Author Archives: Allied Authors

Haefele’s ‘Look Behind the Derleth Mythos’ now available

Book cover

A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos by John D. Haefele

A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos by John D. Haefele is now available to purchase in hardcover. The likely audience for this book will include the wide breadth of readers interested in H. P. Lovecraft and/or August Derleth as well as the “imaginary world” crowd, especially those into the Cthulhu Mythos and including role-players. As such, it will also be of interest (an important associational item) to all Arkham House and related imprint aficionados and/or collectors.

For more information and to purchase the book, visit www.lulu.com/shop/john-d-haefele/a-look-behind-the-derleth-mythos-origins-of-the-cthulhu-mythos/hardcover/product-20604420.html.


Bloch’s masterwork makes top five list in Wall Street Journal

Errol Morris recently included Robert Bloch’s Psycho in his “Five Best: A Personal Choice” column. The article, which focused on the critic’s five favorite tales based on true crimes, was published in the Nov. 3 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Bloch, who specialized in crime, horror and science fiction, is best known for writing Psycho, a novel inspired by the grisly deeds of Ed Gein and the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock film by the same name. Bloch also wrote short stories and screenplays and was a member of the Milwaukee Fictioneers, an antecedent of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin.

“People remember Hitchcock’s movie, but the book on which it is based is wonderful in its own right: deep and incredibly funny,” Morris wrote of Psycho.

Read the full feature here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014240529702033355045780866626
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When life is too busy, try a TMS

Time.

Never quite enough.

Not enough to do this or that and certainly not enough to dive into the writing we really, really, really want to do and give it all the attention it deserves.

Admit it or not, most of us have felt this way at one time or another; sadly some would-be writers make it an excuse.  Perhaps the TMS approach can help.

For more than ten years, I was privileged to teach a fifteen-week adult enrichment course titled Writing for Publication at a local community college.  I found a common problem with my aspiring writers, twin problems, in fact: trouble carving out a large enough chunk of time to write and trouble actually getting started.

And so the Ten Minute Special was born.

***

I start each class session with a TMS. 

I present a brief topic to explore, and if you don’t like it, write something else. 

No one will see the work of another.

Spelling, grammar, punctuation…don’t worry about them. 

There is only one strict rule, and that is to write for the full ten minutes.  If you can’t think of anything to write, then write “I can’t think of anything to write,” and after a few repetitions, your brain will get bored with that and start percolating.

Some TMS idea examples: Chronicle the last time you cried; describe a room in your home left to right, top to bottom; take an issue you feel strongly about and argue — convincingly — for the other side; detail the last time you felt ashamed; five minutes of character interaction in dialogue only, followed by five minutes of the same interaction with no dialogue at all; write your own obituary; etc.

At the end of each full course, I’d ask for a critique of what worked, what didn’t, and what could be improved about the class.  Every time, without exception, the TMS would pop up as one of the most valuable elements of the class (often at the top of the list).  Several TMS topics went on to become the basis for short stories or pieces of non-fiction, and at least one TMS morphed into the beginnings of a novel (no idea if it was ever completed).

***

Digression…

In high school I played drums and was in concert band, marching band, orchestra, the pit band when we did musicals, the drill team drum squad, and an outside concert/marching band during summer.  This doesn’t count the hours I played and practiced (some may say pounded) on my drums at home.

In short, I played a lot.  And when I wasn’t really playing, I was sorta kinda still playing.  During algebra, my fingers twitched; in history class got my toes tapping; and in English those fingers would dive into a syncopated dance with my tapping toes.  And on those rare occasions when it was not possible for my assorted digits to tap, twitch, or dance, the music moved to my head.  It was always there; I loved it, learned it, and lived it. 

Friends on the baseball team would often walk, stand, sit with a baseball in hand, holding it, rolling it, squeezing it…learning it.  The same with guys on the football team, only with a football.

Another friend liked art class and had a knack for drawing; when he wasn’t working on anything specific, he would doodle aimlessly…living his craft.

Seeing a pattern?

End of digression.

***

I believe the class-time TMS exercises were especially effective for new and aspiring writers for several reasons: an instant, manageable (hopefully thought-provoking) topic, the time limit and requirement to keep writing helped short circuit that often pesky internal editor, the privacy curtailed self-censoring and allowed total freedom, and the communal aspect of everyone frantically scribbling away providing a shared creative atmosphere. 

