Unflinching and uncompromising, tough and talented, Shane McKenzie stands at the forefront of the next generation of horror writers.

—Bentley Little

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lee Thompson's Guest Blog: Finding Your Strengths and Using Your Weaknesses


Thanks to Shane for having me on his blog and to any who read! Feel free to leave a comment and spread the word.

Part 1: Finding Your Strengths…

It seems obvious when you read a story by someone who doesn’t know their strengths or use them to full effect. The story is lop-sided, lacking power. I’m guessing a big part of a writer’s ‘voice’ comes from identifying and honing their best assets. If you want to hit someone hard you have to generate the power from the ground.
How does one find their strengths? Honesty helps. Listening too. Paying attention to what excites and stimulates our gray matter and our souls. And it helps to know what you want to say before you write it, to keep an open mind, your perception’s radar turning when reading, writing, and living.
I’ve got a few friends who read all of my work and I’ve come to trust their opinions as if they were part of me (extensions that see what I’m too close to see clearly). One says he loves the suspense. Another thinks I’m terrific at layers. The third says my characters rock, he likes how they get pummeled but still reach deep enough to keep standing even if part of them is broken in the process. And those things are favorite parts of discovering the story for me (building suspense, layering, pummeling my characters just to see them fight back from their deepest beings.) I want to play up those areas. And oddly enough they connect with each other—sharp imagery to demonstrate the character’s struggle, layers to build depth in both their forward and backward struggle and those of the people tied to them, and the imagery and layers working in sync to create suspense. I’m a firm-believer in the power of three, in triangulation. Weird how it comes up here again and something I hadn’t realized until I wrote it.
I learn what I’m strong at by paying attention when I read my favorite writers like Tom Piccirilli, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, Peter Straub, Dennis Lehane, Greg Gifune, and Clive Barker. Certain themes and imagery and metaphors excite me. I know when I read them (and when I write them) because it becomes effortless, I’m immersed, in a trance.
Maybe part of it is because those things share communion with my spirit when they’re all present in a story.
What excites you when you read? When you write? What excites you about life? About your relationships? Your job? Your children? Your dreams? Your nightmares?
I believe we can train ourselves to draw from it all, and from other passions like painting, martial arts, sex, and music. To do anything less is a shame. Dig deep. Ask yourself direct questions. Only settle for what resonates. Use it.

Part 2: Using Your Weaknesses

I know some of my weaknesses. The biggest is grammar, but I have two readers (Shaun Ryan and Kevin Wallis) who rock at that. And I’m learning a little more every week.
I suck at Settings. That’s probably my biggest hang-up. How do I use it to my advantage? I keep my characters moving through it so I don’t have to linger and describe too much (describing settings bores me anyway and I don’t want to be bored when I’m writing.) I also like to keep it minimal on purpose—my settings are usually taking place in a room or a forest. I don’t need to describe all the trees, you know what a forest looks like and if I describe mine it takes away from the forest you know. What matters to me is what the characters are doing in the setting, how they’re interacting with each other and their surroundings. I like to use setting for atmosphere, but in my stories, the setting is not the story. And I make sure even a ‘room scene’ has honesty and intensity, whether they’re subtle or in your face.
I think, like someone who is deaf or blind, our other senses are heightened in certain areas to compensate for where we’re lacking.
If you suck at Dialogue, you’re better keeping it minimal than grating on a reader’s nerves. And with character’s keeping their mouths shut more you can focus more on their internal lives and their actions while also creating tension between characters.
If you suck at Action, you can create a brisk pace with dialogue and deepen relationships and create conflict.
If you suck at Plot you can focus on characters. This is great because I rather read a story with great characters than a book with thin characters and a killer plot. Once you have made the characters real you can come back and re-examine the plot.
If you suck at Characterization… you’re screwed. Go people watch more, get to know yourself, study novels where the characters really move you and figure out why. The characters are the glue. You want strong glue.

--Lee Thompson

Friday, August 5, 2011

What the hell is goin' on?

I have been neglecting my blog. Sorry about that. But I have good reason! I've been a busy son of a bitch.

I just got word that my novella All You Can Eat will be released next year by Deadite Press! There will be two other books coming out by Deadite as well. Very excited about this. The whole thing is just so fucking surreal. And the folks at Eraserhead/Deadite are just awesome. Great group of horror lovers, man. I couldn't be happier to work with them. I think we can do great, horrible things together.

