How to Finish NaNoWriMo

Happy Halloween, everyone, and to all the writers shitting bricks about tomorrow, happy NaNo Eve! While Halloween is sure to be delightful, tomorrow kicks off NaNoWriMo, the month where millions of writers will attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in less than a month. Every year, I come up to November 1st dreading it, but every November 30th so far, I’ve out the other side with a brand new, word-vomited manuscript that I can go back and edit later.

This year marks my 12th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and while many of those projects never saw the light of day, one of them ended up being my first published book, Whiteout. Now, there are still 10 other mostly-dead manuscripts sitting around, but 1/11 ain’t bad, and some of those others might yet make it out. All that to say, I might not be a hot shit writer, but I do know how to finish a book and finish it quick. If you’ve ever struggled to complete NaNoWriMo, here are a few tips that get me through every year.

My NaNo Credentials: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mac_ashton

1. Embrace the word vomit

I’ve said it a million times, but somehow it doesn’t seem to always get through. There are going to be days this November where you feel like you’re writing beautiful prose and every word is perfect, but the vast majority of them will feel like slinging shit at an empty screen. That’s ok. Even when the words are clumsy, you’re still writing, and every word is experience. Write words and fix it in post!

2. Don’t be afraid to deviate

Outlines are great, they help keep you on track through the month and make sure you know where you’re going. I’ve done novels with and without them, and it’s really a toss-up as to which came out better. But, either way, don’t be afraid to deviate from your vision. If you’re getting bored with what’s happening, have the characters go do something else. Sometimes these little asides can become the best part of your book (looking at the cannibal cult in Whiteout).

3. Set aside time

You’re not going to complete NaNo if you don’t set aside time to do it. This might sound silly and obvious, but making the effort to schedule writing time is important. I get up earlier than usual in November and get a lot of my writing done before I’ve even gone into work. Tell your loved ones what you’re doing, and ask them to encourage you along the way. It helps when there’s others yelling at you to go write 🙂

4. When your stuck, use the egg timer

If you don’t have an egg timer (because it’s 2019), use your phone. I learned this tip from the great Stephen King in one of his interviews. If you’re stuck, set a timer for 20-30 minutes, turn everything else off and write. I don’t care if it’s: “and then the characters went here so the plot could move along” (I’ve done that more than once), but write. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, because whatever you write in NaNo is a draft. You can go back and fix it later. By the end of the 20-30 minutes, I often find I’m through whatever plot block was vexing me and itching to keep going.

5. Have fun, remember, it’s just a draft

Tying into my previous point, you’re never going to produce a perfect, finished novel on the first try, especially if its through NaNoWriMo. A month is far too little time to produce something publish-ready, and that’s ok. The most important thing is that you got the words on the page, you gained experience, and hopefully, had some fun. Look, I won’t lie, NaNoWriMo can be stressful, but at the end of the day, I feel satisfied knowing I put in a month of good work and have something to show for it. Even if last year’s book was an ill-advised sci-fi romp through post-apocalyptic Seattle (yeesh), I still wrote it.

That’s all!

I wish you the best this year with NaNo, feel free to connect with me on the site, Twitter, wherever. Always happy to offer words of encouragement or to talk through plot quagmires. See you all on the other side, you beautiful novelists, you. Here’s to this being us in 30 days:

Wrongful Possession

This is the short story based on September’s suggested prompt, which came in the form of a meme:

So anyways, here’s a story about a demon possessing the wrong person. Please like, subscribe, comment, or do something to let me know if you enjoyed reading it!

Wrongful Possession

Ken was taking a lonely walk through a particularly dreary cemetery on a Friday afternoon. His colleagues had left work early to prepare for a party that he hadn’t been invited to, and as a result, he was feeling more than a little lonely. For a while, he considered wandering the streets aimlessly, but the bustling crowds only made him feel more alone. At least at the cemetery he was technically surrounded by people, and he was quite sure none of them minded him being there.

     Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, Ken wasn’t the only animated life in the cemetery that afternoon. A large, stone church reached toward the heavens, peeking out from between mausoleums. It was an old, sad-looking building with a massive bell tower that hadn’t clanged since a pair of bad riots in the eighties nearly tore the structure down. Ashley was hiding on the top of that bell tower.

