Friday, June 28, 2013

On Tonight's Edition...

Time for some news.

June has come and gone and it's been a long one, without too much going on really. July is already shaping up to be a much busier month.

My second book, Class 5, is heading in to the editor's office the second week of the month. In addition, I've already sent in a request for cover art, so that is in the works too. If all goes well and things fall into place quickly, I'm hoping for an early August release, but we'll see how that goes.

I also got my second opinion back on my first book, and I have a lot of work to do. To everyone that read it and was not impressed, I apologize. I'm going to make some changes and hopefully get a semi-fixed version uploaded in the coming month.

Additionally, some of you may (or may not) know that I contributed a short story to the 2013 Seattle Crypticon writing contest and managed to be a finalist and an eventual honorable mention, published in the convention anthology. You can find the entire book here on Amazon, but it is not available as an ebook. I can't make the entire thing available, but what I can do is put my own story up for download, which I plan on doing in the coming future.

Here's the other thing. A while back, I saw some of my fellow bloggers doing a blog-a-day challenge and ever since, I've been thinking about how I could incorporate that into my own blog. Well, with summer here and people traveling and camping, it finally hit me. Monsters. I'm not talking about counting down through Godzilla and the Blob.

 I'm talking about real monsters. Cryptids. Over the coming month, I'm going to try my own little blog-a-day challenge, hitting on Bigfoot, Yeti, Ropens, Mermaids, Chupacabra and the like. After all, you never know what you're going to see when you go walking out in the woods.

So check back on Monday, when we start going over things that, depending on what you believe, might actually be out in the woods, waiting for an unsuspecting hiker to pass within reach...

~ Shaun

Monday, June 24, 2013

Author Interview: Karl Drinkwater

So, my 40th blog post is going to be my first interview with a fellow author. 

Karl Drinkwater is a fellow author I met through I've read and reviewed his book Turner, giving it a full five stars and which I'll add on here as part of the introduction.

"A terrific read. Suspenseful. Fast-paced, but won't break your neck.  
A true page-turner. As a horror writer myself, I take pride in a certain level of familiarity with the types of stories that are out there. This book had me guessing (mostly wrong) the whole way through. The narrative flows with it's own voice while also giving you a sense of familiarity, certain passages reminding of the styles of Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. 
I want to make it a point that the author writes in true English and not American English. Certain parts are also written in Welsh, though they are all followed by translations. Both of these facts only add to the work, as the story reaches back through history. They add a sense of age to the work which makes it all the creepier.
If there was anything I didn't like about the story, it's that you had to be careful which characters you get attached to. This is one of those book where NOBODY is safe from getting the ax. Thankfully, though, the dog stays unharmed."
 I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in a good horror novel.

So, without further ado, allow me to introduce and welcome Mr. Karl Drinkwater. Welcome, and thanks for the interview.

Thanks for asking me!

What got you into writing novels, and why Horror for your first book?

I started writing stories as a child at junior school, and was always fascinated with words and descriptions. I read loads of books and was a year or more above my age in reading ability. One of my favourite things was climbing the weeping willow at the bottom of the garden and reading books, either Enid Blyton or scary stories, the branch moving slightly beneath me.

For many years I wrote short stories but they got longer and longer until I realised I was ready to tackle a novel.

You’re right that my first book to reach the wider world is horror, but it isn’t the first novel I wrote. I spent a year writing a story of relationships in an office. Every break time and lunch time at work I would wheel my chair to the desk behind me where all my sheets of paper were stacked up and continue hand-writing the novel. Then at the end of the break would spin round and go back to library work. However, that book needed lots of work. I couldn’t see how to fix the imperfections at the time, and it ended up shoved into a drawer. I decided that I would try something with a faster pace, a tighter grip on the reader, something they wouldn’t want to put down. I remember pondering it while lay on my bed doodling one day, and decided I would write Turner to tick all those boxes. I called my girlfriend into the room. “Let’s go on a holiday to a mostly-deserted island, preferably without electricity.” She probably thought I was a bit mad, but then did the research and we chose Bardsey Island. Stayed there a week and I hand-wrote Turner, incorporating some elements of the island into the fiction. Then the weather turned bad and we couldn’t get away. I actually had to ring work and tell them I’d be missing a meeting because I was stuck on an island. Great fun to tell that to your boss and for it to be true. After reaching the mainland again it took a surprisingly long time to type the novel up, rewrite it, work with editors and a proof-reader and so on before it actually birthed itself in a peal of thunder, blood, and whirring chainsaws.

