Tag Archives: writing

My reality…

As you might know if you read the "About Me" section or my bio on Amazon or in any of the ebooks that have it in them, I work full-time as a healthcare professional.  And I am "Dad" to two teenagers, with all the attendant responsibilities.  I also have an older parent who still lives by herself and still drives, but is starting to get a little forgetful. So I'm a little busy. Work is about how it always is.  A little slow in September, as usual, after the kiddies go back to school and the parents take a breather from appointments.  I can always use a few new patients (so if you're in the Crest Hill, IL area and you need a dentist...)  And my mom is about how she always is, also.    Both require a lot of time, but both always have and probably always will. Then there's the kids.  Both are involved, and both keep us plenty busy.  So where do I find the time to devote to my attempt to publish my stories? I have this book, THE INN, ready to go; I had the cover done and had finished a final editing pass of the file.  But when I showed the cover to my wife, she thought we could tweak it a bit.  So I looked for the picture on the site where I thought I got it, a site where you can grab photos for free, for any use you want.  (I think it was Pixabay.)  But it wasn't there.  So I searched the internet, and realized that I hadn't found it there at all, but had seen it on a website and had saved the image to my computer.  I didn't know about the rights to the image I had, and couldn't really find anything, so I thought, it would be easier to find another image and make a new cover. But I just have not had the time to do it.  This weekend is our first big marching band competition, and we'll be gone almost all day for that, so I don't know that I'll get to it anytime soon. Meanwhile, the book sits there, ready to publish. If I get to it over the weekend, I could possibly have it available for purchase next week.  It's a short novel or a novella, about 37,000 words (I think), and I think horror-thriller fans will like it. The next one that is written but needs some rewrites and then editing is something I'm currently calling RECIPROCAL EVIL, but I'm not sure I like that title. I finished Hugh Howey's THE HURRICANE and will try to copy my Amazon review to the blog sometime later. Till then, have a great weekend, readers!  (Am I being optimistic by making that a plural?) *****

New title coming out…

I finished up my final editing pass over the weekend, and I think it's time to post the cover for what will be my most recent and my longest published work to date:  THE INN. THE INN is about a high school band who takes a school trip to a music festival in Alabama, and focuses on their student-teacher, a 22-year-old college senior named Kimberly Bouton.  But this inn has some strange goings-on, and both the teacher and the kids experience that strangeness first hand. I haven't written the blurb yet, but I'm working on it.  This is a serial-killer-horror type of novel (or is it still a novella at around 37000 words?  Probably...) with the standard trappings of horror novels of this type.  I wouldn't call it "extreme horror" -- there are no graphic descriptions of -- well, anything, really.  But it's full of mature and disturbing occurrences, like most horror novels. I've alway been a fan of horror movies, even the slasher-type of movies (though I think it's been really overdone and I haven't seen many in the last several years), and I recently read some novels by indie horror writer William Malmborg , especially one called TEXT MESSAGE and one called NIKKI'S SECRET.  After I read them, I thought that I could probably write something like those stories, and this is my attempt.  I'd like to think that it has my usual level of character development (for better or worse) but I don't think it is for every reader.  If you don't care for this sort of horror novel, take a pass on this one.  OTOH, if you liked RED DRAGON or SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, you might not be totally put off by this one. THE INN, a horror thriller which clocks in at about 37000 words and contains a sample chapter of THE CAVE as well.  Here's the cover: The Inn Book CoverI'll be posting links to it on Amazon in a day or so... *****

Who’s my competition?

