I missed my Halloween deadline but Something In the Dark will soon be republished with 5 new stories, keep your eye on this space!
I have several horror stories waiting in the wings - until there's time to write them enjoy what's up in the Free Fiction section!
Why I'm Still Writing
Writers are frequently confronted with the question, “Why am I still doing this?” For the writer who has not experienced success it is an almost daily or weekly occurrence. You aren’t making any money and your audience is small, feedback is rare and when it comes from the industry it is often in the form of a rejection. For the successful writer with many novels under their belt the question becomes, “Why am I doing all of this work when I don’t really have to?” Either way, writing is a time-consuming, energy-diverting, attention-dividing endeavor and the question begs to be asked, “Why do it at all?”
With the advent of the internet and electronic publishing there is certainly no deficit in original writing. A craft that was once arcane and practiced by few is now a common pursuit. People who would have never written anything unless forced to fifteen years ago now write daily blogs, maintain original web content and publish fiction frequently. Does the world really need more writing? Is there even an audience for all of the content out there?
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently. Always, the notion of giving it up hovers just within grasp, ready to be seized, liberating the writer from what seems like an unnecessary obligation. Look at all the free time you’d have! The hours after work and days off could be spent in pleasant social and private pursuits. Expenses for publishing would disappear. For the price of creating a self-published book and promoting it you could purchase a nice entertainment system or do a little traveling.
So why keep writing? I had my answer yesterday. I was working on a short story that had stalled for about a week. It was my day off and I was procrastinating. Late in the afternoon I finally opened the file, got as comfortable as possible, and picked up where I had left off. It was slow going at first but gradually I reconnected with the story; and then something miraculous happened. I was flooded with a deep sense of joy. I paused and wondered why I was suddenly feeling so happy and I realized: it was because I was writing. I thought, “I love writing! I love doing this!” I love the magic of seeing words appear out of nothing on the page, of conjuring voices out of thin air, of painting scenes with words, the same words we use for mundane daily interactions. That’s the magic. Using the same vocabulary I use in everyday life, I can create worlds and characters that have never existed before.
I write because I love to write. Because it is my first and greatest love. Because when I was little I cried because I could not read or write; and as soon as I could write anything I started writing stories and never stopped.
I write because I am a writer. If that sounds like a tautology or circular logic then so be it. This is art, not science. This is the one place where magic can be real, in the realm of the imagination. For the joy and the privilege of being the magician, it is all worthwhile—every setback, every disappointment, all of the frustration, overwork and expense. All worth it.
“It Was Twenty Years Ago Today …”
Well, not to the day, but it was in 1995 that I wrote the first version of Carrot Field. What a journey it took me on! For the full story, check out the Carrot Field page.
Carrot Field is an epic fantasy novel. It delves into issues of family, history, identity, faith, war, politics, religion, explores psychology, anthropology and language. It's a fairy tale and a grand mythology. It has elements of horror and science-fiction, of satire and the dystopian cautionary tale. It's a big fat book meant to be read an re-read.
Carrot Field was written to be a classic. At the moment it is still awaiting the magic kiss to waken it from its slumber. It's been published but its “moment” has yet to arrive. I'm still hoping, 'though.
Carrot Field remains the favorite of all my novels. To this day, people who read versions of it twenty, fifteen, ten years ago contact me and tell me how much they still love the story, some of them have even read it to their children!
It is a strange feeling to have worked on something so long, to have written something so big and for it to exist in a kind of limbo. Maybe that will change one day; I hope so. For now, it can be read as an ebook. If you love fantasy, give it a try.
NEW YEAR, NEW NOVEL!
This morning I wrote the first chapter of my new novel, which will be published later this year in print, App Book and Ebook formats. It's a big horror-fantasy that explores mythological and sexual themes, an epic fairy tale.
My work this morning illustrates some of what I've been talking about on this blog. I've been writing the first chapter in my head since November. I went to bed thinking I would write that chapter this morning. But when I woke up I had a different opening chapter in mind. I knew right away that it was stronger and more intriguing than what I'd had in mind, and would eliminate a lot of exposition later on in the book. So that's what I wrote.
Standing here, 2,000 unpolished words into what will eventually be 120-130,000 polished words of text, can be daunting. But the only way to make it a reality is to trust your instincts and listen to your Muse. The best way to make the journey a pleasurable one is to keep it fresh and exciting by letting the unexpected happen.
Keep your eyes on this blog for details about this project as it progresses! Be sure to check out my collection of short horror stories Something In the Dark and the Free short story that's up on the Free Fiction page.
Is Chapter Four Really Chapter One?
You’ve written the first chapter or the first three chapters of your novel. You’re feeling confident and excited about the rest of the book. All you have to do is write it! This can be a daunting moment of transition and one that trips up many writers.
The good news is: there’s nothing to get stressed about!
To repeat something from an earlier blog post: you will never rewrite any part of a novel as much as you rewrite the first chapters. The problem with that realization is that the writer often feels that chapter two (or whichever) is really chapter one. Do you keep your original structure or cut away what you've already written? That’s for the writer to decide; but look at it this way: what if you do end up jettisoning or re-purposing what you had originally thought to be your first chapter or chapters? Is it really that bad?
