Advice for New Writers

Mantras of the Writer

Money flows to the writer. You know that old saying, “If you want to make money, it takes money”? That’s not necessarily true in publishing. Money flows to you.  Agents take a cut only of what they make for you (usually 15%, or if movies/TV, 20%). If this is your job, you should be paid. I don’t know what pro fiction rates are in all genres, but in spec fic, the pro rate is about $.08 a word. You should always shoot for markets that pay this or more, and if necessary work your way down. Dream big. Don’t pay to be published — let them pay you. You’ve earned it and you deserve it.

Always read your contracts. Contracts are designed to benefit a publisher, not a writer. Don’t be afraid to negotiate; publishers expect it. Red flags would be things like no reversion clause (you never get your rights back), rights to all interconnected properties when they’re only buying one book, the publisher keeping some or all of your subsidiary rights (these are rights like TV/movie options, foreign sales, video games, audio book adaptations, comic book or graphic novel adaptations merchandising, etc. Most book publishers don’t have the means or interest to sell these rights for you, and are only hoping to cash in if you sell the rights yourself. Keep the money.) Contracts are a lot of legalese, so if you don’t understand terms presented to you, ask someone, preferably a lawyer or agent, or in lieu of that, a writer experienced with contracts.

The Basics of Submitting Work

The first place one might start in the search for a perfect publisher and agent is with books similar in genre, theme, and tone to yours. Many times writers thank their editors and agents in the Acknowledgments of the book; you can learn who is publishing or representing fiction like yours that way. I always thanked Martin Biro, my editor at Kensington, for example. You can also check sites like Preditors and Editors, which let you know if an agent or publisher is sketchy or reputable, and the AAR website (the Association of Authors’ Representatives). A good agent should be a member of the AAR, or belong to an agency that does.

It is important to follow the guidelines as outlined on the submissions page. Agents and publishers get hundreds to thousands of submissions, and like any job, they look for ways to be efficient. One thing that knocks work right off the stack on someone’s desk or email Inbox is a submission that doesn’t follow guidelines. Standard guidelines expect the submission to be in manuscript format (we can discuss this if any of you are unfamiliar with it), usually the first three chapters of a book and a short, maybe 1-2 page synopsis or outline of the major characters and plot points of a book. A synopsis is a tricky process to get down just right, but the best are short, to the point, highlight the important characteristics of the main and secondary characters and the plot points which define the book’s arc, and lead off with something tag-line-ish, something they can sell to the marketing department. My novel, Chills, was described as “True Detectives meets Lovecraft” to capture the feel of it (it’s a supernatural thriller).

Now, here are generalities, not absolutes, but they’re usually pretty standard:

1) Publishers/agents can take up to 3-6 months to get back to you. Often, they quote a time frame in which you’ll either receive a polite response one way or another, or you can assume that their silence after that time is a no. It is perfectly acceptable to send a follow-up query in the case of the former, asking if a manuscript is still under consideration.

2) Most (but not all) rejections come by mail or email. Most (but not all) acceptances come by phone call or email. Email is the way most business is conducted nowadays.

3) Simultaneous submissions means you have sent the same manuscript to more than one publisher or agent for consideration. Some ask for exclusive rights to consider your book. Generally, writers only agree to this when a publisher or agent is considering the whole ms, not just a partial (which is the three chapters and synopsis or outline).

4) Most publishers and agents do not want multiple submissions — that means that you should only send them one book at a time. Once they decide on one either way, you can discuss with them your sending another for consideration.

5) Literary agents generally ask for 15%. What this means is that whatever money they make for you, they get a 15% cut of it, so it’s in their best interest to get you as much money as they can. Foreign and film rights agents usually take 20%. Agents only get paid if you do. For the most part, neither a publisher nor an agent should ever charge you money for anything.

6) A book can take 6-9 months or longer to see publication. Promotion, spread out at certain milestones (cover reveal, when it’s up for pre-order, etc), begins when you sign the contract. We can discuss this in depth, too, if folks want.

Be Prolific

Being prolific can mean many things. Obviously, it means writing often (and ideally, writing well). I was always told that to stay relevant to readers, you need to put out at least one book a year. Financial security in this business is cumulative; rather than waiting for that one big payday, have enough books out there that you could live off of royalties if you need to. So assuming that completing and putting out a book a year is a given, let’s look at what else you can do.

In addition to a book a year, try to put something else out at least quarterly. If you’re talented in more than one type of art, maybe do companion illustrations or have videos of your readings or book trailers, or even little interactive games. In the past, I’ve seen people do music play-lists – soundtracks, essentially – for their books; they chose either music that inspired them as they wrote the books, or music they felt fits the theme or scenes in the book. If writing and only writing is your bag, get some short stories out there. One idea is to write short stories about minor characters in your books. You already have the world built, and it’s possible you might have added a little throwaway mention of some event or person that you could flesh out into a story. On my Patreon, I do a travelogue of all the “haunted” places I mention in my books, and give all kinds of easter-egg-like background and history about those places. Once, I made a street map of Thrall (the eponymous town of one of my books) that readers seemed to get a kick out of. I’ve seen people do Wiki-like pages on their website for the places or races in their books, which may work well if you’re doing a dark fantasy novel or a dark science fiction novel. Readers like to be tuned into the process, and they want to catch the current of magic and imagination in their favorite works of art. They enjoy those little details that make them feel on the inside, a part of the worlds you create.

Diversify

The people I know who make a living doing this have a lot of projects going on at once. These projects are varied and usually with different publishers as well as some self-published work. Diversify your prolific-ness. When you’re in this business long enough, you see some publishers fail, go bankrupt, or get overturned as inept or even criminal in their business practices. If all your work and rights are tied up in one publisher, this can be incredibly damaging to the forward momentum of your career. This can also be financially devastating, if your sole or primary source of income is from your books. Try different publishing models and different publishers, based on your ability to promote, your reach, and the size of your readership. The average writer, I believe, does well with selling novels to mass market, novellas to small press, and self-publishing short stories or essays in collected works of fiction and non-fiction. This is not a hard and fast rule; it’s just a guideline for what works for me and what I’ve seen work for others. You may have a big enough fan base that you can self-publish everything, or may find a certain temporary comfort in building upward with different small presses to start. My point is, don’t put all your eggs in one publishing basket; diversify where you publish.

Appearances

I know that there is something exciting about the idea of signing books, sitting behind a table and pontificating about the literary awesomeness of your most recent release, etc. And you know, there is. But arranging successful events is tricky. The key word there is “successful.” Here are some of the things I’ve found that work and don’t work as far as appearances go:

Individual book store book signings are hit and miss until you have a following already. If the bookstore gets a lot of foot traffic and the booksellers like you and love your work enough to promote it to customers, you can do pretty well. If not, you may be sitting at a folding table under a piece of cardboard with your name scribbled on it, shilling the two copies of your books that the store just happened to have on the shelves, in between giving customers directions to the bathroom. Instead, try to book events – things that are more than a signing. Talk to bookstores about book clubs or writers’ groups that meet there; if a book club is willing to read your book, you can offer to come and discuss it with them at one of their meetings. Writers groups are always looking for dynamic speakers to inspire and advise new writers. If you do tackle a bookstore itself, you can offer to do a reading or talk followed by a Q&A, or get some other writers together and do a panel. People will come out to the bookstore to hear you talk about how to get into writing, how to get published, how to develop a short story, even what scary movies you like.

Don’t forget about libraries. Libraries want to do fun stuff related to writing and reading. It works best, I’m told, if you approach the librarian in charge of events with a possible event already outlined, and a list of possible dates which may work for the library. They often don’t have a huge budget to pay for appearances, but many seem willing to negotiate something fair, and if you’re willing to do appearances for free, all the better for them. Libraries will also often take donations of your books, which puts you in circulation and contact with potential new readers who will then go on to buy your books elsewhere. A lot of us discovered our first book loves from libraries.  Further, libraries will sometimes let you sell your own books after an event or at least hand out information about your books – bookmarks, stickers, postcards, etc.