And then there was the powerful realization that they could write a heck of a lot faster than they’d ever expected.  After a few TMS sessions, it was common to find them finishing three, four, five or more pages in those ten minutes.  Although not a math whiz by any means, I was able to point out how those same TMS efforts applied to their own writing and stretched to 30 minutes or an hour would lead to “making pages” at an impressive rate.

And how does any of this relate to us in — or aspiring to join — the writing business?  Well, when we don’t have the time to really, really, really dive into our work, we can take the brief moments that life grants us to live/love/learn our craft and flesh out a description, jot a few details of setting, doodle a map, chart fragments of potential dialogue, make a list of things we may need to research, detail a character’s history specifics that can help bring them into focus, etc., etc. 

Time.

A little here, a little there.

Adds up.

Jack Byrne contributed this article.


A Derleth Christmas card

No one has yet performed the daunting task of preparing the complete bibliography of Wisconsin writer and publisher August Derleth, which might fill two thick volumes or more with small print.

Alison M. Wilson came closest, compiling a bibliography of Derleth that is both academic and rigorous, but only in some categories.  Facing a project that was “swelling” (Introduction) to “impossible dimensions,” Wilson quickly realized she needed to waive many standard components of the typical catalog. August Derleth: A Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 1983) has neither the section of Verse (Derleth’s poetry collections and anthologies are listed, but perhaps a thousand or more individual listings are missing) nor of Reviews and Columns (Derleth appeared weekly at least in newspapers for nearly all of forty years); nor does it have a section of items written about Derleth.

Also missing—obviously—are publications after 1983 (three decades’ worth), unpublished manuscripts and other materials (first uncovered in the 1990s), most published letters, much nonfiction (especially for the Small Press), and many reviews of Derleth’s books.  Despite these omissions, Wilson fills well over 200 pages, listing 736 primary items.

Derleth himself is partially responsible for any lack of completeness, having meticulously recorded, published and circulated his own bibliographies during most of his career.  As a result, few readers found it necessary to track anything on their own.  Unfortunately, this had a downside, for Derleth focused only on his published books and also because the last compilation he did in 1962 is lacking the final (and most important) decade of his life.

I was reminded of bibliographies only a week ago when I made an astonishing discovery in a Wisconsin antique store.  Though only once had I seen one before—and that was in a photograph—I recognized immediately (though they were partially hidden) Derleth Christmas cards.  I decided to purchase the small stack of them, no matter how many or what the dealer was asking.

Print of an original August Derleth Christmas card

There were five cards, and each also featured a reproduction of a woodcut by Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel.  I will assume that for consecutive years Derleth chose one he newly favored for inspiration, composed a new Christmas/New Year poem, and then stamped these onto heavy stock paper to give as a holiday greeting.  Derleth personalized each by signing them individually and adding to a few warm patches of yellow moonlight.

None of the five poems published thus are in Alison Wilson’s bibliography, where all contents of all Derleth’s poetry collections are listed in full.  So these too must one day be added to make a complete bibliography of August Derleth, and I will see that they are.

Print of an original August Derleth Christmas card

Prolific Wisconsin author August Derleth was a life-long friend of Allied Authors. A proponent of Wisconsin regional writing and fan of genre-writing, Derleth maintained ties with numerous Allied Authors members. A business man and editor, he promoted and sporadically published their work.

John D. Haefele submitted this article (© 2012 all rights reserved)


Dedicated writers tread fine line between routine and realistic expectations

A coworker from across seas recently contacted me by IM at work. He was impressed with the scripts and guides I had written and asked a few questions about writing. I imparted upon him what the Allied Authors of Wisconsin imparted on me:

Just write.

No matter how bad you think the things you are writing are, just do it.

Further, get yourself into a routine of some kind to promote your writing. For example, on Sundays I will bike ride to my local coffee shop, have a chai tea latte and write for thirty minutes up to three hours. I make the time to write.

It helps. It really does.

Now I have written things that I don’t like in the time I set aside, but you know I don’t regret them…I even decided to keep a few after a bit of polishing.

