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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You had me at . . . "Zombie Apocalypse"

The season finale for AMC's The Walking Dead airs on Sunday. If you've missed an episode--and if you have, what the heck is wrong with you?--they'll be running a marathon prior to the finale so you can catch up (one of the benefits of a short season, I guess: you can run the entire season in less than a day).

If you're a fan of zombies, you've probably seen all the episodes already. If you're not familiar with zombies, or if you're a little bit squeamish, this is NOT the show to cut your horror teeth on. It's not a splatterpunk festival, but it's also not shy about sloshing a little gore around. My daughter (a big fan of zombies, and not generally squeamish at all) got a little upset when a very, VERY bad thing happened to a innocent horse. The show is also doing a fairly strong job of building characters and character relationships, and bad things sometimes happen to the people you like (or bad things happen to the people who are loved by the people you like, and then the people you like have to make some cold, hardcore decisions that might leave you a little breathless). It's a little gory, a little gritty, a little gut-wrenching. Four stars, baby!

If you're already a fan, then you're probably wondering when the series will be coming back. Right now, rumor has it that it will be next October. Way too long, if you ask me. And I don't say that just as a fan, impatiently waiting to see what happens next; when you air a series for two months, then leave it for ten months, it's going to lose some of it's buzz. The excitement around it is going to wane a little. You are almost going to have to reintroduce the whole thing to everyone but your core fan base, and it's going to be a little bit like starting from scratch. So I think it's a bad marketing decision . . . but what do I know?

I obsessively put my name into their contest every week (Win a "stagger on roll!" Are you serious? Fingers, toes, and eyes crossed for luck). So I guess I qualify as a member of the hardcore fan base, and I'll be anxiously waiting for the series to return.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Disorderly conduct? Not in MY blog!

Since NaNoWriMo is winding down and the year is coming to a close, I'm trying to get my writing life in order for the new year. I'm setting goals, working on my business plan, preparing a records system . . . and I'm going to try and bring a little bit of organization to the blog.

This is the schedule I'm planning:

Mondays: "From the Desk of . . ." This is where you'll find posts about current projects I'm working on, news about my latest publications, excerpts from my work, etc. Pretty much anything to do with my writing life, you'll find here.

Tuesdays: "Your Frightly News." This is where you'll find news from the world of horror: the latest book releases, movie news, news from other horror writers, etc.

Wednesdays: "Fact is Stranger than Fiction." This is where you'll find general weird news (I'm a big fan of weird news).

Thursdays: "Things That Go Bump in the Night . . . and Day." This is where you'll find information about strange creatures, real, imagined, or otherwise.

Fridays: "Brother, Can You Spare a Link?" This where I'll share links and information of use to the writing brethren.

Saturdays: "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." This is where you'll find stuff that will make you smile (hopefully). Funny links, essays, etc. Anything for a laugh.

Sundays: "Mama's Goulash." Sunday will like a box of chocolates . . . you'll never know what you're gonna get.

So now you'll know what you're going to find when you visit the blog. Well, except for Sundays . . . but, hey! Six out of seven isn't bad, right? And who doesn't love a surprise?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a . . . snake?

I was once again researching cryptids for my NaNo novel, and I found a reference to an arabhar--a flying serpent. I'm a big fan of dragon mythology, so my interest was piqued. The original reference to the creature was minimal, so I Googled the term and spent the next few hours following link after link.

And guess what? IT'S REAL!

Well, not the dragon part. But people think the legend of the arabhar is based on the genus Chrysopelea, which is a family of snakes that can fly! Or glide, anyway. They flatten themselves into a concave wing shape and glide to the next tree.

The article calls them "mildly venomous," so they aren't supposed to be dangerous to humans. I think, even if they aren't technically poisonous, they still pose a danger: I know I'd drop dead of an instant heart attack if a snake slapped me in the side of the face.

What a great horror story that would make! Instead of our fearless heroine worrying about the old cliche of bats tangled in her hair, she would have to worry about flying snakes getting caught in her hair! Or how about a breeding population in the big city, with snakes gliding from high-rise to high-rise?

The possibilities are just delicious!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's a tough job . . .

Two of the hardest things in writing horror are 1) coming up with really memorable scenes (not gore for gore's sake, but one-liners and scenes so cool they stick with you after you're done reading); and 2) figuring out how the hero is going to defeat the monster (in almost every movie, they blow up the monster or set it on fire).

It's such a problem that it's a topic I'm sure I'll be revisiting often. I even have an old work-in-progress novel that is ready for editing/revision except for one thing: how to dispatch the monster. Someday I'll get it figured out someday and that novel will be brought back to working status instead of collecting dust in a drawer.

One of my favorite one-liner/memorable scenes of all time is near the end of From Dusk Till Dawn, when Seth's contact shows up and saves the day by opening the doors, causing light to hit the vampires, and all the vampires blow up. Carlos, the contact, says, "So, what were they, psychos, or something?"
Seth says, "Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a !bleep! how crazy they are!"

That's the kind of thing you want in your book (or your movie).

(WARNING: Deep Blue Sea spoilers ahead)

Deep Blue Sea does a terrible job of dispatching the "monster." Yep. They blow two of them up and electrocute the third. But the movie does a good job of creating some really memorable scenes.

There's a scene where the shark grabs the basket dangling from beneath a rescue helicopter, and yanks the helicopter out of control so that it crashes into the command tower in a fiery explosion. Plausible? No. But who cares! It's really, really cool.

Said shark then swims down with the basket (which contains an injured man) and tosses the man at the giant glass underwater observation window, where all the man's colleagues are waiting. So they get to see their injured friend go "splat" on the glass like a giant bug. Again, not plausible. But really, really cool.

And who could forget the scene where Samuel L. Jackson stops the action by trying to give a motivational speech about how they all have to stick together and keep their heads about them (LOVE Samuel L. Jackson, by the way). Just as his speech is coming to the motivational climax, the shark jumps out of the water and yanks him away. Best . . . scene . . . EVER! Who hasn't seen that old motivational speech trope in a movie and just wished the monster would show up and kill the blowhard, just so they wouldn't have to listen to another speech? Most excellent, indeed!

