

You should be able open that first box of books with your name on it and cry–not tears of anger, but tears of joy.

15 Questions: An Interview With Author Brent Abell

On occation I will give interview to writer who I think everyone should be aware of.  For my first, I decided to pick local author and my partner in crime Brent Abell.

Q. Although I see you on a daily basis at our day job, tell the good people out there who you are and what you do.

A. My name is Brent Abell and I work in a pit of despair watching plastic all day.  I dream of breaking my shackles and working from home where I can do only what I feel motivated to do, not what I have to do for 8 mind-numbing hours.

Q. So I hear you’re a fiction writer…what do you write?

A. I’ve heard that about me also.  I weave tales of blood, sex, and weird shit into stories that one day I hope can make working at home in just my boxers possible.

Q. Why Horror?

A. I love the dark side of things and I’ve been like that from pretty early on.  I got in trouble in preschool for coloring Jesus’s robes black and then arguing it was artistic impression.  It ended with me yelling at my teacher that I quit preschool.  I also loved my 6th grade reading teachers face when I brought Stephen King’s “It” to read in class.  Where else but horror can you explore our world and the other, dark world that exists parallel to ours?  It also allows one to explain the evils in our society and in our own souls.  I like that in a genre.

Q. In a fight between John Travolta and Elmo, who would win?

A. Elmo.  The red fur is just Satan’s disguise and Satan beats alien religion figureheads hands down every time.

Q. Does living in Indiana affect your style or general storytelling, and if yes, how so?

A. I think that the religious nature of the region affects my work quite a bit.  I either try to freak the church goers out, or I use the biblical notion of good versus evil to explain our roles in the endless battle between heaven and hell.  This is playing a huge hand in a couple of projects I’m drawing up right now.  One is a novella that examines the abortion issue and the supernatural ramifications it can have.  The other is one of two novels I’m plotting.  It concerns sacrifice and what a father will do to save the last of his family when it means dooming his hometown.

Q. What kind of writing shedule do you keep?

A. Very fucking random.  Anytime I can squeeze an hour in is good for me.

Q. Marry, Fuck, Kill: Charlize Theron, Betty White, Sharon Osbourne.

A. Fuck Charlize Theron, marry Betty White (she shares my sense of humor and I can always fuck Charlize), and kill Sharon Osbourne, freeing Ozzy from that harpy’s talons.

Q. Who do you enjoy reading?

A. Shit, that’s a long list.  Brian Keene, Ed Lee, Doug Clegg, Graham Masterton, J.F. Gonzalez, Wrath James White, Stephen King, Ray Garton, Joe Hill, Tim Lebbon, Jack Ketchum, and that super sexy author Wesley Southard.

Q. Wesley Southard, eh?  Hmmmm…I’ll have to check him out.  What/Who keeps you writing?

A. It is really a great stress reliever, but it turns stressful again waiting to hear back about a story.  I also write to do something more with my life than a part-packer.

Q. A little birdie told me, from time to time, you like to partake in spirits…what’s your drink of choice?

A. Hell, any hoppy beer or Sam Adams.  I am also partial to whiskey, wine, and gallons of margaritas.

Q. Do you have any rituals you like to do before you sit down to tap the little black keys?

A. Surf the Internet for porn or I look at my bookshelf and picture my books on someone else’s shelf one day.

Q. If you found a $100 bill on the ground, would you try to find the owner or would you spend it on expensive hardback books?

A. I would look for a second or two and then get on the computer and shop.  When the books come in I will feel guilty and not read them out of shame.  How fucked up is that?

Q. Tell us about your recent fiction sales.

A. I have one story already in print in the “Undead of Winter” anthology from Rymfire eBooks, “Rivals” is being released this December from Wicked East Press in their “Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction Vol. 2, and I have a story accepted in upcoming “South Will Rise Undead” anthology from Library of the Living Dead Press.  There a few things out there now I hope to find homes for soon.

Q. Tell us where we can find you, on the internet and out in the world.

A. On the website at www.plan9reloaded.com/btabell.  From there you can find links to my Facebook and Twitter pages.  It will be great place to get updates from the road at Horrorfind in September.  That Wesley guy and I should have a fucking blast.

