Short Stories

NEW STUFF COMING FOR 2013 AND BEYOND

So 2012 was pretty darn good, writingly-speaking.  I’ve managed to churn out a few more manuscripts and BLACK DOG has been pretty successful so far, and it’s all thanks to you guys–the readers.  I hope we have many more adventures together, if only through the shared telepathy of writer and reader.

Just to keep you all up to date, here’s a list of projects coming up this year and next year.  I have a ton more that hopefully will fill the next five years or so after that, but those will keep until I have somewhat of a release date.

BLACK DOG: PROPHET IN THE WILDERNESS–The sequel to BLACK DOG: THE LONG DARK ROAD.  It’s being edited right now and has tallied-out at a little over four-hundred pages.  There’s a few more stories in this volume than the first.  The two books were actually one book originally, but that would’ve had the page count at just over eight-hundred pages, so it was deemed necessary to split the book in two.  I think the flow from one book to the next is pretty smooth.  Since they’re episodic short stories (and as a result, resemble the episodic nature of a TV series), you can read either one on its own, but if you want the full story, it’s better to pick up the first volume.  In the second volume, readers will see what happened to Amos to turn him out on the road as a hobo, how he got his special guitar, when he first saw the phantom black dog, and how his road finally ends.  Out in April!

NIC ARCHER: ARROWHEAD–The first in a planned ten-book YA/Teen series about a boy who discovers his parents were soldier-agents for A.R.R.O.W.–a clandestine secret army that has been protecting America since before the American Revolution.  He also discovers that he was a test subject for the Arrowhead Initiative–a plan to create the perfect agent, one who will spearhead their army in a terrible looming conflict.  No one’s asked Nic what he wants, but now that he’s been targeted by SCARAB–A.R.R.O.W.’s ancient nemesis–he may not live to make up his mind!  Mid-to-late 2013. (Fingers crossed!)

THE MARK OF CAIN (The Book of Cain–Vol. 1)The first book in a Civil War supernatural trilogy about Ira Cain, a Confederate cavalry captain who is cursed by an old Haitian slave woman.  Cain must not only survive the final year of the Civil War with Hell literally on his trail, but must also wander the Antebellum South, searching for the slave to remove the curse before he is dragged to Hell.   The second and third books are called GONE SOUTH and HELL ABORNING, respectively, and will find Cain and a Buffalo Soldier named Deke Sherman searching through the post-war South for the slave woman, dodging bounty hunters, and fighting the forces of Hell itself.

ALONEA stand-alone post-apocalyptic novel set in rural North Georgia.  No zombies, no vampires, but plenty of Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and especially Man vs. Himself.  I wanted to do something in the vein of George Stewart’s Earth Abides mixed in with a little Jack London and the Tom Hanks film Castaway.  Too many post-apocalyptic novels have a protagonist that’s ex-military/Special Forces/Super-Prepper and is all kitted-out and ready for the downfall of civilization.  I wanted to show what a normal, average Joe-Schmoe would do if suddenly pressed to survive.  How would he learn to shoot?  To hunt?  To dress game or make shelter or preserve food and keep a fire going?  So the main character is a guy who, like most of us, has become so dependent on the Internet, cell phones, and prepackaged food that he’s at less than Square One when he starts out.  I also wanted to explore the effects of being alone on a person (which the protagonist is for most of the book.)  What would it do to their mind?  Would they crave human companionship or shun it completely?  And when other humans do show up in the story, what then?  Find out late 2013-early 2014.

If you’ve read BLACK DOG, please take a moment to write a review on Amazon.com, B&N.com, Goodreads.com, FaceBook, and anywhere else you can paint Internet graffiti.  Believe it or not, word of mouth still makes the best advertisement!

Thanks again for reading!

 


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Hope all of you have a happy one!  Thanks so much for the support and well-wishing all year!  I hope you all hang around for another year and then some!  I’ve got a LOT more stories to tell and I hope as many readers.

Speaking of, here’s a BLACK DOG Christmas greeting by way of Mike Torrance over at the Daily Sketch Blog.

Until next time, be safe!

Black Dog Christmas


THE LEPROSY OF SELF-PUBLISHING

Let me get this in the open right from the jump:

I am ALL ABOUT self-publishing.  I LOVE self-publishing.  I  AM self-published—twice.

My name is Matt, and I’m a self-published author.  (Hi, Matt…)

Do I think it’s the ONLY way to go?

