February ‘24: The Month of 10,000 Days

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated.

Recent Updates:

I’m still querying my Dark Fantasy project. Received a couple more rejections and sent a few more out. 

The third entry in my Stephen King readthrough with The Scoop came out earlier this month. Read it here. This one is about THE TALISMAN.

Project Progress:

I am ALMOST finished with the rough draft of this post-apocalypse story that has been haunting me for what feels like a lifetime. I look forward to eventually saying that I finished the son of a bitch. 

Recent Fascinations: Learning to Appreciate Winter

I think I can speak for a lot of folks when I say that January felt like it was about eight years long. It feels impossible that 2024 just started a little over a month ago, that Christmas wasn’t even a full two months ago. At the same time, I don’t think I can identify a single truly productive thing I accomplished during that time. I didn’t finish any projects or make any significant moves in my writing life. It was, if I’m being honest, a month that felt like it was about 10,000 days long in which I accomplished almost nothing. 

I try not to quantify my writing career with progress or achievements, that’s what LAST month’s whole blog post was about, but I think there’s another aspect that applies to how I felt throughout most of January: I hate the winter. 

I don’t mean that as a moment of over exaggeration. I genuinely hate just about everything about Winter, especially the unbearable part of the season between Christmas and blessed Spring. The cold, the dead look of the world around me, the persistent freezing rain, and, perhaps most of all, the short days. 

In a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability, I will lay out for all my readers that I have seasonal depression (or whatever label you want to give it), which mixes pretty poorly with my grab bag of anxiety disorders. Basically all of my hobbies besides music require me to go outside, which is decidedly difficult when it’s cold, pouring rain, or both. Winter is just very difficult for me, despite the momentary release from the Mississippi heat it offers.

That being said, as January kept trudging along, I started trying to find some joy in the Winter time. Warm cups of coffee on my front porch, evenings on the back patio spent watching the birds tear my dry and dying grass apart. I’ve tried to spend time finding the little moments of beauty in these cold, desolate Winter days. 

Funnily enough, as I’ve started being mindful of what there is to enjoy in the Winter, I’ve found myself making steadily increasing progress on this post-apocalypse project. My mind is preoccupied with finding beauty in a time of year that normally fills me with nothing but disdain, and that has turned out to be pretty useful in writing about the beauty that might come when the world is forced to slow down, even if only a little. 

I also found that it was easier to focus on my essay writing for The Scoop, my hobbies (the indoor ones), and a whole host of other things that there’s no point in going into here. The point is: this whole concept of focusing on the porch-sitting and not the freezing rain is pretty important to the writing process. You gotta focus on the positives of the process, not just the negatives.

A while back I did a blog post about seeing the beauty in the process, and I think this revelation about Winter time is just an expansion on that. Sometimes the weather sucks, sometimes writing sucks, sometimes querying sucks, but sometimes you get to sit on the front porch with a warm cup of coffee and things aren’t too damn bad. 

Thanks for reading.

January ’24: Heading Forward

Thanks for reading! 

Any support, even just giving these posts a read, is always appreciated. 

Recent Updates:

Obviously, the biggest update is that I’ve shifted away from Substack to my own platform, which gives me control over how it works and what I host. If you were subscribed on Substack, you’re already subscribed here. Not subscribed? Do so Here:  

Project Progress:

No major updates. I am still pending queries, I’ve had a few rejections and sent out a few more submissions. 

As always, read my essay work at: The Sinister Scoop

Recent Fascinations: A New Year and Heading Forward

I’m not really one for New Years resolutions, either in my personal life or as a writer. I do keep up with some writing career goals every year, things like getting some stories published or finding an agent, but nothing grand like yearly word goals or lofty ideas. Despite the fact that I’m a pretty perpetual optimist, I’m also a pretty pragmatic realist. 

When 2023 kicked off, I didn’t expect to be moving 10 months later, much less buying my first house and settling into a decidedly different life than I have ever lived before. Building personal resolutions or professional ones is typically just an invitation for life to firmly remind you that you’re not the one that calls the shots, so instead I just try and make sure I am always headed forward. 

Forward progress is something I have focused all of my attention on since I started (trying) to take this whole thing seriously in 2021. I am always trying to improve my writing with each new project. Always sure to submit at least a handful of short stories a year. Always trying to move to the next step in my goal to find traditional publication for one of my full-length manuscripts. No matter what, I always try to keep heading forward. 

Even when something stands in the way, like a surprise life change, if you’re heading forward, standing still for a little isn’t really a big deal. It becomes less a setback, and more like a momentary pause. A redlight. Sure, you’re stuck for now, but eventually the sumbitch will turn green and you can get moving again. 

So if I have any advice for my fellow writers who’re trying to decide what resolutions and professional goals they need to be focused on, it’s that. Just keep heading forward, and when you have to stop, just be patient. 

The light’ll always turn green, eventually. 

Thanks for reading. 

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December’ 23

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

The second entry in my Stephen King essay Series “The Long Read” just came out, this one all about Dolores Claiborne! Read it here.

Project Progress:

The sci-fantasy story is DONE. I passed it along to two final readers, but at this point I’m finished making changes to it. The story is as good as I can make it. I’ve queried five agents, and plan on keeping five queries out at a time. As I get rejections for those (or possible full requests, etc.) I’ll make updates here. 

