Standing before the mirror, she gazes into her reflection. Pale skin. Small prickles of hair emerging from her head. There’s a large oval -shaped scar on her neck. She focuses on her eyes–windows to the soul. Staring into them is like falling into a dark bottomless pit. She sees stains of guilt within them. She sees a mind like a grotesque dungeon, a place where thoughts wander blindly like prisoners, wailing at walls of misgiving and despair.
“Who am I?” she asks.
She gets the same answer as always. It comes to her as a hissing whisper in the back of her mind: not Meredith. Meredith is dead…
Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. Over a month. A lot has been going on since my last post. My journey has not come to an end, however. It has broadened, become more complicated, and increased in pace.
Since my last post an exciting new opportunity has entered my life. I joined the staff of The Dark Sire Journal and became their new Assistant EIC. The Dark Sire publishes Horror, Gothic, Fantasy, and Psychological Realism. For those of you who have read previous posts or visited my YouTube channel, you know how fitting such a journal will be for me. I love tales of monsters, vampires (particularly the disturbing kind; I can do without the sparkling), eerie haunted minds, strange old castles, and so much more. TDS is a place of all my passions. It’s a journal that truly loves horror fiction and allows it to be horror. What do I mean by that? Well, they allow for the blood, the mayhem. They truly want to make your spine tingle when you view the art or fiction featured in one of their issues. It’s refreshing to see this when so often I come across horror magazines that want monsters, as long as they don’t commit any mayhem. They want vampires, as long as they don’t actually draw any blood. Where’s the horror in that? Magazines like TDS are becoming rarer these days, and I hope to help keep this one alive and well.
My goal is to post once per week. In next week’s post I will tell you what I’m learning about developmental editing.
Good news! I was able to make some decent use of the early morning hours. I woke up at five and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to make use of that quiet time to work on a story I’ve been grinding away at for the past couple weeks. The rough draft looks to be more novella length than novel, but maybe the story will expand when I progress to revisions later.
In the meantime, I got a really good idea for a story yesterday on my walk. I will carry on with the rough draft before I go back to revisions of this recently finished project. The working title for my next project: Nightmare Shards. I’m going to have some fun playing with the werewolf myth.
Shawn Burgess is a dark fiction author, avid horror fan, and Halloween junkie. He has a BA in English from the University of Florida and focused on literature for his postgraduate studies at the University of North Florida. His stories often blend two or more of his preferred genres: thriller, mystery, horror, crime/police procedural, urban fantasy, and suspense.
In his fictional worlds, realistic characters collide with the strange, unusual, and sometimes frightening. Ghosts of Grief Hollow, the sequel to his Amazon international best-selling debut novel, The Tear Collector, is due out in late 2021.
Tell us a bit about your fiction. What does it mean to you, and why do you think readers will love it?
I’m a dark fiction writer with a tendency to blend several genres, so my stories may not always fit neatly into one box. I like to tell complex tales with fairly large casts—perhaps partly because of my propensity for ushering many of them to tragic and sudden ends. I’m a big believer in having at least some relatable main characters that readers may readily identify and empathize with. I’m also intending to ground a reader in a realistic feeling world before things really go sideways so that they’ll maintain a level of suspension of disbelief. You’ll uncover more about my characters through their dialogue, actions, interactions, and behaviors than anything I’ll ever outright tell you in a story, which is my preference for both characterization and pacing.
Looking at the bigger picture, I love the strange, unusual, and terrifying. The supernatural, paranormal, and the occult. Ordinary, every-day people confronted with the most extraordinary of circumstances and phenomena. It’s in those moments and all the ones leading up to it, that we really discover who these characters truly are. Despite modern society’s technological advances, there exists that kernel of doubt, the sense that we as human beings can’t possibly understand everything that coinhabits the Earth with us—and that’s where I like to play most as a writer—amidst all that fear and wonderment.
To me, fiction is pure, unadulterated freedom. I can go anywhere on the page, within the confines of my own story, of course, but the possibilities are truly boundless. I write with one overarching goal, to tell a compelling story that will hopefully entertain and thrill most readers.
