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.

 

 

 





Deadpool Is More Edgy Than You Think. Your Writing May Benefit….

24 05 2018

 

 

 

deadpool

Does Deadpool want to be transgressive? Or does Deadpool just want a white picket fence with a beautiful breeder wife and family? Or does he want to do whatever’s funny at the time?

This article from The Guardian wonders.

Contrast it with this article from Film Hulk about creating emotional resonance.

Can Deadpool have depth? Can any horror comedy? For such questions, I make comparisons to “Shawn of the Dead”. Surely Shawn of the Dead was evocative and memorable.

But had Shawn of the Dead wanted to be a franchise like Deadpool, I could see only two options. It would have to put off Shawn’s maturing, which would have made Shawn a glib punchline like Ash from “Evil Dead”. Or each sequel would have to be a new life lesson where the character is changed, which could reduce DP’s zany energy to “The Addams Family”.

All of the movies are horror comedy, sure. But I worry that DP is going to burn out quickly cycling through cartoon shocks, like ED did. I like that DP tests boundaries, not only in breaking the fourth wall and its casual inclusiveness. What other superhero is enthusiastic about having children? What other hero fails with such spectacular realism? What hero isn’t a millionaire living in a mansion?

The DC Universe is gritty. Do you care about it? I have a hard time caring, because the heroes seem to care about so little. Is DCU’s grittiness realistic? Not when Superman destroys whole cities without carnage or remorse.

The only thing DP lacked was Negasonic and Yukio bickering. You know, the thing we never see superhero couples doing, especially teens:

Negasonic: “Just swing the chain.” Yukio: “But you like my Gogo Yubari kick!.” N: “We don’t have time!” Y: “You took like a year to power up!”

The Film Crit Hulk and Deadpool have given me a lot to think about.

  1. Back story creates empathy.
  2. Relationships must evolve.
  3. “Grittiness” is not the same as “realism”.

 





Hey Now! I’m In This!

22 03 2018

Pseudopod.org was one of my first turning points. They liked a story of mine so much, they publshed two of the stories sequels, which became the beginning of my novel “The Flesh Sutra”. This is their 10th Anniversary Special. Look at he names here! Thomas Ligotti! A.C. Wise! Joe Lansdale! If you haven’t tried Pseudopod, please give it a listen. If you know it, maybe donate a couple of dollars. They are great people and at the forefront of making great genre fiction.

Table of Contents I Have a Story for You • essay by Alex Hofelich Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story • (1985) • novelette by Thomas Ligotti Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown • (2016) • short story by Jon Padgett Stillborn • (1990) • short story by Nina Kiriki Hoffman In the Deepest […]

via For Mortal Things Unsung—A Horror Anthology from Pseudopod, TOC — The Sanguine Woods





Lampreyhead the Mixtape

28 02 2018

I saw that the YA writer Maggie Stievater create music lists for her writing and I thought I’d give that a try.

This is what I listened to while writing. It became background noise that helped me trak when an hour of writing had passed, and frankly I got more done when the earbuds were silent, but listening to it helped me catch the mood of the book.

It has Pirates of Penzance, Bert Williams, Chick Webb, and Brecht to try to convey the burdens from Ned’s age. But I also needed music to remind me he is shallow and wistful, so I went pop. Heino, a kitchy German balladeer, helped remind me of Ned’s German roots. Robert Hazard, Motley Crue, Dinner, Hot Chocolate, Beach Boys, and Funkadelic reinforces Heino’s pop energy. Last, there’s the goth/punk with Nick Cave, Chelsea Wolfe, Xiu Xiu, Suicidal Tendencies, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a cover by Brak for his pensiveness.

LAMPREYHEAD THE PLAYLIST





What I Learned On This Draft

22 02 2018

Hi guys,

I’ve finished the Beta draft of Lampreyhead: Blood Summoning.

I laughed, I cried, I learned oh so much.

First and foremost, I had always heard about writers having total existential meltdowns during redrafts. Not me. I’ve struggled with writing since 1989, sure, and I thought I’d run in the worst the writing experience had to offer.

Au Contraire! I had run into little baby struggles. In my first novel, I had spread the pain out over six years of writing. “The Flesh Sutra” started as published short stories. In my other short stories, the obstacles could be easily surmounted or shelved.

Lampreyhead’s Beta had a deadline, and man-oh-mannikin did I suffer! A day-long panic attack. Cold regret over every life decision since 8th grade. The veil of satisfaction torn away, revealing Death Himself exhaling putrid breath in my face, corpse hands raised to snatch me to a lonely pauper’s grave.

I put up a post on Facebook in this state, and got a couple of responses. One was from a guy from high school who has done remarkable things with his life, who essentially nudged me and said “I’m here, but knock off the whining.”

I took down the post within an hour of putting it up. The next day, a scene was moved to a different chapter and slowly my momentum returned.

So yeah, I learned I will provoke a panic attack to avoid working. I am not proud of this, but The More I Know.

Also, I was reminded that Tone Will Choose Itself. I can attempt to make the story like Clive Barker or King or some dark whimsical guy, but it won’t work. Stay true to the story and the feeling of the story will develop consistency and moral.

“Moral” developed through finding the recurring notes and realizing how I felt about them. What responsibility does a creator have toward a creation? What responsibility to have to your past? As it turns out, these will be recurring issues in the upcoming series.

I had thought I wanted something dark and funny that touched on these issues, and I thought of Monty Python. I re-read my Monty Python books (Big Red Book, Papperbak Book) and discovered they have not aged well. The movies now seem closer to the old “Carry On” films of the ’50s, but with better transitions. So I was flying blind. I’ll course correct as I go on.

The last item I learned was just that: “as I go on.” This is a series, and just as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has weak titles, as does every series, nothing is going to appeal to everyone.

What did I fix? All characters have arcs with distinct points noted throughout the work, including the villain and the villain’s revealed flunky. All the characters have cause and effect which flow through the entire plot.

Descriptions are more lush. The setting is obvious at the first paragraph. Three sensory points per page. All words presenting action.

I am particularly proud of the character voices.

So. Now I begin outlining the two others in the series. Book Two will take place at a major electronic chain store, Book Three will take place at a comic book store on South Street in Philly.

You’ve read this far. Would you like to Beta read this 30K work? I’ll put you in the acknowledgements. I guarantee you that you’ll laugh. I guarantee you that you’ll be creeped out.

Send me word at Tim_W_Burke at H   O   T   M   A   I   L.

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Is Your First Draft Any Good?

17 01 2018

www.pinterest.co.uk

My writer’s group Noble Fusion met and critiqued the first draft of “Lampreyhead”. I have met professional authors. Noble Fusion itself has professional authors and editors. It does not matter how many words you’ve ever published. First drafts always suck. How do you know when you’re on to writing a decent book?

While writing the draft, an author can tell where that draft is weak. Usually the draft is a sequence of set pieces where the characters lack agency. The author will know where the plot’s been fudged, or that the magic system isn’t quite right, or that emotional beats aren’t given enough room to breathe.

The book is on the right track when: 1) your group is enthused, and 2) the critiques hold no surprises.

I knew this draft was rushed and lacked detail. I suspected the characters needed more depth. But I did not panic.

Again, as fellow Noble Fusion member Dr. Lawrence Schoen told me:

“I’ve done novel breaks at Taos Toolbox with Walter Jon Williams. Professional authors have presented drafts that were utterly unworkable. This draft is workable.”

On to the critique! Sally Wiener Grotta said of this draft: “The sentence structure is repetitive. It needs to vary structure to build tension. There is a lot of passive voice. Use active verbs.”

Barbara E. Hill was pretty thorough with comments like “We just don’t understand this universe” and “How do the characters feel about each other”, which…yeah. Lots more detail needed.

So I’d have preferred to have written something brilliant right off, but that’s not how reality works.

Today and tomorrow I am working with the cover artist to tweak the fonts. I am waiting for the marketing copy from CreateSpace. I am revising the draft with the goal of sending a draft to beta readers by the end of January.

Would you like to be a beta reader?

What problems do you run into on your first draft? Who does your proofreading?

 





The Winning Cover of “Lampreyhead Book One”

16 01 2018

The font layout will change, but this is the winning image chosen by both the voters and my writing group.

(sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner with this. Day job is tiring.)

