Guest Post: Chuck Regan exercises his demons

Exorcise your demons.

Why do you write? Me, I write because I like to explore worlds I would not normally be able to visit. I want to know what would I do in a post-apocalyptic demon-infested Earth, so I’m scraping together my first manuscript to a novel set in that world.

It’s easy to play it safe when you hide within a genre like I do. Science fiction, for instance, lets you throw up a lot of distracting elements to hide your weaknesses as a writer and as a person. No room to waste word count on subtle emotional turmoil when the Warbrood of Xaxatar have dropped out of warpspace and are headed for your isolated colony populated by plucky malcontents. It’s easy to distract yourself and your readers——throw up enough cool stuff for them to look at or think about, and the readers get their candy-coated fix and move on to the next shallow thrill. That’s commercial writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if that’s what you want to do, try to give it some depth. Make it real. Make it personal. Make it last.

Another reason I write is to find out about myself——explore the limits of what I think is okay and what is really, really not okay. Readers are along with us for that ride, but they need dimensional characters to connect to. If they feel safe enough to invest their emotions and take root inside of your characters, they’ll travel the same path as you. Writers who beat us over the head with elaborate descriptions are either trying too hard to prove something (to themselves, or to their readers) or are too insecure with their skills that they feel they must over-explain. Those writer’s aren’t inviting you to explore their world, they are barking orders what you should feel like some drill sergeant armed with a thesaurus.

Writing well should be like a good conversation.

If you’ve ever been around someone who talks and doesn’t listen, you know how tiresome it can be. You don’t feel like you are engaged in the conversation, only serving as a recipient to their rants. Your writing should allow for some open spaces for the reader to fill in their own details. That way, they feel like they are participating in the conversation, instead of being beaten down by elaborate descriptions. This is a trap that all science fiction writers have to be aware of. I’m still struggling with it.

But what’s even more engaging is a conversation about a meaty, personal topic. It’s a sign of trust when you share with someone your personal demons, and it should be no different with your next project.

Ideally, I’d like every story I write to explore some dark corner of myself. If I share something important with my reader, they feel engaged on a deeper level with my characters than just cool-looking stuff or meaningless violence. If I am honest with myself and my readers, and share a secret part of myself, how I deal with a conflict through my characters teaches me about myself, and, hopefully, the readers will respect me for it. We both grow. It’s a perfect symbiosis when it works.

But it’s hard work. It’s dangerous work, excavating truths from deep inside yourself. You can’t play it safe. You can’t hide in a genre if you want to improve as a writer and as a person. You have to release your Inner Asshole to push yourself.

“Don’t waste my time!” says Mr. ‘Hole.

I learned over the years that if I’m going to spend all this time in front of a computer (not the kind of time that I get paid for) it won’t be just to lie to myself. That’s where my Inner Asshole comes into play. He won’t let me get away with any bullshit. He goes over my writing with a big red chainsaw, shredding any hint of lies, or gentle misdirections, or lazy assumptions.

Sure, he lets me lie to myself long enough for me to give him something to destroy. He lets me tell myself that this stuff I just wrote today is PURE GENIUS and that I deserve a ten-book deal and an action figure line, and that inspires me to write my next sentence/ paragraph/ chapter. But the next time I re-read what I wrote, my Inner Asshole clears his throat and takes over.

Murdering little darlings? Pfah! Mr. ‘Hole has decimated entire villages of loved ones in one sitting. Nothing is sacred to him. He keeps cutting deeper and deeper, calling me on my bullshit, stripping out the weak logic and flimsy dialog. At least, my stories seem to improve after I sift through the carnage. My wounds are healing over nicely.

And, of course, I figured out somewhere along the way that what is good for me MUST be good for everyone else I know who writes.

Somehow, I manage to maintain friendships with other writers——they share their lovingly crafted words with me, and Mr. ‘Hole pushes me aside, chainsaw roaring. I’m forced to sit back and watch him chew through their stories with a gleam in his eye and stringy drool waggling off of his chin as their worlds are torn apart.

