Category Archives: Short Stories

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 

NaNoWriMo – Chapter 15 – Black Magic Bullets

 

In the last chapter, I realized that I needed to continue the chase that I had resolved in Chapter Thirteen. I’m still not sure who is chasing Harris and Kenzi, but that doesn’t matter yet. I’m sure it will all be revealed in time. That’s how the subconscious works. Chapter Fourteen works as a way to keep up the tension while world-building. We now know there are safehouses, so to speak, throughout the city, and I’m sure this will play a role later in the story.

I also spent some time working on The Tower, a 74,000-word horror thriller, and polishing a short story to send to another open call.

Chapter Fifteen came very slowly, and I have a reason for including it in the grand scheme of the narrative. Again, this is just a first draft and is still very rough. Will I be able to make 50,000 words by the end of November. To me, it doesn’t really matter. Writing good words and keep a coherent story structure is more important to me than word count. That’s my way of saying: probably not! Haha! Thanks for reading.

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

 

Chapter Fifteen 

We spent over an hour and a half scouring abandoned property in Boston.  The effort exhausted me. Looking into the Collective, I had either seen nothing of interest in and around the buildings or things that confused me. Strang creatures prowling about, invisible to all but the most sensitive of psychic mediums, and those, like myself, who used some sort of enhancement. 

Then there were the phantom structures that stood psychically where a building had been torn down long ago and a new property erected. Those were the hardest to make out, needing to tune out all but the freshest vibrations. 

Kenzi tried to convey what I was looking for, the signature of a corpse with no soul, but yet somehow attached to whatever remained of the consciousness of the deceased. 

A serpentine cord would still be connected to the body, snaking its way psychically to the Lemure. So far, I didn’t believe I had seen anything close to what Kenzi had described, but how could I be sure? How could I be sure she could even describe it correctly. Kenzi didn’t even know. She didn’t have first-hand observable knowledge. 

Then at the third building, I found something I thought promising, a faint signature that might be the connection to Dedra we needed. 

“You think, Harris?” Kenzi asked when I relayed my impressions. “Or are you sure?” 

“It’s the best I can do,” I said. “The closest I’ve seen so far. No guarantees.” 

Kenzi sighed. Thought for a moment. Her eyes darted to the rearview mirror. She was doing double duty, acting as a lookout while also trying to lead the operation. 

I didn’t envy her position. Going inside could be dangerous. If this was a false lead and either of us got hurt or were killed… Then again, this was the most promising lead we’d had all day and who knew how long it would be before our tail returned.

 If I were leading the operation, I’d have made the call to go inside. Yet, I could understand why she might not. Either way, I’d abide by her decision. She had way more experience than I had at the time. 

“What else are you seeing?” Kenzi asked. “Anything that concerns you?” 

“I’m having a hard time differentiating between threats and old psychic impressions,” was all I said. She was really asking a lot of me. 

“Let’s go,” she said as she exited the vehicle. She had disabled the dash light and the door chime and although it didn’t matter in the pre-dusk hours, I still found it a little disconcerting especially with the BMW being so new. 

Kenzi popped the trunk and then grabbed a derringer in a thigh holster. After loading each chamber with a black bullet, She strapped it on just above the hemline of her skirt. 

I looked down at the ground, averting my gaze. 

“The Derringer was my dad’s,” Kenzi said, and then to explain why she was carrying a weapon that wasn’t on the AG’s approved roster and then added… “It’s pre-ban and so technically legal for me to carry.”

I hoped the cops thought the same if we got caught breaking and entering. The odds were high that someone would see us and call the police. How long it would take the cops to respond was beyond my operational knowledge. I didn’t want to ask Kenzi. I’d just trust she had all her bases covered. 

“Don’t worry,” Kenzi said playing mind reader once again. “Cyber will be monitoring all police channels, even the ones the public doesn’t know about.”

Around us stood a multi-zoned area of both residential and industrial structures. On one side, double-deckers and duplexes, paint fading from harsh weather and sea salt, waited for their owners to return home after a long day of work.   

