Archive for November, 2006

Wife Swap

Cat, the co-editor of the Red Light District Anthology that I’ve already been rejected from before I submit, recently posted this notice:

Hey Tracy,

I also wanted to drop you a line because I know you are into the horror genre, like me. I decided to start looking for families that love horror and I thought of you. I know you run some message boards and work with some authors. I was wondering if you mind passing my info along to see if there are any families are interested. You know the type of personalities we look for and the requirements- 2 parents and at least one child between 7 and 17. If a family is cast based on your referral, we will give you $1,000. J I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask you! Thanks. Tell everyone I said hello!

Just thought I’d throw that out there. Actually I know several families that would be good for this, but I would get in touch with those folks before sending info on to the show folks. If you’re interested and want to know more (and my feelings on it) let me know.

Cat

There are many reasons I love my wife, chief among them (besides her ability to put up with my odd ways of declaring my love) being that she’s so often the voice of reason and reality grounding in the Broaddus household. When I mentioned the Wife Swap idea, she made two simple points:

1) Do you know how you’d look on national TV?

2) Wouldn’t it be funny if they swapped me for Chesya?

Yeah, that’d be just my luck. During Mo*Con, my wife and Chesya got to hang out together for a whole weekend. Good times (READ: Exhibit A on why polygamy is a bad idea – that’s only more women that I won’t be able to please). Hmm, let me see if I can draw on my convention experience with Chesya to imagine what my life would be like:

-Chesya on sleeping arrangements: “Of course I get the whole bed. There’s plenty of floor. Here, I’ll even give you a pillow. Yeah only one. Do you know who I am?”

-Chesya on fixing dinner: “Maurice, I’m hungry. Yes, it’s two in the morning. I want a slice of pizza.”*

-Chesya on dressing: “No, you ain’t wearing that. You don’t get to out dress me. Do you know who I am?”

Of course, now that I think about it, Maurice Broaddus and Chesya Burke living together sounds like a TV sitcom pitch. Someone call an agent!

*Yeah, yeah, laugh it up all you WHC 2005 attendees who actually witnessed that one.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Will Someone Explain …


My fascination with all things Hoff?

My new INtake column is up, obviously on a topic that has been on my mind for a while now. Big shout out to my new brother-in-law, a great example of what it means “To be a man.”

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Writing the Other Redux

Not too long ago, Jay Lake had a blog entitle Writing the Other that I stumbled across too late into the discussion to add anything valuable. So I decided to blog my response.

One of the first things we are taught as writers is to write what you know. Some writers wouldn’t dare write outside their race/ethnicity and probably shouldn’t. Unfortunately, I’ve read too many horror novels where “white author a” has inserted some black characters into a scene and I was left yelling at the novel “have you ever met a black person?” Which is what the conversation, in my mind, boils down to: creating well rounded characters. Stereotypes are not well rounded characters, they are writing short-hand. Characters who haven’t been fleshed out or researched isn’t good writing. If you are doing your job as a writer, you should be able to get into the heads of any character. If we weren’t capable of doing that, then we’d be left with stories featuring single raced, single sexed individuals, because you could only write your own race and sex. Plus, getting in each other’s skins, walking a mile in “the other’s” shoes, is how we get to know one another.

So race, class, sex, none of these are areas forbidden to us as writers in the characters we create. We just have to be aware that different races, classes, and sexes bring their individual perspectives to the characters. Which shouldn’t be a problem … for good writers.

Stereotypes are the domain of the hacks.

However, why end a blog here when I have all sorts of tangents to go down.

Some of this if fueled by white guilt. I’ve maintained that as we continue into this age of postcolonialism, we still have to deal with the lingering attitudes of both the colonizers as well as the colonized. Under colonialism, cultures were wiped out, the memories of our histories wiped out (and I say “our” realizing that this was something far from unique to the black story). However, I don’t see writing “the other” as some sort of maintaining of a paternal hegemony nor any kind of cultural appropriation.

Think about the general plot of most of the horror stories we read: middle class/blue collar white family suddenly finding an outside force interrupting their lives. If we want to move from telling the same stories over and over again, either writers have to write “the other” or “the other” is going to have to start writing more. I’m good either way, just do your job well. Then again, I see myself as a bit of a folklorist. So no culture is off limits to me as long as I do my research well and write the best stories possible. Of course, for me, “you people” are “the other” and I write you all the time (and no one has asked “have you ever met a white person?” Yet. Now I’m sure I’ll be deluged with those e-mails).

