Thursday, December 17, 2009

Terence Taylor answers questions regarding writing & his new horror novel, Bite Marks

Q. Welcome Terence.
A. Thanks for inviting me! I’ve been looking forward to talking with you. Sorry it’s taken so long.

Q. You turned away from many years of writing for children’s television to attempt capturing an adult audience with your new novel Bite Marks. What led to the shift in focus and medium?
A. Crazy, right? I’ve always loved the horror/fantasy genre, since I was a kid reading my grandmother’s collection of fairy tales, classic mythology, monster mags, comic books, ghost stories, UFO handbooks…but I never thought of it as anything but a hobby. I didn’t put enough time into my fiction to really pursue it, but when work slowed down in L.A., I had time to explore and decided to finish my vampire novel, give it a real shot. I didn’t want to wake up at seventy sorry I never tried.
I’d kind of fallen into children’s television after college when I got a job on a low budget TV program produced by the New York State Education Department called “Vegetable Soup”. I wanted to be a filmmaker then and the show was shot on 16mm film and assembled in video. It taught me everything it took to get a story on film, from initial concept to casting, propping, location scouting…and what worked and didn’t work in scripts.
I ended up writing for the show within a year, and can claim to this day that I’ve written for Bette Midler, who was just starting out and did the voice of an animated character called “Woody the Spoon”. We did a documentary about a young choreographer named Debbie Allen, who went on to “FAME” and fame, and one of our directors, Doug Cheek, went on to make a classic B horror movie called C.H.U.D…. It was an amazing experience and I was lucky enough to roll from one job to the next for the next few years (with long breaks between), I slowly stopped doing production and one day realized I was making a living writing children’s television.
I’d been writing horror fiction in my free time since my twenties. I spent all day writing sweet kid-friendly scripts, and then unleashed my dark side and frustrations in my night work. I think it came out even darker because of the contrast with my day job. It’s taken me this long to find the balance in my work, the purpose — and the children’s writing actually helped me with that.
It’s amazing how much you can give kids to think about at an early age — they’re far more aware of what’s happening around them than adults want to believe — what they crave is clarity and context to understand it. Most of the shows I did for kids dealt with fears and conflict resolution. I learned to create a world they could believe in, no matter how far-fetched, how to keep an audience’s attention and entertain while still making serious points.
I find it amusing that all of that’s worked its way into my current work. I write what I think of as post-modern pulp fiction, very fun to write and to read, but hope it also has more style and substance than the average commercial horror novel out there. I know mine is hard to put down, so at least I kept those skills…

Q. I noticed you have an agent and one of the largest publishers in the U.S. working for you. How do you believe this has impacted the reception of your debut novel?
A. I’m never sure from day to day exactly who’s working for who…still working that one out! The biggest value of the agent was in getting me the publisher. There was little or no way an unpublished author like myself, even with my modest TV background, could have reached that editor or sold her that manuscript the way they did, ending in a two-book deal my first time out.
Because it’s my first novel, I honestly don’t know yet how the size of my publisher has impacted the book’s reception. I know they were able to get it into bookstore chains across the country, because friends sent cell phone pictures to me from all over. I know reviews have been good, which has been great after the long road I took to get here. Obviously, I’d like to think that the book itself is driving the reviews and not my publisher. I don’t think they could, or all their books would have good reviews.
I’ve been extremely lucky in that the senior editor who bought my book has backed it up in many, many ways. She released me as a trade paperback, a more affordable price for people to try a first time author, timed the book’s release around Halloween, the best of all possible times to promote a new vampire novel, and scheduled the release of the second soon after for April 2010. I’m widely distributed in major chains and independent book dealers, and also online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others. I think having a big publisher definitely helped me to get a much wider mainstream distribution with a bigger advance than I might have had with a smaller press.
Other than that, being published by a large publisher is also like being a member of a really big family. I have an average of 750 brothers and sister annually at St. Martin’s. It’s lovely to have so much company, but you can’t always get as much attention as you’d like. Now that the first book is out and the second is on its way through press production, my editor has to turn her attention to the next round of books to get into print. That’s just the reality. There’s still support, but not the snappy immediate attention the new, more needy kids get.