In contrast, old brick factory buildings with lime green window sills, boarded up to discourage vandals and squatters, waited for a time when the work would return. I wasn’t sure that time would ever come. 

Looking around, the street appeared deserted and a cursory glance at the occupied homes gave no tells, blinds stayed in place, not even a breeze moved the drapes. 

Still, I was afraid that there were eyes on us——even if I couldn’t feel them. I knew of practitioners of both martial arts and occult sciences who could hide their intentions. 

As Lao Tzu said in his famous Tao te Ching:

Temper your sharpness…

Mask your brightness.

Be at one with the dust of the earth.

Fully armed, Kenzi grabbed a pry-bar from the trunk before closing the lid with a satisfying thunk. 

I returned to the passenger side of the car, took another hit of the ethylene gas mixture, tossed it back on the seat, and then reluctantly followed her. She trudged onto the industrial side of the street and into the un-manicured lawn that surrounded the abandoned structure.  

Despite the length of the grass, it looked like months had gone by without a mowing, each strand had taken on the color of straw, making me wonder how long it would take before the whole yard was dead. 

As we disappeared behind the old factory building we practiced the old maxim: out of sight, out of mind. 

Back here, Kenzi went to work prying off a protective board and then took off her jacket and used it to cover the small window hidden underneath. The jacket suppressed the noise of the bar smashing the window. A few quick blows and the glass was mostly dislodged. Tossing her jacket inside, Kenzi scraped the jagged glass that remained attached to the frame with the bar. Again, the jacket muted the tinkling of the glass. 

Kenzi slipped inside before I could protest. I was having second thoughts. 

“Harris,” she whispered. “Get down here.” 

I looked around. We appeared to be alone. Still, I didn’t like the idea of descending into the depths of the building one foot in the real world and the other in the Collective. Nothing good could come of it. 

Sliding inside, I dropped to the floor without another thought. 

To be continued… 

 

NaNoWriMo – Chapter 14 – Black Magic Bullets

I think it’s been about five days since my last post. The writing has been progressing, albeit slowly. 

In the last chapter, I imposed a device known as a ticking clock. I did this to add tension to the narrative and drive the plot. I also had Kenzi and Harris chased by an unknown group. They are even unknown to me, as in, they haven’t revealed themselves through the narration. 

I added the bit about how Dedra needing to self attach to the location as foreshadowing for later.  

Dedra came about because my research shows I need a mystery element in an Urban Fantasy. I should be able to craft one, my wife has been binging episodes of Criminal Minds on ION and WE. Haha! They’re always on in the background. Even while I write. 

Originally, I had envisioned Kenzi driving a black Mustang. I took inspiration from my wife who owned a fox-body Mustang when we met. As I began to get to know Kenzi better, I realized she’d be more at home driving a BMW.

 Also, I liked that some Bimmers have All-Wheel-Drive. Oh, and my research shows that a BMW car or SUV is not a Beamer (the Beamer nickname goes to the BMW motorbike) it is actually referred to as a Bimmer. I’m not sure how many people know that. I certainly didn’t, and my wife thought the real nickname was a typo. Maybe I’ll change it back to Beamer just for clarity. It’s not correct, but it’s the name most people use. 

I’m also trying to stay away from politics. I don’t like politics in my fiction, but sometimes, to ground the story in reality, I have no choice. 

Massachusetts gun laws are very restrictive and convoluted for law-abiding citizens, and I’m a stickler for characters following those laws, at least until they’re able to break them safely. 

Once Harris learns how to manipulate the Collective, they will have more leeway in what weapons they carry. My plan had been to have Kenzi carry a Glock 19, but civilians can’t buy those in Massachusetts. They’re not on the approved roster, and so I decided she’d carry an M&P. 

In this way, I hope the story will be grounded enough in reality that the reader can suspend disbelief as I ratchet up the fantasy elements. 

