April 30, 2009

Esquire Fiction

I was skulking through the blogosphere on Wednesday, soaking up a rare day in the computer lab at the local C@P site, when I happened upon a little post with the words "Short Story Contest" in the heading. That caught my eye in a flash. So, I clicked on it to end up at Finding Neverland: The Writing YA Weblog.

They caught wind from Powell's Book News that Esquire is holding a short story contest right now for the new fiction section on their website. You can click HERE to check it out. I for one look forward to crafting some kind of story to send to them. It's just a shame that all submitted stories instantly become the property of the contest's sponsor—if it didn't win, I'd have liked the option to submit the story elsewhere under a different title. Then again, I guess that's to be expected since one of the criteria for the contest is the title must be one of three choices put out by Esquire.

The story titles are: 1) Twenty-Ten; 2) An Insurrection; 3) Never, Ever Bring That Up Again.

A date, a thing, and a statement, as it was laid out. Just pick any title you want and write a story of no more than 4,000 words. And, hey, if writing a story which could potentially win and be published by Esquire isn't enough to get all you writers interested, maybe the grand prize of $2,500 US will.

Good luck, everybody.

April 29, 2009

Fave Five: Horror Novels

I've conceded in the past that I am not as well read as I would like to be. It's the cross I bear as a man who wasted too many years in his teens and twenties treating books as some kind of target for my derision. I'm reading now, however, and it's like rediscovering a treasure you can't imagine why you ever abandoned in the first place.

I keep coming back to horror stories in my reading, though I cast a wide net when looking for reading material. I may have started off by reading
The Dark Half by Stephen King, but I've indulged in the works of Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Elmore Leonard, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Wolfe, E. Anne Proulx, Frederick Pohl, Ed Gorman, J.K. Rowling, Alice Sebold, and others. Even now, I'm casting my net even wider to check out the works of newer authors like Cassandra Clare and Jaye Wells.

But, let's stick with the horror novel for now. I've got some favorites I'd like to share. My favorite five, as it were. I'm sure this list will change as I read more and more novels, but I don't think there's anything shameful about the way the list shapes up at present.

The Dark Half by Stephen KingThis is a sentimental pick of sorts. I can't even remember who gave me the book, but I was looking for a King novel back then, to get my feet wet, and this is what I got. A writer has "buried" his pseudonym persona in a promotional setting, but soon finds his life turned upside down when the alter ego he used for his darker writing comes to life and starts killing people. Things don't help his cause any when the mysterious killer bares a striking resemblance to our famous author—right down to the fingerprints. The whole tale culminates with a showdown between the tormented writer and his "dark half" who wants to get back to writing his masterpiece.

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker – This was the first novel of Barker's I had a chance to read, and I was not disappointed. There are moments when it feels like you're reading poetry with this guy. This epic of a novel centers on two eternal forces struggling for dominance, and wreaking having on each and every life they touch in the process. To think this grand tale starts off in a dingy little mailroom is noteworthy to me, because the story sweeps through so many settings of ever-growing grandeur, you have to really appreciate the scope of it all. I did at any rate. With one novel, I became a fan of Clive Barker.

Watchers by Dean KoontzI've read a few Dean Koontz novels, and I must be honest, his fiction is hit-or-miss with me. Velocity is a great tale of a serial killer, but Sole Survivor didn't interest me in the slightest. And, those Odd Thomas is shaping up to becoming my favorite Koontz novel yet, Watchers takes the prize for now ... and with a super-intelligent dog, no less. The premise as a simple logline might seem cheesy and ripe with clich├ęs, but it's really a very intense novel. And, the monster in the story is tremendous.

I Am Legend by Richard MathesonOkay, this technically qualifies as a novella while the others in this list are full-length novels. Cut me a little slack. This is an amazing story. Forget The Omega Man and forget Will Smith. Those films may be good, but this one-hundred-plus page story about a lone man against a horde of ravenous vampires is a classic by all accounts. I saw both of the movies before I ever got around to reading Matheson's work. While I enjoyed both films, I wonder if I might be as forgiving for the interpretations and creative license by the directors if I had read the novella first.

Cell by Stephen KingWhen my sister recommended this novel to me, the title was an instant turn-off. I did not enjoy the movie of the same name, and while I realized at the time the two stories were in no way related, I despised the idea of cellular phones being used as a plot device. One Missed Call is testament to that, as far as I'm concerned. However, I ended up adoring this story more than any other King tale I've had the pleasure to read. Forget the title, it's not important. What's at the heart of this story is the consistently eery and terrifying atmosphere the characters go through, as they to survive a world that's literally gone mad. What's more, this is one of the few pieces of literature, film, or music to bring an actual tear to my eye. It's the only horror novel to accomplish that, so that must mean something. If you're curious what scene got my tear ducts to squeeze out a little moisture, I'll simply say it was the point when one of the characters dies a very slow and heart-wrenching death. This was a home run, without a doubt.

