Monday, December 15, 2014

Cover reveal for Snow Globe's new edition!

Hello, folks! As you may know, Angelic Knight Press, publisher of my debut novel Snow Globe, was recently acquired by Ragnarok Publications as its horror imprint (read the full press release here). What does that mean? Well, many of AKP's titles will be re-released as second editions with brand-spanking-new covers! Check out Snow Globe's:

What do you think?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

New Story Appearances

Two wonderful new anthologies featuring short stories by yours truly are now available. The creep factor on both are jacked sky-high, so lovers of horror are urged to check them out.

This volume contains 50 stories over 700 pages and includes many of the top authors in the horror industry as well as several up-and-comers. Edited by Mark Parker of Scarlet Galleon Press, join us on this maiden voyage into darkness. By clicking the image, you will be able to order it via Cemetery Dance and your copy will come signed by CD founder Richard Chizmar and his son Billy (celebrating his first story publication here!)

Wrapped in Black: Thirteen Tales of Witches and the Occult is the third in Sekhmet Press's Wrapped series. My contribution, "Pig Roast," well, wraps up this wonderful anthology of the black arts. Click image to order yours today!

Halloween may be over, but the horror has just begun!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Primer Course for Aspiring Writers

Aspiring writers and editors, pay attention. Class is now in session.

The modern literary world is a tough place to live. The quality of the craft has dropped off a cliff while the quantity has proportionately spiked. Anyone who can scrawl a few sentences suddenly thinks he has what it takes to write a book. I assure you, he does not.

Learning and mastering the craft of writing takes years, if not decades. One cannot simply "decide" to write a novel one day. Just as specialized knowledge goes into, say, building a house, the same is true for writing. This means understanding mechanics, punctuation, grammar, spelling, and syntax. These are the required materials to build a book. If they're even a little crumbly, the whole thing will collapse. Essentially, being an effective writer also requires one to be an effective editor.

Some so-called editors with whom I interact have a shaky-at-best grasp on the aforementioned aspects of writing. For example, in the United States periods and commas always goes inside the quotation marks at the end of a sentence. However, I consistently see editors place it outside the quotation marks. Incorrect uses of ellipsis, dashes, and apostrophes (never add apostrophe-s to pluralize a word) abound. Also, I don't care what you learned in sixth grade Language Arts - unless you still use a typewriter, please stop using two spaces between sentences. It's archaic, a throwback to a more primitive age in literacy, and nearly no editors want to see them any longer. (For more in-depth reasoning behind this, read this and adapt accordingly.)

My question is: who do you think you are? You "writers" and "editors" who come at the craft full of passion, swagger, and good intentions (and often delusions of grandeur), but lacking elementary understanding implicit to successful writing? You don't just get to say "I'm going to be a writer (or editor)!" without paying your dues. Learning to write and edit requires education. It requires a tremendous amount of reading. Most of all, it requires years of practice, of trial and error, of harsh rejection.

Of course, with the dumbing down of modern readers, all this is probably moot. Readers are not the discerning, discriminating, lovers of fine art any longer. They don't care if someone splashes comma splices, dashes run-on sentences, or misspells every other word. This has led to a complete saturation of the industry, an embarrassment and obstacle for those who still cherish it and hold it sacred. Those who've paid our dues, in other words.

I've spent decades honing my craft and am finally beginning to see some return on it. It's only fair others do as well. If you're an aspiring writer, do yourself (and the rest of us) a service and take basic writing courses. Then take advanced courses. Then take pride in what you write. Learn from your mistakes. Share your talent with the world. After all, your work is your legacy. Do you want it littered with dangling participles and misplaced modifiers?

Make the world a better place, not more unbearable than it already is. Make it one where the real masters of the craft can make their name.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Hop

I was tagged in a blog hop by author of all things macabre Rose Blackthorn. The purpose of this particular blog hop is to allow a peek into an individual writer's process. Check out Rose's entry HERE
So you want to know a bit about my writing process? Read on, friends! It will be quick and painless, I assure you. 

