Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Reason. And some shameless self-promotion.

Carla Carvine is a typical single mom. She gets by working full-time and carefully managing her money. She gets along well with her two daughters and most of her neighbors. Her life may not be perfect, but her street and home are nice, quiet, and best of all, safe.

When she wakes up late one night, all that changes. She discovers news about a murder on her street, shaking her world to it's foundation and making her question the safety of her daughters and the neighbors she thought she knew. As she struggles to hold herself together amid her fears and her lack of understanding, she starts to wonder if there might be even more going on that she's unaware of.

The truth she finds is worse than even her fearful imagination could have envisioned and as she is pushed to her limit, she wonders if she will have the strength to protect her daughters...

The final edit is finished and the last details are coming together much faster than I anticipated. Currently, the release of my first book The Reason is seeming like it will be sometime about the middle of March. Of course, expect a post solely dedicated to that when it happens, but for now, the excitement is building and I can't wait to see it available to the entire world.

It shall be my playground.

With all this coming up, a new aspect of being a writer is finally becoming a major theme for me to deal with. Marketing. I was reminded no less of this than when I was watching WWE RAW tonight, as they spent about ten to fifteen minutes on the shameless self-promotion of a movie coming out which one of their stars has a bit part in. To be honest, while I am a wrestling fan, I got bored and left the room for most of that segment. I'm not one to appreciate standing in one spot, waving my personal banner for fifteen minutes at a time. 

Still, a lot of work I've done for the past several months has been exactly about this. Starting this blog, making an author page on facebook, signing up on Twitter and on Goodreads has all been about getting my name out there and preparing the world for the arrival of what I hope will be the first of many books. Some of the responses I've gotten have been overwhelming, such as on this blog, while others have been fairly disappointing. (Twitter, I'm looking at you, here.). I would be lying though if I wasn't pleased with what I've seen so far. 

It's not just the use of these outlets to get my name out there and to drum up interest in my writing. It's the fact that for the past several months I've had very little to show anyone, but I've still had an amazing amount of support, in some cases from people who don't even know me and I can't wait until I can release my book and show them what I've done with the attention and help they've all given. Is it going to be a best-seller? Probably not. Is it a literary masterpiece? God, no. Is it bottom of the barrel garbage upon which paper should not be wasted? I sure as hell hope not, but I'm sure someone will claim it is. (After all, some people still refer to Stephen King as a hack writer.) 

This post is about my self-promotion though, not about the book itself (yet). As I've said, I started all these things to get a head-start on the job of getting my name and eventually my book out there. It's particularly difficult when you've got nothing to show for it. Despite all the people who claim my writing is good, I have a hard time getting published. My first publication was to a small print-on-demand magazine which offered no compensation whatsoever in response to accepting my work. I even had to purchase my own copy. Meanwhile pieces that were better works than that are still getting the rejection letters so common to beginning writers. So many people, including friends and family, are going to pick up my first book with little knowledge of what to expect. 

DAMNIT! Would whoever that is stop throwing pennies on the tracks! I'm trying to stay on course here!

Ahem. I am not good at self-promotion. When it comes to promoting this blog, I'll post the latest post here in the morning and share it through my author page first thing in the morning. Come late afternoon, I'll usually then share that post through my personal page. And I'll feel bad about it. As well, I'll post the link to my latest post on Goodreads. And even on a forum thread solely dedicated to posting the link to your latest blog, I'll feel bad about it. Part of it is because I'm shy. Very shy. I don't like intruding on other people's time or space. (Imagine me trying to dance at a club. Not pretty.) I also feel very irritated when I have things shoved into my face and under my nose by people just trying to sell me something so I imagine other people feel the same. 

It is a fact of this business though, especially self-publishing, that I get down off my high horse and put myself out there. This doesn't mean posting on Facebook or Twitter twenty times a day how many hours, minutes and seconds my book has been available. It does mean I'm going to be looking for roundabout ways to get people's attention, get them to read my book and get them to talk about it. Currently, I do plan on letting everyone I can know via every outlet I have when my book is available and when it hits some levels or gets a special deal I will let everyone know there as well. Other options include an actual ad to be posted on youtube as well as making and mailing out bookmarks with the information on the book and the various sites I use. At one point in the future I may even consider having made my own website. We'll see though. After all, if most of my first book's reviews are garbage, I may just scrap the whole idea and go sign up at the local shipyard for the next thirty years of my life. We'll just have to wait and see. 

