Category Archives: Horror

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of an Indie Novel—Wolves of Vengeance Part 1

Note: Since most people are sheltering in place, I figured I’d make my first novel FREE for as long as Amazon lets me. You can get Wolves of Vengeance here. If you read it, and you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to post a review on Amazon. Just a few sentences and whatever star rating you feel it deserves would be perfect. Thanks! 

Back in 2006, I abandoned my first novel. I had spent four long years trying to wrangle that mess of a manuscript into a cohesive whole, and by the time I figured out how to save it—I had a big problem. My skill level at the time was no match for the complexity of the story.  I stepped away from the project.

I decided to develop an idea originally envisioned as a screenplay. 

The seed of that idea came from an incident in high school and the aftermath that would stay with me forever. 

The “stranger comes to town” motif of Stephen King’s novels, along with the “man and woman come together to defeat a great evil while healing themselves in the process” motif, often seen in Dean Koontz novels, inspired my approach to this story.

 

Salem's Lot

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Also, the film Flatliners, where Kiefer Sunderland’s character “flatlines” and has a confrontation with the “ghost” of the child he bullied when he was younger, was very influential.

Flatliners

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Here’s some background information: 

In 1987, after dealing with bullies in my freshman year, I attended an old school Tae Kwon Do dojang (training hall). Our teacher ran the place like a fight gym. The students were motivated adults, mostly working-class men who liked to beat the crap out of each other for fun. It was a rough tutelage. We maintained military bearing, conditioned ourselves like fighters, and lived for continuous contact sparring practiced every night without safety equipment. 

Within a short time, the fierce reputation of the dojang, along with winning a few school fights, ended the bullying.  

In my senior year, I slacked off a little with my training. Without the constant need to defend myself, I lost my motivation. 

Then providence intervened. 

Without going into the details, I had an altercation with a student. We’ll call him Jack. After the encounter,  he said he would beat me up after school. 

I waited for him in the parking lot, but he never showed. That should have ended it. 

Instead, the next day, a female student asked if Jack and I had fought. I told her he never showed. And then, stupidly, I added: “He must have been too scared to fight me.” 

My comment didn’t allow Jack to save face. I had just been afflicted by the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease.  My remark made it back to him, and this time he was waiting for me after school. 

We had a standoff and a shouting match. The principle broke it up. Although we threw no punches, we both declared victory. 

Of course, neither of us wanted to fight and is the reason we ended up in a stalemate. But from that point on, I needed to train just in case we ended up throwing down.  I went straight back to hard training at the dojang. Two years later, I would earn a black belt. You can watch the highlights of that test here. Skip to near the end for sparring. 

Jack and I never had words again. We ended up at the same party once, not long after high school, but we kept to ourselves. 

The last time I saw him, he was walking around the downtown area. I was driving my girlfriend’s (now my wife) brand-new car. We made eye contact. That moment seemed like a little victory. 

I never forgot about our skirmish, though. Without a resolution, the incident nestled insidiously in my subconscious. 

A few years later, my dad called to tell me Jack had died of a drug overdose.

I began to wonder what would have happened if he had turned his life around. That gave me an idea. I could give him a new life in the screenplay idea I had always meant to write. In that instant, Jack Amon and Wolves of Vengeance were born. 

In 2006, I decided to develop that idea into a novel. 

Next time, I’ll explain how I expanded the idea into novel form and how I developed the main cast of characters.

 

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Free Kindle Version of Epitaphs!

I hope everyone is doing well during these crazy times. Just wanted to let you know that Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers is free for a limited time on Kindle. This anthology includes my story, “Malfeasance.” Happy Reading!

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If you’re interested in how I wrote and sold this story you can read about it here.

Before I go, I want to let you know I’ve been behind on my blog writing. You probably already know that. Haha! But I will be continuing The Scribes of Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale series. I also want to get back to my NaNoWriMo novel, BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.

On an encouraging note,  I just received an acceptance from an award-winning webzine. I’ll have a  free story online for you to ready sometime in July.

I’ve been plugging away at the final edits of a 90,000-word horror thriller. Hopefully, I’ll be finished soon and can put it on the market.