     Not to put too fine a point on it, Ashley was a demon recently escaped from Hell. Like most other freshly escaped demonic entities, she was on the hunt for an easy possession. While she would certainly be on Hell’s shit list for leaving in the first place, entering a mortal was one of the few loopholes that would keep her off their radar. It wasn’t an intentional blind spot per se, but Hell certainly wasn’t putting their best engineers on demon tracking.

     As she sat on top of the church, she counted the passing seconds, wondering how long she had before enforcement would arrive. She had no doubt that her name was already being broadcast to every demon hunter in the Midway area, it was just a matter of how busy they were. Either way, there wasn’t much time to find a host.

Originally, she had chosen the church out of hubris, hoping to prove her skills by possessing one of the clergy. After several failed attempts that had ended in painful repulsion by the holy-hot spray bottle that was blind faith, Ashley opted for a new approach. The church was filled with the pious, sure, but the cemetery would likely have mourners, and mourners were vulnerable to say the least. However, there was a problem with this plan. Apparently, no one liked to bury a loved one on a Friday afternoon.

Ashley was near giving up and turning herself in when she spied Ken shuffling through the gravestones. He was the bipedal equivalent of a seedy motel she didn’t want to stay in but was the last place with available rooms. Knowing time was short, she leapt off the tower with a practiced flourish and swan dived into Ken’s head. To her surprise, there was no resistance, and a mere second later she was at the wheel, so to speak.

     Ken, who didn’t notice most things, felt an odd sensation like all his skin was prickling at the same time. There was a brief feeling of vertigo, and his vision tunneled out, giving the impression that he was sitting far behind his own eyes. Cackling demonic laughter echoed off the now cavernous walls of his skull. He didn’t have much of an opinion about it and waited for the situation to sort itself out.

     Ashley attempted to adjust to her new skin but felt lances of pain and discomfort as she did so. She looked down at the body, ensuring she wasn’t poking out in any odd directions, but no, everything was normal. “Hell, what is that?” she said aloud, grasping at a dull, throbbing pain in her lower back.

     “Oh yeah, that tends to flare up when its raining. Doctors don’t really know what it is,” said Ken from the back of his brain.  

     There was an awkward pause. Ashley had never been confronted by a host before. “Silence fool, your body is mine!”

     Ken fluffed the folds of his brain like a pillow and leaned back in thought; He didn’t really much care for his body. “Yeah, alright then. Am I being possessed?” Religion was never something that had tickled Ken’s fancy, but he had seen The Exorcist a few times.

     “Am I being possessed?” mocked the demon in a singsong voice. “Agh!” she exclaimed, clapping a hand to the side of her head. A sharp pain shot across it like a lightning bolt. “What the fuck was that?”

     Ken hadn’t felt a thing. “Probably a cluster headache,” he admitted. “The doctors say there’s not much to be done about them. Told me to reduce stress, but I tried to tell them I don’t have much stre—”

     “Are you not at all concerned about your current predicament?” Ashley had one hand to her back, and the other on her temple. The pain in her head was easing, but there was a lingering sensation reminding her that it might come back.

     Ken thought about the question. Being possessed wasn’t exactly ideal, but then again, what had been recently? “It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” he admitted.

     Ashley let out a low growl. “Nothing about possession is supposed to be nice.” She suddenly felt a wave of sadness wash over her. All her years trying to find a way out of Hell, only to be wasted on this useless flesh bag. Tears sprang to her eyes unbidden. I might be the most useless demon in the world.

     Ashley’s thoughts echoed through Ken’s head and he couldn’t help but chuckle.

     “What’s so funny?!” Ashley snapped.

     “Well, see, that’s the depression talking. It’s funny to see it from the outside for once.”

     He’s laughing at you because you’re a pathetic excuse for a demonic entity. He’d be more frightened of a newborn than you.

     “I’m really not saying that.” Ken stifled another laugh. For the first time in years, he wasn’t the victim of his own consciousness, and it felt great. A weight had been lifted from him the second the demon stepped in.

