Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A long year in review

Whew. This is the last blog for the year of 2012; and what a long year it's been for me.

I started the year with a novel on pause and working at a job that I absolutely hate; as well as being clinically depressed. I tried counseling, as well as spending a month on anti-depressants. Neither of those helped much, but the year pretty much continued fairly placidly until mid-July. I found out the hard way that the only woman to give me the time of day got married. On top of everything else I was trying to deal with, that was a very hard blow to take. Even now I still think of her on a daily basis, hoping she's happy and well taken care of. After that discovery, I took myself off of facebook for about a three month span. I have to say that was honestly one of the most difficult periods I've ever been through. One attempt at getting out of my funk only made things worse when I tried to get back into exercising and badly injured my left knee. It came to a point though, where I realized all I had really done was cut myself off from the people that cared and that could help me. I bounced off and on facebook for about a week before fully coming back. Seeing how many people missed me and were glad to see me back gave me a lot of the energy I needed to start towards the right path.

I started re-submitting my short stories, started this very blog and got back to work on my novel, finishing the first draft in mid-November. One of my short stories was accepted by Scars Publications and was scheduled to be printed in the December issue of Down in the Dirt.

I took another hit at the end of November, when my grandfather passed away two days before thanksgiving,  after an almost nine year bout with Parkinson's disease and being bedridden. It brought me down quite a bit, but it was really as much of a relief as it was sad. Even through that, I managed to power through and finish my revision of my first draft of my novel, fix the most glaring issues and ship it off to a professional editor.

December started well, with my first short story being published, despite no compensation of any kind. (I even had to buy my own copy.) The rest of the month was fairly on par for December, what with the mad rush towards Christmas. Having a weekly blog and having something actually available in print, spurred me to starting a facebook page as a writer. The response has been very encouraging, and I am rather proud to say I already have people that like me that I don't even know.

For the past few years, I've only looked at New Year's with an eye to being grateful that the previous year was over. For once though, I'm actually feeling hopeful that things will continue to look up. I anticipate working with the editor to clean up and polish my first novel, find a literary agent to represent it and get it published by the end of next year, as well as finishing up the second novel that I've started and getting that in the pipeline somewhere. As well, there is always the chance of a few more short pieces getting done and published now that I have something to put on a submission letter. I also have an idea for a third novel already stewing. I have no illusions about the amount of work it takes to make a living as a writer, but this is something I've always done one way or another and it just feels like this is the time for me to take it and actually put it to use.

I want to thank everyone that's read this far. This post hasn't been particularly informative, educational or entertaining, but I hope at the least it wasn't too boring. Everyone that's reading this at this point is reading this because they know me and they know some of what I've been through. Have I had it worse than a lot of people? God no, and I wouldn't presume to even come close. But I know this past year has been extremely difficult for me and has taken me to places I never thought I would go. For the grace of God and my friends though, I've come through it all and things are honestly looking brighter for me than they have in years. So. Thank you, one and all. From the bottom of my heart.

~ Shaun.

(I still work at that job I absolutely hate too.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tracks in the Snow

The winter so far had been cold. Much colder then usual. Snow almost eight inches deep covered the ground, making it hard to find any of the small rodents he usually fed on. It had actually been over a week since he had last eaten anything and the hunger and lack of food was wrecking havoc on his body. He needed something decent to eat soon, or he wouldn't make it through the winter. The coyote trudged through the snow and found a small clear patch underneath a nearby tree. He curled up to himself as tightly as he could to rest and try to get a little warm. It was a good spot as well since he was slightly hidden from the field  he had been searching all morning. His stomach ached with hunger and his legs felt weak.

At that moment, a small movement on the field caught his eye. He slowly lifted his head to get a better view. A small rabbit hopped through the snow, fighting against the white powder that was almost as deep as he was tall. The coyote pulled himself to his feet, that effort alone taking more effort than it should have. He didn't know that he had the strength and energy to chase after a fleet-footed small rabbit like that, but he had to try. It was either that or he would probably be dead in another day or two. It hadn't seen him yet and he crept to the edge of the small clearing under the pine tree's branches, staring down the small brown ball of fur that hopped across the field.

Then the chase began. The coyote powered out into the snow as fast as his legs could carry him, sending up clouds of white behind as he gave chase. The rabbit looked up, saw him coming and took off in the other direction, having very little luck in the deep snow. It struggled to get a start, but managed to pick up enough speed to start bounding away. The coyote ran after, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth as he came closer, then lost ground, then gained it again. Across the field the pair ran, each one racing for it's life. The coyote was faster and it's size helped it through the drifts of white. He came up on the rabbit, reaching out with it's jaws. The rabbit turned and darted in another direction. He tried to follow, but couldn't make the turn, his front leg hitting a rock hidden under the snow and sending him sprawling into the white.