In my opinion it isn’t. You get a stronger, more effective opening than you had originally imagined, you lose a chunk of pages that no longer have to be rewritten and edited. Some (or all) of the material already written might be usable elsewhere in the manuscript. A voice at the back of your head says, “What a waste of time that was!” Ignore that voice. Nothing that helps your manuscript is ever a waste of time.
One of the reasons it might be better for your novel to make a later chapter the first chapter, is that you have now had some time to inhabit your character’s lives, and to get a feel for the style the novel will be written in. Sometimes you just don't have the tools to write the first chapter until after you’ve written three, five or even ten chapters! That’s why so many writers end up rewriting their first three chapters over and over again: they know the characters and their world that much better after each pass.
Bottom Line: don’t stress the early parts of your novel. Get it on paper and don’t be afraid to make radical changes. Whatever works best for the story works best for the reader.
01 - 11 - 2015
Murder Your Darlings?
This is one of those patronizing bits of Writing 101 advice that all writers encounter. It means to cut away anything that pleases the writer but does not serve the reader. I wonder what this advice would have done to the writings of James Joyce, William Blake, Samuel Beckett or J.R.R. Tolkien (to name only a few)?
I disagree with this notion. Especially for a new writer. The only way to find your voice is to write without any inhibitions. To write everything, good and bad, until you discover your own voice. Advice like “murder your darlings” is part of the reason why so much contemporary fiction lacks any distinctive qualities. Quirks and idiosyncrasies have been filtered out.
I would urge all writers – experienced and inexperienced alike – to nurture their darlings. Write everything you want to write, venture into different genres and styles. You will develop range and an arsenal of technique that will serve you well later. You will never find your voice if you toil under a hectoring internal critic demanding that you murder the very qualities that will distinguish you from other writers. Your own voice.
I believe that any serious writer – even if I don’t personally enjoy their writing – should find their own voice and express themselves without boundaries. Go out on limbs, leave nothing out. It’s all part of the journey. At the end of the journey waits a body of work that you alone can create. Getting there should be the fun part!
AUTHOR Q & A
How did Something In the Dark come about?
Something In the Dark is a collection of 21 original short horror stories I wrote to be posted for free online over 2013-2014. After I'd written a handful of stories I realized that the stories would make a good collection.
Have you always written horror?
I've wanted to for a long time but I was writing science fiction and fantasy before that. My first published novel was an epic fantasy.
What kind of horror do you write?
There's a lot of variety in Something In the Dark: psychological, supernatural, giant monster, gory, humorous, you name it. I don't stick to just one style of horror. The one common thread is that many of the stories have twist endings or ambiguous endings.
Who are some of your influences?
Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, early Stephen King, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Alan Moore, all the old masters like Poe, Lovecraft etc.
Do you have a favorite story from Something In the Dark?
Demon in the Wire is probably my favorite. I'm also proud of Eden and Seer. Those were complex stories to write. and I think they are really different from anything else being published in the genre today.
What's next for Something In the Dark?
An App-Book edition, hopefully in March 2015, which will include some cool extras and hopefully a few more stories.
What's next for you?
An e-novella in February, which is a modern take on the traditional haunting story, followed by an epic horror-fantasy novel that will include a crowd-funding campaign and will appear in hardcover print as well as digital editions.
As any writer knows, the question most asked by non writers is, “Where do you get your inspiration?” For a select few that answer is impossible to give. They are simply inspired, it comes from deep inside. For the rest of us the reply to that question might be unsatisfying to the person asking it but it’s honest: everywhere!
For most writers the problem isn’t a lack of inspiration but an overabundance of it. Most writers have accumulated more ideas than they will ever get to use. We compile huge Roman Quarries of notes, outlines and story sketches, never knowing when or how they will be used.
For the inexperienced writer, finding inspiration might seem like an overwhelming problem. Trust me, it won’t be for long. Once you accustom yourself to looking for inspiration you won’t be able to stop!
Inspiration Is Unavoidable
Speaking for myself, collecting ideas for stories has become such an ingrained habit that I do it without even realizing it. It starts as soon as I wake up. Did I have any interesting dreams? I write them down before they are forgotten. Dreams spark all sorts of ideas, it’s your unconscious mind flowing freely. Even if you don’t mine a specific idea from a dream, they can be powerful catalysts for story ideas. After getting my day started I hit the internet and look at various genre news sites. Looking at book covers, movie posters and comic art and reading about various upcoming projects is all pure inspiration. Sometimes it’s reacting to something you think you can do better yourself, sometimes it’s just getting excited by the mad ambition or ingenious simplicity of a project. Either way, you’re going to get inspired.
Landscapes are always inspirational to me. Wherever I go I am imagining, layering daydreams over reality. Countryside, cityscapes, even suburbs have all provided inspiration. People-watching is another great way to get inspired. Find an interesting looking person. What is their story? Make it up. It keeps your imaginative muscles from getting stiff. People-listening is even better. Strike up a conversation. There are billions of stories walking around out there, everybody has one! You never know what you’ll hear. Listening also helps a writer develop an ear for how people really speak.
If I’m stuck standing in a line and there’s a video screen (where isn’t there one these days?) in view, I’ll play “What if?” games with whatever is playing, especially if it’s news. If I’m in a bookstore or library, I’ll go visit a section I normally wouldn’t take an interest in, or open a book or magazine I wouldn’t normally read. Reading, watching TV or movies, looking at art books: these are all wellsprings of inspiration. Sometimes I will simply get comfortable with a pad and pencil and daydream, jotting down whatever images and ideas pop into my head. The sky’s the limit!
