Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Blog - The Ramblings of a Condemned Fool by Samantha Anderson

The title was a subject line of an email my best friend sent me after one of our nastier fights. A fight that I was sure would be the end all of our relationship. It is fitting for this I think, but I have given the blog owner free reign to change it to whatever he wishes.

I was asked by a very dear friend to write something for him to post in his blog, he gave me free range but knows me well enough to know that he had to mention if it was a story, to make it short. Most people I’ve known in my life would take offense to that. I don’t. It’s because he knows how detailed I am with stories that simply a blog wouldn’t be enough. So I’ve sat here most of the day and pondered over what to write about and there is one thought that keeps coming to mind…

There is a fine line that is walked every day by a writer, or an artist, anyone of a creative mindset really. It is one where you bare your soul through your stories, your art, your music, whatever it may be. You show the world where the insanity inside of you comes into something more than that, makes sense, becomes something beautiful.

I will admit to reading just about everything I can find on the process of writing as told by other writers. Learning how they got into writing and so forth. This curiosity isn’t because I genuinely want to know what makes the writer behind certain stories tick, it’s to feel as if I belong to something. The thing that I have found to be almost universal is that at the start of their writing career, when they first got published, or even had the idea to get published, most of the people that surrounded their life were not in any way knowledgeable or understanding of that process. Meaning that I’m a firm believer that unless you’re a writer, you will never understand the battles that goes on in a writer’s head or heart. Just as I, being a writer, will never understand the creative process of a musician, or a painter etc.

Case and point, I have let people both close to me and mere acquaintances read some of the things I write. Not for my own ego… okay maybe a little, but mainly to get a reaction. And someone who should be the port in any storm of my life point blank told me that the things I write leave him to question how I was raised. He doesn’t understand how anyone so ‘normal’ could write anything so morally depraved. This could have been taken a few ways. I could have quit writing, let his opinion affect everything that I hold dear about my deepest love, the gift of word. Or I could simply laugh at his opinion of seeing me as ‘normal’. I have yet to meet a writer or artist of any kind that I would describe as normal. But yet, I feel completely ‘normal’ with them. Because they all understand that there is a raging river of creative mess that runs deeper than imaginable within me.

The fact remains that even now, when I am closer than ever to getting published, that I still feel the incessant need to find out if other writers have the same hang-ups that I do, and what I’ve found is yes. No one person is better than another simply because one is creative or one is ‘normal’. Who cares if people think you’re normal or not? I live with a man who simply doesn’t get the creative process. I love that it is a side of me he can’t impeach on, can’t steal my thunder so to speak. He listens to me ramble about story ideas, or articles I’ve read about whether to self-publish or not. And while his eyes are glazing over, I know that he loves the passion in which this type of thing consumes me, even if he doesn’t fully understand it. It’s okay that he doesn’t. I’ve accepted it.

A co-worker told me the other day while talking about how ‘damaged’ people see me as because of the genres and storylines I choose to write about, that damaged people are dangerous because they know they can survive anything. It made perfect sense to me in a way it wouldn’t to many.

So my point I guess in closing is this. Yes, it is okay to feel like you are the only one going a little insane if you’re creative and not many in your social circle are. It is okay to feel like an outsider at times because of it. The best creators are the insane ones because we’re happy listening to the voices in our heads. We’re all a little damaged I guess, but that’s what makes us able to create the way we do, and I personally wouldn’t have it any other way.

Samantha Anderson’s first novel, The Devil’s Angel, will be published in 2010. Connect with Samantha here:

Guest Blogs - Starting later today

I have been very fortunate to meet a number of talented writers in the past few years. Several of them have been kind enough to indulge me by offering their thoughts in a guest blog here.

Little do they realize they are furthering my plans for eventual world domination! Muh ha ha ha ha! (Cough)

Oops. I’m typing my thoughts unfiltered again, aren’t I? Oh well. They’ll find out soon enough. It’s not like they don’t have that same plan anyway. All writers want to take over the world and drag you, the reader, along for the ride even if it is only in the pages of our writing.

The first guest blog is from my friend, up and coming author Samantha Anderson. She has been writing her entire life and soon the world will see her first novel. Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why Every Writer Should Pay Attention to Star Wars

Star Wars. Those two words are enough to conjure a thousand images all on their own. I doubt George Lucas had any idea the behemoth his movie would become. Just to clarify, I am speaking only about Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The three prequels are another discussion entirely.

