Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Underused Monsters

Looking for a good monster for your story, but tired of all the vampires, werewolves, and zombies that seem to be crowding out bookstore shelves? Looking for something to read that isn't a re-hash of Twilight or one of a hundred interchangeable undead apocalypse novels? Well, you should enjoy this week's post then. I'm going to be listing some of the more uncommon monsters that are out there. If you're a fellow author, consider that there may be a real lack of works out there for some of these beasties. For my readers, I'm going to try and suggest at least one book for each critter that you can look up. So, without further ado, let's get started.


The Gorgon is a monster from Greek mythology. A woman, cursed by the gods. Her body takes on several serpent-like characteristics, which vary from story to story. Some have snakes for hair, some are venomous, others have snake bodies from the waist down. All have the ability to turn other people to stone, either with the power of their eyes, or just by being looked upon directly. They're also commonly portrayed as master archers or even magic-users. 

To be honest, I couldn't find any good novels to recommend where a Gorgon is used in any concept outside of appropriation of the name. It really strikes me as odd. You would there there would be at least a couple books I could suggest. Some romance writer could even take a Gorgon and make them the tragic main character, looking for love but unable to because looking upon her normally turns everyone to stone. There really seems like there is a lot of potential here that is going to waste. 


Nocturnal, small, stone demon-like monsters. What's not to love. A solid facet of gothic architecture, they adorn buildings around the country in their thousands. Despite their ferocious appearance though, they are supposed to be symbols of protection. Warding off evil and harmful magic. There is also the idea that they come alive at night, making them a perfect substitute for the other denizens of the dark like werewolves and vampires.

Again, there's really a lot here to work with, and while there are stories to be had, including Gargoyle Knight by William Massa, there is so much that could be done here. A story could be based on their appearance and portray them as evil, gremlin-esque, monsters. They could be used as guardians and protectors against a powerful evil. Maybe the horror is in how they're created, or what happens when one is carelessly smashed. As I said, there is so much to work with here, I'm surprised pickings as so slim. 

Alien Greys

I know what you're thinking. Wait. What? But, yes, the Grey aliens are woefully underrepresented in fiction. I don't know why either, they are perfect antagonists for a sci-fi/horror story. What is more terrifying than the idea of something coming into your home, locked doors and windows ignored, swiping you out of your bed and using you to conduct experiments like a giant hairless lab rat? That's not even mentioning the advanced technology they wield. 

Really. The books on the Grey aliens are mostly expose`, "true story" books. And almost every sci-fi movie ever done has been novelized. There are whole series based on the Alien franchise. The Grey aliens need some love too, though. After all, what could be more horrifying than looking out your window late one night, and seeing that bald, white head with those two big eyes staring back at you? 

Of course, that just scratches the surface. Other possibilities in just Greek mythology include Minotaurs, Harpies, Sirens, and Satyrs. All with their own styles and abilities, with which any number of stories could be drawn from. There's literally hundreds of different monsters and creatures out there which are sorely unrepresented in fiction, there's no reason to continue rehashing the same three creatures over and over again. 

But, it's a fad! If you want to make money, you have to get on the bandwagon!

Fads come and go, and by the end, people are getting pretty sick of them. It might seem like the way to make money is to throw shit at the same wall everyone else is, but you'll notice the stuff you threw quickly gets buried in the avalanche. You should also note that by the time you've noticed there's a fad going on, it's well into it's swing. By the time you've thought "Hey, I need to get in on this!", written your book, gotten it edited, and procured cover art, six months have gone by. If you're lucky. If you're on the traditional publishing route, it could be a year or more before your book finally hits shelves. Both are plenty of time for a fad to cool down. 

In the meantime, instead of chasing after the wagon trying to catch up, you can write what you want. Do something everyone else isn't doing. 

Who knows, you may even start a fad of your own.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Building a Book: Choosing How to Publish

It's been a lot longer coming than I originally planned, but this past weekend, I emailed Hannah out to a small publisher to see if there's any interest in taking it. For those of you who need to catch up on my Building a Book series, you can do so here.