Inspiration is all a round you if you learn how to see it. Go out there and get inspired!
12 - 13 - 2014
In less than two weeks I will be launching my first self publishing project, Something In the Dark, a collection of twenty short horror stories. Something In the Dark will initially be an Ebook release only, published through Amazon. It's a small beginning; but over the course of 2015 I am going to be pursuing other formats, such as App-Book & print.
So what does it take to self publish?
To begin with you have to have a manuscript. Something In the Dark took about 16 months to compile. The manuscript has to be edited; even if you use the services of a professional copy-editor, you will be required to proof read and edit your manuscript several times. Something In the Dark took almost four months to prepare for publication.
There's the issue of what to put on the cover. The cover for Something In the Dark came together through trial and error and I ended up being art director and doing all the work of pulling together a stunning painting (by Tim Nebel), beautifully photographed by Brandon Jones, by myself. I probably made about twenty versions of the cover before settling on the one that worked best for the project.
Then the book has to be formatted. I'm in the middle of that now. The manuscript has to be cleaned of all extraneous formatting data before it can be made into an Ebook. It's tedious work and has to be done multiple times. No matter how many times you think the file is clean, you discover that it isn't. If the file isn't clean it will cause formatting problems when Amazon processes it as an Ebook.
There's also the matter of promotion. I created this website, started writing a blog and featuring Free Fiction. I use Google Plus, Twitter, Goodreads and other sites to promote my site and draw attention to the release of Something In the Dark on December 16th. Promotion is time consuming and complex. I've learned the basics of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization (check out my earlier blog posts for more on that), learned to read website stats and use tools like Google Analytics. Months of learning and research went into that process followed by hundreds of hours of practice. I'm just about beginning to get a handle on the basics. I also submitted the book to numerous reviewers (out of about twenty only two have written reviews) for consideration. That meant hours and hours of reading horror book reviews and selecting the best reviewers and sites for Something In the Dark.
Once the book is published I will have to do more promotion. I will be responsible for all customer complaints and technical issues. And for all of this I have yet to be paid a penny.
Is it worth it? Simply: YES. Creative freedom is priceless. I wouldn't have it any other way.
For my money Scream 2 (1997) is a far superior film to the original Scream (1996). Writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven teamed up again to create a sequel that outdoes the original in every way. Scream 2 is particularly effective in making the viewer care about the characters, especially Dewy Riley (David Arquette) and the previously unsympathetic Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) - their relationship adds a fresh, mature element of drama to the genre that is sorely missing in most American horror movies, let alone their sequels. The characters, scares, surprise cameos, elaborate set pieces and fun story twists keep you glued to the screen all the way to the last frame. If you've been putting off Scream 2 due to it's sequel status, definitely give it a try - it's well worth your time.
Apart from finishing, the hardest part of writing a novel is getting it started. Whether you’ve planned your novel out chapter by chapter, scene by scene, or you like to dive in head first, the opening chapter will always be the hardest to write.
Here are some tips for how to get around that difficult first chapter:
Shake It Up
Most writers have their first scene in mind before they start a novel. What if you stall in the middle of that scene or right after you’ve written it? Try throwing a curve ball at yourself, introduce a new element, flip the end of the scene and make it the opposite of what you’ve planned, or start someplace else. Do whatever is necessary to get that first chapter written! There are no rules. The objective is to get the ball rolling.
Since the first chapter will receive the most revision of any part of your novel, have fun! Break rules. Go overboard. Make it a celebration. You’ll loosen up your imagination and also put yourself in a good, confident mood for the project. And you might end up with some good ideas that can be recycled later on.
Don’t Look Back
Don’t stop and reread what you’ve written. Just keep going forward. The most important thing is to have a first chapter. Believe me, no chapter will get more heavily revised than your first chapter. It is the first and last part of the novel you will work on. So just get something down on paper so you can move on to chapter two.
Don’t Get Attached
The opening chapters of your novel will require more work and attention than any other part of the manuscript. Don’t get overly attached to a preplanned structure or sequence of events. You might rewrite the opening chapters entirely or simply cut them out. Think of the first few chapters as tuning up; the rest of the novel is the song.
Start with chapter one. If you want to make that a prologue later, go ahead and do that. But you’re shooting yourself in the foot if at the end of your writing day you still haven’t written chapter one. It’s a psychological thing. Trust me, having chapter one behind you puts wind in your sails! It’s a good feeling.
The best thing about opening chapters is that they are inevitably going to be heavily revised or replaced. So you can really have fun with them. Let your imagination run wild! Once you have a few chapters under your belt, you’ll really feel like you’re writing a novel, which makes all the difference in the world.
11 - 25 - 2014
Hollywood Finally Makes A Stand For Horror
The history of horror cinema is littered with groundbreaking projects that either never got made or else were butchered by the studios that produced them. I have often wondered why we’ve never had a horror movie produced on the scale and ambition of Avatar, The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. The sad truth is that Hollywood views horror as something to be made cheaply for a quick profit. Whenever a project seems to depart from that idea they pull the plug in one way or another.
Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (1990) is a good example. Compare the recently released Director’s Cut to the original theatrical version. The studio hacked the heart, soul and brain out of that film. If it hadn’t been touched it would have been a groundbreaking hit, in my opinion. Or Hellraiser IV. The script is ambitious and well written; the film that was shredded and released is confusing and generic. In both cases all the footage necessary to make the film as originally intended was in the can but the producers had no confidence in the audience to accept anything other than mindless slashing.
Richard Stanley’s The Island of Doctor Moreau screenplay is one of the best I have ever read, in any genre. If he hadn’t been fired as director we would have had an instant horror masterpiece instead of the baffling heap of shit that was eventually released. Guillermo Del Toro was all set to film At The Mountains of Madness on an epic scale; again, the studio did not have any confidence in the audience and pulled the plug.
Subsequently, horror cinema (in the U.S., anyway) has experienced stunted growth. Almost all we ever see are retreads, remakes and sequels.
Happily, all that might be changing.
A New Hope?
Maybe it’s the success of horror on cable television. Maybe it’s just time for horror cinema to grow up.
According to writer/director Josh Boone, WB’s adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand is going to be split into four big budget movies. This constitutes a level of commitment never before seen to the horror genre in Hollywood. If you’ve read the novel, or seen the 1990’s miniseries, you know how sprawling and epic a story it is.
If The Stand is indeed produced on this level, and it does well at the box office, we could be entering a new era for horror cinema. Perhaps we’ll see At The Mountains of Madness made by Del Toro, or books like Imajica (Clive Barker) will find their way onscreen. Better yet, we might one day see original horror movies with substantial budgets, films that embrace genres like historical drama (distinct from “period piece”, I’m talking Doctor Zhivago and Braveheart here), science fiction and epic fantasy, produced with the same kinds of budget and talent those genres normally received from Hollywood studios.
My fingers are crossed for Josh Boone’s version of The Stand.
11 - 24 - 2104
HORROR MOVIE PICK OF THE WEEK! 11 - 23 -2014
A direct to video sequel to a movie that disappeared from cinemas almost as soon as it appeared doesn't sound very encouraging. But when you factor in that the movie in question (Mimic 1997) was directed by Guillermo Del Toro, bastardized by the studio and recut by Del Toro into a far superior film, the notion of a sequel isn't without interest. Mimic 2 is actually an excellent little horror movie. It captures the trademark Del Toro look (thanks to cinematographer Nathan Hope) which is impressive for a direct to video movie; and has a solid screenplay (Joel Soisson). Director Jean de Segonzac makes the most of a limited budget and pulls off some really strong sequences. Mimic 2 isn't a horror masterpiece but it is a good-looking, entertaining, unique monster movie! The whole Mimic Trilogy (including Del Toro's alternate re-cut of the original film) is available on Netflix streaming.
George R.R. Martin likes to say that there are two kinds of writers: gardeners and architects. Gardeners plant stories and watch them grow in the garden of the imagination; architects plan everything out on paper before they write a single word of their novel.
I’m somewhere in the middle between the two; but the notion brings to light a problem most novelists face: how much of the story do you want to know before you begin writing?
Old Testament Gods
Robert Jordan liked to say that he was an “Old Testament God” to his characters, with his "fist in the middle of their lives". He didn’t hold with characters running off on their own. That was sloppy to him, lazy.
If you agree with Jordan then you are probably better off making as many notes and writing as long and detailed an outline as you can before embarking on a novel. For the architectural novelist there is no worse feeling than to be adrift on a sea of story, stretching off endlessly in every direction and not having a rudder to guide your narrative. For the architect, characters come with dossiers, names have nomenclatures, cultures are developed over time. All of this activity usually results in piles of meta-text that will find its way into the novel in the form of fictitious lyrics, poems, historical and religious texts.
All of this detail can give a novel the richness and depth of Martin and Jordan – or it can give it the impenetrable unreadableness of a textbook. That is the greatest danger of the architectural novel. Backstory and detail can suffocate the story. There’s a reason why millions of people read The Lord of the Rings every year and almost no one reads (the equally wonderful but plot-less) Islandia.
Just Add Water
The gardener comes at things from a different angle entirely. They act like sunlight and rain on a garden. Once the seeds of their story are planted in the soil of their imagination, they patiently wait for ideas to bloom and blossom. But just like real gardeners, weeding and tending are a necessary part of the process.
This is why the architects architect. They hate weeding, pruning, clipping, nursing a sickly plant never knowing if it will survive or not. Gardeners are rewriters by necessity. They produce more than they can use and compost the rest. In a way, it’s a more productive way of working. For the architect, each piece of their narrative is perfectly designed to serve a specific purpose. If the architecture proves to be unsound and must be redesigned, the pieces that are removed will never really fit anywhere else. For the gardener, their compost heap of ideas will serve to enrich their story garden for years to come.
Buildings or Flowers?
Both approaches have their advantages. I started out as a rigid architect. As I mentioned earlier, I’m in the middle now. I guess I’m a greenhouse keeper! Some aspects of a story really do require prior research and workshopping on the page before they can go into a novel; but I find that too much outlining or world building beforehand sucks the life out of a story. A judicious mixture of architecture and gardening works best for me.
How about you?
