10 Truths About Writing

Hello and welcome back to the blog! It has been an interesting week in the Roth household. A failed hose caused our main floor bathroom to flood… with hot water. This happened for an unknown amount of time before it was discovered. When it was found water was leaking through the ceiling of the basement bathroom and laundry room, which is directly under the main floor bathroom. Well, it appears we are getting a bathroom remodel soon. Today, I would like to give you ten truths about writing, according to me. Remember, these are only my opinion and are in no particular order.

  • Read a lot. This is a basic truth for every writer, whether you write fiction or nonfiction. A writer that does not read is not going to show growth, after reading is a way of learning for a writer. A writer could unintentionally mirror another novel. (I’m sure every writer has had a brilliant idea for a novel in the back of their head, only to read a book that is too close for comfort. Or maybe it is just me.) Also, purchasing a book shows support for fellow writers, which is always a good thing.
  • Write a lot. I realize these first two are basic truths that you already know if you are a writer and read this blog on a regular basis. Yet I think it bears repeating due to the level of importance.
  • Editing is hard, but necessary. Most writers cringe when the subject of editing is brought up. I happen to be one of them. When a writer self-edits a novel they are searching for their own mistakes and fixing them. Growth as a writer can be the result. Writing is a creative process, while editing is more tedious in nature. My own editing skills have grown over the years, though I do not enjoy the process much.
  • It is possible to improve your writing. If you read a lot, write a lot, and edit your work, over time you should expect to see some growth. Looking back, my own writing grew steadily throughout the years. Now, I am a completely different writer. The only way for this truth to be applicable to you is to follow the first three truths.
  • Writing is hard. I wish I could lie to you, but the truth is there are a lot of bad writers out there. I have read my fair share, as I am sure you have. While I believe it is possible to improve one’s own writing, some are a lost cause. Bad writing often has grammar, vocabulary, and the elements of style to blame. These are essential to good writing; without them a writer is doomed.
  • People will not always understand. I have been chasing the dream of being a full-time writer since I was a teenager. (A quick note: I will never call myself an aspiring writer. I do not aspire to write; I write. I challenge every writer to do the same.) If you chase a dream for as long as I have, chances are you will run into some folks who do not understand your motivation. Some will openly question the decisions you make. My response has always been to smile in return. Explaining passion to the passionless is something I will not waste my time with.I have better things to do, like writing.
  • The story is King. I have killed characters, abandoned outlines (when I was still using them), ripped notes, and been completely surprised by a stories outcome. That is because I go where the story takes me. The story is King, and I am but a faithful servant who follows orders. If something is not right in a story, it is usually because I was not listening closely enough.
  • Resiliency is not recommended; it is a requisite. During my time as a writer I have been rejected more than the average nonwriter will face in a couple of lifetimes. Yes, I am still alive, kicking, and asking for more. I have moments when I feel overwhelmed like everyone else. However, if you do not have a thick skin, my recommendation is to think twice about entering this business. It could break you.
  • It is a responsibility that should be taken seriously. Stephen King said it best in On Writing, “You must not come lightly to the blank page.”
  • Writing is a creative outlet that should be enjoyed. Yes, I did just say that writing should be taken seriously. I do not think that means we cannot enjoy the process. If you are not enjoying yourself then it might start to feel like work.

Thanks for reading. The 10 lies of writing are coming next week. Until then, follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Have Self-Confidence

Hello and welcome back to the blog!  I’m about to be really busy, as I will be starting a new novel next week. Yes, it’s the second book in the Breaking Character Series. Full disclosure, this will be short. I didn’t plan on doing a blog post this week, but I felt inspiration strike. When that happens, I usually listen. Today, I would like to talk about self-confidence. Let’s get started.

The know-it-all that is the internet defines self-confidence as a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement. A sense of confidence in one’s abilities can go a long way no matter the profession you have chosen. Since I’m a writer, I’ll stick to self-confidence as it pertains to writing, though the parallels can reach anyone. As I sit here at my desk typing, I consider myself a confident person. That hasn’t always been the case. Once upon a time I let fear and self-doubt get in the way. I mostly consider that a thing of the past.

A lack of self-confidence doesn’t sound like that bad a thing to suffer from. After all, I’m sure we all know a few people who are so boisterous in their self-confidence that they come across as arrogant. Such people can be hard to be around. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. I believe there is a way to have confidence in one’s own abilities while remaining humble. It’s a fine line between confident and arrogant, but the same can be said for humble and meek. It’s about trusting in yourself and in your abilities, while using those to make decisions. Once a decision is made, you must have confidence that the right decision was made and see it through. If you don’t, self-doubt and regret rear their ugly heads. Believe me, I know.

In the past I have let self-doubt get in the way of achieving my dream of becoming a published author. I wrote three novels without sending any to literary agents for possible representation. The fourth was only sent to four or five before rejection got into my head, causing self-doubt. I have a full blog post devoted to rejection, so I won’t go into that any further. Breaking Character was the fifth novel I have finished and was sent to more than forty agents. I’m still waiting for responses on several of those queries, but I tried. While I believe it’s far better than the four novels that preceded it, those four still deserved a chance. From Darkness Comes… is just as good and is currently being queried.

Did something change from my first novel to my fifth and sixth? Yes, and I’m sure you know the answer. My self-confidence. After years of both reading and writing I realized something. My writing isn’t half bad, dare I say good. Sure, there are better writers on the shelves at bookstores or on whatever device you use to download books. However, in my experience there are a number that don’t measure up. I don’t think it’s arrogant to say such a thing, but simply a matter of confidence.

For me it boils down to this simple fact, I know I’m good enough to make it in this business. It has taken thirteen years to be able to say (or type) those words. Now I work each day to ensure the world knows it too.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Ten Short Stories In Under One Thousand Words

Hello and welcome back to the blog! There is a lot going on in the world right now. Rather than talk about it, I thought I would attempt to entertain you instead. I gave myself the following challenge this week: write ten short stories in under a thousand words. I made it with two words to spare (not including the titles and this intro). For those that don’t know, I write middle grade horror. Most of the stories are skewed in that direction but are aimed at being read by all. Enjoy.

