Halloween Interview with Horror Author Lucas Mangum

Some dark Halloween reading

LCW Allingham

UPDATE: Check out Lucas Mangum’s podcast!

FB_IMG_1438259184003Based on some of the lessons I’ve been learning recently, and sharing here, I really wanted to pick the brain of dark fiction author Lucas Mangum. Lucas has been kicking ass and making a name for himself as a unique voice in horror and dark fiction and has some great insights on writing, creating, and scaring the hell out of people this Halloween.

Hello Lucas. I know you are actually reading this on your computer, well after I’ve written this, but I’m going keep this conversational… like a weirdo

So, to start out, Please tell me a little about your work, your style, and your genre.

I write mostly horror, but have also been known to dabble in crime and the downright bizarre. I tend to write mostly about human darkness, as it’s something that I’m very fascinated with. I’ve been told my style…

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Special sale for the 432th anniversary of the landing at Roanoke

Hey! History is weird. Like it’s been 432 years since the first English colonists landing in America and all this crazy fighting started. It seems only fitting we should celebrate this momentous event with a discount to our book.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A Collection of utter speculation

Paperback for 8.99

Ebook for 0.99

This week only!

On July 22, the first English colonists landed on Roanoke island. Three years later they were gone without a trace.

Four authors take on this ancient mystery with wit, warmth, magic and terror.

Don’t wait for your Muse to get to work. Don’t ignore her either.

I had a solid plan for the summer. Finish a new novel. Work on some short stories. Then get to work on polishing the hell out of an older novel that has been waiting for me. It was a good plan. A very productive plan.

And it’s pretty much been blown to crap.

But in a good way.

See, last week I was driving my kids home from camp and I got an idea. It wasn’t fully formed, but it was exciting to me and when something is exciting, no matter how flimsy the premise, I’ve learned it’s best to see where the idea leads you.

So when I got home I opened up my laptop with the intention of just getting down the gist and a feel for the protagonist.

Ten chapters and many late nights later, I’m still going on it.

My old manuscript languishes. I am really tired. But, damn, this story is really taking off.

Recently I had the very crappy task of finishing a manuscript that kept stalling and had lost all its inspiration. It really sucked and I didn’t want to do it. When I was done, the ending was sloppy and kind of bland and I know there is going to be a mountain of edits to beat it into shape, but I am so glad I fought my way through to the end. I have too often dropped stories when the muse left me so this was an exercise in growing the hell up and getting the work done.

After that huge task, however, I was ready to put the creative work aside for a while and looking forward to cleaning up this older story. It’s a story that figuratively spilled out of me one month, fast and furious and then done with hardly any nights off. It was rather amazing, honestly, but while it still has plenty of flaws to resolve it taught me not to ignore when the muse does come out.

I have plans, important plans for the work I need to get done, for the deadlines I want to meet. But my muse gives no shits about those. She is on board with this story, now, and if I ignore her to do my other work, I may be missing out on something rather amazing

Or maybe she’ll abandon me near the end and I’ll have to fight my way through to the end or shelve the manuscript until I have a better idea how to fit it together. Either way, this time of inspiration is a gift, and I will take it for all its got. And then I will work my ass off to do the rest.

The completed first draft. A Follow up

As I’ve mentioned, I have been having a problem with completing new manuscripts. It seemed ironic that as I got better at editing finished novels, I got worse at finishing novels in the first place. But it turns out, it’s not ironic at all.

See, as I became a more discerning editor, of course I became a more discerning writer, but my best process has always been to just let the words flow and fix them later.

So when I wrote the line:

“There was another loud explosion. The storage barn exploded with red goo.”

it stopped me in my tracks because at the moment, I could not think of a single synonym for explosion.

There was also the explosion of plot bunnies. They ran everywhere and had sharp little teeth that kept biting my ankles when I tried to ignore them.

Loose ends, research problems and dead ends and bad writing and new characters that just popped out of nowhere with tragic backstories were everywhere. And everything halted my progress, distracted me, and discouraged me from even opening the file to work.

I could have just let it go. I have four (yes FOUR!) almost finished manuscripts from the last year that I eventually shelved for these same reasons. But after two years of no finished first drafts, I knew I had to address this problem.

The transcript will be a future post because it’s honestly full of writers block gold, but the what I came away with was that I needed to stop trying to make my first draft a final draft. I can and will rewrite it. I will likely spend the next year editing it. So what I really need to do is just finish the damn thing.

