Thursday, February 25, 2010

Zombie On!

As the author of a soon to be released zombie novel (The Ravening via Elder Signs Press) I worried about this. What if I couldn't dress up like a zombie, I asked. What if I couldn't shuffle down the street scaring small children? Well thank God this issue has been dealt with. Apparently in  Minnesota, a U.S. Court of Appeals, in a three to one ruling, decided that anyone has the right to be the walking dead.

The case came about as a group of people were arrested for disorderly conduct. Apparently their makeup and their behavior was unsettling. Actually, the group was protesting rampant consumerism during the 2006 Aquatennial (I have no idea). The judges decided they were exercising their right to freedom of expression and that the seven zombies had the right to pursue their requested $50,000 in damages each. Well, at least they have their integrity.

So as a lover of zombies, all I can do is pump my rotting fist and cry out "Arr--gghghh--hhh!!!" Unfortunately, the dead's vocal chords don't always function properly. If I could, I would stomp my dead feet and shout: "Zombie on, brothers and sisters!!! Zombie on!!!"

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Tireless Imagination

I leaned forward and said: "When I was a kid I remember sitting in the living room and watching the lunar module touch down."

He nodded at me with a thirteen year old's patience.

"I used to stare at the stars in the sky and imagine we would have moon-bases and trips to Mars. I imagined flights beyond the solar system and meeting other citizens of the galaxy."

I could tell he thought me quaint.

"What future do you imagine?" I asked.

With bland acceptance he said: "2012".

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Waxing About The Marketplace

I sat one night and listened to a Detroit classic rock radio station. A rocker was being interviewed by a DJ who kept talking about dinosaur rock and why the music business struggles in the face of downloads, etc, etc, and blah blah. But one thing that fascinated me was the rocker, who specifically discussed deliberately recording on mediocre equipment and listening to it on equally mediocre sound systems.

"I don't want to know how we'll sound on high end stuff. Everybody sounds great on high end. I want to know how we'll sound on some piece of crap somebody buys at the department store or at a local drug store."

When I first heard that, I thought it to be rather profound, for about ten seconds. Still, like most things I encounter, I tried to apply it to writing. Of course, I immediately considered the analogy of writing for the mass market v. writing for my own artistic integrity. I know they can work together, but I started asking myself, "what would be the equivalent of testing the product in a literary setting?" I'm not a marketing expert and I don't have the resources to have someone test my material for me with a prospective sampling of fans.

There's no single answer to this. I suppose one can join a writing group of peers, trying to find people who are close to the market you are trying to reach. One can put samples of writing on the net or on the blog and see what the response might be. There are countless forums and message boards around, but again, I'm not sure of the integrity of those responses, especially if the responses come from other writers who are looking at your work as competition, and with a jaundiced, critical eye.

I suppose there is no substitute to reading a niche as a reader and knowing what that reader wants. If you're going to write a zombie novel, you should know what's working in horror and what's not. You should also have some sense of what elements of a zombie novel are popular with readers. What made Romero's film work as opposed to some of the other low budget pieces that crumble from within. One can argue there is no commonality between film and writing, but both rely on character, timing, and theme to help suck a reader in and deliver a promising work.

Just thinking out loud...hoping to pacify the voices in my head telling me to do something horrible with peanut butter and under-arm deodorant (if you know what I mean).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Avenues of Expression

Yep, I changed the blog again..back to black. The last color setting was a bit too cheery. This feels right, and so does the banner.

I have been working on "digital storytelling" --- something that is being used a bit by language arts teachers to encourage their students to express themselves using technology. It could be something as simple as stringing together a bunch of pictures with music or dialogue, or it could be producing video or mixing other media. Frankly, I think it's a high-falootin' term which some folk use to justify expression in lieu of the self-discipline and patience necessary to sit down and write a work of fiction, or to read something, for that matter. Most digital storytelling is passive, after all. Watching something produced on "movie maker" is akin to watching a show on t.v.

Here is a short video on the topic...

All this being said, we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss the digital storyteller. Perhaps what we need to do is step back and consider some of the potential. What if we separate, for a moment, broaden the role of writer and give him a few more hats. Why not make digital storytelling a form of performance art that incorporates all manner of medium.

