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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

31 Posts of Monsters: Lusca

Of all the places in the world, the Caribbean is actually one that doesn't have many suggested monsters, despite a history of legends. It may have something to do with how clear and relatively shallow the water is in many places. Wherever there are dark places, though, some people will come up with claims that monsters live there. Such is the case with the Lusca.

Name: Lusca, Giant Octopus

Length: 75 - 200 feet long, from tentacle to tentacle.

Appearance: The same as any other octopus, except for its monstrous size. The shape and colors of Octopuses are highly variable though, they're known to be able to mimic many other ocean species, including eels, rays, and fish. They can even change their shapes to resemble rocks and coral.

Threat: moderate. Octopuses are predators, with a hard, sharp beak that is easily capable of cracking open shellfish or piercing flesh. They are also known to eat just about anything they can catch, which includes sharks and even birds. An octopus of significant size would have no problem grabbing and devouring a human being.

While occasional Globsters, like the picture above, are attributed as possibly being giant Octopuses, there is little to actually connect them to such animals. Most such unidentified masses are either found to be decomposing whale parts, or are washed up and then washed back out before they can be tested upon.

Where are the dark places these creatures would hide though? The answer for the Lusca is the myriad of underground rivers and waterways which run underneath central america, connecting many of the famous Cenotes, or blue holes.

These dark tunnels stretch for miles, connecting the inland cenotes with underwater caves out in the gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Many are huge caves as well, easily large enough for a giant, and malleable creature to slip in and out of. The cave walls would also give an octopus ample opportunity to blend into the rock, where only a truly dedicated eye would be able to pick them out.

Giant octopuses (That is the correct term, feel free to look it up.) have been fairly popular in movies. Headlining in such titles as the classic It Came from Beneath the Sea, Tentacles, and the aptly titled, Octopus. It's also had cameo's in such movies as King Kong, and some versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So there's lots of options out there to see them in action.

We're not even going to touch this though.

~ Shaun

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. 


            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