These friends of mine tend to go quiet for a day or two after I send them comments, but they thank Mr. ‘Hole later for calling them on their bullshit. Their stories come back much stronger, and their wounds heal up nicely, too, but they don’t invite me over for drinks anymore.

So when DeWildt asked me to review DEAD ANIMALS, before I read a word of it, I warned him about my personal demon, Mr. ‘Hole. I had never read any of Chris’s work before——I’m still pretty new to this scene, and my long-suffering writer friends at Zelmer Pulp had spoken very highly of his work. When I got my copy of Chris’s book in the mail, Mr. ‘Hole took down the big red chainsaw from the shed and filled it with gas, changed the spark plugs, and checked the oil.

Four stories in, it was clear to me that DeWildt has his own Inner Asshole. There is a sharpness to his worlds that are pure and crisp with gleams of beauty within washes of grime, and it feels True. Reading his stories makes me glad that I grew up in milquetoast suburban Philadelphia——I could never survive in the kind of grimy world he describes——and it reinforced to me why I default to writing science fiction——it’s safer.

DeWildt doesn’t play it safe, and he doesn’t adhere to any genres. His stories are rooted in the real world, with just a side-step from what he sees around him. His demons are sitting right there in front of you, with no spaceships or dragons to remind you it’s not your world. It _is_ your world, and it’s not safe. I don’t know if he’s exorcising any demons, but he’s certainly introducing us to them.

Chris will be exposing more of his demons in the next Zelmer Pulp collection——C’Mon And Do The Apocalypse, Volume 2——scheduled for release early next year. When a writer like Chris is given the opportunity to explore a genre, he has the tools to take it further than others who regularly write in that genre. Chris DeWildt didn’t disappoint. He delivered some zombies like we had never seen before, and despite it being an all-too familiar zombie-apocalypse-can’t-ever-happen world, his demons smile right back at you and dare you to not believe they exist.

About Chuck Regan:

After he turned his back on the Brotherhood of Comic Book Creators, Chuck (CD) Regan spent a decade in the wilds of Pennsylvania training to defend himself against bad prose. He is currently an art director at an ad agency near Philadelphia, PA. His writing credits include: Shotgun Honey, Zelmer Pulp (Hey, That Robot Ate My Baby, Five Broken Winchesters), The Big Adios (upcoming), Space Time Magazine (upcoming), Chaosium Fiction (upcoming), New Mystics Magazine, and Sideshow Fables. He is currently revising the fifth draft of his first novel.

Guest Post: Chuck Regan exercises his demons

Guest Post: Bill Baber

Recently, CS DeWildt was interviewed on The Unknown Show w/ Bud Smith. Hopefully, this will bring some exposure to his excellent new collection of short stories Dead Animals. I really think- and I don’t say this just because I know him- that his novella Candy & Cigarettes is one of the best things I have ever read. DeWildt is an original and if you have not read his work, well, I don’t know what the hell you’re waiting for.

Okay, now that I have pimped the dude for asking me to write a guest spot here and dropped my name during the interview I’ll get to the heart of the matter.

Old Bud asked Chris what other writers he was into and he mentioned some great ones- Joe Clifford, Isaac Kirkman, (another Don of the Tucson Noir Mafia) Brian Panowich, a pair of “Chris”es – Leek and Irvin, Chuck Regan and Ryan the Walnuts Sayles. And me.

But here is my dirty little secret, I consider these other guys to not only be pretty damn good writers but serious ones as well. I write, and have for a number of years yet I don’t consider myself a writer. Yeah, I used to write a newspaper column in Oregon that I got paid (little) for. And I had a gig writing for a blog that again, earned me a small amount of compensation. I have also had a book of poetry published that has sold about 104 copies and that is due to the fact that it was a pairing of chapbooks and the other fellows subsequent collection went on to be nominated for both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award.

