yes I can

I got an interesting email the other day. And although I’ve hemmed and hawed about whether or not to share this, I decided to do so because I suspect others might benefit from my experience.

The note was from someone who claims to be an editor. Someone I know of through social media. Someone who had, on the advice of “high ranking writers” — we have ranks? I had no idea! are there medals? sashes? a dental plan? — decided to take a chance and see if this new guy — me! — is as good as they said he is.

The verdict?

I suck.

And, in their opinion, not only do I suck, but my work was LITERALLY unreadable. (Btw, that was in ALL CAPS in the email, so I REALLY feel the need to be consistent) Like, they couldn’t EVEN — again, ALL CAPS — get four pages in before they threw it across the room.

Now, what’s interesting about this isn’t the criticism — it comes with the job and I’ve heard much worse — it’s the list they kindly offered me.

Yes! A list!

Whoops, forgive me. I meant THE LIST. You know, a gentle reminder of what I can and cannot do as a writer. A little something to help me out — paraphrasing here — before I go back to school and take a ton of seminars and learn how to actually write a book, etc and so on.

So, this list of “Can’ts” included

  • I can’t structure my sentences the way I do
  • I can’t break formatting and ignore punctuation
  • I can’t ever, ever begin a chapter with dialogue
  • I can’t blend past and present in a narrative
  • I can’t ever start a chapter in the middle of action.

It was a very generous list. An exhaustive list. I needed a cookie and a nap after navigating, like a less-ambitious, slightly disinterested version of Marco Polo, this list. A great deal of thought went into this list.

Toward the end of THE LIST I found myself envying their free time.

Of course I responded and thanked them for writing and wished them well. I did not apologize for my work and I did not apologize for the way I write.

Because my answer to that list of Can’ts is

Yes I Can.

Again, the criticism is not the issue. Art is subjective and, hey, everyone has their own opinion. What I do is sometimes unique and it won’t always be to everyone’s liking. And that’s okay! No harm, no foul, right?

I’m just gonna do what I do regardless because it’s who I am.

What is the issue is an industry – which this person had decided to speak for, I guess – that actively bemoans everything sounding the same and the lack of new voices taking risks and then, when someone does find the courage to throw a curve ball, smacks them down because it breaks their rules. Raps them on the knuckles, brands them with the He Can’t Write label and pushes them to the back of the line until they “learn how to do it right.”

Well, even if it slows my ascent, I’ve never really paid attention to the rules. Hell, I can’t imagine a life (which is limiting enough, thank you very much) where I choose to limit MYSELF by quieting my voice by following rules.

Because you know what?

Those who do well, and I mean those who do well enough to break down walls, destroy boundaries and flip the script when it comes to how society see things, don’t do so by following the rules. They know the rules, understand the rules, know the limits and have worked within the limits. They’ve mastered building castles in that sand box and now spend their lives slowly pushing, testing, forcing these rules to stretch and bend and change.

But when they do this they put a target on their backs for all those armed with Lists lying in wait to bury them in an avalanche of Can’ts. And they endure that, all while paving the way to Freedom for everyone else. They go unread and misunderstood and discarded so the next crop can come in to find those earlier boundaries changed. And these new voices then build their castles in a bigger, somehow better sandbox.

Those who, supported by the rules, then decide to break them do this understanding the path they’re agreeing to walk. But do so anyway because their need to create the way THEY want to is stronger than their desire to be the Flavor of the Month.

So, if I write something that’s roundly rejected by Those Who Follow the Rules, that’s fine.

No, really. It is.

Listen, I have a voice, a unique voice, which often results in interesting stories uniquely told. That’s not going to change and if the bending and breaking of those rules disturbs someone’s sensibilities, I’m okay with that.

Because, truth be told, I spend my days surrounded by people telling me No, You Can’t. And, every day, week after week, year after year, my answer has been and will always be

Yes, I Can.

the hungry shadows of deepest dark

Occasionally, just occasionally, someone will pepper me with questions for which occasionally, just occasionally, I’ll offer somewhat cogent, intelligent, dare I say “witty” answers.

