Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On Aftermath

Back in the day, when I was pretty young, seventh grade or so, I worshiped Perfect Dark. For the uninitiated, Perfect Dark was a game released back in 2000 for the Nintendo 64. It was a First Person Shooter with a Sci-Fi, neon-noir skin involving secret agencies, a female protagonist, aliens and corporate espionage. It was a spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007, which is hailed as one of the greatest FPS of all time.

Perfect Dark was better. It was spectacular. Everything about it, from the music to the aesthetic to the gameplay to the multiplayer...all Grade A quality. Everything that came after the game though, (except for the HD port to the XBLA Arcade), was utter shit. But that's enough about Perfect Dark. Time to talk about aftermath.

My point is this: I had a friend when I was younger who'd come over and play this game. He had a tendency to leave the game running when he left. I'd often find myself shutting it off, but then I noticed that he often almost completed the levels. I found myself picking up the controller and retracing his steps, working my way back through a level that had already been cleared of enemies. Signs of his passing were clearly marked everywhere I went: dead bodies, blood on the wall, broken computers.

Because I'm naturally a horror kind of guy, (I grew up reading basically nothing but Goosebumps), I began envisioning some kind of monster or mysterious force working its way through the level, killing everyone, and I had just arrived on the scene after the fact, and I was trying to piece together just what the hell had gone wrong.

I was enthralled.

Although I didn't know it at the time, this was my first genuine encounter with the concept of aftermath.

So what, exactly, is aftermath?

The dictionary defines it as: Something that results or follows from an event, especially one of a disastrous or unfortunate nature; consequence: the aftermath of war; the aftermath of the flood.

A lot of horror is built on aftermath, especially the horror that I like. Aftermath is important, because it implies the classic question: what happened here? Usually followed by: How do we stop it from happening to us?
If you're a horror writer, consider the aftermath approach. It's a great way to get the horror going, and it's honestly pretty fun. My first story published, Stricken, was a classic case of aftermath. It's a fantastic way to engage the reader, as those that arrive on the scene know nothing, and the reader learns about the situation as the protagonists do.

The more mysterious you can make it, the better. Put in bizarre clues, cryptic hints that leaves the protagonist scratching their head in utter confusion, or trying to imagine what could have done this, but pushing aside whatever they come up with because it's too scary. One thing that's key though is balance.

I've seen people take this approach before, and they pile on the clues that are more and more outlandish, more straight up weird, seeming to contradict each other, and you find yourself getting more and more excited, thinking, "Oh man, I have no idea what it could be! It must be really unique and original!" And then, at the end, the author pulls some bullshit and makes up something that doesn't even make sense, and you're extremely let down and ultimately you hate the book.

I definitely understand the need to keep the readers guessing. No one wants their twist figured out in the first thirty pages. But you can go too far with it. If you pile on the mysteries, but cop out at the end, your readers will end up hating you.

Another approach I've seen (and personally tried myself several times) is the 'open ending', in which the true nature of the monster/antagonist/etc., is never fully explained or even revealed. Stephen King uses this almost exclusively. I've heard a lot of frustrated grumbling that this ending is never a good idea, but I'm not so sure. One of the core truths of fiction and of life, honestly, is that people tend to imagine things that are worse in their mind than they are in life. The idea in this case is to give hints, give little bits of information, little glimpses of the monster. The reader tends to fill in the blanks, and you'll often find that they come up with something more inventive or more frightening than what you did. However, if you don't balance it just right, if there aren't enough hints and clues, you'll just end pissing the reader off.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Less is More

If you're a writer, you've probably heard this phrase a million times over. From the burnt-out, bitter creative writing teachers who try to force their twisted, rigid ideas of how to write onto you, to jumped-up, literate snob book reviewers, it seems that everyone is fond of this phrase.

But what the hell does it actually mean?

I don't claim to be an expert on writing, I just like writing stories, but I've picked up a few things along the way, and Less Is More is one of the things I think I've got a half-decent grasp on.

The basic idea of the Less Is More principle is that people will always imagine something far more interesting than anything you can come up with. Stephen King summed this principle up nicely when he said, and this isn't a direct quote but just the gist, "The prime idea behind writing a good horror story is that you take a monster and put it behind a door, and then you don't open that door for as long as possible." Now, I primarily write horror stories, so I understand this principle through that lens.

This idea goes to work best in the form of suspense. Now, I love monster stories, and the best of them are written as mysteries at first. A great example of this is the film The Tunnel.

One of the great things about this movie was that they didn't have much of a budget for it, so they were forced to keep the monster mostly in the darkness. This principle has worked before, marvelously. One of the most famous movies of all time almost wound up another B horror movie, and would have...except for the budget.

I'm talking about Jaws. Originally, Steven Spielberg wanted to feature the shark a great deal more, but due to severe budget cuts, he was forced to keep the shark mostly hidden in the water, and not reveal it until later in the film. This led to the very ominous build up and one of the greatest reveal scenes in modern cinema history.

But back to The Tunnel. The strength of this film was the fact that it almost never showed the monster in question. You see hints. You hear it, you catch glimpses of it as it hunts them, and in a very few notable shots, you do get a half-decent view of it. But even then, you never learn what it is. The Tunnel is merely a tale of grim survival, and it's pretty realistic in the sense that there's no one going around, trying to figure out where it came from, why it's doing what it's doing or even what it basically is. They just want to get away from it.

The movie ultimately leaves you wondering, what was that thing? It leaves off with a lot of questions, and this is the mark of a great story. The ones that leaves you wondering and thinking are the ones that you're going to remember the most.

And I'd also like to point out, (not that I should have to), that just because a movie leaves a lot of questions doesn't automatically make it good. There's a difference between a good mystery and plot holes.

So when it comes to the Less Is More principle, applied to writing whatever it is you happen to be writing, it's all about hinting and foreshadowing. Mention tiny clues, give vague hints and maybe, at the end of the story, allow the readers to draw their own conclusions instead of always neatly wrapping it up in a nice, easy-to-consume package. Not all readers like to be spoon-fed.

Specifically in relation to writing, a lot of reviewers, those who claim to be of the more 'literary' type, while they look down their noses at you, will slash a novel to ribbons if there's too much detail. Phrases like 'overwrought' and 'purple prose' tend to come up. I've also encountered a lot of hate for setting up atmosphere via the scenery. I don't know where all this hatred for scenery came from and I'm against it, since I love atmospheric books and tend towards atmospheric horror. What's wrong with letting the reader know it's raining and miserable outside?

While I understand the need the not go crazy when it comes to description, (I don't want to read six paragraphs about every little detail of someone's house or the forest they're walking through), I've got nothing against setting the mood, giving the story room to breathe.

When it comes to hard advice, the best I can gave is to try to strike a balance between too much and too little. This sounds obvious, and it isn't even a hard truth. Horror, (good horror, in my opinion), tends towards more. So does Cyberpunk. But faster-paced novels like action tales and thrillers tend towards less, with more tightly written narratives that are more about events and actions and dialogue and less about settings.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On WattPad

During the beginning of 2013, another author spoke about this website called WattPad. I'd never heard of it, but he spoke highly of it and I went to have a look. What I saw was an interesting community of writers and readers. It reminded me a lot of fanfiction.net, a website I was intimately familiar with, as I'd been writing on it regularly for nearly a decade at this point. (I'm still operating there, though not nearly as much as I used to.)

I decided to give WattPad a try, and I experienced unprecedented success. I wrote my first novel, Necropolis, over the course of six months and it got up just over 250,000 Reads and hit #1 of both the Sci-Fi and Horror 'What's Hot' lists. Obviously, I've lost a lot of traction since then, but there's a good reason for that. That's not what this article is about.

I've been operating on WattPad for almost a year and a half now with fair consistency. Along the way, I've picked up a lot of hints, tricks, tips, dos and don'ts, and I'd like to share them.

DISCLAIMER: I'm going to say right here and now that this is for those who write on WattPad and are looking to get serious amounts of readers. This isn't intended for hobbyists.

