Monday, June 26, 2017

Future Fads: Kaiju

2018 - 2019 are going to be BIG years. I mean that literally. Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters, Pacific Rim 2: Uprising, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, are all movies coming out that feature giant monsters destroying things and eating people. (I'm assuming Jurassic World will at least have a T-Rex or some other excessively large predator chasing cars.)


Still, that's six months away at least, why bring it up now?

Because it's a window. For a time next year at least, there's going to be a huge push for Kaiju / giant monster stories. Depending on how well those movies are made and do in the theaters, people will be looking for more. A large part of that demand will be filled with books. Likely novels, and anthologies. Now, disclaimer, I'm not any kind of forecast expert. I'm just trying to base this off common sense and what I've seen in the past.

Pacific Rim came out in 2013, and the good American Godzilla came out in 2014, and both times, for the next few months, all you heard about was kaiju / giant monsters. There were cheap knock-off movies, books, comics, and toys. Even if it was just these two movies alone, it would likely result in a huge boost for this sub-genre, especially with these being sequels and making expanded universes.

But in addition to those two movies, we also have Jurassic World 2, and Rampage coming out. The timeline for releases is currently set like this.

Pacific Rim: Uprising - February 23, 2018
Rampage - April 20, 2018
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - June 22, 2018
Godzilla: King of the Monsters - March 22, 2019

That's a lot of giant monsters, which should keep the fad running well into 2019. And yes, I do think this will be a pretty major fad.

I have no intention to just be jumping on the bandwagon. I intend to be holding onto the hood or the roof.

See, here's the thing. I'm sure once the first movie hits, we'll see the wave start as people rush to pump out books. They'll pound through 50,000 words in a couple months, probably find some cheap editor (or use no editor at all!) and find some quick and ready cover art to slap on and drop their work into Kindle. Even if someone works hard, takes their time, and does everything proper, it's going to take six months to a year to get it published. At best, if you wait until the first movie hits theaters, you're getting out at the mid-way point of the fad. At worst, the movies will crash and burn, and the fad will languish.

However, even if the fad languishes and dies in short order, if you take the time to do things properly and write a good book, it'll transcend the fad and find success on its own. If the fad takes off, it'll simply take your work with it to new heights.

So, if you can see a fad coming like this one looks to be looming, and you have a story that would fit right in, why wouldn't you aim for it? That's what I'm going to do. Right now, while I have time to get it right. If you love giant monsters as much as I do and you're a writer, I suggest you do the same.

Can you really predict the fads of the future? Eh. I don't really know if this is predicting or not, but it's not hard to see which way the wind's blowing right now.

~ Shaun

Monday, June 19, 2017

Video Game Review: Prey

I'm just going to say this right out of the gate. Prey is the spiritual descendant of the Dead Space series.

Prey is a sci-fi, action, horror game that places you in the body of Morgan Yu. You're one of the owners of a company controlling a space station in the orbit of Earth, working on a new type of technology called neuromods. Once used, a neuromod allows you to learn all the information and knowledge to learn a specific skill. Always wanted to play guitar? There's a neuromod for that. Of course, there's a little problem with the neuromods. If they're removed, it resets your brain to the moment before you put it in. So, if you have a neuromod in your head for 5 years, then take it out, not only do you lose the neuromod, you lose every memory of the past 5 years.

So, of course you wake up with a degree of amnesia on a ship where most of the people are missing, equipment is broken, and you stumble across the occasional corpse as you explore your surroundings, putting the pieces together.

Let's not forget the monsters. Black masses of tentacles which can take the form of anything they want. Mimics. Nothing can be trusted, which includes coffee cups, boxes, chairs, and even items you want like ammo and medkits.

This inability to trust anything makes even the brightly lit hallways and offices of the station tense with possible jump-scares around every corner as they reveal themselves and attack. Later on, it's even more tense as you encounter bigger monsters who patrol the rooms in addition to the mimics.

The story is incredible as you fight for your life, fight monsters, piece together what happened on the station, and you even get to make the choice for whether other survivors live or die.

To be honest, that's about all that really sets the game apart. It's first-person, with standard controls, and the environments, while well-done, don't stand out. While the station is set with different areas, and there are noticeable differences between the Arboretum, Lobby, and Crew Quarters, they don't really FEEL different. The lines between textures are very crisp though, if you smash a holographic window, the difference in layers between the window and what's behind it are crisp and look freaking awesome. Seriously, the first time I saw that, I just walked back and forth for a few minutes admiring it, because the view changed exactly as you expect it would depending on the angles you looked at it at.

