Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Importance of Proper Editing

You've written a book, gone through it a dozen times on your own, revising, editing, spell-checking, making additions, deletions, and modifications. Now what? Now it goes to a professional editor.

Why? I've been through it myself a dozen times already?! I ran spell-check AND grammar-check! Why should I pay someone else to look through it before I send it out to agents or self-publish it?

Simply put, Professional Editors do it for a living. You probably don't. Let's look at a few more specific reasons. 

1. You've already been through the manuscript over a dozen times yourself. When you're writing, you tend not to see some of the mistakes you make. Your mind knows what it meant to write and after reading through a few times, it starts to replace the wrong words with the words you meant. Spell-check usually won't catch these because the words aren't spelled wrong, they're just the wrong words. In addition to little grammatical details, you know your characters better than what is put on paper. Certain passages might make sense to you because you know a few extra details in your head, but you may have neglected to include those details in the script somewhere, making those passages confusing to the readers. 

2. English is a complicated language, and nobody knows or agrees upon ALL the rules which govern it. The Oxford comma, for example. While generally accepted as a good idea, there are still a lot of people who argue about the necessity of it and choose not to use it in their works. While you're busy writing, it's doubtful you know all of the nuances and subtle rules of the language you're writing in. For a professional editor, however, it's their job to know as many of these tips and tricks as possible.

There are also different types of editing you can have done, each one offering something different to enhancing your work. 

Developmental Editing: This goes through the basics of the manuscript, checking the plot, characterization, pacing, dialogue, and conflict. It makes sure the story as a whole actually works and is told properly. 

Copy Editing: This is a step closer to publication. It looks at things like flow, basic fact-checking, timeline, and word choice. 

Line Editing: The last level before Proofreading and publication. This looks at the words, the grammar, punctuation, and past/present/future tense issues. This is what makes sure you're using the English language properly and that your work isn't a strain to read. 

You can see there is a lot going on in professional editing. Yet there seem to be a lot of books out there which fail miserably in these regards. You would think there would be no reason serious authors would choose to publish without this major step.

I've seen authors have the opinion that they can't get their work edited professionally for two main reasons. 

1. They don't want anyone messing with their "voice". 

- This can be an issue with some worse editors, but mostly, these authors have the opinion that their words should read as if they were speaking them. This is wrong. Spoken words have inflection, coupled with non-verbal signals which allow people to understand what you mean. Written words have nothing but the ink on the page to express themselves with. A lot of works written with worry about the author's "voice" are either expressly simple or extremely difficult to read. Sentences are short and don't use words more than six letters long, or sentences run on for entire paragraphs without comma's or periods, and many times are full of slang and words used improperly. Some people think this makes the work "raw" and more emotional. I'm sorry, it doesn't, and believing otherwise is simply an author being lazy and trying to take shortcuts.

2. Editing is too expensive.

- This may be true, but it's not an excuse. Editing is the difference between selling a few copies to friends and family and selling hundreds or even thousands of copies. If you just want a book with your name on it to show off to relatives visiting from out of state, by all means, save yourself the money. If you want to write professionally though and make money off of your writing, you only hurt yourself by skimping on editing. Bad writers with badly written books generally build up a reputation of that and their books get reviews saying so, making people avoid them. Even if you turn around further down the road and start putting out professional works, it takes time to change a reputation and that is time wasted that you're not making sales because you didn't want to pay out in the first place. 

So, how important is proper, professional editing? Very. It generally means the difference between a best-seller and a bottom-of-the-bargain-barrel pile of recyclables. No one writer is good enough to play both author and editor of their own work. Even Stephen King needs an editor. 

~ Shaun

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

This is the big monster movie of our time. At least until Legendary releases the new Godzilla next year. 

For me, this film worked on a ton of different levels. The level of detail in the monsters (Kaiju) and Robots (Jeagers) was just amazing. There is a lot of real thought gone into their designs, how they move, and how they work. The scale was also well done, making the Kaiju and Jeagers building-sized, but not overly so. 

There are a lot of giant monsters vs. robots that have come before this. In movies, television series, anime and manga. Pacific Rim seems to pay homage to all of them by not screwing up. Granted, it was in the hands of Guillermo Del Toro so there really wasn't a lot of worry to begin with. 

The Monsters: The Kaiju are alien monsters from another dimension, given codenames based on their appearance and category status upon sighting based on their size and weight. 

Pictured: Knifehead, Category 3

The Kaiju forms are all based on actual animals, with modifications to include physical weaponry and to account for some alien morphology. So the monsters are believable because even though they're giant and alien, we still get that sense of familiarity with them. We find out more about them as the movie progresses, but I'm going to do my best here not to leave any real spoilers. 

The robots: The Jeagers are giant robots we built to take the fight directly to the Kaiju. As expected, there are several classes, based on their power source, technological advancement and when they were built. Each country builds their own, the appearance reflecting its country of origin. 

Pictured: Striker Eureka, Class 5, Australia 

The Story: The story is very familiar if you're a fan of anime, as there are honestly just so many ideas to come up with to make giant monsters and robots fight each other. One is the invader, the other is playing defense. There are several aspects which make the story behind Pacific Rim fairly unique though. One of these is Drifting, which is how the pilots work the Jeagers. It also takes two pilots per robot, creating a left side / right side brain dynamic. There is also an idea that the Kaiju are evolving, learning our strategies and getting stronger than the Jeagers we've made so far. 

