My Books & Stories (Amazon Page)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Online Novels

There's been a lot of chatter in the last few years in regards to what's popularly called online novels. More than one writer has started blogging his novel and suddenly found his way to fame and fortune. A particular example that I can cite is the online novel 30 Days of Night. Obviously most people know by now that the author originally started his blog story posting chapters every day or every other day or so and this eventually grew into a novel that was published in print and eventually became a hit movie.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not criticizing the author of 30 Days of Night. Indeed, I'm considering following his example.

As most of you probably know I wrote a game about 15 or 20 years ago called Fire On The Suns. It's never been hugely popular, but it has had its fair share of fans over most of those 15 or 20 years.

About seven or eight years ago I actually started writing a novel based on a game within the FOTS universe that was one of the best games we've ever had as well as one of the most memorable games that most of the players has ever experienced. It was so memorable that it stayed with us for a long long time. At various points in time through the years I've worked off and on on this novel cutting it adding to it moving pieces of it around and variously editing it for wider consumption. Last year or the year before I decided it would probably be too embarrassing for me to seriously consider trying to publish this novel not because it's bad, but because it's a gaming novel and most of them generally end up pretty poor. to be honest there is also not huge market for gaming novels, unless of course you're one of those huge Halo, Warcraft, or other game related tie-ins.

Obviously my poor little game isn't one of those.

However, we came up with a pretty damn good storyline that combines over a dozen different alien races, all unique, a mechanically internally consistent universe, and thousands upon thousands of star systems. There's also ancient technology, ancient alien buried secrets, a race against time, lots of unique characters, conversations between characters that actually developed from conversations between players, and one hell of a lot more.

Given that this book will never see the light of day in a professional publishing environment, I'm seriously considering posting chapters of Fire On The Suns on this blog at least a weekly basis.

If anyone out there is reading this, I'd kind of like to see what you have to say in regards to reading it online space opera blog that has elements of science fiction, horror, real space physics, in a universe that is infinite and vastly expandable.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Naturally, I will intersperse postings that deal specifically with more intricate and detailed writing topics. I will not completely abandoned that topic in favor of a novel. I just thought it might be fun for some of you to read a bit more of what I write. Let me know what you think.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Starting Again

I haven't been up here longer than anticipated because last November 4th my 15-year-old dog, whose name was Shadow, died suddenly.

It came as a tremendous shock since I had to rush him to the vet and then make the tremendously hard decision to put him down because he was in such tremendous pain. I don't know if any of you have ever heard a dog scream, but it is a terribly heart-wrenching sound. Since this boy had been with me since he was 13 weeks old, it was also gut-wrenching and a terribly difficult thing for me to do personally.

I've watched relatives die with less personal pain.

Having to put down a personal friend was a tremendously difficult decision.

So I had to take some time off and figure out who I was and where I was in my personal life.

Nevertheless, I'll be getting along with the business of this blog site in the very near future as time and situations allow. Naturally, I'll be drawing from my postings at Absolute Write as inspiration for my posts here.

I hope you all had nice Thanksgiving in that you're all going to have a Merry Christmas. Despite all the hardship and the heartache I too had a nice Thanksgiving and will have a Merry Christmas.

By the way I'm writing this using Dragon Naturally Speaking which is a wonderful program which I purchased today for about 40 bucks at WalMart where, as many of you know, I'm currently working as electronics department supervisor, what used to be known as a department manager.

DNS is a great program so far as I've seen so far and is a wonderful tool for writers and bloggers as well. There's a bit of training that has to be done for the program, but damn is it nice.

I have written the entirety of this blog, with the exception of a few edits, entirely using Dragon Naturally Speaking.

I hope you'll all try DNS and I hope you all have Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I'll see you all first of the year with new blog entries. Thanks for everyone who has been following this blog and will get back into things at the first of the year.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Outlining (Oh, The Horror!)

As our esteemed Mr. Konrath points out there are different ways to outline and not everybody's way meets everbody else's needs.

In school, we're taught a very meticulous, detailed, and inflexible style for outlining. You end up with,


The style is extremely rigid and, as I said, relatively inflexible as it was designed to analyze a story not design one.

Nevertheless, that methodology can work for some people and if it works for you, I'm all for it.

It is, I believe, one of the reasons why so many people hate and despise outlining so much.

However, there's another style of outlining that essentially uses the same methodology, but refrains from the rigidity and inflexibility of the formal style and that's the 3x5 index card method. Essentially, this method is a series of notes placed on 3x5 index cards which provide you with an expandable and easily reformattable style of outlining while still allowing you to provide yourself with a roadmap.

Uncle Jim explains it here...

Notice that the system is essentially a collection of short notes regarding your chapters, scenes, characters, etc., etc. You are not confined to using a specific numbering system and if you want to move scene 23.4 from chapter 23 and put it back in chapter 22 as scene 22.8, you're free to do so. Your characters, scenes, special notes to yourself, chapter excerpts, and more can all be added to the system at any time and the stack is essentially infinitely expandable.

It's also organized so that if you drop the file folder or box or stack of your cards it's easily reorganized unlike a folder full of notes or a raft of Post-Its and loose-leaf pages.

It's also enjoyable in that you're not stuck in a confined space doing a confined method-outline. You can mix and match virtually at will, insert new characters and scenes, etc, etc simply by adding or subtracting a new card.

You can even color code and index everything if that's what floats your boat, but the method will ultimately provide you with the roadmap you're going to need to finish a long work especially.

I've used techniques as simple as writing 1-sentence notes for the 3 major scenes I wanted to use in each chapter and as complex as the one Joe used for Bloody Mary. My first novel's first draft was essentially a 65k word outline of what my 7th draft turned out to be.

And there's another method - consider your 1st draft to be your outline for your work. You know it still needs work and the hard part is done once you've finished that 1st draft. Now you have the road map you need to really work the words and the story and find the real place you're trying to go with the story.

You can view Joe Konrath's outline for Bloody Mary at

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Outlining & Plotting

Well, over at Absolute Write Water Cooler we had a drive-by example from one of my favorite authors (who will hopefully be lured back by the promised 6-pack dangling from the gallows here), let's go on a bit and talk about outlining or what some might call plotting.

Many authors will tell you they don't outline or plot. However, I think that in some way most authors do in some way. Some authors will write copious notes and details on every scene - to the extent that their notes sometimes equal or exceed the word count of their novel. Others will just scribble away writing a note on a Post-It and sticking it in a file somewhere. I've seen authors who had a dedicated file or notebook or box for every novel they had written and every single one of them was practically overflowing.

Whether you call it outlining or plotting or simply jotting notes about what you need to remember about your story the result is essentially the same. You're creating a roadmap for yourself about where you want the story to go and what you want to have happen along the way.

Think of starting a novel like starting a long road trip - they're essentially the same.

You wouldn't dream of starting out on a long road trip without a map, some idea of what your gas mileage is in your vehicle, where you might want and need to stop for gas, rest, sleep, food, coffee, see some sights, take a tour, meet some new and interesting people, etc., etc., would you? You need to know where you might need to turn, what exits to take, where you might have to go long periods without a gas station in sight, and what the weather is going to be like along the way.

Your story is a long road trip. If it's a short story, it;s still a road trip. If it's an 80 thousand word novel it's a much longer road trip. There are always going to be bumps in the road, gas stations you need to use, coffee to keep you going, and sights and things along the way to do. The longer the trip, the more important it is, to me at least, to know a lot of things right up front before I set out.

