Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Short Story: Reflected

Hi everyone. No talk about writing, editing, or any special subject this week. Instead, just a nice little horror story for you all to check out. Enjoy. 

Reflected



            Barry sat upright in bed, gasping for breath and dripping with sweat. The nightmare again. He looked over at his clock; the bright red numbers telling him silently that it was one thirty-seven am. In the darkness of his one bedroom apartment, he swung his feet out of bed and used them to pull himself out from under the sheets and into the room. Moonlight filtered in through the half-closed blinds, shading the room like a jail cell with horizontal bars. He stood up, carefully stepping among boxes he had yet to pack for moving.
          He shuffled across the hallway and into the bathroom, the light blinding him as he flicked it on with a slight groan. He leaned on the counter for a few minutes, his eyes adjusting to the bright lights. He turned on the tap and let the water warm a little before cupping his hands under the faucet and pulling the water up to his face, splashing it across his forehead and cheeks.
          For the past month he'd had the same nightmare over and over, every night. It felt like he wasn't getting any sleep at all, even though he rarely woke from the dream. He splashed his face again and looked at himself in the mirror. The skin under his eyes hung dark and loose, his eyes themselves red with exhausted veins and arteries. Granules of sleep clung to the inner corners of his eyes. His head throbbed lightly, testament to the sleep aids he took, but which did little to help his search for slumber.
          His neck had started to itch slightly, his hand reaching up and scratching at it automatically. The itch only got worse after a few seconds. He lifted his hand to look and there was blood on his fingertips. He looked into the mirror, craning his head to one side to get a better look and there was a single tiny pinprick in his neck, through which blood was oozing out and moving down his throat in slow drops. He reached into the cabinet and pulled out the small box of band-aids that he kept there. The box dropped to the counter as he watched himself in the mirror. Four more pinpricks slowly appeared in his neck, lining up with the first, blood slowly bubbling from each one to drip down his neck and under his t-shirt.
          He reached for the hand towel that sat in the ring on the wall, pulling it down and wiping away the blood. His eyes widened as he pulled the towel away and saw the claws; reaching around his neck from behind, their tips digging into his skin, causing the pinpricks and the drops of blood. His eyes were locked on the mirror as another hand reached around the other side, its color a sickly pale green.  Its placement mirrored the other clawed hand and its fingertips dug into his flesh.
          He spun around, swinging his arm wide to strike back, but nothing was there. He threw his head left, then right, scanning the bathroom for the creature. He was alone. He turned back to the mirror, and could see the claws at his throat. His hand pulled up and grabbed at the claws, trying to pull them away. He could feel them digging in deeper, the flow of blood increasing. His hand in the mirror grabbed the claws, feeling them under his fingers and against his palm; its flesh ice cold and dry. Its fingers far stronger than his, resisting his attempts to unseat them without the slightest give.
          He swung around again, trying to throw off his ethereal attacker, pulling his t-shirt over his head and off, throwing the blood-soaked thing to the floor. He spun around back to the mirror and still the thing held its death grip on his throat. It's claws dug deeper into his flesh, the blood flowing faster, dripping to the floor, making it treacherous under his bare feet. He grabbed at the reflection and found only the cold glass of the mirror.
          He could only watch, frozen in terror as its head slowly rose from behind him, its pale, green flesh covering a bald head. One eye was simply an empty hole in its skull, the other yellow and oozing pus down its face. It grinned at him, baring split and broken black teeth.  He twisted his shoulders, still trying to get free as more of its fingers drove into his throat, the blood pooling on the blue and white tiles under his feet. He could feel the blood running down the inside of his throat now, the claws worming their way through his flesh. His lungs were filling up and breathing was becoming harder with every second. The creature grinned at him in the mirror and in one smooth motion tore his throat open, exposing the interior of his anatomy as blood showered the mirror. The motion pulled him back and his feet finally lost their grip on the slick floor. He fell back, everything in his sight going dark.
          Barry sat upright in bed, gasping for breath and dripping with sweat. The nightmare again. He looked over at his clock; the bright red numbers telling him silently that it was one thirty-eight am. In the darkness of his one bedroom apartment, he swung his feet out of bed and used them to pull himself out from under the sheets and into the room. Moonlight filtered in through the half-closed blinds, shading the room like a jail cell with horizontal bars. He stood up, carefully stepping among boxes he had yet to pack for moving.
          He shuffled across the hallway and into the bathroom...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Going in the Wrong Direction

We've all made mistakes. When being creative, those mistakes can find us winding down paths we never expected or planned for into a gravel pit from which our creations may never be able to claw their way out. More often than not, if you pay attention, you can see you're going in the wrong direction far ahead of actually getting there and you can turn around, or at the very least cut your lost time. Sometimes though, we have no idea we've wandered astray until it's far too late.