In the meantime, don't be afraid to throw yourself out there. You never know what you might be missing out on just because people don't know who you are. 

~ Shaun 

"Well, if you'll excuse me now, Sir. This is clearly a very private, family moment. I've ah...I've no fish to embarrass you further, I'll let myself trout." - Kryten, talking about Rimmer's Mum. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What's in an Ending?

What makes a good ending? Is it a requirement that the heroes prevail and ride off into the sunset with the gold and the girl to live happily ever after? If that's not the ending, is there a "To be continued..." required instead? Is it a bad thing when a story ends and we have almost a sense of loss rather than a sense of triumph?

As I've said before, people read to escape from the pressures of their lives. Nothing provides such a respite as a good book that almost literally sucks you in and makes everything else seem miles away. In that vein, a book that doesn't end in a satisfying way almost feels like it wasn't worth the ride. A good escape takes you away, runs you through the wringer, hangs you out to dry and then returns you almost better then when you started. Good books full of heroism and triumph can actually help to restore a lost faith in humanity and they promote the idea that when the chips are down, people can overcome anything.

There's a reason it's called Fiction.

Life is difficult. Very often it goes in directions that we don't like and things end in ways that aren't at all satisfying and can leave people's spirits broken and battered. Rarely in life is there such a thing as a happy ending and even then, they usually come at a great cost. There is a reason we NEED such escapes as books and movies and long-running television series. So why waste time on escapes that don't fulfill us and restore our spirits in some way?

Horror is special.

It's true. We get away with things nobody in their right mind would allow in any other genre. A Romance novel without the ride into the sunset? A Fantasy adventure where the dragon cooks the knight in his armor then devours him along with the princess? A Mystery without that final answer? No way. None of those books would last more then three months on a store shelf. But, Horror? Well, if done properly, we are more than welcome to take the hero of our story, drag him through hell for three-hundred pages and on the last page toss him spent into the pit. Some of it is the sense that "Hey, it's Horror, what did you expect?". There is more to it than that.

When we pick up a Horror novel, we think we have a decent idea what to expect. Most of the time, we're not looking for a feel-good story. We're not looking for a book where we can close it after we're done and go prancing through a field of lilies. You pick up a Horror novel for one reason, and one reason only. To be scared. A lot of good Horror stories pick you up, carry you along through pain, anguish, terror and what could probably be construed as torture in some cases, but in the end relent, confide in you that it was all just a dream and they then return you from whence you came no worse for wear. There is nothing wrong with that.

Then you have Horror stories. Ones that truly grab you by the throat and don't let go, even after the story is long ended. Slasher movies are notorious for this, where we see the hero of our movie defeat the monster/killer and resume their lives as normal, and yet the last scene of the movie is the monster/killer resurfacing to torment someone else or even starting over on the hero we thought had won. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies were some of the best examples of this. The Saw series, while not quite as obvious, generally left you with a feeling that the end of the movie wasn't the end of the story and left you itching to know what was next. The last movie I want to mention is Stephen King's The Mist. The Mist is a masterpiece of a horror tale, with monsters which are only the equal of the people they feed on, culminating in an ending which leaves you sitting there in shock at what you just witnessed.

The ending of The Mist is partially what brings me to this whole discussion. Through everything else in the movie, be it the horrors of the monsters or the horrors which people can inflict on each other, the true horror is the ending itself. It is a horror very few writers dare to attempt and even fewer can successfully pull off. It's the horror of acknowledging that things don't always work out for the best and that sometimes we fail no matter what we do.

In a genre where we take truths and fears and shove them so close into people's faces that they can count the hairs on a spider's head, the harshest fear of the rarity of the happy ending is almost taboo. After all, people read to escape their fears and the stresses of the real world, they're looking for something to ultimately make them feel better, about themselves and about their situations. They might pick up a Horror novel to live in the fact that their boss screaming about a deadline isn't near as bad as being chased through the woods by a werewolf or being abducted by aliens, but the desire to feel better about their situation is still paramount in their choice of that novel.