Five more on my to-be-read list:
The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum; The Ideal, Genuine Man by Don Robertson; Everville by Clive Barker; Red Dragon by Thomas Harris; The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King

Five more on my wish list:
The Shining by Stephen King; Hell House by Richard Matheson; Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber; The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff; Ghoul by Brian Keene

Tinkering and Puttering

I found a new template for this blog. The last one was alright, but it was a bugger to edit, and this new one looks to be right up my alley--simple and elegant. Well, I may not be so elegant, but at least I'm simple.

I found yet another book contest over at Fantastic Book Review. Actually, there are six books up for grabs in six separate contests. There's only another week or so left in the contest, so if you like free books then you may want to click here. And, during my browsing of the blog, I've discovered an even more recent contest here with even more books to be won. Yay books!

I sent out my first short story for consideration with a periodical. The trickiest part was finding an appropriate publisher. It's not straight horror, but I wouldn't classify it as fantasy. It's more of a dark tale of terror than anything else, so I had to find a periodical with a penchant for stories like that. I think I've picked out a good one, as they've got some short stories on their site which follow a similar vein to mine. Next ... the waiting game. Fingers crossed.

While that story is off on it's first journey, it's time to get another one set to ship out. I've got a couple sitting on my computer in the mid-stage I have had fun writing, but I want to give them each another draft before I think about submitting them. It's a bugger when you think a story is good enough to submit, then see the tiniest thing that ruins it for your eyes ... and you start wondering how an editor would react.

Speaking of contests earlier, I found yet another one on Ty Schwamberger's blog for a chance to win a book by Richard Laymon. Horror fans may want to check this one out. Click here.

April 28, 2009

The Heat Is On

Oh my lord, it's hot today. I'm not sure what the Fahrenheit temperature is, but it's 26 Celsius. That's a spike in day-to-day temperature, because it was barely 15C yesterday, and there was snow on the hilltops just a couple of weeks ago. No such thing as global warming? Alright, buddy, have fun keeping your head in the sand. Heck, maybe it's a good way to beat the heat.

I'm not a small guy, so the less heat and humidity, the better. I almost melted into the pavement last year, so I already don't like my chances headed into this summer. Bring on the Slimfast shakes and garden salads ... sans dressing. (insert sad face here)

Thankfully, the pinched nerve in my neck has eased off with a little "Magic Bag" treatment. The numbness in my two fingers isn't nearly as persistent as it was on Saturday. The hand has been feeling downright normal today, so I'm pleased. I'm not sure if it's my terrible desk chair or my terrible box spring, but something needs to change lest I end up looking like Quasimodo before the end of the year.

Ah, I'm just being paranoid. Not as paranoid as the people losing their senses over Swine Flu, though. I almost threw something at my television last night when I heard a so-called journalist ask a doctor if she could get Swine Flu from eating pork. I'm no brainiac, but I at least have enough common sense to know I won't catch Swine Flu from eating a Wendy's Baconator.

April 27, 2009

Entering Some More Book Contests

I've downloaded everything I need for the week, though I still need to send off a short story this week I have been refining. Fingers crossed there.

Over at The Epic Rat, there's a contest for a trio of books by Lisa Shearin (click here to read). I'm unfamiliar with the author, but the trilogy of stories looks interesting. Thanks to Cassandra Clare and Jaye Wells getting me into the urban fantasy style of books, I think these Shearin books could prove to be a good read as well.

There's another huge giveaway contest over at Steph Su Reads. I discovered this one thanks to Laina's Book Contest Links. Her site is a keeper for my blogroll now. :) The contest is open worldwide, so there's no harm in taking a peek.

Another contest is over at Mrs. Magoo Reads, here. There's a chance to win a book from a choice of three. I'd be torn between The Graveyard Book and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I've heard about both of these and they each sound fantastic.

And, finally, there's a contest happening at Bitten By Books. There's an interview with author, Maria V. Snyder, about her new novel, Storm Glass. A guy could get used to reading literature aimed at teen girls, though I think I may end up on some kind of FBI watch list if I read too much of it. :)

April 24, 2009

No Good Deed

I read an interesting blog post the other day on Storytellers Unplugged by Deborah LeBlanc, called "Five in One." It deals with five life lessons everyone should keep in mind during their day-to-day life. While I think the meaning behind each anecdote is valid and should be kept in mind by us all, a couple kind of irked me with a lack of altruistic intent, focusing more on tangible reward.

