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.