May 132015

Leonid Pasternak — “Throes Of Creation”

(We welcome back guest writer Grant Skelton with these thoughts on… exactly what the title of the post says.)

I received a recent email whose contents I’ve been mulling over for the last several days. The email came from a metal musician but, as is often the case with me, we ventured onto a rabbit trail of a conversation. It turned out that the musician and I shared a similar interest in H.P. Lovecraft. That fact alone is not surprising, because Lovecraft’s fiction has provided metal bands with lyrical fodder for decades. (Side note: If you happen not to be familiar with Lovecraft, Amazon has a $0.99 Kindle ebook with over 150 of his short stories. See the link at the end of this article). When I mentioned that I was a fiction writer trying to publish a first novel, the musician compared that to the process of writing, recording, and releasing an album.

The first phase, he said, was the creative phase. It is fun and rewarding, but it is also hard work. The second phase, which I anticipate can be enjoyable if you’re a business-minded person with a lot of grit in your bones, is the uphill battle of getting your product out there. Or as he put it, a “whole gauntlet of navigating the various gatekeepers and industry contacts.”

I have wanted to be a writer since I was 8. I began, like many, by writing horrendous (and I mean that in the sincerest sense) and bleak poetry bewailing the woes of adolescent angst. I eventually graduated to short stories. At 17, I conceived the bright idea to write a novel… one I didn’t actually finish until just after my 29th birthday. Had it not been for the encouragement of my wife, I would not have finished it at all. The first draft was a glorified paperweight. It was filled with a laughable amount of fluff and extraneous dialogue. It did not have even the significance of toilet paper. But that’s why there’s editing. And more… and more… and more. Nope still more. Even more… yes, still more editing. After 3 beta readers, 3 rounds of edits I did myself, and a professional editor, I had a manuscript I was actually proud of. Editing is similar to woodwork. The first draft is a blackened, gnarled, gargantuan overgrowth that needs to be whittled, abraded, hacked, and molded. And that process usually takes twice as long as the writing of the first draft. And then came the query process.

I began querying just before Christmas. In February, I received a scholarship to attend a writing conference in Austin, TX. Around that same time, I got my first request for a full manuscript from a publisher. I sent the manuscript and was told to wait 4-8 weeks for a decision. I followed up after the 8th week. I found out that my manuscript had made it all the way to the owner’s desk. Needless to say, I was on pins and needles. This past Wednesday, I received an email from the publisher. They declined to publish my novel. The rejection was polite and professional, and actually enumerated their reasons for choosing not to publish it. In a culture where it is so simple to send a formal template rejection, I appreciated the insight from the publisher.

At this point, I’m sure you’re asking, “Ok…why in the hell is this pompous ass posting this on a metal blog?” And that is a valid question. Here is why.

As a result of the novel query process, I have a greater respect for musicians, metal and otherwise. I understand what it is like to spend hours trying to hone a craft. I understand practicing something you love until you can no longer stand it. I understand sacrificing time with family and friends to do something that drives you. Something that’s like an obsession… an addiction even. Go too long without it, and you have withdrawals. Musicians write music because they must. They can’t not write music (Yes, a double negative. It makes my point clear). If they don’t make music, they aren’t right with themselves. They are off-kilter, their minds dull and unfocused. Their emotions become out of sync. Creativity is a muscle. Don’t exercise it and it will inevitably atrophy.

Websites like Bandcamp facilitate bands getting their music to fans. As a fan, I don’t have to wait on a record label to sign a band, and then a producer to record their music, mix and master it, and then release it. I can download the music directly from the band and put money in their pocket. As a writer, I could do something similar. For free, I could publish my novel this instant using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. But, honestly, after all the work I’ve put into the book, it is important for my journey as a writer to experience the query/rejection process. Because I am not a music industry insider, I do not know how this process works for bands. But I am inclined to believe that bands hear “no” a lot more than they hear “yes,” especially early in their careers.

On a brighter note, technology has allowed for new labels to do business with bands whose music is overlooked even by mainstream metal media outlets. In one sense, there has never been a better time for metal musicians to find labels that want to represent their work. Hypnotic Dirge Records’ entire digital music catalog is available for free! This is an integral part of that label’s business model. They have completely eliminated cost as an obstacle for any fan who wants to legitimately acquire music made by the label’s talent. On the literary side, there are dozens upon dozens of small publishing presses throughout the U.S. and the world. Just one of those might be insane enough to publish my work. And one is all it takes. But I might have to wade eyeball-deep in rejection letters until that day comes.