Also, along with my friend Travis Tarpley, I have opened a new, invite only, press called Sinister Grin Press. We officially launch the press in Vegas at Killercon this year! Hells yes! So far, we've got three projects under contract. The first of a chapbook series called Cut Corners, including brand new stories by Ramsey Campbell, Bentley Little, and Ray Garton. Also, a brand new novel by Wrath James White, Sacrifice. Trust me people, you don't want to miss out on either. And The Killings is being masterly crafted by Wrath James White and J.F. Gonzalez. It will be the first book out in 2012 from Sinister Grin, and it will be our first limited edition, signed hardback. We'll be doing a print run of 150 of them, so don't miss out!

Besides that, I'm putting some finishing touches on my latest editing project with Pill Hill Press called A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre. A fucking great book, let me tell you. Sadly, it will mark my last project with Pill Hill, who are absolutely great to work with and who I will always remember as the first press to take a chance on me. They will continue to put out great, fun stuff. That's just what they do.

I'm also in the process of writing a couple more novellas to be sent to some other choice publishers, and I can only hope my luck hasn't run out. This horror writing stuff is just too fucking fun, isn't it?

Until next time!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My First Convention

Well, World Horror Convention is over. Was it real? Did all that really happen?

I gotta admit that I'm having withdrawals. I had so much fucking fun out there, rubbing elbows with the best in the game. I had all these preconceptions about how the convention would be, and my expectations were high. Let me tell you, it was better than I could have ever imagined.

To be fair, from what I heard, it was the best WHC in a long time, some argued ever. I have nothing to compare it to, but goddamn did I have fun. And the people I met, hung out with, got thoroughly intoxicated with. I just never wanted it to end!

And a huge thanks to Wrath James White and Nate Southard for taking me under their wings and taking care of me. They introduced me to some huge names, talked up my writing to these people. It was surreal. It was like, "Are you talking about me? But...why?" I'm still not used to having anybody like something I've written. It's a very strange feeling for me.

I got to meet with publishers and editors of the markets that I've been dreaming about getting into, and having a damn good time with them. I doubt some of them will forget me anytime soon. I was the Asian mutt that looks Mexican with the Scottish name. And we got hammered together.

My pitch sessions went about as great as I could have hoped for. I pitched to Brett Savory for Chizine, RJ Sevin for Creeping Hemlock, and even though I had nothing scheduled, Jeff Burk let me pitch to him while he smoked a cigarette. All great people. I was terrified out of my mind before the convention, but now I see there is absolutely no reason to feel that way. And, best of all, every one of them asked me to send it over. One in particular seemed pretty damn excited about the project. Holy shit in a fishbowl!

As horror writers, we are all in this together. I mean, we all know for a fact that we have at least one thing in common, and that's our love for the macabre. I don't know about anyone else, but I have nobody to talk to about my writing, not in person anyway. My wife takes as much as she can, but I can't expect her to fully understand what the fuck I'm talking about most of the time. But at the convention, we all got it. There was this energy in the air like...I can't really describe it. It was just there. We are family. That's what it felt like for me.

And I made some new friends, put faces to names I had been chatting with online for a couple of years. I mean, I hung out in John Skipp's room! I smoked a cigarette with Jack Ketchum! Peter Straub was drinking at the table right next to me, Joe Lansdale on the couch across the room. Are you fucking kidding me?

For anyone who missed it, I'm truly sorry. All I can say is you have to make the next one. I for one won't be missing any of them. I feel like my batteries are charged, that I can write an entire library of horror now. Speaking of that, maybe I should get to work...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sponge Mode

So, I understand that I am a new writer and that I have a lot to learn. I embrace it. If I don't have an open mind and a willingness to soak in new information, I will wallow in mediocrity (and yes, I had to spell check that). I find learning about writing is a fun experience for me.

Right now, I'm totally in sponge mode. I feel like I've reached a level now that I actually know what good writing looks like and what its supposed to accomplish. Before, I was just writing whatever sick shit popped in my head and sending the stories out to whoever was interested. Most weren't. What's funny to me is to go back and read some of that stuff. My god, the fact that I published anything at all is nothing short of a miracle. THE STORIES WERE TERRIBLE. As an editor now, I would reject every one of them.

Back when I started, about two and a half years ago now, I read the essential books. I read Elements of Style and On Writing and Zen in the Art of Writing and the Writer's Workshop of Horror, twice. But it didn't sink in. I read the information and at the time, it felt like it made sense, but it really didn't. Right now, I read those books, and I get them. I get what I'm supposed to be doing. That's not to say that I'm any good at it still, but at least I understand what I should be doing.

