MIKE BOCKOVEN

Riding It Out Then Kicking It’s Ass – My Writer’s Block Story

May
03

 

I really hurt some people I care about tonight. Really bad.

There were tears and blood. A ceremonial knife was involved. I’m still kind of shocked I hurt these people so bad, to be honest. I really did a number on them. I feel terrible about it.

Of course, these “people” are characters. Sure, they’ve been rattling around in my head for a few YEARS now and I’ve given them back stories and character arcs and ways of speaking and triumphs and tragedies and loves and hobbies. I know them and I really, really hurt them tonight. And while I feel kind of gross about some of the things I did to them (man, that ceremonial knife was not a pleasant thing), I’m really glad I was able to hurt them like this.

I finished my first book, “FantasticLand” in 2015. In early 2016 I closed out “Pack” and wrote a third book, the unpublished “Bitter Old Punk” by the end of the year. I finished half of a fourth book and pieces of a follow up to “Pack”. It was a productive time and then…poof. The will to write kind of went up in smoke. That’s not right, not the “will” but the habit. I fell out of the writing habit but, beyond that, I stopped thinking like a writer for a while.

I took notes, I blogged occasionally, but there was a five month period in 2017 where I didn’t write a thing. Not seriously, anyway. I’ve got a few short stories banked from that time period while I was trying to get back in the groove, and it wasn’t like I had a lack of ideas. I was even newly creative, starting a podcast (Atomic Weight of Cheese, check it out) and throwing myself a great 40th birthday party complete with live riffing a movie.

In some way, that’s how I justified this “down” period. I was being creative, books were being bought, deals were being made. No problem, right?

But it was a problem because I made it one. By staying away so long from some of the books I’d been writing I’d completely lost the thread, I had forgotten some of the details about the characters and some of the groundwork I’d laid. I wasn’t writing and it was hurting what I had written.

I wish I had a triumphant “and then I came out of it and started writing again” moment, but I don’t. It started slow, I went back and re-read and I’m back to writing 20,000 words a month or so. I’m closing in on the ending of my second “Pack” book (jinxed it, didn’t I?) and I’ve got other books waiting to land. I’m reading more, I’m writing more and if this was “writer’s block” (which I don’t think it was, at least not traditionally) I kicked it’s ass by not stressing about it and keeping the creative juices flowing.

And if I had any advice it would be just that – if you’re stuck, don’t worry about it but don’t stop thinking about it. Keep being creative, keep on your creative process and wait. The time will come when it starts up again and when it does it will be a blast.

But not for your characters. Those people are going to suffer. He he he.

Early Reviews of “Pack”

Apr
22

They say “don’t read the reviews.” This has not been good advice in my experience.

My first book is pulling decent reviews and even the bad reviews generally fall into two camps – those who didn’t connect with the material or the style (which is TOTALLY a legit opinion and I begrudge these one star reviewers nothing) and those who tend to be hard on books. One review of ”FantasticLand” has never not given a one star review to any book he’s ever reviewed. That doesn’t hurt my feelings any. The good reviews…they’re just more than I could’ve hoped for. I’ve had people tell me “FantasticLand” is one of their favorite books and it makes my day…hell, my week, every single time it happens.  I enjoy watching the conversation, is my point.

(I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge my imposter syndrome and that I am honestly delighted that anyone is reading my book at all. Return to text).

But I’ve been nervous recently as early reviews of my second novel, “Pack”, have started coming in. There’s the “sophomore slump” to consider, there’s the fact that my first novel took a different and risky approach to novel writing and, as a more straight novel, I’ve got less to hide behind. Either I’m a writer who can pull of a traditional novel format or I’m not.

The good news, so far, is that the early reviews are coming in and they’re good. Real good. There’s a long way to go and this could all nose dive at any moment (my general operating philosophy, strangely enough) but so far, so good. In the interest of promoting “Pack” a bit and celebrating a really good review, I’d like to repost an early review of the book by Dee Arr who got an Advanced Review Copy of the book that you can read on Goodreads.com. Here it is:

Mike Bockoven’s newest offering “Pack” takes the not-so-normal and turns it into something that helps us accept the paranormal as everyday life. The book describes a small town that not only has accepted the idea of werewolves but treats the pack as an integral part of the community. When one of the pack steps outside of the boundaries governing their behavior, the decisions made bring outside attention and threaten everyone in the town.

“Pack” continues with some of the reporting aspects that made his previous novel “Fantasticland” an incredibly realistic read. The story is told through the eyes of multiple characters and embellished through his “Selective History of Barter County” chapters. These historical entries reveal bits and pieces of the past, events which were important and shaped the town as it is today.

This is not your typical story of werewolves. It is not a tale of young love nor a bloody trail of horror. Except for their ability to change into wolves, members of the pack are no different than other residents. The author humanizes what is normally presented as scary and spins our way of thinking in the opposite direction. It is easy to empathize with the characters in their struggle to preserve a way of life that has been crafted by their ancestors for almost 200 years.

