Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Back in January I got into another Lovecraft binge (see my thoughts on that here), and during that binge I read one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Around the same time, I found out there was a movie version of that short story that was made in the style of a 1920’s silent film, matching the period of when the story was written, and knew I had to see it. Which turned out to be easier said than done: it’s not on any streaming service I can find, copies at my library had all been lost or damaged to the point they needed to be taken out of circulation, and I did not want to illegally stream it on my laptop. Finally, with some Amazon gift card money, I managed to buy my own copy, and after Amazon lost the package and had to send me a new copy (was that Cthulhu’s work, I wonder?), I finally got to watch the film with dinner this evening!

“Call of Cthulhu” tells the story of a man as he recollects becoming the executor of his late great-uncle’s estate, and how he discovered his uncle’s research on a cult devoted to the worship of a being known as Cthulhu. As the man goes deeper into the mystery of the cult and even conducts some research himself, he finds himself falling deeper into a rabbit hole of madness and despair that has no way out, and some things waiting within.

Firstly, this movie looks and feels like a 1920’s silent film. It was filmed using Mythoscope, a process that combines older and newer techniques to produce a film that looks like a silent picture but with much better special effects, and it looks great. You can tell that a lot of work went into making this film just right. And what’s truly amazing is that this film was made almost in a DIY sort of way: sets were made with cardboard, tape, and even a few blankets, with cast and crew sometimes working in miserable condition and using props bought off eBay to make this work. If you watch the film and then watch the behind-the-scenes video, like I did, you gain such a deeper appreciation for how well executed this film is.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this film are the actors. They are great at their work! As it’s a silent film, much of the storytelling is done through expression and movement, like in a ballet. You never once doubt for a moment that the actor are feeling the emotions they are trying to convey to us, and that just makes the film all the more amazing. It also helps that these actors are not Hollywood stars. In a major motion picture, the narrator of the story might be cast as Tom Hanks or someone else who’s good at playing an everyday guy put into extraordinary circumstances. The actors in this movie, however, often look like folks you see on a daily basis, and that instantly makes them more relatable to me.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it might be Cthulhu himself. Or maybe I do care for him. I’m kind of split on my opinion of him when he finally appears. On the one hand, he doesn’t appear on film that much, even at the climax of the story, and when he does, it’s often very quick or he’s seen as a shadow. The stop-motion used to animate him is also very well done, and he looks like how he might be styled in a 1920’s film. That’s very good. But, he is the film’s big bad, and I like to feel even jut a little intimidated by the big bads I see in film. And whenever Cthulhu is on screen, I’m just not intimidated. I guess if I had lived in the 1920’s (an age where Lon Chaney’s version of the Phantom of the Opera was so terrifying to audiences, people actually fainted in their seats or ran out the theater screaming), I might have found the stop-motion terrifying, but I’m from the age of CGI, so it takes more to terrify me. So I’m honestly unsure of whether the stuff with Cthulhu himself adds or takes away from the film.

But all in all, this is a great film, an artistic masterpiece courtesy of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (do they have a museum to the guy yet?). And when you consider that the original short story has been called “unfilmable,” and the conditions during production tried to prove that assertion, you learn to love it even more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving “The Call of Cthulhu” a 4.8 out of 5 (as well as the title of “one of my new favorite films”). Find yourself a copy, and enjoy the experience.

Now I just need a good adaptation of Shunned House. That story is SCARY! And it feels like the sort of story that would translate very well to film.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Join me next week when I watch another Lovecraftian-influenced film. No, not Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (though I probably will see that next weekend with my sister). It takes more than a tentacled monster to make it a Lovecraftian story. No, I mean the film adaptation of Junji Ito’s terrifying manga, Uzumaki.

You know, I think every horror writer has a story that has a title that sounds a lot like this one. “The Woman in the Coffin”; “The Pit and the Pendulum”; “The Lady in the Water.” Okay, that last one isn’t a horror story, but it is pretty horrifying. And you get my point, right?

Anywho, in my last post I said I was going to take a break from Full Circle and work on a few short stories. This is the first of those: “The Woman in the Coffin,” a short story about two cousins living in the English countryside who find a coffin with, you guessed it, a woman inside. In a way, it’s similar to my previous short story “Buried Alive,” which also revolved around someone buried in a coffin, but the whole coffin thing is really where it ends. Especially when you consider what the woman in the coffin in this short story does.

