Interview: Ben Eads of Cracked Sky

Everyone, welcome Ben Eads to the blog. His novella Cracked Sky launches this month. From the synopsis:

Reeling from the loss of their only child, Stephen and Shelley Morrison learn that her killer has been found dead. What they don’t know is that his agenda goes far deeper than the grave. Beyond the storm, beyond the crack in the sky—where their daughter lies trapped with The Lost Ones—something is using Stephen and Shelley’s agony to fulfill its goals: Terrorize. Consume. Destroy.

I’ve known Ben awhile through the horror community, and when I heard he was venturing into publication with a novella, Cracked Sky, I couldn’t resist reading the story and then finding out more about Ben and his writing process.

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Omnium Gatherum is releasing your novella, Cracked Sky. Congratulations! Tell us a little about the story without giving too much away.

BE: Thanks! I’m really excited about the release, and working with Kate Jonez was an absolute blast. Cracked Sky is a horror novella about a couple trying to cope with the loss of their only child, Allyson. Once they learn her murderer has been found dead, and that Allyson’s in a very bad place, they have to summon the courage, the hope, to heal themselves, as well as save their daughter from a nightmare-world, birthed from somewhere between the stars.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers, either about writing in general or what’s involved in submitting to a publisher and making a sale?

BE: I’ll just say what other writers like Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, etc… have said: Read a lot and write a lot. It’s always worked for me. You have to be well read so that you can develop something unique. After all, it’s all about the story. Find beta-readers that are capable of constructive criticism. They’re worth their weight in gold. Trust that. It took me a few years to find only three individuals who are absolutely indispensable. Never stop growing; take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. Inspiration is bullshit—it’s everywhere and around you, always.

I’ve helped a few presses with submissions—still am!—and I find it always comes down to the story itself. What happens? What does it accomplish? Unless your work re-kindles the magic you felt from other magicians, then step it up! Use those as litmus tests. Oh! And emotions…especially horror. King advised in his book On Writing, you shouldn’t come to the blank page lightly. Submit your A+ work. Be professional. Be patient. Know the press you’re submitting to. Do they publish the kind of fiction you’ve written? You wouldn’t believe how many times I would read a story from the queue only to find another with the exact same premise. Be fast! If something news-worthy occurs that you could mine something from, write it as soon as possible and be the first to submit it. You must keep your finger on the pulse. Despite the hits the publishing industry has taken due to economic woes—turn a negative into a positive.

How did the idea for Cracked Sky come to you?

BE: I’m still trying to figure that one out. Ha! I noticed that the theme of loss kept cropping up in my short fiction. And when the concept, the “movie-trailer” of Cracked Sky played in my mind, I realized I needed a bigger canvas. That’s how it began. And, my oh, my, was it big!

One of the things that struck me, as a reader, was the realism of your characters. I wasn’t left with the impression they were cardboard cutouts, and I thought your handling of Stephen and Shelley’s troubled marriage was very genuine. Was that something you intended to come across for your characters or just a natural by-product of the story?

BE: Thanks for the kind words! I’m happy to say the advance praise and support has reflected this. It was both, actually. The strength these characters had in my imagination were easy to draw from, and take over the story. They really started writing themselves and showing me where they were going. However, it was very depressing getting into Stephen, Shelley and, especially Darrell’s head-space. So I developed a routine to keep a balance. Making each one’s speech unique, real. I recommend that aspiring writers read their character’s dialogue aloud.

The foundations of Stephen and Shelley’s relationship came about through trusting my characters. What’s their body language say? These were “tells” to me. I was still refining their relationship during the final edits, just to make sure the perfectionist inside me covered every base.

How long have you been writing, to get to this stage in your writing path?

BE: I wrote my first short story when I was ten. I wrote through high-school, and would write short fiction from time to time. I even submitted work I felt was great, at the time. Ha! But I wasn’t taking it seriously. In 2008, after I was laid off due to the economic disaster, I took it seriously. By seriously, I mean actually submitting my work and seeking help from others who could tear my work to shreds, so I could grow. So…about 6 years.

