It's been a while since I blogged and it feels right for me to go back a bit. I want to think about the beginning of my desire to write dark fiction and what I've been trying to achieve.
I was writing before reading Lightning, but it wasn't all that dark.
Before reading Lightning, I was writing funny (to me), weird stories. I was about ten or eleven, filling school exercise books with characters having fantastic adventures. There was one about a detective where the storyline was led wherever I found jokes, mostly based on words having double meanings. I forged endorsements from celebrities.
And then there was one that filled several exercise books about two aliens that came to Earth to search for a friend. They landed naked and didn't realize. They were very violent and not too bright.
I followed that up with a story where the aliens disguised themselves as humans by inhabiting one. She had a connection to the aliens for the rest of her life. I've been writing that story for years.
When I went to secondary school, a friend bought me a copy of Lightning because he knew I was into writing and the author and I shared a first name. I thought it was funny. It was cool to see part of my name on a book cover. Yes, I used to cover up the Koontz.
Lightning didn't turn me onto horror fiction. True, I don't remember knowing much about its existence before Lightning and it was my first horror novel. But what Lightning did was deeper than that and I'm grateful.
It was the first novel I read for fun. Before that, I was trudging through books that were assigned by teachers. You'd turn up the next day at school and answer comprehension questions to prove you'd read it. I don't recall connecting with any of those stories. Not one.
Lightning was another breed of book altogether to my eleven-year-old mind. I felt like the author wasn't writing down to me. I felt like I'd opened a door to an adult conversation and just sat down quietly, without anyone noticing I was in the room. (Later, reading Stephen King would be like peering through a keyhole. First, to access the novel. And then again to look into his characters' darkest places; places even they don't want to look at too closely).
Roughly, the plot of Lightning, is about a girl called Laura who has the worst luck. She's born during a lightning storm and the doctor botches it, because he's an alcoholic, and she ends up in a wheelchair for life. Or for one possible life. Because, fortunately, she has a time-travelling guardian who chances upon her as an adult, falls for her, and decides to fix her legs by going back to the moment of her birth and slapping the doctor. Unfortunately, the time travelling machine is pretty accurate in terms of time but not so much place. And the guardian is a Nazi. And another Nazi follows him through. And the doctor isn't the only bad thing that's in store for her.
[Spoiler mostly ends here]
It sounds a bit ridiculous, right?
It's awesome. For a while, I was reading it every year.
The main thing I loved about it were the characters. This was the first book where I actually cared what happened to the main character. I wasn't just reading to find out or answer questions. I cared. I still do. I can still see her. And her flame-haired comedian friend. And the nazis threatening to destroy it all.
Laura could have dropped a plate or broken a nail and I'd have been upset. Throw in a sadistic, time-travelling Nazi with a grudge and a map to her location and I'm hooked.
It's time I reread it and did that writerly analysis during which I decipher how Koontz (you have to drop the first names to be writerly) created such a compelling character and evoked such empathy. As I remember it, Laura, as in many of Koontz books – at least the ones I was reading - is "perfect." She's smart. She's kind. She's beautiful. And she's not a dick about it. She has overcome adversity. Normally, a character with no flaws would be unrealistic, but it worked.
While this story had a profound affect on me and what I thought novels could do, I've not focused on creating amiable characters. My first protagonist was Simon the serial killer. I wrote that The Hollow Places five times and he's a murderer in all of them. Aliens in the head will do that to you. But, while it was okay for me to write an unsavory character, I was at least aware that the reader has to give a shit. Good or bad, it just has to matter. You don't have to like them, you just have to mind.
While The Hollow Places has flaws, the reason I persisted with writing and ultimately publishing the story is that - after years on the shelf – I reread it and it moved me.
Simon's taught himself not to exist like other people. All my villain Firdy wants is to be like other people.
What they wanted mattered to me, as did whether they succeeded or not. Sometimes I think about them. Like now.
Guy: Do you use your timers while journaling?
Me: ... You want me to start journaling again?
Guy: And what about those books that need editing?
