Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Looking for a few good beta readers / The traits of a good beta reader

Earlier this week, Michele Shaw posted an excellent article about beta readers on her blog. If you haven’t read it, please check it out.

Beta readers are given the task of examining an author’s work in process and offering constructive advice concerning plot, prose, structure, and virtually every aspect of a manuscript. They do this for no pay, few accolades, and often little more than the satisfaction that they kept an author from looking like a total moron.

Good beta readers are like the ground crew that checks out a commercial jet before it takes off. The passengers usually don’t even see them, but, the fact that the plane is able to take off and land without losing a wing or running out of gas means that they did their job.

In case you are wondering, readers equate to passengers in that analogy.


No, you can’t be the pilot.

This is my blog, so I am the pilot, dammit. Get your own jet.

Sorry. I was rambling. I’m a rambler.

I have had the good fortune of interacting with several fantastic beta readers. Here is my list of traits they all share:

1. Brutal honesty.

This is why it is difficult for friends to beta read. If a passage makes you want to set fire to the manuscript and bury the remains in a haunted pet cemetery so the thing can rise as an evil doppelganger thus giving you the chance to kill it again, then the author needs to know that. It can be sugar coated or dipped in vinegar, but that is information they need. 
2. Fresh ideas.

Sometimes an interesting idea makes it into a manuscript but is never fully explored. A good beta reader can pick up on an orphan idea and give the author a nudge to feed and water it until it grows into big plot lizard that eats the weak story threads and poops out 24 karat gold rubix cubes! It’s a fact.
3. Ability to see both the big picture and the details.

Picking out an author’s tendency to overuse the phrase “he smirked” is an example of good detail observation. Pointing out that a character is always smiling and giddy despite the majority of a story involving them being in a state of utter despair is a great big picture observation. A beta reader who can point out both of those things is worth his or her height in Guinness.
Yes, height.
4. Understanding of the genre and writing style of a given work.

A reader who enjoys historical fiction probably shouldn’t beta read a futuristic sci-fi tale. A fan of gothic horror might like a romance book, but the odds of that are not great. A good beta reader knows what they like and can offer great advice for someone writing a book in a genre they enjoy. 
Think you have what it takes to be a beta reader, lil' buckaroo? Prove it.

I am looking for several beta readers to test drive a horror/urban fantasy short story I am working on for an upcoming anthology. If you are into vampires and werewolves who act like monsters instead of lovesick emo adolescents and you want the chance to help make a soon to be published story as good as it can be, send me a message.


Keep in mind, I am my own biggest fan so I already know how awesome I am. If my head were any bigger, it would require a signal light for passing planes. I need someone who is not afraid to tell me what sucks about the story so I can make it better.

I also need some Cheezits, because Cheezits are fantastic, but you let me worry about those.

Now that my pitch is out of the way, are there any beta readers out there who want to share their thoughts and experiences in beta reading?

How about authors, have you had any shockingly good or horrifyingly bad beta readers?

Also, do Schnauzers make good beta readers? If so, I know a guy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Author Interview: Jeremy C. Shipp, Bram Stoker nominee and giant gnome king

How many Bram Stoker Award nominated authors would be willing to subject themselves to thirteen asinine, moronic, borderline psychotic questions from yours truly? I can think of only one: Jeremy C. Shipp.

He is the dark Elvis/giant gnome king of Bizarro fiction and a nice guy to boot. My review of his latest work, Fungus of the Heart is forthcoming. I'll give you a spoiler: it is bizarre and fantastic.

MTM: Welcome, Jeremy. I have many earth-shaking questions, so I'll jump right in before you change your mind.

I have an uneasy truce with the spiders, but I hate leprechauns with every fiber of my appendix. Does this make me a hypocrite?

JCS: I don’t think so. For the most part, spiders are compassionate, trustworthy creatures who’d give you the shirts off their backs, if they weren’t nudists. Leprechauns, on the other hand, steal gold jewelry and fillings from tourists and sell their loot on the black market so that they can buy double rainbow shotguns, which they use to hunt baby manatee angels. Not cool.