It doesn’t need to be good. It doesn’t need to be right. It just needs to be done.

So i did that and, quite frankly, the ending sucks. The middle is iffy and writing is sloppy as hell.

And the first draft is complete.

My first novel written in two years.

And I’m pretty freaking pleased with it.

 

An old problem rises from the dead

When I started writing novels, they rarely reached the end. Forget about editing, I couldn’t even finish. I lacked discipline, writing tools, direction and just general skill. I loved putting a new idea down, but I didn’t know how to bring that idea into fruition.

But I really wanted to.

What finally helped was

Practice. Just keep trying.

Dedication. Forcing myself to sit at that computer and write.

Planning. I could pants write everything. It just didn’t work. I had to have an ending in mind to work toward.

I still had a lot of starts, but I finally had some finishes too.

Problem was, they still weren’t very good. They meandered. They ran off track after plot bunnies. And the backstory… and once i realized this, well, it was discouraging and I found myself again with many starts and no finishes.

So I pushed myself.

Work-shopping. Letting my work get torn to shreds for the sake of making it better.

Outlining, hitting all the major plot points so I had a map to keep me on course

Researching good writing. Reading books and articles, going to conferences with successful writers.

Keeping a separate note file

Editing like hell when I finished a piece.

And hey, it worked. I started to produce work I was proud of. I was finishing one first draft a year. I was building up an arsenal of writing tools and I thought it was just gonna keep getting better.

But see, it’s happening again. I am stalling out. I am using all my tricks. Or trying to at least, but I’m on my forth work in progress that is just floundering right at the climax. What gives?

I know where it’s going. I have it all outlined. I am keeping my schedule, have all my reference material, I even have a network of talented writers to bounce ideas off of.

But these stories are not moving. I can start new stuff. I have new ideas. I can edit older work. I can write short stories. But my novels, my babies, they are just flopping in the mud whining that they don’t want to move.

So I am going to review the lessons I’ve learned. I’m going to read some books on craft. I’m going to brainstorm and I am going to shove these assholes out of the mud. And when I figure out what works, I will be back to report. I’ve done this before. I know I can do it now.

To write a better query

Over the years I have gotten better as finishing, editing, submitting and polishing stories. But queries still get me. Writing them is just so damned hard for me. I had read everything there is to find, I have copied structures, edited like hell, gotten feedback, professional editing, rewritten and personalized and yet, no matter how I try, what I am left with seems completely soulless.

That is, what I recently realized, the actual problem.

Not that I can’t write an acceptable query. It’s just a professional cover letter for your book, for goodness sake, it doesn’t have to be art.

Except, well, it kinda does. No matter what advice you might get, I think all writers know that what makes their book special is the soul of the piece, so submitting a cold query letter fails to capture that soul and therefore, will not take in editors and agents with the magic the book possesses.

Most writers can’t really conjure that magic on demand, unfortunately, and yet we expect ourselves to produce perfect queries to entice others to read our book with out it. So, how do you capture the beautiful blood sweat and tears that you have sacrificed to create your novel in a short, professional cover letter, outlining the barest bones of your living breathing novel?

Well, if you have access to one, I suggest a bog witch. Usually they are quite adept at breathing life into inanimate objects. You can also summon the faeries, but that is only if you are desperate, because, quite honestly, they charge way too much (I personally don’t want to dance for eternity or trade my first born but I don’t judge your choices).

If neither of these options are for you, then I have some non-magical suggestions as well.

  1. Talk to a friend (or if you have no friends, make up one and talk to them. C’mon we all do it)

Record yourself. Talk about why you wrote this book, who you wrote it for, what your favorite parts are and a summary of what it is about. Let yourself get passionate about the project as your talking, and then listen over what you said. If you let yourself really get into it, there will be life in those words, and you may be able to spin a perfect query from them.

2. Write the back cover summary.

No, it’s not jumping the gun. It’s doing the same thing as writing a query except without the scary query pressure on you. What do you want the back of your book to say to readers when they pick it up someday. That is just about the same thing you would use to intrigue an agent or editor to read further.

3. Write a three line pitch

Boil that bad girl down to a hard, slab of… something hard. and small. Three lines. What is this book about? why do I care? Who are the major players?