This final horror, which is so rarely used is actually not just a trick a good writer can use, it's a challenge to the reader. It's almost demonstrating the writer's faith in humanity and thus bringing about a happy ending for the reader in a roundabout, twisted, and fitting way. A good Horror story, which drags you into Hell and then leaves you there, isn't saying "This is how it is." as much as it's saying. "I brought you here because I know you will find the way out." Like all good stories, it carries you away, but then when it's over, it doesn't do the work of bringing you back to shore like others do.

The final horror of the ending which revels in the fact that things don't always work out is NOT the end of the story. The final horror isn't there for the characters in the story to face. The final horror is there for the reader to face and to find their own way to triumph over it. Even though there may not be a ride into the sunset, or a final answer to all questions; It can be, in some ways, a better ending than any other ever written.

~ Shaun Horton

"Try not to take life so seriously. Nobody gets out alive in the end, anyway."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Dead Space 3

Yes. I waited until I beat the game to write this.

Yes. I just got it yesterday.

As someone who was hooked on the first one enough to replay it 10+ times. (It was also the first game I ever got 100% on trophies.) The series has only improved from there and Dead Space 3 is probably the best yet.

If you're not familiar with the game series. It's an action/survival horror game which can be easiest explained as zombies in space. Except it is so much more than that. While the synopsis boils down to that at the very base, the storyline is amazingly original, giving rise to unique enemies that are more than just targets. It starts with an object called the Marker, which induces murderous and suicidal insanity in all the people around it, then once they're dead, it re-animates the dead bodies, twisting them into different forms to suit its needs like a perverted ecosystem.

In Dead Space 3, a lot of what made the first two so great is still all there. The unique settings and enemy AI still allows them to sneak up on you at inopportune times and from unexpected directions. The main character of Isaac Clark returns, along with his trusty plasma cutter. The basic enemies are the same, though with a different look due to the environment and the storyline. The controls remain the same as well, though they felt a little smoother then before.

This is an absolutely beautiful game. Sounds weird saying that about survival horror, but it's true. The game play visuals are incredible, even down to watching the fake fur collar on Isaac's suit move in the wind. The cinematics are even better and the attention to detail on the backdrops, particularly in space are just breathtaking.

Seriously, that's the kind of view people buy houses for.

The story in Dead Space 3 partially takes place a little while after Dead Space 2 and partially centuries before, when the first Marker is found. The variety of locales this title takes you to is completely different from the first two games, which were set on a single spaceship and then a space station respectively. Dead Space 3 starts in Isaac's home, where he has become the number #1 enemy of a religious cult that worships the Markers. From there it moves to a variety of space ships and even open space before landing on a snow and ice covered planet. The enemies switch back and forth between the monsters called Necromorphs and regular humans, and, if you're patient, you can even get some enemy on enemy action going where they will actually take each other out. As opposed to some games where you'll have different enemies that should hate each other always teaming up to take you down, sometimes even shooting through each other and causing no damage.

The settings are just the start. This game was made for survival horror fans BY survival horror fans, and that's one of the things that makes it so great. They know the cues we listen for and pay attention to and use those to get to you. One scene in Dead Space 3 has you climbing down a ladder which goes by a vent. As you go past it (being helpless while you're on the ladder), the music swells and speeds up before the vent breaks and...nothing happens. Nothing. At all. Awesome. 

Dead Space 3 also does a few other different things than it's predecessors besides the variety of backdrops. While Dead Space 2 actually had a multi-player mode for online play, this edition actually allows for co-op play in story mode. The other new feature that's a big deal is the weapon customization. Now personally, I always accepted the wisdom of video games. I went with the assumption that all monsters, no matter what they were, had gold on them at all times to hand over to whichever hero defeated them. I accepted it, but I was never really happy with it. Dead Space 3 works off a bits and pieces system, by which you collect random parts, circuits, wires, doodads, whathaveyou, and you use them to splice and upgrade your weapons and armor and to create new weapons. Not only does this fit the game better, as Isaac is supposed to be an engineer, but it just feels better as a whole. The other new change I want to mention is the universal ammo pack. I love this for the fact that you don't have to worry about being low on ammo and getting stuck finding ammo for weapons you don't have. It still works for different weapons though because each weapon uses a different amount of shots per clip. 

All that said, I won't say it was perfect, not at all. I played through on casual and more of the time it felt like I was playing on Easy. The engineering puzzles were all very simple and easy to get through, providing little more than a speedbump to the gameplay. As well, I only ran out of ammo on two occasions on my play-through and both times I failed to notice there were specific actions needed to get past an area and just kept pumping energy blasts into every enemy I saw. 