     “What have you done to my mind, mortal?!”

     “Well, it’s not what I’ve done, is it?”

Ashley tried to growl at him, but it came out as a whimper.

“Ease up a bit.” Ken had never been so care-free. “Like I said, that’s just depression. Apparently, it’s attached to my brain, which you currently inhabit.”

     “Fuck this!” screamed Ashley.

     “You could try exercising; the doctors say that might help! Or maybe pick up a new hobby.” Ken couldn’t help it, he burst out laughing. All the idiotic solutions people had proposed came rushing back to him. He would have felt bad, but she was a demon after all, right?

     A horrible, crushing weight constricted on Ashley’s new chest and she sat down, propping her back up against a tombstone. Tears were running down her cheeks in wide rivers. “I’m from Hell, but damn. Do you ever get used to this?” she asked, feeling a rare moment of vulnerability.

     “Ehhhh,” ken hesitated. “Not really, no, but sometimes it’s less horrible than others.”

     Ashley thought about it. She had been in the mortal’s body for under a minute and had never felt worse. “Screw it.” She coiled her ethereal legs and sprang out, landing back in her demon form on the cemetery path.

     Ken was thrown violently back into his body, nearly keeling over from the impact. Standing before him was a horrible winged creature with jet black eyes and horns to match. She turned towards him and opened her mouth, revealing hundreds of pointed, white teeth. “Well, doesn’t that feel better?” She stretched muscled limbs and they cracked horribly, echoing off the graves. “I’m going to do you a kindness, mortal.” She crouched, ready to pounce and widened her mouth.

     “Sorry miss,” came a voice from the side, “but I don’t believe you have a license to be on this plane.” The deafening roar of a shotgun blast cut through the quiet cemetery.

     Ken watched as the demon was shredded by a hundred pellets that burned anything they touched. Black gook sprayed him, leaving a clear impression of his silhouette on the gravestone behind him. He looked to his left and saw a man dressed in all black cleaning a triple-barrel shotgun.

     “Sorry about that.” The man tipped his black hat politely. “Good job getting her out though. Father,” he motioned to another man who was cowering behind a mausoleum a few hundred feet away. “Good news, no exorcisms needed today.”

     A shaking man in priest’s robes stepped out crossing himself.

     The other man put his shotgun in a leather holster and brushed what was left of Ashley off his coat. “This one could probably use tending to though.” He tipped his head toward Ken.

     The priest nodded and bustled over. “Why don’t we get you cleaned up, my boy? Come inside.”

     “T-thanks,” Ken managed, still in shock.

     The priest wrapped an arm around his shoulder and together they walked toward the church. Despite it all, Ken had one thought: I miss her already.

Update on Upcoming Projects

Hi Everyone, I know, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted on the site, but I’ve been working on a host of projects that are all coming out soon! I wanted to take this time to provide a brief update on where everything is and how it’s coming along.

The Patreon (Yes, I have one of those now)

I know, shilling for money on a Patreon can be a turn off, but rest assured, I’m using those earnings to fund all sorts of cool projects. Not sure what a Patreon is? I made a video for that.

The latest of these projects is going to be a podcast series where I talk with experts in the field of Cryptozoology, discussing portrayals of cryptids (think bigfoot, yeti, etc.) in fiction compared to how the experts believe they exist in the real world.

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Our First Guest, David George Gordon, The Bug Chef

The first episode of the podcast is going to air next Friday and will be an interview talking all things Bigfoot with Author, David George Gordon.  While a lot of his fame stems from his ability to cook up a good insect meal, David has also written a field guide about Sasquatch, and frequently speaks about cryptids nationally. The podcast will air one week early for Patrons on July 19th, and will be available on all podcast platforms the week after. 

A Man of the Mountain

If you’ve followed my posts, you’ve probably seen me talking about this one a lot. A Man of the Mountain is a prequel Novella to Whiteout, and takes place in the fictional town of Clearwater. The story follows Jonas, a man hell bent on maintaining the legend of Bigfoot at all costs, and Shirley Codwell, the intrepid tabloid reporter hunting him down. Things escalate after real monster hunters are called in, including our favorite, Nick Ventner, and the chase begins.