You see this happen a lot in movies. A stand-alone movie becomes a surprise blockbuster and the next thing you know, continuity is out the window as Hollywood tries to pump out a couple sequels to cash in. Good examples of this are the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies. Freddy and Jason both seem to die in every movie, but return the next one with no comment on how they manage it. Of course, now that's part of their campy charm, but as someone who takes storytelling fairly seriously, it's hard not to notice things like that.

Another good example is the movie series Tremors. The original is a great, fun, horror movie. So, of course, they had to try and milk it. Tremors 2 brought in several of the original Graboids, who popped open and produced "Screechers" by the dozens. The third movie brought back Graboids, and Screechers, but then introduced the creatures the Screechers changed into, called, rather affectionately, "Assblasters" (Seriously. Look it up.).

So, what is the point of this post? Am I going to delve into how to tell when you're going in the wrong direction? Not hardly. Your work is your work and only you will really be able to tell if your story has veered so far off course that you're barreling down the hill and into disaster. The most I can tell you is pay attention to your story as you write it. Be aware.

The point of this post is to tell you all of a little story of what might have been.

Now. A little bit about me. I'm a dinosaur/kaiju/godzilla fan. Really. (For those of you who haven't heard, Legendary impressed Toho enough with their new Godzilla that not only are they doing a sequel, they have permission to use other monsters. At San Diego Comic Con 2014, it was hinted at that we may see Rodan, Mothra, and even Ghidorah in the next movie. How mother-freaking awesome is that?!?!?)

Ahem. Anyway. After years of false starts and claims. We are finally getting a Jurassic Park 4 next year. Currently titled Jurassic World. I can't tell you how excited I am. The original Jurassic Park remains to this day the only movie I've seen more than once in the theater, and believe it or not, I read the novel when it first came out back in 1991. I was only in fifth grade. It took me at least two months to work through it, but I did.

However. There have been several false starts on our way to Jurassic World. Many of them seem to have forgotten the message of the original and it's appreciation and respect for nature, as well as the warnings of the dangers of genetic manipulation. One of the ideas that actually made it past the spoken out loud part (If I'd been there, the guy suggesting this would've been slapped on the spot and told to sit his ass down), was the idea that governments were taking the dinosaurs and trying to modify them into soldiers to wage war with. Of course, they rebel, and we have the whole battle of man vs. dinosaur vs. man-dinosaur.

This probably isn't far from what we would've gotten.

But someone did like the idea, and approved people to go ahead with art and model mock-ups to try and see what they would be working with. Thankfully, with actual pictures and models in front of them, they were able to see that it was indeed the wrong direction for the franchise and scrapped it, but it certainly gave us some good nightmare fuel. So, without further ado, I'm going to share with you all, the leaked concept art of the Human-Dino hybrids that was done for the Jurassic Park we (hopefully) will never get to see. 

Yes, that person there is for scale for the Man-Rex.

I believe I promised you some nightmare fuel. 


To help you relax before I release you back out into the interwebs, I have one more image to share with you. 


Fingers crossed. 

~ Shaun






Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Building a Book: The Rejection

Rejection. No matter what you do, as a writer, you're going to experience it. Whether it's a short story or a full novel submission, whether it's to press or an agent.

It's not the end of the world.

Even though it will definitely feel like it.


For those curious, yes, my recent work "Hannah" was rejected from my first choice publisher after a 14 week wait. Which means, a few different things.

It was a pretty generic rejection, which means I may want to go through it again. This could be as simple as another quick run-through for any little editing nails that need hammering down, or it might be a good time to send it out to beta readers again and take a good, hard, look at their feedback.