Granted, writing the other has led to some interesting reversals in my writing. Since I am a black writer and I write black characters a lot of the time, I’ve been playing with the idea of assuming the posture of the majority (this is more intellectual exercise than anything else). In the stories I read, white characters don’t announce their whiteness or make note that they were talking to other black characters. Yet, when “an other” enters the scene, race is automatically ascribed. (I know there is a Harlan Ellison quote about this, but I can’t recall it right now). I’d notice a tendency to “announce” the race of my characters in my own stories, something that never came up when my fellow black horror writers were discussing writing black writers. So, assuming the posture of the majority, maybe I should only announce the race of a character when a white person enters the scene.

For that matter, I’m trying to figure out a way to flip the idea of the magical Negro. However, that may not work as well since a white person redeeming the colored masses is practically its own genre. Though, maybe I could establish a recurring “magical redneck” trope. (Relax, I’ll dedicate a whole blog to the idea of the “magical Negro” at a later date.)

A last rabbit trail and I’m done. One of the advantages to being one of “the other” is that a lot of times, my perspective is that of outsider. I don’t worry about it because I see being an outsider as a universal: everyone has felt like an outsider at one point or another. However, I have noticed that when I write stories with exclusively black characters I often get this feedback: I felt like I was being preached at. I think this feeling, besides my tendency to get preachy, comes from the idea of how race is perceived. This comes down to the idea of race in terms of identity politics. White people, for example, don’t think in terms of race. It’s the luxury of the majority, the luxury of privilege, to not have to worry about how race plays into the equation of life. In a black worldview, most things are defined by race. So black characters talking about racism to one another, though germaine to the story, might come across as preachy to a white reader. Yes, these are horrible over-generalizations, but I think you get what I’m saying.

And I’ll allow for the possibility that I may be wrong.

Cycles*

Some folks just need to be angry.

They aren’t satisfied unless some sort of turmoil is going on in their lives. They have to have targets to fight against. They have to feel persecuted, even if they have to create that scenario, because that’s how they are conditioned. So much anger, unanswered whys, frustrations; the self-loathing, the voices that tell them they cannot be loved for who they are, as they are. They just have to bubble up every so often.

Sometimes it’s how they stoke their passions, how they get themselves “up,” the anger fueling their art. Sometimes it complicates their relationships, as they push those closest around them away. Sometimes the cycle becomes a part, even an extension, of who we are. At least we imagine them to be.

It’s tough to break cycles and we can rarely do them alone.

Contrary to the principles of self-empowerment, the strengths of any one individual do not reside exclusively within, but between – in our interactions with others. Most of our problems and joys in life do not arise from our own self as much as they arise from our self-in-relationship to others.

People aren’t their cycles, they are opportunities to love. So we love them despite the cycle, because it’s who they are. We walk along side them during their calm times and help then along their spiritual and emotional journey as they mature. When they want to push us away, we hold them while they thrash themselves out. Because that’s who we are. Their friends. Their family. Their community.

*Some of us have depressive cycles. Same deal, we’re just quieter.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Writer’s Blogs

Every time a bell rings, another person starts a blog … and apparently that bell is ringing a lot.  As writers, I wouldn’t say that it’s mandatory for you to have a blog, but I would highly recommend it.  I’m going to confess something: I’m subscribed to around 100 or so LiveJournals, Xangas, MySpaces, and blogs.  Many just to keep up with friends and colleagues, some for industry (both writing or religious) news, some just to read other writers.  Writing is a solitary pursuit and the blogosphere has allowed a sense of community by being our water cooler.  Also, blogs serve as a convenient way to communicate with fans.

The problem is that as more and more people start up blogs, the amount of noise in the blogosphere increases and the less likely you are to be heard.  Without a platform to spring from, it is hard to launch a new blog with enough splash to draw notice.  Then there’s the sad reality that most writer’s blogs aren’t that interesting.  I can count on two hands how many writer’s blogs I look forward to reading.  I don’t know, maybe writers don’t have much to say outside of their work.  Maybe writer’s just aren’t naturally interesting people, after all, we spend our time by ourselves in front of keyboards.  You would thing that, hey, you’re writers: fictionalize your life and make it interesting if you have to.  I have a much cooler online persona than I have in real life (or at least that’s the lie I’m telling myself).