If you’re going to hit the convention circuit, great. However, different kinds of conventions serve different purposes. Conventions that are all writers and editors are great for networking. You can sidle up to an editor or agent at a party and start up a conversation, maybe work your way toward impressing said professional into asking for your book. If you want to sell books, though, then these kinds of conventions end up being book trades between writers. Great for your TBR pile, not so great for your wallet. To sell books, reader or horror fan conventions are usually a better option. If you do choose to do a fan con, try to pick the ones that have a reader/writer track as well as movies, games, etc. This indicates that the con is 1) friendly to writers, 2) likely to attract readers and not just movie-watchers or game-players, and 3) open to programming which you may be able to participate in. Volunteering to participate in programming is another way to increase visibility. If people like what you say on a panel, if you come across as engaging or funny or charming, they are more likely to stop by your table and buy a book.

Genre labels are just words. You may think you write horror, but as Maurice Broaddus once put it, sometimes the only difference between genres is an extra zero added to your advance. While there are plenty of literary criteria I could give that distinguish horror from thriller, horror from dark fantasy, or horror from paranormal action, etc., know the audience you’re marketing to at an event. Know the loose genre parameters your book may fall under. Kensington markets many of my books as “Supernatural Thriller.” Works for me, if that opens up an avenue to reach readers who may like my stuff but are turned off by the “horror” label.

Think outside the box, too. Book festivals are another great option for scheduling events, considering readers are actually all coming out to one place to buy books. Try other kinds of festivals that are either amenable to book selling or to the genre you’re in – fall festivals, horror festivals, craft festivals, etc. Contact high schools and colleges – a lot of promising and talented new writers need guidance and direction, and are excited to hear what you have to say about the craft and the business. I know some writers who do bar tours and beer festivals for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because drunk people spend money. 😉

Promotion

There is both an art and a science to promotion. A lot of it has to do with timing – when your book is due out, and when media outlets need information by. You also need to discuss with your publishers what they are willing or able to do for you in terms of promotion, and what you want to budget to do for yourself. In my experience, publishers welcome and encourage your efforts and ideas, because whatever books you sell make them money, too. Many don’t have the money for large, fancy book tours, but with the right planning, I believe you can do a little bit of everything to increase your readership and elevate the visibility of your work.

If you’re not familiar with Bookbub, make it a point to look into it. Essentially, it’s a curated list of books by genre that are directly marketed to the demographic of readers most interested in them. If you’re a fan of horror and fantasy, you can sign up for their emailing list and receive a daily heads-up about what new books are out in those genres and why they’re awesome. They spotlight these books with cover art, title, author, and a blurb regarding what the book is about. Now, getting your book listed is a difficult and expensive endeavor; I have only ever managed to get on the list because my publisher handled both the cost and the submission process, but I can honestly say that the difference in royalties between the quarter before the Bookbub and the quarter after was an extra zero tacked on the end, and then some. In addition to the financial benefit, it raises awareness of your work to a wider audience of people more inclined to buy your next one. You have a target horror audience subscribed because they are looking for books like yours, and through Bookbub, they’re finding your book. I’m not sure if all platforms like Bookbub are as effective, but BB is definitely one I’d recommend.

Brian Keene explained to me once that mass market paperback books have a shelf life in a bookstore of about three months. Three months. That’s not a long time to achieve fame and fortune and increase your readership, one might think. And one might be right. His suggestion, then, was keep reminding readers and encouraging sales.  You can coordinate buying an ad in a major horror magazine with the publication schedule of the magazine (the first Tuesday of the month) and the returns shipment of bookstores (the end of the month). When The Rising  (I htink it was?) came out, he bought an ad on the inside front cover – I stress placement because a) those are not cheap, but b) that is the most strategically effective place to put the ad. He arranged with the magazine to run the ad that first Tuesday of the 3rd month, and sure enough, the remaining copies of his book sold. Rather than having any returns, the bookstore ordered more copies, thus increasing his shelf life.

Get to know your local media outlets. Journalism is a job like any other creative job, and it often requires a hunt for content. Building a relationship with reporters and journalists, particularly those who cover local news or news specific to arts and entertainment, can open avenues of promotion through newspapers, radio, and even local television, and can increase awareness of your books to potential new readers whose loyalty stems as much from your being a local celebrity as it does from love of your work. Journalists keep your name out there in front of the eyes of the general public, and articles in media outlets often lend a kind of old-school legitimacy (OMG She’s in the paper today!) to your endeavors. I mean, try not to show up in the police blotter or anything, but cultivate relationships with the Arts & Entertainment writers, the Local News writers, and anyone else who may cover the same subjects your book covers. If you write about local locations which may be of historical significance, see if the historical society or local museums are interested in cross-promotion opportunities. Maybe they’ll carry your book in the gift shop if you give out book marks or pamphlets for their location at local book signings.

No one likes when people beg for awards, but there are a few little things which you can do to get noticed which I think are okay. You can let your publishers know that a number of prestigious awards look for recommendations or nominations specifically from publishers. I believe the Shirley Jackson Awards are an example of that. If you know people who compile annual Best-Of lists, you can send a free copy of your book, with their permission, for consideration.

Reviews, whether good or even only lukewarm, benefit you. Customers don’t always care about the specific issues people have with something because taste is individual, but they look at numbers – how many reviews you have, and if the majority, at least, is okay to good. Everyone gets bad reviews but I think most readers are savvy enough to take bad reviews (and good reviews) with a grain of salt. That your book is reviewed at all often seems more important, because it shows people are reading the book. A lot of reviews shows a lot of people are reading the book. Kensington usually offers the galleys of my books on Netgalley, so that I can just send a link to reviewers. They also send out a number of free review copies to their own list of people who then have the option to review the book on Amazon or Goodreads if they choose. Since these two outlets are where many readers go, it’s good if you have an account with each so that you can make sure the author information, your list of available work, your bio, and other news tidbits are all up to date. You can also see reviews there, but do NOT obsess about them and do NOT respond to them, other than maybe to thank someone who has brought a good review to your attention. (You really shouldn’t respond to bad reviews ever, but if you do, just thank the person for taking the time to read and review the book and offer wishes that perhaps they’ll like the next one better.) If you get good reviews, link to them on social media. Promote them.

Bridging the Gap – Getting Readers and Publishers to Notice a Marginalized Voice

In terms of raising awareness of writers who are marginalized in publishing sometimes, it’s my belief that the most effective way to do it is with positive reinforcement and sincere support. Retweet or repost promotional efforts of publishers or writers whose work you genuinely admire – and that qualifier is important. Sincerity is important. Maybe blog about the themes that are universally relatable or how easy it is to empathize with the characters. Discuss the relevance of the book as a part of your genre (or subgenre), and why the unique take on it is an infusion of creativity and freshness in the literary canon of your field. In other words, show readers, other writers, publishers – basically, anyone who will listen – why a horror novel by a woman or a person of color or LGBTQIA+ writer can still be scary and moving and significant to someone with a different, perhaps more mainstream set of experiences. However – and I want to stress this point – I think this is most effectively done not necessarily by emphasizing the “otherness” of the author but the universality of the book. For me personally, I’d rather someone talk about how good my books are, how scary, than how awesome it is that I’m a woman writer, like my gender or sex is some kind of novelty in the business. It’s not that I’m saying you need to, in any way, hide the unique identity of the author, but the point of building a readership is showing your work’s marketability to the widest audience possible; you want to appeal to as wide a reader demographic as possible. To do that, I think it’s important to demonstrate that varying perspectives in your genre enhance it as a whole, and ultimately work because as one species, there are fundamental, primal emotions (like fear, love, loyalty) which we all understand.

Getting publishers to pick up and push new voices is, I believe, a matter of legitimizing their financial profitability with a combination of subtle and overt positive reinforcement. Rather than tackle a publisher who, say, only publishes all white, straight males, praise and promote when a publisher publishes women, people of color, LGBTQIA+, etc. When the magazine or publisher is a high-visibility one, this promotional support is even more important, because it lets people know that women and other marginalized groups ARE out there, they ARE writing quality stuff and they ARE getting it published by tried and true publishers. It subtly reinforces the legitimacy of those writers in the the minds of readers, and reminds them of the variety of quality fiction out there. Promoting also brings sales and money to the publisher, reinforcing to them that publishing this woman or POC or LGBTQIA+ writer was a good idea, a profitable idea, and that they should do it again. Publishing is a business, and one in which the publishers hope to make some money, so a lot of times they look for people they’ve worked with before who are reliable and people whose name recognition will bring in readers and sales. Promotion of marginalized writers shows that despite not having the long history or track record as many straight white males deservably do, these marginalized writers are reliable, professional, and garnering a reputation that resonates with book-buying readers and other professionals as a “Name” author.