Finishing that story means that it’s time to get started back on my other projects! I’ve already picked back up on the post-apocalypse story’s first draft, and will keep updates for all of that going here too. 

Recent Fascinations, a Very Special Edition:

MY 5 FAVORITE READS OF 2023

It’s the first December of my first year writing this newsletter, and in classic writer newsletter style, I want to do a rundown of my favorite reads of the past year. I’ve read a lot this year, 86 books if you count all the manga and comics, 45 or so if you don’t. I count them, and that’ll be relevant later, so we’re going to go with 86. 

First things first, though, I need to lay out some foundational information before I dive into the reads themselves, because I don’t read like a lot of people in the book-space do. I don’t focus my reading efforts on new releases. In fact, while there are some recent releases in the honorable mentions, the newest novel in my top 5 is from 2016. That’s just how it shook out this year. So, to be clear before I get started, this isn’t a “top five releases of 2023.” It’s just my five favorite reads from the past year. 

So, without further delay.

THE HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Here are the books/comics/series I read and LOVED this year even though they didn’t break into my top five. I can’t go in-depth on each of them the way I will the top 5, and they aren’t in any particular order. If a book is here, I recommend it with my whole heart. Seriously, if you walk away from this newsletter with anything it should be adding everything I talk about from this point forward to your TBR. 

  • DOLORES CLAIBORNE, Stephen King
  • POST CAPTAIN, Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey and Matrim 2)
  • THE ROOTS GROW INTO THE EARTH, Bert S. Lechner
  • THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia 6)
  • SECONDS, Brian Lee O’Malley
  • ESSEX COUNTY, Jeff Lemire
  • MALEVOLENT, Harlan Guthrie
  • THE ROOTS IN YOUR BONES, Samantha Eaton
  • FOREVER WORDS, Johnny Cash

If any of these are something you haven’t read/listened to before, look into them and read them. I promise  you will at least find something interesting in each of them. 

THE TOP FIVE:

Here they are, the five best things I read this year in ascending order. 

5. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, Stephen King

If you’ve been keeping up with the things I talk about here or on social media, or the types of things I typically write essays about, you’ll know I’m a massive King fan. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS knocked me off my feet. It’s a powerful collection of short stories and novellas where each story builds on the last, intertwining the entire thing into an impressive tapestry, all coated with a healthy dose of magical realism. The titular story is the one that clinched the fifth spot for me, with the story of cards-addicted college freshman finding themselves constantly scrambling to hold themselves afloat feeling particularly powerful for me. The entire collection is intimately connected with The Tower, and overall it was by far my favorite King read of the year.

A lot, if not most, of King’s short story collections are great, but this one is really something special. 

4. THE ROAD, Cormac McCarthy

I’m not sure I can describe what this book did to me, and anyone who has ever read it knows exactly what I mean. The story of a desperate man and his young son on the road during what I can only describe as the most hopeless, hellish post-apocalypse I’ve ever seen is so powerful, so emotional, that you really have to read it to understand what this book really is. 

I read a lot of heavy stuff, a lot of literary fiction centered around trauma and the exploration of pain, but nothing I have touched in recent memory has made me feel as deeply as THE ROAD. More than the quiet desperation of a father at the end of his rope, there is also a beautiful, absolute hope beneath everything. Go read it. And remember, you have to carry the fire. 

3. THE DRAGON REBORN (Wheel of Time book 3), Robert Jordan

As I write, I’m about 60% through the fifth book in the WHEEL OF TIME series, and before I was finished with book three, THE DRAGON REBORN, I knew that this series was going to weave its way deep into my being. It’s quickly become one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, and out of the entries in the series I’ve read so far THE DRAGON REBORN shines the brightest. 

The book’s focus on side characters and exploring the broader moments of the narrative while delegating the main protagonist to a background plot element really struck a chord with me. While I’m positive that this plot conceit isn’t unique to this book, and probably not an original idea to Jordan, it felt fresh and exciting when the last two books had been so centered on Rand. I came out of DRAGON REBORN with more than just a new favorite fantasy read, but knowing that the rest of this journey was going to be something truly special. 

2. ONE PIECE, Eiichiro Oda

When I set out earlier this year to catch up on ONE PIECE, I expected to relive some childhood nostalgia and maybe end up falling in love with the series all over again. What I didn’t expect was for the series to turn into one of my all time favorite pieces of fantasy fiction ever. ONE PIECE isn’t just an excellent example of its medium, but instead one of the finest pieces of world building and storytelling to come out of the entire fantasy genre. 

It’s criminal that the only thing that typically comes up about ONE PIECE in discussion is its length. Currently sitting at over 1100 chapters, it is a very, very, long manga, but when compared to landmark prose fantasy series, taking decades to finish a long series isn’t anything unusual. As Shonen Jump has increased its digital presence and made almost all of its material available via a subscription to the digital magazine, ONE PIECE is more accessible than ever. As that accessibility increases, hopefully the degree that people discuss the series’ place in the fantasy canon increases too. It belongs there as much as A Song of Ice and Fire and Wheel of Time, and Eiichiro Oda should be remembered as one of the titans of the fantasy genre.