Last year I completed an 1800+ mile move from California to Oklahoma. For those that don;t know, that's the equivalent distance from Paris to Moscow. I did it with my dog in a 26-ft moving truck in 35 hours time (32 hours of that actual driving time). I also had several acquaintances drive my car that same distance. I had the mielage of the truck and the car down such that the amount of money needed for gas along the way was almost precisely accurate. I knew the sights I wanted to see along the way (but didn;t bother to stop at since I was anxious to get the trip over and done with once I was underway). I knew where the truck stops were. I knew where I might run into slowdowns due to traffic or speed traps.

You need to know the same things and more before you start out on the road trip that is your story. You do not want to end up a quarter or halfway or even three-fourths of the way through the story and suddenly lose focus, forget, or have to go away from the story and come back and be completely lost.

That's what an outline and a plot is for - it's a road map for your story.

It doesn;t have to be pretty. It doesn;t have to be organized.

It has to be accessible.

Tomorrow, I'll go over a few examples of how various authorities say the proper way to outline and plot is, but if you want to read about a good one, you can visit Joe Konrath's website and read his outline for Bloody Mary or you can search Uncle Jim's thread for the 3x5 index card technique.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wrestling "The Bare Bones - The Mechanics of Horror Writing"

A poster over at Absolute Write asked if horror had it's own grammar and syntax. Not only did this promt a response from me, but it also prompted an entire new thread which will have a weekly topic over there.

You can see the thread that started it here,

Here's my response to Cassiopeia,

Cassie, Horror definitely has its own grammar and syntax, I think. However, that grammar and syntax is intended for purposes of holding the reader in suspense and not explaining what is going on to them. In this manner the grammar and syntax of horror is very different from science fiction and fantasy, some might even say simpler.

However, if it is simpler, then it is also more psychologically complex and complicated because the writer must somehow manage to engross the reader in his imaginary world and hold their attention, their suspension of disbelief, and their sense of apprehension and, 'fear' perhaps is the best word, in a much more careful manner. A mere turn of a phrase can serve to ruin an entire story if it is not handled with the utmost deftness. A single word or miswording can throw the reader entirely out of the psychological state they have placed themselves in when reading horror.

Horror writing, however, does not require the command of language that science fiction or literary novels do. The words themselves can be much simpler. There's little or no technobabble of bafflegab in good horror (there is enough in bad horror, of course). The best language is often the simplest. The best words are often the most straightforward just as the best actions by the characters are often the most straightforward.

If the characters speak like real people, it is much easier to get the reader to suspend his or her sense of disbelief and become engrossed in the story world in my opinion because the reader wants to become part of the story world. They want to be scared, to get that adrenaline rush as the hero faces up to the challenge presented by the story's monster (be it human or otherwise).

So, in order to have our characters speaking like real people, we have to use simpler grammar and syntax. That is not to say that real people are simple. But examine the way you use language in everyday conversations or when under stress. You won't find too many characters in a horror story saying "Cap'n, the warp convutranslationers are positively ionized and we'll all die if I don't depolarize the Gable-torsioners within the next fifteen seconds."

Instead, we have a character in a horror story saying "Cap'n, we're all going to die if I don't fix this right now!"

Stay tuned. Our next topic is probably going to be about beginning a horror story. If you're reading this you're also invited over to AW to comment on the ongoing discussion.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

As nearly always, this post is a crosspost from a response to a poster over at Absolute Write.

The poster, named "showtimecircus" asked if any of us felt guilty about writing outside their chosen genre. My response follows,

Showtime, Nope. Write what you want and need to write. Write what comes to you and how it comes to you. The muse is too fickle to not be listened to and the more you refuse to listen to her, no matter what genre she's telling you to write in, the less often youre going to hear from her.

Plus, writing (and reading) outside your genre is inevitably going to lead you to introduce some different elements into your writing. It's going to help build you as a writer and to introduce you to new elements of your creativity and writing ability. Introducing new elements into an old genre is practically the definition of "published writer". Too damned many people try to imitate this writer or that writer to the extent that they forget that this writer or that writer got themselves published by trying something new and different.

There's nothing wrong with introducing elements of detective fiction into science fiction (Glen Cook does it in fantasy). There's nothing wrong with introducing elements of science fiction into a thriller (Jon Land, Timothy Zahn, and Dean Koontz). There's nothing wrong with introducing elements of fantasy into police procedurals (Fred Saberhagen did it with An Old Friend of the Family and Dean Koontz did it with his Frankenstein series).

Reading Dashell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Glen Cook lead me down a road to the creation of one of my favorite characters who happens to be a pretty hard-boiled private investigator who just happens to attract weird.

Do what you want to do. There are no rules and no binders saying you must write only in one genre (James D MacDonald writes in several just to name one example who lives here at AW).

Break the rules. Do it with originality and talent and the next thing you know we may be talking about you as a "published writer".

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Self-Confidence In Writing

I find it disturbing how much self-doubt there is floating around these forums, while there are FEW writers who appear to have any positive feelings about their progress and achievements.

There are a few things about self-doubt that we can learn from Master Yoda.

The story-killer self doubt is.
Infects us all it does.
Continue only will those who prevail.

To a certain extent, writers (and Jedi Masters), have to learn to have a bit of arrogance about themselves and their writing. You have to believe in yourself and your art first and foremost. Self-doubt will kill your muse, your imagination, your ability to plant BIC, and ultimately will show in your stories.

Ignore it. Be arrogant about your writing and your ability. Be overconfident. Just don;t be so arrogant and overconfident that you alienate editors and agents with a lot of egotistical claptrap about how you're the best writer since Stephen King and you're going to welcome the agent or editor onboard your bandwagon to fame and fortune. That ain't gonna' happen.

Sooner or later, that massive ego, that arrogance and self-confidence, is going to come up hard against the cold, hard realities of the publishing industry and the writing life.

It's a cold, hard, dirty business filled with potholes, pitfalls, and bumps in the road.

If you do not have confidence in yourself and your writing, who will?

You are your own cheering section and you must continue to be your own cheering section.

There are a thousand venues out there for your stories. Who cares if one editor turned you down? Send it out to the next one and the next one and the next one and the ones after that until that puppy sells somewhere, anywhere. No one's going to like everything you write, but someone out there will like something that you write.

You have to persevere and overcome. You must maintain your self-confidence and that requires maintaining an egotistical and arrogant attitude about your writing.

That is not, however, to say that you should not listen to editors and agents who ask for revisions. They know their markets and publishers. Assuming a compliant and cooperative attitude with them is usually in your own best interests.

But you have to sell yourself to an agent and editor very nearly as much as you have to sell yourself to a prospective employer in an interview. Every time you query you should consider the query letter to be your interview introduction. It is. You get your foot in the door and then you sell yourself via your self-confidence, your assurance, and your "can do" attitude.

Most employers appreciate a little arrogance and self-confidence in their interviewee's. It shows that the interviewee has at least been seasoned a little.

An agent or editor will appreciate self-confidence in a writer.

Just don't overdue it and tell them you're going to make both of you rich beyond the dreams of avarice. They know better - and you should too.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Horror vs Gore-er

I get a lot of the material for this blog, possibly the majority of it, from responding to comments over at Absolute Write's Water Cooler ( so it shouldn't be surprising to anyone reading that this is another one.

The original poster, satyesu, wanted to know about some resources for someone who wanted to write what they called "horror as opposed to gore-er" and stated that they were coming at it from the perspective of someone who was more familiar with the movies than the books.

