Thursday, December 19, 2019

Plans for 2020

A new year, and a new decade is coming up right quick, and it would be a shame if I let the momentum I've built up this year die down. For my fans though, fear not, because I have plans to continue pumping out stuff in 2020. Now, of course, as much as I wish otherwise, my writing is on the back burner to the day job and life, so I'll add the caveat that everything here is subject to change. Stuff may get pushed back by months or years, or get canceled entirely. These are the things I'm currently working on though, with an eye to finishing sooner rather than later. 

Cryptids

Cenote was always meant to be the first of a series based around cryptids. Creatures like Bigfoot, the Kraken, and other monsters reported to be true but always just out of sight. I'm writing this blog while taking a break from a piece tentatively titled "Burrows", which will be my second Cryptid novelette/novella. I'm working towards getting the first draft done before the new year, with editing and cover art finished in the first couple months. If everything lines up, "Burrows" should be out by March.

Audiobooks

PATHS does alright, but Cenote continues to do well, with the audiobook version of my first Cryptid work now up to 22 ratings and holding an average of 4 out of 5 stars. What I'm working on next is turning my most popular novel, Class 5 into an audiobook. This is a much more daunting task, since it'll be a 4 - 5 hour piece, and covers multiple characters. Right now I'm trying to pull out adequate parts to make an audition that will give narrators an idea of what they're in for, while letting me hear how they approach different situations and characters. I'm also expecting this to be available by the end of the first quarter of the year, so hopefully by April.

Likewise, if "Burrows" lines up and gets release in the timeline I'm hoping, expect the audiobook version to be available a month or two after the ebook. 

Short Stories

Short story collections are generally not a big seller, especially shorter collections. PATHS was always meant to only be a sampler, to introduce people to my writing style and approaches. It's also always been the weakest of my published works. So, while I'm not expecting it to be a big seller, I'm working on compiling a lot of the short stories I've released over the years into another collection. Most of them you can find here on my blog, but there's just something nice about having all of them, and possibly new stories, in one place. This isn't a priority though, despite how little work it would actually take, so if it comes to fruition, expect it probably around the summer. 

Novels

This is the one that's the most unlikely for the year. I'm working on a couple different pieces, but with everything else going on, getting them finished, edited, cover art, beta'd, and re-edited will probably take more time than I'll be able to allocate this year. Still, things change, and for those who are interested, I want to give you a little idea of everything I'm working on. The first will be another story set in the Class 5 world, titled Class 5: Hybrid. Expect to see a few characters return, and a deeper look into what's going on in the background of this world.

The other work is another Cryptid-based piece titled "Shivers". As you can probably guess, expect something cold. This may work out to be another novella-sized piece eventually, but right now with its plot written out, I think it'll be a full-sized novel. We'll see as work continues on it though.

As you can see, I have more than a couple irons in the fire, and here's hoping 2020 turns out to be as great a year as 2019 turned out to be. That's the thing about being a writer, it's about the long-haul and constantly expanding the backlist. A $100,000 advance would certainly be nice, but the odds of that have more zero's than the check would have, so it's best to keep plugging away at it, which is exactly what I plan on doing.

With that, have a happy and safe holiday season, and we'll see you next decade!

~ Shaun

Monday, December 16, 2019

2019 Wrap-up

Whew. It's been a bit of a tumultuous year for my writing. A few downs, but quite a few more ups. So, let's get into the review of 2019.

After a long time coming (around a year and a half between submission and publication), my first real short story sale saw print in the voluminous book TRANSCENDENT by Transmundane Press. Now, to be sure, this wasn't a big payout, and turnout for it has been muted. But this is a good collection of short stories by a quality publisher. I am happy to report that I did see a brief, uptick in sales of my other works after it's release. So that was a good way to start the year, even if technically the book was released in 2018. (December 26th, to be precise.)


After that, I also got a bit busier here on the blog. I managed three posts in all of 2018, and this year I managed quite a few more. While it wasn't up to the level of once a week like I did several years ago, it's been nice to get somewhat back into the swing of things and let my thoughts out a bit. Whether the blog helps with sales or not has been up for debate since I started it, but it's not a bad idea regardless.

