Archive for Writing

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

What about Fear?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 12, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

A confession: I go to church. I go every Sunday. I’m on the church council too, heck, I’m president of the Church Council. I say this with a little reluctance because as an aspiring horror writer I think there’s an assumption that you have to be a Satanist or an Atheist at least. What can I say; I’m a man of many apparent contradictions.

I see nothing wrong with this seeming conflict because I was fortunate enough to grow up in a church that encourages thinking and even…doubt. And doubts I have, trust me.

My church isn’t the church of sin and apocalypse, it’s the church of hope, reconciliation, and love. Believe it or not, I get some ideas for my stories or the themes within them from church sermons and liturgy.

I’ve wrestled over the years with many of the ideas I hear about in church. Hope was a big one for a long time because I just couldn’t find all that much to be hopeful about. That’s changed over the last year in part because of my writing, but now there is something else I’m wrestling with. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole fear thing.

I’m quibbling with progressive Christianity’s take on fear, that because we live in God’s world we have nothing to be afraid of. I’m sorry, but I’m still afraid of a lot of things. I’m afraid of going into ridiculous debt. I’m afraid of never paying off my student loans. I’m afraid of messing up as a parent. I’m afraid of dying alone.

All the things I’ve mentioned could be disastrous, I think. There are real things to be afraid of and shit, I haven’t even mentioned cancer. Regardless of how much God loves us there will be no divine intervention to save me. Religion, real religion, isn’t magic, and no one is going to save our asses from the scary things we can encounter in life.

Here’s what I think our interpretation of fear should be. It’s part of life. It can even be helpful. It’s helped us stick around as a species and evolve. But fear shouldn’t control us. We need to push on even though there are big scary things lurking around the corner.

Worse Than Death

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

Chuck Palahniuk says you should write about things that upset you. Franz Kafka hit a similar note when saying, “We ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us.” I agree with both quotes and have pondered them quite a bit, using them as motivators behind what I chose to write and read. In writing horror, upsetting is particularly important and more so, I think, is frightening.

Judging by the amount of religious reflection on the subject, I would say that for many folks, assuming they too follow the above admonitions, the issue that scares them or upsets them or wounds them is death. I, honestly, have never really been afraid of death. Okay, I admit, it’s a upsetting, especially in regards to loved ones, but it’s not all that frightening. Maybe I’m still too young for it to have really hit me. It’s possible I’ve still got that youthful sense of immortality. Maybe, but probably not.

Hell and the possibility of suffering in the afterlife have something to do with it. Past the age of eleven I haven’t believed in it. As I think I’ve made clear in my posts here, Hell is place on earth. We’re already there in many ways and we’ve made it a reality.

Death, I think, is an end, which makes it sad and unfortunate. It might not be an end to everything, however, it certainly is an end to our existence as we know it. But, and to a degree I suppose I am relying on faith here, it is also the start of something new; a new life; a new experience; a new presence; a complete absence; whatevs.

Here’s what upsets me and scares the crap out of me: continuation, the sense that something could go on forever. I get a nasty case of poison ivy each year that covers my body with leprosy-like lesions. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and it looks awful. Every summer when I notice the damn rash I get filled with the terrible and irrational thought, not that it could kill me, but that it will never go away. Imagine that, living the rest of your life with a hideous itchy rash covering your entire body. That’s worse than death.

Also what scares me is the thought of being stuck; in a bad job or in poverty in particular. To me, that’s the absence of growth and simply plain boring. A book that truly frightened me because it so accurately captured the dread of monotony and boredom was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The guy was stuck in a Soviet gulag filled with tedious, meaningless work that went on and on. Luckily, I’ve never been in a gulag, but the thought of it is terrifying.

I love Frankenstein

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 17, 2014 by stantonmccaffery

I love Frankenstein. I first read it during my junior year of high school, though I can’t remember much from that first reading other than the fact that I liked it. It was dark and subversive.

Last month I read “On Writing Horror,” a compilation from the Horror Writer’s Association about, duh, writing horror. There is a chapter in the book that discusses the must reads in horror. Of course, Frankenstein is first on the list. Because I agreed that a good author thoroughly knows and understands the genre he is writing in, I decided to go and re-read it. I’m about half-way through.

What hits me this time around is how well Mary Shelly captures the worst of human feelings: sorrow; regret; guilt; and I think, depression.

Here’s a passage:

“Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul of both hope and fear.”

I’ve had clinical depression my whole life, but I’ve had one serious and dangerous bout of deep, utterly debilitating depression. It came a month after I graduated college. I worked full-time while going to school, often taking more credits and working more hours than any human should. To me at the time, the worst thing was to have nothing to preoccupy my mind. All I had were my thoughts and those weren’t always good company. Reading this passage sent me back to those times.

The great thing about good horror such as Frankenstein is that it reflects on what’s awful. Sometimes, as Viktor Frankenstein explains, the most awful things are inside our own heads.

No Safe Place

Posted in Essays and non-fiction with tags , , , , , on November 23, 2013 by stantonmccaffery

(Non Fiction)

The great American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in “Good Bye,” about the cruelty of modern civilization and contemplates abandoning it for the natural world. In the piece’s opening he said, “Good bye, proud world! I’m going home. Thou art not my friend, and I’m not thine. Long through thy weary crowds I roam; a river-ark on the ocean brine, long I’ve been tossed like the driven foam: But now proud world! I’m going home.”

I’m with Emerson. The hustle and bustle of the modern world certainly seems at times to be too much. It’s like being on a tread mill; you have to run just to stand still. I only have to turn on the T.V. during this time of year and watch a few “Black Friday” commercials to feel harried and aggravated, like I’d rather live in a secluded cave than be part of such a meaningless society.

Anyway, Emerson’s poem continues:

“When I am safe in my sylvan home, I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome; and when I am stretched beneath the pines, where the evening star so holy shines, I laugh at the lore and the pride of man, at the sophist schools and the learned clan; for what are they all, in their high conceit, when man in the bush with God may meet.”

Again, I’m mostly with Emerson, but there is one thing that gives me pause. I think you have to be more than a little naïve to think you can find lasting safety in the nature world. Nature is brutal and unforgiving. In the documentary “Black Fish,” about the multiple deaths that have occurred at SeaWorld amusements parks as a result of angry and confined Orca Whales mutilating and drowning their trainers, this theme resounds throughout. You need to respect nature and even view it in awe, but you still need to keep your guard up because humans are not capable of fully understanding the world and all its creatures. They can eat us after all.

What does this mean? Well, for me, it means that there is really no safe place; no solace. Wherever we go there will be pitfalls and dangers and monsters that are real – whether at the shopping mall or in the middle of the woods.

This is all heavily philosophical – so much so that it may bore a reader if included in fiction – but I’m going to give it a try. I’m working on a short piece about a man who’s eaten by bugs and I want to work this idea in as a theme. We shall see.