New Reviews for THE CAVE and RECIPROCAL EVIL

I am pleased to link to two reviews of my ebooks THE CAVE and RECIPROCAL EVIL. Author Bella Dean Joyner read both of them and gave them thoughtful and positive reviews here:

Book Review: Scott Dyson works Reciprocal Evil and The Cave

I was especially happy about this quote:

“The monster, as I stated before, is unlike anything I had encountered with any other story in this genre.”

I tried for something original, and was pleased to see that Ms. Joyner recognized it as such.

Give the review a read, and while you’re there, please look at Ms. Joyner’s own novel, THE STILL. I’ve read it and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Here’s a blurb:

A malevolent spirit condemns a man to madness and grips a once peaceful town in terror.

Haunted by disembodied voices, Deric can no longer differentiate between hallucinations and reality. Something sinister lives in his house, distorting his perceptions and controlling his consciousness.

In the grasp of a darkness that he cannot subdue or escape, he seeks vengeance on the residents of the sleepy mountain town, each murder more sickening than the last.

As Sheriff Haines gets closer to discovering the truth behind the mutilated bodies piling up in Edelleen, Deric begins to unravel and the dark figure lurking in the shadows of the still starts to take on a life of its own.

But with a failing marriage and exposed affair sending his personal life and career spiraling, will Sheriff Haines be able to put his personal conflicts aside in time to stop the killings? Or will Deric lose the battle between conscience and horror, unleashing unabated evil onto Edelleen?

A fast-paced, gripping psychological horror. If you are a fan of Stephen King or Dean Koontz, this is right up your alley.

My two books:

Thanks to Bella Dean Joyner for the excellent reviews!

My story is in a new anthology!

I wrote a short story that I called “The Grillmaster” and which was released today in the anthology I JUST WANTED TO GRILL. The story is only 1300 words and the anthology only contains four stories (37 pages). The price is $0.99.

There’s a bit of a backstory to my own tale. Back in the 1990’s I was part of a couple of Delphi forums, one called the Book and Candle Pub, the other called the Horror Discussion Group. Both forums were dedicated to reading and writing horror.

One of the participants of both forums was a talented writer named “Vinnie.” Vinnie wrote a story called “The Butcher” for a contest, though I don’t remember which forum it was posted in. I was reminded of the children’s rhyme about the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. So I wrote one called “The Baker.” Vinnie followed up with one about a candlestick maker, though he didn’t call it that. Vinnie has since passed away, killed too young in a motorcycle accident.

When J.C. Deadman put out a call for a flash fiction story themed around “grilling” (I’m assuming it was related to the July 4th holiday, since that’s when this all went down), I started thinking about the short story I wrote back then. What if that serial killer lived somewhere and got ticked off about a neighbor’s party? And what if he didn’t want to have his M.O. tied to someplace so close to home?

You want to know what happens, give it a read. I JUST WANTED TO GRILL is only $0.99 on Amazon as an ebook.

And there you have it. A new Scott Dyson short story!

#

Which story should I write?

I have so many stories started, many in various stages of completion. I don’t know what to do. So I decided to run a little poll here on the blog.

If you think I should write a certain story, you vote by buying a copy of the ebook that will count for that story. The link to the ebook will appear at the end of each description.

First: I’m working on a series of novels about a detective who becomes a vampire. I call it the Striker Files. The first novel is set after the events of the three short stories (already published) and describes a battle between rival vampire factions, and it is more or less complete. The second novel is set in France and pits my MC against something that’s more than a vampire, someone bent on destroying all the vampires who exist. It’s also more or less complete. The third is a work in progress. It is set back in the States and pits our hero vampires against the antagonists of both the first and second novels. When it is done, I’ll publish all three works. If you think I should work on this one, vote by buying THE STRIKER FILES: 3 in 1 Collection. (It costs $0.99.)

Second, I finished (but haven’t published) a novel about the moon striking the Earth, and about the bad things that people do when unfettered by the rule of law. I started a second novel with those same characters, in that same town, and someone is grabbing survivors of the disaster for their own nefarious purposes. My original group gets split up and they need to rescue Dr. Jessica Stewart from whatever has happened to her. After I finish this one, I’ll try to publish both of these in rapid succession. If this one interests you, then go ahead and buy a copy of THE CAVE. (It also costs $0.99.)