How likely is it that a metal musician will be able to pay his bills from his music alone? To make a living doing what he loves? I would assume not very likely. I don’t say that to be negative or pessimistic. I say it because of what I observe about the money (or lack thereof) that goes into the metal music industry. If you can’t make a living doing something you love, does that mean that you should not do it? Should you hang your dreams from a noose of “practicality” and simply pursue a traditional occupation with which you can buy a bigger house, a bigger car, and a bigger funeral plot? Each year gives us thousands of new bands. Based on that, it seems that metal musicians have answered that question with a resounding “no.” Brand new independent record labels continue to pioneer new ways to sign, market, promote, and distribute their artists’ music.

I usually listen to metal while I write. Some writers might disagree with me on this, but having metal in my ears actually helps me focus on what I’m writing. My mind has a tendency to wander. Metal music seems to motivate it to stay on track. It helps me narrow my thoughts down into a single idea — the current scene. Just like a musician, I write because I must. I have to. I can’t not (there goes that double negative again). If I don’t write, I’m not really me. The same goes for musicians. In a way, there is no separation between a musician and his music. Music is his essence, even his being. If he does not make it, something in him dies.

Bearing this in mind, I will continue to send query letters for my novel. In fact, I have already begun work on a sequel. Some might deem this a fool’s errand. Perhaps it is. But if musicians believed that about their music, then we would not have it. We would not have Because there would be no singing at all. Clean or unclean.

Since we never like to write posts without music, here’s a song relevant to the theme of rejection:



Complete Collection of H.P. Lovecraft on Amazon ($0.99):


  1. I also listen to metal whenever I’m doing work. I can’t really focus otherwise – my mind wanders. It doesn’t work with music where I can easily understand the words though – with metal, I can treat the vocals as an instrument, and let the “lyrics” of sorts be the reading or whatever I happen to be doing.

    • Great read Grant!
      I too find metal to be the best to keep me on track when Im working
      And like Leperkahn I find that understandable vocals can pull me back off that track.
      Its the intensity.. it has a way of honing. Very in the moment.
      I do graphics for the garment industry so its a bit different from writing, but still, a very similar approach in the way we flavor it with metal.
      Good luck with your book process! I had been thinking maybe I needed to write, but I dont feel that “I must write” feeling. Maybe thats a sign, but nonetheless, in doing some research I noted that so many of my favorite books and authors took years to get to that point where one person said yes and then the floodgates were opened. So definitely keep doing what you love. Someday someone will say yes and then we will read your wikipedia page and look fondly back on the days you wrote for NCS. 😛

    • Thanks for the encouragement! I liked your comment about the vocals/lyrics being an instrument. I caught up on a lot of death metal while writing thr novel. The lyrics themselves notwithstanding, the vocals evoke a particular mood or feeling that seemed relevant to the same mood of what I was writing at the time.

  2. Apologies, blend77. I am using a mobile device and clearly didn’t see which “reply” button I hit.

    Thank you for your positive encouragement. I admonish you to put that book idea on paper. You might find that it’s a “must” for you too. With regard to your graphic design, I applaud that. I can draw stick people. That’s my “artistic” ability. But this site also promotes visual artwork in the form of album art. Album art is something that is frequently overlooked in the digital age. But all of us are connected. And not just the creatives. The fans, the labels, the musicians. Even the “lurkers” who read every day and never comment.

  3. I tend to write a lot of essays to metal music, silence actually makes my mind wander because I’m not quiet in my head. Case in point, I was doing an exam and I started daydreaming and having a debate in my head about the question I had been given and then I was like…you have an exam! So music helps me quiet my mind and get on the task. Like right now I’m gonna do some cataloguing work for a hillwalking club and I’m gonna listen to Opeth.

    • Opeth are a fantastic choice. Especially since much of their older material has a classical element, i.e. the songs are formed in “movements” rather than choruses and verses.

  4. As a writer of fiction, I have decided that the publishing industry just doesn’t work anymore. There are tons of talented writers out there. Rejection or publication have nothing to do with the quality of work in many cases. Most traditional houses will only publish your work if it is sure to sell. I imagine that the same thing goes for music to a certain extent. The reason so many great bands self-release through bandcamp is that the model works. Visibility might be narrower, but freedom is much greater.

    • All excellent observations. My editor encouraged me to pursue traditional publishing for at least a year and we’re only 5 months into 2015. I’ve quite a ways to go yet. But you’re right, self-publishing definitely brings more freedom and that is its greatest strength.

  5. thats one good. death. metal song, really

  6. writing and recording music is definitely my favorite part of being a musician, without a doubt. if i never released another album or shared anymore of my music online i would still be cranking out new music on a regular basis.

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