There are a few things to consider when it comes to deciding whether you want to commit to having a blog.  They can be a time sink. I can’t tell you how many hours I wile away writing blogs, checking for replies to my blogs, checking for replies to my replies on blogs, and so on.  So you have to ask yourself if you only have an hour or so to write a day, do you want to spend it blogging?  I do, but I consider blogging part of the discipline of writing daily, no different than journaling.

There are several advantages to having a blog.  They are great vehicles to drive traffic to your web site.  Your site is a fairly static place, but your blog is a regularly updated place that can be used to increase your name recognition.  For me, blogging allows me to have something for folks to read from me between my short stories getting to the marketplace.  In the same vein, you can used your blog to develop an alternative audience for your writing.  I know several horror writers who have cultivated whole new fanbases around their blogs because, while many folks might not pick up a hardcore horror novel, they will read intelligent, well written thoughts on various subjects.  Blogs can sometimes pay for themselves.  My blogs are a trove of potential essay material that I can draw on for non-fiction work (though remember, things posted on your blog are considered published).

Remember, your blog becomes your public face.  Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts:

DO:

-blog about something.  Content is king.  If your blog is about something, some central theme, people will seek you out.  Being a cancer survivor, being a writer, writing tips, being an editor, life as an agent – write about some topic you have some expertise on.  With my blog, I believe that I have something to say in the areas of spirituality, writing, and pop culture analysis (maybe another delusion.  I sometimes confuse it with being in love with my own words).

-mix in some touch of the personal.  Every now and then writing something on the personal side allows for a reader connection.

-be passionate, be interesting, be engaging.  At the very least, we are most passionate and most interesting when writing about the things we care and know about.

-update regularly.  I would suggest at least weekly, but however often enough to give people a reason to come back or subscribe to you.  You set the schedule and train your readers to come back, so be regular.  However, there do seem to be tiers of blogging schedules that increase traffic:  weekly, daily, three times daily.  Each level will see a bump in traffic.

-write well.  One would think that one wouldn’t have to mention this to writers, but if you claim to be a writer, treat your blog like you would any other piece of writing.  Edit it, be aware of how it looks on the page, and at the very least, spell check.

DON’T:

-just throw up a random jumble of your thoughts.  Few people can get away with having their grocery lists published, even fewer can keep readers by having long rambling blogs.

-take your break ups with your significant other to the blog.  Don’t take your hurt feelings about having a story rejected to the blog. Don’t take your frustrations with an agent to your blog.  Don’t get me wrong, if I’m reading you meltdown, you will greatly amuse me.  I love a good train wreck, in fact, I will direct friends to you and we will point and laugh.  However, it is your career and you will be judged by prospective agents, editors, and other pros as well as potential readers.

-overwhelm your readers.  I’ve been told that people shouldn’t blog too often or multiple times a day nor should their blogs be very long because folks have a short attention span.
-don’t let it become a time sink.  To help out in that regard, here are a few tools that you ought to familiarize yourself with (but not obsess over): Statcounter, Marketleap, Technorati.

Lastly, know when to violate any lists of dos and don’ts.  I’m blogging about blogging.  I’m so meta.

Pry My Lingerie from My Cold, Dead Hands

Michelle Kuntz, 36, Greenwood, said her store, XO Paradise, in Old Towne Greenwood will comply with a new city ordinance regulating the sale of sex toys, maintaining the controversy about her business was overblown from the start. “This is not an adult entertainment business,” she said. “It has been misrepresented. No one was interested in clearing up any misunderstanding. It’s just wrong how this was handled.”

The Greenwood City Council passed an ordinance Monday night prohibiting businesses from selling sex toys without a license, after weeks of rumors about a racy store coming to the heart of the city.

I must live in the wrong neighborhoods. I’ve had lingerie shops right across the street from me. Granted, this is a far cry from when our crusading mayor cracked down and cleaned out all of strip clubs along Washington Street. However, I can see trying to nip a problem before it gets too out of hand.

I’m actually all for “community standards” by the way. I don’t think they have to be cloaked under the umbrella excuse of “we’re doing it for the children” (as “such businesses may not be closer than 1,000 feet from another such business or to schools, churches, day-care facilities, parks or residences.”). Do it because it needs to be done. However, let’s not stop there. My neighborhood has a liquor store on every corner. I’m much more worried about the “elements” they attract than a lingerie shop. I rarely see groups of men standing on street corners clutching nighties and talking crazy. I rarely see folks checking into rehab for push up bra fixation.

