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.

Character Blog Tour

I was tagged by Jennifer Brozek to engage in a Character Blog Tour. Since I’ve just received a verbal acceptance from her on the initial outline for Famished: The Ranch, I thought this would be a good place to introduce new readers to our hero.

  1. What is the name of your character?
    Gordon Velander.
  2. Is s/he fictional or a historic person?
    Gordon is totally fictional.
  3. When and where is the story set?
    It is set in a modern day alternate America. While the world is essentially the same as the one we know, supernatural elements and creatures exist. Also, the founding of America went a little differently here, though the general public is unaware of this fact. The story ranges from Colorado to Maine, from Minnesota to South Carolina.
  4. What should we know about him/her?
    At the start of the series, Gordon is an aimless teacher’s aide with little further direction than a Christmas Catholicism and a desire to work in higher education. He’s honest, faithful, sheltered, and more than a little naïve – almost childlike in his faith in the inherent goodness of people. This is, naturally, Not A Good Thing for a horror protagonist.
  5. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
    He is the unwitting scion of a horrific cult with its roots deep in the history and difficulties of the United States. When the cult discovers his bloodline, they introduce him to a world he was never prepared to witness, and demand his obedience to their terrifying agenda. Just when he thinks himself free of their reach, he becomes the tool of another supernatural force, a catspaw to carry out their own desires.
  6. What is the character’s personal goal?
    While the goal has shifted slightly in each of the novels in this series, his ultimate goal is freedom – freedom from the cult, from the forces which sustain him, and the past built by his ancestors.
  7. Is there a working title for this novel, and where can we read more about it?
    The latest (and likely final) book in the Gentleman Ghouls series is Famished: The Ranch. It is preceded by Famished: The Farm and Famished: The Commons. The earlier books are available from the publisher’s website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Drive Thru Fiction.
  8. When can we expect the book to be published?
    The first two books are already available. I am personally hopeful to release Famished: The Ranch in the summer of 2015, but have not yet confirmed any dates with the publisher.

I’m going to tag Anastasia Storer, Erica Lira and Ginger Breo. They may, of course, choose to play or ignore this blog tour.

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