Tuesday, September 30, 2014

31 Posts of Monsters: Jersey Devil

So, originally, I said I wasn't going to touch on supernatural creatures for this series. I then figured out there really aren't that many different types of cryptids. Sea monsters, Sasquatches, extinct animals. There's no arguing that there are some creatures that, supernatural or not, have such a history of physical sightings, that they do deserve to be mentioned on lists such as these.

The Jersey Devil is one of them.

Name: Jersey Devil

Size: Anywhere from 3 to 7 feet tall, with a comparable wingspan of 10 to 20 feet.

Appearance: A head similar to that of a horse, with sharp teeth and horns, a relatively thin, spindly body, bat-like wings, a long, thin tail, and back legs that end in hooves. The front legs have been reported as being hooves and claws depending on the witness.

Threat: Low. What? Low? Actually, yes. Despite all the reports of people feeling threatened and terrified of it, and reports of it killing and eating dogs, reports of it actually harming people are all but non-existent. Considering it probably could, if it wanted to fairly easily, it's something to consider that there aren't any reports of it doing so.

The story of the Jersey Devil is something out of a horror movie. It begins with a family that lived out in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The wife, Mrs. Leeds, declared that if she ever gave birth to an unhealthy child that she wished it would be a devil. As it happened, that turned out to be her 13th child (talk about getting busy, and that was in the early 1700's!). As soon as it was born, it screeched, ran around the room, out the door and flew off into the woods. Rambunctious little guy, wasn't he?

Since then, reports of a strange, giant winged creature have persisted through the Pine Barrens and the surrounding communities and witnesses to the creature even include the older brother of Napoleon, Joseph Bonaparte.

With such a long history, of course such a creature is going to pop up in entertainment. The New Jersey hockey team even took the name. It's also appeared on episodes of The X-Files and Lost Tapes. Several movies have been also inspired by the legend, if not the creature itself. Most recently is the film The Barrens. Others include Carny and (as one might expect) The Jersey Devil. So there's lots to watch for a little devil-themed entertainment.

What better way to start October?

~ Shaun

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

And there...dangling bloody from the door handle....was THE HOOK!

Seriously, can I get a show of hands? How many people actually remember THAT old campfire tale? 

That's not what I'm talking about today though. I'm talking about a different kind of hook. The writing kind.

In writing terms, the hook is the first line, or paragraph that catches your reader's attention and draws them in. It makes them want to read the rest of the story.

Now, despite what some authors think about hooks. I think you're okay with a little leeway. After all, nobody is going to read the first line or paragraph of your book in a complete vacuum. They'll have seen the cover, read the description, know the genre, and possibly even the author's name and style a little bit. Depending on their interest, they might even have read some of the reviews.

That doesn't mean you can slack off. You need to pull people into the story as quickly as possible so they want to know what happens next. Many well-read people will give a new book a couple paragraphs, a page at most to catch their interest. If you can't manage to stir something in them by then, they'll put the book down and possibly even mark you as an author to avoid.

The question then, is what makes a good hook. The answers vary as wildly as books and genre's do. Honestly, it's actually easier to talk about what doesn't make a good hook, than the things that do.

So, things to avoid.

If your story requires the reader to have knowledge of how the magic or certain technologies work in your world, that's fine, but don't start the whole book with a chapter explaining the intricacies of your system. It's boring, and tells us nothing about why we should keep reading. Some people may like it, but then, some people actually enjoy reading legal documents too. Of course, there will always be exceptions, and if your book is targeted specifically at those readers of legal documents, feel free and be happy. The general public, however, is likely to read a couple pages, get bored, and pass the book off on the first person they see.

Slice of Life vignettes
Some people get carried away with character introductions. They have us meet their main character or two, and follow them around on a regular day before the events of the story actually begin. While it does make some sense from a writer's point of view, to introduce the character and immediately try to make us connect with them, it's usually pretty boring. It's usually much better to work in references and remembrances into the story a bit at a time later on. This segment right away, especially if it goes on for a while, doesn't give the reader the impression that much is going on.

Lengthy Descriptions
Just like if you were on a date, unless it's immediately relevant, for the love of God, don't talk about the weather or the environment. If lengthy descriptions of your character and how they go about their daily lives are bad, talking about the weather and the environment for paragraphs or pages from the get-go is even worse. Environments change much too quickly for such a description so early, that incredible view your character has from the roof of their apartment? It disappears as soon as he goes back inside, and it's unlikely they're going to have that view from street level too. So all that description, all that work, pointless unless you're trying to portray your character's love of sunsets. And even then, see above.

What you do want to start with is action or conflict, or at the very least, the implication of one of those. Not necessarily in the first line, but definitely on the first page, which is generally no more than 200 words.

The bestseller Jurassic Park, doesn't start right away. It's hook is down close to the bottom of the first real page, but check it out.