If you take away the robots, the fantastic scenery, the spaceships, and the ewoks (dear God, please take the ewoks), what you have is the story of a kid who becomes a hero and saves the inhabitants of an entire galaxy. In writing the tale, Lucas was inspired by numerous sources, but he specifically mentions the book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

Campbell summarizes the hero’s journey in the introduction to the book:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

I can think of countless movies, books, and television series that fall into that pattern. Here are a few:

1. Superman
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
3. Men in Black
4. Spiderman
5. Lord of the Rings
6. Shrek (Yes, Shrek)
7. Indiana Jones series
8. Xena: Warrior Princess
9. Harry Potter series

Campbell didn’t just come up with the hero story on his own. He examined various myths throughout history and defined and pieced together the themes that appeared over and over. The Odyssey is a prime example. Virtually every religion has at least one story that follows this pattern very closely as well.

It pleases us on a primal level to see the hero or heroine emerge, triumph over extreme adversity, and save us all.

If you want a crash course in the hero’s journey, just follow Luke Skywalker’s path through the Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas did the homework so you don’t have to.

As for me, I’m heading out to pick up a copy of The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lucifera's Pet Cover Art Prints

Lucifera's Pet cover art prints by Alissa Rindels are now available!!!

Now is your chance to own a print of the original cover art for Lucifera’s Pet by Alissa Rindels. The painting illustrates the two protagonists in a pivotal scene from the novel in front of a symbolic blood splattered full moon.

It is available in 11”x14” and 8”x10” sizes.

Visit Alissa’s gallery at the title link. Her work is heavily influenced by Brom and is based in the realms of gothic, horror, fantasy, and surrealism. Prints are available for all of her original pieces in 11”x14” and 8”x10” sizes. If you are lucky, you might be able to bid on one of her original paintings on eBay or contact her directly for a commissioned piece. It is only a matter of time until she hits it big, so buy some of her art now!

Book Review - Pretty When She Dies: A Vampire Novel by Rhiannon Frater

College student Amaliya awakens in a shallow grave a newly turned vampire. As she stumbles through the remains of her life, the line between good and evil blurs replaced instead by thoughts of survival and death. Pursued by her evil maker, Amaliya flees across the Texas plains, leaving corpses in her wake.

The first half of this novel is outstanding. There are few easy choices for Amaliya. Even paying her family a visit is a deadly proposition. Frater treats the initial days of a vampire’s life with brutal realism. There is blood and sex, but death outweighs everything else. I plowed through the first ten chapters online at the author’s website, and then ordered a hard copy.

The story changes in the second half. Amaliya meets other vampires and prepares for the arrival of her maker. Action still dominates, but the other characters are less three-dimensional than the protagonist. The ending ties up all loose ends, but feels a little forced.

Overall, Pretty When She Dies is a very enjoyable work of dark fiction. It also has one of my favorite book covers of all time.

According to the author’s blog, Pretty When She Dies has been optioned for a movie by Tripod Entertainment. Not bad for a self-published book!


Podcast: Author Reading Chapter 1 of Lucifera's Pet in an atrocious faux-Irish accent (be afraid)

Hold on to your hats. I have recently recorded and posted my first Podcast! Click the title link to hear me read chapter one from my vampire/werewolf dark fiction novel, Lucifera’s Pet.

Warning: Contains some profanity and one of the worst Irish accents ever recorded.

Book Review - A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

In the spring of 1995, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I had just finished watching a movie and stopped at the Books-a-Million next to the theatre. In the bargain aisle, a thin hardback book caught my eye. The cover had a curious scene with Count Dracula having a conversation with Sherlock Holmes while petting an old hound dog. In the background, Frankenstein’s monster fumbled around as Rasputin sat locked in passionate conversation with an attractive, raven-haired witch.

The old saying suggests that a book should never be judged by its cover, but the exact opposite is true for A Night in the Lonesome October.

The story is narrated by Snuff, a grizzled old watchdog who just happens to belong to Jack the Ripper. He tells his tale over the course of thirty-one chapters, each representing a single day in the month of October. Snuff and his infamous master are charged with keeping an ancient portal to ultimate evil closed. There are other players in the game, but whether they seek to open the portal or keep it closed is a mystery.