Man of the Mountain will be released in two formats. Beginning this summer, we will release episodes of the story as an audio drama with full  music, sound effects, and the work of some incredible voice actors. Two trailers are up below if you want to check them out. A pre-release of Episode 1 will go out to Patrons at the end of this month.

A Man of the Mountain will also be releasing as a paperback through Aberrant Literature later this year, so keep an eye out for more news on that!

Downpour

The first draft for the sequel to Whiteout is complete and is now out for edits with the man, the myth, the legend, Jason Peters, head of Aberrant Literature. We’re planning for a release sometime next year, and for those who absolutely can’t wait, I’ll be sharing some early chapters, yes, on the Patreon (my apologies, but it really helps us with getting money for ads and events).

I had so much fun writing this book and examining a different part of Nick as he treks through the South American jungle searching for the entrance to the Land of the Dead. There are plenty of myths, legends, and old friends for Nick to encounter on his journey, and it’s shaping up to be a worthy successor to Whiteout.

Chadpocalypse

I’m now in the process of writing Book 2 of Chadpocalypse, the story of a lowly drunk who is thrust into the role of thwarting the apocalypse. The entirety of Book 1 is up for reading through the Patreon and once I’ve finished Book 2, it will be up there as well. The plan is to find a publishing home for this eventually so I can release it in paperback, but I’d say that’s a 2020 goal if I’m being honest. It’s only $2 to read the first part in its entirety right now, so if you’re interested, consider checking it out!

Wanderword

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As some of you are aware, I also spent a good part of my winter working on an interactive short story for a new platform, Wanderword. Wanderword aims to let players step into their story by offering meaningful choices in an immersive choose-your-own-adventure audio format with full sound effects and music. My first story, Sweet Dreams, deals with a company trying to monetize dreams, and puts the player in the shoes of Jackie, a woman testing this new application.

There’s no release date yet for the story, but I’ve had a chance to play through some sections and it’s going to be a lot of fun! If you want to check out an excellent story that is already out, try 63rd and Wallace, a horror-mystery about the murder castle in Chicago. The first episode is free, and very well written.

That’s all for now!

If you’re still reading, thanks for bearing with me, I’m really excited to share all these new projects with you very soon! For frequent updates, I suggest following me on Twitter as that’s where I’m most active these days. Have a great end to your week, and I’ll see you around.

–Ashton

Short Story – When a Cold Wind Whistles

Here’s a short inspired by another North American legend, the Wendigo. I don’t often write thriller, but I had this idea one day and here we are. If you enjoy the short story, consider checking out my full novel, Whiteout, the tale of a drunken monster hunter chasing a yeti.

When a Cold Wind Whistles

“Someone once told me stories are best told on a cold night next to a warm flame.”

The wind whipped through the trees, scattering the ashes of their campfire into the snowy air.

“Others say, stories of the creature are best left alone. Just saying its name is enough to bring misfortune upon you.”

Bud and Larry sat listening, holding cans of cold beer between gloved hands. The old man had been guiding their hunt for three days, and hadn’t said much beyond ‘Deer, there’ or ‘Rest now’. Only after an hour silent by the campfire toward the midnight hour had he spoke at all.

“Fifty years ago, on a cold, starless night, I was guiding a camping group.” He let his eyes drift to the sky, watching the ashes turn from white, to orange, to black. “Family of four, nice enough folk. Mother worked in town, father was a business man. Both wanted the boys to see something that wasn’t concrete and glass.”

“He’s talking about the Millers,” whispered Bud.

Larry nodded, silently remembering the legend that had grown almost as old as the town itself.

“Yes, the Millers, that was their name.”

“One of the worst bear attacks in the county history,” said Bud, taking another sip.

“There was no bear.” The man sat silent for a moment.

In the distance, a branch cracked. Both men shivered, but the old man sat straight-backed, as if he had heard nothing.

“They had a dog too,” he added. “Cute thing. Always liked dogs.” He reached for the six pack of beers buried in the snow and broke one off the ring.

“Hey-” started Larry, but Bud stayed him with a strong hand.

It didn’t seem the old man was asking permission anyway. With a gnarled finger, he cracked the tab with a snap hiss that echoed off the quiet forest beyond. He drained the can in one go, tossing the empty shell at the fire and sending a shower of sparks into the sky.

“My father had always told me no one wanders these mountains for free.” He turned his eyes from the fire to look at each of the men in turn. They squirmed under his intense gaze. “I was a willful child. Something I think you two might know something about.”

Bud laughed and the old man nodded.

“Yes, I thought so. Well, being the child I was, I had no desire for ancient rituals and hokum.” He smiled, but it was thin, like the act was tearing at the edges of his fragile skin. “There’s an altar just at the edge of the woods where all guides pay tribute beneath an ancient elk skull that was nailed there centuries ago. I never paid our passage, figuring I could use that money to buy a better bottle when I got back. So, we set off, me, the father, the mother, the two boys, and Rufus, that cute, yapping dog of theirs.

The first two days were really something spectacular. Clear skies, lots of wildlife, and good conversation around the campfire. Much like we’re having here tonight.”

The men didn’t think it much of a conversation but remained silent.

“The first night, we sat around the campfire, drinking and reveling, the second, more of the same, and then there was the third. I should have known from the moment that damned yapping dog took off into the sunset that something was wrong. Never did see that dog again.” He reached forward and pulled another beer off the ring. Once again, he drank it in a single gulp.

“You should slow—”

“We looked for that dog for hours, but when it grew dark, we did the only sensible thing; made a fire, left out a tin of food, and hoped the dog would find it before some other creature got to it. As last light faded from the sky, the children fell into a tearful sleep. I hated seeing them like that, but there were more pressing concerns.

Around that fire there was no drinking and no reveling. The father wanted to go looking for the dog and several times I had to physically restrain him from doing so. The man was adamant. Eventually, I got him to calm down, explaining to him that he’d likely be killed. There are no shortage of dangers in the forest at night, especially in the dead of winter.”

 

Larry felt his eyes drift from the fire to the forest. The trees were thin and barren; the snow giving them an odd, grey glow in the firelight.

“It was around then that the wind got this high, warbling whistle to it, like some diseased bird calling in the distance. When it didn’t stop or slow, the parents looked to me for guidance.

‘What was that?’ asked the father, standing from his seat.

A darkness grew over me then. All at once, the foolish error of my ignorance was laid bare. There was a dry crackle as something snapped branches in the distance.

The father turned away from the fire. ‘Maybe it’s Rufus’, he offered.

‘The dog’s dead,’ I replied.

In the trees, the high-pitched warble continued, growing closer with every second, threatening to drive me to madness. How he thought it was the dog, I’ll never know.

‘Just listen here,’ started the father, walking toward me in an attempt at menace. ‘We’ve had quite enough of your-’

I covered my ears, hoping to drown out the noise, but it buzzed in my skull like a trapped animal. A cold wind blew through the camp and for the first time, I shivered.

The father struck me, trying to stir me to action, but growing up in the village, I had heard the stories. Just because I had put no stock in them didn’t mean I hadn’t listened. The warbling continued, intensifying until I could hear nothing else. The pain was immeasurable. Something wanted in, and it took all my effort to keep it away. Then, as the noise reached its fever pitch it cut out suddenly leaving us in silence.”

 

The old man paused, letting his eyes drift off the fire once more.

Larry wanted to tell him to stop, but they had never asked him for the story the first place. He didn’t put much stock in ancient legends but didn’t like jinxing a good hunting trip either. They only had one day left before heading back to town, and he wanted to get a good sleep.

“What happened?” asked Bud, leaning forward in his camping chair, nose practically touching the flame.

The old man let out a heavy sigh and raised a hand to his temple. In the distance, a wind blew once more and branches cracked.

“If you don’t want to tell it,” offered Larry, seeing a way out.

Bud shot him a look telling Larry to shut up and pushed the remainder of the beer cans toward the old man.

He opened his eyes again, looking down at the offering. “Kind of you,” he said, snagging another can and draining it in a single gulp, leaving a single beer on the ring.

“Sure,” said Bud, impressed.

Larry dropped a hand to the rifle resting by his side, watching the tree line where the branches had cracked. Probably just getting spooked, he told himself, feeling the wood of the stock. But never hurts to be prepared. With the moon blotted out by clouds, the fire didn’t offer much in terms of vision, but it still made him feel safer.

 

“The sound stopped, and for a long while, I just sat there, eyes shut, knowing that whatever was going to be there when I opened them wasn’t good.

‘Sir?’ asked the mother, her kind voice like an angel after the warbling. ‘I’m sorry he acted like that.’

I opened my eyes to see the husband had gone. The wife knelt before me, holding a cool hand to my forehead. ‘Where?’ I asked.

‘He stormed off looking for Rufus. He’ll be back soon.’ Her tone was calm, as if she expected nothing less.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘He won’t.’ I felt it, even before I saw it; the tug at my spine, letting me know I had become prey. I lifted my gaze, looking beyond the campfire, my heart freezing in my chest as I did so.

None of the stories did it justice. I stared into the glowing red eyes of a thousand dead men, all wrapped into one. The creature itself stood nine feet tall, skin pale and waxy as if it had been pulled straight from the grave. Bones poked out at odd, uncomfortable angles, in some places bursting through the flesh into the naked air.”

 

The old man put a hand to his side, remembering.

Larry pulled the rifle into his lap. He couldn’t be sure, but it felt like the wind had moved from a hollow whine to a low whistle.

Bud stared across the fire, eyes never leaving the old man.

 

“Its head was that of an elk, huge and dead for some time, lifeless, apart from the glowing red eyes. Its antlers had been sharpened to knife points and bore the dark, black stains of murder. I stared at it, and it stared at me. In its right arm, it carried a bundle, obscured in the darkness.

The creature cocked its head to one side and pulled the elk’s mouth wide to a grin of pointed teeth and lifted a clawed arm. Hanging limply, speared by a wicked claw, was the husband. He looked up at me through dying eyes, and whispered: ‘Run.’

I heard it as if the words were spoken right in my ear.

The wife must have heard it too, because she turned just in time to see the creature grip her husband with a second clawed hand. In a clean motion it tore him in half tossing the ragged body to either side with a sickening splatter.

The woman screamed, and the creature began its warbling whistle again. I tried in vain to reach for my gun but found myself frozen to my chair.

Maybe it was shock, maybe she was feeling the same thing, but the woman didn’t run. She stayed put.

‘Don’t,’ I pleaded with the creature. ‘I’ll pay the price.’ It was my ignorance that had brought it down on us in the first place.

It paid me no heed and crossed the distance to our camp in three easy strides. The red light of our fire danced in the creature’s eyes and with an effortless swipe, it put it out. Left with nothing but the light of the stars and the moon, the creature somehow looked ghostlier than before.

The woman moved in between the creature and the tent containing her children. ‘Get the hell away from me!’ she screamed at it.

The creature let out a low, shuddering laugh. Frozen to my chair, I watched as bones and muscle tensed in its back. The whistling started again and the creature knelt to the woman’s height so that it could look at her eye to eye.

‘Fuck you,’ she spat.

The creature brought a clawed hand up into her chest, lifting her off her feet.

She gagged and spluttered, trying desperately to get a final breath. Blood flowed from her lips and down her chin. The creature twisted its claw and let her fall to the side. She was dead before she hit the ground.

Scared, shuffling noises came from within the tent and the creature turned its head hungrily.”

 

The old man’s eyes went vacant, staring into the fire, reflecting its light.

Larry stood up from his camping chair, looking around the forest uneasily. “I’ll say it, Bud. I don’t like this story.”

If the old man heard him, he didn’t say anything.

“Oh come on, Larry. It’s just a ghost story. Grow a pair and sit down.” Bud chuckled to himself. “I had no idea you were such a sissy.”

Larry racked the slide on his rifle.

“Will you cut that out. You’re going to hurt someone,” said Bud, standing from his chair. “Put the gun down Larry, it’s just a story.”

There was another crack from the woods and both men turned suddenly. “It’s a racoon, Larry,” put the gun down.

Larry’s heart beat violently in his chest.