There are aliens in Philadelphia. They are eating all the cheesesteaks. Butch Mighty and his sister, Locust, are the only ones who can stop them with their hoagie powers.

When you got it down to the bones of the story, start to add the details that make your writing unique.

4. Have someone else tell you what your book is about

I’ve been trying to get someone to do this for me for years and haven’t managed to pull it off yet, but I strongly suspect it’s a great idea, if you can just get someone who’s really good at talking about books to read your book and talk about it with you. Or better yet, write to you about it.

5. Keep improving

I have had queries that worked for one agent and not another. I have had stories I thought were great get only rejections. I have gotten full requests on queries with typos (cringe, I know). My point is that i do not have the exact spell you need to create a query that makes everyone want your book. (Although I have heard this spell is buried somewhere in Neil Gaiman’s basement).  I also know some disgustingly talented and amazing writers who struggled in the query trenches for years and still had to find alternative routes to publication. Keep trying. Keep tweaking and you might find that magic combo of the right query to the right agent or editor who is right for your book.

And if you come across that spell, or the number for a great bog witch please hit me up.

Interview with Author D R Kinter

*Update: One Tuesday, April 16, 2019, Dan R Kinter passed away after a struggle with cancer. He left behind a legacy of love, support and non-stop jokes. Everyone who knew him had a great story to share about how Dan helped them and made them laugh. Please consider picking up a copy of The Bridges to support Dan’s family and enjoy the unique voice he left behind.
I met D R Kinter years ago in a workshop and was glad to continue working with him on our recently collaboration in Writers Block. He is our resident grammarian, joker and a well of knowledge on everything from weapons to rock and roll. His is not only an asset to Writers Block, he is a dear and supportive friend to everyone in the group and an all around great guy.
D R Kinter’s debut book The Bridges premiered in June 2018. It’s equal parts hilarious and horrifying in it’s look at a near future that seems almost inevitable and a unique cast of characters that come alive on the page.
I have been meaning to get back to interviews for a while so when Dan agreed to answer some questions for me, I was excited to pick his brain.
When would you say that you became a writer? Was it something you were born doing or something you came to at some point in your life?
I was born full of shit.
Early on, I could fabricate a story instantly if it would get me out of trouble. But what has driven me in adulthood has been, not just writing, but creating. I have actively pursued all media. An interest in film-making took hold in high school, followed by theater. While studying acting, I started writing and directing plays. I felt I had some talent with dialogue.
All this time, I was also  very engaged with music.
Finally, adulthood arrived and I went over to the dark side: Advertising. And there went 30 + years of applying creative solutions to business problems.
Retirement has allowed me to write what I want.
What sort of subjects interest you?
I consider myself a satirist. My subject matter seems to hover in the near-immediate future. I will scan the news, looking for something that sparks a question like, what if that was a little different?
I am a luddite at heart and try to take on technology whenever possible. I am also an atheist, yet feel compelled to write (mostly for myself) scenes that put atheism and theism into conflict.
What does your process look like?
Still in discovery. The Bridges began with me just getting some memories, characters and events on paper. It was a nonlinear process. I am working on The Bridges sequel, and due to some health issues, have been trying to write very sequentially. The two processes are quite different, yet in both  cases, the story has the helm.
What other jobs have you done in your life? Have they influenced your writing?
I have done everything from entry-level farm work to executive consulting. This body of experience has given me a very broad base of useless and arcane information with which to play fast and loose.
What did your publishing process look like?
First, there was the choice of submitting my work to traditional publishing or going independent. I chose the indie route. I’m not a very patient person. Fortunately, I was working with a writers’ group and was able to find a very good editor who acts as a publisher as well. Di Freeze at Freeze Time Publications. She guided me through the process of getting the book out to market.
Tell me about The Bridges. Why did you write this book.
It was a perfect storm of uncertain times and events that allowed me to knit a lot of disparate storytelling together.
What are some resources that have been valuable to you.
Books! Tennessee Williams. Shakespeare. Rex Stout. A.E. Van Vogt. Isaac Asimov. My wife, Linda, and my daughters.
We worked together on the Roanoke: Collection of Utter Speculation anthology. What is something that you took away from that project
It was a wonderful opportunity to use discipline and technique to craft a story within specific parameters, and still have fun. And I got to work with some great people, whose methods and sensibilities differed greatly from my own.
and ebook

Let the work sustain you

What is your goal? Your end game in your writing? You might be struggling to get an agent, get a contract, get five thousand sales. These things can be driving you forward, giving you purpose day to day.