I would say 95% of the movie is pure awesome, unless you're a romance only movie-goer. The only real complaint I have, is that there are several attempts at humor in the movie which do nothing more than cause irritation at the break in action. One scene in particular, in the middle of a fight no less, involves a Jeager's arm punching into an office building. The camera follows the fist in until it finally reaches full extension and stops, just touching someone's desk just lightly enough to set his Newton's Cradle in motion. Then the arm withdraws, and we go back to the fight. Fifteen seconds of screen time that nobody would miss. The need for tension-breakers in some movies is very strong, but you expect them more in horror and thrillers, not in-your-face action movies. 

One of these if you don't know what a Newton's Cradle is.

Overall, it's an awesome movie and bodes very well for fans of the giant monster genre. The company that made Pacific Rim, Legendary Entertainment, is also currently working on a new version of Godzilla, due out next year, and rumor has it that a script for Pacific Rim 2 is already in the works. Looks like a bad time to live in a major city, and a great time for lovers of destruction. 

~ Shaun

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Whew, Uncle, already.

Well, I made it halfway at least. 

I'm calling it quits on the post-a-day challenge. Doing a post a week makes it seem like it really wouldn't be that difficult, but a post a day really is a whole other monster of its own. The sheer time it takes in writing, posting, and advertising such an ordeal leaves little for actually getting much else done. Time I could be better off spending writing a new book or trying to fix the leaks my first book has. As it is, my second book is nearing the final stretch and I really should be devoting more time to that as well. All this on top of other things which I've set aside for this challenge.

The time it takes notwithstanding, the amount of advertising I've been doing, posting every day on Twitter, Goodreads and on my Facebook page makes me feel like I'm spamming more than anything else. It's not technically the case, I know, but that's how it feels and I don't particularly enjoy that feeling.

Another reason is that I'm discovering the subject I chose actually doesn't run as deep as I thought. When I first chose the subject of cryptids to focus on for the challenge, I set a few rules for myself. 1. I wasn't going to use monsters which were predominantly supernatural. That means no vampires or werewolves, faeries or gremlins, no wendigo or Jersey Devil. 2. I wasn't going to use monsters which tended to being more extraterrestrial in origin, so out goes the Dover Demon and the Flatwoods Monster.

It seems most cryptids fall into one of the categories to which belong creatures I've already covered. Lake and sea monsters, relatives of bigfoot, giant versions of known animals and animals we know of being spotted in areas they aren't known to live. I've already covered most of the most well-known versions of each and a lot of others just don't have the information to really dig into for a blog post. Granted, there are critters which I could post on, but not another 15 - 16. The Loch Ness Monster, Champ, Skunk Ape, Jackalopes. Maybe at some point in the future I might come back and give them their own post, but as you can see, those there are simply two more lake monsters, a bigfoot relative, and a hoax.

Granted, I rushed into this without giving myself much time to plan it out, so I may give the challenge another go later on down the road, but I'm going to sit down and have the entire month planned out first. So. To those who were enjoying this feature and were looking forward to the rest of the month, I apologize, and I hope you won't be too harsh with me for bowing and ducking out rather than struggling through it and putting up sub-par content for a further two weeks.

Now, as I said, my second book is entering the final stretch, so in addition to my apology, I'm going to add in the back of the book blurb for you all to check out. Enjoy, and thanks for reading along.

Seguro, Arizona isn't a town with a bustling night life.

However, on this night, a mechanical malfunction has triggered a desperate and vicious pursuit through the desert. Hunter and hunted alike are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in their missions and neither is going to let anything stand in their way.
Unfortunately, for the residents of Seguro, their quiet little town is about to become the center of a deadly game of hide and seek...

 ~ Shaun

Monday, July 15, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Man-Eating Plants

While there are certainly plants that are sustained by the blood of other creatures and some that can even catch their own food, most are of a size that isn't even a threat to your toe, let alone an entire person. You'll note there, I said MOST.

Name: Ya-Te-Veo, Bloodoak, Man-Eating Tree

Size: Being plants, size varies, but most are at least the size which would be required to catch and kill a human being and grow to well above that size.

Appearance: The Ya-Te-Veo has a short, thick, trunk, and dozens of long, tendril-like branches or vines with which it grabs prey. Other reported plants include giant versions of the Venus Fly-Trap and some species of cacti.

Threat: Medium. While any of these plants could be extremely dangerous to the unaware or even to people who don't take the correct precautions, they remain plants. They're not going to uproot and chase you. Probably.

Fortunately, you're not likely to stumble across one of these plants unless you're deep in the uncharted jungles of the Amazon or the Congo. The fact that they are plants means they can't exactly hide in plain sight like an animal could by staying light on its feet and fleeing at the first unfamiliar sound or smell.

As I've said, it is still a fact that there are plants which consume meat. Venus Fly-Traps, Pitcher Plants, and Sundews are all well-known plants that catch and eat insects, small birds, and even mice and rats if the plant grows big enough. No plants are reliably known to grow big enough to prey upon larger animals than that though. I have seen it suggested that some species of cacti use the scent of their flowers to lure animals close enough to impale themselves on the thorns, thus watering the plant with their blood, or in extreme cases, causing them to collapse at the base of the plant, dying and fertilizing the ground with their rotting corpse, but these stories have never been confirmed.