The second of the five lessons, titled "Pickup in the Rain", involved a white man picking up a stranded black woman in a rain storm, in Alabama, in the middle of the night no less. The example showed a guy we presuppose could be less than inclined to offer assistance to a black person, and we think it's great because it shows people overcoming racial barriers and simply doing a kind act. However, the kicker of the story isn't that, but the reward of a big-screen TV to the white man from the black woman, who turned out to be Mrs. Nat King Cole. So, is the deed somehow less worthy of attention had the guy not been given an extravagant gratuity? It feels like the thing to take away from the story is: Be good to strangers because one of them might be rich. What a horrible way to go through life.

The fourth story followed the same line of thinking. Titled "The Obstacle in Our Path", a king leaves a boulder in the middle of the road to see if anyone will remove it. Everyone simply goes around, cursing the king for not keeping the roads clear, until a single peasant sets down his load to move the boulder so he and everyone can pass. And, lo and behold, the king had hidden a sack of gold coins under the boulder gifted to whomever moved the big rock. Again, the deed is only considered worth doing since there's a reward at the end. Ugh. If the king hadn't left the sack of gold there, are we to think the peasant is a chump? I don't. Sure, he was rewarded for his actions, which is nice in that good deeds are appreciated, but the reward in is the action and not the potential prize. This lesson, too, was lost on me.

Now, the other three stories mentioned in the five lessons deal with truly kind and unselfish intentions and deeds. No rewards, gifts, or fancy perks. Just doing good things in life because they're the right things to do. If someone is committing an act of kindness in hopes of getting some juicy payday for all their "hard work", they're doing it for the wrong reasons and I would hope they get what they really deserve. Nothing.

I'm no ambassador of goodwill or great benefactor for the needy, but when I do something seen as kind or selfless, I'm not looking for anything more than maybe a thank-you or a friendly nod. If I expected a TV every time I helped a hitchhiker, I'd be ... well ... a horrible human being. And, I don't think Deborah LeBlanc is horrible—far from it, as she's apparently quite a gentle soul, judging by what she wrote—but I do think a couple of those stories are less edifying than the others.

April 23, 2009

Fave Five: Horror Flicks

I don't apologize for being a fan of horror movies. I shouldn't have to. Frankly, it's not so much I categorize myself as a fan of that specific genre, but a fan of quality movies. Unlike so many people, I don't look down my nose at certain genres. If I think a movie is good, it doesn't matter which section I rented it from. The Notebook is about as chick-flicky as it gets, but I thought it was a damned good movie. And, I'll wager quite a few men enjoyed it too, but are too pent up with their machismo to admit it.

While critics and the tamer movie fans dismiss horror movies, I tend to give them a more serious-minded consideration. Are there bad horror movies? Yes, of course there are, and what's more ... there are some out-and-out abominable ones—the remake of
House of Wax springs to mind. However, the film industry has come out with some stellar offerings over the years. The best of which I would put up against any Citizen Kane, Dr. Strangelove, or Terms of Endearment you would care to throw at me.

To give examples of what great horror movies look like, allow me to list my five all-time favorites in the genre. Some might be classified in other genres, or be considered less horror than suspense, but it's my list. If you don't like it, make your own.

From Dusk Til DawnI think I adore this movie so much because I was one of those people who had no idea it existed until my college buddies picked it up at Blockbuster one weekend, and had my jaw dropped when the swerve came halfway through. No one told me what it was about. I never saw trailers or heard a thing about the vampire twist. I was expecting classic Tarentino fare with gangsters and guns. I got that. But, I got so much more, and I could still sit down and watch the entire movie again just for the moment when Salma Hayek goes all bloodsucky on them.

The Ring/RinguAmerican or Japanese, it doesn't matter, because this is one scary-ass movie. One of the few times where I can tolerate subtitles in my movie-watching. Both versions managed very well to maintain an unsettling sense of dread and terror through most of the movie, and kept it from being overwrought or melodramatic. Sure, there were moments where I watched and silently berated characters with, "Don't do that! Don't go in there!" All things considered though, it's still a fantastic thrill ride ... and "the tape" still creeps me out thoroughly.

Dawn of the Dead (2004)My favorite zombie movie. Ever. The group of people trapped in the mall were such a random assortment of potential stereotypes and one-dimensional characters, but it worked. Thanks to the writing, and the acting chops of Ving Rhames and Sarah Polley, I cared about whether these strangers lived or died. Even the slimier ones like the mall cops. I can't recall ever seeing the original, but I doubt I'd love it more than this. And, frankly, I find many of the other Romero offerings fall short of the mark. Blasphemy? Perhaps.

