Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Horror University Interview

As part of my upcoming class at StokerCon 2017, Horror University, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by internet computer gadgetry. Here's the result. 


I hope to see you at StokerCon for Mistakes Were Made.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Rant About the Glacial Pace of Querying

In my time as an author, that is a writer consciously and deliberately trying to make a career out of a passion, I’ve learned much about production and rejection but also something about delay.


Ah, delay.

Delay is the unforeseen irritant that irks me no little bit in this job and I’m here today to talk about it.

I realized early that the only real control I have in this occupation is contained exclusively in my writing. The expression and work of the creative process. That is mine. There It is pure and though maybe not finished, it’s where my wishes are going to find the easiest outlet. After that, it becomes a cooperative effort and it gets muddy. And slow. Slow. Slow…

Beta-readers take for ever. No offense to you wonderful people willing to delve into a book that’s still got it’s sharp edges, but as a writer, anxious to move along, feeling the cold hand of death reaching for him, any delay is a trial. It’s the artist’s angst. As professional as I want to be, I also need validation and so the delay here is taken personally. Nothing for it though, people are busy and I need people. I write this off as part of the process.

There are other delays in creation, like editing and re-writes, back to readers, but these are creative for the most part.

The real hell comes once it’s sent out for query. Let me explain it for you.

Querying is a nerve-wracking, soul-crushing exercise of masochistic torture that drives most would-be authors out of the business. I’ve queried a lot. Lots and lots. I have a door covered with my rejection notices. I didn’t dare hang it on the load bearing wall. Rejections are part of the game. There’re lots of reasons to be rejected and you try not to take it personally, though, again, it’s your baby and you’re going to damn well take it personally. Once you start querying, it’s a numbers game and rejections flow back to you like the little bird that you’re supposed to set free if you love, but it comes back and poops on your head before ruining your garden.

But what makes it worse, what makes querying really suck is how long it takes. If you get a response right away from an agent or an editor, it’s a rejection. Count on it. They decide on a NO must faster than a YES. Don’t worry though, these are few and far between. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a form letter rejection six months after you sent your query. Six months. Form letter. Yep. Lucky us.

They weren't pondering the whole time. No. Not at all. They made their decision instantly, it's just that takes that long for editors to get through their slush piles. Six months is common. I’m still getting rejections for ELEANOR three years after it was published! That’s how glacial this business is.

Mostly though, you won’t get as much as a form letter back. There’ll be a line of small print on a website saying that if you haven’t heard back within 8 weeks assume it’s a no. On pins and needles for eight weeks and by the time their intern reads your cover letter, the new craze is space chicks in leotards fighting bird men and your tender character study ain’t getting past the freshman Communications Major whose boyfriend just left her for a Slovakian exchange student.

What I’m saying is that the process is long and delayed. Agents and editors are swamped. Their interns (like themselves) are underpaid and overworked and everyone with a word processor is trying to be a writer.

Strange as it sounds, no news is often good news. If they don’t have the eight weeks, "we’re really deleting every query as they come in” notice buried on their webpage, a long delay can be seen as a good thing. The story interests them and the delay might be the book being bantered around the office, or set on the agenda for a mythical upcoming meeting. Maybe. We can hope, right?

The holidays hurt. Between Thanksgiving and New Years no one reads queries. You want a surefire rejection? Send your book during the agent’s vacation and Christmas party. There’s a reason so many rejections go out in November—they’re clearing their box for the season.

Eventually (one can hope) comes the magical moment when the stars align and you get the mythical Request For Manuscript. After only nine months, the letter arrives and they’re going to look at your book! Hallelujah! Within the hour (since this is in your control) the files go out and your excitement is uncontrollable.

For a year.

Until they reject it with an letter saying they liked X and Y but Z left them cold. And then there's the fighting space chicks in leotards.

This is not a theoretical situation here. This has happened to me several times. You think a regular rejection hurts? Try getting one after a RFM and a long wait with a big house. Carrie Fisher, actress and writer, had her ashes placed in an urn the shape of a Prozac tablet. Yeah, she was an author.

My method of surviving all this was to query on. Whenever I got a rejection, I’d send five more out that day. I took them at their word that this was a subjection decision and I should keep trying. So I did. Not do. Did.

Now I have an agent and much of the pain is taken from me, but not the delay. I have a little more now too, because she's a human and adds delays of her own. Before I’d send out 5-20 queries a week. Now we’re being more precise and perfect and targeted. I’ve traded in a scattergun for a sniper rifle. But the delays are still there.

They're always there.

Glacial, heart-wrenching delays for a half dozen books waiting for rejections.

Waiting for the chance to wait longer when it's picked up and enters the slow publication process. <sigh>

Such is the nature of the business. If you’re in a hurry, this is not the business for you. Small presses take months, big presses years. Agents are hens teeth and editors use interns who weren’t reading when you wrote your book. What a business.

