Writer of Horror Fiction

Archive for March, 2010

Collaboration of the Dead

It appears that I will be participating in a collaborative effort with several other writers who have been published by the Library of the Living Dead and in other publications.  I believe the term for what is planned is a mosaic novel.  To the best of my understanding, this is how it works:

A coordinating editor or contributor brings together a group of different writers and sets the stage for a story they will develop together.  Each writer is assigned a couple of different chapters they will write, either in a random order or perhaps in an organized setup.  The order is determined and then the first chapter is written, edited, and then passed along to the next writer.  That writer produces their chapter and then hands it back to the coordinator, who edits it, puts the two chapters together, and hands both of them to the next writer, who reads, reviews, and crafts a third chapter in the story.  This continues on, and perhaps circles back through all the authors after they have all had a hand in crafting one chapter each so that they can complete their other chapter.  Finally, when all the chapters are done, they are compiled and then hopefully published.

The project I will be working on was a spontaneous idea from one of the writers at the Library who has not planned further ahead than getting us all together.  Whether it will end up being published by the Library or by another publisher remains to be seen.  So as it stands, it will be a very exciting and unique experiment for me as well as the other writers involved.

I will admit, I am nervous about this, although the collaboration here is more generalized than one might experience if they were writing a novel in tandem with another writer and the communication is far more intense as you both strive to complete the story and make any differences in writing styles work.  I am not sure with this mosaic novel whether the expectation is that we will all be writing in the same style and keeping the story consistent, or if the expectation is that everyone will be allowed to go crazy and really twist the story around as we see fit.  It will definitely be a new and exciting experience for me, one which will definitely help me grow as a writer.

The Zombist cover mock up. One of my upcoming short stories will be appearing in this anthology.

Review of Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

It’s always potential fun when someone tries to tie two popular genres together, but often time the fun ends once you get to see the end result and realize that what you have is a mishmash of ideas that never really mixed well. Not so here, with Ex-Heros. Peter Clines has created a very plausible set of superheros facing the zombie apocalypse and doing what they do best: saving the world. Its certainly a struggle for them, as there is no way to stop the zombie menace, but they’ve focused on creating a safe haven in Los Angeles at Paramount studios, aka The Mount, which is the most easily defensible place where they could bring hundreds to thousands of survivors. Opposed to them are the Seventeens, an old LA Gang that essentially controls the rest of LA, with their mysterious leader.

The story is told by switching back and forth from the present to the past, with each flashback done in first person and told from the perspective of a particular superhero. The story is given the opportunity to slowly reveal itself this way and had a flavor of Watchmen to it that really worked in this setting. Our superheros aren’t perfect-often they are sullen and none too happy with the people they are protecting, who don’t necessarily trust them. In addition to this, some of the superheros have fallen to the Ex virus, which started the zombie apocalypse in this story, and while they are not quite as powerful as they once were, they still present a sizable threat to both the human and superhero population in the story.

Clines does an excellent job of creating unique and believable hero’s for this tale, with The Great Dragon leading the pack. They may be studs physically, but there are plenty of warts that are revealed during the story, giving us some surprises along the way that impact the story dramatically.

I think this is one of the best genre cross-over stories I have read in some time and Clines, who indicated that many of the superheros created here came from his and friends childhood visions, clearly has a passion for both genres, and has created a very unique genesis to the zombie in this story that makes perfect sense and lands like a sledgehammer on the reader towards the end of the story.

There is no doubt that Clines could make this into a series, or just pull off a sequel, if he chooses. The characters are rich and involving and there is certainly much more to be revealed about all of them. Definitely recommended for the zombie and superhero fan alike.

Ex-Heros can be found on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Ex-Heroes-Peter-Clines/dp/1934861286/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274810026&sr=1-1

Letters from the Dead-the first horror anthology I will be appearing in.

Defying all logic and reason, the dead returned from death.  All over the world, dead human bodies rose and walked the Earth in search of living human flesh to consume. Despite the valiant efforts of the living’s vast armies and superior weapons, the dead won the Zombie War.