MTM: For someone new to Bizarro fiction, such as the writer of this blog, what does one need to know before delving into your stories?

JCS: If you're a fan of Terry Gilliam, Takashi Miike, David Lynch, then you’d most likely enjoy Bizarro fiction. I write bizarre, dark tales with a heart. My tales are funhouse mirror reflections of our own world. And so, the realities I create are familiar and unfamiliar all at once.

MTM: Pick three favorite stories from your own writing. Which one would you eat first and why?

JCS: If we’re talking short stories, three of my favorites are Camp, Boy in the Cabinet, and The Sun Never Rises in the Big City. I’d definitely eat Boy in the Cabinet first, because the story includes mason jars full of fruit preserves and pickled delicacies. And I would refuse to eat Camp, because I’m vegan.

MTM: The title of your new work, Fungus of the Heart, is both sweet and vaguely repulsive. Oddly enough, my wife sometimes uses those same terms to describe me: sweet and vaguely repulsive. Why did you decide upon that as the title?

JCS: I chose Fungus of the Heart, because I find the image to be emotionally evocative and I find the idea to be thematically fitting. Characters throughout the collection have fungi growing in their hearts. My characters suffer from the fungus of loneliness, the fungus of heartbreak, etc.

MTM: You have mentioned in previous interviews concerning your work that Vacation is a map to your brain, Sheep and Wolves is a map to your fears, and Cursed is a map to your heart. Where does Fungus of the Heart fit in that respect and are you worried that someone will use those maps to break in and make a bunch of long distance phone calls while you are away?

JCS: Fungus of the Heart is a map to my relationships. Of course, the relationships in these stories don’t reflect my relationships in a literal sense. Instead, my relationships spawned questions in my mind, which ended up inspiring stories. Some of these questions: how far would I go to save the life of a loved one? What is love without respect? What is true friendship? As for the second part of your question, I’m not too worried about humans breaking in and making long distance phone calls. The attic clowns would probably devour their souls before they could talk for very long.

MTM: Sam Elliott’s wooly mustache or Hugh Jackman’s wolverine lamb chops?

JCS: In a battle to the death, Hugh Jackman’s lamb chops would definitely end up devouring the mustache, as the lamb chops are actually Tasmanian devils.

MTM: What book or books are you reading right now?

JCS: The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and a few others.

MTM: Finish this scene: “Cthulhu, Michael Myers, and Bruce Campbell walk into a bar.”

JCS: Bruce Campbell says, “Why the long face?”
Michael Myers says, “Damn. Don’t tell me I accidentally put on my horse mask again.”
And Cthulhu laughs. Not because he finds this bar situation funny, but because he always laughs a little before destroying a world.

MTM: I like to put a pair of glasses on my Schnauzer and pretend he is James Lipton interviewing me. What are some of your guilty pleasures?

JCS: Too much peanut butter, Taylor Swift music, Project Runway, dressing up as an attic clown and laughing at myself for hours on end.

MTM: One of my favorite profane terms is “fecktwat.” I try to use it every chance I get in my writing. Not coincidentally, I am no longer allowed to contribute to my kids’ school paper. What is your favorite curse word and why?

JCS: My favorite swear words are “holy mackerel!” and “dagnabit!” I love fake swear words that make me feel like an old cartoon character.

MTM: The best way I can describe the stories collected in Fungus of the Heart is to say it feels like I am reading a Salvador Dali painting. Is there ever a time when you are not taking mental notes and giving slow birth to a bizarre or heart warming tale?

JCS: I have a feeling that my subconscious is always coming up with new stories, even when I’m busy canning pickled delicacies or trying to protect baby manatee angels from leprechauns wielding double rainbow shotguns.