So, after the year started off well, and then slowly rolled into more of the same, I decided it was time to try something different. An author friend of mine had seen some success turning his stories into audiobooks, so I thought I would give it a try. First up was PATHS: Three Short Horror Stories. The expense wasn't too much, and the returns were decent, if not significant. Enough so that I decided to do the same for my other short work, Cenote.


Cenote blew up. While I honestly wasn't expecting much from it when I made the decision of who to narrate the story, I chose someone that was a Youtube book blogger with a following of over 50,000 people. And she told people when the book was available. In the months since its release, Cenote went from 9 ratings on Goodreads.com to 78! With all the accompanying sales that you would expect from that. Cenote is currently the only one of my works to come close to paying for itself. It's recouped the editing costs, and is over halfway to recouping audiobook costs. Things have slowed down, but sales still continue, and I'm hopeful that it'll be in the black next year.


There was one big let-down this year, which I wrote about last week so I won't go into too much here. But to put it simply, I didn't do my research on a publisher that accepted a short story I wrote for their anthology, and I lost first edition rights to a story I'm honestly pretty proud of, to an anthology I'm not excited to tell people about. 

Not a major year, by any means, one short story, and audiobook editions of older works. But that doesn't mean I've been idle. I've posted several new short stories here on the blog this year, and I've got a few different works in progress heading into 2020. I'll delve more into that next week though.

I was planning to put the 2019 wrap-up and plans for 2020 in one post, but this is getting a little long, so check back next time when I go over what I'm planning for next year and what you all have to look forward to from me.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and I'll catch you all later.

~ Shaun

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Due Diligence

As a writer, it's very important to pay attention to who you approach and who approaches you in your business dealings. So, while I'm going to spend a fair bit of this post complaining, I want it clear right up front that the only one to blame in this situation is myself.

When you're shopping around for a literary agent, a publisher, or a submission call, the single most important thing to do is to research a person or company before you submit. If you don't do it then, at least do it before you sign a contract. I forgot.

I have a 2019 wrap-up post in the pipe where I'll discuss everything else I've done this year, but to put it simply, after coming off a successful and exciting acceptance of a short story early this year, I got a second acceptance, and I jumped into it without looking. I regret that now.

That's not to say I didn't see the red flags. I did look up the publisher that posted the call I submitted to. I looked through their catalog and while a few things didn't quite set right, I continued. I got the contract in my email, and a lot of that didn't sit or sound right (or actually legally binding), but I continued. There were delays and communication issues, but I continued. (Granted, at this point I had signed a legally dubious contract, so I felt somewhat obligated.) The book missed the target date for release (Halloween) by almost two weeks, and all I could do was shrug and wait.

And now the book is out, although it's only available on the publishers website in a physical form, and it's not available on Amazon or anywhere as an ebook.

As I said, I really have only myself to blame for missing all the red flags.

I spent most of the year excited and looking forward to announcing the second anthology to have one of my works in it this year. Now, even though there is a physical copy of the book available, I can't even take enough pride in it to tell people about it, or where to find it. It's disheartening.

I want to be clear though, that in no way do I think the publisher meant to short the writers who's work was included in the anthology. There was never anything purposefully vindictive or under-handed in any of our correspondence. At worst, I feel like this is a publisher that just doesn't really understand what it takes to run a business, or how to approach being a serious publisher. It feels like someone had a bit of success with what started as a hobby, and they're trying to run with it.

I just want to put this out there and emphasize that as an author, you are your own best advocate. That means being informed and doing your due diligence and research on any person or company you may enter into a business deal with. Don't be afraid to say "You know, this really isn't working for me." at any point during negotiations if you're not comfortable with the red flags you see popping up. Even after a contract has been signed, don't be afraid to make contact and see if things can be cleared up, or prodded in a different direction.

PAY ATTENTION! If something doesn't jive, go with your gut. It's usually right.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Short Story: Feeding Time

Welcome back to another new short story this week. Enjoy!