So horror was really my second novel, after my failure to write a literary masterpiece that twanged the heartstrings like a pink guitar being plucked by a drunken fat-fingered man in a red raincoat.

After Turner, you went back to Literary writing though, with your most recent book Cold Fusion 2000, correct? I have to admit to not having read that book, yet. Can you tell us a little bit about it ?

Well, it’s a book about how the past affects us, and the difficulties some people have in moving on. At its heart it is a love story but is also about life, coping, and maturity, seen through the lens of a physics- and poetry-obsessed super-geek (the physics and the poetry illustrate different and often-competing parts of his personality). I took a big chance with this book and used a structure that relies on the reader making connections - almost impersonating the main character - in order to understand a major part of the story. I wrote it in an ambiguous way that means anyone can enjoy the main story but things often have two meanings, and a reader who puts in the time and effort is rewarded with certain patterns that change the meaning. It’s difficult to say more without giving it away, but I’ve been lucky with my readers, and many of the reviews of the book have been really perceptive, have understood what I was trying to do. That feels absolutely fantastic. I love readers who ‘get it’.

It is actually a partner novel to the one I’m writing at the moment. Both stories about relationships set in Manchester in the year 2000, chosen as a turning point in lives, a time to re-evaluate what we want to achieve. The one I’m writing now has a lot of crossovers in place, theme, and even some minor characters. Hopefully when taken together they’ll add up to more than their parts.

Sounds intricate. Could this be the start of an entire series?

No, just two books, partners for life. I’m planning on making the covers match up when placed side by side. Apart from one or two short stories related to the characters I’ll move on completely when the novels are finished. Same with Turner – there will be a sequel, but that will then end the story. None of this trilogy stuff for me. I’ve always thought two of anything is enough, and the best things come in pairs. Apart from chocolate cakes, of which you can never have enough.

I can only take so much chocolate myself. I prefer a nice homemade Red Velvet cake. If I had my grandma's recipe I'd always have one made. But then again, I'm not much of a cook. I once screwed up macaroni and cheese so bad my dog wouldn't eat it. Anyway, between your two books on and on you've got a total of 55 ratings/reviews, two of which are are two-stars while the rest are three or better. Is there anything you're not good at?

Ha ha! I’m not good at lots of things. I am not good at following my own advice, dished out so freely to others; I am not always good at resisting temptation; I’m not very good at dealing with the state of the world and human nature which can leave me rather depressed if I’m not careful. But in those cases I think you just have to do something positive (write some letters, give a donation, go out and do something) then not dwell on the issue too much. I’m not as good at handstands as I’d like, and I have the typical man/runner problem of not being good at doing forward bends. Which suggests I should go to yoga more, but I’m more likely to be distracted by a game of Plants versus Zombies, or drinking wine and eating chocolate on the beach.

As to reviews, obviously we make the books as good as we can, then revise and improve as necessary. Getting the audience right is key. I’ve discovered that giveaways are great for building awareness of your work, but it also means people who don’t even like your type of book enter it just to get something for free. Then give you a lower-scoring review, which is counter productive. Being able to target people who will enjoy your book whilst excluding others is important. Then everyone is happy. Like many things, it is easier said than done.

Would certainly be nice if we could keep our books out of the hands of people who aren't really interested in the genres we write in, but then, some people surprise themselves by liking something they hadn't thought they would. At the very least, they may like a particular author enough to appreciate the writing and the story while looking past the genre the work is in.

You're also from the UK. Aside from the obvious differences in language (humor vs. humour for example), have you noticed any differences in how other countries look at writing and books?

Good point about expanding a reader’s appreciation of other genres.

Mmm, that’s a tricky one, about differences. From the reviews it seems that some US readers warn others that the language is UK English and not to be put off by it. which struck me as strange the first time I saw it since in the UK we read US and UK books and never think twice about which it is, we just adapt to the text. I have quite a few readers in Nordic countries and I noticed they are very good at analysing parts of the text, or it could just be the particular readers I’ve attracted! Overall though I just see an international community of readers, and am touched by how easy it is to cross national barriers now and find people who appreciate your work.

Well, as Americans, we tend to not view things in a lens of international community. It's more just to tell people, "Some of these words aren't spelled like you're used to, but they are correct." Otherwise you might get reviews which talk about how many misspelled words you have.

Do you have an ultimate goal for your writing?

To be able to make a living off it would be nice! But really I just want to write things I’m proud of, and that can generate emotion in other people, whether it be fear or pity or sadness – I don’t care, as long as it touches people in some way. I pour my love and care into each book, get things out which need to be said, then let them free in the world. I’ve always written stories and I always will, and I look forward to seeing where this takes me.