Is there anything to really substantiate any of these stories besides the fact that plants do eat meat on a smaller scale? Not really. Reports of such plants such as in the picture above have been determined to be hoaxes or anecdotal reports. Granted there are several trees which would look like the ones described. Willow trees, with their long, whip-like branches would be easy candidates for trees that are reported to have the long, thin tendrils to grab people with. A small monkey or other animal hiding unseen, shaking branches trying to scare away intruders could certainly give the impression that the tree was actively moving in search of prey.

Of course, killer plants have been used for monsters and plot devices many times over the years. Some well-known movies were books first, which includes The Ruins, and The Day of the Triffids. Movies are much more abundant, with films like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Little Shop of Horrors, The Happening, and the movie versions of the two books I just mentioned. They also happen to be fairly common adversaries in video games.

Still, it never hurts to watch your fingers when you go to water your plants. They might be thirsting for something a little

~ Shaun

Sunday, July 14, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Sewer Gators

Not all supposed monsters are creatures whose existence is questionable. Sometimes it's just a matter of something being found where nobody would expect it. 

Name: American Alligator

Size: 11 to 15 feet from nose to tail.

Appearance: That of a typical alligator, though there are some reports of Albino specimens being seen or captured. 

Threat: Medium. They are known to attack, kill, and even eat humans when the opportunity presents itself, but they don't go out of their way to track or attack us. 

It's the location of the sightings which helps this critter make the list. Reports of alligators being found in sewers and storm drains in major cities like New York and Chicago, places well outside the American Alligator's range. Fortunately, though, they are limited to the largest and oldest of American cities, ones with the old large and extensive tunnel systems needed to service cities of their sizes. 

How they get there isn't much of a mystery either. Most are simple animals which were illegally obtained as hatchlings who were dumped into the sewer or flushed down the toilet when they started getting too big for their owner's or when their owner's just got bored of them. Some people have suggests, as well, that with summers getting hotter, Alligators have been expanding their range, swimming up the rivers and the coast, and finding entrances into the sewers which provide them shelter when the temperature starts to drop again. 

There are people that belittle the idea of alligators in sewers though, claiming hoaxes and plants for publicity stunts. They point out the lack of decent food sources and the temperature of the sewers as reasons cold-blooded animals like Alligators couldn't survive in such places. Unfortunately, neither of these arguments hold up to any scrutiny. Anyone who has been to one of these types of cities is well aware of the problem with rats, which would provide small to medium alligators with an ample food supply, not to mention any food thrown out by humans which then gets washed down. 

The temperature isn't actually an issue either. It used to be thought that it would be too cold down there for such animals to survive, however, recent investigations have determined the underground levels of most large cities actually maintains and steady temperature almost year round. The dark caverns are insulated from the weather above. An investigation by the show Monsterquest found in New York, even in the middle of winter, with snow falling, had areas of the sewers which maintained a cozy 68 degrees. Ask anyone who has looked into building a house underground and they'll probably be more than happy to tell you what a great natural insulator the earth is. 

The only real issue, is that there isn't enough material in the sewers for them to build nests, so most likely, while one or two might find their way in and set up house, you're not going to find a breeding population. Which explains why the discovery of such creatures remains rare. 

The idea of such large, predatory creatures being right under our feet has inspired a number of movies, most notably the series of movies titled Alligator. It's interesting to note that while a lot of people have trouble differentiating between an alligator and a crocodile, Hollywood doesn't seem to have such an issue, with alligators being city-dwellers while anything actually in a swamp is a crocodile. Of course though, this doesn't seem to matter between the animal actors in such movies. 

Even in cities, it's not a bad idea to keep in mind what could be right underneath your feet. Really starting to feel like there's no place safe from monsters, isn't it?

~ Shaun

Saturday, July 13, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Ahool

Creatures flying through the air aren't limited to bird and people shot out of cannons or giant slingshots. There are also insects and the occasional lizard or squirrel. Then, of course, there are the bats.

Name: Ahool

Size: A wingspan of 10 feet.

Appearance: Typical of a bat, only much larger. Wide, leathery wings, a body covered in grey fur, and large, dark eyes. Some reports describe the face as almost monkey-like.

Threat: Low. It has been known to swoop down at people in boats, but reports of it outright attacking and inflicting injuries are rare. The aggressive behavior it takes fits in with similar actions by animals seeking only to scare away intruders into their territory.

 Fortunately, for those who still have nightmares based on The Wizard of OZ, despite its ability to fly, the Ahool remains reported exclusively on the island of Java in the Philippines. Although reports of other large, bat-like creatures have also been reported in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in the jungles of India.

It's unsurprising that bats are included in the animals of which we fear growing to giant size. Even as small as most species are, they tend to send people running as they flitter about our heads at night. Their leathery wings and unusual way of locating prey, as well as their nocturnal habits all feature into things which confuse and frightened primitive man. The way some species subsist on the blood of much larger animals also brings a certain level of fear and it part of the reason they were connected with vampires. As we've learned more about them, we've even found new reasons to fear them, with the addition of Rabies and other similar diseases they can carry.