Chuck Wendig wrote a blog article called "100 Random Storytelling Thoughts and Tips" in which he lists...you guessed it...one hundred thoughts on how to write a good story, or make the story you are writing better. One struck me as I read it, not because it had anything to do with writing.  Here it is:
35. There’s always something else for the reader to be doing. You are not competing against other writers or other books, but you are competing against the infinity of options open to your audience: games, toys, social media, sex, sex toys, sex games, corn murder, bee wrangling, monkey punching, gambling, sex gambling, exotic drugs created from household cleaners, falcon training, sex falcon training. Treat your reader as exalted. They have given you money and time. Do not punish them for their choice.
Yeah, Chuck's writing style in his blog is a little...silly at times.  Remember, this is written for his audience.  Not mine, or not just anyone.  But his point seems to be one we forget often.  Other books are not our competition.  Choices for entertainment other than reading books ARE our competition.  All of our competition.  If you write, you are in competition with all the things Chuck listed.  (Okay, probably not those things.  But certainly we're in competition with Netflix, with Wii and X-box and PS4, with computer games and websites, with someone's smartphone or iPad, or any number of other things.) The point is that reading good books is something we writers all want to do (or we wouldn't be writing) and something we writers want all of our readers doing.  If today that good book is by me, great!  Better than great!  But if today you're reading something by another writer of horror, or mystery or SF/Fantasy or thrillers, and it's a good story, that's great too!  (Just not as great as if you were reading that good book by ME!) When I read a good book, it triggers something in me...I usually want to read MORE good books, MORE good stories, of the sort I just read, maybe, but maybe something else...the important point, and the relevant point, is that it is a good story and I want MORE!  So I'm thrilled to tell someone about a great book I've read, an interesting and/or thought-provoking story, an inspirational tale.  I find those often in SF stories, in thrillers, and even in horror, which I believe focuses so much on the characters and the settings, which are two things I love to see come alive. No, as a writer, I'm not in competition with other writers.  We all have the same self-interested goal of promoting reading in others, and so much the better if it is in readers who love the kinds of stories that we tell. Why did this hit home with me?  Because I've been sitting at home reading Flashback by Dan Simmons, and my kids are on YouTube watching videos about games that they play.  Meanwhile there are good books just laying there that I thought they wanted to read.  But they aren't.  I'd prefer they read, but they're old enough to take my strong suggestion that they read instead of watching  (and my criticism of the stupidity of watching videos about video games) and chuck it out the window.  They work very hard during their school year (dare I say harder than I work at my job?) and right now they're both working hard, with long days, in band camps.  So they can ultimately do what they want with their limited leisure time, at least to a degree.  But it doesn't stop me from being dismayed. Orson Scott Card, David Price, and and dozens, no, hundreds, of authors are in competition with YouTube for their leisure time.  They're not in competition with me as an indie author, or with each other as traditional published authors. We all need to do what we can to promote reading, and we shouldn't worry about whether we're in competition with each other.  Because we're not.  No way. *****  

Why I write – a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig

I often read Chuck Wendig's TerribleMinds blog: I find it to be informative and always entertaining, and the comments are often fun as well.  So when I saw a "flash fiction" challenge that didn't involve flash fiction, in his post titled "Today's Flash Fiction Writing Challenge Is Not About Fiction," I thought, why not?  Let me give it a try! It's not really a question I've often asked myself.  The short answer, I suppose, is that I really enjoy it.  Why do I play piano or guitar?  Because I enjoy it.  I'm good enough on both to play in, like, amateur bands and such, with an occasional appearance on a CD or something, but I'm not massively talented on either one.  Plus, I don't put in the work to take full advantage of the talent I do have.  I was, at one point in my life, able to supplement my income by playing music.  Not by much, but still... So I write for the same reason.  I like to write.  I think I do it well.  I'm no Stephen King, but I think I'm as good as a lot of people writing fiction today.  I know what I like when I read, and I try to write those same things, in that same style.  Why do I think I can do it well enough to publish stories?  For the same reason that I was able to take the stage in front of a house full of bar patrons or wedding guests and feel comfortable playing a rip-roaring solo on a rock and roll tune on piano. There's a longer answer.  When I read some of the other entries to Chuck's challenge, I noticed that mostly, they had deeper thoughts on this issue.  So I thought, there must be a deeper reason for me as well.  And I thought about it some more, and came up with some other stuff. I've been writing since I was in grade school.   I watched a Disney episode on some wild animal or another, with the folksy narrator who personified the cute little bugger, and I wrote my own story in the same vain, about a bobcat in New York.  I read some non-fiction about Native Americans and the trains that traveled through the plains with the passengers shooting cows, er, ah, bison who were meandering on the prairies, minding their own business and munching away.  Then I wrote a short story about something like that.  I loved baseball as a kid, and made up my own fictional team (The Joliet Argonauts) and wrote three long-ish stories that detailed their championship run.  (My teacher told me that I might have a future as a sportscaster or a sports journalist.)  My friends and I had a snowball fight and I fictionalized that. I always wanted to describe the world the way I thought it should be, or maybe the way I wanted it to be.  So I wrote.  When I read stories by Heinlein, by Asimov, by Clarke, then later by King, Koontz, McCammon and so many others, I saw worlds that inspired me to think about my own worlds...and it seemed natural to write about those worlds.  Even more, I saw characters that drew me in, that made me feel like I knew them.  And I pictured my own characters, and again, it seemed natural to put them into situations. These situations are called stories, and I write them for the same reason I read a lot – because I want to see what happens to these characters as they explore these worlds. That's my own story, and I'm sticking to it. *****