Blanket Advice

  • Snap Judgments: People tend to make snap judgments, whether they intend to or not. I think there are two reasons for this. The first being that it's human nature, we evolved to be able to immediately size a situation up to determine whether or not it would kill us and it's kind of filtered into everything we judge. The second reason being the absolutely insane amount of content on the internet. Consider the fact that hundreds of millions, if not billions of people have access to the internet. Chances are, if you've done it, so have seventeen thousand other people, and unless you're really good at it, most of them can do it better. You need every edge, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, if you want to be noticed.
  • Consistency: I'd say the absolute, number one most important thing that has granted me any measure of success was consistency. A lot of people mentioned in their comments and even sent me private messages about how one of the things they liked about me the most was that they could rely on me for an update. In the beginning, I only updated once a week, but I've eventually gotten to the point where I update three times a week, every week. People respect consistency.
  • Grammar: This applies to literally everything relating to words. I don't care if you're tweeting, slamming something out on your Facebook page or sending a private message. Use capitalization, use punctuation, fully spell out words...seriously, if you're message looks like this 'omfg i luv ur bookss s0 much! im ur bigust f@n!' Then you're just embarrassing yourself and everyone that reads that statement. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate everyone who lets me know they're reading my work and liking it, but seriously, grammar that bad kills my soul one piece at a time. It does that for a lot of people.
  • Care: I've noticed this a startling amount in my twenty six years on this planet. Apathy is everywhere. Everyone seems to have an eye-rolling attitude towards a lot of things. Everyone seems to think that adopting a 'been-there-done-that-and-it-was-boring' attitude is the cool thing to do...which doesn't really make any sense. I could be wrong, but I think a lot of this has to do with the Hipster movement. (My loathing for Hipsters knows no depths.) For some reason, they popularized this blanket apathetic attitude and it's seeped into everything. I think a lot of them have confused 'I'm too cool to care' with 'That makes me a grown-up adult'. I honestly thought this kind of thing would have died out in high school, but it's extremely depressing to see it everywhere. Anyway, contrary to this, I've noticed something. Caring is intoxicating. In a world of apathy, someone who actually gives a shit about something (even if that something is their own work) shines like a beacon at night. People will notice if you care about your work and, whether they'll admit it or not, they'll likely respect you for it on some level. It's easy to shrug everything off, it takes work to give a shit.
  • Read: Read your ass off. Stephen King once said, 'If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.' Read a lot of books, a lot of different kinds of books. There's enough free content out there to keep you reading for a lifetime. Go read the stories at the top of the What's Hot list and see if you can figure out why they're up there. (If it's a One Direction fan fiction, you can safely ignore it.) Go to Amazon, search for Free stories, (at any given time, there will be THOUSANDS of them, in every genre.) If you don't have a Kindle, grab the KindleForPC app, or download the Kindle app for your phone. This is so easy, there's no excuse not to do it.
  • Patience: This shit takes time. Yeah, sure, sometimes people blow up overnight and make the rest of us feel like shit, and that could be you, but it probably won't be. Building a readership is a slow, long game. Be prepared to stick with this and work on it to some degree every day. This isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.
  • Be Independent: Do not rely on anyone if you can help it. Are you relying on someone to edit your work for you before you put it up? Don't. What happens when they get bored or some kind of emergency comes up or they lose the work and forget to tell you about it? Learn to do it yourself. Whatever it is, if you can help it, learn to do it yourself. No matter who you rely on, the will let you down at some point, and your rock solid schedule will be thrown out of whack because someone else fell through. Your goal should always be to rely entirely on yourself. 
  • Luck: Even if you follow every single piece of advice here, and all the other advice you find, you need to understand that a huge part of this game is luck. I know it sucks, it may drive you up a wall, but at the end of the day, whether or not you get read and get big is a throw of the dice. And sometimes the deck maybe be stacked against you. But, if you follow this advice, you'll at least be able to begin stacking the deck in your own favor.
Your Profile