The participants slowly reveal themselves during the month, jockeying for advantage and killing off other players when the opportunity arises. The characters are instantly recognizable from literature and popular movies: the good doctor and his brutish creation, the great detective, the vampiric count, a witch, a druid, a sadistic clergyman, a mad monk, and the wolf man Larry Talbot.

The colorful cast and story directly influenced by H.P. Lovecraft are complimented by Snuff’s cheerful narrative when interacting with the other players and their animal companions. When a writer crafts an enthralling story and truly enjoys writing it, that joy is passed on to the reader. Roger Zelazny must have had a blast writing this tale. One comical illustration per chapter by Gahan Wilson adds to the whimsical fun.

A Night in the Lonesome October is a fun and furious romp through the world built by 19th and 20th century literary and film masters. If you find this forgotten gem on an old library or bookstore shelf or floating around on eBay, pick it up. Unless the idea of Jack the Ripper and the wolf man having coffee and talking shop bores you, you will love this book.

Rating - *****

Book Review - Kept by Zoe Winters

Like most guys would do, I will preface my review by saying that I do not usually go for romance novels. Kept by Zoe Winters has made me rethink that.

Don’t let the romance tag fool you. There is no freakishly noble, donkey-cocked vicar. The words “lust spear,” “pulsating mounds of love pudding,” and “throbbing pocket of desire” do not appear at all.

We are introduced to therian (were-cat) Greta and her tribe of fellow supernatural creatures. An ancient prophesy rears its ugly head, sending our feline heroine running for her fur. The only person who might be able to keep her alive is the sworn enemy of her kind, the evil sorcerer Dayne.

The action gets started on the first page and does not let up until the end. The sex scenes are not overly graphic, but they are far from PG. Instead of moping around and pining for true love, these characters fuck, and it is hot.

Rather than using the supernatural as a setup for a cuddle fest, Winters breathes life into the denizens of this world. They are believable and flawed, which makes them much easier to root for.

Throughout the story, the prose keeps the tone fun and engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed this novella. Not once did I find myself speed-reading to find the next good part. I patiently devoured each word as it came. By the end, I realized that the “romance” tag was a misnomer. This is a good paranormal fiction tale. Period.

Rating - *****

Four Steps to Writing a Novel

First, let’s clarify something. The title of this blog is “Four Steps to Writing a Novel,” not “Anybody Can Write A Bestselling Novel,” or even “Anybody Can Write A Good Novel.” Millions of people start novels every day. Very few actually finish. Even fewer manage to get their masterpiece in front of readers. In this blog, I will lay out a strategy that you can use to write a novel. The quality is up to you.

1. Build your characters

Novels are driven by characters. The best plot in the world is useless if the characters involved are not engaging. You need a protagonist or protagonists whose exploits will captivate the reader from the first page to the last page. An equally strong antagonist is just as important.

Once you have created your central characters , you need to bring them to life. Where did they grow up? What are their goals? How do they speak? How will they react when a giant spider bites the head off of the person next to them on the park bench? Your characters will experience a thousand situations in your story. Understanding who they are and what they want will help you keep their actions believable throughout their journey.

2. Plot out your story

You have defined characters with distinct traits that will guide their behavior. Now you need to decide what will happen to your characters. There are many ways you can do this. Some writers begin with a situation and let their writing flow and decide the story as they go.

I envy those writers. I am not one of them.

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Beginning: A giant spider captures Joe’s girlfriend, wrapping her up in a web and dragging her back to its lair for lunch.

Middle: Joe fights his way through the spider-infested city to save her.

End: Joe gets to the nest and saves her, but finds that the spiders filled her with spider eggs. They are both eaten by a million tiny mutant spiderbabies. The end.

HA! Fun stuff.

For me, an outline is critical. I don’t have a lot of free time to write, so I must make each minute count. By putting the main points down in an outline, I am able to keep myself focused and give direction to my words. I expand on the beginning, middle, and end points, adding plot points in between. These elements become like small “finish lines” in the story. This allows me to write to the next plot point and stay focused on that particular scene.

