Writers: What To Learn From Marvel

2 10 2018

Clink on the Avengers for advice from K.T. Weiland.marvel-logoDos-and-Donts-of-Storytelling-According-to-Marvel-Series-Header





Writers: Packaging Your Work For Sale Through Amazon, Or “It Costs HOW MUCH?”

28 09 2018

Back when I produced a couple of movies, producers spent half their total budget on box art (yes, box art. It was VHS, then DVD). Design caught the eye and made promises about content. The slicker the design, the higher the expectation about the movie’s overall content. Back then, I learned three things:

  • Do not hire friends to do your art. It’s awkward when they screw up and you have to yell at them or threaten to sue.
  • Do not do it yourself. That will add months to your goal as you learn the software and research design basics.
  • It is worth saving up money to hire an experienced professional.

Through the writing of the Lampreyhead series, I listened to podcasts about self-publishing. Lindsey Buroker suggested hacking the cover designs of bestsellers. I did so and found the popular colors, fonts, elements, and compositions. I opened an account on 99Designs and put up my information.

I thought of Lampreyhead as being a Terry Gilliam satire of Paranormal Romance. Then I spoke with my writers’ group and found that no, Lampreyhead was much darker even than Terry Gilliam. I had first wanted a spoof cover much like Ash from “Evil Dead” with weapon held high, but I was told the series is a bit too grim for that.

Okay, from art design I already knew that all characters needed distinctive silhouettes. Harry Potter is slight with a wand, Harry Dresden had his gun and hat, Anita Blake had great hair, etc. Ned lived in his hoodie and cargo shorts, so he already had a distinctive figure. Based on my research into covers, I concluded I needed rich purples, reds, and golds. I needed a silver metallic font with serifs. Bare abs attracted attention while still being true to Ned’s vocation.

Artists submitted spec designs and I took them to my friends on Facebook. One design stood out, a design I wouldn’t have considered. Instead of a strong pose, Ned looked dead at the viewer. This struck my friends as arresting and moody, so I approved it.

Beware 99Designs. It takes a 30% cut of what you pay the artists. So when I had a regrettably long “oh could you add this” list, I became more trouble than I was worth, and the artist didn’t return my emails for Covers 2 and 3. I do not blame her. She did a great job.

She did send me Photoshop documents of the cover, so I got an artist from my on-line writers group to modify Cover One to make Covers Two and Three. There was a communication glitch and I did not get all the changes I had wanted, but the price was great.

By this time, I was hearing from podcasts that most authors did basics on Photoshop and made their own covers. I bought Photoshop Elements and cropped to make the three Kindle covers.

Total cost so far: $1200.

Advertising is going to add to this outlay.

I will probably have to pay a web designer to make a new home page. I need an aggressive email sign-up drop and WordPress sites don’t seem to do that.

So…I’ll have some info about that next week. We’ll learn together.





Writers: How I Wrote My Novella Series

26 09 2018
blueberries cake chocolate chocolate cake

Photo by Abhinav Goswami on Pexels.com

selective focus photography of people having a toast

Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

CAKE OR BEER? IN TIME, I SHALL HAVE BOTH.

The three books of “Lampreyhead” are now uploaded on Amazon. A year ago, I started writing Book One. Through last Winter and Spring, I wrote Books Two and Three. I hired a cover artist, then had to hire another, and learned formatting for CreateSpace (RIP, now merged with KDP) and Kindle.

Part One! The Writing!

Peering from this site banner is Ned Winter, the protagonist of my new series “Lampreyhead.” Ned is a failed vampire prototype. The approved vampire prototype, Dracula, brought three separate bites with three separate nights of sexual ecstasy. Ned fastens on for three days straight, bringing a three-day long orgasm.

I had this “vampire prototype” joke floating in my head for almost twenty years. I wrote two  “MAD Magazine” style short stories where Lampreyhead was like Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor character, then set him aside. I wanted to write a novel about him, but the character wouldn’t work for a longer piece.

The problem with an over-the-top character is that once started, there is no room the nuance needed to sustain a longer work. The style and tone wear the reader down and eventually the humor becomes boring. To make a series, Ned needed a character arc.