I responded as follows,
Also, remember that the movies and the novels are often vastly different. Movies made of King's novels often have more gore in them than the books do because the producer and director know that movie audiences want visual "impact". They enhance certain scenes in ways that King never actually did to make the impact more visceral to the audience's experience.

There is a certain implied level of "gore" in the horror genre for novels, but it's not as extreme as it is in movies. Recent audience experience for horror movies certainly revolves almost completely around gore. Movies like Saw, Friday The 13th, The Haunting In Connecticut, The Ring, Final Destination, etc., etc. have gore and death as their central themes. Novels can be completely different. The threat of imminent death or doom in some fashion should be there, but you do not have to be extremely visceral about describing it. You also should not be afraid to directly confront it when it happens. Hinting around or dancing about showing us the actual gruesomeness can be considered a form of "cheating" and a reader will feel cheated for exactly that reason.

Audiences, and readers are your audience, pay good money for their movie and novel experiences. Don;t leave them feeling cheated. When it's necessary, slap them in the face with the blood and guts of a scene. Just don;t do it so often they become immune to the gore.

Gore is there for impact. Use it for that reason.

Psychologically, humans become immunized to the most horrible of atrocities rather quickly. We can, on occasion, walk through buckets of blood and miles of dismembered body parts without really even seeing it or feeling anything while we're on our trip. Just look at the denial that normal German citizens in towns surrounding camps like Buchenwald or Auschwitz had when they knew pretty darned well what the trainloads of people going into those camps and the empty trains coming out of them really meant. Just read about some soldier's experiences on battlefields. Read about Rwanda sometime.

Humans can be pretty darned thick when it comes to seeing things they really don't want to see or acknowledge.

The gist of this all is to use gore only when you have to - and then use it for the full force of impact you can get out of it and then go on. Don't do it too often or your readers will find themselves yawning when the next scene comes up.

It's also important to remember that the poster stated they were coming at their objective from the viewpoint of one who was more familiar with the horror movie genre than the horror novel genre. I'm not entirely certain you can reasonably try to write horror without being familiar with the novel genre. An important quote goes "You have to read it in order to write it" and I believe that is entirely accurate.

Without being well-read in any genre you're likely to have a very difficult time trying to write it. I know some authors have stated that they do not read within their own genres and I believe this really shows in their writing within their genre. Without reading Lovecraft, how could you expect to write like Lovecraft (if you would want to - while I am a fan of Lovecraft, I am not much of a fan of his style or his mindset which was definitely a product of his upbringing and culture)? If you wanted to write about vampires, how could you write about them without being familiar with Brian Lumley, Bram Stoker, and even (shudder) Stephanie Meyers? If you wanted to write about evil clowns, haunted Buicks, and extradimensional entities run amok how could you do that without being familiar with the writings of Stephen King or Dean Koontz?

I'm of the opinion that you could not do it with any skill or justice.

To write it, you must read it.

Being familiar with the movies is not the key to writing the horror novel.

Now, with that said, I hold the opinion that the movies show writers a number of good techniques and methods that can be used to sharpen our writing and our viewpoints, but it's not by watching the movie as part of the regular audience or from the audience's POV.

No, the key, I think, is to watch the movie from the director's POV.

Look at how the scenes were staged, dressed, and managed. Look at the lighting. Look at where the actors were positioned at the start of the scenes. Watch the scenes play through as they were filmed and managed by using your "director's eye". Develop and use your director's eye to visualize your scenes in your mind and write them down such that when you read them back you can see the scene in your mind's eye just as the reader will be able to.

When you've got a scene that springs to life in the reader's eye, you've got a keeper an not something that's going to end up on the editor's cutting room floor.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fight Scenes

Once again, a poster over at AW asked a question and I'm posting the question & my response over here because I think it's important.

The question was - "Anyone have any suggestions on how to work out battle sequences and fight scenes? I'm trying to work out a scene which is going to involve several fighters and half the village as audience, and I'm trying to figure out ways to keep track of who's doing what to whom and where.

My first thought is to draw it on a piece of paper. My second is to get out my Dungeons and Dragons figurines and play it through like a melee. Once I understand what happens, I can figure out what I need to write."

(posted by TheIT)

My response was as follows,
Fight scenes need to flow, but unfortunately most of them don't. A real life fight usually occurs in a blaze of action, pause, action, pause as the combatants struggle to gain the upper hand on one another, etc. That really doesn't work in a story or novel because the pauses will have the reader wondering what happened in between the blazes of action and wandering off to do something other than turning the page.

So a fight scene has to flow smoothly.

That's not to say that there are not or will not be pauses within a fight scene. They just have to be strategically placed.

In real life, a fight is usually over in a matter of seconds. In a novel, the fight can go on for pages and minutes, at least, of reading. The trick is to translate what happens in real life into something that flows smoothly in the story. I'm currently reading Monster Hunters International by Larry Correia (Baen Books). The book opens somewhat slowly, but quickly develops into a fight scene which flows so quickly and naturally that I found myself wondering what had happened when it was over and having to go back and reread sections trying to figure out where I had missed the moves. It wasn't that the action was choppy or the writing was choppy, it was that the scene flowed.

D&D action doesn't flow. It isn't normal or real. However, using the figures to stage manage the action is something that can be easily done (you could do it with pennies and a hand-drawn map for all that matter). When you know that character A can move here and perform this action while character B is involved doing something else, you start to have the sequence for how the action must flow. You also begin to be able to see why character B might not be distracted by something else or where he might be distracted by something else that allows character A to make his move.

I think the Star Wars movies are another good area to watch for how to choreograph action scenes, especially between individual characters. The action flows between the characters because the director knows it must if the action is to be believable and realistic even when it's not even semi-realistic.

Use a "director's eye". Set your stage, position your characters, and have them move around the scene performing their actions. You don't need a map and a set of fancy figurines. You can see all this in your mind.

Flow is what happens when the scene runs naturally and without anything seeming out of place or silly (like "Why didn't Charlie hose the hallway that the Master Vampire charged down with the M60 in his hands before the Master Vampire got to him and tore the team to shreds?").

You're the director. You get to set the scenery, the stage, and position the actors - and if it doesn;t work the first time or the thirtieth time, it doesn;t cost you anything to run the scene a thousand times or more until it flows.

BTW, I'm currently reading Monster Hunters International as stated above, but I just finished The Strain one of the authors of which is Guillermo del Toror. It's the first part of a trilogy and has an interesting take on the vampire legend and a plague upon Manhattan.

While it is reminiscent of a book a few years ago by Craig Skipp & John Spector titled The Light At The End (as I recall) and another that dealt with a plague of vampires overrunning Los Angeles whose title and author I don't currently recall (The Thirst?), the premise is entertaining and the follow-on books will be out in 2010 and 2011.

I did have a few problems with The Strain, the main one being that it is written by 2 authors who obviously didn;t see eye-to-eye on several things. There appeared to be a constant editorial argument occurring that raised it's head on several levels, the main one being regarding how much information to convey to the reader and when. In all too many cases the story is broken by a paragraph or more of unnecessary info-dumping which could just as easily have been relayed to the reader through casual conversation between the characters.

Regardless, it was a good book for the most part and I'll likely pick up the next two when they come out - but I am glad it was 20% off at B&N and I got an extra 10% due to my membership card.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Another response to a post over at Absolute Write regarding "motivation",

You want or need motivation? Read my blog (well, the posts prior to the last 2 or 3) and you'll find motivation (I hope to provide more motivation there in the near future).