Bottom line – this is a creative story that assumes the paranormal is real. While most writers work toward this goal, Mike Bockoven’s “Pack” seems to effortlessly achieve this level of realism. Highly recommended. Five stars.

My thanks to NetGalley for an advance reading copy of this book.

It feels really good to have someone tell you that everything you tried to do came across. It’s a relief and it’s made me far more optimistic about how the book is going to be received. If you read the book and leave me a review, please know that I appreciate it a great deal and that I take constructive criticism to heart.

 

”Pack” comes out on July 3rd and I’m counting down the days. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon right now. As always, thanks for following what I do. It’s a dream come true.

 

-Mike

A Girl Runs Into The Woods

Apr
20

I’m part of a leadership class for my job and, as I’m sure many of you have done at camp or job training or seminars or whatever, we played a word game meant to establish team building. Only mine took a really dark turn really fast and I found it really interesting.

The game is this – everyone in your group gets in a circle, the facilitator gives you the first few words of a story and everyone then goes around the circle saying one word a piece. It’s meant to establish how different people think in very different way. In my case, the start of the story was “A girl was running in the woods.”

By the time my group was done the girl had died, been eaten by a bear and zombies, had prostethetic legs for some reason and then the zombies had ridden on horses through a lake, I think. It was the end of the day and I was a little punchy but here’s why I bring it up – the story turned to horror almost immediately.

Why? I’ve got some theories (some of which pertain to this particular group but that’s not important) but the main one is that horror stories can be easy. Easier than love stories or human dramas anyway. If the girl is running in the woods, she’s running away from something and while it might be her feelings or her sense of self or something else philosophical or frilly it’s more fun to tell the group she’s running from a bear or a zombie. Or in my case, both.

It was interesting and I would imagine most of this group don’t watch horror films or read horror books on a regular basis which makes it more interesting. When forced to tell a story, even if it’s just one word, everyone picked a horror story because it can be the fastest way to be interesting. Plus, who doesn’t like hearing about a zombie versus a bear? I wrote a short story based on the excercise (I’m already the weirdo of the group) and thought you might get a kick out of it knowing the back story.

Once A Girl Went Running in the Forest

By Mike Bockoven

The bear was confused. The zombie, much more so.

Both creatures, ravenous and desperate but for very different reasons, had stumbled upon the girl in the middle of the forest. Somewhere, deep inside the zombie’s brain in that part where the human had once felt things other than hunger, he felt a pang of something he couldn’t identify but he once knew as sadness. The girl, young and in the prime of her life, had obviously gone running to escape the madness and fires and blood that had consumed the world and had made it into the forest but then things got…weird.

Her legs did not give off the “meat” smell that drove the zombie forward, forward, forward. They weren’t meat. They were something else and even the zombie’s brain, driven only by hunger, stopped for a moment to try to figure out what he was dealing with. The bear, once mighty but now thin and weak, who was near the girls head, was struggling with something entirely different. The girl’s head was tangled up tangle of delicate white fabric. If the bear possessed the words for “wedding dress” it wouldn’t have mattered to him one bit. It was obscuring the best meal he’d seen in weeks.

Several feet behind the zombie was a stump. A sharp stick was protruding from the girls head. A few hundred yards back, a bouquet of flowers had rotted, leaving only stems and a decorative cloth that held them together. If the bear had a little more brain capacity, it would be easy to see what happened, and tragic. 

It had been her wedding day after all. She had wanted to get married before the world ended, before the hoards came shambling down her street. She had loved her boyfriend with all she had and the thought of not being his bride before her life ended filled her with more dread than the end himself. But the slapdash ceremony had been too late, the love of her life had fled leaving her there and she had run into the forest, crying, desperate and clumsy. Her end had been swift and had ended a lot of suffering. 

But the bear didn’t know any of that and, instead, was thinking about was his meal and how whatever was in front of him was not going to take it. The bear knew enough to not eat the zombie and that he was dangerous.

The zombie tried to find something to eat. It was harder than he thought it would be. The prosthetic legs that had failed the girl and led to her death were attached with straps and snaps and harnesses that led up her body covering more of what the zombie wanted. It wasn’t until the bear had grabbed the girl’s head and pulled that the zombie realized this wasn’t a meal. It was a fight. Plus a bear was as good a meal as anything.

Shambling toward the bear, the zombie felt nothing but hunger, the hunger that defined his existence. If he were smart he’d have realized he was no match for the bears but he wasn’t and the fight was over in seconds, the bear’s weak paw still powerful enough to destroy the zombie’s head in one blow. As he had with every victory in his life, the bear let out a sharp, loud growl, letting his fallen enemy know he had made a mistake. 

And as the bear drug the body of the girl back to his cave, seven other zombies who had heard the growl started to their slow, shambling pursuit.