Me: Okay, okay! I know!
Writing has generally been a process of discovery. Recent discoveries mean that new elements have appeared in The Blind House (working title). Running with it will require going back to the plot and spending some time working the new things in. It will mean taking it all apart, adding the new arrivals, and putting it back together again.
This major change requires another 40 hours. So, that's why my Pacemaker counter is going to go from 14% complete in mid-May 2019 to whatever it will be when I add another 40 hours to the estimated completion time.
Achieving about 1% a day felt good. Adding 40 hours will slow things down a bit, but it should make a better, bigger, deeper novel.
The Blind House might be even more fun to write than The Chair, which will hopefully translate into an enjoyable read for you guys.
Above are some photos of street art taken during a bike ride along the local cycle path. The kids played patiently nearby while I got some pictures.
Recurring names/tags are Amen, who appears to be a street artist from Clermont, and Lone.
Below is a mural, which is a few minutes further along, next to the skate park.
I love the way the roof looks like a hat in the detailed image of the guy with glasses. I'm going to try and find out about New Painters Karsac, which appears on the mural. All I know about them as that I like the work and that they love fried chicken.
It's not all so grandiose. On one of the skate ramps itself, someone has also drawn a cock and balls.
If you recognise the work above, you know who the artists are, or you know who drew the cock and balls, let me know.
Doing a bit of research with YouTube.
Of course, unless my character is doing a crash test, he is not going to be expecting the airbag and getting his arms out the way, or paying attention to the details of the bag, but this is helpful. Thanks this guy.
The Chair is free until Friday.
It's not "escaped-and-coming-to-get-you" free.
It's "doesn't-cost-anything-until-Friday" free.
Grab your Kindle copy or share the link with friends who like a good read.
If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can download The Chair and read it for free any time (for as long as I keep it subscribed, which is indefinitely right now).
I got this 5-star Amazon review for The Hollow Places last month.
S Remeikis reviewed The Hollow Places
ANOTHER GREAT READ!!! February 21, 2019
Read this in 24 hours. Couldn't stop reading! HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!
I appreciate all my reviews.
If you enjoy The Chair as much as this, please don't keep it to yourself. If you have a good time with The Chair, please take a minute to review it with some stars and a couple of sentences about what you liked.
I've realized that the dark fiction novel I'm working on might be better-described as a paranormal romance.
Having been pretty promiscuous with my genre choices in the past, I'd like to consider myself a-genre right now.
But knowing what categories your books fall into is really useful for - you know - helping people to find and read them.
Some writers I respect very much have recommended going with 'dark fiction' and that's cool with me.
Except Dark Fiction is not a category on Amazon.
You know what is?
That sounds like ... paranormal romance, right?
"What's so bad about paranormal romance, Dean? Why be such a dick about it?"
I've written dozens of paranormal romance stories and novellas for clients. Paranormal romance is fine. But that's not what I'm writing now. I know it in my dark little heart. If I was writing paranormal romance, it would be awesome. But I'm not writing paranormal romance. I'm not. I'm not.
I'm with the genre description. In writing, on screen, it looks fine.
But look at the covers. Look at THEM!
Is that the crowd for my current work?
Nor am I writing horror.
Nor a thriller.
Nor a black comedy.
Nor a tale of psychological suspense, though it is psychological and there is suspense.
No, it's not slipstream.
It might be a weird tale, I suppose.
It's dark and fantastical, but not quite dark fantasy.
So what the f am I writing?
Contemporary fiction? What does that even mean?
"Contemporary literature is literature with its setting generally after World War I."
Seriously? Is that it?
"Subgenres of contemporary literature include contemporary romance."
Well, it's funny that I like to write about characters that don't fit anywhere, in books that also don't fit anywhere either.
I'm going for ...
"... A "true" story with elements of the paranormal, horror, and romance. Oh and dark fantasy. And psychological.
And maybe urban fantasy."
I'm comfortable with the dark fiction tag, but Amazon's not. When Amazon asks me what category The Blind House should fit in, I'm going to have to choose something or they'll choose (paranormal romance?) for me.
