Friday, October 5, 2012

Author Interview--Joe Borrelli

Hello folks,

Welcome to another author interview. This week Joe Borrelli is in the hot seat, and as usual, the interviewee will do the talking.

-What book and/or experience made you want to be a writer?

My flip answer is that I found a copy of “How to Write Horror Fiction” by William F. Nolan in my local library. It broke down the way a story is constructed in simple, conversational language. I spent my adolescence writing rip-off monster stories without much skill or brains and convincing myself I was deep and sensitive.

Even then, I knew the stuff I was writing was crap. I kept at it, but everything felt half-formed and frustrating. Around the same time I got into running role playing games. Aside from playing to my strengths at public speaking and improvisation, it taught me how to structure a story so that it survived the whims of a bunch of destructive nerds, how to keep people interested, how to create characters with distinctive voices, and how to convey powerful images with a few simple words.

There came a point when I got all I could out of telling small stories to a small handful of people. I had ideas that needed a bigger home.

-What genre do you write?

I write…shit, I dunno. I write horror stories, I guess. But either I’ve got bad information on the genre’s potential or it’s a bunch of underachievers, but I’m a bit embarrassed about my genre choice. My shit involves ghosts and zombies and monsters, so I guess it’s horror. When I’m at my pretentious hipster artsy fartsy parties I tell people I’m writing literary fiction.

-What project are you working on now?

The big project is my thesis novel, The Torment Game. From my somewhat ham-fisted write up:

After accidentally killing their friend in a bizarre bullying ritual known as The Torment Game, our hapless trio arrives in San Francisco to be their lives as exchange students in the richest private Catholic school in the city. As they struggle to acclimate to their new home, their relationship has frayed from the strain of getting away with involuntary manslaughter. Unbeknownst to them, the spirit of their dead friend has followed them. She’s lonely, wounded, and very, very angry….

It’s my love letter to J-Horror, featuring psychic teenagers, homicide investigations, anime, and dead girls with hair in their faces.

I also do a graphic novel called The Doom That Came To Toonland, which is a fusion of Looney Tunes and Lovecraft. My buzz phrase is what would happen if Pinky and the Brain tried to summon Azathoth in order to take over the world.

Finally, I do a great podcast. Go to iTunes and search Creature Cast. It’ll knock your socks off.

-For other aspiring writers, any tips?

Demystify the process. It’s just writing, dawg. Don’t make it a thing.

Your first job is to figure out the way you write. What’s your process, how do you work. Do you write a little bit daily? Once a week? Figure it out. It helps you get comfortable.

Write. If you are spending way more time either:
1) Reading books about writing or…
2) Blogging about writing
than you do actually writing then you are doing it wrong!!!

“Be regular and ordinary in your habits so you can be spontaneous in your creations!”

-What’s your favorite book/genre to read?

Strangely enough, I read very little horror. I mostly read non-fiction, especially social and cultural studies, but I also read a lot of crime fiction or “literary fiction.”

The three biggest influences on my style are Joe R. Lansdale, Lawrence Block, and Natsuo Kirino. My entire friggin’ thesis is basically a riff on Natsuo Kirino’s work, especially Grotesque.

-What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I love the doomed trio from my thesis. They have helped get me through some tough times recently. I privately fantasize that one day some kid at a convention will come up to me in cosplay of my characters. That’s when I’ll know I have made it.

Want more from Joe?

Like his comic book’s Facebook page. Check out his podcast and blog.

Follow Joe on Twitter @JoeAverageSF.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cognitive Distortions: Dealing with Rejection Part 1

Hello folks,

This and next Wednesday will be a 2-part installment regarding writing and psychology.

Cognitive Distortions

Originally developed by Aaron Beck and later popularized by David Burns, cognitive distortions are, often, automatic thoughts that promote negative feelings. These feelings can seem real, but they are truly based on negative thought patterns rather than facts. Cognitive distortions are a common roadblock hit during psychotherapy, and the goal is to replace the negative thought patterns with more positive, rational ones.

In other words, cognitive distortions cause us to feel as though something is wrong and keep us reinforcing the negative ideas.

There are fifteen cognitive distortions. I will talk about eight this week and seven next. And I’d like to discuss them in terms of something all writers face—rejection. As I’ve heard many times, it is getting that first acceptance that is the toughest, and it often takes many, many, many rejections to get it. That many repetitions of “Sorry, your work just wasn’t right for us” can cause very negative feelings indeed. My goal with these two posts is to introduce cognitive distortions so that you may recognize them and not let them get the better of you and, most importantly, keep you from continuing to submit.

Here we go.

1. Filtering – Filtering is the process of taking all of the details of a situation, filtering out the positive ones so that only the negative ones remain, and amplifying the negative ones as much as possible.