These next two are both post-apocalyptic and both have to do with pandemics. The first is a story about an engineered disease that kills adults and leaves kids approximately 18 and under to fend for themselves. I actually started writing this in the early 1990’s (or maybe even late 1980’s). It started off set in a fictional town in Wisconsin called Pond Lake. But as I started working on it again, I felt like I needed more. So I wrote four separate stories, the original Pond Lake story, a story set in Rochester, Minnesota (home of the Mayo Clinic), one set on the North Side of Chicago, and one set on the South Side of Chicago. The stories are starting to converge and the work is in the 60-70K range right now with a lot more to go. If this is the one you think I should keep working on, buy a copy of THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT. (Also $0.99.)

The second is a story that was inspired by Hugh Howey’s WOOL. If you haven’t read those stories, they’re about a nanomachine that’s released around the world, and has a timer as to when they will become lethal to those who are infected with them. The people who did this have selected certain folks as survivors and sequestered them in “Silos,” vertical dwellings that are underground. There are fifty such silos and Howey’s series is set around what happens in them as the plot is revealed.

I wanted to write something based in his world (Mr. Howey had graciously opened the world for others to write stories in), but I didn’t want to write about the silos. I wanted to write about potential survivors elsewhere in the country who were not in the silos. When I realized that this wasn’t going to work, I decided instead to just continue the story I was writing. I made it another biological thing, with a small percentage of survivors. It’s an engineered disease again, with very few survivors. When I lost my way, I incorporated another story I’d been working on into the narrative (sort of like McCartney and Lennon combining two songs to make one). The first part follows a group of college engineering students as they attempt to build a shelter to survive the release of the disease, which they know about because of leaks and such. The second part goes to the shelters where the people who were behind the whole thing were waiting things out, waiting to emerge and repopulate a world built in their own image. The third follows one of the immune survivors as he makes his way to try to find his daughter. If you think I should continue working on this one, buy my story ODD MAN OUT. ($2.99.)

I’ve told some people about Addison Falls, the shared world that was created by Alan Mietlowski back in the 1990’s when we were all online at Delphi Internet Services. Alan compiled a list of locations, stories and characters that we could all use to create new characters. A few others were added as we wrote our stories in Addison Falls. I felt that I should set a novel in the Falls, and so I began writing the story of a teacher who is concerned about a missing student, and his investigation leads him to discover the weird and dark underbelly of the town. Teamed up with a pretty reporter for the local newspaper, he tries to discover the reason that not just one but several students have gone missing over the past year, as well as why few of the townfolk seem to care much about it. If you think I should write this one, buy a copy of THE INN. ($2.99.)

I had a dream. In this dream, I was at a retreat with some other authors (none of whom I’ve ever met in real life). I don’t remember much of the dream, but when I woke up, I had this idea to write a novel or novella about this scenario. So I made a list of my horror authors who’d be attending, and correlated them to some real life authors, none who I know much about — just what they post on Facebook and such. So I’m inventing personalities based on their FB personalities. What sort of bad things are going to happen at this retreat in the middle of nowhere? I don’t know yet. But if you want to know, vote for this project by buying my book RECIPROCAL EVIL ($2.99).

Okay, and finally, science fiction (ish). A few years ago, when they announced that THE FORCE AWAKENS was coming to the theaters, I thought, what a great time to write some space opera! So I started one. Got quite a few words into it, then went back and rewrote the entire beginning of the story. Also threw out some of what I was doing and where I was going with it. The idea is that there is a code to the further evolution of humankind that is found — somewhere — in our galaxy. I have a princess of sorts — actually an empress — who a space junker finds when he salvages a derelict spacecraft. And she’s running away from a rebellion that threatens her back in her own galaxy. And in my view, humans are ubiquitous around the universe. Someone has “seeded” their DNA throughout the galaxies. But they aren’t alone, at least in other galaxies besides the one where the empress is from. I like the ideas I have for this, but I haven’t gotten very far. (Maybe I need a cowriter.) And I also gravitate toward horror thrillers. So in order to get me to write this one, you have to buy two (short story collection) books. Don’t worry; both are $0.99. Here’s the links: 14 DARK WINDOWS and DIE 6.

Obviously I’m sort of joking here. First, no one is probably reading this (my blog isn’t exactly a destination blog). Second, I’m gonna write whether anyone buys anything or not. But it would be nice to sell a few copies, too. Third, if you really were interested in one of the story ideas I described over another, you could just leave a comment and tell me.