I read this book to my daughter (5) at the weekend. Nobody warned me, so I'm warning you.
Comme Des Sardines by Patrick Morin As you can see, it's in French, but the pictures pretty much tell the story. At the time of writing, there are 0 reviews on Goodreads.
* You are now entering Spoiler Central *
Just to let parents know that the book ends (pretty quickly) in genocide.
The lovable, main characters watch their long-lost brothers and sisters get killed in their hundreds, hauled up in a fishing net.
Then, in a kind of appendix, there is a selection of tasty sardine recipes.
What .. the ... actual ... fuck ...
"Awww. Their entire family was just murdered in front of them. Never mind. I'm sure they were delicious."
I don't know what you're doing for Halloween. I thought I might eat all the kids sweets and then test the night vision on my giant mechanical ants.
If chasing robots rampaging through the city isn't your thing, however, you might like to curl up with a free Kindle read for Halloween. The Chair is free at this cobwebbiest time of year.
Here are the free book download links:
Free digital book download from Amazon US
Free digital book download from Amazon UK
If you want a free novella, but you're elsewhere or you don't have a Kindle, let me know.
I published this in 2016. I got it done according to my strict publication schedule, but was never happy with it, so not long after it went up, I pulled it.
I've spent a couple of days going through the plot scene by scene (as opposed to an entire month, thanks to my new writing schedule) and discovered why I was never happy with it.
There's a lot of self-exploration, but not enough action. And there's a problem with the emotional changes of the characters. Lots of emotion, but pretty much the same ones getting more intense all the way through.
Despite getting the cover ready and offering copies to subscribers, I won't publish a book I know has major problems.
I'm going to spend a few days working on the plot now and see what happens. I'll update on that here in the days and weeks to come.
The Chair, however, is finished, and it will be my Halloween gift to the world, on offer at the end of the month. You can look for that around October 31st and there'll be reminders here, on my list, and on Facebook and Twitter.
Like The Body, The Chair, admittedly, is not an entirely new novella. It has been kicking a ball against a wall on Amazon for a while, mostly due to my desire to get several books out in a co-ordinated fashion.
The Body: Go! I'll only slow you down.
The Chair: I'm not leaving you!
1 year later.
The Body: I warned you.
The Chair: Whatever. You done yet or what?
So, grab The Chair now, or get it free for Halloween and sign up for a reminder.
I'll let you know about The Body, but thanks for sticking with me in the meantime!
So, I finally feel like I've achieved a balance with writing fiction and writing content. It's only been a week or so, but it's happening.
Using the pomodoro method (surprise surprise), I'm giving fiction 50% of my work time. I do 4 pomodoros of fiction, followed by a 25 minute break, then 4 pomodoros of content writing/editing, followed by a break.
I pick up each day from wherever I left off. Sometimes that means diving into a short story or this blog post, or sometimes I'll be telling people how to modify a 4x4, the best places to stay in Vegas, or what chiropractic really means.
I'm being disciplined about it, which is key in the experimental stage. I've got a content deadline to meet, so I'm having to write particularly fast when it's the "content turn," but that might be no bad thing.
After writing web content for about 2 years, I worried that it would somehow damage my creative writing. I'll have to leave it to you to decide whether that is true or not, but the signs are good right now.
As a content writer, you need to be able to write well, on cue, on topics you've never thought about before. Often, these are topics that you wouldn't spend much time thinking about otherwise.
As a fiction writer, I need to be able to write well, on cue, on topics I've never thought about before. Hmmm. Not so different after all.
Other benefits of writing and editing a load of web content every week.
I've been calling writing 'work,' without my tongue in my cheek, for a few years. Now this work is getting scheduled rather than shoved around. Deadlines are getting stricter. And these blog posts are helping me stay on track, so thanks for reading.
If you liked this post, let me know in the comments or subscribe to my list.
It would be nice to post about how I revolutionised my writing process and was able to achieve a perfect work/passion balance with no adverse side effects.