This was one of those times.

What attracted you to writing horror?

In my opinion, horror lets you write your own rules. I can create a haunting something out of a forgettable nothing in horror. A speck of dust, a loose thread, a glance in the mirror. In other genres, those everyday things are just that: everyday things. In horror, at least for me, they’re jumping off points for the total unraveling of a life, of one’s sanity, of one’s grip on reality.  For me, they’re the necessary first step into the hungry shadows of deepest dark.

For the rest of this fascinating — occasionally, just occasionally — read, head on over here.

You’ll also see why I believe my friends Paul Tremblay, Lucy Snyder, Josh Malerman, Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Brian Kirk, Lisa Mannetti and Chesya Burke are writers to watch and read and get to know.

Because, as I also said,

in my opinion, the more I dig, the more I realize we’re in a bit of a Golden Age when it comes to fantastic writers.

Yeah, I know, right? Good stuff!

So, take a look, have a read and enjoy. 🙂

Jonathan-Interview(Sept16)

Jonathan Winn is a screenwriter as well as the author of Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast (Crystal Lake Publishing), the full-length novels Martuk … the Holy (A Highlight of the Year, 2012 Papyrus Independent Fiction Awards), Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche (Top Twenty Horror Novels of 2014, Preditors & Editors Readers Poll), the upcoming Martuk … the Holy: Shayateen and The Martuk Series, an ongoing collection of short fiction inspired by Martuk …

In addition to Forever Dark, his award-winning short story in Tales from the Lake, Vol. 2, his work can also be found in Horror 201: The Silver Scream and Writers on Writing, Vol. 2, all from Crystal Lake Publishing.

 

how to change a life

Interesting lesson I learned today: listening is important.

Let me explain.

Every day, come rain or shine, I take a walk through the nearby park. Shake the dust off. Get away from the computer screen and all those words, words, words I’ve been banging out since the sun came up. You know, just get out and clear my head.

And, on these walks, I’m known to take a moment — a small minute, really — to share a Hello or How are you with those somewhat familiar faces I see, come rain or shine, lingering around, lying on the grass, sleeping on the benches.

Now, granted, many (most? all?) of those faces are homeless and battling addiction and/or psychosis. And many, if not all, of them have been forgotten by those they loved because — and I’m guessing here — of the choices they made. Choices usually driven by addiction, psychosis, hopelessness.

So my kind words, my taking that moment to say Hello and ask How are you? and truly, sincerely listen to what they say may be the only kind word or moment of attention they get that day.

But that’s not the lesson I learned.

On my walk today I ran into a familiar face I hadn’t seen in awhile — not unusual for those faces to disappear, by the way – but this once was clean shaven and sober and HAPPY!

So, after exchanging quick pleasantries, he then said “You changed it for me, man. You took the time, said Hello, wanted nothing, nothing, from me and you were cool. And I thought, Well, fuck, if that cool guy is cool with me, maybe there’s hope. And once I realized there could be hope, I don’t know, man, I got my shit together and just changed it, man. I just changed it. So, thank you.”

Of course I deflected his praise. Reminded him that if anyone changed his direction, it was him. And to keep going. Keep making wise choices. Keep building on his success, however small it might feel. But he’d made a good point. A great point, really.

Which is this…

You never know what will change someone’s life. You never know what will be the one thing, the one small seemingly inconsequential thing, that pushes the Pause button long enough for them to stop and think and reconsider their next choice. And then, because of that small break in the cycle, that pause, that breath, move in a different direction.

It can be as easy as listening to their story. Acknowledging their pain. Agreeing that, yeah, it sucks and, shit, wouldn’t it be nice to get a break? It could be something as simple as treating them with respect and kindness and patience no matter how deep their illness or how drunk or high they are or how clearly their psychological wounds are still weeping. Taking that moment to just be there, for just a moment, might be enough to kickstart them to a better place.

Seriously.

Do not underestimate the power of sincerely listening when you ask “How are you?” It could change a life.