Month: April 2014

Fandom and Writing Often Go Hand In Hand

I write horror, but you probably knew that. As a horror writer it shouldn’t be a surprise to also say I’m a fan of the genre. I’ve loved horror ever since I was kid. I’m sure many other horror writers grew up being fans of the genre too.

For the purpose of this blog post I’m going to focus mainly on zombies and vampires as examples of conflicting opinion. Some people are so sick of seeing these creatures that they can’t run away fast enough, while others will never tire of them.

When it comes to writing, I write what I’m passionate about. Do I love a good zombie story? Hell yeah. Do I love a good vampire story? Hell yeah. Just because the mainstream may get tired of zombies and vampires doesn’t mean horror fans will.

Zombies, in particular, have exploded in popularity the past few years. While the mainstream got caught up in the plethora of new content, horror fans already knew it was there. We had been enjoying the undead since the late sixties with George A. Romero’s, Night of the Living Dead. Today AMC’s The Walking Dead rules television with the most watched show. You can’t kick a rock without something zombie related popping up.

As a lifelong fan of both horror and zombies, I’ll never get tired of them. When people couldn’t get away fast enough from vampires a few years back, I still sought them out. My point is some of us are here for the long haul. We love horror and everything that goes along with it. We’ll love it no matter how popular it gets. We’ll consume it in all its forms.

So when I see certain people complain about seeing too much zombie fiction, I try to understand…but fail. If you’re in the business of publishing and you’re getting a ton of zombie submissions, why get annoyed with the creators? To me, it would be like getting angry at beef for being beef. Instead of seeing beef, why not take a closer look. Maybe you’ve got a juicy T-bone steak, hamburger, filet mignon, steak tacos, or Shepard’s Pie. All beef isn’t created equal, just like not all zombie stories are either.

To group every zombie story together and say you’re sick and tired of them all seems like overkill. I went through something similar while submitting my vampire book. Right or wrong, I always approach writing with my fandom along for the ride. Being a horror fan I know what I’d like to read/see. Many other horror fans probably would too. Like zombies, we consume what we love. That’s why The Walking Dead continues to be the number one show on television. Fans keep consuming it. Remember Brad Pitt’s romp through a zombie infested world as he sought patient zero in World War Z? According to IMDB, the film raked in over two hundred million dollars in the US alone. Zombies continue to be big business.

So why, then, are editors voicing frustration over seeing so many zombie submissions? What makes books, and publishing, different?

I’m not sure I can answer that question.

All I know is what I see fans consuming. Zombies, like vampires, will never go away completely. True fans will never stop consuming what they love. One would think that if fans are clamoring for something, suppliers should be lining up to give them what they want. Yet, for some reason, publishing seems to be dancing to a different tune. I can’t tell you how many times others told me to forget about my vampire book. It would seem zombies are the new vampire.

My advice to anyone writing and submitting anything with zombies or vampires is to be genuine. As long as you’re not chasing trends or regurgitating popular tropes, don’t ever shy away from writing what you’re passionate about. Take zombies and make them your own. No two stories are alike, just like no two zombies are alike. If you can create quality fiction, people will notice.

My first ever publication (October 2013, in Siren’s Call Magazine) was a piece of zombie flash fiction. Don’t let popular opinion discourage you from submitting. You may miss out on some great opportunities.

The inspiration for this post came from an i09 article, titled 10 Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories That Editors Are Tired of Seeing. If you were wondering why your fairy tale retelling has been racking up the rejections, this article may help shine some light on the matter. While this list is interesting, Don’t ever shy away from writing what you’re passionate about…even if quite a few editors are tired of the subject matter. Write something your inner fan would love to read and trust other fans would love it too.

We should never let popular opinion dictate what we create. Keep writing what you love. Fight the good fight. The fans may thank you for it someday.

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Monster Monday: Return of the Living Dead

Zombies have taken on many forms in film. Some are mindless shamblers, while others are ferocious hunters. Return of the Living Dead features zombies that need to eat brains in order to ease the pain of death. We’re talking like a drug need, which I always find fascinating. Some shamble, some run, and some even talk.

Many horror lovers consider this to be a cult classic and one of the first zombedies (zombie + comedy) because the plot is intentionally funny and the acting is over the top at times which only adds to the hysterics.

The gist of the movie is two bumbling warehouse workers find an old army experiment. It’s a simple metal drum containing instructions with what to do in the event one of the seal being breached. I believe the drums were dated 1969, which would make them from the Vietnam war. Needless to say, the two chuckleheads accidentally damage the drum and some kind of gas escapes. The warehouse full of cadavers where they work start coming back to life and their day goes downhill from there.

