UPDATED UPDATE 9/09: Beginner’s Luck is now available as a multi-format ebook from Smashwords. I’ve altered all the links below to point there.
UPDATE: Putting the link to my horror short story Beginner’s Luck at the top for those just arriving here.
Greetings, Loyal Reader!
How is Dan McGirt like Stephen King?
Well, we’re both authors. And there all resemblance ends.
Mr. King is the ridiculously prolific master of modern horror fiction. I am not. My fiction tastes, as both reader and writer, run more to adventure stories of all kinds–fantasy, science fiction, contemporary thrillers, the pulps, the classics. Not that I don’t enjoy stories that include elements of horror. I do. I love old school vampire stories. F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack books are awesome. I loved Relic. I’m an H.P. Lovecraft fan. Poe was a genius. I’ve read many other horror authors, including Mr. King. But I am by no means a horror fan. Let me put it this way–I’ll visit the Horror section in the bookstore, but it is never my first stop.
Another thing I am not is a short story writer. When I was in high school, my mom enrolled me in a Writer’s Digest short story writing course. I’m sure that is all done online now, but back then it worked something like this. You got a big notebook of lessons in the mail and you were assigned an instructor, who was a published author contracted by Writer’s Digest. You did a lesson and mailed it to your instructor, who mailed it back with comments, constructive criticism and advice. Then you did the next lesson. By the end of the course, you have supposedly written a short story ready to submit for publication.
I was fortunate to be paired with horror writer J.N. Williamson. He was an outstanding gentlemen and a very patient and encouraging instructor. (He passed away in 2005). At the time there was a horror fiction bubble underway and I, as an aspiring young author, thought I should try my hand at horror despite my lack of real affinity for the genre. As I recall, my story was about an Aleister Crowley type black magician who had perished in some unholy ritual and was now haunting the personal computer of an aspiring writer. Kind of H.P. Lovecraft meets PC Weekly. Yes, it was about as awful as you might imagine. But in my defense, a possessed computer was still an arguably original idea in the early 80s, if only because desktop computers were so new then. (In retrospect, no home computer at the time could possibly have had enough memory to hold a demon or evil spirit. That wouldn’t happen until Windows came along. But I did not know that at the time.)
Well, I did complete the course. I may have submitted the resulting story to a couple of publications. Mr. Williamson even graciously extended me a standing invitation to submit a story for one of the horror anthologies he occasionally edited. But, as noted above, becoming a horror author was not my calling. Nor, for that matter, was being a short story writer.
Like many neophyte writers I assumed that a short story, being shorter, was easier to write than an entire novel and that I should thus concentrate on getting a few short stories published before attempting an entire book.
That does seem logical. It is also dead wrong. Short stories are much, much harder to do well. Loftier writers than I can explain why, but basically you’ve got to establish your premise, your setting, your characters, set up the conflict and resolve it all within 3000 words or so. That ain’t easy. It is an art and a skill I have never developed. A book on the other hand, gives you much more room to run. Not that book-writing doesn’t have its own challenges. But to my mind being a good short story writer is the far more admirable achievement.
Having firmly established that I am neither a horror writer, nor a short story writer (but see fellow Georgian Jon Hansen), I will now, in honor of Halloween, share with you a horror short story I wrote.
Okay, It is actually a prologue from an unfinished novel of mine about a supernatural troubleshooter and ghost hunter, but it also works–to the extent it works at all–as a self-contained story. So I slapped a title on it, converted it to PDF and called it a short story. It has nothing to do with Jason Cosmo, but I wanted to share a Halloween story, so I dug this out of the Idea Vault.
This is the season when Hollywood rolls out the latest crop of slasher films. In this story, Beginner’s Luck, we meet an aspiring slasher. We also learn why Dan McGirt is not Stephen King.
You can read or download the story as an Adobe Acrobat pdf file* [Actually, now you can’t. See updated update at top of this post.]
*You’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader, of course. But you knew that.