To put it bluntly, publishing is a business, and people are in that business to make money. Raising awareness of your profitability to publishers is a good way to get more work. More work means more opportunity to gain new readers.

Where Readers Seem to Be Finding Your Books

There will always be the casual browser at the bookstore (used or new books) who goes looking for that special hidden treasure, that new delight tucked away on some old dusty shelf. There’s a distinct pleasure in that, one that avid readers tend to look for even with the advent of much simpler avenues of purchase. Stick around in this business long enough and your books will start showing up at used bookstores, under the noses and in the eager hands of readers like that – the kind who mate for life, so to speak, with writers whose work they love. Stick around even longer, and you’ll begin to appeal to the nostalgia collectors, the completists, the ones for whom a home library is a thing of papery pride and joy. To me, my work on those kinds of shelves is a mark of true career success.

But we can’t overlook the electronic powerhouses which seem to be slowly supplanting bookstores across the nation. Let’s start with the assumption that you already have profiles on all these sites (if you don’t, go do that now. You should.) Keep these profiles as up-to date and detailed as possible. Make sure your new books are always linked to your name – that’s important, too. You can link your blog, your calendar of events, and even videos to these profiles, keeping readers in the loop wherever they go to find out info about you.

Amazon – there are a couple of tricks for getting noticed on Amazon, although it’s important to remember that thousands of other people are doing the same thing. Reviews do make a difference. It’s not so much what was said, as I mentioned earlier, but how often your book is being reviewed. I understand that certain algorithms on Amazon don’t kick in until your book has garnered a certain number of reviews – I think it’s 20. Like with many products, if I want to try something new, whether it’s a video game or a hair care product, I look to see that it has a bunch of reviews (that essentially, it’s been tested/used by a fairly decent sampling of people like me) and that the reviews are mostly good. I don’t care much about the particulars of why someone didn’t like something, other than, say, that it set the house on fire or some other dangerous thing. And I think most people tend to think of reviews that way. So long as your book doesn’t set the house of fire, people aren’t much going to care why someone didn’t like your book. Entertainment is subjective. But numbers – Amazon is a numbers game. Understanding the value Amazon places on numbers is an important step to elevating your work from the rest of the books being offered.

The only other way I see to raise the visibility of your book on Amazon deals with sales rankings. These seem to be contingent upon a number of sales in a brief period of time. If you could correlate selling a bunch of books and your promotional efforts, you would escalate in the sales rankings and your book would appear before new readers. Since Amazon is very category-driven, you often can rise to the top of the list in a very, very specific subset of your genre, but it’s more impressive to dominate your genre, or at least your subgenre, as a whole. Coordinated groups of sales, spread out over a period of time, might well trigger some algorithm that keeps you floating near the top of the list. I found a website that suggested stacked promotions every 90 days or so, I’m assuming so your sales don’t flag, and you reach a new influx of readers. Another website suggests making sure your book metadata is as complete as possible; evidently, the more details about your book the algorithms have, the more likely they are to suggest your book to potential customers. I suspect it looks for best matches, which equal more likely sales, so the more specifics a customer supplies, the easier it is for Amazon to match said customer with a good fit if the book mentions all or most of those specifics.

You can’t name-drop in the keywords section of metadata anymore, but evidently your book description can say things like “In the tradition of Stephen King,” or “If you like Dean Koontz, you’ll love this book!” My book CHILLS’s description references HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVES, and I suspect that raised its visibility with people looking for books like the show.

You can also include accolades, blurbs, bits of praise in your description. Since a lot of blurbs are attributed to the writer/editor/reviewer who said them, their names in your description may draw in people searching for their name.

If you’ve won any awards, you can put that in your description, too. I know a number of readers will search for “Stoker award” or “Shirley Jackson award” winners in looking for the best new work the genre has to offer that year.

You also want to work keywords and category into your description – think SEO, or the kind of words a reader might input in a search for books like yours. A Written Word Media article reports that Amazon’s suggestions include settings, something about the characters, like their roles or types in the story, the tone of the work, and plot themes.

Goodreads – A lot of people are finding out what the next great read is on Goodreads. According to a Huffington Post article (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/how-to-become-a-goodreads_b_3719161.html), the average demographic there is adult female, avid readers though not terribly affluent, 81% Caucasian, and many with college-age kids.

Reviews are pretty important, since Goodreads syndicates those reviews to USAtoday.com, ecommerce sites, and library-related sites, according to that same Huffington Post article. I would argue that it’s probably just as important to encourage your readers to review your books on Goodreads as well as Amazon.

I’ve also noticed a feature called Listopia on Goodreads. There are several lists that I imagine readers might access in looking for good books – Best Ofs, Top 100s, that sort of thing. If you can encourage readers to add you where appropriate to their own lists on Goodreads, you’re increasing your visibility there to list-surfers. For example, here’s the link to horror-related book lists on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/horror

Curated lists – I mentioned Bookbub before. I think it’s a brilliant idea. I also think it’s a tough nut to crack. In my own personal experience, I’ve had better luck getting onto Bookbub when a publisher has submitted my book than when I’ve submitted one myself, but both individual writers and publishers have had their own varying degrees of success. What I like about the idea of curated lists is that, where most promotion is carpet-bombing and hoping to hit a few targets, curated lists are precision strikes. All these people who are looking to spend money on horror novels are voluntarily signing up to receive promotion about horror books – your horror books included. The return on investment here is much higher.

Here is a short list of (current as of this writing) curated book lists:

Amazon Prime Reading – it appears that the ones that make it to the top of the list are the ones released through Amazon imprints (they’re listed as “featured”).

Librosso – Become a Librosso Partner here: http://blog.librosso.com/were-reaching-out-to-all-the-authors/.

eReaderIQ – This website seems to list books that other readers have added, along with reviews.

What Deals Mean in PW

Nice deal is $1 to $49,000

Very nice deal is $50K to $99K

Good deal is $100K to $250

Significant deal is $250K to $499K

Major deal is $500K and up

 

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My Bucket List, of Sorts – the Travel Edition

So, as I have entered into a new decade and thus a new phase of life, organizing and prioritizing certain things I’d like to do, see, or be before I die seems to have taken on a new importance.  And there is something about posting various “bucket lists” (although I hate the term) along these lines that I think gives them a sense of tangible reality. There are a number of national parks and forests all over the country — all over the world, even — that I’d like to see for one reason or another.  Horror fiction/film landmarks, places of great beauty, places of ancient awesomeness.  I don’t know that I’ll see all of them, but I’d like to try.

I imagine this may be a series of occasional posts about what I hope for the future, and by putting them out there in the universe, I might therefore find a way to accomplish them.

Domestically, I’d love to see the Redwoods and Bigfoot country, Rainbow Bridge and Falls in Seneca Lake as well as other parts of Lake George/Adirondacks and Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon and the Stanley Hotel, the creepy doll museum in Washington and the Warren Museum in Connecticut (I think it’s CT). This following list (in no particular order) is of international places I’d like to see before I move on from this world.

The Northern Lights
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Because, wow.  This is an aurora moonset taken somewhere in Alaska.  I’d also like to see Alaska in general, and not just because it’s the state with the highest number of UFO sightings/encounters of various kinds in the country.  Seeing the Northern Lights must be a magical, almost transcendental experience, whether in Alaska, Canada, or Iceland.  So this is definitely on my list.

 

 


The Hill of Tara, Ireland
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It seems to me that this is a place of ancient wisdom, beauty and power.  There is something about it that calls to my soul.  I would like to see Ireland before I die, and in addition to the usual tourist sites — maybe even more so than those places — I’d like to see this place.

 

 

 


Stonehenge

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Um, because it’s freakin’ Stonehenge! Talk about iconic places to see in one’s life. I understand they’re roped off now and you can’t get close to them, but I’d still like to see them.

 

 

 


Waitomo Caves
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These are the glow-worm caves of New Zealand. I would not go out of my way to see just any worms — these look pretty special. I figure, it’s like butterflies. They’re not really creepy-crawly if they’re pretty and glowy. I like glowy things.