1. What am I working on?
I recently finished the first draft of a crime/sci-fi thriller tentatively titled Nothing Men and I'm currently shopping a middle grade book entitled The Newton McKnight Mysteries. These projects could not be further apart in terms of genre and content, but I like to keep my horizons open when it comes to writing projects. As for what I'm writing now, aside from the sundry short stories which always seem to crop up of their own accord, my time is divided between three novellas: The Wailing, House Z, and an untitled period piece which involves the arrival of a killer who disrupts the normalcy of a rural town in 1940s northern Illinois. 
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
It doesn't, frankly. I write scary stories - their job is to scare. I suppose if there's a difference, it would be that each author's imagination is wholly unique and thus by definition must differ from all other works in a given genre.
3. Why do I write what I do?
If there's a story to be told, I write it (or try to, at least). Some stories must be chiseled out of the bedrock of imagination while others practically do everything but pick up the pen and paper for me. I write the stories I'd want to read and hope others share my sentiment. 
4. How does my writing process work?
Each project germinates in its own way, but usually it will start with a single idea or image and the rest of the story unfolds from there. I never outline because each time I've tried to, the story meanders from it. I find it best to not try to map the tale ahead of time - let it grow on its own, become its own master rather than try to master it. For example, in my novel Emma Tremendous, I was shocked to discover one of the main characters who'd been a "good guy" throughout the story suddenly turned in the last thirty pages into one of the most cold-hearted villains I've created. Had I worked from an outline ahead of time, this absolutely necessary change may not have happened organically and the story would be lesser for it. 

Aside from that, I write at least 1500 words each day, often far more, in hopes of always improving my craft. That's really the way to go about it: write, write, write. And when I think I'm tapped out, when I think I've got nothing more to give, and my fingers and soul feel numb and dead, I sit down and write more. 
Well, that’s my entry on this blog hop. I tagged Stacey Turner, owner of Angelic Knight Press (publisher of my debut novel Snow Globe) to participate in next week's Blog Hop. Not only is she an excellent industry professional, but a hell of a writer to boot. Be sure to check out her sure-to-be insightful answers on Monday!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Snow Globe Excerpt and Book Trailer

Happy Friday the 13th, folks - to celebrate this unluckiest of days (with a full moon scheduled for tonight, no less), please enjoy an excerpt from my debut novel Snow Globe and its book trailer.

December 13, 1912
            Dearest Diary,
Oh, the worst thing has happened! Someone stole all our livestock and killed our hound dog. Papa (of course) blames our neighbor but I have spent all forenoon trying to convince him not even Alain would act so low. He's mean and he's drunk and he's gone soft in the head (oh please don't let Doug ever know I wrote ill of his kin!) but he wouldn't try to kill us. Never-Never-Never!
Likely to blame is a strange man who's been coming round the house these past few months. He claims he's a land developer who wants to help Papa expand his interests but he looks part Indian to me with his long black hair and strange manner of speech. Or worse, he could be a Gypsy. Charlie and Jake told me they heard Gypsies have been spotted roaming this part of the country.
            This man and Papa have been setting in the parlor, talking until all hours. I can hear them sometimes through the floorboards. It sounds like serious business.
But now, disaster! Our animals all vanished as if they'd never been and our poor cellar violated as well. Someone is out to get us and we can't even get to town because of all this wretched snow!
            Mama said she's seen snowfall like this once, back around the end of the war when she was itsy-bitsy. It snowed so hard for days that the drifts come right plumb up to her windows, and she slept on the second storey! She calls a hundred-years' snowfall because it only happens once each century.  
            Oh, Dear Diary, what in Heaven are we to do?

December 14, 1912
            Dearest Diary,
            Second straight day of snow. Already we are hungry. We had some cornmeal and beans in the pantry, but scarce enough to feed us all as well as we are accustomed. With no beef or fresh milk, my belly is grouchy. I hope this snow stops soon so we may perhaps dig out the auto and make a trip to Mr. Darrow's General Store.
Papa is quiet today and I can tell he feels helpless without being able to make good for his family the way he always has. He has been staring out the window at the house across the way. He says he is watching the weather, but this is false. Oh, why cannot we all live in peace with one another? I miss love greater by the day.