“Wendigos you see,” started the old man again, “are inherently greedy, gluttonous creatures.” He snagged the final beer can.

Larry and Bud turned their attention back to him.

He stared straight into the fire, not looking up at either of them. “It had already killed two fully grown adults. Plenty to feast on for days to come. But when it heard the cries of those children. It wasn’t survival, or even sport, it was pleasure. The smile on those dead lips was one I’ll never forget.”

“I want him to stop telling this story!” yelled Larry, hysterically. He backed away from the campfire, suddenly afraid of the old man.

“Jesus Christ, Larry.”

Larry swung the rifle around toward the forest.

“Alright, that’s it.” Moving up behind him, Bud took the rifle and stripped it from Larry’s grip, elbowing him in the gut as he did so.

Larry fell to his knees, coughing.

“Get some sense in you, and you can have this back.” He pulled the slide back, releasing the round in the chamber and removed the magazine.

“Bud, please.”

Bud sat back in his camping chair and watched as the old man closed his eyes and finished the final beer. “Take a queue, Larry. Sit down and drink a little. It’ll calm your nerves.

“I’ll never forget the way those kids screamed,” the old man continued as if nothing had happened. “It left an imprint in my mind.” He raised his hands to his temples, massaging them gently.

“I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but watch as it shredded the tent and everything in it. Those poor kids. All the while, the creature sang its horrible, warbling song, gleeful in its work.” The old man stopped, shutting his eyes tightly.

Larry paced on the edge of the fire, holding his gut from where he had been punched. Desperation crept into the back of his mind and he felt something at the base of his spine. It was a tingling, pulling sensation that he couldn’t shake. “I don’t like this, Bud.”

Bud ignored him. “How did you escape?” he asked.

A low smile spread across the old man’s face, his skin taut in the firelight. “I didn’t really. The wendigo feasted for what felt like hours before it came to me. Like it wanted me to watch. Then, as I thought I might die from exposure, it knelt before me, eyes gleaming red, boring into mine. In that moment I saw every soul it had ever taken and every foolhardy child that had ignored the elders’ warnings.

The vision wore on for an eternity, but then suddenly, in a snap, it was gone. I didn’t realize it, but my eyes had been closed the whole time. When I opened them, the creature was gone, and I was left with the bloody remains of the family scattered around me. I left that place and wandered, eventually coming back to town to tell the tale.

I knew no one would believe me, and so I told them it had been a bear, woke early from its hibernation. When the rangers found the family, there was no question. No human could have done that.”

 

The forest went silent around them and Larry stopped his pacing.

“That’s it?” asked Bud. “The wendigo just left you?” He let out an exasperated sigh.  “Four beers for a bunch of buildup.”
He spat. “Well played, old man.”

“I’m not finished,” said the man, his voice growing quiet, gravelly and low.

A high-pitched warble cut through the forest.

Bud froze as the old man opened his eyes and stood in the firelight. They had taken on a red glow and his skin had grown pale.

Bud fumbled with the rifle, suddenly wishing he hadn’t unloaded it.

A massive rack of horns sprouted from the old man’s head, tearing through the thin flesh. His fingers extended to grey claws, creaking and popping horribly as they did so. “It’s like I said: No one wanders these mountains for free…”

Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – The Perils of Indie Authorship

It’s been a while since I posted on the site, so I figured I’d share a recent piece I wrote for Advanced Literate as a companion to my interview.  Hope you enjoy!

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Please Pick My Book by Its Cover – Ashton Macaualy

Being an independent author is simultaneously one of the easiest and hardest things I’ve ever done. The easy part? All you need to do is write a few words, slap your name on them, and BOOM, you’re an Indie Author. Congratulations. The hard part? Getting people to read those words, or better yet, getting someone else to pay to publish them. The harder part? Finding people to buy those books once you’ve wrangled a publisher and have your cover on the digital shelf. It’s a never-ending cycle; one that I’ve been heavily engaged with for about four years now. So, if you’re new to the scene, struggling to get your work out there, or just tired of the infinite shameless self-promotion loop on social media, strap in and let’s talk about it.