11 - 20 - 2014
Some writers start with a story and their characters grow out of that; some writers start with their characters and let the story grow out of them. Either way, there’s no story without characters and characters can be the toughest part of writing fiction.
I find it helpful and fun to look at my characters as if they were actors. Sometimes they follow the script, sometimes I realize that I have miscast them or given them unhelpful direction, sometimes they suggest changes and sometimes they just flip me the bird and start improvising and all I can do is type fast and try to keep up with them!
Working With Your Cast of Characters
My characters/actors tend to fall into categories, I’m sure you’ll recognize some, if not all, of these:
These characters show up fully formed and ready to perform! Where do they come from? Writers are often still pondering that after they’ve completed a story. It doesn’t feel like you invented them at all, they just appear, replete with names, personalities and dialogue. Unfortunately, you’re lucky if you have even one of them in your story; they are rare beings who arrive unexpectedly and they don’t often bring friends. But they were waiting in the wings all along, in some mysterious corner of your imagination, waiting for their cue to enter.
These are the characters you simply cannot write your story without. They possess important information, or act as catalysts. They can be difficult to work with. They tend to keep asking you, “Why am I in this story?” When a story gets trimmed, these are the first characters to get cut. You often have too many of them and discover that they can be combined, mixed and matched or reduced to cameos.
The Surprise Star
This is the character who pops up in a scene as you’re writing it. Who are they? They have no back story, you don’t know who they are or where they come from or what they want. They might not even have a name. But from the moment they insert themselves into a scene they shine and energize the whole story. The next thing you know they’ve displaced one or more Necessary characters. Unlike the Ready Made character, they remain mysterious and often become x-factors. Perhaps they are secretly incredibly powerful and important, or are actually spies or traitors or related to the main character. All you know is that until they reveal their true nature they’ve hijacked your story and you can’t imagine going on without them.
Recurring Background Character
This is that character who has one line but for some reason you keep threading them through the story. They serve no real purpose, they aren’t important, you’re pretty sure no one is ever going to say, “That was my favorite character!” But they ring true. In real life, they’d be around; not all the time but now and again. They’re good to have if you need someone sympathetic but unimportant to kill off. They’re often easy to work with, the bit players of your imagination, unlike Ready Made, Necessary or Star characters, they don’t demand more page space and are only too happy to take a bullet for the good of the story.
The Problem Character
We’ve all had to deal with these. That character we build from the ground up, determined to make them important to the story. They have so much potential: a compelling history, a cool ability, several pages of good dialogue in your notes. But for some reason you can never figure out, they don’t click. They just stand there, passively, contributing nothing. You get to their next line and your fingers curl up over the keyboard. They’re just not alive. I’ve learned not to get attached to these characters. If they’re not working, get rid of them! What I find is that a Ready Made character will take their place, or I’ll see that a whole section of the story was unnecessary and can be cut away. You’re in for trouble if you keep courting a Problem Character; they simply don’t want to be there.
However you approach your characters, try to have fun with them. Imagine conversations with them or them talking to each other casually. Exercises like that bring them to life. If your characters aren’t surprising you, they will never surprise your readers!
11 - 19 - 2014
Life Gets in the Way
One of the hardest aspects of a writing project is keeping to a schedule. You’ve set a deadline and whether you're delivering a short story for a magazine or anthology, meeting a contractual deadline for a publisher or publishing yourself, frustration can set in easily if you’re not on schedule.
Here are some tips that work for me:
1. Know your word count.
Having a projected word count to shoot for can help you to keep track of how close you are to completion. Novellas generally run 20,000 to 60,000 words in length, novels 75,000 to 120,000. Give yourself an achievable daily word count. I like to write 2,000 words daily when I’m working on a novella or novel.
2. Don’t stop until you have a complete draft.
Don’t stop and read what you wrote yesterday. Leave notes inside the text for yourself if you have to but keep going until you’ve completed the draft. Skip scenes if you must. Nothing slows down the process more than obsessing over passages. Sometimes you won’t know how to fix a problem until you’ve written well past the point that’s bothering you. So keep going until you have a complete draft to work from.
3. Give yourself a break.
Taking a day off is sometimes more helpful than pushing through a block. Refreshing your mind and giving your body something else to do when it’s expecting to be sitting down and writing can really give you a “second wind”. I find that taking a break can sometimes double productivity when I get back into a project.
4. Set realistic goals.
If you can extend a deadline, do so. Rushing to complete a project will only leave you exhausted and dissatisfied with the results. Experience is the best teacher in this instance. Over time you’ll know what kind of schedule works best for you.
5. Don’t be afraid to switch it up.
If you have to, substitute one project for another. If you really think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, maybe it’s the wrong time for a particular project. The important thing is to complete projects and build up a body of work.
Getting It All Done
Life gets in the way, as any writer will tell you. It’s no good stressing over things you have no control over. But setting a daily word count goal, completing drafts on schedule, taking the occasional break from the grind, not overburdening yourself with projects you cannot possibly finish and dropping one project in favor of one better suited to your schedule are all good ways to make sure that you meet deadlines on time – and more importantly – in good spirits and ready to tackle the next project.