1. FANTASTICLAND, Mike Bockoven

It is rare that a book sticks with me in the weeks and months after I’ve read it the way Bockoven’s brilliant, harrowing FANTASTICLAND did. I think a lot of my love for this book comes from the time that it was written. In 2016 I would’ve been the same age as several of the main characters, and the way that Bockoven interpreted the challenges and pressures facing young folks in 2016 really resonated with me. 

FANTASTICLAND is one of the most effective thrillers I’ve ever read. From the very beginning I was hooked, waiting on the edge of my seat for the next chapter, the next piece to the story, and that sort of immersion is something I rarely find. It reminded me of how I felt reading as a teenager, discovering many of the stories that would become my enduring favorites. The brilliant plot matches perfectly with the epistolary storytelling to create a book I literally could not put down. I loved all five of the books that made the top five this year, but the gap between FANTASTICLAND and ONE PIECE is pretty significant. It was the best book I read in 2023 by every single metric.

You should read it too.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

October and November ’23 Newsletter

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

No recent major announcements. See the Scoop for my work with them. https://www.thesinisterscoop.com/

Project Progress:

I have my sci-fantasy manuscript back from my hired editor, so I’ve set the post-apocalypse story aside to work on editing this as part of my NANOWRIMO participation. I hope to be prepared to query by the spring.

Recent Fascinations:

To address the obvious omission in the room, I missed October. In my first year of running a newsletter, I made it nine months without missing one, but there was too much going on in October for me to manage. A lot happened for me in that month, all of it good, but none of it conducive to focusing on a newsletter, or really managing any writing at all. I didn’t manage to get much of any writing done in the month of October, a fact that, for me, is a rarity. That absence of progress on my various projects is something that has dug at the back of my mind as November has soldiered on and led me to think about exactly what all of this, this writing thing, is.

I did attempt to manage some writing, picking away at a short story idea I killed before it drew a breath, and, towards the end of the month, I became enthralled with another of my old story ideas. Perhaps my oldest that still has a chance. For years, I’ve been haunted by an idea for a high fantasy series, much more in line with the works and worlds of Robert Jordan and the other titans of the late 80s and early 90s than the directions that the modern market is headed. But as I made it through the various life changes happening around me in October, I kept finding myself daydreaming about that story, reworking the long-established lore in my spare time, reliving the scenes that have been part of me for a decade. Wondering what writing was supposed to be to me, an aspirational pursuit or a work of my heart.

As any writer can tell you, dwelling on old, unwritten story ideas is a sure-fire way to throw yourself off track on a project that’s currently in progress. It didn’t take long throughout October for me to start looking back on my current sci-fantasy project, which is much more market-focused, and thinking of it as something not worth my time. The project was still with my editor then, and it had been a long, long while since I’d read through it. In a situation like that, the flaws you know exist in the work, and even those that existed in previous drafts that you already ironed out, will start to bore their way into your mind. When those flaws start to linger, it, at least for me, makes any other project possible seem more attractive. It didn’t take long for me to start second-guessing the entirety of my sci-fantasy project, a story I’ve spent three years of my life working on. I managed to halfway convince myself that it wasn’t any good as a story, wasn’t worth my time, and that I should put my focus into that old story idea. That is was just a work of aspirations, not a work of the heart.

At this point, all of this rambling is likely familiar to most, if not all, of the writers reading this. It is something common enough that warnings against it are in almost every writing advice book out there, including King’s ON WRITING and Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD. In periods of stress, or just a general absence of progress on a project, any other story will seem like the right one in opposition to the one you’re supposed to be working on. But, then I got my manuscript back from the editor. As I read over her comments, trying to decide what I really wanted to do with the thing, I started to fall in love with the story all over again. I saw the pieces of myself I had left behind on the pages, the parts of myself and my anxieties and my compulsions that had been left behind in the characters there. I saw the themes of the story, what they mean to me, and the way they represent where my mind has been since I finished grad school. I saw the heart of it.

In times when there is a general absence of writing, doubts about pending projects can creep into the mind of any writer. It’s important to remember that just because a project has been stagnant or is in the middle of a long period of waiting, doesn’t mean that its worth has come and gone. It’s always better to take a look at what you have before throwing it away for something that could be. To see what heart you put into a work that maybe now feels distant.

Sorry for the absence, but I’m back now! Next month, I’ll be discussing my top 5 reads of the year. 

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

September ’23 Newsletter

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

No recent major releases! Check out my work at the Sinister Scoop to see what I’ve done lately: The Scoop

Information on my publications can always be found at My Website

Project Progress:

My hired editor is working away on the current draft of my manuscript, and I have put all other creative projects on hold in the meantime to focus on other obligations. I do have one short story on submission, and will update with any information about that on my socials. It is likely that this one will be published via a pen name (if it is accepted at all), so expect direct promotion to be lacking.

Recent Fascinations:

a pathway leads to the front door of a large 19th century mansion. It is bordered by towering cyprus on both sides.
Photo: Roanoke Home, taken by me.

