Talking to Non-writers

I’m back! For those of you that aren’t familiar with this blog, it’s been some time since my last post. My absence can be explained by several factors. You only have to go back and read my previous post to learn that I have a baby in the house. Those late-night writing sessions disappeared for a while in favor of a bottle and a baby. I have also been working on a novel, which I finished the second draft of while on vacation last week (yes, I write on vacation). I also started a new job doing pick and pack in a warehouse. It’s a good gig but leaves me tired at the end of the day and with little time for writing. The novel is entering the editing phase, the baby is starting to sleep through the night, and the job has moved to part-time until business picks up in the autumn. That’s a long way of saying I finally have a small amount of free time to do things like this. Enough fluff, let’s get down to the business we love.

As writers, we all understand why it is we do this thing called writing. We don’t have to ask. We know not to ask another writer where they get their ideas or what they’re working on at the moment. We know that we do it because we must, that we don’t know where our ideas come from, or that we’d rather not discuss a work in progress. Non-writers, however, aren’t privy to this knowledge. They ask these questions or comment absurdly on the writing world, our world. What are these questions and comments? What do you want to say? How should you? Let’s discuss.

You’re still writing?

What you want to say: “No, I suddenly lost all my passion and resigned myself to a life without my creative outlet. I’m dead inside, thanks for asking.”

What you should say: Nothing, just smile and nod. Explaining passion to someone who has the audacity to ask such a question is a waste of time.

I’m thinking about writing a book (or other various forms).

What you want to say: “Don’t. It’s mentally draining, time consuming, and impossible for more than a select few to earn a living at. You want a hobby? Take up knitting.”

What you should say: “Great! The creative process is the best outlet I have. I’d love to give you some advice when you start.”

What are you working on now?

What you want to say: (Insert five-minute monologue about the main character and story arc here)

What you should say: (Give them your one sentence hook instead)

Where do you get your ideas?

What you want to say: “From a belligerent muse that sits in the corner drinking cheap whiskey and smoking cigarettes. As long as I keep both on hand, he’ll keep the stories coming.”

What you should say: “Well, every writer has their own process…” You know what? Give them the belligerent muse line.

Oh, I’ll have to watch my grammar around you!

What you want to say: “If I went around checking everyone’s grammar, I’d have to quit my day-job.”

What you should say: “That’s okay, listening to you speak naturally will help me with realistic dialogue.”

When is the book coming out?

(This is only annoying to those of us that don’t have a publishing deal or aren’t ready to self-publish.)

What you want to say: “As soon as I finish writing it, spend six months searching for an agent, wait another six months to find a publisher, then get to fix the novel that I thought I was done writing.”

What you should say: “In time.”

Do you know any famous writers?

What you want to say: “Obviously not or I’d have a literary agent.”

What you should say: “No. Why? Do you?”

I don’t read much.

What you want to say: “It shows.”

What you should say: “Really? You should try (insert name of author you genuinely believe they would enjoy).”

I hope you don’t write about me!

What you want to say: “I try to have interesting characters.

What you should say: *wink* “What makes you think I haven’t already?”

Obviously, these are in jest. Remember not to use any of these comments on your loved ones. They are patient and supportive while we are toiling away at that next masterpiece, return the favor. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Roth

A Grand Entrance

Today, I’d like to take a detour from our usual writing related topic in favor of a story that is near and dear to my heart. It’s a story I’ve told a number of times in the three weeks since its occurrence. Why is that? Well, it’s a doozy of a story, if I can say so myself (and I can since I was there). This is the story of how Wyatt James Roth entered the world.

For the past nine months my wife has been carrying our fourth child within her womb. It was a surprise pregnancy that came when our minds were still set on getting her health back to 100% after a noncancerous brain tumor was removed. Three or four years ago, we had decided to try for another little bundle of joy. Over time we had realized that it wasn’t meant to be and went about our lives, loving and raising our three daughters. Of course, for reasons that escape me now (and her likely as well) we didn’t go back on birth control.

I won’t go into detail about the journey of fear and faith we went through while she was in the hospital in Kansas City for the surgery to remove the tumor and later at home for the therapy to bring her back to normal—asking me to do so is asking me to relive the darkest days of my life. Know that one was conquered, while the other renewed. As I see it now, God thought we deserved some good after months of trials and tribulations. That came in the way of child number four.

Jokes ran rampant amongst our families during the nine months that Baby Roth grew in her stomach. “At this rate Stephen will be delivering the baby.” You see, my wife has been called a baby making machine (the words of one of the nurses who was present for the birth of Adelynn, baby #3). Each delivery has been faster than the previous. A worrying fact considering how quickly Avery, baby #1, entered the world. My sister in-law, who has a four-month-old daughter in which the delivery was over thirty hours, quipped, “All your deliveries don’t add up to that!” I don’t have to do the math to know she’s right. Adelynn, baby #3, was born just over an hour after my wife awoke me in the middle of the night. Luckily, in that instance I had the forethought to warn the nurse of the rapid progression that had flustered previous nurses and planned on doing the same this time around. I didn’t get that chance.

“At this rate Stephen will be delivering the baby.” It was only a joke. Now? Well…

Fast forward to May 27, 2021, one week from the due date. My wife had an appointment with her OBGYN that morning. Everything looked good. 3cm dilation and 70% effaced. I was thinking today might be the day, as she had gone into labor on the day of a doctor visit before. Sure enough, I got a text from my beloved later that her contractions were bad and five minutes apart. I grabbed the ready-bag and jumped in the car to pick her up from the in-law’s house. While I was there, I gave the girls a hug and we were off to the hospital.

As we got into the car, I thought about how strange it was to be heading to the hospital in the daytime—our three girls were born in the wee morning hours after little or no sleep. However, they say that boys are different. Right they are.

By the time we got to the hospital, I was sensing that it might not be the time. Her contractions had lightened in severity and distanced themselves. When she was checked in the hospital room by a doctor, she was still at 3cm. They waited an hour and checked again. Still the same. At that time, they started talking to her OBGYN about the next step. While she laid in the hospital bed, the contractions had distanced to a span of one every twenty to thirty minutes. The doctor came in and asked us how we felt about going home, which I had been expecting since a similar scenario played itself out with Abigail, baby #2. “Yes, if you think that’s right,” was the gist of what we told the doctor.

Now, herein lays the single problem I have with the way things played out. As they were talking about sending us home, which we agreed was the right call at the time, an hour had passed since she was last checked. For most women that wasn’t likely a problem. For the woman dubbed a baby making machine? Fuhgeddaboudit. You better check or else. Or else what? You’ll see.