Subscription services for ebooks – some thoughts

When I started practicing dentistry almost 30 years ago, I became involved in a reimbursement plan called “Capitation.” It was “insurance” where families or individuals paid a set fee every month, then the company took a percentage of that fee and passed the rest on to me. Their advertising to patients stated that they ‘covered’ 100% of every dental procedure known to man. When I first started with them, I was actually getting checks for a little more than what I would have billed for services on capitation patients that month. But very soon that corrected itself and I was getting less than what I would have billed, by about 20%. Then another provider quit and I got a large influx of new patients. I started making more money, but very soon I was doing way more work than I was getting paid for. It got to the point where I was getting only 40-50% of the work I was doing. So I quit. The future of bookselling, says Joe Konrath among others, is in subscription services.  No one says that books will not still be purchased, but what Joe says, if I'm understanding him correctly, is that for many readers, especially avid readers, there will be a significant economic incentive to borrow books via a service like Scribd or Amazon's Kindle Unlimited rather than purchasing the titles. I can certainly see how he comes up with that view.  It's exactly what happened with my capitation participation.  As the subscribers to the plan figured out that they could get an unlimited amount of dentistry done for one set monthly fee, and perhaps just as importantly, that there was a new young dentist out there who would do the dentistry they needed (and do a good job of it), they flocked in to use their "insurance."  Very few of them understood what they were paying for.  As far as they knew, they were paying an insurance premium and I was getting paid by the insurance company for work done as I did it.  (That IS the situation with fee-for-service insurance, which is capped at one to two thousand dollars per year but pays me for the services I perform on patients.)  Capitation was a great plan for the patients – as long as there was a provider willing to do dentistry for the amount of money he was receiving. So, there are three distinct entities involved in systems like this.  One is the reader.  She is analogous to the patient in my capitation situation.  She wants stories to read, and a subscription service would seem to give them to her.  How many stories she reads in a month?  It's limited only by her speed of reading and the time she has available for reading. The second is the author.  She would be analogous to the provider, who, in my case, is the dentist.  She produces stories for the reader to read.  How many stories can the author provide?  Well, again, it depends on the speed of the author (ie, how fast she can write) and the amount of time she has to actually write stories.  It's limited by both of those two things, just as in a dental practice.  In my case, I was limited by the number of appointments I had available for everyone, not just the capitation patients.  I was also limited by how long I took to perform a specific procedure.  Root canals took longer than fillings and cleanings.  Dentures took more appointments.  I was also limited by my own costs.  I suppose an author is limited by the costs of editing, proofreading, cover, formatting, etc etc.  In other words, in both situations there would seem to be a floor as to reimbursement.  Reimbursement needs to cover the costs of doing business. The third is the "Company."  In my case the company was one that provided capitation-style "insurance" to various employers so they could provide reasonably priced dental plans to their employees.  In an author's case, the companies are Scribd and Oyster and Amazon.  The company has to balance the amount of money coming in with the amount of money going out in such a way that it covers its cost of administering the plan (in the dental example) or delivering, storing and providing some promotion for the ebooks in the lending service (Scribd, Oyster and Amazon).  Oh, and it needs to make a little profit.  (Costs would include the salaries of everyone involved in the process of acting as the middleman.) In the case of Scribd, it seems that they were paying authors for borrows as if the books were purchased.  Voracious readers were reading a LOT, apparently, and Scribd was responsible for paying the authors as if those readers were purchasing every book.  (Almost sounds like a fee-for-service dental plan.)  Authors were paid per unit read, full price for the book.  Readers were paying a flat fee (something like $8.99 a month?) to access as many books as they wanted to. In Amazon's Kindle Unlimited, Amazon collects a flat fee ($9.99 a month) from subscribers, and allows them to borrow ten books simultaneously.  It then takes their subscription fees and puts them into a pool (minus whatever costs they feel they need to withhold to cover their operating costs and whatever profit they want to make), and from that pool it reimburses the authors whose books were borrowed.  (I think I understand this correctly.)  