But if I check my Amazon sales in the next few days and see that 100 copies of THE INN were sold, you can bet I’m going to finish up that Addison Falls story!

#

So what’s new?

Nothing.

Oh, you thought I was going to stop there? Nah. I’ll keep writing and hopefully make it sort of interesting, though nothing is really happening at the moment.

We’re back to work. That means that I’m getting very little writing done. But I did start a new novel with my Odd Man Out characters. I needed another project to work on like I need the cliche’d hole in my head. But there it is. So — currently under construction, there is Odd Man Out 2, Striker 4, Kiddie PA adventure, adult-y PA adventure, Moon Hits the Earth 2, Addison Falls, and college horror.

The other thing I’ve been working on a little is this Blue Sky Theme Park book. I used to write a blog called Disney Fan Ramblings (still do, once in a while), and I made several posts about imagineering my own theme park. So I went back, collected them, rewrote them, and am expanding on them. I recently received THEME PARK DESIGN by David Younger for Father’s Day, and it gave me a lot to think about and to write about specifically with respect to my own ideas for a theme park/resort development in the upper Midwest. It’s fun. I may never publish it, but who knows? Maybe Theme Park Press will want it.

We watched the last couple of Mission Impossible movies and found them to be a lot of fun! Also I watched TRAIN TO BUSAN, a Japanese zombie movie that was really well done. I forced my kids to watch THE SIXTH SENSE with me, and they enjoyed that one as well. My son has me watching SCRUBS with him. I never watched it when it was on TV, but it’s pretty entertaining.

I’ve been fighting the good fight with respect to wearing masks. I post off and on about it on Facebook. Bottom line: Don’t be selfish, wear a mask. It will help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Also, be selfish and wear a mask, if you want things to return to normal and not have to close back up because of overwhelming the health care system.

I have some time right now, so I’m gonna try to write a bit. Sayonara.

#

COVID-19 and Creating

As you may know, I am a health care provider. I own a dental practice and am responsible for the care of a couple thousand people, and the livelihood of five more, including myself. We’ve been shut down during this pandemic; we will reopen soon but we are at the mercy of our supplies of PPE (that’s personal protective equipment, if you don’t know by now). Masks, especially, are hard to come by, as are some surface disinfectants like Lysol spray. At first we couldn’t find hand sanitizer, liquid soap, paper towels, any type of surface disinfectant, alcohol, and even hydrogen peroxide. Now, some of those things are more available. Not like pre-Covid-19 levels, but we can get them, sometimes at inflated prices.

Anyway, that’s only there to point out that there are many distractions from being creative, and this pandemic has provided even more. When we first closed, I felt good. I didn’t think we’d be closed long, and I was able to get some needed rest and concentrate on writing. But since my last post, which was approximately 6 weeks ago, I’ve accomplished very little on the writing front. I think about the stories I have going. I’ve been concentrating mostly on two novel-length projects. The first is that Addison Falls novel that you can read about in my previous post if you’d like. The second is a third (or fourth, if you count the prequel short story volume) in the vampire detective series. I was inspired to start on that one after re-reading LIVE GIRLS by Ray Garton, and then following it up with his NIGHT LIFE story (featuring some of the same characters) and LOT LIZARDS, both of which exist in the same universe. I wanted a different “vibe” to the story and Garton’s works provided me with a glimpse of the neon-y cheap strip club vibe that I think might make it work better.

I haven’t had a lot of ideas for NEW works beyond the stuff I already have going. As we prepare to get back to work at our office, I hope to reduce the distractions and stress levels associated with continuing on in this pandemic. It’s probably wishful thinking, but hey, gotta hope for the best, right?

Time to Write…

There aren’t a lot of silver linings to be found in this global pandemic of COVID-19, but two stand out for me. First, I’m getting sleep. I have set my alarm exactly one time since we closed our dental practice on March 19th. I wake up feeling rested and I go through my day, generally, without irritated eyes and yawning. That’s kind of nice. It’s sort of like retirement, I guess, except none of the financial worries went away.

The second is that I have been writing. On most days, I’ve been able to get at least a thousand words written. I finished one short novel, and am plugging away on another. The second one is over 34,000 words now, and it’s been moving along. I’m in that difficult-to-write middle section where everything is designed to move the characters toward the exciting climax. (At least I hope it will be exciting.)