The Ahool is one of those creatures, though, that actually has a fair explanation.While there isn't any direct evidence of the creature the Ahool is claimed to be, there is a similar animal which is very rare that lives in the jungles of Java. The Javan Wood Owl is a good candidate to be the creature. Its wingspan is a far cry from that reported of the giant bat, only reaching an average of four feet, but witness estimates of such things are easily exaggerated, particularly at night and in a panic at having something swoop over your head. As the owls have been known to do to people hiking and working near their territory.

Still, the idea of giant bats has the ability to haunt human dreams and the invariably pop up in several movies, TV shows, and books. There is a reason we have Batman and not Nightman, after all. There is just something unnerving about them which bites into us.

As far as entertainment goes, there is The Devil Bat starring Bela Legosi, and The Bat with Vincent Price. More recently are the movies Bats and Vampire Bats (Which I don't believe are related, though I must admit to not having seen them). There is also Attack of the Bat Monsters and The Bat People for those who enjoy the older now-campy monster movies.

So, there really isn't much to be afraid of honestly, as far as bats go. Some may carry Rabies, but those cases are getting rarer and rarer as animals that are even suspected are trapped and destroyed. They're not really out to eat us, or suck us dry. Usually.

~ Shaun

Friday, July 12, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Ogopogo

It seems whenever there is a new fad, you alway quickly get knock-offs, copies, and imitations as everyone tries to have, get, or be the new trend on the block. For a while, it seemed that everyone was trying to claim to have their very own lake monster, despite some people not even having a lake.

Name: Ogopogo

Size: 40 - 50 feet long.

Appearance: This would be the typical sea serpent. A long, serpentine body, with fins, several humps or coils which stick out of the water, as well as a head which reportedly resembles a horse.

Threat: Low. Among all the sightings, none mention the creature attacking or making threatening gestures towards people.

Hundreds or even thousands of lakes around the world have had reports of monsters living in them in the past twenty or thirty years. This one hails from Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada. Ogopogo is one of the more well-known lake monsters, though its popularity never peaked in the same way the Loch Ness Monster's has.

The native tribes that live on the lake have told stories of the creature dating back into the 1800's. The first modern-day sighting though, was in 1926 when traffic on a road next to the lake completely stopped and no less than 30 cars of people claimed to have seen a large, unidentified animal in the water. All the witnesses described the same creature when asked about it.

The name of the creature was originally Naitaka, a name given it by one of the local native american tribes. However, for reasons unknown, the creature started to be called Ogopogo, a name taken from an English song written in 1924.

Sightings of Ogopogo are infrequent, but there are usually one or two a year. Interest in the creature has been enough to spur shows like Monsterquest and Destination Truth to devote an episode to searching for the creature. Some with negligible results, while others turn up some surprising information. It has also been referenced in an episode of The X-Files, the National Geographic series Is It Real?, and even The Venture Brothers.

Due, perhaps, to Ogopogo's rather tame nature, or to the fact that it is so specific in its location, there aren't really any books or movies specifically about the creature. Probably the most well-known lake monster movie is the oldie The Crater Lake Monster. Other titles though that you can look up, which may or may not be similar to the Ogopogo creature are Creature from Black Lake, Serpent Lake, and the ever popular Lake Placid.

So something to keep in mind, you don't have to be out in the ocean, to be unaware of what could be swimming around just underneath your feet. Just ask Jeremy Wade

~ Shaun

Thursday, July 11, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Yeti

We know for a fact that the continents used to be a lot closer together and animals could easily travel from one place to another. As the land masses spread apart, species get separated into different areas and eventually adapt specifically to that area. This creates species which are more or less the same, with small, fundamental differences that allows them to be identified from each other. This is one of the base ideas in the theory of evolution.

Name: Yeti, Abominable Snowman

Size: 6 - 8 feet tall.

Appearance: Human-like, walking upright and covered in hair which is usually described as either a dark brown or white.

Threat: Low-Medium.

If any of you are planning a trip to try and scale Mount Everest (a bucket list item if I ever saw one), that is where most sightings of this creature tend to be, typically at the higher altitudes between 10 - 20,000 feet. Sightings have been made throughout much of the Himalayan mountains where humans live and stories and tales are told from ancient times.

One of the interesting things about the Yeti, Sasquatch, and all the like cryptids from around the world, is how similar they all are in appearance. You would expect different cultures in different parts of the world to see different things, for instance horns, spines, maybe quills. Instead, all of the bigfoot types are remarkably similar to each other, with small differences like the Yeti's white coloration, which would allow it to hide much better as an ambush predator on the snow-covered slopes on which it reportedly lives. Compare this to the dark brown or black of Sasquatch which lives in the dark woods of the Pacific Northwest and the light brown/orange of the Orang-Pendek in the tropical jungles of the Philippines. Such similarities should only help to give credence to their existence, as they demonstrate evolution despite it being a concept foreign to such isolated tribes as many tales of these creatures come from.

Sightings of the Yeti have been made by such notable expeditions as those sent by the Royal Geographical Society in 1925. Sir Edmund Hillary even reported the discovery of large, human-like footprints during his historical ascent of Everest in 1953. I would rather think he would be one to take seriously, as I doubt he would want to suggest he was actually beaten to the mountaintop by someone walking barefoot, no less.