On the one hand, I'm tempted to portray the 'everything went well and NOW YOU CAN DO IT TOO' version of this story.
The truth, however, is that prioritising my fiction (currently non-paying) was scary and I didn't keep it up. Mounting pressure from deadlines for paying work and the compelling need to exchange money for goods and services got to me. I cracked.
Almost everyone I talk to about phobias has one - an irrational fear, sometimes described as a morbid fear, that affects the way they live their lives, often on a daily basis.
It's the kind of fear that makes people cover up mirrors, sleep with the light on, or use synthetic pillows.
I know phobia.
I just lost my glowing introduction about how I didn't have time to write a blog post this week. I genuinely don't have time to write it again, because, you know: I value sleep too.
So, without further ado, here's a free dark fiction story, Somewhere in the Street, originally published in the British Fantasy Society's "Dick and Jane: A Primer for Adults" back when I was writing as Ed Clayton. If you've been following my ups and downs for some time, you might even remember it.
They wanted stories that showed the world a darkness within the not-so-perfect-really world of Dick and Jane. Here's what I saw and brought back for them.
If you like this, please check the free dark fiction stories page periodically for updates, or add your name to my mailing list so I can send you good stuff.
Somewhere in the Street
By Dean Clayton Edwards
According to the dictionary, it was a ‘mew’. That doesn't do it for me. It was a snarl and a hiss and a wail and nobody wanted to hear it, but nobody could ignore it, no matter how hard they tried. It turned the milk sour and ruffled the newspaper so that you couldn't fold it neatly in half. It lost the car keys and made you late for work. It slept with your wife and dared you to say something, because it knew you didn’t want to make a scene.
The sound resounded in the hearts of those who heard it. It touched a place they would never admit existed; not to you and certainly not to themselves, because it reflected both their desire to escape and the futility of such an idea.
The cat darted back and forth over the grass like something from a Warner Bros cartoon. Somebody somewhere must have had a camcorder as this was the kind of spectacle that regularly made it onto prime time television, although without the blood, and without that sound – screeching, tearing, gurgling - that went on and on.
The dog was as persistent as the cat was desperate. It anticipated the feline's every move. Chased the furball around a tree. Paused a moment. Leapt and snatched an already snaggled leg in its bloody jaws.
Over two minutes the cat's nine lives were strewn recklessly over the grass. Its 'mews' (no, they were screams, like a child might scream if you stabbed her in the throat) shot into the beautiful, blue sky like fireworks. Catherine wheels. They were Catherine wheels.
Eventually, the cat bled to death. It lay on the ground like a bloody hand towel. It had a face, this hand towel, with one eye; glazed and half shut.
The dog crouched a few feet away, growling, as though it believed its prey was playing a cunning trick; playing dead. After a few moments, it eased forward and nosed the cooling carcass.
Somewhere in the street, in one of the houses, a light went off.
Dick released a shuddery breath and shuffled forward, brushing dirt from his shorts with one hand. Jane, who was also hiding behind the hedge, had covered her face with her hands and was blubbering noisily. Dick could hear her snorts and gasps from behind her hands.
“Stop crying,” he said. “I told you Spot would win.”
He adjusted the crotch of his shorts so his erection could stand comfortably and he glanced up at the windows. The few faces that had appeared were gone, because the adults didn’t care what happened in this town as long as you didn’t make too much noise … although, once he had brought a stray dog into the house and when his mother spied the little doggy paw prints all over the kitchen floor she had dislocated his shoulder with a mop handle. Apart from that …
He walked, undaunted now, across the grass.
“Good boy, Spot!” he said; “good boy!” and the dog flinched instinctively.
Dick examined the ragged cat. You could see its stomach and everything.
He picked up a stick.
Jane dragged her feet petulantly, still sobbing gently, as Dick used the stick to raise the cat into the air. A victory flag.
“See?” he said. “You owe me a forfeit.”
“Mother will be mad,” she whined.
