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In writing, as in any other field, it’s fun to tally up “firsts.” First published story. First published poem. First story in an anthology, in a magazine, in a webzine. First international sale. Etc. I’ve been at this long enough and fortunate enough to have all of those happen. Now comes a new one. Aghast-Cover-small

I’m pleased to announce that my story, “Appearances”, is included in the premiere issue of Aghast: A Journal of the Darkly Fantastic. The magazine is edited and illustrated by George Cotronis and published by Kraken Press. It’s the first time I’ve been part of the launch of a new publication.

George’s tastes in horror are, not surprisingly, similar to mine. When launching the Kickstarter campaign that provided the funding for this project, he wrote:

Somewhere along the way, my tastes had changed. I’m not really into violent media any more, serial killers don’t work for me as boogeymen and graphic descriptions of murder might just make me ditch a book.  On the other hand, my dislike for fantasy fiction has abated once I discovered things other than Tolkien pastiches.

He lists Graham Joyce, Norman Partridge, Holly Black, and Lucius Shepard as some of his favorite authors and likes Guillermo del Toro for his films, particularly The Devil’s Backbone. He cites Shimmer and the (regrettably departed) Shadows & Tall Trees as publications similar to what he wants Aghast to be. Given all that, I’d be happily signing up for the reading alone. Now I have a story that’s part of the maiden voyage alongside work by Tim Waggoner, Gemma Files, Jeff Strand, and others.

“Appearances” is another of my ghostly tales. It’s about family and grief and love and was inspired by a strange phenomenon in the 200 year old manse I currently live in with my family. Saying more would be saying too much.

Aghast: A Journal of the Darkly Fantastic is currently available on Amazon for Kindle devices and reader apps. It will be available in a glorious print edition very soon. I’ll post details here when I have them. A hearty thank you to George Cotronis for including me in the premiere of his labor of love. May Aghast have a long, wonderful run and always bring more joy than heartache to its creator. Aghast - interiors

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AnthologyYearOne-BookstackI am pleased to announce that my story, “Encroachment” will be published in Anthology: Year Three (Four Horsemen).The book will be released in both electronic and printed editions in 2015. Details TBA. Here’s the Table of Contents, courtesy of editor Tim Deal.

The Road Home – Sheldon Higdon
Ozark – Scott Christian Carr
Dead Thunder – D.B. Poirier
A Chorus of Plastic Songs – Scott T. Goudsward
Three Little Words – Michele Mixell
Knock at the Door – Jacob Haddon
The Sun Struck – Gregory L. Norris
Rush – Andrew Wolter
Tsunami – T.T. Zuma (Tony Tremblay)
Got Your Back – John M. McIlveen
Northern Lights – Rob Smales
Crossback – Barry Lee Dejesu
skin&hair, teeth&bones – Kristi Petersen Schoonover
The Miller’s Task – Jonathan Dubey
The Elevation of Oliver Black – Errick A. Nunnally
A Tale of Chivalry – Ogmios
One Shoe – Laura J. Hickman
Raspberry Summer – Diana Catt
Invidia – Marianne Halpert
Battle of Wills – Tracie Orsi
Dolly, Do I Have A Soul? – Philip C. Perron
Fomorian Horde/A Tale of Chivalry (art) – Ogmios
The Looming Trees – Penny Fey
Dark Highways – Dan Foley
Fund-Raiser – Thom Erb
How You Killed Me – doungjai gam
Redemption – Timothy Flynn
Encroachment – Craig D. B. Patton

Fine company to be keeping, indeed. The fourth (re)incarnation of the convention that spawned this anthology series will take place on June 5-7, 2015 in Portsmouth, NH. You can learn more over at the official site.

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Happy 2014 all.

I’m among the millions trying to stay warm inside the massive ice ball of air hurled into North America by the “polar vortex.” It’s been at or below zero with the wind chill all day and waiting for my younger son at the bus stop was pretty darn unpleasant. Mind you, I know I’ve got it easy compared to many. All of my friends and former coworkers back in Chiberia (Chicago) for a start. Or I could be stuck in an airport or stranded on the opposite side of the country from home. Or not have a home at all and be in a desperate struggle to stay alive another day in this deadly cold. So…a dollop of perspective in my cocoa.

Having come out of my usual holiday season writing slumber I am back at work on the second draft of my novel.

It’s a learning experience for sure. Gene Wolfe says, “You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you’re writing.” So I’m learning how to write this one.

