Yep, I’m Back–2nd Anniversary, and Thanks to Blake and Phillips

(What’s this all about, then? Find out this week. Thanks, Angie.)

A huge thanks to Michael Phillips and Victoria Blake for guest blogging the last few weeks while I finished off deadlines and visited Australia. I think both added some unique content and points of view, and I hope you start following both Lithium Creations and Underland Press.

Upcoming this week: thoughts on Clarion South, Booklife, Monstrous Creatures, and Native Species–along with the return of the 60 in 60.

Finally, just a note that February 9th marked the second anniversary of living full-time off of my writing. It was a tough year deadline-wise, but also satisfying from a creative perspective. I stretched myself on several fronts, learned a lot, and came out the other end in a much stronger position. I am now, most months, doing less work for more reward. A huge thanks to Ann for her support in this endeavor. While self-sustaining, I still wouldn’t be able to do it without her by my side, for a variety of reasons.

The next few years will see lots of new cool projects: the return of Leviathan, a book on beer, a steampunk coffee table book, super-amazing original anthologies, a collaborative novel and a new non-Ambergris novel, and probably a couple of books on the craft of writing–along with graphic novels and collaborations with musicians. If I don’t get hit by a truck, this should be a truly amazing time in terms of diversity and creativity. I feel like I’m just hitting my stride. (Chest-beating? No–more like self-reassurance. Everything could go south in two seconds. LOL.)

I’m finished

So, when Jeff invited me to guest blog, I immediately said, “I am totally down to guest-blog whenever you like. I promise to be interesting and write about something other than how much I hate Dune.” This was followed by almost two months of being nervous about guest blogging. I had this fear that I’d get two posts in and completely forget how to write anything, let alone anything that even resembled interesting. I’m a worrier, it’s my way.

As it turns out, I totally managed to fill the week, and hopefully I was a little interesting. I definitely had a blast writing here, I really appreciate everyone’s great comments. Jeff’s lucky to have such fantastic readers, you all made me feel very welcome.

Now I’m taking the road, taking the road home… Visit sometime? Oh, and feel free to follow me on Twitter.

I’m finished.

Write what you know

I’ve been writing a lot about honesty in writing, and I want to elaborate on a few things. I don’t really mean that everyone needs to confess every sin and write like the sun’s going to explode tomorrow, but I think every writer has a passion for certain subjects and that they should be true to that passion.

In my case, I’ve always wanted to write very personally, even in my fiction. I don’t want to die feeling like nobody really knew me. I also love the craft and want to use it well. For a long time, however, I tried to write personally about myself without actually writing anything personal. It wasn’t satisfying for me, it wasn’t particularly compelling to readers. Then I died, and woke up.

Now I write exactly what I want to write, I don’t write anything I don’t feel. I write about dark things and beautiful things, romance and suicide. I write what I know, and it resonates with people, unlike the muddled garbage I used to write. I don’t try to appeal to everyone, because I know that I can’t. Christian right-wing moms probably don’t dig me, and that is absolutely fine.

If you love unicorns and rainbows, write the Hell out of them. If you think God’s a sadistic son of a bitch, write it. Write your passion, write what you know.

Writers who help me write

So, I read quite a bit, everything from the classics to speculative fiction. I have so many favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, George R.R. Martin, Michael Cisco, KJ Bishop, I could go on and on. There are so many brilliant authors in the world, and I love their work. Yet, as many times as I’ve read The Sound and the Fury, I can’t write like Faulkner. His style just doesn’t click with me. There are, however, authors who have had a great affect on my writing, they’ve made me better.

Chuck Palahniuk: I’ve always been a decent enough writer, but I definitely used to come off a little forced, like I was trying really hard to write smart. I was a little stilted. Chuck Palahniuk completely changed my basic approach to writing with Survivor and Invisible Monsters. Palahniuk’s style is so raw and unaffected, his use of the present tense adds a wonderful sense of nowness to his writing. When read aloud, both books have a certain rhythm that just sounds natural. I’ve adopted these techniques and am much better for them.

Jeff VanderMeer: I kind of promised Jeff I wouldn’t write about him, but I can’t skip his impact on me. Jeff’s use of his craft is absolutely amazing. His words form sentences that create life. City of Saints and Madmen is such a masterpiece, I feel like I’ve spent a month in Ambergris, walking its cobblestones, barricading the door to my hostel, praying to avoid the chaos and death that shrouds the Festival of the Freshwater Squid. So few have the skill to write bizarre twisted worlds and make them so real, with such vivid characters. My writing is more alive because of him.

Catherynne M. Valente: Cat Valente flat out writes gorgeous prose. She writes darkly eloquent sentences that are often astonishingly chilling. She’s truly an artist with language, she paints stunning images with words. Because of her novel, The Labyrinth, the dark things I write are far more beautiful.

I owe much of my skill to these three, their writing means a lot to me.

Who are your influences?