Q. Did you bring your agent with you from the world of television, or did you have to find someone new to represent you? Did you have any difficulty landing a publisher? In other words, what was your approach to getting published as a novelist?
A. The road to mainstream commercial publication can be a long and painful one. There are many valid and useful alternatives to getting your work into the world these days, but I’ll tell you how my book got published — soon to be a New School course, or a lecture at a Learning Annex near you. If I run too long, edit me down, but my experience may be interesting to those trying to sell a first novel, and will be my most complete telling of how it all happened.
The agent system is different for film/TV and literary works…the most obvious being that “Hollywood” agents tend to represent writers, while literary agents sign on books. That doesn’t mean that novelists don’t have a written or implied commitment to their agents after several book sales. But in TV the beginning is usually a two-year contract to represent you, while in literary you sign a contract for an agent to represent a specific book until it is sold or considered — usually by them — to be unsellable.
First, I finished my novel before I tried to sell it. Few publishers are willing to commit to an unfinished manuscript from an unpublished author, unless there’s a compelling market for it because of who they are or what they do, something that makes it a guaranteed sale to bookstores and readers — like fame in another field, scandal or other mass market appeal. I also wanted to know that I could finish the book before I tried to sell it, since writing it was my primary motivation when I started, not making money.
I spent five years finishing the first viable draft of “Bite Marks”. Once I felt it was ready to send to publishers, I gathered a list of agents. There are many options for publication these days, but I wanted to start with a traditional route, and then go on to other methods if that didn’t work. There are a wealth of websites on agents and how to avoid getting screwed…I recommend reading them carefully. The Science Fiction Writers Association has a great site page on the subject,
Do the work to find out what agents should and shouldn’t do. “Real” agents don’t charge you to read your manuscript, direct you to editors who will “fix” it for a price, or many of the other horror stories you will find online. They’re allowed to get reimbursed after a sale for expenses of copying and shipping to publishers, and occasional other incidentals, all of which should be established between you up front before signing anything.
A quick search will give you sites with agent lists, most with background on who they are and what they represent. There’s also a reference book at almost any major library, a three-volume set I can’t remember the name of, which lists useful information on book editors, publishers, and literary agents. The latest edition of “Jeff Herman’s guide to book publishers, editors, & literary agents” would also be good — I found my agent in it, and he gives invaluable info on their likes, dislikes and backgrounds. Your best bet is to start submitting to agents that represent books similar to yours. Most will have relationships with editors at publishers in that area.
I wrote a cover letter, a bio giving my professional background and any pertinent facts about my life that related to my writing, a synopsis of the book (all one page or less), then added the first fifty pages of the manuscript. Most agents tell you not to send a sample with your query letter — an author friend recommended throwing it in anyway. If they start reading and like it, they’re more likely to ask for the rest, saving you a step. If they don’t, you’ve lost nothing. In my first letter I was unpublished. By the second round, I’d had a story in an anthology and that helped. Bring up anything that may inspire interest in you and your work.
I sent out over twenty packets the first time, each with a self-addressed stamped envelope to return the contents. (many agents don’t mind multiple submissions as long as they know, unless they specifically say so) For the next month I had an almost daily stab to the heart each time I saw one come back. Learn to let it go. Rejection hurts, but it’s business, not personal. Make a list and check off the returns so you know who said no, and start on your next round of submissions as soon as you’ve heard from the last of the first.
As a friend told me, make the process as mechanical and automatic as possible. Keep emotion out of it, as hard as that is. Most replies were almost immediate form letters, just sent back as soon as they arrived. About five were personal replies, encouraging, but telling me they couldn’t do anything with it. Two remain lost to this day. I can only imagine the SASE postage was steamed off for their own use, not an agent I’d want anyway.
The second round I sent out maybe six months later, on a Friday, and got a call Monday from the agent I eventually signed with, asking me to send what I wanted her to see. I sent my first published story and the manuscript. A few weeks later, while I kept receiving new rejections, I got a phone call from her associate telling me the agent loved the short story and was taking the manuscript on a two-week vacation. When she got back we arranged a meeting.
My friends were excited, but I knew from experience in L.A. that a mere meeting didn’t mean I had an agent yet. We talked about the story and the book, and I was told that while they loved the premise, the manuscript wasn’t ready to send out yet. They expressed their concerns (It was too long, and wandered…) and we talked about the next step. Once I established that they’d actually sign the book before I went back to the manuscript, I picked up my almost 600 page first novel and went home to think, with no idea of what to do with it. By the time I went to bed I’d restructured the opening and two weeks later had cut the book down to under 400 pages and rewritten many opening chapters.
I waited months to hear back from them, and when I finally did, I wasn’t happy. They e-mailed me four pages of notes on what they felt was still missing — not how to fix anything, but all the story elements that needed work.
This is a key point in the story. If I’d said screw it and kept sending it around, I might have found an agent eventually, but instead, after two days of sulking, I re-read the notes and realized I couldn’t argue with any of them. They’d pinpointed every weakness in my telling of the story. The agent made it clear that she still loved the book, but if I wasn’t going to deal with the notes, they felt they couldn’t sell it. They’d give it just one more read, so my next round would be my last.
I said yes — I’d never written a novel on my own before, and knew the manuscript had problems. Most importantly, they weren’t telling me what to do, but what they felt needed doing. Unlike L.A., where anyone giving notes almost always seemed to be trying to get me to write what they would if they could. In this case, I had strong notes based on their read and that of two other readers, who sat in with them for an afternoon while they all compared notes.
More and more editors these days come from a publishing or other editorial background. The advantage is that they often keep contacts at publishing houses, but more importantly, have a better sense of why books get published. Because of their track record I knew I didn’t know more than they did about “the business”. I had to trust them, and based on what I knew, I did. I was lucky to get the agents I did, and am glad I listened to them. It changed me for life.
The next year was spent doing deeper research on historic events, alchemy, and answering questions as simple as “Why did Steven and Lori break up?” My original answer had been that they’d just drifted apart, separated by work. The final answer was far more thought out, added depth to both characters, their backgrounds and past relationships, and became a key part of the theme of the overall story. The same was true for all the other notes, all were questions that fleshed out the story and the characters when properly answered.
I spent a year rewriting the book from top to bottom, replaced flowery old text from over ten years ago when I started the book with new chapters written with the experience I’d gained since them. Dug deeper into motivations, emotions. Names and characters changed, the story developed and improved. I didn’t need to go that far for the agent — I did it for myself. I didn’t just “murder my darlings”, as the old saying goes, I slaughtered them wholesale, consumed and digested them to feed new growth, and have hundreds of pages from earlier drafts that will never see the light of day.
Just as exercise improves the body, my writing had become leaner and stronger in the last few years of writing daily, more descriptive with fewer words, and my focus stayed on the story, not how cleverly I was telling it or how many big words I knew. In the year of rewriting the book and the following year writing the second, I found my voice as a writer and went from being a wordsmith to a storyteller. It’s made the process of writing so much more pleasurable. Instead of starting with language, I put myself into the setting of the story, surround myself with the characters involved, turn on some music and let the moment play out, see what happens and write it all down. Later I go back and clean up words (which I do, again and again…), and edit events to fit into the story better, etc.
The process of writing has become more visceral than intellectual, more felt than thought out, and more exciting to me. In a strange way, I’ve gone back to the way I wrote scripts — seeing the moment in my head, and then describing it concretely on paper for others. The manuscript I gave back to the agent was a hell of a better read, told the story I wanted to tell far better, and was a much easier sell.
Out of over twenty publishers, five were interested enough to take part in the final bidding. I was still rejected collectively by more agents and publishers than J.K. Rowling ever was — (though I got more for my first advance…probably the only time I’ll ever match or exceed her success!) but it only takes one publisher to make an offer to get you into print.

Q. Who are the authors or individuals who inspired you to write a long piece of horror fiction?
A. So many. I’ve been an avid reader most of my life, until I moved to L.A. and drove everywhere instead of reading on the subway. I always loved dark fantasy and satire, and grew up on Roald Dahl, John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Saki, then graduated to Ishmael Reed, William Burroughs, and George Orwell. Most of my favorites made their mark in short stories, but Burroughs and Reed, and later, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, showed me how the longer form could have amazing freedom and even more pervasive power.
Another major unconscious influence I’ve just rediscovered is Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita” which I read when I was around ten, because my mom had it in the house from a trip to Paris. I couldn’t have understood even a fraction of what it was about at that age, but it left a strong impression on me to this day. I re-read it recently only to discover that a lot of elements in my current work reflect his portrayal of a realistic social setting disrupted by supernatural events, with believable and sympathetic characters on both sides, so in an odd way a long dead Russian author inspired me to write my first novel.
Needless to say, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Octavia Butler and Anne Rice also showed me the way, as their work came out in print. Reading them assured me that there could be a future for me in genre fiction. They all wrote wildly imaginative tales of terror, but really well, and used them to tell stories about more than monsters. They wrote about life.

Q. Please tell my audience, in your own words, what your book is about and why they should buy it.
A. You actually gave one of the best summations, so I will excerpt your review — “An insane vampire has carelessly begun a sequence of events that could reveal the existence of a large society of the undead to humans. He’ll stop at nothing to hide his latest debacle from the overseers of his kind, just as they’ll do whatever it takes to put an end to his troublesome ways—if he fails… Now the creature is loose and is creating a nest of protectors and hunters. When the population of an entire neighbourhood disappears and zombies, spewing a terrifying mutation of the AIDS virus, begin roaming the streets of New York, someone’s going to notice…” I just love that.
Your audience should buy it and tell two friends to buy it, who should tell two friends, and so on, and so forth, on and on, so eventually I can make enough money to do nothing but write these books, because that would make me happier than anything, to spend the rest of my life on my own inner island where my wild things roam.
But seriously…it’s a beautifully written book about a place you haven’t been before, a paranormal world of elegance and dark desires, cruel violence and soaring romanticism. I‘ve done my best to create as convincing a story as I can, one that moves at a breakneck pace and only slows to fill you with fresh dread as you learn more about the pasts of the participants.
This is the best and worst time in the world for the book to come out — there’s a huge interest in vampire stories now, because of the media hype over the success of “Twilight” and “True Blood”, but they are more of a romance and a mystery than novels about the vampires and their lives. There seems to be a softening of the vampire myth in recent years — books are either trying to turn the myth into something else, like the two big hits, or the books are about the hunters, and vampires are automatically the bad guys.
I wanted to bring scary back, to tell a story that was as chilling as I remembered Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” was when I read it, but with characters as complex as Anne Rice’s, showing a broad range of morality among the undead. Are all vampires evil? What effect does such power have over who you are? How does it change you over centuries? What would I do if I found out they were real? It was an exciting chance to explore my idea of what the “reality” of a vampire lifestyle might be in a real world New York, versus an idyllic romanticized fantasy. I don’t think being a vampire works for everyone. Immortality doesn’t answer any more questions than wealth — you are who you are, and still have to live with that.
Last, but not least, many readers have told me that “Bite Marks” is the most fun they’ve had reading in a while, and the reviews say the rest. And if you like it, there’s plenty more to come…