Defeated, the surviving governments of the world fled to the safety of their underground bases, leaving the last living survivors to their fate. All alone, trapped, for them there was no last second rescue, no escape. The Dead surrounded them, pounding on their barricaded doors, smashing in their boarded windows. It was their last chance to say goodbye, their last chance to shout out in defiance. It was time to write their final words.

For decades, the dead ruled the Earth unchallenged, but their reign was finite. In time, they returned to the dust from which they came.

When the living survivors emerged from their underground shelters, they would discover hundreds of thousands of tattered decaying messages, the letters left behind by the last to perish in the Zombie Apocalypse.

Coming soon from

Library of the Living Dead Press
Letters From The Dead can be found at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Dead-Mark-M-Johnson/dp/1451583079/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274809932&sr=1-6

Coming up with Story Ideas

One of the biggest challenges that wears me down as I have gotten more serious about writing is coming up with new, fresh ideas for stories on a continuous basis.  Some will say that stories that have creatures like zombies in them, which have been used in a wide array of stories over the years, is probably not going to get you an award for creativity.  It’s certainly true that I have read my fair share of rip-off zombie tales that follow the patented process made famous by Romero and others, with a group of people hiding out in a enclosed area desperately trying to figure out how they will survive because the undead are bashing at the doors, or gates, or whatever, and things are getting tense inside, and perhaps there are some other living humans outside that are also causing trouble, etc.  But I have also read quite a few zombie stories that bring new ideas to the table by making the zombies intelligent, fast, demonic, alien, etc.  I have also read the same type of stuff in other genres countless times with the rehash factor playing a major role.  Heck, I have read an author who has regurgitated the same idea they had years before and just put some new decorative touches on it before selling it again.

What I have gathered from all of this is that even if you use a tried and true set of story guidelines and keep going back to the same well, it doesn’t mean you are creating something dull, drab, and uninspired.  Similarly, if you throw some real curve balls with your ideas to make your story stand out as unique and different, you may still have the same stale and flabby plot if that is all you are relying on to make your tale something someone will want to read.

In other words, the setting is only one piece of the puzzle.  I have read in excess of 300 different zombie books over the past few years, mixed in with a wide assortment of stories from other genres.  And no, I am not just some incredibly obsessed fan boy who cannot stop pouring over the minutia of survival that apocalyptic and zombie stories usually give you.  Sure, I’ve given my fair share of thought to what it would take to survive if things go terribly wrong in the world.  I’ve written my posts on various message boards talking about that topic and others, both with the very serious folks out there that thing the world is going to end tomorrow and those who just love to kick around ideas and have some fun with it.  BUT, and this is the big BUT, that does not mean I like reading the same old story with just minor changes just because they have zombies in them.  Because what I really enjoy in good zombie story is a writer who can come up with new characters, new challenges, and essentially someone who will paint a fresh coat of paint over a basic story that has been around since Romero created Night of the Living Dead.  In other words, if you are stuck in a farmhouse with a bunch of other people, I am not going to groan this setting has already been used, but I expect some new perspective , new and compelling characters, and something that will perhaps shed NEW light on the human condition.  This is not to say that catapulting these characters into a new fresh environment with an entirely new breed of the undead might not be a bad idea, but what it boils down to for me, at least with what I would define as a ‘good zombie story’ is that you’ve made a serious effort at presenting the reader with characters that are multi-dimensional, intriguing, human, and perhaps allow us to love or hate them based on who they are and what they are willing to do.  No, scratch that.  That doesn’t just make for a good zombie story, it makes for a good story in general.

I use the zombie genre as an example because it is one that I have been immersed in for some time as I have written my book and the short stories that have followed up with more recently.  My novel, in some ways, has a very traditional setting for a tale of the apocalypse.  The undead nemesis is, for the most part, is very traditional.  But I didn’t focus all my energy on the undead.  Most of my effort went to developing characters that felt real and natural, doing what they can under terrible circumstances.  Whether or not I succeeded in creating a compelling story with them is something each reader will have to decide for themselves, but finding a publisher willing to put out my book and having others who have read it indicating that it is a compelling has definitely given me the confidence to know that I can perhaps write something enjoyable and entertaining.  But the first person I had to please was myself.  Just like every other author I have know, I am by far my harshest critic.  So with my novel, I didn’t slam my head against the desk desperately trying to write a story that didn’t have elements no one else has ever used before.  Instead, I devoted myself to making my characters people that would keep someone glued to the page to see what happens next to them.  Hopefully I pulled that off.

Short stories are something I am spending time with right now.  The ideas for these are ones you can put together and develop without mapping out massive story arcs, which is a nice change of pace for me from writing the novel, although I will be getting back to writing my book within the next month or two.  Writing short stories, after diving so deep into one story with a very specific characters, is a refreshing twist for me.  It allows me to work with character that aren’t perhaps as complex, at least on the written page, but still definitely have intriguing stories to tell.

I do struggle more with coming up with creative stuff for short stories than I did with my book.  I think of these smaller stories  like guerrilla warfare.  You sneak in, do the job, and get out before anyone realizes what you’ve done.  Writing a novel is like going to war.  You are the general and you are looking at thousands of different troop movements and trying to figure out what the enemy will do before they do it so you can adjust your techniques to outwit them.  It is waged over months and years and generally speaking can be quite costly for all involved.   A war takes lots of planning before you ever attack, and there are lots and lots of battles, and the map you are working with changes daily, because things change as you move forward-you discover you don’t like the direction a particular plot point is taking, some wonderful idea has filtered through that will require you to revamp over 100 pages of your tale, etc.  The whole objective of guerrilla warfare is to get in and get out before the enemy can point its artillery at you and smash you flat.  So it requires you to be light on your feet and come up with a story idea that can be effectively relayed in just a few thousand words, rather than 80,000.

I am not sure how good I am at writing short stories just yet.  I have four accepted currently, and three more I have to wait until the editor gets past their designated deadline to even look at, but none of that means that I know for sure that I have what it takes to come up with something new and different every few days or weeks, which is what writing short stories is all about.  Because you see, unlike with a novel, I think there is more onus on the short story writer to have something unique and different each time they set pen to paper.   In 5,000 words or so, you need to set the stage, build the drama, let the story unfold, and bring it to a conclusion.   Trust me, that is not such an easy task.

So far, I have been able to come up with something different with the short  stories I have written.  There are a few others I haven’t tried to get published because they really haven’t fit in the anthologies I have been working with, but if an idea strikes, the first thing I do is write it down and then stow it away.  If it really is something I am obsessed with and have fully shaped inside my brain, I will start writing it right away.  But usually the ideas I have are half formed and need time to gestate.

An example would be a story idea I came up with about a sixteen year old girl who has been bouncing around the foster care system her entire life.  She is a chronic troublemaker and no one can handle her for long.  Along come a very stern, very religious couple, who agree to take her and intend on scaring her straight.  The main character takes that as a challenge and tries to torment these people, but they are un-tormentable, or so it seems.  They lock her in her bedroom at night and she hears them down in the basement, praying.  She wants to mess with them and wants to also find out more about their very secretive beliefs, so she breaks out of her room one night and suddenly, she discovers… Well, that was as far as I got.  The idea was fairly basic, and would need a lot of molding and shaping, with some major embellishments.  But what did I do with this idea?  I later found a anthology that was looking for stories on phobias.   These would be horror stories about the innocuous fears we have.  So I started morphing my idea and wrote a story where there is a little girl who has a phobia of God and religion and she gets taken in by a very religious but very kind couple.  I submitted the story and am waiting until the deadline passes in another month or so to see if its been accepted.

Sometimes you just never know where a story will lead you.

Other story ideas pop into my head fully formed.  Writing the outline is simple and easy to do.  A story I hope to start writing today is one like that.  Another anthology is looking for stories of doom.  In other words, major catastrophic events that wipe out whole civilizations.  That was their only guidelines, but the idea that popped into my head was fully conceived and very specific.  I wrote the full outline for it in around ten minutes and thus far, I love the idea as it is.  That’s not to say it won’t change as I start writing, but for now, its a go and I just have to make sure I stick to the story guidelines about length and content before I turn it in.

I know of plenty of authors who out there who are superbly more talented than me who can see some submission guidelines for a short story or even a novella and their brain immediately starts creating something that works perfectly for what the editor is looking for.  I envy those folks, but that is not me.  I have to be hit by inspiration or I just don’t have the enthusiasm to carry a story through.  The eureka moment is a big deal to me, and while sometimes it comes when I concentrate, most of the time it comes when I am not even thinking about writing, stories, or anything creative.  Its not always a lightning bolt and thunder clap, sometimes its just a light drizzle that slowly saturates me and allows me to slowly poke and prod the idea until it fully develops into something tangible and hopefully, publishable.

I am afraid that one day, I will be sitting down, having  just finished a story, and my brain will go blank, with nothing left inside as far as creativity is concerned.  So far, it hasn’t happened, but the fact remains that I can’t always come up with something new that fits with something someone actually wants.  An example is a new anthology looking for submissions that are supposed to be humorous science fiction tales.  I would love to be a part of that and create something that is a riot, but unfortunately I haven’t come up with a single good idea as of yet.  The good news is there is no deadline for this story just yet, so I have time, but I am still wracking my brain trying to come up with something for it.  In the meantime, I have other ideas that just pop in my head that will make interesting stories, but none that are remotely close to something sci-fi-ish and humorous.  But such is life.

I wish I had written this topic with some sort of advice in mind for someone reading this, but I really don’t have anything for you.  Sorry if that seems selfish, but the muse visits different people in different ways.   It seems that everyone has a different way of coming up with story ideas.  Different inspirations, different personalities, different ways of thinking.  I guess the best thing is to keep an open mind and listen to the world around you.  Because you never know when or where inspiration will hit.

Review of Tomes of the Dead: “Way of the Barefoot Zombie” by Jasper Bark

Way of the Barefoot Zombie is a modern day voodoo zombie tale with some interesting twists. As it starts out, we are introduced to Benjamin and Tatyana, two trust fund kids who have helped create “The Zombie Liberation Front”, which is an organization focused on walking in the footsteps of the noble monsters, or zombies, of Haitian Lore. But voodoo zombies are real in this tale and Benjamin and Tatyana are off on a mission to free a group of them being used by a wealthy entrepreneur, Doc Papa, who runs a program for the super rich, where they learn the Way of the Barefoot Zombie. In other words, these power brokers are are being trained to act like zombies, who care little about anything except their ravenous goals and they fear nothing. In a screwball way, this book is variation on Z.E.O.: How to Get A(Head) in Business (Zombie Series), where the goal is to become much like a zombie and destroy all your competition in business.

Of course, that is just how the story starts out. As Benjamin and Tatyana discover more secrets of the island and try to work their sabotage, they are introduced to Merriam, a powerful voodoo priestess whose intent is to bring Doc Papa down and save the zombies herself, but for her own reasons. There are plenty of twists and turns with lots of strange magic floating around.

The zombies in this story are voodoo zombies but the author has kept the hunger for living flesh as a part of their routine. You can act like a zombie around them and not be devoured, but once you start acting human, you are toast.

The story picks up speed the further it goes, with quite a bit of voodoo magic flying around. The main characters went from mildly unlikeable spoiled rich kids to legitimate crusaders on a mission. Honestly, after about 100 pages I was not all that intrigued by the story, but another hundred pages into this 311 page book and I found the story to be much more intriguing. There is some gore and some really cringe worthy stuff on these pages(to walk the path of the zombie, you have to act like one and DO what one would do), but the zombie violence is really at a minimum here. Still, the story worked for me because it became interesting and fun to see all the voodoo magic at work and we had the chance to unravel a mystery at the same time. The author obviously has a fascination for voodoo magic and legends, because he is quite knowledgeable on the subject. A traditional Romero zombie fan might find this story to not be to their tastes, but I can always enjoy the occasional voodoo spice to add to my zombie fascination now and then, and this book did the trick.

Again, it starts out slow but as it moves along, the story became a much more fun and interesting read.

Way of the Barefoot Zombie can be found at Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Tomes-Dead-Way-Barefoot-Zombie/dp/1906735069/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274809570&sr=1-1