Do you draw from your experiences in real life at all?

BE: Sure. I think everyone does, to a certain extent. At this stage in my life, I don’t have any children. However, the loss of my career, my house, loved ones, etc… were anchors. There were a lot of emotions to pull from. Millions of Americans were affected by this crisis they had no part in. Many of whom are still affected, sadly. It was palpable. I recall neighbors trading services to fix their homes. One family needed a new tile floor, another needed a roof, so they bartered. It truly was inspiring to see everyone come together and find hope amidst great adversity. I also lost a dear friend due to suicide.

Are there writers who inspire you?

Oh, yeah! Too many to list, but I’ll indulge myself: Karen Russell—especially her novel, Swamplandia!—Lovecraft, Maugham, Barker, Kealan Patrick Burke, Gene O’Neill, Rena Mason, Fran Friel, Lucy Snyder, Lansdale, Philip K. Dick, Bradbury, Maupassant, Machen, Trumbo, Jorge Luis Borges, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Charles L. Grant, Theodore Sturgeon, O’Henry, etc…

How can interested readers connect and keep up with you?

BE: Thanks for asking! The Cracked Sky Newsletter is your one-stop-shop for everything Cracked Sky and, well, me. You can subscribe by going to my website www.beneadsfiction.com and entering your email address. I’m also heavily active on Facebook and Twitter. And you can always drop me a line: ben@beneadsfiction.com

Ben Eads has also recently become the marketing consultant at Crystal Lake Publishing, and we wish him success in this as well as his new novella.

You can find Cracked Sky through Amazon.

Interview: Ben Eads of Cracked Sky

On Failure, On Rejection, On This Miraculous Life

Recently, “failure” seems to be a recurring subject. Maggie Slater turned my mind in the direction of failure after reading her blog post this morning, “Thoughts On Failure.” Which quickly brought to mind Nick Mamatas, who wrote “Of Success and Failure,” regarding his difficulty in whipping up writers to speak on a panel about, you guessed it, failure.

Talos recently published my first novel, Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell. How it got from pen to shelf is a head trip, but ironically, Maggie Slater was a part of that trip — the failing part. And that’s not in a negative sense of the word in any wise. That is, she was one of the first to reject the manuscript. Being professionals, we were cordial and I thanked her for her time. I was happy to find her blog a few years later as Bring Me Flesh was going to press, and leading us, inexorably, to this odd point in time — to a blog on failure.

I have, roughly counting, about 300 rejections. I know this because I keep a spreadsheet, but the spreadsheet is missing maybe two years worth of rejections, and the spreadsheet doesn’t keep track of the rejections accumulated by various trunk novels, submissions to agents and editors. It could be more than 300. I’ve had published/slated for publication 21 short stories out of those 300 rejections, and one novel. I have a heartbreaking list of held submissions at coveted venues that came to naught, because in the end, “almost” only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. And in all that time, while I knew I was striving for some kind of goal, I was so busy just trying to survive my life, ideas of “failure” and “success” never really entered my head in the same fashion as others.

I meet rejection with stoic placidity. Ah, they didn’t like it, they hated it, they don’t have room enough for it, my name doesn’t sound like money enough for it, I don’t go square dancing with pink elephants every second Wednesday of the month, whatever the reasons are, they are legion, and that is what the writing life tends to be about. A wall of rejections. When my then agent offered to let me pass on seeing the editorial rejections, I was confused. “So you don’t get depressed,” she explained. I think I might have put the phone down and looked around for someone to explain to me what she was talking about before it occurred to me that wow, people take rejections personally. People cry when they get rejected, people get upset and never write again when they get rejected.

