Here is a poem for the changing season. It is different from much of what I write, and is one of the few free-verse poems I’ve published.
by A. A. Rubin
and the snow falls like tiny ghosts, translucent ‘neath the pale moonlight—
crumbs falling from the Reaper’s hand as he squeezes the life out of harvested souls
as the wind whips them around, they coalesce—frantically— disparate parts seeking for partners with whom to form bodies,
but they end up mismatched and incomplete, portmanteau stitched together—
—mere shells. Empty and ephemeral— rising in gothic gusts in the midnight chill.
you hear them howling in the storm. you tell yourself it’s the wind, but— deep down, you know it’s not.
you pull your blanket over your head and hug your children tight.
as the soul flakes flutter down, frantically searching for living beings to haunt— —not out of a need to complete unfinished business, but out of a desperate desire to avoid the nothing that lies beyond—
This poem originally appeared in Bards Annual 2018 (Local Gems Press)
The hashtag #7BooksToKnowMe is popular right now. I’ve decided to participate, but as usual, I’ve overthunk things. Rather than, as I’m sure was the original intent of the exercise, just listing seven books I like or that sum up my taste in reading, or, as many people seem to be doing, listing my seven favorite books, I intend to address the prompt as it is written. What seven books would help someone who didn’t know me, get to know me better. That list would be different from my seven favorite books, although their would be some overlap, because the list of my favorite books would include multiple books in the same genre (or even subgenre), while the list of the books to get to know me would be specifically chosen to showcase different aspects of my personality.
I have not included books directly related to the works I’m currently writing. While Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe have dominated my reading list recently, and while I love them both, I am not sure that would make the list once the projects on which I’m working is over.
This list is also a snapshot. Books that would have appeared on this list at other points in my life, like On The Road,The Watchmen, Wuthering Heights, Through the Looking Glass, A Storm of Swords, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch are not on this list. The books on this list might not be if I did this again a year from now, or even tomorrow.
With that preamble out of the way, here are my seven books to know me:
Dune, by Frank Herbert: I first read Dune when I was in the 11th grade at the recommendation of my history teacher, Dr. Stone. I had asked him for a college recommendation, and he agreed, but wanted to meet me during a free period to get to know me outside of the class. He asked me what I liked to read, and when I told him I liked science fiction, he was flabbergasted that I hadn’t read Dune. It was, by far the greatest book recommendation anyone has given me. I read it and immediately loved it. I ended up writing one of my college application essays about it (in those days, there was no common app, and I wrote a total of 13 essays for the 11 schools to which I applied).
Over the years, Dune has influenced nearly every aspect of my life. The philosophy of the book influenced me greatly at a time when I was figuring out the type of person I wanted to be, but in addition to that, lessons from the book affected other, less-obvious aspects of my life, ranging from the way I played basketball (not responding to a trash-talker unnerves the trash talker in any sport), to the way approached martial arts matches (to many lessons to list individually, but the Fremen made me a better fighter.) I still keep a file of Dune quotes all these years later, and with every re-read, I find more to add.
The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkein: The Hobbit is the book that made me want to be a writer. I ordered in from the Scholastic Book Club in 7th Grade, and, while I was reading it, I thought, “hey, maybe the games I play with my castle Legos are actually stories people would want to read.” It is also a smaller story than The Lord of the Rings. The fate of the world isn’t at stake (at least we don’t yet know it is when we’re reading it). It concerns the fate of one group of dwarves and one particular hobbit. In my own work, I tend toward the small stories rather than the larger ones.
Tolkien became my favorite writer, and The Lord of the Rings (which Tolkien thought of as one book) would be my desert island book, but if the point of the exercise is to get to know me, then The Hobbit is the one to read.
Shoeless Joe, by WP Kinsella: This is the book that Field of Dreams is based upon. It is, in my opinion, better than the movie, and I love the movie (it’s the only movie which made me cry). The book is about baseball, and about fathers and sons. It reminds me of my father, who gave it to me before he passed. Much of my relationship with my father was based around sports, even when our fandom was a metaphor for other things which we may have been more reluctant to discuss. Sports have played a huge role in my life, and I have my father to thank for that too.
