Thursday, October 30, 2014

Severing My Future Relationship with Permuted Press

For anyone who is in the industry or is a close follower of the genre, I'm sure you have all heard about the controversy surrounding Permuted Press these past few weeks. I was one of the many authors impacted by the fallout and, after thinking about this long and carefully, and changing my mind half a dozen times, I have decided to sever my future relationship with Permuted Press.

I do not want to use this blog to rehash the history of what happened at Permuted or to air dirty laundry. Suffice it to say, my two main reasons for leaving are entirely professional. First, I believe the new business practices put into place by the current management, while perfectly legitimate and viable, are detrimental to many of those authors associated with the publishing house and will hurt the Permuted brand name in the long term. More importantly, my decision was prompted by continued delays in scheduling a release date for the next two books in the Rotter saga.

The good news is that I am now moving forward with the release of Rotter Nation and Rotter Apocalypse, the sequels to Rotter World. The manuscripts are completed and in various stages of revision, and I am hoping to make both books available in 2015. Nation and Apocalypse greatly expand on the original, taking the characters and the story to dark and disturbing places, and concluding with the final confrontation between mankind and the living dead. I am exploring numerous options and will hopefully have an update very soon.

Because I still have several years to go on my contract for Rotter World, that book will still be published by Permuted in print, Kindle, Nook, and audio formats.

Thanks to my colleagues, friends, and fans for all your support. Here's hoping next year is very promising for the living dead.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Writing: The Mechanics of Writing

“I have a story idea in mind and am psyched to begin writing. What’s the best way to get started? Should I outline the plot first, or just jump in and write?”

There’s no right or wrong method to plot out your novel. The mechanics of writing is one of personal choice, so go with whatever method works best for you.

For example, Jeffery Deaver creates meticulous outlines for his novels, detailing each scene and key segments of dialogue on sheets of paper and sticky notes that fill the walls of his study. He admits that it takes him months to come up with such a detailed framework. However, when he sits down to actually write the novel, it doesn’t take him long to finish the manuscript since most of the work is already completed.

I prefer a less structured method. When plotting out my novel, I keep a stack of lined 3x5 cards handy and write down scenes as I think of them, including anything that I want to put into the scene such as descriptions, plot points, or snippets of dialogue. Before writing, I arrange the cards in the order I want the book to flow. This allows me to outline the major themes in the plot while allowing enough flexibility that I can add or re-order scenes easily.

These represent the two extremes of organization, and most of you will use a method of plot outlining that falls somewhere in between. What is important is, no matter which method you use, be sure you have a firm grasp of the conflict, how that conflict changes the main character(s), and the resolution of your story before you begin writing. You can always change those elements later. But if you don’t have a basic idea where your story starts and ends, no amount of outlining will turn it into a viable manuscript. Trust me on this one. I have several short stories taking up space on my hard drive because I wrote them based on a single scene, but have yet to find an effective way to finish them.

“Thanks. This has been a big help. While you’re here, can you give me any tips on writing?”

Yes, I can. But this is not the blog series for that. There are thousands of books out there dedicated to instructing someone on how to write a book. They cover all the aspects of the craft–plot, setting, character development, voice, etc. There are even books that tell you how to write in specific genres. Feel free to use them if you want. No one has ever become a bad writer by reading these works.

In my opinion, however, the best way for someone to become a good writer is by reading numerous books to see how other authors write. When I say read a lot, I mean it. Go through at least one book a week. Start with the classics. We’re still reading Twain, Hemingway, Austen, and the like not just because our English professors are sadists, but because those authors knew how to write compelling stories that have stood the test of time (except for Great Expectations, but don’t get me started on that one). Then read a wide variety of books and authors in your genre as well as outside of it.

And don’t forget to read trashy books, whether they’re pulp novels meant solely to entertain and entice, or novels that are just horribly written. Figure out what those authors did to make their work so laughable or painful to read, and learn from their mistakes. Remember, it takes a long time and many published works to build up a fan base, but only one poorly-written story or novel to turn off readers forever.

While I won’t offer writing tips in this blog series, I do want to point out that there are certain aspects of the craft you need to pay close attention to if you ever hope to get out of the slush pile and get published. These points have been reiterated to me time and again by publishers and literary agents, all of whom said that when they see these mistakes in query submissions, they immediately take the work out of contention.

The first is grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Over time you’ll find your own style and voice. If you don’t have the basics down, you’ll find it that much more difficult to break away from the thousands of other authors bombarding publishers and agents with their manuscripts. Make sure you proof read your final work carefully. You may have written the next bestseller, but if your sample chapters are full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and incorrect punctuation, good luck getting a publisher or agent to read beyond the first few pages. Even if they see the potential in your book, they’ll view you as sloppy and will think carefully before taking you on. If it comes down between you and an author whose writing is solid, who do you think will get the contract?