Q. Thank you, Brent…wait, wait!  Don’t leave!  I have one more question: What’s the best Southwestern Indiana lemon-orange soda that goes perfectly with either Nacho Cheese Doritos and/or BBQ Grippos?

A. Why that would be Ski of course!  I goes good with everything, not just chips.

Agreed!  Thanks, Brent.  See you at work tomorrow.

What I Left Behind / What I Became

It’s been over four years since I left the great city of Atlanta, Georgia to move back home after college.  And, to tell you the truth, I think about it every day.

I began playing guitar at the age of thirteen, at a time when I desperately needed something to obsess over.  You see, even at a young age, I was always very into music.  My father, a product of the baby-boom generation, was introduced at a young age to the music that he, many years later, would pass on to me like a ceremonial torch.  Bands like Kiss, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and so on; bands that went to change the world, and change how a little boy from Southwestern Indiana saw it from then on.  Sure, my tastes have changed and progressed over the years, leaning toward the heavier side of rock music (and, yes, there was that awful 8th grade year of my life where I stood proudly as a *gulp*…Juggalo…although I’ve been fortunate to erase that from my past, thank you very much).

By thirteen, I’d had enough with jamming air guitar on the blowup guitar from Party City.  I neededthe real thing, Mom and Dad!  Ask and ye shall receive.  The several years following I spent studying and learning the functions and techniques of the instrument.  By my junior year in high school, I started my own metal trio called Cemetery Symphony, where I played guitar and swore up and down the wall that I was going to do lead vocals…eventually.  I wasn’t the best singer—although, I don’t think I’m all that bad now—but I was damn determined to get this group up and off the ground, and I would lead us to fame and infamy, and would be up to our elbows in groupies for the rest of our lives.

We had one show.  We sucked.

Oh well.  Life goes on.  And it did.  I took guitar lessons from a gentleman named David Brewster, who I still blame my entire writing endeavors on.  When not teaching, we would gush about horrorfilms, and argue over which was better: Fast Zombies verses Slow Zombies.  He knew that I was a big zombie movie fanatic (I can admit now that I’ve had my share of zombies, movies and/or fiction, to last a lifetime), so he told me about this new author whose first novel hadjust been released.  A modern classic, he said.  Couldn’t put it down, he said.  Sure, whatever, I said.  I’ll give it a whirl.

That book was Brian Keene’s The Rising.

That was the beginning.

Following high school, I ventured to the south to Atlanta, Georgia to further my studies of guitar and the rock and roll way at the Atlanta Institute of Music.  By that point in my life I knew what I was going to be, and I’d be damned if anyone told me otherwise.  My parents wanted me to go to a regular college.  My friends thought I was dumb.  My teachers looked at me funny (come to think of it, it was probably my long hair at the time).  Damn them—damn them all!  I was going to be a fucking rock star…

I should have listened.

The point of this blog entry isn’t to bash AIM—quite the opposite, actually.  For an eighteen year-old fresh out of high school, moving six hours away from home was one of the smartest things I could have done.  It made me independent.  It made me responsible.  It made me wash my own damn clothes, buy my own damn groceries (this was back in 2005-06, and it still blows my mind how I gave myself a weekly $30 limit on food and $15 on gas, and still managed to get around with a full tank and a full stomach) and clean my own damn toilet.  I did this all on my own.  For nearly two years, I busted ass at UPS while most of my fellow students were taking a free ride on the mommy- and daddy-bought college experience of sleeping late, staying wasted, and doing whatever the hell they pleased without so much as leaving their pre-paid apartments.  Sure, I was jealous, but I was damn proud to know that I was working hard for my stay in school.  I worked damn hard, even back at home, for my Alpine White Gibson Les Paul Studio and Peavey Triple XXX all tube Half-Stack.  But I’m not going to bash on those guys (and gals) either.  In fact, I made some of the best friends I’ll ever have down there, like the current members of The Maximum Wes Club, started by Zack, Blue, Jake, Daniel, and Steph (love you guys!).  And, of course, one of my best buddies ever Nathan Brown (if you happen to see this post, Nathan, call me, you
bastard!  We haven’t talked in forever!).