“Not if we don’t tell her,” Dick said. “Go and get the shovel. Don’t let anyone see you, or I’ll tell them you did it.”
Later, as they dug a hole for the remains of Little Mew - as Jane would have named her - Dick using the shovel and Jane using her hands, Dick said that one day he was going to kill Mother and Father. If they ever got out of hand, he said, he was going to poison them.
“One day, I’ll tell you not to eat your dinner and I won’t eat mine and they’ll send us to our room and when we come downstairs in the morning, they’ll be dead.”
Jane, who sometimes loved her Father, was distressed at this. Her lip quivered and curled and she pulled that face she always pulled just before she began bawling.
“Don’t kill Father,” she whined.
“I don’t want to kill them,” Dick said. “But one day I might have to. And then I’d have to kill both of them. It’s no good killing one and leaving the other.”
“If you kill Father I’m telling,” Jane said.
Dick brought the shovel down on her fingers.
She let out a glass-shattering scream, which ended abruptly when Dick clamped his hand over her writhing mouth.
“Maybe one day I’ll kill you too,” he whispered quickly. “Maybe I’ll kill you first. Maybe I won’t tell you what day not to eat dinner.”
He could feel her tongue and her lips moving under the palm of his hand. He could feel her trying to say she was sorry.
He looked at the hole they had been digging together and a cloudy idea formed in his mind, ever the opportunist, but no, this was completely the wrong spot to hide a body her size. They’d find her within days.
“Okay,” he said. “Let me finish this hole and I’ll take you to the house.” He looked at her hands. “Mother and Father will have to call you an ambulance.”
Before continuing to dig, he bent to pick something up from the dirt.
“Here,” he said. “Take your fingers.”
And then, as he kicked the cat, Little Mew, into her grave and piled on the dirt:
“Stop crying, Jane. It’s going to be okay.”
After prioritising fiction writing over paid writing, I’ve noticed some immediate changes and learned some very valuable lessons.
Prioritising Writing is Scary as Hell
Genuinely putting writing first has been a journey into the unknown.
The idea of prioritising something you love over the thing that brings in the cash is quite a romantic idea, I think. It creates a warm and fuzzy feeling. It’s life-affirming. It’s noble. It’s courageous.
Doing it, however, is scary as hell. It’s like playing chicken with a juggernaut, only you know that the trucks (deadlines) are blind, they don’t give a damn about your writing, and they are on autopilot.
It’s been difficult to remain committed to putting fiction first. I’m no stranger, however, to doing what feels right, even though it seems insane on paper. Working on stories when clients were waiting for their non-fiction articles felt ludicrous at first, but I persisted in the name of personal experiment. I already knew what I thought would happen. It was time to see if and how that would pan out. Would it really be as bad as I thought?
A Focus on Fiction is Difficult But Worth It
haven’t missed any deadlines since prioritising my fiction writing. In part, that’s because I’ve been working longer hours to get everything done.
Fact: pursuing my fiction is making achieving the paid work more difficult, no doubt.
Getting the work done has not been impossible though.
And most importantly, it’s worth it. Yes, I’ve had to work longer hours. Yes, I’ve had to forsake drumming several days in a row. Yes, I’ve had to cancel some French lessons and some meditation classes. These are minor sacrifices, however, compared to what I’ve given up over the years. And I am now advancing again towards my number one goal.
How much time I spend with my family is not something that I expect to change dramatically as a result of this shift. I could spend more time with all of them, it’s true, but as a husband/dad who works at home, I think I’m getting more family time than many guys. Improving the quality is something to think about, but that’s not anything that has been changed by moving my writing around.
So, putting fiction first hasn’t destroyed my relationships at home or with clients. I have had a few 4am finishes to get everything done. And I’ve asked some people to wait for things longer than usual. In the short-term, this has been just fine.
Minutes Become Hours in Seconds
I’ve committed to writing 25 minutes of fiction per day. Using the Pomodoro technique, I write for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After 25 minutes of writing my own fiction, however, I feel like I’ve got another stretch in me. I’m constantly tempted to do another pomodoro, and then another, and then perhaps another.
