Writing on the Edge of a Volcano

There’s a feeling I sometimes get when I jog in the dark woods after midnight – a brief sense that there’s someone at my heels (but it’s only echoes of my footsteps). For a split second, I feel like a child again. It’s both wonderful and disconcerting. Our lives are full of such moments. Here’s another example: when, all of a sudden, I realize that I’m doing something without conscious thought, simply out of habit. The realization is like being shaken awake. 

When that happens, I become aware of the layers of my own consciousness – of the fact that the rational self is a rickety shack on the edge of a volcano.

Great works of art have a similar effect on me. They knock away, if only for a moment, the illusion of the self that’s accreted over the years.

We’re not here for very long. Stay awake. 

H.R. Giger, the master surrealist, has died. His work both unsettled and inspired me. I dedicate this post to him. R.I.P.



When There’s No Time to Write

They say you should write every day. It’s good advice, but there are times when it’s simply not possible. I wish it were, but it isn’t. I’m a freelancer. December to March is my busiest season (I do loads of financial reports). Since Christmas, I’ve taken one day off. That’s the way it goes. Summer is usually quiet, so I have to make some money when I can.

So — very little fiction writing gets done during Q1. Due to the nature of my work, I get this long-ass writer’s block imposed on me every year. However, during this time, I usually mull over potential writing projects.

And in the past two months, I’ve worked on editing my novel. That’s something, anyway.

Still — as the weeks go by, the itch to write gets worse …




I’ve been taking a break from writing. These past two months, I haven’t written anything new. It’s not the first time. Usually these idle periods last a few months, but the longest break I took was well over a year.

These hiatuses usually signal shifts in my interests.

That’s definitely true this time. I’ve done all I wanted to do with the kinds of stories I’ve been writing. Boredom was setting in. Time to try something different again, something that feels fresh. It would be safer to stick to the tried and true, but I figure that if I’m not evolving (or devolving, as the case may be), what’s the point? Where’s the fun in that?

I’ll be back. Could be a few weeks. Or a month or two.

Check out this new literary magazine

My mates in the Hague have launched a new online literary magazine focusing on intercultural writing — Cecile’s Writers. I have a story in the first issue. It also features great pieces by Katherine Heiny, Peter Crowe, Ray Jewell and Vyvyan Fox. Check it out here.

If you’re an intercultural writer or expat, submit a story to them!

The Great Longhand Experiment

It’s been a month since the start of the Great Longhand Experiment.

I’ve enjoyed writing first drafts with a pencil. So much so that I now prefer it to composing on a computer.*

There are two main reasons:

1) Writing by hand feels more personal, for whatever reason. This is reflected in the stories I’ve been working on. The last story I completed, in May, is typical of the new crop. Most of it is drawn directly from experience, though transmuted into a fantastic/metaphoric mode (what Rudy Rucker calls transrealism)**. When I’m typing, I find it hard to write about myself. And this is partly because:

2) My internal editor is a fucking Nazi swine. I’m not kidding. I copyedit for a living, so when I’m at the keyboard, he’s always on my case – Achtung! Halt! Das ist nicht korrekt, you pigdog! – which results in – Dummkopf! – a stop-start-stop rhythm. Having that Nazi swine permanently ensconced in my brainpan makes it doubleplusharder to get into a flow state while at the keyboard. Writing longhand silences the bastard.

So, yes – although repetitive fucking strain is a pain, having to cut down on keyboard time turned out to be a boon. Silver linings and all that.


*In fact, I wrote the rough draft of this blog post by hand.

**This is a mode that pleases me. The stories feel richer, deeper. I reckon that I’ll focus on this kind of essentially autobiographical material from now on, at least in the case of my short stories, rather than trying to Make Shit Up to market requirements. The latter kinds of stories are much easier to sell, but fuck it.***

***Sorry about all the footnotes. I’m currently reading Infinite Jest, y’see.

Word Processor vs. Pencil – FIGHT!

Well. This is annoying. I’m going to have to start handwriting my first drafts. It’s been years since I wrote anything by hand. Except shopping lists.

So why start now?

I make my living as a freelance copyeditor, translator and ghostwriter. It’s not unusual for me to spend eight to ten hours at the computer hammering away to pay the bills. And then another two to four writing fiction. 

You can see where this is going.

Repetitive fucking strain symptoms. They’re minor, at the moment. But if I don’t do something about this right now …


So. Long story short, one of the steps I’m taking is to write fiction by hand.  

I’m interested to see how this will affect the quality of my writing and the nature of the process. It might even turn out to be a good thing – some people say it’s easier to hear your voice when you’re writing by hand. 

So – we’ll see, eh?

Publication – “Death in Life Songs” in Albedo One

Issue #43 of Albedo One, Ireland’s spec-fic magazine, is now available in print and digital editions. Not only does it feature a cool selection of stories, a host of writers and editors share their thoughts on what they feel is the most important issue for writers today.

My story, “Death in Life Songs,” is magic realist noir. Check it out.


Put Yourself in a Box – Loving Genres

One of my inspirations is William Friedkin.

His excellent memoir, The Friedkin Connection, got me thinking about the tricky balancing act between personal artistic expression and commercial appeal.

Early in his career, producers David Wolper and Mel Stuart hired him to direct network documentaries. These were very mainstream assignments, intended for prime-time broadcast on ABC. For his first documentary, Friedkin handed in a nouvelle vague-inspired cut, very experimental. The producers predictably lost their shit – “A simple idea, and you assholes made it incomprehensible!”

The producers scrapped the cut and refashioned the footage into a mainstream piece.

Friedkin writes: “It broke me down, and was an invaluable lesson: go straight for the story, don’t clutter it with gimmicks, ‘technique’ or director’s touches … My Wolper documentaries led to future work, but they stripped me of the ambition to make films that reflected my own sensibilities …”

Later, in his best films, he would find a way to express his sensibilities in commercially viable genres. These films – The French Connection and The Exorcist among them – exemplify the values I hold dear. They are powered by the vitality of pulp fiction, but are thematically complex. Slippery and ambiguous, they refuse to tell the viewer what to think and feel. They’re driven by a delicious friction between commercial and subversive impulses.

That’s the kind of balance I aim for in my genre writing. Genres are flexible instruments. As long as you deliver the thrills, you have a lot of latitude to explore themes that are personally meaningful to you.