Happy Halloween

My son is absolutely convinced our house is haunted.  Apparently the haunting is centered on our guest room, which is fine by me because then when guests come over we can tell them to not concern themselves if the walls start bleeding.  It’s totally not their fault, it’s just the ghosts being ghosts.  Ha, ha.  Everyone laughs.

My son likes to play games in my office – right across the hall from the guest room – and will always close the guest room door before he sits down to a mind-expanding time with The Force Unleashed or Jedi Academy.  I like to think teaching him about the Jedi is a life lesson, but I like to think a lot of things.

Whether or not the house actually is haunted is up to some debate.  Our dog has no great love of the hallway.  That may partially be because he knows the shower is at the other end – inside the dreaded guest room – and that means he’s about to get a bath.  He’s also blind, skittish, and old, so I can understand why he wouldn’t be enthralled with the idea of getting a shower.

Or it may be that, even blind, he’s seen this:

GhostFace
I doubt this is real, but it is creepy as all get out.

Personally, I’ve never seen a ghost, ghoul, goblin, or spook in the guest room.  I’ve never heard voices or felt invisible fingers brush me.  I have had chills run up my spine, but that usually involved spiders in the shower.  Maybe the ghosts just don’t like me, or maybe they’re nervous because I’ve seen a documentary on how to deal with hauntings.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

ghostbusters
555-2368

Just because I’ve never seen a ghost there doesn’t mean there are no ghosts there.  It’s logically impossible to prove something doesn’t exist since you’d have to iterate through every possible permutation of a thing in the hope that you don’t find what you’re looking for.  Or something.  Just imagine I said something sciency and it was all very wise.  Then look at this picture and you’ll forget all about it.

Ghostly pole dancers work cheap.
Ghostly pole dancers work cheap.

So, to set my mind (and everyone else’s) at ease, I’ve decided I’m going to become an amateur ghost hunter in the hopes that someday I can move up to the big leagues and become a Professional Paranormal Investigator and Eliminator.  Fortunately, the Internet is filled with information – some of which doesn’t even involve cats or naked ladies.  I was writing a story earlier this year (one that will be included in The Clock Man) that involved ghosts.  Specifically, it involved ways to get rid of them when you don’t have ready access to a proton pack or a positron collider.

After wading through acres of cats and binders full of naked women, I found a simple answer that was just sciency, just truthy, enough to work and incorporated it into the story.  You’ll have to read the story to find out what the solution was.  But the research got me interested in my own problem with the ghosts in my guest room.  Based on the research, my best guess is I’ve got a Class I, non-terminal, localized, non-repeating, phantasm, which sounds terrifying but at least it’s not this dude.

ghostbehindyou
Leftover shot from The Crow – the other greatest movie ever made.

In order to hunt ghosts, you apparently need some equipment.  Lots of equipment with very sciency-sounding names like thermal imager, parascope, vortex dome, and SB11 Ghost Box.  I guess it makes a certain kind of sense; if you’re stalking the unstalkable you need a set of tools tailor made to peek behind the curtains of reality.  There was a time when all this equipment was hand built by monks in Bavaria, but the modern world has changed all that.  I still pine for the days of artisan equipment though because, as a buddy of mine once said, “You can’t mass produce power.”

SCIENCE!
SCIENCE!

For some people, even that’s not enough.  Unfortunately, I can’t afford to go full-bore, but I’d love a set up like this.  I think the sight of me stalking down the hall with my black sunglasses on and carrying this bad boy would end any ghost problems I might have.

GhostHunting
The fork is tuned to the aether.

Or I could, you know, just hit Amazon and see what they’ve got.  Conveniently, Amazon has everything you need except a PKE Valance Meter; those you have to make yourself.  Unfortunately, I’m cheap and pretty lazy, so I think I’ll stick with my tried and true method of ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away on its own.  So far the ghosts haven’t been pests, so I say let ’em stay.  Especially if they’re willing to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who manages to break into the house.  That sounds like a win/win to me.

Now, do I believe my house is haunted?  Not really.  Do I believe there are actual haunted houses?  Sure, why not?  I’ve never been in a haunted house, but I can see how something like one could happen.  And, let me tell you, I’d love to investigate one.  We’ve all had those moments late at night when you know someone’s there, but just can’t prove it.  There’s that gnawing feeling in your gut, the hair on your neck pricks up, and the shadows seem to move about on their own.  It’s at those times when you know in your heart of hearts that you’re far, far safer in bed (ghosts cannot penetrate blankets), but your bladder is absolutely convinced that it’s about to explode.  Your bladder will eventually win.  You know this.  I know this.  Your bladder knows this.  And the ghost hiding in the corner knows this.

ghost3am
Remember this when you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

It’s at that precise moment when the ghosts, spooks, goblins, and specters become quite real and that Class I vapor becomes a full-on Class V full roaming phantasm – and a real nasty one at that.  And there you are, draining a bladder that’s probably in cahoots with the spirit world, completely helpless as the invisible claws float silently toward your throat.