Anyway, they sent us home with a warning that contractions were likely since she had been checked three times in a single day. She had two contractions as she got dressed. Hmm, interesting. Two more on the way to the car. Okay. Several more on the drive home. Uh, really? They said this would happen, so it was normal, right? That was what we talked about in the car on the way home. It was normal, right?

When we got home, I knew we were likely headed back to the hospital within a few hours, a la baby #2. But we had time for some grub, right? We ordered soup and sandwiches to keep it light, because, hey, she might be having a baby tonight. Soon after ordering, I realized it was likely a mistake. The contractions had increased in strength and frequency since we arrived home. She went to lay down in bed, while I had second thoughts about going home without insisting THEY CHECK HER.

The food arrived while she was breathing through the discomfort on the bed. Great! Who’s hungry? Not my wife, because she just vomited into the trashcan. I had a flashback to Abigail, baby #2, again. You see, when we were sent home with Abigail, we had enough time to eat a late dinner before going back to the hospital. That dinner ended up in a trashcan in the birthing room while the nurses were out of the room prepping for delivery—hence my warning to the nurse with Adelynn, baby #3. When she was done vomiting, I knew two things were true. 1) We needed to get to the hospital. 2) We needed to do it quickly.

I threw the food in the fridge, grabbed the trash bag full of vomit, and escorted the wife to the car (oh, the bag O’ vomit went into the dumpster, if you’re wondering). On the drive to the hospital, I encountered two slow moving drivers that happened to be side-by-side, because isn’t there always when you’re in a hurry? Great. Luckily, the drive was a short one. Was it short enough? Well, I wouldn’t be telling you this story if it was.

Eventually, I turned onto a different road, escaping the slow-moving duo. It was the home stretch; the hospital was a few minutes away. As I was preparing to turn onto the side street where the hospital’s parking garage was located, when my wife said the words I had been fearing. “My water just broke.” Luckily, she had the forethought to grab a towel from the linen closet, saving our seat in the process. Unfortunately, having been present for all her deliveries, I knew that the minutes between water breaking and hearing the first cries of a baby could be counted on a single hand.

I turned into the parking garage and started looking for the expectant mother parking. We had been fortunate enough earlier in the day to find such a parking spot. However, all were full as I scanned the parking garage. “Hurry, just park!” she said. “Where?” I thought or maybe said, I don’t remember. I continued along, following the arrows and panicking. Finally, an empty parking spot, and not just one but three.

I pulled into one of the three spots and went around to help her out of the car. “No, I’m not going anywhere. He’s coming!” she said as she stood beside the minivan.

“Should I get help?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. He’s coming!”

I scanned the parking garage for anyone that might be able to get help. It was empty. There was a door some thirty feet away. I hurried over to it. The door was made of glass, revealing a long corridor that disappeared around a corner. If I went in there, I wouldn’t be able to see my wife. No, that was no good. Next to the door there was a metal box with a picture of a phone and sign that said “emergency phone” on the front. I looked at the metal box in confusion. I touched the box. No obvious phone, nor were there hinges to indicate a lid or some other opening. Was it magic? Well, I’m not Harry Potter and Hogwarts never sent me a letter, so I abandoned it.

When I looked at my wife, I realized I had been away from her for too long. Later, I would find out she was busy pushing our son’s head out while I was busy with the door to nowhere and the magic box. I ran back to her side. She proceeded to tell me that his head is out and he’s coming. Thinking quick, I opened the sliding door of the minivan and flipped the captain seat back and out of the way. “Sit down,” I said to her. She didn’t want to. I insisted a few more times before giving up.

In a last-ditch effort to get help, I pulled out my cellphone and dialed the hospital’s number. I sighed in exasperation as I got an automated voice giving me options that I couldn’t comprehend in my panicked state. While I was holding the phone with my left hand, I was feeling between her legs with my right hand. Yes, the baby’s head was out.

Now, I’ve told this story several times in person to other men, husbands and fathers alike. Some have voiced their awe that I did what I did, while voicing their inability to do it themselves. Hogwash, I say. That’s the woman I love and the mother of my children. In her time of need am I present and responsive or absent and inactive? You can either be the man who caught the baby or the fool who stood and watched while she reached between her own legs and grabbed that baby—I don’t know about other women, but that’s the way my wife would’ve done it. I know my answer.

Decision made, I tossed the phone onto the passenger’s seat of the van and knelt on the dirty parking garage floor. His head was fully out at that point, yet still held in place by the tight fit leggings she was wearing. The time for modesty was well passed, so I pulled her pants down, she even helped with a shaky hand. A final push from my wife and his torso was visible. At that point I grabbed him underneath the arms and pulled him free (probably not the best technique, but it beats landing on the concrete).

I pulled him close to my chest and patted his back. He let out a warbly cry in response. Then he peed on my shirt, which was already damp from the birthing process. I was about to take off my shirt to wrap him up, because we’re in a parking garage, you know, when my wife handed me the towel she had been sitting on in the van. Yeah, that was probably better than displaying my Dad Bod for the entire hospital to see.

So, there we were, my wife with her pants around her knees, while I’m kneeling in front of her holding a naked baby wrapped in towel. A naked baby that had since stopped crying, mind you. Perfectly ordinary, right? Well, it certainly seemed that way, because we had to stop a stranger walking by to ask them to alert the hospital, which she kindly did. As we waited, a car pulled into the empty space next to the one we were standing in. Two men got out and walked towards the hospital without batting an eyelash. People are in their own worlds these days or so it seems.

Remember when I said that Wyatt had stopped crying? Well, evidently the hospital had alerted a response team via an overhead page. They were listening for a crying baby.

Kneeling on concrete for ten minutes isn’t comforting to the knees, so I decided to try to stand. My beloved reminded me that I couldn’t do that because the umbilical cord was still attached to the placenta that had yet to be delivered. No problem, kneeling on concrete while holding my newborn baby boy wasn’t so bad. I was still kneeling when an off-duty nurse who had heard the page on her way out of the building approached us. After making sure that both mother and baby were doing well, she was able to get into quick contact with security. We owe a debt of gratitude to that off-duty nurse, who returned to check on both mother and baby the next day, this time in their room.

The response team was there within a minute of being made aware of our location. No less than a dozen nurses and staff members swarmed us. They loaded my wife, now carrying Wyatt in her arms, into a wheelchair. There was a spare wheelchair, and a nurse offered to give me a ride because I looked pale. Having made the long walk to the birthing and delivery floor once already, I agreed.