Q. I’ve reviewed your book on The Deepening World of Fiction, and while I gave it a strong recommendation, I did have two criticisms…
1. “…even though Bite Marks is about vampires, the central story is the unresolved break-up of Steven and Lori, and I believe Taylor should have spent more time building up these and his other human characters. Taylor’s humans appear as weak and ineffectual bystanders. Yes, this makes his monsters even more scary, but it’s my opinion that the choice weakens the reader’s connection to the story and will probably leave many people feeling like something was missing.”
2. “…the way the baby vampire was dealt with at the end of the book didn’t quite fit in with the world portrayed in the rest of the story. Not only that–which brings us to my second criticism, the choice just mentioned also rendered the human participants useless.”
These criticisms are just my opinion, so I would be interested in your response to them. It’s a chance for you to call me out, so to speak.
A. At last! I was ready to come looking for you after I read that, ready to get Spanish Inquisition on your ass…I’m kidding, of course. I have people for that. Large, nasty people who do dreadful things they probably shouldn’t, and never get caught…
The truth is that a week before “Bite Marks” came out I freaked, because I finally totally understood that there’d be thousands of copies of my life’s work to date appearing simultaneously across the planet, and that anyone who could get hold of one could express their opinion of what I’d done.
You don’t think about how much of yourself you‘ve put into a creative work until you let it out of its safe little cage to fly free, and realize it can now be shot down by anyone with a slingshot, gun, or nuclear capabilities. So far, I have only been pricked a few times, which speaks to the quality of the book. What has been more interesting is how some readers’ reactions are letting me see the book differently. Your comments fell into that category, which are exciting to read.
On the first point, I could be flip and say “dude, it’s ‘A VAMPIRE Testament,’ not ‘A HUMAN Testament’, of course they’re more interesting,” but it isn’t often that writers get to clarify their intent. To be honest, I was so close to my characters that it never occurred to me that Steven and Lori, Jim and the rest of my humans would look weak or ineffectual next to my vampires. I mean, sure, humans vs. vampires, vamps are always going to be “stronger,” but we’re talking character here, not “power”. The resulting balance was largely because most of my human protagonists were in their teens or late twenties — at those ages, I myself felt ineffectual and powerless, and that was what I put into the characters, without thinking twice.
Also, a big part of what I wanted to do with the book was depict realistic humans like the people I spent the 80s with, who would react as we would have. I often feel that heroes in horror movies jump into battling larger than life evil forces a little too easily. It’s why Steven and Lori’s first reaction after finding out that vampires are real is to run and hide. It didn’t occur to me that put up against beings that were hundreds of years old, with that much more experience, that my humans would naturally look much less potent. My feeling was that they were doing the best that they could with what they had. I see your point, though I thought their human frailty would connect readers, that they’d identify more, so it wasn’t meant to put them off, and hopefully won’t.
And you’re right — the emotional spine of the story for me from the beginning was always Steven and Lori coming to terms with the end of their relationship and parting, if not as friends, then at least cleanly and honestly, with closure. Everything around them is a blown up metaphor about childbirth, childrearing and people’s relationship to reproduction and its responsibilities — Steven doesn’t want kids because of his childhood, Lori can’t bear a child to full term, so she yearns to do so, as does Perenelle, who was barren in life and raised Adam as a surrogate son… When I was rewriting the book, I had a sign on the collage wall in front of me — “It’s the Baby, Stupid” — to remind me that Baby was the central connection between all the characters, and that the issue of issue had significance to them all.
As I said earlier, “Bite Marks” was the distillation of a much larger original manuscript that took a long time for me to condense and streamline. The nicest comment I got was from someone who said I had written the “Crash” of vampire novels, an ensemble story with multiple storylines that all come together in the end to make one point. Though I truly love the end result, I concede there may be a few weak welds here and there. The second book is much tighter, though no less interesting.
A bit of a spoiler — in the next novel, we rejoin Steven and Lori 20 years later, in maturity, in very different places. They’re much stronger, and continue to step up in power and strength through the third novel. So part of any seeming ineffectiveness in this novel is the beginning of a build over time.
As far as your notes on the ending, I felt that I’d built up the alchemy subplot with Rahman well enough and had established that the essence of alchemy was transformation for readers to accept the final changes in the participants. I agree that it raises that occult element to a new level, but it’s carried on in book two. It’s the first fanfare of a slowly rising leitmotif that played in the background through book one, but rises into a major theme in book two.
As far as “useless” goes: Hey, Steven and Lori got the National Guard to Sheep Meadow Station after going into a quarantined area with Jim and Angel to find the vampire baby during a blizzard; the soldiers are holding their own against the inhuman Autochthones; and Adam’s human minions flood the gallery at his summons to fight for him…even though the infant ends up turning into a life force vacuum sucking up everyone in range, until then I thought the humans were doing pretty well. Me — I would have been on a bus out of town as soon as I found out what was happening, but that doesn’t make for an exciting hero or novel.
Now, if you mean that the ultimate dénouement was out of their hands, that Steven and Lori stood by helpless while Rahman’s mad experiment hoisted him on his own petard, I will agree. But are they any less involved than the people fighting back in vain for say, the last third of “War of the Worlds”, until Earth bacteria already present in the air kills the Martians? I think in both, and others like them, the endings tell us that even when we have no control over larger than life conflicts around us (a common feeling today), there are still lessons to learn, ways to survive — not just physically, but emotionally. I still think Rahman being overcome by his own hubris, as developed in the story up until then, is more valid than having Steven and Lori shoot him down with a bazooka they find in a nearby National Guard Humvee…and more real and identifiable.
I also wanted people to see themselves in the vampires. They’re written with a range for that reason, to show three uses of great power: abuse, self-consideration, and compassion, in Adam, Rahman, and Perenelle. Despite their supernatural nature, I wrote them as supernatural beings with human depths — they’re all extremely aware of their lost humanity and how it informs their afterlives, which to me made them relatable. I wanted readers to be as involved with them as they are with my humans, because the whole story is in how the two interact and the balance of power shifts over time.

Q. Do you plan a sequel to Bite Marks, or do you have another project in mind?
A. I’ve made reference to the second novel, which is called “Blood Pressure”. It’s book two of what I’m calling The Vampire Testaments. I think if it was common knowledge that “Bite Marks” was the first of a trilogy (yeah, yet another one) some minor reservations could be dismissed, but “Bite Marks” was always meant to stand alone no matter what happened next, so I won’t use that as an excuse. It’s more an explanation of intent, since you were kind enough to give me a forum to clarify my intentions.
I had an inspirational dream while finishing “Bite Marks” that helped me find the end of the first novel and gave me the seeds of the second. By the time I figured out enough of the second story to pitch it with the first manuscript, I saw the whole arc and realized I needed three books to complete it. Fortunately when my editor read the end of the second book and saw where it was going, she didn’t even flinch. Have I said how much I love her?
The Vampire Testaments is actually one epic novel, divided into three volumes, spanning three generations of a war between vampires and humans, focusing on events in New York City, the war’s epicenter. The third book of the opening trilogy will take place in 2027, 20 years after book two, which takes place in 2007, 20 years after book one.
Once it’s complete, I have other standalone stories about my vampires planned, since they have vast life spans and centuries of experience not covered in the first three books. Part of the joy of finishing the first novel was constructing a densely populated and complex world I could explore almost indefinitely, though I have many other novels I want to write.
Right now I’m working on one called “A Perfect Pandemonium”, which I keep describing as “Orpheus and Eurydice meets Faust”, about a cable deal with the Devil. It’s the story of a reluctant hero recovering from losing the love of his life, enlisted in his dreams to help save the world from an early Apocalypse. It’s going to be the start of a separate series of novels, The Prometheus Papers, contemporary tales from the files of The Prometheus Partnership, a private foundation trying to keep supernatural forces from taking us out. The books will be slightly more satirical than The Vampire Testaments, which to me are deadly serious. The first is a definite homage to “The Master and Margarita”, my childhood love.
There’s more to come, but one step at a time. First I have to finish the trilogy.

