Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Creating a Monster: The Silver

So, my book Class 5 has been out now for over a year, and it's collected it's fair share of good reviews since then. Quite a few have pointed out my somewhat original alien creature, the Silver, as the man in black named it.

I do take a little bit of pride in the alien creature I created for this story, although I'll be the first to admit it's not the most original of creations. The only original thing might be how everything is combined. Since my post of The Hungry was so popular, I thought I would do another post like that, and delve into how the Silver was created for my action/horror novel.

I wanted to start with a fairly basic alien shape. Something most people can picture without too much trouble, even if they aren't overly familiar with the ideas of UFO's and alien beings, so I started with the basic shape of the Grey aliens.

Large, black eyes. Pale, almost translucent skin. Thin and spindly bodies. Large heads.

I did take some liberties with the biology, describing tightly interwoven muscle fibers which make them sturdier and stronger than most humans, despite looking so much smaller and frailer.

I offer no apologies for such liberties.

I chose the form because, as I said, it's almost the stereotypical alien being, and one most people know of and imagine when you bring up the subject. In addition to that though, is the knowledge of what they supposedly do, which is abduct human beings for experimentation. This brings in a subtle level of fear, the idea of being stolen from your own bed, and being subjected to bizarre medical procedures with equipment you don't recognize or understand, by beings you cannot communicate with. So I was trying to tap into that fear just a little bit.

The next thing I knew I was going to do about my alien was that it was going to be a carnivore. I've said in a few interviews that when I sat down to start the story, I only had the idea for the first chapter, and I was going to leave it at that as a short story. I just couldn't stop once I finished that part though. So I knew the alien was going to be eating people, and the small mouth of the Grey aliens wasn't going to cut it. I needed something a bit bigger, with teeth that could do the job.

So I made the mouth wider, wrapping around the face so it could open extremely wide in order to take large bites of it's prey. I also decided on sharp, triangular-shaped teeth that would be good for slicing through flesh or bone equally. Something like these.

Now, if you know much about teeth, you'll recognize that as being from a Great White shark. Nice and sharp and ready to do the job. And, as you noticed in the book, they worked very nicely on the human body. Especially in conjunction with the Silver's physical strength.

Of course, there's one more major feature about the Silver's which sets them apart. They have a natural defense with a symbiotic fungus, which lives on and in their normally perpetually moist skin.

A healthy Silver's body keeps the fungus in check, preventing it from spreading over the body, but keeping it provided with nutrients so that it constantly releases spores into the air around it. When inhaled by any other animal nearby, the spores take root in the lungs (or whatever the organism uses to breath). Roots spread quickly, absorbing bodily fluids at an incredible rate, on top of the damage it does to the body. As fluid gets harder and harder to find, the fungus sends a stalk back up the way it entered the body, typically through the throat, until it finds air, where the tip blossoms like a mushroom, releasing tons more spores into the air. The host is typically dead at this point from internal hemorrhaging and dehydration.

This is not an entirely beneficial relationship for the Silver either, though. If the creature can't stay sufficiently hydrated, the fungus will take root into their skin. They start as black masses on the alien's translucent skin, with feelers and tendrils radiating out from a central point. The roots spreading out visibly under the skin. Eventually, the alien too, will die of dehydration, although the symbiosis means it takes much longer than it would for almost anything else. If a sick Silver can get help in time, they also have the technology to bring the fungus back under control and even reverse the damage it did.

The name "Silver" is the moniker given them by the United States military in their classification of alien beings. Partly due to their relatively close resemblance to the much more common "Greys". It should also be pointed out that prior to the events in Seguro, Arizona, information on the "Silvers" had only been granted from other alien contacts. Hence the incursion being labeled as "Class 5".

So there you have it. A good look at the Alien species known as "Silvers". But the universe is a big place, and they are far from the only beings with which we haven't had documented contact yet.

Who knows what else we might find. Or what might find us.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaNoWriMo and the best part about it.

Okay. I got some explaining to do. I've been slacking off on my blog again and that is unacceptable.