If you like action, adventure, mystery, suspense, and horror with memorable characters, I believe you will enjoy my fiction. Like twists and turns as well? We’re probably reading from the same sheet of music in terms of taste for what we like to read and what I like to write.
Do you remember the first moment the horror/sci-fi genre attracted you?
My parents were part of an organization that built haunted houses for their biggest charity fundraising event each year. I was exposed to it at an early age. My father also had a love for Halloween and would build a home haunt to entertain and scare kids and parents alike. I naturally gravitated to these creepy things and found enjoyment in them.
Allowing yourself to get scared by putting yourself in these situations while knowing you’re not actually going to be harmed is exhilarating, fun, and reminds us we’re alive. It’s why Halloween has become a multi-billion-dollar holiday, and why events like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights seem to print money every year.
As I got older, I found that same enjoyment in books and movies. It was a natural extension of the things I already enjoyed, and my writing would quickly follow in the same path.
What’s your creative process?
With my debut novel The Tear Collector, I began with three characters in a dialogue exchange. From that small scene, I got a very clear picture of who each character was. I built the rest of the novel around it. I mostly wrote it on airplanes at 30,000 feet and in hotel rooms while traveling for work. My soon-to-be-released sequel, Ghosts of Grief Hollow, was written during the pandemic. I started with an idea for how I wanted it to start and end, plus a few key scenes, and wrote it from about 10PM-2AM each night over the course of about five months, so it was really quite different for me as far as the execution of it.
As it relates to the creative process itself, I’m rather flexible, depending on the demands of the project. I don’t really have any set writing rituals I keep. I have a notebook of novel ideas and choose whatever sounds like the most fun for me to write. I don’t work from outlines but do tend to plot in my head quite a bit further into the manuscript than wherever I’m currently working in it. I always leave room to take enticing opportunities when they present themselves, and I’m not necessarily married to an ending I’ve selected at the onset. This rough structure works for me and likely leads to the books having more unexpected twists and turns.
What are some of your favorite books and movies?
There are so many fabulous books and movies I love. I’ll start with some books, but I’m going to give more of the love to some indie and smaller press authors because they’re fantastic and they don’t necessarily garner the attention of the King’s and Koontz’s of the world.
One of my recent favorite books was Ross Jeffery’s cosmic horror novel Tome. This is probably the most high-profile book I’ll talk about in regards to indies since it was nominated for a Stoker Award. Jeffery’s writing is terrific, and I was gripped throughout, even as some truly horrifying things were happening on the page. Think the old HBO prison series Oz meets cosmic horror and you have a recipe for an excellent read.
The Navajo Nightmare coauthored by Steve Stred and David Sodergren was a splatterpunk Western that was really a lot of fun. A supernatural tale of revenge about a gunslinger trying to make an honest go of it, and being dragged back into his old life and worse. It’s a true blood fest, but a really compelling read.
There’s a new novella coming out by indie author Dan Soule called The Jam that I got an opportunity to get an early look at, and I absolutely loved it. It was really a fun and unpredictable story.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few others, Dawn Hosmer’s Bits & Pieces, Angelique Jordonna’s Dani, Charly Cox’s All His Pretty Girls, Jotham Austin’s Will You Still Love Me if I Become Someone Else? and Barlow Adams’ Appalachian Alchemy—all of them excellent reads.
As far as big presses go, Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar was a recent favorite that I tore through, and I thought Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark was fantastic.
Some of my favorite movies are The Silence of the Lambs (also loved the book), Seven, The Lost Boys, Better Off Dead, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, A Quiet Place II, Get Out, Pumpkinhead, Beetlejuice, Jaws, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Jeepers Creepers, The Prophesy with Christopher Walken, and In the Mouth of Madness, just to name a few.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Superpowers are a slippery slope. As a dark fiction and horror writer, I imagine them in the wrong hands being used for very nefarious purposes. Take the thriller, The Invisible Man—no good can come from that. For my own superpower, I’d choose the ability to miraculously heal other people, at the cost of years taken off my own life each time the power was used. Every superpower needs some type of built-in guardrail. Otherwise, I could heal the countless masses, leading to an explosion of the Earth’s population, scarcity of resources, and most likely, my subsequent murder.