Q. Terence, you are obviously a talented and a skilled writer: what advice would you give authors who are still struggling to break into the publishing world?
A. Well, thank you! It’s nice to hear that, as long and hard as I worked to become the writer I am. My first advice is twofold: persevere, but be realistic. Don’t give up after one rejection, two or even twenty. Too many writers get too easily discouraged. But if something isn’t working, reconsider what you’re doing.
Find friends or other writers whose opinions you trust who will read your work and give you objective unbiased feedback. Join a writing group to get feedback. Don’t rely on only your own opinion of your work, but do trust your instincts. If you keep getting rejections, consider the possibility that the world can’t be wrong. If people keep telling you something doesn’t work, consider that they may have a point, and revisit what you’ve written. I always go with Stephen King’s point in “On Writing” that you give work to at least four people and address the notes that they have in common. Anything individual you can take or leave. Problems they all agree on need to be addressed.
Second, consider what it is you really want. If you want a commercial living as a published writer with a major commercial mainstream publisher, odds are you won’t get there writing an intensely personal novel of appeal to a handful of people. Sure, those who buy your novel about a Yak shepherd in the big city who dreams of home and talks to the ghosts of his ancestors, written in an obscure Esperanto sub-dialect told in reverse chronological order, may love it and feel it’s the best novel about a Yak shepherd in the big city who dreams of home and talks to the ghosts of his ancestors, written in an obscure Esperanto sub-dialect told in reverse chronological order that they’ve ever read, but you probably won’t sell the movie rights its first year out. Be realistic. If that is the book you want to write more than anything else, then write it, but don’t expect it to do something it can’t.
More than anything else, WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE, not just something to make money or any other reasons you may have. Most of what a writer does is write. I truly enjoy writing my books and wrote horror long before I was published. I would love to have my writing support me, and because of what I write, it could, but I’ll keep working freelance to pay bills as long as I must, because I’d be writing even if I wasn’t being published, and any benefit beyond that is only a bonus.
I now know that the public speaking, readings and signings, interviews, praise or critique, all of that is fleeting and any ego charge you get or fears you have of it go away as soon as they’re over. The real writing life is writing. None of the rest happens unless you do it, and if you don’t truly love to write more than anything else, and aren’t willing to commit to it 100%, why do you want to be published? Only a handful of authors become bestsellers, as only a handful of actors become stars. If you only want to be published to make money, believe me, there are many much easier ways to make much more money.
That said, if you want to be published because you want to share your writing with the world, or select readers of like minds, there are more ways to do that than ever, from online blogs to on demand digital press, small specialty publishers to self-publishing. If being read is your goal, more than making a living, you can accomplish that by going to Google or WordPress and starting an online blog page you can empty anything in your head onto.
This is the 21st century. Digital combined with the Internet is the new movable type, the latest innovation that redefines how we communicate. If you sell your novel online yourself to a million people who download it to their e-readers for a buck a pop, are you any less successful than a hardcover author selling the same number of books and getting as much, if not less, per sale from his publisher?
Be clear on what you want, be flexible, and be willing to do the work and take the time it takes. Behind every overnight sensation is a long story of real work and struggle. It’s never too late to start. Look at me.

Q. Thank you, and all the best in your new writing adventures.
A. Thank you! It’s always great to talk about my work with people who get and enjoy it, especially when they call me on issues they see. No writer can ever take his or her work for granted. I pray I don’t ever stop growing or listening as a writer.

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Struggling with Brain Disease

I suffer from Bipolar Disorder. Symptoms include mania, severe depression and certain aspects of schizophrenia.

My BPD is chemical based, which means the depression isn’t triggered or sustained by my situation. It's a brain disease, a malfunction that can be caused by many things and which the Psychiatrists don't really understand.

The most terrifying aspect (for me) of a severe bout of depression (for example) is the disassociation or loss of self that one can experience. Your emotions and thoughts don’t seem to belong to you and, at times, you can become convinced you have no control over your behaviour. Try to imagine being possessed, shoved back into a small corner at the back of your mind, aware of all that’s happening but unable to do anything about the fact you’re yelling like a maniac at your wife or your child, or you’re planning in detail the immediate end of it all.

Now, one of the ways to counter such an episode without resorting to more drugs and/or a hospital stay is so simple it’s laughable. What is it? You must take ownership of what you’re thinking and feeling. That’s right, you aren’t possessed and you aren’t without control. You always have the choice to simply stop, to recognize that these are, indeed, your own thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t know how to deal with them at the moment. This pause, all on its own, has the power to get you through almost any crisis and can give you the time you need to find a solution to the situation at hand. My own particular approach is one I discovered during a hospital stay… one always has the choice to accept what he or she is thinking, then turn away from it. That’s really all you have to do in any given moment: make the choice to turn away from despair and death and look toward light and life. It’s such a small thing you might consider it insignificant. But the choice isn’t insignificant, and it works.

Note: The process is not easy, however, as you must be forever vigilant until (if this happens) the aberrant thoughts go away. Think of the movie A Beautiful Mind.

Anyway, my battle over the last while has slowed down my reading ability and has forced me to come up with alternate content for my various blogs. To quit producing was to continue looking toward the darkness; to find other forms of content I could manage to produce was making the choice to look toward the light. The following is an example of this. It’s a horror poem, written by myself about my disease.

Mind Fuck

Chemicals in my brain
Are toxic today,
Hurling spikes
Of preformed anger
Into unwary flesh.

Go away dear people.
Do not venture close:
I draw blood;
A storm of slicing,
Razor-edged words of bale.

Sadness underneath is
Tearing me apart
As I rend
In my helpless rage,
Destruction unfettered.

I call music to me,
And the Gods, so that
The devil mind fuck,
Is ripped from its warm hole.

Bruised from this psychic rape,
I lay on cool sheets:
Silence heals.
Don’t ever tell me
Evil is just a myth.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Monday, October 5, 2009

An interview with author Dayna VonThaer

Tuatha and the Seven Sisters Moon is Dayna VonThaer’s first Novel.

Hi Dayna,

My audience is made up of publishers, readers and writers, so I’m going to be asking you questions relating to all.

Q. Congratulations on your accomplishment. Would you, in your own words, give us a brief description of Tuatha and the Seven Sisters Moon.

A. This book is the first in a series of at least five novels. It begins with the Celtic gods of the Tuatha De’ Danann (Hence the name) and includes Egyptology. The story begins with a full moon on Halloween, and the Seven Sisters Constellation is in view with the moon. The Seven Sisters are synonymous with catastrophe and death in nearly every ancient culture. In this novel, we witness the beginning events that take place during Samhain (Sah-Win) which is the Feast of the Dead. (I ask your readers to Google to see what year this even actually took place. You’ll be surprised.) The Dagda, once the High King of Ireland, and a Celtic god awakes from a two-thousand year slumber on this night. His tribe (the Tuatha ) is gone, and he’s left alone in the modern, mortal world to find his way home.