I return to the only place that I ever had control, the nucleus of this madness. The art. I write and I carry on.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

League of Utah Writers 2017 Spring Conference

I am stoked to announce the upcoming League of Utah Writers Spring Conference to be held at on April 8th, 2017 at the Taylorsville campus of Salt Lake Community College.(4600 South Redwood Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84123)

Last year was the best attended Spring Conference The League has ever had. Hundreds of people were there to take advantage of this intense half-day event. We had twenty five hours of classes, panels and presentations about writing. This year, we’ve increased that to thirty-five. It’s going to be awesome. Beyond the classes, we’re also offering practice pitch sessions with agents and experts along with manuscript critiques from established editors. All this for the low low cost of $25 for League Members. It’s $50 for non-league, so you might as well join the league for for $25 and then come. AT the door, the price is $75.

As president Elect of the League, this conference is my baby, so I’m hoping lots and lots of people come and learn even more. It’s about giving back and he Spring Conference is full of mentors at all levels. See you writing types there!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


The next class I’m teaching at the University of Utah Lifelong Learning Center will be LITERARY QUERYING-THE ART OF REJECTION. This will be the second time I’ve taught this course, though I’ve lived it for my entire career.

The class began as a one hour presentation for writers at conferences. It was a good follow-up for my signature class A NOVEL IN 90 DAYS, FAKE IT ’TIL YOU MAKE, an inspirational class to get writers in the proper delusional mindset to strive for literary success, or at least finish a novel.

I’ve expanded my original presentation about tools to have ready and ripe, forms and formats, markets and rejection, to include things I’ve learned from being an acquisitions editor. I take pitches, I comb the slush pile, I edit books for publication. Working the other side of the process has been eye-opening. I also have new experiences with agents and higher publishing goals as my career has progressed.

No one told me any of this going in. Everything I teach here I learned the hard way. That is to say, that this class is the class I wish I’d have found early my career. It’s about the things no one tells you about.

The game is fixed. It’s never been a meritocracy. It’s about luck and sunspots, positioning and readiness. It’s about war—being prepared and organized. The class teaches what weapons you’ll need, how to sharpen them, and where to position yourself for the best chance to use them.

The class is heavy on workshop. We critique the stuff we assemble, be it the first pages (hook), blurb, synopsis or the all-powerful query letter. Once properly armed, our intrepid hero-authors will be equipped to set out upon their quests for publishing glory.

The class begins March 21st and runs for six weeks on Tuesday evenings, 6:30-9:00 at the main University of Utah Campus in the annex building. Here’s the link.

Space is limited and I don't know when the course will come back around.

One last word, the class is geared to authors who have finished a work that they wish to query. If your book isn’t done yet, I’d suggest you put your time there. We’ll catch you on the next one. Check back.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


You might not know, but I’m moonlighting as an acquisitions editor for Omnium Gatherum, a dark fiction press out of Los Angeles who gave me my start with my debut BEATRYSEL and may have more treats in store for me (hint hint). As an editor, I take pitches at conventions and I weed through the slush pile of submissions making suggestions on which books we should publish, then I edit them with the author and we all retire to the Bahamas (some of this is true).

The work I do for OG has been invaluable in understanding the industry from the other side. Not only must I endure the unending flow of rejections I still get as a writer, I now get to give them out. Good times. But the process is no longer as mysterious as it once was.

 I’ve made it a mission to share all hard won knowledge I’ve come across in my journey into literature and so have put together a hands-on editing class, delving into the slush pile mistakes that will jettison a manuscript before the second page is turned.

I often say, there are no rules to writing. Many editors would disagree with me, but they’re wrong. What matters is effective communication. Every rule, even grammar and spelling are up for grabs and debate. This is art. 

Nevertheless… There are conventions and stylistic tropes that modern audiences prefer. Styles change, fashions and tastes are constantly in flux, often influenced by the newest best seller. Remember when first person present tense was a terrible idea? It was before The Hunger Games. Now you can’t swing a dead cliche without hitting a book in first person. We’ll see if this is an enduring trend or not, but certain conventions once thought new have endured and now define modern writing.

Like passive tense. “The deck was made last summer by my uncle.” Not an error in and of itself, but it is considered “weak” in comparison to active tenses. “My uncle made the deck last summer.” The first example is a perfectly good construction, gets all the information out and relieves the uncle of direct responsibility (which is why it’s weak and why presidents often say “mistakes were made” instead of “I screwed up.”) Passive voice, right as it is, will likely piss off an editor if over used. But luckily it's easy to fix.

Remember the two parts of a query: The synopsis showing the idea, and the writing example showing the execution: The best idea poorly executed is a failure. The best execution of a poor idea will often still get published. Execution trumps idea.

I’ve made a list “mistakes” I’ve encountered over my literary career some as obvious as passives, some as hidden as scaffolding that weaken prose to the point that I won’t dig through them find the underlying idea. These are often very simple to address. I have designed a class to share these finds show their remedies. I call it “MISTAKES WERE MADE.”