During the day and half stay in the hospital, it seemed everyone who entered the room commented on the delivery. “You’re the one that delivered in the parking garage.” It’s a story that we’ll likely be telling for a long time. The story of how I held him first (just kidding, honey). That’s the story of Wyatt James Roth and his grand entrance.

The picture at the top of the page was taken by my sister-in-law upon visiting Wyatt in the hospital and was where this story happened. The post today was longer than normal, but I hope you didn’t mind. I sure didn’t. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

The Long & Short Game

Yesterday, I finished reading the first draft of my horror novel, tentatively titled Reel Ghost (not a typo but an intentional play on words). At 136K words, it’s far longer than any story I’ve tackled in my many years writing about fictional people doing fictional things. No doubt it will go on a diet during the drafting/editing process; yet will remain a lengthy beast of a story when finished. I prefer a period away from a writing project after the first draft before I set about ripping it to shreds during the edit. This time around I spent that time editing a few short stories I had written before the novel. The longest of those short stories came in around 6K words, a far departure from the project I was taking a break from.

Working on three stories that were less than *pause to check and recheck math* 5% of my previous project was an experience I hadn’t been prepared for at the onset. Over the last few years, I have focused my attention on obtaining the seemingly unobtainable goal of becoming a traditionally published author (we’ll save the debate about traditional publishing vs self-publishing for another day). Naturally, a novel is the best way to achieve such a goal. Therefore, I have spent more time on novels and less time on the short stories where I honed my craft. I was focused on the long game—the novel—while getting lax with the short game—the short story.

“But both are stories! Aren’t all stories the same?” you say. Well, no, as a matter of fact, they aren’t. I will say that both need to contain the elements that all successful stories must have (voice, plot, effective characters, conflict, setting, beginning, middle, end, etc.). However, the nature of which a writer tells a short story is much different. In a novel there is room to expound on a subject to the writer’s content. The writer of the short story is awarded no such luxury, as the limited wordcount requires conciseness. A novel is like running a marathon, whereas a short story is a sprint. Sure, both involve running but any runner will tell you that the skills involved and the mindset for each are vastly different. If a runner starts a marathon at a blistering pace, they’ll likely run out of steam before reaching the finish line. A runner taking a leisurely pace in the 100-yard dash would have equally disastrous results, being left in the dust out of the gate as his competitors finish.

Writing a story with the wrong mindset can be disastrous for both the story and the writer. I spent most of my early twenties writing short stories to build my resume of publishing credits for an eventual novel. Spending more than a couple years focused on the short game meant a grim awakening when I decided the time had come to write the novel. That realization: writing a novel is hard. Brilliant, I know. Looking back, I’m not surprised I failed to complete those first few novel attempts, after all, I was a sprinter running a marathon. I was fast and furious out of the gate, straight into the rising action of the plot instead setting a comfortable pace by laying the groundwork of character and eventual conflict. Those first novel attempts were all abandoned, and some with a heartbreaking number of words and time spent in a futile effort to curtail the flailing efforts of a writer out of his depths.

I did eventually finish a novel and submit it to a few literary agents. The consensus was no. Of course, those agents were right. That was more than ten years ago, and I’ve grown as a writer and a storyteller since then (yes, those are different). It was a halfway decent idea written by a halfway decent writer, and this was a scenario where two halves didn’t equal a whole. No matter, we learn from our failures and I’m filled to my receding hairline with knowledge.

(A short aside for you young writers out there. I did a few things right and a lot more wrong in my younger days. Attempting to find my voice writing short stories? Right. Quitting multiple novels? Wrong. Only querying three agents when I did finish a novel? Wrong. Deciding that I wasn’t good enough and going back to writing short stories? Wrong, at least in part. Remember that attempting part of the first question? Well, I found my true voice while writing short stories the second time around. As for the deciding I wasn’t good enough part, well, I think we all have a voice inside our heads that is afraid of being rejected, of not being good enough for others or even ourselves. The best thing you can do, writer or not, is locate that annoyingly negative voice and rip out its tongue.)

Like I said earlier, I’ve dedicated the last few years in pursuit of a career as a novelist. When I have spare time between drafts of novels, I try to write as many short stories as I can. In the years that I focused solely on the short game, the average story was 3-4K words, with a few exceptions on both sides of that spectrum. Those are easily readable lengths that most magazine editors desire when space is at a premium. The short stories have gotten longer with my continued focus on the long game. I’ve found myself wanting to give as much detail as possible, while creating a fully developed character in the process. Of course, those things happen all the time in short stories, though keeping it brief can frustrate the most talented of writers. The script had flipped, this time around I was playing the short game with a long game mindset.

So here we are, the original plan for this post. Call them suggestions, tips, or general rules to follow when approaching the long and short games.

Novel (the long game)

  • Set a wordcount goal. Most writers that have been doing the deed for any length of time likely already do this. If you don’t, it’s a good suggestion, especially when tackling the marathon-like novel. Setting a wordcount goal is akin to a runner picking out an object, say a tree in the distance, and shooting for that rather than focusing on the 26.2 miles that lay ahead. When you get to the tree, pick out another target. Personally, I set both a daily goal (1K-2K words depending on the day) and a weekly goal (10K).
  • Have a plan. I’m not suggesting that pantsers should morph into planners by any means (for more information on plotter vs pantser click here). Yet knowing what you’re going to write before you sit down at the keyboard can expediate the process. I take a plantser (plotter/pantser hybrid) approach to novels. Several pages of notes that include character details and plot highlights are written before I start writing chapter 1. I also tend to plan 2-3 chapters ahead, so I know where I’m going, but still have creative freedom to scrap it on a whim (which does happen).
  • Take a break. No, not a long break. I speak from experience when I say that a long break from a novel can become permanent. Think of it more as a timeout. When focusing on a novel, I write 6 days a week and take 1 day off (usually Sunday). Troublesome storylines and unfulfilling characters can happen during the writing process. Often, I’ve solved these issues while my mind was elsewhere.
  • Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Writing a novel is a long-term project that can’t be finished overnight. The first draft of Reel Ghost took around five months to complete. The subsequent drafts and edits will likely take the same amount of time—at least for me. Days can drag and you’ll find yourself looking in the distance for the finish line, only to find it isn’t in sight. Do yourself a favor, enjoy the process.