I honestly had no idea. I still have my first rejection slip from when I was 13. Since the moment I had the audacity to be yanked out of the womb, rejection has been the order of the day. I didn’t walk right — they slapped leg braces on me. I couldn’t write — they diagnosed me with dyslexia and held me back a year. One of my earliest childhood memories was winning a contest in school and having the teacher promptly forget I existed and hand the prize to a different person. My unfortunate tendency to be invisible makes this phenomena a repeat event. I remember being told a neighbor strangled our rooster to death and that, apparently, was that. My favorite dog, a bear-sized Newfoundland, died in the cornfield of congestive heart failure and it was the first time I remember crying over something that couldn’t just get better. Broken stalks of corn, and that huddled mass of black fur out in the field. And those are just a collection of small experiences. They would be dwarfed in size by greater heart breaks to come, by astounding reversals of fortune ahead, by the tumult one can only experience when the wheel of fate turns, crushes you, and then turns to do it again until you have the sense enough to grab the spokes and pull out of the rut. Some never realize there are spokes in that wheel. Some never get out.

What does all that have to do with writing? By comparison, rejections, the failings of writing and publishing — are diminished before the more terrible rejections life can offer you. I have no idea if Bring Me Flesh is selling well or selling poorly. I give it what promotion I can without being overbearing, I support it as much as I am able. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the book is a runaway success or it stays weighted to the shelves like a grand piano — I still have to get up in the morning and face the blank page. I still have responsibilities to people in my life who matter to me. I still have to pay the bills, and look myself in eye and ask if I’ve done the best I can in the time I’m given.

There is a lot of truth to the idea that one can’t become a success without failing first — the idea of somehow lessening the sting of our relative failures by suggesting it’s just a stepping stone to greatness — but I’m not going to tell you that.

There is an implied value judgment behind terms like “failure” and “success” — as though to be anything other than successful, is not to matter at all, and you cease to exist. Some people never “succeed”. Some people fail, and fail hard, and never have this elusive success. Failure and success are poor rubrics by which to measure life, and no way to measure our human existence. Van Gogh did not cease to be brilliant or have value simply because he was not successful in his lifetime. And those who count themselves as the most successful, often do not perceive that they’ve accomplished much. I’ve not even talking about a “happiness” quotient as a measure of success; when Julius Caesar turned thirty, he felt himself a total failure because he had not lived up to the standard Alexander the Great set, and had failed to conquer the world.

Got a pulse? In relative good health? Is there food available to you? Do you have shelter? You live in a first world? You have internet access? Running water? Indoor plumbing? Do you have a some what intact nuclear family? At least one other person in the universe who would miss you if you were gone? A community that accepts you?

Do you have the strength of your imagination? Talent? Wit? And the will to learn? An open mind — a communicative heart? Your relative freedom?

You’re the success.

Perhaps that answer disappoints you; you were hoping for more. But there’s people in the world who don’t have the baseline for existence. What some dismiss as a basic foundation for life is unreachable for a great number of people. And that is not a function of their failure so much as it is circumstance beyond one’s ability to control. Without basic conditions such as those, you could have all the best sellers in the world under your belt, it’s never gonna make you healthy if you are sick, it’s not going to provide you beloved relatives who aren’t there, and maybe you can buy friends with the money, but you’re still gonna be alone, and all the healthcare in the world can’t cure mortality. If this wasn’t the pep talk you were looking for, welcome to your next rejection: this post.

Don’t set your values of life on failure and success alone, and most of all, don’t set your life and your identity on your chosen career — which is often what we really mean when we say “failure” and “success”. We’re talking about our jobs. We’re talking about the money we make at those jobs. But your career has more potential to end before your life does. Where will you be then, if you’ve set all your identity and value on something that isn’t there for you any longer? Put these rejections and successes in their context, and think critically about what defines them. Are rejections truly painful enough to stop you in your tracks? How badly do you want success? Do you want it at any price? Is it really worth it?