For the rest of you, you're probably either excited for me, or just relieved that this series isn't going to continue much longer. Probably. Hopefully. Anyway.

So what comes after writing, revising, revising, beta readers, revising, and more revising? Well, currently, you make a choice. Do you want to go with a publisher, or do you want to self-publish? Now, I'm not going to argue here that one is strictly better than the other. That's an entire blog post in and of itself, and I'm not sure I'm really qualified to open that can of worms. There are pluses and minuses to both, to be sure, but each one is really a different path to the same destination, which is publication.

I'm writing this post at this point, because when you submit to a publisher, they're going to have their own editors they're going to want you to work with, so while you could go through the expense of having an independent editor clean up your work, as long as you've revised and cleaned up the manuscript as well as you can, it's probably unnecessary. On the other hand, if you plan on self-publishing, this is where you would seek out an independent editor, to go through, clean up and make suggestions. You may even want to make another pass with beta readers, just to make sure a work is really ready to be self-published before you go out looking for cover art and uploading to Amazon. That's not what this post is really about though.

People choose different routes for different reasons, each specific to their knowledge, desires, and goals. Sometimes it's faulty knowledge, but generally, that's going to be on them for not doing their homework. For Hannah, I chose to submit to a publisher for a few reasons.

  • Cheaper for the author. A reputable publisher makes all their revenue on their share of a book's royalties. If you're paying them anything to publish your book, you made a wrong turn somewhere. It's not an uncommon mistake though, as people get desperate after several rejections, and most companies that charge you to print your book will take anything at all that's submitted to them. A traditional publisher will cover the costs of editing and cover art, taking that burden off the author. This is probably the main reason I'm taking Hannah down this route. 
  • Distribution. There is no denying that the twists and turns of the business of publishing are hard to navigate on your own, and that is one thing a good publisher will have over a lot of self-published authors. Yes, anyone can upload to Amazon these days, but that doesn't mean your book is going to go out to the brick-and-mortar stores or that your book is going to be listed in the catalogs from which places pick which books to stock. A good, reliable publisher will make sure your book is available from just about anywhere it might be able to sell a few copies. 
  • Name Recognition. Now, I'm not specifically talking about Random Penguin, or Simon & Schuster here. Seriously, how many people can tell you the publisher of the last book they read? Probably not many. BUT, there is still a large contingent of people (though it is shrinking) who still associate self-published books with poor quality, rushed, land mines. Until that idea is finally disproven to the majority of the public, being able to say you had a publisher actually take your book and run with it, and being able to give them a specific publisher they can look up, one which actually has a good history to it, will remain a point in your favor. 
Of course, there are downsides to going with a Publisher. Loss of creative control in editing and cover art. Lower royalties. Signing over rights. But as long as you know what you're getting into and have done your research, don't let anyone else tell you the right way for YOU to publish. 

If you need resources to look up a publisher or to find advice, there are several places to look. 

The forums over on AbsoluteWrite.com are great places to ask for advice regarding just about anything on writing. They're also connected with Writer Beware, so if you're curious about a specific publisher but can't find anything, ask, and they may be able to help turn something up. 

WriterBeware is an absolute must to look up a publisher before you pick one to submit your book to.

Last but certainly not least is Preditors & Editors, where you can look up publishers, agents, editors, and even promotional companies; to see if they have a history of doing bad things to aspiring authors. 