Short Stories (the short game)

  • Omit needless words. It’s true this is a piece of advice that should be carried into all facets of writing. Yet it should be taken into particular account considering the limited wordcount of short stories. After all, as a writer you’re combating the reader’s waning attention span and a literary magazine’s print space (or lack thereof).
  • Be mindful of your pacing. Having a story rejected is a harsh reality for a writer, but seeing comments attached to the rejection can offer an outsider’s perspective on the story. Years ago, I received a rejection with one such critique. The editor complimented my writing and several aspects of the story. The problem? According to the editor two scenes in the story were too long (his words). Confused because I remembered the story, I opened my Word document and doublechecked. All sections in the story were within two hundred words of each other, with the two in question falling in the middle. The sections weren’t too long per se, but rather dragged and slowed the pace. These sections contained character building elements and plotline developments integral to the story. A short story needs to deliver these elements in as concise a package as possible (omit needless words, remember?) or you might get an email stating “Thank you for submitting your story, but…” Also, it might be a good idea to save that two-hundred-word piece of dialogue for something else, like a novel.
  • Experimentation is fine. Ever wanted to write a first-person story from the perspective of a zombie? Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at writing science fiction. The short story is a wonderful conduit for stretching your creative muscle. If the story doesn’t work out? Hey, no big deal, you’ve only wasted a few days, not the months it takes to write a novel. Be prepared if you’re planning to sell your story to a magazine, however, not all editors are open to experimental work if you happen to stretch the preconceived notion of normal.
  • Remember it’s a sprint, not a marathon. I tend to write short stories fast and furious, then slow down for the editing process. Have a weekend to yourself and don’t know what to do? A five-thousand-word story should keep you busy. The beauty of a short story is in its briefness, which is what makes them so difficult to write. Yet with practice the short game can be mastered (I’ll let you know if I ever get there).

The wordcount tells me it’s time to end, dear reader. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

A Horrifying Mind

I am in possession of a horrifying mind. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have thoughts that instantly turn to the dark and macabre side of life. While on vacation a few weeks ago, my 13-year-old daughter and niece of the same age played in the ocean jumping waves and drifting ever so slowly away from the shoreline. My mind drifted to the rip tide warning and their foreseeable demise because of teenage obliviousness. All ended well (though they did receive a stern lecture from my wife, who went Mom/aunt mode). The knowledge of the ocean’s dangers and the strength of the tide was both a blessing and a curse during those five days on the Florida beach.

Yet there is something else in this horrifyingly macabre mind that I must share with you, dear reader. Like the knowledge that the ocean is both beautiful and deadly, it is a blessing and a curse.

I know what scares you.

The sound that emanates from another room in a house where you are supposed to be alone. You clutch yourself tighter as a chill courses through your body. The room catches your gaze as you contemplate investigating.

Shadows cling to the edges of a dimly lit parking garage as you hurry to your car. The support columns make a perfect hiding place for someone or something…

The black SUV with the tinted windows made identical turns as you and remains in your rearview mile after mile. It’s probably someone who lives in your neighborhood on their way home after a long day’s work. It’s nothing, nothing. Probably.

A young child stares at you with blank eyes while in a crowded space. There are many people around, but for some reason you have caught this youngster’s attention. You smile to deflect your unease. The child only stares back. Your brow gets sweaty as you avert your eyes, though you keep checking. Still the child stares.

The circus is in town for the weekend. Naturally, you take your family. A fun time is had by all. That is until the clowns make their way into the audience. Your pulse quickens as you watch them get closer and closer.

THUMP! THUMP! THUMP! Comes a sound that reverberates throughout the house. You sit up in bed, suddenly wide awake. Someone is at the front door. A glance at the clock reveals a time in which no good news is unleashed.

A basement. Damp and dark and without lights.

If asked, you’d say you don’t believe in ghosts. Yet you cross to the other side of the street when passing that long-abandoned house. It’s the subject of whispers and rumors. You don’t believe it, of course. Your footsteps quicken while stealing glances out of the corner of your eye, nonetheless.

You stop for a bite to eat in a quaint little burg just off the highway while on a road trip. The streets aren’t exactly deserted, though the few people you do see return your gaze with icy glares of their own. On second thought, you aren’t hungry after all. What’s a few more miles?

Alexa/Siri suddenly speaks from across the room, answering a question you hadn’t asked. The room falls silent as your brain starts churning this over. If she is always listening, what else does the AI know?

You’re tossing and turning beneath the soothing fabric of your sheets in bed. Yet for an unknown reason you have awakened ever so slightly with a sense of unease. Your fluttering eyes catch glimpses of a small figure standing by your bedside. Now sitting up, you turn to see your child staring at you with a sleepy gaze. You wait for them to speak as your heart beats irregularly.

An elevator lurches as it starts its descent from the top floor of a high-rise building. It’s empty, other than you, of course. The pocket computer that is your cellphone has amazing reception all around the country, except in the elevator for some unknown reason. You look up at the surveillance camera wondering if anyone is truly manning the security desk, and if they’re awake.

While out about the town you have an encounter with someone claiming to know you. They know your name and even specify where you met. You have no recollection of this person despite your best efforts. Are you losing your mind? Or is something dastardly afoot?

If none of these rendered your spine tingled or your flesh speckled with goosebumps, don’t worry. There’s more in this horrifyingly macabre mind. However, I’ll save those for our next meeting in the confines of the imaginary world we create when writer and reader connect. In the meantime, I’ll return to the written page, pen in hand—my weapon of choice—to bring your fears to life, if only in your mind.

Because I know what scares you, even if you don’t.

I’ll see you on the written page and perhaps in your dreams. Thanks for reading. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

When Plans Change

As I write this I’m sitting propped up in bed, listening to midnight waves crash on the beach while my wife sleeps soundly beside me (I didn’t use the word snore, but thought it). Even on a family vacation the need to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is a strong one. When it calls, I listen. By the time this is posted I’ll be back in the land of Oz, ready to start the grind that is editing a novel. For now, however, my mind is on the beach and how plans are nothing more than a sandcastle built during the day that will undoubtedly be washed away at the coming of the tide.

Someone asked me if I was still writing the blog recently. I responded with “not really.” If you’re a follower of the blog and have missed it, I’d like to apologize for its absence (and thanks, by the way). The truth is I haven’t been maintaining the website with even half-hearted attention, let alone writing new blog posts. The reason for that will be explained in the coming paragraphs. It wasn’t a planned absence, but one of necessity.