Your profile is important. It's your first line of defense, your first foot forward, your first impression. One thing I'll say right now is that appearance is half of everything. How do you think a lot of mediocre books get not only published but bought like crazy? Appearance. I've seen dozens upon dozens of C average books make it to the bestsellers list on Amazon simply because they looked and sounded good. Inversely, if you have a fantastic story, chances are no one's going to read it if it has no cover and a crap description.
  • Your Profile Name: Often it'll be the first thing people see. That and your profile pic. Tell me, which name are you going to take more seriously? loliloveharrypotter or Emily_R_Pierce. Your name says a lot about you, because you're choosing to put it in there. I put my actual name in there, but that doesn't mean you have to. A pseudonym is fine, so long as it doesn't sound stupid as hell like Johnny_Badass or Number1Alpha (unless you're primary writing comedy, that opens up a whole new field and stupid or silly names might actually help you). It doesn't even have to be a name, really. Over on fanfiction.net I operated under both Obsidian Productions and Obsidian Nexus. Whatever you choose, spell it right and keep it grammatically correct.
  • Your Profile Picture: If you can manage it and feel comfortable doing it, I'd say use an actual photo of yourself. Everyone feels more comfortable having an actual human being they can connect the writing to. If you're uncomfortable, try something a little different. I finally found a good enough pic of my face to use. Also, don't try to 'look cool' for the camera, nine times out of ten, you're just going to come off as an elitist jerk-off who thinks they must be so attractive that anyone looking at the picture is just the luckiest son of a bitch in the world.
  • Your Profile: This one is a bit more subjective. All the regular rules apply, by which I mean grammar. I'd personally say give a bit of background on yourself, any links to social media you might be using as satellite support for your writing (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Blog, etc.,) and then give a list of your works in progress and upcoming works. I'd advise against giving a total list of all your works, since, well, that list already exists directly below your profile, and because you only get 2000 characters to work with. This window of space is important, as it's your virtual representative in the world of WattPad. Try to make the layout visually appealing with a good balance of words to white space. Avoid blocks/walls of text.
  • Following: This one is, again, highly subjective. My primary advice is Follow as few people as possible. This may sound like a jerk move, and hey, maybe it is, but I have a good reason for suggesting it. I've noticed that people tend to take those who have a high Followers but low Following ratio more seriously. It also has an added benefit. If you want to help out a friend, you Follow them, and then everyone who glances at your Followers/Following box will see that while you may have a thousand Followers, you're only Following a single person. Naturally, they'll wonder, "Who the hell is this one person they've chosen to Follow?" and will investigate accordingly.
  • Banner: Choose something visually striking that will look good as one solid picture, without being too distracting. A fantastic go-to is landscape pictures. If you have a specific kind of genre you tend to stick to, try to make it match. Sci-Fi? Use stars, a picture of the galaxy, or planets. Horror? Creepy, fog-shrouded woods at night. Fantasy? An epic mountain.
Your Works
  • Title: Your title is important. Think hard about it. I've discovered that, as a rule, shorter titles tend to do better than longer ones. It needs to be short, sweet and catchy. Try to think of something that gets the feel for the story you're trying to tell. If you can quantify the feeling, genre and/or general plotline in just the title, you're definitely on the right road.
  • Cover: I'm lucky, I have a friend who is extremely talented at making covers and can produce New York Times Bestseller levels of cover art. That's what's needed if you're looking to self-publish and actually make a living off of writing, but for WattPad, it tends to be overkill. But you've got to put something up there. If you aren't any good at making covers, I can sympathize. When it comes to visual art, I'm about as capable as a preschooler. (I'm not kidding.) But here's a quick recipe for having a passable cover. Go to Pixabay, it's a website where all the pictures are free and in public domain. That means that you can use them and there's no messy copyright infringement. Look for a picture that goes with your story. Is it set in space? Look for a picture of the stars or some other planet. Is it set in the desert? In snow? Does it rain a lot in the book? Basically, an easy go-to is a setting picture. There's a lot of great ones. Take that picture, open it in Paint (everyone should have a copy of that) and apply text. Your name on bottom, the title on top. Make sure it actually shows, which means select a color that's opposite to the color of the picture it's going over. Try to center both of these. One thing I do to make it even easier is to put black bars along the bottom and top, and then put the author name and title in those bars. It looks a little more pro and you'll guarantee that they'll be clearly visible. Also, make sure you set the aspect ratio to look like a rectangle, like a real book, otherwise the sides will get clipped off when you upload it.
  • Description: Okay, so people have seen the cover and the title. They've been drawn in and actually clicked the link. Now they're brought to your description. This is just as make or break. Longer descriptions are better, but not too long. Three paragraphs max. If you want a crash course in descriptions, just go and grab half a dozen of the nearest books or go to Amazon and check on the bestsellers. Look at those descriptions. You want to give hints about what you're book is about. Give a basic plotline, set up the character(s), the setting, the conflict, and leave off with a question if you can. I've heard that works. Obviously don't give too much away, you want people to read the book because they want to find out more.
  • Length: This is going to apply to both the length of your average update, i.e. each chapter, and the length of the overall work. As for chapters, I've found that between 1,500 and 3,000 words works perfectly. Any less and you'll leave people too hungry for content, any more and you'll find your readership slowly slipping away. In this new age of the Internet and instant gratification, people tend to want bite-sized content. Something they can read in fifteen to thirty minute segments. Now, on the overall length, more tends to be better. If you decide you want to take the next step and self-publish, you'll find that novels sell roughly 100% better than short stories, novellas and collections. On WattPad, longer works have a better chance of being seen and rising in the ranks. A story with 50 parts is WAY more likely to get big and seen than a story with 5 parts.
  • Upload Schedule: I'd say your minimum is once a week. It's a good baseline. Choose a day you feel most comfortable writing, sit down and write the chapter. Or, if that's not how you work, cobble it together in bits and pieces over the course of the week and make sure it's ready to go. I'd advise against uploading more than three times a week, because you tend to burn yourself out, but everyone has their own limits. The goal is find a compromise between pushing yourself and still being able to reliably get content out. I cannot emphasize enough how important choosing a schedule and sticking to it is in terms of gaining a readership.
  • Planning: There largely seem to be two kinds of writers: those who plan and those who don't. I'm a planner. I'd advise against not planning. More and more often, I see that the writers who run into writer's block are those that don't plan. When you think about this, the reasoning is obvious. If you're making up your story on the fly, you are relying almost completely on inspiration to tell you what happens next. Inspiration runs out. Doesn't matter who you are, how long you've been doing this, it does. Even Stephen King puts up with this crap. A great way to combat this is by planning out your whole book. Personally, I plan out the whole thing before I begin. I know how many chapters there are going to be, the name of each chapter and at least a basic idea of what's going to happen for every chapter. When the inspiration dries up, I can keep on writing because I know exactly what happens next and it (usually) doesn't affect my schedule.
  • Editing: Right off the bat, learn basic grammar. This is key. If you're serious about writing, this is an absolute must. There's just no way around it. It's like building a house. Even if you have plans for a fantastic house, if you use shitty building materials, you'll build a shitty house. Now, beyond that, whenever you have a new chapter ready to go, make sure you edit it first, before publishing. It's better if you can wait a little while after finishing the actual writing. Go take a break, grab some food, go for a walk, watch an episode of something, then come back and read over it again. You'd be surprised how much you'll catch. And your readers will thank you for it.
  • Formatting: Smaller paragraphs are better than bigger paragraphs. The more white space you can have, the better. Obviously, this can be taken too far. Don't hit enter after every sentence. The more you practice this, the better you'll get it developing a sixth sense for when to hit that enter button. The only thing I can say that you really need to watch out for is if you copy/paste your work into the publishing window, go back after you hit that Publish button. For some reason, the website tends to put an extra line of space between every paragraph. That's gotta go. I know it's a pain in the ass, but just go back and remove those lines of dead space.
  • Tags: I don't know how significant tags are, but I assume they're important. It is how people find your book, after all. Generic tags you should put into every work is the title of the work, your name and both genres you selected. Beyond that, you want to put words relating to your story. If you're writing a book about zombies, the tags would be: zombie, undead, monster, dead, infection. You get the idea.
  • Music: WattPad allows you to link a YouTube video to each chapter. This is a fantastic opportunity. There are so many videos and songs out on YouTube that you can find pretty much whatever you want. Writing a horror? Choose some dark, ambient instrumental tracks. Writing a romance? Go find some love songs. Writing action? Grab some hard rock or fast-paced techno. Although I generally recommend ambient tracks with no spoken lyrics. A great place I go to is the Cryo Chamber channel. They make a lot of great tracks.
  • Rating: I'd say that 90% of all things on WattPad should be rated PG-13. Few people tend to write stuff that's below that rating and if you rated it above that, you become much harder to find. R rated stories do not chart. As for R rated content...well, unless you're writing straight up porn, you're probably safe in the PG-13 territory. Also, don't use hate words, i.e. racial, homophobic or ethnic slurs. Not only do they get your story automatically rated R, but we, as a society, should just stop saying them. They're utterly useless words with no value. Also, do not rate just one chapter R, because once you do, the story becomes locked. Every chapter after that will be rated R and you cannot change it.
  • Copyright: This is important. If you are writing an original story, make sure you select All Rights Reserved. If you're writing a fan fiction or an obvious rip-off, make it Public Domain. Also, you probably shouldn't be writing straight-up rip-offs.
  • Cast: I've never used this, and I don't plan to. While initially the idea seemed a little intriguing, I've ultimately decided against it. With the exception of romance novels, I'm of the opinion that covers shouldn't show protagonists. Or people at all, really. Because then the readers always associate that one image with the character. It's always, always, always better to let the reader make up their own mental image of the characters. This goes the same for casting.
  • Fan Fiction: If you're writing fan fiction, there's a good chance that some badass pictures, screenshots, wallpapers, etc., exist of whatever it is you're writing about. Those make great covers.
Your Public Face
  • Be Courteous: This is the most important bit of advice I've got. In replying to comments, to private messages, to posts on your message board, always be nice. At the very least, don't be a jerk, even if the other person is. Personally, I'd advise straight-up ignoring haters and trolls. Delete their comments and block them. Now, do not confuse genuine criticism with hating. If the person is criticizing your story, don't be afraid to either explain yourself if you think they may be wrong or confused, or thanking them if they've actually pointed something out. No one is flawless. We grow from failure. But if they're just some jerk-off trying to get a rise out of you, don't hesitate to ignore their ignorant ass.
  • Be Available: By this I mean try to respond to as many messages and comments as you can. Don't let yourself get bogged down by this, but even a simple 'Thank you!' will go a long way. And hey, you should be thankful. None of these people owe you anything, they've gone out of their way to not only read your work, but reach out to you in the form of a comment or message.
  • Be Relevant: If you're sending someone a message, make sure it's relevant. I've been getting this a lot lately and frankly it confounds me. Sending a private message of 'hi' or 'hey' is a little redundant. Why are you sending the message? What's the purpose of the message? Be deliberate in everything you do. Ask yourself, 'Does this need to happen?' before every message you send out yourself. By this I mean, every message that isn't a response to another message, but ones you initiate.
Getting Your Work Out There
  •  Clubs: Forums on WattPad are called Clubs. There's one for each genre. I spent a little bit of time in the Clubs in the beginning, but not much seemed to come from them. A lot of people say that being social is the only way to get your work out there. Maybe they're right. I'm kind of anti-social, so I guess I've been pretty lucky to be doing as well as I have. If you're into that kind of thing, check out the clubs for the genres your writing in. I know there do exist places to post ads for your work. If you do, make sure it looks good. I know there's a way to put pictures into the posts. Figure that out. Posts with pictures are much more likely to get attention than those without. Write a snappy, shortened version of your official plot description and provide a link directly to the story.
  • Read Around: Go read other people's stories. Comment on them. Get involved. This is a good way to get your name out there. But don't be obvious about it. Pretty much no one likes to feel like they're being sold something when they didn't ask for it. Try to stay on topic when commenting on another person's story and don't make it about yourself.
  • Read My Story!?: So...there's a part of me that's tempted to say don't ask other people outright to read your story. I never have, but that's because I'm kind of stubborn and I don't like asking for help. I have gotten a lot of requests to read stories and...well, to be totally honest, almost every time I get asked this the story is terrible. I don't just mean the story itself, I mean the grammar is so shoddy that I have a difficult time believing it's written in my language. I think a lot of newcomers tend to reach out and ask like this, and as a result, people who send private messages asking for a read have been labeled as newbies who flunked out of Remedial English. On the other hand, I, myself, have done this on a bigger scale. I've reached out to people I never thought would respond...and yet, sometimes, they have responded. In my time of reaching out to certain people, I've managed to talk with: a NYT Bestselling author who's sold millions of books, Carbon Based Lifeforms, a Hollywood screenwriter, a Hollywood director, a video game company that seriously considered letting me novelize some of their games and several other published authors. So I guess don't be afraid to reach out and ask someone for something, but make sure you're clear, concise and respectful. And be prepared to be either ignored or rejected.
  • Social Media: If you think you can manage it and update it frequently, I'd say make yourself a Facebook page, Twitter account or blog dedicated solely to your writing and yourself as an author. It's important that you commit to whatever you create. If you make a Facebook page, update it at least once a day and respond to your readers. Don't let it stagnate. Conversely, don't let yourself get bogged down by it. Social media is intoxicating if it goes well, and you can find yourself spending hours maintaining your sites and pages. But remember, the writing is always what's important. Nothing else is more significant than the writing.
  • Networking: While I'm not sure it's a good idea to ask people to read your work, I do think it's a cool idea to reach out to other successful or talented but struggling writers. Ask them for an interview or a guest post to put on your blog. It helps both of you and drives traffic in both directions. Your fans discover a new author, the other author's fans discover you. If you think you can manage it, collaborate! Don't be afraid to write a short story together, or maybe a whole novel.
Final Advice
  • Don't Rely On WattPad: What? Is that a typo? I'm afraid not. I saved this one for last on purpose. WattPad has been good to me...sort of. I realized something massive when I published my first novel, Necropolis. At the time of publishing, it had just hit 200,000 Reads. That's insane for a first work from a nobody. I had a lot of support. A lot of Followers. I told everyone that I was publishing it for ninety nine cents on the Kindle, I passed out a direct link to the KindleForPC, as well as the published work, for days. I did a lot of work promoting it and spreading the word like crazy. And...after a whole month, less than 1% of everyone who read the work bought a copy. Do not trust people. I can't tell you how many people I had telling me they'd buy the work when it became available...and most of them didn't. WattPad is a good place to get your work out, grab a readership and learn the craft, but eventually, if you want to make a living out of this, you'll need to sell your work. And if the choice is between reading your work for free and buying it, people generally choose free if it's more convenient. Even I'm not going to be on WattPad forever. Eventually, I plan on just writing fan fictions or posting freebies on the site to serve as a platform for people to discover me. The ultimate goal you want to be shooting for is self-publishing novels, if you're looking to make a living at writing.