December 15, 1912
            Dearest Diary,
            I have just finished breakfast which saw the last of the cornmeal. A half-sack of rice and a few beans remain. Charlie and Jake have been away since dawn hunting rabbit, but with all the snow I feel their luck may be stretched.
            The sky cleared for a bit this morning and I allowed myself hope that an end may be imminent, but it began again in earnest. Papa has closed himself in his study and is hard at work on something (aside from the small cask of Christmas glogg he stashed away in there). He will admit no one to see him, not even Mama who has spent many hours these past days in her rocker either knitting or watching the snow. She tells me Charlie and Jake will bring back some game for supper; rabbit or squirrel most likely but perhaps even a buck to skin for venison. Oh, Diary, it does sound wonderful!

December 16, 1912
            Dear Diary,
            No luck for Charlie and Jake. They saw a few rabbits, but the creatures were too swift. Jake lost his rifle when he dropped it in a snow bank and was unable to find it even after half an hour of digging. My brothers' faces are so chapped they practically seem like they're wearing masks.
            We had only rice and black beans for breakfast and supper; no lunch to speak of.
Papa set a strict ration for our remaining food, but since then has not unlocked his study door since late last night. His boots clunked around for awhile as if he might be pacing, then I heard him leave by the front door only to return after quarter-hour's time. I wonder what he's up to, Diary?
            I watch Douglas's window by night. It has been dark these past three days. I dread the day I shall have to tell him my secret. What will he say to that? Will he still love me? I've verily put it out of my mind in recent weeks. I've not written of it until this minute…but, Dearest Diary, how do I tell my beloved? Do I dare?

December 17, 1912
            Diary, this is nothing like how Christmastime should be. The snow has finally stopped falling, but it is so deep we have no hope of making it to town before a thaw. We are so hungry. So hungry.
            When Papa poked his head out of his study today, Mama told him he ought to pick his way across the road to seek some Christian charity, but Papa said he would rather die than commit such an act. Then he pulled Charlie, Jake, Donald, John, Tommy, and Stevie into the study for some time. I think they might be planning a raid on Douglas's house! I can only hope that is not the case. I could not bear if Douglas were hurt. Or my brothers, of course.

December 19, 1912
            Dearest Diary,
            Success! Some, at least. Jake came across a wounded fox and killed it with a rock. We're going to have meat tonight! I never would have thought I'd be excited about eating fox, but the thought of hot juicy hanks of meat makes my mouth wet. I can't help it.
            And Charlie found a bottle of our rendered syrup in the barn…I am going to positively drown my food in it. Oh, tonight is going to taste so wonderful!
            Mama's calling! Supper is ready!

December 19 (later)
            The fox wasn't good even with the syrup. Very little meat on its sickly bones and what it had was stringy. Gosh, but I'm hungry.

December 21, 1912
            We've run out of food completely, even after Papa's careful ration. Not even a grain of rice or drop of syrup remains. I bundled into my parka and galoshes and spent ten minutes making my way out to the granary, but it was just full of feed-corn. Couldn't eat it. I tried, but it hurt my teeth. I ate some of this horrid snow but it did more harm than good, I fear.
I'm so hungry.   
December 23, 1912
            Papa and the boys tried the raid, but were turned back. Douglas's people were waiting. They are always waiting, have always been waiting. Where is Douglas? Where are our cows? I would do any-thing for a taste of true meat. Any-thing. My belly feels shrunk and swollen at the same time, somehow.
            I hate to put this to paper, but in Papa's silly raid Thomas sustained an injury. No one fired any shots, but Thomas busted his ankle somehow in all the snow and came back bellering like a cow too heavy with milk. He's been screaming for hours. I wish he would quit.

