Archive for fiction

I wrote a book. Does that make me a writer yet?

Posted in Crime fiction, Works Published Elsewhere with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2017 by stantonmccaffery

So after about a year and a half of writing and sending manuscripts, and begging people to read, and editing, and some procrastinating, I finished and published my first novel, Into the Ocean. It came out in March through New Pulp Press. (Check it out: https://www.amazon.com/Into-Ocean-Stanton-McCaffery/dp/1945734108/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491764844&sr=8-1&keywords=stanton+mccaffery).

Into the Ocean cover

I loved the process of writing this – though it was painful at times. I kept thinking throughout the thing that I was a moron for even trying to write a novel. I think the highpoint for the whole thing was learning that it would be published, but after that I have to be honest and say that it’s been a little anti-climactic. My life is completely the same after I had the book published as it was before. It’s probably naïve to expect anything else. Budding writers, keep this in mind.

All of this is to say – in case you didn’t know – that writing is really fucking hard and if you don’t find some intrinsic value in doing it there is absolutely no point. Every step of the way takes incredible amounts of effort and self-talk. It was an everyday struggle for me to convince myself that I should keep going and every day it was exhausting.

That’s just the self-doubt, which I found nearly crippling. The next thing is the damn time. I work…a lot. My wife works and we both try to be the best parents we can be to our son. Also in the time of Trump, I’ve tried to be a better activist and citizen. So, the writing time has lots of competition.

And that was just for the first novel. From my experience at least, it doesn’t get any goddamn easier. Actually, it gets harder. See, the first book was almost an experiment. I was like – in part of my self-talk, you see – just give it a shot, if it sucks it sucks. After all, it was my first time. That thought relieved some of the mental pressure.

But on the second book, no. I’ve made an outline and I have characters and I have a few chapters, but the thing just isn’t going anywhere. I don’t think the problem is the story. I think the problem is me. That whole this is an experiment thing isn’t working. I have to find something else. I keep thinking that this one has to be better than the first, which is slowing me down even more than normal.

Well, anyway, I’ve written a novel. If you’re reading this, it’d be really cool if you checked it out and let me know what you thought.

If you asked me what I was, I’m not sure yet that I’d say a writer, but I suppose that doesn’t matter. Does it?

-SM

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The People at the Bottom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2016 by stantonmccaffery

 

Shit I’ve Gotten Published Elsewhere

I had a fun story published this month on Out of the Gutter Online’s Flash Fiction Offensive called We Got a Winner.  For the first time I wrote a character based off of myself. I’ve read that that’s not recommended, but whatever, I had fun with it. I just sat at the computer and said to myself, ‘What would I do if?’ and the result is what you’ll find.

Now, the funny thing about this story is that although it’s about a guy going to the liquor store to buy a scratch-off, I’ve actually never bought one. But after reading the story, my wife went and bought me one. She actually got it for me for father’s day and said, “No matter what you’ll always be a winner to me.” You’ll understand that line more after you read the story. So, anyway, I play the scratch-off, and guess what, I win a hundred dollars off the thing. I wanted to go out and buy another one, but everyone tells me that was a total fluke.

Shit I’ve Watched

A friend of mine got me into an early screening of the horror film Don’t BreatheThis is a bit of a twist on your standard home invasion film. The invaders are the protagonists and the home-owner is the villain. Plus, there’s a totally warped third act that actually had me biting on my knuckles in the theater.

I’m typically more of a fan of horror films that are heavy on theme, message, and atmosphere, like The Witch or The Babadook, but I’ll enjoy a movie like this as long as it isn’t completely reliant on jump scares and offers the audience something new and creative. And this movie does that in spades. Trust me.

The one complaint that I’ve heard about the film is that the protagonists aren’t sympathetic, that the audience can’t invest in them because they’re sort of reprehensible people. I don’t think that’s the case. Certainly, one of the three robbers is pretty cold and unsympathetic, but for the other two, it was clear to me that they were doing what they were doing because they had to. One was doing it to get enough cash so her and her little sister could move away from their abusive mother and the other was doing it only because he had a crush on the girl and wanted to help her out.

I find myself on the side of unsympathetic protagonists a lot though, so maybe that says more about me than the movie.

Shit I’ve Listened To

I recently started listening to Drive-By Truckers. They’ve got a ton of good songs, a number of which have poetic socially conscious lyrics.

But nothing is as amazing as their newest song, What It Means. 

Here’s some of the lyrics:

Then I guess there was protesting
And some looting in some stores
And someone was reminded that
They ain’t called colored folks no more
I mean we try to be politically
Correct when we call names
But what’s the point of post-racial
When old prejudice remains?
And that guy who killed that kid
Down in Florida standing ground
Is free to beat up on his girlfriend
And wave his brand new gun around
While some kid is dead and buried
And laying in the ground
With a pocket full of skittles

Shit I’ve Read

People tell me all the time about books I should read. Sometimes I get around to reading them and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes it takes me a long, long time. Such was the case with the classic The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. Not until someone let me borrow their copy did I actually get around to it. But I’m glad I did.

Now, with a lot of crime fiction, there’s a ton of characters and a ton going on. It’s mostly dialogue driven and the author doesn’t hold the reader’s hand. It’s easy to get lost. I had to read it twice to fully understand it. I’m okay with that though.I like books that I have to read twice in order to understand. They’re intriguing, like a puzzle.

The same went for the other book I read this past month, Donnybrook, by Frank Bill. Aside from having a ton of characters and a lot going on, Donnybrook is a violent book about people at the bottom, people who I always think are more interesting than people at the top. Maybe the same could be said about Donnybrook as has been said about Don’t Breathe, that the characters aren’t sympathetic, that they’re too violent, their actions too nefarious. I don’t think so. I also think that as readers, we should be challenged by authors to care about people that normally we wouldn’t consider or think twice about. In the case of Don’t Breathe it’s the home invaders and in the case of Donnybrook it’s the bare knuckle boxing meth head. If the point of reading fiction is to expand our empathy, then we need to read works with unsympathetic leads and characters.

Shit I’ve Been Thinking About/Politics

When I think about issues outside of my own life, I try as much as I can to think about the people on the bottom. It’s how I was raised. It’s part of the faith I grew up with. But also, it seems that few others do, particularly those with power.

Here’s an article from the New York Times about how little the poor have been mentioned in this year’s presidential election. I’m not convinced the New York Times cares too much about the poor either, but whatever.

As poverty continues to grow in the U.S. it seems to me like it’s something we should be talking more about, not something we should ignore like we always have in the past.

My hopes for this changing aren’t high. We had Bernie Sanders, but I’m skeptical the movement he helped to birth will continue. Movements inspired around elections don’t tend to survive them. I’m fearful that once we avoid the disaster that is Donald Trump, people will be complacent with whatever non-progress we get from Clinton. The status quo is indeed better than the regression we would get with Trump, but it’s not enough. Certainly not for the people on the bottom.

Anyway, I think about all this as I drive around my town and I see flags lowered at half staff. I’m not always sure who they’re lowered for, but I’m pretty sure they’re not lowered for the people killed by police. And they’re not lowered for people that died because they didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford whatever treatment they needed to treat whatever medical condition they had. They’re not lowered for the people at the bottom.

Two Camps on Structure

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

I’ve been writing fiction for two years now (Yay, I stuck to something), and it looks like there are two camps or schools of thought when it comes to structure in fiction.

There are those that are more or less married to the idea that all fiction should follow a determined flow. There should be a set up, two plot points, a mid-point, and a resolution. There should be a hero that’s blocked in some way from achieving a goal.

Then, there’s the other camp. This camp is a lot messier. I mean, the tents aren’t even set up. They reject, or at least their writing appears to reject, the notion that things have to lead to something. And I can see the value in this, though at times I notice it’s harder to stay focused on these types of stories. These stories better mirror life. My life doesn’t lead to a particular point. It meanders all over and I bet yours does too.

I tend to write in this camp too. I never intended too. It just feels more genuine to me. It does something for my soul.

If you want to come and check them out, I recommend you start with the work of Raymond Carver. If you don’t need big plot payoffs and you love hunting for subtext and emotionally meaning, this is your guy. I wonder if he peeked into my head while writing these stories of his. I don’t mean that I think I’m that good, I just mean I think his stuff resonates that well. Sadly, Mr. Carver passed away over two decades ago.

One of my favorite stories of his is Distance. It’s a guy recalling a story to his daughter about her early childhood. She was sick. He and his wife were young parents. The guy planned to go hunting with an old pal of his father’s. The old pal is emotionally significant to the guy because he reminds him of his dead father. The guy has to choose between hunting and staying home. That’s it. No chase. No gruesome murder. Just something so every day, but at the same time something so relatable.

I’ve certainly been there. Have you?

-SM

Working and Breathing and Living and Dying

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

(Short Story)

You wake up in a tent and you can see soft puffs of your own breath floating above your sleeping bag.

Standing over you is your former boss just as you remember her, sipping on coffee and asking what you’ll be working on today.

You run out the tent because you can’t stand to be around the cunt for another fucking second, but when you get outside you step into a white void, oblivion. It’s not even curious blackness that you could wander and get lost in. You know too well the loneliness of this nothing.

You go back inside the tent because maybe being around that witch is better than dying alone, but she’s not there anymore because even she has found something else. Instead you’re joined by yet another former boss who tells you that you need to prove yourself if you want that raise you so richly deserve. That bastard, you think, he’s been here two fucking months and I’ve got five years on the job and a master’s degree. He can go to Hell, but then, then you realize he’s not their either. It’s just you and all you’ve got are some shitty memories of how hard you worked but how at the end of the day none of it mattered one iota.

This is terror.

 

Everyone has it

Posted in Horror Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

I had the idea for this short piece while sitting in a doctor’s office for yet another case of poison ivy.

(Short Story)

He walked into the doctor’s office concealing his wounds with a sweatshirt despite the heat of the day. The waiting room was filled with other patients, all entranced by a T.V. positioned in the corner. When called forward by the receptionist he walked silently from the room without attracting any attention to himself.

His wounds were bubbling under his clothes. Only thin fabric hid his condition, which grew each second in size and pain. The pain of a public eye on his shame, he believed, would be even worse.

A nurse asked what brought him in and he responded by rolling up a small portion of his sleeve, showing her only the least offensive sign of his illness. The nurse reacted with pity and said the doctor would be in to see him shortly. She left and went to the bathroom to tend to her own wounds, also hidden from other’s eyes.

In a mirror in the room he inspected his face while he waited for the doctor, who was late because he was inspecting his own face in a mirror. The man held tightly the sides of the mirror and gritted his teeth instead of screaming just as the doctor did the same. When the doctor entered the room he too reacted with pity.

His injuries bubbled into one another as he waited for the doctor to return with a prescription. In seconds he became only one mass of sickness, no longer displaying any signs of life other than suffering. Soon, he evaporated. The doctor returned to an empty room.

The next patient called up by the receptionist concealed her unsightliness with a purple scarf on her neck and an extra layer of foundation on her face. She pulled back only an inch of her scarf to show the nurse why she made an appointment. As she waited for the doctor she too evaporated into only a fleeting memory.

We’re All Going to Burn

Posted in Horror Fiction, Sad with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

The woman and the girl ran to keep from burning. They saw a small wooden shed in the distance. For the moment, it wasn’t on fire.

They went in and huddled into a corner. It was dark inside aside from the embers that showed through the cracked wooden walls. They covered themselves with a wool blanket the woman carried with her. Once they were under the blanket the woman held the girl close. The girl reached to hold her hand.

“Thank you for being with me,” said the girl.

The woman saw a giant flame fall to the ground nearby. She could hear people screaming. “Well, thank you for being with me. You close your eyes now.”

Though dotted with racing flames, the sky was darker than it had ever been before.

“It’s okay,” said the girl.

“Yep, it is.”

She looked up. “I don’t mean it the way you mean it.”

Fire fell closer this time. They could hear it crackle. “What are you talking about?”

“When you say its okay you mean that we aren’t going to burn. When I say its okay, I know we are going to burn. But that’s okay.”

The woman sighed. Ever since she found the girl filthy and living off garbage the girl could always tell when she was lying.

“I’m happy I have your hand and I can hold it”

“I wish I could make it different for you. I’m sorry things are like this. I’m sorry we have to go this way.”

The girl rubbed the woman’s hand with her thumb while she held it in her fingers. It wasn’t clear anymore who comforted whom. “Even if the sun didn’t break, we were still going to die.”

The roof caught on fire. Smoke filled their lungs. They held each other as they burned.

Attendants of the man-eater

Posted in Horror Fiction with tags , , , , on March 18, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

The plane was a beast. The flight attendants its servants. The airport its lair, a façade used to lure prey.

Passengers are welcomed aboard daily and shown to their seats. Overhead compartments are filled and closed. An attendant displays the safety protocol and another smiles and greets the flight’s youngest passengers, asking the names of their stuffed animals.

A sound is heard; a deep rumble. The plane has finished digesting its last meal. The passengers believe it only to be the engine starting.

When the planes takes off a man pricks his finger on his seat and it starts to bleed. An attendant brings the man a band aid and says she has no idea what could have cut him. She lied. It was a tooth, the plane’s tooth.

Up high in the air, before the seatbelt lights come off, all the seats grow teeth. With its many mouths, the plane eats all the passengers. At 30,000 feet, only the attendants hear them scream.