That’s when you’ll wish you’d spent some time studying ways to fight the spirit world.  You’ll wish you had spent the time perusing the arcane literature that so many normals laugh off as “a joke” or “a waste of time” or “a box with some lights on it that some dolt spent hard-earned money on”.

ghostsky

Information, as they say, is power.  And with Halloween coming up and Dia de los Muertos hot on Halloween’s heels, you’re gonna need as much information as you can get if you’re going to survive the paranormal onslaught.  I’ve been doing my homework, have you?

Some links to check out before you start your career as a ghost hunter:

Ghost Hunting 101, Ghost Hunting and Pseudoscience, Ghost Hunting, Ghost Hunting for Girls (not sure how this is any different for girls, but I’m covering my bases here), The Albuquerque Kids’ Ghost Hunting Tours, A test of Ghost Hunting Apps for your smartphone, Amazon’s Ghost Hunting Kit

If you don’t get to those in time, remember this one thing: there are already strong, brave people out there fighting tirelessly every day.  If you can find them, maybe you can call them.

ghostscallusmaybe
555-2368

Don’t let yourself get caught unaware.  Arm yourself with as much knowledge and as many boxes with blinking lights as you can.  Make your living room look like the set from Star Trek.  Your significant other might balk at the idea that you get to watch TV from the Captain’s chair but, let’s face it, you put in the hard work, you deserve the chair.

ghosthuntersnexttime
Even dogs can be haunted

As for the ghosts in my guest room.  I’m going to find out once and for all if they’re real and then probably do nothing about it.  Like I said, they don’t seem to be hurting anyone and we’ve got the space to share with them.  They did make it into a couple stories, though, so they’ve got that going for them.  I just hope they don’t demand royalties.

Do Free Book Promotions Work (Part II)

Excellent write-up on free book promotions. When I first published Henchmen I was loath to give it away, but giving it away was the best way to get it read.

Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego

Neutrois 140Two and a half weeks ago, I posted a report on the initial results of a free copy promotion I ran, using four of the more effective book newsletter services. That campaign was successful in the near term, resulting in 4,360 downloads of my second book. In the conclusions, I noted:

I’ll need to collect further data before I can report back on whether a trial of this scale, duration and impact had the desired effect. The real test will be whether a week from now my base line of sales and page reads steps up from the base line before the sale.

And the answer is?… [drum roll]…No on sales, yes on reads. For the details, read on. As before, I’ll include specific figures and detailed sales charts.

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There comes this moment…

When the book is written and all the words are there on the digital pages and they’re all glaring at you and you can’t help but think “What the hell did I ever do to you?”

Writing a book is pretty much like anything else; it’s a process.  The more you do the process the better you get at it – theoretically at least.  I always like to tell the kid’s Kenpo class “You’ll perform in a fight exactly like you practice.”  And that right there is the rub.  Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.  It’s a honing process.

I was never taught how to write a book.  My high school English teacher hated me.  My college English teacher didn’t even bother to hide her disdain.  My junior high English teacher was actually pretty good.  It was her tutelage that I lean on when I write and it’s her words that I’m trying to hone.  When I look back on learning about writing it’s her I look back on.  Sadly, I don’t even remember her name.  If, however, she ever stumbles across this post and remembers me out of the thousands of students she had, I’d just like to say, “Thank you.”

She taught me enough that I can string a few words together into something approaching a coherent sentence and with that foundation I’ve written a couple books that at least a few people thought were enjoyable.  That’s a really big deal to me and it makes me extremely happy to know that I might have made the world a slightly better place.  Albeit by writing about mysterious gods and oodles of killing.

It’s the little things in life that matter the most.

So, here I am.  The Clock Man is written.  All the words are there, but they’re still glaring at me because some of them are out of order, some of them aren’t the right words, and some of them are just generally in a pissy mood.  Words are like that; they’re easily perturbed.

Now comes the editing part.  I have a dysfunctional relationship with editing.  On the one hand it’s a chance to read back through and realize it’s not quite as bad as I thought it was when I was writing it.  On the other; there are those moments where I stop, scratch my head, and wonder just what the hell I was thinking when I wrote something.  Thank God for friends.  I passed The Clock Man off to a fellow writer and she came back with some excellent points.

