Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Bunnies



Happy anniversary to Willow.  Tomorrow marks her second year with us.  She was just a few months old when we adopted her.  She was missing her right eye and part of her right ear as the result of getting stuck in the birth canal, forcing her mother to pull her out with her teeth, thus causing the injuries.  The breeder was literally going to throw her away.  Thankfully, someone saved her and brought her to Bunny Lu Adoptions (check them out here) in Haymarket where we met and fell in love with her. 

And if you can't tell by the photo, Willow is a diva and a major daddy's girl.  But she also brings a lot of love into the house, and that's all that matters.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Thanks to Vampiress.ca

Raven Kelly posted an author's bio page about me on her Vampiress.ca webpage.  Many thanks to Raven for her support.  Please check it out at Vampiress.ca.

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 about the challenges. It’s about 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. Or if Harry and Sally had hit it off on their car ride from college and lived happily ever after.

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? More than likely. 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. And then I substituted vampires for terrorists.

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

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, and many pushed the bounds of copyright infringement. Sure, some of them got published. But rarely did any of these enjoy the success of the original works. Your goal should not be to write the next Harry Potter. 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.

[This blog was originally posted on Dawn's Reading Nook on 10 April 2010.  You can check out Dawn's blog here.]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's the Little Scares in Life That Are the Best

It's not often that a good horror novel or movie scares me.  But tonight was the exception. 

I was on the basement floor earlier tonight reading Ed Lee's Monstrosity, one of the creepiest novels I've read in a long time.  My rabbit Woody was in front of me, being petted with my free hand, while his girlfriend Cinnamon was off hiding in her warren.  I became engrossed in the book, especially the scene in which Bill-Boy the poacher runs across a lake filled with mutated insects.  This was the scene I was reading:

It was no yard-long length of yarn, it was a yard-long millipede, some kind of bizarre aquatic millipede that he didn't even know existed.  He held it close at one end, the end the head was on, while the rest of it quickly curled around his arm.  He could feel the thousands of tiny hair-like legs moving....

At that moment, I felt something crawl across the back of my leg.  I don't know who jumped higher -- me or Woodstock, who got startled out of a pleasant pet.  I turned to see what was attacking me.  Cinnamon had snuck out of her warren and chose that precise moment to nose nudge the back of my leg, the whiskers tickling just like the tiny legs of a millipede.  I watched her pudgy little butt running back to her warren, a happy jaunt in her hop because she had scared the hell out of daddy. 

So you can have Cthulhu and Dagon.  What scares me is small and furry.




Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How To Write Well

“So all I have to do is write a page a day and in a year I’ll have a novel good enough to be published?”

Not necessarily. You’ll have a novel. Whether it’s good enough to be published is another matter.

Remember, writing is an art, much like figure skating, singing, acting, or painting. You have to practice at your craft to be become good at it.

I used to write espionage/techno thrillers. I don’t even admit to the first book because, in retrospect, it was crap. The second book was better, but still not quite publishable. By the third book I had found my style. It dealt with North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons and blackmailing four U.S. cities. I quickly picked up an agent who presented it to several publishers, all of whom liked the book. Unfortunately, this was right after 11 September, and the market for those books had dried up. So I switched genres.

So go out and write, and submit you work. Don’t get depressed if it gets rejected – that’s the nature of the game. And if an editor sends you feedback, consider yourself fortunate. Most publishers reject stories/manuscripts with a simple form letter. That an editor took the time to offer you feedback means he/she sees potential in you work.

The best way to hone your skills is to get readers who will provide critical feedback. Your mother and significant other do not count – chances are they’ll say it’s good, even if it isn’t. My suggestion is to find a good writer’s group with published authors or aspiring authors who are also interested in improving their craft. I’m a member of The Washington Fiction Writer’s League, and the feedback they provide on my stuff has proven invaluable to improving what I’ve published.

If you do go this route, remember two very important things.