Amazon was paying authors if a reader read 10% of their book, which was great for short stories (my own shorts were in there, but I think I only had one or two Kindle borrows), not quite as good for authors of novels and such.  Now they have switched it so that writers will be paid by the actual pages read of their works.  I take this to mean that if someone writes a ten page short story and a reader finishes it, that writer is paid the same as an author who writes a 300 page novel and a reader only reads the first ten pages of it.  (Seems relatively fair on the face of it.) So, if everything is golden, why did Scribd remove a bunch of romance novels from their service?  Apparently they did this because romance readers are reading them right into the poor house.  They're reimbursing every author full price for the books borrowed.  If a reader is paying $8.99 for a month's subscription, it's easy math to see that they can read three books priced at $2.99 before the company starts taking it on the chin.  Not just no profit, but real financial losses. I think this is illustrative of the pitfalls of this sort of model.  Because when you look at Scribd's options, you see that there aren't too many.  First, they could raise subscription fees.  Mark Coker suggested that perhaps there should be a tiered plan, with a basic level that allows a certain number of borrows per month, and maybe an unlimited plan for more money that allows as many borrows as the reader can read.  Any increase in costs up front to the reader will likely lead to less subscribers.  For some it would be a good deal at a much higher fee, but for others it would perhaps tip the scales in the other direction. Second, they could pay authors less.  This is sort of what Amazon's KU does.  There is a fixed pool of money, funded (I assume) in large part by subscription fees.  The pool is divided by the total number of pages read by subscribers, and the authors are paid by pages read.  In general, this model will reimburse authors by some amount that is probably less than the amount they would receive had all the borrowed books been purchased by readers.  I can't say this with 100% certainty, but the math seems to make sense, especially if we're talking about books that are reimbursed at 70%.  (At 35%, the math tips in the other direction.  All of my books are currently priced at $0.99, so I don't make much per purchase.)  But they run the risk of having authors pull their books out of the program if they aren't making enough money for their efforts. Third, the company could simply take losses and hope that the subscription dollars grow as more people subscribe, and hope that not all of them are voracious readers who consume many more books than they are realistically paying for.  They run the risk of losing money and putting themselves right out of business, unless they're a company like Amazon. In my capitation case, the company who administered the plan had very little, if any, risk.  Their biggest concern was in getting a provider who would adequately care for their subscribers.  I know that one of the problems when I was doing it was that when I got that influx of patients due to another provider dropping out of the system, I found that they all needed a bunch of dental work.  The other dentist wasn't doing much of anything.  Cleanings, a few fillings, and not much more.  He was coasting – sitting back, collecting checks and not doing the work because he wasn't treatment planning it.  Many of them needed crowns and partial dentures, and I was doing them, one after another.  I had to ration out the care, because I simply couldn't afford to do it all in one month.  I wasn't being paid for it.  Also, I had to ration out chair time.  I couldn't allow more than a certain number of patients with that plan per week, because I had other, paying patients who I needed to work on in order to keep the business running at that time.  The theory was that once I got a patient or a family completed, they would not need much work in the future, and I could collect their capitation fee without providing much value in the way of services.  In practice, many of the patients dropped the coverage once they got their crowns and partials, and there was no way to force them to continue to pay for it. Some of this has implications for subscription services, some of it is unique to dentistry.  The thing with ebooks is that there are tons of providers (authors) and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of books out there.  It isn't a single author being forced to write stories for the masses for virtually nothing.  But in another sense, that just means that the pot (the subscriber fees) has to be divided in a lot more parts before being distributed to the providers. There is a delicate balance here that is going to be very difficult for a company to negotiate successfully.  Amazon is experimenting with the way they reimburse authors, and they have the size and the ability to spend money in an attempt to figure out a way to do this right, to find that perfect balancing spot. There's more to be said on this issue, but this has gone on long enough today.  If anyone reads this and has any thoughts, please jot them down in the comments!  Thanks! *****

