Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Feast of the Dead

So, I picked up a book, I'm about halfway through, and I don't really have much interest in picking it back up. Now, I don't mean this as anything bad about the book. It's decently written, with some nice cover art and a combination of elements I haven't quite seen yet. It's just those elements don't interest me much anymore. It's almost like they've (dare I say it) been done to death.

I think it's fair to say at this point, that the zombie has jumped the shark.

Or something like that.

Some of you may not be familiar with that term (I knew it, but didn't know what it meant until recently). So I'm going to explain it.

The term means something that was once popular, but has now crossed the line into a decline of quality that is beyond recovery. Originally, it was applied to tv shows at the point where the writing fell apart and the shows started relying on cheap gimmicks and rehashed gags to get ratings as opposed to, you know, good writing. The term has since caught on and is open to mean anything that once popular and is now so overdone that people are getting tired of it.

Shaun of the Dead came out in 2004, and almost ever since, we've been inundated with zombie this and zombie that. We now have zombie conventions, zombie weddings, and even zombie strippers! A movie even came out this past year that was a zombie romance! I mean, everyone is entitled to their own fetishes and fantasies, but at this point you might as well say that we're actively promoting necrophilia. (Though I guess you could say Twilight did that already).

Now, granted, the fears that zombies represented when they first became somewhat mainstream are long gone. The idea that we're all "zombies", working through the paces of our lives with nary a thought in our heads as we go one by one down our list of daily tasks, isn't compelling anymore. If anything, we've accepted that role.

The evolution that the zombie has undergone in recent years, changing from the slow, lurching, reanimated corpse it started as, to the agile, running, cannibalistic predator, is due in part to directors recognizing that the older versions of the zombie don't scare us anymore. We're just not afraid of the walking dead at this point, so they try to switch up which fear they're playing on by aiming for the more primal fear of being hunted, chased down, and eaten, as opposed to the unnatural fear that something dead is up and walking around. I mean, at this point, you might as well be using aliens, werewolves, vampires or even just human cannibals. 

That's not even touching on the whole zombie apocalypse that people are waiting and HOPING to happen. The CDC even put up a page giving details on what to do to prepare for such a thing. I mean, we're not getting any smarter here people, a few generations down the line, our kids are likely to think a zombie apocalypse is a real threat that they live under on a daily basis! (If you want to argue the intellectual point of that with me, I advise you to look up the phrase "Lord of the Rings rips off Harry Potter" and "Stupid things girls do for Justin Beiber" on Google. Trust me, you will fear for the future of the human race.) 

At this, the point where the zombie has infiltrated every aspect of society in just about every way one can think of. I think the time has come to re-bury them. With this last image, I hereby cast my vote to eject the zombie from the list of horror monsters. 

Yes, this is a My Little Pony zombie. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Getting Published: Formatting for Kindle

October is just around the corner, and with it comes all manner of monsters, villains, disturbing acts and horrors. Also, Halloween is in there too. So, like I'm sure many of my fellow writers of horror blogs, I'm going to spend the entire month talking about horror. That being said, I'm going to spend this week and next going through a few topics I've had on the back-burner for a bit that lean more toward the business of writing.

Today's topic is that of formatting your work. This is something I've seen a lot of newer writers freak out about and one of the things that requires some serious research. So, I've wanted to put together everything I've learned for the benefit of those still searching and pulling their hair out.

Now, currently, my work is only available through Kindle, and Amazon via Createspace, so those are the formats I'm prepared to discuss. Eventually, I do plan on using Smashwords, which I've heard is generally really simple, and I'll go over that additionally when I get to it.

I do all my own formatting through Microsoft Word, but a lot of the steps should be pretty much the same. So, let's go.


Let's start with Kindle, as a lot of newer, young, self-published authors are doing the e-book only route.

Now, you have your manuscript, editing and final proofreading is complete, formatting it properly is the only thing left before you upload and hit that big, green, publish button. To be honest, though, and to make things easiest, formatting should start before you even put down the first word. One of the biggest issues I've seen Kindle authors complain about, is having a massive indent at the beginning of paragraphs and dialogue. I had that issue myself before I learned the trick. It's actually very simple.

In the Paragraph section from the Home bar, click on Line spacing and then in that menu, click on Line spacing options. Where it says Indentation, under Special, choose First Line and then under By, choose how deep you want the indent to be. Mine is set at 0.5". Use this, and NOT hitting Tab at the beginning of a paragraph or dialogue, and you should have no indentation issues with Kindle. At least in the main manuscript.