The ShiningThe TV mini-series was good, but the motion picture starring Jack Nicholson was great. If you've ever been snowed in with your family for a single weekend, imagine an entire winter with only Mom and Dad for company. As frightening a prospect as that is, Stephen King's classic ups the ante with one of the scariest haunted houses ever. I mean, c'mon ... an elevator full of blood? Jiminy Christmas, when I was a boy I didn't want anything to do with elevators until I was in my teens, thanks to that scene.

The ThingIf Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China weren't enough to put Kurt Russel near the top of my list for favorite actors, this masterpiece of a horror flick definitely does. Some may be nostalgic over the original from the 1950s (or was it early 60s?), but the remake by John Carpenter is the dog's bullocks. Take a crew of men into the arctic, strand them in a life-threatening blizzard (I sense a weather theme), and toss in a shape-shifting alien for good measure ... and you've got yourself one of the most spine-tingling horror/suspense/sci-fi movies to ever hit the silver screen.

Some honorable mentions go to:
Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness, Saw, 30 Days of Night, and Event Horizon.

How Many Zeros Is That?!

Yesterday, as I was checking out a couple of blogs, I came upon Helen Ginger's blog, Straight From Hel, and read something she picked up from the Wall Street Journal. A wine retailer from New Jersey has signed a ten-book deal with Harper Studio worth seven figures. He's not a writer, and isn't much of a reader. So, how'd he get such a huge payday? Twitter.

Oh. My. Lord.

The guy started a video blog on Twitter, chronicling his wine practices, and it turned into a self-help phenomenon with nearly 150,000 followers. After meeting with the Harper Studio big-wigs, he had them eating from his palm. And, the millions he will make up front is potentially nothing compared to what he will make in the long term, as he is going to take home half of the revenue from the books sold.

I'm not sure if I'm elated for the guy or insanely jealous. Can I be both?

April 22, 2009

I Heart American Literature

I just stumbled across a new gem of a website. AmericanLiterature.com

At home, I have a hardcover collection of Shirley Jackson's short stories, which I found a couple months ago at a library sale. A great find for someone looking to familiarize himself with the classics, yet the book didn't have the one short story everyone says is must read. That being, "The Lottery."

Well, I found it. And, I see a whole lot more at this site. Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Roald Dahl, Mark Twain ... you name it. So, now I have one more resource for literary finery. In case you haven't seen this site yet, yourself, I recommend you check it out and do yourself a favor by reading a couple classics.

April 21, 2009

Random Rants

- Neil Gaiman posted something this week that made me smile. When asked if there was an American Gods movie in the works, he broke a lot of hearts by admitting there was no such movie happening yet, as no one has purchased film rights to the novel—sad news in a sense, because it's a great story. But, my smile came with his final sentence on the topic.

"I'm currently working on the ANANSI BOYS film script, though."

That, ladies and gentlemen, made my day. I may have to wait years and years to see
Anansi Boys on the silver screen, but you can bet your ass I'll buy a ticket when one of my all-time favorite novels gets turned into a movie. Thank you, Neil.

- I used some of my credit at the local used-book store to pick up
The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre. Impulse buy. I went in there to see if they had Wilbur Smith's River God—one of my aunt swears I have to read the apparent third book of Smith's Egyptian series, The Quest. No sign of it, but that guy has a huge bibliography. I notice that sometimes when browsing the shelves—an entire shelf of a single author's work, and I haven't read a single title. Clive Cussler is another name I always see, yet have never bothered to read. Someday maybe, but for now Le Carre just got added to my "To Read" list.

- My blogroll is growing every week, it seems, and many of them are more than just a decent read ... their damn-near indispensable to me and my own writing education. One of the more recent blogs I've come to really love, even though I'm not presently writing crime fiction of any sort, is Lee Lofland's The Graveyard Shift. I stumbled across his blog through someone else's blogroll, after seeing he had a review of
Castle. I haven't seen an episode of the show yet, but I'm a Nathan Fillion fan and Lofland's critiques on the procedural aspect of the show is immeasurably enlightening, so I'm going to check the show out next time it's on.

- I can't remember how old I was when I read
Where The Wild Things Are, but I can tell you I'll be in my thirties when I see the film. God damn, I'm on the bandwagon for this one. It looks gorgeous.