I’m preparing to move for the third time in my life. The first time was for graduate school, the second immediately following graduate school, and this time will, hopefully, be the last time for a long, long time. I won’t go too much into that, I demand at least some semblance of privacy in this post-digital hellscape, but I think it goes without saying that the process of buying a house and moving is a pretty significant distraction . Because of that, and my manuscript’s general status being out of my hands at the moment, I’ve been focusing on a few short stories and generally just trying to get by. Still, my mind has, of course, wandered at least a little to the general creative mechanisms that lie behind my writing. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my writing’s relationship to the concept of place. 

For most of my time as a writer, I have called myself a character writer. I’ve often claimed that characterization is the central focus of my stories, many times in relation to at least some degree of discovery writer methodology (which is a topic I plan on covering soon, likely in November). That’s always been the way I framed my writing style, but during the editing process with this current sci-fantasy project, I’ve been forced to reconsider the central conceit of my style. I don’t necessarily mean this in a negative way. Editing is a process that has to happen, and my writing needing more work on characters is not anything unusual. However, the persistent problems I had with characterization in recent drafts was put in sharp contrast with something I, for the most part, seemed to have gotten right the first time: the sense of place. 

As I started paying more attention to my relationship to place, I realized that throughout essentially everything I’ve written as an adult, a sense of rooted, specific geography is front and center. My three published short stories are all set in my own modified version of Mississippi. The natural geography and physical sense of place of the small towns that I love so much about my home state are as much of a character as any others. In my current main WIP, place is so important to setting the tone and delivering the world building that I have spent countless hours ensuring that the way I have crafted this world is as accurate to my mental image as possible. 

I think it’s fitting that as I’m preparing to move I have started paying closer attention to my writing and its relationship to geography, setting, and the general sense of place. From the sloping, meager waterfalls of Tishomingo State Park to the quiet, pine bordered streets of a fictionalized Smyrna, Mississippi, and even into the vastness of an abandoned and strange library, my writing is rooted in a feeling of place. This entire concept is still something I’m working to get my head around, but since I started looking closer at my use of place I’ve noticed that my understanding of my own writing has improved. I’ve started paying closer attention to those strengths, and it has helped me improve my focus on characters too. As I’ve honed that sense of place, so too has the interactions my characters have with the world around them improved. 

As the move is coming (hopefully) closer, and the geography of my life is changing, in turn becoming decidedly more urban, I can feel a draw to focus more and more on the beauty and personality of the rural world that constructed me. That built me up from red Mississippi clay and old growth loblolly. A sense of place, sometimes dark and horrible, but always there. I am a writer made up of geographies. 

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

August ’23 Newsletter

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

My interview with the wonderful Mike Bockoven came out with the Sinister Scoop. Read it here.

Project Progress:

My sci-fantasy WIP is with an editor. Unfortunately I’ve had to put my other fiction projects on hold to get some other stuff finished up.

In September I’m giving a special presentation to my local historical society about a local piece of Civil War history. I’ll be sharing a video of that presentation here in October. 

Recent Fascinations:

I don’t guess I can put off talking about social media any longer, so here we go. I am not an old man, and I am not planning on yelling at any clouds, but that could be how this comes off and I apologize for that. I hate a lot of what social media has done to me as an artist, so if you’re expecting a somewhat balanced discussion of its merits and problems, you won’t find that here.  

I need to preface the beginning of this conversation with a note on some of the language I will be using. A lot of my thoughts on social media have to do with attention span, and I want to be clear that this conversation is not meant to be ableist. I am coming at this discussion from a neurotypical viewpoint, as I don’t have any form of ADHD or ADD or any other neurodivergence that would affect my day to day ability to focus. My omission of that aspect of the conversation is not meant to disregard the additional struggles social media might impose on someone who does have a form of neurodivergence. Instead, I don’t feel I am the right person to discuss that topic. So, from this point forward, just know that I am only speaking to my own experience, not what is or should be normal. 

What started me down the road of reconsidering my relationship to social media was, perhaps somewhat morbidly, the death of one of my idols: Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy, quite infamously, never owned a computer and absolutely never, ever used any form of social media. There were websites and fan pages, but none that the man operated himself. To say that McCarthy, who died just this year at the age of 89, was from a different era would be a gargantuan understatement. I am not 89. I am not from appalachia. I am not a leading figure in the modern west movement. I have never identified myself in comparison with McCarthy, but his death happened to correspond with a wave of Twitter vitriol that, for a lack of a better turn of phrase, broke me. I have no interest in exploring that vitriol here or anywhere else, that is exactly the kind of thing that social media algorithms feed on, but it did send me into an introspective spiral that forced me to consider the role social media plays in my life and my art. 

Twitter, I realized, was, and you’ll excuse my lack of tact here, a withering shit heap of ignorance and false discourse. I made the transition to “updates only,” almost immediately following McCarthy’s death, focusing my efforts on occasional Instagram posts and crossposting to Facebook. I told myself that those efforts would have to be good enough, because I would rather fail to sell my art than let a silicon valley algorithm take a piece of my soul. Social media as a force of nature does something to people that I don’t like. It turns us into content-devouring monsters, hell bent on whip-quick discussions and fiery discourse. That false-discourse is twisted into vitriol, and the algorithm feeds on it. All social media uses its complicated mathematical formulas to control the content we interact with and the things that we see, and it twists it into the thing that will get the most clicks and the most interactions and the most comments. It doesn’t matter if the interaction is positive or hateful, as long as it IS. Within the constant devaluing of nuanced conversation is the constant erosion of our attention spans. People don’t read as much, they don’t focus as acutely, they don’t consider the world they interact with. They just react, sans any context vital to their full and total understanding of a given situation.