11 - 17 - 2014
Horror Movie Pick of the Week 11 - 16 - 2014
This week's pick is Nightbreed the Director's Cut (1990-2014). The original Nightbreed - written & directed by Clive Barker - was shredded by the production company (Morgan Creek) and released in a heavily abridged and altered version. Recently, a group of fans painstakingly constructed an expanded edition using extensive original footage from video-tape sources (The Cabal Cut) which toured pretty heavily and received mostly rave reviews. Finally, Shout Factory! entered the picture and put together this definitive director's cut. I don't want to spoil anything for you, just do yourself a big huge favor and watch this version! All of the emotion, myth-making and internal story logic has been put back in place, not to mention vast improvements to pacing; it also follows Barker's novella Cabal much more closely. If this version had been released in 1990 it would have been a groundbreaking surprise hit. But you know what? Horror cinema hasn't changed all that much since 1990, not as far as the mainstream is concerned, so Nightbreed is still an important step forward.
The Writer’s Life
Two words to describe the average writer’s life: frustration and disappointment. A writer spends most of their free time alone working on projects that few people, sometimes no people, will ever see. Books get published but are never read. Dealing with the publishing industry is stressful and demoralizing.
How does a writer cope with the demands of their chosen profession?
If A Tree Falls In The Forest . . .
You’ve put the time and energy into a manuscript, you’ve made it the best read possible, you’ve sent it out to as many agents or publishers as you can find, or you’ve published it yourself – but it feels like the only person who’s excited about your book is you.
Some days you wake up and think, “What’s the point?”
All writers reach this critical mass. What to do?
For myself the answer was to separate my writing from my expectations. I once had a contract with a major publisher. I was paid a $25,000.00. advance But the book was never published and I only received half of the advance. For years I kept thinking, “It happened once, it can happen again.” But it didn’t.
These days a writer is lucky to get $5,000-$7,000.00 in advance of publication. I had to accept that reality. Once I accepted that the whole idea of putting up with the publishing industry started to lose its power of attraction. Sure, even an advance that small is decent money; but is it worth the headaches? I decided that it isn’t. After that, the excitement and joy of writing started to come back; and it felt great.
The Good News
The good news is that there’s no bad news. Not if you don’t want bad news. So the industry doesn’t want you. Take a trip to your local used bookstore and rummage through the stacks. They are a graveyard of hopeful writers who never reached mainstream success. Does that make their work any less valid? I don’t think so.
Everyone has a favorite obscure book that they love. Maybe the author only wrote a handful of books, or they only had one book in them, or they followed up a big success with a “flop”. That doesn’t take away the value that book has for you, does it?
It could be that it will take time for the right readers to discover your words, it could be that you haven’t written the book that will help those readers find you yet. The bottom line is, you write because you want to, because you have to.
We live in a goal-oriented culture. Success is measured in numbers. It’s not easy to detach from that mindset; but it’s essential to do so if you’re going to continue writing.
You’re a writer. You’re following the same path as your heroes. Take pride in that. Most people say, “I’d love to write. If only I had the time.” You make the time. There’s something special about you. Success doesn’t make you any more special; any more than a lack of what is perceived as success makes you less special.
You’re a writer. That’s the best reward of all.
11 - 14 - 2014
Get Ready, Get Set, Write!
It’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month and the internet is buzzing with projects. I’ve never participated but I did once write a 120k word novel in twelve weeks so I’m not entirely out of the club.
The biggest criticism I’ve seen of NanoWriMo is “can you possibly write a novel worth reading in one month?” That’s a valid question but I think it’s missing the point.
Why NaNoWriMo Is A Good Idea
It seems that every time I go out I end up meeting a young writer who asks me for advice. I try to explain that I’m not exactly Stephen King (heck, I’m barely Garth Merenghi at this point) but the fact that I’ve been at it for so long and complete so many projects seems to indicate that I know what I’m doing.
I always give the same advice: if your goal is to be a writer – whether or not you attain popularity or financial success – the first thing you have to learn is to finish projects. Most beginning writers tend to work on several projects at once and to leave projects in a state of perpetual revision. The key to actually creating a body of work is to complete every project. Don’t stop until you write The End. If you think you have something good, then you go back and start rewrites. It’s a discipline that has to be learned. Writers compulsively worry about the state of their manuscript. You have to switch the critical apparatus off until you've completed a manuscript.
What I love about NaNoWriMo is that it teaches writers to complete projects. There’s no time to obsess over passages or chapters; the thing has got to get done. Building a body of work creates self confidence and helps a writer to find their voice. There’s no better feeling than answering that universal question posed to writers, “How’s the writing going?” with a confident, “I've just completed that manuscript!”
The Best Thing About NanoWriMo
The best aspect of NanoWriMo is that it teaches independence. You’ve just written a novel: you didn’t require a workshop, writing course, writing group or the input of an editor or agent. All you needed was your own inspiration and determination.
You now have a novel. It might be a first draft but it’s a complete novel. You wrote it by yourself, why not publish yourself? The means for independent publication and promotion are readily available.
You've just freed yourself from the whole perceived apparatus of publishing. If you don’t like your NaNoWriMo novel, go on and write another. You’ve proven to yourself that you can do it. You can do the rest too.
Go for it!
11 - 13 - 2014
What Scares You?
Successful horror writers have one piece of common advice for beginners: write about what scares you. It sounds simple enough but it’s not that simple. There’s a whole catalogue of fears once common to humankind – ghosts, demonic possession, curses, evil eye – that are no longer believed in by most people living in the western world. Still, it’s possible to scare yourself with an idea even if it’s impossible: how else could vampires and zombies be so popular right now?