I hope this was helpful.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

An Interview with Carbon Based Lifeforms!

Anyone familiar with me would know that there are two types of music I like above all else: ambient and rap. They would also know that I seem to favor two particular groups (technically three), in both those genres. For all things rap, I go to Tech N9ne. For all things ambient, I go to Carbon Based Lifeforms and SYNC24, which is a side project of CBL. I discovered CBL via fellow author and brother from another mother M. Knepper back in 2011 when he showed me what is to date one of my all time favorite tracks, Central Plains.

I immediately fell in love. Since then, I've purchased every single track ever produced by Carbon Based Lifeforms (as far as I know), as well as the majority of SYNC24's archive. If I ever get the money, I'm going to go see them live and see if I can talk them into hanging out for a little bit.

But enough about my gushing over them. I reached out to both Daniel and Johannes some time ago and they responded! We've been talking about a number of things and they've been nothing but kind and open in our conversations. One of the things I asked for was an interview, and here it is!

How did CBL get started?

We got introduced to music making by Mikael Lindquist (aka: Tony Montana, Oxygenial, Digidroids etc.). He made music on his Amiga using a very basic audio sequencer named Fasttracker. So we joined forces with him, forming the tracker group “Bassment Studios”. After a few years of tracking we moved on to MIDI and sequencers and formed a group called Notch.

With Notch we explored most of the genres of electronic dance music. We had quite a big impact on various sites around the web and despite various discussions with a lot of different labels, we only released a remix of Mourning After's – “What Would You Think” (Swedish synthpop, released on Pulsewave Records).

We really fell in love with the Ambient genre after Johannes's sister randomly had picked up a copy of Solar Quest's “Orgship” (still one of our absolute favorite ambient records). After listening to that record for a few months we felt we needed to make something similar. So we made a few chilled out tracks under the moniker Notch but we soon realized that we would like to make more, which led to the forming of Carbon Based Lifeforms, focusing only on drones, chill-out and ambient.

How did the Refuge OST come about? (Did you approach them or did they approach you?)

They approached us with some test reels with placeholder music, and we really liked the photography so we decided to go for it. We had an old track (RCA -) which we thought fit the mood of the movie, so we based all the themes on that track. Basically reworking it to fit the specific scenes.

Do you use a digital audio workstation and if so, which is your favorite?

For production we use PC's running Cubase and for live performances we use a Mac running Ableton Live.

Was working on a movie OST different than working on a normal album?

Yes it was quite different actually, when making an album each track is its own unique entity but when doing this sound track everything stemmed from the same seed, so to say.

Do you use straight synths exclusively or have you tweaked samples for some of your compositions?

It's a mix between hardware and software. Hardware-wise we use a couple of old analogues (tb303, Minimoog SH5, SH9 etc.) and some Clavia modulars and on the software side we use a lot of Spectrasonics Omnisphere and some Native Instruments
Kontakt for keys.

Has it gotten easier or more difficult to put together albums as time has gone on?

In a way it's harder, since in the beginning we had a lot of track embryos lying around which we could mould into full tracks. On the other hand we have a much better work flow now and we know our way around the gear a lot better.

How does the process of putting together an album work?

We tend to start out ideas for songs in our separate studios, and when we find something the other one likes we start hammering it out to a complete song. And we keep that process going until we have enough tracks for an album. When it comes to the production, Johannes likes to get lost in a lot of details on sounds and Daniel is usually the one to get things rolling again. Except when it comes to drums and percussion, then the roles are pretty much reversed :)

Have you ever used Linux? 

Johannes runs Ubuntu on his couch laptop, but for music we would love to, however the tools we use are not yet available for Linux.

Ever used Audacity?

Yes we've tried it out but we don't use it for production.

When did you know you wanted to make music?

We both played different instruments growing up, but when we got introduced to Fasttracker on the Amiga we got really hooked.

How did you meet?

We met when we were 15 and Johannes was transferred to Daniel's class at school. After some months we got to know each other and learned that we shared interest in almost everything. We became fast friends.

Do you get any say in the cover art? If so, how do you make the choice?

Yes we do have some creative input but in general it has been mostly up to the label.

What prompted you to found Leftfield Records?

Since it became easy for anyone to release music through digital aggregators the use for traditional labels has kind of become redundant. Daniel had a lot of Sync24 material that was too weird or uptempo for Ultimae so that was the main reason for it.

What are your goals for Leftfield Records?

No particular goals, it's just a platform for releasing our music.

POU is my favorite song, what went into the making of it?

We played with an old sampler and found that dark loop very intriguing so we sculpted a track around that.

Favorite BPM and time signature?

90 bpm 4/4 of course :)

Favorite instrument?

Reverb :)

What's in the future for CBL?

The plan is to start the production of a new album in the fall of 2014.

I would like to thank Daniel and Johannes for taking the time to answer my questions and for being so great to talk with. Here are some helpful links to support them, check out their fantastic archive of music and keep up to date!

UPDATE: CBL has since begun remastering and independently re-releasing their albums. It is no longer possible to directly purchase their original albums.

Purchase Carbon Based Lifeforms [Amazon]
Purchase SYNC24 [Ultimae Records | Leftfield Records]
Carbon Based Lifeforms Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube
SYNC24 Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Interview with John Reinhard Dizon

I recently had the opportunity to interview author John Reinhard Dizon...which is crazy, because just LOOK at this guy's resume:

John Reinhard Dizon was born and raised in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, NY. He participated in local and high school sports at Bishop Loughlin MHS, excelling in wrestling, hockey and football. The lead vocalist of the Spoiler and the Ducky Boys, he was a key figure on the Brooklyn rock scene during the Punk Revolution of the 70's. Relocating to San Antonio TX in the 80's, he moonlighted as a pro wrestler while working as a legal assistant. He successfully pursued a BA at UTSA and degrees in Korean martial arts during the 90's. He currently lives in KC MO where he is studying for his MA in English at UMKC. Mr. Dizon has been writing suspense and thriller works for over twenty-five years.

Clearly, I got really lucky. So let's get down to it.

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

I started writing dialogue for my stick-figure cartoons when I first got out of diapers. I wrote my first novella in sixth grade. I've always enjoyed telling a good story.

What are some of the struggles you've had to overcome to get to where you are today?

Querying was the next step in the journey I'd never taken before. I've sent out close to two thousand (!), and so far no agent but ten contracts with ten different indie pubs. Not a great turnover but not too shabby.

What do you do to deal with writer's block?

I try to find inspiration somewhere and see if it ties in with my novel somehow. Lately I've been using today's headlines, so all I have to do is switch on the TV.

Which authors would you say served as a large influence on your writing?

Ian Fleming was my first influence in grade school as I gravitated toward action/adventure. As a young man, Robert E. Howard gave me lots of ideas in descriptive narrative. In University, Shakespeare was the finishing touch for brevity and conciseness. Lately it's been Franz Kafka as a postmodernist writer.

What drew you to the thriller/suspense genre?

