Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Comedic Horror, kinda.

Been a decent weekend for me. Had a panic attack over my second book, found a solution, got about another 4,000 words down. Plus I've almost fixed my zombie dragon. Still missing a piece, but that's what I love about zombies, missing parts only make them look more authentic.

Spent more time reading up on self-publishing, including formatting and looking at cover art. My first book should be a very interesting exercise. Still waiting on the first draft to come back from the editor, but it would be really nice to get all my ducks in a row before the final version is complete. Would love to have everything in order and then be able to send it out to a few people for reviews before I publish. That's one thing I don't care much for as far as the self-publishing goes. Traditionally, you would get a publish date where your book would become available which could be months down the road, but you could still get full copies to send out to magazines, newspapers or what-have-you. The advent of self-publishing though, is that once you hit that final button, it's there for purchase to anyone almost instantly, there's no pre-sale copies available unless you're emailing people the manuscript. Which isn't quite the best thing to do, because if it falls into the hands of some unscrupulous characters, all they have to do is slap their name on it and click the publish button themselves. Then it's on with legal battles before your first book is even out.

So, in case the zombie dragon comment didn't give it away, I don't really have a specific topic for this post. After last week's little expose on the technicalities of finding a place to submit a short story, I wanted something a little more relaxed. Thing is though, writing is a serious business for those that choose to go that route and Horror, even more so. With that in mind though, Horror-Comedy seems to be a real thing these days. A lot of movies have tried to pull it off (and I'm not counting spoof movies here.) but I think Shaun of the Dead was the first one to really shine. And yes, that is where I picked the name for this blog. As that is exactly my name spelled correctly, and Simon Pegg is just a freaking awesome actor.

Humor in horror movies itself isn't that uncommon, with storylines so dark and horrifying, you need a good laugh every now and then to break the tension. Movies like this though are made to make you laugh because of how dark and horrifying they are. Like my previous post says, it's all about points of view. In the picture above, their first contact with a zombie includes her falling on pipe and standing back up, typical zombie fare really. If the camera had shown her from the guy's perspective as she rose and started moving at them again, it would've been ok, typical, but ok. Instead, as the girl stands up the camera is behind her, and you get a view of the boys through the new hole in her stomach. Suddenly, there's an element of humor to the scene despite what's going on. (Nick Frost getting ready to take a picture and thusly having the camera slapped out of his hand doesn't hurt either.)

Now we have a whole slew of movies, almost like a new genre has been invented. Zombieland is the next one that comes to mind. It shows how funny it can be as horror becomes commonplace and a part of life as people try to go about their daily activities. Who can forget Tallahassee's search for Twinkies? Coming out in the next six months we have a few different movies to add to the growing list of Horror-Comedies.

John Dies at the End looks like another movie which endeavors to be funny in spite of the horrific happenings in the story, while Warm Bodies seems to lean towards the more conventional awkward couple type of film. (To be honest, I'm a little worried Warm Bodies is just giving zombies the Twilight treatment, but I'll try to restrain that judgement until I've seen it, which will probably be quite a while.) It is also worth noting that both of these yet-to-be-released-as-we-speak movies are also already available in book form and have been for some time.

That'll do it for today, hope I was at least somewhat entertaining. Leave a comment about your favorite Comedic-Horror movie below so others can share in the fun, or send me an email about the movies I dared to not suggest.

 (OMG, How the hell could I have forgotten Army of Darkness with the legendary Bruce Campbell ??)

~ Shaun
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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

News, Submissions Pt.1, and Con Air ?

I'm writing this on Monday. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. No disrespect meant to the great man, but when you're self-employed, whether it's as a writer, a business owner or whatever, you don't (or shouldn't) take days off. There's ALWAYS work to be done and things to do.

Currently chugging away on my second novel with a new working title of Faith. As well as looking into the details of how things work when you're self-publishing. I think I've kind of decided to go that route with my first book. That means it will probably be in print a lot sooner than I thought, though there's a hell of a lot more work involved. I'll be sure to let you all know when it becomes available and where. Also, for those of you who are interested, I've made a playlist on my youtube channel so you can see the kind of stuff I listen to while I write. I apologize for some of the videos, I am also an anime fan. Otherwise, enjoy, and be glad I didn't link in some of the My Little Pony videos instead of the ones I did. Yes, some of the songs on there have been put to My Little Pony.

Today's work is along a different route though. I had submitted my short story What Comes of Dreams to a magazine a few months ago and I recently got a reply of rejection back for it, so the search continues. I have the story where I'm comfortable sending it out, at least for now, so it's pretty much just a matter of finding places to submit to that I haven't already. I keep a running tab of where I submit my stories and when, so I don't re-submit to a place that's already rejected it.