I chose not to do a simultaneous submission, which would mean sending it out to multiple publishers at once for consideration. So, in this case, a rejection means starting the whole wait over from scratch after submitting it somewhere else. Even if I do several submissions this time, most have the same general waiting period, between anywhere from three to six months. Given wait times like that, just to see if your work is accepted or not, it's not surprising people have been turning to self-publishing. Under the old methods, working with presses and publishers, it can easily take years just to find a publisher, let alone get your work into print. (Yeah, a little upset, I must admit, and slightly prone to rambling. Enough of that for now though. I have pizza to finish.)



However, rejection, like bad reviews, is just part of the writing process; and many of the ways to cope are the same.

1. Remind yourself that every author who's ever lived has faced rejection at one point or another. Stephen King has stated that he had over 300 rejection notices before he finally sold his first piece. J.A. Konrath has reported on his blog that he had actually written seven other novels before his agent managed to find a publisher willing to take a chance on his latest one. The first Harry Potter novel, written by J.K. Rowling, was rejected by twelve different publishers before it was picked up, and even then, they told her it probably wouldn't make money. As those authors show, a rejection or two means very little in the grand scheme of things.

2. A rejection, like a bad review, is just one person's opinion. Yes, that one person has the power to say "Give that man a thousand dollars for his story, NOW!", but that is still just one person. It might be that they just didn't feel any attachment to your characters, or doesn't like your writing style on general principle. It could be that yours was the 13th out of 13 similar zombie apocalypse books they'd had to look at that day. It could even be something as simple and unfair as that your book got shuffled in front of them before they had their morning coffee. The point that remains though, is that this is still just one person's opinion. It doesn't mean someone else won't absolutely love it, or even that most other people will absolutely love it. It just means that one person didn't care for it.

The only thing a rejection means is that your piece MIGHT need some more work. It doesn't mean you should quit writing or that you should throw that story away.

As bad as a rejection letter or email might make you feel, the only one who can make you a success or a failure is you. It's a question of either taking the rejection personally and to heart, or tacking it up on the wall as someone you're going to prove wrong.

So how are you going to take that rejection?

~ Shaun

Monday, July 21, 2014

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

Ten points if you can name the movie the title of this post is from. Fifteen if you can name another line. Points don't actually mean anything, but they're free for me to give out and you'll feel like you won something, so everyone wins, right?


So, other than bringing up a 1990's action comedy, what's the point?

Your characters' need jobs.

Yes, it seems like that would be kind of a no-brainer, but it's surprising how many new and aspiring writers (and occasionally even professionals) miss this simple detail.

Of course, if you're writing a variant of Lord of the Flies or Children of the Corn, you're not going to be too concerned about the characters having day jobs. Most of them are just kids after all. Even then, though, they're going to separate into groups and layers, with certain people being given certain things to do. Social tiers isn't exactly where I'm going with this though.

My point is, it's important in your character development and for the story itself, to know about your character's day job.

Character Development

Even if, during the entire length of your story, the character never actually goes to work, it helps to know what he does. It establishes a fair bit of your character's skill sets, after all, they do need to be kind of good at their job and every job has requirements. An accountant, for example, will be good with numbers, probably adept at using a keyboard, and know a bit about tax law; while a gym teacher will likely be in good physical shape, organized, and have good leadership skills.

A character's job will also have some effect on their appearance. An office worker will look much more professional than, say, a bartender or a landscape worker. Think along the terms of hair length, and how they usually dress.

Of course, neither of these really impact what a character might do or wear in their free time, but most people don't generally wander too far from their routine, even when they don't have to follow it.

Background

Knowing what kind of work a character does tells us more about that character and gives us another aspect to bring up in the story. Things like why that character works there, why they chose that occupation, and maybe an interesting bit from working there. Or, you could go into what drove them to work there, and their true feelings about the place and career they ended up with if they don't like their job.

It's the little things about the characters that we discover on the journey through the story that makes them relatable and thusly, that makes us grow to like them and care about what happens to them. Things like having a job they hate, or love, or how they poked a hole in the bottom of their co-worker's styrofoam cup so their morning coffee slowly leaked out across the desk as a practical joke.

Story Plausibility

Huh? I know, I know. It goes like this. If your story is based on any kind of world like the one we live in, there is one constant. Money. And to get money requires work. How much money one gets depends on the kind of work they do. Money is how your characters afford their rides, their clothes, their houses, and their vacations.

Yeah. So what?

How often do you actually considering while writing, whether or not your character's job will actually provide for the lifestyle he has?