No.

Is it a VIABLE way?

Yes.

But—BUT!—not for everybody.

There is a certain stigma about self-publishing, and a lot of you writers out there know what I mean.  You may be a writer who’s doing their due diligence, (i.e. riding herd on yourself, keeping your butt in the chair, and putting out the best quality work possible by making sure the manuscript itself DOESN’T SUCK a turd-flavored lollipop), and still you get patronizing comments (Oh, self-published?  Well, that’s all right.”  Unspoken comment: “You’ll get there one day.”)  Or you answer the question “Who’s your publisher?” with “You’re lookin’ at him,” and the person winces like they just gulped a 44-ounce Thirstbuster of curdled milk, sets your book back down like it’s a two-headed, napalm-spitting spider, and slowly backs away, whispering  “Don’t touch me…!”

(Actually, a two-headed napalm-spitting spider sounds pretty cool.)  *jots down for future reference*

Hyperbole?  Maybe, but both of the above have happened to me, and I’m betting some of you other due-diligence pen-jockeys have had similar experiences.

And before we feel high and mighty in our super-scribedom, there is a definite reason for this preconceived notion:

It is insanely easy to self-publish these days.  Anyone can regurgitate onto the page and upload their vomit to Amazon, B&N.com, or any number of internet venues and charge whatever they want.

Within the open-ended system of Amazon’s Create Space and the eBook off-ramp of soiled baby diapers in the guise of “novels,” there is absolutely no system of checks and balances.  There could (and probably should) be some sort of filter through which Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and every other self and eBook publisher runs the steady stream of bilge-water that passes for “published” work.  And I’m talking about just the basics—grammar, spelling, punctuation.

After that, the Sargasso Sea of shitty book covers needs to be addressed—by which I mean taken out back and shot.  You!  Yeah, you–the one who is so in love with Papyrus and Comic Sans?  The one who can’t create a relevant title to said book?  the one who thinks Photoshop covers a multitude of sins?  Hire a cover artist/designer and at least make it look like you care about putting out a professional product.  That whole don’t judge a book by its cover thing?  Crap and double-crap.  If your cover is half-assed, mediocre, or downright awful, and your title is incomprehensible or just plain nonsensical, guess what?  I’m thinking the inside is the EXACT. SAME. WAY.  I worked for two major bookstores as a Receiving Manager for 10+ years, and let me tell you:  we knew when a self-pub came down the pike.  You could take one look and tell.

So that’s one-half of the key to self-publishing (or hell, any venture in life):  Put your best foot forward; first impressions matter.  Even if you clean up your Comic Sans funk later on, the stink will never wash off in the minds of prospective readers, and they are the ones for which your book (and consequently you) should smell like a Yankee Candle factory.  Otherwise, readers will associate you with the endless morass of warm garbage that already exists out there and it’ll be over before it starts.

The other half, again, is you actually writing something that doesn’t suck.

Yeah, I know, right?  Pretty simple, yeah?  You wouldn’t think so, browsing through Amazon.  A few tips:

1.)  Develop a good story idea:  This doesn’t mean writing your Star Wars/Strawberry Shortcake erotic fan-fiction, either; it means you need to develop a strong idea that can be built upon.  Influence is fine, but know where to draw the line.  Even if you change the names, we can still tell that Boba Fett and Peach Blossom are getting it on, while a sexually exploited Blueberry Muffin in a slave girl outfit takes out her bottled-up rage on Jabba the Hutt during a private dance session, and meanwhile on Bespin, Lobot has come out to Lando, expressed his long-repressed feelings for him, while also admitting to an affair with Huckleberry Pie during the last podraces on Tatooine…

…not that I gave that much thought, or even wrote a six-book series, available individually or as a bundle on Amazon, under the pen name “Wedge Antitties.”

2.) Know your craft:  A buzz word a few years back that really dragged a cheese-grater over my scrotum was “artisan.”  Suddenly, every fast-food joint in the nation was sporting “artisan” bread.  There were artisan knives, cakes, houses, yachts, bongs, Nikes, water…you get it.  Supposedly the term lent greater value to the products and let their purveyors charge more for them.  Personally, I had artisan underwear and they hugged me like they were painted on, brother—wait.

Did I say that out loud?

Anyway, artisan actually means a craftsman—someone who knows their shizzle about their shizzle.  A craftsman is someone who others come to because he can do a particular thing like no one else.  (At one point in my life, that thing was breakdancing; now, it’s pencil-fighting.)  People know they can get a quality product from this guy or gal, and will pay for the privilege of having it.  That’s what you should strive to be as a writer—what we all should strive to be.  People should see your name in the Kindle Shop or on a bookstore shelf and practically wet themselves getting to the Buy Now button or front counter.  You should strive to produce work that makes people get that “have to go to the bathroom from excitement” feeling, not the “can’t make it to the bathroom fast enough to paint the toilet with my lunch” feeling.

3.) EDIT YOUR CRAP!  EDIT YOUR CRAP!  EDIT YOUR CRAP! : Speaks for itself.  Edit the work.  Read it out loud.  See how good or craptastic it sounds, then edit it again.  Rinse and repeat.  Still concerned?  Hire an editor (Psst!  It’s what they do.)  They can either revamp your existing work, or tell you why it’s awful.  Either way, the feedback you’ll get is absolutely valuable.   In some ways, editing is my favorite part of the writing process.  If the actual composition is the hammer beating out the manuscript, then editing is the scalpel, slicing away the cancerous parts until the story is healthy and whole.  EDIT.  YOUR.  CRAP.

4.)  Get a test reader. Or eight.  It can be your wife, husband, girl/boyfriend, sure.  Most writers start with these, but move out of your comfort zone—of course Granny’s gonna think her Wittle Pumpkin’s story is the best thing since bunion cream.  (And let’s be honest, has there really been anything that good?)  Go out.  Leave your PC, typewriter, chalkboard, human skin and bone pen, and get out there and meet people.  Coworkers, writers’ groups ( a post about these guys later), friends, friends of friends, hobos under freeway bypasses, whoever.  Just let it fly out to readers and get the honest feedback you desperately need, not the ego-stroking you desperately want.

5.)  Do everything in your power to NOT make your book look self-published.   Editing.  A strong, awesome cover.  Good back copy that reads like a hook from a movie trailer.  A barcode and ISBN (both of which can be bought individually or are already included in Create Space’s publishing options.)  A formatted interior, preferably an existing template.  Break your back to make your book look like one that’s already on the shelves professionally.  To paraphrase Crash Davis’s advice to Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham:  “Your manuscript has multiple errors. You’ll never make it to the bigs with errors on your manuscript. Think classy, you’ll be classy.  If you sell a million books, you can let the errors stay and the press’ll think you’re colorful.  Until you sell a million, however, it means you’re a slob.”

This all sounds mean, I know, and I’m not trying to discourage people from writing—just from writing crap.  When you upload and/or publish your serial killer unicorn-urban fantasy-epic-cop drama and it looks like something that bubbled back up the garbage disposal, you RUIN it for the rest of us who are trying to produce quality work.  That stigma I mentioned earlier?  It’s because of the lack of quality-control on the writer’s part, first and foremost.  How could anyone want to hang anything less than their best out there for the world to swing at like a piñata?

And, as I said, the venues are equally responsible.  Amazon, B&N, and all the rest are throwing a house party for crappy books, no cover for the ladies, and not even bothering to card anyone at the door.  They need a filter—some sort of literary three-headed Cerberus at the gate to drag the shitty books down to Bad Book Hades—but that won’t ever happen; there’s no money in it for them.  We, as writers and readers, have to demand more of ourselves and the writing community; we have to police ourselves.  What do you think?  Your responses, rebuttals, and experiences—forthwith!

And seriously—quit with the Papyrus and Comic Sans, okay?

May I introduce you to Times New Roman and Garamond?

Yeah—I’ll just let you guys talk.


TOP 5 OVERUSED CLICHES

Now, I know clichés are clichés for a reason:  they’re used so often they become part of the vernacular.  But what really stinks is when they become overused to the point of being annoying.
There are tons out there, but these are the five that just make my fillings twinge when I hear them in a movie or read them in a book.

And yes, I’ve used some of these on occasion. I’m in the middle of writing the first book in a teen action/adventure series about a teenaged spy for a secret military force which began in the American Revolution called NIC ARCHER.  Halfway through Chapter 6, I used one without thinking, (it’s on the list) and while describing the scene to a good friend, he sarcastically said verbatim what I had written.  I gulped, went back and changed it, and vowed never to do it again.

Right.  And a lot of drunks make that same promise every Saturday night.

