Steven James Scearce

Writer, Author, Blogger, Ghost

Evidently, there’s something Downright Creepy happening at the building that resides at E 3rd St & Cedar St in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Horror writer Orrin Grey and I will be there Saturday night to follow a paranormal investigations team around the old place looking for signs of spooky activity. Hoping to bring back a lot of spooky pics and tales of hair-raising experiences. Stay tuned!

Although I tweeted earlier that I was not going to write one of those lengthy “How I Spent My Drunken Writer’s Convention Weekend” recap articles, I thought that I would take a moment to mention something about the 2012 World Horror Con programming that was particularly enjoyable (outside of the drinking and general running about in Salt Lake City).

FRIDAY 30 MARCH. NOON. It was my great pleasure to moderate the Writing Your First Novel: What you Really Need to Know panel at the 2012 World Horror Con with John R. Little, John Hornor Jacobs, Simon McCaffery, and Thomas Roche. The panel enjoyed one of the larger turnouts for the weekend.

I was recently asked to write a guest blog article for the Inkpunks. The following are the opening paragraphs to the article; at the bottom is the permanent link for the whole article at the Inkpunks website.

On March 1st of 2011, I began writing a novel-length supernatural horror story called Cottonwood. I’d spent two months in planning and preparation. I’d drafted a seven-thousand-word treatment in three-act structure and revised it until I thought it was water-tight. I created a chapter-by-chapter outline and a stack of 5×8 note card “call sheets” for each day’s writing. I made a map of the town where the story takes place. I wrote character profiles.

Going into the actual writing – a plan that netted me 192,000 words in 255 days – I felt confident. I had, for Christ’s sake, thought of everything.

I hadn’t.

At 9:30PM on October 17th, I watched in terror as the cursor stood blinking next to the last word and the final bit of punctuation. The room was dead silent. I’d been stabbing at the keyboard for 36 weeks straight. It was done. I wanted to celebrate but couldn’t.

I called fellow horror writer Jacob Ruby for advice. “I finished Cottonwood,” I said. “What the hell do I do next?”

At the time, Jacob was still working on his first novel. “Take a break,” he said.

It was too easy. “What?” My head felt like it was full of hot roofing nails. “But the story is fresh in my mind. I have all this momentum built up and…”

“Take a fucking break,” he said. “You’ve done enough. Jesus, you worked for eight days while in Hawaii for your brother’s wedding. Step away from the story. Read a fantasy novel. Go see a bad movie. Write some short stories. Anything else.”

I hung up… [more]

Read my whole guest blog “I’ve finished writing my first novel. What the hell do I do next?” at Inkpunks.  

About Inkpunks:
The Inkpunks are a collective of authors, editors, free-thinkers and creative professionals, whose members include John Remy, Galen Dara, Andrew Penn Romine, Christie Yant, Erika Holt, Adam Israel, Morgan Dempsey, Sandra Wickham, Wendy Wagner and Jaym Gates.

COTTONWOOD

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In 1975, the DeForest brothers are on the run. Walter, the older brother, is wanted by police in Virginia for the near-fatal beating of a U.S. Senator’s nephew. Benjamin, the younger brother, is a potent psychokinetic who can manifest the spirits of the dead – and AWOL from a clandestine military unit that intended to weaponize his abilities for the conflict in Vietnam.

The two brothers find refuge in Cottonwood, Kansas, a small farming community with a past haunted by the eighty-year-old mass murder of a carnival sideshow troupe aboard an old railway car. When the railway car is recovered from the depths of the Black Vermillion River, a select few descendents of the original Cottonwood elders wish to keep their secrets buried along with the bodies. But Benjamin’s unique abilities hone in on the lingering spirits and bring to life a cruel troupe of supernatural creatures that aim to destroy Cottonwood as revenge for the conspiracy that led to their demise.