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"One more week. Just one more week and this will be someone else's job."

He stood back from the edge of the water and looked out across the lake. The water lapped slowly at the earth around it, like an animal tasting a corpse before digging in. The moon hung low, but enough to be seen over the trees, casting the water in an ugly yellow light.

Alvin lifted one foot, his eyes unblinking as he watched the surface of the water, and reached it beyond the perimeter of the shore, into the boat. He made sure his balance was relatively sure before his other foot followed and he was now on the water. The small boat rocked gently with the additional weight and he lowered himself onto the seat.

Satisfied, he set down his bag and the bucket and grabbed the oars. The handles were smooth, worn from years of being passed around all the people that lived along the lake. They gave him a small degree of comfort, that so many people had followed the routine without incident.  

The shore receded slowly, the wake of the boat small, but on the glass of the lake they might as well have been ten feet high. Breaths came in slow, shallow whiffs; eyes starting to dart left and right as he glided further out onto the water. The silence was unnerving in the middle of the lake, even the calls of the crickets on the shore seemed to vanish into the darkness underneath the trees that lined the banks, as if the very sound itself refused to tempt the water.


His aged muscles seemed to stiffen more with every stroke of the oars, and he could feel his heart 
crawling up inside his chest with every beat.

Then something tapped the boat.

He froze in place, breath forgotten in his sudden fear, the boat drifting along from the last pull of the oars.

Then the buoy floated past, lightly bumping the side of the boat as it moved beyond the marked spot. Breath returned in an explosion of relief, but much of the anxiety remained.

One more week...one more week...

Alvin locked the oars in place and opened his bag, pulling out the cutting board and knife which had come with being chosen for the month of August, along with the boat.

The first fish out of the bucket was a rainbow trout, about ten pounds. One he would have been rather proud to catch himself. There were no fish to catch in the lake, though.

First he cut off the head, then went down the body, blood flowing out across the cutting board and dripping into the bottom of the boat. Once he had five good pieces, he scraped them back into the bucket and grabbed the tail of the next fish. He wished he could have cut them up earlier, in the kitchen sink, but the blood was key to making sure the fish were found quickly.

A sound from shore grabbed his attention, and his finger slipped, running along the edge of the knife and adding his own blood to the pool on the cutting board. Eyes watering, he jammed the finger into his mouth, using his tongue to measure the slice, as well as to keep himself from crying out. It wasn't a bad cut, but he didn't have anything with him to cover it in his bag.

Please don't taste me...please don't taste me...

He tried to think about what he could do with it as he sucked on the finger, unconsciously trying to will it to stop bleeding. His eyes looked out at the shore as well, trying to see the source of the sound that had distracted him.

The cut refused to stop bleeding, and every moment he spent trying to think about his finger was a 
moment longer he was going to be out on the water. He gave up, his finger throbbing and bleeding as he returned to the bucket of fish.

"Trevor! I found it!"

The voice carried across the lake, skipping across the water like a smooth rock. Alvin's eyes widened and he turned to where he thought it had come from.  Movement in the shadows underneath the Carter's willow tree made him focus; the anxiety in his veins crawling through him like worms, spreading along every nerve.

She was the first to step into the moonlight. In the dingy yellow light, long hair flowed out behind her and bare breasts bounced as she pranced down to the end of the bank and jumped into the water with a loud splash. Alvin's stomach turned at the sight of her treading water, facing the bank, but he didn't dare call out.

"Trevor! Hurry up!"

"Sasha, keep it down. People do live on this lake, you know."

The man followed from under the willow, stumbling a little, the familiar shape of a beer bottle held in one hand. He tossed it off into the water, making Alvin flinch from the splash before the man dove in after the woman.

"So? Everyone's asleep at this point. Look at all the trees, I guess these weird people don't want views of the water."

Alvin was frozen as he watched them swim out further, then embrace. A small speck of self-disgust finally grew large enough to force his eyes away, and then they flicked back and forth, scanning the water for other signs of disturbance. His body trembled as he looked around.