MTM: Your novel, Cursed, was nominated for the Bram Stoker award. Congratulations! I picture the ceremony being held in an ancient Romanian castle with at least one hundred Bela Lugosi clones wearing the full Dracula costume in attendance. How accurate is this?

JCS: There were actually only ninety Bela Lugosi clones, and they all had wolverine-style lamb chops. The ceremony was held in an ancient Tasmanian castle. I still don’t understand why.

MTM: Barring some sort of apocalypse or Attic Clown takeover of literature, what is next for you after Fungus of the Heart?

JCS: Strangely enough, my next project is an Attic Clown takeover of literature. I’m also working on my first middle grade fantasy novel, as well as a few other projects. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to start production on my Charles in Charge musical starring Cthulhu as Charles and James Lipton as Buddy.

MTM: There is nothing about your answer that I do not love with all my pancreas.

Big thanks to Jeremy for being a great sport and taking time out of his crazy, honeybee-like schedule for this interview.

Click here for a collection of Jeremy's online short stories, then pick up his latest book, Fungus of the Heart

From the author's web page:
Jeremy C. Shipp is the Bram Stoker nominated author of books such as Cursed, Vacation, and Fungus of the Heart. His shorter tales have appeared or are forthcoming in over 50 publications, the likes of Cemetery Dance, ChiZine, Apex Magazine, Pseudopod, and Withersin. Jeremy enjoys living in Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse called Rose Cottage. He lives there with his wife, a couple of mighty cats, and a legion of yard gnomes. The gnomes like him. The clowns living in his attic--not so much.
Feel free to contact Jeremy via email at: chrismatrix@yahoo.com
Jeremy as a poorly rendered werewolf.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November and December - More fun stuff than you can shake a leprechaun at

It goes against my chronic laziness to take on more projects than I can comfortably accomplish. This holiday season I'm making an exception. Here is what I have coming down the pipe:

November 26: Interview with Jeremy C. Shipp, Bram Stoker Award nominee and author of "Fungus of the Heart," "Vacation," "Sheep and Wolves," and "Cursed." His writing is so bizarre that it makes Bizarro Superman look like ...well ... regular Superman.

December 1 (tentative): Interview with S.D. Anderson, author of dark fiction/urban fantasy tale The Devil's Angel. See what she really thinks about the new zombie romance genre I just created from spare bits of irony and sarcasm I had lying around.

I am hoping to schedule a few more interviews as well. Here's hoping my intended targets don't read this blog or my tweets. They'd be scared off by such a high level of awesomeness. Or maybe the sideburns.

I have read, am reading, or will read several good books in the coming weeks and post reviews.

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar (Finished - review to come)
Fungus of the Heart by Jeremy C. Shipp (getting there - like a brain massage with chopsticks)
The Devil's Angel by S.D. Anderson (Finished - review to come)
Becoming an Indie Author by Zoe Winters (About halfway - great guide)
Choose Your Doom: Zombie Apocalypse by DeAnna Knippling and Dante Savelli (about 2/3 through this choose your own adventure-style book and loving it)
Must Love Dragons by Monica Marier (looking forward to reading. MC's name is Linus Weedwhacker. She had me at the name)
Matilda Raleigh: Invictus by Chris Kelly (starting soon. Who can resist a 70 year old heroine with demonic pistols? not me)

I am finishing up a short story for an anthology to be released in February with a few other authors. The story will focus on my main characters from Lucifera's Pet. I'll send more details as I have them.
My All Hallows novella is progressing nicely. It is about 50% done. Still on pace for a late Spring release.
The follow-up novel to Lucifera's Pet is about 25% done. I am holding off on finishing that until All Hallows is completed. Stay tuned.

It's almost Thanksgiving here and you know what that means. It's time for me to buy my annual bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey to enjoy after the Turkey Day festivities. I am significantly less hard than such a manly bottle of booze would indicate. In reality, it will last me until next Thanksgiving, if not a little longer.