It was four years ago when I started to think of myself as a hot-shit writer with a manuscript that could sell. I had just moved to Seattle and was, as a lot of writers are, jobless. Those long days in my 400 square foot apartment were spent watching Seinfeld, applying for jobs, and submitting everything I had ever written to anyone who would pay a few bucks on Craig’s List. Sure, I submitted to a few of the big publishers as well, but its four years later and I’ve never heard a word from any of them. Want ads aren’t what a lot of people would call the traditional route to getting published, but it worked.

About two months into this rinse and repeat cycle of applications and submissions, two equally incredible things happened. The first is that I got a job working as a contractor at Xbox; pretty sweet, a dream gig for me. The second is that out of the hundred or so submissions of my work to various entities, I received two responses. Both were similar, offering to buy one of my short stories for a twenty-five-dollar flat fee. The first, I accepted immediately, jumping at the chance to have anything published. The second I rejected, hoping to hold out on that story for later (recently published in Aberrant Tales).

After selling that first story, I didn’t hear back from the publisher for almost six months. I continued to write every morning before going to my 9-5, but interestingly, the publication hadn’t been a life-changing experience. That changed the day a brown bubble envelope arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up and to my surprise, I had become a published author. The feeling of holding that red-covered Aberrant Literature Short Fiction Collection – Volume 3 and seeing my name on the author list was unlike anything I had ever experienced. That’s how I met my now publisher, Aberrant Literature, and the man behind it, Jason Peters. That collection spurred our writing/editing/promoting partnership that’s been going strong ever since, but none of it would have happened if I had been above submitting my work on Craig’s List.

That’s the thing about writing: no one should be above anything. If your goal is anything other than getting as many people as possible to enjoy your work, I hate to say it but you’re in the wrong business. I put a lot of time and effort into getting my first short story published, and there was a lot of rejection along the way, but holding it in my hand made me happy because it meant someone had liked reading it enough to print it.

Fast forward three or so years, (time has a funny way of slipping by when you spend it with your imagination behind a keyboard), and my first novel has been out for about nine months. Jason and I worked tirelessly on that manuscript for a solid two years before it ever saw the light of day, and yes, even after it came out, I still needed to keep my day job. The work only intensified after the book came out because getting readers takes effort – not just some of the time, but every day.

Since May of last year, we’ve tried just about everything to promote Whiteout, and it hasn’t been easy. As it turns out, getting people to pick up a paperback from an author they don’t know is pretty damn difficult. I’ve tried just about everything: In-person events, hiding books in airports/supermarkets, tweeting relentlessly into the echo chamber that is #WritingCommunity (it feels good, but doesn’t move copies), paid promotion, and many more. At the end of the day, the best luck I’ve had has been at those in-person events, or interviews like this one for Advanced Literate. The most effective way to get someone to pick up your book is to engage with them on a personal level and convince them it’s worth their time.

I know, getting in-person gigs isn’t easy, but like this whole crazy profession, it requires persistence. I’ve walked into around fifteen bookstores to ask about opportunities to sell my work and sign copies. Of those fifteen, two of them were nice enough to let me come to Indie Author Nights and talk. Those experiences were some of the best I’ve had as an author. I interacted with others in the community – some of whom I still talk to, some of whom I avoid with a ten-foot digital pole – but more importantly, it gave me experience. Seeing your readers in person shows you how they react when you communicate certain aspects of your work and teaches you what delights them. I’ve carried those lessons over to my digital interactions, and while we’re not selling hundreds of copies a month, sales aren’t stagnant either.

Alright, this was a lot of words about the process, and you might be feeling discouraged. However, while it sounds like a slog, there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned: I’ve loved just about every minute of it. Sure, there have been nights where my eyes are burning red from staring at the screen too long and every word I type feels like the work of a fifth grader, but when I shut off the computer, I’m happy. Writing is one of the few things in this world that makes sense to me, and any opportunity I have to do it fills my spiritual tank (sounds gross when I say it out loud). No matter how many books I sell or copies I sign, I’m still going to get up two hours before I need to be at work every morning and write. So, if you love the craft as much as I do, stop reading this blog post, open up your manuscript you’re procrastinating on, and get to it.