The sound is excellent. Music cues are very subdued and uncommon, allowing you to focus on the myriad sounds of the station around you, which is very life-like. You can hear fluids rushing through pipes, gases spraying through leaks, fires burning, your own footsteps, and the skittering of little tentacle feet all around you as that box you just walked by hurries to a corner and becomes something else. Definitely wear a good pair of headphones for this game!

Enemy AI isn't bad, but they're not generally going to be outsmarting you. They're made to give you a chance to sneak up on them, but they can figure out how to maneuver through rooms to get to you if you give them a chance. They also do occasionally do some pretty dumb things too. In one instance, I was facing off against the Nightmare pictured above. I hid until he completely lost track of me, then he proceeded to stand directly in front of where burning gas was spewing out of a pipe and burn to death while I watched. Was hilarious, to be honest, but probably needs work when one of the biggest baddies in the game pretty much suicides itself.

There's also an excellent crafting system here, where you can break down literally anything at all you pick up, and then get raw materials that can be made into weapons, ammo, medkits, and whatever else you can find the blueprints for.

I love this game. I'm in the process of completing every side quest just to stretch it out, which, I've now been playing for over 25 hours, so if you want it to last, it's got the ability to be a long game.
It's billed as a sci-fi-action, but there are a lot of horror elements to it. The atmosphere, though mostly brightly lit, is creepy and tense. The crafting system is simple but makes sense and requires you to do some work for it. The enemies are varied, and can get the jump on you at any time. The story is deep, multi-faceted, and gives you real choices to make which can (seemingly, I haven't actually beaten it yet!) affect the ending you get. Seriously, if Dead Space 4 ever comes around, I want their team to take a good, hard look at this game.

While some aspects of this game are fairly generic and standard, the rest more than makes up for it and creates an experience we haven't seen since the first Dead Space came out. Seriously. Get this game. Play this game!

~ Shaun

Monday, June 12, 2017

Lessons learned: Class 5

So, as I mentioned a while ago, I commissioned some new cover art for my alien/action horror novel Class 5 and I was considering whether to make some changes to the book itself. 

Well, I didn't go through the whole book to clean it up and straighten up the language, but there were a few things I decided to 'adjust'. I'm not going to go into details about what I changed, but I can go into why I did.

Referencing Music

At one point, I describe the music playing over the radio. Rather bluntly. I list it by song and artist.

Now, music copyrights are pretty serious. Most songs you have to ask permission to use even a single line of their lyrics. Some sources suggest you can get away with a single line or two, but it's better not to take the risk.

I did consider replacing the blunt song and artist entry with a line from the song, but after some thinking, I decided it was better to just rework the line to just include the title and to make the line work better.

Character Flaws

So, your characters need flaws. It makes them more relatable to the readers and makes them easier to care about. You can, apparently, go overboard though.

It seems I did that with one of my main characters. With one little paragraph which is never referenced again, I made one of the main characters, one which everyone should feel for, unlikable. Granted, this was a fair chunk of wordage to take out, but it needed to be done, and hopefully makes the story better for it.

Getting out of the character's heads

Last, but not least, was a pretty major plot point that I glossed over. It is subtly mentioned pretty deep in the story, but it needed to be more up front, so people understood why things changed for one of the characters after a certain point. Granted, nobody ever really mentioned it, so either it was more intuitive than I thought, or it just got lost in the action. We'll see.

Well, that's how it is. If you're not able to look at your own work critically, accept that you're never going to be perfect, and that you can always learn and grow, then you really have no business writing. Nobody is perfect, but that doesn't mean you can get away with throwing out cheap work over and over. You build up a reputation and that reputation will carry through all your future work.

Before I go though, there is one last thing I want to share with you all.

I give you, the new cover art for Class 5! Courtesy of Jamie Noble of

~ Shaun

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Thinking About Covers

If you're self-published, one of the things you need to think about is what you want for your cover.

Obviously, if money is an issue, your options are severely limited to what images you can find on free sites like Wikimedia Commons and and what you can do with your own skill level in photoshop.

Some people cheat and try to rip ready made artwork off of Google, but seriously, don't do that. You're opening yourself up to a whole world of litigation. 

It can be difficult for writers to come up with ideas that illustrate enough of the story to entice people, without giving away major plot points. Art can be abstract, or practical, depending on the preferences of the artist and the one commissioning the work.