And there are many others; great scenes, wry one-liners. The science in the movie is very, very bad. The acting is frequently cheesy. The plot itself is thin. There's not much in the way of B and C plots, and the character growth is thin. I could go on . . . let's just say that I understand why the movie was held up as an example of a "bad" movie in the screenwriting book I was reading (while watching the movie, ironically--it airs pretty regularly for a "bad" movie). But it's a lot of fun to watch. Sometimes that's enough.

Of course, it's not enough for a BOOK. So writers have to do the hard work of coming up with a sturdy plot, character growth, and B and C plots as well as trying to come up with those memorable scenes, wry one-liners, and really cool monster destruction.

It's not easy, but it's an awful lot of fun trying.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sugar n Spice n Everything Nice?

There's a discussion going on in a writing group that I belong to that has me frustrated. I understand the point that's being made; I've even had some of the same fears (I posted just a few days ago about how I adopted a pen name, just in case). But I just hate how the feelings are delivered with finality (as in, "this is just how it is").

It all started with a woman who posted that she was writing horror piece and that she thought she'd have to self-publish it. The three "facts" that came out in the discussion were:

1) it is unacceptable in society for women to write horror because they aren't supposed to write violence and gore;
2) there is no market for a woman horror writer;
3) most women write with a feminine style, while men write with a male style.

The worst part of all is that the writer has accepted these "facts" as immutable, despite other posters pointing out the contrary (except for #3--I know a lot of writers accept that as fact).

To "fact" #1, I say, "who cares!" So what if society is going to think you're a little off? What's the worst that's going to happen? Your neighbors cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming? Sounds like a bonus to me! Seriously, though, there will be people who have a problem with what you write no matter what you write. Just try writing a piece of literary fiction and watch how many of your friends and neighbors shun you because they're sure that raging jerk that's battling your protagonist is really based on them. That's just what happens when you're a writer. Horror or otherwise. Yes, with horror, there will be people that read your gory scene and think you are a sick, twisted bleep! I thought that about Stephen King for years. But I always said it with great affection.

"Fact" #2: Maybe, maybe not. I had this same worry when I started writing, because I had heard that there might be a gender bias. So I started out with a male pen name, transitioned to my initials, and now write under my real name. Is there a gender bias? I don't think so. I sure haven't seen any bias yet. But if there is, a pen name will solve the problem. So again, "who cares!"

"Fact" #3: Agree with it or not, this issue is generally accepted as true. There are even classes on this: how to write like the other gender. I've always been stunned by the very thought, because I don't think I write like a girl. When I come up with a story, the protagonist is rarely female--it's just not my first thought! The settings that pop up in my stories are never malls; it's usually bars, strip clubs, and the great outdoors. My characters never shop; instead, they hunt, fish, get into bar fights, and chase skirts. I really, REALLY don't think I have a feminine writing style.

That might just be me. I sometimes forget I'm a girl (much to the chagrin of my husband). When particularly angry, I've been know to yell, "Suck my XXXX," forgetting that I don't have a XXXX. My favorite t-shirt says, "I don't need sex. My government XXXXs me every day" (I could go on, but I'm getting tired of typing X's). Definitely not feminine behavior, so how could I write like a girl. And I'm sure that there are plenty of other women out there like me. So this one I'll give a Mythbusters style "Plausible" to; there are probably a lot of women who do write with a feminine style. But I'm sure there are a lot who don't.

The whole thing just gets me more motivated. Now I've got to get this latest horror novel written, edited, and published--under my real name (my prior pubs are under the pen name or my initials; but the editors obviously knew I was female when they made the checks out). Then, when someone says, "There's no market for horror fiction written by women," I can say, "I did it. You should to!"

Thursday, November 25, 2010

More things I've learned from NaNo

I am really glad I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. Even if this novel never hits the shelves, I've learned a lot while writing it.

#1:  Writing time is sacred. Your word count goal is BEYOND sacred. You do have a word count goal, right? If not, get one. Then set aside some writing time, every day. If you can, make it non-negotiable (aside from fire or broken bones or parent-teacher conferences). If something else takes up your set writing time, re-set it. I usually write in the mornings, but when life throws something else in the morning, then I write in the evening. I don’t care if it means the family has to eat TV dinners, I’M GOING TO FIT MY WRITING IN somewhere. Very soon, your family will start doing everything they can to make sure you get your writing time, just so they don’t have to eat another can of tuna fish. And don’t go to bed until you’ve met your word count goal. Repeat to yourself: I’m not going to let this day get away from me without writing! Note: during this early part of the training process (training yourself AND your family), it’s important to set small goals: 100 or 200 words a day to start. Baby steps, you know.

#2:  Don’t revise or change anything while writing your first draft. Pretend it’s NaNo every day, and just get the words down, as many as you can. Stick firm to the rule that no words can be cut. Your backspace and delete keys are broken until you’re done with the first draft.

#3:  Turn off your inner critic. This doesn’t mean just about the editing and proofreading stuff, this means EVERYTHING! If you’re tapping away and you come up with an idea, and right away you’re inner critic says, “That’s lame,” or “That’s cliche,” IGNORE IT! Your inner critic is an idiot. Write the scene anyway. Who knows where it will take you. What started out as a lame idea may lead you in a new, fabulous direction. And once you are done with the first draft, if you go back and read that scene and say, “Okay. Critic was right. This scene is lame.” THEN you can cut the scene. Sure, it means more work in the editing phase, but it’s easier to edit when there is stuff on the page TO edit than it is to edit a blank page. It gives you more scene options. Options are good.

#4:  Periodically while you’re writing (and most definitely if you get stuck), ask yourself these questions about the current scene:

What is the exact opposite of the next logical thing to happen? What if that exact opposite happened right now?
What is the most outrageous thing that could happen right now?
What is the worst thing that could happen right now?
How could I shock or surprise the reader right now?