I've always been drawn to the anti-hero facing an impossible situation, trying to redeem themselves against impossible odds. Lots of times it will inspire the reader in drawing an analogy to a situation they're facing in their own lives.

If there was one famous author you could write a novel with, who would it be and why?

I'd like to square off with John Grisham. I've written a couple of courtroom dramas myself, I'm sure we would come up with a blockbuster.

What do you think of the self-publishing revolution?

It's the best route to take if your manuscript's not getting any bites. Most indie pubs don't do jack in publicizing your book, so in essence you're trading your writing and promo work for a fancy cover and the 'prestige' of their name on your Amazon page. The downside is that there's lots of stuff out there that are a rebuke and a disgrace to the business. Hopefully Create Space will start raising the bar as to what's fit to print.

How do you go about writing a novel?

Without a great plot, strong characters, snappy dialogue and a powerful finish, there is no JRD novel. If I can't get that brainstorm going I'll put it on the back burner until it heats up sometime in the future.

Does any other form of media influence your writing? If so, what and how?

I'm greatly inspired by movies. Fleming's 007 was the reason I started writing novels. Some of my best work has come from watching a great flick and coming away thinking, "How could I take that character, or situation, or concept, and come up with something completely different, bigger and better?".

What are your plans for the future, writing wise?

Right now I'm putting the finishing touches on Standard II - The Citadel. I'm going to be finishing up a couple of existing projects, then start focusing on some sequels. Some say that sequels are a good way to build up a fan base. I'll see if that's true.

I have to give a big thanks to Mr. Dizon for his time and answers. If you're interested in checking him out, here are some links.

JRD Facebook
JRD Blog
JRD Twitter
JRD on Amazon

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jay Hartlove: Taking Readers Out of Their Comfort Zone for Fun & Profit

[WARNING: Contains excerpts from stories that contain mermaid sex and violence and all the other fun things to write about.]

I like fiction that takes me places and gives me experiences I am not likely to get in real life. While I appreciate good storytelling and prose in any genre, I tend to spend my very limited reading time going places and doing things beyond my normal experience. So I am naturally attracted to genres with lots of imagination like science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I also like being excited about my fiction so I am also a fan of stories that push me to an edge and dare me to look down. Imaginative roller coasters have my name all over them.

You write what you know, so that’s also what I write. I am currently writing the third in a series of supernatural thrillers called The Isis Rising Trilogy. The first book, The Chosen, came out in 2011. The second one, Daughter Cell, came out in 2013. I am planning a 2015 release for Isis Rising. Thriller is the genre of danger. Throughout all three books, I keep my characters in an almost constant state of danger.

Because these books have a strong supernatural bent, folks have been tempted to call them horror. No doubt, horrible things happen. Horror has certain conventions that these books do not always follow. The labels are of course for marketing, trying to get found by the audience most likely to want to read them.

The horror label got me thinking about genre conventions. Even the thriller label carries certain expectations. If someone does not like roller coasters, then they will not want to try your roller coaster, even if it is the best one ever built. In fact, if it is the best one ever built, a non-aficionado will hate it even more. The same is true of thrillers. The same is true of horror.

What distinguishes these? What makes these genres love ‘em or hate ‘em? I think these genres take people out of their comfort zone. You get to go somewhere you are really glad to be able to come home from. It’s a great ride but you wouldn’t want to live there because it’s just too much. Readers who like being made uncomfortable, nervous, and on the edge of their seat are the ones who will flock to writing that pushes them there. If you’re not up for the challenge, then these genres are not for you.

To test my hypothesis, I looked around for another genre that also takes people out of their comfort zone, that is loved by devotees but generally avoided by folks who can’t handle it. I didn’t have to look very far. Erotica does the same.

While I was tightening up my courage to start the concluding book in the thriller series, I needed to take a break from piling on the expectations and let my subconscious percolate. So I took on a complete change of pace and started a fantasy romance. I wanted it to be a challenge, so I decided to publish it online for free in serial form as I wrote it. No going back, warts and all. The book is called Mermaid Steel and it is two-thirds done. It has been a blast.

I was advised early on by friends who read romances, that there is a fine line between romance and erotica, defined only by degree. So don’t be shy. This is a fantasy revolving around a romance, I protested. Don’t be shy, I was told, the readers will feel cheated if you don’t leave the lights on. Okay.

So here is my evidence to test the hypothesis. Below are excerpts from three of my books. The horror entry is the closing portion of the rather famous dentist chair scene from The Chosen. The thriller entry is a snake attack scene from Daughter Cell. The erotica entry is sex on the beach with a mermaid from Mermaid Steel. Although they take different paths, they all take you out of your comfort zone, get you excited, and then let you come back to your comfort zone satisfied. Read on and you decide.

Horror: The Chosen

After carefully peeling away the last layer of meninges from Bailey’s exposed brain, Silas checked his watch and verified he was still within schedule. His surgical gloves were covered with so much blood, he had to wipe his wrist clean on his right arm sleeve to see the watch through the latex. He surveyed his work to make sure the forceps clamps were holding as they squeezed off the blood vessels all the way around the edge of the sawed open skull. The long handles of the forceps, with their round finger holes, radiated out from his head to form a flower-like chrome crown that glistened in the intense white light of the swing arm exam lamp. The pinkish-gray brain had collapsed slightly since most of its usually supportive cerebro-spinal fluid had spilled out.

Silas pushed back the now gore-soaked gauze headband and verified that the flesh below the opening was still engorged and alive. He stepped to the sink and rinsed the blood off his gloved hands before exiting to the front office.

He returned with a blank sheet of typing paper and a large marker. He drew a single wide black line down the middle of the page and set it aside.

Then he peeled off his right latex glove and opened his mechanical hand. A sour yet slightly floral smell filled the air as he undid the locks and cracked open the large, bulbous center body of the prosthesis, exposing his normal sized, flesh and blood right hand cradled inside. As he lifted his hand out, the soft, form fitting plastic liner glistened with the wetness of low pH saline. So did the electrodes that filled the wrist area and, when closed, operated the mechanical hand from Silas’s nerve impulses without the need of moving his fingers. He inhaled sharply when the cool air hit his oversensitive skin. With his skin continuously treated by the ancient recipe of herbal solutions that circulated within the metal glove, and with no physical sensation allowed to raise the trigger thresholds of his nerves, his pink, printless hand was a direct open link to his nervous system. He smiled at the wisdom of purposely handicapping himself to gain this unique tool. He thought of the times he had used his hand in magical divinations.

Clearly, this would be the best use of it yet.

After running the water in the sink until it felt warm to his left hand, he gently rinsed the herbal solution from his right. He left the deactivated metal hand on the counter and stepped to a spot behind and slightly to the left of the dentist’s chair. He ignored the squishing sound his Vibram-soled wingtips made as he walked in the now enormous sticky pool of fluids and gore that had run down Bailey’s naked body and onto the black linoleum floor.

“Major Bailey, this is Silas Alverado. Return now to your previous state of perfect concentration. You still feel no pain and no physical sensation and you are mentally alert.” With his left hand he held the sheet of paper up about a foot in front of Bailey’s face with the line vertical. “Open your eyes and focus on the line.”

Silas very gently set his right hand down over the left rear portion of the major’s brain. He closed his eyes and calibrated the mental image of the vertical line to the pattern of nerve impulses he was feeling on Bailey’s visual cortex. When this image was clear he rotated the page so the line was diagonal, readjusted the image, and finally moved it to horizontal and did the same.

“Continue looking straight ahead,” was Silas’s command as he dropped the page out of Bailey’s sight. It took a moment to sort out the deluge of signals and visualize individual edges and shapes. Little by little he became familiar with the patterns of the countertops and cabinets that Bailey faced. Fine tuning the calibration, he began filling in textures, shades and shadows. Lawrence’s dead body slumped on the floor came into focus. Hints of color surfaced in the image. “Without moving your head, look around and describe to me what you see.”

“My name is Gregory Bailey and you are wasting your time.”

Silas laughed a quiet, gravelly chuckle as he, standing there with his eyes closed, watched through his victim’s eyes and saw every detail of the room in front of them.

“Now close your eyes and imagine yourself standing in front of the British Museum.”

After an hour of having the Major walk him through all the parts of the security system he needed to know, Silas sighed and allowed himself a moment to run it all through his mind again. He had clairvoyantly walked through the museum earlier that evening. But for some reason that he could not explain, there had been large parts of the security plan that he couldn’t fathom through astral inspection. This session had been a lot more work than he had hoped, but Major Bailey had filled in all the gaps.