- I watched
Fringe tonight. Was in the mood for something a little sci-fi, I guess. I hadn't watched the show since it first aired, as there's only a handful of shows I do watch regularly. Not bad. Interesting storyline involving contagious emotions, but I think I saw something like that once before. Star Trek: TNG? Anywho ... didn't hate the episode. Might watch the show again sometime.

- I checked out WordSmith.org's Anagram Generator and checked out my full name today. Some entertaining results. If you've never tried it before, give it a shot. You might be surprised what that generator can come up with. I was.

- Stephen King is coming out with another epic novel, according to an article I read on the Guardian. Click here to read it for yourself. It'll be over 1,100 pages and will tell the tale of a town in Maine—shocking, right?--that's suddenly trapped within a force field. This is the first I've ever heard tell of this novel, but I'm curious at any rate. I once had a similar story idea, in that I tried to envision Earth trapped within a forcefield. I gotta say, localizing the premise to a single town is much more intriguing. But, I think I'm gonna hold off until it's in paperback. There's only so much room in the house.

April 19, 2009

In The Mood For Capers

Sure, I'm writing horror stories and other weird tales, but it's not the only genre I'm interested in. In the grand scheme of things, I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to reading books. The world has a head start on me, and it feels like I'm playing catch-up a lot of the time—my own damned fault, to be perfectly honest, since I spent so much of college life avoiding literature.

I read horror, yes, but I like science-fiction too. I enjoy a good western. Classic literature is not out of the question either, as I hold Charles Dickens and Mark Twain in very high regard. Fantasy novels can be fun, and I could even stomach certain chick lit if need be. Aside from erotica, I've probably read at least one novel from every genre. If you get into sub-genres though, you're probably going to lose me.

This weekend, Ocean's Eleven with George Clooney and Brad Pitt was on television. I still love that movie, so I avoided shoveling dirt in my driveway for a while to watch it. After the closing credits rolled and I was toiling with those ungodly ruts in the driveway, I got to thinking about the fact I have yet to read a caper novel. Not one.

I know they're out there. They have to be. If movies like
Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, and Snatch can do well at the box office, surely there are successful novels as well. For a guy who hasn't stumbled upon any titles in this sub-genre, I have to ask: Where the hell are they?

I guess I'll just have to hit up Amazon or Google to see what I can find. In the meantime, if anyone happens upon this blog and can recommend a couple of titles or a superb author to me, I'd appreciate it.

April 18, 2009

Hey, Four Eyes!

I can barely keep my head on straight some days, and now I'm told I need to wear glasses. Great.

I had an eye exam this week, finally, after months of putting it off and suffering through less than spectacular vision. I'm not in Mr. Magoo territory, mind you, but I think all these years of staring into a computer monitor have caught up with me.

My first hint came when I worked on someone's computer and used that magnifying button on the side of the mouse. I was no eagle-eye in my life, but I used to be able to pick out an object from quite a distance while traversing the woods. Nowadays, I'm bleary eyed at times just looking at road signs. Not great.

So, now I need to save some dough and get some frames. Yahoo. Oh well, I guess it'll just end up being my way of helping to stimulate the economy.

Damn you, carrots. You didn't help at all. From now on, a pox on orange vegetables.

April 17, 2009

Book Contests

I entered a book contest over at Starry Night. The deadline is tonight though, so if anyone is looking to enter it then you better hurry. The winner receives a copy of Brooke Taylor's novel, Undone.

There was another one for a couple of books at Carrie's YA Bookshelf - Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Kelley Armstrong's The Summoning. This contest is open until the end of April, so I'd recommend jumping over there and scoping out the rules. I got my fingers crossed, since I'm a bit of a fan of Clare, and I've heard good things about Armstrong.

April 16, 2009

Another Day Older ...

Thirty-three years old. Isn't that how old Jesus was when he got pegged to a crucifix? Yeesh. Hopefully, I have at least a few more years in me. I want to lose some weight before my light is extinguished, so I leave a corpse at least half as beautiful as that water-into-wino.

I don't really feel any older, but I haven't felt all that young for some time. So, I guess it all evens out. Maybe my self-esteem will hold at this level and I'll think I'm a real spring chicken when I'm in my fifties.

Sis took me out for a birthday dinner. Classy lady, that one. One of us had to have been adopted. I have Dad's nose and belly; she has his smile and propensity for beer. All things being equal, I suppose.

It usually rains on my birthday—even snowed on my twelfth birthday—but it's been nothing but sunny today. It didn't rain last year either, though it was a grey day. Is the curse finally broken? Well, the day isn't over yet—I'm cynical, so sue me. If it turns out this nice next year, I'll take it as a sign that God isn't mourning my birth.