It was cold. He lay there in the snow, panting from the effort. He had no chance now. He knew that. Even if he had caught the rabbit in that last lunge, his leg was broken and there would have been no other meals after that. Spring was still months away. He lay there, whimpering in pain, not bothering to get up. Crying as he knew his life was over.

The rabbit stood there in the snow, panting, glad to have escaped with his life. His decision to go wandering that day had almost been a very bad one. He had found a nice, warm spot to stay over the winter and there was a stock of food for him back there. He didn't know why he had left it. The coyote lay where it had fallen in the snow, no longer giving chase. Not even getting up. That was curious. He must have hurt himself when he fell. He couldn't be dead, the snow cushioned everything, badly hurt maybe, but not dead. He stood up and tried to look over the bank, into the hole that his adversary had made when it fell. Still laying there. Curiousity got the better of him and he hopped back toward it, until he could see. It lay there, taking deep breaths, tired from the chase. It's front leg was bent at an odd angle, probably broken, the fur was mangy, like the effort to keep it clean and tidy was a waste of precious energy. More then that though, it was skinny. Winter was a harsh master and it had obviously taken it's toll on the predator. If food was hard to find for him, it was unthinkable when this coyote had last eaten. It showed too, ribs pressing against the skin and a belly that had no trace of fat so provide heat for the winter. Yes, life was harsh, and winter was harsher still. But he still couldn't help feeling sorry for his would-be devourer, even though there was nothing he could do about it. So he turned, and headed back towards the trees.

He made it about halfway to the barn, hopping through the snowdrifts when he saw the human trudging back from the wooded area as well. The gun was slung over it's shoulder and it scanned from left to right, eyes open for prey or predator he didn't know. He wondered if it recognized him as the rabbit that had taken up residence between some of the hay bales in the barn, munching away on the piles of dry grass usually kept for the horses. He stood up and looked up at the human and it paused and looked back at him. It waved lightly and started to continue on it's way. It had to have recognized him, he jumped out in front of the human and darted back and forth, making circles. It stopped and watched him curiously, surely this wasn't normal for a rabbit. Then he darted back toward the field, stopping maybe a dozen feet from the human and standing up, looking at it. He hopped away a few more feet and stood up again. The human just watched. He ran to the first spot he stopped, then back to the second and looked again. The human was very curious and after a few moments, started walking toward him. He darted further out into the field, then stopped and turned to look, sure enough, the human was following. He led the human into the field, doubling back every once in a while when it looked like the human might turn back. It took a few minutes, but eventually, the human noticed the hole in the snow, and continued on to it without his leadership. It made some exasperated sound and unslung the rifle it carried. Looking down into the hole and picking up the gun. He ran around to the other side of where his adversary still lay and stood up, looking at the human. It looked back at him, then back to the coyote. It lifted the gun and pointed it into the hole, where he hopped up to the edge of the snow and looked up again, standing up on his back legs as tall as he could reach, ears up in the air to make himself look bigger. The human looked confused and slowly lowered the rifle. Then it kneeled down in the snow and looked at the coyote, as he had earlier, saw the broken leg, how thin the belly and the skin stretched across the ribs. It looked up at him and made several strange noises, setting the gun to one side. It reached down into the hole and lightly touched the cold fur. The coyote cried at the touch, laying there, shivering in the cold snow. The human's shoulders slumped and it looked up at him again. It made the noises again and re-slung it's rifle. Then it reached into the hole and slowly picked the coyote up and started to carry it back toward the barn. He followed, just keeping pace with the human's strides as his adversary lay limp in it's arms.

The human carried the coyote up to the barn, carefully laying him on a pile of hay before disappearing into the small feed room. He looked at the coyote then followed through the wall, through a hole in the wood that had formed over the years through rot and the work of rats. It saw him there, and continued making noises at him, though they didn't sound threatening. He looked out into the barn, seeing the coyote where he had laid it, then looked around the room. He took an extra horse blanket and packed it in under a shelf in a corner, taking his heater off the counter and setting it on the floor pointed at the blanket, then went out, picked up the coyote and carried him in, gently laying him on the blanket. He hopped up to the predator, looking into it's eyes, seeing the fear of the human, and the sadness which accompanied the acceptance of the end. He lay there where the human had laid him, still shivering from the cold, his broken leg pulled up close to his body. The human stepped back out of the room and he moved closer, sniffing at the coyote, the heater filled the small space with it's odorous scent of electricity, but it was warm. Warmer even then his spot between the bales of hay. He sat there with the coyote, smiling a little to himself as he slowly stopped shivering. The human returned, holding a pair of bowls and setting them down in the room next to the coyote's head. Then it paused for a moment, reached down and ran his hand over his fur.