Daniel Deronda, by George Elliot: Speaking of traditions and how they’ve influenced me, this is the book which addresses the traditions in which I was raised most thoroughly and most sympathetically. My reading tastes tend to the classics, but I was always bothered by the way the books–even the ones I loved–addressed Judaism. From Dickens, to Shakespeare, to Pyle, the negative stereotypes and outright slanders present in so much of Western literature always bothered me. There are a few books with sympathetic Jewish characters (Ivanhoe comes to mind), but none offer the depth and perspective of Elliot’s novel, which includes both religious and secular Jews, and addresses each character authentically without ignoring the prejudices which existed in society.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams: I considered putting Good Omens on this list, as it introduced me to both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, two of my favorite authors, and two others whose books would be on my list of favorite books, but when I think about–and the fact that I’m rapidly running out of space on this list–I wouldn’t have read Good Omens if I hadn’t read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. So why not just put Hitchhiker’s Guide on the list? Well, the thought did cross my mind. Adams introduced me to the dry, British wit and humor which has been such an influence on my life. But, he wrote other books too. Choosing a deeper cut in itself reveals an aspect of my personality. Moreover, I am running out of space, and I haven’t mentioned the Romantic poets yet. As this book features Coleridge, it will have to stand in for them as well.
Slaughterhouse 5, by Kurt Vonnegut: Kurt Vonnegut is another author who has been hugely influential on both my worldview and my writing. Slaughterhouse 5 was the first Vonnegut I read. I always admired his writing, which is simultaneously literary, speculative, and humorous. Some people say that Terry Pratchett does for fantasy what Douglas Adams did for science fiction. I have sometimes said that I hope my writing will, one day, have a similar relationship with Vonnegut’s.
If you understand those last two sentences, you are probably my type of person.
The Tao of Gung Fu, by Bruce Lee: My martial arts practice has been a major part of my life. I’ve been practicing since I was 8. I am drawn to the philosophical aspects as much as to martial practice. The Tao of Gung Fu includes Bruce Lee’s best essays about martial arts and Taoism, and should be essential reading for anyone who practices martial arts.
Looking back on this list, I feel like it’s a failure. While the selections do reveal aspects of my personality, I am remiss to have left out Ursula Le Guin, Charles Dickens, Gaiman and Pratchett, Poe, Marlon James, Colum McCann, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and so many others. While it’s an incomplete picture, hopefully it does, indeed, help you know me better.
Now it’s your turn. What are the seven book to get to know you better?
“What do you mean? The roads haven’t been unsafe for decades.”
“If you do not believe me, step outside and see for yourself.”
Meyers got out of the automobile and looked up and down the block. The traffic lights were all dark, but the road was, otherwise, practically empty. Xana’s GPS was probably hooked into the traffic system and there was likely some sort of subroutine that prevented her car (and judging by the lack of rush hour traffic on the road, everyone else’s) from traveling when the system was down. If only she knew more about programming. There must be an override routine somewhere.
Regardless, she would have to figure out a different way to get to work.
“Are the trains running?” she asked the interface.
“No, Ms. Meyers, they are not.”
“I do not have access to that information at this time.”
Damn. At least she wouldn’t be the only one who was late today. Still, she would have to call in and explain the situation.
“Call Mrs. Malawi.”
“Phone service is down as well.”
“That’s quite a coincidence.”
“I am a machine, Ms. Meyers. I do not believe in coincidences.”
“I know Xana. It’s all ones and zeroes to you.
To read the rest of the story–and the other dystopian stories in the collection–for free, go to Amazon and download your copy today.
It’s been a busy month, so here are some notes on all the projects I’ve been a part of recently.
My story, “The Big Cheese” was just released this week in Billionaire Island: Cult of the Dog #1 from Ahoy! Comics. It is backing up a mark Russell story, which is pretty cool. Get it at your local comics shop.
There are still two days left to support the We Suck at Comics kickstarter. The anthology from Wayward Raven includes three of my stories, “Freedom,” a 2000AD-style science fiction story (illustrated by Tyler Carpenter), and two episodes of Sir TweetCivil, a Monty Python-esque spoof of Twitter (illustrated by Alexander Sapountzis). The anthology also includes stories by Mark Frankel, Jeff Rider, Johnny C, Sebastian Bonet, Joel Jacob Barker, and cavalcade of indie comics all-stars.
The When All That’s Left is Stories dystopian science fiction anthology is now available for free download on Amazon. My story, “The Bartleby Initiative,” is included in the book, alongside stories by 11 other writers from the Twitter writing community.
My gothic horror collection, Into That Darkness Peering, illustrated by Marika Brousianou, is still available on Amazon. It is a beautiful book, and would make a perfect holiday gift for the goth in your life.