Sounds good to me. Any final comments you'd like to make?

Only that I wish us both luck with our future writing endeavours! Plus: peace and love to all. The world needs it. Thanks for interviewing me. 

Thanks for your words. 

Where to find Karl and his work
Karl's Writing Blog

Many thanks to Karl for coming and allowing himself to be interviewed here. I greatly encourage anyone interested to take a look at his books. I can personally vouch for Turner and if that's any indication, Cold Fusion 2000 should be an excellent read as well.

~ Shaun

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Judging a book by its cover

Yeah, yeah. We all know the saying. You shouldn't judge a book by its cover. The thing is, it doesn't always apply, especially to books. Also, they may not have said it if they'd had access to photoshop waaay back when.

(This was probably pretty close to 'state of the art' back then.)

Today, we can make covers that show anything and everything, from dinosaurs and aliens, to spaceships and machines which conform to no known laws of physics, and in this age of self-publishing, you can certainly judge a book by its cover; using it as an example of how much effort the author has put into his or her work. 

One of the biggest complaints I've seen about authors who have their books published through a major publisher, is the lack of any control over the cover of their book. Sure, it sounds great, getting specific artists, marketing majors and designers all working on the first thing people will see when they pick your work up, but (since we're using old sayings today) too many cooks spoils the soup. This can end up with book covers that are the literary equivalent of a 'hot mess'. Where the idea of the book is lost in efforts to grab the reader's eye and draw them in with little regard for whether or not they would be willing to read the type of story which is inside. 

(Um. Okay. Yeah, this says Horror story.)

Self-published authors need to be careful, though. A lot of photographers actually copyright their photos so that you can't just snag any picture you want off the internet and slap your title and name across it. As well, a lot of people now are getting used to the signs of photoshopped images, even if they might not realize it. Ask anyone these days and I'm sure they can tell you they've seen pictures which just "didn't look right" even if they have no idea why. 

Artwork aside, there are a lot of considerations for a perspective self-published author. The proper Title is another issue, as well as font, size and placement of the Title.The third major detail is, of course, the author's name. 

Some established authors, such as Mr. King, seen above, are so well-known, that their name actually takes precedence on the book over the title. Some are so well known, along with what they write, that they can forgo both the title and the artwork and just put their name on the cover and call it done. 

(Pretty sure she could get by without titles at all, at this point. We all know what's behind this cover just based on who wrote it.)

Most of us self-published authors, aren't that well known yet. So while our name is important to have on the book, it's a distant third to the artwork and the cover. 

So, let's start with the artwork, as that will usually be the first thing to grab a potential customer's eye. 

Cover art thoughts.
1. It should be attention grabbing. This isn't as obvious as it seems. Sure action scenes and half-naked people will get attention, but also symbols and items can be used. It's not just images that make you stop and go "WOAH!". It's things which make you do a double-take and think "What is that?". There's a current trend towards simple and plain designs currently as well, a silver sword on a black background, a raven's black head against white, a crown among flames. Part of the reason for this trend is that with the advent of ebooks, advertising is based more on word-of-mouth than books which are trying to snag your eyes from the shelf at a bookstore, and it's becoming a way to cut costs. The power of a cover to attract attention still shouldn't be underestimated by any means, though.

2. The genre of the book should be obvious. People have expectations, and when those expectations aren't met, they tend to get cranky. It really goes without saying that a sci-fi/horror novel shouldn't focus on a beautiful woman and her handsome, shirtless beau riding a horse into the sunset on a beach, and if it does, the title and the blurb on the back or the description page better do a damn good job of telling the reader that they're not about to start an erotic romance story. Likewise, I wouldn't expect to see a dragon on the cover of a crime noir book, nor a headless corpse on the cover of a romance novel. Imagination being what it is, there can be exceptions, but if you're going to start a fight, why would you choose to start at the bottom and battle your way uphill? 

3. It shouldn't be too busy. You don't need to cram every character's face onto the cover, nor do you need a three-way split for the three main turning points in the story. Space is limited (unless you're doing an art book, which is a whole different can of corn) and you need to remember to leave room for the title and your name. It can be tempting to want everything on there and think "Well, this might grab some people, but not others. The other's might like this though, so we'll throw it in there too. And let's not forget this for the younger/older audience...". Throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks is not an effective way to do a book cover. 

The other main component of a cover is the Title. I'm going to try not wading out too deeply with this right now, save for how it applies to the cover. 