Realistic dialogue is also very important, so of course it’s one of the hardest parts to get right. If you write dialogue so that it’s grammatically correct, it will sound stilted and will turn off the reader. If you write it to sound like every day conversations, you run the risk of making your characters sound like idiots. I trained myself to write decent dialogue by listening to others talk. This has the added benefit of letting people think you’re the silent, mysterious type (or they’ll just think you’re weird or an introvert, which most writers are).

Finally, make sure you maintain the continuity of your story and characters. If your main character’s name is Ken Smith, always refer to him as either Ken or Smith throughout the story, and do not interchange the names. Keep your secondary characters straight as well; if you call someone Bob when he first appears in chapter three, make sure you don’t call him Bill when he reappears in chapter ten. If you describe your main character as being bald in chapter one, don’t have him run his fingers through his hair in chapter five. If your character is a devout Mormon, don’t show him/her drinking a cup of coffee without explaining why. If your story is set in Victorian-era New York City, don’t have electric street lamps lining the streets. These are the minutiae that are easy to overlook. When publishers or agents catch them, they immediately get the impression that you’re sloppy (see above). If your readers catch them, you lose them quickly. I have had several authors who write historical dramas tell me that the worst criticism they receive from readers is when they get some fact wrong.

So consider yourself forewarned. Now get out there and start writing. Your public is waiting.

NEXT BLOG: Traditional Publishing or Self-Publish?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Congratulations to the Spooky Empire Contest Winner

Congratulations to Kevin Orth who won my giveaway contest at the Spooky Empire Convention this past weekend. Kevin will receive a zombie USB drive as well as a free e-book copy of Nazi Ghouls From Space. I hope you enjoy it.

The Motion Pictures' Review of Yeitso

The Motion Pictures, a website dedicated to the blogger's love of classic movies, recently reviewed Yeitso, noting that it "certainly evokes the tone and storytelling of a great mid-century B movie. Baker’s style of writing is highly cinematic. Baker is fully aware that his novel has B movie leanings, having been inspired by the films he grew up watching. He definitely uses it to his advantage, paying homage to the genre." You can read the entire review here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Interesting Posts from Other Websites

I know this is from Cracked, but it is still an accurate if somewhat tongue-in-cheek listing of the Five Things Every Movie Gets Wrong About the Apocalypse. Having said that, the next question is how difficult would it be to write compelling post-apocalyptic drama if writers stuck to reality (although scenario number one in the post has some interesting possibilities)?

This is an interesting article that was posted on Zombob's Zombie News and Review detailing possible mentions of the reanimated dead in Medieval literature. Medieval Zombies? discusses the Anglo-Saxon poem The Three Living and the Three Dead and accompanying bas-de-page miniatures.

Finally, most of my fans know I enjoy Steampunk and have even dabbled in the genre myself. Lindsey Stirling has released a new Steampunk-style video called Roundtable Rival that is fantastic.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Making My Novels More (P)interesting

Is there really a Site R and a Fort McClary? How was Antioch laid out during the Crusades, or Peenemunde at the end of World War II? What did the Amerika Rakete look like? Or a Pontiac Torpedo staff car or a Buffalo-Springfield two-wheel roller?

Do these questions keep you up at night?

Your quest for answers has been fulfilled. For those of you on Pinterest, I have several boards posted there for Yeitso, The Vampire Hunters: Vampyrnomicon, Nazi Ghouls From Space, and Rotter World. Each of the boards contains maps, photographs, and other research material I used when writing the books. Rather than just let them sit on my computer taking up hard drive space, I thought I'd Pin them and hopefully give the readers a better feel for the respective books. 

I have other boards on writing, monsters, history, and post-apocalyptic art that are also entertaining and, in some instances, informative (who would have thought).

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Coffin Hop Blog Tour: Are Zombies Still Relevant?

Are zombies still relevant in today’s horror genre?  

Click on Coffin Hop to go to the other websites participating in the blog tour.

It’s a legitimate question. AMC's The Walking Dead succeeded in doing what no other television show, movie, or novel has ever accomplished--that is, making zombies mainstream. The series is one of the most watched programs on television, and the convention circuit and merchandising for The Walking Dead is an industry onto itself. Although not everyone may be a fan of the show, I doubt there's anyone between the ages of six and sixty who have not heard of the series.