#5:  If you are running out of ideas of where to go next in your novel, maybe your characters are lonely and sick of talking to each other. Think up another character to throw in to the mix and see what happens. Even better: throw in a character who is the exact opposite of your protagonist. Your protagonist is a bored housewife who hates her life? Have her--inadvertently or purposely--cross paths with a jet-setting rocker chick; maybe they’ll strike up a friendship. Wonder how that will work out? In my case, I gave my (originally) bachelor protagonist a judgmental girlfriend (so now she's an obstacle standing in the way of his dream).

After all this, what's the number one advice I'd give to someone who wants to be a writer:?

DO NANOWRIMO!

Even if you don't end up with a salable novel, you'll learn a lot while doing it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Je m'appelle . . . Let me get back to you on that!

Interesting post on pen names:

http://menwithpens.ca/pen-name-pseudonym

I started writing under a pen name, mostly because I had heard rumors that it was difficult to get published in horror if you were a "girl." So just to be on the safe side, I picked a male pen name: Douglas Graves.

Editor feedback on it was mixed. Some thought it was great, some thought it was cheesy (Doug "Dug" Graves). So I dropped it. Reluctantly. VERY reluctantly.

Next, I decided to try a gender-neutral version of my own name through initials. "B. Kezar" just didn't have a ring to it ("Say. Could you direct me to the latest book by B. Kezar?" Nope. Doesn't sound right).

Since most writers who use initials use at least two, I started using both my initials: B.M. Kezar. But people close to me complained that it sounded like I was "Bowel Movement" Kezar. Well, I said, that works for a horror writer, right? Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

So now I'm writing under my own name. Is there a gender bias in spec fiction? Who knows. I don't think so, but I guess I'll find out.

But the pen name issue still isn't over for me. I write in several genres, and it's often recommended that writers use different pen names for different genres so as not to confuse their fans. I wouldn't want my horror fans picking up my latest pet-related non-fiction and being disappointed. But I guess I'll worry about that when I get fans, lol. For now, I'm just writing as me. In the future, you might see me as "Dru Blood" or "Rusty Blades." Okay. Maybe not.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November is all about Gluttony, even in the writing world!

I just found out that this week is National Short Story week in the UK.

National Short story week? I love the idea. Short stories are my favorite form to read and to write. And, sadly, they seem to be dropping in popularity. I would love a week to celebrate the short story. Just not right now! There's way too much going on in November and December as it is.

Thanks to a Google search, I discovered that May is National Short Story Month. That works out perfect, because I've been working on some new goals since diving back into the writing life, and I can use it to my benefit. My current game plan/goal list:

Get NaNo novel up to 90-100K (so it's novel-size when it's ready to be edited);
Let NaNo novel "rest" for at least a month;
While NaNo novel is resting, begin revisions/edit of the fantasy novel I wrote a few years ago;
Once fantasy novel is done and I begin shopping it, I plan to return to the NaNo novel and begin revising/editing it.

The goals are great. The problem is that it takes me away from my first love (short stories) and makes my work very novel-centric for the next few months. So I've been trying to figure out a way to work in some short story work, too, without overloading myself and trying to do too much.

Short story month might be the way. I saw a goal list somewhere where the goal was to write 4 short stories in one month (not revise or edit; just write). Maybe I'll set that up as my reward system: if I get my NaNo novel up to the right word count, and get my fantasy novel edited (or excellent progress made), maybe I'll give myself May as a month off and try and write four short stories during that month.

Revision and Editing is definitely the "stick" part of writing work, for me. Perhaps I'll use National Short Story Month as my carrot!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Misery loves company (or makes a good read, at least)

A good novel is all about conflict. It's about your character overcoming obstacles in the face of all odds. And the more your character has to overcome, the better the novel.

To that end, in addition to facing death at the hands of a horrible monster, I also have my main character:
at risk of losing his job because of his little adventure;
at risk of losing his girlfriend because of his little adventure;
at risk of alienating his family because of his little adventure
(see a pattern here? He's risking it all to chase his dream);
and last but not least, he wrecks his car.

What else I can throw at him? Or not? Maybe any more and he'd seem like the unluckiest shmuck in the world. But I'll worry about that in the rewrite--once the novel is done, if it seems like I've thrown too much at my main character, I'll edit some of it out.

For now, I'm going to continue to think up diabolical ways to mess up his life.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

90-day writing challenge

This month has been filled with writing challenges. I've been working on NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo.

But what about when NaNo is done? How do you keep the momentum going?

For that, I've signed up for Author Kelly L. Stone’s 90 Day Writing Challenge. This one isn't as frantic as NaNoWriMo (unless, of course, you want it to be). For this challenge, you make the commitment to write every day for ninety days, and you set the goal. For example, my goal for the challenge is 500 words a day, every day, for ninety days. I originally thought about doing 1000 words a day, but since I'll be editing a novel during that time, I decided to go with a more reasonable goal.

The timing of the challenge is perfect: January 2nd. That gives us the whole month of December to recover from the insanity of NaNoWriMo (and the other November challenges) and let's us start fresh and renewed in the new year.

To find out more about the challenge, you can visit The Magical Musings Blog.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Welcome to Fright Night!

I browsed for more information today on the remake of Fright Night. I'm actually looking forward to this remake. I liked the original, because I love the purposeful blending of horror and humor (and who doesn't love Roddy McDowall?). I'm interested in seeing what they do in the remake to "modernize" it (as long as they don't take out the intentional humor--then I'd be ticked).

I'm not clear on the release date, though. Most of the links I looked at had it set for October, 2011, but a few said it had been moved up to August.

Interesting little bit of trivia: the other actors in the movie continued on in a variety of movies and t.v. shows. The actor who played "Evil" Ed Thompson went on to a successful career in . . . um . . . "adult entertainment."

My favorite quote from the original movie is from "Evil" Ed: "Oh, you're so COOL, Brewster!" (You have to hear it to understand; he delivers it with a deliciously maniacal giggle). Do you suppose he uses that maniacal giggle in his new movies? Eek!