April 15, 2009

Chapter Eleven

I learned about this from Gravetapping, which picked it up from The Rap Sheet's J. Kingston Pierce, who discovered the idea from Central Crime Zone's Jon Jordan. It's simple and it amused me. In homage to all the giant corporations too big to fail, you simply post the first sentence of the eleventh chapter from the book you are currently reading.

At the moment I'm just wrapping up Jaye Wells'
Red-Headed Stepchild. The first line of the eleventh chapter reads, "Rough hands grabbed my shoulders and pulled me out." It's a sentence Bernie Madoff might be able to relate to in the future as those precarious moments in the shower persist.

April 13, 2009

Who They Gonna Call?

I was listening to NPR this morning—one of the few perks of Bell's satellite TV service—and heard the perplexing statistic that 40% of British citizens believe in ghosts, which is up from 30% fifty years ago.


The professor, or the person I naturally assumed was a professor—might have been an accountant—cited the statistic as possible evidence to a "god-shaped hole" in the human psyche. Since Brits have gradually become more and more secularized, which I assume is further evidence of evolution, they are left with a vacancy in faith and presumably turn to the supernatural. In a way it makes sense, since they apparently have had more crop circles than in America, though I only take that statement on faith.

Me? I don't believe in ghosts. I've seen some spooky stuff in my days, but I can't attribute any of it to spirits or other paranormal phenomenon. I blame Bigfoot.

I gotta say though, I find it interesting the number of believers in ghosts is rising while the number of theists is allegedly falling. The supernatural has always been something of a spellbinding topic with me, and nearly everyone I know has at least one story of some unexplainable event in their life they attribute to a ghost, angel, alien, or some other unsubstantiated entity. I might even include myself as a believer if I was willing to take that leap. As a teen, I saw a man in the woods run behind a tree and seemingly disappeared, as he never reappeared on the other side of the tree. I could claim the stranger was a ghost. Or, I could own up to the idea my eyesight is fallible

If I am capable of misreading a simple street sign on occasion, I'm certainly capable of misinterpreting a figure seen from a distance. And in my opinion, the 40% of British who fancy themselves ghost whisperers are just as fallible as I ... if not more so. Either that, or the ghosts are multiplying in number to the point where soon everyone will be seeing them. Time will tell.

April 12, 2009

Settings That Sell

One of the things about writing I often wonder about is the setting. When I started writing back in 2003, I took the adage "write what you know" and applied it to the setting. I placed the majority of the story on an old rural road I grew up on, taking several creative liberties with it along the way. It was a way of reaching a comfort level in the writing. Instead of creating a place from scratch, or placing the characters in a real area I'm less familiar with, I set the story on a road I once knew like the back of my hand.

Setting a horror novel in rural Nova Scotia seems like a sure-fire way to keep literary agents and publishers at bay, however, and I wonder if it's chances would improve if told in a more "marketable" setting. I'm probably over thinking it. Heck, if Stephen King can set countless stories in Maine, which is spitting distance from Nova Scotia, I'm sure there is little issue with setting any kind of story there.

I've never read a story, or had one recommended to me, which had a setting I considered unworthy of my time. It's a bit unreasonable to consider it really, as I doubt anyone tosses a Dean Koontz novel over their shoulder because it might be set in California. On the other hand, stories seem to have added mystique when placed somewhere that is alluring to some degree—the I-want-to-go-to-there reaction. I love the Maritimes, but I don't think I'd say it carries the same mystique as, let's say, New Orleans or London.

The question stems from the fact I have read very little by Canadian authors, and only one novel that had any slice of Canada as it's setting (The Shipping News by E. Anne Proulx). And, I don't think there are any titles presently on my wish list that have Canada, let alone Nova Scotia, as a setting. Is it my fault, or are stories better off told in a country with a greater number of consumers?—America, I'm looking in your direction.

April 11, 2009

Canadian Literature and Other Myths

At times it feels like the American reader—Americans in general, really—leads an insular existence. Piracy off the African coast of Somalia has been going on for years, but Americans seem to have only recognized it's existence due to the abduction of an American citizen this spring. And who could blame them for caring little of the world beyond their borders? It's the greatest nation on Earth, so what could the rest of the planet possibly have to offer?

If it can be said that American readers care little of authors from other countries, particularly Canada, than it would also be fair to accuse me of being an American reader. I say this because I can count on one hand the number of Canadian authors whose books I have read. Truth be told, I could count on one finger.

Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi—an excellent novel I'd recommend to anyone—is the only Canadian fiction writer I can mention. And he was born in Spain. I read Streeters by Canadian comedian, Rick Mercer, but it was practically pamphlet-sized and essentially transcriptions of his on-air rants. Why in the world have I not read more novels by Canadian authors?