Here is an example. You buy a book at a store, or download one online. You read a chapter and at the end of the chapter you are encouraged to log onto a website that is a companion piece for the book. Logging onto the site and registering triggers a sequence of activities. Perhaps you can watch video of a backstory for the characters of the novel. Or a program, depending on responses you give on the website, has one of the characters in the novel call you at home or on your cell phone. This would be a voice recording, of course. Or perhaps you would start receiving email from that character.

Interactive novels have been done before. Most of them have been for young adults, based on role play games, with a question at the end of a chapter: "Do you open the door? Then turn to page 35. If not, read the next chapter. Sort of a computer program model. Still, it raises the question, are there other methods of stepping outside the printed page and the traditional reader-writer relationship?

Watching the above video, you probably thought: "But all they are talking about is a form of  'show and tell', a multimedia narcissism. They're just slapping an old concept with a new term because it now has a technology component. True. But that doesn't mean there aren't pathways for the writer to explore as another form of expression, or better yet, a way to promote one's work. In the next few weeks I'll be putting up a small promo for "The Ravening", for instance.

There are many wonderful avenues for expression as a way to promote and complement one's writing. I say why not have fun with it and try and explore the possibilities?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Writing Community

I have received word from the HWA (Horror Writers Association), that I am now an "active" member. This means I am now able to vote for the Bram Stoker award. I'm looking forward to becoming more involved with the organization, mostly because I think networking and mentoring are important to the writing community, inside and outside the genre.

As a writer I am driven to read other's work and offer suggestions, to share opportunities for submission and publication when they become known to me, and to offer encouragement when possible. Maybe it's the teacher in me. Still, I think it's hard enough to face the task of succeeding as a writer, of facing your true greatest obstacle (yourself), and the towering wall that is the world of publishing, without someone to help cheer you on and to give you a gentle push. Even if I never publish at the level I strive toward and even if the person I am encouraging has no readers other than those in a local writer's group, it's good to know that we are part of a network and community.

So let me pause and offer thanks to some people who have given me a helping hand, who keep me pushing forward. First, William and Deborah Jones, Rick Ferrell, Chuck Zaglanis and Kevin Music (we slyly call ourselves the Midwest Genre Society). Also Jon Zech (who has been with me through many writers' groups---many of which I think I had a hand in destroying) and the members of the Writers-by-the-Woods. And of course my wife Jamie, who actually likes my writing. Go figure.

It's good having friends.
And Grasshopper (you know who you are), keep your eye on the ball.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Keep It All

Let's write about writing.

I finished a horror story called "Night Vision", about a woman seeking to cure her boy of blindness, with the help of a strange "hoodoo" woman by the swamp. And now I'm sitting down to rework something called "The Lunchbag", a short story written to beat another writer over the head in a writers' workshop (hey, different things motivate and the buffoon deserved it).

I've changed much as a writer since these two stories were first written (although as a person, I think I may have regressed emotionally), and I think the changes I'm making will help sell them.  Which brings me to the point of the posting... never throw away or delete anything you've written. And for God's sake remember to regularly back things up.

When you write, whether you're just playing with paragraphs that never go anywhere, or actually trying to craft something around an outline, put it in a folder. Call it "misc" or "junk" or "works in progress". And  revisit it every so often to see if things have changed or if they can provide some new element of inspiration. Of course, if you revisit your old work and don't feel you have anything to change, then you might want to rethink your growth as a writer.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


I went to see my doctor because I needed a refill on a couple of prescriptions. It's a game we play. He won't give me a refill unless I come in. It's his way of getting his hands on me.

"I should probably have a blood test," I said. "Oh, and can you give me that test they do for prostates?" As soon as I said this, my doctor's eyes lit up and out came the industrial strength glove. I should have kept my mouth shut. I won't describe this process, other than to say I regained a limberness I hadn't had since high school.
"And we'll have to do an ultrasound?"

I've had ultrasounds, so I wasn't concerned. Until he showed me where and how they planned to accomplish this. "I get drugs right?" I asked.

"No, no. You'll just clean yourself out with an enema and we'll send something up there. It's nothing."

"I'm not doing this. Give me a colonoscopy. Give me drugs, then we can talk."

"You have blood in your stool, you're going for the test."

"I've had cancer before," I argued. "What the hell? Besides, I've had my H1N1 shot."

I thought I had won the argument. Then he called my wife. Are they allowed to do that?

So...Feb 8th.