As horrific revenge murders begin to occur across town, the people of Cottonwood turn against the DeForest brothers. Walter must work fast to uncover the truth about Cottonwood’s terrible past and save his younger brother from a staunchly-religious but ultimately corrupt lawman who does not wish for his family name to be blackened by the unearthing of a murderous conspiracy – nor does he wish for authorities to question him about a number of hitchhikers that have gone missing in his County.

The DeForest brothers must escape Cottonwood before the ghosts of the past have the streets running red with the blood of the wicked and the innocent alike.

In the end, Cottonwood will fall. Few will survive.

[Madame Ileana ilustration courtesy of Galen Dara]

Once again, Hallowe’en weekend is upon us and that means it’s time to rouse my liver for a 5-day drinking vacation known as World Fantasy. This time I’m off to San Diego, California to attend the 37th Annual World Fantasy Convention. It’s my first trip to “America’s Finest City” and I’m particularly interested in visiting the old Gas Lamp Quarter in the historic heart of the city where murder, bloodlust and prostitution once reigned.  

In tow will be fellow writer and Kansas City native Jacob Ruby. I’m sure that both Jacob and I will be live tweeting from the festivities with all sorts of hilarious comments and naughty pics. As always, you can follow my every move – you naughty stalker, you – via my @ShinkaiMaru5 Twitter account. You can follow @JacobRuby as well. 

Stay tuned, as I’m likely to blog a few day-to-day updates. Cheers!

I was recently asked to write a guest blog article for Dagan Books (publishers of Cthulhurotica and In Situ). The following are the opening paragraphs to the article; at the bottom is the permanent link for the whole article at the Dagan Books website.

I’m fascinated by the weird things that writers do to get their head in the game. Writing is a solitary and sometimes tedious effort. Some writers require distractions to pass the time at the keyboard. Others need quiet. I personally know three writers that usually have a TV in their office playing a movie or a DVD while they work.

I can’t do that. I need something to help pass the time, but it has to help me immerse myself in what I’m trying to envision and flesh out – rather than provide background noise and occasional distraction. For me, the ideal writer’s retreat is a well-lit room and an iPod full of ambient sound. Yes, writers are creatures of strange habits – second only to professional baseball players. I know that I’m probably preaching to the choir here, so I’ll spare you the eccentricities made famous by Hugo, Nabokov, Dumas, Kerouac, Faulkner, Wolfe, and Twain. I have my own odd habits. I alternate sitting and standing (I had additions built for my writing desk to accommodate the quick-change). I find that I can’t write with someone else in the room (or the house, for that matter). I only drink green tea while working.

But I also do this weird thing whenever I’m working on a piece of writing, where I create a custom iTunes playlist that is tailored to the period and the assumed music interests of the main characters in the story. This is something that I’ve been doing for the last year or so, and I find it enormously helpful when it comes to getting into the right frame of mind, seeing the world through my character’s eyes, and putting myself in front of the computer for a 3-4 hour stretch… [more]

Read my whole guest blog “Music and a Well-lit Room” at Dagan Books. 

About Dagan Books:
Dagan Books is an independent publisher of the weird and wicked, the beautiful and brilliant. They publish both academic non-fiction and fiction works (specializing in speculative fiction).

This week, Station 151 and Unknown Transmission co-creator Andy Scearce (my brother) and I were interviewed for Ep. #52 of the Functional Nerds podcast. Along with program hosts  John Anealio and Patrick Hester, Andy and I had a great time talking about the evolution and growth of our speculative science-fiction serial. Other topics in the program include collaborative writing, how everything in sci-fi appears to be borrowed and stolen from earlier sci-fi media, short stories we’ve recently seen published, and the best barbeque ribs in Kansas City.

You can listen to the interview at the Functional Nerds website via this link: http://functionalnerds.com/2011/04/episode-052-steve-andy-scearce/

For those unfamiliar with Unknown Transmission or Station 151, it’s a serialized speculative fiction work. And although the story has been called post-apocalyptic, time travel, bio-punk, spy-fi, and space opera, I just call it speculative sci-fi.