So let me tell you about these two stories. The finished one is as yet untitled, but I’ve been simply calling it Striker 3 to myself. It’s a followup to another non-published novel, which I affectionately refer to as Striker 2. Why ‘Striker?’ Because they’re both followups to the short story collection called The Striker Files. In those three interlocked short stories, PI Rick Striker is hired to find a rich guy’s daughter who has disappeared. By the end of the story, he realizes he’s found something else — vampires. The second story is about how the daughter disappears in the first place (it’s called “Night Family”) and the third is about Rick going back to confront the vampires (titled “Rick’s Rules”). Together they are about 24,000 words of interconnected stories. In other words, short novella-length.

I did a couple of things. I followed them up with a novel of about 59,000 words. Then I rewrote the three stories so that they read more like a continuous novel. Now I’ve finished another novel in the same universe, a sequel set mostly in Paris.

That’s a bit daunting. I’ve only been to Paris once, but Google Maps is a wonderful thing, as is Wikipedia. I had to research the Latin Quarter and the Sorbonne in order to make it more or less accurate. I took liberties, of course. I really don’t know how many students at the Sorbonne live in the Latin Quarter; I assume a lot do because that’s where the school is, but who knows? I’m betting that anyone who might read it won’t know. I’m hoping it’s believable. I also researched some deep background on vampires and found that their lore extends back to the Middle East and Mesopotamia. Legends even talk about the original “humans,” Adam and Eve and Lilith. Don’t remember Lilith? Look her up if you want. Or not, and read my book, and get my twists on her story, when it finally comes out.

I finished it, sent it out to a beta reader (Thanks, Steve!) and will send it to a couple more beta-readers (Thanks Suzan and Kirsten!). Then I looked for another story to work on. I had a weird story I called “A Wrong Turn” which was sort of an extreme horror story, and I rewrote parts of that just to get my mind working in a different direction. I didn’t think that would be a problem, but it was. Then again, I’ve never had the chance to write like this before — every day in a row. I often put things aside for weeks, even months, between working on them again. That story came out at something a little over 16,000 words, but I seriously doubt that I’ll ever publish it. After finishing it, however, I was ready to look at something else.

So I moved on to Addison Falls. Addison Falls is the brainchild of Alan Mietlowski, who ran the Horror Discussion Group on the old Delphi Internet Services. He also owned a bookstore and was a wannabe writer, like I am. Alan came up with the idea of a shared town set somewhere in New York State, a handful of common characters, and some settings. Then he turned us all loose in it, and many fun stories came out of it. I wrote one called “The Ghost Train” that appears in my collection Die 6; it is about 11,000 words give or take. Tom McAlister wrote stories about a couple of kids named Angela Morse and James Scott; James has a bit of a quirk in that he wears a metal bowl on his head because he doesn’t want his brain to be scanned or something like that. Tom, who went by the name ‘Waddles,’ gave me permission to include his characters in my novel. Alan, sadly, passed away several years ago. Alan, Waddles, and a guy named D.V. Schwitalla (a HDG member who was a terrific writer and who also passed away a number of years ago) all appear as writers in my novel as well. I hope Tom won’t mind.

In Addison Falls, a teacher is haunted by the absence of a student. No one seems to be taking her absence very seriously. When he asks about her at a school meeting, someone informs the town reporter, Jenni Anderson, of his interest. It seems Jenni has some interest as well. So they team up, and they also become involved personally. Turns out there are more missing students. It also turns out that the town doesn’t appreciate the teacher’s interest in their disappearances.

Anyway, I’m having fun with the story. I’m off for a month, and if I can keep going, I should finish Addison Falls by then. I will have four finished novels and who knows what else ready to go soon after that. It will be time to edit, take beta-reading suggestions, and all that jazz.

I hope that we don’t go any further with the stay-at-home orders, for my practice’s sake. But if it does, at least I have an interesting way of filling some time.

It’s the CHARACTERS, dude!

So I’ve been writing again. Knocked out something like seven thousand words last weekend on my vampire detective sequel to something that hasn’t been published yet. (I wrote three shortish stories that told detective Rick Striker’s story and collected them as The Striker Files; they total about 25,000 words and the collection also contains a bonus short story called “Garage Sale.”) I have an untitled, ~60K work done which is a sequel to those short stories. I’m still making corrections and stuff, but it’s basically ready to publish except for a cover and a good title. And I started a third in the series, this one set in Paris. I had a general idea of where I was going with it, but was having trouble with the specifics. Then I read something (on Wikipedia, of all places!) that gave me a good idea and I’m running with it!