I'm not going to let you all out for recess just yet though. It would be remiss of me to run down a list of positives for choosing a publisher without a quick list of reasons you would probably want to self-publish. 
  • Higher Royalties. Most places that allow you to upload your work directly for sale pay out much better than any publisher likely ever will. Within specifications, Amazon currently allows a royalty of 70% for titles uploaded to Kindle. Compare that to 40% or less through a traditional publisher, and you see one of the main reasons so many people are switching to self-publishing.
  • Control. You have a passage your editor doesn't like? Leave it in anyway. You have a specific idea for the image you want on the cover? All you have to do is pay someone to draw it. This is YOUR book. YOU have control over all of it. Whereas a publisher will have their own suggestions and ideas for editing and cover art that you will more than likely have to accept and swallow despite your own opinions, self-publishing leaves all those decisions in the author's hands. Some will argue that's where they belong, some will argue otherwise, but that's more of a person-by-person basis. 
  • Niche Work. Maybe your work doesn't fit into conventional boundaries. So you've written a supernatural, steampunk, space-opera. There's nothing stopping you from putting it out for people to read. You may or may not find a market or a readership, but that's the same with any book. The difference here is that you don't first have to get past the gatekeepers that say "It's a nice story, but nobody will ever buy it". People will surprise you with what they're willing to pay money for. After all, I seriously doubt any traditional publisher would have expected dinosaur erotica to be a thing people would go for. 
Of course, self-publishing, also has it's pitfalls. Paying for proper editing and cover art can get expensive. There is the stigma against self-published works right now. If you're not careful, it's easy to get taken advantage of by promotional and editing scams. If you don't do your homework and know what you're doing, it's also very easy to get lost in the work of advertising and promoting your work and not get back to work on writing your next piece. 

Resources for self-publishing is almost the same as I listed above, including the Absolute Write forums, Writer Beware, and Preditors & Editors. In addition, there are lots of blogs with some good advice on the subject. Most notably, read up on Joe Konrath's A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He is a major proponent of the self-publishing movement and his blog has figuratively tons of advice for self-publishers looking for it. 

 So, for Hannah I chose the publisher route, mostly because I can't currently afford my own cover art and editing at the moment. The other reasons are certainly positive points in that route's favor though, and some people claim that the most successful authors in the current publishing environment are the Hybrid authors, those who work both through publishers and self-publishing.

Of course, there is one other downside to working with a traditional publisher.

I'm currently four days into a wait of what could be at least sixteen weeks. :-P 

~ Shaun

Monday, April 14, 2014

On Tonight's Edition...

So, I've kind of been slacking on the blog posts the past two weeks. Two weeks ago I was running late by several days, and last week's post was so poorly thought out and written that I ended up deleting it before the day was over. To be bluntly honest, I didn't have much for this week either, but I'll be damned if I'm going to make you wait another week. So, here's what I've got for you. 

About this time last year, I found out a short story of mine that I had submitted to a writing contest, had made finalist. I had to travel to the convention which sponsored the contest to find out how it ended up placing and I was somewhat delighted to find I had earned an Honorable Mention. Still, it meant my work was included in the convention anthology, which, for those interested in checking out the other works in the small book, is available here

However, if you're just interested in what I've written (for which I am immeasurably grateful), you can read my entry right here on my blog, today. So without further ado, I give you my Honorable Mention short story from the Crypticon Seattle 2013 writing contest. Enjoy.

On Tonight's Edition

By Shaun Horton

Jerry sat there, watching the news with a feeling of sadness and a slight degree of disgust. He held the fully-loaded Glock in his left hand, an almost empty bottle of Crown Royal in the right. The chair he sat in was decidedly uncomfortable and covered in a flower pattern he wouldn't have chosen for his worst enemy's living quarters. The television was all right though, a seventy-two inch plasma which showed every pixel in colors brighter than anything could ever be in reality. He supposed that could also be the alcohol, though. Jerry spat at the TV where the nightly news was on, falling well short of the screen. All they ever showed on the news anymore was death, murder, war and destruction, with a seasoning of weather and sports.

Jerry could remember when the highlight of the news had been a piece on the old lady that lived two doors up from him; she took in every stray cat that crossed her path. He had liked that old lady, though he couldn't remember her name and her house had smelled so strongly of cat urine it was almost painful to walk past. That had been when he was much younger. Jerry could remember when it really was big news that someone had been found murdered.