The outline is a tool. It will help you write towards your goal, but it is not set in stone. You can and will change the outline many times over the course of a novel. Some writers fear outlines because they do not want to be constrained. If used properly, an outline will give you something that anyone who writes a novel must have:

3. Stay motivated

Writing a novel takes time. If you are not a full-time writer, it will take you months or years to finish. You must find a way to stay motivated.

FYI – Money and fame cannot be your motivating factors. For every Stephen King who lives, breathes, and bleeds the writing craft, there are fifty thousand M.T. Murphy’s trying to find an audience.

Find someone who will read your work. It can be your significant other, a friend, your old college English professor—anyone who will read your story and give you feedback. Writing a blog and allowing online readers to get a first look at your work in process is also an option that is gaining popularity. No matter who reads your story, just having an audience will make you want to keep going. If they are enjoying your words and letting you know that, you will be even more excited to finish what you started.

The only way to finish a novel is by writing. Whether you write ten words a day or two thousand, you are far more likely to keep going if you have goals. If you write three hundred words a day for five days each week, you will have written 78,000 words at the end of a year. That is the equivalent of one page of text each writing day. That is also the approximate word count of a 260 page novel.

4. Finished Product!

If you are able to fight your way through all the way to the end, congratulations! You have written your novel. At this point, you will want to step back and let it sit for a while. After you have given it a week or so to cool, read it yourself. You will likely see a thousand things you want to change. You can fix these as you go or read it until the end and then fix them. Either way, you will repeat this process several times, improving your story each time.

Once your novel reads exactly the way you want it to, you are finished. At this point, you have many options. You can file it away on your computer or send it to friends and family. You can self-publish it immediately as an eBook on the web. You can find a good editor who will review and suggest ways to improve it.

I suggest taking your finished draft to an editor who is experienced with similar books. Whether you publish the book yourself, shop around for a literary agent, or submit the book directly to publishers, every book needs editing. A professional editor can both point out your mistakes and help you make your story as strong as it can be.

Advice from a nobody!

The most important piece of advice I can give you is this: Make a commitment to yourself that you will finish your novel and write it down along with a deadline. Put the piece of paper where you will see it every day. When you give yourself a goal, your subconscious mind has a way of steering your waking actions to achieve that goal.

If you want to write a novel, you can. The only thing stopping you is you.

I may be a “nobody” right now, but I have finished writing a novel, and so can you.

In a future blog I will reveal the secrets for writing a bestselling novel that starts a movie franchise and makes the author rich beyond his or her wildest dreams—just as soon as I figure that out for myself.

Book Review - Twinkle by Dan McGirt

Available as a free download above.

Stella and Edmund share a love like no other. Neither an ancient curse nor the painful transition from adolescence to adulthood can quell their passion. Time has finally come for these lovers to cast off the conventions of their respective cultures and be together forever.

Before they can begin their new life of bliss an unwelcome outsider alters their course. In the midst of tragedy an ancient evil stirs, threatening to destroy the quiet town of Twinkle.

Can Stella overcome her fear and become a heroine with the help of a rogue warrior? Will the town of Twinkle crumble or triumph in the face of damnation?

How does that summary grab you?

Is your BS-o-meter going off yet? I hope it is.

Twinkle by Dan McGirt is satire at its best, folks. If you can read through the first three pages without laughing hard enough to cause internal bleeding and/or soil yourself, you should probably stop there. With approximately 16,000 words, it is well worth the small time investment it takes to read through to the end.

McGirt takes on a host of pop culture topics with the kid gloves left in their proper place: on the shelf. The angsty vampire genre receives a ten pound monkey wrench to the gut with hilarious results.

If you have no sense of humor DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

If you believe politicians truly have our best interests at heart DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

If you have a weak bladder DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

If the thought of ridiculously good looking vampire and werewolf kids meeting untimely and unsavory ends bothers you in the least DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.

On the other hand, if you can appreciate a satirical look at the things and people over which we tend to obsess these days, then you might just enjoy Dan McGirt’s foray into the absurd.

Twinkle is easily worth a thousand times the $0 I paid for it.


Note: After I posted this review, Dan has renamed Twinkle to Sara Palin, Vampire Hunter. A lot of the fun for me was discovering that major plot twist as I read, but the book is still a very funny and engaging story.