The previous ten months have taught me a lot about coping with situations that not only didn’t go according to plan but weren’t in the plans in the first place. In June of last year my wife was diagnosed with a tumor at the base of her brain. She survived thanks to emergency surgery performed by the team of doctors and nurses at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Life is a bit different than before—difficulty swallowing has been the biggest struggle for her—but enjoyable, nonetheless.

Then we received unexpected news. She was pregnant with our fourth child. It was hard wrapping our collective brains around having another child at our ages (we’re at that age where only senior citizens think we’re young, but our kids think we’re geriatric). Four kids. All looking at us as the responsible adult-type person who shall be the biggest influence on their lives. Sure, we had talked about an addition a few years ago, but moved onward when nothing materialized.

After the initial shock wore off—which happened around the time of the first ultrasound—we were excited about our new addition and ready to embrace the challenges of a six-person family. Our three daughters are ready to help by changing diapers, feeding bottles, and generally loving the new baby, even if it is a stinky boy.

A two-week hospital stay in an unfamiliar city wasn’t in the plans, neither was the physical therapy that followed. Adding another child might have been a plan (I would prefer to think of it as a vague idea at best) three years ago but had faded from the forefront of our minds. That’s how life works, as I’m sure you’re aware. Sometimes life throws obstacles that you aren’t prepared for, leaving you to adapt or face the consequences. Other times there seems to be a bit of a delay in the realization of certain plans coming into being. It can create a certain hiccup in our giddy-up due to the poor timing. Yet isn’t a delayed result on a plan—or dream if you get where this is going—better than none?

Obstacles. Delays. Changing plans. The past ten months of life have mirrored my writing life as of late. The plans in that writing life could be described as ambitious dreams to those not inside the mind of this writer. A modest career as a writer with a small but loyal fanbase without the added hassle of working a “real job” was the plan (if you read dream here, that’s fine, just keep that four-letter word to yourself). By the way, most dreams are about handouts and charity that people haven’t earned; what I want I have already devoted a lifetime of hard work to achieving.

Those plans of a career in writing were made by a single man many miles down the shoreline of the beach that is life. Now I walk amongst sandcastles and water toys as a married father of three, with a fourth on the way, yet the plan remains. There have been rejected short stories by magazine editors, rejected novels by literary agents, and more self-doubt than one person should be able to produce. Obstacles.

Included in the larger plan (that’s really a goal) was a series of smaller bullet points to achieving said plan—because plans should always have bullet points and goals should always have steps. Bullet point number one was getting my first short story published in a literary magazine, which was achieved with greater ease than I can fathom in hindsight. I wrote and submitted five short stories to literary magazines at the age of nineteen. These were the first stories I had written with the forethought of having another living soul lay their eyes upon them. One of these was selected for publication. Seven long years would separate publication number one from two. Self-doubt can cripple a spirit under those circumstances. Indeed, mine has suffered breaks and sprains, but somehow survived. Eventually, the publications came after I had worked out just what type of writer I was going to be. Delays.

The bullet point regarding building a respectable resume of publications took longer to achieve than I ever dreamed. Yet I consider it done. Next, I turned to the novel, which had always intimidated me as a writer of the artform that is the short story (yes, I believe it’s an artform at its core). I won’t bore you with the details of my failures as a novelist (look at some of my previous posts if you’re interested) but will summarize instead. I wrote three middle grade horror novels and queried two of those—the third was a sequel to one of the other novels. More than a hundred literary agents received a query regarding those novels. One full request and a pass was the result. I have it upon good information that my queries were solid. It’s either the writing or the story.

Earlier I wrote about self-doubt in an earnest and open manner. Years reading other writers—both traditionally published and non—have taught me that I am capable of a traditionally published writing path. Egotistical or self-awareness, I’ll let you be the judge (and I would counter that Stephanie Meyer is proof that a traditionally published author needs only a miniscule amount of writing talent). The ability to write a coherent sentence isn’t an elusive skill. Millions of people around the world possess it. Many of them are fledgling writers as well. If you possess the ability to write a sentence without tripping over your fingers, voice and story are more important.

If writing ability isn’t the problem (and I assure you that it isn’t) then it must lay with either voice or story. In writing middle grade horror, I’ve gone with a straightforward and readable voice (sounds boring, right?). Honestly, it could be the voice, though I’m not sure I’d fix it within the boundaries of that genre. When it comes to the elements of story in those two novels, well, I feel like I brought my two best batters to the plate in a key situation and watched them strikeout. Those were the best stories that have ever spilled out of this head for that genre. If they weren’t good enough, fine. Change of plans.

It’s true that I have always enjoyed writing middle grade horror—still do, in fact—and my weary bones have always felt comfortable in its macabre waters. Yet I have also envisioned a reality that allowed me to publish both middle grade and adult horror (Yes, that is a bit farfetched and dreamy, but, hey, aren’t your dreams?). Even while writing middle grade horror I still maintained a connection to adult horror by writing short stories (by the way, nothing is harder than writing a 140K word novel then turning around and trying to squeeze an entire story in less than ten percent of that). With the failures of my middle grade stories, I decided to switch things up. I would focus on horror.

That brings me to the reason I stopped maintaining the blog/website. Trying to salvage something out of my writing career by switching to adult horror required my full attention. I tried to maintain the blog for a few weeks, but it was in vain. I wasn’t meeting my weekly wordcount goal, thus something had to give. Family time or the blog; that’s what it boiled down to. Yes, that stinks, but it was the right choice.

When I get home from this crazy multi-family vacation, I’m going to settle in and read the first draft. Hopefully, another fulfilled delay can be added to my writing career, with my first published novel. Traditional publishing is my medium of choice, but either way this novel will see readers unlike the middle grade novels that will never see the light of day. It’s time to be read.

The midnight waves have done their duty in lulling me back to sleep. May your dreams be as pleasant as mine are in paradise. And remember to always follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Staying Focused

At the end of this past summer my middle child moved out of the upstairs bedroom she shared with her younger sister and into what had been my downstairs office. With the room taken over by an eight-year-old, my office moved into a corner of our master bedroom. I did get a new desk out of the deal, so don’t feel too sorry for me. However, being on the main floor of the house hasn’t been an easy transition, especially with three kids and a wife doing remote learning from home (my wife is a teacher). Focus hadn’t been a problem in the dungeon, but of course, I had the house to myself in those days. Now, the struggle is real.

Focusing on your writing without distractions is integral to the health of your story. Writing is about making a connection with a reader when boiled down to the basics. That reader has come to the written page ready to have their imagination tickled by your prose. Checking Twitter every five minutes does them a disservice. The least you can do for that reader is come to the blank page with the respect it deserves.

The following is a list of methods that have helped me focus over the years. This list is by no means complete but is simply a reflection of the methods I have tried. Some of these I still do, while others I don’t. Whether you do or don’t is, of course, your decision.

Close the door

I know there are writers out there that need the hustle and bustle of a café to inspire them to write. However, most writers don’t fall into that category, instead requiring quiet and solitude. If you are lucky enough to have a home office (unlike me) then use it. Whether your writing space is in a home office, the corner of a bedroom, or the laundry room like a young Stephen King, make sure that space has a door. Then close it.

Turn on music

Playing music can eliminate the array of noises that accompany writing in a house with other people. In his book On Writing Stephen King mentions writing to rock-n-roll music, which makes a ton of sense if you have ever read a King novel. I think this suggestion should come with a note of caution. Several years ago, I listened to music while writing to help drown out the distractions of the outside world. However, it became a distraction in itself when I stopped writing to sing along with the music. The problem progressed to the point where I was scrolling through the list of songs in search of my favorites. As you can imagine, I don’t listen to music while writing these days. If you decide to try this out yourself, I suggest lyric free music.

Meditate

Some of you might be scoffing at the notion of meditation. However, a few minutes of quiet contemplation can help relieve the stress of the day thus far, expelling it from the writing experience. In my own personal experience, I have found that my writing sessions go better when I have meditated beforehand.

Eliminate midsession distractions ahead of time

When I sit down to write I have already checked my email and the web has been sufficiently surfed. I already have a big cup of coffee on hand. When I’m introducing a new character, whether major or minor, I try to have a name already chosen and ready for use when I start my writing session. I try to do as much research as possible ahead of time. All of this is an attempt to eliminate distractions during a writing session. Like a beaver damming up a river stops the flow of water, distractions eliminate the flow of words.

The cellphone DOESN’T enter the writing room

I stumbled upon this method on accident. Before a writing session last week, I realized my cellphone’s battery was low. My charger was in the kitchen, so I hooked it up and went to write. During that writing session I realized how often I pause to check something on my cellphone. How many likes does my tweet have? Oh, someone commented on Instagram, I should check it out. To say it had been a distraction is an understatement. If you’re serious about your craft the pocket-sized computer can wait until you’re done.

Any of these five methods are worth a try if you want to improve your focus. I have one last method which I haven’t tried but is still worth passing along. Inform your friends and family that you wish to remain undisturbed while writing. In your house, for instance, you could do this by telling them that if the office door is closed then you’re working. In the case of friends, a text message would suffice. Of course, keeping a daily routine would help to remind everyone that between the hours of 8-12 Stephen is hard at work and not to be bothered.

Best of luck staying focused and keeping that writer to reader connection strong. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

The Pros & Cons of Genre Hopping

The act of genre hopping is a hotly debated topic when brought up on social media. Some are strongly for a writer’s creative freedom, while others feel writers should stick to a single genre. First, I would like to differentiate genre hopping from the simple act of switching genres, as the latter is a singular act while the former is a repeated act. Is genre hopping a good idea? I think it falls in a gray area between good and bad that involves the writer making up their own mind. Like most things in life there are pros and cons; let’s explore those.

The Pros of Genre Hopping

Creative freedom

Creativity is the reason why a lot of us get into the act of writing, at least I know it was for me. Yet sticking to one genre can stymie the creative brain when writing about the same subject day after day. Turning to a new genre can help explore ideas and plotlines you might not have considered in the realm of another genre. Having the freedom to write what we want when we want to write it is a big deal for some writers. I know in my own writing life there have been times when the best idea for a story doesn’t fall into the general niche I have come to place myself.

Freshness

Freshness and creative freedom go hand in hand; however, one could argue that the two are separate factors (plus, I really needed another pro point). Writing the same genre every day can be akin to Ground Hog Day for some writers. Hopping to a different genre to freshen up your point of view, especially if the switch isn’t permanent, can do wonders. You may find yourself revisiting the old genre with a revitalized outlook. A daily routine of the same genre writing can grow old and stale to some and a quick change to something else might be just what the creative brain needs to stay on task.

A New Audience

Hopping to a different genre can reach new readers that might otherwise be unfamiliar with the writer’s work. Some of these new readers might consider reading outside the genre if they like the writer’s voice. I must be honest here regarding my opinion on this pro point. Attempting to reach new readers with the hope they will follow you isn’t something I would consider a good reason for genre hopping. There are few writers I would follow no matter the genre they wrote. Stephen King is an example of one such writer, while J.K. Rowling is an example of one that I haven’t followed. If reaching a new audience is a big deal for you and you don’t care about any carryover reading, consider writing under a pseudonym.

The Cons of Genre Hopping

Familiarity

I believe that in order to write in a genre a writer should first know that genre. This entails reading other writers in that genre as much as possible. After all, if you don’t read inside a genre then how will you know if the story you’re writing hasn’t already been written by another writer. Let me be blunt for a minute. In my opinion, it takes a rather large ego to think you can wrap your brain around the ends and outs of more than one genre at a time.

Alienating Your Old Audience

For this con we will assume that your move to another genre is out in the open rather than under a pseudonym. Readers can have particular tastes when it comes to their reading preferences. For instance, I read almost exclusively horror, though I do alternate between middle grade and adult often. Any deviation from that genre is carefully selected. As I stated earlier, I have made exceptions for some writers and not for others depending on the writer’s voice and the overall story that they wrote outside the genre. I would never abandon a writer for trying something new and different, choosing instead to wait for the next release in the genre that I enjoy. However, I’m not so sure that every reader would agree with me.

Lack of Focus

Hopping from one genre to another multiple times can create a perceived lack of focus in other people’s eyes. A reader or, say, a perspective literary agent might wonder if the writer knows what they want. If you’re not trying to attract a literary agent or are writing purely for the creative outlet, then this con doesn’t apply to you. If you are trying to attract an agent, well, it could serve you well to show some discipline and stick with one genre.

In the end whether you chose to genre hop is a personal decision that every writer has to make for themselves. Don’t base your decision off the musings of some guy of the internet (including this guy), but rather on what fits you. Personally, I prefer to focus on one genre with laser-like precision at a time when it comes to novels. When I genre hop it’s usually in the realm of the short story. If I have hopped around for several short stories, I’ll make sure the last short story is in the same genre as the novel I’m planning to write. That’s what works for me, you could be different. Thanks for reading.

Stephen Michael Roth

It’s a Story, Not a Procedural!

Hello and welcome back to the blog! There’s nothing new to report that I won’t be covering at some point in the post. In my last post, I had an absurdly long introduction. Today, it’s short and sweet. I’d like to talk about an aspect of the story that I recently realized was missing from my own writing. That will soon be revealed. Onward we go.

For those of you that have been constant readers of this blog (thank you, by the way), you’ll no doubt remember that I have been querying literary agents on a constant basis for over a year (a process I have closed for the time being). Most of those queries are in email form, as you would suspect. However, more and more agents are asking writers to submit their queries through a submission manager. I have no problem with this form of query intake, though often it’s more time consuming (I promise this is going somewhere and is related to the subject of the story). Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a submission form that asked for my favorite sentence in the novel. As a writer with stories of your own, I’m sure you can imagine my dilemma. A favorite sentence? But there are so many to choose from. How does one go about choosing a favorite sentence from a novel you hold so dear? Another dilemma was the simple fact that I had already been querying this novel for roughly six months and it wasn’t fresh in my mind. What did I do? Yes, I scoured the pages of my novel looking for the best sentence.

If you paid attention to the title of this post, then you can likely guess what I found as I scrolled through two hundred pages, reading and scanning all the live long day. It was procedural. Perhaps a definition is in order to obtain a clear picture of the problem with this finding. Merriam-Webster has several definitions for procedure, but we’ll stick with the best fitting. Procedure: a series of steps followed in a regular definite order. That’s how my novel read, like a series of steps in regular order, without much happening in-between. Step 1. Zac hangs out in town square. Step 2. A stranger shows up and raises hell. Step 3. Zac decides to fight against the stranger. It goes on and on, but you get the idea.

So, what’s the problem with that?

Look, action is a crucial part of the narrative of a story. Without it a story wouldn’t move forward. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a story that develops quickly as much as the next guy. No one wants to read a story where a man sits in a room, ruminating for three hundred pages without getting out of the chair. I say action is important so I can say this. A story without some form of introspection or inner monologue is missing out on the fundamentals. As a writer who wrote such a book in the recent past, I feel I can speak on the subject. I’ve always prided myself on having more self-awareness than the average person (yes, that includes writers). For instance, dialogue has always been a struggle of mine. I’m quiet by nature, as a result long monologues don’t come easily and seem absurd. On the other hand, as an introvert introspection has always been a strength. Or so I thought.

Introspection. Inner monologue. What are we talking about exactly?

Inner monologue can be defined as that voice inside your head that provides thoughts on situations and events. This can be as the events happen or in retrospect. Introspection can be defined as the examination of one’s own mental and emotion processes. This is when the character is deep in thought. I know what some of you are saying. That sounds like something only suited for the first person POV. However, both have a place in a third person story. Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of your favorite third person novel and flip through the pages. Chances are you won’t have to flip for long before you run into inner monologue. I’m currently reading The Institute by Stephen King. Here’s an excerpt:

He didn’t know if his secrets could do him any good, but he did know that there were cracks in the walls of what George Iles had so rightly called this hole of hell. If he could use his secrets—and his supposedly superior intelligence—as a crowbar, he might be able to widen one of those cracks.

Above Luke, the main character of the novel, is deep in thought as he tries to brainstorm a way to break out of the institute. Since the novel follows Luke through much of the book and makes a clear distinction when it doesn’t, the reader can assume any thoughts or feelings are attributed to him unless otherwise mentioned. The narrator simply voices these in the third person point of view.

Let’s not get bogged down with point of view and which is better (I have my opinions and you undoubtedly have yours). The point is introspection and inner monologue can take place in both first and third person. Taking a break from the action to dig a little deeper with your character’s brain at the forefront is a crucial part of a good story. Avoid it and your story will suffer the consequences. Hopefully, you’ll catch the problem before sending it to fifty literary agents while wondering why there aren’t any full requests, again as I did. So far in my work in progress I’ve remedied the problem.

Before I end this blog post I’d like to address character thoughts for a moment. Some of you might be thinking about slapping a thought down and sticking Luke thought at the end instead of using inner monologue. I’m not going to jump out of the computer and slap your hand if you do this (Lord knows I’d like to). However, keep in mind that inner monologue is for deep, reflective moments in a story where a character takes pause, while voiced thoughts tend to be more superficial and in the heat of the moment.

Action is only one part of the complete make up of a story. Adding inner monologue to your repertoire won’t finish the job, but you’ll be well on your way. Thanks for reading. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Hello and welcome back to the blog! Yes, I’m back after taking a break from the blog for a month or so. Why the break? Honestly, I’ve been thinking a lot about making a change in my writing. This blog is approaching its one-year anniversary and hasn’t had the reception I had hoped. Yes, growth takes time, I’m aware. However, the opposite has happened in recent months. That’s not the only reason I’ve been more introspective than normal, which is already a great deal. Last month, I finished the first draft of a novel in hindsight I’m not sure I should have written. It’s the second book in a series for which the first book is unpublished. Self-publishing could be in both books’ future, only time will tell on that. A few minutes before starting this blog post, I sent my fiftieth query via email for From Darkness Comes… No interest has been shown in the novel, which is disheartening. Over the last year and half, I’ve queried nearly a hundred literary agents and received exactly one reading, with a hard pass being the result. It’s as if I’m stuck in the writer’s edition of Groundhog Day, repeating the same mistakes with the same unfortunate results. The break was about finding a way to break that cycle. Well, I’ve had an idea. I’m going to switch my focus to writing an adult horror novel. It will take a few months for the queries I sent out to run their course (if it’s a rejection with an agent that doesn’t respond if not interested). When that happens, I’ll reread each of the manuscripts and decide if they’re worthy of self-publishing.

Yes, that was a three-hundred-word intro. It’s good to be back. Since I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks coming up with the perfect story idea for my first adult novel attempt in five years, I thought I would write about ideas and where they come from. Perhaps an enchanted faraway land where unicorns prance and leprechauns frolic? Or do writers carefully pluck them out of the sky with the eagerness of the snowflake of winter? Well, let’s find out.

I have a notebook in which I keep notes on current works in progress, agents to query, and, yes, story ideas. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that of those story ideas, ninety-eight percent will never be developed further than a quickly jotted down note on a page. That’s okay, it’s part of the process of developing and finding the right idea to suit the occasion. There are times when a story idea stays in my head for months (or years in a few rare cases) before the proper occasion is stumbled upon. But where do those ideas come from?