So anyway, as I’m writing, I’m also reading. I’m on a horror binge right now, thanks the new discoveries like Ray Garton (well, he wasn’t really new — I had his book Live Girls in paperback, but it was the only thing I’d read by him) and Duncan Ralston. Their also-bots have led me to a handful of different reads, as have some of the Facebook Horror Readers and Writers groups I frequent.

So I thought I’d talk about a couple of them. Specifically, Glenn Rolfe, Sea Caummisar, and Sam West. Each had an interesting premise. In Rolfe’s The Window, demons that inhabit reflective surfaces seduce vulnerable folks who are unhappy with how their lives are going. Specifically, they target families, because they want to come back to life in the bodies of the members of the family. In Caummisar’s Games #1: New Year, three young women find themselves held captive and forced to participate in games where the result will be a tortuous punishment, but they don’t understand why or know who has kidnapped them. Finally, in West’s The Grindhouse Experience, a group of college kids sign up to be ‘kidnapped’ and taken to an extreme haunted house experience. The waiver they must sign to apply is quite frightening, listing all of the tortures that might be inflicted upon them as participants. And though they really don’t expect to be selected, of course they are (because there would be no story if they weren’t).

These three reads emphasized the importance of character to me. I personally think I do okay with characters. I think a reader of my fiction will end up caring about the people I write about. (If I’m wrong, use the comments to discuss or shoot me an email via the contact form under that menu tab at the top.) I especially like writing about kids, and I think I do an okay job with them.

Glenn Rolfe is someone who can handle writing about young people. His main character is a junior high kid named James who’s been forced to move away from his friends and his father after a divorce. He hates his step-dad and isn’t happy with his mother. He’s been dragged away from his best buddies and his friend’s sister, who he’s infatuated with (in his eyes, it’s LOVE!), and she with him. When the opportunity to spend the rest of the summer with his father, he is thrilled! But at his father’s, he finds a situation sown with discontent and simmering disappointment between Allison, his father’s live-in girlfriend, and his father. And that’s where the demons find their point of entry.

I cared about Rolfe’s characters almost immediately, from page 1 until the end. And I cared about all of them, not just James. I felt like they were real. I knew them as well as I could know a fictional character, and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them. I could say the same thing about all of my favorite books. There have been rare exceptions, almost always in the science-fiction genre, where I connect less with the characters and more with the overarching idea that is being developed. But those books usually aren’t my favorite books. The best ones are the ones that combine the two. When the book is over, regardless of the situation which has just been resolved, I want to know more about James and his friends.

By contrast, I never cared that much about the characters in Caummisar’s Games #1. The reader is introduced to three young women who are partying for New Year’s Eve, and one of them (especially) is pretty depressed and ends up getting very drunk. When they catch a ride home, the driver doesn’t take them home but sedates them by injection and brings them to an abandoned storage locker where he restrains them with cuffs and chains and forces them to play various games. The punishment for not playing is worse than the punishment for losing.

It’s a pretty good story, with plenty of themes at play that give it a richness that it otherwise wouldn’t have. The trouble was that I never felt that I knew Sarah, the main character, or either of her friends and I didn’t really care much what happened to them throughout their ordeal. He tends to head-hop, not sticking to one point-of-view character. One paragraph might be from Amanda’s point of view, the next from Angel’s, and by chapter’s end, we’re in Sarah’s head. I think it would have been more effective to stay in one of their heads, preferably Sarah’s (because she’s the main character). As it was, I never connected with any of them. I didn’t feel their anger, their fear, their pain, their anything. It made an interesting situation into a lesser story. I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I can’t say I’ll rush right out and plunk down money on Games #2 (which was just released).

I moved from there to Sam West’s The Grindhouse Experience. Right away I liked the characters I was reading about. The main character, Lucy, pulled me into her world right away as she resists signing up for the extreme haunted house experience after reading the waiver that they must sign to be selected. Her pre-law friend, the lovely Anoushka, argues that as a contract, the document is worthless; anyone could sue and win if they do any of the stuff specified in the waiver/contract to them, because one cannot consent to having illegal stuff done to themselves. In other words, if you consent to be murdered, it doesn’t indemnify the murderer. They are still liable for their criminal acts.