Here’s the thing: I’m a horror writer. A lot of what my genre does is push the boundaries. What people forget is that for boundaries to be pushed, someone has to set the boundaries. Which was why I wasn’t up in arms over the fallout from Janet Jackson’s Boob-gate. Sometimes it’s nice for that line to be pulled in a bit lest we get carried away with our own excesses. Excess tends to bring out the inner hack in all of us.

Someone has to fight these battles, I’m just glad it’s not me. There are just as many things to fight for as well as takes stands against, and I’d rather be defined by what I’m for. Until then, we need licenses for guns, so why not bras? And remember kids, when you outlaw lingerie, only outlaws will have lingerie. Or something like that.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Thanksgiving Announcements

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m thankful for friends, family, my church, my job, my readers, and my health. I try to live my life being grateful every day, so this holiday offers me only the occasion to be thankful for a day off. So rather than do some holiday themed blog, I got a couple of announcements:

1) I got around to having my website updated. By “I” I mean Deena Warner stepped in and bailed out my “the Internet works by magic”, techno-oblivious self. Among the updates, I have finally posted the footage from Mo*Con I, which means you can now see Brian Keene’s sermon as well as a reading and Q&A; time. It’s on the photos page of my site.

2) I was interviewed by Taylor Kent AKA the Snark Avenger as a guest for his podcast Snark Infested Waters to talk about ministry and horror and Christian horror and stuff. You can find my interview here. You might as well keep the site bookmarked: next week it’s Angeline Hawkes and Christopher Fulbright.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

More Random Love Day – MySpace Friends

To all of my friends, you can quit writing and calling me asking for me to not write about you in my columns. Honestly, you don’t do much that is all that interesting anyway. Memo to my other friends, I’m not doing random shout outs. Much.

Random MySpace love for StoryTeller Shannon and Momowilly (buy her book – she likes it when I say that)

My girl, Jen Orosel. Much love for Brian Knight. Fran Friel. Why? Because everyone loves Fran. Buy their books.

And a couple non-MySpace friends: Dan Bush. No, you don’t know him, but I’m contractually obligated to say his name every so often and declare my manly affection for him. My friend Michelle (who won’t be reading this anyway). It’s her fault I do random “I love you” days. Yay Snoopy Pillow!

My new INtake column is up, “Taking Life Bird by Bird.”

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Stranger Than Fiction

“God has a Woman’s Voice”

Usually when you start hearing voices, even voices that just narrate your life, it’s not a good sign. That’s the dilemma in which Harold Crick finds himself in the movie Stranger Than Fiction. We always hold our breath when an actor known for their comedic roles decides to show their versatility by doing a dramatic turn. While there is nothing sadder than the tears of a clown, Will Farrell plays Harold Crick almost too straight and doesn’t get to do much with his character. However, in this cross between The Truman Show and Adaptation, what could have been a one-trick movie becomes a nicely layered, and easily watched, bit of pop confection.

“If you knew you were going to die, possibly soon, what would you do?” –Harold

Harold Crick, think Walter Mitty without the imagination, is a man trapped by the routine (and loneliness) of his life. He’s an IRS agent who is great at his job and loves it, counting the minutiae of his day (from tooth brush strokes to steps) while living by the dictates of his wristwatch. That is, until he starts to hear the voice of a woman narrating his life. The woman turns out to be reclusive novelist, Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is planning on killing her character creation, poor Harold, but hasn’t settled on how. Thus, our hero sets out on a journey, with the help from his guide, Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman) to find the Narrator of his life while figuring out what it means to truly live.

“I’m somehow involved in some sort of story, like I’m a character in my own life.” –Harold

Often we are so wrapped up in our own stories that we miss the opportunities of life. The interruption of other people, the significant and mundane moments that make up life. Sometimes we get a sense that we are caught up in some sort of narrative; maybe we connect with story because we’re a part of a grand story of God meeting us where we are–messy and broken–and wooing us back to him. God speaks into our precise and ordered lives, as the Author of the Story. Our spiritual journey is about becoming in tune with our (ultimate) story and the voice of our Narrator.

We want to know our Narrator.