Which leads me to my other complaint. In a lot of these games, companies are working harder and harder to try to immerse the player in the world. The main way they're trying to accomplish this is by minimizing the HUD (Heads Up Display) as much as possible. It's all well and good to keep things off the screen that distract the players from the game, but several deaths in my play-through were mostly due to the fact that I was trapped in a corner and couldn't even see my health bar. Several areas that required special actions to get through took me multiple tries because the indicator of what button I needed to push was so small it was all but unnoticeable. 

As well, I would have liked to have seen more variety in the enemies. There were quite a few, but since we were in locales the game hadn't been before, I would've liked to have seen some specialized for the areas they were in. 

All in all, a great game. No wonder it's already being called the best game of the year by some. I really hope they make more, but at the same time I wouldn't mind if they called it quits here. I would hate to see the Dead Space franchise devolve into making bad games simply because it's too hard to top themselves as Resident Evil seems to have done. 

As far as I'm concerned, in survival horror, Dead Space now trumps Resident Evil. Long may it rot. (Coincidently, given the subject matter, I'm not using that as a put-down.) 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My two main concerns of Self-publishing. And a fish.

Welcome. The fish is further down, though you'll understand what it's doing there a lot better if you read your way to it. I looked for a plain picture of the fish I talk about, but I had to snag that one just because of the WTF factor. If anybody is interested, there is a poll on my Facebook page (link above) to see what people would like to see more of from my blog. Not that I'm running out of ideas or anything (See the fish below) but just so I can lean more towards what the audience that I have wants to see. Thanks. And thus, we begin.

Whew. Well, my first novel manuscript has survived it's first major professional revision, re-work and has been sent back to the editor. I already like it a lot more than when I first sent it off. I also have a friend looking into doing a cover for me. Gotta say, pretty happy with the progress so far.

So, my first book is going to be self-published. All that really means is I don't have an agent. I'm hiring out to an editor, I have a friend working on cover possibilities, and I'm going through other companies to get my manuscript into the public's hands, be it in physical or ebook form.

(Soooo not using one of these.)

I do have my concerns about self-publishing though, which are things most new writers are probably worrying about at the moment. I've been doing some studying, so I think I can address some of these and I'll do my best to not be too pessimistic.

1. Self-publishing means you probably just weren't good enough to get an agent.

Good: This couldn't be further from the truth. Let's be honest, there are more people trying to get into the business of writing every day. Thousands of people a month are scanning the internet, conventions and similar gatherings to meet literary agents and submit their first full manuscript hoping to make it and wear the badge of "Published Author". There really just aren't that many agents. New work from previously unpublished writers has to be truly outstanding to catch their attention and while many of them are probably easily good books, they just don't have that special glitter that leads to a deal. This doesn't mean they aren't good enough to get an agent, but that, like most professions, they need a better resume`. With the market for short stories dwindling every year, self-publishing is not only a way to become a published writer without dealing with an agent, it becomes an important way to build up that resume`. I've read of a lot of writers currently, who self-published a few books, made some decent money, and then had agents find THEM. Where they good enough in the first place? More than likely, but they had to show it first.

Bad: In some circles, this is really just a way to categorize newer writers as "Not in our league." The major publishing companies and some agents and writers probably use this as an excuse to label self-published authors as "Hacks" or similar terms. It's a way for them to advertise that they and the way they do business is just plain better. At the moment, a lot of the big companies are still resistant to the change that is coming through self-publishing and the ebook revolution and until they accept the new ways of doing things, this is a stigma we're probably going to waste a lot of time and energy fighting against. 

2. Self-published books are lower quality than more traditionally printed ones.

Bad: I'm starting here because this one has more truth to it. Self-publishing greatly lowers the bar for those seeking to become authors. There are some safeguards in place on most gateway sites (sites on which you can go through to make your work available to the masses.) but it means a lot of work isn't getting checked over like it should. Let's be Frank. Frank loves to write. He's not particularly good at it though. He wants to be a writer and over the course of working on it for several years, he finishes his first manuscript. Now, Frank doesn't have a lot of money to hire an editor and he doesn't know he's not a very good writer. He edits his manuscript himself a few times, decides it's good and uploads it online. Some gateway sites will look at his work, might decide it's not the best they can offer, but allow it to be published somewhere around the bottom of the barrel. Frank is happy, he's a published author now and he gets to brag to all his friends. Ok, let's stop being Frank. Is his badly written story going to make a lot of money or sit high up on the book rankings? Probably not. The fact though, is that his work is out there, along with hundred or thousands of books like it, dragging down the expectations of the people who do manage to snag one of these Carp and open the first page.