Still, take a look and see what you think.  Feel free to comment, too.

And those of you with fillings, grab your mouthguards.

5.)  “I’VE GOT A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS…”

Yeah, I know.  It wasn’t a good idea to begin with, but here we are doing it anyway.
George Lucas made this one famous;so famous that he decided to use it–as well as a hundred others from his Good Trilogy–to a fare-thee-well in the Bad Trilogy as a sort of “in-joke” for the rabid nerds of the series.  “See guys?  Remember I used these in the first movies?  See how my eternal genius works?  Characters from earlier in the same world are using the same exact dialogue that you know so well from the later characters!   I tied it all together!”
No, George: all we see is that you should let someone else write your movies and direct them.  We see you’re a one-trick pony and an idea-man.  Your writing sucks, and you wouldn’t know character development if it corn-cobbed you with a lightsaber.
After STAR WARS, people have used this tired, hackneyed phrase to let us know what we already know:  that the writer(s) fell asleep at the keyboard.

4.)  “I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS.”/”I’M GETTIN’ TOO OLD FOR THIS (YOUR CHOICE OF EXPLETIVE)”

Either pick another complaint or stop doing stuff that doesn’t involve tapioca, ginger ale, bran cereal, Depends, or the VFW.   That includes volunteering for life-threatening assignments when you’re a week away from retirement, climbing ladders to put out fires in skyscrapers, breaking back into Alcatraz to take out homegrown terrorists, or mounting a rescue operation to Alderaan.

And we’re all just supposed to chuckle to ourselves and say “Yep, there it is again.  I know that line.  How funny!”

You know, I really am getting too old for this… bad writing.

3.)  “IT’S QUIET… [ALMOST] TOO QUIET.”

All right, we get it: something’s up.

The birds have stopped chirping, the neighbor’s death-metal that plays night and day has stopped setting off car alarms, and you can hear a gnat fart three doors down.

Maybe it’s a secret clan of vampire ninjas waiting to drop from your skylight, maybe that serial killer the douchebag media have made into a superstar is hiding in your half-bath, or maybe a UFO is about to abduct another hillbilly and give him a stainless-steel enema.

(Psst…! There’s no such thing as ‘too quiet’–there’s just ‘quiet’ and ‘not quiet.’)

You have to admit, Protagonist-That’s-About-To-Have-Your-Tuckus-Handed-To-You, that it ain’t really ‘too quiet.’  Nobody has completely drowned out all the auditory sensation in the entire freaking world so that they can get the drop on you; they’re just being really not-noisy so you don’t know that they’re around.  And if you happen to have some extra-sensory ability that let’s you know they’re around, so much the better.

So stop complaining about how much quiet there is; you know the feces is about to hit the proverbial bladed cooling device.  Lock and load, baby, and tee-off on that mother.  Then let’s get on to Act II before we all die of hypertension brought on by extreme page-rage.

2.)  “IT HAS BEGUN”/”AND SO IT BEGINS…”

While they deliver a sense of mystery and foreknowledge on the part of the speaker to things/events/long-unfulfilled prophecies, these puppies have gotten stale.  Now, I like a good epic storyline and mysterious plotline as much as the next Cecil B. DeMille fan, but dang, has this one got to go.

I recently burned thorough four seasons of Babylon 5, which in my estimation is one of the most tightly-written shows in history.  Spanning five planned years of epic story, it has a beginning, middle, and end–something modern shows could use a healthy dose of–the sci-fi juggernaut featured a master-plan of sorts with a race of aliens called the First Ones, and their interference in the normal flow of galactic history and its races’ development.  Apparently one of the First One races, the Vorlons, tinkered with human and alien DNA over the course of thousands of years.  Their opponents, The Shadows, did the same, all for their big war to see who would run the Milky Way.  They knew the war was coming, and so Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador to the Babylon 5 space station, tells the Captain (who plays a MAJOR part in the coming war) “And so it begins.”

You know, I respect J. Michael Straczynski, the show’s creator and writer–anybody who could link up a story of this magnitude on the backs of pizza boxes in college puts Billy Shakespeare to shame.  The guy is a genius storyteller, but even geniuses trip over their I.Q.s at some point, and so I have to protest his use of this WAY-overused cliché.  Back when the show aired (1993-1998), it was just on the cusp of being overused; you’d heard it before, but only sparingly. And in light of how mind-bakingly awesome that show was, J.M.S. gets a pass.  Today, however, it’s the literary equivalent of sitting in traffic:  you see it all the time, but hate it with a passion.