He was about to lift his hand off the man’s brain when he was seized by a startling realization. In all his lifelong study of the occult, in all his learning of mankind’s beliefs and fears, never had he found a better opportunity to experience the most elusive process of all: death.

Not wanting to break the finely tuned connection between his right palm and Bailey’s brain, Silas opened his eyes and looked around to see what was within reach of his left hand. The assortment of instruments on the counter was too far away so he had to settle for the blood covered scalpel sitting in the chair’s ceramic rinse bowl. Silas considered his options and decided oxygen deprivation to the brain would give him the most controlled situation.

He realized that even under deep hypnosis the heart’s rapid beating response to raised levels of carbon dioxide would be difficult to control. He needed to prevent a runaway heartbeat. His target was clear.

“Major Bailey, you are now back in the room with me. You will continue to feel nothing, but concentrate on seeing everything that passes before you with objective, crystal clarity. Keep your eyes closed and think only of the images that appear to you.”

Silas regretted not having time to do anything for the man’s soul; he was after all an enemy of Rome and Israel. He was glad Bailey had such a strong spirit, and he wished the Major well in the upcoming war in heaven.

When he “saw” Bailey had properly emptied his mind and was waiting for visual stimuli, he reached around in front of his victim and plunged the scalpel directly into the man’s heart. With his left hand he felt the big man’s powerful heart muscle on the other end of the knife spasm deeply once, twice, and then go still. He was pleased to feel no indication that the pain of this fatal wound had made it past the lower brain centers up to the hypnotically controlled cortex under his right hand.

At first the mental vision remained blank. Despite all the dispassionate science and methodology he had employed to get to this point, Silas couldn’t help but feel awash in giddy anticipation at what he was about to witness. He had treated this man’s body like meat to get the information he wanted, but now this stranger he had butchered was going to take him on a trip no one had ever traveled without tempting their own mortality.

Silas had spiritually voyaged beyond his body many times, including visits to the Land of the Dead. But the nature of the final one way trip, the path of the severed life thread, the voyage of the Ka unfettered, was something he could only dream of, until now. Sweat broke out all over Silas’ body and his lips trembled in a nervous, blissful smile. His excitement was so complete that, for the first time in years, his loins warmed and swelled. He waited and waited for the man to die.

Just as he was growing concerned that something was amiss, he caught a glimpse of a view of the room, but from a point high above Major Bailey, looking back down at the two of them. Since this was the typical start for an out-of-body experience, Silas waited for what would come next.

Then the image faded and nothing took its place. He pressed his hand harder onto the surface of the brain, fearful that somehow the connection had slipped. When this didn’t help he opened his eyes and checked it.

Cold, ugly, disappointment swept his joy away and left him feeling cheated. There was nothing wrong with the major’s cortex, it was his hand. He pushed down with a pressure that surely should have inflicted great pain on his oversensitive skin and it only hurt mildly. He had been touching the cortex too long and his nerves had fired too much, which raised their triggering thresholds too high for him to be able to sense the impulses of Bailey’s brain.

He arrested the raging temptation to vent his anger and dash the major’s brains across the room with his left fist. Instead, he lifted his now desensitized hand off the brain and quietly sighed while surveying the carnage of his dead victim.

It was as if he were seeing the hideous scene, with its stench of stale incense, urine, blood, and flowery herbs for the first time. The brilliant white light from the dentist’s chair swing arm lamp that had helped him so much in his surgery, now glistened off every blood smeared surface and brought every detail into gruesome clarity.

None of this bothered him as much as his disappointment at the failed death viewing. He calmed himself with the assurance that the knowledge he had gained from this session was ultimately much more valuable than even witnessing death second hand. He could, after all, always try it on someone else some other time.

He did nothing by way of hiding evidence; there was none to implicate him. In fact, he would be on his way back to the Caribbean by the time the bodies were discovered. When he washed his right hand and put it back in its metal surrogate, he was disappointed to find some blood had gotten past the rubber apron and stained his yellow silk tie.

Thriller: Daughter Cell

Three steps inside her front door, she dropped her large, black, bucket-like Coach purse by the couch and headed for the kitchen. She caught a flash of green out of the corner of her eye which propelled her into adrenaline focus. A thin green snake with brown markings had struck out from under the couch and sunk its fangs into the leather of her purse. She leapt back and sucked in a terrified gulp of air all in one motion. The snake immediately pulled back under the couch. It moved alarmingly fast.

Unfortunately, Sanantha was now in the dining area and couldn’t see around the

couch to tell if the snake had stayed under or moved out into the living room. She knew from childhood experience in Haiti not to underestimate the speed of poisonous snakes. She also remembered to fight the panic, keep her cool, and use whatever resources she had at hand. She had a hard time getting past her pounding heart and shaking hands to pull herself together.

She considered just leaving and calling an exterminator. The government was already investigating her. Could she afford being drawn into a criminal investigation now that someone was clearly trying to kill her? She didn’t have much time to decide between the unknown quantity of the police or the known quantity of the snake.

She ran into the kitchen and pulled a sponge mop and a broom out of the small broom closet. She then approached the back of the couch sweeping the broom enticingly along the edge where the snake had struck. As she prepared to bring the sponge mop down to pin its neck, the snake flashed around the end of the couch and came straight at her.

“Mon dieu!” She leapt up over the back of the couch and stood on the cushions

looking down over the back. The three and a half foot long snake reared up in pursuit but wavered, unable to make the vertical climb. Sanantha swung the sponge mop head round and swatted the snake as hard as she could into the dining room.

“You’re not putting me on the defensive,” she said through clenched teeth.

She chased the snake around the corner, her two long weapons ready out in front of her. The snake wasn’t in the dining room. There was nothing for it to hide under, so it had either gone into the kitchen or down the hall into the bedroom. She really hoped it hadn’t gone down the hall, because that meant way too many hiding places. She advanced on the kitchen. As soon as she peaked around the counter, the snake hurled itself at her. She jumped back out of the way, and it raced past her and down the hall.


She didn’t want to give it time to find a good hiding place, so she chased after it. Thankfully it had gone into the small office and not her bedroom - fewer things to hide under. She considered closing the door and giving it a few minutes to calm down. She knew snakes like this one could go from calm to killer in an instant. She respected the snake and wanted to do right by it. After all, her Voodoo gods often appeared as snakes.

On the other hand, no amount of respect was going to dissuade its interest in killing her.

The space under the standing bookshelf was too low for such a muscular creature. That left the computer desk. It was long enough that she could guess wrong on which end it was under. She poked at the carpet in front of the desk with the broom while

holding the sponge mop up in her fist at the ready. She waited and prodded and waited what seemed too long.

Finally, she heard a loud, cat-like hiss under the far end of the desk. She dragged the broom slowly and noisily against the carpet in front of where the sound had come. It struck! She slammed the mop head down across its neck and held it to the floor. It hissed furiously and its thin, muscular body squirmed with all its might.

Sanantha dropped the broom and leaned her weight onto the mop handle, determined not to let it wriggle free. The mop sponge was about five inches behind its head, so it still had room to twist around and try to bite the block of sponge that pinned it. Sanantha stepped down on the exposed neck space, clamping its head to the floor with her shoe. She dropped the mop and bent down to grab its flailing body with one hand. She could feel its sinewy muscles squirming under its beaded skin. She slipped her other hand down next to her shoe and wrapped her fingers around its throat, right up against the snake’s head. When she thought she had a good firm grip, she lifted her foot and picked the creature up. It fought mightily, lashing at her with its tail, but she had it.

She got her first good look at it. It was quite beautiful, and camouflaged perfectly for a leafy jungle floor, with oval brown and green spots on a light green background.

She spoke calmly to it as she walked to her bedroom. “I am really sorry you got dragged into this situation, Monsieur Serpent. I wish there was another way you and I could end this conflict. Whoever brought you here has forced me to consider ending your life. It is your nature to want to kill me now, and I just can’t have that.”

The dark wooden cabinet looked like a tall freestanding jewelry case. She reached down with the tail-end hand and flipped open the latch. The front doors swung open to reveal a collection of stone figurines at the bottom of the black-painted interior, surrounding a central wooden pole that ran its full height. The pole was painted with two intertwining snakes, one black and one white. The base of the pole was mounted in a hole in a stone block at the bottom of the case. The figurines were arranged on this altar stone. Standing among the figurines was a bundle of fragrant white incense and a bottle of rum.