If you do that from the start of writing your piece, that should alleviate a lot of headaches later on. Now, I want to introduce you to your new best friend. The show/hide button.

With this button turned on, you suddenly see your manuscript filled with thousands of odd symbols. Those are the formatting carriers that are normally hidden (hence, the show/hide button) which represent spaces, Enter strokes, and any other little details. To be blunt, you want as few of those symbols as humanly possible. Of course, you can't take out spaces or Enter pops from the end of a paragraph, so what I really mean is, don't use them extraneously. Don't hit the Enter key a bunch of times to create separations. Hit it once to clear the paragraph and then add a page break.

Page breaks are easy, you go to the Insert tab, and then under Pages, it should be right there. That ends the section you're on and automatically begins the next part on a new page.

Now, things may look a little odd depending on how you have the view of the work set-up. So I recommend going to the View tab and choosing Web Outline. That is effectively, how your book will look on the Kindle. Minus whatever you have when the show/hide button is on.

Now, you can make things more complicated if you wish, with a Table of Contents, which includes headers at the beginning of each chapter, but that really isn't quite a necessity in fiction works. Also, when you're talking about kindle, there's no need to worry about font size or type, as it generally lets the reader choose how they want to see the words.

A common suggestion is to turn off widow/orphan control. I must admit, I've never done this, and I've never had any problems with them. I actually think there is some confusion about what they are. So, from the Microsoft Word Help file...
"The last line of a paragraph by itself at the top of a page is known as a widow. The first line of a paragraph by itself at the bottom of a page is known as an orphan."
So, there's that if you wish to turn off the control of widows and orphans. I don't know that it really hurts or helps much one way or another.

Now, before I call that good for the day, I want to make a few notes for those who don't feel comfortable doing it themselves or need extra help. There are two main ways to do it otherwise. The first is simply to hire someone else to do it. There are several companies online that offer e-book formatting, one which I initially considered using before deciding to do it myself is the website 52novels.com. This would be the company used by one J.A. Konrath and they do layout and formatting for both print and e-books. I mainly shied away due to monetary concerns.

The other option people seem to like are formatting programs. Of those available, I've heard Scrivener listed as being among the best and most recommended. I must confess to not knowing much about it, but the program and instructions for how to use it are fairly easy to find, both across the internet and in book form. (It even has a version of "for dummies" available for it.)

So there you have it. Pretty quick, easy, and simple. You can check out my books to see how well it works and if you have any more tips or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. Thanks.

~ Shaun

Monday, September 16, 2013

Stories about me.

Odd, the things that can make you think. Currently, I'm reading (or attempting to read at the very least) House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski.  And I must admit, due to either it's tempting madness that it inspires, or the boredom of my mind through it's various footnotes and tangents, it has given me a fair few thoughts which seem nearly as random as the story itself.

While I could easily spend this post delving into the theories of what constitutes madness, the truth of the written word VS. the television screen, and how lucky some of us are that we choose to not let the English language devolve into the likes of Lol's and OMFG's, I've actually chosen to share some thoughts which are a bit more personal. So then, the question is, who wants to know about me?

To the chagrin of some of my friends, I've fairly constantly re-iterated that I don't have any particularly amusing stories to tell to match the ones they have about hunting, work, or nights of drunken debauchery that certain individuals would probably prefer were forgotten. To say that I don't have any stories of my own to tell isn't exactly accurate, though. Considering my fairly short time on this big, blue, spinning, marble; I actually have had my hands in a number of pies, though few have come up with anything I deemed particularly edible. 

Let's start with the picture there, as well as the one on my Blogger profile. Both are leftovers from an ill-fated attempt at becoming an Actor. It began with an open call on the radio while I was working one afternoon. At the time, I had suspended my college activities and wasn't up to much else other than the part-time job I had. So on the listed day, I hopped the ferry to Seattle and walked through downtown to where the auditions were being held. The auditions weren't for any particular part, but for an agency, looking to expand it's list of paying clients. I did my audition, smiled, and went on my way. A few weeks later I was called back and invited to come sign up and take classes, of which, there was really only one for people in my age group. I attended and learned a great deal about how to do a commercial. In addition to the cost of the classes (which I would be rather embarrassed to disclose), I paid for professional pictures and upon my return to college, signed up for classes on acting theory and practice. Great fun was had, though my grades weren't particularly good, and I made a significant amount of progress overcoming the introvertedness which had been my bane through high school. One particular class, we split up into pairs. One person was told that their partner had a killer outside the room waiting for them and we were to keep them from leaving at all costs. The other person was told their partner had just ingested poison and had to go get the antidote. In addition, the only thing both people could say to each other was "I can't let you go." So the bell sounds, my partner spits the line out as fast as she can, turns, and dashes for the door. I manage to let out an "AAHH!", my face in a pose I'm sure would not have been out of place in a  cartoon, and then gave chase, by which point she was through the door and out of the room. Yeah, so much for that assignment.