The first thing I did was read the first draft through all the way. Tried not to stop for long. Tried to keep my note making and paragraph slashing to a minimum. Tried to stay away from sharp objects.

When I reached the end, I was relieved to have learned that there is, indeed, a story in there worth telling. It’s just not ready to be read by anyone but me. There are places where it goes wildly off course. In other places the story bogs down. Characters undergo personality shifts. Back story pieces and other details are in the wrong place and wind up told rather than shown. Etc. Normal first draft stuff. Except for one thing: the sheer scale.

I was a bit unprepared to discover how many people and moving parts there are in the manuscript. Keeping it all in my head so that I can focus in on a given character’s trajectory and behavior across the whole tale has proven difficult. Also, given the size, I couldn’t quite see the beats of the narrative as reliably as I’d like in my minds eye. I’ve been experimenting with ways to help myself.

I labeled an index card for each significant character in the story and tacked them up on my cork board. It looks like this:

Cards on Corkboard

I have them arranged by what section of the book they are primarily featured in or alongside characters that have the most interaction with them. I’ve been making shorthand notes about each character on the cards. Reminders about tendencies or traits.

The other tool I’m creating is something like an outline except there are no bullets. It’s more a super condensed version of the novel. Goes something like this:

Stave One – Marley’s Ghost

Summary: Christmas Eve. We meet Ebenezer Scrooge, learn about his work and life and meet some of the people around him. He goes home alone and is visited by the ghost of his dead partner who warns him he must change his life and that he will be visited by three ghosts.

P7 Narrator goes on at some length that Marley is dead and that Scrooge is a bitter, miserly recluse.

P10 Scrooge’s nephew arrives, tries, and fails to persuade Scrooge to come to Christmas dinner.

P16 Two men from a charitable organization appeal to Scrooge for a donation and are rebuffed. “surplus population.”

Etc. I’ve done this with half the manuscript so far and will complete it tomorrow. I’m finding it a useful exercise. Just the page numbers give me a sense of when the writing gets suspiciously long or suspiciously brief. I can see the major events and where they lie in relationship to one another. I can note major themes or important quotes that influence later events (or could, or should).

I’m getting my arms around the story and the characters. Or, perhaps, I’m making a map. Something to help me navigate. Because I’ve never been in these waters before.

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One of the standard bits of advice for writers (Not to be confused with rules.) is to set a piece of work aside for awhile after completing the first draft. Do something else. Gain some distance and the perspective that comes with it.

Having completed the first draft of my first novel earlier this year, I set off and wrote other things. I wrote a children’s story that was published in April. I wrote a short poem that was published on a postcard in June. I wrote a story that was just published this past weekend. I also wrote a fistful of other stories, poems, and oddities that are either out knocking on doors trying to find someone to let them in or sitting in the waiting room on my computer for me to maybe, possibly, one day go back to.

They’re going to be waiting a while. Yesterday I sent the first draft of my novel off to be printed. When I arrived to pick it up I was handed this:

Boxed Novel

My sons were discouraged to learn it was not a box full of donuts. Instead, it contained a 112,000 word, 542 page manuscript that looks like this when released from its box:

Out of the Box Novel

Now I get to read it. Hopefully, I’ll discover it contains an actual story with a beginning, a middle, and an end and that it is populated with interesting characters, some of whom change along the way. Because it’s the first draft and because it’s my first time writing a novel and because there were gaps in my work on it, I know in advance there will be problems. Some of them substantial. There will be sentences, paragraphs, pages, heck – possibly whole sections where I wonder who on earth gave some poor monkey a typewriter and told him he was an author. Then I’ll remember I’m the monkey and will go and get a banana.

I will also remember this bit of writer wisdom:

Rewriting the Novel

Ah! Right. I’ve already done the part I avoided for years and years. I took on a big story and saw it through to the end. Now I get to do something I have much, much more experience with – revise. Tinker. Rearrange. Rewrite if necessary. Add on.

Unless the thing really is an unrecoverable, inoperable mess. Then I get to decide whether I still like the story and just told it badly and should try again OR whether it was a nice learning experience and I’d really rather tell some other story.

Time to find out.

 

 

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Tomorrow here at AnthoCon, my story “Unknown Caller” will be published in the anthology Inner Demons Out: Anthology Year Two (Four Horsemen). It features a phone booth graveyard.

Why?

Because phone booth graveyards are cool. Like bow ties. And fezzes.