Sanantha knelt down in front of the altar and held the snake aloft. She lowered her head and prayed. “Madame Erzulie, Grand Lady of Mercy, I apologize for not lighting any incense or pouring you any drink. As you can see, my hands are rather busy. If the earnestness of my voice can convince you to hear my entreaty, please grant me my prayer. Grand Matrisse, I cannot tell anyone this snake was left here for me. It is one of your servants, so I come to you for guidance. If there is any way to save this unfortunate creature, please inspire me. If there is no other way, then please forgive me.”

She remained still for a moment, holding the snake as securely as she could, waiting for a sign. It wrapped its muscular tail tighter around her arm and jerked with all its might, hissing angrily, fangs extended. She held on, letting her soul open piously to any message that would give her a better option.

None came.

“Then, in Your holy name,” she declared sadly, “I will hold whoever brought this innocent here accountable for its life.”

She was thankful that she had remembered to put her cleaver back in the knife block on the kitchen counter where it was within easy reach.

Erotica: Mermaid Steel

“Passion is good. Maybe it makes us dangerous. It certainly moves us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise.” She ran her fingers through his chest hair. “Like this.”

He stroked her neck and arms. “I love touching your skin.”

“Is that so? ‘Cause I’m starting to really appreciate all your body hair.” She squeezed his chest and shoulders and then gently ran her hands over the curves. “All these hard muscles covered in soft furry curls.”

His hands wandered over her tunic, gently massaging her sides and back, all the way down to her dorsal fin which was planted in the sand behind her. “Oh, damn. I wanted to get you some cocoa butter so your skin won’t dry out.”

“Actually, I brought some.” She reached over to the net bag and pulled out a jar. In reaching over she stretched out across his lap. He took the chance to start massaging her back.

“Mmm, that’s nice. It works even better with this,” she said as she handed him the jar over her shoulder.

“I can’t use this with your tunic still on.”

“Well then do something about it.”

He ran his hand up her tail, lifting the hem as he went. He slid the cloth up over her fin and up to her shoulders. She heard the jar pop open and then she felt his hands, greasy with the butter, sliding and squeezing up and down her back muscles. She moaned, relaxed over his legs and wrapped the end of her tail around his back, hugging him.

She reveled under his strong hands. He worked up and down her length, and seemed quite taken with her fin. He also spent some time massaging her hips, behind, and the top of her tail. She knew she was built differently there than he was used to, and it felt good, so she let him rub her there if he wanted to. Then she noticed a distinct bulge pressing against her side that wasn’t there before in his lap. She was glad he was enjoying this too. She rolled over and swept the tunic up over her head and off. She sat up halfway, wrapped an arm around him, and started stroking and kissing his chest.

He held her up with one arm while caressing her ribs and fondling her breasts with his other. “Oh, the sand is sticking where I used the butter.”

“That’s all right. There’s nothing back there that sand will hurt. Just don’t get sand on my front and we’ll be fine.”

He seemed to take a minute to think about this.

She realized why. “That’s right. With her legs spread, you can enter a woman from behind. I noticed you were examining my backside. Sorry, I’ve only got the goods up front.”

“I’m fine with that,” he said as he slid his hand down over her tummy.

She reached up and pulled him down to kiss his lips as he rubbed around her opening. He tasted good, like a Merrow, after eating her food. She caressed his cheek and decided two days of beard would be too scratchy for a proper kiss.

He massaged her hip bones and the muscles of the top of her tail, again exploring how she was built and giving her great pleasure at the same time. She waited for him to slide his hand into her. She surprised herself getting so aroused in the anticipation.

She kissed him with vigor and slid her tongue into his mouth, licking his teeth and palate. He surprised her by capturing her tongue with his lips and gently sucking on it. She was thrilled by the sensation just as he slid his fingers inside her. She moaned into his mouth and involuntarily tightened her grip around his back with her fluke.

He released her tongue and grinned. “I guess I won’t be needing any more butter." He slid his fingers in deeper and suddenly stopped. “What’s that?”

She blinked and frowned. “Let me explain.” She reached down and extracted a handful of round stones. “After our attempt the other night, I thought maybe there was something I could do to help things along.”

“You’ve been stretching yourself with stones? Chielle, have you hurt yourself?”

“No. It was a bit painful at first, but mostly it’s just been sore up in my abdomen.”

“You didn’t have to go to such extremes.”

“You said yourself, we are makers, and we can find a way to make things work.”

“I kind of thought… the solution we came up with the other night…worked fine.”

“That was a lot of fun. The truth is, for all your hairy, lumpy, sharp edged self, I want you inside me.”

He scooped her up in his arms and hugged her to his chest. “I’m not going to argue with you.”

She hugged him back, but then slipped her hand down between them. “You, sir, are overdressed.” He released her and she unbuckled his belt.

He leaned back on his folded legs and raised his hips so she could slip his pants off. His manhood sprang out in all its glory as she pulled them down.

She reached around behind her and grabbed the jar of cocoa butter. She smiled up at him. “My turn.” She started rubbing her hands over the muscles of his stomach and then the bones of his hips. She kept eying his swollen member, knowing that he wanted her to work on it, but she made her way around it and down onto his thighs. She reached around and squeezed the taut domes of his buttocks. His shaft was almost in her face when she squeezed, and it jumped, as if begging her to suck on it. Finally she ran her hands up his inner thighs and caressed his sack. What a strange place to put them. Again his member twitched. She smiled up at him and his face was aglow with anticipation.

At last, sliding and squeezing, she ran her hands around the hairy base and inched her way up to the head. Altogether it was longer than the widths of both her hands. She knew how long it was. She had sucked its entire length into her gill channels the last time. She wondered how much of this she was going to be able to get up inside her, even with the stone stretching. She swirled and squeezed up and down its length, it swelled under her touch, and his breathing deepened and quickened.

When it was as big as it was going to get, which was kind of daunting, she rolled back onto her tail, pressing her pelvis up as fully as she could. She looked down and her opening was standing wide. “Your turn.”

He leaned forward over her and hesitated for a second. He looked at her position, folded back at an extreme angle, and must have been alarmed at how alien she looked. He spread his knees and positioned up against her. He slid himself up and down across her opening and let the head dip in. Everything was slippery and the motion was effortless. She felt his size stretch her open and probe for depth.

She held her breath waiting for the pain of him hitting bottom. He rocked his hips with small thrusts, each one a little deeper. She hadn’t even noticed, but she had wrapped her pelvic fins up around his bottom and her hands around his waist. His rocking and pushing was as much her pulling him in.

He noticed her holding her breath. “I got this,” he assured her. Finally he pushed and could get no further. He pulled almost all the way out, then pushed all the way in, seeming to measure how much stroke he had. “Yeah, this is fine.” He ground out a rhythm, slowly at first.

She was taken with how gentle he was at the bottom of each stroke, clearly not wanting to hurt her. She looked up at him and he smiled back so lovingly, she felt like she would melt under his touch. She looked down and guessed he was getting about halfway in. He seemed pretty happy with that. She was ecstatic. She finally felt like they were really mating.

For all of the attention she had focused on length, she still wasn’t feeling much for width, which was key for her pleasure. “Can I try something a little different?” She slipped her tail out from under her and rotated her pelvis to the side. This let her bend herself more open to him.

He watched as she squirmed into position, then nodded his agreement. “Sideways,” he commented. He grabbed his member to guide it, and she gasped at how his lifting pressure rode right along her inner sides where she wanted him. He rolled his hips and pushed it up into her, smiling at the fit. His width finally was hitting her sides right. She reached around and held him, though at an angle, with her pelvic fins.

He sped up his stroke, and she could feel the muscles of her pelvis squeezing against him inside her, caressing his length, sucking him in with each hastening thrust. Her breathing quickened as did his pumping.

She let go of his buttocks with her fins and let him take over the now frantic pace. He was sweating all over, and his skin glistened in the orange light of sunset. She was amused how he smelled musky in his exertion, like seaweed. He breathed in short, forceful blasts through his nose, while she found herself gasping for air through her mouth. She felt powerful, rhythmic waves of tension roll out of her hips and down her tail. She loosened her hands around his waist, grabbed him by his powerful shoulders above her, leaned her head back, and just let him take her.

After what seemed a blissful eternity of flailing abandon, he grabbed her pelvis hard and pushed one final deep thrust. Suddenly she felt a flood of warmth rushing up inside of her. She wrapped her fins and arms and tail around him and held him tight, savoring the muscular pulsing. He held his breath and twitched his whole body against her.