(Editing note: The original post touted ten short stories in under ten thousand words, which is wrong. It’s actually ten stories in one thousand words, which was every bit as challenging as it sounds. I was scanning through the titles as I uploaded a new post and thought, there must be some mistake! Yes, there was and it was mine. At least I noticed it as some point!)

The Grave

The darkness that had seemed eternal finally abated for Javi. Slowly his vision returned, bringing unexpected sights to behold. There had to be something wrong. The images his eyes were sending to his brain didn’t make sense.

Javi stood in a field of grass surrounded by slabs of granite, marble, sandstone, and bronze. He could see a wrought iron gate in the distance that ran along the field’s perimeter.

“No,” Javi whispered. His voice died as soon as it left his lips, becoming nothing more than the sound of a midnight breeze.

Knowing the truth, yet in denial because of its consequence, Javi turned to the nearest gravestone.

Javier Jordan

2001-2020

He will remain forever in our hearts

Shadow People

I know I’m not crazy, I know I’m not crazy. This has been my mantra in recent days, for reasons that will soon be obvious.

Have you ever seen someone in your peripheral only to find no one there when you look? I have a theory. There really is someone there, only it’s an alien. I don’t think they mean us any har—

Life

He smiled. She laughed. They loved.

The Grove

The sun was descending behind the treetops in the western horizon when Paige let the storm door on Sandra’s front porch slam closed behind her. She jumped from the top of the porch, skipping the steps entirely. Knowing Mr. Morrison, Sandra’s dad, wouldn’t mind, she cut through the yard.

Paige was supposed to be home before dark. “If the stars are in the sky and you’re outside to see them, then you’re in trouble, young lady,” her mother had said.

Of course, time had gotten away from both girls, as it often did. Mr. Morrison had offered to give her a ride as she hurried out of the house. She had refused. A quick shortcut along a trail that weaved through a grove separating the friend’s homes would save her at least five minutes.

Paige was only a few yards into the woodland area when a dark shadow moved in her peripheral. Yet nothing was there. She kept running.

An overturned tree lying across the path marked the halfway point of the grove. The shadows were as deep as she had ever seen them. Something moved in the darkness just off the path.

It was at this point she remembered something else her mother had told her. “Don’t go into those woods after dark.”

A menacing growl rumbled through the grove and Paige realized Mom’s warning had been warranted.

The bushes rustled on both sides of the path as the first creature was joined by a mate. A stitch appeared in her side, but Paige ignored it. This was no time for pain.

Relief flooded over her as the light from her back porch came into view through the trees. A moment later she burst from the grove and across her backyard. Paige ran without looking back, even when something snarled behind her. She didn’t stop until the backdoor was separating her from the outside.

Meanwhile, two sets of glowing red eyes watched the house. They were patient.

Moving Earth

The earth moved beneath my feet.

I jumped back, filled with horror.

The dirt where I once stood was pushed aside.

In its place a decomposing hand pushed through the soil.

The Doll

Niko stared at the doll sitting on her dresser across the room. The Japanese Geisha doll had been a gift from her great aunt Majo, whom she hadn’t met.

There was a blur of red and gold as the Geisha doll jumped off the dresser. The kimono clad doll shuffled towards Niko, who laid in bed. Niko screamed.

The Seed, The Bird, & The Tree

The life that I have lived has been long. Yet I still remember what it was like before I was even a sprout. Life back then was rather stifling, as I was surrounded by fleshy pulp.

I could feel myself growing with each passing day. Elation filled my entire being, for I knew that if I grew large enough, I might break free from my fleshy incarceration.

One day my domain was overcome with rumbling and quaking. Something sharp was tearing away at the fleshy pulp which surrounded me. I was free, but only for a moment. The sharp object, of which there were two, snatched me up.

Darkness overwhelmed me.

An unknown amount of time later I was purged from the darkness. I can still recall how it felt to fly through the sky, if only for the briefest of moments.

My flight ended as abruptly as it had begun. I hit the ground with a splat. There I laid for some time. In fact, I am still there now, though I look much different now.

The winged thing with the sharp weaponry had done me a favor. It had cracked my shell. As a result, I was able to grow beyond my wildest dreams.

Now the winged creatures land upon me and feed. Yet I don’t mind, for it was one of their kind that gave me life.

The Basement

Jacob stood at the top of the steps, looking down into the darkness.

A hissing sound echoed from the abyss below.

His foot paused on the top step.

A tremble went through his body.

Something was down there.

An Unwanted Pet

Candice didn’t really like animals. However, that didn’t mean she wanted any to get hurt.

While walking home from school she found an injured bunny. Not wanting to see a creature suffer, she took it home. After a few weeks of recouping, Bugs was released in a nearby park.

That night there was scratching on the front door. Candice opened it. Bugs sat on the welcome mat.

The next day, she walked to a park even further away. Bugs showed up that night.

After a week she gave in. Candice didn’t like animals, but Bugs didn’t care.

A Love Story

Belinda worked at a movie theater where she met a quiet coworker named Stephen. She decided to get him to talk. He did, but only to her.

The last story is dedicated to my wife, as it is our story. The real story is longer than the one above, but it really boils down to a girl deciding to talk to a boy. Thanks for reading.

Follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

What Other Writers Have Taught Me

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I’m sure you have noticed that things look a little different around here, including the web address. I upgraded the blog to a website with its own domain. I also took the time to do some tweaking. Everyone should be able to comment without being prompted for information. There is also a new tab on the menu at the top of the page, Books & Short Stories. Right now, the only thing under that tab is a link to a short story available on Amazon Kindle.

My plan for the blog this week had been to share the first of two installments of a short story I wrote last year. This weekend I prepared the short story by rereading it and doing a light edit. I then went to my Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page to unpublish Service To Die For. It has been static for months and the only time it sold anything was for free. It was time. That was when I realized it was still part of the Kindle Unlimited program, which has a ninety-day exclusivity rights. I had been under the impression the enrollment in Kindle Unlimited had expired, which it had. What I didn’t realize is it automatically renews (I switched this feature off). The long and short of it is Service To Die For will have to wait until after April 18 to appear on the blog. In the meantime, I have done my best to make sure that if you wish to read a story by the writer of the blog you’re reading, then you have an opportunity to do so. The story is free today and tomorrow (Monday, March 23 & Tuesday, March 24) as an eBook on Kindle and always free for Kindle Unlimited users. There is a link under the aforementioned Books & Short Stories tab.

With that lengthy introduction out of the way, let’s get on topic. As you can tell by the catchy title, the topic of this post is what other writers have taught me. I don’t think that requires further explanation, so let’s get started.

I’m sure that it won’t surprise you to find out I don’t possess a degree in creative writing or have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts). Everything I know about writing I learned from reading and writing as much as possible. The degrees listed above aren’t necessary unless you want to teach writing or brag (don’t be that guy). Most of the learning that takes place as a writer is done in a gradual manner, without any awareness at the time. These are only some of the lessons I’m aware of having learned, taught by writers who didn’t realize they were teaching me.

R.L. Stine

This one probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to faithful readers of this blog. Mr. Stine was my childhood hero and inspired me to start writing. The middle grade horror writer is on this list for two distinctly different reasons.

  • He taught me that reading could be fun. Eventually that evolved into finding joy in the writing process. This was a lesson learned as a child. It’s one that I still believe in. If a story doesn’t bring me joy, whether I’m the reader or the writer, it won’t hold my attention.
  • He is an example of what I don’t want my writing to become. This is a hard one to write about, but I have always promised to be truthful. R.L. Stine was my favorite writer as a child. As an adult who happens to be a writer of the same genre, I can’t say that I’m much of a fan. Goosebumps books are campy in an unintentional manner, silly in an intentional manner, and are full of cheap scares. That’s without mentioning the mediocre writing or the lack of credit given to the audience. The two unpublished novels I have written in the past year are as far from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps as possible while remaining in the same genre.

Richard Chizmar

Mr. Chizmar is a relative newcomer to the list of influential writers in my life. He is probably most famous for cowriting a book with Stephen King. Classifying Chizmar’s writing is a little difficult. Some stories fall under the umbrella of horror, though most of the stories I have read are crime related. Grit, I guess you could say. Chizmar writes about grit.

  • There is more than one way to tell a story. While reading a collection of short stories by Chizmar about a year and a half ago, I stumbled upon a very good short story. The story was about a teenage girl spending the summer with her grandma (or possibly her aunt), who lives in a lakefront town. A teenage boy invites her to a party. During the story there are short macabre glimpses into the future. Call it foreshadowing, if you wish. I will simply call it brilliant. Chizmar found a way to make a perfectly ordinary story something much better. That’s what good writing should do.
  • It’s okay to write about the grittier and lesser known/talked about sides of life. Obviously, I have to be careful since I write middle grade fiction. Yet it’s doable. It’s for this reason I chose a foster child for my main character in From Darkness Comes… and will continue to shine a light where some might not want to look.

Jonathan Stroud

Stroud happens to be the writer of my favorite middle grade series, Lockwood & Co. He is the type of writer I strive to be. His books are well written with a serious tone. Yet the characters are lighthearted and know how to have fun with one another. The pacing of his books is second to none in the middle grade genre. Also, there aren’t cheap scares; those are very much real.

  • Start at the beginning. I have talked about this simple logic before and I’m going to do it again. Most writers, including myself, tend to start the story before we truly need to. We spend chapter upon chapter building character and giving backstory when we should really be getting to the point. Every book I have read in the Lockwood & Co Series starts with action. I have tried to replicate that in my own novels since becoming hooked on this writer.
  • Pacing is important. Like I said, Stroud’s books are brilliantly paced and second to none in the genre. There is a steady stream of action taking place. Yet the writer knows how to slow things down at times and still keep the reader engaged. It’s brilliant work. Jonathan Stroud is quickly becoming a favorite writer of mine.

Stephen King

As with R.L. Stine, I’m sure faithful readers of this blog could guess that King would be on this list. He is also the writer that has taught me the most about the craft. A high school English teacher before striking gold with Carrie, King wrote a book about writing aptly titled On Writing. The book is twenty years old now, but still worth a read for any writer wanting to better their craft. The list of things that I have learned is long, but here are the highlights.

  • Don’t let yourself be confined by genre. King is considered the master of horror. That doesn’t mean it’s the only genre he writes. Over the years King has written a lot of short stories and novels outside of the horror genre, with brilliant results at times. The Shawshank Redemption, The Body, and The Dark Tower Series are good examples.
  • A final draft is the first draft minus ten percent. This is a boring editing lesson that every writer should know or learn asap.
  • Habit is important and just write. I think these two go hand in hand. King writes everyday without fail and doesn’t leave his chair until his word-count is met. In On Writing he recommended to do the same. I have taken this advice to heart, though I’ll admit to writing six days a week instead of seven.
  • “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” This is a direct quote from On Writing. For writers it’s the simple truth. Luckily, I have never had a problem with reading. I read because I enjoy it. The same goes for writing. If you don’t enjoy either, well, I suggest you find something else to do.

That’s it for today. I have made some changes to my plans regarding my novels. I regret to inform you that I am going to keep those plans to myself for a while. My posts over the past month or so have been all over the place. From now on I will only put what I’m confident about on this website. You can trust that I finally know what I am going to do (yes, it is different from last week). What I chose feels right. There will be more news in the months to come. Thanks for reading.

Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

The Ramblings of a Writer Part 3

Hello and welcome back to the blog! Sorry for my absence the past two weeks, I have been hard at work. Continue reading for some news on how that is going. Today, I’m going to ramble about a deal with my daughter, a few books I have read, and much more. Without further ado, let’s get started.

  • I have written a few times in this space about my introverted nature. I was quiet and shy as a kid and am much the same as an adult. This shyness has followed into my social media presence. I’m virtually a ghost on Facebook due to my level of inactivity. Until six months ago I didn’t have a Twitter account to speak of. Since joining Twitter, I have come to realize I had made an error by not joining earlier. The writing community on there is supportive and knowledgeable to a degree I haven’t experienced in my everyday life. If you’re a writer and not on Twitter, you should rectify that immediately. Use the hashtag writing community and let other writers know you’re looking for other writers to follow. Most will follow you back in return. It really is that easy, you’ll be glad you did.
  • I’m a horror writer who doesn’t believe in the paranormal. My writing is filled with things that go bump in the night. Ghosts and paranormal entities have graced the pages of many of my stories. You will also find vampires, werewolves, and various mythological creatures as well. This collection of horrific creatures and entities make for a story that can quicken the pulse and tingle the spine. Yet I don’t believe any of these things exist in real life. I’m a pretty hard skeptic about such things existing outside the pages of fiction or cinema. Still, I would think twice before entering a long-abandoned house, as Calvin and his friends do in Breaking Character: The Craven House.
  • While at my daughter’s conference a few weeks back we stopped by the book fair. Getting a new book is a reward for meeting with all her teachers over the course of an hour and a half. A reward for who? Well, for my daughter and me (I write middle grade, so it’s kind of like work, right?). We struck a deal while perusing the choices the book fair had to offer. I would pick out a book for her to read in my genre (middle grade horror), and she would pick a book for me from her genre (young adult romance). I’m sure you can tell who got the better end of that deal. I actually downgraded from horror to thriller, knowing she doesn’t do horror very well. What did I get in return? A full-on princess bachelorette drama. A deal is a deal and I read the book. It was a well written book that I found myself enjoying, despite the love triangle taking place.
  • I enjoyed reading the book she picked out for me. The same cannot be said for the book I picked out for her. When she was done reading my choice for her, I picked it up and started reading. Before deciding to purchase a book for myself I have two things I check for first. That it’s written in past tense and in third person. The likelihood of me buying a book plummets if it doesn’t meet at least one of the two. I have mentioned my problems with present tense before. For those new to the blog, early in my writing career I tended to switch tenses at random. Once I noticed the problem, I couldn’t unsee it. I spent a lot of time and mental energy correcting this slippage. As a result, reading present tense in fiction can become mentally exhausting for me, because my brain wants to fix the problem. It takes me twice as long to read a book written in present tense than in past tense. As for third person, well, it’s just a preference. (Back on topic, please) The book I picked out for my daughter was first person present tense. Talk about a brain cramp. Yes, I finished it, though my wife can attest to the fact that there was plenty of whining in the process.
  • Recently I read a book in which the ending was so cliché that I had dismissed it as a possibility.
  • Believe it or not, I have read some books I enjoyed. Gilchrist by Christian Galacar is one I enjoyed a lot (I may have already mentioned it on this blog). If you like Stephen King, you’ll enjoy Gilchrist. The Haunting by Lindsey Duga is a middle grade horror novel I enjoyed recently. It was somewhat predictable, but still an entertaining read.
  • Stephen Roth happens to be a popular name for authors. I published a short story a few months back as a test run when I was planning on self-publishing Breaking Character. It was then that I saw there was already an author with a few books published under my name. There is also a mystery writer who goes by Stephen M. Roth. It’s for this reason I write under my full name, Stephen Michael Roth. Perhaps I should consider a pseudonym.
  • A few weeks ago, I took to Twitter with a question. How many literary agents should be queried at one time? At the time I had been querying five agents at a time. When one would reject the manuscript or the timeframe expired, I would send another out. I always kept five queries out in the world. A fellow writer on Twitter (who has an agent) said she queried ten at one time since they tend to take months to respond. It’s sound advice that I have taken into action.
  • I finished editing From Darkness Comes… yesterday. I’m still in the process of figuring out my next project. There are a lot of ideas swimming around in my brain, including a return to writing adult horror. As always, I will write what I believe to be the best story. That could mean staying in middle grade horror or a return to my roots in adult horror. I will have made up my mind before the next blog post.
  • I have come to a decision regarding Breaking Character: The Craven House. This decision effects the entire Breaking Character Series. For those who read the last blog post, I’m sure you will remember I had decided to write the second book in the series. Ever the second guesser, I have had a change of heart. I have queried nearly forty literary agents without much success. It has been at the forefront of my attention for more than a year. I know in my heart of hearts it’s a good novel that the middle grade audience will enjoy. Yet I have had my fill of it. Sometimes the love of the story blinds a writer to reality. I feel that has happened in my case. There simply isn’t enough interest to warrant continuing to pursue an agent with that manuscript. I have decided to shelve the series for now. If I decide to self-published Breaking Character: The Craven House, then I will write the second book. I have yet to hear from seven literary agents regarding my query. There remains a glimmer of hope.

(An editing note: I always read and edit each post before hitting the publish button. It reads as though I am down on Breaking Character: The Craven House. That is far from true; I still love that book. I simply wish others saw what I see in it. Writing is easy, rejection is the hard part.)

  • In the coming weeks I will begin querying literary agents about From Darkness Comes… It’s time for another story to have my attention when it comes to querying. I maintain that it is good enough to warrant some querying attention. It won’t get a year to make a good impression on agents, but its time in the sun has come.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Wrestling With Indecision

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I lost a few days of work this week with a stomach virus. Not fun. Now I’m on the mend and it’s time for another blog post. Today’s topic is indecision. Let’s get started.

I tend to be an indecisive person. If you talked to my wife, she would confirm this fact. We can spend thirty minutes deciding what to pick up for dinner or an hour picking out a movie to see. The trouble is routed in her need to please other people, while I don’t like the pressure of making decisions. That’s about all I can discuss on this matter without getting in trouble. Perhaps it’s too late already.

Historically, however, my indecisiveness hasn’t carried over into my writing life. I think long and hard about my options before acting. Once that decision is made, I rarely regret it. Sure, I have regrets—hey, don’t we all? However, I simply move on to the next project and hope to do better. It sounds simple enough and until about a year ago it was. What happened a year ago? I finished writing Breaking Character: The Craven House, that’s what.

Allow me to do a recap in case you’re new to the blog. I finished writing Breaking Character in early March of last year. I spent a couple weeks perfecting my query and forming a list of literary agents to send it to. Over the next six months or so I queried twenty-one agents and received one manuscript request. That literary agent passed. Annoyed that no one saw the brilliance in my manuscript, I decided to forgo an agent and self-publish instead. That also happens to be when I started this blog. For a few weeks I worked to perfect Breaking Character for publication (yes, you should hire an editor to look over the manuscript before self-publishing; if you can afford one) while my brother worked on the cover art. I finished editing and waited for my brother to show me the cover. With not much to do but wait, my brain did what it tends to do best. Bring forth the self-doubt and the obligatory indecisiveness about a decision I was so sure of only weeks prior.

I want to pause here to let you know that I’m not against self-publishing. There are some very good books that have been self-published. However, I think we can all agree that there are a ton of bad ones as well. These bad ones have tainted the reputation of the self-published book. My reasoning for self-doubt is routed in the marketing side of the industry. It takes a shameless self-promoter to make a self-published book successful. That’s just not in my nature. Okay, unpause.

Where was I? Right, self-doubt and indecision. After talking with some other writers on Twitter I concluded twenty-one queries wasn’t much after all. I told my brother to put the cover on hold because I was going to give querying one last try. This time I’m querying more agents at a single time, but with little results to show for it so far.

That’s not much indecision, you say? That was only covering querying. While I was querying agents, I wanted to keep writing. Should I start the second book in the series or write something new? I chose to start something new, which I don’t regret. That manuscript became From Darkness Comes… which I have talked about before. The indecision at the moment revolves around that novel and Breaking Character.

Despite my reservations about self-publishing, I’m starting to come around to the concept. The end of the literary agent’s section of my Writer’s Market is growing near. The feeling that Breaking Character may not be the novel which nets me an agent is growing. I may bring it to the reading public through self-publishing.

So, I’m open to self-publishing Breaking Character, however, the same cannot be said for From Darkness Comes… yet. I’m halfway through the second edit with a final polish yet to come. It’s a novel I started writing to pass the time while I queried agents. My expectations weren’t high to begin with, but I really am blown away by how good it is. It took some elbow grease to get it that way and I’m proud of that. From Darkness Comes… might be a better book than Breaking Character: The Craven House. I think the main character, who is a foster child, will intrigue agents and readers alike. My point is, I’ve given Breaking Character—which could be a lesser novel—almost a year’s worth of attention, shouldn’t I let From Darkness Comes… have its moment?

There is another factor to consider into this decision-making process. Sometimes I refer to the novel as Breaking Character—it’s my original title, that’s why—and other times as Breaking Character: The Craven House. Breaking Character is the series, while The Craven House is the first book in that series. Breaking Character is a series. If I self-publish the first book, then I’m committed to doing the entire series that way. I’ll be stuck, which isn’t a great feeling.

How does one go about making a decision with all these factors in mind? I meditate on it, pray about it, ask other people’s opinions and flip a coin if it comes to that. Once the decision is made, I try not to look back. Being blinded with regret from one decision could cause a poor decision in the future. You might even be so focused on the regret you fail to see there was another decision to make. Take that advice with a grain of salt from a man who has been anything but decisive in the past year.

As you have probably guessed this post came about because of my indecisiveness regarding my next step. I’ll start writing the second book in the Breaking Character Series as soon as I’m finished editing. That much I have known for a while. Breaking Character: The Craven House will get a few more months of querying. If I am rewarded with an agent, great. If not, well, it will get shelved for a bit. At some point along the way I’ll start querying agents about From Darkness Comes… It won’t get a year to make an impression, though with an aggressive approach of querying ten agents at one time, I’ll know long before that if there really is something to that novel.

I may be indecisive, but I did make a decision in the end. Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

How Self-Awareness Helped Me

Hello and welcome back to the blog! There isn’t much to report on my end today. I’m still querying literary agents about Breaking Character: The Craven House. I started the second round of edits on From Darkness Comes… earlier this week. Todays topic is self-awareness. This blog post was inspired by a comment from a few weeks ago. Thanks for the inspiration. Let’s get started.

As a writer I’m constantly trying to better my craft. I have read numerous books and perused countless blogs on the art of the written word. If you’re a writer I’m sure you have done the same. The most common—and probably the best—advice is to read and write a lot. It’s sound advice, as a writer you would do well to listen. Reading can help build your foundation as a writer and give you good examples of what should and shouldn’t be done. Writing puts these things into practice. However, today I wanted to talk about the best advice I have to give that I haven’t seen or heard anyone mention. That advice is to be self-aware, know your strengths and your weaknesses.

I started submitting short stories to literary magazines at the age of nineteen. I had already been writing stories for several years at the time. The plan at the forefront of my brain was simple, yet bold. I would submit short stories for a few years, building up my publishing credits. By the age of twenty-five I would publish my first novel. It didn’t work out that way. Sure, I did have one story published amongst that first group of stories I submitted. I even finished writing my first novel by the time I was twenty-five. For fear of rejection that novel sat in a desk drawer never to be seen by an agent (I believe I have talked about this before in the post on rejection). Eight years passed between my first publication and my second. Obviously, there was something wrong, but was it the magazine editors or me?

For a while I thought the problem had to be on the other end. Somewhere along the line I submitted a short story to a horror podcast. I received a rejection along with a critique. The words were blunt and hard to read. Perhaps more tact should have been used by the magazine editor. In any case, I dismissed it and went about my writing.

A couple years later I had a revelation while reading a story that had been rejected several times. My plan was to send it back out, but I was curious. In my memory the story was good, could I have been wrong? The plot of the story was indeed solid. The writing? Not so much. The magazine editor’s words flashed into my brain as I read my story. “Has a tendency to slip tenses.” An answer to the question posed earlier became clear. There was a problem and it was me.

In a panic I read several stories I had recently submitted to magazines. The tenses consistently slipped from past to present in an inconsistent manner. Fearing the worst, I opened a story that was several years old. My fears were realized. This was a pattern I’d had for a long time, only I hadn’t seen it. Once the mistake was seen I couldn’t unsee it.

For the next year—magazines are notoriously slow—I edited short stories as they were rejected, killing all the tense errors. It became such a part of my editing process that I started to catch it while I was writing. As a result, I rarely make the error anymore.

(A note: for some reason there are writers out there who write books in present tense, Stephen King’s End of Watch springs to mind. Constantly looking for my lapses in tense has ruined this for me forever. It’s okay, I find it a strange way to write a story anyway.)

The bulk of my publications in literary magazines have come since correcting this constant error. If I had listened to the magazine editor a few years prior I could have saved myself some time and misery. That wasn’t the only mistake I realized I was making over the years. It just happened to be the only one pointed out by someone else. The rest are purely self-critical in nature.

Jonathan Stroud writes the Lockwood & Co. series, of which I am a huge fan. Each of the novels in the series start at the beginning of the story. That sounds like a silly thing to point out about a series but hear me out. Often times a writer will build towards the action. In Lockwood & Co. Stroud begins with action and keeps a steady pace throughout the entirety of the novel. While reading the first book, The Screaming Staircase, I realized the pacing of my own stories left something to be desired.

With Breaking Character: The Craven House I sought to fix that problem. In my previous writing I had focused on building character before any action took place. Of course, I didn’t forgo that completely in favor of the fast start. Instead I did both. I built up the characters while keeping a fast-paced story. As far as I’m concerned it was successful. Now I’m waiting to see if literary agents agree.

In high school several classmates called me by the nickname Silent Steve. Other than the fact that I hate being called Steve, it was a fitting nickname. Growing up I was monk-like quiet. I’m still an extremely quiet person as a thirty-five-year-old adult. It’s been said before that quiet people have trouble writing dialogue. I don’t know if it’s true for others, but it holds true in my case. It’s an area I have always struggled with.

Luckily, I know this is an area of weakness for me. Through the years I have worked at it. I believe I have improved to some degree. The best advice I have for writing dialogue is a two-fold process. First, listen to people as they speak. If you’re a quiet person, well, chances are you’re a listener already. Study their vocabulary and syntax. All people don’t sound the same. It drives me crazy when I read a story where all the characters speak in the same manner. Second, read your dialogue out loud. A line of dialogue can come together or fall apart simply by speaking it. Does it sound natural? Or is it forced? Admittedly, this is the area where I still have improvements to make. Yet, I’m miles from where I used to be.

This post has mostly been about how I realized and tried to implement fixes to some of my bad habits. However, that’s not all self-awareness is about. Make sure that you’re aware of the elements where you thrive. I tend to be self-critical, but I can tell you my strengths as well. I excel in the act of writing, which is good since I’m a writer. Character development is another area where I shine a little brighter than other aspects of the job.

Becoming self-aware isn’t easy and it may take time. Being honest with yourself can help speed up the process. Take the opinion of others into account. Make sure you know what you do well so you can highlight those areas in your writing. Hey, if it’s a strength take advantage of it. Remember to look for the good along with the bad. Subjecting yourself to the criticism of others is hard and they might not use as much grace as you wish. Do yourself a favor, have some with yourself.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Things on my Mind

Hello and welcome back to the blog! There is still no news to report on the querying front. Yet I keep at it. Waiting really is the hardest part. Literary agents are busy people, so I understand. It doesn’t make the waiting any easier though. I have some things on my mind, and this is the forum to let it out. With that in mind, let’s get started.

  • Last week I started editing From Darkness Comes… It’s going well so far. I’ll make my way through the novel two or three times before calling it finished. It really depends on how well each editing session goes. In the past I have done one draft followed by what I call a hard edit and a polish edit or two. With Breaking Character: The Craven House I decided to do a full second draft. Most mistakes and plotline issues were addressed in that second draft. It made the editing go a lot smoother. So far with From Darkness Comes… it appears to have had the same affect. Only time will tell.
  • I entered the first draft of From Darkness comes… feeling it would have a hard time living up to Breaking Character: The Craven House. I felt so for good reason. While writing Breaking Character it was as if I were living a dream. The writing felt better than ever. The characters turned out better than I had any right to imagine. The plot was sound and intriguing. I had even managed to get over my slow start and create a story that was fast paced from chapter one. Everything came easily. That wasn’t the case with From Darkness Comes… but that’s okay. I put more work into the second draft of this one. I saw it change from a story that was good yet flawed to plain good. It’s not finished but when From Darkness Comes… is finished I think it will be better than Breaking Character.
  • Stories are a funny thing to a writer. I had a revelation while writing the previous note. Breaking Character is an idea I had floating in my mind for a few years before I sat down to write it. So, it would be fair to say it’s my baby. I hold it in higher regard than others have written. From Darkness Comes… was a story that popped into my head when I was thinking of writing another novel while I queried literary agents about Breaking Character. Just because I hold a story dear or in a higher regard doesn’t mean others will do the same.
  • My wife will tell you that I’m a pessimist by nature. I won’t argue with her because she happens to be right. With that being said, I can’t help but feel positive about my writing these days. I have one good novel which I am currently querying agents about. In the next few weeks, I hope to finish another good novel. There are brighter days just beyond the horizon. I can’t wait to get there.
  • I have talked about doing research for stories in the past. In most cases it comes down to Googling something and reading the search results. During the writing of From Darkness Comes… I ran into a problem with the information I found. The main character of the story can make objects move using only his mind. You and I would probably refer to this phenomenon as telekinesis. However, according to several articles I came across that is an outdated term. Psychokinesis is the preferred term used these days. Every writer I have read on the topic has called it telekinesis. My gut instinct told me to go with telekinesis as well. So, what do you do when a couple of expert’s opinions differ from your gut instinct and popular opinion? I went with telekinesis. I have spent too much time worrying about it to care anymore.
  • A movie theater has made an appearance in both Breaking Character: The Craven House and From Darkness Comes… Movie theaters have held a special place in my life. My first job was working at a movie theater. I spent about seven years working there and did everything from cleaning theaters to running projection. I also met my wife while we both worked at a movie theater. I’m thankful every day that she took it upon herself to get the quiet guy to talk. I did, but only to her. It hasn’t really changed.
  • On this blog I have talked a lot about two writers who have had a great impact on my writing, Stephen King and R.L. Stine. Mr. Stine was my childhood idol and I still pick up a Goosebumps book from time to time. Mr. King happens to be my favorite writer as an adult. However, just because they’re the only writers I have mentioned doesn’t mean they’re alone on my bookshelf. Joe Hill, Gillian Flynn, Jonathan Stroud, J.k. Rowling, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Chizmar and Rick Riordan are well represented as well.
  • A few days ago, I almost renamed From Darkness Comes… again. Blackout was the would-be title. It arrived in a eureka moment that I have described before. It made all the sense in the world. There was a double meaning behind the title which I realized I was striving for. During this blog post you’ll have noticed I have stuck with From Darkness Comes… Why? Google “blackout book” and look at the search results. There isn’t just one other book with that title but many. I’ll stick with what I’ve got.
  • Since I’m in the beginning stages of editing, my mind has been turning to what I will do when I’m finished. For a brief period, I was considering writing an adult horror novel. The next day I received the rejection from an agent with the kind words that I mentioned last week. Perhaps it was a sign. Perhaps it was only an agent speaking kind words to a writer during the rigorous querying process. Either way, I’ve decided to stick with middle grade for the foreseeable future. Instead, I’ll turn my attention to book two of the Breaking Character Series.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

Write Like Yourself

Hello and welcome back to the blog! I meant to put a blog post up earlier this week, but a cold kept me from doing so. It was all I could do to get my regular writing finished. Today, I would like to talk about finding your voice as a writer. First, however, I have a couple of items to share. For those uninterested in news about my writing, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

Yesterday, I finished the second draft of The Stranger. This afternoon I will begin editing, which happens to be my least favorite aspect of writing because it doesn’t include much writing at all (if the second draft did its job). It’s a necessary task though. If you noticed I called it The Stranger, then you’re observant. I’m stuck between two new titles for my work in progress. The first is From Darkness Comes… which I really like and seems to fit the story well. The other is At Home in the Dark. Last week, I talked about not having a eureka title moment. I should probably explain what I mean by that. Simply put, it’s that moment when a title pops into my head out of nowhere and makes all the sense in the world. Most of my stories have had such moments. In the rare cases where this hasn’t happened, I’ve simply stuck with the tentative title, which I can’t do in this case. While writing the last chapter of the second draft I had such a moment. At Home in the Dark was the result. What’s the problem then? Why haven’t I christened my work in progress At Home in the Dark? It’s not a perfect fit for the story would be my explanation. It’s like trying to fit a round peg into an oval whole. If you try hard enough, it just might fit. The question is, should you? While writing this I might have talked myself into From Darkness Comes…

This week I received a response from an agent about Breaking Character: The Craven House. For those unaware, I’ve been querying agents about representation. I queried twenty-one agents several months ago, took a break, and have since renewed my efforts to find an agent. The agent commented that my query and the sample pages provided were well written with a strong concept. She also felt that an agent would be intrigued enough to ask for a reading. Ultimately, the story wasn’t right for her and she rejected it. I do appreciate the kind words though. Knowing an agent thought I was doing something right was news this admitted self-doubter needed.

That was the longest intro to a blog post I have ever done. I guess we should get started.

This post is about finding your own writing voice and how I found mine. First off, I should tell you what I mean when I say writing voice. It’s the style in which a writer writes. The way a writer uses punctuation, syntax, diction, dialogue, tone, and vocabulary all impact what the reader perceives as the writer’s voice.

There is an old saying “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. While this might be true in other aspects of life, it should be left outside the office door when you sit down to write. A brilliant version of Stephen King or J.K. Rowling already exist. What are the chances you will sound any better than those two giants of the industry? Slim and none would be my answer.

Somewhere in my office I have a printed copy of the first novel I wrote, titled Ghost Town. Thanks to a computer unexpectedly expiring, most of my early writing is lost forever (A note: always backup your important documents!). It’s okay, my early writing wasn’t very good. I realize now that I was a writer searching for his voice. I have flipped through the pages of Ghost Town before and was left with a distinct impression. This was a writer imitating his hero. R.L. Stine being the hero in this case. The story was campy and vaguely funny in the style that make Goosebumps fun to read. However, it fell short of anything Mr. Stine would ever write.

Today, my writing style differs a great deal from my childhood hero, despite writing in the same genre (middle grade horror). The stories I write tend to take themselves seriously. The horror has much more of a psychological aspect to it than any Goosebumps book you’ll read. Any moments of humor are provided by the dialogue in the form of character’s interacting. The tone is serious and the horror edges toward the dark side. How did I go from campy and vaguely funny to serious and dark? I found my voice, that’s how.

If you’re a writer searching for your own voice, I have some news for you that might not be reassuring. I can only speak of my own experience, mind you. For me, finding my voice took a lot of reading and lot more writing. I wish there was some shortcut to finding a writing voice. If there is, well, I didn’t find it in my writing journey.

It probably took me longer to find my voice than many other writers. I have been writing and submitting my work to magazines since I was nineteen. That’s sixteen years’ worth of serious writing (yes, I just gave you my age if you can do the math). I thought I had found my voice years ago. Then about three or four years ago, I noticed a change. The writing was crisper than it had ever been, with each word having an impact. There was something different about the tone of the story, which I still don’t understand. The change had happened over time, though I only realized it in a sudden manner.

Like I said before, the best way to find your voice is to read a lot and write a whole lot more. Try to increase your vocabulary through reading. Pay attention to the structure other writer’s use when reading. Write a lot. Finding your voice isn’t something that will happen overnight, but you may look back one day and realize that somewhere along the line you found it.

My own writing voice won’t elevate a mediocre story, like Stephen King’s unique voice can (it sounds bad, but I mean it as a compliment). My stories aren’t good enough to make up for overwriting, like Dean Koontz (he’s a classic over writer, but his plots are amazing). Yet the combination of the two are good enough in my opinion. I’m waiting for confirmation on that.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth

The Ramblings of a Writer Part 2

Hello and welcome back to the blog! It’s Super Bowl week and I’m excited (Chiefs fan here). Today, I’m going to ramble about various topics that are on my mind. Let’s get started.

  • I’m still querying literary agents about Breaking Character: the Craven House. Earlier in the year I queried twenty-one agents. I’m up to seven this time around. I’m no math genius but I believe that makes twenty-eight queries so far. Later today, two more will hit the electronic mailbox. Thirty seems like a lot. Yet I’ve been told by those with more knowledge in the area that it isn’t. Try a hundred before you give up. Challenge accepted.
  • I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having my doubts regarding my decision to put off self-publishing in favor of finding an agent. I still maintain self-publishing will be tough for someone without the monetary means and marketing knowhow like myself. However, with self-publishing I’m in control of how and when things happen. There’s always a goal to reach towards. Adapt the novel to the publisher’s criteria. Create a unique and interesting cover that makes it stand out to readers. Advertise and market. The list is longer, but you get the idea. When querying agents, once the query is perfected, well, that’s it. Hurry up and wait.
  • I’m aware that readers wonder if writers base some of their characters off real people. For me, the answer is not usually. That being said, I can think of two instances where I based a character off someone. One was on purpose, while the other was a complete accident. In my current work in progress I accidentally based a character off my oldest daughter. If you’ve read the blog before then you’ll know she happens to be the same daughter that I employ as a first reader. She paused while reading the first draft and said, “Becket sounds a lot like me.” I laughed and thought about it. She was right. It happened by accident, but she was right. The second character based off a real person was more or less on purpose. It’s based off me. Why did I write myself into a story? The story, in this case Breaking Character, dictated it. It’s as simple as that. The story is the captain and navigator of the ship, while I’m merely the first mate at the helm hoping not to crash into anything. If I listen close enough and follow all directions the voyage is smooth sailing, usually.
  • Throughout a writing project I do a lot of research. My most recent search: could someone use telekinesis for flight? I found the answer to this question of theoretical human capabilities easily enough. Obviously, the answer was for fictional purposes, as I didn’t throw myself off the roof of my house to test it. Sometimes the answer is less clear. In that case I go with my gut. It rarely steers my wrong.
  • To fully capture the characters and happenings of a novel a writer must encapsulate themselves in the story. Sure, that world is fictional, and the characters aren’t real. Yet to the writer at the moment of creation they’re as real as it gets. I say this to make a point. If you interrupt a writer during that special time they spend with their characters, don’t be surprised if you receive a far-off gaze and a “What’d you say?” as a reply. At that moment we’re still getting our bearings on the real world. We’ll come around, just have patience.
  • Reading is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from the act of writing. “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that,” Stephen King said in his book On Writing. It really is that simple. Reading teaches you what to do and what not to do. Unfortunately, you learn more from the latter than the former. There’s a lot of bad fiction out there. Reading some of it is as good as sitting in a classroom.
  • I finished a book this week that I regret reading. I don’t say that very often, but it’s true. Like I said above, reading a bad book can teach you lessons about what not to do in your own writing. In this case, the plotline of the book turned out to be an excuse for one writer—no, I won’t name her—to stand on a soapbox about several issues troubling her. Look, I can stand by while a writer makes their beliefs known for a few paragraphs or pages. But a quarter of a book? I think not.
  • I believe I stated last week, lying is the biggest mistake a writer can make. Is withholding a key element of the story for a big reveal later in the book dishonest? Is it lying? If one of my children knowingly withheld key information from me, I would consider it a lie. I guess that answers that question.
  • I’ve always enjoyed reading third person point of view (he/she) over first person (I) when it comes to a story. The same preference holds true as it pertains to my writing. I don’t need a character to tell me a story. That’s what the writer is there for, thank you very much. Not everyone shares this opinion, which is why I’ve written a few short stories in first person in recent years. It’s not near as polished or compelling as my third person writing, but I’m working on it.
  • The Stranger is close to having a new title! I have it narrowed down to Dark Discoveries, A Dark Spring, Lies in the Night, or Father of Lies. Truthfully, I’m not crazy about any of them, but a book must have a title, right? The Stranger was always a tentative title so I could start writing while a new title percolated in the depths of my brain. I’m nearing the end of the second draft without a eureka title moment. One of these four with do.

I think that will do it for today. Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.

Stephen Michael Roth