So, now that things are finally making sense to me, I'm reading every goddamn book on writing I can get my hands on. I read David Morell's "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing" and Jessica Page Morrell's "Thanks, But This Isn't For Us." I guess anyone named Morrell knows what they're talking about, because those books were fantastic and really opened my eyes about certain things. I'm reading "On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the HWA" and its great so far. I'm going to re-read Elements of Style, On Writing, Zen in the Art of Writing, and the Writer's Workshop of Horror. I have "The Successful Novelist" by David Morrell that I'll be reading next. I also have various other reference books on grammar and style that I'll be reading. And I'm loving every second of this. I feel like I'm being told a secret, even though the information has been there all this time, I just didn't know how to read it.

But most importantly, I'm taking an online course from Mr. Michael Knost. I already took one and got the chance to have Michael and Tom Piccirilli critique a short story of mine. I haven't got the results back yet, so needless to say, I'm shitting my pants. But the courses are fantastic. Seriously. I've learned so much and he is a great teacher, really knows how to make things easy to understand. Right now, I'm in the level 1 course, which is kind of backwards since I took the advanced course first, but its all good. As long as I get the information, right?

So anyway, I can feel myself getting better at the craft right now. I'm still no good, but I ain't horrible. At least I'd like to think so. But I'm never above learning, nor will I ever be. Now, I guess I should go write something.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ass Kickery

Well, I just completed my tenth session with Wrath, and I gotta say, I feel pretty damn good. Muay Thai is addictive and fun, and I now feel that if someone tried to start something with me or my family, there is a pretty good chance they're gonna get hurt.

I feel great. I've lost weight, I'm quicker on my feet, my endurance and flexibility are better. I can throw punches, elbows, knees, and kicks correctly, though I still have lots of work to do as far as being consistent with my technique and form. But, I can kick with my shin and it doesn't hurt anymore. I can make it through a session, which believe me isn't easy sometimes, without feeling like I'm gonna die.

Wrath is happy with where I'm at, especially since I came into this training with no prior knowledge of any kind of fighting. He made a comment yesterday as I was kicking the pad on his leg, "It's nice to know that kick all came from me."

My original plan was to train for ten sessions and walk away with an experience that benefited me mentally and physically. But, at this point, I'm loving it too much to stop. We will be going for another ten sessions starting Friday, and I'll probably keep doing it even after that. Not only am I getting fit and feel confident that I could fuck somebody up if I had to, but I get to train with a fellow horror writer, and the conversations we have about writing are priceless.

I'll be getting my own punching bag at the house in a couple of weeks. I've discovered a new passion, the art of ass kickery, and I just can't stop.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cover that up!

So I've been getting the cover art to my projects coming out this year, and I gotta say, they are all fucking amazing. Pill Hill Press does not skimp out on the artwork, which is something I really appreciate. As a reader, I will admit that cover art is a big part of my decision making when I'm choosing a book to read from an author or publishing house that I'm not familiar with. So I take it very seriously because nobody knows who the fuck I am. But that's okay. Shit, as a writer, I'm still trying to figure out who I am.

But here they are and I'm as happy as a suicidal turkey in November.

A Hacked Up Holiday Massacre

Featuring stories by: Jack Ketchum, Joe R. Lansdale, Bentley Little, Nate Southard, Lee Thomas, and Wrath James White (and many more super talented authors)


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night... A Horror Cliche Parody
This one I couldn't resist. I just thought it would be a lot of fun to poke fun at all the cliches we are taught to avoid. Jeff Strand will be writing the introduction for this book!

And...the file is too big! It won't let me post it, but once we get a final version of the cover with the title, I'll get it up. Bummer, I was really excited to share it because it's fucking sick! But I'll get it up eventually.

Now, those are the two anthologies that I'm editing this year for Pill Hill Press. And I know it's frowned upon, but I'll be writing a story for each too. Shoot me, I can't help it.

Psycho Cinema Double Feature

This will be my double novella book coming out toward the end of this year. I'm very happy with the cover, the artist followed my confusing description perfectly. This book will be designed around B-Horror movies and I think it will be a lot of fun.


Carved: Tales From the Pumpkin Patch

This is my baby right now. My first short story collection. I'm very excited about this one, and am working hard to get it polished enough for a release. It's a bigger story that leads into short stories, going back to the main characters between tales. I'm happy with it, but it needs a spit shine.