When I forced myself out of that ever tightening spiral, a grand Uzumaki of an existential exhaustion, I decided that my relationship with social media would have to change. That I would not sacrifice pieces of myself to a mathematical new god who does not care about me, controlled by faceless demagogues in a state all the way on the other side of the country. My life improved dramatically from the outset. My moods are better, I am reading more, focusing more, my attention span is longer. I am less anxious and less tired. My OCD is the best it has been in a long time. My world is a better place with less social media.

That was where I left things last month, but when Threads entered my field of view, I decided to give it its due consideration. To see if it was another piece of the Twitter pie, or something new. As I’ve gotten to the other side of it, Threads is at the moment something positive in my writing life. Its algorithm is fledgling, and because of that is easily manipulated. My entire feed is all artists and writers and readers. I am meeting new writers and making new professional connections. I am connecting with potential future readers. Because of the general lack of vitriol, Threads also doesn’t feel invasive in my day to day life. I don’t, though, have any naivete that it will stay that way. I am certain that changes will come down the line to turn it into something toxic, as that is the base crab-evolution of all social media. I have, though, decided that when the time does come that Threads cuts me down instead of building me up, that I will delete it without announcement or grandstanding. To people who, understandably, put a lot more value on social media interactions than I do, that might sound cold. Like the connections I’ve made there will be meaningless and easily cast aside. I don’t know. Maybe it is and maybe they are, but I know that I will walk away from anything, Threads or otherwise, that is a pure net negative in my world.

Never again will the algorithmic gods take a piece of my soul. 

Thanks for reading.

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

Check me out on Instagram and Threads at: bloperficiton

July ’23

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Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Thanks for reading Billy Don Loper-Fiction and Fascinations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

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Recent Announcements:

THE SUMMER GOTHIC was released with Panorame Press, which contains a lot of great short fiction including my short story “Key to the Heart.” Read it here: https://balaflannan.wixsite.com/panorame-press

I have an interview coming up with FANTASTICLAND, THE PACK, and KILLING IT author Mike Bockoven coming later this month! Stay posed for updates on that. 

Project Progress:

My Sci-Fantasy project is back from beta and undergoing another round of edits before going to my copy editor for another pass! My other projects are on hold in the meantime. 

Special Announcement!

My wife, Miranda Loper, has started accepting freelance editing services. If you need an affordable fiction editor, find her at @mloperediting!

Recent Fascinations:

When I opened this document, and in the week preceding it as I thought through what all I needed to cover, I planned to talk about my thoughts on social media. I even made a note a little while ago about exactly that, telling my paltry handful of readers to expect it. Then, of  course, a new wrench entered the tangled disaster that is our digital existence: Meta’s “Threads.” I have a lot of thoughts about this, and the perpetual search of someone to replace our dying Uncle Twitter, but those thoughts are nebulous and this, frankly, isn’t Twitter or a space for unformed “discourse.” So, I apologize, but I’ll be waiting another month to talk about social media and what it’s doing to us. 

Instead, I think instead I want to talk about something a little more squarely focused on the actual craft of writing: The emotions of version editing. 

As I write this newsletter, I’m also finishing up my seventh version of my Sci-Fantasy manuscript, which will likely turn into an eighth and maybe even a ninth version. Hell, maybe a tenth. I am not a Stephen King-type, who does three or four drafts and is done. I edit and read and edit and read and get others to read it and then edit it again. Writing is collaborative for me, a work of collective art between me and my beta readers and my copyeditor. Writing is, for me, a process of versions. 

For short stories, this is a pretty quick process for me, and often connected to rejections. When a story I submit is rejected, I edit it and then submit it somewhere new. A neat process of feedback, if just implicit feedback, and revision. As I’ve worked on truly finishing my first full manuscript draft, the inherent emotional rollercoaster of that has really become apparent. This is the seventh version, but, because of how I write, is really only the forth solid, concrete version. As I’ve gone through this cycle of edit, beta, edit, editor, edit, beta, etc. etc. etc, I’ve realized that I am going through a pretty consistent cycle of emotions. The more I work on a round of edits, the more I begin to doubt my work, the more I begin to hate this project, the more I start to stray to other creative ideas. 

This isn’t a unique experience, and in fact almost every major writer I can think of has written about this at some point. I have, however, started trying to pull apart why this process makes me start to feel this way, and have come to some conclusions that have given me a little piece of mind. I hope it can do the same for some of y’all. 

When I’m editing, especially after receiving feedback of some type on my WIP, I become laser focused on the issues at hand. The gaps in story or character or pacing. The, by the very definition of feedback, places where my story has failed in some way. That focus on flaw, failure, and shortcoming, wears on me over time and, as is the case for so many writers, I hate everything about it by the end. I sent my current WIP away to my editor with a sense of literal relief. When they told me it would be a month before they can get to it, it was just a further sense of relief. I don’t want to look at it, I hate it. I’m tired of it. 

I know when I get it back, I know that I will be in love with it all over again, because that is how it has been, every. other. time. 