The better part of this week was spent rewriting a short story for an anthology open call. I really love the story, but it needed a lot of TLC to bring it up to my current standards.

I also sent out a Lovecraft inspired story to another anthology open call.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon. Stay safe out there!

 

 

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

 

NaNoWriMo – The Aftermath

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I started a new novel called Black Magic Bullets (working title) for NaNoWriMo. I thought it would be fun to participate this year and dove right in,—-albeit a little late. 

I wasn’t expecting to write 50,000 words in a month, and I knew I couldn’t do it while sharing my first draft with the world. I’d have to write slowly enough that the prose was readable and made logical sense.  As such, I only got down a little over 13,000 words. Still, not bad for a busy month while trying to finish up the 3rd draft of another novel. 

Stephen King warns about writing with the “door open,” but this has been an enjoyable exercise and I’ve had some fantasy readers reach out to express interest in the story. That’s always heartwarming and encouraging, since most of the time we write in isolation, without any input until we finish and release it to the world. 

I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. I know I’d like to continue Black Magic Bullets and post my first draft (at least up to a point) on this blog. I’m planning to share at least half the book, but If I decide to stop at any time, I’ll put up a notice and give you a chance to contact me. I’ll then send the rest of the first draft, in installments, to you directly. I wouldn’t want to string you along and not give you an ending. 

If I go beyond publishing half the book on this blog, I worry I’d have trouble selling it once completed.

 Anyway, thanks for reading. I plan to get back to Black Magic Bullets soon. I also want to talk about the Honorable Mention I received from Writers of the Future before year-end. Then I’d like to get back to my regular Scribe’s Arcanum posts. I’m also determined to finish the 3rd draft of my horror thriller. It must be completed by the end of this year! I’ve worked on it too long already.  Also, stay tuned for my year-end report where I list everything I’ve accomplished this year. It’s going to be a big one! 

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll continue to take this journey with me. 

Best, 

Dave 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Hours of Sleep Part 2

 

I had momentum behind me from recent sales and figured it wouldn’t hurt to have another story acceptance. I had already tried to sell The Hours of Sleep to all the professional publications but no one wanted vampire fiction. Then I came across the open call for an anthology called You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology. Here was a market tailor-made for my story. 

The editor was only offering royalties and a free e-copy of the book, but there was another reason to submit, besides money or placing what seemed an unmarketable story. Cool kids. Yes, I was keeping up with upcoming writers. When I found out that some were submitting or had been accepted, I wanted to be included with that group. I also knew that if they were submitting to this anthology, it would be quality and a worthwhile venture. 

Eric J. Guignard, a Bram Stoker Award winner, a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize has probably had the most success of all the alumni of that anthology. Good company to keep, and pages to share.

I also met a writer in that anthology who has also worked as an editor and invited me to submit to his print magazine and podcast. 

Pro Tip 2: Sharing pages with up-and-coming authors and editors can lead to friendships and market invites. You never know. 

Vampire Antho

Here’s the blurb and a list of the authors included in the book:

“You can’t kill me, I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology” presents the chronicles behind modern vampires and provides a chronological tour through vampire literature. Vampires have long captured the imaginations of famous writers, who wrote novels, stories, poems, and plays about the creatures of the night.

Nikki Vogel

James Harley

Eric J. Guignard 

Rebecca L. Brown

Elise Thomas

Joseph A. Pinto

Norman A. Rubin

Jay Wilburn

Kenneth Whitfield

Gregg Chamberlain

David North-Martino

T. Fox Dunham

Mark Slade

Steven Deman

Tyson West 

Denny E. Marshall

D.J. Currivean

Joseph J. Patchen

Alan Russo

The editor sent an acceptance on 11/25/12 and then on 12/2/12 sent a contract for me to sign electronically. 

In the end, I found a home for my story, connected with other up-and-coming writers within the community, and continued my momentum.  

You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology is available for purchase here. 

Next time we’ll continue this discussion and we’ll also touch upon editorial feedback and how it can enhance your career. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Hours of Sleep Part 1

I was hoping to tell you by now that I made a short fiction sale this year. Although that hasn’t happened yet, I’m pleased to report that I received an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. I’m also told that it puts me in the top 2% of all entrants. I’m awaiting my certificate and will tell you more once it’s posted on their official blog.

award-honorable-mention-wotf

Last time I mentioned I would talk about giving your work away or, in this case, gambling on the potential for royalties, and a free electronic copy of the anthology. Think long and hard before you give up “first rights.”  Once you give those rights away, you can never get them back, and the next time you sell the manuscript, you must do so as a reprint. Reprint sales are not as lucrative as new story sales. 

Pro Tip: It’s never a bad thing to give your work away to a legitimate charity anthology.   

The idea for The Hours of Sleep began as, of all things, the original lyrics to a song. Back in 1996, I was working an interim job, and I had some extra time on my hands. My wife had purchased an entry-level keyboard/synthesizer for me to mess around on and burn through some of my creativity. This was a year before I began writing and submitting short fiction. I decided I wanted to write a progressive rock/thrash metal/goth-pop album. All I had to work with was a boombox with a double tape deck, an omni-microphone, the synthesizer, my voice, and a coffee can for reverb and echo. 

Back at my parents’ house, I would have been able to use my dad’s DJ and production equipment. But here in our new apartment, I didn’t have access to those niceties.  I no longer had a drum set, and I wasn’t hanging around musicians like I had in the ‘80s. Still, I was determined to make an album. 

Without going into the full story, I ended up writing a song called Vomit Dirt Cascade. Haha! I know… Great title, right? The title meant to call up the image of the undead exploding from a fresh grave. 

The Lyrics that inspired The Hours of Sleep short story:

Numbness kills the pain

The night was black in vain 

Latent Precambrian 

Urges to kill and win

I’ll make you my slave

Steal your blood from vein

When there is nothing left

You will be twice dead

Thirst in your black hole soul

Carrion has claimed his toll 

Now you’ve become the naïve 

But if I was the grave

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

Vomit Dirt Cascade! 

The original title of my story was Twice Dead, but I took another song called The Hour of Sleep (inspired by John Carpenter’s Brotherhood of Sleep in the horror movie Prince of Darkness) and made it plural. 

I’ve been thinking about posting the audio on YouTube. If I do, I’ll provide a hyperlink here later. 

 Back in the year 2000, my wife and I made a return trip to New Orleans. We hadn’t been back to NOLA since our honeymoon in 1995. We stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a bellhop had given us some advice on where to visit and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we had drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed “real-life vampire,” living in what is known as vampire reality, who called himself Vlad. In the center of the space, there was a cage large enough to hold a human standing upright.

NOLA1

When we returned home, this experience (along with my song lyrics) coalesced into the story I eventually titled The Hours of Sleep. 

After finishing the manuscript, I sent the story out and began collecting rejection slips. One editor said he thought The Hours of Sleep was the most original vampire story he had read in ages, but he didn’t take vampire fiction any longer and wouldn’t be buying it. 

I sent it to the now-defunct Dreams of Decadence and got a great rejection letter.  The editor thought the story was original and well written but she also passed. I would later study her magazine to discover why it wasn’t such a good fit. I talk more about this in my posts about the story, Despair. 

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With The Hours of Sleep returned to my virtual trunk on my hard drive, I gave up on the story and moved on. 

In 2012, I noticed an open call for You Can’t Kill Me, I’m Not Dead Yet: a Vampire Anthology and tried my luck. 

I’ll tell you what happened next time.

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 2

Having noticed the From Beyond the Grave anthology’s open call for submissions, from Grinning Skull Press, I sent out Phantom Chasers, and received an acknowledgment on September 26, 2012. 

During this time, I was finishing up the final edits of a novel I’d been writing, a reimagining of the original manuscript, and coordinating with a cover artist and a professional editor for a self-publishing effort. 

On December 25, 2012,  an acceptance from Grinning Skull Press hit my in-box. I couldn’t believe it! With the help of excellent editorial feedback and my wife’s brilliant proofreads, I had edited Phantom Chasers into print! 

GSP

The work that came after the sale: I signed the contract, provided the publisher with an author bio, reviewed and approved the galley proof, and received payment. Then, as with every anthology or magazine where I’ve been published, I assisted with promotion. 

I was included with a very noteworthy group of writers. 

Brent Abell

Gordon Anthony Bean

Rose Blackthorn

Tim J. Finn

Scott M. Goriscak

Marianne Halbert

Jeffrey Kosh

Lisamarie Lamb

Mark Leslie & Carol Weekes

Edward J. McFadden III

Adam Millard

David North-Martino

Jeffrey C. Pettengill

Nelson W. Pyles

Michael Thomas-Knight

Robert W. Walker

Cynthia Ward

Jay Wilburn

Jennifer Word

 

Description: 

For some, death is not the end. There are those who are doomed to walk the earth for all eternity, those who are trapped between one plane of existence and the next, those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not let go of the lives they left behind. These are the vengeful spirits, the tortured souls, the ghosts that haunt our realm. Welcome to FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, a collection of 19 original ghost stories.

You can buy From Beyond the Grave here. 

From Beyond The Grave cover 2

The editor contacted me with an opportunity for feedback. Turns out an author he admired, on the condition of anonymity, offered to give a critique to the writers in the anthology. This author read the stories and commented. If we were interested, the editor would send the author’s comments and suggestions for future improvements. You bet I was interested!

Pro-tip #3: Always take feedback. You don’t have to use it, but constructive criticism should always be welcome. You don’t get better through praise; you get better by accepting that you’re not perfect and neither are your stories. Then you get to work making them better, learning with each experience until you reach a professional level. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a long time. For some, it never happens. All you can do is work as hard as possible to reach your potential. 

I’m having a hard time finding the original un-redacted comments. Here are the positives I’ve shared publicly. I pulled it from an earlier blog. I’d love to know who this author is, but I respect his or her privacy. 

“Another good one. A very unusual idea which was extremely well executed. Even as short as it is, the character development is pretty damned good. We know who these people are in just a few lines. The foreshadowing… is a mite obvious, but it doesn’t matter. We KNOW that someone’s going to… die from very early on, but the author makes it work anyway…” 

Okay, first, what can we take away from the anonymous author’s comments? The author felt the story was unique and well constructed. This reinforces my proficiency with story structure. Also, character development is noted as a strength. I’ve been told that previously by other editors. Always concentrate on your strengths. I’ll write a blog on why that’s so important in the future. 

On the negative side, I telegraphed the ending. Yet, the anonymous author thought the story worked anyway. Not a big deal, since genre stories often follow a pattern. The idea is to make the story so enjoyable that the reader forgives formulaic structure. Readers will excuse your deficiencies as long as you excel at other elements of the story. 

If memory serves, the anonymous author took umbrage with my description of behind-the-scenes television. He felt that I didn’t know that TV shows need plenty of people off-screen to produce a TV program. Fair enough. That is how I present the pre-production in the story. 

I am taking liberties. Ghost shows, especially Ghost Adventures, make it appear as if the main people are alone during the investigation. This might just be TV magic, but isolation is a big part of the show. 

ghostadventures2

The same with crafting a horror story. A sense of isolation, a feeling of being trapped, is important. If there’s avenue for escape, why don’t the characters leave? 

You must also condense a short story’s narrative.
For those reasons, I didn’t fret realism.  

Now, just because it’s fun to write about, I have some experience in television. In the early 90s, for a few semesters, I completed a work-study program in the broadcasting department of a local community college I was attending. I worked with students on their projects, including taped TV programs shown on a local cable channel. 

I ran audio and worked as on-screen talent. I even had the chance to learn old school linear editing. I ran audio and lighting for Dr. Timothy Johnson (ABC) at a lecture he gave in the college auditorium. I performed the job of many people that night (yes, I did it all alone). It was hectic, but it was a lot of fun!

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Anyway, the anonymous author was right. Anyone who has worked in TV would shake their head at how I presented the production in the story. Most readers don’t know what it takes to create the shows they watch so it’s safe to keep the story as is. Most will never know.

Yet, it is important to acknowledge where the weaknesses in the story lie, and then to weigh dramatism against realism. Bruce Willis loves to squeeze through air ducts in the movie Die Hard even though it’s not possible to do this in real life——and we love it. For 90 minutes we believe he can do it! Drama wins out!

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In our next thrilling episode, I’ll go over the judgment call of giving away your stories. Is it ever worth not getting paid for your work? We’ll talk “sharing pages” with the cool kids. When you’re starting out, can association be as good as money? I’ll try to answer these questions next time. 

Thanks for reading. 

Hey, feel free to give me feedback. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your own attempts at publication and about any successes. I’m sure readers of this blog will benefit. Better yet, blog about your experiences and leave a link. We can never have too much information. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 1

Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and I was still receiving small royalty payments from Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever. I had found some momentum and was riding it for all it was worth. 

One night I was watching a TV program called Ghost Adventures. Now, before I continue, I am a believer in the paranormal. Although, I don’t automatically accept what I see on these ghost-hunting reality tv shows. But for the sake of argument let’s assume we all believe in ghosts (even if you don’t). Now, if you accept that spirits could contact you from beyond the grave, the last thing you would do is antagonize and make them angry at you. Well, the main guy on the show had been doing just that, and now according to the program, these spirits were pissed at him and calling him out, telling him through voice recordings that if he returned, they would kill him! So what does he do? Yup, he’s going back to confront the ghosts. Stupid? Absolutely! But what a great idea for a story! 

Ghost Adventures

Using that premise, and without a market in mind, I began a new manuscript. A classic style horror story, a cautionary tale if you will, began to develop. 

Pro-tip #1: When you have a story you’ve written without a market in mind look to anthologies. Magazines need to follow the structure and tone of the other stories. Many times there’s a house style, intentional or not. You must decipher the house style and write something that matches. With an anthology, editors accept a wider range of stories. As long as it’s a good story, and it meets the theme of the anthology, you have a better chance of being accepted than if you submit that same story to a magazine. 

Anyway, I sent the story out a couple times to various markets and the editors passed. Then I sent it to the open call for Epitaph’s: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The editor liked the story and told me it was publishable, but not strong enough to get past the shortlist once they had read all the stories. The editor had best-selling writers on tap slated for inclusion and experienced small-press writers sending her submissions.

Pro-tip #2: If you’ve been shortlisted, your story is publishable with no or little need for extensive editing or rewrites. You have a good story and the editor would have no problem publishing it if no other stories struck their fancy. The problem is, despite being well written and crafted, your story is not compelling enough for the editor to purchase on the spot. The editor puts it aside and if some other story comes along and knocks their socks off or is a little more interesting; they send that author an acceptance letter and you a rejection. When this happens with a pro or semi-pro market, you can pat yourself on the back for crafting a well written publishable story and get to work strengthening the manuscript in a rewrite. You want to make sure the reader can relate to the narrative or the main character and is wowed by the ending. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, focus on the ending. Think of ways to make it more impactful, raise the stakes, make it personal, give your main character a lot to lose. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the editor asked me if I had anything that was timeless or had a gut-punch ending. I had neither but wrote a story that included both requirements. 

I relate that story of how I sold Malfeasance, my second attempt, in my blog post——here. 

Based on what I had learned from editorial feedback, I set about fixing the story.  I had decided on the name Phantom Chasers as I was looking for a title similar to Ghost Hunters, a very popular show at the time. (I hear that it’s coming back in another incarnation.) Here’s the question I wanted to leave in the reader’s mind: are the Phantom Chasers in the story hunting ghosts or are they in fact, well, chasing phantoms? Ultimately, the reader has to decide. 

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To revamp the story, I made a separate Word document, cut and pasted the original manuscript into the file, and began to read with an eye for weaknesses. Some scenes didn’t connect well. Some scenes needed editing for clarity. I went about fixing those areas. I punched up the ending, making it darker, scarier, and more impactful. 

The only thing left to do was send it out. I’ll talk about that next time. Also, stay tuned for more pro tips!