I graduated in February 2007, and had to make that terrible decision, the one ultimately this blog is based on: Do I stay, or do I go?  For the first year or so of living in Atlanta, I loved it.  I was living on my own, going to concerts almost every weekend, having fun with my new friends, and fighting with my then female roommate (and you’re reading this, Alice, I don’t hate you anymore…let’s bury the hatchet.  I would love to buy you some fresh tampons, considering you’ve been wearing the same one for the last four years.)  But after that initial hump, I was completely over it.  I wanted to come home.  Look, I’ve always been a city boy (despite what you PA fuckers think :)), but I was ready to get away from the insane traffic, and the fact I only got to see my family five or six times a year was killing me.

I made the phone call to my parents.  They were not happy.  For two years, I told them Atlanta was my new home base, and that’s just the way it was going to be.  I had a few job offers before I left, some sounded ok, while others sounded…well, honestly they sounded lame.  I didn’t go to school to teach ten year-olds how to play their G chords.  I left Atlanta unhappy.

I came home unhappy, too.  What was I going to do?  I now owned a $12,000 piece of paper that said “I can play guitar really well!”, but what the hell was I going to now?  I didn’t want to teach, and working at music store didn’t peak my interest either.  So factory work it shall be.

I was still unhappy.

But I’ll be damned if I didn’t become a reading fool.  Keene led to Lebbon.  Lebbon led to Gonzalez.  Gonzalez led to Braunbeck.  Which led me to Indianapolis, where a small convention was held every year called Mo*Con, where horror authors, artists and fans would gather and sign, panel, and shoot the shit…and I wasn’t going to leave until I shook Brian Keene’s hand and thank him for all of the great fiction that cheered me up a bit on days when life would kick me in the balls.

Something clicked that day…something strange that changed me.  I looked around and listened to all the people who came in from states I had never even been to, people that drove across states for hundreds—some even thousands—of miles just to get a hand shake and get a book signed.  I was floored.  And I was inspired.

Not long after coming back from Indy, I had long talk with my best friend Joseph about this idea I had.  I told him I want to write fiction, and I’ve got this great novel idea.  He wished me luck, and that was that.  And for the next three years—yes, that’s 3—I poured my blood sweat and (sometimes literally) tears into that novel, giving this story my all like I had never done with anything else in my life.  I worked day and night like a banshee, trying to pull this story out of my head and onto paper.

Then I met my ex.

I won’t tell you her name, so let’s just call her C, because there are so many four letter words we call her instead.  I met my then girlfriend, and promptly fell in love, but it took me away from my writing, which made me sad (although, I may be exaggerating…after all, she was keeping me…occupied…with other things).  After being with C for nearly two years of my life, I wanted so badly for her to be the one.  And for a little while I thought she was…

I won’t go into detail about our breakup, but I can tell you it wasn’t pretty, and there’s a reason why I haven’t spoken to her since July 2nd 2009.

I was not a happy person.  Sure, I finished my novel, and was enthused as all hell about that, but everything else in my life sucked.  I was depressed, I was lonely, and I took my frustrations from work home with me.  Friends, family, co-workers…no one wanted to be around me.  For a little while, I didn’t want to be around me.  I had completely stopped playing guitar.  The dream was dead.

Then I went to Mo*Con 2010…and met two people who changed my life forever.

For the last year and half, I’ve been happier than I have ever been in my entire life.  I’ve met some amazing, truly wonderful and accepting people who I can now call my friends, I’ve seen some awesome sights, and even befriended a Canadian (love ya, Ron!).  And after four years of hard work, I’ve finally starting to sell some fiction.

What I left behind was a dream.  What I became was a better, happier person.

I may not yet have found my place in the world, but damn it, I can finally see where I’m going.

Hello, World.  Meet Wes.

So, after this lengthy blog about my life experience, tell me…what terrifying choice have you made that’s ultimately changed your life for the better?