It's November for crying out loud, there's so much going on there is no reason for it. Thanksgiving. NaNoWriMo. Not to mention the two-year anniversary of my blog here.

I've also released a new novelette this past week. Reception has been pretty good already, so be sure you check that out if you haven't already!

Of course, there's also always the flip side. It's two years this Friday that my grandpa passed away, and my entire month of October was...interesting, to say the least. It's surprising how people important to you, that you thought you'd never see again can suddenly pop back up.

So to say things have been rather difficult for me for the past couple months would not be an understatement. I'm not ashamed to say I've been fighting with depression.

That's really not an uncommon thing for authors though. Writing is a very solitary occupation. Between writing, revising, and editing, it's not hard to rack up six to eight hours a day where you're eschewing any kind of interaction with other people. More often than not, you're also doing that inside, in an office type room. So you're going to be lacking in personal interaction and probably sunlight and fresh air, too. The kind of environment an illness like depression can thrive in, especially when returns on your efforts seem sparse.

Things only get worse if your social life outside of your writing isn't exactly fulfilling either. A supportive family becomes that much more important.

Then we have November, and NaNoWriMo. (Check out my own NaNoWriMo adventure from last year here. Or just click on the line to your right that says "Building a Book" )

This can be a very big deal. No expectations of quality. Just a deadline, a personal challenge. It's also so much more than that. People working through NaNoWriMo set up so many events to help people through the challenge. Group writing sessions, message boards, forums, meet-and-greets, and accomplishment parties. 

Yes, a lot of people will say NaNoWriMo is just an excuse for people to write and self-publish a lot of crap that isn't worth the screens you read them on. I don't think that's the best part of the event though. I think the best part is the fact that they've taken one of the most isolated tasks and careers on the planet and turned it into a group effort.

Sure, there are websites like AbsoluteWrite that have forums for writers that are full year-round, but they aren't as well known, and while they do occasionally set up meetings, the population of those forums are much less. Meanwhile, NaNoWriMo has groups set up by location, making it easy to meet up with a fair number of people in your area.

So while the personal challenge is nice, the best part of NaNoWriMo is the connections you can make through it. It might as well be called an Author Support Group.

So, I hope you all forgive me for slacking off. :-P I know technically I still have another blog post to do before the holiday, but given how much I've been on time for the past couple months, I'm just going to say in now in the (fairly likely) event I don't manage another post.

So Happy Thanksgiving all, don't die on Black Friday!

~ Shaun

Monday, November 3, 2014

31 Posts of Monsters: Megalodon

The monsters discovered in fossils have always enthralled us, from T-Rex to Velociraptors, to Terror Birds and Saber-toothed Cats. Most of them, despite a few disparate reports, are pretty much fully accepted as being extinct. Some predators from the past have captured our imagination so much, though, that we can't help but imagine them still roaming the shadows in the darker, and deeper, places of the world.

Name: Megalodon

Size: Estimates range from 50 feet, all the way up to 90 feet in length. It would also weigh somewhere between 60 to 100 metric tons. (One metric ton is 2000 lbs.)

Appearance: Megalodon is a shark, similar to a Great White, but many times bigger.

Threat: High. Megalodon is a predator, and while it would undoubtedly prefer whales or other large animals, anything that fits in its mouth is fair game. This is also an animal that would have no problem bringing down a large boat, so it is easily conceivable that it's existence is being kept a secret due to the fact that there are no survivors from sightings of it.

Sharks have been feared ever since humanity has set out in boats and see their large shapes circling them out of curiosity. Just the idea of a twenty foot shark is enough to send most people scrambling for the beach. Imagine if people knew there was a sixty foot beast swimming around.