Because of his stature in the Poetry World, we did a number of readings around Oregon. Looking back on them, they were excruciating. There were always middle aged woman at these readings who wore pinched up looks and I kept waiting for them to shout out right in the middle of a poem, “Your writing sucks!” It never happened but I know that’s what they thought. I have come to the conclusion that poetry is subjective and that at least half the people that attend poetry readings are there just to be critics. It didn’t matter than someone would buy a copy of the book; ask me to sign it telling me that one of my poems touched them in some profound way. I would still remember that woman in the second row with curly hair streaked with grey, Teva sandals and the North Face jacket that spent the entire night looking like her hemorrhoids were inflamed.

Poets themselves tended to be a touchy bunch, other than the fellow who I shared pages of the book with. He was a retired English professor who had grown up on his families Central Oregon cattle ranch and went off to New York to teach for thirty years.  After retirement, he returned to the ranch and spent his days writing. He is a wonderful guy and in some circles considered a major poet. He was always supportive as hell and I sure enjoyed the fact that the profits we made from book sales at readings were immediately spent on beer at the nearest pub.

However, as I said, I grew weary of the surliness of poets and the majority of folks who attended readings. Maybe it was just Oregon; they tend to take their poetry seriously up there.  Besides, I don’t like to read poetry so why was I writing it? Why not write what I liked to read? I sent my first attempt at crime fiction off to The Flash Fiction Offensive way back when Rey Gonzales was the editor. Much to my amazement, it was accepted.  Wow, I thought this is easy stuff. A string of stories followed at the usual places. When I thought I was good enough, I tried submitting to some publications that paid. That’s when I found out the truth, I wasn’t that good.*

After moving to Tucson, Chris invited me to read with him, Isaac Kirkman and Rich Osburne who made a special trip from L.A.The room was packed and it was the first time I had read my crime fiction. It was an amazing time, and it was the first time I felt as if my work was being completely appreciated. It was a damn fine feeling. And seeing Isaac Kirkman read was incredible. That’s right; Isaac has to be seen to be believed. DeWildt read From Dead Animals and the entire thing was just magic.

So, I write, I’ve been published and had a few successes. Last year, the respected British crime writer Paul D. Brazill even added a story of mine that was at Shotgun Honey to his best of the year list. So, why don’t I consider myself a writer? For the same reason I can change my own oil and don’t think of myself as a mechanic- it’s not what I spend most of my time doing. The other guys DeWildt mentioned? They write. Sure, some of them have day jobs but they still find time to write and I suspect most of them to it daily. Will Aiken is a friend from Bend who is the finest writer I know. He would wait tables all night, come home and while his family was asleep he would write. Chris DeWildt is a teacher yet he finds time to write every day. I use my job and family as excuses not to write. I snatch pieces of time to write like a kid stealing from the cookie jar. Sometimes, I feel guilty for doing so. A recent lit reactor piece mentioned ten ways to evaluate your writing career.  I failed every category miserably.

Really, as honored as I feel to have Chris mention me with a bunch of guys I really admire I don’t think I’m worthy. I might consider myself a writer when I earn a check for a story. Or when Joe Clifford accepts a first draft from me. Odds are I’ll cash a few checks before that happens.

Now go buy DeWildt’s books. That dude is a writer.

*editors note: Read Bill’s stuff. Not only is he a writer, he’s a damn fine one.

Guest Post: Bill Baber

Guest Post: Sexy Ryan Sayles goes too far

When DeWildt asked me to guest write for his column, what I really saw was a golden opportunity to write about myself. That’s normal, right? Of course it is.

                So, my first exposure to the guy who feels the need to wear a ski mask in his profile picture was the story “McRib Therapy” over at Out of the Gutter. The editors there, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts, had done me the honor of publishing my story “Cheated” previously so I was on that high that writers get when they’re published at a site and they go back and read everything. McRib Therapy popped up and, after I read it, I showered. Then I realized I wasn’t taking my own stuff far enough. That story was messed up.