MISTAKES WERE MADE will debut this April in Long Beach aboard the Queen Mary at StokerCon 2017 as a two hour course within Horror University. If you’re going to StokerCon (and you should be), sign up for my class. I promise you’ll get hands on experience and useful “actionable intelligence” to better wage your war against the gatekeepers of publishing. There’s not better way to learn than by actually doing and we’ll be actually doing it. Not all editors are writers, but all writers better be editors.

Pencils required.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Apocalypse Utah

My newest foray into publishing is modest but awesome. I'm part of this year's Utah Horror Anthology called APOCALYPSE UTAH. I'd like to think that my story May 15th in the last anthology, IT CAME FROM THE GREAT SALT LAKE was the inspiration for this year's anthology, but no one will confirm or deny it. Nevertheless my story in APOCALYPSE UTAH is one of my best. Entitled Flame Unspeakable, it is a heavy thematic piece of cultural evolution, current events and natural order. Not for the feint of heart or shallow of hope.
Beyond the life-changing story, I was privileged to be one of the editors of the book. A double credit. going to frame this one. Though ewe didn't select the stories, Callie Stoker and I we worked, polished, assembled the twelve stories into a fantastic little horror tome. I'm excited to have it released this year at LTUE (Life the Universe and Everything Conference). Check out my schedule here to find me there. 
Anyway, without further ado, I give you

From the Creators of Old Scratch and Owl Hoots and It Came from the Great Salt Lake, comes the next installment of new Utah horror, Apocalypse Utah a Collection of Utah Horror.
Twelve Apocalyptic horsemen of the Rocky Mountains have come together in this terrifying anthology of Utah Horror. After years of dystopian fiction, these twelve writers won the challenge to portray how the apocalypse would occur.
Questionable kittens, ritualistic killing, destroying angels, ancient gods seeking punishment, lawless renegades, practioners of the dark arts, and zombies will haunt every corner of your mind as you read these thrilling accounts of what could happen during the end of days in Utah.
Reanimated corpses of religious fanatics proclaiming salvation are the least of your worries...

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

LTUE 2017

It's here again! LTUE - Life the Universe and Everything Conference. A great conference celebrating speculative fiction and creativity down in Utah County, but don't let the location scare you away. It's actually an awesome con. An excellent value, a reunion of the tribe. I recommend it to all writers who can come.

Below is my schedule. Come by and visit, chase me down. I'll be in tie dye and shouldn't be too hard to find. 

Life the Universe and Everything Conference (LTUE)
— February 16-18, 2017

Provo Marriott Hotel & Conference Center
101 West 100 North
Provo, UT 84601

Thursday, February 16th  

Hearing Pitches for Omnium Gatherum
3:00 - 4:00 p.m. (Board Room)
I will hear pitches for dark fiction/horror stories on behalf of Omnium Gatherum Media.

Presentation: Theory of Mystery
6:00 - 6:50 p.m. (Birch)
Johnny Worthen distills his “A Study in Mystery” course taught at the University of Utah. He covers the history, structures, and potentials of crime fiction and the quests within it. 

Panel: Pulp Fiction Power
8:00 - 8:50 p.m. (Maple)
Pulp fiction writing and it's powerful impact on current trends in books and movies. (with: David Boop, James Minz, L. Palmer (M), Alexander Sousa, Johnny Worthen)

Friday, February 17th

Panel: Grow Confidence and Courage Through Self-Expression
1:00 - 1:50 p.m. (Bryce)
Working in the arts is more of a calling than a career; one often fraught with rejection and heartache. In this panel, we will explore the beauty that is forged from the concept of never giving up on your dream, regardless of the challenges along the way. Creatives tell their personal stories. (with: Blake Casselman, Angela Hartley (M), Michael Jensen, Shelly Brown, J. Scott Savage, Johnny Worthen)

Panel: Dirty Streets - Writing Crime and Thrillers
4:00 - 4:50 p.m. (Juniper)
What sets crime fiction apart from other genres? Can themes from this type of fiction be explored in other genres? (with David Boop (M), Michael Darling, Liesel Hill, Brenda Stanley, Johnny Worthen)

Saturday, February 18th

Hearing Pitches for Omnium Gatherum
10:00 - 11:00 a.m. (Board Room)
I will hear pitches for dark fiction/horror stories on behalf of Omnium Gatherum Media.

Panel: Gone but not Forgotten
2:00 - 2:50 p.m. (Maple)
Lasting influences of the writers of yesteryear. A posthumous look at iconic and unforgettable writing greats to remember. (with: James Minz, Mari Murdock (M), Kal Spriggs, Brian Wiser, Johnny Worthen)

Panel: Apocalypse vs. Dystopia
5:00 - 5:50 p.m. (Arches)
For a while we only say the world ends, then we only say the aftermath. Deathmatch to decide which is better... (with: Liesel Hill, David Powers King, Peter Nealen, Nathan Shumate, Callie Stoker (M), Johnny Worthen)