Have a happy holiday season, all.

Remember, leprechauns make excellent Christmas gifts, particularly in jerky form.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lucifera's Pet: unpublished and unedited prologue

What follows is the unedited, unpublished, and nigh unreadable prologue for my novel, Lucifera's Pet. I am posting this for those of you who have already read the book and those of you who get a kick out of bad writing. I actually wrote this nearly a year before I decided to write the novel.

The events depicted in this prologue happen shortly before the novel, but I thought it best to just throw the reader into the story without providing this bit of background. More fun that way. 

Plus, this is just really, really bad. Like, eyes bleeding kind of bad. I don't mean Evil Dead 2 so bad it's good kind of bad. No. We are talking Ishtar bad.

That being said, please enjoy!


Five blocks. That is how far my apartment is from the theatre. In broad daylight, I would think nothing of walking the sidewalk back there after a movie. At night, the idea doesn’t exactly thrill me. My friend Danielle just had to go to the late show tonight, though. Pushover that I am, I couldn’t just say “no.” I had already shot down her last two offers for girls’ night out, and I knew that one more rejection would mean I lost my spot in our little clique.

The plastic surgeon’s office where I work as the receptionist / bill collector, is another ten blocks in the opposite direction. On occasion, I have spent the night in the makeshift apartment that Dr. Denton has for when he finds the need to work extra late. It has been nice on those nights where the girls and I have found ourselves out on the town with a few too many martinis under our collars.

I would like to think that I am pretty. I mean, would a plastic surgeon hire someone to be the face that greets his clients if he didn’t think she was at least reasonably attractive? His offer to supplement my meager salary with “a nip here and tuck there … just routine beauty maintenance … no charge, of course,” sure didn’t do much for the old self esteem, though. I just have to remind myself that this is a forty-two year old father of four who drives a two-seat convertible sports car, and calls everyone “dude.”

The work apartment is way too far for any of us to walk to at 1:30 AM. Danielle has the brilliant idea to split a cab. I just paid $50 for dinner that wasn’t good, a movie I didn’t want to see, on a night I didn’t feel like going out, on a week where the good doctor told me I could either get some Botox in my cheeks or wait until next Monday for my paycheck because of a slow month at the office. Considering that I usually end up getting stuck for the entire cab fare, I decided that I would rather walk than get the short end of the stick, yet again.

“Fine … be that way, Joanie. At least be careful. I’ll call you tomorrow for martinis! Kiss kiss!”

I have to fight to keep my smile in place at Danielle’s words. When the cab full of my friends finally pulls away, I let out a breath and rolled my eyes. Great. Yet another evening on the town that I do not want.

I was only vaguely aware that the words “be careful” had been thrown into her statement as an afterthought. This is Los Angeles. I have lived here for five years. I have also made this walk at all hours of the night, at least two dozen times. As far as parts of town go, this is as safe as any.

Still, I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry. I took one of those self defense courses when I first moved here from Indiana. What I learned in that class has probably kept me from getting hurt a couple of times. One of the most important things they talked about was avoiding potentially dangerous situations, i.e. don’t walk around by yourself at 1:30 AM in the middle of L.A. Still, I figure that if I don’t act like a victim, I won’t be a victim. I hold my head up, pull my shoulders back, and walk with confidence and purpose towards my destination. If someone gets near me, I’ll scream my head off and run. If that doesn’t work, I’ll use the pepper spray, then, I’ll run.

I get about a half a block into my trek when a police car slowly cruises by, going the opposite direction from my apartment on the deserted four-lane street. I wave as the officer in the passenger seat shines the spotlight in my eyes. Surely I look neither threatening enough to be a mugger, nor slutty enough to be a prostitute in my black, pin-striped pant suit and heels. The car passes by and the shadow on the wall indicates that the spotlight has moved down from the back of my head to my butt.

“Gee, thanks, guys. I feel so much safer with you patrolling the streets.”