Lucy intrigued me; she found herself in a difficult situation where she’s in love with Anoushka’s boyfriend, the handsome Mason, but finds herself paired with Rob, an obnoxious horror fan who basically ignores her, because he’s crazy about Anoushka. I cared about her; I cared about all of them (except maybe Rob). It was a good story with a backstory about a horror filmmaker who partnered with a famous horror author, and whose son may or may not be responsible for creating the haunted house. Lucy is writing a thesis on the Grindhouse film genre, and that’s the only thing that makes her even a little interested in the experience. She hopes to gain insight into the genre that will be useful in her paper.

This one was a very good story. It was the first thing I’ve read by Sam West, but I immediately followed it with another by her, called Strange Flesh. I won’t go into it too much here except to say that the same strong characterization holds true for it also.

In my own current hot story, I am writing about vampires. I started this story back in the 1990’s, writing about a detective who is looking for a missing girl. His search leads him to a club called Skid Row, and he encounters something he doesn’t expect — heck, he doesn’t even believe in — vampires. In my world, vampires are really beautiful or handsome. They’re not all that unlikable, except they want to keep their existence a secret, and my detective is threatening that secrecy.

I started with a character — a hard-boiled detective, Rick Striker — who is straight out of a noir film. I kept the story focused on him, and told it through his eyes. I try to get people to connect to him by using a first person narrative to keep the reader in his head and to allow them to know him well. I hope it works. I followed it up with the story of how the missing girl, Lisa Warwick, goes missing in the first place. Then I returned to Rick for a third short story in which he must confront his vampire nemeses. Those three stories make up The Striker Files, a collection that’s published as a Kindle ebook for the expensive price of $0.99.

Even though it doesn’t sell, I wrote a novel set in their universe, and I won’t spoil it but Rick again features as one of the main characters. I head-hop more in this one, but it is a chapter by chapter head-hopping — I don’t switch POV characters from paragraph to paragraph. I think that it’s harder to connect with a character when you switch it up too much, so I try to limit my POV changes to the bad guys (in third person) and the foil, Lisa Warwick’s best friend Megan Woods (also third person) while Rick is still written in first person.

I’m at work on a followup to that unreleased novel, set in Paris, and again with the same sort of head hopping. Besides Rick, this one also has the French characters, Megan Woods and the bad guys as point of view characters.

I like the characters, and I think others would enjoy them too. It would be nice to find out!

Anyway, if you’re a horror fan, go grab those books listed above. They’re all good reads, though I liked two of them more than the third.

*****

Happy Birthday, George!

George would have been 77 years old today.

I came to my Beatles’ fandom via Paul McCartney, and it was always Paul’s records I was buying and concerts I was attending (I’ve seen him 4 times). But it’s George whose music never fails to enthrall me. When I listen to the Beatles Channel on SiriusXM, I hear a lot of solo Harrison works that I am unfamiliar with, and I almost always love them.

Thought I’d list my top ten Harrisongs from George’s solo career. In no particular order, they are:

  • Beware of Darkness – a beautiful song that says so much
  • Isn’t It A Pity – another beautiful lyrical song
  • All Things Must Pass – an epic song for the ages
  • Blow Away – a chorus that you will find yourself singing along with every time
  • What Is Life – a great guitar riff and meaningful lyrics
  • Living In The Material World – just a fabulous hooky song
  • It’s What You Value – great rock song from 33 1/3
  • Cockamamie Business – a rarity but another great rock song
  • This Song – a fun tune that pokes fun at the lawsuit surrounding “My Sweet Lord”
  • Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) – one of his best

I definitely could keep going. I left off so many great songs. But if I was putting together a mix tape or CD, those would likely be my first ten choices. (Except I can’t seem to find Cockamamie Business anywhere except YouTube).

Speaking of which, here’s the video for that one:

Happy Birthday, George!

*****

Oh, the horror!

I’ve been reading a lot lately; paperback and hardcover reads have been all over the place with respect to genre: biography, mystery, science fiction and thrillers. (Currently I’m working my way slowly through those old Timothy Zahn Star Wars novels from back in the old days.) But on my Kindle, I’ve been reading mostly horror.

Why? Well, mostly because horror is what I write. And I’m stalled out on a handful of projects, so I’m reading a lot. I often find inspiration in something I read. Not direct inspiration, like, I read a story and want to write something exactly like it. More like I’ll see something in there that I feel I would have gone a different direction, and that applies to something I’m working on. Or the opposite: I like what happens at a certain point and think that I could use something like that in my own story to make it go. Or I like a character and feel like introducing a similar character can move my story forward.