You want motivation? Tell one of us that you do and we'll be more than happy to provide you with enough to get going again.

In fact, most of us will kick your ass until you produce something.

None of us are ashamed we write horror. None of us are Stephen King either. King won the frakking lottery, but he did it the same way everyone else does - by hard work, perseverance, learning his craft, telling a damned good story, and lucking in.

Yeah, guess what? King got lucky. He tells you so in his book On Writing.

But he got lucky because he perservered, stuck with it, and learned how to tell a story that readers wanted to read (and publishers wanted to buy).

There's no one here who cannot tell a damned fine story and who is not, in my mind, the equal of King in their particular method of storytelling.

It only takes 1 person in the publishing industry to believe in you and your career can be "made".

It only takes 1 person in the writing profession to believe in you, but that person has to be you, first and foremost, but guess what? You're not the only person who believes in you here. That's what we're here for - to show you that fellow writers believe in you and what you're writing and to help you improve and learn and perfect your craft.

A couple of people responded and thanked me for posting this response over there so I figured I'd share it since I haven't blogged in awhile (4 or 5 days).

Motivation can be as simple as planting your butt in a chair, powering up the old computer, and pulling up whatever file you've been working on and going to work. For some people though, that's not as simple. Writers find all kinds of ways to avoid writing and a lot of use crutches to get themselves to write. For me, it's usually as simple as the old BIC method.

I really am serious though when I say "go to your fellow writers" if you need motivation. Once someone knows you're working on something they'll start to pester you about it until you absolutely have to sit back down and get back to work.

I certainly will.

So, if you need some motivation, come here, comment, or send me an email. I promise you I'll do everything in my power short of showing up on your doorstep to get you writing again.

Remember, a pro is an amateur who didn't quit.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back Among The Gainfully Employed

After a 3 month (almost to the day) period of unemployment I managed to land a new day job as Lead Electronics Department Supervisor III at a new WalMart superstore that's still under construction. My official hire date was the 23rd of this month and I spent Thursday and Friday in orientation and staring a computer screen going through training modules.

I spent the last 5 out of 6 years working in the security field as you might know if you'd read some of my earlier posts, but my last security gig was incredibly boring and I just had to get out. It was a dead-end. Wages had been frozen at my site for at least a year with the signing of a new 5-year contract which could, in theory, have frozen wages for the entire length of the contract (by my calculations the contract was worth $3-5 million to the company I worked for). This was also for one of the biggest companies in Oklahoma (the outfit we did security for) and for one of the biggest security firms in the United States (the company that I actually worked for). Both of them are around a billion-dollar-a-year companies so I really thought they might have been able to afford a paltry $0.50-1.00 per year for the folks tasked with guarding their stuff.

In addition, I wanted to get out into a more professional and more white-collar field. My background has pretty much always been in the white-collar and professional areas except for when I was working security. I loved my job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and felt there was always a way ahead there (we were actively encouraged to apply for jobs at the Lab which we thought we might be qualified for), but that ended when a new company took over and started making changes and replacing the "old guard" with their own people.

So, I'm learning how to be a WalMart department supervisor and am on a management professional employment track. It certainly looks like it's going to be a challenging period ahead of me and I'm looking forward to it.

The most important part of this new day job is the regular paycheck and the benefits. I'm not getting any younger after all and those benefits look awfully good (as does that regular paycheck). Unemployment in a downturned economy is never a good experience, but I count myself lucky that my own period of unemployment only lasted 90 days (and part of that time I made some money on the side doing business paperwork for a friend who runs a roofing company here).

The next few weeks look like they're going to be interesting and intensive as we're already about 3 weeks behind in getting the store up and running.

I like a challenge. I'm looking forward to this one.

Monday, July 20, 2009

First Moon Landing Anniversary

Forty years ago today men first walked on the moon. We spent billions of dollars and more than a few lives to get there. We haven't gone back since 1975.

It's time to go back.

Today, I'm saluting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin for that momentous achievement.

Today, I'm screaming at my government to get their freakin' head outta' their collective as$.

Note: Note a word out of the President or the Veep or the Congress about the anniversary. All they want to talk about is health care reform (and the CBO estimates it's going to increase the top income tax bracket to 57% in some states - we fought a revolution over substantially less than that).

Go here,

Read this article before it's too late.

NASA get's $16-20 billion per year. The Pentagon has a $534 billion budget. They probably waste $16-20 billion every year. Lord knows Congress sure as hell does. I won't even talk about the waste in various welfare programs or the Department of (Not) Education.

We need a new direction in this country's attitude towards exploration, but we're not going to get it from this administration. They have their heads buried in the sand and are willing to give other countries "the high ground".

Saturday, July 18, 2009

YA (Young Adult) Horror

Another post response over on AW references young adult (YA) horror and asks if it's still popular. My response follows,
YA is hot and it's going to stay hot for quite awhile I predict.

Harry Potter produced an entire generation of young readers who are still craving their next reading experience. Stephanie Meyers produced another generation I believe. These people are mostly still young, but they're going to grow up remembering those great old stories they used to read and they're going to want more.

Some of them are going to want to continue to read at the Harry Potter or Twilight level, but some of them will grow out of that (I'm not saying that's wrong - bear with me) and will eventually crave more adult and literate writing.

The estimated reading level of most of the population of the United States is approximately 6th grade. That's the comprehension level and the level at which major newspapers now aim for their articles (USA Today, for example, openly proclaimed that's where it was aiming a few years ago). So, yes, YA is going to remain popular.

YA does not aspire to literary writing. It doesn't need to. YA sells and it sells HOT. Even such big names as James Patterson are breaking into YA with novels because that's where the money is right now and where it's going to continue to be for some time to come.

YA sells because it entertains on a wide level and reaches a far wider audience than simply the youth of our culture. It reaches teens, young adolescents, and adults alike through its sheer ability to keep people entertained. Parents like to know what their kids are reading. Brothers and sisters like to know what their siblings are reading. Teachers need to know what their classrooms are interested in.

It's not a disease, it's an opportunity.

More On Horror Writing

I went over and read the blog post that the AW poster referred to yesterday and, quite frankly, I don't know precisely what the guy (Robert Dunbar) is bitching about. Maybe I'm outing him here, but he seems to be saying that horror writing should aspire to more literary traditions, but he makes a point of stating that his last book "ate" his life with TV and radio show interviews, readings, and more.

He does make a point of stating that he believes many horror writers are aiming at the gutter, what he calls "vampire bodice rippers, torture porn, and zombie sitcoms" and that he believes the critics of his book probably thought they were picking up a more traditional sort of horror novel and then found something completely different.

Now, I haven't read Dunbar's book, but it sounds interesting, being based on the legends of the Jersey Devil, but if he's being successful, and he obviously is, I don't see the need for him to bitch overly much. It's a little like the pot calling the kettle black. His main point seems to be that the vampire bodice rippers, torture porn, and zombie sitcoms are bringing literate works like his own and the entire genre down into a "gutter" level where he gets no respect.

Dude, stop being so full of yourself.

Horror should be fun, first and foremost. People like to be scared. Yeah, some authors have gotten rich writing at a particular level (Dunbar sees it as YA at best), but so what? They're not taking food from your plate or money out of your pocket so far as I can see. Who really cares if a lot of people out there are trying to write like Stephanie Meyers, Laurell Hamilton, or Max Brooks? Those people, by and large, are going to fall by the wayside with the next wave of whatever that occurs when someone produces a really good horror novel that finally gets published (I'd bet it's going to be someone here, eventually).