Now, I've been a fan of the card game Magic: The Gathering for years. There are easily 30,000 different cards, each with different art. Art that I've seen self-published authors take and try to pass off for their covers, and I have no problem admitting that I've reported them when I've spotted them.

The most recent set of cards is about a city that emulates ancient Egypt, and it has some incredible art. But the art itself isn't why I'm bringing this up. See, the company that makes the card game, posts articles on their website every day, a lot of which are behind the scenes, and one of the articles that have always intrigued me is the concept of the art.

These articles give us a view from the inside, where they commission the art for their cards with sometimes specific, sometimes vague descriptions, and let the artists take it from there.

Check them out here, and here.

If you check out the links, I think you'll see what I'm getting at. If you hire someone to do art for your cover, it pays to have an idea, but the more information you can give them, things like setting, mood, focus, the better your art will give you what you're looking for even if you give the artist some leeway.

If you're having trouble coming up with an idea for a cover, it's also a good way to get some things going. Start with the mood of the cover, or the genre, and then move on to the setting, then the focus, etc. etc. This also lets you envision the cover in the way that we authors see best, with words.

Just remember, when you hire an artist, you want your money's worth, and the easiest way to lose out is to not have an idea or direction for them to work from. Hired artists aren't going to look at your book and come up with a great cover for you on their own.

~ Shaun

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Taking Risks

No other genre is as risky as Horror. (With the possible exception of bigfoot erotica.) Most fans of the genre can tell you of a scene or two that almost literally pulled them out of their comfort zone and made them wince, grimace, or even put the book down and walk away for a bit. I'm not talking about the extreme genre's like Splatterporn, either.

The book American Psycho has several scenes that people list among the most disturbing. The starved rat, for instance, is commonly listed as one of the most twisted things described in literature.

Now, I don't know how Mr. Ellis felt about it while he was writing, but it was certainly risky to write such graphic scenes. Even fans of Horror have their limits and when you write scenes that push boundaries, it's very possible that you exceed those limits. What happens then? People close your book and don't come back.

It's a calculated risk though. As the saying goes, "People will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." Even some people who close the book on your scene will eventually make their way back. They may still have a need to know what happens next, or they may remember your name and try a different work.

Even if they never come back to your work, they'll remember the one they stopped at, and likely your name. If the subject of horror, or disturbing things ever comes up, you can bet your name will come up, which is one of the things you want as an author. Word of mouth is just about the best advertising you can hope for.

Still, it's a fine line, and like almost everything else in writing, it comes down to how well it's executed. If you build up a story, with characters your readers care about, escalating tension and guiding the story in a way where the horrific scene makes some kind of sense. Then the aftermath has to make sense as well.

Recently, there was a video game that was released. Outlast 2. I must confess, I haven't played it myself. I watched people do Let's Plays on youtube though. (Possible spoilers below the image!)

Outlast 2 hits on a lot of disturbing themes. They're trying to push the boundaries all over the place. There's hints of religious extremism, infanticide, demonic rituals, murder, torture, and rape. I'll be honest, just watching someone else play the game at one point left me fucking triggered. As pissed as that scene made me, I kept watching, but then, the ending. The ending was completely unsatisfying. It didn't even feel like an ending, it was completely open-ended. 

And I now have no intention of buying and playing Outlast 2, even though I loved the first game. 

People have their own limits though, as I said. So what is too far for some might not be for others, who might absolutely love that you went there. 

So, when you're working on a piece and a scene seems to call for something hardcore, it's up to you whether to take the risk 

It's usually not a bad thing to challenge yourself and your own boundaries though.

~ Shaun

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

Well, that was fun. How was your Easter?

So, After getting Godzilla back on the big screen, we had to follow up with a new, universe-centric Kong movie. This one does not disappoint. Fair warning, even though the movie has been out for a while, there may be spoilers in this review.

This version of Kong not only has a giant monkey, but it's got some pretty heavy hitters in the acting department, starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman.

Side note: I now subscribe to the theory that every role Samuel L. Jackson has ever, and will ever play, is either Nick Fury, or Nick Fury undercover. It just makes absolutely everything even more badass.

Now, there's probably not any Oscars for acting in this movie, but these guys don't sign their names and faces onto just anything, and the movie is every bit as good as you would expect for those three A-listers to put their touch to it.