He had only been thirteen-years-old that first time. Jerry had been on his way home from playing baseball with some friends; it had been such a nice summer. Walking along one of the back trails through the local park, he had come across an older kid, sixteen the news had told him later, beating on some poor dog that had been left tethered to a tree. He didn't know why the older kid was picking on the dog or why he kept kicking it with such ferocity. Jerry knew the poor animal was in pain and was whining and crying for him to stop; the older kid hadn't seen him.

It was the laugh that finally did it for Jerry. The kid's laughter at the pain he was inflicting on the poor animal was like nails on a chalkboard inside Jerry's mind.

The kid hadn't heard Jerry put down his bag or even walk up. The first thing the kid knew was when the baseball bat took his supporting leg out from under him and he fell hard to the ground, clutching his knee.

The kid had looked up at Jerry, first in amazement, then in anger and rage. The older boy reached for him and the bat swung again.

Jerry remembered the satisfaction at the feeling and sound as the bat shattered both bones in the kid's forearm.

It was only then that the kid looked up at Jerry in fear, finally understanding he was in real danger. The older boy tried to ward off the next several blows, and Jerry had to smash in both of the boy's shoulders before he could finally get in a clean blow to the skull. The boy's face caved in with the first strike, splattering blood and brain matter across the ground. Jerry wiped his bat off on the ground before picking his bag back up.

Jerry started to continue on his way and stopped. The dog, still whimpering in pain and fear, looked up at him thankful but still terrified. Jerry untied him and carefully carried him home. After pleading with his father to help the stray he had found, they took the dog to the veterinarian, where they found the injuries were too extensive and quietly put the poor animal to sleep.

Jerry had cried when they went home without the dog, but the older boy never crept back into his mind until a few days later, when the corpse showed up on the news.

Luck had been with Jerry that day. Nobody else had been on the trail while he was there, or saw him exit onto the street with the dog. He had also been able to claim the blood on his clothes was from carrying the hurt animal home. The murder went unsolved. That one case dominated the nightly news for almost a week, the same story asking people to call in with tips. Unsolved murders, especially brutal ones like that, were very rare back in those days. Back then you could watch the news without being saddened or depressed by the cheerful newscasters; whose smiles never faltered as they panned from one brutal story to the next.

The bottle rose to Jerry's lips, giving him another sip as he reminisced.

The first murder had been enacted purely by chance, though Jerry still felt a twinge of satisfaction remembering it. He had enjoyed the news of his murder on television for a full week, even though he knew how lucky he was to have gotten away with it.

The other murders were more planned out and fun.

The second opportunity came when he was seventeen. Jerry's friend's girlfriend had left him for another guy, while seeing a third on the side. After careful observations, Jerry followed her and her boy toy out to a back road late one night.

The windows were rolled down and the radio was blasting through the woods while the two melded body parts in the back seat. Jerry had quietly snuck up to the car, reached through the window, and pulled the keys out of the ignition. This, of course, turned off the radio. Her “friend” ceased his thrusting to see what was the matter. After satisfying himself that the keys weren't on the seat or the floor of the vehicle, he stepped out of the car in just his boxers, and circled around, yelling about people playing pranks.

Jerry doubted the “friend” had even felt the pain of the impact as the baseball bat crushed the back of his skull. Jerry made sure to hit him a few more times, though, just to be sure, flattening the boy's head into the ground.

Once she noticed her partner wasn't answering her calls to come back to the car and finish what they had started, the young woman got out as well. Pulling her skirt down around her hips and holding her shirt to her chest, she only had time to see the masked figure for a moment before Jerry's bat shattered her jaw and sent teeth flying. She tried to scramble away; a single strike across the back shattering vertebrae and rendering her lower half immobile.

Showing her the bloody end of the bat before planting his boot between her shoulder blades; Jerry took off the top of her head in a swing similar to a golfer using his driver on a three-hundred yard straight shot.