To me Total Writer’s Block is a myth. If you cannot think of something to write on your current piece, take out a new sheet of paper or open a new file and write something else. It doesn’t need to be good. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t even need to be something you save beyond becoming kindling for a fire. The fact is that writing, even when you don’t exactly know what to write, is an exercise.

Let’s face it, if you don’t practice what you know, you will lose touch and find it gets harder as time goes on and you have to start back up again.

I can speak from experience, having paused in my weekly ritual at the coffee shop. It’s been a little more than two months now, and I am finding that writing is a habit that can be difficult to get back into—like going to the gym. The moment I stopped was the moment I lost momentum.

I could go on about the fact that you need to keep up the practice of writing and making time in a busy schedule, but I won’t. If writing is important to you, you will find the time to write. And if life gets so busy that you need to put down the pen and focus on other matters, don’t feel too guilty. Life is like that.

Feel just guilty enough to start writing again as soon as life slows down a bit and you can make time again, but not so guilty you fear putting thoughts to paper—or screen.

Alexia Lamont contributed this article.


Haefele’s nonfiction gets nod from literary critic

Allied Authors of Wisconsin member John D. Haefele received some early praise for his book-length study on August Derleth’s writing within the Cthulhu Mythos of early 20th century horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Literary Critic Don Herron recently penned his initial impressions of Haefele’s work in his blog “Up and Down these Mean Streets.”

“He’s taking on the almost thankless task of defending Derleth, whipping post for recent generations of Lovecraft scholars, and does a great job of it — in particular, he’s razor sharp on pointing out how certain otherwise respected scholars repeatedly get the facts wrong as they make their attacks on Derleth,” Herron wrote of Haefele.

Read the full article here: http://www.donherron.com/?p=4435.

Haefele’s completed work is expected to be ready in December 2012. Updates will be made on this website as they become available.


How to make a person

The problem with stories is they require people.

I’m not talking about author and reader—though they, as well as their relationship, are fraught with challenges too—but rather the individuals that populate the story itself.

Some might call these people “characters.”  But a writer doesn’t really want to invent characters any more than he/she wants to come up with a plot.  Sure, we typically end up with those things, sometimes, just sometimes, we transcend.

When a reader flips through pages made of paper or pixels, the last thing an author wants is the audience to see a story as a series of fictional events.  The goal of any storyteller is to weave a spell of deception so powerful that it all seems real at the time.

We aim for an obliteration of disbelief, though if we’re lucky, we invoke a suspension of the same.

If a writer can trick a reader into wondering what a character will do next or, better yet, what he/she would do in an unrelated situation, the writer is that much closer to success.  Because if a reader cares about a character as if he/she were a real person, the reader is more likely to care about the story they’re a part of.

So what’s the difference between characters and people?

Characters have motives.  People have psychology.

Characters follow a story arc.  People exhibit behavior that moves them in a number of different—and often conflicting—directions at once.

Characters have unique voices.  People adopt different voices in various situations.

Those contrasts only begin to hint at why it’s so very difficult to create a person entirely out of words.  Some might argue that it’s impossible, maybe even misguided.  After all, art is meant to imitate life, not become identical to it.  Anyway, as previously stated, the best we writers can do is pick and choose pieces of reality, incorporate them into the folks who inhabit our fiction.

However, just because it’s difficult, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make every attempt to eschew the temptation to spew out two-dimensional puppets, rough archetypes, and (especially) lazy stereotypes and, instead, aspire to come as close as humanly possible to creating humans.

And how do you get to know a real person?  By asking questions—lots of ’em.  While working on my first novel, a creative writing professor provided me with a handout that contained a ton of questions.  I can’t recall the source, and I’ve made my own additions over the years, so I believe I’m safe with sharing them in this not-for-profit venue.  The questions have served me well when creating main characters, though I wouldn’t recommend taking the time to answer them all for minor players (unless, like me, you have a penchant for the planning process).