After awhile, I fail to perceive the demarcation between what counts as a failure and what counts as a success. You come to realize, there’s merely events and experiences, some mystifying, some disappointing, and some astonishing, that happens along the way of this miraculous life.

Awaken to it; know yourself as if for the very first time, and If you are reading this, you may be more successful than you know.

On Failure, On Rejection, On This Miraculous Life

Pulling The Sword From The Stone: Writing And Power

Let me take you back to another time; a world where the police, the military, the schools, the libraries, the hospitals, the stores, all of this infrastructure we enjoy today — is gone. No government, no television. Most of all, no cars. No cell phones. No oil. A world without guns and swords. This isn’t post apocalyptic fiction. This isn’t dystopia. Once upon a time, this was the real world. Once upon a time, this was the Dark Age.

You might wonder why we should bother going back this far — what it has to do with writing. But it has everything to do with how you pull a sword from the stone.

It’s a familiar story that came out of that age. The knights, King Arthur, Merlin. The boy who would be king, rising up to the challenge of pulling an enchanted sword from an immovable stone, a feat of strength that would cement his divine right to rule.

It’s a strange story, with numerous variations. Monty Python put it best when they said “Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” And while they were discussing the Lady of the Lake determining Arthur’s divine right to rule, the point is the same — random allotment of swords don’t exactly prove you’re capable of leading nations.

Or do they.

It was never about a literal sword in the stone. It was about technology and wisdom and warfare. A soldier carrying a gun can take over any town, a show of brute strength is no mean feat. It’s common. It’s unsophisticated, and it only lasts for so long.

It’s the person who knows how to build a gun from scratch — that’s true power, power intrinsic to creation, not destruction. The technology, the alchemy, and the application of skill — these are things that make Queens of mere women, Kings of mere men, and Gods of mere mortals. This — this is what we’re talking about, when we talk about pulling the sword from the stone.

You need stone, to smelt iron. You need iron, to make steel. You need steel, to make swords.

When they say Arthur pulled a sword from the stone, what lies behind the phrase is a more arduous task than we are led to believe: he took raw earth, and made the fire, and spent days baking it in an earth oven so the rock would crack, release the metal and melt it down. Separate the impurities. Take what remained and begin to shape and hammer it out. Heat and cool it endlessly. It took wisdom lost in the fall of Rome. It took knowledge lost with the death of millions in that fall; it took skills lost in the burning of Alexandria.  Over time, the story twists. It’s lost in translation. Between the words of ancient texts, we trade in a hard and gritty reality for a convenient fantasy, in which one man’s hard labor that cost him weeks and months if not years of his life, is casually discarded for a fast-food version of the myth. To say the words “pull the sword from the stone” takes five seconds. It gives no respect for the time it took to make a sword from scratch.

By now, the writers reading this will have already figured it out; they think I’m talking about the creative process. And you can draw all the suitable parallels you please. But that’s only half the truth.

We live in a publishing, writing system that doesn’t allow you to pull swords from stones. The writing process alone is but the first part; before our typewriters and keyboards, we’re busy smelting. We aren’t even close to swords yet, not even close to turning our raw materials into a real weapon. Down the line, we’ll shape and hammer with agents, editors, publishers. The sword is what they sell in the storefronts.

Writers. You have no power. Anyone can smelt. It’s not easy; but it can be done. This is the first of many tests that await you, and the vast majority will not pass this.

Not every writer will, like Arthur, smelt and shape and hammer and sell the sword alone. Not every writer will demonstrate the application and holistic understanding of all the technology and discipline involved in the production and process of this singular, and indispensable weapon.

The one who does, will earn their sovereignty over the rest.

You will be more than a writer. You will be an alchemist, a metalsmith, a sword maker. You will know fire and metal, earth and water. You will know the wisdom that has been forgotten. Are you ready, writers?

The stuff of legends await you. You need only pull your sword from the stone.

It is as simple, and insurmountable as that.