Oddly enough, the Yeti has actually had more screen time than its cousin the Sasquatch, with multiple movies to its name, though books featuring his visage seem to be scarce. His visage was the basis for the Wampa from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and who can forget the Bumble from the classic stop-motion version of Rudolph. Most recently, they made a cameo in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. On top of that, lists seven different movies with Yeti in the title, including this interesting title.

So if you find yourself lost in the Himalayas this summer and stumble upon a huge man-beast covered in fur. Offer him a hug, that may be all he's looking for.

~ Shaun

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Rods

So, I've noticed the blog is posting things by the date I write them, not necessarily by the date it goes up. Sorry if that's caused any confusion, if you want, you can click on the Cryptid label on the bottom right to see only the posts involved in this challenge.

Name: Rods, Skyfish

Size: Variable, from inches to at least one account of almost a mile in length.

Appearance: Long, cylindrical bodies with fins that run their entire length.

Threat: None.

One of the few creatures that seem to be found worldwide. Rods have been caught unexpectedly in pictures from South America, North America, Iraq and Australia. The curious thing about them is that they are never seen with the naked eye, although they have even been caught on video in some cases. They don't seem to have a preference between night or day, and they seem to roam in groups, although larger specimens have been seen traveling along.

The fact that Rods are never seen with the naked eye, has led some to speculate that the creatures are spirits, tiny UFO's, or even inter-dimensional animals. While any of those could certainly be possible, it would seem to me to be just as likely that they simply reflect a spectrum of light just outside of our visual range, rather than any particular color. You have to admit, it would be almost impossible to beat that kind of camouflage outside of heat sensors or infrared goggles. To a degree, the fact that we can't see them could also be attributed to their speed, which under some estimates is faster than the speed of sound.

Pictures of the sky in which they have appeared, taken in rapid succession, show them crossing the expanse of sky  in the frame in a matter of seconds. Given speeds like that and their relatively small dimensions, excluding length, it would be a simple matter for one to zip right before your eyes and you would never have a clue.

There really is a lot here to work with, between speeds, lengths, and a degree of invisibility, so it's a little surprising they haven't appeared in movies or literature. They are a recent find, though, only first being spotted in 1994, with sightings fairly scarce since then, despite them all being caught on film.

There is one other reason there hasn't been any movies or stories told about these creatures. That would be the fact that they just plain don't exist. The real reason nobody has ever seen one without a camera is that we can see them for what they really are, which, unfortunately, is just moths, butterflies, and other flying insects. The Rod is simply an effect created when an insect flies past the camera with a little 'oomph' behind it and the camera captures several wingbeats and distance traveled in a single frame. A company in China actually had several "Rods" appear on their surveillance cameras, so as an experiment, they set up nets to try and capture them and set to watching the video. When Rods appeared, they closed the nets and went to check their catch, finding only moths and other common bugs.

Still, it creates some food for thought. After all, the spectrum of light that we see is miniscule compared to the  full range possible in nature. It really wouldn't be that inconceivable that creatures could be out there that simply don't reflect light in the visible range, rendering themselves invisible to us. Who knows, there could be such creatures in the room with you right now, and you'd never even know it. Maybe that slight brush against your hair wasn't just a small breeze, after all.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Thunderbird

It only seems natural that people take things that scare them, and imagine stories of those creatures but enlarged to monstrous sizes. Everything from spiders and leeches to bats and people have been super-sized to inspire fear and terror. When it becomes interesting is when there are tales told of giant animals which don't normally inspire horror and loathing.

Name: Roc, Thunderbird, many tribes of native americans were aware of the stories of the creature though, and each has their own name for it. 

Size: Differing reports suggest animals with wingspans anywhere between ten to 20 or even 30 feet wide.

Appearance: A giant bird, with a head that can either be similar to an eagle or a vulture. 

Threat: Low. While the Thunderbird is told to be extremely powerful, there are no contemporary stories of these creatures actively hunting adult humans, even though a carnivorous bird at that size would have little difficulty in such a feat. 

Reported sightings remain scarce, but consistent in the southern US, with sightings as far North as Illinois. What makes the sightings hard to verify is the fact that almost all are of the animal in flight at high altitudes, giving little to make size comparisons with. The best reports are those of pilots in private aircraft who occasionally see exceptionally large birds that they can't identify, following in their tailwind. 

Several photos taken in the old west, report to show slain creatures which were claimed to be the mythical Thunderbird. Most of these have since been reported as fakes, but some remain unverified. The creatures pictured however, resemble the prehistoric Pterosaurs than the giant eagles of legend. It is curious however, as the science of paleontology was not widely known during that period and so good fakes of creatures which were yet to be discovered makes one pause and wonder if the Thunderbird legend could have been inspired by surviving flying reptiles. I find that doubtful, though. The legends of the native americans across the areas where Thunderbirds were occasionally seen are remarkably consistent in what they describe, and they describe a large bird, with feathers, not something which would probably described as bat-like. 