The real beef seems to be that of "literate" horror vs "YA" horror.

Well, to be honest, that's a false argument. All horror is, to some extent, YA by its very nature. People love to be scared. They love to feel like the little kid scared of what's under the bed or hiding in the closet or opening the attic door. It does not require great "literatary" ability to write a horror novel. That's been well-proven by the current wave of popularity of "vampire bodice rippers". Nobody's going to say that Stephanie Meyers is a great writer, but guess what - she sells books! Nobody's going to say that World War Z is the Frankenstein of its day, but guess what - I liked it!

It's not about literature, it's about entertainment.

Entertainment sells books and that's the bottom line with publishers and authors. That's the way publishers make their living and that's the way authors get paid.

It's not about literature, it's about entertainment.

My books aren't going to receive any awards for their literary contributions to society, but I hope, one day, to sell a few books and get paid. That's my bottom line. Getting paid means I have to entertain and in order to entertain I have to tell a ripping good story that not only catches a reader's imagination, it must first go through a whole series of agents, editors, and publishers before those readers will ever even see it.

So, if you don't like a particular book or a series or even a particular author, it seems to me that rather than bitching about the genre you write in and despairing about its literary value you might try upholding and motivating new authors in the genre to do the best they can and get themselves published. Nobody's holding anyone hostage to any genre. If you don't like the genre you're writing in, get out. Stop writing or try telling a different type of story.

As I said yesterday, it is within the capability of anyone writing today to produce a work that has the potential to change an entire genre.

All you have to do is stop bitching about everybody else and do it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Horror Writing - A Waste of Time?

Once again, a poster over at Absolute Write inspires a comment there that deserves a blog posting here.

The poster asked if, considering the doldrums that the horror genre currently appears to be in, if we were all wasting out time writing this stuff. The following is my response,

In a word, No, you're not wasting your time.

First of all, writing is a creative outlet for those of us who perform it. In a sense, we can be likened to actors on a stage only the stage is our mind and the actors are our conscious and subconscious minds. The metaphor can also be likened to a director directing a stage play as well as that of the producer (actually, the producer might be better likened to the publisher, the director the agent and editors, but I'm getting away from the point), but in reality, we're more like the actors themselves. We see the stories in our imagination and we play them out in our minds. We invent the situations, set the stage, choreograph the moves, write the play, build the props, set the lighting, and raise the curtain. We are the whole kit-and-kaboodle of the acting genre right down to the folks who make and fetch the coffee and donuts. We write the stuff that others make work. Those others are our audience and we owe it to our audience to work at mastering our craft, hone our performances, and set the stage properly for the scenes they're about to witness.

That's the writer's job.

A writer never wastes their time writing. Never. Every minute spent writing is a minute spent creating something that, even if no one else ever reads it, helps us to define our own lives, our own purpose in the greater scheme of things. If someone else does happen to read it, we have provided a valuable service by entertaining that person, boring them to tears, or pissing them off. Ultimately, we've made that person feel something - and by the simple act of making ourselves and them feel, we have done something that is good.

The horror genre may be experiencing some doldrums these days, but horror has gone through doldrums before and it's always come back roaring out of the darkness to scare the audience with something new and frightening. It's good because people, for some strange reason, always like to be scared. From the times when we sat around a fire listening to the creatures scream and prowl outside the cave we've been entertained and frightened by stories. The fear of the unknown and that little screaming reptile in the backs of our minds is still there, buried inside us, waiting for something to leap in the cave's mouth and drag one of us off screaming into the darkness.

We love it. We have to have it. It's like a drug.

There's a metaphor there too that it would pay us to take heed of. Horror and fright is like a drug. If there's too much of one kind of horror or fright that's inundating our senses we quickly become used to it. It doesn't give us the same sort of high any more. We're currently inundated with frightening scenes in our real world - economic collapse, terrorism, the fear of losing our jobs, murder, rape, violence rising seemingly all around us. So, the horror that used to scare us doesn't seem so frightening anymore. We need more, more powerful, different types of scares.

That's part of our job as horror writers too, to come up with new ways of telling tales that frighten people, that touch them and put them in touch with their emotions, to create that emotional reaction in our readers, our audience, and in ourselves.

That does not mean going with the flow. Going with the flow is part of what's wrong with today's horror. There are too many people trying to write like King, or Keene, or Lumley, or Lovecraft. There are too many stories like Saw, I Know What You Did, Friday The 13th, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It's gotten old. It's not even that scary anymore. People have complained that vampires aren't scary anymore, that zombies are old hat, that crazed psychopathic axe-wielders are things of the past.

So, as a horror writer, it's part of our job to come up with new variations on old themes.

They say that every story that can be told has been told, but people still keep buying books, still keep flocking to see movies, so there must be something in all those old, often-told stories that keeps people coming back to them to read and re-read, to buy tickets, and to sit in those chairs and watch as the curtain goes up.

You never waste your time writing. You might waste someone else's time reading what you wrote, but that's their decision, not yours.

You, and that means every writer out there, has the opportunity and the ability to redefine an entire genre.

All you have to do is figure out how and then commit to doing it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Meadow

I've been contemplating posting this story for some time now, but what the hell. It was originally published by Bewildering Stories (, but has long since reverted to me.

It's crude, primitive, and sorely in need of a drastic rewrite, but I loved this story when I first wrote it. As a little bit of background, I initially conceived the story while standing traffic duty at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The gate officer said something that I found funny and I responded to her with "Well, what if the grass had teeth?". I then invoked a bunny that the grass subsequently ate. She was shocked and amused. That inspired the following story...



The meadow was idyllic in its unspoiled grace. Sunlight danced off the green, knee-high grass. Pollen dusted the meadow, giving it a misty quality. A narrow, two-lane dirt path cut across the grass between the groves of woods surrounding it on all sides. The buzz of insects and the twittering of birds broke the early morning silence. The trees sighed in a light breeze. The trudge of shoes through dry leaves silenced the woods. The meadow drew silent and seemed to hold its breath as small voices disturbed its revery.

“Hey! Look there,” said Bobby Waislow. He and his brother stopped at the end of the path through the woods. They stood at the edge of the trees, looking out onto the sunlit meadow that opened on the top of the hill.

“What?” Tommy asked. He started to unsling the .22 rifle he carried on his shoulder like he had seen soldiers do.

“Shhh,” Bobby whispered. “You’ll scare it away.”

“What?” Tommy asked again. He looked down the path where his little was pointing.

“A bunny rabbit. Right there on the path,” Bobby said. He voice carried his excitement to his brother.

“Shucks, Bobby. It’s just a gosh darned rabbit,” Tommy said. He felt a shivering thrill in the freedom to cuss out of earshot of his father. The thought of the backhand his mother would have given him on hearing him speak such words did not escape him either.

“But it’s so cute…”

“It’ll look better with one of its feet hanging from my keychain.”

“No, you can’t shoot it!”

“Why the heck not?”

“’Cause it’s so cute. But look, it’s acting all weird. Maybe it’s sick or something?”

Tommy looked at the rabbit. He admitted that it was acting strangely.