Of course, science tells us Megalodon's are extinct and have been for quite some time. The only remains to have been found are fossilized teeth and rarely, vertebrae. One of the things that makes people suspicious is that you not only find teeth in fossil beds as one would expect, but that teeth have been dredged up from the sea floor around the world, from the Gulf of Mexico to the bottom of the Mariana's Trench. On top of that are the rare reports of sharks bigger than anything thought to be swimming around.ou

Animal Planet's recent docu-drama on Megalodon, like their pieces on mermaids, has stirred additional controversy, with many people completely unaware they were watching a dramatization and not really seeing proof that the giant shark is still swimming around, eating whales.

While it would really be something to have Megalodon swimming around these days, there's one big reason it's not. Lack of food. Sure, for one or two Megalodon, there might be enough whales around, but you need more than two for a viable breeding population. That might not be up in the hundreds, but even to have just 50 Megalodon's swimming around, you would need much more full oceans than we currently have. As it is, whales are well known, and some species are rebounding from the way they were over-fished thirty or forty years ago, but they are still not common. In addition, ocean populations around the world are steadily declining from over-fishing and pollution. So there really is no way a breeding population of Megalodon's would have enough food to survive today.

Of course, if you're interested in seeing giant sharks, there's no shortage of movies. JAWS is still the best example, even though it's not a Megalodon. In addition to that are whole series, like the Megashark Vs. series, and the Shark Attack films. For one-off's, you can watch Jurassic Shark, Megalodon, and Dinoshark. How much I would recommend most of them outside of JAWS though is very debatable.

If you're looking for books. Of course you can pick up the original story of JAWS by Peter Benchley. Then there is also the Meg series by Steve Alten. So there is lots of entertainment to pick from.

Happy Swimming.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

31 Posts of Monsters: Jersey Devil

Before I even get started today, I'm going to point you up to the Giveaways page. I have a Kindle Countdown on Class 5 starting at 8:00 AM on Wednesday, and Paths: Three Short Horror Stories will be free to download this weekend. So be sure to check out and take advantage of these deals if you haven't before.

So, originally, I said I wasn't going to touch on supernatural creatures for this series. I then figured out there really aren't that many different types of cryptids. Sea monsters, Sasquatches, extinct animals. There's no arguing that there are some creatures that, supernatural or not, have such a history of physical sightings, that they do deserve to be mentioned on lists such as these.

The Jersey Devil is one of them.

Name: Jersey Devil

Size: Anywhere from 3 to 7 feet tall, with a comparable wingspan of 10 to 20 feet.

Appearance: A head similar to that of a horse, with sharp teeth and horns, a relatively thin, spindly body, bat-like wings, a long, thin tail, and back legs that end in hooves. The front legs have been reported as being hooves and claws depending on the witness.

Threat: Low. What? Low? Actually, yes. Despite all the reports of people feeling threatened and terrified of it, and reports of it killing and eating dogs, reports of it actually harming people are all but non-existent. Considering it probably could, if it wanted to fairly easily, it's something to consider that there aren't any reports of it doing so.

The story of the Jersey Devil is something out of a horror movie. It begins with a family that lived out in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The wife, Mrs. Leeds, declared that if she ever gave birth to an unhealthy child that she wished it would be a devil. As it happened, that turned out to be her 13th child (talk about getting busy, and that was in the early 1700's!). As soon as it was born, it screeched, ran around the room, out the door and flew off into the woods. Rambunctious little guy, wasn't he?

Since then, reports of a strange, giant winged creature have persisted through the Pine Barrens and the surrounding communities and witnesses to the creature even include the older brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte.

With such a long history, of course such a creature is going to pop up in entertainment. The New Jersey hockey team even took the name. It's also appeared on episodes of The X-Files and Lost Tapes. Several movies have been also inspired by the legend, if not the creature itself. Most recently is the film The Barrens. Others include Carny and (as one might expect) The Jersey Devil. So there's lots to watch for a little devil-themed entertainment.

What better way to start October?

~ Shaun

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

And there...dangling bloody from the door handle....was THE HOOK!

Seriously, can I get a show of hands? How many people actually remember THAT old campfire tale? 

That's not what I'm talking about today though. I'm talking about a different kind of hook. The writing kind.