Q. Where did you find the inspiration for this story?

A. I was visiting London, and had dinner at my friend’s parent’s home. I’d never met his parents before, so they invited me over to Sunday dinner. His dad, this huge, tall, muscular old Irishman with white hair spent the night poking at me for my name. I didn’t understand, and finally he quipped, “Dayna. Like our Mother Goddess, Danu. You’re named after Mother of Creation herself, hasn’t anyone ever told you that?” We spent the evening chatting away, where he told me all about the Irish myths and so on. I was fascinated. I already had a story about an Irish witch brewing, and now a spark had lit. I spent three years researching Celtic mythology, and the Ancient Egyptians for this series.

Q. Who is your target audience, and what would you like to say to them?

A. Obviously, I’d love to say this book is for everyone! This book is NOT for children. I would say as long as you’re an adult, this book is for your age group. As for tastes, it’s definitely something I think all pagans would love. Anyone interested in mythology, history, astronomy, horror, mystery would enjoy this book. It’s packed with all the elements of love and hate, fear and loathing, tenderness and humor. The Celts and Egyptians are just the beginning. There are more characters and cultures that will have their say in later volumes.

Q. Where will Tuatha and the Seven Sisters Moon be available for sale?

A. Right now, the Limited edition is only available through my website. This version has a special cover dedicated to Salem (my former home) and includes a hidden chapter that will NOT be in the standard version. It will never be reprinted in any form. Each copy is personalized, signed, numbered, and includes S&H. The standard version will be on Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble, and other book retailers, as well as my website. If you order from my site, each copy will be signed.

Q. Tell us about your publishing company B.A.S.E.D Press.

A. I started B.A.S.E.D. Press to house my work (I have approximately 15 unfinished manuscripts collecting dust) but I also wanted a place for my writer friends to go where they can get true support, advise, and see their work unscathed by other publishers. Obviously, editing always needs done. But I don’t feel writers HAVE to alter their work to make it mainstream. I will offer editing, marketing, cover art, promotional services, book videos, and other services when I decide to accept submissions. I’d like to get my own book off the ground to work out the kinks before anyone puts their ‘baby’ in my hands.

Q. I have a company similar to yours. The traditional world of publishing won’t recognize me as a “legitimate publisher” until I have released many more titles for others than for myself. What is your response to this fact: Do you consider yourself a self-publisher. Why or why not?

A. I don’t like being put into a box, which is a big reason I didn’t accept the mainstream publishing offer I had with this novel. If they want to call me a self-publisher, so be it. I’d just like others to recognize the differences. B.A.S.E.D. Press is NOT vanity publishing, nor is it print-on-demand. Though POD can be useful and cost effective, it does not always garner the best quality. And large-house publishers like to use this point to put us wee-publishers in our place, like we’re sitting at the kids table, scolding us for not playing by their rules. Self-publishing has a great deal of benefits, but it’s very hard work. I am responsible for each and every detail. Which can be very good, considering I can schedule my own book tours, I can sell things through my website, I can control inventory, contests, and do it on my terms. I don’t need ‘permission’ to do what I like in terms of promotion. I don’t think a lot of people realize that even big publishing houses do not spend much in terms of publicity on new writers. They don’t get the top-shelf treatment, or ads. Those dollars are reserved for the big names. You’re still responsible for about 95% of your publicity. Also, only 10% of authors outsell their advance. That means 90% of authors have to write another book within that contract time to make up that difference, or are even dropped for lack of sales.

Q. What is the most difficult part of the writing and/or publishing process for you? The most enjoyable?

A. Marketing, hands down is the most difficult. It doesn’t end. You have a plan, and each day is spent following that plan to get your book out to the readers. I love writing, but I especially love writing when I’m not paying attention. I lived in Salem, Mass, and I used to write on the beach. I’d sit with my coffee and type away. Then I’d go home, and a few days later, I’d read what I wrote. Those pages are always the best, because my heart spoke, not my head. Those are the words that make me almost always laugh or cry.

Q. What methods are you using to market your book?

A. Everything is in three’s: web, print, person. I do a lot of the initial marketing via the web. It’s obviously a great tool to meet other writers and spread the word. Then, of course print. I’ve sent ARC’s to newspapers for review, and have asked for reviews from other writers. Radio is kind of an in-between medium. I’ve contacted some personalities that have been generous enough to put me on the air, and advertise my novel. Finally, there’s me. I’ve been setting up appearances in Salem during Haunted Happenings where I can sign books, and speak to my ‘fans.’ All five of them!

Q. Who are your favourite authors?

A. I’m a classics girl. Growing up with a librarian for a mother, I spent my life engrossed in books. Stoker and King are of course the horror masters, Tolkien and Rowling are the ringleaders in fantasy with Baum. I read all kinds of genres, but not much for chick lit. Hawthorne was kind of a mixture of it all. He was obviously a classical writer, with such a creepy, ominous tone to his books.

Q. Which of these authors has had the greatest impact on your own writing?

A. Hawthorne is a huge influence. I lived in Salem, just blocks from House of the Seven Gables. He had a genuine affection and fear of Salem, and he used that in all of his writing. Especially the way he seemed to try to make amends for the sins of his ancestors. (Hawthorne’s grandfather was a judge in the Salem witch trials, who sent people to the gallows even after being found not guilty.)

Q. Tell us about your next project or project(s).

A. The second volume of Tuatha is in the works, but another story has sidetracked me slightly. Blue Moon: RISING is a story I’m working on based out of New Orleans. It’s a werewolf story, but it’s unlike any kind you’ve read before. I joke that it’s really a story about racism, and could stand on it’s own legs even without the wolf element. As a classic reader, I wanted to create my own world, make these creatures of the night the way I see them. (In all honesty, I’m actually terrified of werewolves, and have had recurring nightmares about them since I was a child.) I hope to release it early next year, depending on the success of Tuatha.

Q. What have you learned along the way with regard to writing and publishing?

A. Perseverance. What one person loves, another will hate. Don’t take it personally, but try, try, try to learn from it. Start to develop that thick skin now. Also, there’s a duality not many writers are prepared to experience. The creative side, the writing and building of your world is only half of the book process. You must develop the other side, become both left and right brained for the marketing and promotion. Because, that’s when the real work comes in. Writing is the easy part!

Q. Any general advice for writers?

A. Just write. Turn off the internet, unplug the phone, and get to it. Allow your authentic voice to speak. When it does, you’ll have a masterpiece. I say, “If the voices in your head make you cry, you’re a lunatic. Put their words on paper, and you’re a writer.”

Thank you for sharing with us Dayna. I wish you much success.

Dayna VonThaer can be found at

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Release by Ava James

For One Dark Knight

By: Ava James | Other books by Ava James
Categories: Historical Mainstream ROMANCE
Word Count: 63,277
Heat Level: SENSUAL
Published By: Siren-Bookstrand, Inc.

For One Dark Knight
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, HTML, Mobipocket
Price: $5.50

AVAILABLE: Tuesday, September 29th

Past the suitable age for marriage, Lady Isobel longs for her life to begin. When the chance to flee the clutches of her misery arises, she sets out on a journey to her dower lands and childhood home. But no road is without its perils, and she soon finds she needs someone by her side.

Sir Robert de Gever's duties become vastly more complicated when Lady Isobel stumbles into his life in need of rescue. Questions arise and secrets run deep, leaving desire and suspicion to war within him.