And then she caught it, another sound blended with the rain, a deeper rumble that build and emerged until it was clear: the rhythmic thumping of a helicopter. She thought, They can't be flying in weather like this.
Makes you wonder, if the weather is that bad where they wouldn't expect anyone to be flying, what must be going on where they would risk it?

John Everson's book Violet Eyes starts you in from the very first paragraph.

Things had pretty much gone South with their vacation for good a couple hours ago when Jess had been making out on the beach with Mar, and had managed at just the wrong moment to slip her hand into a human skull just below the surface of the sand.

Well, that's not good. (Seriously, check it out if you haven't. An excellent work.)

Then you have Stephen King, the master of one-liner hooks.

Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son - Salem's Lot

I'm not honestly sure what it is about King's hooks. They're always so simple, they seem ordinary, but they're worded so perfectly that you can sense the tension just beneath the surface.

For more examples, just look at whatever books you have lying around. Most of them have very good hooks that encourage you to delve deeper from the first page onward.

Plus keep in mind, websites like Amazon allow readers to check out the first few pages of a work before buying, so if you're lacking any significant sales, it might be a good idea to go back and see if you need a better hook somewhere on the first page or two. At the very least, it couldn't hurt.

Before I end off for the week. I just want to point your attention back up to the top. There's a couple good giveaways coming up the first week of October, so check it out, mark it on the calender and snag a few copies of my work.

Otherwise, thanks for coming around. I'll catch you all later.

~ Shaun

Saturday, September 13, 2014

31 Posts of Monsters: Lusca

Of all the places in the world, the Caribbean is actually one that doesn't have many suggested monsters, despite a history of legends. It may have something to do with how clear and relatively shallow the water is in many places. Wherever there are dark places, though, some people will come up with claims that monsters live there. Such is the case with the Lusca.

Name: Lusca, Giant Octopus

Length: 75 - 200 feet long, from tentacle to tentacle.

Appearance: The same as any other octopus, except for its monstrous size. The shape and colors of Octopuses are highly variable though, they're known to be able to mimic many other ocean species, including eels, rays, and fish. They can even change their shapes to resemble rocks and coral.

Threat: moderate. Octopuses are predators, with a hard, sharp beak that is easily capable of cracking open shellfish or piercing flesh. They are also known to eat just about anything they can catch, which includes sharks and even birds. An octopus of significant size would have no problem grabbing and devouring a human being.

While occasional Globsters, like the picture above, are attributed as possibly being giant Octopuses, there is little to actually connect them to such animals. Most such unidentified masses are either found to be decomposing whale parts, or are washed up and then washed back out before they can be tested upon.

Where are the dark places these creatures would hide though? The answer for the Lusca is the myriad of underground rivers and waterways which run underneath central america, connecting many of the famous Cenotes, or blue holes.

These dark tunnels stretch for miles, connecting the inland cenotes with underwater caves out in the gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Many are huge caves as well, easily large enough for a giant, and malleable creature to slip in and out of. The cave walls would also give an octopus ample opportunity to blend into the rock, where only a truly dedicated eye would be able to pick them out.

Giant octopuses (That is the correct term, feel free to look it up.) have been fairly popular in movies. Headlining in such titles as the classic It Came from Beneath the Sea, Tentacles, and the aptly titled, Octopus. It's also had cameo's in such movies as King Kong, and some versions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. So there's lots of options out there to see them in action.

We're not even going to touch this though.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Are you "Professional" ?

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece, based on another opinion piece. The views expressed herein are those of the author of this blog and do not represent the views of any organization, association, political party, TV station, institution, modeling agency, or girl scout troop the author may or may not be a member of. 

Many authors when they're just starting out, are curious for some kind of benchmark. Some goal to reach that tells them they are an actual author. For many, that benchmark is as simple as seeing their first work in print. For some, it's the mark of the tenth book, or the royalty check which denotes their first $1000 earned by their writing. For others, it can mean being accepted into an organization such as the HWA. Recently, an article was brought to my attention which claims to separate the "Professional" authors from what the writer of the article terms, "Hobbyists".

To sum up though, there are ten questions, and if you want to be a professional in the eyes of the author of the article, you have to answer "Yes" to each one. (Or at least 8/10). So I'm going to state my answers to these questions. 

1. Is your home/work messy because the time you would spend cleaning it, you feel is better spent writing? 

Yes and no. I try to keep my space somewhat organized. That being said, when I'm working on a piece, I tend to have notes, reference books, snacks and just general flotsam laying around within easy reach for whatever reason I may have. 

2. Do you routinely turn down evenings with friends because you need to be home writing instead? 

Eh. Routinely? My friends might say yes, and I certainly have turned them down before, but I don't know if I would say Routinely. 

3. Do you turn off the television in order to write? 

Yes. Pretty easy question there.

4. Would you rather receive useful criticism than praise. 

Yes. I would rather take the brutal, honest truth, than polite praise from someone who is worried about hurting my feelings. 

5. Do you plan vacations around writing opportunities, such as research and/or networking? 

I haven't had a real vacation in several years, so I can answer this one however I like. For shits and giggles, let's say yes. 