Or, like, me they could be driving you crazy.

I have been querying on and off for several years, with several different manuscripts. I have felt highs and lows. many many lows. Putting out twenty queries and getting nothing back at all. Getting rejections that came back almost as soon as I hit send. Waiting and waiting and waiting only for that two line rejection to come through half a year later.

It was my goal. What I was working for every day.

And, honestly, it sucked.

There is nothing wrong with querying, with wanting an agent, to get published, with having something that you are working toward, but when you set your sights on that mountain, it is easy to lose track of why you are doing it, and it is easy to feel like every day it doesn’t happen is a waste of time.

Then you spend you time analyzing why it’s not working. You didn’t write to the trends. You don’t have the right voice. You need to cut your word count down. You just are not good enough.

Then it sucks even more.

The last year has been strange for me. I started setting personal goals, against myself instead of career goals that I need other people to fulfill for me. I challenged myself to write short stories again. I pushed myself to edit several manuscripts. I queried, a little, and then I let things go. I got some good responses and some rejections. I said thank you for positive feedback even when it didn’t come with an offer.

I still got rejections. Plenty of rejections, and I will not say I didn’t care. But it didn’t crush me. Because when I get an agent, then what?

I need a publisher. and I get a publisher, then what?

I need a great book sales. I get a great sales and then what?

I mean, does it ever reach a point where now I am suddenly satisfied? Where i have suddenly hit that magical goal where I know I am validated in all this work I have done?

I mean, I  dunno. Maybe. I’ll let you know when I get there. If such a state does exist, it’s a long way off. To be completely honest, if I’m not happy with what I am doing now, with my work, then I don’t think I can ever be validated by someone else.

This past year I have been trying to hold off on the hard goals and make my day to day work of writing great shit my priority. It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve seen a big improvement in how I feel about what I do and where I am going.

My writing has gotten better. I’ve made awesome writing friends. I published a piece in an anthology. I’ve created some work I’m really proud of.

I am not THERE at whatever hard goal I arbitrarily set for myself as the pinnacle of success. Because I don’t think there is a pinnacle. There is no end point to this game. Never a place where you plant your flag and say, I’m done. I made it. Now I can enjoy my life and be happy.

Happiness is now, in the work you do. In knowing that everything will come when you no long need it to validate you. When the work you do is what sustains you, you know that you can keep going, no matter what.

An astounding debut! Our collection of Utter Speculation hit #2 on Amazon!

A year and a half ago when Writers Block conceived of writing an anthology together, we were just trying to have some fun. But as we got to work, as everyone turning in their first drafts, we realized that we also wanted this to be an awesome book

We worked so hard on this. There were many challenges, late nights, emails for miles. There were also a lot of laughs, friendships cemented in words and the support of our friends, family, peers and each other.

But we still never expected our little project would make it beyond kindle oblivion.

I don’t know how to convey the feeling I got when The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation hit the amazon chart for debut sci fi alternative history yesterday. I cannot describe how it felt to close out the day with it at number two, and number six for all sci fi alt history books.

Our little project that became something so important to all of us, went out into the world with a bang.

I am still reeling, but I want to thank every single person who supported this project, in whatever way. The messages I received yesterday was amazing. The people who shared links to our books. The people who actually bought it! Who reviewed it!

I am so grateful, humbled.

The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation is a best seller, guys!

holy crap!

ebook still isn’t linked to the paperback, but we’re on it.

Our book is real! The Lost Colony of Roanoke: A collection of utter speculation is available Now on Amazon

Paperback

and  ebook (they should be on the same link at some point)

are now available. This has been such a weird and fun and crazy and frustrating and overall awesome process that I could not have gotten through without my fellow authors, River Eno, D R Kinter, and Susan Tulio, obviously because we all collaborated on the book, but even more we had the fantastic cover design by Adam C Allingham, the original artwork illustrations by Patricia A Carlson, and the amazon editing and publishing experience of Di Freeze, who was the only one who knew what she was doing.

We also had the fantastic Tiffany Morris to help steer us and a lot of support from friends and family and fellow writers.

Here is my first book baby. guys. She had four parents and and she’s kinda short and quirky, but we all love her and we’re releasing her to the world.

I hope she’s the oldest in the a big family.