For my mother, a metalsmith herself, and a firebrand.

Pulling The Sword From The Stone: Writing And Power

Updates, Change in Release Date

Copies fresh from the press. Pic Credit: Nicole Frail
Copies fresh from the press. Pic Credit: Nicole Frail

The release date for Bring Me Flesh, I’ll Bring Hell has been pushed back to October 28th and the book has landed at Skyhorse offices, as you can tell from the above pic. The book will be available at Barnes & Noble and other retailers.

The audio version from Audible, narrated by Christian Rummel, and the book itself will be available for pre-order, at all the usual suspects. Anyone who has ordered it already should be aware they won’t get it on October 7, since the date has changed.

Updates, Change in Release Date

Quote, Christmas Season

“He would never forget this particular twilight. Years later, looking back across all their voyages together, this walk along Penn Boulevard would become his fondest memory. He would wake from a deep sleep in the dead of night and remember Philadelphia, Christmas, and the snow. He would hear the far-off carols playing their evensong and taste the winter air they breathed and feel the frozen grief of the solitude that divided them. That was the year I gave her a pear, he would tell the darkness.”

-Marc Behm, The Eye of the Beholder

Aside

And You, Dear Reader, Are The Time Traveler

One’s understanding of time is crucial.

Time is not created equal. Time is not the same for you as it is for me. Time is the not the same for the black rat who breathes at 85 breaths per minute as it is for the adult who breaths 15 breaths per minute.

We measure time in money and then buy things with that money; but the reality is, skip the dollar bill, and you’re buying things with time. Your time. Time that is limited and always running out. We barter and trade in time every day, whether by the alarm clock or the stock exchange.

When you write, you’re bending time. You’ve distilled a time, or an experience, into a volume others can open up and read. And when you finish, you can begin all over again. The book is the time machine itself and you, dear reader, are the time traveler. 

“Summerville’s Timeline Theory

This theory states that there is only one universe that would bend like a straightened paper clip by the events of time travel. When time travel occurs a chemical change occurs in the universe allowing the law of conservation of mass to be followed—e.g., a time traveler materializes in the intended time out of the elements currently present in that time, or if a current version of him/herself exists they will transfer to the future consciousness—and the universe is forever changed. Any change or deviation from the original flow of events would not negate the existence of the traveler. The time traveler is real to that time and place as reinforced by the chemical change to the universe[clarification needed] that landed him at that point in the time line. Therefore if by time traveling into the past “the past self” is killed, “the future self” would live on because the past self is not him or her. It is another person from the point they entered that time. If the past self goes on to time travel, they create a cascade of time travel at the point they entered the past. Each journey into the past, no matter how similar, creates a different flow of events. Though it may mirror the events each time, this will continue until the flow of events affects the past self to the point they are no longer capable of or desire to follow that flow of events.”

From time to time you read a book that leaves you shaking and breathless. You close the pages and sit back and reality is bendable and flexible. You could start the story over again, but you choose not to because you’re exhausted and that exhaustion is difficult to express. Minute changes map out the landscape of your brain as seratonin, adrenaline and hormonal levels shift and change. A chemical change in your private universe.

All over the world, long gone authors turning to bones and dust in the ground are reborn into the universe as binder’s glue and onion skin pages and ink or a flat screen electronic device, and you hold them in the intimate space between your hands. Returning to a point in time, an experience long gone, to a memory lost, opportunities missed, to pluck lovers and heroes out of the maelstrom and take them back to their second chances — resurrecting ourselves alongside them.

When we tire, we close the book, grant ourselves rest before we open the cover, and we do it — all over again. Until we are no longer capable of or desire to follow that flow of events.

The existence of my work alone is damning proof of my failure to halt time and change the course of events, over and over again. You see, I can only write about it. I can never go there, the same way the reader can. One can never return to the past.

And You, Dear Reader, Are The Time Traveler