Jerry had called her new boyfriend from a payphone on his way home, telling him she was cheating and where to find her. He had smiled as they had then passed each other on the road. Pulling into a gas station and calling the police, letting them know as well where to find the girl and her boyfriends, Jerry smiled again. The police spent the next week holding her boyfriend under suspicion, but then released him for lack of true evidence. By then, though, it was too late to accurately point a finger at anyone else.

Jerry had reveled in the news of the murder. Everyone was hearing about his handiwork, even if they didn't know it was his. The glory of it all was intoxicating.

That was many years ago, now. Jerry had racked up quite a number of murders since. But each one seemed to attract less and less attention as other people stepped up and murder had become more common. That just didn't seem right to Jerry. His last kill hadn't even been mentioned.

A man Jerry's daughter worked with, a creep that had made several advances on his little girl, was the latest to be discovered. Jerry had studied him in a bar; watched the creep throw back beers and shots for most of the night, until he had chased off every woman that had dared to come in. Jerry had slipped out of the bar and waited for him. The man didn't leave until well after last call.

The bat took out the bastard's right knee. The sound was a somewhat familiar popping as the kneecap dislocated from the impact. The creep dropped to his knees, then fell to one side, clutching the damaged knee and screaming. Jerry planted his foot against the guy's chin, forcing the creep's mouth shut while he lined up the bat with the man's head. Then took a full swing as the man grabbed and pushed at the foot holding him down. The bat tore off the front of the creep's head with a satisfying crunch. The struggling ceased, as did the noise. The metallic scent of blood filled the cold, night air.
Jerry reveled in the moment, reaching out with all of his senses. The feel of the bat in his hands, still remembering the moment of impact against his palms. The scent of the man's life fluids flowing out onto the concrete. The silence of the late night, devoid of the man's irritating, slurred speech. The sight of the large man's face, a void where the top half of his face had been and the beautiful red pool expanding on the black asphalt. Last of all was the taste, as he cleaned some of the red splatter from the back of one hand.

The coat covered most of the splash damage his shirt had taken, and his black jeans did well hiding where the streams had struck them. When he had time to revel in the act, he enjoyed wearing their blood like a badge of honor, but Jerry knew when to indulge and when not to. The extra set of clothes and box of moist towelettes which waited in his truck indicated which one of those options he had expected that night to be.

This last murder had been trumped by a shooting in some nightclub that had killed three and wounded fourteen others. Even doing what he did, Jerry still held every life as something precious. Each life was equal. It saddened him greatly to see that quantity was all the news cared about anymore. It wasn't just about seeing his work on TV, it was about each life snuffed out getting an equal share of time. There wasn't even that anymore. The news wasn't even listing the names of the dead from the club shooting, it was enough to just throw up a number. It was sickening.

Jerry held up his bottle to the light of the TV for a moment, gauging how much was left before sucking it dry and letting the empty vessel drop to the floor. He looked at the envelope on the coffee table, marked in his own bold cursive "For the Police". The letter inside listed every murder Jerry had ever committed. Even that first one when he was thirteen.

He wondered if the original owners of the house he sat in would mind. They were in no condition to answer even if he asked. Their bodies lay on the kitchen floor, along with his most recent bat. Their beatings had been short, but brutal, even by his standards. He had been in a hurry to get to the TV before the news started. The back door had just happened to be unlocked.

Jerry sighed and shook his head at the television, lifting the remote and turning it off. It was a realization that had come to him over the years as populations skyrocketed, technology jumped in leaps and bounds, and people became more detached from each other. Nobody really mattered anymore. Unless you had your name in huge lights somewhere, who you were didn't matter to anyone outside those closest to you. It was sad. Everyone should mourn every life lost, whether they knew them or not.

That was how Jerry felt.

He lifted the Glock and pressed the cold metal of the barrel against his head, nestled in the graying hairs just above and in front of his left ear. He knew if anyone deserved not to be mourned, it was him after all he had done, but still he pondered if anyone would. He wondered if the community would mourn the couple who lay beaten to death in the kitchen. Some neighbors might. Most would probably never know. A world where your neighbors could be brutally murdered and you'd never know was not a world worth living in.