Well, now that I think of it, there was Timothy Findley's
Not Welcome on the Voyage. Spider Robinson might be Canadian too, though I can't say with any certainty without Googling him. In any case, it is a shameful admission on my part to say I have trouble naming notable Canadian authors whose works I am anxious to read. What's more, I'm sure a minor amount of research would give me a plethora of names to choose from in genres of every sort.

I'm not what I would conscientiously call "well read." In all my thirty-odd years, I've read less than two hundred novels. I blame my adolescent apathy towards books, which perpetuated through my college years. It wasn't until I got the bug to write again that I took up reading again. A lot of time is gone, which would have been well spent familiarizing myself with authors of every flag, including Canada. It's never too late to start though, so another belated resolution for 2009 is to find some Canadian authors on the shelves and read what they have to offer. If I can read books from Great Britain, Italy, and the omnipresent America, I can surely find time to include my home country.

I only wish it wasn't a matter of having to find them as if I were attempting an archaeological excavation.

April 9, 2009

Here Comes The Crunch

One thing I don't have when it comes to my writing: a deadline.

It's mind-boggling, and a little shame inducing, to think I first started writing again almost six years ago. Granted, it's only been this year I have resolved myself to become published at some point before I'm six feet under—blowing in the wind really, since I've requested cremation.

My horror novel is idle at the moment, in it's third draft, and waiting for a thorough dissection from my uncle. Yes, yes, family isn't a great place to seek out feedback, but he's well-read and at his word to not "sugarcoat" his critique. He's nearly done now, which means I'll be getting it back soon. As soon as I have a clear idea of what needs to be tackled with the manuscript, I have to put my nose to the grindstone and treat the process like a job.

I'm not sure what kind of deadline I need to set for myself though, and I think I will need one once I start rolling again with my own editing and revising. I have a feeling the length needs to be trimmed considerably to get it in a more marketable word count—100,000 words is still the norm?

Whatever the case, I think it's important to have it ready by the start of summer, so I can start the arduous task of mailing query letters to agents and editors. If I can complete the fourth draft in quicker time without sacrificing quality, even better.

Brand Loyalty

CBC Radio's Age of Persuasion talked today about brand loyalty and how to build it through marketing. It got me to thinking what products out there have earned my repeat business over the years."

Before entering my thirties, my money had no conscience—also no permanent home in my bank account—so it would end up in the hands of whichever merchant could dazzle me in the most effective manner. Thank God there wasn't a strip joint in town, otherwise Amber and Chastity would have been the brands I stayed loyal to. Forget practicality, I was the reason people marketed towards impulse buys. Nowadays, what little money I earn has no home with those shelves at the check-out.

A brand I'm still a slave to, however, is Tim Horton's. Oh my lord, coffee has a great customer base, doesn't it? If America is overrun with Starbucks, Canada is downright infested with Timmy's. It's to the point where it is not unheard of to see a Tim Horton's directly across the street from Tim Horton's. I was once in a mall with TWO ... in the same mall! I've managed to pull back on how often I buy a double-double there, but I still manage to get in the drive-thru at least once a week. And, so long as they have the Roll Up The Rim To Win contest every year, I'm keep coming back like an addict.

In terms of writing, there isn't really any one brand with an exclusive hold on me. About the only thing I keep buying is a brand of gel ink pens from Walmart. Mainstays Office Gel 0.7mm are cheap pens, and they work great. They don't last long, but in the relatively brief period the ink lasts, they work as well or better than any other pen I have purchased over the years. I have those moral compunctions to steer clear of Walmart's soul-sucking enterprise as much as possible, but they are literally the only place I have found these pens.

Cola, potato chips, cars, computers, and other items with heavy marketing behind them aren't on my radar, as far as brand loyalty is concerned. More often than not, a store brand or previously owned equivalent with tide me over. And, it won't kill my wallet in the process. If Nike sneakers were truly worth the extravagant price, I might buy a pair ... and send a sympathy card to the tween in the Philippines who stitched them together.

April 8, 2009

An Early Birthday Gift

After heading up to the DMV to renew my driver's license, I visited my local independent bookstore with gift certificate in hand—thanks, Mom—to see what I could pick up as a potentially good read. Unlike visiting the used-bookstores, I scrutinize my choices when buying a new book. I don't want to suffer buyer's remorse by the time I get home, like I have on a couple of occasions with books snatched up for a couple of bucks.