Good: While this line is actually true to an extent, it's only half the story. Like there are going to be books and stories which are much worse than those traditionally printed and which would never see the light of day otherwise, there are also going to be real gems as well. If we draw a line to show where traditional publishing sits as opposed to the worst self-published books, we have to recognize that there will be space above that line too. Books which might not have been published through no fault or flaw in the story or writing itself but simply because the author didn't have any connections by which to work through will be available for people to rave about. Some authors who may have otherwise been stuck trudging away, seeding someone's yard for most of their life can actually have a chance at taking advantage of a gift they might otherwise never have used. 

At least those are two of the things I worried about the most before jumping in and reading up on it. There are others, like the details of Trademarks, Copyrights and ISBN numbers. What all is actually needed legally on an imprint page. There's also the details of advertising, paying out for that, the details of covers and finding a good editor. It really seems like before, when all books went through an agent and a publishing company, being a writer was just another job. These days, particularly for those who choose self-publishing, you are running your own business. If you're considering that route, just be prepared. 

~ Shaun

(No Carp were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Obey the Marker...

Whew, a lot going on this week. This'll either be short and sweet, or long and convoluted. Still, let's get started, shall we?

First off, I'm still playing around with the page, and while the jury is still out on adding the wolf that follows your mouse around and howls as the moon in it's little box, I have added links above the posts where you can see where else I travel. That includes my Facebook page, Twitter and Youtube. In addition, I've signed up on Goodreads.com where you can see what I'm reading, what I have read and what I thought about what I've read. If you spend a lot of time with your nose in a book, I'd recommend giving it a look. It's like one big online book club.

As always, when you wander into a new place, you run the risk of meeting new people. As it happens, I've met a few myself already from Goodreads. One of them being Miss Louise West, who tagged me in a little thing called the 7-77 blog challenge. The idea is simple, you post up 7 lines from either page 7 or page 77 (Or I'm sure page 777 works too if you're working on a real beast of a manuscript) of your current work in progress, then you tag 7 other writer/bloggers to continue the exercise. You can see her whole post at her blog. Louise's Love of Life.  When am I going to get to it? Well, good question. I have a few works in progress at the moment to pick from so that's fine. It's just finding seven people to let me tag them. I'll drop that into the next blog that I can though.

A lot happened this past weekend. We had Beyonce singing, we lost power at the Superbowl, and we got the lights back on at the Superbowl. There was also something about commercials and two teams of large men smearing each other into the ground over a ball. Oh, and I got my first draft of my novel Neighbors back from the editor. Her suggestions made sense and weren't entirely unexpected. I was a little disheartened with just how much red is in the manuscript though. Still, I'm learning as I go what my weaknesses are and things I need to watch. For example, I don't actually understand how to use a semi-colon, and I REALLY like the short American phrase "ok". (I used it around 500 times in that first manuscript.) So my other works in progress are getting a short break while I go through doing my editor's fixes and following some suggestions that were made. I'm hoping to get this done and back to her by early next week though. From there it should only take a couple weeks until I have the finished product. After that, I'll just need a good cover and it'll probably only be a matter of a couple weeks before it's up on Amazon.

Why some people think violence, gore, and revulsion make a good horror story, I still don't know.

Also, I know it's a spam mail, but why in the hell would you name an email address Suggestive Enema?

Well, that probably means I'm about out of news. The only other things going on is the release of Dead Space 3 for the Playstation is today, so I'll probably go grab that and hope it doesn't distract me too much. (Who the hell am I kidding? I'm probably not going to get anything else done until I've beaten it at least twice.) If you have a Playstation 3 and enjoy horror survival games, I promise you will love the Dead Space series. It's the best one to come out since the original Resident Evil. I also seem to be fighting off the flu bug that's going around, so that'll eat into my time this week too.

See you in the funnies.

~ Shaun