The story itself is pretty standard King Kong fair, an island that's usually surrounded by mists and storms suddenly has a break in the weather, allowing an intrepid group of explorers and military to land an expedition. Well, not quite land, almost as soon as they arrive, they manage to piss Kong off, and we're treated to a great Kong vs. Helicopters action scene. (Guess who wins.) The survivors now have to trek across the island to their extraction point before the break in the storms surrounding the island ends.

Of course, Kong isn't the only threat on the island. There is a tribe of people that live on the island that worships Kong, In addition, we're treated to glimpses of a giant octopus, a giant water buffalo, a giant spider with legs like bamboo stalks, Not everything is big though, there's also flocks of small pterosaurs to rip people apart.

The biggest threat, and the antagonist monsters in this movie though are the Skull Crawlers. Giant two-legged lizards with tongues like frogs that snap out and grab things before dragging them down its throat.

We see several small ones during the movie, before a much bigger one shows up to challenge Kong. Of course, though, once the human element is introduced, it's shown that he couldn't have defeated the creature without the bitty little humans helping out.

Unlike previous Kong movies though, this one doesn't end with the death of the big monkey after a romp through a major American city. The people manage to make their escape, now aware that the world is much, much bigger than they thought.

If you wait until after the credits, you're also treated to a final sequence, which solidifies the connection between this Kong movie and last year's Godzilla. It also offers a tantalizing hint, for those in the know, of what is hopefully to come.

You probably have one more week to see this in the theaters, so if giant monsters are your thing, it's definitely worth the price of a ride. 

~ Shaun

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Revisiting Old Works

This one should be pretty short, more of an update than a blog post, just to keep fans and people in the loop on what I'm up to.

Trying to work harder on my writing, which isn't exactly easy with a full-time+ job. I am managing though. I have three short stories out on submission right now, which is a new personal record, and I have a list of open calls to write for.

Got a few ideas for new novels and novellas too, with a few false starts in place. (Hey, it's better than nothing! Words on the page is always a win!)

In addition, I'm currently commissioning some new art for my book Class 5. While I was satisfied with the current one, it doesn't exactly scream Horror, and the font needs some work. I will admit that when I first commissioned the current cover, I didn't really have a good idea to start with for what I wanted. That led to the first version (which I rejected) which had an Arizona desert that looked like a cracked wasteland, and the crashed spaceship being the Serenity from Firefly.

Changing cover art really isn't THAT big of a deal though.  It happens all the time. Look up Stephen King's Cujo on, and you can see at least a dozen cover variants. 

But that's not what I really want to talk about here. I self-published Class 5 in 2013. Now that may not seem like that long ago, but in terms of skill and personal growth, it's ages. Looking through it now, as I make sure all the details I want to give the new artist are right, I can see a lot of the things that need work. It's not that a lot of these issues are technically wrong, but as much as I've grown as a writer since then, I know I can do better. 

Which brings me to my dilemma. Do I sweep through a book that's been out there for years, making changes and edits and things, or do I just leave it, as a reminder of the level I was at, at that point? 

Now, I have talked about this a little before, specifically regarding my very first book, The Unknown Neighbor. The Unknown Neighbor has tons of issues, cover, formatting, plot, tension, and even the writing itself. To get that book up to any kind of snuff would pretty much mean a complete re-write. I would be better off just taking the idea and starting with a brand new story. That said, I did consider it at one point, as well as leaving it up for sale. In the end, I pulled it without any revisions and I don't anticipate ever making it available again. 

So what's the difference now, with Class 5? Well, there really just aren't as many issues. The story and plot are good, the action too. It could use a few more details in places, but it's not that big a deal. I'm not talking about re-working anything. The main thing is taking some of the parts of iffy writing and making them better. Basically, another editing pass or two. Not that I'm completely sold on the idea just yet, but it's something I'm considering to go along with the new cover art, and I'll probably fix some formatting issues with the physical copy. We'll see.

Is that good? Is it bad? Well, as long as the story itself isn't changing, there shouldn't be a big problem. I'm not changing any details, I'm not adding or taking things out so that new readers get a different experience than the ones that read it in the past. I don't want to invalidate the reviews Class 5 already has. I just want to clean up the language so people can enjoy the story easier.

Like I said though, we'll see. In the meantime, I apologize, this turned out to be a lot longer than I planned. Still, if you want to know more, feel free to hop over to Amazon and check out Class 5 for yourself! Just click on the cover on the right side of my blog here!

~ Shaun

Monday, March 27, 2017

Horror and Sex?