Here are a few links for more info on the new Fright Night:

Imdb.com

Moviefone

Reelzchannel

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fear and (Self) loathing in writer-land

I saw an interesting post at Nathan Bransford's blog: What's your greatest fear as a writer?

It intrigues me (but doesn't surprise me) that the most common fears all have to do with self-doubt. Are we good enough, smart enough, and darn it, will people like us?

(and, as an aside, I definitely agree with his postulation that writers tend to be more "intense." The comments prove it, and most people who know me well would definitely call me "intense;" actually, they would use other words to describe me--high-strung, neurotic, spends way too much time "thinking" & can't be a well-adjusted person--but "intense" is the nicest one, so let's stick with that one).

I thought about this topic for a while. There are a million small fears associated with writing (and often repeated in the comments section of Nathan's blog):
What if my writing isn't good enough?
What if I get an agent, said agent pimps my novel everywhere, and no publisher buys it?
What if I publish a novel and everyone hates it?
What if my first novel stinks so bad that no publisher will even look at my next one?

One of my smaller fears might explain why I have a novel that's been languishing in the editing stage for several years: what if I publish one novel and can't write another one? What if, for some reason, nothing I write afterwards can live up to that novel; or what if, somehow, writing that novel seems to suck all the creativity out of me and I can never write again. Irrational, I know. But it's a real fear. AND, after I finished my languishing novel, I went through a two-year writer's block (self-fulfilling prophecy? or creative drain fear-come-true?).

But after much thought, I realized that my biggest fear as a writer is not being able to write. I fear debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia (I also fear blindness, rheumatoid arthritis in my hands, etc., but there are blind writers, writers who have injured/missing limbs, etc. It would be tough, but I'd have to adapt and learn to be strong like those writers). But Alzheimer's and dementia . . . I don't even want to think about it.

I do try to do something about it. Some research suggests that you can help ward off or delay Alzheimer's and dementia by keeping the brain active. So my daily jigsaw puzzles and little MSN puzzle and brainteaser games actually have a higher purpose. I may look like I'm playing, but I'm really staying healthy!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A small taste

This is an excerpt from a story that originally appeared in Thema. The theme for the edition was "Written in Stone."

The meteor shower delighted people all over the world and left scientists scratching their heads.  On any given night, a lot more yakking than playing went on at the Jericho County Bingo Hall, but it was particularly bad after the meteors.  Sometimes it would take all night just to finish a round. 
“So what do you think, college boy?” 
They call me college boy since I got out of Jericho long enough to get in a year at Browery University.  Course, my dad got sick shortly after and I had to come home.  I’d been calling bingo every Tuesday and Thursday since, along with working the lunch rush at the diner and evenings at the car wash.  But the nickname had stuck. 
“B-7,” I called, my eyes wandering the room, watching for someone to raise their hand and yell.  It was really more of a stalling technique.  The only four players were clustered at the table directly in front of me.  The whole rest of the hall was nothing but empty chairs.  Well, not quite.  There was an old church pew at the back of the hall, and Bobby Slavey was curled up on it, sleeping off his latest drunk.  Every now and then, he’d let out a really loud snore that would echo through the hall.  We were used to it. 

#

One thing I really like about this story is it's folksy tone. I find that I write a lot of stories with down-to-earth, wry characters. A lot of them end up being from the South, and they're usually auto mechanics, bingo callers, waitresses . . . blue-collar, unflappable sorts, the kind of people who would know just what kind of chemicals you'd need to get the giant octopus's radioactive slime off your car without stripping the finish. And they'd never bat an eye about it, either.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another option added to the mix (Oh my aching head)!

I came across a link the other day that was very intriguing (and, of course, have since lost said link). But the link was about self-publishing on Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Self-publishing still has a lot of stigma attached to it. Lots of people are doing it, but there is still a lot of the "wasn't it good enough to be traditionally published?" and "big whoop, you're self-published, any fool could do that" attitudes about self-publishing (whether through vanity publishing or a print-on-demand publisher).

First, a little about the differences, as I understand them: vanity publishing is when you pay a publisher to produce copies of your book; self-publishing is usually done through print on demand, where you provide your book to a publisher and they print it only to fill orders. In the case of the first, you have to come up with money up-front and have a certain print run of books done. In the second, no upfront money is usually required; the publisher takes their cut from each order. In the first, you might be stuck trying to unload the 100 book minimum the publisher requires for a run, trying to recoup your costs. In the second, if only three books sell, those three books are the only ones that ever see the light of day (but at least you aren't out any cash). That's how I understand it anyway. I've never tried either method, so I'm not an expert (I also haven't tried to have a book published through traditional means, either).

So when I heard about Amazon's Digital Platform, I had to go take a look. Basically, it's works just like the self-publishing I've described above, except no books get printed. It's all done digitally on e-readers. You upload a digital copy of your book, Amazon puts it up for sale, and people buy it and download it onto their e-reader (or PC, or whatever). No money exchanges hands until an order is placed; Amazon takes their cut and you get the rest.

I still haven't made up my mind about how I feel about self-publishing, so my initial feelings about Digital Platform publishing are mixed, too.

But the first thing I thought of was, "Geez! You have to do all the marketing yourself!" But according to all the publishing industry experts, most of the marketing for traditionally published books is left up to the writer, too. So does it really make a difference? At least with self-publishing, you don't have the endless querying and long waits for responses. You write your book, polish your book, make a cover, and start selling (or trying to sell, anyway).

But there's still that stigma!

One could argue that if a book isn't accepted by a traditional publisher, then it's not good enough to be published (a miss-spelled, awkwardly written, flaming pile of poo, I heard one anti-self-publishing writer call a self-published book). And that may be true in some cases (maybe even most). But how many bestsellers were passed over by many, many publishing houses, then rose to bestseller? Sometimes, the editors really do make a bad call and pass on something that's gold. How do you know if your novel is gold?