I eventually went on a total of two auditions after that, and then accepted the fact that Seattle wasn't the best place to start an acting career. 

In addition to trying different careers, I have to admit I've known some interesting people as well. I could do an entire blog post about the misadventures of my friend Junkfood Johnny, and that would just be the incidents I was there for. There was the time during Christmas break one year, my mom and I had made cookies the night before and I was walking down to my friend Tractor's house to do the typical christmas break hang-out of video games. As I came up to the yard, I saw Junkfood standing in the road, Tractor in his yard, and both of them screaming and swearing at each other at the top of their lungs. I walked up along the side of the road, looked at one, looked at the other, and then asked, to nobody specific, "Who wants a cookie?" Just like that, the argument was over. Everyone had a cookie, then we all went inside and played video games. I never did even find out what the argument was about, if there was any reason for it to begin with.

Cookies. Is there no problem they can't solve? (Besides obesity).

Then there are the other sides to me. I'm not always as sweet and innocent as I tend to act. (Did I really just say that?) 

At one point in time, I was working as Lot Maintenance for an RV dealership. Through dint of hard work, I managed to convince them to change a seasonal position into a full-time one for the length of my tenure there. Of all places though, I doubt there's anywhere else that I got up to as much mischief. Antics included such things as unplugging the TV sets in every motorhome, (A retaliatory move against the salesmen, who had a bad habit of hiding out and then leaving things on, resulting in dead batteries which were then my job to re-charge), an attempt at the Visine in the coffee prank (Which doesn't actually work), and Superglue attached to just about everything that wasn't nailed down. The creme-de-la-creme though, was the torment I did to one poor old lady that was hired on as Housekeeper. There were several things about her that just aggravated people to no end including spending the entire day cleaning a single bathroom, sometimes not even waiting for people to finish using it, and I, unfortunately, did not make things any easier for her. I took it upon myself, every two weeks or so, to completely re-arrange the supply closet just to mess with her. I switched things up from top to bottom, back to front and right to left. I don't make it a habit of making enemies, but I do feel a little proud about having earned the looong string of expletives she attached to my name when they finally let her go. 

All that doesn't even touch on family, which could make (and probably will if I keep this up long enough.) a blog post of it's own. Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed this little look at me. Enough posts like this, and we may even stumble upon why Horror is my favorite genre. In the meantime, keep in mind that we all have stories to tell.

~ Shaun

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Antagonist

Any Horror story worth its salt will have a good and hopefully memorable antagonist. An opponent to the heroes that gets in their way at every turn, trying to kill and/or devour our hapless protagonists throughout the story. Sometimes you have a vicious monster, who happens to have caught their scent and thinks they smell absolutely delicious. Other times you have a villain who is chasing after them to take revenge for some past slight or just out of convenience or some other reason. Occasionally, the enemy is inside, a frayed thread in one of the character's heads that threatens to snap at any moment under the daily pressures they face. Regardless, if your main character gets up, goes out to get his mail, comes back inside and nothing happens and that's the whole story, very few people are going to want to read it. The antagonist is what gives the story its guts. The antagonist is what creates the problems that the story needs to set right before the end. So it doesn't really need to be said, but, the more memorable your antagonist is, the better.

The Monster 

The Monster is a machine. They are typically animals of some kind or another, merely searching for their next meal, or for something else they need biologically. The Alien creature from the movie Alien is the perfect example. It doesn't care about the pecking order of the crew of the ship, or about the humans and what their plans are. It is an animal, loosed upon a new environment and doing the only thing it knows how, and that is everything it can to survive. The creature from Alien is so memorable because at the time, nothing had ever been seen like it before. The design of the creature and the way it was shot throughout the movie, mostly in shadow, with brief glimpses of its full form played havoc on the imaginations of anyone who saw the movie. The fact that even when you saw it in full, you weren't seeing everything it could do, through acid blood and the second set of jaws, only added to the magnificence of its form.