6. Would you rather be chatting about the business of writing with another writer than small talk with a good friend? 

This is the only definite NO I have on this list. Networking is important, but to choose networking over spending time with people that actually care about you is just stupid. Or you don't have any good friends left to have small talk with anyway because you do stuff like this. 

7. Have you ever taken a day job that paid you less money because it offered you more time to write? 

Honestly, I haven't, but I would. I am currently job-hunting, but one of the criteria I judge a job by before deciding to apply is whether or not it would give me time to write. 

8. Are you willing to give up a nice home you know you could have if you gave up writing for a more lucrative career? 

Really, I deign to answer this question, on the basis of how badly it's worded and under the small detail that I would have to think about it. 

9. Have you done all of the above for the past 5 years ?

So, we finally have a set question which effectively states "You are not a professional writer unless you've been at it for a minimum of 5 years". My answer to this is currently no.

10. Are you willing to live knowing you will likely never meet your ambitions, but you hold onto those ambitions nonetheless? 

Er. You want to know if I will keep trying for my dreams even if I KNOW I will likely never reach them? Probably not. If it's actually a given that the dreams are unachievable I will probably move onto a different dream, or at least alter my opinion of what success towards that dream means. 

Off-hand, I'm going to guess you're having the same reaction to these questions that I had. It's complete bullshit. With that said, I would like to introduce you to the author of that piece, if you haven't clicked on the link and put the pieces together. 

That article was written by Lisa Morton, the Vice-President of the Horror Writer's Association, and the article was posted on the webpage of the HWA's Los Angeles chapter. 

The article has triggered a fair amount of backlash from authors who feel is is condescending and elitist. Even from such authors as Brian Keene and John Scalzi. Now, there are a lot of issues here to look at, that I'm going to address here. 

First off, the tone of the piece is without a doubt, condescending and elitist, but you know what, that is one person's opinion and they are entitled to it. 

Second, this piece was written by the VP of a major writer's association and posted on that association's website. The average person reading that is likely to assume that is the stance of the organization itself. Whether that is or is not the case is almost irrelevant. Because of who the author of the article is, their position in the organization and the place it was posted, people will assume that it is policy, even if an un-written policy. There is a discussion of this on the HWA's facebook page that I was privy to and one of the official stances is that the members of the board and other position have every right to voice their opinions without it being the opinion of the organization. I'm sorry, when you hold a position of authority, you have to watch what you say. People will take it, twist it, put their own spin on it, and mis-interpret it to heaven, hell, and back again. Mrs. Morton has her own website on which she could have posted her article, but instead she chose to put it up on the page of the association she is only a few steps below being in charge of. If she didn't want her opinions to be attached to the HWA, there were better places to post it. 

Which brings me to my next point. Now that all this hooplah has erupted around her article, Mrs. Morton has started claiming it was meant in satire and to promote discussion. Because after all, she doesn't even pass her own test (tee-hee). Scroll back up and read that article again. Does anything in it sound satirical? Does it read like something meant to be thought-provoking? I've seen some people claim they can see it after having it pointed out, but most agree there is nothing in the article to give that impression. These claims that the article isn't meant to be taken seriously are nothing more than typical political back-pedaling. She wasn't expecting to poke a hornet's nest and now that she has, she wants to claim she didn't mean it. For someone in a position of authority as she is, I find this more foul than the article itself. You made a mistake, own up to it, accept it, and fix it if you can. The fact that the organization is standing behind her only makes it worse, as it is promoting unaccountability for it's higher ranking members. Seriously, if they weren't working so hard to down-play it, it would probably blow right over. 

While this is the internet, and once things are posted they tend to stay that way, there is a few things Mrs. Morton could do to alleviate the situation. I doubt she's going to pay attention to a small-timer like me, but here's my own little list of what I think she should do. 

1. Submit a public apology on the HWA's website for any author she may have inadvertently insulted with her post. 

2. Take the post down. 

3. Mrs. Morton and the members of the HWA's administration should do their best to refrain from commenting on any discussion of the post. Just as authors should never comment on negative reviews of their work.

There, done, simple as that. There will still be discussion for a week, maybe two, but then people will move on. There will always be some people who remember, but beyond them, it'll quickly become a non-issue. 

Of course, this is all just my opinion, and I'm just a "Hobbyist."

Disclaimer #2: I've made my views of the HWA's qualification requirements public in the past, and despite this little PR hiccup, I must say I've been very impressed with their facebook page, which is run and moderated by none other than the current president of the HWA himself. Him and I have actually butted heads on the page during discussions over the qualification requirements and this incident, and while I am still at odds over these issues and feel some of his replies have been a touch political (meaning round-about bs), I have to respect and applaud his high visibility and connection with members and potential members. I may yet join some time in the future (assuming I don't get my ass banned before-hand), but not before they stop promoting Traditional publishing as the core means of qualifying for membership.

~ Shaun