So, what is the deal with Horror and sex? Seems like most Horror movies include at the very least a quick flash of bouncing boobs, and the implication of a couple that just can't keep it in their pants. Usually right before they die.

Even in books it happens. In The Dark by Richard Laymon is a good example of this, though I'm also told it's a staple of books in the pulp-fiction realm. Honestly, I got so tired of hearing about the protagonist getting poked in the boobs, or her panties getting soaked with sweat. Gratuitous, that's all it was.

Still, why is this?

Well, that I know of, there's two main reasons for this.

1. Religion.

Huh? I know, but it's a fact, especially of most of the Horror that came out in the 80's and early 90's, as well as a lot of the newer Horror that now pays homage to those days.

See, here's the thing. The couples that have sex, and the girls that are bouncing all over the place. They die. It's the conservatively-dressed, virgin heroine that lives and finds a way to escape or stop the killer. The moral of the story is that sex is bad. It's a risky behavior that, if you engage in, will get you killed.

The Friday the 13th movies are the perfect example of this. It even starts on that note. Little boy Jason Voorhees drowns because the camp counselors that are supposed to be on lifeguard duty, are off getting it on and not paying attention.

Now, to be fair, society has become more accepting of sex (Seriously! Don't laugh!). And this has become less and less of an issue. It does still pop up though, and the moral of the story is that sex is a sin, and being a sinner gets you killed.

2. Sex sells.

Yeah, we know. Slap a pair of boobs on the screen and suddenly all eyes are glued to the TV. (Unless you're not interested in boobs.) Trying to sell a soft drink? Have a beautiful pair of lips on a straw.

Pictured: Selma Hayek's boobs. Also, George Clooney.
Now, if trying to inject a random moral into a movie about wholesale slaughter is kind of pointless, these scenes are completely gratuitous. At least in the religious killings, you do kind of need to know those characters are dead, so those scenes are still part of the movie. The "sex sells" scenes though, could almost always be completely cut and nobody would know it.

This is actually the kind of sex you get in a lot of the classic pulp fiction novels like the aforementioned In The Dark. It's filler, designed to titillate, hoping you'll keep reading just to get a little bit deeper (ah-hem.) into the story.

Now, there are movies that use sex sparingly, and appropriately for the story they want to tell. The Last House on the Left, starts with a horrific rape scene, which leads into the rest of the movie. The rest of the movie would never happen if that one event hadn't occurred.

The other movie that springs to mind is, rather obviously, the Horror-comedy Teeth. I'll just leave you with the poster of that one, and that should tell you all you need to know.

~ Shaun

Monday, March 20, 2017

State of Horror: 2017

A little late to the show, I know, considering we're already moving up to the end of March, but there's still sooo much more to come this year.

Without getting political, Horror has always been one of the great genres of escapism. It reminds you that things could always be worse, helps you experience that, and then brings you back safely home again. Thus we continue on with the days and weeks of our lives a little more grateful, no matter how difficult things may sometimes seem in the real world. And with the roller coaster that things are shaping up to be the next few years, we're going to need a steady stream of exactly that.

So far, 2017 has not let us down.

Movies started us off with the dark thriller Split by M. Night Shyamalan. That led us into Get Out, and The Belko Experiment.

Video games have kept up as well, with the incredible Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.

And we're just getting warmed up. 

Movies continue throughout the year with a slew of high-profile Horror movies. Including Alien: Covenant, A new version of The Mummy, It Comes at Night, and returns to Amityville and Annabelle. We also finally get to see the remake of Stephen King's IT

Video games are a bit harder to pin down, as many of them don't set release dates in stone like movies do. (Trust me, that's for the best. Games shouldn't be released if they're not ready.) But we still have a lot of games to keep us busy in the meantime that have Horror elements, even if they aren't specifically Horror games themselves. 

The big thing here though, is VR. Many, many Horror games seem to be planning to take full advantage of the ability to truly immerse a player in situations you would be insane to enjoy. Which is exactly why we enjoy them.

Of course, one of the games most being looked forward to is Outlast 2. There are a lot of others though, including a game based on the Friday the 13th movies. Other games to watch for are Perception, where you play as a blind person, tapping your cane and using a kind of echolocation to "see", and Visage, a game trying to pick up where the sadly dead P.T. left off.

Last, but certainly not least, (And I fully expect this one to be absolutely terrifying in VR), we have The Hum: Abduction. The title should give it away, but check out the trailer.

So never fear, Horror fans. There's going to be a lot of (fake) Horror to keep you up at night this year. 

~ Shaun