Here’s the scoop:

In Unknown Transmission, we’re following the adventures of a Japanese/American communications specialist named Maxim – who is forcibly dumped into a dystopian alternate Earth future. The story begins in the year 2185, where Maxim and his assistant, Spegg, are sent into near Earth orbit to fix a transmitter issue at a Hyperdrive Assist station. Spegg, the assistant, is one of the story’s long-running antagonists and a Living Modified Organism (a Transgenic Fish/Humanoid).

Unfortunately for Maxim, Spegg suffers from an identity disorder that makes him foolish, crazy and ruthless. Spegg allows the Hyperdrive Assist Station over-spool and slings their ship into the deep reaches of space without any pre-planned exit vector. Maxim wakes alone on the ship to find that Spegg has loaded the survival pod and disappeared through a massive wormhole. He takes after Spegg and finds himself transported one-hundred years into the past – where Spegg has already had some 75 years on Earth to ruin almost all life on the planet.

Station 151 begins with radio astronomer Wayne Robertson landing in Antarctica to serve out a solitary three-month testing phase for a new radio telescope array. Soon after, Wayne begins receiving what looks like intelligent signals mixed in with the regular noise of space. Wayne finds it odd that these transmissions appear to be in English and are dated a couple hundred years into the future. Of course, if you’re following Unknown Transmission, you know that the signals are from Maxim.

Long story short: Spegg arrives in present day Antarctica, turns Wayne Robertson into a mental slave, starts a nuclear war, and releases a virus that kills almost everyone on earth – setting the stage for the alternate, future dystopia in Bellingshausen, Antarctica.

If you’re into all kinds of sci-fi geekery, give it a read. I think you’ll enjoy the ride.

Cheers!

I’ve been playing around with an idea for a novel-length manuscript for some time.  I hatched the idea on a road trip through Nebraska and Northeastern Kansas last October. It’s a story about two brothers who come to a small Kansas town late in the summer of 1975. The younger brother is running from something – a terrible experience that haunts him, pursues him. The older brother settles in among the townsfolk easily enough, but he accidentally digs up something from the past that sets off a horrific run of murders.

I’m barely brushing the surface here – the story gets real weird real quick.

I spent all of January and February working through the details of the story. I re-read all my Joseph Campbell, Syd Field, Robert McKee, Burroway, VanderMeer, Mort Castle, Orson Scott Card, and Rittenberg & Whitcomb. I delved into a little fiction inspiration from Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, Dan Simmons, Lovecraft, Jack McDevitt, and horror-newcomer Robert Jackson Bennett. I also received some sage advice from writers Christie Yant and Erika Holt.

I then went to work developing my characters and white-boarding all the story elements. I wrote a 6,000-word summary of all the action (chapt. by chapt.) and drew up my call sheets for each scene (an old film director’s trick).

Helping me out with the period details and the mood, I have maps, charts, diagrams, two dozen overdue library books, and an iTunes playlist chock-full of music from the period (Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Creedence, KISS, Van Morrison, The Eagles, Aerosmith, and The Doobies).

As any writer will tell you, it then comes down to the real work.

One of my writer friends – a fine fellow named Jacob Ruby – was a bit amazed at the two-month prep run-up to the first day of actual writing.

Hey, every writer’s process is different, I told him. My process is highly-detailed and controlled. As I write, I know exactly where I am in the story – and I know where I’m going.

So, why all the trouble?

From all my reading and training in the screenwriting arena (something I’m now certain that I will never try to get in to), I know that every story must have a solid beginning, middle, and end (or Act 1, Act 2, Act 3). And along the way there are a certain number of elements that must be included to keep the reader actively engaged as your story unfolds.

I am not the type of writer who likes to jump right into a story and hope that I don’t crap out half-way through the Second Act. To me, that’s poor planning.

I am also not the type of writer who will bang out 1,500 pages of wandering copy, in hopes that I can salvage 300 pages of good stuff that may be publishable. To me, that’s wasted time.