So the question now, is where? Or better, where to look? If I was lucky, I would have some contacts somewhere that could recommend me towards a reputable magazine or ezine to submit to. As it is though, I'm not that lucky. Yet. So again, where to look. The first place I would suggest for any writer to look for places to submit their work would be here.

Specifically, I would recommend the Novel and Short Story edition of Writer's Market, but all of these books hold a wealth of information for the beginning writer as well as listings of magazines, literary agents and publishers to peruse. My copy has already been heavily flipped through and I've just about exhausted all listings in it for short horror stories. Though What Comes of Dreams weighs in at just under 5000 words, which puts it out of the running for some listings as well.

So if that's out, what next? The internet of course. A quick search turns up the The Horror Zine which actually has a full list of horror magazines and ezines which accept fiction. I've been through this list a few times actually and I like how they actually keep it up to date. 

Probably the second most important thing to submitting a story to a magazine (the first being to make sure your story is the highest quality you can make it.) is to make sure you pick a magazine or ezine that actually fits the style of the story you wrote. There are all kinds of horror tropes. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, slashers, psychological, gothic, scientific, etc. etc. The list goes on. Obviously you're asking to be rejected if you submit a slasher or a science-horror story to a magazine that focuses on vampires, but it seems to happen fairly regularly still. As well, you should always read through all the submission guidelines to make sure you agree with how it's set up, what you're submitting to and are aware of any special formatting they require.

Of course, once you've picked a place to submit to, you need to make sure your manuscript is properly formatted. An improperly formatted story can make it more difficult for an editor to go over quickly and could lead to a rejection slip in and of itself. One thing I've read and been told over and over again is how busy submission editors are. The more popular magazines and ezines have to deal with hundreds, if not thousands of submissions a MONTH and an improperly formatted submission or even a badly written query letter can mean the death of that submission. The subjects of proper formatting and a good query letter will easily stretch into full blog posts of their own, and I'll leave them to that eventually so this one post doesn't fill up with too much technical stuff. 

Another little thing I wanted to address is when horror happens by accident. A lot of people have seen the 1997 film Con Air. A pretty much formulaic action movie staring Nicholas Cage and John Malkovich. One of the best side-plots though, is Steve Buscemi's character Garland Greene. 

(Though I think the fake accent counts as accidental horror too)

We're introduced to him through a straight-jacket and face mask ala Silence of the Lambs and throughout the whole movie, he sits there quiet and calm. We never really know what he did aside from his nickname "The Marietta Mangler" and his single comment about driving through three states while wearing a girl's head as a hat. In what is easily the most nerve-wracking scene in the whole movie, after the plane lands to refuel, Steve's character walks over to a neighbor's house and joins their little girl's tea party in the front yard. Throughout the rest of the movie, no other scene has people on the edge of their seat like that one does. 

Despite the violence and rage and unconscionable character of Cyrus the Virus as the main villian, Steve's is the one that really gets to us. Mainly because while everything is exploding and burning and people are getting beat up all around him, he sits there calmly, like none of it means anything. It's that silence and calm amongst the chaos that really defines Steve's character as a monster among monsters and despite all the explosions and gunfights and action sequences, a little twist of plot to turn the camera to Mr. Greene; and we go from a pure adrenaline rush of a film to one that would have had the potential to be a truly terrifying experience. It's too bad really. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Enjoying the Journey

Wow. I had over 50 views of my last blog post. I don't know if it was the picture, the assignment or just me, but I can't tell you how good it feels getting that kind of exposure for the first time. I can only hope it keeps up. So far as of today I've finished the first three chapters of my second novel and started on the fourth. It's filling in so well and so much easier than the first novel did. That can always change though. I've also got a new little widget in the top right of my page. You can leave an email address and get a notification whenever I make a new blog post. Much easier than simply checking back every so often or taking the risk of my post getting lost among farmville requests on Facebook.

A lot of people when they start writing, they usually start with a single scene in their head. Maybe they imagine the final confrontation between their hero and villain, maybe it's a scene in the middle where the story has a major turning point. Maybe they've imagined the opening scene and can see the how they want it all to end. No matter what part of the story they imagine first, it's only the beginning and it's actually usually a very small part of the story.

A good example would be one of the scenes I've envisioned for my work The Nightmare Factory. The scene I picked out is actually from the middle of the story, where we first truly see the identity of the monster that is running the show. One of the secondary characters interacts with him and enters her death throes in what I envision to be a fairly spectacular way. Here's the thing though, to get to that part of the story, I have to introduce the main character, the secondary character, the antagonist, the location and bring them all together. That's a lot of back story just to get to a scene that might, if I'm lucky, be a thousand words long.

