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.
ALONE—A 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!
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?
Is it a VIABLE way?
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.
The 1970s saw a huge spike in horror and the supernatural–books, games, movies–but especially TV shows and made-for-TV movies.
When I set out to make this list, I thought about the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Do these movies really stand up after all these years? Would they still scare, or if not scare, at least give the same freaky vibe they had 3o-some-odd years ago?
So I watched them again, in my own 31 Days of Halloween–you know, since AMC’s “Fear Fest” is basically a bucket of chocolate ass-nuggets nowadays. (Seriously, do we need to see Halloween: H2O or Friday the 13th LXII: Jason Goes to Pluto, Only to Discover It’s Not Really a Planet Anymore?)
In the end, I think they do hold up, particularly certain moments within them, if not the entire movie. That’s the problem with horror movies you saw when you were a kid–you mostly remember the scariest bits. But that’s usually enough to guarantee serious mental instability as an adult or a career as a horror writer–both of which amount to about the same thing.
There are many, MANY others, but these are the five I remember as being scariest.
5.) DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (1973)
This puppy was frightening for one reason–the little men whispering in the walls of the house.
LITTLE. MEN. IN. THE. WALLS.
You barely saw them, but when you did, they were malformed and indistinct. You never got an explanation as to what they were, where they came from, why they were IN. THE. WALLS. They just wanted to grab the protagonist and drag her down INTO. THE. WALLS. and make her like them. That premise alone gives me the runny poops.
And not-seeing/not-knowing the Full Monty is a good thing, storywise. As H.P. Lovecraft once wrote: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
See? Even 80 years ago, dude knew what was what about horror storytelling: sometimes (I would argue most times) what you don’t see is scarier. If you can’t put a face on the terror, you can’t get handle on it enough to rationalize or deal with it. That was the problem with Insidious–the movie was great until Darth Maul showed up. Then all that soul-sucking tension, that marrow-freezing faceless terror, fart-noised right out of the film like a punctured whoopee cushion.
Did I mention how terrified I am of little men in the walls? ‘Cause, damn.
4.) COUNT DRACULA (1977)
- To date, the best filmed version of Stoker’s novel. Period.
The script hewed closely to the mark, though mixing a few elements and characters and combining one or two events. All in all, it no one has been able to touch this adaptation for accuracy and sheer scariness since it aired on the BBC, then on PBS in America. I remember seeing this in high school a year or so after I’d read the novel the first time and thinking, Yeah–that’s the way an adaptation should be done–even though I was a teenager and had no idea about how a checkbook should be done, much less a screen adaptation. Louis Jordan as the Count was pretty creepy, and the scene where Harker sees him climbing the walls of the castle like a big black spider still creeps me out.
Snagged this gem as soon as it released on DVD a few years ago. Do the same. Now.
It’s not an exact replica of the book, but it’s super-close in terms of mood and story. And it’s better than turning the great material of the book into a giant, lost-love douche-fest.
Francis Ford Coppola, I’m looking in your direction…
3.) GARGOYLES (1972)
One of the scariest themes is the “accidental discovery of something we shouldn’t have accidentally discovered.”
Starring Cornel Wilde and a young Scott Glenn, an archaeologist finds a colony of living, breathing gargoyles in Nevada. They’re nearing the next 600-year cycle of hatching their young, and whenever this happens, they usually end up in another battle in the war with humankind. The gargoyles just want to be “left alone,” dammit. Why can’t modern science get this through its thick, knobbily-horned cranium?
Also, this little goodie was SFX and Makeup diva Stan Winston’s first job, for which he scored an Emmy. Soon after, he would give Styx–and the world– the Mr. Roboto mask. Domo arigato, indeed.
(Wait–did I just call Stan Winston a diva?)
