"From the Shadeaux"—Columns by David Niall Wilson

Column: Compromise and the Lost Art of Artistic Vision

Over the years, I've compromised on a lot of things in my writing, and in my life. Sometimes compromise is good and necessary to survival. Other times, it is a big hammer and chisel chipping away at the things that are important. I'm not going to talk about my own compromises here, though I will touch on them. I'm going to talk about writing in general, as funneled through the commercial, mass market system, and see if the thoughts sliding around in the back of my mind make sense once they splat on the page.

Most of you who read this column know that last year I jumped into the world of publishing. It was a small start at that point – but now it's become something of a phenomenon. A business where most of the money stays with the writers and creative folks creating the books. It's grown so far beyond what I expected that I can barely comprehend the potential.

That aside, one of the original concepts that brought Crossroad Press to life was the resurrection of old books. Paperbacks long out of print, novels and series works that you have to hunt and peck and search for old beat-up copies of – copies, I might add, that won't make a dime for their creators. That has been one of the joys of this digital publishing age for me, and as a side note, it's brought a couple of other things to my attention – things I actually knew, as a writer, but didn't really put together coherently until I saw them in the notes, e-mails, letters and conversations I've had with others.

Ever since the beginning of publishing, publishers have had a part in the creation of books. Sometimes it was encouragement, other times copy-editing, and still other times complete re-workings of original concepts. The reasons for all of these intercessions on the part of...

Column: Everything in Good Time

Over the past year, I've taken some time to muse, study, and read on the subject of characters in historical fiction. I've retained some of what passed through my brain, and I'm going to pass it on . . . it's a thing I do. This column is dedicated, then, to characterization, voice, period research, and realism.

Most of us have run across in a story or novel a character in one of the two that just didn't work. Why? The voice was wrong. They said something they would never say, or did something they would never do. They knew things that weren't invented yet, or used a figure of speech common to a different time period. One of my pet peeves is horror authors who try to write in elaborate, overblown Victorian speech patterns. In almost every case, someone who didn't live in those times will fall short of sounding correct, and will probably sound pompous, or flat silly. The reason is simple. You can't read Poe and Lovecraft and then, from vague memories of how they used words and language, transfer this to your own characters. It isn't that simple. Writing about characters you might meet today, or tomorrow, is one talent—writing about characters long dead is a different form altogether.

I've been writing a novel for Amazon.com's "shorts" program, serialized in many parts, titled "The Orffyreus Wheel." In this novel, half of the action takes place in modern times, and half in the time of Johann Bessler, which is Germany in the 1700s. I've read what is available in excerpts from Bessler's journals, and some accounts of his life, but to get a real feel for the language of the time, I've had to try other sources. This is where the research (and in particular the Internet) come in handy. If you put in the right search terms, you can find...

Column: Green and Twitter ? Rediscovering the Fun in Writing

Most of my writing career has followed a particular pattern. I write what pops into my head, and I write a lot. Some of it sells, some of it makes people go ?huh?? and some of it wins awards. Still, I generally have gone into projects with at least a general idea what I thought I?d do with the final product, at least in recent years. It seems, if not an exactly logical process, a workable one.

Sometimes, however, things change. For one thing, the way you interact with the world, and with people. You can live in a bubble, or you can expand with the world ? and contract with it, as well. Our world is much larger with all it has to share, and much smaller with how simple it has become to reach out and interact. I have always been a forward leaning sort of person. When something new and shiny comes along, I play with it... at least when it comes to Computers. I was an early adopter of message boards, online services, the Internet, E-mail, and now I enjoy the magic and madness that we call Social Media. While I?m still not sold on Facebook, I?m active on the micro-blogging service Twitter, and have been slowly building a network of contacts, followers, interesting characters, and shared thought.

Knowing that some among you, as usual, are clearing your throats and saying ?Get to the point, Wilson,? I will do so. The point is that the changes in the Internet and in my world have now had a profound impact on my career. At least, it?s potentially profound, and to cause the shift in my habits and my outlook, all that?s required is the potential.

Last February I found myself in the very hotel where I?m sitting as I type this, getting ready to open a branch office for my company. I had a book to work on, and I had all the files carefully...

Column: IN THE TRADITION OF... And Other Signs of Reflected Light

It has occurred to me lately that TV programming is a great way to explain what I consider to be one the biggest problems with books, the public, and publishing today—if not the biggest. The epiphany came to me first while watching the new program The Mentalist which is about a psychic turned detective who lost his wife and family to a serial killer he'd insulted on a live television broadcast. The problem is a very deeply rooted one, and I'm pretty well convinced that it's not one that can be fixed—but I think, at the same time, we need to remain aware of it.