That's it for now, but I'll update as the covers get titles and all prettied up.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Muay Thai Training: Rounds 2 and 3

So since my last post, I've had two more sessions with Wrath. It's been challenging but I'm loving every second of it. Wrath is a really great instructor, making everything easy to understand, though this training is anything but easy. And for me, I'm coming in as a blank canvas with no prior training of any kind. I'm doing this solely for my own benefit, to challenge myself physically and mentally and be able to handle myself if the situation presented itself. Again, that instinctual need to protect my family, my girls.

So, the second session was punches. The first session was Wrath showing me the correct form and teaching me the correct way to throw punches and elbows. The second session, I got to use them a little bit. He wrapped my hands (which made me feel bad ass, like Jean Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport. I wanted to roll my fists in glass and fight that huge chested Chinese guy with the mullet) and put the gloves on. I got to hitting the heavy bag, which was fun for me. Shadow boxing and actually making contact with something solid is just so much different. I was starting to feel good about my form and my punching, though I was still having trouble keeping my chin down, stomach curled, and eyes forward, and I had a tendency to punch to low. Then we got into the hook, which was difficult to grasp at first, but I started to get the hang of it. Then, he started showing me blocking techniques. It really surprised me how little movement and energy it takes to block, though your eyes and reflexes have to be sharp. It's just a flick of the wrist. Wrath would throw a jab with his left, I would flick my right wrist to deflect it. He'd throw a right, I'd deflect with my left. Then he showed me a way to block with my elbows. I would run my hand over my head like I'm slicking back my hair, angling my elbow into my body. Then Wrath started throwing punches at me while I blocked with my elbows, over and over. That was a lot of fun, got to move around the dojo a little bit.

So, between the second and third sessions, I have been shadow boxing to get my form better and running to get my endurance up. I was feeling pretty good about my punches. Then, we meet up yesterday and move on to kicks. I have been pretty nervous about kicks because my flexibility is terrible and I've never kicked a thing in my life. We started with a pad on Wrath's leg, and I was trying to get the concept of rotating my left foot and letting my right leg be dead weight. It was awkward and it's gonna take some practice to get right, but not too bad. And that's when we moved to the heavy bag. Wrath kind of smiled and told me that Muay Thai is a lot of conditioning your shins to take damage without feeling too much pain, aka nerve damage. He said your shins can become like baseball bats. And he showed me by kicking the shit out of the bag over and over again, making it look soft and full of feathers. So I walk up to the bag, slam my shin against it with a kick, and my eyes burst open. Son of a bitch that hurt. One kick. That was a reality check, let me tell you. But I kept going at it, still feeling awkward as hell with my kicks. To be honest, I felt like a girl scout in there. My kicks, especially my left, were not good. And trying to remember my form and not to snap my leg and to leave it dead weight and rotate and everything was pretty damn hard when every time I slammed my shin against this bag, it hurt like a motherfucker. For me, the bag felt like it was full of bricks. After my shins were already on fire, then Wrath told me twenty kicks with each leg, back to back to back. That was a helluva challenge there. But I did it. My form was terrible, but I still did it. Then Wrath tells me how he used to do a thousand. That just seems humanly impossible to me. But I'm goddamned determined to get better. I need to strengthen (kill nerves) in my shins. So, I'm going to start using a roller and just roll that fucker across my shins, then knock it against them, at least three times a week. My shins are all bruised up right now, but I'll get them there eventually. He says they can become baseball bats, right now, I'm at wiffleball bat level.

I can already feel myself getting addicted to this stuff. I feel great and I'm motivated. Now I'm gonna go cry in the shower...

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

It's a Girl!

Just found out yesterday that me and my wife are having a little girl. I just can't believe it. A daughter. I have a daughter. I'm going to be a father.

It's something I've wanted for a long time, and now that it's almost here, it doesn't feel real. I feel like it's happening to someone else. But when we were at the doctor's office and I was staring up at the screen while the sonographer did the ultrasound, watching my daughter move around and twitch inside of my wife's stomach, I really felt it. That I am a father now. The most amazing feeling I've ever felt.

Maxine Kim McKenzie. That's my baby girl. Mighty Max!

I can't wait to meet her. It's a weird feeling to miss someone  you've never met, but that 's exactly what I'm feeling. I want to hold her so bad. I want to read to her. I want to be dumb and silly and make her laugh. I'm so damn excited right now, I can hardly contain myself. And I've never felt more motivated before. I'm writing with new inspiration. Those days when I'm feeling out of it and don't want to do anything, I just remember that ultrasound, and it lights a fire under my ass. I have to make my family proud. I have to make sure they are taken care of and happy. I should never be doing nothing. I don't have that privelege anymore.