The Villain

Is there a better example of the classic villain than The Joker? Utterly insane, he lives to create problems for the heroes. His schemes may stretch the gamut from simple extortion to threatening to destroy the city, or even the world in a fiery cataclysm, but he does it all for one main reason; to make Batman come out and stop him. In both comics and in cartoons, examples have been given that without Batman, Joker doesn't really even want to commit the crimes that he orchestrates. It's all a game to him, and without enough players, it's just not fun. He demonstrates the main difference between the villain and the monster; motivation. Monsters do what they do just because it's what they do. Villains have much more intelligent motivations, be it world domination, pointless destruction, or a few laughs.

Of course, there is always wiggle room, and in popular language, the two have somewhat become mixed. Villains that commit especially heinous acts may be called monsters, many times in a poor attempt to separate him further from the heroes and make his threat seem larger by comparison. There's a small tip, if you have to resort to wordplay to make your antagonist seem like a larger threat, he probably needs more work. Something to keep in mind is that your heroes (or survivors as the case may be), are only as great as the obstacles they overcome. The greater the antagonist, the more impossible it seems to defeat him and the more times the heroes try and fail, the more satisfying is the finale when he is finally overcome. After the story itself, the antagonist is probably the most important feature in a good Horror story, even more than the protagonist that has to get past them.

I've already gone over two of what I think are the most memorable antagonists, I'd like to bring up a few more before I close out, to give examples of what I think makes them truly memorable.

Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7 is one of the best villains ever made. He actually grows throughout the story, as you discover more about him and his fall from grace. His motivations seem simple enough at first, your average revenge riff, but as the story progresses you discover his true goals are much deeper, more destructive, and more evil than that. In addition, his physical strength visually grows throughout the game and twists in the plot even give him power over the heroes in ways that you don't see coming and that are truly terrifying. For the game hailed as the rebirth of the franchise, Sephiroth carries much of the responsibility for that. 

This is a personal favorite, as opposed to a widely recognized one. Godzilla is a great example of the Monster type of antagonist. More than that, he's actually closer to a force of nature. There is no stopping him, there isn't even any hope of slowing him down. The best you can hope for is getting out of the way. That said, there are always people who try. There are always those who try to match force with force and then fail, then there are the real heroes of the story, who use their intelligence to overcome what force failed to affect. I know in some stories, Godzilla became the hero himself, but I like him a lot better when he is an animal at best, lashing out at those he sees as invading his territory. (I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to Legendary's new movie next year either.)

Freddy Kreuger is also one of the best villains in my opinion. He actually has two motivations, which combine into what he is. He was a child killer even before he was burned to death, something he did out of pleasure, and the retaliation of the parents and community only gave him the added bonus of revenge. His abilities to attack in and control people's dreams is what makes him truly frightening as a villain though. There is nowhere to hide and it doesn't matter how far you run. Nobody can help you. You only face him alone and on his terms. How do you fight something that always has the odds stacked in his favor and relishes the pain and fear you feel because of that? It makes those who survive his rampages (if there are any), all the more impressive in the end, and that, is the hallmark of a truly great and memorable villain.

Who did I leave out? Who are some of the best villains and monsters in your opinions? Feel free to leave comments with your thoughts.

~ Shaun

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Class 5 is now available!

As some of you may know, and some of you may not. I hit the big blue publish button on my second book over Labor day weekend. Class 5 is now available on Kindle and in paperback through Amazon or the Createspace store for $2.99 for Kindle and $8.99 for paperback.

Gotta say, that feels pretty good. I've already had one person tell me Class 5 is head and shoulders above my first work and I hope more of you will agree with that. Also, if you haven't already, hit the link up above and Like my facebook page, there will be notices on there to let people know when Class 5 has a free day or two coming up. There's at least a couple coming up in the next few weeks. 

In addition to the release of Class 5, I've also been trying to fix some of the issues with The Unknown Neighbor. I've taken the paperback down from Amazon (at least for new copies), and I've dropped the price on Kindle to $0.99. So if you're curious, give it a snag and see what all the fuss is about. 

I'm keeping things short this week, so I don't end up on a tangent or a senseless rant since I've already taken up a fair bit of space with the release information. So, give the books a look, please leave ratings and reviews on your opinions and thanks for your support. :-) Cheers.

~ Shaun