Interview question for your person-in-progress

  • What does this character look like?  What color eyes and hair does he/she have?  What are his/her height and weight?  What color his his/her skin?  What is his/her race?  Is there anything unusual or unique about his/her appearance (e.g., tattoos, piercings, etc.)?
  • What style of clothes does he/she wear?  Would anyone notice him/her in a crowd?  Why or why not?
  • How does he/she present him/herself?  Does he/she carry him/herself proudly?  Does he/she appear ashamed, shy, or aloof?  Does he/she have any idiosyncrasies or habits—good or bad?  Does he/she chew gum, smoke cigarettes, or have a twitch?
  • Does he/she speak in a particular way?  Does he/she sound educated, snobby, or dull?  Does he/she use slang or the proper dialect?  Is he/she sarcastic or have a particular way of telling a story?  Does he/she have a favorite tagline?  Is he/she always using clichés?
  • What was this person’s childhood like?  Did he/she have any brothers or sisters?  Two parents, one, or none?  Where did he/she live?  Was he/she constantly moving as a child?  What was he/she like as a child?  Was he/she hyperactive or timid?  Does he/she remember his/her childhood fondly?  Are there any memories in particular that stand out?
  • What does this character do for fun?  Does he/she watch or compete in sports?  Hunt, play cards, or play video games?  Is there something he/she collects?  If anything, what does he/she read?  The newspaper?  Mystery novels?  Can he/she read at all?  What types of music does he/she listen to?  What movies does he/she enjoy?  Does he/she have a sense of humor?  What does he/she find funny or not funny?  Is he/she someone you would hang out with in your free time?
  • How does this person feel about lying?  Does he/she lie when it suits his/her purpose?  Is he/she a pathological liar or blatantly, painfully truthful?  Would he/she cheat or steal?  What, if anything, would prompt him/her to kill?
  • How does he/she view his/her vices?  Does he/she see them as sins?  Is gossiping a sin?  How about promiscuous sex?  Is he/she cowardly, only concerned with Number One?  Constantly complaining, prejudiced, racist, or greedy?  Does he/she have any secrets?
  • Is this character an optimist, a pessimist, or something in between?  Does he/she believe in fate or free will?  How does he/she feel about life?  Does he/she love it?  Hate it?  Is he/she merely going through the motions?  What does he/she want out of life?  What is important to him/her?  What are his/her goals?  Money?  Power?  Success?  Fame?
  • Is he/she spiritual or religious?  How does he/she feel about others’ beliefs?  Is he/she tolerant and/or open to new ideas, or is he/she steadfast in his/her ways?  Has he/she ever been in love?  What does love mean to him/her?  How important is it?  How does he/she feel about sex?  Is it important?  Are his/her sexual habits normal or deviant?
  • How does he/she feel about children?  Does he/she love them, feel uneasy around them?  Does he/she want to have children of his/her own?  What might he/she sacrifice for his/her children?
  • What is a typical day like for this person?  Are his/her days full of surprises, or is he/she on a set schedule?  Is he/she comfortable with routine, or is his/her life too stressful?  What does he/she do for a living?  Who are his/her friends?  Does he/she have many, only a few, none?  Who does he/she hate?  Does he/she have any enemies?
  • Is he/she married or single?  Is he/she a loner by choice or desperately looking for someone?  Does he/she have any kids?  How often does he/she see them?  Where does he/she work?  Where does he/she go for fun?  How does he/she interact with strangers?  Or does he/she stay within his own clique?  What would a random person think if he or she saw your character walking down the street?

I’m sure there are shortcuts out there—streamlined lists or other getting-to-know-you exercises—but the more questions you can answer, the better you will know the people of the page.  At the very least, pull open Facebook and see what kind of profile information a real person is apt to display about him or herself.

Since real people tend to censor, exaggerate, and so forth when engaging in social media, maybe it is a good idea to fill in categories like “politics,” “religion,” and “education” as an additional exercise.  After all, just because you know the deep, dark secrets of your fictional folks, that doesn’t mean they would share them with the world.  What kind of Facebook profile would they set up?

That’s the problem with people: so many layers.  And only you can decide how much—or how little—to reveal to the reader.  But before you can make those decisions, you have to get up close and personal with your characters.

The bad news is the stork isn’t going to drop a fully developed character in your lap.  The good news, however, is that if you make the time, your people are always available for a lengthy interview.

David Michael Williams contributed this article (reprinted with permission from http://david-michael-williams.com/2012/06/14/how-to-make-a-person/).


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