 

 

 


The Great Pyramids
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Because ALIENS. No, seriously.

Okay, seriously, I have always found ancient Egypt fascinating — the hieroglyphics, the mythology, the gods, the culture.

 

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Oh, and I’d like to see the Sphinx, too.

 

 

 

 

 


The Hoia-Baciu Forest, Romania

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This is considered the most haunted forest in the world. UFO sightings, missing people, time anomolies, attacks from invisible entities — what’s not to love? Though this visit is going to be saved for what will presumably be the end of my life. just in case.

 

 


Aokigahara (Suicide Forest/Sea of Trees), Japan
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The sheer number of ghosts in this area are enough to fill a small city. No joke. It’s an absolutely beautiful forest with an absolutely terrifying history. Another golden-glow-of-my-sunset-years trip, but definitely on my list.

 


The Castle Tour

(too many pics to post but check them out HERE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Horror Movie Survival Kit

Courtesy of Man Crates, I am participating in the Halloween-themed blog posting of what I consider my absolute essentials for surviving a horror movie.  Please comment with anything you’d include yourself — I’d love to hear feedback.

 

 

My Horror Movie Survival Crate

by Mary SanGiovanni

So you’ve found yourself in a horror movie. There you were, blithely waltzing through your average 9-5, cubicle-and-rush-hour-traffic day, and boom, you’re suddenly surrounded by apocalyptic explosions, fleshing-eating ghouls, shambling zombies, soul-shattering closet monsters, tentacled, blood-sucking aliens, clowns, Kardashians….

Okay, okay – don’t panic. You can survive this. I’ll bet money that you don’t have yourself a horror movie survival kit yet. You should. The world can be a wild, weird, scary place. Anyone wise in the ways of the horror movie-verse has a go-bag at the ready for any and all crisis situations – and now more than ever, so should you. But what do you look for in such a survival kit? What items ought to form the backbone of your horror survivalist contingency plan?

Well, I’m a horror writer, as long-time readers know; I put people in these kinds of situations for a living, so I have, I think, a pretty good idea of what it may behoove a body to have, if said body wants to remain upright and kicking. I think these items are versatile enough to cover a number of things that go bump and scratch and belch and roar in the night, and may just save you long enough to fight another day.

1. A bottle of water and nonperishable food – Let’s face it. If you’re going to think your way calmly and rationally through a crisis situation, you’ll need to see that the most basic problems are attended to. You’ll need to triage your needs and get your head right again. Assuming you haven’t been shot, stabbed, burned, beaten, bitten, broken, or dropped onto spikes, you should consider moving on to the important task of keeping hydrated and fed. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think about the best escape route through throngs of zombies or past crazed hillbilly cannibals on an empty stomach. Ditto, if I’m thirsty. I believe at least one bottle of water, maybe two, as well as a snack, is essential to keeping you in optimum survivalist mode.

2. A first aid kit – Remember when I mentioned triaging your needs? Attending to wounds is need #1. It trumps all else; you won’t have to worry about being hungry or thirsty if you’re bleeding to death. Just as it is inevitable that if you go swimming in shark- or sea monster-infested waters you’re going to get wet, it is likewise inevitable that if you’re going to make your way through a horror movie, you’re going to get hurt. Bandages will help stop bleeding, antibiotics will prevent infection, and a sewing kit, if used skillfully, will help minimize scarring when you give yourself stitches. Essentially, your horror movie survival kit should have a first aid kit because you or someone in your little band of survivors is going to need it. Trust me. Remember, major blood loss is no way to start off your plans for survival.

3. Ibuprofen or some other pain reliever – Hopefully, you’ll limit your injuries to a bruise or two or maybe some scratches, and not a broken or missing limb. Either way, you stand a better chance of survival if you’re not distracted to the point of helplessness by pain. Hell, I wouldn’t even want to deal with a headache if I didn’t have to. I suggest you make sure your survival crate has pain relievers.

4. Paper towels – You’re going to have to pee. Everyone does. But not everyone thinks about the particulars of setting one’s rear end down on the stained porcelain of a haunted house’s toilet, a patch of leaves in a forest teeming with werewolf packs, or in the rusty, crusty, blood-stained confines of an old asylum or prison. Paper towels are good for nesting as well as wiping. And should you find yourself in a situation where you are framed for the murder of your lover, a hooker, a stranger on a train, or the like, you can wipe off your fingerprints from the scene.

It’s all about thinking ahead, people.

4. Comfy shoes – I recommend that any good horror movie survival crate have a decent pair of sneakers – durable, waterproof, and comfy. Running sneakers would probably be a good bet. Know why so many people trip and fall in horror movies, floundering on the ground as a looming, silent hulk of monstermeat approaches with a machete? Bad shoes. Running in heels is not an option. Running barefoot is not ideal. Flapping flip flops will give away your position. Take care of your feet and they won’t fail you when you need them.

5. A weapon – I can’t stress enough the importance of arming yourself. A wise horror movie hero once said, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” But which weapon to use? Guns will do nicely for killing most things, including wild, freakishly large animals, zombies (aim for the head), serial killers (ditto – in fact, shoot them twice in the head, to be sure), crazed occultists, and cannibals. Knives and axes will serve you in the event that the gun jams or runs out of ammo. But few things can match the awesome destructive power and panache of a flamethower. Fire is the great equalizer.

6. Holy water and a Bible – It’s possible that even the girlishly squee-able awesomeness of a flamethower may not be enough firepower, so to speak, to take down certain entities of a demonic persuasion. The power of Christ will compel them, though, according to those in the know. The exorcism ritual primarily includes holy water and a passage from the older editions of the Christian Bible. This is important – your crate Bible needs to have the Rites of Exorcism in it.

7. Sage and salt – I understand from professionals that sage and salt dispel evil and prevent it from returning, respectively. It can’t hurt to have these along as well.

8. Gloves and a shovel – Some things are better left buried. But of course, you are in a horror movie, and those things didn’t stay that way. So the shovel will come in handy when you’re re-burying an ancient corse, an evil artifact, etc. You may also want or need to bury those in your party that do not survive the movie (likely, because they didn’t have survival kits of their own). And gloves will keep your hands from blistering while you dig. Further, gloves, particularly rubber gloves, may keep any Captain Tripps-esque germs from said ancient corpse, artifact, or unfortunate companion from ruining all the hard work you put into staying alive and well. You could, I imagine, substitute the gloves for Purell, but if you think about the opposition – the Michael Myerses, the Jason Voorheeses, and other soundless slashers of their ilk – they all wear gloves, and they have amazing resurrective and regenerative power. It’s all about clean living.

9. A blanket – Creature comforts, if you’ll pardon the pun, go a long way toward promoting the will to survive. And should you find yourself the sole survivor of an artic camp, an ice-capped mountain cavern, a freak blizzard, or the like, you’ll be glad for the blanket. Plus, you can make yourself a right cozy little spot if you use the blanket on you and the flamethower to make yourself a little bonfire.

10. A disguise – If episodes of Scooby Doo have taught us nothing else, disguises can make or break a monster situation. These can be tailored to blending in seamlessly with the local zombie population, the angry mob, the inmates or guards, the patients or nurses. You can even hide among the piles of corpses, with the right make-up. Clothes, they say, make the man. Disguises, I say, make the man able to hide in plain sight.

So there you go – a few things in a crate, perhaps, that form the basis of your survival in this movie. Sure, it’s dark, and you’re reaching the point in the movie where the evil thing has nothing left to lose. Sure, that means it’s going to up its game when it comes after you one last time. But if you make good use of the horror movie survival kit items outlined above, you’ll make it. I know you will. It’s almost dawn, and I can see the end credits from here. Hang in there, and good luck. You’ll need it for the sequel….

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Guest Post — Aniko Carmean — No Songs for the Stars

I am honored to include this guest blog post by fellow writer Aniko Carmean regarding her experience reading my chapbook, No Songs for the Stars.  It is a thrilling and satisfying experience for a writer to find that her work resonates with others…..

The sand near the water’s edge is cool and densely packed. There are dunes, too, inland and sprouting the autumn stubble of dried grasses. Beyond the tactile, scrubby rise of the dunes there is a field of crisp snow, untouched by humans – but not untouched. Indecipherable marks of some otherworldly language are etched at intervals, dark glyphs on the pristine landscape.