What is “Science Fiction?”

I was touring blogs over my lunch hour here at the office, and came across this interesting selection on The Passive Voice, titled Rockets, Robots, and Reckless Imagination.  It's an article about science fiction in Pakistan and how popularizing it as a genre might benefit the country down the road, and why the author believes this to be true.  I liked the article, but as is often the case, the comments to the article are very thought provoking. So I started thinking about what Science Fiction was, to me.  Sometimes I think it's one of those "I know it when I see it" types of things.  I read a novel or a short story and I know if its SF or something else. I believe there are two different things in play.  First, there are the trappings of SF.  Think Star Wars.  Think Buck Rogers.  Think Star Trek, even.  Put futuristic weapons in a story, set it on a different planet, at some point in the future, and some people will box it up and call it "Science Fiction."  Is it?  Hardly, in my view. Star Wars has a lot of SF trappings in it.  There are space ships, robots, laser weapons, interplanetary travel, and aliens in that universe.  Another example is a Stephen King short story called "The Jaunt."  Have you read it?  It deals with a way to travel between two distant points instantaneously.  It's sort of like warp drive or teleporting in the Star Trek universe.  Is it science fiction?  I say it's not.  The only point of the wormhole, or whatever it is that allows them to travel between the two points, is to create a real horror story.  It uses a science fiction device to tell a frightening tale. Instead, I believe that it is the second thing that makes something a science fiction story, and that thing is "idea."  Good science fiction explores ideas, extrapolates them into the future and tells a story within the framework of that idea.  Can dystopian fiction be science fiction?  I believe it can be.  Can post-apocalyptic fiction be SF?  Again, my answer would be "yes."  But SF can be many things.  Sometimes it's a mystery or a thriller, set in the future and using ideas about the future at its core.  (I'm thinking of some of Asimov's robot stories, and also of the fiction of Steven M. Moore.)  Sometimes it is more straightforward, focusing on the effects, near-term or far-flung, of some important scientific discovery that is within the realm of possibility, however improbable. You can't just throw out a handful of SF trappings and make something "science fiction."  Those trappings have to be integral to the story.  As has been said in many places and many times, Star Wars could have been set in the old West (and in fact, may have been set in imperial Japan?) and the story would be the same.  You could replace the lasers with revolvers or swords, you could replace the robots with people, and you could replace the spaceships with horses or trains or whatever, and you'd have essentially the same story. Take a science fiction story and replace the "trappings" of SF in it, and you won't have the same story.  You likely won't even have a story. To me, SF takes an idea, maybe from today, and extrapolates it in some way, shape or form.  It may or may not have robots, lasers, and space ships, but it will have an idea that has become integral to the story. ***** The comments at TPV talk about religion versus science, and one poster (Antares) points out that for most of us, science has an element of faith in it.  We put faith in a scientist or a teacher or a research paper and accept its pronouncements as truth, much the same way that we accept the pronouncements of a church or a religion as true.  He mentions that few of us have actually done the work to "see" that DNA is a double helix, but we accept that it is based on the assertions of scientists and observers.  I found this interesting.  Something about it seems short-sighted, but I can't figure out exactly what it is.  Anyone have any thoughts? *****  

Why “horror?”