That is perhaps the most surreal part of the process for me. The total sense of excitement and elation that comes when I’m given the chance to work on this project again after a break. As I’ve honed in on the dichotomy between the feeling when I am near the end of an edit and the feeling at the start of a new one, I’ve started to focus more on that point. A fixed moment on the horizon when I will get to start chipping away at this story again, knowing that eventually it will be done. 

Eventually I’ll set this aside to start it down the query trenches. Eventually, that elation and excitement has to stop. So it is better to focus on the coming excitement, than current irritations. Like so much in fiction, I’ve realized that to really love my art, my craft, I have to cast off the expected negatives and stereotypical complaints and focus on my love for the process. Instead of becoming steeped in the negative, I have started, or tried to start, seeing the editing process as steps towards further collaborative excitement. More feedback. Another beginning.

Yes, editing does feel miserable right now, but it won’t later. Later, it will be art again.

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Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

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June ’23 Newsletter

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY HOSTED ON SUBSTACK

Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Thanks for reading Billy Don Loper-Fiction and Fascinations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

Subscribed

Recent Announcements:

My interview with Kyle Starks had to be delayed due to a number of recent life events. It’s still coming, so keep an eye out! 

My short story “Key to the Heart” will be published in THE SUMMER GOTHIC later this month. Be sure to follow Panorame Press on Twitter and Instagram. 

Project Progress:

My beta readers are still working through my Sci-Fantasy story, and I am making some progress on the speculative sci-fi piece in the meantime. 

Recent Fascinations:

It took a lot of consideration on what direction I want to take before I felt ready to discuss it here, but I think I finally have enough put together about self-publishing vs. traditional to give it a shot. 

This back and forth has been a process that I’ve gone through in pretty consistent cycles since I first started writing seriously in 2020, and my general hesitance to give any real concrete decisions on it has also been consistent. As a person, I prefer to thoroughly examine my options, but when I make a decision it is typically set and concrete from that point forward. Over the past several months, I have been doing a lot of research on the general costs and requirements that go into each approach, trying to decide which direction is right for me. Writer Quinton Li and the Publishing Rodeo Podcast were both huge helps in this. Quinton was kind enough to take time out of their day to talk through their self-pub experience with me, and Sunyi Dean and Scott Drakeford have crafted an indispensable resource for all writers, especially those considering traditional publishing. 

There are some factors of everything that are, or at least feel, obvious. Self-publishing is undeniably more expensive than the traditional route, with costs of editors, cover designers, and other marketing factors able to stack up pretty quick, even on the cheaper end coming out to at least a couple thousand dollars. On the other hand, traditional publishing comes with a lot of additional stressors, finding current comps, finding open agents, and the constant existential pressure of querying. While there are more minutiae on each side of publishing, those two sort of serve as the balancing weights. 

Self-Publishing: Financially Expensive

Traditional Publishing: Emotionally Expensive

Both take a lot of your time, essentially becoming second full-time jobs that have to ride right alongside your day job, which in some cases, mine included, can already be pretty demanding. So, for me it came down to a decision between paying the financial tax or the emotional tax. Depending on the day, and how I felt about my own writing (imposter syndrome isn’t something I struggle with, but that’s a topic for another month), both path felt attractive at different times. That leads me to a moment that pushed my final decision: PitDark.

For those unfamiliar, PitDark is a Twitter pitch event where participants pitch their completed, ready to query projects to gauge interest from agents and publishers. Likes from agents are requests to query. So, on a whim, I decided to participate since my current Sci-Fantasy story is in query-ready shape. 

Participating in PitDark forced me to prepare a query letter, synopsis, and polished first chapter in order to be ready should my pitches get any interest. So, I did. I built out a query and got second opinions and edited it and crafted pitches ahead of time and by the end of it I felt…excited. The process of building comps and preparing a query and finding a way to distill your story down to its essential parts is an infamous, often decried part of the traditional publishing process, but it energized me. As I sit here typing, I feel more energized about my sci-fantasy project than I did the day I finished the current draft. I feel excited. I feel like I understand my story better than I ever have before. At the end of PitDark, I had no interest from agents, but I did have a lot of encouragement from other participants and a lot of people saying that my themes and ideas resonated with them, which further pushed me to keep working on this story. 

I also found myself with a crafted query letter and synopsis. The hard part of the query preparation process was handled, and my general lack of fear of rejection (hard earned through a handful of years submitting short fiction before my first acceptance last year) led me to start heavily considering what it was I wanted out of publishing. If the process of traditional that so many people suffer through seemed, on the outside, a pleasant process, then what benefits did self-publishing hold for me?

There are benefits of increased control, and in turn increased control on the financial output of your writing, but money is not really a concern for me in the entire process. My day job is good and supports me, and writing is an artful pursuit for me, not something I’m worried about making my living on. Actually, the idea of being forced to manage distribution and sales on top of everything else was a major factor keeping me from self-publishing, only ever balanced by the supposed potential emotional tax querying might bring along. PitDark showed me that, at least in my case, the emotional tax of querying isn’t really something that I will struggle with the same way some other writers might. It’s part of the write and revise process, a process I enjoy and get a lot out of. Of course, I’m not deep in the legendary querying trenches yet, but the rote process of write, submit, reject, repeat isn’t a problem for me. Coming from a literary writing background, it feels as much like part of the writing process as outlining and drafting. PitDark showed me that my own personal “hard part” of traditional publishing, finding comps, building a query letter, wasn’t hard. It was fun. It was part of the craft. It was, to mix my art metaphors at least a little the bit of the process where I fired the clay.