The most likely theory put forth, is that of large non-native birds getting lost somehow or searching for places to expand their territory. Sightings of Thunderbirds in Alaska, for instance, are mainly attributed to sightings of Stellar's Sea Eagles, which regularly boasts a wingspan of eight feet. There is also one reported encounter from Illinois about three boys who were playing in their backyard when a pair of large birds swooped down on them, grabbing one of them, lifting him about two feet off the ground and carrying him about thirty feet before letting go. The descriptions of the birds given by the boys and other witnesses matched up with descriptions of the Andean Condor. How the birds ended up so far from the Andes is anyone's guess. 

Giant birds have appeared several times through writing and movies. More often than not, they are simply depicted as giant, flying monsters, rather than described as the mythical Thunderbird. One of the most well known is the giant bird monster from the era of old Hollywood The Giant Claw. After that are movies such as Roadkill. As stated though, these are giant birds, and not specifically the Thunderbird, which in legends was more of an ally or a warning, or even one of the Gods as opposed to an actual threat to man.

Try to keep in mind as you're traveling this summer, especially if you happen to be on a long car trip through the southern states, in addition to what could be underground, underwater, or in the woods, sometimes all it takes to see something unusual is to look up and see what's right above your head.

~ Shaun

Monday, July 8, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Mokele-mbembe

Tropical rain forests seem to make excellent places for large creatures to hide. Maybe it's got something to do with the brush which grows so thick it can take days to hack a trail only a mile or two long. Then again, maybe it's got something to do with the weather. Nobody likes hiking in the rain after all.

Name: Mokele-mbembe

Size: It is suggested to be at least the size of an elephant, and a hint can be taken from its name which means "One who stops the flow of rivers" in the native Lingala language.

Appearance: Many descriptions describe the creature as having a huge body, long neck, and a small head, giving the animal an appearance not unlike the classic Sauropod dinosaur. Physical descriptions are also enhanced by the fact that in this case, early explorers took picture books with them to let natives point out similar creatures, and many native tribes did pick out the picture of a Sauropod as being Mokele-mbembe.

Threat: Low. Some reports blame the creature for flipping boats, but they are generally a result of the creature's passing, and not done out of any malicious nature or intent to harm, though like all animals, it can be aggressive if threatened.

This isn't an animal you're going to come across in just any river though. Reports come solely out of the depths of the Congo jungle, where the creature hides under the waters of the river, only coming out to feed on the trees which overhang the water.

Stories of the creature have been attracting attention for well over two-hundred years now, the first known record of it being in 1776 by a French missionary who discovered tracks of an unknown creature which were three feet across. In 1919, an expedition sent into Africa by the Smithsonian Institution to collect plant and animal specimens also reported giant tracks that they were unable to identify, along with roars and sounds which they could attribute to no known animal. More recently, expeditions have been done for several television shows, including Monsterquest, Destination Truth, and Beast Hunter.

While the idea of a living dinosaur is certainly an interesting and beloved one, the idea that a land-based dinosaur surviving through the ages is about as remote as it gets, especially one of this size and type. To have survived through all the various ice ages, changes in weather patterns, through the evolution of the plants it eats and the diseases to which it is exposed (to say nothing of being able to survive contact with man) are odds that would quickly make you rich in Las Vegas. Most likely, it would be a good example of convergent evolution, creating a creature which appears similar to a Sauropod, while not actually being a species of dinosaur which has survived. My guess would be that this is a creature completely unknown to science or a large species of undiscovered elephant.

The Mokele-mbembe has had a fair amount of use as a device in older movies and books. Many of which use it more as a footnote in tales of exploration in the dark jungles of Africa than as a goal in and of itself. The most well known of stories involving this particular creature is probably the 1985 film, Baby, Secret of the Lost Legend. While a good movie, it is very hard to find, as it hasn't made the jump from VHS to DVD. I do recommend it if you can find it though.

Still, wouldn't be a bad idea to keep your eyes open and watching the water if you happen to find yourself floating down the Congo river this summer.

~ Shaun

Sunday, July 7, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Oklahoma Octopus

There are basically three kinds of cryptid creatures. There are the creatures found in myth and legend. There are the animals which we know used to exist and now argue over whether or not they still do, and lastly, there are creatures which seem to pop up in places nobody would expect them to. Like an octopus in the middle of Oklahoma.

Name: Oklahoma Octopus

Size: Reports give it the size of a horse, which would easily give it an arm-span of 25-30 feet. Similar in size to some reports of the Giant Pacific Octopus which lives in Puget Sound in Washington State.

Appearance: People describe a creature with multiple long tentacles and reddish-brown in color occasionally rising to the surface, then disappearing under the water.

Threat: Medium to high. It has been reported to grab swimmers and drag them down and the lakes it is claimed to be in has continually reported increasing rates of unexplained drownings, upon which this creature is blamed.

It rather goes without saying that this creature is found in Oklahoma. Specifically, reports of attacks and sightings focus on Lakes Thunderbird, Tenkiller, and Oolagah. Which presents our first problem for the existence of this creature. All of these lakes are man-made and none are older than a hundred years. So creatures that have been there for centuries these critters aren't.

Still, there are legends of the native americans about creatures which lived in the ponds and rivers before the lakes were there, and it is certainly possible that suddenly being given a much larger area to live in with a more than abundant food supply would allow creatures which were previously minor threats and annoyances to become real monsters. That is very possible given the time frame we are currently working with.