I tore down the old Lampreyhead and built a new one.

I started him in modern Philadelphia USA because I know and love this area. How did her survive the centuries? How else? He’d been a gigolo since the 1400s, keeping a low profile from the church and the law. I needed him to be an underdog, so I held to the most oppressive myths regarding vampires: no silver, no sunlight, all holy objects causing spiritual agony or physical injury.

Then I took away most of the vampire perks. No transformations beyond turning into a seven foot parasitic fish. No control of lesser animals. Ordinary hearing and sight. I started feeling sorry for him, so I kept him notably stronger than humans.

For me, the big question regarding vampires is this: why would they be any more accomplished than humans? If I could live forever, would I become a violin virtuoso? Would I even pick up a violin? I lived for six years in a house that held the entire Great Books Series and I had no interest in broadening myself. I think I represent most average humans. So I made Ned not so much a slacker, as someone who settled into a decades long routine. He had no ambitions, but he also had to survive, and the birth-death cycle of mortals broke his heart.

Heart? This vampire has a heart? Yes, unlike the other prototypes, Ned has emotions.

Which gave his story a great new dimension. Most people worry about whether God exists because they see no conclusive proof. All Ned has to do is go past a church and he can feel God’s existence, but God Doesn’t Like Ned. Centuries of this knowledge would wear on a guy.

So I had a sympathetic character struggling to distract himself from his emptiness and wondering at the universe through The Fortean Times and astronomy.

I started the first book with a date. Ned has a date with an affluent, debauched woman. Ned would be well-practiced at concealing his transformation through an absolutely dark hotel room. Because he’s compassionate, he would prepare room service to have food and water ready at the door for “after care”. I threw in some lingerie, but the scene didn’t have much purpose beyond titillation.

Ned then goes to his usual diner to sit all night reading magazines. His routine is interrupted by an old friend and fellow prototype, a character of particularly gruesome nature, Gustav.

Gustav serves three purposes. He gives the reader an idea of what a horror Ned could have been and could still become. Gustav provides information that transforms Ned’s life. Gustav is a toddler with a fanged, prehensile umbilical cord. I love Gustav.

This brings Ned to a journey that is part horror and part slapstick.

Here was the problem: this left callow Ned to process these events on his own. Ned had no moral compass beyond “do as little harm as possible and survive.” He lacked the ability to distinguish Evil.

Remember his date? He still had her phone number. So I had him call her.

That’s how a throwaway character became the protagonist’s confidant for 90K words and still going strong. To grease the skids, I rewrote so that she saw Ned transform during their date. Why wouldn’t she freak out at seeing Ned attached to her? I made her a thrill-seeker also looking for answers through the supernatural.

My favorite TV show has always been “Kolchak”. One of my second favorites is “X-Files” but ONLY the “Monster of the Week” episodes. I wanted to do MotW books where Ned encountered and fought the rest of the vampire prototypes (now called the Formulae).

My research showed that a series needs a plot arc for it to be satisfying for the reader. I’ve tried to split the difference. Ned fights pretty cool vampires while picking up clues about Satan, Hell, the Apocalypse, and Magick, with an eye towards his future development.

Next time, the Editing Process.





“How Does A Funny Guy Like You Write Horror?”

15 08 2018

I get this a lot when I tell people what I do. The path doesn’t seem obvious unless you’ve been on it.

Were your parents Monty Python fans? Mine were, and fans of Steve Martin, and Spike Jones, and that old Bloopers record, and Alan Sherman, and Mork and Mindy.

At the same time, I had a still-inexplicable attraction to the morbid. The teen next door collected “Creepy” and “Eerie” magazines, which I read. Sundays would be days of chest-tightening anxiety with the strange, dark color pallet of the ABC morning cartoons, the mind-bending appropriation of The Groovie Ghoulies, the creepy-ass music of the NBC Sunday Night Mysteries followed by Night Gallery.

I used my library card for Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, tales of the Strange But True, and through them discovered Fritz Leiber and sword-and sorcery.

The possibilities of the the supernatural being true mixed with my desire make life as funny as TV. I chased laughs and avoided free-floating dread all the way up into my 20s.

When you think about it, ’70s Humor is pretty unsettling. Drugs were a laugh riot. Pointing fingers or thumbs caused magic if you were alien enough or cool enough. Men skeeved on women on the regular. Everyone had compulsive catch phrases. Giant feet stamped on everything. All social institutions were corrupt. Giant hedgehogs persecute British criminals who nail people’s heads to the floor.

I had wanted to be a stand-up comedian.  A sketch comedy group later, I decided prose was less nerve wracking.

But in the ’80s, there were only “Spy” and “Mad” magazines. I wasn’t sophisticated enough for “Spy” or sharp enough for “Mad”. I tried dark-humored horror at “Weird Tales”.

So it went for nine years. Eventually I realized I was trying to write horror through a humor lens, which is different than writing dark humor. I was writing The Groovie Ghoulies when I wanted to write Terry Southern or Roald Dahl.

Then I sold a story about energy drinks and dance crazes merging people into carnivorous new lifeforms. I’ve been chasing that high ever since.

Nowadays, there’s McSweeny’s and all sorts of boutique pubs for humor, but I dunno. McSweeny’s has a repetitive formula and the other markets are so niche, I’d have to derail to learn their culture.

How did you get here? How did you get where you are?

Here’s a guy dealing with these questions.

How to Alienate People By Telling Them You Write Horror — Drew Chial

I get around, wheeling and dealing in my hip bohemian community. I’m a man about town, getting recognized in my seasonally inappropriate dark t-shirt and jeans. 1,091 more words

via How to Alienate People By Telling Them You Write Horror — Drew Chial





Stephen King’s Top Ten Rules For Success

23 06 2018





Writers: Maybe *This* Is Why You Don’t Like Self-Promotion…And A Solution.

20 06 2018

And THIS is one of the biggest reasons that introvert writers struggle with marketing. Not because we’re “shy.” It goes so far beyond that.

and a plan of action

The Introvert’s Guide to Launching a Book





Writers: Get This Book!

18 06 2018

“The best selling character eats, nods, opens, closes, says, sleeps, types, watches, turns, runs, shoots, kisses, and dies….The most important thing to note is that in the best selling novel someone is doing something as dramatic as surviving or dying, and they are not, as their less-selling friends prefer, yawning.”

This is a quantitative analysis of best sellers. What best-selling characters are most prone to do. How the plots are structured. How men and women write differently. How the novels are titled. Down to percentages of “the” in best-selling text.

The book reinforces everything you may have seen in other writing books: active characters, dynamic plots, use of  arcs, etc. But for me, this book gives a concrete foundation for all of the advice.

I’m already adapting my plots accordingly. What I have taken away so far: my characters need to express “need” in detail. I tend to underwrite. I tend to think things do not need explanations. I thought I was being economical, but I’m realizing that I’m just not committing to my characters.

Writing an action pulp series is helping me to realize I need to be bolder in my choices. This book is helping me to see that this boldness will produce results.

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Hey! I’m In This!

15 06 2018

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Every reaction, no matter how violent, always reaches some equilibrium state. This final anthology in the Enter the… apocalyptic trilogy shares stories of what the new normal looks like after the end of days.

Contributing authors include:

Richard Jones, Kevin Wetmore, Lou Antonelli, Alice Weyers, Tim Starnes, Donyae Coles, Nicholas Gregory, Emily Devenport, Timothy Turnipseed, Chad Schimke, Davyne DeSye, Zac Roe, Tom Barlow, Tim Burke, David M. Hoenig, Tori Stubbs, Bruce Golden, Holly Saiki, Lisa Timpf, Mark Wolf, Peter Talley, Allyson Russel, Anthony Addis, Richard A. Shury, Russel Hemmell, Madison Keller, Calvin Spears, Adam Breckenridge, Keith Hoskins, Amelia Kibbie, Cullen Thomas, Stephen Miller, Geneve Flynn, James Austin, Elizabeth Eve King.





Creating Tension: Writing Lessons From Balticon 2018

28 05 2018

At Balticon this past Saturday, I watched a panel about Creating Tension with Scott Andrews, Mark L. Van Name, Gail Z. Martin, and Chuck Gannon.

All agreed that for tension to work, the threatened character must be relatable and the stakes recognizable. Maybe summarize the details of what would happen if All Was Lost.

Andrews: It is best to end a chapter with a cliffhanger to keep the reader engaged. Disquietude can act as cliffhanger by using awe, mystery, or curiosity. Entering an awesome new environment can pull the reader into the next chapter. The reveal of an important question can pique curiosity.

Van: Lee Child says unanswered questions keep the reader on edge. In foreshadowing a menace, heighten tension through proximity. For example: the threat is first mentioned, then later detailed, then seen at a distance, then when the protagonist has to hide from it. Morbid humor works, for that read the memoirs of soldiers.

Gail Z. Martin says that Jim Butcher novels will almost resolve a conflict completely, then introduce a last complication.

Gannon says that tragedy is two honorable characters working toward opposing ends (he made clear this was not an original thought, but I can’t remember who he was quoting). Trust your instincts above any plot formula.

Other panels reinforced reading Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat.

 





Love/Hate In SF/F/Horror: I Like Clowns.

25 05 2018

clowns

I love a good clown. Clowns are way underrated. They have deep history, culture, and skills. I believe an individual can fear clowns, certainly. The courophobia trend in our society is drummed up hysteria and a further example of how innocent love of art is shunned. You want to see a skillful, good human being? Harpo Marx, who is the tramp, along with his brothers in the above photo.

I hate when a character who is a Jesus analog has the initials “J.C.”.  Jesse Cutler of “Preacher”. The martyr/healer/magic black man from “The Green Mile”. Lots of others I have blotted out. Yeah, Garth Ennis, it’s all blasphemy, har har. Steve, we get it…he’s really Christalicious.

I love me an innovative monster design! “The Shrike” in the Hyperion novels. The elk-thing in the movie “The Ritual”. I’ll go to Days of Knights and read AD&D modules just to say “Holy Eff this is cool.”

I hate when a story’s Hell is lifted from Dante’s “Inferno”. I tend to be a stickler for reference material, in that a writer should use all of the material or not use it at all. Even Dante says “Inferno” is an allegory and not a roadmap. I can’t take “Inferno” seriously when Dante reserved the 9th Circle for some local politician he despised.

I love a good jerk who does the right thing. I am discovering they are tough to write. What if we replaced Elric with Ignatious O’Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces”? Maybe Stormbringer could possess O’Reilly’s book of metaphysics or his stained bedsheet?

I hate when I write a draft and find all my characters are two dimensional, like the women are sexpots, or the minorities there to add “veracity” to the setting. To fix this, I give each character her own goals and character arc. I think of a person I know who fits this character and bring my love of that person to that character. But man, that first draft makes me disappointed in myself as a human.

(You may note that I say “love of that person”. I found that when I write a character based on someone I actively hate, or who supports values I despise, that character comes out flat, irritating, and unconvincing. So far, I’d say the trick to good writing is pitting good people against each other.)

I love a good caper. I haven’t read much Donald Westlake, but man is he great! Like Westlake’s stories, I love movies where doofuses pull together for the prize (“It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, “Kelly’s Heroes”, “The Ladykillers”).

I hate when the villain is a corporate toady or a mindless soldier. We are surrounded by business owners who are compassionate contributors to our society. We know men and women in the military who are intelligent, kind, and spiritually deep.

I love intimate, tight, even claustrophobic environments. I love stories where the magic or horror could be playing out next door and you’d never know it.

That said, not crazy about home invasions or serial killers. I like plausible, not Torn From Today’s Headlines.  That’s my quirk.

I love a well-written fight scene. Noir has them. Horror does okay by them. But Fantasy fights read like diagrams from Black Belt Magazine. Even martial arts experts will tell you that fights are bloody, clumsy, and usually stupid. Think of a fight you’ve seen. Was it a ballet of violence? Or a rugby scrum with livestock?

I hate that as I write this I have the voice of some grumpy old soothsayer going off in my head. Harlan Ellison. Or just about every other genre columnist who is 50+ years old. Can’t wait to pontificate in a voice I can call my own.

I love all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. Just saying.

 

 

 








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