As in all genres, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and also the best way to make a quick buck. Since the early 2000s, a seemingly endless influx of zombie fiction, movies, and video games has flooded the market. Fans have been treated to some truly outstanding books (The Rising, Patient Zero, and World War Z), films (The Horde, Zombieland, and The Dead), and video games (Resident Evil, Dead Island, Dead Rising, and Left 4 Dead). Unfortunately, we have also seen zombies placed in every scenario imaginable. The living dead have faced off against strippers, cheerleaders, ninjas, and cockneys. A zombie apocalypse has been the focus of a commercial for Toshiba computers in which an electrical glitch in a laptop plunges the world into a living dead nightmare. Enough zombie romances have entered the market to spawn the creation of its own genre name, “zomroms” (when they start to sparkle, I'm shifting genres and writing erotica).   Traditionally, once a horror icon becomes the subject of farce, it marks its inevitable demise. (A good case in point is Universal Studio’s cache of monsters from the 1930s and 1940s, all of whom lumbered through countless resurrections until permanently put to death by Abbott and Costello).

Zombies, however, are different. They fill a niche that no other creatures are capable of. 

Vampires, werewolves, and other ghoulish creatures and creepy crawlies will always thrill us. Vampires appeal to that dark erotic nature of our personalities that we keep bridled, while werewolves remind us of how violent and uncontrollable our subconscious truly is. The other monsters are adult manifestations of those things in the closet that scared us as kids. They are pure fantasy, and we know it. But we don't care. We sit in a darkened movie theater, or become engrossed in the pages of a novel, and relish what horrors await. Deep down we know that as long as the characters can make it through to the end, then they will continue to live out normal lives.

Zombies, on the other hand, strike a chord with us for two reasons that tap into our deepest most emotional and psychological fears.

First, there is an undertone of realism to the zombie genre that is terrifying. Despite exaggerated reports of Ebola victims rising from the dead or the ingestion of bath salts turning drug addicts into the living dead, no one honestly expects a zombie apocalypse. What is frightening about the scenario, however, is that it represents a total collapse of society as we know it and the breakdown of everything we hold dear. We didn't create our own Hell by messing around with a Ouija board or a black and gold puzzle box. Factors beyond our control initiated the outbreak, and now we are left helpless to defend ourselves and our families as the living dead hunt us down in our own neighborhoods

This has been brought home to us repeatedly over the past decade thanks to twenty-four hour cable news, which have piped microcosms of catastrophe into our homes. We’ve all watched the flood waters of Katrina inundate New Orleans and tsunamis devastate the coast of Japan. It took days, and in some cases weeks, before local and federal governments were able to enter the devastated areas and regain control. In the case of New Orleans, the devastation was accompanied by the collapse of the social order. Looters took advantage of the chaos. People had to fend for themselves in order to survive, often against the local authorities. Our hearts went out to the victims of these natural disasters while a part of us breathed a sigh of relief that there but for the Grace of God goes us. Thanks to the zombie genre, we would suddenly become those nameless victims, and would be forced to confront bitter realities about how we would react in such a situation.

Second, as strange as it sounds, a zombie apocalypse provides a grim hope for the future in the form of a "reset" button. All the seemingly insurmountable troubles we face disappear, and the playing field is leveled overnight. We're no longer a part of the 1% or the 99%, a liberal or a conservative, a payer of taxes or a recipient of a government subsidy, a member of the elite or the working class. All of our debts, our past mistakes, and our concerns would be wiped out with the spread of the outbreak. Our possessions and social status would become irrelevant. All that matters now would be our strengths and abilities, and the direction our morale compass points.

One of my favorite zombie movies is Zack Snyder's 2004 reimaging of Dawn of the Dead because it is a superb portrayal of how ordinary people would react during a total collapse of the social order. Would we become Anna or Michael, who try to maintain their humanity even after losing everything dear to them? Would we become Kenneth, who opts to look out only for himself? Would we become CJ, the mall security guard who turns away the survivors because “no one here is infected and I intend to keep it that way?” Or would we be Tucker or Frank, the nameless faces that blend into the background and merely go on existing, only to become the red shirts of the survivors? Confronting how we would actually behave in such a situation can be scarier than dealing the zombie apocalypse itself.

The struggle between surviving and maintaining some semblance of humanity is what the genre is all about. (That, of course, combined with some intense gut-munching, head shooting action and buckets of blood and gore.) This is why zombies will always be relevant to the genre.

Contest: Thank you for making me one of your stops on the Coffin Hop Blog Tour. As my way of saying thank you, I'm giving away a zombie USB drive (like the one of the left) that contains an EPub version of my latest novella Nazi Ghouls From Space. It's like a Trick or Treat bag with something really nice inside, only this is electronic.

To enter, all you have to do is:

-- Follow my blog.

-- Leave a comment below on which is your favorite zombie movie, TV show, or novel and why.

The contest concludes at midnight on 31 October. On 1 November, a name will be randomly selected and the winner of the USB will be notified. Good luck, and keep digging up those coffins.