First, find critique groups that will provide honest feedback. I’ve seen too many groups where the members will tear someone else’s work to shreds, but become indignant if you provide any critical feedback on their material. Avoid those groups like you would a horde of ravenous zombies. Those groups are filled with people who think ripping apart your work will somehow make them better writers. Trust me, it doesn’t work that way.

Second, and this is the hardest thing to do, is lock away your ego in a dark room during feedback sessions. As long as the feedback isn’t personal, listen to it and adopt it where appropriate. Every author is wedded to his/her work and hates to here that it is not quite as good as he/she thought it was. Get over yourself. I did.

No matter how well you write, there is always room for improvement. We all have our favorite writers who, over time, sacrificed quality for the sake of pumping out another book. There are several authors who I once loved but stopped buying their books because they started to disappoint me.

Your goal is not to write the best book ever written. Your goal is to write the best book that you possibly can. Every book or story has flaws. But if a reader can overlook the occasional grammatical error or plot flaw because the rest of the story is so entertaining it keeps them glued to the edge of their seat, then you’ve succeeded as a writer.

NEXT BLOG: What To Write About.

[This blog was originally posted on Dawn's Reading Nook (here) on 3 April 2010.]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mental Musings for a Thursday

Been a busy week between an unexpected vet visit ($400 to grind down Cinnamon's overgrown teeth) and my own trip to the dentist (thankfully no problems), plus preparing my next blog posting for Dawn's Reading Nook.  I've only been able to revise the first hundred pages of Rotter World.  I hope to get some more done this weekend.  So check back soon. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Vampire vs. Vampire Hunters

Of all the monsters that scare us, none have terrified the imagination as much as the vampire. These creatures of the night embody our most inner fears. The primitive fear of being preyed upon in the dark when we’re most vulnerable and of having our life slowly drained away. The more modern fear of losing control over our own free will and of giving in to our basest desires. And the spiritual fear of losing our souls.

So pervasive and disturbing are these fears that legends of the undead can be found in almost every culture stretching back thousands of years, whether it’s the strigoi of Romania, the chiang shih of China, the brahmaparusha of northern India, or any of the other various names they are known by throughout the world. Over time, the legends became literature, and the supernatural aspects of the undead gave way to their entertainment value. Today, vampires appear more frequently in film and fiction than any other monster.

Almost as common as vampires are the men and women who hunt them.

The man-versus-monster theme made its first appearance in Dracula, the first of the modern-day vampire tales. Bram Stoker told his story not from Dracula’s point of view but from those of van Helsing and the others who track down the count. Universal Studios would forego the hunter, only bringing back van Helsing for a brief cameo in Dracula’s Daughter, and instead making the monster the recurring character of its sequels. In the 1950s and 1970s, Hammer Studios took a different track, introducing Peter Cushing as van Helsing in Horror of Dracula and making the doctor the mainstay of their vampire movies, bringing him back to fight the undead for seven sequels.

Stoker’s vampire hunter is the most famous, but van Helsing is only the first among his profession. Over the last twenty years we’ve watched the battle standard be taken up by Blade, Buffy Summers, Anita Blake, Harry Keogh, Jameson Arkeley, Vampire Hunter D, Jack Crow. And now, even Abraham Lincoln.

So why the fascination with vampire hunters?

Simply enough, the hunters are the good guys. It doesn’t matter whether they are chosen ones, professionals, or simple men or women who realize the need to confront the undead. When faced with the ultimate evil, they fight the good fight. They go into combat outnumbered and outgunned. They face death, or worse, being turned into a vampire themselves. In the end, they defeat the undead. In short, the hunters appeal to our sense of justice and righteousness, and they vindicate our belief that good will triumph over evil.

It’s why I chose vampire hunters as the theme upon which to base my vampire trilogy.

I’m an old monster kid who grew up enthralled by the Universal and Hammer monsters. My first hero was Peter Cushing as van Helsing. No matter how much vampire films changed over the years, with increased action and special effects, nothing can compare with Cushing sliding across a long dining hall table to tear the curtains off of a bay window and douse Dracula in sunlight. It was that theme of a normal man going up against the undead that eventually compelled me to write The Vampire Hunters.