Intrigue awaits the pair, and conspirators abound. Is the bond of one dark night spent together strong enough to save them from their fears?


He wished he could keep her locked away—far, far away. The woman looked as though she were arming herself for battle. Her sweet smiles changed the instant the last of the men quit the room.

“What is the matter?” Isobel asked with a clipped tone.

What is the matter?” Robert began his counterattack in falsetto.

“Where should I start? My men have all left their posts, and training, to come to the beck and call of the devilish temptress besieging Durham .” He watched her eyes grow wide as he spoke. How was it that even now, he could think of nothing but her lips?

“Devilish temptress? If I tempted any man, it was in no way intentional, and in every way a result of the man’s baser interests.” Isobel took a challenging step toward him. She accused him with her eyes and her words. "Furthermore, if it weren't for yer noble act of imprisonment, I would not be here!"

Robert stepped closer to her. Her feminine scent wafted into his nostrils. She easily broke his train of thought. The aroma that lingered about her intoxicated his senses. Beyond doubt, she was a foul temptress! With every attempt to ignore her, he failed miserably. Each time he was in her presence she distracted him. If it was not her beauty that caught his attention, it was her voice and words. The woman drew him in and he did not care to be so affected by her. He needed to reign in his thoughts and focus.

Focus, focus.

In a much calmer voice he said, “Would ye rather I left ye to be ravished by those Saxon mercenaries?” He took another step closer to her as he spoke. He watched her gaze fall to his lips. Her pink tongue crossed her own bottom lip, and a blush came to her soft cheeks. God’s wounds, he felt too much for this lady.

She drew away. “Ravished by those Saxons is not what I want.” Her voice weak, and unusually breathy, he wondered just who she’d like to be ravished by.

His own errant mind conjured up dangerous visions of her naked body slick against his own. He couldn’t help himself, so he asked just what he’d been wondering. “What do ye want?"

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit
his website or become a fan.

Monday, August 31, 2009

30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

1. The illness I live with is: Rheumatoid Arthritis and Bipolar Disorder.
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year: 2005.
3. But I had symptoms since: 1999.
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is: not being able to work.
5. Most people assume: I can do more than I can.
6. The hardest part about mornings are: the side effects of my meds.
7. My favorite medical TV show is: House.
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is: my laptop computer.
9. The hardest part about nights are: constant pain.
10. Each day I take 27 pills & vitamins. (No comments, please)
11. Regarding alternative treatments I: find the benefits are too slight matter.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: neither.
13. Regarding working and career: I still manage to write a little (in 10-15 minute sessions).
14. People would be surprised to know: I must fight pain and depression on a constant basis.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: a major loss of mental abilities (concentration and memory).
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: accept that it was permanent.
17. The commercials about my illness: are too understated to impact people who do not have the diseases.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is: memorizing and physical activities.
19. It was really hard to have to give up: long walks, fishing and hunting.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: internet networking.
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would: spend it walking in the wilderness.
22. My illness has taught me: self control.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: I told you about this already.
24. But I love it when people: respond to my honesty by letting me know about their own struggles.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: "Courage is the capacity to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." --Winston Churchill
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: it's a good thing, because now you know what you're dealing with.
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: you can still enjoy life.
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: the brethren of my lodge have been driving me to bimonthly specialist appointments (2.5 hours of driving, wait and then return) for the past 3 years.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: healthy people will never understand chronic illness if we who are ill do not speak about our experiences.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: like the effort is not wasted.

Find out more about National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week and the 5-day free virtual conference with 20 speakers Sept 14-18, 2009 at

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My reading and reviews for last week:

Cursed by Jeremy C. Shipp. If you want to experience a different kind of horror fiction, something fresh and interesting, this excellent novel would be a fine choice. I highly recommend it.

Twins of Darkness by Lisa Lane. I would caution this author to make sure editing of her next book is stringent, but to otherwise keep doing what she’s doing. She has a definite voice and a wonderful imagination. Twins of Darkness stands out from the crowd.

Her Last by Valerie J. Patterson. Patterson has talent, and Her Last is a respectable writing effort. I hope to see stronger performances from her in the future.

In The Arms Of A Sociopath by S.K. Covey. The writing was not up to professional standards, so I didn't do a review. However, the message is important enough that I recommend you visit her website:

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My latest reviews

Water Witch by Deborah Leblanc: A solid and entertaining horror story.

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein, Dead and Alive: Dead and Alive has its merits. As the conclusion of a trilogy? I say shame on you, Mr. Koontz.

Dax Rigby, War Correspondent by John B. Rosenman: Want to experience what science fiction used to be and why it is sorely missed? Read Dax Rigby, War Correspondent.

The Enemy Stalks by Betty Sullivan La Pierre: Was an enjoyable lunch that somehow left me wanting more than I received.

The Revelations of Minister Skyddz by E. J. Vance: “Revelations” is wicked good!

Guardians of Desire by Sahara Berns:
The story is readable in one sitting, it entertains and is a solid piece of debut writing.

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A snapshot of serious, chronic illness

August 3, 2009

I’ve been unavailable for the bulk of my personal blogs for a little over a month. The reason for this absence is a combination of flare ups of my Rheumatoid Arthritis (an autoimmune disease where the blood attacks joints and connective tissue) and my Bipolar Disorder (chemical imbalances in my brain that cause episodes of mania and depression). While the problems are not unbearable, they have reduced my effectiveness and my stamina.

This snapshot is for those of you who haven’t been exposed to these serious illnesses. It’s my belief people like me need to talk about what we deal with on a daily basis as therapy and as a form of education for the general population. Even though there is still stigma attached to mental disease, we, as a family, do not hide my problems...


I am considered permanently disabled (for many years now) and unable to effectively perform any kind of work. I’ve been trained in behaviour modification techniques, and I am undergoing psychotherapy. Drugs are absolutely required at this time.

Current meds

Rhuematoid Arthritis:
Methotrexate (an immunosuppressant cancer drug developed for leukemia), Sulfasalazine (an anti-inflammatory), Leflunomide (an immunoblocker), Depo-medrol: an emergency injection 3 months ago (An extremely strong cortico-steroid), Celebrex (COX-2 inhibitor nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)) and Tylenol-3 (This combination product contains three medications: acetaminophen, codeine, and caffeine. Acetaminophen belongs to the group of medications called analgesics (pain relievers) and antipyretics (fever reducers). Codeine belongs to the group of medications called narcotic analgesics. Caffeine belongs to a group of medications called stimulants.)

Bipolar Disorder:
Cymbalta (anti-depressant with some pain inhibiting properties: serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor), Clonazepam (family of benzodiazepines. It affects chemicals in your brain that may become unbalanced and cause seizures or symptoms of panic disorder.) And Quetiapine (an atypical antipsychotic often used in BPD)


I won’t share all of my symptoms with you. Suffice it to say they are varied and affect every aspect of my life.

What I’ve been experiencing this past month, on a positive level, is an increase in clarity and more short term stamina. I’ve also been able to better interact with and care about people. And my enjoyment of food and activities is returning.

In the months prior to this I regained my ability to read and write, anger virtually disappeared, my depression lessened, and I had only one manic episode.

But recently... my short term memory is slipping again; my long-term physical and mental stamina is deteriorating; body pain, especially knees, hands, shoulders and back, is at a 4 out of 10 with constant flare-ups to about 8; I can’t sit, stand or walk for more than five or ten minutes at a time without extreme pain; my afternoons and evenings include periods of melancholy and tears; and sleep usually ends between 3 and 4 am due to pain.