Throw in a group of punk rock teens, a mortician, and the warehouse worker’s boss, and you’ve got an eclectic mix of zombie chow that somehow works. The zombies themselves can be comical. At one point they call over a dead police officer’s radio for dispatch to send more cops, you know, zombie take out style. Watching the cast try to figure out what in the hell is going on is always funny.

If you’re looking for a zombie film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then you may want to give Return of the Living Dead a try. Released in 1985, you’ll get plenty of 80’s cheese, music, and fashion. What makes this film extra goofy is the fact that the zombies have to eat brains. Let’s face it, it’s impossible for teeth to penetrate the human skull. But that’s what makes this film work, the goofiness and fun factor.

Even though this film isn’t the most serious of zombie films, the reasoning, and logic, behind the zombies is top notch. An old government experiment gone wrong and zombies who live to ease their suffering through brain consumption makes total sense. This film also poses the question of what the government would do if details about one of their secrets became public. How far would they go to cover things up?

Return of the Living Dead has plenty for hardcore zombie purists as well as casual horror fans to love. There’s something for everyone here, and that, I think, is what makes this film so special.

Until next time, hold on to your brain. You never know when you may need it.

 

What’s Up Wednesday

Just wanted to check in and see what everyone has been up to. How are those WIPs coming along? Are you meeting your goals?

The state of BSD #2.

BSD #2 currently has 60,000 words. I’ve been trying to write at least one thousand words every weekday and as much as possible on the weekends. Even with a setback, I think I may finish my first draft by the end of April. I’m in the middle of an action scene where Mitsuko is double fisting swords and doing what she does best. I’ve been more productive since holding myself accountable with daily writing goals. The final word count looks like it’ll be somewhere around 80,000 words. I’m getting to the point where I can’t wait to share it with my critique partners. Things are looking good thus far. *knocks on wood*

Short fiction.

I had a great idea for a short story and scribbled down an outline and some character info. The plan is to write it after the first draft of BSD #2 is finished. There’s an anthology I’ve been eyeing and this story would fit the criteria. The submission window doesn’t close until September so I’ve got plenty of time. Just for fun, I plan on having a death by bacon scene. It should be fun.

SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror, from Cohesion Press, featuring my story COVERT GENESIS,  is still scheduled for a summer 2014 release. I’ll be sure to pass along more info as it becomes available.

The Dark Carnival, from Pen & Muse Press, featuring my story NOTHING BUT NET, is still scheduled for an October 2014 release. Again, I’ll be sure to pass along more info as it becomes available.

I don’t know how active I’ll be in the next few weeks. My goal is to have at least one post up per week during that time. Expect a new Monster Monday post this coming Monday. I hope your writing is coming up Milhouse! 😉

Song of the Week: I See Fire, by Ed Sheeran

My brother-in-law bought The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug on Tuesday. I tried to watch it but was utterly bored about halfway through and left to hang around my nieces. As the film was ending, I heard a song from the other room. It was a good song, a song that stirred something within me. I knew it was Ed Sheeran from the opening line but had never heard the song before. Later, I looked up the song and listened to it on repeat for like an hour as I wrote. For some reason the song struck a chord with me. Creativity spilled from my fingers as they danced along the keyboard. I thought I’d share the song here. Maybe it’ll do the same for some of you.

Monster Monday: Alien

When I was a kid, my father had one of the earlier VHS players. You know, the kind with the door that popped up, you put the tape in, pressed the door back down, and then watched whatever tape you loaded. Those things were about a foot tall and weighed a ton. The very first movie he bought way back in either 1980, or 1981 was Alien. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. The actual Alien never scared me but I’ve always marveled at the sleek, and unique look of it.

 

The magnificent alien design comes from the twisted mind of one H. R. Giger, which lead to an Academy Award win. The design and look of Mr. Giger’s aliens have been expanded upon in other mediums such as video games, comics, and books. Tim Lebbon recently penned Alien: Out of the Shadows, published by Titan books. It’s a solid read if you’re looking for something new set in the Alien universe.

 

The first film centers around a mining vessel, the Nostromo, which is awakened prematurely on their voyage home. Apparently they’ve stumbled upon an unknown distress call from an unknown vessel, on an uncharted planet. After landing, our crew sends a small team down to investigate. One curious crew member finds a chamber full of what appear to be eggs and decides to go and touch one. Something comes out of it and attaches to his face. They call those little buggers “face huggers.”

 

The face hugger gestates and falls off after it does its business. I don’t want to spoil the film for those of you who haven’t seen it. Cain gets up and is all smiles and happy to be alive. To celebrate, the crew decide to have dinner before going back to sleep and finishing the rest of the trip back home. During dinner something happens to Cain and the alien threat is loose.

What I love about this film is the tension. The alien blends in with the wires and tubing of the spacecraft. It camouflages itself and goes on the hunt. This alien is an apex predator which adapts to its surroundings and different situations. It lives to spread its vile seed across the universe like some kind of universal parasite, or cockroach. Did I mention they have acid for blood? Steer clear if you wound it because if you don’t, you’ll melt like the wicked witch under a bucked of water in the Wizard of Oz.