Ok, really it started with this picture.

Phonebooth Graveyard Newark-on-Trent UK

I had been looking at photos of abandoned buildings and this shot of a phone booth graveyard in Newark-on-Trent, UK popped up in the middle. Beautiful and lonely and strange. And I thought…a phone booth graveyard? How cool! Are there more photos of it?

Yes. Lots. Because there are many phone booth graveyards in the world. Phone booths of course, as people in my generation and older know, used to be everywhere. Because there was a time not all that long ago when we didn’t all carry phones. And use them incessantly. And take pictures of our food with them. And make videos of our cats that go viral on YouTube.

You see, waaaay back then, when you were out and about and needed a phone you went and found a phone booth. You put coins in them to use them. Or maybe you had a calling card. But phone booths are rapidly going extinct. They are being hauled away except for a few being turned into aquariums or art installations. (No, I’m not kidding.) Voila! The rise of the phone booth graveyards. Here are a few.

Carlton Miniott UK - Reuters.

Carlton Miniott UK – Reuters

Phuket Thailand

Phuket Thailand

 

Kenya - Tom Barkin

Kenya – Tom Barkin

New York City - Dave Bledsoe

New York City – Dave Bledsoe

And I thought…what a great setting for a scene. But indoors someplace. Urban explorers. And they break into a warehouse filled with these things. And some of them are very old and very beautiful, because phone booths used to be works of art, not simply functional slabs of mass production. But then there’s this one phone booth….

Well, I’ll let you read the story.

While learning about phone booths, I also learned about the Mojave Phone Booth, which is mentioned in “Unknown Caller.” In the middle of what is now the Mojave National Preserve in California there used to be a lone phone booth. It was miles and miles from anything. It had been put there in 1948 for use by miners working in the area but long after the mines closed the phone booth remained. Looked like this.

mojave-phone-booth

A whole subculture developed around the phone booth. People called the number, hoping someone would pick up. People drove out to the phone booth and waited, hoping someone would call. A movie was made. Eventually, the Mojave Phone Booth became too much of a popular attraction and the National Park Service asked for it to be removed in 2000.

But it’s back…. Well, the phone number is back. But now if you call it, you are connected to a conference call. Anyone can access by calling the number. So anyone might be there at any given time.

No, I haven’t tried it. But if you want to, here’s the number: 760-733-9969.

 

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MiseryLoves - Small CoverI’m pleased to announce that the second release from Whistling Kettle Press is an eBook edition of my story, “Misery Loves.” When Misery’s roof is damaged by a storm she is forced to seek help from her unusual neighbors. Honesty advises her to approach the person she understands the least – Love.

“Patton makes his fantasy world glimmer…A well-told, unaffected tale…” – The Fix

“Misery Loves” is available for most reading devices. You can purchase it on Amazon or directly from Whistling Kettle Press via PayPal. More locations coming soon.

A bit of background. The story was originally published in Aeon Speculative Fiction #13 and is one of my personal favorites. It’s funny (sez me). It’s quirky (sez me). It’s quite different from most of my work. It was also a pure spontaneous joy to write.

I think most stories are labors of love with the emphasis on labor. Writers write because we must  and sometimes the work is painful and slow. But every once in a while a story comes along that reminds the writer that they are merely a conduit, a vessel, a voice for something greater and only partly understood. The story pours through them and out into our world. So it was for me with this tale. As I wrote in the introduction:

This story surprised me first by ambushing me, the first lines popping into my head from wherever they had been before. I had an immediate image of what Misery looked and sounded like. The fun, and the surprise, came from going along with her as she sought help from her unusual neighbors.

I’m delighted to have had the chance to work with Bridget McKenna at Zone1Design on this edition. She did great work designing the cover and interior art, formatting the layout, producing the final files and, most importantly, listening to my many comments, questions, and ideas. She cared about the story and how the final product served it. I would happily work with her again.

I hope you enjoy the eBook edition of “Misery Loves.”

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Despite my utter lack of blogging in recent (ulp…) months, I have news on several fronts. Today I’ll share that I received word from editor jOhnny  Morse that Anthology Year Two – Inner Demons Out (The Four Horsemen) is at the printer. Danny Evarts created the cover. It looks like this:

Anthology Year Two - Inner Demons Out

The book will be released at AnthoCon in Portsmouth, NH on November 8-10th and, yes, I’ll be there to celebrate and raise a glass to my fellow contributors.

More soon. Really.

 

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