So, yes – I spent two months working on my story concept (filling in all the little buckets), drawing up character descriptions, outlining, researching, and correcting everything I could find. As I don’t have a lot of personal time to waste, I know that it much easier to fix a 6,000 word story summary than it is to fix a 125,000-word completed manuscript. And I think it would be hard to argue against that logic.

So, my 125,000-word story should be completed in six months. I have a writing goal every day. I’ll spend two months with some lovely beta readers and then tackle the edits. If I come away with a piece of storytelling that’s engaging and great, I’ll take it to the World Fantasy Convention in October and show it around to a few people.

In the end, some of my fellow writers may think I’m nuts. They may be right. But the proof of any writing process is in the finished material. If you can write from chapter to chapter and not lose control of your story – and if you can complete your story as originally envisioned – your personal process probably works.

Cheers!

It was an unremarkable three-story building with rough-faced stone construction, a slate-tiled roof, and an unfinished carriageway that led to a covered stone porch at the front entrance. Where it stood on a remote seventeen-acre wooded tract at the north edge of Cook County, the Almshouse at Dunning Wood was an eternal testament to human frailty and mortality.

Erected in 1835, after the first major outbreak of cholera in Chicago, the hospital played host to patients with highly-infectious diseases, such as cholera, scarlet fever, and smallpox. Patient overcrowding, minimal heating, and poor ventilation hampered treatments and high death rates followed. A mass grave was dug on the north side of the building. When weather conditions did not permit immediate burial, bodies were wrapped in blankets or sheets and carried to the root cellar, where they were sprinkled with quicklime and abandoned.

In 1912, the old hospital was ordered closed. The doors were chained shut.

For more than a decade the old hospital at Dunning Wood sat dark and silent among the tall blades of switchgrass that whispered in the wind through the fields that surrounded the decrepit stone structure. The forlorn building had stood empty for more than a decade, abandoned but not entirely alone. Within its walls, the hallways echoed no sound of footsteps. The bare bulb ceiling fixtures gave off no light. The small Birchfield steam boiler that fed a network of heating pipes was seized with rust and cold. The casement windows and roof dormers were cracked and darkened by years of dust. But the Almshouse at Dunning Wood was not alone. It was never alone.

There were field mice, rats, crickets and cockroaches that scurried through the empty rooms and hid in its dark corners. Outside, crows congregated in the branches of the surrounding black walnut trees, filling the air with the sound of their caws, rattles, and clicks. And on a moonless November night in 1924, Liam Finnegan’s small band of bootleggers and racketeers cut the chains to the doors and entered the old hospital. Once again, the Almshouse at Dunning Wood served its purpose and hosted a terrible new malady.

[This is an unused preface to a short story that is up for consideration in a new anthology.]

Ah… Hallowe’en weekend approaches and I’m off to Columbus, Ohio to attend the 36th Annual World Fantasy Convention.

According to the website, WFC is the professional convention for those working in the field of fantasy – which doesn’t do much to set my expectations. I’m no stranger to “fan cons” around the country but this is my first trip to a “pro con” anywhere.

Fortunately, I’ve spoken to a regular attendee who tells me that WFC is actually an annual gathering of authors who like to sit around in bars, drink heavily, and tell tall tales. Given the nature of that crew, I should fit in without much difficulty.

Although I am looking very forward to a number of the WFC panels – including “What Can Be Done with Old Mythologies” and “Supernatural Horror and the Machine Age” – there is a special event that I am particularly excited about. On Saturday the 30th, there will be an Edge Book Launch for Rigor Amortis. A number of Rigor authors – myself included – will be reading our selections from the zombie erotica anthology and signing autographs.

I am to understand that authors Sarah Goslee, John Nakamura Remy, Andrew Penn Romine, and Jacob Ruby will be reading. It should be a rollicking good time, to say the least. Also in attendance will be Publisher Brian Hades and Co-Editors Jaym Gates and Erika Holt.

For those interested in spying on the action and debauchery, please feel free to follow my updates via Twitter @ShinkaiMaru5 and I’ll be sure to keep you informed and entertained.