He shivered at the touch, closing his eyes, expecting pain as always seemed to accompany the presence of men. But none came. Slowly he opened his eyes again and watched the man walk out of the doorway. The small box in front of him gave off heat and took the cold from his bones. Of the two bowls in front of him, one smelled of fresh, clean water, the other, of the food he often saw given to the human's dogs. He lifted his head and smelled again, inching closer to it. It rolled toward him, spilling it's contents on the floor. He opened his mouth and managed to pull a few morsels into his mouth, chewed and swallowed them down. It wasn't much, but it was food. After the empty cold of the past two weeks, he had food inside him again. He pulled his hurt leg up to his body and pushed himself around the floor, cleaning up the rest of what had spilled. It wasn't warm meat, to be sure, but it tasted good and his stomach was somewhat full. He managed to sit up and lap up some of the water from the other bowl, washing the crumbs out from between his teeth. It was cold, but the box was keeping him warm now. He still knew the safest thing to do with the human around would be to run, rest as long as he dared and then try to make it back to the woods. There was so much promise in this little room though. He lay back down, his body curled up on the blanket, so much softer and warmer than the cold dirt he usually slept on. Then he saw the rabbit, sitting there watching him. It looked back into his eyes, then slowly walked out of the room. It was gone for a few minutes, then returned, it's mouth full of dry, yellow grass. It looked him in the eye again as it chewed up the snack and swallowed it down. Then he hopped over to him on the blanket and curled up with him, resting against his belly. Curious. This was the rabbit he had just tried to chase down not even an hour ago. Still, despite his fear of the human, it had provided him with warmth, some clean water and some food. He didn't know it if would last, but he knew that for the moment, he could rest without worry. He leaned his head over and licked the rabbit's head, then curled up, being careful of his leg, on the blanket in the corner under the shelf with the rabbit, and closed his eyes. The needs of tomorrow would be dealt with when tomorrow came. He wasn't going to die alone and hungry in the cold. Even as fresh snow had started falling outside the barn.

Daniel shook the snow off his boots and coat as he walked into the house. That had been the most bizarre thing he had ever seen. Rabbits wintering in his barn wasn't uncommon, but they had never led him into the field to find a hurt coyote, then stopped him from shooting it and somehow convince him to help it. Most coyotes he shot on sight, wounded or not. It was just something that told him not to. He supposed having a coyote in the barn might keep some of the rats away. He crossed the entrance to the living room and looked at the tree in the corner, decorated with lights, garland, bulbs and tinsel. Then he couldn't help but smile a little bit. Maybe it wasn't so strange. After all, it was Christmas eve.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Facing Your Fears

Welcome everyone. Unfortunately, I've no notable news of the notable type to update you all on my current writing projects (Well, unless you want to count almost losing everything I had when my laptop died, though I did manage to save it all, AND you can now find and like me on facebook .), so this week I'm just going to dive straight into our little article.

One of the questions horror writers get asked the most is usually along the lines of "Why do you write such horrible stuff?" The answer varies from author to author, but I like to answer a question with a question.

Why do people want to read such horrible stuff?

The answers to that question as well vary greatly from person to person, though you're apt to get a lot of Um's and Uh's. It's one of those questions that doesn't have a straightforward answer. Just as a lot of writers reply to the first question, a lot of people will reply to the second with "We just do."

Why do people watch the nightly news to hear all about the murders/suicides/assaults/thefts/etc.etc. night after night after night. It's not honestly stuff we need to know. A lot of us are very well aware with how dangerous the world can be; we don't really need graphic reminders on a daily basis. So it's not even about the news. If we're going to be brutally honest with each other here, we have to accept one fact. The nightly news is pretty much the longest running horror show on television. Again, why do we watch it? If it's not the news, then what? It's about our fears. It's about what scares us, the what if's and maybes. What if you'd been in that bank while it was robbed? What if that was your house that was broken into? Maybe the members of the gang involved in the drive-by shooting live nearby.

Humans seem to be driven towards the macabre, the disturbing and things that scare them. It's really hard to say why that is, but it's enough for this blog to know that people are. Ask around and you'll find very few people that could honestly say they didn't slow down as they drove past a bad accident just to look at the scene. What it really comes down to is fear. Fear of death, of pain, of the unknown. I think on an instinctual level, we are driven to face the things we fear, even if we shrink away when we finally do face it. It's one way we grow as individuals.

That is one reason people read such horrible stuff. Horror fiction allows people to face the things that scare them from the safety and comfort of their living room couch or under the soft light of a reading lamp in bed. It allows them to test their own limits, particularly when reading a good writer of such material. Sometimes it will even show them things they didn't even know they were afraid of or let them view such things in light that is even more frightening than they thought.  A reader of such material though has the option of closing the book and walking away when things get too hot and heavy for them, but what about the writer?

