Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Doing your Homework

Lots of jobs have special training you need to take or college courses to master before you can claim to be proficient at work. This is true of Firefighters, Doctors, Lawyers, and even Politicians. Not so much for writers. Sure, you can go to community colleges and universities and walk out with English and Creative Writing degrees, but those are more for your own enrichment than anything that's going to help you be a professional writer. Publishing companies don't put you higher up on the list for being accredited.

Let's be honest here, too. You can only take so many classes about adverbs, clauses, and semi-colons before there's nothing more to learn, and most of those classes don't immerse you in the nuances of the language, the corner cases, and in some cases, how even to properly use all the different participles in your writing.

So, how do we learn to write properly? How do we learn all the nuances of the languages we write in? 

By seeing how other people do it. By reading. 
"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time, or the tools, to write." ~ Stephen King
That is how writers learn properly, that is how we figure out description, characterization, pace, plot and everything else there is for us to know, as well as how to put it all together.

In the past 7 months, I've read more books than I have in the entire ten years prior. This includes classic horror tales which I feel ashamed to have not read before while calling myself a horror fan and author. I've read independent books, traditionally published books, recent works and books of which you can find copies which border on fifty years old. Here I'm going to list some of the books I've read along with some of my thoughts on them.

Turner by Karl Drinkwater. I interviewed the author of this excellent book last month. This was one of the best reads I've had this year, and the lack of attention it seems to get just leaves me in awe. Self-published in 2011 through Amazon, it's a book easily comparable to ones which are traditionally published by the Big 5 publishers, and I greatly encourage anyone with an interest in Horror to give it a chance.

Hell House by Richard Matheson. This is one I expect to get some flack for not having read before. Lauded as THE haunted house story, it has become the basis for several movies. Traditionally published by Bantam Press in 1972, it was labeled even then as one of the great novels of the occult. I have to admit, I was holding off on reading this for the dumb reason of trying to avoid mainstream work. Several people have said though, that this is one of the scariest books they've ever read and between that and an idea I have for my own haunted house novel, along with the author's passing this year, I figured it was time I gave this piece a try. I am very glad I did.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty.  Another one I expect flack for. We've all seen the movie which is now required viewing in just about any film study that looks at Horror. It has spawned sequels, prequels, copies, knock-offs, even toys. Published in 1971, the book is fairly dated, with a pace most younger readers won't be able to appreciate. Still, this book is considered a classic for a reason, and some would say it deserves a place at the top with Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I would have to agree with them, and a must-read for any fan of Horror.

Worm by Tim Curran. This is a short and quick, but fun read. I picked it out of a discussion on Goodreads and I'm glad I did. There is some mystery of where the worms come from, but it's lost in the action of the story with some scenes reminiscent of Stephen King's Dreamcatcher. Looking for something short and fun, this is a good book to pick up, but I wouldn't expect it to be on the New York Times Bestseller's list anytime soon. A good example of how people react differently to the same thing though, if you're looking for things to learn from.

Origin by J.A.Konrath. I will probably never stop singing the praises of J.A.Konrath and his blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. I probably wouldn't be published today if it wasn't for all the information he pumps out so the rest of us can learn from his experience. Origin is one of his books that I like the most, an original premise, a horror techno-thriller incorporating religious themes and mixing it all together into one of the most unique smoothies of a book you can find. Some of his other works I haven't cared for, but this is one I definitely recommend. He even has whole blog posts where he talks about the path this story took to finally seeing publication.

So, there you have a good sample of what I've been digging into lately for my own homework. Trying to expand my mental experience, seeing what tricks other writers are using in their attempts to scare and traumatize their readers. Getting an idea of what is selling, what works, and what isn't.

I recommend all of the books above as ones to read for those who are fans of the horror genre in books. Some might have a bit of flavor you're not used to, but all make for fair and fun meals.

Finally, I leave you with this simple and easy homework assignment. Go read a book.

~ Shaun


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