My post from yesterday talked about what scared me, and I promised that I'd write something about why I write what I write, which is mostly horror.  The short answer is that it's what comes out when I start writing.  So there. There's gotta be a longer answer, right? Well, let's see.  I write horror because I think it's fun to imagine scary scenarios.  There's usually a morality play at work in such stories; even if they glorify gore and torture, there's a good-vs.-evil thing going on.  You the reader root for the good guy (usually). I cut my fiction teeth on mysteries when I was small.  All mysteries seem to me to be "small horror" stories in a way.  Something bad has happened.  The mystery is who did it, or why.  Sometimes it's a puzzle story about the act of figuring things out.  Think of thrillers.  Murders, terrorists, evil government agencies, disappearances, bombs, plane crashes -- all these things can be elements of a horror novel.  But the focus is on the good guy solving the problem, not so much on the victim. I remember a mystery I read when I was younger titled THE BLACK SPANIEL MYSTERY (or something close to that).  I remember that these puppies were disappearing.  Or rather, they were being replaced.  But one of the kids noticed that the markings of the puppy were not the same as the markings on the original puppy.  Why?  I can remember feeling for those puppies, as well as for the kids who were hurt by the puppies' disappearance.  That the kids took it upon themselves to solve the puzzle made it a mystery.  But what if the puppies were being stolen just to hurt the kids?  Or they were going to do a "Cruella DeVil" on them and skin them for their lovely fur pelts?  That's horror, no? Further, I moved on to science fiction.  Asimov and Heinlein were my two main sources of entertainment for a long time (considering how many books both of them wrote, you can well imagine that getting through their catalogs took a few years...).  Again, we had mysteries, even in something like FOUNDATION, where the whole book is basically a search for the Second Foundation.  Along the way there is The Mule, a mutant who can rule the universe with his advanced mental powers.  That's sort of scary, isn't it?  He's almost an alien in those books, and here he is taking over the human race.  Admittedly, Asimov's emphasis doesn't focus on any horrific elements, so it remains firmly in the SF realm. Then finally, I found Stephen King.  Now here was horror.  We had a psychic girl going destructo on her high school prom, we had vampires taking over a town, we had the ghosts of evil in a big hotel recruiting the caretaker and convincing him to murder his snowbound family, we had a psychic who sees the end of the world in a politician's handshake and acts to stop it, we had a virus which kills off 99.4% (or something like that) of the population of the U.S., setting up an epic battle between good and evil.  We had ghosts, we had aliens, we had monsters, we had zombies from a pet cemetery...all manners of horror.  All done with style. I didn't really read horror to be reading horror for a long time.  I just read authors.  Dan Simmons wrote some horror (Summer of Night, Carrion Comfort).  Robert McCammon did, too.  So did Orson Scott Card (Lost Boys) and Dean Koontz.  Finally I found authors who wrote nothing except for horror.  Richard Laymon, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Phil Rickman, Melanie Tem, Nancy Holder, Poppy Z. Brite...  So many names, so many scary stories.  The tales varied.  Some were gross and bloody, some were moody and ephemeral. I wanted to write science fiction, but nothing I wrote seemed to really work all that well.  Although I have a science background (chemistry major, lots of health sciences in dental school, and interest in the space program dating to my childhood, so I always took in information about the goings-on in science), my stories never seemed really plausible to me.  Maybe that was the problem.  Maybe I knew enough to know that what I was thinking wasn't really going to work, but not enough to figure out a way to make it believable.  Anyway, as big of a fan of SF as I am, I've only written three short stories that are more or less in the realm of SF. Everything I write seems to always come back to either the supernatural, or to something evil.  I've liked that in short stories I can sometimes have the bad guys win (see my short story GARAGE SALE which is found in THE STRIKER FILES 3-In-1 COLLECTION, or my story THE FUN HOUSE in DIE 6).  I like going in that direction with my stories.  It seems natural to me. I like stories about characters.  I believe that most horror, at least most entertaining (to me) horror, is character-centric.  If you don't care about the victims, then you won't care much about their story.  And there is always a very important struggle between good and evil, between right and wrong.  To me, that's the cool part of a story in the horror genre -- it's the "good will rise over evil" aspect, the fact that while not everyone might live through this evil, in the end, somehow, the good characters will triumph.  Perhaps it will be at a steep cost, perhaps their lives, or the lives of their loved ones.  Sacrifices have to be made.  That's a good story right there, in my opinion.  It's a universal story; one that can be adapted across genres.  Maybe all, or most, good stories have it at their core, somehow. Recently I read a book called SEASICK by Iain Rob Wright.  In the book a troubled cop on holiday finds that he's reliving a day over and over and over and over and...  well, you get the picture.  It turns out (SPOILER ALERT, though I think that even if you know the end, you can probably read the book and enjoy it because it's a pretty fun read) that there is a killer virus on the ship, released by terrorists, and when the ship reaches the dock, it's going to infect the port, and the world, and everyone's gonna die.  How is the cop going to get out of this? Is this a thriller or a horror novel?  Well, the virus turns people into some sort of zombies, so that makes it horror.  But...terrorists...a plot to release a virus...a hero cop...thriller, right?  But, a sorcerer who is causing the day to repeat for this cop until he gets it right...back to horror...  But... You see what I mean.  A good horror novel can be a good thriller.  It just has supernatural aspects, and doesn't shy away from depicting the bad stuff that happens, even if it happens more or less "off camera." I like writing character-driven stories.  I think that most of my stories start with the characters and move on from there.  I don't know if I succeed.  Read something I've written (all short stories, until THE CAVE goes live sometime this weekend, then I'll have a novella in the mix as well) and come back and tell me what you think.  It happens that most of my stories end up being horror in some way, but they're mostly just stories. One of the best horror series I've read in recent years is F. Paul Wilson's "Repairman Jack" series.  Why is it so good?  Because Jack is facing off as the champion of a supernatural entity, and opposing another, more involved supernatural entity, but the horrors are a mix of real-life horror and horror caused in an unbelievable way by something supernatural.  Because Jack is fighting for himself as a sort of every-man, and his family, and even for people he doesn't know but shares humanity with.  Because in the end you just have to know what's happening, how it's going to resolve, and what will become of Jack and Gia and Vicky and Abe and others. It is a character-driven series, in my view, and they are the type of books I love to read, and aspire to write. Anyway, that's a long answer as to why I write horror.  Mostly it's because those are the kind of stories that I make up.  Lot of words to get back to that short answer.  Sorry! *****

What scares me?