The other problem is the water. To date, there are no known species of freshwater octopus and many experts will make a definite statement that it isn't possible. Personally, I disagree with that. Many saltwater species have made the transition to freshwater and just as many animals regularly go back and forth through estuaries and river systems. There are freshwater dolphins and jellyfish, and Bull Sharks have been seen and even caught living miles upstream in pure freshwater. So to say any animal couldn't make the transition is unnecessarily closing off avenues of the imagination. Just because we haven't found one, doesn't mean one doesn't exist.

More than likely, though, this is one that probably doesn't. What is known to be in the lake are introduced giant catfish which match the coloration of the Oklahoma Octopus. Their whiskers could very easily, in a panic, be taken for tentacles and large enough catfish are known to attack and pull down people into the depths to drown. As an introduced species with no natural predators and being fed on a constant basis by fishermen, they are also known to be able to grow to massive sizes and to be completely unafraid of humans.

As expected of a creature this recent, literature and even movies about it are extremely rare. The best I can find is an episode of the Animal Planet "found footage" series Lost Tapes. There isn't even a cheesy SyFy Original movie. Yet.

Still, you never know sometimes. 

~ Shaun

Saturday, July 6, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Mongolian Death Worm

Some people like worms, some don't. Gardeners generally like worms. Veterinarians and Doctors, not so much. They're slimy, segmented, faceless and are probably underneath you right now in the millions. Different worms live in different places though, and for that, we should probably be grateful.

Name: Mongolian Death Worm, Olgoi-Khorkoi

Size: 2 to 5 feet in length.

Appearance: A blood-red worm, its body is said to be anywhere from 15 to 24 inches around (38 to 60 cm). Some reports claim it is impossible to tell which end is the head and which is the tail, while others claim the head has a circular opening in the center, ringed with teeth.

Threat: High. As you would expect from where it lives, the Death Worm is an opportunistic feeder and is reported to take down camels, horses, and anything else that crosses its path with a combination of acid and electricity.

Fortunately, unless the illegal animal trade knows something the rest of us don't, you're only going to come across this creature deep in the depths of the Gobi desert. Not exactly the number one tourist spot in the world, even before the death worm is taken into account. One reason for the doubt as to its existence is the fact that it reportedly lives in one of the few areas of the world that are left to indigenous tribes. There are only 3 people for every square mile living in the area of the Gobi, most of which are family groups of 15 - 20 people, which means, for every family group living together, there are five square miles of empty, unwatched desert where this thing could be sunbathing for all we know.

There there are its weapons. Reportedly, the Death Worm is capable of sending out electric shocks, much like Electric Eels or Catfish. It lies in wait just under the sand for something to get too close, where it then releases the shock, stunning and sending the prey to the ground in convulsions. The effects of the shock are only temporary though, the killing stroke is when the worm then lifts itself out of the sand and sprays the pray with a powerful acid which can reach as far as three feet. Prey animals then die from a mix of the burns from the acid and exposure as their wounds prevent them from getting back up. This allows the worm to effectively eat at it's leisure.

One of the interesting things about this creature, is the amount of scientific interest in it, despite the lack of hard evidence. Most reports of sightings are anecdotal, second, third, or even fourth-hand reports from local tribesman and nomads. No actual pictures exist, only drawings on parchment and animal skins. No partial remains have been found, nor even leftovers from one of its meals, which would undoubtedly yield samples of the creature's acidic spit at the very least. Nothing has ever been found, and yet the television series Destination Truth and Beast Hunter have both mounted expeditions looking for it, as well as the Centre for Fortean Zoology and Zoological journalist Richard Freeman. You almost wonder if they know something we don't.

Despite being a fairly recent addition to the list of questionable animals created by western science, the Mongolian Death Worm has had a fair share of influence on both books and movies. It's unknown for sure, but it wouldn't be a bad assumption to make that Frank Herbert had it in mind while writing Dune. The monsters in the movie Tremors can also be attributed, at least in part, to stories of the Death Worm. It has had its own movie on the SyFy channel and even been referenced in cartoons.

So, while it's unlikely anyone reading my blog here is planning a family vacation to the Gobi, it is a good idea to keep in mind the natural world around you. In the sky, in the trees, on the ground, and especially don't forget about what's under the ground. What could be down there, right underneath your feet, right now?

~ Shaun

Friday, July 5, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Megalania

Ah. Australia. Home of the most poisonous snakes, spiders, fish, and ants in the world. That's not how it used to be though. It used to be worse.

Name: Megalania, Giant Ripper Lizard.

Size: Estimates from remains mark the creature anywhere between 4.5 to 7 meters in length (15 to 23 feet.)

Appearance: This is effectively, a monitor lizard, similar to the Komodo Dragon and probably looks much the same, only much, much bigger.

Threat: High. This is a predator. No if's, ands, or buts. It WILL track you, catch you, kill you, and eat you.

This isn't just an animal which people have caught glimpses of, and which MIGHT be out there. We know for a fact, this creature used to be there and in fairly significant numbers. The real question is whether or not the animal is actually extinct like the Australian government would probably like us to believe. (Disclaimer: I am not a hardcore conspiracy theorist. Unless it comes to aliens and UFO's.) Though, why they would think something like this would scare people away after everything else Australia has to offer, is beyond me.