The rabbit seemed frozen to one of the two dirt paths through the grass. It faced the boys, its nose twitching in the air, its hind quarters quivering. Its short white tail was raised in the air, a clear sign of fear. Tommy could see nothing that might have frightened the rabbit, but it was frozen in place, cringing in the dirt, as far away from the grass as it could get.

“Why’s it doing that, Tommy? Maybe it’s sick or something?” Bobby asked. “Why’s it just sitting there?”

“Shucks, Bobby, I don’t know,” Tommy said. He shouldered his rifle, pointing it at the rabbit. He took another few steps out onto the path, coming out from under the leafy branches of the woods.

The rabbit bolted, no longer able to contain its fear. It darted off the path into the taller grass. It leaped, seemed to hang in mid-air for a heartbeat as if struck by a snake, then crashed to earth, thrashing. It rolled, giving voice to a thin high-pitched wail that sent shivers down Tommy’s spine. He heard agony in the animal’s scream. Long strands and blades of grass wrapped themselves around the rabbit as it struggled. As Tommy and his little brother watched, the rabbit was wrapped in blade after blade until all that was left was a round, green ball lying in the meadow.

Without warning, the ball erupted in a spray of red and brown. A fine mist of blood sprayed the surrounding grass and dirt, hanging in the suddenly-still air for seconds. The ball of grass collapsed in on itself then the grass begn to release its hold, folding back, untangling and standing erect once again. The grass seemed to sigh in the light breeze that came up again, standing tall and green in the morning sun.

“Tommy, the grass ate the bunny rabbit,” Bobby whispered. Tears began to run down his ten-year old face.

Tommy stood, trying to find his voice. His mind raced. He thought of the long walk home, the tall expanse of grass that stretched around and along the path through the fields behind them. The fields had seemed warm and friendly until now.

The grass ate the bunny, he thought. The grass ate the gosh darned bunny! How could the grass eat the bunny? Grass doesn’t have teeth! He realized he had dropped his rifle in the dirt of the path.

Tommy looked at Bobby. His little brother stood, looking up at him, tears streaking his dirty face. Bobby’s blond hair ruffled in the breeze. It always seemed to be messed up, no matter how many times Bobby combed it. He started to cry. Tommy wanted to slap him to yell at him, to tell his little brother to grow up. He held his hand, kept his temper. He felt like he was about to wet his pants. He looked up from Bobby, turning his eyes back to the meadow and the long grass, sighing in the breeze.

Was the grass leaning towards them? What’s that noise it’s making? Is it all leaning just a little bit towards us? Tommy thought. Against the wind?

Tommy looked over his shoulder, back along their path to the woods.

It’s going to be a long run back home, he thought. He looked back at Bobby, picked his rifle up from the dirt. He smiled at his little brother. He knew just how he was going to distract the thing in the grass long enough for him to make it home.

The grass began to sigh, a soft, hissing whisper of sound that echoed across the meadow as the shot rang out and the screaming started.


There's actually another version of this story that was heavily modified. I might put that up tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Horror Writing & Writers

A friend of mine over at Absolute Write Water Cooler made the following comment to which I responded,

dgrintalis wrote, I think people sometimes are ashamed they write horror, as if by writing dark things, they are somehow less of a writer.

It's quite possible that some people are, were, or used to be. Horror was, for awhile, the dark cousin of scifi or fantasy that was kept locked in a cage in the basement that everyone heard the cries from late at night, but no one talked about. King and others like John Saul, Peter Straub, V.C. Andrews, and a few more really dragged horror fiction kicking and screaming out into the bright light of day where, prior to the advent of these writers, it had really languished as something that only seriously disturbed people wrote and normal people only admitted to reading as a kid in Weird Tales or Vampirella (and we all know why we boys were reading that mag, right?), or Blood of Dracula (this may not be the right title, but it was actually a pretty darned good B&W comic in its time), or something.

I think one of the things that really kicked off the whole horror craze of the 1980s-90s was the success of the movie The Exorcist. Only rarely before had audiences been so deluged with a sort of "in your face" kind of horror and the kind of images that did not hesitate to offend, to really put you right there in the room with a peasoup vomiting, demon-ridden, head-twisting little abomination and the horrors of demonic possession. It was unheard of at the time. Hollywood discovered that the audience craved the thrill and demanded more and more.

What we got was splatter-film after splatter-film. Today, the audiences laugh when Jason comes out with his machete and butchers the hapless, stupid college students trying to get some up at the lake. I've actually heard people cheer the murderer on because the characters/victims in some movies are so freaking stupid. Theres a even a commercial that openly pans a movie that shows a character going down into a darkened basement against the viewer's judgement "Girl, do not go down into that basement!"

Today, as horror writers, thriller writers, SF writers, etc., etc., we have to be smarter than the average Hollywood script writer because our audience today knows a helluva' lot more than they used to. They know they speak Farsi in Iran, they know there's these things called cell phones that people can use to call for help or which can be used to locate them in an emergency. They know that going down into a dark basement on a stormy night when the lights have suddenly gone out without a flashlight (and maybe a weapon) is just stupid.

Today, we have to be smarter than the average bear, I mean reader. The audience wants more than just (sub)standard slasher-film drek and schlock from our fiction writing.

Yes, they still want to be scared, they still want to be involved in the chase, but they want smarter characters, braver characters, more ingenious characters, more diabolical plots, more evil villains, and more insidious and devious plans than just "kill everything that moves or looks like it's going to get some".

Oh, look - I just wrote my blog for today, I think.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

John Scalzi Scolds The Big Three...

...(Asimov's, Analog & F&SF) for resisting email submission. Go thou here and read,

I believe Scalzi makes some excellent points. I submitted a story to F&SF a couple months ago and received the rejection in about 33 days. Now, that's amazing turnaround time for a print publication, but seeing as I've received a rejection last week from GUD in something under a week (in fact it was something like 2 or 3 days; I'm thinking the likeliest reason for the rejection was that it was submitted on the last day of their reading period and they did, in fact, not read the story, but rejected it as they already had too many other submissions they needed to go through, but that's merely a suspicion), one has to wonder why the Big Three haven't gotten into the act of accepting email submissions. Scalzi's points are all dead-on accurate in my opinion.

Now, I am regular over on the Analog forums and occasionally visit the F&SF and Asimov forums as well. We've had some discussions regarding this, particularly over on the F&SF forums. Scalzi's a participant, as I recall, over at F&SF too and most of his points can be lifted directly from F&SF's webpage regarding electronic submissions (, but they don't make much sense to me except for the one regarding not liking to read a document onscreen (more on that in a minute).

The webpage states that it would take them approximately 2 hours each day just to download the submissions. Considering that my home desktop connection is cooking along at 100 Mbps and a 400-page Word document is about 800 kb (1.68 MB in rtf format), that document should download in something considerably less than a few seconds by my calculations. In my opinion, this argument doesn't hold water unless the magazine is receiving thousands of submissions every single day.

The webpage states that the risk of computer viruses is higher if they accept electronic submissions. My answer to that is also simple - get some good virus protection software, multiply-redundant layers of protection, or as Scalzi suggests, simply require the submission to be pasted into the body of an email (there are potential problems with this using Word, however, but I get around that by cutting & pasting and then saving the document in Notepad) use a form submission system such as PseudoPod does or as a special submission message like Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show does. Running a computer of any type today without some kind of virus protection is simply inexcusable and begging for attack. Several of the major players in the email markets today also have auto-scanners built into their email software (I know Yahoo mail has this, for example).