I started off thinking that I should write a post about why I write what I write.  As anyone who takes a look at my Amazon page can see, I write mostly horror.  My contribution to the anthology QUANTUM ZOO was NOT horror; it was science fiction, in that it was set in a far-off future where people don't really live on Earth anymore, except for those needed to keep the planet running.  Earth is a sort of zoo-planet (hence the link to the zoo theme of the anthology) and without human interference strange and wonderful things happen.  (I'm considering releasing it separately for $0.99 but for now the only way to read it is to get QUANTUM ZOO!)  Also, two of the offerings in my collection DIE 6 are not horror:  one concerns the possibility of uploading a conscience into a computer network, and the other involved time travel. But everything else is horror, or at least contains supernatural elements, even when the story itself isn't horrific.  (SARAH'S PUPPY, THE MOMENT, and GHOST OF LOVE in the collection 14 DARK WINDOWS come to mind, as do BLOOD TIES and THE TOOTH FAIRY in DIE 6.)  And the forthcoming novella THE CAVE is horror also.  I also have another work tentatively titled THE INN (but that will change, I hope) and one called RECIPROCAL EVIL, both of which are a bit longer (38K and 45K respectively) and both are straight horror.  Not gross-out horror, or splatterpunk horror, but definitely horror. So I started thinking about why I write in that genre, and what it says about me, and I realized that many of the things I write have a "damsel in distress."  Why?  I don't know.  I think I can't imagine very much that is more frightening than a threat to a woman might be.  Why is it always a woman?  Why not a man?  Again, I don't know.  I don't think of a man being terrorized by a serial killer or something supernatural as being particularly terrifying, though when I read works by other authors, I see that it can be. When I think back on the things that really frightened me in my life, to a point that I lost sleep after seeing or reading such things, I came up with two examples.  And no, it wasn't Jason or Freddy chasing around pretty damsels, which perhaps one might think I would find frightening after reading some of my stuff.  It also wasn't something like JURASSIC PARK, or GODZILLA or any of those types of horror films.  It wasn't SALEM'S LOT or THE SHINING, and it wasn't Richard Laymon's or Ed Lee's work.  I found them to be (mostly) pretty interesting stories that grabbed me and made me keep reading, but I didn't stay awake at night thinking about them. What scared me was HELTER SKELTER.  I think I read it in high school, in the late 1970's, and it really affected me back then, so much so that I still think about it today.  The second thing that scared me was a movie called DRESSED TO KILL, which starred Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson and was directed by Brian DePalma.  I don't know why it creeped me out so much, but it definitely did a number on me.  I had dreams (nightmares?) about it.  And the prosecutor's account of the Manson Family crimes scared me to the point where I couldn't fall asleep, certain that every sound in the house was some nutcases crawling around and preparing to kill my whole family. I don't know if I'd have the same reaction to that movie, or that book, today.  Maybe I'm too jaded, too grown-up now to really be afraid of anything I read or see.  I've seen films and read books that seem on the surface to be far scarier.  But none of them bother me.  My own stories don't bother me either; I hope they're entertaining but they don't scare me any more than Bryan Smith's works, or J.A. Konrath's or Blake Crouch's stories, or Tim Miller's or Matt Shaw's books, or John Everson's tales do. As I think about it, William Malmborg's works have made me think and creeped me out, if not to the point where I lose sleep over them.  And one of the most frightening short stories I've read in a long time was J. Michael Major's "A Letter To My Ex" which was published in a SPLATTERLANDS anthology.  Scary stuff.  All-too-human horror on both counts.  I think I've been influenced a lot by Malmborg's books, especially in writing THE INN. I have two topics to write about this week before the weekend release of THE CAVE:  first is sort of a continuation of this post, a bit more about why I write horror instead of SF or mystery or thriller novels, and second is about how my writing career (such as it is) is going and why I'm lowering all my prices to $0.99.  Probably I'll write and post them on Wednesday and Thursday, right before I formally announce the release of THE CAVE.

