Famished at GenCon 50!

GenCon is typically a vacation for me, but a working vacation in many ways. This year, with the release of FAMISHED: THE GENTLEMEN GHOULS OMNIBUS, there were obviously things to be done!

I signed every print copy of the book we had on hand. My signature is notoriously bad, but it gets better as I repeat it, so by the end were doing well. I spent a little time – not as much as
I should – in Authors’ Alley, working to inform people about both my books and others from Apocalypse Ink Productions.

It’s not a terribly onerous job, though it can be demoralizing. I work the booth for Triskele Moon Studios jewelry on a regular basis, and while it’s easy to entice art lovers to look at jewelry, it’s a much harder task getting gamers to stop to discuss fiction – especially when that’s all the area is selling!

Still, being an extrovert certainly helps. I don’t know how more introverted artists and authors manage it, and I salute their fortitude every time I see them sitting quietly behind a desk. It’s also a trick learning to read introverts or the very shy, so that I don’t upset or startle them with too many loud words as they pass by. I like to think I’m okay at this.

We nearly sold out of the print edition! That was a high point, to be sure. And while I didn’t purchase as many books as I’d have liked, personally; I’ve got a shopping list for the post-convention season both to support my fellow writers and to find new and exciting works of fiction.

The high point of the Con, though, came in the aftermath of my first sale.

While I was manning the booth with Jenn on Friday, we had a visit from a wonderful young woman who was shopping for her stepdaughter.

“What does she like to read?” Jenn inquired – a common question from her.

“Horror, mostly.” The answer that’s music to my ears! We talked for a few minutes before she agreed to purchase the book, and we asked if she’d like it personalized. I heard from her stepdaughter that evening with a joyful excitement, and when she found out it was the first sale of the first book of my Con, she was thrilled! It turned out they came back the next day to buy a second copy, as they didn’t want to damage the first one by reading it.

I have to tell you, that was a great moment. It’s hard for me to imagine someone having that level of respect for what I’ve done, for where I am. I do sincerely wish I had been there to personalize the second book, but it still makes a great story; and if I ever do meet them again I promise to make it right.



I’m pleased to announce that Apocalypse Ink Productions has finalized the purchase of FAMISHED: THE RANCH – the third, and likely final, book in the Gentleman Ghouls series!

For the next four days, I am reading the final proofs aloud to an empty room, in a last-chance effort to catch typos. I will NOT use this time to make changes, add words, edit scenes … that time has passed. Of course, I’m already finding things I would change; because this is how it works. In any creative endeavor, you will always find things you want to change. There’s no getting around it, but eventually, you have to let your creation out into the wild.

In any event, the publishers will have the final copy in their hands by midnight on Tuesday, August 2 – and I hope that you, my friends, will have a copy soon. Thank you for your patience and support with this final push!

Surprise Surprise!

My fictional characters don’t often surprise me, but when they do, it’s quite a surprise.

FAMISHED: THE RANCH has been rolling along well. My alpha readers have been invaluable, and so far things have been not simple, but at least reasonable.

Last week, though, my primary antagonist made something clear: He’s smarter than his cousins. I knew that already, but I didn’t realize how dumb my original outline made him out to be in this section. The plot as outlined required him to overlook something fairly obvious, and this character wasn’t having any of it.

It’s a good thing for the book! The story will be better for it.

It’s a terrible thing for my rapid progress.

I don’t turn on a dime. Flexibility is a known issue for me in all aspects of my life. I don’t like that, but I have learned to accept it. When plans change, I often need a bit of time to adapt.

The problem is, I don’t have a lot of time. By week 4 of this month my available time is going to be slashed until May, which means the first draft’s got to be done before then. I can edit, revise and adjust, but I can’t be wrestling with these fundamental plot points in April.

In traditional mode, I worried about this for a week in private, then reached back to the alpha readers for advice (something else I often struggle with). They were unanimous: The new direction is correct and improves the book immensely. They removed my last possible hope of sticking to the original plotline, bless ’em.

So I’m writing this post for three reasons: Firstly, I haven’t blogged in a while. Secondly, this is the only thing I’ve been able to think about for a week.

Finally, I’m hoping that writing about the issue publicly will result in writing through the issue when I’m next able to sit down.

How about you? When your characters present a surprise, do you seize it and run? Or like me, do you need to deliberate and figure out where the new path leads?

The Value of Horror

Fear. It is one of our most primal, most basic emotions. At one time, it served a vital purpose in our very survival. Yet today, our fears are very different monsters than those which haunted our aboriginal ancestors. The modern era is marked by a more free-floating, less tangible dread; one which cannot simply be outrun or outnumbered. How do we deal with this fear?

Author Steven King has famously said, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.” Today, I’m going to suggest that we can sometimes best calm our nerves by stimulating them with books like mine – in short, through horror novels.

Throughout history, horror fiction has let people externalize their fears. Beginning with the Gothic era, writers used or created mythological monsters to highlight those things they feared most.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula looks at the fears of female liberation, and of the foreigner arriving on British shores. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a cautionary tale to those who would push the boundaries of science and technology too far. And Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde warns of the de-evolution of morality and society threatened by Darwin’s theory of evolution.

In the 1920s, HP Lovecraft turned the Gothic on its head. He presented a fiction in which the universe itself was inherently opposed to sanity and life – brought on partly by the madness that was World War I. In the fifties, the fear of international Communism brought us The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and countless other books and films depicting an alien invasion of America – a disruption of the postwar middle-class. And in the eighties, any number of slasher villains targeted the sexual transgressions of a generation that seemed to be growing up and apart far too quickly for adult tastes.

Recently, the zombie has returned to the forefront of American horror culture; and it’s a clear reflection of our increasing polarization. Whether you despise Dittoheads or preach against political correctness, it’s easier than ever to see those who don’t agree with you as an unthinking, unstoppable horde. This is not to mention the post-9/11 fears of radical terrorism and illegal immigration.

And today, many authors – myself included – dive into the very real sense of alienation and isolation created by our supposedly interconnected world. How well do you know those you are closest to? What might they do when they are out of your sight? Can we ever truly know one another? Do we really want to?

This, then, is the history of horror. How can we put its monsters into service?

Horror provides us with a remarkable path towards self-actualization. When we can recognize our fears, particularly those which we have buried most deeply, we are able to bring shining truths out of our own inner darkness.  In writing the protagonist of Famished, I found myself becoming a stronger, more accomplished individual. I also found greater empathy for those who were raised in a different manner than I, and for those with less education.

Additionally, when we read horror, more than in any other genre, we experience what the Greek tragedians called Catharsis: The process of releasing, and therefore providing relief from, our strong or repressed emotions. In fact, one of the earliest Gothic writers, Anne Radcliffe, stated that she wished her works “to expand the soul and awaken the faculties to a higher degree of life.”

After the monster is slain, after the mists part, we look out into the sunshine. We experience that lifting of tension which has stalked us throughout the pages of our books. We are comforted by the mundane return to the office, by the presence of our significant other, lying safe beside us. The victory of the hero is our victory, and their survival reminds us that we are alive!

Opponents of the horror genre sometimes make the case that watching or reading this matter desensitizes us to violence. In reality, the assertion that violent media results in violent activity has never been borne out by a scientific study. Others claim that their faith instructs them to turn their eyes from this material, though this requires a fairly stretched interpretation of holy texts. And, of course, some people are simply afraid of being afraid.

Yet as Emerson says, “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

You know in your heart that this is true – that life and the world call us to face our fears, to acknowledge our secret horrors, and to come away stronger as a result.

Music of the Fears – January 2015

Scholar and gentleman Michael Grasso of the Renfusa blog pointed me to this article on teaching yourself creativity.

It’s an interesting read – an article I’ll likely mine for more blog posts in the future on topics such as the role of personality in creativity, my collection of self-help books on how to engage the creative mind, and the impact of a positive outlook on your own creativity.

Today, I’ll start with this quote:

“Most creative people have figured out a way to do the incubation thing—whether it’s meditation or staring out the window or taking long walks so their ideas can percolate,” Jung says. “It’s finding that magic space where you’re not actively engaged with the external world, and not just surfing the Internet.”

That kind of woolgathering was once my stock in trade. My bread and pickles. The trait that’s annoyed more of my teachers and romantic interests than anything else.

The arrival of the internet has made it both more difficult and simpler. More difficult, because left to my own devices, I’ll surf Pinterest and Reddit for hours at a time; and nothing kills my creativity faster than that aimless browsing.

Simpler, because I have four primary means of incubating: Meditation, Exercise, Driving … and Music.

Of course, one of the things the internet does really, really well is introduce me to music I would never have found in my local record stores or on the radio.

My alpha readers for FAMISHED: THE RANCH are getting notes on what music I listened to while writing various chapters. Since it’s a Friday before a long weekend, I decided it would be a friendly gesture to point others in the same direction.

When I’m not writing, my tastes trend to ska and hard rock. When writing, though, other people’s words get in the way. As a result, most of what I use to get into the incubating stage is ambient, electronic, or in a foreign language.

Most importantly – if you love the track, buy it! If you love the artist, let them know! Musicians, writers, and all other creatives need your support.

How about you? If music helps you get into the mood, share the love in a comment below.

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