Taxonomy, the science of classifying animals, puts Megalania in the same group of animals as the Komodo Dragons, and, if this is accurate, indicates that on top of being a 30 foot long, 2-ton lizard, it was probably poisonous as well. Why a 30-foot, 2-ton lizard needs to be poisonous, I don't know.

Of all the creatures I'm going to go over this month, this one probably has the best and most direct evidence for it's existence. For a start, we know it used to exist already. We know this is a real animal. In 1979, a farmer in Central Queensland, Australia, discovered a collection of bones in a corner of his property. Upon taking them to the University of Brisbane, they were identified as Megalania bones. That was quite a find in and of itself already, but the real kicker was when the bones were dated. It was determined that the bones were actually only 300 years old! Merely the blink of an eye in geologic time and almost a thousand years after Megalania was thought to have been extinct.

In addition to fairly recent remains, footprints have been found, and sightings have even been made by respected scientists as in the case of Herpetologist Frank Gordon. There are even some aboriginal tribes who insist that even to this day, they know of, respect, and fear these monstrous creatures, claiming sounds in the jungles where they live are made by them.

Surprisingly, there aren't many stories which include the Megalania in their work, as a monster or even as a creature of interest. The Animal Planet series Lost Tapes, included an episode based on Megalania called "Devil Dragon" where we never actually see the animal, only the dumb guy who got bit being dragged off camera into the scrub. As well, the animal was featured in an episode of the History channel's Monsterquest. The sad fact of the matter is that despite Megalania's fearsome size, power, and poisonous bite, it just doesn't compare to the awe inspired by Tyrannosaurus Rex, or the small, deadly quickness of Velociraptor. While some people don't like any kind of reptile, most people aren't going to be afraid of an over-sized lizard. Even if it is the size of a bus.

So. I'm packed. Anyone else want to head down under?

~ Shaun

Thursday, July 4, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Megaconda

It's a given, that the South American rain forest is teeming with animals and plants yet to be discovered by science. Most are small, like this cricket discovered in a cave in Venezuela, which can swim and eats flesh. The idea that larger animals could be slinking through the trees, ground-litter and the murky water, is one that is easy to accept.

Name: Giant Anaconda, Megaconda, Titanoboa

Length: 40 - 60 feet

Appearance: Reports are of a common Anaconda, easily found in the amazon rain forest, but in sizes that are not accepted for the species. The common anaconda is accepted to reach lengths of up to 18 feet, far from the 40 - 60 feet claims which come out of the jungle every two to three years.

Threat: High. Snakes are known to be opportunistic carnivores, eating whatever they can swallow. The width of a human's shoulders generally impedes a large snake's ability to devour a person, though it is known through several reports that Anaconda's and even some large Boa's have attempted to eat people. A snake the size of the giant anaconda, would have no difficulty in catching, killing, and devouring a human adult whole

Sightings are mostly anecdotal, stories from native tribes and the rare glimpse of a serpent with nothing around to help judge its size accurately. The fact that these snakes are aquatic, and the murkiness of the Amazon river can make it very difficult to determine a snake's size. You may be able to see the head and ten feet clearly, but there is really no telling how much of the snake is still hidden in the water. It could be six feet, or it could be another twenty. That the issue is a matter of size of a known animal rather than a new species, coloration doesn't vary either between the common and the giant anaconda.

Outside of sightings, the only other evidence are skins, shed and whole. Shed skin can give some hints, from the size of individual scales, but shed skins are very fragile and a whole shed skin the size of a giant anaconda would be extremely difficult to find. The other option would be a real skin, but those can be lengthened out to up to 50% longer than they were in life through the tanning process. So for a real skin to be accepted to be from a giant anaconda, it would probably have to reach 60 to 80 feet long or more.

While the giant anaconda is limited to the Amazon rain forests of South America, there is a current problem in the Florida Everglades with Reticulated and Burmese Pythons. The perfect climate and the lack of any natural predators means a lot of these snakes are quickly growing to threatening sizes that, while they may not be able to devour an adult human, they could still easily kill one, and it would be very possible that smaller children could disappear, only to turn up inside a large snake.

As far as movies go, it would be remiss to discuss this monster without the movie that bears its name. Giant snakes have been a common movie monster, and have seen several incarnations, from Anacondas to Boas, Cobras and Dragons. In a few lesser movies, they even fought each other. They seem to be much less popular in books, however, being trumped by more threatening reptiles such as alligators, crocodiles and dinosaurs.

While most scientists will dismiss the idea of snakes that big, there are ones that size and larger in the fossil record, and reports of sightings continue to this day. Two facts which support the possibility of such large serpents. Snakes can continue to grow throughout their lives, based on the amount of food available, so with a constant supply of food, as is provided by farming communities in the Amazon now. Also, there is a large amount of the Amazon which remains to be explored in the current age, between 60 to 80% depending on some sources. So it's very likely there are large animals left to be discovered.

So if you travel to the Everglades or down to South America, be aware if you go swimming in the rivers. These ambush predators aren't picky about what they grab, even if they don't find out they can't eat their prey until after it's dead.

~ Shaun