I won't even try to guess which came first, but let's put all these shows in a row and see if something clicks. Monk, Psych, The Mentalist, Life—and I guess if you wanted to you could add in the main protagonists from the CSI shows and the profilers on Criminal Minds. What we have is a formula that works. We have a character with the super power of being able to observe a situation and catch details that other people miss. In one show it's a detective pretending to be a psychic, in another it's a retired psychic being a detective. All of these shows are interesting, entertaining, and popular.

Here's the problem. One person, a long time ago—probably around the time Arthur Conan Doyle began penning his Sherlock Holmes stories—realized that just paying attention to detail could give one an almost magical advantage over others. Doyle wrote this ability into a protagonist who has been raised to the level of icon and held a dominant spot in popular literature, media, and Western culture in general for decades.

The rest are clever reworks of the same idea, not even really changed very much, and so...

Column: It's The End of the World as We Know It... Is That Bad?

Every year when Brett reminds me I have a column due at year's end (and beginning) I get the urge to do some sort of retrospective. Then I feel bad because in most cases it seems like a cop out on writing something real. Then I end up with some sort of amalgam of topics culled from the retrospective and the oddly chambered brain where I store it. I guess I'm doing that again. You lucky people.

This was the year, for instance, when the bottom started to fall out of the ridiculous real-estate market. Houses that were $150,000 five years ago have jumped to $300,000 or even $500,000 for no reason other than that banks got the brilliant idea to loan too much money to people who couldn't afford to pay it back with shady arrangements on interest and balloon payments fueling the fire. People started defaulting on loans. Banks stopped making money. Banks now have to stop LOANING money at ridiculous falsified rates, and now no one can sell a house. Or buy a house—or, if they bought it during the boom period in the last decade, pay for it. This is American stupidity at its prime time best. The bottom line before everything…take the money and run. Get out before the bottom drops out. (sigh).

In my neck of the woods (and all over now), the next crunch of this stupidity is hitting. Tax re-assessment time has come to the valley, and despite the fact that no one is selling houses for the inflated prices, those have now become the assessed value. In my county, the average house taxes went up 85%. That's a lotta green, folks…a lot of folks already barely able to make their mortgages are now joining the huge ranks of the screwed.

Then there's oil. Wonderful, slimy oil. This is the year we saw that fat jowled bastard retire with NINE FREAKING...

Column: Jesus Tombs and Empty Rooms and Gospels All In a Row

So, I'm sure you've all been following the trials and tribulations of James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici as they try to convince the world that a tomb unearthed back in the 1980s in Jerusalem is actually Jesus' family crypt. There are a lot of lessons to be learned in a debacle like this, and there are infinite plot lines for future stories and novels, so pay attention. First I'm going to tell you why I believe they never intended to prove anything. Then I'm going to tell you why they never had a chance of proving anything even if they wanted to . . . then I'm going to offer alternate theories. I've offered some in my own journal, and they were well received, so I think rocking the boat further is a good way to spend a few more words. It gives me a chance to get some closure on this silliness, and we all NEED our closure.

My favorite idea for solving the whole mess is to take the ossuaries and chain them together, then dump them into the crater of Mr. Lusi ? the volcano spewing mud all over Surabaya. If this doesn't help stem the flow of mud, maybe a goop geyser will spit them all into Heaven, and we'll have a real ascension. At least we won't have to worry about scraping the silica patina for DNA.

Anyway . . . to the promised points.

James Cameron and his buddy never intended to prove to the world that this was the Jesus family tomb. Cameron intended to stir up a hornet's nest and make a bunch of money. Jacovici seems to have seriously wanted people to consider the possibility, but like Cameron, as long as the money keeps flowing and he gets a moment in the sun, it's all good. They are intelligent men, and there is no way they don't see the flimsiness of the whole theory. They are also talented (much like the religious leaders...

Column: Just Because There are Dead, Horned Babies, It Doesn't Make it a Story

At one point or another, I think everyone who works in a creative field turns to their dreams for inspiration. It seems like such a natural source of stories and images on the surface, but much like alcohol and chemical reality enhancement, it comes with its problems, pitfalls, and disappointments.

I thought this time out I’d look back at one of the times I wrote bits and pieces of a dream into my fiction—how it worked, how it didn’t, and why. It’s a tricky business bringing things back from the land of Morpheus—most of the time bits and pieces get left behind, or when you stick the images against a backdrop of plot and reality, their “power” is lost.

When I was younger I had a recurring dream. In this dream, I started out in a huge basement store-room underneath some sort of larger store. I was an exterminator, though I had no equipment for that work. Someone was after me, so I ended up back against the wall behind the rear unit of lines of shelves. It was very dark; the only light was from the helmet I wore. I came to a set of shelves I kept moving quickly behind the shelves toward large doors at the far end of the basement where trucks backed in to load and unload.