I believe we can all agree that the idea itself is a mystical and mysterious thing, the origins of which shall forever remain in the realm marked unknown. However, we can delve into the subject of how a writer comes up with an idea. In my experience, a writer comes up with stories in two basic ways. The first of which is brainstorming.

When I’m in need of a new story and have no inkling of an idea, whether it be good or bad, I try to manufacture one. Yes, at its core brainstorming is manufacturing a story idea. My process looks like this. With a clear mind and distraction free, I lay down on the couch with my notebook and close my eyes. My wife calls this napping. To which I reply only by waving my notebook at her in a “See? I’m working” gesture. At first, I’ll admit I get nothing. However, as time passes my mind starts to wonder into the realm of the story idea. Before I know it, my notebook page is filled with ideas. Content with my progress, the brainstorming session turns into the exact thing my wife thinks it is. A nap.

It’s at this point that I would like to point out a simple fact regarding my own history with ideas and turning them into either short stories or novels. Most of the stories I don’t pursue further came to me in the brainstorming fashion. In fact, the ideas which end up as stories on a page usually come to me in the other fashion. By lightning strike.

Every writer who has been doing the job for any length of time has had the following experience. You’re busy doing some task or another (in my recent past this was while people counting at my day job). Your body is focused on this task, perhaps even your mind. Then an idea leaps into your head, hailing from that magical place we’ve already discussed. You weren’t thinking of a story or trying to come up with something. One second it wasn’t there, then, boom, there it is. A lightning strike. You repeat the idea over and over in your head until you can jot it down on a piece of paper or in the notes section of your phone.

Those moments feel like magic, don’t they? In my own experience (yours could be different), these ideas are usually worth following up on, be it a few more jots with the old pen or an entire character analysis. Not all these stories are good enough on their own to warrant a novel. Yet there are times when I’ve combined a lightning strike idea with a brainstorming idea and achieved a brilliant story.

It’s been five years since I last attempted an adult horror novel, which I abandoned after the birth of my youngest daughter (life was hectic with a new baby in the house, as you can imagine). In retrospect, the idea that sprouted the novel wasn’t as good as I had envisioned. During the last two weeks, I’ve been focused on not repeating that mistake. So, which process did I use to come with my ideas? Both. However, a single productive brainstorming session resulted in two ideas worthy of a further look. The story I chose was unique and interesting, something all good ideas should be. When paired with a subplot from another idea I wasn’t pursuing further, and the result is a story I’m proud to be starting in the coming days.

Whether an idea comes through deliberate or unintentional means, be grateful the ideas are coming. Then get busy writing. Thanks for reading. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Following Tropes

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I spent time querying both last week and this week. I have now sent thirty-five query letters to literary agents regarding From Darkness Comes… and have received twenty-nine noes without a single full manuscript request to bolster my outlook. Look, I try to keep positive about my writing—and I’m not giving up, for the record—but the writing seems to be on the wall for that project. I promised myself fifty plus queries if I didn’t procure an agent. That’s still the plan. Tropes and whether to follow the herd is on the docket for today. Remember you have your own opinions. What follows is mine.

So, what is a trope and why should you care? I would define a trope as a popular trend in fiction, where a particular plot device is used in excess by a mass of writers. These writers see that the reading public is enjoying a certain type of story or novel and open their Word document to tell their tale. Idiocy, that’s what it is. Pure idiocy. (That’s my opinion creeping in again.) Why should you care? Honestly, I’m not sure you should, except for one reason. To avoid falling into a trope by pure happenstance.

Hard as you try, chances are you’ve written a trope or two during the course of your writing journey, though you were likely unaware of it. I’m afraid it’s unavoidable, inevitable you might say. The ever-dynamic battle between good and evil has been a popular subject for as long as stories have been told. Well, dear reader, that’s a trope. Have you ever written about an anti-hero? Yeah, so have I. That means we’ve both written another popular trope. The love triangle is another trope that seems unwilling to fade into obscurity. Stories where the main character returns to their childhood home to either fight an evil force or find that it has changed beyond recognition is one I have noticed in recent years. In my somewhat humble opinion, entire subgenres can fall into the trope category when written about at a high frequency by a mass of writers who keep their fingers pressed to the pulse of the bestseller’s list. You want an example? Well, you’re getting one.

Constant readers of this blog are likely aware of this story. Yet, I think it deserves rehashing while discussing the topic of tropes in fiction. Fifteen years ago next month, a popular young adult horror* novel was released to the adulation of women of all ages. As you might have guessed that book was Twilight. As I sit at my desk, writing about tropes, I am realizing how many tropes are in that novel. A dark and brooding teen? Check. A MC who inexplicably runs towards danger? Check. The aforementioned love triangle? Check. However, the trope I wish to focus on now is that of the vampire. Yes, I believe Twilight turned an entire subgenre of horror into a trope. Here’s why.

*I can neither confirm nor deny whether Twilight is an honest to goodness horror novel, having only read half the book (I got to the sparkly vampire part and walked away forever). It does have horror elements in it, true. However, I have always thought of it as horror-light.

After Twilight’s massive success with readers, writers set out to pen their own vampire story. I was a young writer still searching for his voice at the time. Literary fiction and an occasional ill-advised middle grade novel attempt were my focus in those days. A year or two after the release of Twilight, I set my sights on the horror genre. While reading magazine’s submission guidelines online, I noticed something interesting. Several horror mags wouldn’t take vampire stories, with one reference the common trope directly. With time—we’re talking several years—the vampire trope calmed, as trends tend to do. It was only recently that I tackled my first vampire story.

I entered the writing process for The Vampire Story (yes, that was my tentative title. Original, huh?), I did so with two goals in mind. One, write an original take on the vampire subgenre, which might still be considered a trope even today. Two, respect the history of the subgenre while achieving goal #1. I created a story where a writer is tormented by a new type of vampire that he created, which fed on emotions during dreams. The nocturnal feeding aspect of the creature was respected, while attempting to pave new ground in the way the vampire fed. I believe it to be a uniquely interesting idea, and one that I haven’t seen before.

If you’re going to tackle a common trope in fiction, please think about it first. Can the story survive without the trope? There are times when the answer is a resounding no and that’s fine. If writers never tackled a trope or two, our bookshelves wouldn’t hold the multitudes they do. However, don’t jump on a bandwagon because someone else had a good idea. Get your own good idea. Whether you choose to trope or not, be original.

To receive free updates on the blog, click the follow button in the lower right-hand corner and enter a valid email address. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. @StephenRoth316 for both. Thanks for reading. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth