Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for February, 2010

Review of “The Crazies”

The Crazies is a remake of an early 70s George A. Romero low budget thriller.  The remake has him as an executive producer and there are quite a few similarities, although this new version, with its much larger budget and a slightly different perspective has a slightly different feel to it.

The premise is much the same as the original.  We are introduced to the people of a small rural community, this time in Iowa rather than Pennsylvania, where slowly but surely, some of the citizens appear to be going nuts.  At first its the former town drunk who hasn’t had a drink in over two years.  When he brings a shotgun to a high school baseball game and the sheriff is forced to kill him, the autopsy comes back indicating that he wasn’t drunk.  When another man decides to burn down his house with his wife and little boy in it as he mows the lawn, the sheriff and his wife, the town doctor, start to suspect that things are a bit off the charts on the weird meter.  The sheriff and his deputy soon discover a downed military air craft in a local bog that feeds into the water supply of the town and they start to realize that things are probably even worse than they first suspected.

One of the big differences between this version vs. the Romero original is the fact that we never get the military perspective on what is happening.  Still, it’s easy to guess how quickly things are escalating for the government and that they are definitely not doing a good job of keeping the situation under control based on their very aggressive actions as they attempt to contain the town, which doesn’t take long to go completely mad as the biological contamination spreads.

The movie goes from mystery/thriller to outright horror as the sheriff, his wife, his deputy, and her receptionist attempt to escape the town and get to witness both the crazies on the loose and the aggressive military efforts to eliminate the biological threat that they have unleashed upon these unsuspecting people, and fight their way through both groups.

I did like the original movie, despite of (or perhaps because of) its low budget, campy appeal.  Again, this remake doesn’t provide us with the military perspective as they try to contain this biological contaminant, which both adds and detracts to the new movie’s appeal.  Its always interesting to see the genesis of a potential worldwide (or even localized) apocalypse and what causes it to escalate (and how the government screw ups cause it to get even worse), but with a version free of the scandals and arguments between scientists and military generals, we as the audience don’t know what to expect from moment to moment-we share the same perspective as the people trying to flee.  The military/government is in no way humanized here-they are big brother, with their satellite images and digitized declarations of containment, but little else besides a few words from a captured soldier and government agent.  They remain hidden, for the most part, behind gas masks the entire time.

Nope, this is not a zombie film but the crazies here share some similarities with Romero’s other monster creation in that the madness you see is not only in the creatures trying to tear your face off but from the supposedly sane people trying to run everything.  Certainly if you have an appreciation for stories involving government cover-ups, mass hysteria, lots of terror and gore, than you may not really be concerned about any differentiation between this movie and some of the higher quality zombie films out there.  The Crazies is fun, disturbing movie that is all the more terrifying because it seems quite likely to occur  in this day and age of biological warfare and terror.  And because of that, it has much the same appeal as do the zombie movies that Romero and others have been unleashing on us for over 40 years now.

Review of Tim Long’s Zombie-Wilson Diaries

“My Girlfriend is a Zombie”

…and thus we set the tone for this intimate look at a man and his undead island-mate.

The Zombie Wilson Diaries plays on the castaway scenario replacing the volleyball named Wilson from the Tom Hanks film with a zombie girl who is quite a bit more animated and a whole lot more bitey than a ball with a bloody hand print for a face. Our nameless narrator begins his diary while on a business trip to the islands, which turns into a plane crash which lands him on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean with one of the other passengers, who apparently floated up to the island alive, just like him, but made the unfortunate decision to eat some exotic berries that have turned her from a hottie model type into a rottie gooey type. But fear not, our narrator decides to take her under his wing instead of bashing her skull in with a big rock because she keeps him company on a island lacking in others to socially interact with. Oh, we do get the occasional interloper, like our fair lady’s dead rotting hubby and a few natives who have canoed over from another island, but for the most part, this tale of a fateful trip is all about a man and his zombie.

A nice touch with this book is the appearance of handwritten text and the hand scrawled stick drawings that the narrator puts at the front of each chapter, which added to the personal diary feel of this story.

It is an intriguing relationship that this deluded and desperate man has with a creature that I found hard to define as far as what her role was. Each chapter starts with “My girlfriend…” but it becomes clear that the zombie in this story plays multiple parts, and girlfriend, it seems, is probably the least of them. Desperate for companionship, it is almost as if she is his pet or willful child, as he takes care of her and keeps her from getting into trouble, while at the same time she snaps at him and generally acts like a brat, but there are moments when it seems that his girl, undead Friday, seems to recognize and even relies on him, especially when there are thunderstorms and undead sharks trying to snap her in half.

The comedy here is dark and should be appreciated by a fan of the zombie genre for certain, as well as those who like a bit of a twisted tale in general. The self-induced torture that this castaway goes through as he debates, on a daily basis, whether it would just be better to kill this creature even though she provides him with a shred of human contact, is a wickedly humorous conflict. I’m not really sure whether I liked this guy or I just wanted to smack some sense into him, but I know one thing for sure, this book was an entertaining journey into the surreal.

The Zombie-Wilson Diaries can be found on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Wilson-Diaries-Timothy-W-Long/dp/1450542565/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274809398&sr=1-1

Review of Zomblog, by TW Brown

TW Brown has created a very readible book in diary form about the first nine months of the zombie apocalypse. Our writer is Sam Todd, who is an every day guy who decides he will start a blog to document what is going on in his life and it just so happens that he starts writing it a few days before the start of a plague that sweeps the world where the dead begin rising up to destroy the living.
The pace is swift, with each day passing at a clip of about a page each. Sam goes on the run fairly early in the book and almost never stops, taking breaks along the way at different safe havens, but determined to find a place that he doesn’t feel locked in and kept from the outside world, where both the hordes of zombies and the savage living lurk around every corner.
The action is intense and you barely get the chance to catch your breath. I won’t reveal something that happens more than halfway through the book, but suffice it to say, there are some genuine surprises in store for the reader. I though the author did a nice job of switching things up on us and taking the story in a different direction. Not what I expected.
Since this is a journal entry type of story there is no dialogue and we are given a synopsis of events for each day. Some readers might consider this a weakness if they are not a fan of that type of writing but I believe the author does a good job of revealing things in a way that makes each entry compelling. Of course, the tough part is that since we are living inside the narrator’s head and they are writing these entries at the end of each day, we are often given a sentence or two at the beginning of many entries that gives us a synopsis of the day (or at least hints at one) and then gives us all the details. In other words, some of the suspense is gone because we at least have a hint at who has died or what had taken place (although I will note that the author does a good job of surprising the reader on that account as well and not revealing too much in the synopsis at the beginning of the entries for the most part). That is perhaps what makes this type of book tricky to pull off sometimes. We are not “in the moment” as it were, we are getting the blow by blow after the fact. Still, I think the author did a very good job using this writing style to its fullest potential.
Something I really liked with this book was the author’s use of geography and really mapping out a multi-state environment. The characters are constantly on the move, constantly facing new dangers, new challenges, and again, the reader never really has much of a chance to settle in or expect things to slow down. We get mountains and rivers and a lot of excellent descriptions of the northwestern environment. For someone who has never traveled in that region, the author really showcases the area.
No one is safe in this book, the body count is high, and its clear that the writer is directing both his zombie horde and the vicious survivors who our main character comes up against with merciless efficiency here.
For fans of zombie fiction this is a nice addition to your library. The pacing is good and the action is intense. I am looking forward to the sequel to find out what happens next to the narrator.

Zomblog can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Zomblog-T-W-Brown/dp/1449962203/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274809114&sr=8-1

Introducing: Comes The Dark

This section of my blog is going to be dedicated specifically to my first novel, Comes The Dark, which is being released by Library of the Living Dead Press later in 2010.

At its most basic, CTD is the story of a man who has lost everything in a world that has already rapidly deteriorated to the point where it is barely recognizable anymore.  A virus is at the root of humanity’s destruction and those infected are turned into undead monsters that seek only to annihilate the few survivors left remaining.  My desire in creating this story was to try to better understand, from my own perspective, how much one person can take and how far they are willing to go to survive with barely a shred of hope for themselves and the rest of humanity.  What keeps them going?  Is is all fear, or perhaps is it anger at what has happened to them?  Is there any willingness to hope for something better despite there being no evidence that there is a reason to hope?

Certainly, this is a story about zombies, with all the harsh brutality you would expect from such a horror story, but my focus is on the living that inhabit this dead world.  How they interact with one another, how they cope, and how they fight to survive against nearly insurmountable odds.

Jeff Blaine, the main character, is a typical guy who leads a typical life.  Before the story begins, he has a decent job, a house in the suburbs, a wife, two kids, and nothing much else that makes him all that interesting to those around him.  While he considers himself a good guy, a nice guy, he has never really been put into a position that has forced him to be anything different than that.  Like most of us, he would like to believe he can handle pressure, but really, he doesn’t have much of an idea what type of person he might become if things really get bad.  He’s probably slightly more of a sinner than a saint, but again, he’s never had a major dilemma that would might test his moral fiber, so its easy for him to believe he would generally choose to do the right thing.

You would probably like Jeff if you met him.  He knows how to give a firm handshake and look you in the eye when he talks to you.  He learned early on how to give a good impression but to avoid being too flashy so that he stands out from the crowd.  He participated in a few activities in college to pad his resume but these days he’s not all that interested in being much of a joiner.  He is the guy who typically can find an excuse not to get involved with the Home Owner’s Association or to join the Rotary Club when a buddy or a neighbor approaches him. He’s willing to buy your daughter’s girl scout cookies but he hates the idea of volunteering his time at his church’s charity events.  He might fudge the amount he donates on his taxes but avoids anything more risky than that like the plague.

In other words, Jeff is pretty much your average guy…before the world falls apart.

And thus, the stage is set for the story.  You really don’t need to know much else in advance of reading the book, except perhaps for the description I created that will hopefully appear on the back cover of the book (stand by, because it still needs to go through the editing process!).   Stay tuned for a few select excerpts from the book in later postings, but for now, I leave you with this:

The end came with a whimper, not a bang. The mysterious virus came out of nowhere and engulfed the world in a matter of days.  Everyone who was infected seemed to die…and then rise again.  Governments collapsed, armies disappeared, and entire civilizations turned to dust as the human race tore itself to pieces.

Jeff Blaine had a good life: a beautiful wife, adorable children, and a nice house in the suburbs.  He liked his job, loved his family, and spent his lazy suburban Sundays out on the deck, barbequing with the neighbors.  Things were perfect until everything fell apart.  And no matter how hard Jeff tried, he could not spare his family from the horrors scratching at the door.

Now, with his family gone, his life in ruins, the only thing left is raw anger and pain.  As the world continues to sink into darkness, Jeff does as well.  So he ventures out into the desolation with no better plan than to destroy as many of the monsters that stole his life away before they destroy him as well.

But soon Jeff will discover other survivors unwilling to give up.  They will force him to decide whether or not to succumb to the venom that gnaws at his soul.  Should he continue to fight to survive, or succumb to the things that come with the dark?

My experiences with the writing, editing, and publishing process.

Its almost surreal, this experience I have been going through lately.  Well, when I say lately, I mean over the past three and a half years.  July 2006-That is when I got “serious” about this writing stuff.  I, like many people I know, had always sworn they would become a writer some day.  We all have ideas, we all have plans to sit down and write chapter after chapter and create the great American novel.  Or at least, the novel that someone might want to read, even if it is just our wives or husbands and maybe the rest of our family members.  But honestly, how many of us end up doing that?

I have a friend who encouraged me every step of the way.  He was impressed when I told him that I had written a hundred pages, he was impressed when I finished my first draft.  He had started his own book, and trashed the efforts, countless times.  He could never get past chapter one.

Well, for me, the journey was about kicking myself in the ass and not playing around any more.  The disconnect was never after I had sat down and started writing, it had been moving from the idea stage to reality.  Once I actually started writing, I never looked back…

Now, please understand, I think it is fair to say that everyone writes differently.  You can’t say that there is a step by step process that everyone should take to become a successful writer.  Certainly, I can’t recommend On Writing by Stephen King enough.  That guy is a machine, and he is a regimented, highly organized writer who keeps to a schedule and perhaps even follows all the rules he has in place for how things are supposed to go.  Me?  I doubt I will ever be like that.

Some folks I know sit down with an idea and just start writing.  It flows from that point and grows from there.  They have a general idea in their head where they want to end up but don’t limit themselves by organizing their thoughts too much beforehand.  Me?  I over think EVERYTHING during the writing process.  Let me put it this way: I started writing my novel back in July of 2006 and I believe my first draft was not completed until January of 2008, a year and a half later.  Now let me say this: that was not me simply writing and writing.  That process involved outlining, revamping outlines, trashing big chunks of what I had originally written, and laboring over individual sentences at 3 a.m. as I tried to make it sound right.  By the time my first draft was completed, it was well over 360k words.

Let me repeat that for those of you in the cheap seats: 360k words.  Stephen King’s The Stand was originally released with 150,000 words cut from the manuscript.  It was still well over 800 pages (honestly, I can’t remember how many pages there were) but my book was about the size of the originally released version of the stand.  Now even with my meandering mind could I ever hope to top Mr. King, whose unabridged version sits at approximately 520k words.

So, move forward from my triumphant evening sitting at the keyboard, when I typed out that last sentence and officially announced to friends and family that I had finished my book.  It felt like a relief, like I could scratch off something on the bucket list, etc.  I was 39 years old at the time and I had written my first novel before hitting that big middle aged landmark.  I was over the moon.

Then I started to realize that even with all the editing I had done, all the effort to put together something presentable, that my story was monstrous.  I approached a publisher.  Someone I had been having a dialogue with previously, because I had been reviewing books they had come out with and they had been so kind as to send me review copies of other books to also review on Amazon.  The publisher was more than willing to look at my book, but…and this was a big BUT, could I turn it into a trilogy?  The reason for this was because at 360K words, it was far, far, far too large to ever be considered for publication with them.  He liked a maximum of 120K words per book, and that was even pushing it.

Sooooo, that leads us to the second part of this process-my efforts to turn my book into a trilogy.  Thankfully, that was not as hard to do as I had originally though, because as I started looking, I saw three natural splits in the novel-cliffhanger endings that set up the following segment of my tale nicely.  So that was done, along with some more compulsive editing.

Alas, this is where I began to actually learn a few more things about writing that became invaluable to me.  The first came a month after I submitted my manuscript to this particular publisher and the gentleman came back and said that he could not publish my book.  He was kind enough to provide me with feedback and the key thing I took away from that was this: I was doing a hell of a lot of telling and not nearly enough showing.  In other words, I was dumping a lot of information on people and not allowing them to discover the story for themselves.

I thanked that publisher and admitted to myself that he was absolutely correct in his assessment.  I also realized that my book was massively over bloated and I needed to mercilessly start to slice and dice it down to what it should have been in the first place.

So my editing journey continued.  The publisher had actually suggested I leave this story on the shelf and work on other stuff for a time and after getting published with other novels or short stories, then return to my story later.  I had given that some thought but in the end, I couldn’t help but return to the story that had been in my dreams and nightmares now for two and half years at that point.  It was the beginning of 2009 by then, and my novel had just gotten rejected by a publisher and as a side note, my job had just been eliminated.

So, I was unemployed and focused on finding a new job.  I did leave my book on the shelf…for about a month or two.  Then I went at it with red penned zeal.  I should probably say at this point that other people were reading what I had written.  They had been doing so for quite some time.  I definitely took a lot from their thoughts.  Mind you, I didn’t change everything based on their suggestions, but having those other folks to bounce things off of was invaluable.

I was bound and determined to get my book published.  Let me put that a different way.  I did not want to self-publish.  Period.  A writer by the name of Rhiannon Frater has written a trilogy of zombie apocalyptic fiction entitled As The World Dies.  She went the self-publishing route.  Her success is well known in the world of zombie fiction.  I can’t say that I know Rhiannon personally, but I do know her through the wonderful world of the internet-Facebook and message boards, etc.  Her success has been definitely the exception to the rule.  Rhiannon has a business savvy and loads of smarts that allowed her to self-publish and create something that was terrific and create something that people have bought.  Word of mouth has been a big part of that.  That is my plug for her work: go buy her trilogy.  Its fantastic.

But Rhiannon’s success is the exception.  There are good self-published novels, sometimes by jaded authors who got sick of trying to go the normal route to publishing.  They write terrific stories that will really blow you away.  But in addition to those novels, you are going to get a LOT more novels that probably were taken out of the oven way too early.  That is my polite way of saying that a professional editor would have gone a long way for those folks who so desperately wanted to get published and were willing to do whatever it took to achieve that dream as fast as possible. On top of that, you have to consider how much marketing responsibility you have taken on by becoming your own business entity.  Rhiannon was able to do it, but I daresay she is a unique person.  Did I write a book so I could become famous and read by thousands or millions?  No, but if I am going to get published, I would like to have a company standing behind me with not only an editor, but the ability to effectively market what I have written.  They can promote my book in the back of other books they produce, they can take me to trade shows, put excerpts from my book on pod casts, etc.  Being in a stable with other authors is also invaluable.  I have interacted with a much larger group of people because of my relationship with the Library of the Living Dead.  Not only is Dr. Pus, the benevolent publisher, someone who I have gained valuable insights from, but I have also had the privilege of bouncing ideas off of published authors like Tim Long and Steve North.  That guys like that (amongst many other terrific writers) are asking for my opinion on what they are currently writing is mind blowing.

Whew!  That was quite a tangent, wasn’t it?  So anyway, back to my saga.  I pulled down my manuscript and started slicing it and editing it about another million times.  The end result?  About 162K words.  At the same time, I introduced myself to the Library of the Living Dead and Dr. Pus, who was so kind as to create a section of his message boards where I could post chapters of my book for others to read and critique.  What a difference that made!  It introduced me to a lot of people.  Folks like those I have mentioned above, including Rhiannon Frater, who has not only been self published but also published at the Library as well.  Tons of other writers of both novels and short stories, as well as fans of the genre, were there, supporting me every step of the way.

So after I felt pretty strong about my novel, I submitted it to the Library.  But again, at 162K words, it was a bit large, but still could be turned into a trilogy that would make sense and worked quite well.  So I spoke to Doc about that and less than a couple of weeks ago, he agreed to publish it as a trilogy.

Once again, I was over the moon and thrilled.  But the journey, in many ways, has just begun.  Doc is assigning me an editor, who I will become very familiar with over the next few months (and beyond), I am sure.  We have chatted about artwork for the cover of the first book, the description on the back, and any sort of promoting that I can do, including creating a website (thus this blog, which is the tip of the iceberg for me).  I will be at Horror Realm in Pittsburgh in September, which will be occurring shortly after my book is released in September.

I will likely be talking in detail about my experiences with the publishing process in later blog installments.  Its been an interesting ride so far.

Welcome to my world

I am a horror writer.

It’s strange writing that.  Heck, its even more strange saying it.  While it has been a dream of mine to be a published author for well over half my life, its just now becoming a reality.  Which is pretty surreal.

My first novel, Comes the Dark is being released by Library of the Living Dead Press later this year.  I’ve written some short stories and so far (knock wood) I’ve had good luck in getting acceptances for a few of them.   So technically, I haven’t been published yet, but unless everything caves in, my name will be on several different stories in several different books within the next few months.

I am a horror writer, but I hope to extend that description to science fiction and fantasy writer as well as time goes on.  I guess technically, I am already a fantasy writer, though trying to count the novel I wrote back in high school when I was in the throws of a Dungeons and Dragons fetish probably doesn’t really count.  I have looked back on what I had banged out on the old typewriter (that will give you a hint as to how old I am, but just a hint) and I see something that would need to be totally reworked and revamped before I would ever consider trying to have it published.  Still, I was able to create a complex world with interesting politics, magic, and creatures.  There is something there that I definitely want to revisit some day…hopefully soon.

Now, back to Comes the Dark.  This is my submission to the world of zombie horror, my effort to humbly add something to a genre that has grown in popularity over the last decade, but which has remained popular since George Romero recreated the zombie into something different than those island dwelling automatons.  But don’t get me wrong, the origins of zombies are fascinating and one of the short stories I wrote deals with voodoo zombies.  They certainly can be just as terrifying as the Americanized version that Mr. Romero came up with, but I think most of us are a lot more intrigued by the flesh eaters rather than the soulless slaves of the Carribean.

Yep, I tend to ramble a bit.  Comes the Dark deals with one man’s journey through the zombie apocalypse and my focus was on character development.  My fascination with zombies has always been that the stories, or rather the really good ones, generally tend to focus more on the people rather than the monsters themselves.  Zombies are us and we are them-there is a sort of reflection going on, but its really how human beings struggle to avoid degenerating into something worse than zombies that has always intrigued me with the stories of Romero and many of the authors who have written some really terrific zombie sagas since he introduced us to the rotting buggers.

Well, that’s it for now.  I am working on trying to create this blog and also wrap a website around it.  Wish me luck in this endeavor, along with all the fun and challenging stuff that comes with trying to bring out your first novel!