While the whole story may be pushed along by the action scenes, it's important to remember how small a part of the book they actually are. After all, if you can't catch and hold your reader's attention in the first place, they'll never make it to the brilliant action scene you've put together. In addition, even if your beginning is strong and gets them to the first scene, you still have to travel to the second one, and then to the finale.

I think the spaces in between is what gets a lot of new writers. It can become very tempting to just cut the sections in half with phrases like "Two months later...", "He waited for hours." and other ways to describe the passage of time in a single sentence so they can skip a lot of the in-between areas.

A proper, good story though takes advantage of the ravines that must be crossed between the fancy action scenes. You can take the time to delve into background, show the characters interacting with other people, even if those other people are just there for them to interact with in that moment. Try to remember, probably seventy percent of your story is going from point A to point B to point C. The points themselves might be important, but they aren't going to take up as much of your story as you would like.

The space in between might seem like extra compared to the main events of your story, but in actuality they are every bit as much, if not more important. The spaces in between tell us how we get to the events, they tell us about the characters so that when the main event happens we actually care about what happens to them. The spaces in between are what make a story a story. You just have to remember; people don't read to reach a destination, they read to enjoy the journey.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

News, Point of View, and a picture!

So. A little bit of news today. I entered two short stories in the Crypticon Writer's Contest. One is a re-write of a story I did waaaay back in Jr. High, the other is a brand new piece that; while it might be a little confusing, has a really nice feel to it. After that it was back to work on my second novel, Already on Chapter three and around 15,000 words so far. I'm not a big fan of chapters, I feel a lot of times they break up the story unnecessarily; but for right now they're working pretty well.

Most of you know I have a page on facebook, that's more than likely where most of you have come from. I also have an account on Youtube. I haven't uploaded any videos of my own, but as work comes along, expect a few samples here and there and you can see a list of the videos I've bookmarked. As of Sunday night, I've also signed up on Twitter! So now you can even follow along with my stupid comments all day long. I've already declared that nine to five, Monday through Friday (Or any day I work at my other job) is #RentalStoreRealityShow time. I just figured that there's sooo much stupid shit going on ALL the time where I work, they need to have a reality show based on it. Heck, they have pawn shops and tow truck companies, why not?

The main subject I want to touch on today though is point of view. We all have one, some are the same, most are different. A lot of people can see the same thing in different ways; some might find it beautiful, others repulsive and some might be completely indifferent. What does this have to do with writing? Well, the thing that a lot of writers do with point of view, is they can understand how things might appear differently to different people; so they can take something and depending on the words they use, they can make it appear exactly how they want the reader to see it. I'm going to demonstrate with a few example paragraphs here.

The bottle sat on the counter, waiting patiently for it's turn. The liquid inside having the color and consistency of fresh blood. A light red which flowed slowly out of the small hole in the cap in excrutiating slowness. Pooling in one's hand before oozing between the fingers and dripping in long strands to the floor. The scent overpowering, yet barely covering up the smell of the dirty clothes in the corner.

It was waiting on the counter; brand new in it's clean plastic bottle. Opening it filled the room with the sweet scent, before it was slowly poured out, coating everything with a layer reminiscent of rose petals, making everything it touched feel soft and smooth regardless of the surface. Spreading evenly as it was poured.

I'm sure you can already see how these could easily describe the same thing, A bottle of Japanese Cherry Blossom body wash. I kind of doubt most of you would just off-hand agree to empty the stuff from the first paragraph and rub it all over yourself though. This is a skill a lot of writers have, being able to look at things from different point of views, and it enhances their writing greatly, manipulating the readers to see things as they want them to be seen. There is more to it than that though. The ability to see things from different points of view is an important one; and one that seems like a lot of people are missing. It's something that allows people to get along. If we can at least understand each other, even if we don't agree, it makes it that much easier for two individuals or even groups of people to compromise on issues rather then coming to blows over things such as whether a pizza should have olives or pineapple.

A little homework for those of you that are reading and want to try this at home. Just look around, find something ordinary in your house, a vase, a drinking glass, a picture on the wall. Just try to imagine it in two different ways. If you want, post your results as a comment below. Would love to see how well you all can change your point of view.

~ Shaun

Space Corps Directive #34124: No officer with false teeth should attempt oral sex in zero gravity.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Personal Rant #1: Creativity

Creativity is magic. That is something I honestly believe. It's something we're all born with that the world around us quashes and rips away. As people get older, we get traumatized, go through losses, we get our hearts broken and with each trauma we go through, a piece of us gets ripped away. We lose our innocence and we lose our beliefs in a world that is full of magic, love and happiness; to be replaced with cynicism, bitterness and the daily drudgery that we are forced to endure just to get by. 