F&SF states that the editor doesn't like reading on the computer screen. Well, what the heck does he think the people submitting to his magazine are doing every single day for hour upon hour? I'd bet he has a Kindle or a Palm or some other type of PDA. How's he like reading that? My Palm is very convenient to read with. I can even edit documents right on screen using it. The newer iPhones and Blackberries all have easy-to-read screens and built-in editing tools.

They say that's it's inconvenient to pass an electronic document around in their their office. Does the office need a computer or networking update? My Palm, my Blackberry, and any of my computers will send data to my computer, my Blackberry, or my Palm with at most a few keystrokes. My desktop and my 2 laptops and my mother's laptop can all share documents in the blink of an eye on my home network. Hire an intern to network your office machines and teach your office personnel how to use your devices more efficiently. That's my solution for your inconvenient problem.

The webpage states that printing out the submissions would use a ream or more of paper a day. Okay, that one I can buy, but it does draw into question the statement that downloading the documents would require 2 hours a day. A ream of paper is 500 sheets. A typical 5 thousand word story runs about 20 pages (double-spaced in 12-pt Courier New). So, a ream of paper should net you around 20-25 stories printed out. A good Brother laser printer ran me $200. A ream of paper (good stuff, 24-lb, 98 brightness) costs me $3 at WalMart. I can buy it cheaper in bulk with a case of 10 reams running $25-30. The Brother laser cartridge is rated at a duty cycle of around 1500 pages for $50. That's 3 reams or somewhere around 60-75 stories printed per cartridge - and that's if you bother to print out everything. That seems like a pretty trivial cost to me. By the way, that laser printer spits out 17 pages per minute so it won;t take much time to print an entire month's worth of submissions.

Finally, the F&SF webpage states that the editor has found it much easier to lose electronic documents than paper ones. I find this preposterous on the face and nearly a blatant admission that the editor is either extremely disorganized or extremely ignorant of the way email and electronic submissions work. I have documents online with AOL (my primary email client) that go back years. I keep my emails separated in specific folders and route them to those various folders with a click of my mouse. Simple, easy, cheap, and searchable if you need to go back and find something from several weeks to months to years ago. I have a 750 GB MyBook standalone hard draive which is used to store important documents. I have a CD and a DVD burner with which to store documents offsite. I have a 2GB and an 8 GB thumbdrive and several 1GB SDRAM chips to move documents around from my computers to my Palm and vice versa. Backup documents are cheap, easy, flexible, and extremely convenient to manage. I keep an Excel file that tracks my submissions and which could easily be jiggered to manage submissions received by F&SF. I'll send them a copy for free if they'd like to see it.

Here's the way I see it - the editors of the Big Three, while they champion science fiction and fantasy - have been left in the dust by modern technology. They don't understand how it can be used to make their lives easier and their submission/rejection processes far more convenient and flexible. As Scalzi states, they seem to be stuck in the 1970s with slow machines, slow connections, slow technology, slow mindsets, and they're resisting being brought into the 21st Century kicking and screaming.

Now, for what it's worth, F&SF turns around its slushpile amazingly fast and I'll submit to them again, but the statements being made on their webpage regarding why they do not accept electronic submissions are either blatantly false or show an amazing degree of unsophistication with modern technology.

I'd be happy to help them at least move into the 1990s if they'd like.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Publish America

Yesterday I had a little run-in with an individual over on the Absolute Write Horror forum who was advertising for a horror writer to write a third novella for an anthology he and another writer are putting together. I checked out this person's blogsite and noted to him that there were several typos and misusages in the first couple of paragraphs.

Needless to say, while I might have been a little more tactful (tact hasn't always been my strong suit), the poster became a wee bit upset with me and sent me a nastygram that essentially boiled down to "How dare you criticize me. I'm a published author".

Now, this didn't make me think much of the person's ability to perform professionally in a collaboration so I checked him out a little further. It turns out that his publishing credits are largely through an outfit called Publish America and a couple or three of what appear to be non-paying online 'zines, only one of which is even mentioned on Ralan's Webstravaganza and which is long dead.

Now, as anyone who is even reasonably connected with the professional writing field should know, Publish America is a scam outfit that has been involved in numerous lawsuits involving its editorial practices and the way its business model operates. Essentially, PA offers to publish your book - for a price - and it's usually a steep price. They hold absolutely no legitimacy as professional book publishers. Their books are overpriced, undermarketed (if they're marketed at all it's at the author's expense), and of extremely low quality. No legitimate brick & mortar bookstore stocks PA books.

PA charges their authors to produce their books. They pay a token $1 advance when and if they pay an advance at all. They have a habit of going after anyone who criticizes them in any manner (and I'll probably get hit for posting this, but there's nothing they can get out of me and this is free speech so "What the hey") and of sending their authors to harass people who criticize them. PA also has the habit of trying to lure more and more new writers to their side of the playing field stating that they're leveling it for everyone by challenging the business model of the bigger and more professional publishers.

Yog's Law, coined by James D. MacDonald, states "Money should flow toward the author". PA reverses this process. With them, money flows toward the publisher, right out of the author's pockets. The author receives a crappy product, no marketing services, no ability to get their work into legitimate bookstores or online markets (for the most part - Amazon does advertise some PA books for some silly reason, probably profit-based), and no legitimate publishing credit.

Essentially, PA hurts mainstream/legitimate publishing by convincing gullible or unknowing writers to spend tons of their own money getting their work published by an illegitimate and unethical publishing company. For some reason they've also managed to convince hundreds or thousands of writers that their model is legitimate and that, if the rest of us would only get out of their way and give them the chance they deserve they'd be a huge success. PA has also managed to convince these people, who are generally probably good people themselves, that they are in fact legitimate authors and to go out en masse and counterattack anyone who attacks PA as illegitimate. They tend to be a bit belligerent about their writing and their association with PA as well. PA convinces them that their the best thing since sliced bread and some of them take it to heart, unfortunately.

Jim MacDonald has almost made a profession out of chasing these scammers in an effort to try to protect writers from themselves.

Publish America has zero professional standing in the legitimate publishing world. Advertising a PA work is nearly the proverbial "kiss of death" for your work if you mention it. No legitimate agent or editor is going to credit you for anything done through Publish America. In fact, it's probably going to get your manuscript summarily bounced to the rejection pile unread if you mention it. All the while, PA is lining their pockets with your money.

Writing is hard work, folks. It takes time, learning, education, and more time to hone your craft. Most professional writers will tell you that they're still learning the craft. You spend weeks, months, and sometimes years working on a manuscript, writing and rewriting it until your baby's perfect. You then spend more time finding an agent or publisher and then you have to work with an editor and do it all over again. You deserve to be paid for your work. You deserve to work with professional editors who know the markets and the language usage far better than you probably do, even if you've been in the business for years. You deserve to be treated better than receiving a $1 advance or no advance at all) and then having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars of your own money getting your books printed.

Don't fall for the PA scam. Don't let PA authors tell you how wonderful their relationship with PA is and how much they love them.

"Money flows toward the author" not the other way.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Few More Words On Life

I was just reading over my first post here from 4-1/2 years ago and Wow! Just Wow! I was quite the curmudgeon back then.