A World of Fears
That still leaves a long list of real things to fear: plague, global war, cataclysmic climate change, holocausts, natural disasters, terrorism, sexual assault, insanity, serial killers, addiction and so on. But for some, it’s not horror without a supernatural element, even if they don’t believe in the supernatural themselves. Authors such as Stephen King blend all of the above; why not?
Then there’s the matter of personal taste. Some people like their horror gory, others like it sexy, some like psychological suspense; some like an old school haunted house yarn, others prefer gothic romance or police procedural. There’s action horror, horror comedy, even purposely low budget post-ironic horror that pokes fun at its own cheesiness.
It’s easy to get lost in the forest of options. Should you refrain from getting too gory so you don’t lose the non-gore audience? Do you pump up the gore, since gore is popular? Do you shoehorn in a supernatural element because it’s such an essential part of the genre?
Going back to the beginning of this post I think it’s best to always keep in mind how subjective this genre is. There’s really no way of predicting what will works best until it’s in front of people and you’re getting a reaction. Maybe you thought you exceeded at spine tingling suspense but it turns out that audiences love your use of humor or the gorier elements of your stories.
At the end of the day, you have to create stories that are meaningful and entertaining for you without leaving the audience behind. So what's the best advice? Clive Barker once said something along the lines of, “If you haven’t written something you wouldn’t want your mother to read, you haven’t written horror.”
I think writing good horror has more to do with taboos – your own personal taboos – than being scared. Forget about scaring yourself. Go straight for your taboos and start breaking them in your stories. That can be anything, from murder to bad manners; but once you’ve confronted your own private “thou shalt nots” your fiction will ring true. And if you’re uncomfortable, your readers will be too. As far as I’m concerned, that is the heart of truly original horror.
11 - 12 - 2014
HORROR MOVIE PICK OF THE WEEK! 11 - 9 - 2014
This week's pick: Son of Frankenstein (1939) starring Boris Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster (for the last time) and Basil Rathbone (as a Frankenstein relative). This is my favorite of the Universal Frankenstein movies and it serves as the basis of Gene Wilder's brilliant Young Frankenstein (1974). This is also the film that introduced Ygor, unforgettably portrayed by Bela Lugosi. Son of Frankenstein looks great, has a wonderful score by Frank Skinner (who also scored many of the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films) and incredible sets by Jack Otterson.
Looking at the slate of big movies coming out over the next few years you can’t help but notice how many of them are sequels or part of a series. It’s the same thing in books, television, comics and games. It looks like the well of creativity has dried up and there’s nothing left but endless retreads.
When Every Story Was A Sequel
There’s something to be said for that point of view but I tend to feel differently. Until very recently most popular stories were a part of an ongoing narrative. Before the advent of writing, stories were transmitted orally; from the evidence that exists it’s apparent that audiences wanted to hear stories about their favorite characters over and over again. With the advent of printing there was, again, a bias toward preexisting characters and well known stories. What remains constant is that with each new storyteller, each new generation and each new medium the popular heroes and tales underwent adjustment. Sometimes a new printing method – allowing for mass production or inexpensive reproduction of illustrations – invited a bold new take on a traditional story; sometimes societies had changed so much that a new take on an old story was in order.
For a long time novels were serialized in newspapers and magazines before being bound. The coming of literate, stand-alone novels with “important” themes did not come to dominate the critical notion of worthwhile literature until the 20th Century. Radio and television both offered serialized fiction as their mainstay from the beginning.
Serialized storytelling featuring popular characters is actually the natural state of storytelling, not a failure to create something new.
Horror Part II, III, IV . . .
Starting with its film incarnation, horror has been a genre that has favored serial storytelling. Universal Studios relied on their series of monster movies as a major source of profit for over a decade. In the 1980’s a horror movie was almost guaranteed to come with a number after the title.
What I find interesting about a long horror series is how the different writers and directors interpret the concept and how the films reflect the times they were made in. A Nightmare on Elmstreet III and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare are radically different in tone and they each reflect the times they were made in.
Horror is dominating television right now and long running series structured like soap operas are as common today as prime time soaps were in the past. Stephen King, Clive Barker and other major horror writers have written sequels to their biggest novels and crossovers tying their novels together, sometimes cross-pollinating with comics, films and video games.
It’s true that many horror sequels are lacking in imagination but I don’t see sequels as an automatically bad idea. There’s no reason why sequels can’t be as good as the original film, look at Psycho II and Hellraiser : Hellbound. It’s always exciting when a fresh story comes into the genre, especially on film, since horror cinema tends to be extremely conservative, favoring well-worn concepts and character types; but there’s also something to be said for returning to a world and characters we love. Would Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Pinhead or Leatherface be as iconic as they are if they’d featured in only one film? Probably not.
How much is too much? That’s for the audience to decide and nothing will kill a horror franchise faster than a lack of audience interest. On a deeper level, it’s never too much. We crave a return to stories; to tie up loose ends, to finally see the bad guys get what’s coming to them and for closure. In a genre like horror, where a happy ending is never guaranteed, sequels provide a kind of satisfaction we rarely experience in real life.