Labels in fiction…

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, The Passive Voice, when I happened across an article by Ursula K. LeGuin (yes, the famous SF author of such classics as The Dispossessed) titled "Are they going to say this is fantasy?" It discusses an author who wrote a book about post-Arthurian England, where everyone has lost their memories because of a sleeping dragon whose breath causes forgetfulness.  I haven't read the book, but it sort of sounds like "fantasy" to me.  The author is not happy with that label, however.  Ms. LeGuin says that it appears the author takes the label as an insult, and Ms. LeGuin says that she finds his attitude about the label as an insult, as well. My blog article isn't about the mislabeling of books, or eschewing certain labels because they represent a literary ghetto or whatever.  I'm thinking more about labels themselves.  Are they a good thing?  Why do so many authors seem to despise any attempt to categorize their stories?  To fit them onto some overly broad (or overly narrow) shelf where there are other books that might be "like" them? I can't say I understand it completely.  I realize that everyone feels that their story is something unique.  Something personal.  Something that has meaning beyond the story.  Something that educates or informs beyond the devices used to convey that meaning.  And I admit that sometimes (not always) I have a bit of an agenda in writing a certain story; I'm trying to explore something I see in society in some manner through the characters in my story.  I may be trying to make a bit of a statement about how I see something in the world through the way my story unfolds.  Sometimes I do that.  But I never do it at the expense of the story I'm telling, at least in my view. Mostly I just want to tell a good story.  Whether a reader is going to enjoy it, I don't know.  I hope they do.  Some people have enjoyed my stories (at least they said they did) in the past.  But I have to admit that my main goal is to tell a story that keeps my readers (assuming I have any) interested until I finish.  Sort of like sitting around a campfire, except with more (and more interesting) words. So as a writer, I don't mind being labeled.  I like my stories; I find them interesting enough to think that others might enjoy them as well.  But I'm not thinking that they're some sort of high art; that in a hundred years they'll be placed on pedestals in the Book Museum or whatever.  So go right ahead and label them.  If I could label them myself, I would.  I actually do label them, in fact, by fitting them into categories on Amazon.  Am I labeling them correctly?  I don't know.  I'm not real good at giving my own work a label. As a reader, I appreciate labels.  I like recommendations, and labels, to me, seem to be the heart of recommendations.  "If you like 'x', you will probably like 'y'."    That statement, to me, is labeling two stories as appealing to the same group of readers, readers who like 'z' types of stories.  So I like it when someone tells me that something is post-apocalyptic or dystopian science fiction, because I have a certain expectation for those labels.  If someone says something is fantasy, I might steer away from it, because I am not a big fantasy reader (Eddings, Tolkein and Donaldson excepted).  But if someone says something is 'urban fantasy', I might check it out because I associate that label with Jim Butcher, Laura Resnick and Tim Pratt (among others).  If something is labeled 'serial killer horror,' I might give it a look because I've enjoyed stories by Thomas Harris and by William Malmborg and Jeffrey Deaver (three very different examples of authors with stories about serial killers). As a writer, I'd love it if my readers could label my fiction.  So far, all of it is short.  But as I've said, I have a couple more things ready to go.  If I can finish up my editing work and get some covers done, I have two or three that could be released before the summer.  Would you like to label them?  I'd call all three horror thrillers, and two of them have very human criminals who create the horror.  The third is a bit more supernatural. In any case, I don't think labels say anything about a work beyond offering a sort of classification system which is useful to readers, especially power readers who plow through and love certain types of stories.  They don't say anything about the depth of the story, the quality of the storytelling or the technical skill of the author, but they do provide a handle for readers looking for new authors to discover.  As discovery tools how can they hurt?  Labels may be the only thing that writers today have in their bag to help them get discovered, since most of us (99.9% or more) do not have access to those front tables at a bookstore. *****

Works in Progress

And then there were four. Most of what I've published so far is short fiction.  The longest is a three story series, coming in at about 24K words.  The stories are roughly 7K, 8K and 9K, and they're all about the same story but told from different points.  The longest short story I've put out there so far is THE GHOST TRAIN, part of the DIE 6 collection.  It comes in at something over 10K words. But I've been working on longer stories.  And I finished my fourth over the weekend.  This is not to say it's ready to publish.  It isn't.  None of the four are.  But the story is complete. Here are the four:
  • THE CAVE - a horror story about five eighth graders who find a cave in a forest preserve and the cave is something more than just a hole in the ground...  (around 23K words)
  • THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT - when the sun fails to come up for several days in a row, a girl's familiar street becomes a frightening place to be.  (Around 27K words)
  • DEATH BY APPOINTMENT - a who-dun-it featuring a young dentist as the sleuth.  (around 45K words)
  • COLLEGE EVIL - a college kid researches the nature of good and evil, and starts seeing assaults which are happening on his campus in a very graphic way.  How is that possible?  And they are getting more and more personal... (about 45K words)
Those are all just working titles, obviously.  I'm not great with my titles.  But 45K is short-novel length, right?  I'm thinking of combining THE CAVE and THE NEVER ENDING NIGHT into one novella-collection, then putting the other two out individually. Look for them sometime after I get them edited... *****