Now all I’ve got to do is implement those points.

So, there comes this moment when all the words are there and they just need to be shuffled around.  The book is done, but it’s not done done.  Done done happens when all the words are there, they’re in the right order, and neatly formatted.  Then the book will be done done.  Right now, I’m only done.  I’m looking forward to being done done.  Once I’m done done, I can start writing again.  I miss writing but editing is still an important part of the process.  Someday there will come this moment when it will be done done.

And then the whole process will start all over again. 🙂

Book Review – Lost Girl by Anne Francis Scott

Just in time for the best holiday of the year – Halloween – comes an excellent ghost story with a bit of a twist.

If the dead spoke to you, would you listen?
Or would you close your senses, tune out the whispers, pretend you couldn’t hear.
Maybe run.
To where?
Anywhere.
Find me . . .

I love a good ghost story.  Especially around Halloween there’s nothing better than reading a good ghost story and going to sleep wondering if that shadow is a specter lurking around doing ghostly things or just another run-of-the-mill extraterrestrial looking to play a game of hide the implant.

Neither is exactly good, but at least with the ghosts you’re not being probed.  Scared witless and left huddled in the corner weeping in terror, but not being probed.

Traditional ghost stories use the ghosts as the antagonists: the square-jawed hero and the delightful and sassy lady are left to fend for themselves against the terrors of the night.  We fear what we cannot see and what we cannot control.  In your usual ghost story the action starts with not being able to see the ghost.  It’s easier that way.  Easier to convince yourself that it’s not happening, the house isn’t haunted, it’s all in your mind.  It was all just an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.

Then the action starts and there’s screaming and running in terror when the ghost makes its first appearance.

ghostpic
Too much eye shadow or not enough eye? Either way, creepy.

Ghost stories, in their traditional forms, are about scaring the bejeezus out of you.  Some may ham-fistedly try to interject some social commentary, but the only commentary a ghost story really needs is ghosts are scary things.  They represent our lack of understanding of the world, our perceived lack of control in our lives, and, ultimately, serve as a reminder that we’re gonna die.  In the end, the protagonists either find a way to escape the ghost or the ghost gets them.  Very rarely in ghost stories can we say the protagonists won the story – unless you count surviving as winning.

Fascinating as fun as that can be, there’s really only so much you can do with the traditional ghost story.  Eventually it becomes trite and commonplace and that’s part of the reason why you don’t see a whole lot of traditional ghost stories anymore.  But even in cases where the protagonists catch the ghost or find a way to end the story on a positive note through figuring the ghost actually wanted its sled back we still see essentially the same tired memes playing out.

Which is why it’s nice to ghosts used as a motivator for the story and not as the main focus of the story.  There are ghosts in Anne Francis Scott’s Lost Girl, but they’re not the focus of the story even if their narrative is important to the story.  Lost Girl is a mystery as much as it is a ghost story.  And the mystery surrounds the main character just as the ghosts orbit her.  Like all good ghost stories Scott starts her tale with the quiet haunting: you can’t be sure if there really are ghosts or if it’s all in her mind.  It’s at the mid(ish)-point that Scott changes the rules for the better.

Even as you realize the ghosts are real, the main mystery of the story still remains.  That mystery, and the mystery of the ghosts themselves, is what will draw you through the rest of the story.  And that’s the part I can’t talk about here without blowing the mystery.

Suffice it to say, Lost Girl is a great read with just the right balance of ghostly activity and mystery.  In a way, it’s like getting two books for the price of one.  And both of them are good.

LostGirl

Get Lost Girl on Amazon

Follow Anne on Twitter

Check out Anne’s Facebook Author page

As Promised – First bit of Henchmen 3

Raw and uncut, but sets the stage for Henchmen 3.

There’s a girl screaming and begging at the bottom of the gully.  She’s buried up to her neck in the sand and our parent star hasn’t been kind to her.  By my estimation, and bear in mind I’m no expert at burying women in the sand, she’s been there at least since yesterday.  Her face is red and her eyes are sunken.  Heat exhaustion is a hell of a way to go.  At least they didn’t bury her in an anthill.

You’d think the guys milling around would at least give her a sip of water or cover her face from the sun but they appear to be assholes.  One of the guys is pacing and gesticulating wildly.  For all his frenetic energy he looks like the walking dead.  He’s sinewy in ways rarely seen outside of Iggy Pop’s shirtless beefcake shots and his complexion is gray and waxy.  Meth got its teeth into him and like the guy having sex with a psycho, he just can’t manage to get away.  He paces back and forth before finally walking in front of the girl and kicking sand in her face.