There are far worse temptations to succumb to. Since I’m re-writing tricky bits of my current novel, I am embracing the feeling of wanting to do more than half an hour. The knock-on effect is that my paid work is getting pushed back into a corner.
I’m starting to think that I might try working generally in 2-hour blocks, which is convenient for the Pomodoro technique. As often as possible, I will make at least one of those 2-hour blocks for some aspect of my fiction writing, whether that’s writing, editing, blogging, or promoting.
Paid work has gone from being a ravenous beast that needs feeding to being a job that finances, among other things, my ability to write and pursue my vocation.
Writing Fiction is (Ful)filling
When working for my clients, I feel satisfaction at getting a job done well, but in the end I still feel hungry. After writing fiction, however, even if I’ve not been at it all day as I would love, I feel like I’ve eaten a full meal.
After writing, I’ve got the energy – mental, physical and emotional – to tackle the other demands of the day in good spirits. Life is no longer an opponent that tackles me before I can reach my writing goal. I reach my writing goal and then tackle life.
Writing advice suggests that writers should write every day, even if it’s only for a few minutes, eve if writing that day means re-reading. I used to think that was only about keeping up momentum, but it works in more ways than that.
Noting the difference between how I felt before prioritizing fiction and after, I can’t see myself going back.
How do you balance your day job with the work you hope to become your day job?
It's March and I'm a couple of months behind on editing the current dark fiction novel. The book needs much more work than I anticipated, and it's been a slog, because I'm disappointed by the overhaul required, and I've been busy elsewhere too.
As a content writer, I've just written hundreds of words of advice on time management for writers. As I did so, I was aware that I wasn't following my advice of doing a bit every day. Even if it's just reading through what has already been written, staying engaged with a story keeps up some momentum.
There's a lot of talk about how to write a novel fast at the moment. Writing consistently is worth focusing on too.
Adjusting the schedule of my Pacemaker planner to give me more time, I saw that I hardly edited my novel at all during January and February. I did, however, write and edit more than 100,000 words of web content. While my novels and short stories are very important to me - and I hope you'll like them when they're done - I have been prioritising the stuff that makes money now, the words that help keep the gas bottles coming in, wood on the fire, the lights on, and the kids fed.
I think it's time to make a change, though.
It's time to prioritise my writing, as my wife does and is always encouraging me to do. Not prioritising it mentally. There are few things as prominent in my mind as these characters and what they do. Prioritising it as in genuinely moving it up the list of things to do every day.
I've rarely put my fiction over the writing I do for money. Joanna Penn recommends saving 6 months' wages before quitting your day job to write. I'm not talking about quitting my day job, just finding a way to make that day come more quickly. At the current rate, I'll be able to quit my day job when I'm 684.
There are a lot of things that people recommend doing for half an hour a day. If you did them all, you'd never sleep. If I'd spent half an hour a day working on the book, however, I wonder how that would have affected my day job as a content writer/editor and ghostwriter, and all the other stuff I do over the course of the month.
If I'm ever to make the shift from content writing and ghostwriting to writing for myself more of the time, I need to take a risk and make it happen.
So, my Pacemaker planners should be looking more healthy from now on. If not, I shall report why on the blog.
I'll also take this opportunity to commit to blogging at least once a week. There, I've said it.
My first sale was a micro fiction story under 50 words. It was a good grounding in how powerful words can be. You don't need many to make an impression.
"Brevity" is described as a flash fiction handbook. One of my very short stories - something untitled about a giant spider - has been included.
The book covers all sorts of short fiction and will help people think about writing powerfully and concisely. David Galef has done a fantastic job.
His story, "My Date with Neanderthal Woman," will be read on Selected Shorts on 8 February 2017.
Being an academic book, Brevity will set you back a few quid, even second hand, but it's an inspiring and educational read, and imagine that - In a roundabout way, I might end up on a university syllabus.
Dark Fiction Author
I write mostly dark fiction.