“I was rejected. They said my work wasn’t right. They’re not going to publish my work. They don’t want my work.”

Never mind if the publisher/lit mag/agent/whoever also said that your concept was interesting or that your writing was pristine or that they provided feedback to help spruce up your work. With filtering, all that matters is those negative details and cramming as many of them into your brain as possible.

Solution - Find the positives and cram them into your head, forcing the negatives to make room and eventually leave.

2. Polarized Thinking – Polarized thinking is thinking in black and white.

“I’m the most amazing, talented, interesting writer in the world.”
“My writing is the absolute worst thing that has ever been written in the history of the universe.”

At first glance, this doesn’t look so bad. We categorize a lot of things in black and white, right? Murder is bad. Water is good. However if you look a little deeper, you will find that not everything is so easily categorized.

Music is good—unless it’s music that was written with lyrics specifically for demeaning a race of people.

More than this, polarized thinking when applied to your writing can be dangerous. If it’s not the best thing you’ve ever written, it’s crap and must be stricken from existence. You’ll lose a lot of potentially great work/ideas like that.

Solution – Look for mediocre qualities in everything. If you think something is downright terrible, challenge yourself to find one thing about it that’s good. The rest will follow.

3. Overgeneralization - This occurs when we come to a conclusion based on a single piece of evidence.

“That e-zine rejected my short story. I can’t write.”

Not true. You can write. That e-zine obviously doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Lol

No, seriously, it’s one failure. It doesn’t rule your life. My senior year of high school I auditioned for the district chorus. The year before I’d gotten into districts and gone on to All-State. Senior year, I had a terrible day and a terrible audition. When we got our results back, I wasn’t surprised (though still very let down) to see that I’d scored pretty badly. At the tender age of eighteen, I’d been ready to throw in the towel with singing. I’d gone to my seventh period class (Musical Theatre) in a not-so-great mood. The teacher (not even close to my favorite) came in and cut off the chatter about district scores and who got in and who didn’t. Naturally there was some overflow from choir to musical theatre. He proceeded to tell us “All right, let’s put it away until the bell rings. Not everyone made it, and I don’t want those who didn’t to feel bad. It’s one person judging you on one aspect on one day in your entire life.”

That made me feel so much better. I was still upset, but I recognized my audition for what it was—unfortunate bad timing. If a teacher I barely liked could say that and make me feel better about myself, anyone can beat overgeneralization.

Solution – Try again. Keep trying. Someone will take that short story. You just have to find the right person.

4. Jumping to Conclusions - Jumping to conclusions is the belief that you know how people are going to react/feel about everything. Specifically, you know how people feel about you.

“I just know that publisher thinks my work is terrible.”

Beg pardon for asking but if you haven’t submitted, how do you know they think you’re terrible? Or if you have submitted and they rejected you, how do you know they thought your stuff was terrible? In the case of the first, they have no experience with you. Why/how would they not like you? In the case of the second, it is possible that the publisher has developed a deep, seething hatred toward you based on your manuscript, but I doubt it.

Solution – Think. Logically, people who have never met you/read your work can’t hate you/it. People who have rejected your work rejected it because it didn’t fit their mold, not because it was bad writing. Though, if you have had repetitive rejections and you are concerned about your writing, it never hurts to have someone look it over.

5. Catastrophizing - This is the expectation of disaster, often in the form of “what if” questions.

“What if they don’t accept my manuscript?”

Answer—you move on to the next publisher/agent. To quote the Broadway musical “Into the Woods,” “But what if! But what if! Will only a giant’s foot stop your arguing?” Sounds like a silly line, but think about it. If you spend your time asking “what if,” you’ll never submit your work. If you never submit your work, no one will ever get the chance to accept it. And if they do reject it, so what? Their loss. And if a giant foot comes down from the heavens to crush them….

Solution – Just submit. To quote another Broadway musical—“Avenue Q”—“Don’t stress. Relax. Let life roll off your backs.”

6. Personalization – This is taking everything that others do or say and believing that it applies to you. This also involves comparing yourself to others in a less than flattering light.

“I can’t write as good as J. K. Rowling.”

It’s not a question of whether you write better or worse than J. K. Rowling. In my opinion, it’s not a fair comparison to even make. The woman wrote “Harry Potter” and is legend for it. You write how you write.

Solution – Be proud of what you do/accomplish. Don’t compare yourself to people. As I said above, if you are truly concerned about your writing, seek critique partners. But otherwise, it’s not a question of better. It’s a question of different. Voice is unique.

7. Control Fallacies - This is a state in which you assume control of the happiness and pain of everyone around you.

“The publisher is upset because my work is terrible. That’s why he rejected me.”