That was Jerry's final thought.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Building a Book: Post Beta Reader Revisions

(Sorry I'm late on this week's blog post. I had a whole idea half-written up then decided against it and it took me a day to do up this one. Enjoy!)

So you've sent your manuscript out to Beta Readers, waited anxiously for their replies, and were so excited to see what they thought.

The responses are Good! Everyone likes it. They care about the characters, the story makes sense and there were moments that made them jump out of their seats! Except...

The little details that need fixing, character motivations that need a bit more explanation, and scenes which don't strike quite as hard as you would like. These are all the things you would be unlikely to catch on your own, especially after being so deeply entrenched in the story as your wrote it. After a short break away though, and having things pointed out to you, it shouldn't be too hard to see the truth in some of their statements.

That being said, you are the master of your book. If you look as hard as you can and just can't see what they're talking about, it's your choice to listen or not. There's an old saying that I like to use though, (among many, many others). "If one person calls you a horse, ignore it. If three people call you a horse, get yourself a saddle." Basically, if one person out of five says something needs work, by all means look at it, but keep in mind that is only one person's opinion. If three or four out of five all point out the same thing though, you should probably listen. After all, you did ask for their opinion.

Of course, making those changes is a bit harder than simple cut, copy, and paste. This particular revision is probably only second to the second draft as far as difficulty goes. Mostly because depending on who your Beta Readers are and how skilled they are, they may not be able to give you suggestions on how to fix the problems they find.

So you'll have a list of things like "Why does Character A go down the hall and turn left?". Things where you not only have to explain, but figure out where in the book it will be acceptable to explain. And like the second draft, you have to do it carefully, without breaking any continuity already set or stifling the story's pace.

(This is how you may feel during this process.)

The easiest things to change from the beta readers will be continuity issues. Like maybe the mom's hair changed color from page 22 to page 27, and repetitions where you manage to put the exact same sentence in two subsequent paragraphs. A quick cut here, a word change there, and your done. 

Character background can be much harder, especially if you have a minor character that gets none of their own screen time, and yet is important enough that the readers will need to understand the relationship between the minor character and the main. The checklist for such a change reads thus. 
  • Don't break continuity
  • Don't break pace
  • Don't make the addition an info dump
  • Explain the relationship so it's obvious and makes sense for the reader
  • Explain the relationship from the main character's point of view
  • Explain the relationship only with information the main character has

That's a pretty fair checklist for a change which may only need a line or two. And, to be fair, if you happen to break something, well, that's what the revisions further down the road are there for. If you can manage it though, it's always better to try to get something right the first time than to just let it be sloppy with the idea that you can come back and clean it up later. Sure, your dog is covered in mud, and you don't see the point in hosing and drying him down since he might still get dirty again before it's time to head inside. You regret waiting the instant someone accidentally leaves the door open and he heads in before you're ready though.

Even harder than character background, are story background issues. After all, it's really not that hard to deal with a character issue. You're pretty limited to chapters where that character is present, and discussing background is acceptable, not in the middle of an action scene, for example. Story background though, can theoretically be plugged in just about anywhere. This is where you really run the risk of finding yourself with an info dump, or accidentally break the tension. To show how hard this can be and how even the best can have trouble with it, I have the example of one of my favorite short stories by Stephen King, The Mangler. 

Close to the end, the main characters have figured out the machine is demonically possessed and they think they have figured out how it happened out of the two main possibilities. They collect their equipment and set out to face the evil. At this point, King literally has a "But what they didn't know was..." moment. It breaks the tension, is a huge info dump for a short story, and all but gives away the ending.

So implanting story background into an otherwise already finished work is probably one of the most difficult things an author can do, and it's commonly one of the reasons a work can end up going through six, eight, twelve, twenty revisions or more until it's done right. As authors who want to put out the best work we can do though, stories which work without unnecessary distractions, it's all part of the job. 

What are you doing? It's REVISING time!

~ Shaun