In writing terms, the hook is the first line, or paragraph that catches your reader's attention and draws them in. It makes them want to read the rest of the story.

Now, despite what some authors think about hooks. I think you're okay with a little leeway. After all, nobody is going to read the first line or paragraph of your book in a complete vacuum. They'll have seen the cover, read the description, know the genre, and possibly even the author's name and style a little bit. Depending on their interest, they might even have read some of the reviews.

That doesn't mean you can slack off. You need to pull people into the story as quickly as possible so they want to know what happens next. Many well-read people will give a new book a couple paragraphs, a page at most to catch their interest. If you can't manage to stir something in them by then, they'll put the book down and possibly even mark you as an author to avoid.

The question then, is what makes a good hook. The answers vary as wildly as books and genre's do. Honestly, it's actually easier to talk about what doesn't make a good hook, than the things that do.

So, things to avoid.

If your story requires the reader to have knowledge of how the magic or certain technologies work in your world, that's fine, but don't start the whole book with a chapter explaining the intricacies of your system. It's boring, and tells us nothing about why we should keep reading. Some people may like it, but then, some people actually enjoy reading legal documents too. Of course, there will always be exceptions, and if your book is targeted specifically at those readers of legal documents, feel free and be happy. The general public, however, is likely to read a couple pages, get bored, and pass the book off on the first person they see.

Slice of Life vignettes
Some people get carried away with character introductions. They have us meet their main character or two, and follow them around on a regular day before the events of the story actually begin. While it does make some sense from a writer's point of view, to introduce the character and immediately try to make us connect with them, it's usually pretty boring. It's usually much better to work in references and remembrances into the story a bit at a time later on. This segment right away, especially if it goes on for a while, doesn't give the reader the impression that much is going on.

Lengthy Descriptions
Just like if you were on a date, unless it's immediately relevant, for the love of God, don't talk about the weather or the environment. If lengthy descriptions of your character and how they go about their daily lives are bad, talking about the weather and the environment for paragraphs or pages from the get-go is even worse. Environments change much too quickly for such a description so early, that incredible view your character has from the roof of their apartment? It disappears as soon as he goes back inside, and it's unlikely they're going to have that view from street level too. So all that description, all that work, pointless unless you're trying to portray your character's love of sunsets. And even then, see above.

What you do want to start with is action or conflict, or at the very least, the implication of one of those. Not necessarily in the first line, but definitely on the first page, which is generally no more than 200 words.

The bestseller Jurassic Park, doesn't start right away. It's hook is down close to the bottom of the first real page, but check it out.

And then she caught it, another sound blended with the rain, a deeper rumble that build and emerged until it was clear: the rhythmic thumping of a helicopter. She thought, They can't be flying in weather like this.
Makes you wonder, if the weather is that bad where they wouldn't expect anyone to be flying, what must be going on where they would risk it?

John Everson's book Violet Eyes starts you in from the very first paragraph.

Things had pretty much gone South with their vacation for good a couple hours ago when Jess had been making out on the beach with Mar, and had managed at just the wrong moment to slip her hand into a human skull just below the surface of the sand.

Well, that's not good. (Seriously, check it out if you haven't. An excellent work.)

Then you have Stephen King, the master of one-liner hooks.

Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son - Salem's Lot

I'm not honestly sure what it is about King's hooks. They're always so simple, they seem ordinary, but they're worded so perfectly that you can sense the tension just beneath the surface.

For more examples, just look at whatever books you have lying around. Most of them have very good hooks that encourage you to delve deeper from the first page onward.

Plus keep in mind, websites like Amazon allow readers to check out the first few pages of a work before buying, so if you're lacking any significant sales, it might be a good idea to go back and see if you need a better hook somewhere on the first page or two. At the very least, it couldn't hurt.

Before I end off for the week. I just want to point your attention back up to the top. There's a couple good giveaways coming up the first week of October, so check it out, mark it on the calender and snag a few copies of my work.

Otherwise, thanks for coming around. I'll catch you all later.

~ Shaun