My farcical abs! abs! abs! formula didn’t go over so well and I understand why: the eyes here arrest your attention. Women voters especially went for this design.

My writing group Noble Fusion East Coast (represent!) read my draft and declared the novel to be innovative, not in the spirit of Monty Python, and sliding close to grimdark.

Next step is to integrate the ad copy I purchased from CreateSpace. For $200, they research five keywords, write taglines and a punchy summary, and polish up the other little text bits I’ll need to advertise. The fee comes out to about 20 hours at my job and taps into the CS expertise, and so is worth the money at least as a starting draft.

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Help Me Choose A Cover for Lampreyhead!

11 01 2018

I am launching a series this Spring and I need help on the cover for Book One. Yes, he is a failed vampire prototype. Yes, he’s been slacking for 700 years. Okay, yes, he’s a Philadelphia gigolo selling supernatural special endings. When the committee who created him returns to finish Satan’s will, he’ll be the failed, slacking gigolo on our side.
No cover has to be perfect. Just vote for the one that grabs your fancy. If you have an idea on how that design may be improved, send me a message (like #89 needs a thicker font or a reddish background or something).
Thank you for your kind consideration!

 

 





You Never Know Where You Will Find Inspiration

9 01 2018

I easily see my 700 year old rejected vampire prototype protagonist as this awkward guitarist. Give this enthused drummer another ten years of hard living and she could be his outspoken sidekick.  I got fashion ideas for both of them from this video.





First Draft Done, What I Have Learned, and Publishing Coaches

30 11 2017

This will be  my usual post about writing, terse yet rambling, with some sundry crits at the end of movies and writers who have caught my brain.

doggo

So! Finished with draft one of Lampreyhead at 25K words. The world building was fun. The story is set in contemporary Philadelphia because I know the Northeast US well. Religious aspects appeared, were inevitable really, which added a whole new layer to the characters and conflict. The jokes are good. There may be one darling, but we’ll see if it survives (the “moist” joke I posted on my FB three weeks ago.)

How did I write the draft and what did I learn? I did a bit of an outline, but it was way too spare. I discovered a good way to outline a few weeks ago, but I also discovered that very few writers enjoy writing outlines or synopsis.  New method for outlining is like the Snowflake Method of writing novels: one line summary of each chapter, then add three lines to each summary, then add three more lines to each of those lines, etc. I’ll try to do that next time.

So, with what I thought was an adequate outline, I used Rachel Aaron’s method of speed writing, so I wrote the fun scenes first and backfilled the remainder of the plot. Writing the filler was not only a bit tedious, it exposed the gaps in my outline. Writing the draft took longer than it needed to, but this is how we learn.

I had a tough time getting a grip on the protagonist. I had behavior for scenes, I had previous short stories, but I didn’t have a deeper character profile that could support this work.

I kept his nerdiness and built around that. I considered that LH was 700 years old and that he would be a little bored. Being made Evil, he knew there is a God because religious items caused injury. However, I had him go 700 years without knowing who made him or why. His problem became the reverse of Mortality: is there a Satan to justify his existence?

Supporting characters fulfilled their functions, but they need more depth in the second draft. He meets the werewolf who will be a recurring character in the series, but the were doesn’t have a lot of agency. The Mortal in this story (needed to help bring out the supernatural world-building) became a sophisticated businesswoman thrill-seeker; can I pull off this complicated character?

I was hoping to market this series as “Erotic Paranormal”, but I have no experience in writing erotica. Besides, the plot only has one valid erotic scene. I’m now looking at the humor market.

I have to finish the second draft for my writers group, that deadline being Sunday.

I learned about Publishing Coaches on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. My research has provided a couple of names and I will be contacting them tonight.

Recent discoveries: the movie “The Devil’s Candy” is a pleasant throwback haunted house horror that’s well made. “The Midnight Meat Train” squandered a great production on a weak Clive Barker story. “Cult of Chucky” still camps it up, but keep an eye on Fionna Dorrif, because she is excellent. Belgian horror “Raw” takes your unsettling French moodiness to a college for veteranarians, but worry not, the animals are safe from the cannibal sisters. “Demonic” takes ghost hunters to a haunted house, but even Maria Bello can’t save us from a flat ending.

 








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