AND A TIE FOR #1

“YOU JUST DON’T GET IT, DO YOU?”

No.  No, I don’t get it.  So why don’t you use up the next six paragraphs or five minutes of screen-time to explain to me in a long, boring, expository manner, just what the hell you do mean?  And while we’re at it, the audience/reader will find out, too!  Yay us!

I could say more, but the video below speaks volumes.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KoKWf6pLs8

“THE ONE”/”THE CHOSEN ONE”

This is the absolute worst.  From The Matrix to Harry Potter, this has got to be the absolute, end-all crutch of bad writing.

Anytime a writer needs an instant superhero origin or and easy way out of creating a backstory for an otherwise humdrum character, he throws out the ancient prophecy and all of a sudden, the nerdy kid is supposed to save the world.  Ridiculously, ridiculously overused.

Now, you might be saying: “Wait–Matt, isn’t Amos Harlow’s character in BLACK DOG ‘The Chosen One?'”

Yes and no.  Yes, because he’s special and has a destiny to fulfill and doesn’t know it; no, because I never actually call him ‘The Chosen One.”

That phrase is trite and even looks stupid on paper.  A character can have a destiny to fulfill and never even know it, and never be told he’s/she’s the Chosen One.  They can just be special or marked out for greatness (or tragedy) and let that play out naturally in the story without having to give them a special title.  It’s gross negligence/laziness on the part of the writer, shunning depth of character and a detailed background in favor of a moniker that’s become a catchphrase.

Writers out there:  AVOID AVOID AVOID this cliché like Brussel sprouts.


TEASER POSTER FOR BLACK DOG 2

The sequel to BLACK DOG: THE LONG DARK ROAD will be out sometime in the Spring, hopefully March or early April.

Travis Gentry, the cover artist, sent me an image to use at Space City Con last weekend here in Houston.   He turned the “unfinished” image into a teaser poster, which drew the crowds to the table like flies to, um… dead stuff.

If this is unfinished, the final product is going to be phenomenal.


THE DEAD MAN CONTEST ENTRY: FINISHED!

Actually, I finished the entry for the contest on Saturday and emailed it all in the same day. I think the rules stated only Finalists would get phone calls, but after that only the winner gets a call with the good news.

That good news: a publishing contract, a $500 advance, a $500 Amazon.com gift card, plus the fact that your name will be on a popular series’ book that YOU wrote. A nice feather in your cap, indeed.

I’m pretty confident about the outline and first chapter I turned in. Even if it doesn’t win, I think it’ll get some hard looks.  Can’t really talk too much about the plot yet, not until after the contest, but it was a pretty original take on THE DEAD MAN, while keeping true to the mythology of the series.

Keep ’em crossed for me!


THE DEAD MAN

THE DEAD MAN is an ongoing series of novels written by creators Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, among others they have chosen to write stories for the series.  I think it started out as a pitch for a TV series–both of these guys have written for just about everything you’ve ever watched. I’ve got their book on writing for television–good stuff; bare bones, logical, this is what the business looks for kind of thing.  They’ve been in the business a long time, and have this series (among others) available as novels.

THE DEAD MAN is about Matt Cahill, a former lumberjack in Washington State who gets buried in an avalanche while skiing.  He’s proclaimed dead and wakes up on the coroner’s table, a scalpel in his chest.  Soon after, the guy starts seeing people in various states of decomposition–rotting visages that don’t belong on living people.  He soon learns that these people are infected by the evil touch of a guy named Mr. Dark–an evil trickster character that no one sees but Matt, who runs around in a clown suit sucking lollipops and inciting chaos where there is none.  Matt leaves his job after Dark infects his best friend and Matt has to kill him.  Matt hits the road as a vagabond, carrying his grandfather’s axe (sort of a weapon and a talisman) looking for work while he tries to find Mr. Dark and stop him once and for all.

Each story is episodic (very TV-like) and is somewhere between long-short-story length and novel length.

Goldberg and Rabkin have put out a contest to writers:  enter with a story outline and first chapter for the chance to write the next DEAD MAN book.  The winner gets a $500 advance and a publishing contract (presumably for just the book), a $500 Amazon gift card, and the chance to see their DEAD MAN story in print sometime in 2013.

I have a story.  I have an outline.  I am in there like swimwear.