The couple was splashing now, the woman moaning, but something else had caught Alvin's attention. A sense more than anything else, a presence that demanded to be noticed. His eyes started to water from being stretched open, but he refused to even blink as he saw the first movement.

A small wake, barely perceptible on the still water. Over by the bank near Mary Anderson's house. It moved slowly towards the couple as they bobbed up and down, wrapped up in each other.

The bloody knife, cutting board, and pieces of fish clattered into the bottom of the boat as Alvin's body shook. The sound was like an explosion in his ears and as the wake paused, his stomach lurched, threatening to send back his spaghetti dinner. He instantly felt shame at the relief as it then continued toward the trespassing couple.

The woman grew louder as the wake shrunk and vanished, leaving the surface smooth. Alvin's mouth moved, silently calling out a warning that his throat wouldn't release. He tried to swallow, but even that caught.

Then the couple was gone, sucked under the surface. Not even air was passing through Alvin's throat now as he watched and waited.

There were two big splashes, one as the man broke the surface ten feet from where he'd gone under and swimming furiously for the bank. The other was the woman, propelled straight up out of the water, letting loose a garbled scream through a mouth full of water.

A thin shadow shot up out of the water after her, grabbing one leg and pulling her back down, almost slapping her against the surface of the lake. Then she was gone underneath again.

The man continued splashing and swimming until he reached the bank, pulling himself completely out of the water and up onto the grass in front of the willow.

"Sasha!" Sasha, where are you?"

Alvin knew she wasn't going to rise up again. His brain was screaming to grab the oars, row back to the house, get in his car and get out of town. To leave and never come back. Not a single part of his body replied. His heart ached in his chest with as hard and fast as it was pounding. He hadn't even noticed the warm liquid pooling inside his jeans.

The man was now on his feet, standing at the edge of the lake, calling out his girlfriend's name. His voice echoed across the now still water. Then the creature launched out of the water, knocking the man onto his back. There had been no big splash, no huge disruption of the water. It just emerged, as if it was an extension of the water itself, flowing up and taking form on land.

It stood over the man. A thick, snake-like body held up on three sets of long, spindly legs. The body continued back into the water, part of it waving back and forth, making small waves some ten feet out from the shore.  A short neck wove back and forth, a wide, flat head looking him in the face. Then its head split open and lunged forward, enveloping the man as he screamed. The whole body undulated backward, sliding back into the water, dragging the man with it as he flailed uselessly, his screams muffled inside the creature's throat.

At the surface of the water, it flung the man back and forth, slapping him against the top of the lake. Then it vanished down into the depths, dragging the trespasser with it.

Alvin sat in the boat, trembling violently, the bucket of fish all but forgotten. Within moments, the surface returned to its smooth, placid look. A mirror, perfectly reflecting the yellow moon above. He knew he had to get back to the shore, get off the water. There was no way he could move fast enough though, not in the little rowboat.

His hands covered his face as he closed his eyes, trying to gain some kind of composure. Even with his eyes closed, he couldn't get rid of the image of the woman's body launched out of the water as she screamed, or the man, pulled right off the bank.

He pulled his hands away, suddenly aware of his finger again, still dripping blood.

FUCK!

He lifted his head and swung around, scanning the entire surface of the lake. Surely it couldn't smell his blood under the water.

Nothing stirred. There were no small wakes on the glassy surface. No sign of anything coming for him.

Gotta get away! GOTTA GET AWAY!

He was moving before he knew what he was doing. Alvin grabbed the handle of the bucket and threw it behind him as hard as he could, then his hands were on the oars before he even heard the splash, powering the boat to turn and move in the other direction as fast as he could, his finger throbbing, bleeding more, running down the handle of the oar.

He hadn't counted on facing the direction he had thrown the bucket during his escape. There was a second splash where the bucket had shattered the surface, and then the familiar v-shape of a wake heading towards the dingy he was rowing.

Alvin's heart was about to explode in his chest, trying to power his escape, to make the boat move even faster. He turned his head, trying to see the shore of his property from the corner of his eye, then looking around for something closer.

His body froze again as he saw the second wake approaching him. Then he puked into the boat as he saw the third.