When you're coming up with your title, take into account that it's going on the cover of a book. Titles need to be read from a little distance, and in small thumbnail forms. This means longer titles become problems very quickly, as they either get smashed together as to become illegible, or they cover up the artwork you just spent so much time (and/or money) on. Generally speaking, the fewer words you can use, the better, as the bigger and easier to read you can make them without causing collateral damage to the artwork or the eye. 

There isn't really anyplace in particular you're required to place the Title and the author's name. The top, the bottom, down the side. Wherever it goes though, it should be legible, the art shouldn't be obscured too much, and the reader shouldn't have to hunt and peck for any of it. 

As usual, these are my opinions, based on my own observations and any writer should feel free to disregard any part or the post as a whole. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom calling me a loon. At the very least though, it is food for thought. Cheers.

~ Shaun

Sunday, June 9, 2013

What Scares Me?

It really is a simple question, and one more people won't hesitate more than a few seconds to answer. After all, everyone knows something that scares them, even if they won't admit to some of them.

In today's world, fears are mostly things that unnerve us or that we know make life disturbingly hard. Fears don't keep us alive like they used to. Sure, people in the African savannah know to fear lions, rhinos and crocodiles, but most of us don't really need to worry about being stalked, killed, and eaten on our way to the store, work, or school. The large metal boxes we tend to travel in make pretty good protection from mundane teeth and claws.

Pictured: NOT mundane teeth and claws.

In some people, we've even become scared of things which don't make sense, mainly (in my opinion) because of the lack of any other real fear or excitement in our lives. I mean, there's Arachibutyrophobia - Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth, and Sesquipedalophobia- Fear of long words. Those are both things which not only exist, but can influence a person to the point of damaging their quality of life. They may seem like laughing points to those of us who aren't affected by them, or similar fears, but to the people who suffer with them, they are every bit as terrifying as can be spiders, debt, or the idea of cancer.

As a fan of the horror genre, I have a pretty good idea of which subjects send chills down my spine and what things don't. The list of things which don't bother me include clowns, darkness, lightning, and enclosed spaces. There are things which do send chills down my spine, but which don't really impede my ability to function. Here's a little list for those curious about what kind of practical jokes are likely to get to me.

Heights. I actually like this fear. It's an easy one to challenge yourself on. Just climb a ladder until you don't feel comfortable, then push yourself a little higher each time. Or you can go for the overload approach and go sky-diving.

Spiders. I'm not going to turn and run screaming if I see a spider in my house (anymore). Chances are though, I'm probably going to smash it if it comes within reach. If it stays out of reach and minds its own business though, we don't really have any problem co-existing.

Deep water. There's a lot here which makes me squirm, the whole lack of air thing, being in a medium the human body isn't optimized for, as well as being aware of what lives out there and could be swimming underneath me just out of sight all combine to send shivers down my spine. One-on-one, these things don't bother me, it's just all together.

Snakes. Really, the whole idea of snakes is what gets to me. Face-to-face, they're just another animal and outside of a shiver now and again, these are probably one of the things I count as being afraid of the least.

Horror isn't about the little things that just creep us out though. Horror is about the things which send us screaming into the night. It's about the things we don't want to see but can't tear our eyes away from. It's about the things that we actively avoid to the point where, for the few moments the fear is there, our whole lives revolve around getting away from them.

What are the things that make my whole body shiver and make me close the book/change the channel/shut the curtains?

Cannibalism. There was a series on Animal Planet for a few years called Lost Tapes The premise is simply video being found which showed creatures of myth and legend on camera, doing what they do. I LOVED the show and I've seen almost every episode dozens of times to say the least. Except for one episode. The Wendigo. Animals eating people, I have no problem with. Vampires draining people's blood, I have no problem with. People killing and eating other people (typically raw, moments after the kill), I have a serious problem with. I don't know what it is that just disturbs me so about it, (you know, other than the obvious), I just know it does.

Twisted living bodies. I'm not talking about people mangled in car wrecks or anything like that. I mean people moving in ways the human body is not meant to move. All those scenes in the current crop of horror movies that have people spider-walking with their elbows and knees flexing the opposite of how they're supposed to go, just makes me look away. As someone who believes in and accepts the possibility of monsters and freaks hidden in the world around us, it makes what I say next hard to understand, but the way their bodies move while they are twisted around so is just so...unnatural. Trying to quantify it by saying it's not that it looks painful, I actually just realized, part of what makes it so horrible is the complete LACK of pain in all those scenes. It's the lack of pain, despite the knowledge that the human body isn't supposed to twist and bend that way, and the ease with which these beings move which makes them so completely wrong that the mind in no way wants to admit anything like that is even close to possible.