Do you think I have a thing for coffins? I have always wanted one that I could convert into a bed. That would be cool.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun writing this story. It only took me four days to get it down, which is a record for me (though considering this is my first short story written almost entirely with Dragon software, maybe this will be a new norm). I also had a lot of fun writing British characters. Normally my characters are in the States and talk like they’re from the States. I had to draw on all my years of reading British literature and watching British films and television to make it sound like they were actually British and not Americans in a British setting. I’ll probably have to work on that further when I get to the editing phase with this story.

It’s also shorter than most of my short stories, at about 6,550 words (for me, that is short. Most of my short stories average around 8,000 words). And I think there’s a lot of material I could cut out without sacrificing quality. If I can do that, I think it’ll be much more likely that a magazine or an anthology will want to publish it. And wouldn’t it be cool if that happened?

Anyway, it’s getting late, so I’m going to sign off. Next I’m going to edit my short story “The Playroom,” and then I’m going to write a quick short story that takes place in a location we’ve all heard about and hope never to visit. Hopefully I’ll be done with all that in the next two weeks.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares!

As you guys know by now, I’m a pretty dedicated horror fan. I read a lot of horror novels and watch a lot of horror movies, I decorate my apartment with horror knick-knacks (just the other day, a Jason Voorhees mask and Funko doll arrived for me from Amazon), and of course, I write a ton of horror. Only thing is, lately I’ve been writing a lot of science fiction, and that’s getting a little old.

The hockey mask looks good on us.

I’ve been working on Full Circle, the final book in the Reborn City series I’ve been working on since high school, since November. And as of the completion of the latest chapter this morning (finished it in just a little over an hour. Do you know how rarely that happens?), I’m just under halfway through the first draft. And while I’m still dedicated to finishing the first draft and the series itself, I’m getting a little tired of the constant sci-fi. Don’t get me wrong, I love science fiction. Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows, after all, and I get as geeky as anyone else when I think about The Last Jedi coming out this winter.

But check the About page of this blog. I’m a horror writer, and all this sci-fi gets a little wearisome. I want to dip back into the world of ghosts, ghouls, serial killers, and all other manner of monsters that go bump in the night.

Plus, I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to publish more horror short stories, as I’m trying the traditional route again and publishing short stories is a good way to do that. Can’t publish horror short stories if I’m constantly working on sci-fi.

So with that in mind, I’m taking a break from Full Circle to do a little short story writing. I’m going to first write a short story that I had the idea for a couple months back, and then I’m going to edit The Playroom, a short story I wrote back in late 2015 and have not touched since. I think it’s about time I took a look at that one again, and then see if I can get it in a magazine or an anthology. After those are both done, I should be good to get back to work on Full Circle (though if I need to, I’ll write another short story). I have a feeling that starting with the next chapter, it’s going to be hard to stop writing this one anyway, so this is a good time to take a break and slake my thirst for horror.

Until next time, Followers of Fear. And may the terror be with you…always.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m dividing my writing time between working on Full Circle* and working on short stories. And with my short stories, there’s been more of an emphasis lately to write them with the goal of getting them into magazines and/or anthologies. Why? Well, as many of you know, I’ve been trying the traditional publishing route again (though I will self-publish if I feel a story is better off getting published that way), and while getting published in magazines and anthologies isn’t absolutely necessary to getting an agent and/or publisher, they do help make you more appealing to them. Kind of like internships and volunteering on a resume during a job search, if you think about it a certain way.

That being said, getting your short stories in mags and anthologies is pretty difficult these days. Okay, the short story market has always been difficult (Stephen King said in his autobiography On Writing that he had railroad spikes full of rejection letters from mags/publishers/agents/etc. before he found success), but in an age where so much content is available for free, reading has to compete with movies, streaming, and video games, and even self-publishing is cutting into magazine’s readership,** magazines and anthologies are even choosier than they used to be. Especially the ones that pay. They only accept the best work out of all the submissions they receive.