Harold had tested the words of the narrator and found them true, thus bolstering his faith in the very existence of that narrator. He doesn’t know who, or what, this narrator is, but he trusts, because that narrator had been right about so much of his life already. Maybe, like Harold, having tested our Narrator, we want to find him and better understand who we are, who he is, and what he would have us do. Because our individual stories are connected.

“The only way to know what story you’re in is to figure out what stories you’re not in.” –Professor Hilbert

Questions will always help us on our journey, questions to uncover the truth about the Narrator. Like Job confronting God, we have questions that we’d always wanted to ask our Author, but we may not be able to. It helps to have guides, maybe scholars like Professor Hilbert, to help us better shape our questions or point us in the right directions. However, some questions will leave us crying in futility to the heavens, because we don’t like the answers, like when Harold asks “you’re asking me to knowingly face my Death?” our puzzled, yet hopeful seeker Harold asks. The answer is “yes;” life is lived in light of death. Ultimately, the questions and the answers come back to the Book, the Story of our faith.

“The hero dies, but the story lives on forever.” –Professor Hilbert

“A story about a man who’s unaware that he’s about to die. If he knows he’s going to die and chooses to die anyway, isn’t that the kind of man you want to keep alive?” Karen has to ask herself, unaware of how she sums up Christ’s own journey within his narrated story. Death imbues life with meaning and gives eternal consequences to our actions. When we understand the Story, we live in light of the Story, though maybe if we could see the whole story we’d finally, fully appreciate the Story and our place in it.

Harold: It’s not a story to me. It’s my life.
Hilbert: Absolutely. So live the one you’ve always wanted.

We all have our callings and talents that we can use to make the world a better place. From numbers to cooking, the most important thing is to keep your eyes open for opportunities to be a blessing to each other. To live life as you were meant to, fully human, where even the mundane and ordinary have meaning.

Stranger Than Fiction is a moral tale, almost a fable, about the interconnectivity of humanity, the inevitability of Death, and the passionate ties between Author, Character, and the Story. It’s a thought provoking film that could have been a great movie had it committed to its ending (thus touching on one of its themes with the artist’s responsibility to their art). Instead, it compromises by going for a “happy” ending and thus became merely a really good and intelligent movie. Yeah, we have way too many of those.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.

Random Love Day – First Readers

Readers are what all writers want, but an invaluable asset to a writer is their first reader. My wife is not my first reader because she’s not much of a reader. I’m a member of a few writer’s groups and they are a mixed bag at best when it comes to critiques, though they usually come into the game late in the revision process. Which is why I’m thankful for my first readers.

I mostly depend on two: Lauren David and John C. Hay. Both are writers as well as voracious, two handy traits in your first readers. They each have different strengths or rather, I look to each of them for something different. Lauren isn’t a genre reader (or writer or fan). So she approaches the story with an unjaundiced eye, strictly about the story, the characters, the dialogue, internal consistencies, and how well the story works. John is my grammar Nazi and history nerd. If I get one more lecture from him about my overuse of gerunds …

Did I mention that everyone should have first readers like these?

John lives a few states away, however, I refer to John’s critiques (in love) as the “anal exam”. Oh yeah, he reaches up into my story and gives me … notes. Never have I hated a Microsoft word feature more than their notes. I was ecstatic when a story I sent him came back with only 17 notes (that story was immediately sent out). However, I’m never giving him a novella again: it came back with enough notes to be their own short story. So part of me lives in fear of the John crit, the other have gets anxious for them [thus he’ll get gmail chats (I don’t care that your message says *Busy*), emails, or a phone call]. Still, he’s spared Lauren’s reading experience.

I sit across from her, pretending to read something else. I check when she laughs (I keep a hash mark count of how many pages she’s turned), note when she grimaces and make sure that she’s doing each at the right places. I time how long she lingers on a page because it might be poorly written or the pace stalling her interest. And her every cough or shift is met with “is everything okay?”

I remember the days when I used to think that I crapped gold and anything I wrote was God’s gift to literature. Now, thankfully, things have gotten to the point where I don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my first readers. They are the first faces of my eventual audience and they will openly mock me if I don’t bring my best game. First readers, good first readers, are invaluable. When you find them, treasure them. (Back off! These two are mine!!!) And be sure to bribe them often.

I’m off on a Starbucks run for Lauren as soon as I post.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.