Why I blog, why I write

So, I’ve been blogging for a long time, but back in the day, my blogging was different. I mean, I’ve always written about books, movies, pop-culture stuff, but when I wrote about myself, I could never write with honesty. I used to present myself in a sterilized way, the way I thought I should look. If I felt something dark, something uncomfortable, I wrote about it in a really roundabout way. I said things without really saying anything. It was so counter-productive to what I’ve wanted since high-school, I want people to know me. I want people to understand me. If I’m to be liked, or loved, I don’t want it to be because I’m censoring myself. The last few years have cured me of insincerity in my blogging and my writing in general.

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So, I’m out with my friend, Sarah and my assistant, Sarah, in Ybor City. Ybor is pretty much entirely bars, clubs and tattoo shops, with a few really good restaurants. I’m a regular just about everywhere. Bartenders know me, waiters know me, the tattoo artists definitely know me.

We’re there on this particular evening for my seventeenth tattoo. It’s one word, “Downer,” etched into my left wrist. Lately, I get my tattoos from a fellow named, Colt, a tattoo artist like his father before him. His mom and dad are usually around the shop, or the bar next-door. It’s an odd little family business, but they’re happier than most nine-to-fivers, it’s obvious they don’t go home and hate each other.


“Downer, like Xanax and shit?” he asks.

I don’t have a computer when I go out, it’s just not practical. Whenever I’m out and about, I talk to people using the alphabet. I should explain, talking with the alphabet involves a person saying each letter of the alphabet and me signaling with my eyebrows when to stop at a particular letter. Then, each letter gets written down in a notebook.

I tell him, “no, it’s a Nirvana song.” I tell him, “but also, I do really like downers.” Morphine, Demerol, we’re old friends. They’re the upside of getting tubes pulled out of and shoved into the hole in my throat. I have this done every five weeks, one doesn’t want their trache getting stale. Still, it’s not a drug tattoo, I have two already. Been there. Done that.

Really, Downer is one of my favorite Nirvana songs. To me, it’s an indictment against insincerity. Downer mocks the fact that we do things and say things because we’re “supposed to,” and not because they’re right, or honest. People pray to God, whether they believe or not. People thank God out of habit or fear, whether He deserves it or not.

I don’t want to live my life pretending to be someone I’m not, simply to fit some arbitrary standard of “normal.” I try to show that in my writing, I try to show that in the words that are etched into my flesh.

Have you ever felt strongly enough about words to consider making them a part of your body?

The power of words

I love the idea that there’s power in words, that writing can create or destroy. It’s a device I’ve seen used in some of my favorite works of fiction. Chuck Palahniuk explores the idea in Lullaby, a story involving a book of lullabies that when read aloud, kills the listener. In Michael Cisco’s The Divinity Student, a young man is struck dead by lightning, only to be cut open, stuffed with pages of arcane writing and resurrected. He goes on to search for the lost Catalogue of Unknown Words, words that describe the very essence of creation and existence. 

I wanted to write a story along these lines, and I did…

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Music and writing

I find it very difficult to write in a quiet room, I end up getting distracted by a million thoughts bouncing around in my head. I just lose focus too easily without some kind of buffer. I find that I do my best writing listening to music, songs that I know intimately. Music muffles the noise in my head, but it doesn’t distract me from what I’m creating.

I know the music so well, every drum beat, every guitar chord, every word to every song, it’s all just a part of me by now. Kurt Cobain, Elliot Smith, Aimee Mann, three amazing writers, their lyrics are so dark and unflinching. Their ideas feed my ideas, their darkness makes me feel less lonely in mine. For whatever reason I feel safe, and I can write.

Does music do anything for you?

Finding honesty

My writing has changed a great deal in the last two years, in several ways, due to several factors. I’ve mentioned that I have a tube in my throat, that I can’t talk, but I haven’t really gotten into specifics. I haven’t explained how I’ve been affected. I figure I’ll chat about things over a few posts.

One evening I’m watching a really bad episode of Dexter with my girlfriend. Back then I wear a mask over my nose, the mask is connected via a stylish gray hose to a machine that blows pressurized air into my lungs. Without the mask I can’t breathe, but I can talk. So, being that I can still talk, I ask for a sip of pineapple juice. This sip takes a really bad turn. I don’t drink the juice, I inhale it, I drown myself. After about three or four minutes I pass out, an ambulance whisks me to an e.r. trauma room. I die in this room, my heart stops, but it doesn’t take.

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Finding inspiration

It’s really difficult to write anything good in a black-hole. I read a great deal, I’m constantly listening to music, watching movies, it’s all fuel for writing. Old ideas create new ideas. 

Experiences are also important, more important than anything else. Reading, watching movies, swallowing pop-culture, it’s all definitely valuable, but I don’t think anything can replace genuine first-hand experiences. The best fiction always has some roots in non-fiction.

So, everything I do, whenever I leave the house, I’m thinking about ways to write about my experiences. I try to put myself in odd situations, bizarre places, because chances are, I’ll be able to write something amazing later. Hell, even as my last girlfriend was dropping me like a sack of bricks, over AIM no less, I thought to myself, “one day, this will be great for writing.”

A few months ago I was out one evening, I wanted to find a totally ugly, totally depressing bar. I found it, I wrote about it…


by: Michael Phillips

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