I didn't have specific titles in mind. I just wanted to browse the shelves to see what jumped out at me. I saw Jeffrey Deaver's More Twisted, which is a follow-up collection of short stories. I enjoyed Twisted and thought I might spend my $10 on that. Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series was there, except for the first title, Dead After Dark-- the one I want. Then, I meandered to the sci-fi/fantasy section. I saw Cassandra Claire's City of Ashes. City of Bones was a good read, and I'll eventually get to read the next two books in the series. No sign of The Forest of Hands and Feet or Let The Right One In. Oh well.

The title I settled on though, wasn't even one on my ever-growing wish list. Jonathon Lyons' blog announced on March 31st the launch of a new novel from one of his clients, Jaye Wells.
Red-Headed Stepchild is a title I instantly love, regardless of subject matter. Throw in a fantasy element with what appears to be an interesting take on vampires and all those things that go bump in the night, as well as the fact this is Wells' debut novel, and I'm sold.

So, it looks like I have my reading material for the weekend. I hope I get my money's worth ... or gift certificate's worth, if you're a stickler for details.

April 7, 2009

Books I Am Not Likely To Read

I'm my haste of scooping up books for a buck or two at library sales, I have a knack for grabbing titles that I think I'll read. The trouble is that I never do, and while they collect dust on my shelf, I can't imagine the day will ever come when I'll crack open the covers of these impulse buys to see if I'm missing out on quality prose.

I've had James Frey's A Million Little Pieces for over a year. I read the first couple of pages after buying it, then tossed it aside to read something more palatable. Frankly, the only reason I bought the book for the $3 the library asked for it was because Oprah Winfrey had chewed the guy out on her show as some kind of public egg-hurling exercise. Forget how good a memoir or work of fiction it might actually be—I just had to say I had read the book that sent Oprah off the deep end.

But, I haven't read it, and I doubt I ever will read it. There are over a hundred titles sitting on my book shelf, which I've purchased at bargain basement prices, and I haven't got time to waste on books I have only a cursory interest in reading. Maureen Dowd's
Bushworld and Joseph Heller's Closing Time are about to join A Million Little Pieces as the next round of exchanges for credit at my local used bookstore. I bought Closing Time for a dollar because it was the sequel to Catch-22, but the thing is that I've never even read Catch-22.

Waste not, want not.

April 2, 2009

It All Falls Apart

Ever have one of those weeks? I have. This week. My computer desk is falling apart, bit by bit. Argh. It was donated to me by a friend of my mother's. She bought herself a new computer for Christmas, and her husband bought her a new desk to go with it, so she donated the old computer—as loud as a tugboat, that thing—and the corner desk too. The computer's in the closet with about a half dozen other ones I've been given over the last couple years, all waiting to be refurbished or donated to the local recycling depot. The desk looked very usable though, so I set it up in my bedroom, which was the only room in the house it seemed to fit.

Now, though, the thing is started to fall apart. The first bit to go was a hinge for a little cupboard—no big deal. Then, the metal bits holding the two major pieces together—a seem runs along the corner to make the two sides a right angle—fell out and won't stay in any longer. So, the thing is defying gravity through sheer will at this point. Now, the rolling keyboard tray has dropped out, nearly taking one of my toes in the process, and won't slide back into the rails or whatever you call them.

At the rate it's collapsing, I'll wake up in a couple of weeks to see a random pile of cheap, Ikea-esque wood lying in a pile in the corner, with my computer sprawled atop it like a Gaza civilian casualty.

April 1, 2009

Freeware Is My Fave Ware

Dictionaries come in handy, as do the thesauruses ... thesauri ... however you spell the danged plurality for it. But, leafing through the Funk & Wagnell's deer-stunner edition can take up time. That's time I could be wasting thinking up ways to procrastinate. My time is important to me.

That's why, last year, I downloaded a couple of dictionaries for quick reference on my desktop: Word Web and The Sage. They both work fine, though I haven't a clue how well their online components perform. What I do know is that I have Word Web as a permanent fixture in my system tray for almost a year, and I haven't looked back.

Spellchecker is it's own little godsend when I'm working in Open Office
(another invaluable piece of freeware), but sometimes I need to find the meaning to a word on top of simply knowing how it's spelled. I've caught myself more times than I care to count using words improperly—how capricious of me.

The best part: They're free.

Another piece of freeware I use from time to time includes WriteItNow, "novel writing software" that helps you organize everything you're working on. Character sketches, event charts, submission spreadsheets, chapter outlines, etc. I didn't use the word processor part of the program while writing my novel, but the organizational stuff did come in handy by keeping it all in one place, rather than spread throughout my My Documents folder in various files. I wouldn't call it an indispensable program, but you get what you pay for.