I just don't know. The pros and cons are almost equally matched. But I'm still going to try for traditional publishing options when I get my novels finished. I just don't think I'll be satisfied unless I try traditional publishing, first.

What do you think? Self-publishing: new writer's dream, or really, really bad idea?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Character driven horror? You've got to be kidding!

This year's NaNoWriMo has really been a journey of discovery.

Normally, I'm a "fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants" kind of writer, whether it's a short story or a novel. I have general idea of the character, some general ideas for what's going to happen in the story, and I go for it. No plot outline, no character sketch sheets, I just make it all up as I go. And I love writing that way. They're something magical about a story organically developing from just a few scraps of ideas.

However, I knew that wasn't going to fly this year. Almost every year I have attempted NaNo, I've had to abandon it (one year, a very long time ago, I won; but that is ancient history). The problem is that NaNo happens to fall during the same time as deer hunting season here, so I lose sixteen and a half NaNo days to deer hunting. That's half the month!

Sure, I could get my priorities straight, but frankly, I love deer season. I look forward to it all year and it's a big family tradition. So if something has to suffer . . . well, we know the result: every year, I've had to abandon NaNo.

This year, since I'm trying to make an effort to get back to writing, I decided I had to do NaNo. But I couldn't give up deer season. So I decided to try something different: outlining. Not too much, of course. I still want there to be "magic" in my discovery of where the novel is going. I just wanted to outline some of the major plot points so I'd always have an idea of what I would write when I sat down for those few stolen moments of writing.

And it's worked! I've stayed ahead of the NaNo daily goal (although I've fallen short on my personal goal many times). And it hasn't taken away too much of the magic. While working on the outlined plot points, I've come up with new directions to take the novel (and then those plot points get jotted down in the outline for tomorrow's work).

But what's really surprised me is how much it has changed my character development. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or bad thing, but this novel really has some intense character development in it--a completely new thing, for me. Since I write horror, almost all of my stories are intensely plot driven. The only emphasis I usually give to characters is just enough to make the reader like/empathize with him/her, so that the reader cares whether the hero lives or dies.

But in this new novel . . . Hell, I care whether he lives or dies (and he's just some dude I made up in my head, for crying out loud). My horror novel has become both plot and character driven. It's a total surprise to me. I just hope I haven't turned the whole thing so character driven that the plot suffers. I don't think I have (there's plenty of action in this novel, and plenty of "fear of death"), but I won't be able to tell for sure until the whole thing is done and I revisit it for revision and editing.

But the whole thing amazes me. I'm so glad that I stuck to my guns this year and decided to do NaNo, and really glad I tried the new method.

I like it so much and it's worked so well for me that I intend to use an outline (or plot skeleton, more accurately) in my future works.

What new things have you learned from NaNo?

Monday, November 15, 2010

And I thought NaNoWriMo was a crazy idea?

When I first heard of NaNoWriMo, I thought it was crazy. I mean, how could anyone possibly write a 50,000 word novel in only thirty days?

Years later, I know it's not only possibly, but very doable (1667 words a day; a lot of published writers write 2000+ words per day).

Then I heard about "book in a week" competitions. Never tried it, but I imagine it could be possible to accomplish, with intense focus. I know it would certainly be easier to get everyone to leave you alone for a single week and to take a break from regular life for only a week than it is to get everyone to leave you alone for a whole month (though the advantage to having a whole month is that on good days you can write ahead to make up for the bad days).

Today, the insanity went up another notch: I found out about the "International 3-day novel contest." The point is to write a novel in the three days over labor day weekend. The very idea makes me want to jump into bed and pull the covers over my head. I can't even imagine trying to crank out a novel in three days. I know I'd never be able to do it, because I'm not capable of constant, intense focus. I like to mull ideas over . . . and I love sleep.

So kudos to those who have done the 3-day challenge . . . you're nuts, but kudos to you!

What's the craziest writing deadline you've ever had (self-proclaimed deadline or official contest)?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The good, the bad, & the deja vu

Three new movies. One sounds good, one is yet another remake, and the third makes me say, "You've got to be kidding."

The one that sounds good is Battle: Los Angeles. It's another aliens-destroying-all-the-big-cities movie, but I can't get enough of that no matter how many movies they make. And I'm a big "monster" fan, so I love movies that have really good monsters and aliens. And really, if aliens did invade, would they be pestering two brothers at their rural house near a cornfield? No. They would invade and destroy the big cities. Yeah, the title is a little lame (okay, a lot of lame), but as someone who has a work-in-progress novel with the working title of Space Spiders, who am I to talk!

The yet-another-remake is Total Recall. As I was searching for news on this movie, most of the articles I read also included comments like, "This is a movie that should never have been re-made" and "why the hell are they remaking this?" Colin Farrell in Arnie's role? Have a hard time imagining it. But then I had a hard time imagining Topher Grace and Adrien Brody in Predators, but it worked. So who knows? I loved the original even though it was a little cheesy at times; but who doesn't love a little cheese? Of course, I'm a big fan of the Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies, so maybe I like a lot of cheese.

And the oh-my-god-you've-got-to-be-kidding is Red Riding Hood. This one sounds so ridiculous that I thought it was a joke. However, I thought Sleepy Hollow sounded like a lame idea, but I ended up kind of liking it (but only kind of). So who knows. This one could end up being decent, too. But I'll definitely wait until it comes out on video to see it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

And from the ashes shall rise . . . ebooks?

The NY Times is going to start ranking ebook bestsellers : E-Books to Join the NY Times Best-Seller List.

This is a big step in giving "legitimacy" to ebooks.

As a writer, I'm delighted. The more publishing venues that have "legitimacy" in society's view, the better. As a reader, I'm unimpressed.

When I started writing professionally (just a few years ago), e-publishers were viewed by a lot of people as being on the same level as a blog: anyone can post stuff online, so anyone can put out an ebook (or so the logic went).

I was actually warned away from e-publishers by more experienced writers, and told that "if I absolutely had to go with an e-publisher, for the love of God, don't include that publication credit in your bio." It was considered akin to saying I published it on my own website.