                At the time my six year-old daughter was in this Girl Scouts alternative group called American Heritage Girls (she’s not there anymore, however, but AHG is still better than Girl Scouts because they don’t sell cookies made from aborted babies. That’s a subject for another guest column) which met at a Baptist church. I’m not Baptist—not anymore—so I didn’t feel particularly sinful writing what, in my mind, became my competition story to McRib in their parking lot.

                Really what it was, was a fairly obvious rip-off story entitled “Douche.” In both McRib Therapy and Douche a guy and girl go down into the basement of a party house, get high and bone out. Then the girl is or appears dead. So yeah, I ripped him off. DeWildt’s then led off into a conversation with a stolen Ronald McDonald statue, and … well, if you haven’t read it, read it. In my story the guy takes the girl out into the city and sets her on fire to get rid of the evidence, only to find out she was alive the whole time, survived the fire and her brother finds him. But, of course, the douche lies, blames an innocent dude and the brother leaves. The end.

                Did I care about the rip-off? Hell no. I’m a douche also. What I did care about was the word count. And Douche’s word count was too long for OOTG. So I shelved it. Not too much later Joe put out on Facebook (what he calls, “The Office”) that OOTG needed subs.

                When I think of submitting to OOTG (post-Cheated, of course) I think of how my story has to go neck-in-neck with McRib Therapy. I had been bouncing the idea around in my head about a guy who collects roadkill and makes them his friends. Names them, has tea parties, yadda yadda. Ever watch The X-Files? Season one, episode three, baby. Called “Squeeze.” Features everybody’s favorite creep Doug Hutchinson (the asshole corrections officer Percy Whitmore in The Green Mile) playing a guy named Eugene Victor Tooms  who could elongate his body and squeeze through air ducts, chimneys, etc. Well, at one point in the show Tooms worked for the city cleaning up roadkill. He picked up something—squirrel, opossum, raccoon, Muppet, whatever—threw it into the back of his truck, looked around to see if anybody was watching and then voraciously licked his fingers clean. That little tidbit stuck with me.

                I wanted to write about that guy, and competing with the glorious McRib Therapy drove me onward and upward. So I wrote a story called “Collection.” OOTG took it, though Joe advised me to seek counseling (it was probably one of those nice things where he meant it, but phrased it as a joke so as not to make me un-friend him on Facebook. Yes, Facebook is that important to us).

                My brothers in Zelmer Pulp all eventually confessed they read it, but felt it went “too far.” I only found that bothersome because it’s probably my favorite out of my own stuff. Maybe because it goes too far. I dunno. I never showed the story to my wife. I want to stay married.

                So DeWildt has been a pretty big influence on me. Reflecting on this, I probably shouldn’t write that I felt the need to compete. I felt the need to chase. Richard Thomas tells me he chases Stephen Graham Jones. I chased him once as well, but he tricked me and got away.

                But seriously, I felt the need to chase. Still do. And the guy keeps batting home runs. I can’t keep up. The thing about DeWildt’s writing is he refuses to blink when people get uneasy. Add that to how DeWildt’s writing is lyrical in tone, and you have a genuinely effective voice.  He doesn’t reach for the gross-out or go out of his way to spill buckets of human chum onto the page. He doesn’t need to. While other writers scream the F word and use an entire vat of blood and guts and baby heads to make their readers uncomfortable, to affect their audiences and make them remember the story, all DeWildt does is have his people act on their motivations.

                That’s it. Act. I gotta do that, son.

                I am chasing DeWildt, though. With a chainsaw. Not wearing pants. And after I catch him I’ll voraciously lick my fingers clean.

Ryan Sayles’s novel The Subtle Art of Brutality is here. Pick it up. And you can visit him here.

Guest Post: Sexy Ryan Sayles goes too far