The LAPD continue their nightly rounds and go elsewhere to look for the bad guys, completely oblivious of my less-than-enthusiastic praise.

I had just rounded a corner by one of the few dark, deserted alleys on my path home when I heard the voice.

“You’re a terrible liar, you know.”

I turn in the direction of the deep, male voice, but see only darkness in the alley. Impossibly-strong hands push me from behind. It felt like a truck hit me squarely between the shoulder blades. I must have flown fifteen feet before slamming into the brick wall inside the darkness of the alley. The first thing I do is find my key chain with the pepper spray canister. I haven’t tried the stuff since I bought it two months ago. Dear God, please let it work.

I scramble to my feet, opening my mouth to scream. I never see him coming. The icy cold hand closes over my mouth before I can make a sound. He is already in my face, pinning me against his body with his other arm. His grip is like a vise. I can barely breathe, let alone scream.

The oxygen had been forced out of my lungs when he grabbed me. I have to take short gasping breaths, just to get what little air I can. The pepper spray is in my hand, but both of my arms were pinned by my sides in his freakishly-strong hold. As he holds me, I finally am able to get a good look at him.

He looks normal enough. He is a little taller than me, with a shaved head and earrings. He is wearing a stylish t-shirt and jeans, with rings and bracelets galore. He looks like a thousand guys you might find in any night club in L.A. That is the problem, though. He isn’t a “guy.” As I look into his face, I know he isn’t even human.

His eyes are glowing yellow as they bore a hole into my own. I have seen the ravers and their freaky contacts, but I have never seen anything like that. His skin is like ice. It is as if he were a dead body. The most terrible thing about his appearance is his teeth. They are long and jagged, and already coated with red. Is that blood???

“Why, yes it is.”

He just answered a question that I never spoke aloud. Dear God, he is in my head. What is he? What is he going to do to me? Am I going to be raped and killed by this … thing?

“The ‘what’ is a vampire. That is what I am. No offense, toots, you’re cute and all, but what I want is not in your pants. Instead, I think I can find it right … about …. Here.”

His icy tongue runs up and down my neck, directly over a major artery. I don’t know if this guy is for real, but I can only assume that he is. Even if he is not, I realize that he didn’t specifically say he wasn’t going to kill me.

I feel those horrible, jagged fangs brush against my throat. Dear God, please help me.

As I am readying myself for this … this thing to bite into the side of my neck, a blurry black form slams into both of us, then disappears. For the second time in less than a minute, I find myself on the ground. I stare at the asphalt and struggle to regain my breath. The man’s grip had been so strong that he might have cracked a couple of my ribs. The pain that shoots down my torso with each breath does not ease my fear.

When I look back to the man, he has already gotten back to his feet. He is no longer looking at me. Instead he is looking away from the dead-end brick wall of the back of the alley and back towards the street with what I can only describe as an animalistic snarl. I swear to God, it almost sounds like he is hissing like those cobras at the zoo, right before they attack the mice at feeding time. I don’t know if he is what he says he is, but I am finding it easier to believe that he is not human.

I realize that my chances of survival are far better if I am standing. Despite the pain in my ribs and my inability to take a decent breath, I drag myself back to my feet. I manage to make it to the wall and brace myself against it. I know if I end up on the ground again, I may never leave this place alive.

I chance a quick look to the mouth of the alley. It is in that moment that I see her.

She could not have been more than 5’4”. I can’t decide whether the word “terrible” or “beautiful” is better suited for her. Her long, ebon hair is the kind of shade that you just can’t get from a bottle … and the curves of her figure are something that the plastic surgeon I work for would never be able to reproduce, no matter how much money his clients throw at him. She is definitely attractive, but the one feature I cannot get over is her eyes. She looks no older than I do, but her eyes are so very old. Even stranger than that, they appear to be glowing with green fire. The black, sleeveless dress she is wearing looks very much like the dark shape that separated me from the vampire only a moment earlier. Dear God … she’s not human either.