But that, I'm happy to say, has all changed. Many of the big publishing houses now have e-publishing divisions. And now, with the NY Times adding e-books to their bestseller lists, ebooks are coming into the mainstream.

That said, I have to admit I'm not a reader of e-books (hypocritical, I know). I don't own an e-reader, and, for the most part, I do my reading on paper. I'll read a blog, or a short on a website, but if the piece is longer than a page or two . . . I print it out.

A big part of my paper preference is that I just find it easier to read paper than read digital.

Novels are a different matter. It's not just that I feel they are easier to read in paper form; there is the whole experience: the smell of the paper, the feel of turning the page, the folding of a page to bookmark my place . . . there are more sensory experiences associated with reading a paper novel than just sight.

So although I'm delighted that the NY Times will be listing ebooks, I can't imagine every reading ebooks myself. Of course, there will probably come a day when I may no longer have the option: almost every week, there's a new article predicting the end of traditional publishing and the rise of the dominion of e-publishing. Perhaps this is another step that direction.


Friday, November 12, 2010

My fear of steel wool doesn't seem so weird in comparison

During a break from writing my NaNo novel, I browsed a few phobia sites, pondering ideas for the next piece I'm going to write (what? There's life after NaNo?).

Phobias are excellent horror story fodder. Especially ones that are common--but not too common. I'm really not interested in doing any fears so common that they are practically cliche: an arachnophobe gets attacked by spiders, a clausterphobe gets trapped in a cave, an agoraphobe gets trapped with thousands of people (like in a hurricane "shelter"--real life horror, indeed).

I want something different . . . something unusual. I found several I could work with. But some are so strange that even I can't imagine how to make a horror story out of them:

Barophobia: fear of gravity. Barophobics fear that gravity will crush them or that gravity will fail and they'll float away;

Logophobia: fear of words (an unimaginable phobia, to me);

Xanthophobia: fear of the color yellow;

Parthenophobia: fear of virgins (this fear is about to become an endangered species);

Heliophobia: fear of the sun (though this one makes sense for vampires; who knew people really suffered from it);

I don't mean to make light of people's fears--I mean, I'm afraid of steel wool, so who am I to talk! But some of these just seem so "out there," that I couldn't imagine anyone ever actually suffering from them!

So what are your phobias? Or what's the strangest phobia you've ever heard of?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Thing, (sigh) the prequel

I don't know if I should be excited or wary. I was never a fan of the original 1950's The Thing (though I do have a fondness for the 50's horror movies; besides the nostalgia factor, they also have a sweet innocence to them). But John Carpenter's The Thing is the horror movie. The movie was so scary that one of my friends actually snuck into the other room and called his mom, so that she would call a few moments later and give him an excuse to leave. I kid you not. It is one creepy, visceral, "I think I just tinkled a little" movie.

And now they are doing a remake. Well, technically a prequel. This movie takes place in the Norwegian Base Camp (where the husky came from, and the characters briefly explored, in the first movie). If it's any good, I'll be tickled pink (and shocked). Carpenter's movie was so good that it left you hungry for more, left you hoping there would be a sequel. But it's also raised the bar pretty doggone high. They've got some pretty big boots (or spider leg tracks) to fill.

Much to my dismay (see the blog post a few days ago, about movie titles for prequels and sequels and remakes), the new movie is also simply called, The Thing. The release date is supposed to be April 29th, 2011.

Some links for more info:

io9.com

Slashfilm.com

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And people wonder why some writers are . . . uh, eccentric

A post on the Nano boards describes the five stages of NaNoWriMo.

The five stages of NaNoWriMo

They are a pretty accurate description. Right now, I'm bouncing back and forth between stages two and three: terror and exhilaration.

It's also a pretty accurate description of any writing project. Even when I write a short story, there's an anticipation stage (the lightning strike of an idea), an exhilaration stage ("yay! this idea is great and the words are flowing as if from the gods"), and a despair stage (the "I thought this was a good idea, but I guess not; should I abandon it, or try and make it work?"). There's even an insanity stage . . . I call it revision and editing.

About the only stage that doesn't exist in non-NaNo writing projects is the terror phase.

Oh, wait . . . that's right. That stage comes last, when you send the finished piece out into the world and wait with bated breath to see see if it will be rejected or accepted.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who has time to sleep?

Did you know there are actually FIVE writing challenges happening this month?
There is:

NaNoWriMo: (National Novel Writing Month) 50,000 words in 30 days;

November PAD: (November Poem-A-Day) Write a poem per day in November;

PiBoIdMo: (Picture Book Idea Month) Come up with 30 picture book ideas in 30 days;

NaBloPoMo: (National Blog Posting Month) Post in your blog every day in November (and every month; the challenge starts fresh each month);

WNFIN: (Write Non-fiction in November) Create a complete work of non-fiction in November.

If you're a writer, there's plenty to keep you busy this month (as if gearing up for the holidays isn't enough). I've known about NaNo for years, but I just learned about the others this year.

I'm doing NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo (so far, so good; knock on imitation cherry-wood). I know people who are doing all five, and I don't know how on earth they manage. It's all I can do just to keep up with two!

Are you participating in any challenges? Which are your favorites?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Smote? Smited? Whatever. More NaNoWriMo Stuff

There's a thread at NaNoWriMo for posting your personal 10 Commandments for doing NaNo.

Here are my Ten Commandments for NaNoWriMo:

1. Thou shalt Tweet word count to keep oneself accountable for writing every day.
2. Thou shalt not then spend an hour checking email or Tweeting AFTER the word count Tweet.
3. Thou shalt not spend an hour on Facebook whining about thou doesn't have time to write.
4. Thou shalt not pad word count by having every character shrug/roll their eyes/nod knowingly after every line of dialogue.
5. Thou shalt not let Full Tilt Poker lead thou into temptation.
6. Thou shalt surrender thy laundry and household duties to hubby until the daily writing is done.
7. Thou shalt not subsist entirely on Baby Ruths, no matter how much they nourish the soul.
8. Thou shalt go nowhere with out notebook, as it is thy rod and staff.
9. Thou shalt let the characters tell their story, as this is all about them.
10. Thou shalt remember that this is supposed to be fun!

If you want to see the 10 Commandments of other writers, check out this link:
Thy 10 Commandments of NaNoWriMo

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Josh and Seth's Big Adventure

One of the best things about starting a new novel (writing or reading) is getting to know the characters. Even if you are the writer of the novel (the "god" of your fictional universe), you still get to learn about your characters as you go and they still surprise you and take the story in directions you hadn't imagined.

There are two main characters in the novel I'm working on for NaNoWriMo: Seth, a zoologist, is the main character, and Josh, a photographer, is his sidekick. The two have been friends since grade school, even though they are as different as night and day. Seth is the mature one: steady, reliable, responsible; while Josh is the fun one. I have to be careful that Josh doesn't take over this novel and make it all about him (notice how he wiggled in to get top billing in the post title?).

Besides their friendship, Seth and Josh share a love of cryptozoology, the science and study of strange (often legendary) creatures; they've both been fascinated with it since they were kids. Josh jumps into it with his usual boisterousness, Seth with more reserve.

They have different goals for their little hobby. Seth wants to be taken seriously. He would be searching the Amazon jungle for new animal species if he had the means, because that's how he'd really like to validate himself as a scientist. But since he works for a small agricultural college, he doesn't have the means of trekking through the Amazon rain forest or Papua New Guinea. He has to use what's at his disposal, and his best shot at discovering something new is to seek out the legends of America (in a discreet, non-embarrassing manner; kept very low key until they actually discover something; IF they discover something).

Josh, on the other hand, isn't embarrassed at all by their little hobby. He took over his dead father's photography studio and spends his days shooting bland studio portraits, being thrown up on by babies and cried on by brides. The worst are the portraits of pets in costumes; he despises the shoots with pets in costumes. So he lives for the little adventures their hobby brings. And someday, they are going to actually find something, and Josh is going to have his picture in the New York Times: one arm around Bigfoot, the other around six adoring supermodels. He just knows it!

As the writer, I get to spend every day "watching" these two characters interact, "watch" them chasing their hopes and dreams. And I get to think of obstacles to throw in their way, and then "watch" like a proud parent as they overcome those obstacles.

Writing is the best job ever!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Who's on First?

Time for a pet peeve: remakes of movies.

I don't have anything against remakes themselves. Sometimes they are worse than the original, sometimes they are better; I'm always willing to give them a try. Although I haven't had the chance to see the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, and even though I'm a huge fan of Robert Englund as Freddy, I will, eventually, watch the new one.

The problem I have with remakes is the title: a lot of times, they leave the title exactly the same. So when I see the movie in the TV guide listing (or I stumble across a review online), I don't know which movie it is. Is it the original Halloween or the remake? Okay, maybe that's a bad example, since there are so many in the original series that I can't even keep the originals straight. But you get the idea.

I just saw some promotional text for Child's Play (the first in the "Chucky" series), and I couldn't figure out why on earth I'd gotten the email. That movie is almost as old as I am (almost . . .). Then I went to the database and realized that the promotional text was referring to a remake (and a potential remake, at that; not all the details have been nailed down, so it's probably not in production yet).

But there has to be some way that they can title these things so that viewers can get a clear picture of what they are buying a ticket for or renting. Is it the twelfth in a series? Is it a remake of the original? Is it a remake of the original twelfth? Is it a prequel? Is it the next prequel in a series after the first prequel? Forget it. I'm going to go play Farmville instead of trying to figure out which movie it is.

What do you think about the whole issue of remakes and titles?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Smells Like Copyright Infringement

Two short posts on an author getting her work stolen:

http://illadore.livejournal.com/30674.html

http://nihilistic-kid.livejournal.com/1553538.html

This is the sort of thing that beginning writers worry about--and they are always told not to worry about it. Thankfully, it happens rarely. But it does happen.

I find it amazing that the editor of the magazine said something as ridiculous as "the web is considered public domain." Bunk! Even what is posted in a blog is considered copyright protected and is not supposed to be copied.

One of the basic standards of the publishing industry is that if something is posted on the Internet, it's considered "previously published." In other words, if I post a whole short story in this blog, then the piece is considered to have been already published and I could only sell the short to a magazine as a reprint. But it is NOT considered to be in the public domain. If I posted the whole short story here, it is considered as copyright infringement if someone copies and pastes it into their blog (or website, or whatever) without permission. Although there is some grey area (especially when it comes to "fair use;" how much quoting of someone else's work is okay before it is considered copyright infringement?), no one is dumb enough to consider everything on the Internet public domain and free for the taking. Or so I thought until I read about the editor in question.

On a side note (since the magazine deals with cooking and, I'm assuming, recipes), the issue of copyright and recipes is a whole 'nother thing. It seems that recipes, for the most part, don't fall under copyright protection:
http://www.schwimmerlegal.com/2006/01/can-recipes-be-copyrighted.html
But that doesn't apply here because the piece of work stolen was an article (with recipes at the end).

What bothered me even more about this story was the arrogance of the editor. The wronged party should be paying her for all the editing work she did on the stolen article!?! Unbelievable.

I'm completely flabbergasted by the whole thing.

Be sure to check out this link, too, another commenter on this issue:
http://www.blogher.com/honestly-cooks-source-you-cant-do?from=nethed

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting my author-ly undies in a bunch

Now that election season is over here in the U.S., we need to find other things to debate. A hot one right now? NaNoWriMo.

Really? you say, what on earth is there to debate about NaNo? Either do it or don't, right?
Two columnists weigh in:

Better yet, DON'T write that novel

12 reasons to ignore the naysayers: Do NaNoWriMo

I have to say, I started reading the anti-NaNo article with the expectation of seeing the other complaints I've heard about NaNo (including the common, "if you don't meet you 50K goal, then you've failed; so you're setting yourself up for failure and that's the last thing you need").

But instead, her article came across as very anti-new writer. Although she states in the article that she's "not saying she doesn't hope more novels are written," that is actually how it comes across. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me that she was saying she hopes new novels are written by her already favorite (and presumably best-selling authors) . . . and the rest of us writers can bugger off. Too bad. Her favorite authors were once where we are right now. And what happens when those bestselling writers finally succumb to age? Then she'll give up reading and spend her time watching "Dancing with the Stars?"

I know, I know. I'm using a bit of hyperbole. But the whole thing really ticked me off. I'm sure it's not how she intended it (or I hope it's not how she meant it, anyway). But when you write things like, "It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing," it's going to tick people off. Narcissistic commerce of writing? Really? Selfless art of reading? Not without the narcissistic commerce of writing.

She does make some good points:

1) There are a lot of "how to write" books out there, many of them written by folks who have never had a single thing published. Would you want a football coach who had never played the game?

2) And yes, an awful lot of wanna-be writers say things like, "I don't have time to read." But you know what? The chances of running into a published piece from those writers is slim because writers who don't study the craft by reading the works of others usually have a harder time finding pubication success.

3) Readers deserve a celebratory gala, too. This whole thing is a symbiotic relationship: readers need writers; writers need readers. That is a point on which we all can agree.

Be sure to check out the rebuttal article, too. I heartily agree with everything Carolyn Kellogg has to say.

Hurrah for NaNoWriMo!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ordinary Horrors

What makes a good horror story? Do they all have to be about vampires, zombies, or things that go bump in the night?

Of course not, though a lot of my favorites are. But horror can be even more frightening when it’s about the real things that we fear.

Good topics for horror can include true phobias (like the fear of spiders) or smaller things, things that make us uneasy, exaggerated and made larger than life (like giant cockroaches) or sprinkled throughout the main novel to create a feeling of unease (crows and cornfields are common "unsettling elements" in Stephen King novels).

Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with water. I love it in fountains and to sit by it on a lazy afternoon. But the very thought of getting on a boat and cruising out to the middle of a lake, with the shores grey in the distance, petrifies me. So a movie about two people shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean can cause my heart to race. Throw in something unknown lurking in the depths and you know you'll have me hooked.

One of my irrational fears (ridiculous, actually) is of steel wool. Don't ask me how it happened, but I've developed a complete aversion to it. I can't stand the way it looks, all curly and metallic, two adjectives that usually don't (and shouldn't) go together. Maybe I should create a metal-monster covered in curly "fur?" Nope. Couldn't even write it. It's even worse when the steel wool is wet, with those beads of water glistening in the metal curls and the metallic smell (blood?) in the air. How about a metal-monster covered in curly metallic "fur" stalking the hero in the rain. I'm shaking already.

So what's your phobia? What ordinary horror could make you afraid to turn the page?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blog posts might be slightly delayed this month: I'm trying my hand at NaNoWriMo again. NaNoWriMo is short for "National Novel Writing Month" and the purpose is to write 50,000 words in the month of November (which calculates out to 1667 words per day). You can visit the website at NaNoWriMo. If it's slow to load, be patient; there are 148,892 signed up for the site (I think they're slowing down Twitter, too, lol).

Since fifty-thousand words doesn't really make a novel (most are 75-100K), I've actually set a goal of 3000 words per day so that I'll have a novel at the end of the month (albeit one in dire need of editing and revision). If I don't make it, that's okay. I'll just have to have a DecemberWriMo to finish it off.

The novel I'm working on this year is called "Witch's Brew" (working title). It's about a cryptozoologist who travels to the badlands of North Dakota in search of a mysterious creature that's been killing cattle. Once he arrives, however, he discovers the desolate hills hold even more dangerous secrets, and his fight for legitimacy as a scientist becomes a fight for his life. I'm hoping (fingers crossed) to do at least three volumes with this character and his adventures.

On the "already contracted for publication" side of things, I contacted the editor of the anthology Zombiday: Festivities of the Flesheaters. The anthology is currently undergoing cover work and should be released sometime in December. My comic short story, "Inhuman Resources," is in the anthology: Black Friday gets a whole new twist when the world's largest retailer has to scrape the bottom of the work-force barrel and hire their first zombie employee.

The really funny part is that parts of the story are true (except for the zombie, of course). I worked through a two-year writer's block by working for this un-named retailer. Maybe I should have added that as a sub-title: "Inhuman Resources: a (mostly) true story."

Then again, we did work the night shift . . . so maybe . . . well, at the very least the zombie part qualifies as an allegory.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Chupacabra: Wile E. Coyote with Scabies?

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/10/101028-chupacabra-evolution-halloween-science-monsters-chupacabras-picture/

I found this article especially interesting because the protagonist of the novel I'm working on for NaNoWriMo is a cryptozoologist. Also interesting is the comments section, where people point out that there aren't any coyotes in Puerto Rico.

My own state has had quite a problem with mange; fox and coyote populations have been decimated by it. But there haven't been any chupacabra reports around here.

Do I believe in chupacabras? No. Do I think people are mistaking mange-ridden coyotes for a monster? No. But I find the whole idea intriguing. As a horror writer, I love to imagine the possibilities.

Among the more interesting points:

1) Chupacabras are a recent development. Unlike Bigfoot and The Loch Ness monster, these reports don't have a lengthy history. "Sightings" of other cryptozoology staples (like Bigfoot) often date far back into the oral storytelling of a region.

2) Chupacabras have a fairly limited range, with sightings occurring mostly in Latin America. Bigfoot and Loch Ness-type monster have been "sighted" in many countries and on almost every continent.

3) Some people in Puerto Rico believe chupacabras are actually animals created in a secret government lab on the island. So this particular cryptozoological creature also falls under the conspiracy theory mythos (thus blending two of my favorite topics; who doesn't love the idea of secret government labs!)

What do you think? Chupacabra: Real or Wily Coyote with a rash?