For those of you on the platform, I have joined Mastadon. Follow me there for new
I’ve been writing prose fiction for a lot longer than I’ve been writing comics. I graduated from Columbia University in 2000 with a degree in writing/literature, and I published my first short story in August 2002 in the now defunct Skyline Literary Magazine. I didn’t publish my first comics story until 2018 (in Constellate Literary Journal w/Marika Brousianou). Like many writers—especially prose writers—I am an introvert by nature, and the collaborative, community nature of comics creation was difficult for me when I first started writing comics.
There were certain people who helped me with that aspect of comics creation and who made me feel like a part of the community, which is why the We Suck At Comics kickstarter from Wayward Raven is an important project for me.
When I attended my first New York Comic Con, I went to a networking event at Twins Pub, and it was there that I met many members of my comics community.
Now, I’m the type of guy who sits at the end of the bar, maybe with one or two close friends, and sips his beer or scotch while watching the game. I’m a wallflower at parties, and there is not enough alcohol on the planet to get me to dance. So, as you might imagine, a networking event among strangers was not the ideal situation for me.
As the night went on, the crowd started to thin. I have an unusually high tolerance, so I remained. A few people started to talk to me. Among these were Alex Sapountzis and Mark Frankel, of Wayward Raven, and Sebastian Bonet, an artist for Inbeon, among other places.
I ended up talking—and drinking—with them until the bar closed, and by the end of the night, I not only made new friends (a rarity for me), but also felt like I was a part of a comics community.
In the coming years, my comics community would expand each year at the Creator Aftercon event at Twins. I met Johnny C who invited me to contribute to his Movie (p)Review Show, Marika Brousianou with whom I collaborated on both that first comics story and my latest book, and so many more.
I have three stories in the We Suck At Comics anthology, two of which are collaborations with Alex, and a third which was illustrated by Tyler Carpenter.
My stories appear alongside stories by Mark, Johnny C, and Sebastian, as well as Jeff Rider and Joel Jacob Barker, both of whom I met at subsequent Creator Aftercon events at Twins.
We Suck at Comics, like any comics anthology, is a community effort, for me it is more than that. It is my community’s effort.
Without the encouragement of the aforementioned creators, I probably would not be writing comics today. I am honored to appear alongside them, and would be honored if you would support the kickstarter.
I had shoulder surgery back in 2010. I detached my labrum, got misdiagnosed, and then spent a full year doing the wrong kind of physical therapy which made my injury worse. When I finally was diagnosed properly, my shoulder was so messed up that the surgeon who fixed it told me I’d never be able to do a push-up again.
At the time, sports was a big part of life. I was doing martial arts three times a week, playing and coaching basketball, and going to the gym regularly. Needless to say, I was extremely frustrated by the way the injury was restricting me. One day, I expressed these frustrations to my chiropractor, who, in response, gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received: If you can’t do the best thing, it doesn’t mean you have to do the worst thing. If you can’t do the best thing, do the second best thing.
I might not be able to do certain exercises, but there were others I could do. Working on the chest press machine might not be great for my shoulder, but it wasn’t as harmful as push-ups; I might not be able to train in the style of martial arts I had been training in, but that didn’t mean I had to quit martial arts: I might not be able to rest as much as the doctors would have liked, but I didn’t have to push myself to the level I had pre-injury.
I think about that advice a lot.
There is a tendency among writers to have an all-or-nothing mindset. Write every day. Hit your word count, or else. Post x amount of times a day on social media. update your blog on weekly, on the same day, at the same time. Finish a full novel during nanowrimo. Aim for 100 rejections a year.
There is tendency to give up if we don’t achieve our goals. If we miss our word count one day, it tends to snowball. If we don’t write one day, we might not write for a few day (weeks?) as we wallow in shame and self doubt. If we don’t finish that novel in November, we put the project aside as a failure and to add it our ever-increasing pile of unfinished manuscripts.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Some days life happens. Some days, writers block happens. Can’t write your 750 words today, maybe only write 400, or 150, or 50. Can’t write at all today? Send out a submission or two. Do some research. Even read a book with a writer’s eye.
Only write 23000 words during nano? That’s 23000 words you didn’t have before. There’s no law that says you have to finish your novel by The end of November, or December, or the following November, or, if you’re George RR Martin, 10 years from now. Just don’t throw it away. Make incremental progress over time. Write many words some days, fewer words others.
That is what true discipline is. It’s not always doing the best thing, or even the second best thing. It’s about not doing the worst thing; not doing nothing. Will there be days you cheat on your diet? Yes. Will there be days you can’t train? Of course. Will there be days when you don’t write? That will happen too. The most important thing is to keep going, to make incremental progress over time. If you take two steps forward for every step back, you’ll reach your destination eventually.
Into That Darkness Peering, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou, is now available for purchase at two local book sellers.