I'm not saying all this to try and sound like I'm cooler or braver than anyone else. It's more like I'm sharing some of how well I know myself, to encourage you to look at the things that scare you, challenge yourself to overcome your fears if you can, or try to understand what it is about those things that scare you. For a horror writer like myself, it's important because if I don't understand what it is about these things that scares me, how can I describe it in such a way and in such detail that the words leap off the page and scare you? 

So, what is it that scares YOU? 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A blog of random thoughts.

So, I apologize for this going up late. Monday was my birthday, not that I did anything particularly worthy of interrupting the schedule, but that's my excuse. As it is, I also don't have a specific theme or topic for today, so I thought I'd go over a few things that I've had bouncing around in my head for a bit that may not be worth full posts in and of themselves. So, it's going to be a little random, and bounce around a bit. Still, I'll try to make it entertaining at the very least.

1. Underlying horrors.

So, when I have trouble sleeping, I pull out my game boy, and I play Pokemon. That sounds horrific enough in and of itself, but it does get worse. First and foremost, Pokemon is a kids game. You run around, catching monsters to train until you can call yourself the best in the country your edition of the game is set in. Sounds pleasant enough, until you actually start thinking about what you're doing.

Pokemon are depicted as intelligent creatures, able to converse with one another and even to speak with humans. Yet, despite all the talk about friendship and such that the game claims to be about, the point of the game is forcing the captured pokemon to fight other captured pokemon in duels until they get knocked unconscious. Worse than that is when you encounter a wild pokemon. It's probably out for a stroll, looking for food or some other menial chore when your slave (because that's what they are) pokemon jumps in front of it and a battle ensues. The slave pokemon gets no choice in the matter and has to fight as its owner commands. For the wild pokemon, the best case scenario of this is a random beating after which its unconscious form will be left bruised and bleeding in the grass where it was found. The worst case scenario is being captured and forced into slavery, spending the rest of its life battling for the amusement and profit of its new owner. God forbid if it had a mate or young waiting for it to return home with food that day.

If that isn't a world of horrors, I don't know what is.

2. Listen to your enemies, for they will tell you your faults.

Enemies is too strong a word, but that's how the saying goes. Anyway, currently my debut novel The Unknown Neighbor is up to six 1-star reviews, more than any other kind. Most of them saying the same things. Some are a bit angrier than others, but still, that is the reviewers space to use, not mine. I hold no grudge against any of them and I will encourage nobody to stand up on my behalf. Everyone is entitled to their opinions.

Now, many people will claim that you should make no attempt to discuss with or contact the people who write you bad reviews. Generally speaking, this is something I agree with, however, when someone appears to be SO upset about your book that not only do they write a bad review, but they also comment on other bad reviews, I can't help but feel a little badly for them. So for those people, I'm posting this information here. If you honestly feel my book (or ANY book which you have purchased through Kindle) is really THAT bad, this is one thing you can do.

"Returning Kindle Books

Books you purchase from the Kindle Store are eligible for return and refund if we receive your request within seven days of the date of purchase. Once a refund is issued, you'll no longer have access to the book. To request a refund and return content, visit Manage Your Kindle, Click the Actions button next to the title you'd like to return, and select Return for refund, or contact customer service."

I want it to be said that I am paying attention and I am listening to my reviewers and those who rate my work. I have been listening, and I am currently scheduled to have a new editor look over my debut novel and give me an opinion on it. Regarding that opinion, I may make some minor changes, or if opinion seems to be strong enough, I will pull the book in order to address some of its weaknesses. I merely wish I could inform some of the people who have reviewed my work of this and offer them copies of the revised version, as they have no problems being blunt with their opinions of the work. I love my family, and I love my friends, but real objectivity seems to be a very hard thing to come by, and no matter whether you think my book is better than sliced bread, or not worth wiping your ass with, I thank you for taking the time to share your opinion. 

3. Branching out. 

There are many ways authors can get their names into different circles. The easiest way to do that is to simply write in different genres. There is a marked difference between The Unknown Neighbor and my next work Class 5. My first was more of a slow-burn, mystery/thriller horror, while the next is strictly fast-paced action from start to finish. I currently have several starts I can work into my next book, which include a short story collection, a more typical monster horror, or even a fantasy work. It remains to be seen which is the next piece to be published, but I'm working on proving that while I prefer horror to be my main topic, I am more than capable of working in different styles and at least a few other genres. Hopefully, I can pull it off. 

~ Shaun 

Rimmer: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Apart from pain. And maybe humiliation and obviously death. And failure. But apart from fear, pain and humiliation, failure, the unknown and death, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Who's with me?"