Writing Experience

Back when I was a young lad growing up in Farmington, NM, I read a lot of books. It was a way of escaping a system that rewarded jocks for being jock assholes and didn’t care for creativity. I wasn’t a jock, although I did go out for basketball in the 6th grade (didn’t get to play in the one game we won) and track & field in High School (okay at shot put, miserable at discus). Personally, I didn’t care too much for either. I guess I’m not much of a team sports guy.

This was when Stephen King was doing his meteoric rise to, well, where he is now. I didn’t read a whole lot of horror – I was mostly into SciFi – but, of course I read King’s early works just like everyone else. It was required reading in the 80s, just like it was expected that you listened to Oingo Boingo. He did some pretty clever horror stories back in the day. Christine, Pet Sematary, Misery, It. He also did a great co-authoring work with Peter Straub called The Talisman which was pretty awesome.

I could usually be found with my nose in a book, listening to Iron Maiden or any number of 80s heavy metal bands and doing my best to avoid the multitude of bullies and assholes that thrived in an environment where athletic prowess was valued more than anything else. I also worked on the yearbook and that probably didn’t help my social standing.

Quick funny story for you: Our senior year yearbook has a strange aberration on the cover. If you look on the back there’s a piece of the wall that’s a different color from the rest. The reason that’s there is because it’s covering an anarchy symbol. We put the anarchy symbol on the cover because we thought it was cool. The school brass nearly had a heart attack over it and ordered it covered. I still think we should have kept it intact.

anarchy

ANARCHY!

Now, what’s funny is at this time, a lot of people thought Stephen King was a hack. Nowadays, he’s considered one of the greats, but in the early 80s, he didn’t have such high regard. Nevertheless, he sold books like a mad motherfucker and everyone was reading him no matter what the critics had to say.

King was making money and doing what he loved. While all the critics were going to sleep in their one-room flophouses and fighting cockroaches the size of Panzer tanks, Stephen King was sleeping on a huge pile of money, surrounded by many beautiful ladies.

He kept going and he kept doing things his way and now very few people consider him a hack. And he’s not the only one, either. Science Fiction as a genre was long considered the repository for people who couldn’t write good stories. Bradbury, Williamson, Heinlein, Asimov, and many others were looked down upon, not because of what they were writing, but because of their genres.

In Kenpo, we line up in class according to rank. During one of my first classes my teacher made an interesting point. “The difference,” he said, “between being at the front of the class and the back of the class is simply a matter of time.” If you stuck with it, you got better. It was that simple.

Writing seems to be no different in that respect. Keep practicing and you’ll get better. At least I like to think I’ve gotten better at it.

Of course, I’m still working at that “world thinks he’s a hack” level of popularity, but perhaps it will come in time. If it does, and I still get a bunch of reviews calling me a hack, hell, that’s a bunch of people that read that book and cared enough to leave a comment. I’m cool with that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if you’re struggling with something – anything, really – keep at it if you love it. Keep trying to make it better, keep trying new things, keep trying in general. There was a time when even Stephen King was an unknown tacking rejection notices to his wall.

The Blurbery, Part II

I know I said the next post would be about wuxia, but time makes fools of us all, right? The reason is I had something come up that needed dealing with quickly and the long reason is … well, it’s pretty much the same reason: something came up. See how I used a colon there? That makes it a longer reason.

As I am wont to do, I leapt into action to meet the problem head-on.

bollywood

Some people think one gun is enough. Those people are wrong.

Back in April of 2015 I wrote a post on writing blurbs. Wrote about writing descriptions about other writing. Whoa. Very meta of me. At the time the blurbs for Henchmen and Arise were basically crap and I decided it was high time I figured out how to do it correctly. The Internet, being the wonderful place that it is, had a wealth of information about writing blurbs so after tearing myself away from porn and cat videos I did some research and figured out how to write a decent blurb.

Sales didn’t exactly skyrocket but they got better and I felt better so everything was better.

Well, it was anyway.

Well, it was anyway.

Then I finished The Clock Man and was faced with a whole new problem. Like the doof I am sometimes, I decided to power through without thinking it all the way through. See, the thing is, writing a blurb for a novel that tells exactly one story turns out to be a wee bit different from writing a blurb for a book with a bunch of stories.

Here’s the original blurb for The Clock Man:

“Enter worlds of magic and dragons, martial arts and mayhem

A woman waits in a plain white room, wondering why she’s there and what’s about to happen.
A man and his talking gun hunt the bogeyman.
A family finds its house is haunted and sets out to trap the ghosts, but what if the ghosts aren’t the real problem?
Far underneath a city, the figure of a man rests. For decades he’s remained perfectly motionless. Last night he moved.
In a world of magic, martial arts, and dragons, one man controls the flow of magic. Now his daughter wants him dead.
Zapp Blander always dreamed of being a hero. When a man named Jack shows up, Zapp might just get his chance.
She was designed to choose which slain warriors got to go to Valhalla, but Kara has developed her own ideas.
The bogeyman of New Mexico is beaten and fed what should be a simple task: Kill the boy.”

Shut_up_and_take_my_money

Wonderful, yes?

In a fit of mediocrity last night I swapped a couple stories around and set about rewriting the blurb. This is what I came up with.

Felix Crow is a legend in his own mind, a fallen cop in a dangerous city full of thugs and magic. He’s become a kind of alcholic fixer of problems, a man both haunted by his own past failures and simultaneously okay with them. After waking up in a dumpster one morning, head splitting and covered with lo mein noodles, Felix gets the worst opportunity of a lifetime. All he has to do is kill the most important person in the world.
In a world filled with martial arts, mayhem, magic, and the odd dragon, Crow will find himself in the fight of his life against the mysterious Clock Man.

Zapp Blander dreams of a better life, a life filled with action and adventure the likes of which would make Doc Savage proud. He soon finds himself in the presence of a strange man with a fantastic car. Zapp is given a choice: stay and clean up brains, or risk his life in pursuit of a magical thing that could shift the balance of the universe.

Wilford Saxton finds himself in the posession of a gun that can talk to his mind. His job is gone, his life as he knew it is over, and his body is forever changed. The gun drags him to a small town in New Mexico where he’ll get a chance at redemption. All he has to do to rebuild his life is learn how to work with gun, survive Cuba, New Mexico, and hunt down the bogeyman.

A scream pierces the night. Parents stumble downstairs to find their child shaking and pointing down a dark hallway, certain he saw a pair of ghosts. At first the child’s parents are dismissive until they meet the ghosts themselves. Desperate to remove a perceived threat, the family tries to find a way to trap the spirits. But a pair of ghosts might not be the worst thing that can happen.

For decades the body of a man has lain dormant and unchanging on a stone altar far underneath the city. He’s been watched and monitored, secrets slowly stolen from his body and turned into weapons. The whole time the man’s body has been completely still. Last night a finger twitched, then the shadows started moving. The people studying the body don’t realize it, but the God of Dreams is about to wake up. And he is not happy.

Kathryn Devereaux got a message at work to show up to a particular room at a particular time with an adominition to not be late. Now she sits in a plain white room where time doesn’t work like it’s supposed to and wonders what’s going on. Her job – designing demons – was strange enough, but the room is in a whole other league. When a man with a sheaf of papers shows up and starts asking questions her day gets a whole lot stranger.

Valkyries were designed to choose warriors for the final battle. They were strong, excellent fighters, and – above all – obedient. All except for Kara who has her own ideas about how to choose the dead.

Coco was the bane of Northern New Mexico, a bogeyman who was famous for devouring children. He stalked the night like he owned it, flitting from place to place and following the orders of his mysterious masters to kill and enact vengeance. But even the greatest of monsters sometimes come across something even more frightening than themselves. Now Coco has a new task – something right up his alley. All he has to do is kill a child, but that task proves more difficult than it should be.

tldr

Fortunately, the good folks at IASD set me straight (much thanks to S.K. Sylva, RA, Val, Nico, and Ian) and reminded me that a blurb doesn’t need to be huge. In fact, anything too long will just get overlooked.

I was looking at a story collection blurb as basically nothing more than a composite novel blurb. Therefore, it seemed logical to me to write mini-blurbs for each story. The individual blurbs are okay, not great, but okay. The problem is there’s eight of them. And, contrary to popular belief is eight is not enough; it’s actually too damned much.

So, I picked a couple authors I know had written short story collections – Stephen King and Harlan Ellison – and checked out what kind of blurbs their professional blurbers had come up with.

For Harlan Ellison’s The Top of the Volcano

”Only connect,” E.M. Forster famously said, and Harlan Ellison was canny enough to make that the lifeblood of his achievement from the get-go.

New, fresh and different is tricky in the storytelling business, as rare as diamonds, but, as a born storyteller, Harlan made story brave, daring, surprising again, brought an edge of the gritty and the strange, the erudite and the street-smart, found ways to make words truly come alive again in an over-worded world.

From the watershed of the ’50s and ’60s when the world found its dynamic new identity, to a self-imitating, sadly all too derivative present, he has kept storytelling cool and hip, exhilarating, unexpected yet always vital, able to get under your skin and change your life.

And now we have it. ”The Top of the Volcano” is the collection we hoped would come along eventually, twenty-three of Harlan’s very best stories, award-winners every one, brought together in a single volume at last. There s the unforgettable power of ”’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” ”The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” and ”Mefisto in Onyx,” the heart-rending pathos of ”Jeffty Is Five” and ”Paladin of the Lost Hour,” the chilling terror of ”I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” the ingenuity and startling intimacy of ”Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans…”

These stories are full of the light and life of someone with things worth saying and the skills to do it, presented in the book we had to have–not just a Best-of (though given what’s on offer it may just fall out that way) but in one easy-to-grab volume perfect for newbies, long-time fans and seasoned professionals alike to remind them just how it can be done.”

Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

“A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Stephen King’s Night Shift

“More than twenty-five stories of horror and nightmarish fantasy transform everyday situations into experiences of compelling terror in the worlds of the living, the dying, and the nonliving.”

I particularly loved the one for Night Shift: short and to the point. But, let’s face it, this is Stephen King we’re talking about so the blurb could have been nothing more than “King’s newest collection. Buy it” and it would have sold like hotcakes.

wewantsit

A few examples do not research make, though. I started searching for more pointers. There are a ton of resources for a single novel blurb, but resources for  story collections seem a bit rarer. I did find a few, including one from Tam Francis that had some interesting pointers and another from Owen Adams that was a little lighter on the details but had some useful pointers, especially about how it’s perfectly okay to talk yourself up on your Amazon author page. I intend to add the phrase “the laws of physics do not apply to Eric Lahti” on mine.

Booksoarus had some good pointers, too. In the final analysis, though, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of consensus about how to handle collections of stories. There seem to be two major fields of thought on the subject: highlight each story with a mini blurb or write a paragraph that describes the theme and the feeling of the book. As someone else said “The story is the roller-coaster while the novel is the theme park.”

Take that a step further and you could argue that the story is still the roller-coaster while the collection of stories is the theme park. Maybe that’s not the best analogy in the world, but it works for right now.

The problem is how to get the theme out of a collection of stories. The Clock Man consists of eight stories ranging in length from about 7,000 words to around 32,000 words (I know, 32k is a bit long for a short story, it’s a novella), There’s a hefty degree of interlocking in the stories, especially if you’ve read Henchmen and/or Arise, even if all the stories stand on their own. A common thread is an element of magic and an element of horror. It could also be argued that the stories – as the talented S.K. Holmesley put it –

“…extraordinary stories are a mixture of humorous satire, irony and the macabre, in which the stupidities and hypocrisy of conventional society are viciously pilloried.” – S.K. Holmesley

I like the idea of things being viciously pilloried. In fact, more things need to be viciously pilloried. And put in stocks.

I’d tried the single line approach to each story, but it didn’t do much, so I’ve decided to go for a paragraph approach and highlight the major themes (viciously pillorying things, magic, and horror) and the general feel of the book: somewhat lighthearted but still scary as hell in places.

One thing that really sticks out, though, no matter who you talk to is this: “Take a good deal of time to really perfect the book description”

And that is truth. After the cover, the blurb is your last chance to get someone to read your book. If the cover blows chunks no one but your friends will read it. If the blurb is equally bad, you’re dead in the water.

I used the King and Ellison examples, along with some other theories and some back and forth with Ian D. Moore from IASD and came up with:

Eric Lahti creates eight brand new tales of magic, mystery, horror and just plain mayhem. From the dusty shelves of a forgotten gas station to a graffiti tagged alleyway on another planet come a series of quests, epic battles, and good old fashioned mystery interlaced with the paranormal.

The Clock Man and Other Stories shows the world as seen through the eyes of the bogeyman, a talking gun that knows far too much, and a man eating a fried tarantula. Read it with a friend or read it alone, but be sure to leave a light on.

What do you think?

Embrace Fear

I’ve been placed in Amazon’s horror category for some time now. Type in Eric Lahti horror into Amazon’s search engine and all of my books pop up. Go ahead and try it.  Feel free to buy them while you’re there. I’m not 100% certain how I wound up that genre but I’ve decided it’s probably best to just embrace it and move forward. While I’ll never consider myself a horror author in the gore splattering around or haunted place realm (although I have written a ghost story: The Protectors), I guess I do have some bit of horror elements in my books. Maybe it’s just the paranormal aspects or maybe the genre isn’t as narrow as I had previously thought. Some horror books are cheap schlocky thrills while others are more ponderous; slowly building to that conclusion that doesn’t really hit you until you shut off all the lights or you’re lying in a jungle bleeding to death.

TheHorror

The horror.

Of all the horror books I’ve read (not a huge amount, I admit) very few stick with me. Some of Stephen King’s works and some of the canon from Lovecraft are notable examples. The funny thing about H.P. Lovecraft is I like his ideas but have trouble actually reading his work. Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve read any of Lovecraft’s books, so maybe I need to try it again and see what shakes loose. The last Stephen King book I read was From A Buick 8; hardly a representative example of the horror genre but a fun read nonetheless. In fact, From A Buick 8 spans a lot of genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, Speculative fiction are genres that it at least kind of fits into.

Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much. It had its scary parts, but it wasn’t a gory splatter-fest; it was musings and ponderings and it didn’t give you all the answers. If that’s horror I’m happy to be included in the genre.

One of the scariest scenes in any movie is this one

AlienRises

Carrie Henn’s only role, but she totally rocked it. The xenomorph went onto to have a starring role in the abhorrent Alien 4.

You don’t see much of anything, just the Xenomorph (that’s what the cool kids call the aliens) rising from the water, Newt turns and screams. Boom. That’s it. Then, of course, Ripley tapes some guns and a flame thrower together and heads into the nest to kick some Xenomorph ass.

Now, here’s the thing about the traditional horror genre: there’s a creeping sense of hopelessness. Traditional horror with all the running and screaming and getting slaughtered is the emo kid of the movie world. I don’t think you’ll find a whole lot of people who would argue Aliens wasn’t a horror movie, but the characters were far from helpless.

ALIENS, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, 1986, TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. All Rights Reserved

ALIENS, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, 1986, TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century-Fox Film Corp. All Rights Reserved – Totally not helpless

Even Lovecraft’s stories featured protagonists who weren’t helpless. They used magic and arcane knowledge to fight the unnameable horrors of Lovecraft’s blasphemous world. They usually lost and lost horribly, but they weren’t helpless.

Which means horror elements can be used in place of traditional conflicts in literature. Traditional conflict falls into one (or more) of categories:

  • Person versus person
  • Person versus society
  • Person versus self
  • Person versus nature

There’s nothing in the rules that says person versus person can’t include a vampire (or a God of Dreams). Person versus nature could easily include our Xenomorphs – although it could be argued that Aliens was nothing more than an analogy for trying to shop during the Christmas season. Person versus nature could also include these guys.

straight-outta-lovecraft

So, once I wrapped my head around the fact that horror doesn’t have to mean teenagers having sex and then getting slaughtered (or given to some strange naked following woman), I realized I think I’m quite cool with being called a horror author. There can be monstrous things going on and heroes (or villains) that combat those things. I like the idea of writing about people who would see this coming at them and decide – in that moment of pants-wetting terror – to stand their ground and fight like madmen (and women).

HorrorCritter

Lotion is your friend, bro.

That’s the fun kind of horror. They may not win, but they’ll at least try. And the scary parts don’t even have to be the main thrust of the story. From A Buick 8 was a horror story, but the thrust of the story about something strange dropping into the midst of a group of people and how the people themselves dealt with it. Person versus nature and – more importantly – person versus self. The horror aspect was a backdrop for the real story. The same could arguably be said of a lot of King’s work. Someday, I hope to be good enough that people will say the same of mine.

Now, this is not to say all conflict must have a horror element to it, let alone a paranormal element. Being tied to a chair and forced to listen to Barbara Streisand songs is certainly conflict – and quite possibly horrifying – but it lacks a paranormal element. Someone between you and your love may or may not be horrifying, and unless that person is a sparkly vampire there’s no paranormal element to it.

But I’ve learned to embrace the paranormal horror elements; they’re fun to write, fun to work with, and I love the idea of interesting things inhabiting our otherwise mundane world. Even more than that, though, I love the idea of people fighting back against the things that aren’t supposed to be beatable. Even when the situation seems absurd.

Alien Wars by Byzko Wader

Alien Wars by Byzko Wader

So, there you have it. I have embraced my horror side. Don’t expect me to write any stories filled with gore, but I fully intend to keep right on tilting the windmills, fighting the unbeatable foes, and standing tall in the face of the nameless horrors. Since I started this post with Colonel Kurtz, it only seems fitting that his words – even though they represent a kind of existential horror – end it.

HorrorAndMoralTerror

Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared.

How do I intend to get characters to fight these things? Well, Henchmen and Arise used a lot of guns, but it’s Chan and Crow in The Clock Man and their methods that I really want to explore. Tune in next time when I discuss the ancient and deadly art of Wuxia.