It showed me that traditional publishing is the path that I need to take, because it is the path that works best for me, my personality. It also showed me that, above everything else, no one can make this decision for me. The decision around the publishing journey is one that each writer has to make alone.

Thanks for reading!

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Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

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May ’23 Newsletter

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY HOSTED ON SUBSTACK

Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Recent Announcements:

My essay on Stephen King’s FROM A BUICK 8 came out in late April with THE SINISTER SCOOP. Be sure to check that out here

I have an interview with Kyle Starks coming out late this month with the Scoop. Keep an eye out for that!

Project Progress:

My beta readers officially have the newest version of my sci-fantasy WIP. While they read that, I am working on my speculative sci-fi piece, still no other news to share there or on the horror WIP. 

Recent Fascinations:

My previous fascination seemed, at least to me, to carry a lot of weight, and I’m not really sure how to follow that up in this one. I have been thinking a lot on self-publishing versus traditional publishing (in relation to the direction I want to go), but I don’t think I have enough concrete thoughts on that to really talk about it here. Instead, I’d like to take a moment to share something I’ve had on my mind for a long while that is much less important, but still pertinent.

But first, some photographs of a book crime:

Above are some pictures of my personal copy of CHRISTINE. It’s one of my favorite King novels, and that particular copy is the first King book I ever purchased (in about 2009 for 60 cents). As I’ve started down the path of collecting all of King’s published bibliography, this little copy (a first edition signet paperback from ‘83) has stuck out as the lone survivor of some long forgotten past. It rode in my backpack for damn-near all of highschool, and has seen hundreds of miles of highway and probably more than a dozen read throughs. It seems like a strange contradiction to my pristine first edition hardback of DUMA KEY and my collection of Grant DARK TOWER books, but when I feel a deeper connection to that battered and abused paperback than I do a lot of the other books in the collection. 

This isn’t another essay on King, I’ll save the story of that particularly abused copy of CHRISTINE for when I do that entry in my essay series on the Scoop, but instead a conversation on book collecting. Right around the same time that I decided to build a complete King collection, I started an Instagram in connection to my writing. As a natural connection, I also began following some King collectors. I quickly found myself in a wild world of ornate bookshelves, multiple-full run paperback collections, and incredible levels of collection preservation. 

I want to stop for a second and have an aside where I make two quick statements:

  1. I am not passing judgment on collectors who have really elaborate set-ups.
  2. I am not making any commentary on the bookstagram/bookish/shelfie process or influencer industry. 

Instead, what this is really about, to me, anyway, is what I see my book collection as. It seems that, unlike a lot of other online book/writing space folks, I’ve read a good bit of what’s sitting on my shelves. I try not to hang on to books I don’t really love, or at least have some connection to, and even the few there I haven’t read have often been read by someone else in my household. Not only have most of my personal books been read, but they have been well read. Many have broken spines, torn covers, annotations written in pencil. Many have sticky notes that have been in them for years. I abuse my books, with no real regard towards whether they are hardback or paperback. In comparison to a lot of influencers online, my bookshelf looks…unsettling. 

Here, take a look:

That’s just one of my shelves, and the other one isn’t much better. And again, this isn’t to say that my shelf is a real, lived shelf and the shelves of influencers are facades. I’m jealous of their aesthetic flair (and space!), and I’m also decidedly not an influencer centered around my collection. But I am someone who DEEPLY loves books. I spend about as much time reading as I do writing. It can be a bit disheartening, or at least a little frustrating, to see the internetification of book collecting head in a direction that delegitmizes my own personal collection. Commentary about spine cracking, about bent or torn pages. 

All of this eventually led me to thinking about my own work, and what I want out of my books once I (finally) put them out into the world. I’ve been thinking about whether I want to see them on the shelves of collections, neat and protected and not a scratch, or if I want to see them beat to hell. I see authors like Sanderson releasing bespoke, short run leather editions with neat gold lettering. Those are obviously books never meant to be read (take the fact that there’s an entire guide to reading them without rubbing the gold embossing off), and that idea just…irks me. It irks me in a way that the neat and aesthetic shelves do not. Even books like that previously mentioned DUMA KEY get read. I don’t purchase books I do not intend to read.

I can’t say that I will never release a bespoke edition of one of my books. But I can tell you a couple things with absolute certainty. I’m keeping that copy of Christine, and I want my books, every edition of them, to be read. 

Thanks for reading!

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Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Twitter at: PineyWoodsHIS

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

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April ’23

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY HOSTED ON SUBSTACK

Welcome to the Newsletter!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.

Thanks for reading Billy Don Loper-Fiction and Fascinations! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.

Subscribed

Recent Announcements:

My interview with MALEVOLENT creator Harlan Guthrie went live on THE SINISTER SCOOP earlier this month, so be sure to check that out!

I also just announced that I will be interviewing comic creator and all around artistic great Kyle Starks this month, and that article will be coming out in May. 