I’m always concerned about downturns because the repercussions can be severe. For example, in January of this year I was forced to commit myself to a psychiatric hospital. The eventual diagnosis was a bad reaction to a drug that had been recently added to my cocktail. I spent two weeks detoxing before being released and beginning a new drug regime. My mental condition is not considered to be situational (except, maybe, a bit of depression due to my physical losses and when my pain plays into existing emotional disturbances) but, rather, is believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain.

The two scariest things about my health situation is that both diseases are incurable and may be hereditary... The diseases already exist in other family members. Worse than this, my children will have to learn to watch for symptoms in themselves.

As a family, we work hard to cope with the daily challenges I face in ways which allow us all to create as much joy as possible in our lives. We must also be ever vigilant for signs indicating the onset of dangerous symptoms.

Determination to pursue an enjoyable lifestyle and a robust sense of humour are my most effective tools.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Current writing

I've been under the weather for awhile, but I have been keeping up with my book reviews. You can find all my reviews, recent and old, here:

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Town of Me, a poem

The Town of Me

My days have been
The passing of dreams,
Not quite real clouds
Built of smoke and dust,
Marking each pained
But gritty footstep
With rasping laughter
To steal away
The life-blood of
This aging ghost town,
While colourless
thoughts raised without form
walk through my halls,
echos of silence.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Who invented the plow?

I read this quote on anonymity today...

"No one knows where he who invented the plow was born, nor where he died; yet he has done more for humanity than the whole race of heroes who have drenched the earth with blood and whose deeds have been handed down with a precision proportionate only to the mischief they wrought." --Charles C. Colton

This quote struck me deeply. You see, I know of a very ancient someone who supposedly invented the plow. He's a prominent figure in Freemasonry, which is an ancient system of morality meant to take good men and make them better. Yet this man, a figure mentioned only in passing in the Bible (his name was Tubal Cain), isn't even understood or well-known among the Masons. One has to go back to a poem written in the 1800's by Mason Charles MacKay to gain some insight.

Tubal Cain

Old Tubal Cain was a man of might
In the days when the Earth was young;
By the fierce red light of his furnace bright
The strokes of his hammer rung;
And he lifted high his brawny hand
On the iron glowing clear,
Till the sparks rushed out in scarlet showers,
As he fashioned the sword and spear.
And he sang - "Hurra for my handiwork!
Hurra for the spear and sword!
Hurra for the hand that shall wield them well,
For he shall be king and lord!"

To Tubal Cain came many a one,
As he wrought by his roaring fire,
And each one prayed for a strong steel blade
As the crown of his desire:
And he made them weapons sharp and strong,
Till they shouted loud for glee,
And gave him gifts of pearl and gold,
And spoils of the forest free.
And they sang -"Hurra for Tubal Cain,
Who hath given us strength anew!
Hurra for the smith, hurra for the fire,
And hurra for the metal true!"

But a sudden change came o'er his heart
Ere the setting of the sun,
And Tubal Cain was filled with pain
For the evil he had done;
He saw that men, with rage and hate,
Made war upon their kind,
That the land was red with the blood they shed
In their lust for carnage blind.
And he said - "Alas! that ever I made,
Or that skill of mine should plan,
The spear and the sword for men whose joy
Is to slay their fellow man"

And for many a day old Tubal Cain
Sat brooding o'er his woe;
And his hand forebore to smite the ore
And his furnace smouldered low.
But he rose at last with a cheerful face,
And a bright courageous eye,
And bared his strong right arm for work,
While the quick flames mounted high.
And he sang - "Hurra for my handicraft!"
And the red sparks lit the air;
"Not alone for the blade was the strong steel made;"
And he fashioned the first ploughshare.

And men, taught wisdom from the past,
In friendship joined their hands,
Hung the sword in the hall, the spear on the wall,
And ploughed the willing lands;
And sang - "Hurra for Tubal Cain!
Our staunch good friend is he;
And for the ploughshare and the plough
To him our praise shall be.
But while oppression lifts its head,
Or a tyrant would be lord,
Though we may thank him for the plough,
We'll not forget the sword!

Note: Masons pass on their knowledge through writing (The Grand Lodge of Ontario, in Hamilton, has thousands upon thousands of such volumes) and by rote memory. I learned of this particular poem from my late grandfather, William Franklin; he used to recite Tubal Cain to me from memory.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I've written a lot about attitude over the years. It stems from complicated belief systems that most of us arrive at with very little conscious thought. This week, in particular, I have been made vividly aware of some of my own beliefs; a number of writer friends have been struggling with our difficult field of endeavour, their belief systems showing through as a result; and I, due to a reconnect with an old love, have been forced to evaluate both my marriage and my behaviour, each an exercise involving strong beliefs.

Why any of us feel the things we do, anguish, joy, love, even sadness are functions of our beliefs; we tend to approach our feelings and, often, our behaviours as things that must be controlled, failing to understand these are symptoms of much larger issues: the beliefs which are being accessed regarding the moment at hand.

Attitude is indeed complicated. As my thoughts and suggestions regarding this subject have been documented in different ways in all of my self-help books (available at, I am not going to repeat them here. Instead, let's take a look at the words of someone else:

"[Attitude is] more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is, you have a choice every day regarding the attitude you will embrace for that day. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the enevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you..."

--Author Charles Swindell

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Friday, July 3, 2009 is the place where you can find a book and start reading it in less than 5 minutes:

* Choose the eBook you like,
* Try the first chapter - it's free! -
* Download instantly the complete eBook after your payment,
* Read it comfortably installed with your laptop or with your mobile device

The Sorcerer's Key and Getting Clear eBooks are now available at mobipocket, for just 99 cents during the month of July. New edits. Terrific value!

Buy Sorcerer Now

Buy Getting Clear Now

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My writing this week

Resurrection by Clayton Bye (short story) and review of Fear by L. Ron Hubbard at

Review of Fog Island Flowers by Tonya R. Moore at

Review of Androgynous Murder House Party by Steven Rigolosi at

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Harper Collins has an experiment running on the net that I believe is a worthwhile endeavor for any author, independent or otherwise.

How it works: You register, then upload single chapters of your manuscript or self-published novel. A minimum of 10,000 words is required. You then compete with other authors each month to attain first 5 spots. These reads will then go to a Harper Collins review board for publication consideration. Your chances of reaching this pinnacle? Probably very small.

I've been at it for about six weeks with one novel and my current manuscript. I've been as low as 750 out of about 3,500 competitors. But what's great about the experience is the different books I get to read (usually the first two chapters) and the feedback I'm getting on my own manuscripts. The experience can only improve my own writing.

It takes up time to compete, even to participate, but I believe it's worth the effort. The website URL is

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review of Valley of the Shadow by Steven Knutson

Valley of the Shadow
Steven A. Knutson
Knutson's Publishing, 2008
ISBN -13: 978-1-60725-994-7
148 pages
Paperback/ eBook (Feb 2009)

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Behind the scene in Vietnam:

Valley of the Shadow is a book about the working man’s war in Vietnam. No firefights or daring rescues here. Steve Knutson’s stories are about what the majority of soldiers did in the Vietnamese war, rather than those unfortunate enough to have had to fight on the front lines; the men in these stories worked hard to support their country and the fighting soldiers and, in the end, were painted with the same unkind media brush. Lloyd Lofthouse who also reviewed this book, and fought in the same war, wrote “There are ten to twelve men in uniform in support positions for each grunt in the field...”

Each chapter in Valley of the Shadow is a short, personal story about Knutson’s experiences from when he first signed up, through his tour in Vietnam, to his final departure and reassignment back in the States.