A man sits at a table. He wears the maniacal look of one who has seen an inhuman truth. He has read there is no song for the stars, and he has destroyed the child-masks of The Other.

I’m reading a story. No. Not just reading. Feeling it, immersed by it. My fingers play across the coarse, cool sand of the chapbook cover, trip through the brushy liner sheet, smooth along the snowy quality of the printed pages. I pause to look at the illustration. The man’s pose is that of madness leaning into a terrible truth. Gorgeous alien glyphs slide down the frontispiece. I am enchanted by the textures, and captured by the intricate flow of the story that the pages transmit. The chapbook entreats me to touch it, even as it devours my world. In my forgotten mug, the chrysanthemum tea flowers bloat and grow cold. This is decadence. This is magic.

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No Song for the Stars by Mary SanGiovanni is printed in a gorgeous chapbook by White Noise Press. The marriage of form and content begins with the cover, where glyphs juxtapose the vertically stacked title. This visual effect lends itself to the sensation that the reader has apprehended the meaning of the glyphs, an effect which is in visceral harmony with the story. Glyphs trickle onto other pages. They serve as section breaks and reminders that the characters, and by extension the reader, are in the presence of what we can only partly grasp with our human intellect.

No Song is set at the meeting place between worlds, and the chapbook is crafted of textured papers indicative of passing between different locales. The pages where the story is printed are high-quality, and bright as enlightenment; they are a stark contrast to the assured, dark strokes that trace out the illustration of a man who has absorbed the source of the enlightenment.

The chapbook is offered as a signed, limited edition. The signatures invite you to touch the palpable furrows where some other hand has pressed a pen. Like the glyphs in the story, the signatures could be written on the walls of an interdimensional nexus, and maybe they really are, for what is more transporting than being absorbed and carried by a story?

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When I finished reading No Song for the Stars, I continued to sit and sip my lukewarm tea. I touched the pages, reveling in a sudden insight: in a world where access is instantaneous and digital, the snail-mail delivery and physical experience of reading a tactile piece of art was almost overwhelming. There was something sensual in knowing an autographed story from one of my favorite contemporary writers would appear in my mailbox. It was a thrill to remove bubble wrap and find the chapbook in a perfectly fitted envelop emblazoned with an intricate glyph. It feels good to feel, not just with our imaginations and our hearts, but also with our hands. Neither e-books nor mass produced pocket editions can provide the beauty I experienced sitting quietly and reading this slim chapbook.

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No Song for the Stars exemplifies the surreal themes I’ve come to crave from Mary SanGiovanni’s fiction. She makes the intrusion of alternate, hostile worlds into our reality seem not only plausible, but irrevocable. Any of us could be the man in the illustration, or the Detective who unknowingly stumbles to the terrifying conclusion that madness is the only true sanity.

The seedy location of the primary action is one way SanGiovanni grounds her horror and gives it the feel of something implacable. Her characters are modest, the kind of average people that we are, know, and love; there are no superheroes here, just people who stumbled into terrible knowledge. The details of the story are carefully chosen to build tension between the otherworldly and the prosaic, and nothing breaks the reader’s ability to believe.

The key to the story is the premise that some humans have an inborn ability to read and absorb the alien language scrawled on the walls of the nexus. The adventure (and peril) of reading is that you cannot know what you are going to learn until it is too late. The characters in No Song for the Stars read truths that set them at odds with human rationality; they are like religious visionaries or scientific “heretics” burned on the pyre of prevailing commonsense. In SanGiovanni’s universe(s), evil is dangerous, but so too is knowledge that cuts against what we have agreed is reality.

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No Song for the Stars is art in triplicate: form, illustration, and story. Only 158 copies exist, and of that number, only 150 are available for purchase through White Noise Press. Each copy is numbered and signed by both the author and illustrator, and makes a worthy addition to any literary collection.

Aniko Carmean is a speculative fiction author living in Austin, Texas. She loves ancho-chocolate milkshakes, October, and dogs. You can read her stories for free by visiting Odd Sky Books and signing up to become a member of the Odd Literati.

Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

Guest Post – Matt Manochio and THE DARK SERVANT

MMTour

I’m pleased to present a guest blog post by fellow author and New Jersey resident Matt Manochio, in which readers can learn a little more about his new supernatural thriller novel, The Dark Servant (a tale which happens to take place in his own little corner of Weird NJ, of course!) as well as a giveaway!

Krampusnacht

Krampusnacht is Friday! And I can hear your first question: What the hell is Krampusnacht?

European legend has it that Saint Nicholas (yes, Santa Claus) leaves treats in the good kiddies’ shoes, and farms out the naughty boys and girls to Krampus, a huge, hairy devil that kidnaps bad children and does all sorts of sordid things to them (e.g., he drowns them, he eats them, he makes them watch Katherine Heigl movies—really awful stuff). The big beasty lets loose on December 5 (a.k.a. the Eve of Saint Nicholas, or Krampusnacht).

Europeans celebrate this night by dressing up in some of the most horrifying devil costumes I’ve ever seen and then proceed to run up and down public streets (sometimes drunkenly) with the express purpose of scaring the children brought out by their parents. This is known as a Krampuslauf (Krampus run). Watch a few minutes of this YouTube Krampus run video, shot on a snowy night in Graz, Austria, in 2010, and see for yourself:

I find this wonderfully twisted and don’t find it the least bit surprising that this may have originated in Germany (I can say that because I’m part German, so get over it). Zoom to the 45-second mark and you’ll see a ghost-white Krampus—with a pentangle bloodily carved in its forehead—on its knees, wiggling its finger, motioning for a little boy to approach him.

As you might imagine, the boy, who can’t be any older than 8, is frantic to get behind his father for protection, frightened to the point of crying! And parents deliberately bring their children to this spectacle! There are perverse Thanksgiving Day parade-style floats trundling down the road, but instead of a cheery head-bobbing Turkey or lip-synching C-list celebrities that should’ve packed it in years ago, you’ll see a Grim Reaper steering a wheeled cage in which a man and woman are imprisoned! And for good measure there’s a skull dangling near of the crossbars. Don’t get me wrong, some of the wee tykes think this is cool and likely will be the ones hiding bodies under their floorboards 20 years from now. And it’s not like the dozens of Krampuses are being mean to the children. They pose for pictures, squeeze cheeks, give hugs. In the end, it’s fun.

Now, while Krampusnacht celebrations are a big to-do in Europe, they’re virtually nonexistent in the United States. Fortunately, a few brave souls who enjoy Krampus as much as I do have scheduled Krampusnacht events in, among other places, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Denver and Honolulu. Yes, Honolulu. Men and women will don incredibly hot and furry suits and probably wear leis for good measure. Please go to the website www.Krampus.com for a list 2014 events. There are only a handful now, but I expect more to emerge in future years. So if they’re in your area, go and have a blast—because I can’t find any near where I live.

The Dark Servant: 

MMbookcover

Santa’s not the only one coming to town …

It’s older than Christ and has tormented European children for centuries. Now America faces its wrath. Unsuspecting kids vanish as a blizzard crushes New Jersey. All that remains are signs of destruction—and bloody hoof prints stomped in snow. Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer awakes December 5 feeling depressed. Already feuding with his police chief father and golden boy older brother, Billy’s devastated when his dream girl rejects him. When an unrelenting creature infiltrates his town, imperiling his family and friends, Billy must overcome his own demons to understand why his supposedly innocent high school peers have been snatched, and how to rescue them from a famous saint’s ruthless companion—that cannot be stopped.