Oh God...

Collapsing into the bottom of the boat, Alvin grabbed the knife and tried to make himself as small as possible, ignoring the wetness in the bottom of the boat, the fresh vomit, the blood of the fish he had cut up.

Its power source gone, the boat slowed to a gentle drift. Then softly bobbed on the water. Alvin lay there, his breath coming in shallow gasps. His hand squeezed the knife as he thought of his wife laying in bed, probably reading, waiting for him.

Oh God, Anna, I'm not coming home...

Nothing happened.

He forced himself to take a slower, deeper breath. Then he felt the bump on the bottom of the boat. Then another.

"GO AWAY!! GO THE FUCK AWAY!!!"

He looked up at the yellow moon, full in the sky. Then he saw the first of the clawed fingers reach over the edge of the boat and slowly grip the side. Two long, black fingers, reaching over, pointed nails digging into the wood. Then another pair gripped the other side. Then another pair down near the keel. Another. Another. Nine separate pairs of clawed fingers gripped the rim of the rowboat.
Alvin waited for them to try and grab him. They didn't. He didn't know what they were doing until the first slosh of water fell inside the boat. They were pulling the whole boat under the surface.

"Oh God! Fuck, no! No! NO!"

Silence returned as the boat and Alvin were swallowed by the lake itself.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Short Story: Hit and Run

Welcome to October everybody! It's a little later in the week than I planned, but here you all go! A nice new little short story for you all to enjoy for the spooky season! The plan is a new short story every week this month, so check back for new posts all month long!

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Jordan scrubbed the corner of the bumper, dipping the brush in the bucket and splashing a fresh layer of bubbles and suds across it. He really didn't have time for such a menial chore before work, but it had to be done. It certainly wouldn't do to have everyone at the office see his prized Mustang so dirty. It looked like he was done though.

He dropped the sponge back into the bucket and pulled out the microfiber towel, drying the front of the forest green Mustang GT with as much care as he could. Jordan stepped back and admired the car.

"Lucky it didn't get any scratches, but there, good as new."


He smiled and went back into the house, changing out of the jeans and t-shirt he'd worn to clean in and changing into his business suit. His briefcase was ready and waiting by the door and he grabbed it on his way out.

Briefcase safe in its spot on the passenger seat, Jordan walked around the front of the car to get in the driver's side. A quick glance should have been to revel in how smooth, shiny, and clean his car was, but his eyes were drawn to a dark spot on the left end of the bumper.

"Fuck!" Jordan knelt down and stared at it. There was no way he'd missed a spot. It was also still wet. As he watched it started to run down the front of the bumper. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped it away, looking at it closer against the white fabric.

It was red. Blood.

He peered up at the sky, to the eves of the house, and into the branches of some of the neighborhood trees. Some stupid hurt bird decided to fly over his car, letting its filthy blood drip onto his prized Mustang.

He couldn't waste anymore time washing the car again though, so he just wiped it off with the handkerchief, tossed the bloody rag into the garbage can, and headed to work.

Jordan knew the route like the back of his hand, having driven it almost every day for the last five years. He glanced over at the Darchester House as he sped past, at the monkey puzzle tree that stood thirty-feet high in the Carter's front yard. The only thing that wasn't normal for his Monday morning drive to the office was a bunch of caution tape at the corner of Tremont and Bond. He wondered what had happened and made a mental note to check the internet when he got to work.

He backed into his parking space right on time, in spite of having left his house easily ten minutes later than usual. Jordan smirked to himself as he got out and walked around to get his suitcase.

Spots. There were four spots on the left corner of the front bumper. Three of them were already running down and one was about to drip onto the ground.

"Fuck. It just isn't my day, is it?"

He checked the trunk, and managed find some paper towels. They weren't the softest or most absorbent, but it was enough to wipe away the spots and smears on his bumper. Satisfied enough, he threw them away and went inside.

Jordan's day at his desk was average for a Monday. Emails to reply to, calls to make. It was just an ordinary day. At least until he noticed a few of the girls in the office whispering and pointing in his direction. He wished that had been a normal part of his day, but he brushed it off and tried to focus on his work, waiting until nobody was looking at him again before reaching into the back of a drawer and pulling out a single-shot bottle of whiskey.

He poured it into his empty coffee cup and threw it back before anyone could notice, tossing the empty bottle back into the drawer.

Time passed and it was almost lunchtime. Jordan's buzz was in full swing with almost half a dozen shot-bottles now sitting empty in his drawer. It took him a minute to recognize the look of concern on his friend Kevin's face when he walked up.

"Hey Jordan, everything okay?"

"Yeah, why wouldn't it be? Just another Monday morning."

"You sure? I saw your car in the garage when I went for lunch."

Jordan immediately sat up, his mood souring in a moment. "What about my car?"

"Did you hit someone's dog or something on the way in? There's blood all over the bumper on the passenger side."

"What? No. No, nothing like that..."

Jordan shot out of his chair and down the hallway, bursting into the garage. A few people were standing in front of his car, looking down at the bumper. Kevin was right. The whole front corner of the passenger side looked like someone had taken dark red paint and splashed it across the car. It dripped down off the bumper into a pool of red which was slowly spreading across the pavement.

One of the women from earlier was standing there and saw Jordan.

"What did you hit?"

"Nothing. I didn't hit anything! This is some fuckwad's idea of a stupid joke!"

Jordan jumped into the driver's seat and peeled out of the parking garage, speeding through the town to a small car wash. He spent his lunch break and then some rinsing and scrubbing down his car, getting the thick, sticky substance off. Clean once again, he got in and slumped into his seat for a moment. His whiskey buzz was wearing off. Jordan reached up and adjusted the rear-view mirror, just in time to see some young girl run behind his car calling for her mom.

"What a fucking day this is turning into."

He pulled out of the car wash, stopped at a gas station to refill on shot-bottles, and headed back to the office. He chose not to back in this time, in case the joker decided to hit his car again before the end of the night.

Work ran late, and there was only two other people in the office by the time Jordan snuck his last shot bottle in the bathroom and shut the clamps on his briefcase. Walking into the parking lot made him nervous, but at a distance, he could see there were no new splashes on the back of his Mustang. A sigh of relief escaped him and he gave in to the fresh whiskey buzz putting a little spring in his step.

As he got closer, he noticed a puddle underneath his car, rolling slowly out into the parking garage. He stopped and looked at the thick, reddish fluid that seemed to be flowing toward him. Then continued on, holding his head up as he got into his car.

"Nope. Nothing there. I'm just drunk and imagining things after this shitty day."

He backed out of the parking space, ignoring the large pool that his tires left marks in and trailed behind him as he drove away. Jordan flipped on the headlights, finding the one on the passenger side weak and obscured.

He slammed on the brakes as a little girl ran across in front of him in the parking garage. He could hear her calling "Why?" to her mom somewhere on his right, but ignored it and sped on as quickly as she passed.

Jordan sped through the streets, wanting nothing more than to get home after such a long, fucked-up day.

Specks started to hit the windshield, flying up from the passenger side of the hood. Jordan tried to ignore them, and when he couldn't anymore, he flipped on the wipers, which did nothing but make red smears across the glass.

"Why?"

The little girl's voice echoed in his ear, giving him goosebumps. Something touched his right arm, making him jump and forcing him to turn and look.

A small girl was sitting there in the passenger seat, blonde hair stained red with blood which ran down her face and stained her shirt.

"Why didn't you stop?"

Jordan jerked away from the girl, pulling on the wheel. The green Mustang jumped the sidewalk, yellow caution tape flapping by before the car plowed straight on into the large Oak tree which stood just beyond the corner of the intersection of Tremont and Bond.

Jordan's chest bounced off the steering wheel, cracking ribs and knocking the wind out of him, making him unable to scream as part of the engine was shoved back into the car, underneath the dashboard, crushing his legs and pinning him in place.

As shock set in, all he could hear was the little girl's voice.

"Why? Why didn't you stop for me? Why didn't you stop? why didn't you stop? why didn't you stop? why didn't you stop....