But also I’m reading horror because I have always enjoyed reading horror. And because I found some good reads, and have been working my way through some of their works.

Here’s the list:

  • Ghostland, Duncan Ralston
  • Sex and Violence in Hollywood, Ray Garton
  • Darklings, Ray Garton
  • Splattered Punk, Matt Shaw
  • The New Neighbor, Ray Garton
  • Dark Channel, Ray Garton
  • The Dark Game, Jonathan Janz
  • The Girl In The Basement, Ray Garton
  • Violet Lagoon, John Everson (novella)
  • Snow, Howard Odentz (short story)
  • Bones, Howard Odentz (short story)
  • The Family Tree, John Everson
  • The Pale White, Chad Lutzke
  • The Final Cut, Jasper Bark
  • Abra-Cadaver, Matt Drabble

Some good reads in there. Some great reads in there. Three of them stood out for me above the rest: Ghostland, Sex and Violence in Hollywood, and The Family Tree.

So I was trying to figure out what I liked about them. Why did they stand out above the others? Primarily it is the characters. All of them feature memorable characters who commanded my attention, set in interesting and scary situations. In Ghostland, it’s a theme park built around real ghosts. Yes, you read that right. Science has discovered a way to detect the energy that these ghosts put off and amplify it and coalesce it so that the ghosts become visible to everyone. They’ve also been able to figure out how to trap and contain them to certain environments. Right away in Ghostland, we are introduced to the spectacle of a house being moved to the grounds of the theme park. The house belonged to a famous deceased horror author, and the main character immediately sees the writer’s ghost staring out at him as the house passes. The experience causes him to have a heart attack and he is clinically dead for a few minutes before being revived. Over the next four years, the girl who was with him, his gaming partner and secret crush, drifts away from him, but circumstances conspire to get them together for a visit to Ghostland.

I loved the two main characters and cared about them from that prologue throughout the entire book. The story is one unlikely event after another, but they work. I believed them completely. It’s a different kind of horror story. It’s a ghost story, yes, but I’ve read plenty of ghost stories before and this felt different. It’s a “serial killer” horror story in a way also, in that there are lots of crazed ghosts in this park who had no qualms about killing in their lives and won’t in the afterlife if they are allowed to, but it felt different than most of that type of story that I’ve read.

The book also has a very cool interactive guide at the end that links to information about the ghosts who are used in the book. Duncan Ralston did a ton of research to write this story, and it shows in the final product. Great story combined with interesting characters and near-perfect pacing made this book one of the best I read in 2019.

The second book is Ray Garton’s Sex and Violence in Hollywood. I didn’t know if I could call this horror, but in the end, I felt like the main thrust of the story was the horrific elements. It follows another great character, Adam Julian, who lives with his screenwriter father. He has everything he wants, but he still hates his father and thinks about killing him. He’s also having an affair with his father’s wife, and when her daughter shows up, things really go south.

There’s a lot of anger directed at parents in this story. Adam’s girlfriend also dislikes her parents. His friend Carter seems to have a better relationship with his own folks, but there’s plenty of dynamics going on with some of the bad guys as well. The violence pushes this story into horror, but it has elements of a lot of genres in it, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. It transcends a single genre and in doing so makes the story so much richer.

The author himself says this about the novel:

SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD is much harder to categorize. My agent went crazy for that book. He shopped it around to New York publishers and each and every one turned in a glowing response, praising the book up and down. They loved it—but they had no idea how to market it. It’s not horror, although it has some horror sensibilities and its characters are devoted horror fans. There’s plenty of crime, but it’s not exactly a crime novel or mystery. It has elements of a thriller, but it’s hard to call it a thriller. It’s funny throughout, but it’s not a comedy. They had no idea how to market it, so they all turned it down with regret. It ended up being published by a small press, but he became so frustrated with the low sales that he sold all the books to me, and over the years I sold them off. Because it’s not horror, it’s never received much attention, because people expect horror from me. And yet, it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, I think. I hate labels.

I agree. As you noticed on the list, I’ve read a fair bit of Ray Garton’s work of late. I have Live Girls in paperback from several years ago and loved that one as well. It shocks me that he isn’t better known. But this is my favorite of the works I’ve read recently. It shows that horror can and does mix with most anything. The best stories work on multiple levels. This is another of those types of stories.