And I can feel the inner pit bull coming out. I have to protect them. My girls. I can't ever let anything happen to them. If some shit goes down, I need to be able to handle it. Which is why I'm taking my Muay Thai training so seriously. Which is why I'm lifting weights every goddamn day, even when I don't want to. They need me to be strong, or at least that's how I feel.

So, everything is about to change for me. But I welcome it. I've been waiting for this my entire life. I couldn't be happier.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Feeling the Wrath

I started my Muay Thai training with Wrath James White yesterday. It was bad ass. I'll admit that I was intimidated and nervous going in, but I've never done anything like this, so I didn't really know what to expect. And Wrath is a big guy. But, for the first session anyway, he kept it slow and simple for me. He mainly showed me the correct stance and form, which is something I need to work on. My balance is terrible. And I'm not flexible at all. Looks like I'll be doing yoga with my wife after all. She'll be happy about that. Though she's doing prenatal yoga right now, and I don't think it's quite intense enough.

We worked on basic punches: jabs, power punches, and hooks. And most importantly while throwing punches, gotta protect my chin. And keep my arms tight into my body. I've been standing in front of a mirror this morning and just practicing that. I need to be able to keep my balance and still throw controlled punches, while never losing my form. It's gonna take lots of repitition, but I'm ready to work hard.

We moved onto elbow strikes. He showed me four different elbows, one of which is illegal in professional fighting. The elbows felt awkward because you have to have your arm in kind of a chicken wing to keep the elbow tight so it can cut like a knife when thrown. Looked pretty devastating.

I had a lot of fun and learned a lot. I mean, before last night, I didn't know shit. I at least have something to work with now, something I can practice. I've changed my diet completely and only take cold showers. I will be jogging every single morning and on most nights, and doing as much shadow boxing as possible. And most importantly right now, I'm going to stretch and stretch. I've gotta get more flexible.

Our next session is on Tuesday, and I'll post an update.

Did I mention that I'm a pile of soreness today??

What's this blog you speak of??

Okay, I was told that a blog is just one of those necessary things for a writer to have. I never really ever thought about it. But fuck it, might as well. I don't really know what having a blog entails, but I guess its just rambling on about whatever crazy shit pops in my head.

Soooo, what the hell do I say?

I can say this. It has been the craziest year of my life. And I'm talking about 2010. I got married in August in Cabo San Lucas. Amazing out there. I'll never forget that week...except maybe the first night. I don't remember shit from that night. We found out we were having a baby in October, so we bought a house in December. The thought of being a father is the craziest feeling I've ever had. Just to sit there and ponder on it. I love rubbing my wife's belly. And I still can't believe I have a house. I feel like a transient squatting in some nice couple's home. The baby is due in June of 2011. And I couldn't be happier.

As for writing, things have been going pretty well. I'm happy. Of course, I could be happier, but who couldn't? I sold some stuff that I'm pretty proud of. Got a story at Dark Recesses. Got others at various websites and anthologies too. I did decide to stop giving work away, though. Nothing against the "for the love" markets, but I'm trying to get paid. And not for the money, really. But for the recognition. I hope that doesn't sound douchy, but it is what it is.

I've got some exciting projects coming in 2011! Pill Hill Press has really taken me under their wing and allowed my imagination to run wild. I've got my first short story collection coming out, "Carved: Tales From the Pumpkin Patch." Very excited about it! I've got the first draft finished and am doing revisions with my man, AJ Brown.

I've got a double novella book coming out called "Psycho Cinema" which is designed for the fan of B-horror movies. Kind of a Grindhouse feel I guess. I just thought it would be fun to just go nuts with a story. Don't worry about how realistic everything is. If my guy gets cut, that shit is gonna spurt and squirt blood. Just get over the top with it. Those are my favorite movies to watch, they entertain me and make me laugh, so I thought I'd try and bring some of that to writing. I'm hoping the Psycho Cinema double feature can be an ongoing series.

I'm editing two anthologies so far for 2011. "A Hacked Up Holiday Massacre" and "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night..." Hacked Up is an extreme horror anthology themed around all holidays. So far, we've got Bentley Little, Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Lee Thomas, Wrath James White, and Nate Southard. A fucking amazing lineup! I can't believe I get to work with these monsters of horror. Seriously, I'm working with my idols and some of the writers that have influenced me the most. Some other bad ass talent will be included, but we'll release that later on. Dark and Stormy will be a horror comedy anthology themed around making fun of horror cliches. Jeff Strand has agreed to write an introduction for me. How fucking cool is that? I'm lovin' 2011 so far.

So there we go. My first blog. Does anyone care? Probably not, but my mom thinks I'm cool...