December 24, 1912
            If I could make one wish this night, I'd ask St. Nicholas to come down our chimney and take us with him on his sleigh. I'd forfeit the rest of my Christmas presents forever and ever if jolly old St. Nicholas would take us from this house.
If he hasn't any room in his sleigh, perhaps when we wake in the morning he will have left us honeyed hams and golden turkeys and sweet yams and plum puddings and crocks of cream beneath our tree! Perhaps our socks will be full of candied apples, juicy oranges, and plump, ripe strawberries like the ones Douglas and I ate from Mama's garden when we were small! Oh, please St. Nicholas, please send us some Christmas cheer!

December 25, 1912
            I love my Lord and Savior for He shall deliver me from evil. Amen.

December 27, 1912
            Papa decided Thomas's foot ought to be cut loose because the boy won't stop making noise. He and Charlie did it quick and poor Tommy blacked out from the pain. The foot set there for a bit before Mama got the idea to boil it.

December 30, 1912
            I keep watching the window of the man I love. It remains dark. I wonder if Douglas is dead…as dead as I feel.
            Still no way to town. Blocked completely.
            Tommy's grown worse. Papa keeps quiets him with sips of whiskey, but my big brother will never walk again. Not without that foot.
            But, my land, it tasted so good. I'm sorry, Tommy.  

January 3, 1913
            We ate more of Tommy, after his leg went bad. He died of shock, Mama said, so he wasn't using his meat any-more. So we used it. I feel sick and sad but we have no choice.
            Lord Jesus, please don't be mad.

January 6?
            The snow and cold are terrible. If I ever get out of this, I'm heading to California where it never snows and I can sit by the sea.
            Oh, Douglas! Where are you! Please come!
January 7?
We lost Celia. My sister, my lord, my LORD. She just gave up this morning, the shock of it all being too much for her.
It only took Papa a few hours to decide to carve her up. My heart is empty but at least my belly is full.

January 8?
            I am having terrible pains in my belly I at first mistook as hunger (because hunger is a real thing…like a demon. People who never felt it don't know). But now I know these pains are not hunger.
It's the baby. I hope it's all right. Please God, please let my child be all right.
No one stirs any-more. The house is silent. Papa has been living out in the barn. I haven't seen but Steven these past two days. I don't know where every-one else went. I keep my door locked in case they decide to come for me. I don't know who is alive and who has been eaten. This has become a house of ghosts. Hunger makes everything go quiet and no-one stirs any-more.
The snow is still up to my window pane and it is so, so cold.

January 9?
            The Lord forgive me! Last-night our child was born too soon in blood. So much blood I knew not if I would live to see morning. I birthed it alone without aid from Mama, if Mama's even still alive.
The poor dear scarcely looked human. More like a skinned squirrel, pink and bloody.
         O, Dear God, please forgive me, but I could not stop my mouth from filling with spit at the sight. I still can't, even now as I boil broth on the hearth. The last thing I will do, after my meal, is burn the pages of this Dearest Diary. I'm sorry, sweet baby. I'm sorry, Douglas. But I'm just so hungry.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fix Your Story: Let's Strip! Eliminating Two Utterly Unnecessary Words from Your Manuscript

Hello again! As promised, here is the second blog post in the series entitled Fix Your Story. Today we'll focus on paring down unnecessary words from your manuscript. Well, two words in particular. (We'll start small and branch out later.) Ready for the two words you must, must, MUST kill in your writing? They are:




Do this experiment. Pull up your documents folder and pick a work in progress--any ol' tale will do. Now activate your FIND function and type just (or that). How many instances of each do you see? Whatever the number, plan on cutting 90% of them. 

I can hear you now: "But I've already revised this story!" Well, revise it again. Review each and every time one of the aforementioned words appears in your manuscript. Why? They are unnecessary. Utterly, completely, truly superfluous. Clutter. Garbage. 

Before submitting a story to a given market you want it as polished as possible, right? So do everything you can to heighten your chances of acceptance. Remove those justs and thats. Take out the trash, why don't you? No one likes to see refuse, so dispose of it. When you're finished, reread your story and see if it doesn't shine a little brighter.