As crew members start dropping, the question becomes how can the remaining survivors defeat a being that is more advanced than them in every way?

Isolation also plays a key role in this film. The crew of the Nostromo is cut off from Earth and left to fend for themselves. Not only that, but aboard the ship there are only so many places to run from the alien intruder.

This was a brilliant film which used constant tension to fuel scare after scare. The way the director, Ridley Scott, used subtle techniques like lighting and tighter shots to further the tension really added to the overall look and feel of the film. Released in 1979, Alien is still one of the best Sci-Fi/Horror films ever made and stands the test of time. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do. If you’ve already seen it, see it again. Yes, it’s that good.

For anyone interested in the forthcoming video game, Alien: Isolation, here’s a behind the scenes look presented by Gamespot. It seems like the developers went back and channeled the original film for this game. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

You can find out more about Alien: Isolation by visiting the official site here: http://www.alienisolation.com/en_us/

Why I Won’t Accept Writing A Shitty First Draft, And You Shouldn’t Either

Today was supposed to be a fantasy post. Yeah, I know. Something happened and I find myself here, staring at a setback.

I made a deadline to have the first draft of my second book done by the end of April. I may still make it. To be honest, I’m not sure. But that’s okay.

It’s good to have goals. We all should. Sometimes we’ll maul our goals like a Direwolf on one of the Stark’s enemies. Yeah, I’m totally working some fantasy stuff in this post. Other times we know when something isn’t quite working. I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to be realistic. I’m not going to lie to myself and pretend my first draft will be done by the end of the month if I have doubts. I may still pull a miracle out of my pocket. I may not.


Going over my outline, and being 45,000 words into the draft I noticed something was missing. The proposed outline would have been, in a word: fine. Okay. Not good, but not bad either. So-so. That wasn’t good enough for me. I’m always looking to tell the best possible story I can. I want more than meh, okay, fine, and so-so.

What did I do?

I stopped writing. GASP! But so many writers say we should write through our first draft and go back and fix everything later. So many writers are okay with a shitty first draft. They expect their first drafts to always be shitty. Soon, whether we notice or not, shitty becomes the norm for all first drafts.

That’s not me. In the military, at least in my shop, we had a saying: Work smarter, not harder. I would much rather pinpoint what’s wrong now, as I’m writing, or, even before I write something, rather than press forward half heartedly. It’s my belief that our final product will suffer because of that same half heartedness, or shittiness.

So I stopped and ironed out what was bothering me with the plot. I upped the stakes and added some new chapters. Hopefully those actions make for a better, more dynamic read, and will also leave me in a great spot for a third book.

I think many writers get so hung up on “finishing” a first draft that any old first draft will do. Quality goes out the window. We become one dimensional, hell bent on finishing no matter what. We lose what makes our writing, and us as writers, special. And all for the sake of finishing a draft that we know will take much longer to go back and revise, rewrite, and fix. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

Let’s say we bring the same approach to building a bridge. Would you want to drive across that same bridge knowing the builders were okay with shitty quality while constructing the infrastructure? Sure, they may go back and patch things up, they may not. Just knowing shitty quality was acceptable at any point would give me pause.

Strive for excellence in every aspect of your writing. Excellent first drafts are like anything else when it comes to writing, you get what you give. If you give a shitty effort, you’ll come out with shitty results.

Of those 45,000 words I have for my first draft I’d send every last one of them to my critique partners. I’ve got nothing to hide. I believe the level of quality is pretty high. I don’t accept shitty anything when it comes to my writing. Nor will I ever shrug something off while I create. I don’t want my readers to expect anything less than my best…even in the first draft stage.

While I may not make my deadline, I will have a quality first draft. It’ll be a draft that won’t need much in the way of revising. It’ll be a draft that I can be proud of and not some fixer-upper that needs extensive work.

You. Shall. Not. Pass. Shitty first draft!

If you find yourself staring down a setback, assess the situation honestly. If you need to stop and come up with a better game plan, do it. As long as you’re making your manuscript better, you’re doing the right thing. And I think that’s where so many writers get confused. By allowing for a shitty first draft they lose sight of the fact that they aren’t making their manuscript better. You wouldn’t build your house on a shitty foundation, would you? Then why is it acceptable to build our manuscripts on shitty first drafts?

At the end of the day we must realize that our readers are smart. They’ll know if we cut corners. Piss them off and you can kiss your writing career goodbye. I don’t think anyone wants that.

Always do what’s best for you, and your writing. Just make sure you’re helping your cause and not sabotaging it. If we can constantly create quality, it’ll soon become habitual.

Quality > Shitty every time.