She coughs and chokes but keeps up a steady stream of weak cries and begging.  I can hear her clearly from up here, one of the quirks of sound in the desert.  “Pleasepleasepleaseplease,” she cries, running the words together.  “Letmego.”

A moment of clarity hits her, penetrating her sun-addled mind and she adds, “I swear to God, I won’t talk, just let me go.”

“You can swear to God when He gets here,” the meth head snarls.  “He’s a mean Dream God and He’s going to give us everything we want.”

“You’re insane,” she says, eyes going wide.  As if being buried up to her neck wasn’t sign enough, I think it finally dawned on her that these guys aren’t playing with a full deck.

“Leave her alone,” the other guy says.  He’s calm, but still skeletal.  Heroin would be my guess.  “He won’t come if she stops screaming.  He likes terror.  He needs her to be afraid before He’ll show up.”

I like terror?  News to me.

The first guy stares in wild-eyed wonder at his buddy and sways back and forth on his heels.  It’s apparent who the brains of the operation are, so to speak.  I wonder which one of them decided to slaughter the sheep.  I’ve never cared for sheep, but I certainly don’t hate them.  For that matter, I wonder which one of them figured out the exact set of things they’d need to do to get me to show up here.  From the carcasses down there – cats, dogs, sheep – my guess is they just started killing stuff and hoping something would work.

Bad news, guys.  It wasn’t the sacrifices and it wasn’t the girl that brought me here.  Right now I’m not exactly certain what it was, but in my defense I’m new to this whole “being a god” thing.  There should be a manual or something that tells you what to do and what to expect but – and don’t let the other gods know I said this – we’re just making this up as we go along, just like you are.

One second I’m enjoying a beer and burger with Jessica, the next second we’re both here looking down on a couple freaks and girl buried in the sand.

“You want her afraid?” the meth head asks.  “I can make that happen.”

He stomps off toward a beat up truck and grabs a bucket out of the back.  Methy holds it up and says, “I can make her scream like she means it.”

I’ve got a bad feeling about that bucket.

Methy’s buddy smiles and nods.  “Yeah, man,” he slurs.  “Make her scream.”

The girl starts screaming of her own accord but Methy keeps walking straight at her, muttering under his breath about power and gods and girls who don’t know when to shut up and when to scream.  He stops in front of her and shows her the bucket.  “I’ve got some new friends for you,” he says and backs up.

She stops screaming and starts panting.  Stark, raving terror is creeping across her face, the kind of terror you only get when you are absolutely powerless to stop something.  Methy pulls the top off the bucket and grins a huge, decaying smile.  The few teeth he has left are black and rotting.  “Scream for me, bitch,” he says and dumps the bucket on the ground.

Dozens of scorpions hit the ground and start heading for the girl’s face.  Her scream is a mixture of pure horror and desperation.  It echoes around the gully until it sounds like her scream is coming from the very ground itself.

“If you’re not going to do anything about this,” Jessica says from behind me, “I will.”

I think she’s still pissed that she got sucked into this mess along with me.  She had just popped the top off a beer and was about to take a sip when the world went all wonky and we left Irish pub behind.  Having dinner in Durango one second, blink and – pop – we’re here in the ass end of nowhere when our eyes open.  Jessica starts to walk down the gully but I put a hand on her shoulder.  “Wait a second.  Time is of the essence.”

A couple scorpions have almost made it the to the girl’s face and the look of abject terror in her eyes is making me nervous.  I close my eyes and reach out.  My vision changes until I’m seeing from my normal height and from ground level.  My regular eyes see the shadows crawl out of the brush like silent black blobs.  My shadow eyes see the scorpions getting closer.  The arachnids are creepy enough when you’re almost six feet tall.  When you have to look up to see their bellies and claws and barbed tails they hit a whole new level of scary.

The first shadow hits a scorpion and I feel the arachnid’s mind.  Food, shelter, scared, sting anything, sting everything.  I know the critter isn’t evil, it’s just doing what it was programmed to do and I feel bad about it, really, but I shut the thing’s mind down and move onto the next.  I sent three shadows and they took care of all but two scorpions in almost no time at all.

The meth head is jumping for joy, pointing at my shadows and screaming “He’s here, he’s here, we did it!  He’s here!”  The girl is still screaming, eyes squeezed shut, pretending if she can’t see the scorpions they can’t hurt her.  Methy’s buddy crawls out of his chair and stares.  Grins cross both their faces.  They think they just called down Santa Claus and he’s going to deliver all kinds of presents.

To begin with, I’m not that kind of god.  I’m also pissed as hell that these two numb nuts ruined my dinner.  I’ve got presents for them, though, but I doubt they’ll like them.

The shadows scurry back into the brush and the guys look around, wondering what just happened.  The girl is still screaming.  Methy leans down and slaps her, but she just screams louder.  He kicks her in the face, breaking her nose and probably knocking teeth loose.  He’s so focuses on beating her he doesn’t feel a scorpion crawling up his leg.  Methy’s just about to kick the girl again when I send a message to the scorpion.

His leg goes out from under him and he collapse on the ground screaming and cursing.  My other scorpion almost made it to the other guy but got squashed when the calm dude stood up and looked around.  “I know you’re,” he says, looking around.  “We called you; you need to do our bidding.”

I motion to Jessica and point to the guy on the ground.  She nods and closes her eyes.  I feel her mental fingers digging through my brain, dredging up horrors I’ve seen in other people’s dreams.  When she finds something she likes I can feel her grin.

Jessica can make things happen as long as someone can feed her blueprints.  I don’t pretend to know exactly how it works.  She can make things she comes up with, but for some reason they’re always small and frail.  Maybe she needs my energy to make big things happen.  A shadow, a regular shadow, forms over Methy’s legs seconds before a huge boulder falls out of the sky and crushes his limbs.

“Well played,” I tell Jessica.

She’s smiling again so maybe she’s not too pissed about dinner.  “I thought about cutting them off but this seemed like it would hurt more,” she says.

From the sound of Methy’s cries, Jessica was right.

The other guy, calm as a cucumber, pulls a pistol out of his waistband and stalks toward the now quiet girl buried in the sand.  “Come out,” he says with a little slur.  “I called you out here.  Now it’s time to do my bidding.”

“Where do these guys get these ideas and how did he know how to get you out here?” Jessica asks.

I shrug.  I’d kind of been wondering that myself.  “Internet maybe,” I say.  “I think they just got lucky, though.”

“Get out here!” the guy screams.  “I’ll blow her fucking head off right fucking now.”

He doesn’t seem so calm anymore.  The heroin must be wearing off.

Jessica starts to go down and I walk after her.  If the guy won’t back off, I’ll turn her loose on him and he’ll wish for the sweet release of death before she’s done.  She’s got quite the temper on her, this girl of mine.  Together we walk down into the gully.  I pull my own gun out of my waistband and cock the little Detonics.

The guy swings his gun toward Jessica and glares.  We stop dead in our tracks.  I may be bullet-proof, emphasis on may.  Jessica probably isn’t.  “What kind of god carries a gun?” he asks.

“Thor had his hammer,” I say, “I’ve got mine.”

“Put the gun on the ground,” the guy says.

“Eat a dick,” I reply.

“I’ll kill both of these bitches,” he says, drawing a bead on Jessica’s forehead.

I have this quick flash of terror from him.  Some kind of monster is always on his mind, a creature with a blank face and huge talons for hands.  The vision is complete down to the minute details of fluid pumping through some kind of hoses on the creature.  I can taste the guy’s mind and he tastes like mescaline.  That must be how he called me here.  He managed to hit the dream world without leaving this one.

Well, he won’t have to dream much longer.

“Put the gun on the ground,” the guy says again.

I gently place my .45 on the ground and stand back up again.  “What do you want?” I ask, figuring if we’re here I might as well learn a bit.

The guy nods frantically.  “Power,” he says.  “I want power.”

“Sorry,” I say, “I don’t own  power plant.”

His face scrunches tight.  “I WANT YOUR POWER!” he yells.

“Can’t have it,” I say.

He makes a show of cocking the gun.  A bullet flies out the ejection port when he pulls the slide back.  Either he didn’t realize it was already cocked or he was just going for effect.  Either way, I’m unimpressed.

 

Marketing in Shorts …

Tom Benson - Creative

Don’t panic … the shorts in question are of course short stories.

How do you market in shorts?

A good question and I’m glad you asked. If you don’t already write short stories you have a couple of straightforward options:

1. You could opt not to try your hand at writing them.

If you choose this option, then I believe you are missing out on what can be an enjoyable writing discipline, and also a wonderful training ground for tightening your regular creative fiction.

2. You could try writing short stories, put them out there for folk to review, and when you think you’ve got the hang of it, compile an anthology of your work.

In which case, depending on the time available for writing, if you care about the quality of your output it might take anything from months to years.

3. You could look at a short…

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