The last of the three is John Everson’s The Family Tree. Everything I’ve read by Everson of late has been great. He can absolutely write creepy original horror. In this one, Scott Belvedere goes to Appalachia to deal with the inn he has inherited, a unique property that is built around a huge old tree. While he’s there, he meets an assortment of characters associated with the inn and even falls in love with one of them. But the tree has some unique properties, and Scott finds out that things are not what they first appear to be. The roots of this tree run deep through his family and through the inn. And the tree needs something that only Scott can give.

This one’s straight horror that leans toward the erotic horror label. Hard to categorize it beyond that. It’s very original, I think — at least I’ve never read anything much like it. Once again, I pick a book with a great cast of characters and a compelling setting for a story that never fails to shock, sometimes even when you’re already expecting the shock. I’m not sure it’s his best (that’s probably either Violet Eyes or The House By The Cemetery) but it’s right up there.

I’d love to continue writing about these books all night but this post is already getting quite long, so I think I’ll stop here. If I get inspired, I may expatiate some more on some of the others that I really loved.

#

If you’re so inclined, take a look over there to your right on the screen, or click the MY BOOKS menu tab above and read a bit about my own offerings. I’m no Garton or Ralston or Everson, but I’m proud of my stories. The biggest criticisms I’ve heard about them from other writers is that they wish the tales were longer. I’m working on writing longer stories. I have a couple of PA novels in progress that are around 100,000 words, and I have two novels completed, both in the 50-60K range. Hopefully this year will see the publication of those two novels and their followups, which are also in progress. Thanks for reading!

#

Can I write?

I’ve been sort of sick since the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I had a couple of days off over that holiday, and I spent them not feeling well at all. By the following Sunday, I was feeling better, but not 100%. Just not contagious. I didn’t miss any work, and I haven’t really been staying home either. But I’m still coughing and blowing my nose like crazy.

What’s that have to do with the titular question? Absolutely nothing. I post it because I’ve been thinking about it lately. A “troll” on a Facebook group I frequent is bashing self-published authors, and suggesting that none of them can write worth a lick. That we are ruining the “industry” such as it is. One of his posts grabbed a snippet of a sample from another member’s work, and then tore it apart.

Well, maybe “tore it apart” is a little strong. He pointed out that the author used “blonde” rather than “blond” as the adjective for a character’s description, and that “mousey” didn’t mean the same thing as “mousy.” (The latter I didn’t know, actually. I assumed “mousey” would mean “like a mouse” but apparently it denotes a color while “mousy” means “like a mouse.”) He criticized some of the telling rather than showing, and I mostly agreed with his criticisms.

But did those details detract from the story being told in the work of genre fiction? I don’t know, because I didn’t read the author’s story, but in the limited reading of the sample, I was intrigued by the story.

So I started thinking: what’s the difference between good writing and good storytelling? Does something have to be written to perfect English standards in order to tell a good story? Do those “show don’t tell” rules have to be followed? Do you have to “kill” all or most of your adverbs?

Lots of us don’t have formal training in writing. I didn’t. I have been writing since I was in grade school. I always did well in writing classes, better than most of my classmates. I was a STEM guy in college and professional school, but I found the time to write a few articles for the school newspapers and even had an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune once. (Want to read it? Here’s the link: MAN’S DESTINY IS IN SPACE. )

But I’ve also been reading since, well, since I could read. I’ve read mostly genre fiction, but I’ve read extensively in many different genres. I’ve read self-published works and traditionally published works. I’ve put a lot of money in publishers’ and authors’ pockets over the years. When you read a lot, you get a feel for the cadence of good writing. You start to “feel” when something doesn’t sound right. When there’s a better, shorter, more clear way to say the same thing. To show the same thing, rather than just describing it with words. I don’t know how to explain it. How can that be taught in a college creative writing course? Will someone with four years of classes in creative writing, and a major or a minor in the subject, be able to do it better than someone with fifty years of reading experience?

I kind of don’t think so. Good writing and good storytelling might not be the same thing, but good storytelling is improved by good writing. Good writing isn’t enough by itself, however. Imagination and passion about the story you’re telling goes further, in my opinion, than flawless writing.

No one’s writing is 100% flawless. Mine certainly isn’t. Just this post, written off the cuff with no planning, has plenty of “errors” in it. But I think it made my point.

If it’s a choice between a good story and a boring story told with elegance, I’ll take the good story almost every time.

#