The writer has no option of walking away from the story. This is their livelihood, their chosen profession. If they can't even face their own fears, what right do they have to wave other people's under their noses? In many ways, this makes the writers that choose horror as their home field some of the bravest (or most depraved?) people around. They choose to face their horrors, the things that scare them, without the benefit of a way out if things start getting intense. They have the option of stepping away for a little bit, maybe even a few days, but they still have to come back to it. It sits there, waiting; and as any fan of the horror genre knows, the longer you hide from the thing that scares you, the scarier it gets.

~ Shaun Horton

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Plot or People?

Hi everybody. Welcome to December. More so now than any other time of the year, there seems like there just isn't enough time in the day. Working, traveling, shopping, visiting family, not to mention the usual sleeping and other things that go on during a normal day. It's hard to believe people who don't write full-time can manage to work on their manuscripts. Still, keeping at work is important, especially when things get busy, as that's when it's easiest to be thrown off track.

As of December 1st, I am officially a published author, as my short story "The Initiation of a Wolf" is available in print in the magazine Down in the Dirt. You can order your own copy as well as read the story online here. If anybody likes, I'm more than happy to sign copies for people.

My first novel is on the editor's desk, although she won't be able to get to it until close to the end of the month. I couldn't wait though, and have already started on the next work. It's really a different feeling working on what I hope will be my second novel as opposed to what was my first one. Whereas my first attempt at a novel was continuously written with an eye on the word count and the uncertainty of whether or not I could actually write a story that long; my second one feels much more relaxed and there really isn't a worry of whether or not I can do it. It's just a matter of sitting down and doing it.

There's a lot of different ways of writing stories. Most pieces of fiction are driven by either the plot, or by the characters the story is about. I personally prefer reading and writing pieces that are character driven, as generally speaking, the characters are more fleshed out and easier to care about and understand. I won't say plot driven stories don't have good, whole characters, a lot of them do, but the important things in a plot-driven story are the events and the connection of one event to the next. So a lot of weaker plot-driven books and stories actually sacrifice characterization, making the people in the story jump through the hoops like trained monkeys, whether it really makes sense for the character or not.

The popular slasher flicks in the 1980's like the Friday the 13th and Halloween series are good examples of plot-driven stories. It's easy to tell, whenever you get up and start screaming at the tv "DON'T GO IN THERE!!" Whenever a character does something that doesn't make sense or that they should know better than to do. For instance, the character could turn around, walk out of the house, over to the neighbors and call 9-1-1, but instead, after searching the entire house for the killer, they go into that last room. Because they NEED to see the monster, or the killer, because the revelation of what they're facing is the key to proceeding to the next event in the story. Sherlock Holmes is also a good example of a plot-driven story. In many ways, the character of Sherlock Holmes himself is secondary to his duty to help the reader connect the pieces of the mystery that's being solved.

Character driven stories are also easy to spot, as many of the more popular ones become whole series following the exploits of a single character and his sidekicks. The Dresden Files are a good example, along with the Harry Potter series. Stephen King writes some of the best character-driven works, even though the people that populate his novels very rarely appear outside of the novel they first appear in. Character driven works are also usually a bit slower paced, as they have to take the time to properly introduce the characters, their emotional and mental states, and other things that explain why they make the decisions they make throughout the story. In a character driven piece, not only do we have to care about the people in the book's world, we have to understand them as well.

Speaking from a writer's perspective. Plot-driven stories can be easier to write. They can be a simple progression from point A to point B to point C, with the bare minimum of characterization. Sometimes less characterization is even required for a plot-driven piece, as it can quickly become possible to create a character that in no way should hop through the hoops like the writer wants them to. If that happens, you can easily break the suspension of disbelief that stories require to work properly and that can be the death knell for an otherwise good novel. Character-based stories on the other hand are generally harder to deal with, as once your characters a good and fleshed out they can take on a life of their own and surprise even the writer with how they react to different scenarios and events. Imagine the frustration as a writer if your character actually DOES turn around, walk out of the house and calls 9-1-1 from the neighbor instead of going into the last room of the house where the killer is patiently waiting. Imagine if that's what you need to have happen to continue the story, but there's no way to get the character to go in with the way you've described him up to that point.

Of course, there are always exceptions to these generalities. Stories based on plot can easily have characters carefully crafted to be deep while still providing the story everything it needs. Likewise character-based works can have events made to lead the characters from one to the next, without actually forcing the people to jump through the hoop. Lots of writers have different styles along the whole spectrum of how stories are based and the best of them can write stories that are almost the perfect blend of plot and character based works, so despite the generalities I've made, they are by no means solid facts or set in stone lines. To each writer, their own styles.

That's it for this week. As always, I welcome people to leave comments on their own opinions of the subject. So until next time, don't let the season bear down on you and keep you from your work. Thanks for reading.

~ Shaun