June’ 24: “Graveside”

Thanks for reading! 

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

This Month Will be a Little Different:

June is a busy month in my life for a lot of reasons, and this June has already been one of particular intensity both physically and mentally. So, you’ll excuse me if I cheat. Instead of my typical newsletter, I’m sharing a (very) short piece of creative nonfiction that I wrote for an author event I did a while back in Brandon, Mississippi.

Among the many things that makes June a consistently stressful month for me and my family, Father’s Day rests neatly in the middle. The task of scheduling family get-togethers in an already busy month on top of trying to take some time for ourselves as a family is only been compounded by the loss of my grandfather last May. So, in an effort to remove some of the general tensions right now, and provide a little memorialization for my grandfather, this month’s newsletter is just a piece of short CNF, dedicated to him.  

It’s short, but I like it. I hope you will too. 

“GRAVESIDE”-BY: Billy Don Loper

The light filtered down through Granny’s pine trees the way it always had. Little glimmers of radiance caught in a breathless moment before being cast to the ground in their moving shimmer. The trees had been little once, toddling things dug up from somewhere near the fence row on the other side of the graveyard. She had always intended to move there, that little patch of hilly old farm field on her father’s land, closer to her children and grandchildren. But, the grandchildren moved away, and before long, it was too late, and she was too old and eaten up with cancer to move anywhere. 

Still, she did make it there, in the end. Her own stone placed just beyond the fence of the family graveyard, there in the place where the pines cast their light. She had always liked the shade of her trees, so it seemed right and proper that she should spend her time in the ground beneath them. That had been The Eldest’s decision, as most of them had been. When the long wait passed and the heavy stone finally placed, a double one waiting on its other occupant, a little bench was put there too. Green or black, the color never really stood out against the rusting wrought iron and flaking paint, but it was sturdy and high enough that The Husband didn’t need any help getting up. 

That’s where I’d found him, me being the Eldest of the Eldest and sent to hunt him down an hour late for the family Easter. He was sitting on the bench, a metal cane leaning on one knee, and as soon as I shut my truck door I could hear him talking to her. He sat on the side of the bench aligned with his own stone, leaving space enough for her. I think I could see that when I walked the short way from the end of the drive to her trees, and that’s why I never did sit down. I hated making him look up to me, but it didn’t feel right to sit there in a spot he had saved for someone else. 

“Hey, there you are. Dad sent me looking for you.” 

“Mm? Why’s that?”

“Easter. You’re done supposed to be over at the house.”

That thin, gaunt face that I never did reconcile as his pulled tight when he nodded, his focus back to her and her trees. He did, though, spare a moment to glance at his watch. “Didn’t realize it’d gotten so late.”

“That’s all right. We just didn’t want you to have gotten off or hurt.”

“No, I’m all right. Just sitting here. I like to come sit every once in a while.”

“Okay, well. You sure you’re okay?”

“Oh yeah, just want to sit here a bit longer. I’ll come on in a little while.”

There was a silence there, however brief, that lingered between me and him. His frame, thinned and worn down by his heart disease and her cancer, didn’t look like the man I had grown up knowing. It never did, no matter how long I lived with it or how long it was the truth. I thought about all the trouble we’d had with him in those weeks leading up. His mind slipping, the doctor’s screaming Alzheimer’s despite its sudden appearance, though that never quite settled with me. It always felt like the long weariness of a house once shared, now filled with ghosts and memories.

“All right, well. I’m gonna head back and let Pop know you’re here and okay. You going to come on that way in a little bit, right?”

“Yeah, just a little bit.”

“Okay, see you when you get there.”

My boot heels scraping on that half-damp grass hid most of it, but even before I stopped to open the door of my pickup I could hear him. With her again. 

Part of him, anyway. 

For Donald Ray Loper-Father, Grandfather, and Great Grandfather.

March’ 23: The Perpetuity of Querying Anxiety, or Maybe My Skin Ain’t as Thick as I Thought

Thanks for reading! 

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

Recent Updates:

For once, I have some pretty significant a pretty exciting update!

In late February I got my first full request from an agent, and more specifically from an agent I thought I had no chance in even getting any interest from, much less enough interest that they decided to read the entire thing. 

This is really exciting for a number of reasons, all of which I will go into in the fascinations section of this newsletter. 

Be sure that I will keep a running update here of how that goes!

Project Progress:

I finished the post-apocalypse rough draft! It turns out that February was a very productive month for me overall, and I was able to wrap up a story that, in one form or another, had been haunting me for more than five years. 

Now, I’ve moved on to editing the horror novella that I finished the rough draft of back in the Fall of 2022. 

Recent Fascinations: Realizing the Limits of My Querying Resistance

All right, so, to get the celebration out of the way, glory glory I’ve gotten my first full request! The excitement I feel from this is impossible for me to explain. It is a high that I haven’t felt since my first short story acceptance, and it has really, really, made me more confident as a writer. 

The query that developed into my first (and as of writing only) full request was one of the original batch of six I sent out way back in December of ‘23. This particular query was to an agent that I would have described as my dream agent if I even thought there was a cold chance in hell. It was the long shot, straight from JV to the major leagues, unthinkable agent. The agent I sent a query to expecting a rejection but knowing I would hate myself if I had never taken the chance. 

For EIGHTY-NINE DAYS I watched the counter on that query tick up. Agents sent rejections, I sent out new queries, and the longshot ticked up. When I mentioned this particular query to my writer friends, I called it the “never gonna happen” query. I disregarded it, its status on my Query Manager page just a reminder that sometimes this whole writer thing requires us to take a chance or two.

I don’t think I’ll ever have the words to describe the feeling that came over me when the full request came in, but it is a high I’m still riding as I write this. My writing hadn’t just been noticed and recognized as something worth a second look, but noticed and recognized by an actual titan of the industry. With all of this joy, though, came a realization that maybe, just maybe, my skin isn’t quite as thick as I think it is. 

Throughout my querying journey so far, I have remained resilient to the wearing forces of the process. Rejection is part of the job, and I’ve taken each one with a smile. A rejection comes in, I send out a new query. I’ve solidified that process into something that I feel is sustainable. I’ve settled into a pace that works for me and my writing goals. Through all of this work I’ve managed to keep my expectations realistic, not anticipating anything beyond a rejection from any of the queries I’ve sent out. 

However, the moment that the realization around this first full request settled in, I knew that those emotional defenses have a limit. Even though I have no real expectations of anything coming from this full request, I also know that once that rejection comes in, I will be totally, absolutely crushed. 

I hope no reader of this misunderstands me, though. This full request has done a great deal to show me that my writing, and especially this dark fantasy manuscript, is worth something. It’s an irrefutable statement from the industry that this is all worth the effort. I also hope that any reader doesn’t think I’m dejected or self-depreciating when I say I expect nothing to come from this full request. I really, really, hope that this full turns into an offer. I think the work is worth it, I think I have a chance. 

But at the end of the day, I have to try to keep some semblance of realistic resistance against the coming barrage of rejections. Still, I know that whenever the response to this full does come, no matter what it is, I will feel it with my entire being. 

Thanks for reading.

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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