The Dark Servant is everything a thriller should be—eerie, original and utterly engrossing!”
Wendy Corsi Staub, New York Times bestselling author

“Beautifully crafted and expertly plotted, Matt Manochio’s The Dark Servant has taken an esoteric fairy tale from before Christ and sets it in the modern world of media-saturated teenagers—creating a clockwork mechanism of terror that blends Freddy Krueger with the Brothers Grimm! Highly recommended!”
Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor

“Matt Manochio is a writer who’ll be thrilling us for many books to come.”
Jim DeFelice, New York Times bestselling co-author of American Sniper

“Matt Manochio has taken a very rare fairytale and turned it into a real page-turner. Matt has constructed a very real and believable force in Krampus and has given it a real journalistic twist, and he has gained a fan in me!”
David L. Golemon, New York Times bestselling author of the Event Group Series

“I scarcely know where to begin. Is this a twisted parental fantasy of reforming recalcitrant children? Is it Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets Nightmare on Elm Street? Is it a complex revision of the Medieval morality play? In The Dark Servant, Matt Manochio has taken the tantalizing roots of Middle Europe’s folklore and crafted a completely genuine modern American horror story. This is a winter’s tale, yes, but it is also a genuinely new one for our modern times. I fell for this story right away. Matt Manochio is a natural born storyteller.”
Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Savage Dead and Dog Days

“Just in time for the season of Good Will Toward Men, Matt Manochio’s debut delivers a fresh dose of Holiday Horror, breathing literary life into an overlooked figure of legend ready to step out of Santa’s shadow. Prepared to be thrilled in a new, old-fashioned way.”
Hank Schwaeble, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Damnable, Diabolical and The Angel of the Abyss

“In The Dark Servant, Manochio spins a riveting tale of a community under siege by a grotesque, chain-clanking monster with cloven-hooves, a dry sense of wit, and a sadistic predilection for torture. As Christmas nears and a snowstorm paralyzes the town, the terrifying Krampus doesn’t just leave switches for the local bullies, bitches, and badasses, he beats the living (editor’s note: rhymes with skit) out of them! Manochio balances a very dark theme with crackling dialogue, fast-paced action, and an engaging, small-town setting.”
Lucy Taylor, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Safety of Unknown Cities

“A fast-paced thrill-ride into an obscure but frightful Christmas legend. Could there be a dark side to Santa? And if so, what would he do to those kids who were naughty? Matt Manochio provides the nail-biting answer with The Dark Servant.”
John Everson, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Violet Eyes

“A high-octane blast of horror. A surefire hit for fans of monsters and gore.”
Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown

“Have yourself a scary, nightmare-y little Christmas with The Dark Servant. Matt Manochio’s holiday horror brings old world charm to rural New Jersey, Krampus-style.”
Jon McGoran, author of Drift

About Krampus:

December 5 is Krampus Nacht — Night of the Krampus, a horned, cloven-hoofed monster who in pre-Christian European cultures serves as the dark companion to Saint Nicholas, America’s Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas rewards good children and leaves bad ones to Krampus, who kidnaps and tortures kids unless they repent.

About Matt Manocchio: 

Matt Manochio is the author of The Dark Servant (Samhain Publishing, November 4, 2014). He is a supporting member of the Horror Writers Association, and he hates writing about himself in the third person but he’ll do it anyway.

He spent 12 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter at the Morris County, N.J., Daily Record, and worked for one year as an award-winning page designer at the Anderson, S.C., Independent-Mail. He currently works as a full-time editor and a freelance writer.

The highlights of his journalism career involved chronicling AC/DC for USA Today: in 2008, when the band kicked off its Black Ice world tour, and in 2011 when lead singer Brian Johnson swung by New Jersey to promote his autobiography. For you hardcore AC/DC fans, check out the video on my YouTube channel.

To get a better idea about my path toward publication, please read my Writer’s Digest guest post: How I Sold My Supernatural Thriller.

Matt’s a dedicated fan of bullmastiffs, too. (He currently doesn’t own one because his house is too small. Bullmastiff owners understand this all too well.)

Matt doesn’t have a favorite author, per se, but owns almost every Dave Barry book ever published, and he loves blending humor into his thrillers when warranted. Some of his favorite books include Salem’s Lot, Jurassic Park, The Hobbit, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

When it comes to writing, the only advice he can give is to keep doing it, learn from mistakes, and regardless of the genre, read Chris Roerden’s Don’t Sabotage Your Submission (2008, Bella Rosa Books).

Matt grew up in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and son. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in history/journalism.

Photo Credit: Eric Schnare

See more about Matt and his book on his website: http://www.mattmanochio.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter (@MattManochio), Pinterest.

Tour Giveaway!

For everyone! CREATE a PINTEREST board by choosing one of the following themes: Krampus, Old World Legends, Vintage Holiday, Old World Christmas, Christmas Around the World, Traditions and Legends,  Myths, Monsters, and Horror, or something very similar.

Second rule: You must pin Matt’s book cover and Amazon purchase link or Samhain Horror Purchase link. Third Rule: Follow Matt Manochio and Erin Al-Mehairi.

Third Recommendation: Extra points for pinning extra things about Matt, such as tour page, articles, etc.

Your board will be judged on the above PLUS your creativity and effort in the project! Send Erin at hookofabook@hotmail.com your Pinterest page to enter by Dec. 8. Of course you can continue to use it through the Holiday if you wish!

Prize: A “Santa Checked His List and I’m on the Naughty Side” package. This will include your choice of Krampus themed apparel (t-shirt or sweatshirt, men or women, visuals to come) and a signed paperback of the book.

There might be shipping limitations. Check back to tour page before entering if you live outside the U.S. for updated information.

Example: http://www.pinterest.com/erinalmehairi/its-old-world-christmas/

And a board about Matt:http://www.pinterest.com/erinalmehairi/the-dark-servant-matt-manochio/

Giveaway for Reviewers!

Anyone on the tour, or outside the tour, who reviews The Dark Servant on Amazon and GoodReads and sends their review link into Erin (Publicist for Matt Manochio) at hookofabook@hotmail.com, now through Dec. 31, 2014, will be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Posted in Writing | 1 Comment

Random Drive-By Thoughts – The New Edition

Long-time blog readers may remember an occasional series I used to do called Random Drive-By Thoughts.  They were essentially Twitter before Twitter, in a way — a chance to drop a few unrelated one-liners, or post brief thoughts on different subjects.  They often generated some interesting conversation on a variety of different subjects.

I thought I’d reinstate the occasional Drive-By — but with an eye toward making it a different animal than Twitter.  Let’s see how it goes.

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I’m not really sure what to think about this whole Hachette/Amazon thing.  Publishers have had a long history of, let’s say, trying to maneuver things to serve their interests first, so what Amazon is doing seems, on the surface, no worse a tactic.  Also, in the interest of fair disclosure, my entire backlist is sold through Amazon, both paperback and e-book.  Now, I’ve heard notable authors taking both sides, and making compelling arguments.  What I think is, the united voice of authors using social media to battle for fair treatment, as in the Dorchester situation a few years ago, has proven that we can shift the balance with publishers.  With Amazon, maybe not so much — they have the money to strong-arm a situation which seems to me, in my limited understanding of such things, to be bordering on a monopoly, and not the fun kind with the little monocled guy in the top hat.

I don’t think it benefits writers for any one group controlling the publication and/or distribution of our works to have ALL the power, and I guess that is the main thing I struggle with in choosing a side.  I’m okay with a percentage of my money going to a middle man like an agent or publisher only because I don’t feel confident enough in my business acumen to completely discard those traditional services.  My fan base, while growing, isn’t large enough yet that I have the clout to see that my best interests are met simply by handling it myself.  However, that being said, I’m not so new that I can’t see that a publishing paradigm that looks good today might not look so good tomorrow.  Sometimes I really wish we could return to the concept of writers needing to do nothing more than write great books.

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I could really use some new hair clips.  Also, call it sexist, but some smells are manly and some are feminine, IMHO.  Using the wrong body wash and hoping your own pH or whatever balances out the smell doesn’t work.  I looove the smell of certain kinds of Axe and Old Spice body washes, but I don’t want to smell like them.  Note to self: thou canst not steal thy son’s bath products.  Motherfail on double levels there.

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I read recently in PWD an article where the author put forth that the best crime fiction was being put out by women nowadays.  The gist of the article as I understood it was that he saw former trends in character development that were growing stale (the cozy English mystery, the hard-boiled anti-hero detective), but that women approached both plot and character development by examining the multifaceted aspect of relationships.  He also mentioned that by writing about a whole host of character types as heroes that in the past had been relegated to the side bar of “furniture” in a mystery, the quirky minor characters, that it allowed writers to look at crime/mystery/thrillers from a new perspective.