2.) SALEM’S LOT (1979)
I know I’m not alone when I say this mini-series gave me nightmares for a month. I mean that literally–I had recurring nightmares about vampires in my own small town that looked just like the ones in Tobe Hooper’s classic scare-fest. I remember that they slept under mobile homes and in chimneys and even in the attic of our 100+ year-old farmhouse.
James Mason does a terrifically creepy turn as Richard Straker (“Your faith against the Master’s!”), one half of Straker and Barlow Antiques, and the ghoul to Barlow’s Nosferatu-inspired vampire lord, who is always on a “buying trip.”
The insidious notion of a small town being replaced one at a time by vampires, combined with a Peyton Place drama full of secrets, is a volatile mixture that doesn’t explode, but does a slow burn, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the bitter end.
‘Salem’s Lot is the first Stephen King book I ever read, and it was one of his best. I read it in high school, and even after all those years, I couldn’t see anything but the mini-series–effects, actors, and all–and it wasn’t a bad thing. Normally, I’d say book-before-movie, but not in this case. In many ways, it’s better.
The tiny pinpricks of light in the vampires’ eyes; the silent, lingering shots, ratcheting up the tension on your scrotum to that of a snare drum; the awesome use of the Nosferatu-type vampire for Barlow instead of the Euro-trash douchebags we’re used to. (John Steakley’s excellent Vampire$ uses the similar idea of vampires as bestial vermin, as does the filmed adaptation by John Carpenter.) Ralphie Glick hanging like an unholy Christmas ornament outside of Mark’s window, scratching at the glass, will live in my subconscious forever, causing me to download into my mental drawers every time I see a fog bank.
My parents let me watch this. I repeat: MY PARENTS LET ME WATCH THIS. Horrible, awful people…
(Thanks, Mom and Dad.)
1.) DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW (1981)
I defy you to find a better made-for-TV horror film. There just isn’t one. After 30 years, this thing holds up like a Dolly Parton sports-bra.
Ask anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s and you’ll hear the same thing. Anyone who’s seen the film never forgets it.
Bubba Ritter (played by the insanely believable Larry Drake) is a mentally-handicapped man in his thirties; Charles Durning is Otis Hazelrigg, local postman and all-around mean bastard. (I smell a SIT-com!) Hazelrigg has always hated Bubba, especially when he’s playing with Marylee Williams, a local child. When Marylee is attacked and almost killed (by a neighbor’s vicious dog, unbeknownst to them), Hazelrigg rousts some buddies who hate Bubba, too.
Angry mob+rough justice+scarecrow hiding place=BEST FREAKING MADE FOR TV MOVIE EVER.
I will not pretend to be able to describe this movie adequately. Just SEE it.
Dark Night of the Scarecrow was just released in a sweet 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray, with TONS of extras.
Damn, oh, damn was this good.
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.
For those that haven’t seen it yet, check out History Channel’s Hatfields and McCoys. It’s an original miniseries (their first) in three, two-hour parts. I forgot it was coming on, caught about thirty minutes of the second night, and thought that if the rest of it was that good, it was probably great–and I was right! Kevin Costner is great (when he wants to be), and his portrayal of “Devil Anse” Hatfield is some of his best work. Bill Paxton is good as the reluctant Randolph McCoy, but Tom Berenger as Jim Vance, the reckless-nigh-psychotic uncle of Devil Anse pretty much steals the show.
Speaking of blood feuds, I’m about halfway done with my fantasy/noir/alternate history/horror novel BLACK MAGIC HITMAN. I’m at the point where Callahan (the titular hitman) is caught in the middle of a 1920s Chicago gang war between the Cosa Nocta (Italian vampires) and the Mac Tire (Irish werewolves), and both sides are gunning for him and the GrimTongue–a spell Callahan took from one of his hits that can destroy all of them.
And the words are a-flowin‘.
I don’t think I’ve written this much this easily–ever. If the rest of the book and two sequels turn out as good as what I’ve done so far, this might be the best thing (or at least the most fun) that I’ve ever written.