One set of shelves was blocked by dark clumps of something. When I got closer, it began to look as if it was a pile of realistic baby dolls. There were flies. I got closer, and I saw that it was piles of dead bodies. All of them were babies… but there was more. They had horns like devils. Some of them had wings, or tails. There were skulls, half-rotted bodies, and some that seemed fresh. For some reason it occurred to me at that moment that there were no rats near me. Whatever had done this—whatever left that gruesome pile behind the shelves,...

Column: Macabre Ink

It's been said many, many times in recent years that writers need to learn to embrace the changing world of publishing. I've not really been a proponent of jumping in with both feet in the past, as many of you may remember. I don't believe physical books are going anywhere, but I'm absolutely certain that the dynamics behind them are going to change. I don't believe anyone really has their finger on that pulse yet, so I'm sitting back, carefully trying new things, and waiting.

One thing did occur to me though, and I decided it was time to take a shot at figuring it out before someone else beat me to it. There are a lot of places online where you can download e-books. There are a few, like the Horror Mall, offering short stories, and doing fairly well.  Amazon.com tried it with their Amazon Shorts program, but sadly they let that founder—and though I won't get into it, they were less than a pleasure to be involved with. Now they have their Kindle store, and Barnes & Noble has their version. There's Mobipocket with it's own format, the Sony ebook reader—you can even read books on your mobile phone. I'm part of a European experiment in that direction where novels will be available to download from kiosks all over the place onto Iphones and mobile readers.

That's not what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is Macabre Ink Digital Publishing, and why I started it. It's actually pretty simple, and after thinking about it, it makes me want to crack myself in the head.

The normal plan for authors of short fiction has been a simple one. You write short stories and find a single market for them, or you find a market, and write a story slanted at that market. Once the story has been published in...

Column: PSEUDOCON?How it Changed My Life, and Why

Most of you won't know what PSEUDOCON was. In fact, not that many people, in the grand scheme of things, ever heard about it?except in passing mentions from the chosen few. I'm here to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. It was a nearly magical experience for me for several years running, and one that is worth chronicling for the ages.

PSEUDOCON was the work of mastermind and very talented author Elizabeth Massie. I learned of it at another important event in my writing history, NECON, and was lucky enough to be invited into the small "cabal" of initiates. At the time, we were all up-and-comers at various levels, some more successful than others, some with success still in the future, others I haven't seen or heard from in ages . . . all of whom have a special place in my memory. Here's a short list of those involved . . . I'm sure I'll miss some people because, frankly, I didn't know all of them that well at the time . . . that came later.

Elizabeth Massie her sister Barb and Barb's husband Charlie were deeply involved. Between their two farms we distributed sleeping, eating, and activities, dancing our way past horses and cats. Attendees over the few years that I was able to attend (I was a latecomer to the game) were Stephen Mark Rainey, Brian Hodge and Doli, the love of his life, Wayne Allen Sallee, Yvonne Navarro, Jeff Osier, Jeff Johnston, Charles "Steve" Hill, The "not-quite right" Reverend Lee, Andrew Lynch, and then the aforementioned group I said I was sure I'd forget. I know there were others. The core crew is what mattered the most to me.

We decided long ago that among the attributes of the next round of famous horror writers would be a bald head. This decision came about after careful contemplation of myself,...

Column: Scarlet Mashup

The world of classic literature has been turned on its ear lately with the influx of books like "Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies," and "Sense, Sensibility, and Sea Monsters." That was the start. Soon after that we saw "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter" surface (which I believe is being made into a movie). I will admit... I started out pretty skeptical about these titles, and in most cases remain so. If it's just a gimmick to sell yet another zombie novel without even having to write most of it yourself because you can steal from the public domain... for instance... I have better things to spend my time on. That's me. There is an apparently high level if disregard for my opinion, even in my own home.

On my son Zach's birthday list this year were all of the above, and more. He is very happy to own and read them, and I guess now I can wait and see what he thinks. Of course, my tastes and those of teenage boys rarely cross. The thing is—he will probably come through the experience with some idea what the original Jane Austen novels are all about, and that got me thinking.

Yes, this is me taking my column to tell you what I'm up to again—it's a thing I do. I've decided to throw my hat into this ring, but in a slightly different manner. I grew up in a world where literature class meant the same drab novels by long dead authors, read too quickly, and dissected for theme, symbolism and plot structure until all enjoyment they might have caused was wrung out of them like water from a damp towel. I have struggled through my life to reach a point where I could read the classics for enjoyment, and I've always been a bit pissed off at the educational process that made it necessary for me to do so.

That got me thinking. What were the classics I...