Look at this example:

Can't we as easily rephrase it to say: "He's not into you" and still come to the same meaning? And see! In one quick stroke, we've scaled back our text by 1/3 of its original content. Now that's the power of revision

Of course, you won't want to pull every instance of these pesky words from your story--there will be cases when such words are the only ones you can use . . . but those cases are rare, my writing friends. Very rare. Use these tiny four-letter words sparingly and your story will read all the tighter . . . and just may be the difference between a rejection and a sale. 


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fix Your Story: Punctuation and Quotation Marks in American Writing

Hello, folks. This is the first in a planned series on the nuance of writing. 

Learn to write effectively and you can have anything you want in life. - Sean Shesgreen, English professor, Northern Illinois University

Many of my writer friends are wonderful, capable writers. A few are true masters of the craft. A very few. As in I can count them on three fingers. Mastering any craft takes years of practice and honing. Trying and retrying. Creating, scrapping, recreating. Writing is not something a person can just "decide" to do with any measure of success. Just because one can string words together into a coherent sentence does not make one a writer. One cannot hope to write the great American novel if one has not spent years - if not decades devoted to understanding the nuance of the craft.

To write effectively, a writer must master punctuation, mechanics, grammar, and syntax. If you do not understand these words, please take a moment to Google them before reading on. I'll wait.

Welcome back. Let's start with one aspect of punctuation today. Far too often, I see errors like this from American writers (why the country distinction? I'll explain in a moment):

I just read Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", and it was great!

Can you spot the blemish? No? I'll give you a hint: it's in the punctuation. Go ahead and Google "comma usage." I don't mind waiting; I'm patient. Incidentally, while we're waiting, patience is another thing every writer must have - you're going to learn to wait a long time for responses from publishers.

Here's another example to peruse while our Googlers are Googling:

My favorite story is Ambrose Bierce's "Chickamagua".

Same thing, only this time look up "period usage." In the U.S., at least, comma and periods defy logical placement. You'd think they would fall outside the quotation marks in these examples because they're not part of the title, but they don't. In Britain, logic dictates where to place those pesky punctuation marks, but not here. 'Merica: defying logic since 1776.

As an American writer, you need to know this. NEED. TO. KNOW. THIS. If you don't, professional editors/publishers will mark you as an amateur. And if the editor/publisher doesn't care about punctuation placement, then, as a writer, you should question their professionalism. 

The only exception to this rule is if you are enclosing a single letter or numeral in quotation marks as in these examples:

Shelly stepped through the door marked "A".

Bob's jersey bore the number "3".

On a similar note, colons and semicolons go outside the quotation marks in both America and Britain, like so:

In October our class read "The Monkey's Paw"; we also read other scary stories.

These players must report to the room marked "Athletics": pitchers, catchers, and infielders.

I've spent thirty years writing stories. I went to college to study writing because writing is what I wanted to do: I wanted to be a writer. But not just to write stories; to learn to write them effectively. And doing that begins and ends with the nuance of the craft. 

Writing is like any other job: you learn to do it effectively or you fail. Period (see what I did there? Heh.).

No one who's never built one wakes up one morning and says, "You know what, I'm going to build a robot today!" and then does it with any degree of success. Same goes for writing. You must learn how before you can do it successfully. So get busy learning. Then go write the great American novel.

(Next post: Let's Strip! Eliminating Two Utterly Unnecessary Words from Your Manuscript)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cover reveal for EMMA TREMENDOUS

My young adult shapeshifter novel Emma Tremendous, which is due for release soon (in hardcover, trade paperback, and e-book formats), now has a cover!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

Snow Globe Coming Soon! (Book Trailer Below)

Hello, friends. I know it's been some time, but I assure you my absence has been with good reason. You see, I've been writing. A lot. Just not, you know, here.

You see, I've been hammering out novels, the first of which is due next month. It's titled Snow Globe and will be available for purchase on the 15th. Until then, please enjoy the book trailer: