Category Archives: Stephen King

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: Schizo (See Also: Writer)

by Sheldon Lee Compton

The writer and editor Kirby Gann once told me I was schizophrenic. He was a teacher at the grad school I attended at the time and, for what it’s worth, he was pretty much right.

He was referring to the different voices I used from a first draft to a second draft of a story in workshop. Meant as a compliment, I think, it’s the first thing I thought of when Gay Degani mentioned me doing a piece for her Journey to Planet Write series. I’ve been a basket case in this way for nearly as long as I can remember and, although numerous other events led to me nurturing a talent for writing, it was this idea of splitting into other personalities that seemed most influential in my development.
Before the real splits began, I lived inside a three-foot by three-foot space under my covers every night until morning when I first started making things up. That was 1982 and I was six years old. Under the covers, I held my hands up and made them talk, sort of like sock puppets without the socks. The three of us talked for hours about the kinds of things a six-year-old talks about, I guess. It made me less afraid of my stepfather, that much I remember well.
My stepfather was a lifelong alcoholic and would stumble in late nearly every night of during that year and sit on the side of my bed and slobber onto the sheets and apologize for drinking and for arguing and for things I also can’t remember and am glad I can’t remember. It was sometime during the summer after lying still in the bed for several hours sweating, listening to him mumble and cry, that I decided to more or less move my existence to that small space under the covers.

Sheldon, lower left.

I’m not sure what my stepfather thought when he flopped into my bedroom the next night and saw only a lump in the middle of the bed, no head on the pillow, no stepson de facto priest waiting to absolve his dark sins. Only a lump. I heard him come in and then things went quiet for nearly a full minute. He let out a long, hard sigh and walked back out. I had found my safe place, and it had nothing at all to do with reality. Not the most mentally healthy approach to trauma, but it was the one I had.

About everything I’ve tried to do with fiction since has been an attempt to rediscover that otherworldliness, to revisit those two old friends who came to life through an array of different characters and tiny narratives. I’ve been on a search for what I created hour after hour doing nothing more than talking to myself to calm down or become tired enough to sleep. In short, I’ve been nourishing my inner schizophrenic and calling it literature ever since.
I’ve talked before in lectures and interviews about the years following that summer, how I read dozens and dozens of childhood biographies until finally graduating to Stephen King, how the year I discovered King I asked for a Brother GX-6750 typewriter for Christmas and used my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine as a desk. All of this was an extension of that summer. It still is.
To this day, I can tell within two or three paragraphs of anything I’m writing whether or not that otherworldliness I discovered in 1982 is present. Sometimes I plow ahead even if it’s not present and finish only because I started, and all the stories and novels written in that way are now resting peacefully on various flash drives and boxes somewhere in dark corners of my house. On the other hand, when a story sort of appearson the page, one word after another, sentence after sentence, and is completed with a kind of natural energy, it’s always because, above everything else, I’m writing in a kind of trance inside a world that exists only to me, three feet by three feet of headspace draped with a wedding ring quilt without a sock in sight.
Yes, Kirby only scratched the surface. I’ve got boxes full of crazy. I’m all full up. And I’m fine with that. I’ll take it and make something from it. I’ll tell a story or put a handful of words together in just the right way or transform the world as I have known it into a newly imagined reality. I’ll do this because my journey to becoming a writer has been less a journey and more an escape, a way out and a means of survival for all my unique voices.

Mating Ritual
by Sheldon Lee Compton
We tore them to make rings. We found if you shook them more than three times to get them drunk they would die.

Once when I was old enough to buy from a bootlegger without much problem, I smeared the ass end of one across my teeth and smiled in the darkness.

They were kept in jars. They could not be seen during the day. Even then they only had about fifteen years left to live.

Artificial light was the problem, the thing that kept the male from finding the female, a lighthouse of bug love overwhelmed by a lamp post.

I told her this, watching for a smile. I looked for light between her lips and counted days.

(Originally published at Dogzplot)


Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three 
books, most recently the novel Brown Bottle
(Bottom Dog Press, 2016). His stories can be found in WhiskeyPaper, New World Writing, PANK, decomP, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, and elsewhere. He was a finalist for Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016


by John Towler

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, there was no greater thrill for my brothers and I than getting the latest issues of MAD, Cracked, Spiderman and Superman. We each started our own handwritten satire publications to entertain each other, and spun off from those were our own series of superhero comics. I was about ten years old.

I used creative writing in a variety of ways, including school projects, homemade birthday cards and my first forays into short stories. Creative energy was never lacking, but proper training to use that energy did not come along until I took college level coursework. Reading over one’s early work is a trip down Dreary Lane. As a novice you unwittingly violate all the rules of writing a thousand times over. Only in retrospect do you appreciate the reason writing, with all its diversity and originality, has some universal structures that should be honored.

One of the most developmentally important college courses I took was was playwriting. It was a year-long program (one semester of beginner/intermediate, one of advanced) which taught me valuable writing principles. The most enduring lesson was learning to trust dialog. Writers sometimes struggle with trust issues with their audience. Will the reader picture the character’s expression? Will the reader understand the emotion? Will the reader imagine the correct action, be it a whimsical flourish of the hand or a fist pounding a table top? Some of these things we must describe, but some are implicit in the character’s dialog. Circumstance may frequently be relied upon to dictate tone. Allowing your reader to understand through inference rather than blatant explanation involves them in your story to a much greater degree.

After my formal education, the three most significant influences on my growth as a writer came from participation in an active writer’s forum, a terrific writing group and my role as an editor at Every Day Fiction.

Back in the mid-2000’s I joined the Writer’s Digest online forum. We had a mix of novice and experienced writers in the WD Forum and writers were welcome to post their work for critique. There were some brutal, sometimes cruel assessments, of the work offered for review, but after sorting through the snide and sadistic remarks, you could find plenty of helpful commentary to improve your piece. Growing a thick skin was a side benefit of throwing your fiction into the mix and the clever participant could learn from other writer’s mistakes, improving their own craft at other’s expense.

The “Nudge Nudge Collective” was the name of our writing group. There were six of us and everyone had experienced some publishing success. We lasted through about seven or eight  of each other’s novels, picking them apart chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word. It was intense, emotional at time, but unlike the forum experience, it was utterly devoid of snark or nastiness. Tough love? Yes. But when everyone is operating from a place of honesty, it makes the toughest critique easier to handle.

Finally as an editor with Every Day Fiction I worked with a core group of insightful people who could ferret out the strengths and weaknesses of a story with remarkable accuracy. EDF editors provide some of the best feedback in the business, and so from my colleagues’ comments I came to learn not only the finer points of fiction writing, but also that intangible quality of what “works” in a story and what does not.

I’ll close by noting I’ve read a number of how-to books, from Stephen King’s On Writing to Jordan Rosenfeld’s Make a Scene. They are helpful for tips, learning useful habits, and developing your own critical eye, but there is nothing more useful than finding beta readers who will give you honest, detailed feedback about your work.


John Towler lives on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with his wife and children. He is a career law enforcement officer, a videographer, writer and is now running for public office. 

Read John Towler:  “Company” and “Punch Buggy

Outer Banks Hummingbird Rescue video.