While I'm still a bit of a curmudgeon, I think I've softened up quite a bit from back then. A lot of other stuff has changed as well. I spent from January, 2004 through August, 2007 working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as a security officer and, to be quite honest, it was one of the best jobs I've ever had. In August, 2007, however, the contract changed hands and I left in a bit of a huff. The new people running the operation there didn't have a clue what they were getting into in my opinion and they had little idea what "continuity of command" meant. They seemed determined, I felt, to put their own people into place ahead of the "old guard" who had been there for years and promoting people who had little experience into positions of authority they really weren't prepared for and/or didn't even want. I felt they were "profit people" rather than "people people" so I got out while the getting was good.

Then, just when things started to look up (I was invited to take the physical to join the police foce at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) I got really sick. On the day the test was being given I was laid up in bed with knees the size of a grapefruit. In December I went into the hospital with a golfball-sized ulcer on my right lung, my left lung partially-collapsed, and both lungs so heavily infected the doctors thought I had tuberculosis. I spent 3 days and 4 nights in an isolation room in the hospital, but fortunately I tested negative for TB and responded well to the antibiotics. I did return to the hospital 3 more times in 2008 for pneumonia and complications due to asthma though so I wasn't at all healthy during most of that year. I did a lot of writing, learning, and thinking during that period though.

In October of 2008 I relocated from California to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma for cost of living reasons. My 2 dogs, mother, and aunt relocated with me. It might seem an odd living arrangement, but it works for us (I initially moved in with them to help out after my mother had an iner ear operation from which her hearing and balance never recovered). I'd been wanting to move to Oklahoma since traveling through the state back in 1998 or '99 on a driving vacation (my preferred vacation travel method).

I worked as a security officer for Wackenhut Corporation from October, 2008 through April, 2009 patrolling the BOK Tower, the tallest building in Oklahoma and something like 4 neighboring states, but quit there when our wages were frozen and there was no possibility of moving up or sideways where I was. I also wanted my nights, holidays, and weekends back after a long time.

Currently, I'm working part-time as a bookkeeper for a roofing company, and seeking more gainful employment or to expand my home business while writing.

In 2006 I had my short story "The Meadow" published by Bewildering Stories, an online weekly publication that's been going for a number of years (they're up to Issue #310 or 311 currently). They published my short story "Knock On Wood" in 2007 as I recall and selected it as one of their featured stories for their 2008 1st Quarter Review.

I also completed the first draft of a science fiction novel "Hatchings" in early 2007 and have been polishing it up for the last couple of years. A partial is currently under consideration with agent Jason Yarn at Paradigm Talent Agency.

In the meantime, I'm shopping several short stories around to various publications. My short stories "The Light Of An Oncoming Train", "Night On A Boat", and "The Interview" are currently on the subbing rounds. The first two are part of a sequence I've been working on featuring the private investigator Quentin Dallas. Dallas attracts weird so the stories are a combination of detective thriller and horror with, I hope, a large dose of humor. I've been working, off and on, on another story in the sequence titled "The Midnight Box" wherein Dallas investigates the theft of a rare and valuable Irish box that holds a unique mystery of its own. I think Dallas is one of the most fascinating characters I've ever invented and I owe a lot to Raymond Chandler and especially Glen Cook and his "Garrett, PI" series for the inspiration. I also owe J.A. Konrath for not a little bit of inspiration from his "Jack Daniels" series. If you haven't read Chandler, Cook, or Konrath, I highly recommend them. Konrath's "A Newbie's Guide To Writing" is an invaluable tool (and it's free!). I met Glen Cook at last April's Conestoga 13 in Tulsa and I'd love to get Joe Konrath to come to Tulsa so we can go bookstore-and barhopping together.

I'm currently reading Jack Kilborn's "Afraid", Joe Konrath's "Rusty Nail" and just finished David Gerrold's "Worlds Of Wonder" (another highly-recommended "how to" book for writers that has an incredible amount of information in it).

In the meantime, I make the rounds at Absolute Write Water Cooler and Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine's forum and am a member of the Analog Writer's Group, Critters Online Workshop, the AW Horror Hounds, and a few others. Maybe, one of these days, I might actually sell something.

Who knows? Worse things have happened.

Why We Like Being Scared

I'm trying this again after a delay of 4-1/2 years. Those years have seen a lot of changes which I'll tell you about later, maybe. Suffice it to know that I intend to keep this blog up on a more or less regular basis from now on.

I've become quite the regular poster over at the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums since I've become more and more dedicated to my writing. You can find them at

I can't say enough about AW. The forums there are a goldmine of information for writers and about writing. If all you do is read the "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim" thread you'll be there for days and will learn more than you thought was ever possible about the craft. The thread's moderator is the reknowned author James D. MacDonald, just so you know.

Today, there was a posting by a member who asked "What Makes A Story Scary?". I didn't have to think too hard about this and made the following post,

"The question's answer is probably different for everyone, but the basics are probably nearly the same for each of us.

There's something deep in our psyche that likes to be scared, that likes the feeling of hiding in the dark and listening for the monsters under the bed, the creak of the attic door opening in the darkness, the howl of a wolf on a night of the full moon, the creep of the fog as it slides slowly over the landscape...

The "fear" does not have to be visceral. In fact, most books probably work better when the fear is intensely psychological and leave you breathless with anticipation. I think Hollywood gets it completely wrong with their indulgence of the chase and the gore over the suspense and the anticipation of the final outcome.

Look at the types of psychological drama that Alfred Hitchcock was able to convey with almost zero gore factor. Yet, even though there's so little blood in Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, North By Northwest, etc., etc., those movies work so much better than schlock and shock pieces like Friday The 13th, Caw, or several others I could name. Even the first Halloween movie worked better than Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday The 13th because of the sense of suspense and oncoming doom for the character of Michael Meyers' sister.

Alien and Aliens are good examples of good psychological suspense movies as is the 1982 version of The Thing. Night Of The Living Dead (the original) has its share of gore, but the real suspense is between the characters inside the house awaiting the moment when the zombies are going to break in and eat them alive.

It's not the moment of final drama, it;s the suspense leading up to that final moment that keeps us on the edges of our seats, that gets our hearts beating faster, and makes us clutch the arms of the theater seat tighter as the moment looms closer and closer to characters we have somehow come to care about. Remember that - as several have pointed out above, it's about the characters and the suspense, not the moment when the axe falls and the blood splashes..

It's about that deep-seated thing in our psyche that loves to be scared, that loves it when our heart races faster, our blood pumps harder, that tenses our muscles and makes us feel alive and connected.

It's a connection with our world and the characters in a book or story that's important to us because all too often in our world today we are so disconnected from what's going on around us. We don't hunt for our food. Picking up a chicken at the grocery is a far, far cry from chasing it across the range and killing it with our bare hands. But that little piece of what we once were is still inside us, hidden, but still rails against being trapped in an 8x6 cubicle all day long with no glimpse of the sun or the fields or the mountains or clouds beyond the cold gray concrete walls of the city. It wants out. It wants to feel again. It wants to feel the thrill of the wind in our hair and the thrill of the chase and even the moment of the kill. We evolved as hunters and that hunter is still within us.

But we also evolved as the hunted and there's this tiny speck within us still that loves the thrill of that chase too. It gets our blood pumping, our heart racing. It makes us feel alive again in a way that sitting in an 8x6 cubicle never can or will. It lets us know that there's still a life out there, that there's still life in us too.

It's fear and yearning and the desire to chase and be chased. It's emotions and characters and connection.

We love to be scared because it helps us feel alive.

Please forgive my pontification. Yee, Gods I'm longwinded tonight..."

Yup, it was a bit long-winded, but I think it gets to the heart of the matter.

I'd like to know what you think.