So up against this market, how can an author increase their chances of getting their stories published? Well, keep writing, get other people to take a look at your work for feedback, and don’t take every rejection as the end of the world or as a reflection of your talents, of course. But is there anything beyond that to help one get editors’ attentions? Well, there are a few strategies, and I’d like to list them here:

  1. Research and target. In this strategy, an author should create stories geared towards a particular magazine or group of magazines. For example, if you find a magazine that prefers urban fantasy stories, write an urban fantasy story that the magazine would probably like. Look at the magazine’s website and/or in recent issues to get an even better idea of what sort of stories they prefer (maybe they prefer female protagonists, or they hate romances between humans and supernatural creatures). Once you have a good idea of what they prefer in their stories, write one in that vein and then submit it to them. Chances are that if the story is the kind the magazine specializes in and likes, they’ll publish it.
    I’ve actually used this strategy successfully before. My first published short story, Summers with Grandmother Fumika, is about a fox-spirit that takes part in a Japanese tea ceremony. It was written after I discovered a magazine that specializes in articles and fiction relating to tea! Earned $100 for that story, which to a high schooler who averaged about $28-$35 dollars selling tickets for basketball games, was a pretty big deal. And I recently wrote a short story that I wrote for a specific sub-genre of horror, so there’s a good chance that it could be published in any of the publications that like those stories (though time will tell, of course).
  2. Rely on your networks. We live in an age of social media, and that means we come across all sorts of people we might never have even known existed thirty, twenty, or even just ten years ago. That means if you have a blog, belong to writer’s groups on Facebook, or belong to an online critique circle, you potentially have dozens or hundreds of people who can help you find homes for your stories. For example, I asked one of my writers’ groups on Facebook if they had any suggestions for places I could submit another short story in a particular sub-genre of horror. Within a few hours, I had a couple of responses that I could follow up with.
    Sometimes your friends don’t even have to give you suggestions. Occasionally, they run magazines or anthologies! In the past three years, three short stories were published in anthologies where a friend of mine was one of the editors (you know who you are). Just from this, you can see what an amazing resource friends can be!
  3. Check your publications. There are a buttload of books out there that are meant to help the average writer write and publish their work. Most of them have sections full of listings for magazines, agencies etc, and a lot of them are updated yearly. The best part is, a lot of libraries carry copies of these great tomes with them. I highly recommend The Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market from Writer’s Digest. They have great articles and listings (though never enough in the horror department, sadly).
  4. Google. I know, sounds like something that goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t occur to people. Google is a remarkable resource, and if you’re careful with your search terms and what links you click on, it can open doors. In the past couple months, Google has led me to several magazines and anthologies that specialized in stories I could send them. At the moment, I’ve been rejected by one, but there’s a chance I could be accepted by two more. And if those don’t work out, there are all sorts of places I can still try out. All thanks to Google

Now, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll get into a magazine or anthology, even with using these tips. That’s fine, many successful writers have rarely or even never been published in these sort of publications. But if you think it can help your career, or you prefer short to longer stories, these tips might just help you get into that collection of winter-themed romances or into that magazine that likes hopeful stories involving space exploration and interactions with alien species. And that is a joy that every writer relishes.

*Speaking of which, when I’m working on that, the general policy is “get a chapter done, then work on a short story or a blog post.” So if you see a post come out on this blog over the next couple of months, it’s either because something big happened worthy of blogging about, or I just got a chapter of FC done. Like I did right before I started writing this post (only 22 more to go!).

**Dammit self-publishing, why do you have to–wait, what am I saying?

Reborn City and Video Rage, side by side.

I’m writing this post on my phone, something I’ve never done before. I’m only doing it because I’m away from my laptop, and I wanted to get this post done before I lose any enthusiasm for the subject. If you notice a change in blog post quality, you know why.

So as many of you know, I’m currently working on Full Circle, the final book in my science fiction trilogy, the Reborn City series. And for a while now, I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with an issue in the story.

You see, when I first started writing this series back in high school, I intended for male lead Rip to be the hero, and Zahara Bakur, the female lead, to be the secondary protagonist. You can actually see this in the climax of Reborn City, where the final battle is centered around Rip.

Over time though, the roles reversed: Zahara became the story’s heroine, and Rip the secondary protagonist (this is a prime example of characters taking over the story, by the way). And this left me with a huge problem, because while the roles of the characters changed, I kept in some stuff that I’d come up with during the period where Rip was supposed to be hero.

Specifically, I had this whole reveal about Rip’s past prior to the events of the story that would reveal something hero-worthy in his heritage. And throughout the first two books, I was dropping hints here and there about that reveal so that dedicated readers (I’m sure some of you exist out there somewhere) could go back and say, “Oh, that’s pretty clever.”