If Peter Cushing could save the buxomly damsel in distress (this was Hammer, after all) and defeat a nest of vampires by himself, then there were few things that I couldn’t face down. Idealistic? Yes. But what type of writer isn’t idealistic?

So if you like your vampires malevolent and evil, and if you like your good guys flawed but able to kick ass, please check out the book at Shadowfire Press.

[Originally posted on Patricia's Vampire Notes on 22 March 2010.  You can check at Patricia's blog here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How To Write That First Novel

NOTE: I’ve been fortunate over the past five years to be intimately involved with a writer’s group that has allowed me to become acquainted with numerous authors, publishers, screen writers, and literary agents. They have talked openly about the publishing industry in general and their specific genres, and have offered considerable advice. Over time, I’ve grown to realize how valuable that guidance was. So over the next few weeks, I hope to share some of that wisdom with you.]

“What do I have to do to be a writer?”

Write.

Believe it or not, it’s as simple as that. Writers write. It’s what we do. But you’d be surprised how many potential authors forget that.

I’ve met several potential authors who have bragged about all the work they’ve done on their project. One had a detailed outline of their proposed novel. Another had 3x5 cards filled with biographical notes for each character. A third had a notebook in which he kept hours worth of research. When I asked them how far they had gotten in their book, they admitted they had not written anything yet. These people completely miss the point. Research, plot, and character are necessary, but not anywhere near as important as actually writing the book.

So get out there and start writing.

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re a published author and have plenty of time to write. I don’t.”

No one has time to write. You have to make time.

The sad truth about publishing today is that, unless you are a well-established name like Stephen King, K.J. Rawlings, or Dan Brown, most writers maintain a day job (or have a very understanding significant other with a well-paying job and a lot of patience). I get up at 5 AM, rush around to feed the rabbits and get dressed, and am off to work by 6 AM. If I’m lucky, I get home around 5 PM. Then I have to feed, clean, and spend time with the rabbits; do chores and errands; and try to have some meager semblance of a social life. I’m lucky if I get five hours of sleep a night.

I fit writing into that hectic schedule because I love to write. I need to write. It’s my passion. To do that, though, I have to make sacrifices. When I’m in full-fledged writing mode, my Xbox sits idle and my stack of books to read grows taller and taller. And I don’t want to admit to the number of times I’ve spent several hours cranking out a chapter, only to be greeted afterwards by sets of mopey brown eyes and furry dejected faces giving me that why-didn’t-you-play-with-me look.

Anyone who truly and passionately wants to write can find time during the day to do so. Get up an hour early or stay up an hour late (as long as you devote that entire time solely to writing). If you commute by public transportation, use that time to write. Devote some of your “down time” to writing. Sure, you might have to forego watching American Idol or curtail your time surfing cute pet sights on the Internet, but are these really more important than getting your book written?

“Oh, come on. How much writing do you really expect me to get done in an hour a day?”

Let me put it this way. In that hour, anyone can write a single page. If you type in double space, the way manuscripts should be drafted, that’s approximately 300 words a day. If you do that every day for a year, when you’re done you will have 365 pages totaling over 100,000 words. That, my friends is a novel.

So what are you waiting for? Close down the Internet, call up your word processor, and start writing.

NEXT BLOG: How to write well.

[Originally posted on Dawn's Reading Nook (link) on 27 March 2010.]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In Memorium: Polly - 22 April 2005 to 4 April 2008


Polly was our New Jersey bunny.  She was rescued along with 36 other rabbits that were living in a small pen in deplorable conditions.  We gave her a home, and she gave us more love then you could imagine for a six-pound rabbit.  She would run to the cage every morning to lick my nose, and then would head butt me to let me know when affection time was over.  Many a night she slept on the end of the bed between my legs.

Unfortunately, she passed away two years ago this Sunday of a very rare and incurable intestinal disorder.  I still miss her.