Project Progress:

Still making steady progress on edits to get it to a second round of beta readers. Currently at about 50% completion of this read through. All other projects are on standby at the moment!

Recent Fascinations:

For a long while, I’ve had a lot of ideas and feelings about being a writer percolating at the back of my mind. After my conversation with Harlan Guthrie, and our in-depth discussion on the reality of being a creative, those ideas finally crystallized into something real that I feel like I can vocalize in an at least halfway clear manner. 

Early on in my real-writer journey, I fell in with the Taco Bell Quarterly craze of raging against the literary machine and discussing the anti-glamorous life many creatives lead. But as I shifted my focus more and more towards genre fiction, I started to second guess the entire world I’d been raging against. I stopped focusing on the literary-ness of everything and started following more and more indie authors, more hard-genre writers, and more horror media creators. As I entered that space I found a world absent of self-important pretense, of constant cloying for membership to the exclusive club of literary writers. Instead I found a community of writers who just love to fuckin’ write. Who support each other. Who offer free to submit, paying markets that encourage the entry of new writers. Who publish anthologies based on vibes, not the hunt for understanding from an abstract literary empire that no one really understands. 

In other words, in the genre writing scene, I found the world Taco Bell Quarterly hopes to create. I don’t know any other way to put it. 

What shocked me though, as I started to fall more and more into this genre space, is how totally unaware so many literary writers seem to be of its existence. More times than I can count I have seen a writer complain about the intricate, gatekeeping issues of the literary fiction space, and wish for a myriad of improvements. An overwhelming number of times, that improvement is already a common, expected factor in the genre publishing space. That is not to say that genre publishing, which makes up an overwhelming majority of the entire field, is not strife with its own problems. Getting an agent and getting published is intense and more difficult than most expect. Marketing for books, even once they are published, is inconsistent and rests largely on the shoulders of the author. Self-Publishing isn’t much better, often expensive and almost always a sunk cost, all to publish into an overstuffed space dominated almost entirely by one corporation. 

So, like I said. Genre has its own problems. But the thing is, those issues are ALSO Lit-Fic’s issues. 

So, if Lit-Fic is strife with additional problems that genre seems absent of, despite its own issues, then why aren’t writers, not necessarily publishers, but writers, taking genre’s lead? I pondered on this for a good while, but it wasn’t until my interview with Guthrie that I really started to see what might be the heart of the issue. 

Throughout the second half of the interview, Guthrie talked a lot about “writing for the medium,” and while we weren’t talking about genre or literary versus genre fiction, the topic struck a chord with me in a way I did not expect. I don’t have an M.F.A., but I am, or was, an academic. I’m a historian by training, and throughout my undergraduate studies I took a handful of creative writing courses, all of which focused exclusively on Lit-Fic. Genre was discouraged for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. I say that only to say: I am familiar with the space and the expectations it contains. I understand the gatekeeping and expectations intimately. In fact, of my three published/accepted short stories, all of them are literary fiction. And to me, there is the crux of it all. I am a published literary fiction writer, but I also write genre and participate in genre spaces. I participate in genre spaces, because literary spaces are filled with anger, frustration, and constant pretentious comparisons.

So, as I ruminated on this juxtaposition, I wondered why many of the TBQ warriors demanding a more open, welcoming space didn’t just transition to the genre space. Why are so many literary authors perfectly happy to ask for paying markets and welcoming spaces, but scoff at the idea of just hanging out with the genre-writing public. The non-M.F.A. holding, day job working, good-times loving part of the writing community. You know…the NANO crowd.

Fighting to find a table at the literary community has a long and storied history in literary writing, but that sort of thing is what TBQ hopes to push away from. But at the same time, a lot of Lit-Fic writers still decry genre and focus on only “real” writing. In other words, they aren’t writing their story, they’re writing to push themselves into a space that has a number of restrictions, of expectations. They aren’t writing for their story, they’re focused on writing literary fiction, on writing for the medium, not the project. Literary writers are trying to find a way out of the gated community that is Lit-Fic, they’re trying to find a way over the wall. All the while trying to claw their way into a “genre” of fiction that has the highest gates of all. Instead of just writing their art and being part of a group that wants them, they aren’t writing the story and letting the medium follow. They’re writing for the medium. A lot of my fellow literary writers spend, from my perspective, more of their time complaining about writing than they do actually writing. In the modern social media landscape, being a Lit-Fic writer is more about complaining about Lit-Fic publishing than it is about actually writing Lit-Fic.

Like Guthrie said, “…if you are a creative, and you want to create, don’t start at the finish line, sit down and think of what kind of story you want to tell.”

Or, if I might put it in a more blunt way taking a slightly modified page from Brent Cobb’s songbook: 

Sometimes sayin’ nothin’ says it all and then some more

Conjecture causes bull and fuels unnecessary wars

Poets know hiding the truth somewhere between the lines somehow

Makes it seem worth more for those looking to find

Some answers to the troubles this life brings

Shut up and sing

Maybe it’s time for Lit-Fic to drop the pretense and stop complaining about the sheets that are on the bed we made. Shut up and write. 

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter.

Check out my website: billyloperhistory.com

Check me out on Twitter at: PineyWoodsHIS

Check me out on Facebook at: Billy Don Loper-Fiction

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