Frank, sometimes funny, in places sad and, in others, angry—Knutson tells his stories exactly as he remembers them happening.

This isn’t a polished work... Steve has trouble keeping his narrative voice in the past, and he uses so much jargon it slows down the reading. But Valley of the Shadow is history as real as it gets.

A work which should be read by each one of us who has never soldiered or been to war, I can only hope Valley of the Shadow someday finds a publisher willing to help the author turn it into the fine gem it could be.

copyright © 2009 Clayton Clifford Bye

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

New author for you...

Jeremy C. Shipp. Terrific short fiction. Check it out at

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

John R. Little is finalist for the Bram Stoker Award

John R. Little, a Canadian author, is a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award (winner to be announced tomorrow). Check out my review of the nominated novella, Miranda, at

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The basics of story telling

One of the first things I learned about story telling is that you must take your hero or protagonist (yes, they are different things) and put them into terrible trouble. The rest of the story is devoted to getting he or she out of that trouble. Want a story to succeed? Begin by dropping your main character into the frying pan. You'll never have to worry about hooking your reader.

Do you know how many want-to-be writers there are who don't understand the function of plot and theme? Worse yet, many reviewers fall into the same category.

Plot is the rack you hang your story on; it's the logical structure you must build into a story in order to communicate effectively with your reader. You learned in school everything must have a beginning, a middle and an end. OK, this is true. But think of it in terms of a skeleton: each piece must smoothly connect to the next in order for the creature in question to be mobile. Failing to plot is to plot to fail!

Theme. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing. Theme is your message, what the story is about, what it means. Thanks to inept critics, many authors shy away from consciously creating a message in their fiction. The critics are famous for saying "Fiction with a message is bad fiction." What nonsense! Every story has a message. We use language to lend meaning to our experiences; how can a story not have meaning?

Let's take my novel, The Sorcerer's Key as an example of what I've been talking about.

As the story opens, Jack Lightfoot, the protagonist (he's a lead character, not a hero), is suddenly plunged into a 20 year-old power struggle between his father and the very nasty Morgan Heist. The plot is two-fold... First, we have the progression of the power struggle. Second, the reader witnesses the unfolding of an alternate history of The Fall of Man. There are two skeletons to unearth in this book.

And, finally, we come to the theme. It may seem to be apparent on first read (at least one foolish critic thought so), but it is not. Careful thought will bring the reader to the understanding that this is a story dedicated to showing how life never turns out as we expect; it is a malleable and unknowable set of ever-changing, intermixed events. This meaning was purposefully inserted.

There is no need for beginning, middle (exposition) and end in this kind of writing. The problem or item of discussion is introduced, the author attempts to solve the problem or explain the topic, and he or she reveals that solution or summary. It's a logical progression; the construction of a clear beginning, middle and end is inherent to the process. The author's true effort lies in the mechanics of writing, the grammar and such.

Not so complicated, is it?

copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A travelling man

The rope was strung waist high and ran the full eighth of a mile from Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Alert to the Department of Environment's (DOE) weather station. Given this was the land of the midnight sun, one might wonder what the rope was for.

"That's so you don't get lost in a snowstorm," my so-called boss told me. I referred to him in this manner because I had been asked to leave Resolute Bay, NWT where I had originally been posted to come up here to the gray-haired top of the world to unofficially run the place. "We're having some problems," my real boss had said to me; this was the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Environment at the time. Knowing the guy, it was probably a fabrication, but here I was.

I was given the tour of the station. Not much different than any other I'd been posted to. A weather office, a computer room where we tracked the balloons we sent up twice a day and did our analysis of the data, a large, fiberglass dome for the ancient tracking dish and a hydrogen generation building (the hydrogen was for the balloons). Ah! There was one difference: a very comfortable living room with all the movies a fellow could want, a reel-to-reel tape deck and a library. I spent many happy hours there.

Which brings me to the point of this little monologue... It wasn't all fun and games. The sun didn't stick around all year. And the snow did come back.

There came a morning when I had to use the rope to get to work. You couldn't tell it was morning--there was no sun and the snow was flying horizontal to the ground. I was lucky to get a glimpse, every once in a while, of the rope my hand was attached to.

Anyway, I made it to the weather station, and the fellow I was relieving made it back to CFB Alert. Not long afterward, I received a call. "You can't come back, and there won't be anyone down to relieve you," the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) said. "All personnel have been confined to base."

This didn't seem like much of a big deal. I was comfortable, and I had my guitar. I settled in for some serious practice time.

Two days later, it was a big deal. I was bored. Food was also getting scarce. But the storm was still raging.

What to do? The answer was simple, and it was also the reason I never ended up in the armed forces. I went out into the storm, walked the rope with my eyes closed (because they froze shut anyway), had a bite to eat at the cafeteria, then went and knocked on my relief's door. I left it up to he and the OIC as to what they were going to do next. I figured the DOE wasn't going to fire me if a weather observation or two didn't get made.

Turns out I was right.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

For more of Clayton Bye's writing, visit his website or become a fan.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I see pictures in my mind...

Three teenage boys in a small fishing boat. The boat lies lengthwise along the face of a cliff. The boys are reclining, backs against the rock, feet on the outer gunnel of the boat. All three boys sport a fishing rod and are lazily bouncing minnows on the bottom of the lake. A stringer of fish runs out and away from the boat like a roiling column of black smoke. There are too many fish to count. The sky is blue. The cooler is full of cold drinks. Life is good.

* * *

A lone figure trudges across a frozen fjord to the base of a medium-sized iceberg. He carries a fire axe in one hand and a cardboard box in the other. The man walks directly to the centre of the inner face of the berg. He has been told that here the ice is, in all probability, millions of years old. It is as clean and unpolluted as anything on this earth. Listening to the wind for a few moments, the man then begins to swing his axe. In no time at all the box is filled with ice. He throws the axe on top and begins the trek back to the base.

He is a weatherman, and this is the weather station known as Eureka. It is situated on the southern tip of Ellesmere island, the northernmost island in the Arctic Archipelago.

The iceberg ran aground prior to freeze-up. It is positioned in the fjord halfway between Ellesmere and Axel-Heiberg islands.

When added to a glass of Canadian Whiskey, the ice makes a drink so fine it makes his heart swell in his chest.

And now the memories begin to flood together...

The elderly couple met during a champagne breakfast on a Ward Air flight to Florida. Their warm invitation to join them at their home in Fort Meyers, a visit he never makes because a storm drives him into a Ramada Inn just outside Orlando, and he spends the next few days getting to know a wonderful troupe of Canadian women whose band is named Garbo. Their talent and versatility leaves him with an appreciation for the saxaphone. And what about those evening shuttle flights from Toronto where he meets such people as the inventor of the computerized scanning system now used by all major railways and that replaced the caboose, and Bobby Hull, the great Canadian hockey player? Or the time he loses his job, his apartment, his girl friend and, in a few short days from then, his car? But at this moment, halfway between his current world and the world of his past, he is stopped in his tracks. A work crew is struggling to remove a boulder the size of a house—a blasting session gone wrong. It's a beautiful summer day. He has old-time Rock 'n Roll playing on the car stereo and has nothing at all to do but think. So he does... And then he begins to write: poems, observations, descriptive scenes. It all goes into a journal, quickly turning a terrible day into a useful one.

And here he is, today, twenty years later,
using some of those words to share with you. Go figure!

Copyright © 2009 Clayton Clifford Bye

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll probably like my anthology of travel-based articles, The Contrary Canadian, by C. C. Bye.

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