You can get the book—for a limited time only—at Theodore’s Books in Oyster Bay, Long Island from now until Halloween. Signed copies are available on their Halloween table toward the front of their store.
The book is also available at Escape Pod comics in Huntington, Long Island in their small press/indie section. It is always nice to support a local store instead of a big corporation, so if you are local and can buy it from one of these two merchants, please do.
If you are not local, the book is available on Amazon.
This past weekend, I attended New York Comic Con. While I did not have a table this year, which was unfortunate because I have a new book to sell (you can help me make for it by buying it here), I was able to attend the various professional panels aimed at writers. This year’s slate of high-profile writers was particularly strong, especially in the fantasy department were Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, and Diana Gabaldon offered insights into their writing processes and careers. Below, I have collected the advice I found most helpful and interesting from both the top names and from the many other writers who paneled, and loosely organized that advice around a number of themes. I hope you find them as helpful and inspiring as I did.
If you’re writing process isn’t working, then change your process–Chuck Wendig
When faced with an overwhelming amount of editorial feedback or critique, change something small. Changing something small reminds you that you have power over the piece–Peter V. Brett.
You can write a novel in a year writing 400 words a day. That’s about 1-1/2 double spaced pages–E. Lockhart.
The only feedback you get until you publish is that wordcount number adding up–Diana Gabaldon.
Who do you listen to? A really good editor. Anyone else, I’ll listen to an see if they have anything valuable to say, but you get a lot of feedback from people who don’t know anything. You’ve got to stand up for yourself–Terry Brooks.
The best feedback is from people who already like your work but who want something slightly better– (in my notes, but I didn’t write down who said it).
Take something you love and put it in a different context. I loved Faulkner. I wanted to put the way he dealt with class, the rich and poor, in a new element. Tolkien’s structure seemed like the perfect structure for that rich/poor dynamic–Terry Brooks.
Write out of order to avoid writing block. Move to a different part of the book, either to an exciting part or to an easy part–E. Lockhart.
I usually go through about 10 drafts–Karen McManus.
On writing comics: I write differently if I know the artist, if it’s an artist I’ve worked with before. If I’m workin g with a new artist, I’ll describe more—Jimmy Palmiotti.
Plotting vs Pansting
I don’t write in straight lines. I don’t write with an outline either–Diana Gabaldon.
There is no such thing as plotting or pansting. Every writer does both. They are tools. If you don’t use both, you’re not using all the tools available to you as a writer–Brandon Sanderson.
I always start backward. I know the whydoneit and the whodoneit, and then plot backwards–Kara Thomas.
I tend to start with the big idea, but I’m not sure what it means–Karen McManus.
Plotting is like a Jenga tower. If you take one small thing out, the whole tower can collapse–E. Lockhart.
We are all people. People make dumb decisions. It’s ok for characters dumb decisions because that’s what real people do. That makes characters feel real–Wesley Chu.
Sanderson’s second rule: flaws are more interesting than characters themselves–Brandon Sanderson.
I did what most writers do. I gave the character a flaw or two–E. Lockhart.
As the character’s power increases, their power becomes more evident–Brandon Sanderson.
I try to include “good” characters who have to deal with mental illness. Most of American media is like if there’s someone with a mental illness in your book, they’re probably the bad guy. We need to change that–Dan Wells.
I consider the antagonist and the villain as two separate characters: The villain is evil. The antagonist prevents the characters from getting what they want, but they should be relatable. We should be able to understand to understand them. Our main character could end up going in that direction. One example is Ms. Marvel. There are villains in that show, but the parents are the main antagonists. Another is Lord of the Rings. Sauron is the villain. He’s pure evil. Gollum is the protagonist, but what decisions got him there? We can see ourselves making those same decisions–Brandon Sanderson.
Villains don’t have to be villains from the start. They just have different agencies—Karen McManus.
The thing that bugs me most is repeated plot arc. Too many writers write the same plot over and over again. It’s as if, because they were successful with the first one, they just hit the reset button on book 2 (or series 2, or season 2) and write the same thing again–Brandon Sanderson.
The mystery needs to matter to the character, not just to the reader who is trying to figure out the mystery. There have to be character consequences for the reveal–Karen McManus.
Don’t have your conflict shoot your reader’s empathy for your character in the foot–Brandon Sanderson.
All mysteries have a reveal. Not all mysteries have a twist–Kara Thomas.
Point of View
First person turns on how interesting the voice of the character is–Brandon Sanderson.
