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.

Coffin Hop Blog Tour 2014

This year I'll be joining the Coffin Hop Blog Tour from 24-31 October. What is it, you ask? It's an annual event for independent and genre horror writers to help them gain exposure and introduce them to a greater number of fans and readers. Hundreds of horror writers are involved, with many posting blogs in the spirit of Halloween or the genre that we all love so much. In addition, prizes will be given away at each stop on the hop.

Starting tomorrow, just click here to participate in the tour. That will take you to the Coffin Hop homepage and, from there, you'll be able to start digging through the graveyard of blog stops. I'll be posting my Halloween-related blog tomorrow, along with the details on my own prize giveaway.

The Kindle Version of The Vampire Hunters Is FREE 23-27 October

Emby Press and I would love to give all the horror fans out there a special Trick or Treat gift. Since having you all come over to our homes to hand out candy is not feasible, instead we decided to offer you a free Kindle book.

From 23-27 October the Kindle version of The Vampire Hunters will be FREE on Amazon. That's even better than free candy because The Vampire Hunters is not fattening, lasts longer than chocolate, and will always look awesome on your Kindle carousel.

You won't find a better deal than that unless you get Alexander Skaarsgard or Kate Beckinsale to come to your house and read it to you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Writing: What To Write About

“Okay, I get it. If I write one page a day, in a year I’ll have a novel. My problem is I have no idea what to write about.”

You’re sitting on a mother lode of ideas. You just haven’t mined them yet.

A good story, no matter what the genre, is about conflict. It’s about developing your main character(s) so that the reader likes (and hopefully can relate) to them, and then placing obstacles in the way of them obtaining their goals. The story is not so much about the challenges as it is how the main character(s) confront these challenges by overcoming their weaknesses and expanding on their strengths. The story is not about the conclusion. It’s about the journey to that concluding page, and what the main character(s) learn about themselves on the way.

Think of how boring The Lord of the Rings would have been if Bilbo had decided to keep the ring for himself rather than give it to Frodo to return to Mount Doom. Or if Ralphie’s mother had acquiesced in the opening scene of A Christmas Story and agreed to buy him an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot air model range rifle. Or if Shelby from Steel Magnolias did not have a medical condition that endangered her life during pregnancy.

Such stories come from within us. There’s no one reading this blog who hasn’t experienced some type of conflict, whether it’s as simple as a troubled romance, as life altering as death or illness or surviving combat, as traumatic as disloyalty or loss of honor, or as frustrating (or comical, depending on the situation) as a dysfunctional family. Tap into those emotions and build your story around them. Will it be painful or uncomfortable to bear your soul like this? Probably. But if you can be honest to your emotions and successfully weave them into your novel, you’ll relate to your readers.

That’s what writing is all about.

So if I may use an old clich├ęd phrase, write what you know.

“Write what you know? You write about zombies and vampires. What do you know about them?”

Good question. I asked the same thing years ago of Brian Keene, author of The Rising, the novel that launched a new wave of zombie apocalypse stories. The Rising is about Jim Thurmond who lives on the West Coast. As civilization crashes around him, Jim gets a phone call from his young son on the East Coast asking his father to come rescue him; he sets out on foot across a zombie-infested country in a desperate journey to save his son. Prior to writing the novel, Brian had received a phone call from his ten-year-old son whom he had not seen since infancy and who wanted to meet. He made the trip, all the while wondering what their meeting would be like. Brian later wrote about that emotional turmoil in The Rising, and then added some zombies.

Brian’s advice helped me to find my focus for The Vampire Hunters. At its essence, the story is about the war on terror and how those fighting it deal with the reality that for every terrorist brought down, ten others take his place. My main characters embody the three primary outlooks of any long-term struggle: Drake Matthews, the gung-ho commander who’s in the fight for the long haul no matter how long it takes; Alison Monroe, who follows Drake willingly but who, at some point, wants to put down her weapons lead a normal life; and Jim DelMarco, the young kid drafted into the conflict who does not want to be there, but who fights anyway. The trilogy deals with how each of these characters handles the stresses of combat, and how their experiences prepare them for the final battle. Then I substituted vampires for terrorists.

So write what you know, but don’t be afraid to embellish a bit.

From The Simpsons episode "The Book Job"
A final note: One thing that every publisher and agent has told me is not to write your own iteration of the latest blockbuster. The DaVinci Code and Twilight were overnight phenomenon because they were new and distinctly unique, which is why they sparked the public’s imagination. After each of these novels went to the best seller list, publishing houses and literary agencies were inundated with knock-offs, most of which were not very good. Sure, some of them got published. But rarely did any of these enjoy the success of the original works. Your goal should be to write a novel so unique that five years from now other writers will want to imitate you.

NEXT BLOG: The Mechanics of Writing

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Congratulations to the Walker Stalker Contest Winner

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

For those of you attending Spooky Empire this coming weekend, I'll be having a similar drawing, so pop on by my table and enter to win. See you there.

I'll Be Attending Spooky Empire in Orlando 24-26 October

It seems like I just finished one convention and now I have another one coming up. On 24-26 October, I'll be sharing a table with my wife and fellow writer Alison Beightol at Spooky Empire in Orlando. The attending celebrities and writers this year are awesome, as is the weekend schedule of events.

Since Spooky Empire is author-centric, there will be numerous writing-related panels throughout the weekend. I'll be appearing on the following ones:

Friday, 24 October

6 PM -- Keeping the Bodies Fresh: How do writers keep tried and true monsters like vampires and zombies still new and exciting?

9 PM -- Sick and Twisted: This panel is restricted to adults only because of the violent and extreme content that will be discussed, and also because of the drunk writers.

Saturday, 25 October

12 PM -- Author's Network:This is where the writers mingle with the fans. A great way to get to meet and talk to your favorite writers and ask them questions.

2 PM -- Writing the Fight: A discussion by various writers on how they craft the fight scenes in their novels.

7 PM -- Down with the Sickness: A look into how diseases spread and how variations on this can be used in writing a novel.

Sunday, 26 October

11 AM -- Sympathy for the Devil: Writers analyzes the rise of sympathetic monsters/villians and discuss their place in book and movies.

Swing on by and join in the fun. This promises to be one of the best conventions ever.