What advice do you have for the novice writer?
Write and read as much as you can. Fill up notebooks, even if you know it’s with stories and scribblings that will likely never be published. The more you practice, the better you will become. In my eyes, the most important thing about writing is having fun. If you’re having fun with your story, it’s much more likely to connect with a potential audience. If it feels like a chore, you’re probably writing the wrong story, or perhaps approaching it in the wrong way. Never put too much pressure on yourself. That’s not to say don’t be driven to accomplish your writing goals but remember that writing is only one part of this amazing life we’ve been given. Make sure you live it to the fullest.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now, I’m just enjoying life with my wonderful wife and two amazing sons while writing on novels in the evening. In the next few months, my second novel Ghosts of Grief Hollow is set to release. I immersed myself wholly into this project during the pandemic. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out and can’t wait to share it with readers. In addition, I’m picking back up on a novel project I paused in order to write GoGH. It’s pretty different than The Tear Collector and one I hope readers will thoroughly enjoy. Other than that, I plan to continue putting out novels as frequently as I can write, revise, and edit them. Ideally, I’d love to see one of more them ultimately translated into film, which is also a medium I love.
This has been a good week. A lot of great goals have been set and much progress has been made with those goals.
1. I’ve committed to a schedule. This has been very helpful. I’ve consigned much of my writing to 6:30 in the morning, a sacred time, a time when not much is happening to distract me. I even managed to wake up this early every day of the week. Good consistency.
2. I’ve got a lot of works in progress. One is a novel about a man in a religious order who has reached the evening of his life and now confronts his greatest challenge yet: transcendence. Even got a title for it now: The Miracle Morning. My short story “Moon-Frosted Forest” has gone through a few beta-reading rounds; I express thanks to all who helped with that. I definitely have more directions I can take the next draft. As you saw in my previous “Nightmare Shards” post, more story ideas have been showing up when I need them. I started outlining a tale inspired by one of those dream images this morning. A serial killer artist is the subject of the story.
I hope next week I can press onward with the same consistency. I’ll sure give it my best effort. Tune in next week! I’m sure I’ll have some mysteries for us to puzzle over.
Story ideas can knock around in a writer’s head for a long time. Inception can happen in a variety of ways: an image of a particular character, an inspiring passage, a plot element, theme (though many authors emphasize never to start with theme), what have you. Nearly fourteen years ago inception happened to me in the form of a title and a memory: The Butterfly Girl.
I knew a girl in high school with that nickname. I can’t remember precisely, but it seemed she liked to sport butterfly hair clips, so classmates gave her the alias. As I reflected on the memory of that girl, I found myself repeatedly saying to myself her nickname. It had a catchy quality to it. I thought it might serve as a great title. There was a mysterious quality to it, suggesting all kinds of connotations. Since my imagination often wanders into the strange shadows of the horror tale, I began to imagine a transformation story, one with monstrous possibilities.
Writers will often use metaphor in the attempt to understand what they do. Thomas Williams described the writing process in his novel “The Hair of Harold Roux” akin to characters standing around a small fire, their faces barely visible in the dim light. The author’s job is to keep the fire ablaze, keep the sparks flying, or the characters will be swallowed up in the dark and forgotten. Stephen King has described the writing process as like excavating a fossil. An idea, character, or phrase is the location of a fossil. Writing the story is the work of digging up the bones. Revision then must be cleaning off the bones and connecting them in their proper formation. I’ve heard others describe the writing process as like planting a seed in the ground and giving it a place to grow. The rough draft is the hedge bush grown to its most rampant potential, shaggy and shapeless. Revision is seeing the true shape that could exist, and making the proper cuts to bring that shape to life. With my story, the title was the first spark of story-creation fire. The title was the first protruding hint of a fossil to be dug up. It was the germinating seed.
Since then “The Butterfly Girl” has now become a full-length story. Right now I’m in the process of cleaning off the fossil and realizing how it all fits together.