Again, I doubt you personally had anything to do with it. Maybe he just got back from dental surgery. Unless you’re his dentist, you had nothing to do with it. He just happened to reject your manuscript the same day. If his e-mail was a bit harsh, not your fault.

Solution – Step back. Repeat to yourself that you are not responsible for how others feel. Because you are not.

8. Fallacy of Fairness – This is when we feel that we know what is fair and no one else agrees. It leaves us feeling resentful.

“That publisher doesn’t know what’s good writing. It isn’t fair.”

Again, your manuscript probably didn’t fit what he was looking for. It is possible that the publisher/agent doesn’t know what good writing is. Since no industry is perfect, I will not say this is never the case. It may be the case sometimes, but, more often than not, is probably not. The important thing to remember here is that everyone has their own sense of fairness and what’s good or bad.

Solution – Remember that people are individuals. You might not like what some people write. People may not like what you write. It’s not a question of fair. It’s a question of preference.

Come back next Wednesday for the final seven cognitive distortions.

Wednesday Word Count

Character: Warren Gazeban
Inspector Warren Gazeban is the head of the New York branch of MIA (Magical Investigation Agency). He’s got a quick mind, a fondness for his team (with the possible exception of the fairy), and a memory the size of Russia. He’s protective of Vern—something he often gets yelled at for—but, overall, his intentions are good. His crew wouldn’t replace him in a million years.

DayStart CountWrittenFinal Count

Total Words Written: 10552
Average Per Day: 1057
Words Remaining: 34,757

Goal is 80,000. Here’s to crossing the half way mark!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Field Recon--Enriching a World

Good Monday,

I mentioned reading “The Mortal Instruments” by Cassandra Clair a few weeks ago. Two nights ago, I read the first two books in Clair’s “Infernal Devices” trilogy. I am now very irritated that I have to wait till March of 2013 to find out what happens with “Infernal Devices” and until March of 2014 to learn the fate of “The Mortal Instruments” characters.

My irritation aside, I’d like to talk on this Media Monday about something very fun and interesting that Clair does. She showcases the same universe at two very different times in its history. “The Mortal Instruments” takes place in modern-day New York, and “Infernal Devices” is set on the streets of London in the late 1800s. And yet, I never question that I am in the same world. The shadow-hunters are what they are; the down-worlders are still down-worlders, and the rules for each all apply the same way in both series.

This, though, is only good story telling. It would be both very irritating (though less irritating than having to wait for BOOKS!!! *deep breaths* I’m fine) and confusing if the basics of “The Mortal Instruments” didn’t carry over into the “Infernal Devices.”

What Clair does (that makes the two series so fun to read back to back) is show how the events of “Infernal Devices” affect “The Mortal Instruments.” The demon sensor—a device used repeatedly throughout “The Mortal Instruments”—is in its beginning stages in “Infernal Devices.” Clair shows the sensor in the hands of its creator—Henry. The sensor—so pivotal to Jace and Clary’s success in “The Mortal Instruments” is given its own history, much like the characters.

Speaking of the characters, it’s very cool to see the ancestors of the “Mortal Instruments” characters and how relationships among shadow-hunters have changed. The Lightwoods, Herondales, Fairchilds, Waylands, and Starkweathers play important roles in both series, and the differences are fascinating to watch. Benedict Lightwood (for example) shames shadow-hunters with his non-covenant behavior in “Infernal Devices.” By contrast, the Lightwoods of “The Mortal Instruments” are fine, upstanding people. How times do change things—even in fictional worlds.

I also love that Clair’s characters are not carbon copies of one another. I was hesitant to pick up “Infernal Devices” because I was afraid I’d see Jace, Clary, Simon, Alec, and Isabelle in the characters. My fears were swiftly banished. Will, Jem, Tessa, and Jessamine are nothing like their future counterparts. I was also glad to see that the internal conflicts befalling the individual characters were not similar. Jace and Will do both have trouble with love but for two vastly different reasons. Jessamine resents and refuses to be a true shadow-hunter, whereas Isabelle is a brilliant fighter. Clary is the outcast who becomes a shadow-hunter, and Tessa…Tessa Grey of “Infernal Devices.” That is all I will say about her. I’ve noticed something missing from “Infernal Devices,” and I have a theory. As I’ve said, I don’t believe in true spoilers—read the books. They are fun and interesting. But, when I find out (in six months…) I will explain my theory and if I was right or not about Miss Tessa Grey.

Now—what to take from this? Clair creates a rich universe in both series. What she has done, though, by writing both is enriching the world even more. As I read “Infernal Devices,” I thought “oh, so that’s where that came from.” That level of realism in a world is something to applaud. Thank you, Cassandra Clair, for showing me just how real fiction can become.

See you out of the box,