People that are creative manage to hold onto a part of that youthful belief in magic. Whether it's music, mechanics or medicine, creativity is something that is strong when you're young and lose as you get older. It's sad really. So many people grow up and live their lives just trying to get by. They give up on such things as true love, and stop believing in things like magic and miracles. 

I'm a writer. Lots of people have complimented my writing. It's a natural skill I have. I couldn't tell you an adverb from a conjunction, I just know what order the words go in. I can also write in just about any genre I choose, though some are more difficult than others. My main genre of choice though, and the one I think I write best in, is horror. It just comes naturally more than any other. Part of me believes that I have lost a lot of my innocence and my own sense of magic through some of the things I've been through. I feel like I recognized when it was happening and horror was simply the shard or the string that I managed to grab and hold onto while the rest floated away. 

It just aggravates and saddens me because I've spent so much of my life alone. I didn't get to enjoy my high school years like most people do. I was always responsible, I was always the role model and I always had to be an adult. (NO, I'm not drunk. Surprisingly.) When I was younger, that's where I lost a lot of my creativity. It's one of the things that made me bitter. Probably one of the things that made me grab onto horror as the largest piece of my innocence that I managed to hold onto. And it really frustrates me that I can't go back and try to experience it all now. I feel like I missed out on a very important part of my life and that there is no way to replace it and it seriously damages any chance I have of finding the happiness that I want. I am sick and tired of being alone, but I don't want someone else that's been damaged and beat down by life and is content merely to get by and lives on cynicism and caution. I want to find someone that still believes in magic, and at my age anymore, I really don't think it's possible.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Getting the Ball Rolling

Welcome to 2013. I hope everyone made it through the night safely and without any large fee's to pay from the night's activities. This being the first blog of the new year, I thought I'd start at the beginning. So since the ball has dropped, let's get it rolling.

Where do all the ideas come from? A bit of a difficult question to answer, as a lot of ideas come from a lot of different things. Ideas can come from need, from looking at the things around them, from dreams, and from that interesting little combination of words "What if?".

A lot of my early stories came from need; or rather, from restrictions given to me by others. My first real attempts to write were in junior high school, through a program called Reflections. I don't know if the whole point of the program was just to encourage people to use their artistic side more or not, but I remember despite people being declared winners there were no prizes other than individual pictures in the school yearbook. The first year I entered, there was a specific theme of (wait for it) reflections. I won first place in writing with my short story. I was particularly proud of that piece as well and I'm currently re-writing it partially because I lost the original, but also because I've grown as a writer a lot since then. (Incidentally, the winner for first place in musical composition for that first Reflections contest, David Perry, has already gone on with his music as the lead guitarist and singer of the up-and-coming band BlackBeatBlue.) As well, in high school, a lot of my writing was done specifically for friends in genre's they requested.

For quite a while after that, my writing fell by the wayside. I had a few pieces I did, but most didn't stick around and fewer still were really any quality. Need was also the catalyst for the story that brought me fully back to my writing. My piece What Comes of Dreams which is still currently looking for a home, was written to be submitted to an anthology honoring Edgar Allen Poe. It wasn't accepted, but I still have faith it will eventually find a home. Since then, I've done a lot better job of keeping track of my ideas and many of them I can still tell you where they came from.

Some stories came from my biology class during one of my stints at college. A few ideas are adapted versions of other stories I've read, while others are almost in-jokes at my own dating attempts. Some stories still come from need and I actually enjoy a few extra restrictions to follow sometimes. As I'm focusing more and more on my writing though, I'm finding more and more ideas are simply showing up; and not just short story ideas. More and more I'm finding ideas that are reaching for novel length and each one seems to be reaching further than the last. My first novel attempt, a story tentatively titled Neighbors, doesn't even hit the 50,000 word mark that many would view as the bare minimum for book-length piece. My current piece though, which I'm calling Testing the Vision, is already promising to surpass that by a fair degree. I don't know how long it will eventually end up being, but the work I've finished already is very promising. Already, another idea in my head which has already named itself The Nightmare Factory, is promising to be even longer still, with a myriad of characters and relationships to delve into.

Creativity is seeming more and more to me like a muscle, just like an arm or a leg. You can force it to a degree, but it's going to hurt and the outcome might not be what you would prefer. The more you use it though, the easier and stronger it gets, to the point where you just reach out and it gets what you're looking for. You always hear about people; writers, artists, and musicians that have a hard time getting back to work after prolonged periods of rest. It could be said again that creativity is like a muscle, and periods without use will allow it to atrophy just as people who are bedridden for extended periods have to learn to walk all over again. Creativity is the basis for our whole world, new inventions, new stories, new music, all stem from creativity. Some might be good, some might be bad, some might not even be recognized for years to come, but it all starts with a single, simple idea. What if?

~ Shaun