This “woman” stands there, staring down my attacker. For one full of such bravado, the strange man has made no move to attack her. He seems … fearful.

“Do you know who I am?”

Her voice had the faintest hint of an accent, but I can’t quite place it. Spanish? Romanian? Though very feminine, there was a confident and commanding tone to it. The man makes no effort to answer her, so I take a shallow breath and open my mouth to do so.

She turns and locks eyes with me. She holds a finger in front of her lips. “Shh.” It is like her fiery green eyes grabbed a hold of my very soul. Not only am I unable to talk, but I also cannot move. My whole body simply stopped at her command.

The man replies to her question. “No. I don’t know who you are. Should I?”

I can only watch with morbid fascination as the scene unfolds. If his lack of knowledge bothers her, she doesn’t let it show. She just stands there with her arms crossed over her ample chest, looking very much like she owns everything and every one around her. I have never been in the presence of a queen, but I would imagine she would carry herself like this woman.

“I am Lucifera. This is my city, now. You are most unwelcome here.”

There is no humor in her tone, but the man laughs. At least, I think he was going to laugh. The sound never had a chance to fully form. One second, this Lucifera was standing in the mouth of the alley. Then she was gone. I see the same blur of black as it circles the man, then comes to a stop by my side. The man is still standing there, but something is wrong. It takes me nearly a full second to realize that his head is gone. It must have taken his body that long as well. Once we all figure it out, a spray of blood from his headless neck showers the alley in crimson. It is like some terrible geyser of blood that paints the wall and ground red. Finally, the body falls over and the stream ceases to flow.

I feel something heavy hit the ground next to my foot. I do not need to look down to know it is the man’s head. As quickly as my paralysis hits me, it is gone. I take a wobbly step towards the woman.

A movement in the mouth of the alley stops me. I can barely make out the dark shape that is getting closer to my odd savior. At first, I thought it was a large dog, but it was as big as a bear. No dog could be that big … nor would a dog have glowing red eyes.

Just when I thought the night could not get any stranger, the thing stands up on two legs and begins to speak.

“I took care of the other two across the street. You sure you don’t want me to stick around till this is done?”

The horror of that voice is nauseating. It is deeper than a fog horn. I feel like a thousand spiders are crawling down my spine with each word from that … thing. This cannot be real.

The woman is unfazed. She simply laughs and looks towards me as she inexplicably replies to the monster.

“No, Wolf. You have business to attend to, and so do I. The month will pass quickly and I shall be in my rightful place by the time you return.”

The monster grunts in affirmation, then turns its glowing red orbs on me. A spine-chilling smile forms on its canine face as it stares down at me from its towering height.

“Should I take care of this one, then?”

Involuntarily, tears form in my eyes from the mere sound of its words. Please, make it stop.

The woman holds up a hand. “No. That will not be necessary.”

The beast nods and turns is gigantic shape back towards the mouth of the alley.

I don’t know what is going on, but I am going to at least have my say. I take an unsteady step away from the monster and towards the woman.

“Thank you … Lucifera, is it?  I … I don’t know how I can repay you for saving my life … Is there anything I can do?”  The trauma must be making me delirious, as I start to giggle softly at the absurdity of the night’s events.

My laughter is cut short by a tiny hand that is suddenly wrapped around my throat. Dear God … her grip is even more terrible than the man’s was. I am finally beginning to black out from the lack of oxygen. I find myself pulled close to the woman’s face by that same hand with strength she should not possibly possess.

“Yes, there is. I find myself quite thirsty.”

In the space of a single syllable, I finally see them behind her ruby-red lips, hanging like two tiny ivory daggers. I see her fangs.

My world goes black as I feel the sharp pain of those same teeth tear the vein my first attacker had so coveted. The last thing I hear before darkness takes me completely is the sound of someone sobbing. I am oddly detached when I realize that the sound is coming …

from me.