If you’re writing a scene, and you know it’s a good scene, and it’s an important scene, but it’s just not working out like it should, change the point of view. You’re probably writing it from the wrong perspective–Diana Gabaldon.
You should violate every rule–Terry Brooks.
The value of rules is that they make you look at your writing and analyze it in a technical way–Naomi Novak.
All writing rules are bullshit–Peter V. Brett.
But bullshit fertilizes–Chuck Wendig.
All writing rules amount to “don’t write badly.” They attempt to turn an art into a science–Naomi Novak.
Use writing rules like cooking, not baking. There are rules like ‘don’t dump in the whole package of salt’ and recipes are important when you start, but eventually you don’t have to follow the recipe exactly, unlike baking. You’re going to be tasting, adding more or less flavor according to preference. There is a preferential aspect, a matter of taste–Chuck Wendig.
50 years ago, the rules were different. 50 years from now, they’ll be different too. Trends come and go. What’s commercial comes and goes–Wesley Chu.
Pitching and Finding an Agent
Querying sucks–Wesley Chu.
I was at a party once and an agent asked me what my book was about. I [was hesitant to share my book because of all the big authors he represented]. He told me “You don’t refuse books; I refuse books. If you want your book published, you have to put your work out there–Peter V. Brett.
I was trying to write to the market. It wasn’t until I wrote the books I wanted to read as teenager that I was able to sell my work–Karen McManus.
Read outside your genre. Find the things that people do well in those other genres you love to read. They have skillsets and ideas we don’t have. Find out what they do and bring that into your own genre–Terry Brooks.
It’s not a matter of genre, it’s a matter of patterns–Diana Gabaldon.
You have to read mindfully and critically–Chuck Wendig.
Everything you read impacts you–Terry Brooks.
One of the things that makes us most worried as writers is that we’re going to copy someone else, and yet we’re an amalgam of all we’ve read and experienced. We need to look at what’s influenced us and tear it down to the emotions and then build it back up into something new–Brandon Sanderson.
When you work with people you like, all of your bad decisions seem good–Brian Azzerello.
Writers need to experiment. Writing the same thing for a long time would be a mistake–Terry Brooks.
Find people who you can tell the truth to, and who will tell the truth to you–Scott Snyder
You’ve got tp challenge yourself. You can’t rest on your laurels–Terry Brooks.
On imposter syndrome: I picture myself reading my book in front of a whole crowd at Yankee Stadium, and 60 thousand people are going “boo!”–Scott Snyder.
Sometimes, the magic works–Terry Brooks.
Influence people in a positive way. Give them an experience in space and time–Terry Brooks.
In the final analysis, your work is your brand– Joe Illidge.
How do I title my book? Poorly–Dan Wells.
On giving a 5 minute answer to a lightning round question: Have you seen the size of my books? That was fast for me–Brandon Sanderson.
I enjoy the process of writing. Once it’s done, I couldn’t care less. Except for getting paid. I enjoy that–Terry Brooks.
There was so much variety in the advice given at nycc this year. Each of the writers took their own path and some of them disagreed with each other. There is not one way to succeed, there are many. Find the advice that speaks to you and implement it. It is, ultimately, comforting to know that their are so many paths to success.
The great Nick Offerman offers this gem of advice in his memoir: Paddle Your Own Canoe: Not everyone will like the cut of your jib, but many others will. One simply needs to seek those others and somehow trick them into buying tickets to your production of Gangsta Rap Coriolanus.”
This colorfully worded sentiment goes against much of the advice offered to aspiring creatives, which involves things like chasing trends, researching the right key words and hashtags, and writing to the market.
While I would never advise a creative not properly research the market, there is, too, a value, in making the weird thing you want to make, market and trends be damned. Make the weird thing. Find your people. Create your own market.
I found Offerman’s words particularly inspiring as I read them just as I was preparing to release my book Into That Darkness Peering, a collection of gothic horror poetry and flash fictions, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou.
This book, which just came out last week, is comprised of fully-illustrated, stand alone pieces. It is an illustrated book, but not for children. It is not really a straight poetry or fiction collection, but it’s not a graphic novel either. I was really hard to choose categories and key words for it on Amazon and Lulu.
What it is, is really cool. It came out beautifully, and, yes, it is the perfect time to release a book of gothic horror tales. right on time for Halloween.
I’ll drop a few sample images at the bottom of the post, and if you want to check it out, the book is available on Amazon in print and electronic formats. It is also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so you can read it for free if you subscribe to that service.
It may not be gangsta rap Shakespeare, and I may not be Nick Offerman, but I hope you, my own band of miscreants and weirdos, will give it a chance and buy it.