It was only after I had actually begun the first draft, with the reveal written in the outline, that I started thinking to myself, “Is this reveal really right for Rip? It’s a little too grand for his role in the series.”

As usually happens with my stories when I know something’s off, my work slowed down. I still managed to get to the scene where the reveal takes place, but it took longer than it might have under different. circumstances. And the whole time, I was wondering what to do witht this plot reveal.

And then last night, after finishing my latest writing session and shutting down for the evening, I got up to get ready for bed, and a solution came to me. Just popped into my head, a way to use those same breadcrumbs I’d included in the first two books, have a reveal about Rip’s past, but not have it seem weird or out of place with the story. And it was obvious! So obvious, in fact, I think I hit my forehead for not seeing it earlier.

And the best part is, it only requires a few changes to the material I’ve already written. I won’t have to change too much to make this work. I can probably even get it done in a few quick minutes tonight if I have a chance.

You know, I like to think of myself as a very experienced writer, but the truth is, even if I do have experience, there are still plenty of things I need to improve upon. One is spotting these sort of issues before they become problematic. The other is seeing the obvious solutions when they do.

I recently came across a very fun article from the AV Club, which talked about how any opening in a story could be improved by replacing the second (or in some cases, the third) line with the phrase “And then the murders began.” This idea was formulated by author Marc Laidlaw, which has since become known as Laidlaw’s Rule, and is based on some of the advice of author Elmore Leonard, who said you should start your stories with more action-based openings rather than more quiet stuff like describing the weather or doing some sort of backstory.

As you can imagine, Laidlaw’s Rule can make for a rather fun parlor game. I shared the AV Club article in one of my writing groups on Facebook, and we had a ball with this. Here’s my contribution to the game:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then the murders began.

Charles Dickens has never been less boring.

And you find that this works with almost any story. Harry Potter, for example:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. And then the murders began.

Just as JK Rowling intended it, I’m sure. How about Alice in Wonderland?

Alice was beginning to get tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. And then the murders began.

Well, in this LSD-inspired story, anything’s possible. What about Stephen King?

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain. And then the murders began.

That’s Stephen King’s IT in a nutshell. New movie out September 8th! Check out the trailer that’ll be coming out some time tomorrow. Let’s see, what else? Oh, I know! How about Wuthering Heights?

1801 – I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. And then the murders began.

It’s already improved greatly. And even works on non-fiction works and speeches. For example, the Gettysburg Address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. And then the murders began.

America in a nutshell, everybody! Our nation is dangerous to your health.

How about my work? Let’s try Reborn City:

Zahara and her family had decided to eat out at a restaurant in North Reborn that served kosher meat, the closest they could get to halāl. And then the murders began.

Well, there are a few murders in this book (spoilers!). What about Video Rage?

The sunbaked concrete and metal in the hundred-plus degree heat, the many cars and trucks reflected light off their chrome bodies like blinding beasts zooming down the highway. And then the murders began.

Ooh, chilling! How about Snake?

Paul Sanonia had been touched by a nightmare, an unbelievable disaster that had manifested in reality where it shouldn’t belong. And then the murders began.

This novel in a nutshell (more spoilers!).

And the best part is, Laidlaw’s Rule works with pretty much any story. Usually it works best with third-person omniscient narrators, though other narrating styles can work. Take a look at To Kill a Mockingbird:

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. And then the murders began.

Jeez, Atticus Finch’s job just got a lot tougher. I think he’s going to have to play detective as well as defense lawyer and dad.

Marc Laidlaw, the formulator of the Laidlaw Rule.

Yeah, Laidlaw’s Rule is a lot of fun. But it also could make for a fun writing exercise. How many stories have actually begun with “And then the murders began” as the second sentence? As a lot of these kinds of stories like a bit of mystery before you discover a body or two, I’d say not many. So it would be fun to start a story this way. Just come up with a random set up for the first sentence, do “And then the murders began” for the second, and see where it goes from there. We could call it the Laidlaw Exercise (coming to a high school or university writing class near you!). And if I wasn’t neck-deep in finishing a sci-fi trilogy, I might try this! God knows I could tell more than a few stories starting out this way.

Maybe I will when I have a bit of free time. Who knows? I might end up writing something totally awesome.