Your characters are in college, and can afford a month-long trip to Brazil on summer break, complete with a fancy hotel and boozing it up day in and day out. Are you really going to just go with the tired cliche` of the super-rich parents?

A struggling artist decides to go on holiday in Europe, traveling through Paris and Rome looking for inspiration. Not if they're actually struggling.

who wants to go to Paris anyway?


Get the picture?

It helps the plausibility of the story immensely when you can explain how your characters can afford the things they do. Even more so without the stand-by's of the super-rich parents or the secret agent with the credit card that has no limit. I'm not saying go into extreme detail, laying out their checkbook or budget or anything, but keep in mind, you might lose some readers if you have some kid that's six months out of high school flashing hundred dollar bills out the window of his super-souped up ride, and nary a mention anywhere in the book of where the money comes from.

We writers ask a lot of our readers for their suspension of disbelief, whether it be shadow demons in closets, true love on the Mekong River, or a hero that manages to dodge every round from a trio of machine guns. The least we can do is provide them with a believable background for our characters, and as I hope I've shown, the right job can go a very long way to do that.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recycle Bin, or 'Bits Box' ?

As a writer, the only thing that comes as close to devastating as writer's block is the sense that your story isn't working like you want it to. Somewhere you veered off the right path and got lost in the woods, which is never someplace that you want to be.



There are a couple different ways this might happen.

1. Your story doesn't stretch far enough.

Basically, this is when your idea that you thought was a novel or novella falls short. Usually by a lot, meaning several thousand words or more. Just keep in mind there's nothing wrong with writing a short story or a novelette. You probably won't be able to throw it up on Amazon by itself, but there are lots of venues still that do take short stories. Magazines, webzines, anthologies are all out there needing material and a lot of them do pay for them. Currently there are even some publishers that are willing to e-publish novella's. 

2. Point of View

You may start wading into a piece working with who you feel should be the main character, only to discover far more interesting things are happening to someone else. This can be extremely difficult to deal with, as a lot of times, changing the point of view (POV) can mean going back and starting over from the very beginning, and nobody likes having work that seems like it was a waste of time. Here's the thing though, it wasn't a waste of time because it led you to a place where you could see the right path. Start over from the beginning if you need to, but keep that first piece handy to remind yourself of what was going on that leads you back to the other character in the first place. Maybe your story will work with a mixed POV, back and forth between the two characters. Or maybe you could turn that first piece into an extra short story, to give the readers something that adds further depth to the main storyline for those who want to know more. 

3. False Starts. 

You revved the engine, hit the gas, and you've made it through the first thousand words when the engine dies. It's not writer's block, it's not a bad story or one that falls short. Something is broken, though, and you're really not sure what. Maybe you've just lost interest in that first thousand words. Maybe you just can't see how to get from point A to point B. It could be that this particular story hasn't quite "marinated" long enough. There's nothing really wrong with the story, but the inspiration for the entire thing hasn't quite struck yet and it's not one that's going to let you force it through. This can be frustrating because it feels like writer's block, even though it's actually subtly different. After all, you have the idea, the energy, but it still won't come out. Like your fingers are frozen just above the keys. What can you do? Well, try reading everything you've done already on that story. Read it from the start, go over your notes, see if something jumps up waving and screaming at you. If that doesn't work, you may just have to accept that it's not the right time for that story yet and set it aside for a while. Busy yourself with other things, start a new piece, maybe even meditate on the issue. It's not giving up if you come back to it later on with a fresh mind. 

The point I'm actually making here is that there are lots of reasons that a piece we're working on might stall out or not come out the way we anticipated. It can be extremely frustrating. It can also be temping to simply drag the files up into the Recycle bin and hit 'Delete'. 

Don't. 

Just because something isn't working out NOW, doesn't mean you won't have that "Eureka!" moment later on, and of all the things I've listed, few are really as demoralizing as having that epiphany and then remembering that you'd deleted all the work you'd done, rendering that new moment of brilliance useless. Even if you end up never finishing a story, you have the start there to play with, twist and mold. Pull it out and poke at it sometimes just for the hell of it. It might turn into a completely different story, or give you ideas or characters for others pieces that might be floundering a bit. Inspiration can come from some interesting places sometimes, and it shouldn't surprise any writer that the key to making one story work might be built from the parts of a story that just never got off the ground. 

So don't throw any of your broken works in the recycle bin. Throw them in the 'bits box' for later.

~ Shaun