11 - 8 - 2014
Horror Is Like Comedy
What do horror and comedy have in common? They're both dead without an audience.. A joke isn’t officially “funny” until somebody laughs and a story isn’t officially “scary” until somebody is scared.
I’ve been thinking about this lately. So far, reaction to my horror fiction has been positive. Readers are liking my settings, concepts. and characters. The audience is still relatively limited which is why I’ve collected twenty of my short stories into the collection Something In the Dark. I need more responses and criticism.
Another way that horror is like comedy is that in both, timing is everything. Building up to the release of tension that allows the audience to laugh or - for horror - jump in their seats, requires patience and deft timing. If you pile on gags and jokes out of fear that the audience will stop laughing, you might end up without any laughs at all. It’s the same with horror; do jump-scares elicit anything more than annoyance from an audience these days? In both genres you want just enough and not too much. It's a complex equation.
Horror and comedy also age in similar ways. Things that were deeply disturbing (such as Psycho, 1960) or frightening (Dracula, 1931) have lost their punch over time, in the same way that program-filler screwball comedies from the 1930’s and 1940’s hardly squeeze a single laugh from a modern viewer. Story elements like racial stereotypes also date in ways that can detract from the laughs or scares; we somehow feel less willing to go along with a story if we imagine that someone might be offended by it.
A Long History Together
Horror and comedy have so much in common that the two genres are often blended. From Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) to Evil Dead 2 (1987) comedy and horror have proven to be a good combination. Comedy often uses scares or suspense to heighten the effect of a gag (going all the way back to Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton) and horror often uses a laugh to release tension before a big scare. It’s no surprise that Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) has become a cult classic; or that audiences are now “in” on the campy humor of Doctor Pretorius (Bride of Frankenstein, 1935) which was way ahead of its time. Hitchcock was a master at blending deadpan, macabre humor with suspense. One of my favorite horror-comedies is the brilliant UK series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a show that highlighted not only how well the two genres blend but also how easy it is to poke fun at the horror genre’s many accumulated tropes and clichés.
I was surprised by the amount of humor that found its way into my first horror novel, Irresistible (unpublished) but looking back it’s not so unusual. Horror and comedy were made for each other. For a genre that has traditionally taken itself very seriously, it’s good for horror to crack a smile now and then.
11 - 6 - 2014
Why Self Publish?
For years I toiled under the yoke of the publishing industry. When my frustrations reached the boiling point and I'd vent about it someone would always say, "Why don’t you just do an e-book?” I had good reasons why I wasn’t doing that at the time: I had an agent, I didn’t know anything about promoting a self published book and I didn’t have the money to do it on a professional level.
So what’s changed? Why is now the right time?
From SEO to Crowdfunding – The Tools Have Arrived
The big answer is that the tools to do things right are now easy to access and in many cases free and that wasn’t the case a few years ago. I didn’t want to release a novel that would be lost in a sea self published e-books and never read.
Web promotion was a complete mystery to me. I talked about my ignorance being an obstacle and a hindrance so often that a friend of mine, who runs his own web promotion company, finally sat me down and spelled the basics out to me. Once I started learning how and why people used the internet I could see where I’d gone wrong in the past.
There’s no one-stop shopping solution to web promotion but a basic understanding of SEO (search engine optimization) is definitely key. SEO knowledge gives the web promoter the power to understand what people surf the ‘net for and why they pull over from the information superhighway to visit a site. Many of the tools necessary to do basic SEO are now automatically available to anyone who uses social media or blog and website building services (ever wonder what your Stats are for?) and there are free tools like Google Analytics that give you the same kinds of data professional web promoters use to track their success rate. This site is the first web domain I’ve ever owned that actually has any presence on the ‘net and I owe that entirely to learning some SEO.
The existence of crowd funding sites, such as Kickstarter, makes it possible to raise money for professional cover art, paid web promotion (ads) and professional copy-editing services. Print On Demand services make it possible to release a trade paperback or hardcover without the expense of offset printing or worrying about having boxes of unsold books in your garage. These tools up the game considerably.
In addition to the SEO tools and information readily available on the web, this takes self publishing out of the vanity publishing realm and actually makes the self publisher competition for traditional publishing houses. And believe me, they know it and feel the pressure.
Freedom From the Publishing Industry
Of course there are other reasons I’ve chosen to go solo and I’ll be covering them in future blog posts; as well as chronicling my own journey to publishing independence. For now, I know I’ve got the tools I need for effective web promotion and fund raising. This means that I can write what I want when I want and I don’t have to stress about publishing trends or what an agent thinks is marketable. This is my first taste of freedom as a writer and it feels great.
Are you ready to break free from the chains of the publishing industry?
HORROR MOVIE PICK OF THE WEEK 11 - 2 - 2014
This week's pick is Cronos (1993) Guillermo Del Toro's feature debut. I actually prefer Cronos to The Devil's Backbone (2001). Smaller in scale, Cronos tells a more compelling story, that of a girl and her grandfather. It's a vampire movie but an original one. Federico Luppi gives a wonderful, understated performance as Jesus and Ron Perlman (in his first collaboration with Del Toro) creates a memorable character in Angel. This film is often overlooked both as a modern horror movie and as part of Del Toro's filmography. It's well worth a look if you haven't seen it in a while or haven't gotten to it yet!