I remember someone saying something similar about horror not too long ago; that women were producing some of the best and most genuinely frightening and powerful horror fiction nowadays.   In a genre so heavily driven by emotion, it makes sense that women, who often tend to regard emotion to be as useful and reliable a gauge in decision-making and life-planning as logic, reason, and intellect, would explore a horrific situation from other dimensions of perspective.  I believe that at the heart of any good fiction one has good characters, and the crux of any good story is an examination of the relationship those characters have to each other, to themselves, or to outside elements.  I think women tend to examine relationships in their lives and the lives of others through a number of different filters, and in their fiction, particularly in their horror fiction, the causes and effects of those relationships are significant.  This is not to say that men don’t do any of this; rather, I tend to think that men more often examine person vs. self as a primary potential conflict, with the consequent issues thus effecting person vs. nature and person vs. person, whereas women examine person vs. person, the possible fallout of which effecting person vs. nature and ultimately, person vs. self.

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I think Nutella should be used as currency because it’s so awesome.  Or as a way to end wars.  Who wants to bomb somebody who gives you a jar filled with love and ground up angels?

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Speaking of bombers and terrorists and such, I think ISIS is a beautiful name for one of the ugliest groups this planet has ever produced.

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Speaking of Isis and planets, I caught a marathon of Ancient Aliens last night, a show which at best provides creative inspiration for cosmic horror and at worst makes me giggle like a schoolgirl.  They believe that ancient astronauts are from Orion and Sirius.  I can dig it.

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I think lobotomies are barbaric.  Just saying.  It kills the part of you that fights back, sure — but it also kills the part of you that fights to feel the experiences of life, good or bad, wondrous or scary, diabolical or divine.  And although a portion of the psychology/medical field seems to feel differently, I also think electroshock therapy sounds pretty barbaric, too.  I have depression and anxiety, the severest cases of which I believe is what they use EST to treat; sending painful volts of electricity through me is sure as hell not going to make me feel good about myself, although it is going to make me TELL you I’m all better, to avoid the treatment again.

I certainly would be interested in hearing from professionals in the field as to what the benefits of the latter treatment are, as it’s quite possible I’m missing something.

The former practice, by the way, has been banned.  The latter is still in practice, although they call it something else now (the name escapes me at the moment).

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Have I ever mentioned that I’m terrified of and morbidly fascinated by hospitals and asylums?  Gurneys, wheelchairs, needles, nurse hats, the whole nine.  I’m not scared of losing my mind; I’m scared of losing my memories, and my grip on reality.  I fully expect, though, to be the kind of little old lady people kindly call “eccentric.”  Midnight bike rides in my underwear, flashing chickens, spouting conspiracy theories about ancient aliens among us and robots controlling Stalin and Hitler.

Eccentricity, tally ho!!!

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On an unrelated note (ahem), I’m developing my own religion.  Just because.  It’s got magic and monsters and symbols and all kinds of cool occultish stuff, and yet, it all makes sense.  At least to me.

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Pie.

Pumpkin or apple.  That is all.

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Ok, that’s it for tonight.  I had an idea for a short story I’m not sure I’m good enough yet to write, but I’m going to try.  Research, then work on the novel.  Stay surreal, dear readers from the deepest depths of darkest dimensions.

Posted in Writing | 4 Comments

Guest Post – Author Hunter Shea

montauk monster

I am delighted to announce a guest post by the talented Hunter Shea, whose new novel, The Montauk Monster, is great fun.  Reminiscent in all the right ways of early Stephen King in style and tone, Shea has written a story whose fast-paced action, endearingly realistic characters, and creatively brutual monsters are sure to delight fans of  action thrillers and old-school horror alike.

Those who want to follow his blog tour can check out his schedule here.

Without further ado, I give you Hunter Shea….
Why do I write horror?

First of all, I’ve loved horror all my life. As a kid growing up in the 70s, I couldn’t wait to stay up a little later to watch Kolchak : The Night Stalker or movies with my dad like The Thing From Another World or The Haunting.

I was reading King and Lovecraft and Saul before I was 10. My comic book collection, though overflowing with Captain America and The Fantastic Four, had a special section for Creepy, Eerie, Haunted and Ghostly Tales. My favorite magazine was, naturally, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Man, I wish I’d saved them. I have no clue where they went. I suspect a tidy mom is the culprit.

When An American Werewolf in London came out I was 13. After seeing it at the theater two blocks from my house, I bought every magazine that had pictures from the movie. Suddenly, I was taping stills loaded with gore beside posters of Loni Anderson and Victoria Principal on all four walls of my room. Surprisingly, my parents didn’t demand I speak to someone.

Then came the horror boom in the 80s. I was fortunate to revel in every moment of the decade. I even appreciated the total crap. I remember my girlfriend and I (who is now my wife) renting 5 horror movies every Friday at the video store and just watching one after the other. Our video store had an endless supply of movies good and bad and godawful. For some odd reason, we especially loved Witchboard, the Ouija board flick with Tawny Kitaen (she of the Whitesnake video – the greatest hood ornament ever!).

When I look back at my life, I can connect great moments with horror books and shows and movies I was digging at the time. I guess you could say the horror genre is, in a weird way, the soundtrack of my life.

So naturally, when I wanted to become a writer, there was only one genre for me, even if it was the redheaded stepchild of the publishing industry (which I don’t feel it is today, thankfully). Write what you know. Write what you love. I know and love things that scare people, stirring up emotions that many would rather only face between the spaces of their fingers as they cower behind their hands.

Not to mention, horror is just plain fun! I’ve even called it a kind of self-exorcism in the past. Cast thy mental demons out onto the written page lest they be brought to the fore in everyday life. Maybe this is why horror writers are such an easygoing group. Hell, they’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever met.

The power of horror compels us!

Little Hunter reading the latest issue of Ghostly Tales approves. Some roads are inevitable.

A Little About Hunter Shea:

Publisher’s Weekly named the upcoming thriller, THE MONTAUK MONSTER, one of the best summer books of 2014! Not only that, they gave it an awesome review. Here’s a snippet:

The urban mythologies of the Montauk Monster and the government labs on Plum Island unite to cause staggering levels of mayhem when mutant animals with toxic blood descend on a Long Island town. This wholly enthralling hulk of a summer beach read is redolent of sunscreen and nostalgia, recalling mass market horror tales of yore by John Saul, Dean Koontz, and Peter Benchley. — PW

The Montauk Monster, Synopsis and Advanced Praise:

Montauk Tour graphic

“Shea combines ancient evil, old school horror, and modern style.” –Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author

It Kills. . .

On a hot summer night in Montauk, the bodies of two local bar patrons are discovered in the dunes, torn to shreds, their identities unrecognizable. . .

It Breeds. . .

In another part of town, a woman’s backyard is invaded by four terrifying creatures that defy any kind of description. What’s clear is that they’re hostile–and they’re ravenous. . .

It Spreads. . .

With every sunset the terror rises again, infecting residents with a virus no one can cure. The CDC can’t help them;FEMA can’t save them. But each savage attack brings Suffolk County Police Officer Gray Dalton one step closer to the shocking source of these unholy creations. Hidden on nearby Plum Island, a U.S. research facility has been running top-secret experiments. What they created was never meant to see the light of day. Now, a vacation paradise is going straight to hell.

“Hunter Shea is the real deal.. . .intense.” –Gord Rollo, author of Valley of the Scarecrow and Crimson

“Shea delves deep into the unknown. A thrill-ride of a read!” –Alexandra Holzer, author of Growing Up Haunted

Raves for Hunter Shea:

Forest of Shadows

“A frightening, gripping story that left me too frightened to sleep with the lights off. This novel scared the hell out of me and it is definitely a creepy ghost story I won’t soon forget.” —Night Owl Reviews

Sinister Entity

“This is the real deal. The fear is palpable. Horror novels don’t get much better than this.” —Literal Remains

“. . .Culminates in a climactic showdown between human and spirit that keeps you glued to the pages!” —Horror Novel Reviews

Evil Eternal

“Hunter Shea has crafted another knockout. At turns epic and intimate, both savage and elegant. . .a harrowing, blood-soaked nightmare.” –Jonathan Janz, author of The Sorrows

Swamp Monster Massacre

“If you’re craving an old-school creature-feature that has excessive gore. . .B-horror movie fans rejoice, Hunter Shea is here to bring you the ultimate tale of terror!” —Horror Novel Reviews

 

 

montauk monster headshot

Hunter Shea is the author of paranormal and horror novels Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, Evil Eternal, Sinister Entity, which are all published by Samhain Horror. The June 3, 2014 release of his horrifying thriller Montauk Monster is published by Kensington/Pinnacle.