The waves down her tail mellowed to ripples. She took a deep, shaky breath and smiled up at him. “Told you we could make it work.”

He scooped her up in his arms and leaned over her in a long tight embrace which she returned eagerly. He held her there for a long moment while she reveled in the sheer joy.

Jay Hartlove starting writing professionally in the gaming industry with Supergame in 1980. He blogs about spirituality and teaches seminars on the craft of writing. His short fiction has appeared twice in the Hugo Award winning Drink Tank. Jay's first published novel, The Chosen, won Best Thriller at the Independent eBook Awards in 2011. Daughter Cell is a medical thriller and the next in the Isis Rising trilogy. The third and final of the Sanantha Mauwad mysteries is called Isis Rising, and should be out in 2015. In 2013 Jay was selected as one of the "50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading," by The Authors Show.

The extensive research that went into The Chosen is up on the book's website in a playful, interactive Tarot Card spread at www.jaywrites.com. Jay is also posting chapters as they are done to a serial fantasy romance called Mermaid Steel. He has also written a musical sequel to Snow White called The Mirror's Revenge. All of these projects have their own Facebook fan pages. "Like" them to stay up to date.

  • The Chosen is available here. Its Facebook page can be found here.
  • Daughter Cell is available here.
  • Mermaid Steel can be read free here. Its Facebook page can be found here.
  • Facebook page for Mirror's Revenge can be found here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Interview with Screenwriter/Producer Travis Milloy

I had the chance to get an interview with real, live Hollywood screenwriter Travis Milloy. He's worked all over Hollywood for years now, and I personally know him best as the man who created the concept of Pandorum, which is one of my favorite Sci-Fi/Horror movies.

Just look at this trailer.

I saw Pandorum in theaters and it completely blew me away. But enough about that. Let's get on to the interview with Travis.

The benevolent Travis Milloy, on the set of Pandorum.

What made you start writing manuscripts?

I kinda fell into it out of necessity. I wanted to make a movie and couldn't afford to buy a script so I wrote my own. I've been making movies since I was a kid and could always come up with little stories, so it was challenging to write a feature. I wrote a film and directed it back in the 90's. I got an agent after that and he said "I want to represent you as a writer." I told him I didn't really want to be a writer and hadn't really considered that as a career. I actually didn't think I was qualified, I didn't consider myself a very good writer and I had a lot to learn. He talked me into it and that's how I got started.

What was your big break?

It was a script I wrote called "The Division", a spy thriller. It was the script that a lot of people in Hollywood read and it paved my career. It really got me into the business, people hired me because they had read that script. Several studios tried to get the movie produced but it never happened, mainly because it's an unorthodox story, very different but apparently too different to make as a mainstream movie. It's a script I plan on directing, hopefully someday, probably one of my best scripts, even though it was one of the first scripts I wrote.

If this job had fallen through, what would you be doing? (or like to be doing, if you had a choice?)

Well, this job falls through every week, ha ha. Seriously, I don't know what else I would do. I'd work in the film industry in some capacity, because it's the one thing I love more then anything. When I started out, I worked in every job possible in film. I was a production assistant, a location scout, camera operator, editor, stuntman, special effects coordinator, etc. You name it, I did it. One of the only places I'm truly content is on a film set. Doesn't matter what job I have, I live for it.

What's been your favorite film the work on?

Every project is different and an adventure in different ways. Pandorum was a blast because we shot in Berlin and the sets were incredible. I'd have to say the movie I had the best experience writing is a suspense thriller called "Ice House", which I wrote last year. It was a really fun script to write because I really challenged myself, giving myself certain restraints, to see if I could tell an intriguing story with specific limitations. Two men in a fish house, one night. Could I take that type of self contained scenario and make something thrilling, funny, suspenseful and unexpected? I'd never been so pleased with the result. They just finished filming it a few weeks ago.

What's the process of writing a script like?

Each project is different. Mostly I think about some kind of interesting scenario or moment. It can be something very small and it can end up being anywhere in the story, in the start, middle or ending. I work around the small idea and then expand it into a full story. I'm a little bit different from my fellow writers in that I don't like to create too much of an outline. Normally I just like to have an idea and start writing and just see what happens with very little idea of where it's going. It's a risky way to write because it's really easy to paint yourself into a corner and not know how to finish it. But it's the technique that works for me, because it forces me to go places unexpected. If I plan out the story too much with outlines and treatments, then it just feels forced and contrived. This makes it difficult to work with studios because they want to know everything before you begin writing. Normally I write specs, my own stuff and then try to sell them. I don't like to pitch ideas and develop scripts the traditional way because it's a long and tiresome road. I'd rather just write it and hope someone likes it.


Pandorum was the first script I wrote where I had no idea where it was going. I just started with a guy waking up and pretended I was him, not knowing anything, not remembering anything and just watched to see what would happen. I had no idea how to end the movie and was writing the story when they look out the cockpit window in the end and didn't know what was going to happen right up to that point. I stopped, took the dog for a walk and thought of the idea for the ship being underwater. I ran home and finished. It was such a great experience, now I normally only write the same way. Of course, that's why I have so many unfinished scripts on my computer because most of the time you get stuck and don't know how to end it or halfway through you just lose interest and don't find the story that compelling. But when it does come together, it's the best feeling ever. 


How much control do you get over the creation of the script?

Most of time it's all on me because I write specs. Occasionally I'll get hired to write someone else's concept or adapt a novel, but mostly I just write my own ideas. And with that it's all up to me. There's positives and negatives to that. I do like to collaborate and work with other people, so writing specs can get you pretty isolated in the creative process.

Do you have any other creative endeavors besides script writing and directing?

Not really. Writing takes up so much of my time, when I'm not writing I spend time with friends and family and need to "shut off" the creative thing. I really try to limit the amount of time sitting at the computer but mostly I'll spend at least eight to ten hours a day at the keyboard.

Drawing. I do storyboard most of my own scripts. I'm not the greatest artist but a lot of the time I'll storyboard while I'm writing a script. Drawing the movie makes me think of things I wouldn't have with writing alone.

How did Somnio come about?

It started as a script idea I had years ago about death row in the future, where everything is computerized and automated, even the executions. I'd worked on it for awhile. Originally it was about a whole death row, a dozen men and women, having to live together with nothing more then a computer controlling their lives and fate. A few years later I wanted to do a very self-contained, very simple but thrilling story for a low budget. I thought about the prison script and shifted it to tell the story of only one prisoner, stuck in an automated prison, not knowing if the outside world was still there or not and needing to escape. Once I set on that idea, the script took off and I knew I wanted to make the film. Once I met Chris Kelly, the actor who will star, I was convinced I could tell such a story with only one man taking up so much screen time alone. Before I met Chris, I wasn't sure the movie would work. It's definitely a challenge to try and tell a story with mainly only one actor.

Is Somnio a one-time thing, or will you be directing more films in the future?

Well, hopefully it won't be a one-time thing but with this business, you never know if the project your working on could be your last, you never know. I have several scripts that I plan on directing and would love the opportunity to make but the film business is tricky. You can spend a lifetime trying to get one movie to the screen and never see it happen. I'm just thankful for the things I've been a part of so far and hope to continue as long as I can. Even if I never get another movie made, I'll always write. I really cherish the process, even though it can be a punishing and lonely craft.

Do you have a 'dream script'? A book or idea you'd absolutely love to help develop into a film?

I have a few. There's a few true stories I would love to develop, occasionally I come across a book I think would be a fascinating script but mostly I just stick to my own collection of ideas. I usually come up with a few story ideas every week. Most don't go anywhere, some I'll work on for awhile and they'll die a slow death somewhere in my hard drive and then there's the ones I can't stop thinking about. If I can't stop thinking about it after a few weeks, I know there's something there. Those are the ones I continue to work on, some get completed, some don't.

There is one script that stands out above the rest, I've been working on it for years. It's my dream script but it's also the biggest pain in my ass because I don't know how to tell the story in the right way. It's the thorn in my side, which I think every writer has. It's the one I struggle with the most but also the one that won't go away. I know it could be epic if only I could "crack" it. Occasionally I'll pull it out and mess with it, but whatever I do isn't good enough for it so I put it away and it seems to wait for me. It haunts me because I think it's my best idea, yet I'm not smart enough to give it the story it deserves. Someday hopefully I'll be able to finish it. That would be a dream. Ha.

SOMNIO Teaser Image

Currently, Travis is working on an independent Sci-Fi/Thriller film called SOMNIO. I'm extremely excited for the film and wish Travis the best of luck with it.

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