Sunday, September 30, 2018

Guest Post: Terry M. West - Writing Above Your Grade

I'd like to welcome Terry M. West to the blog.  And a big thanks for his guest post here today.  I just finished reading his latest, Gruesome: A Gathering of Nightmares, which I'll be reviewing tomorrow, but for now here's Terry...

Writing Above Your Grade

Whenever I’m asked to write a guest blog, it’s tough to sort out what I should discuss.  Should I just go the self-serving route and talk about my work, my process, my current WIP?  Or should I risk a lashing and offer advice to my fellow ink-slingers?  And though the case can be made that I’ve been doing this for so long that I’ve forgotten more of my work than I remember from the fuzzy around the edges days of my writer-for-hire years, that doesn’t mean that the less seasoned won’t still scoff at any wisdom I have to impart. Or that I won’t still be just talking out of my ass.  Writers are lying con people with a wagon full of snake oil bottles in tow.

So I’ve decided to risk contempt and offer my thoughts on something that I’ve noticed in my own evolution as an author.  When I was a younger writer, I wrote smaller tales.  Nothing epic.  Nothing with an extremely challenging scope.  Back then, if you needed to research a story, you had to hit the library.  Not Wikipedia.  And like many in their baby steps as an author, I was lazy and undisciplined. I had that Ed Wood It’s Not The Small Details mentality.

There were ideas that I didn’t think I had the skills for.  I wasn’t a good enough writer to pull them off.  I carried that evaluation until five, six years ago when I decided it was time to build some worlds.  Night Things was an ambitious project for me when you look at the work that came before it.  A story where classic monsters lived among the masses, out of the closet and in the streets, found an audience.  And some love.  And though the world I had to build was intimidating for me and I felt that if even one brick was tugged the wrong way everything would collapse, I used what had worked for my fiction all along: characterization and dialogue.

Sure, there were a few who mourned that my world should have been in the hands of a better author (The Avengers want Iron Man, but not Tony Stark).  But it was a success for me and continues to find new readers.

But the tightrope I walked in 2016 was an even skimpier one.  All of the Flesh Served was my first ever full-fledged dystopian sci-fi attempt.  And I decided to use Trump’s election as the basis for the dark landscape it presented.  Because, you know, something I’d never dared before wasn’t hard enough without a political statement in the center of it.  Or maybe those works naturally come with societal attachments in hand.  The trick I think most would say is not to overwhelm the story with your message.  And while I agree that some messages should be whispered softly, others need to be tied to a rock and tossed through a window.

I’m proud of what I did with Flesh, and if it is heavy-handed, forgive me.  These are heavy-handed times it seems.

While it didn’t find an audience as big as some of my earlier efforts, it did earn some love, and is included in my Gruesome collection.

Both these projects were ideas that I would have immediately shit-canned twenty years ago.  But as you age, criticism doesn’t really bother you as much as it used to.  You become less self-conscious.  Like the old man dragging the trash can to the curb in his boxers.  You have to realize, getting in this game, that if a reader pays for the ticket, that reader has a right to give an opinion.  Fair, unfair, or indifferent.  I’ve found that bad reviews are usually more helpful than unabashed praise.  People who dislike a work are generally more honest with an appraisal than people who might be so in love with something that they fail to see its flaws.  Or fear that pointing them out will bruise the effort.
So don’t be intimidated by that huge idea that’s brewing in your head.  The one you keep pushing back because of the commitment it would take.  I’d rather fail spectacularly than play it safe.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put some boxers on and drag these cans to the curb.

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