He has also written a short story to be read prior to Sinister Entity, called The Graveyard Speaks (it’s free, go download!), and a book of stories called Asylum Scrawls. His next book from Samhain Horror, titled HellHole, came out July 1, 2014, and is his first western horror. As you read this, he has a few more books in the works from both Kensington and Samhain and release dates should be announced soon.

His work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales, and the upcoming anthology, Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists, and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on.

He is also half of the two men show, Monster Men, which is a video podcast that takes a fun look at the world of horror. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at http://www.huntershea.com, on Twitter, Facebook fan page at Hunter Shea or the Monster Men 13 channel on YouTube.

Montauk Monster Truth or Fiction:

Is the Montauk Monster made up for the book or an urban myth? Is there some truth that propels the story? You can find out more about the real Montauk Monster story here.

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Monday Night Monsters Postponed

My apologies, folks, but this week’s Monday Night Monsters has been postponed until next Tuesday, following my trip to Portland, OR for the World Horror Convention. Thanks for your patience. 🙂

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Monday Night Monsters – Hammer/Amicus Films of Note

So this week on MNM, we’ll be looking at some Hammer/Amicus films of note. Each of them classics in their own right, these films are awesome not only because of delightful acting performances by the incomparable duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, as well as other favorites of mine like Donald Sutherland, but because of these movies’ innovative, unflinching, and perhaps more direct approach to that often underlying, subtle, or suggested horror of the Gothic tale.  The cinematography (elements of style, color, camera angles, and the like always appeal to me from an analytic perspective) also gives me warm fuzzies. 

1) Die, Die My Darling (1965) – Like a number of Hammer/Amicus films, what is frightening about this story is the depth of depravity that a single-minded obsession with an idea can trigger, especially when something about another character draws him/her right in the line of fire.  Interestingly enough, this film went through a series of title changes, from Nightmare to Fanatic to its current title.  This movie, Tallulah Bankhead’s last, is based on a 1962 novel (Nightmare by Anne Blaisdelle), which was adapted for film by Richard Matheson.

2) The Devil Rides Out (1968) – This movie delights me the way tentacled cosmic horror delights me. Which is to say, a lot.  I love the half-terror, half-campiness of most Satanic cult movies of that era.  Based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley (with screenplay also by Richard Matheson), this movie features Christopher Lee battling the ultimate forces of evil for the souls of initiates that Satanic cultists want to corrupt and possess in order to summon the angel of death.  There are psychic trances, black magic and white magic spells, and all kinds of demonic funstuff in this movie.

3) Horror of Dracula (1958) – If you have ever read an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland or Fangoria, I’ll bet you’ve seen stills or promo pics from this movie at least once.  Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing — this is a horror classic. Directed by Roger Corman, this is a loose interpretation of Stoker’s novel, but a worthy contribution to the cannon of the vampire legend, in that Dracula’s reputation as both powerful and seductive is reinforced.  This is also one of those films I mentioned whether the level of gore/intensity of violence was notable for its time.

4) Torture Garden (1967) – Unlike the name suggests, this movie, if I recall, isn’t one of those that focuses particularly on torture.  It is structured in segments — Tales From the Crypt-esque in that regard — where characters are shown the evil they will do in the future by a man whose name quite literally suggests his real identity. And there are performances by Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, and Peter Cushing for added squee-factor.

5) Asylum (1972) – This one is by far my favorite of the lot.  This manages, IMHO, to transcend the jaded perspective of subsequent horror movie eras and remain eerie in places, particularly the end.  Also, I’m as much a sucker for horror with mental institutions/asylums as I am for monsters. Also structured in that TftC/Creepshow anthology style of loosely related segments, there are some genuinely chilling aspects to the patient’s stories regarding their stay at the asylum “for the incurably insane.”  The quality of the segments is no doubt a result of psychological suspense master Robert Bloch’s adapting them from some of his own short stories.

6) The House that Dripped Blood (1971) – Also a favorite, this has all the golden goodies an Amicus movie can offer — Robert Bloch writing and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee acting (as well as Denholm Elliott and Ingrid Pitt), and the anthology-style format offering cool, creepy segments about what happened over the years in a currently untenanted old house.  And a sense of humor:  (character Paul Henderson:) “That’s what’s wrong with the present day horror films. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.”

Thanks for reading.  I hope you’ll consider checking out some of these horror movie classics.  Next week: movies you may not have seen but should.

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Monday Night Monsters – Slasher Flicks

So, I was going to do a MNM post on Hammer/Amicus movies, but realized I need to look into some details first, so instead, I figured I’d offer a top five of slasher movies I like.  My apologies for the schedule change; I hope you’ll enjoy this offering of MNM.  Mostly I picked these because of their innovation for the time, their ideas, or the utterly chilling types of slashing, hacking, teen-killing boogeymen. If you have favorites, let me know.

1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – I don’t think there is anyone quite as terrifying as Freddy Kreuger in terms of the ultimate boogeyman.  Although I discussed this movie more at length in a previous MNM post, I’d like to reiterate that in the first movie in this series, the original Wes Craven idea, his monster was not the wise-cracking gore-and-giggles guy he later became.  He was a monster, alive and dead, the worst nightmare (literally and figuratively) of parents and little kids alike.  He was a loss of innocence, of security and safety, of control.  He was the terrible, awkward, ugly side of sex and the razor-sharp pain, horror, and gore of violence.  The scene in the school hallway with Tina in a body bag STILL gives me chills.

2) Halloween (1978) – Anyone who knows of my cinematic inclinations knows that I am a big Carpenter fan (JC/Jesus Christ and JC/John Carpenter – no coincidence there).  To me, Halloween is one of his top five best films of all time, and also a top slasher of all time.  Michael Myers as both a semi-supernatural kind of boogeyman and even worse, as a human so devoid of empathy or feeling of any kind, so driven by a single-minded, emotionless purpose of killing makes him somewhat terrifying.  He kills because killing is.  And to boot, Donald Pleasence’s performance as Myers’s doctor, Sam Loomis, with his Captain Ahab-like obsession with seeing his patient stopped for good, is absolutely essential in the terror of this film.  I am afraid of Michael Myers because Dr. Loomis is. As he says himself in the movie:

“I met him 15 years ago.  I was told there was nothing left — no reason, no conscience, no understanding of even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong….I met this 6-year-old child with this blind, pale emotionless face and the blackest eyes…the devil’s eyes. I spent 8 years trying to reach him and then another 7 trying to keep him locked up, because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.”

3) Scream (1996) – Once again, the first in the series trumps the others, IMO.  This movie was the first of its kind to be self-aware, to understand intimately the tropes that the slasher sub-genre used and to reinvent them.  This film is both slick and scary, self-aware without degrading into parody.  Also, I very much enjoyed the casting in that there was the right mix of celebrity nod and genuine devotion to making the characters real.

4) Friday the 13th (1980) – I understand that this was made on a ridiculously small budget, and in spite of that, or maybe because of it, the film has a kind of small town home movie

5) Child’s Play (1988) – Mostly, Brad Douriff is awesome, even as a wise-cracking ginger-headed killer doll.  Also, there is something very disturbing in this first of an ongoing series, particularly in the helplessness-turned-determination of the struggling single mother and her naive, sweet, lonely little son, Andy.  Chris Sarandon brings an extra level of class to the original as well.  And unlike some of the sequels, we see in Chucky (much like we see in Freddy Kreuger), a cruel, vicious, manipulative person in Charles Lee Ray.  Life means nothing to him, so that the torture-death of an old friend and the continual endangerment of a small, trusting child are no worse offenses than his vengeance against those he feels contributed to his death or those who simply annoyed him/got in his way.

Runners-up: Sleepaway Camp (1983), Toolbox Murders (2003), The Burning (1981), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Final Destination, The House on Sorrority Row (1983).

Next week…Hammer/Amicus films of note (Die, Die My Darling, The Devil Rides Out, Horror of Dracula, Torture Garden, Asylum, The House That Dripped Blood).

Two weeks…movies you may not have seen but should (Sinister, High TensionThe Descent, 30 Days of Night)

 

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