But what do you think of the Laidlaw Rule? And do you have any contributions you’d like to add? Author friends, I want to hear what your books sounds like when given the Laidlaw treatment! Let’s discuss in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have another post out later this week, so keep an eye out for it. Until next time!

…And then the murders began.

I normally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. When I do, they usually don’t last longer than a month or even a week.  But this year, I decided to break from tradition and actually make a resolution: to try new methods to get people interested in my writing. This decision was partially spurred by my earlier decision to try and find a literary agent, as well as from reading a book on marketing and realizing that I needed to change my approach to how I was getting people interested in my fiction.

It’s a hard market out there. If what you’re doing isn’t working, maybe you should try something new.

So if you’re still here and you’re not thinking, “Oh, this is just one of those posts where he blathers on about what’s going on with him and his life”, then you’re probably thinking “How is he doing with that resolution, then?” and “How did he change his approach?”Well, I like to think that so far, so good. This isn’t the sort of resolution that can be objectively measured, like losing so many pounds or bringing your academic scores up. I could measure it by new followers, but not all followers read posts frequently, and only a small fraction are willing to spend money on my books. Book sales can be an indication, as can reads on Wattpad, but to base my success solely on those factors doesn’t seem the wisest course to me. And finally, building an audience is a long and arduous process. This blog took five years to gain as many followers as it has, after all. An audience of readers interested in my books might take even longer.

It’s easier to talk about what I’m doing different. One thing I’ve done is that I’ve stopped doing ads through Facebook and Twitter. Unless you have of big budget like Coca-Cola’s advertising department, ads through those sites usually don’t translate into sales. At the very least, I’m saving money, and that’s never a bad thing.

Another thing I’ve been doing is related to my goal of trying the traditional route again and finding a publisher. That is focusing more on my niche, which is horror. I know, I’ve written and published a lot of sci-fi, but I prefer horror, and what I’m trying to do now is to write more horror stories and trying to get them published in magazines and anthologies. I’m still working on Full Circle, the final book in the Reborn City series, but I’m also devoting more time to horror. The hope is that I can produce enough work and get it published in magazines, building my name as all or a writer, thereby making myself a bit more attractive to horror fans and possibly literary agents and/or publishers.

As of yet, I’ve only submitted one short story, and I’m still waiting to hear back on it. But the next time I take a break from Full Circle, I plan to do some editing and writing, and see what happens. The goal here is to at least get a couple stories published by the end of the year (fingers crossed!).

A third method I’m trying, and this is already producing results, is I’ve started publishing through Wattpad again. Last month, I published my sci-fi novelette Gynoid on that website, and so far I’ve had a positive feedback. There’s been quite a few readers, a couple of votes (which is kind of like “Likes” for that platform), and even a comment or two. One of those comments was from someone who was very relieved to see a certain outcome for one of the characters. That particular comment made me feel very happy, because it showed that the story I wrote and the characters within had people invested.

Sure, Wattpad doesn’t make me any money, but it does give me an audience. And based on Gynoid’s success, I may publish more stories through the website in future, especially for stories that might have a hard time getting placed in magazines.

So that’s what I’m doing right now. It’s a multipronged approach, which is usually what is recommended for any big endeavor like this. Later this year, after I finished the first draft of Full Circle, I plan on editing Rose and shopping that around to agents. Rose really represents not only my growth as a writer, but it is a prime example of the niche I want to write for, so I feel that’s the best novel to shop around to agents and publishing companies. I’m also considering different social media platforms to try out, like Goodreads and Reddit (I know one person who is very active on one of those sites, so I may ask her for advice). If it can work, anything’s on the table.

For now though, I’m just focusing on focusing on my niche and finishing Full Circle. Any resolution that is to be successful takes time, proper planning, and patience. I want this to go well, so I’m not going to rush any of the steps I’m taking to further widen my audience. Will any of it work? Tough to say. But I’m an optimist at heart, and I like to think that this new approach will eventually yield results.

And if you are interested, I’ll give an update in a couple of months or at the end of the year, and let you know how I’m doing. In the meantime, if any of you have any tips on expanding my audience, or places I can look for an agent/publisher, or places that I could potentially publish my stories, let me know. If they work out, I’ll credit you in any post I write about it.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, so wish me luck. And thank you, as always, for supporting me as I work hard on becoming a great horror novelist.