I should probably mention that I’m also trying to ground those, in reality, using real magical practices, exaggerated and enhanced for drama, with which I’m thoroughly familiar from research and experience gained in what feels like another lifetime. That’s a story for another day. 

While I’ve been waiting for my subconscious mind to catch up with the story, I haven’t been idle. I’ve been working on the third draft of a horror thriller called The Tower of Abandon. As of this writing, I only have one more scene to edit and then, after a short break, I’ll be polishing the manuscript with the help of ProWritingAid before handing it off to my wife for a proofread. 

I also prepared and sent out a short story to an anthology open call. Unfortunately, I somehow missed the word count guidelines. After I had sent it out, I realized my submission was 1,000 words under the required word count. At least I didn’t forget to attach the Word file! That’s probably the most common mistake committed by writers sending out submission. I hate when mistakes like that happen, but we are only human. I’ll just wait and hope for the best. Maybe I’ll get lucky. You never know.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

Chapter 14

“Hold on, again!” Kenzi said, accelerating. 

The torque knocked me back into my seat. Then we were turning right on red with no regard for oncoming traffic. 

Tires squealed. 

Horns blared. 

“They’re still after us?” I asked wishing I knew who “they” were. 

“I need you to enter the Collective,” Kenzi said her voice tight, her fingers on the steering wheel even tighter. 

I hesitated.  

“Now would be a good time!”

Against my better judgment, I unbuckled my seatbelt and scrambled between the seats stretching to reach my bag. 

Another breakneck turn. Releasing my hold on the bag, I grabbed the back of both seats to keep from slamming into Kenzi. 

She turned again, in the opposite direction, and I gritted my teeth and held on for what some people like to call dear-life. Once the vehicle straightened, I snatched the duffle and dragged it through the opening between the seats. 

Not bothering to buckle up, I unzipped the duffle bag and struggled to get out my equipment. Once I had retrieved the concentrator, I plugged in a bottle of ethylene gas. 

I tossed the bag back between the seats and let it flop to the floor.  Now I bucked in and then turned the valve. Too little ethylene and I wouldn’t enter the Collective, too much and I’d end up dead. I only hoped my memory wouldn’t fail me. The events in the ritual room felt like they’d happened a lifetime ago. 

Seating the mask to my face, I pressed firmly, creating a tight seal, and then breathed in deeply. 

The car and the world flipped and then righted itself. Had I taken a little too much? It didn’t matter. I’d have to deal with the aftereffects and hope I could do whatever Kenzi wanted while still under the influence. 

In front of me, through the windshield and the driver’s side window, I saw all that had been hidden from humanity. Creatures and phantom buildings projected where they had been torn down but their physicality still resonated enough to make them psychically viable, at least within the Collective. 

What am I looking for, I wondered? 

Overwhelmed by the influx of new sensory input. A protective circle would have been a nice buffer. Now I really understood its importance. 

“What am I looking for?” I asked Keni as she continued her escape and evasion routine. 

“Look for a masked entrance. Something that only you can see.”

That was easier said than done. I didn’t have the experience to interpret what I was seeing. Masking a location was difficult and I had to believe that Dreadstone’s security measures were well above the feeble abilities of the sorcerers who worked at The Chasm. In that, the people who were chasing us would have a harder time finding said entrance than I had when I used to frequent the occult shop. It wouldn’t be a matter of just relaxing and thinking good thoughts. This was high-level wizardry. 

Then I saw it, an iridescent archway, unmistakable from the normal environment. Situated between two buildings, I could just make out the narrow opening. The question was: could Kenzi, even with my help, navigate through the gap?  

“There!’ I Said pointing to show her the location. 

“You’re my eyes,” Kenzi said through gritted teeth, turning the vehicle and then gunning it in the direction I had pointed. 

“A little to the left.”

“A little to the right.” 

I did my best to direct her and I was impressed at how easily Kenzi took my directions on faith. 

We entered the tunnel too close to the right, sparks flying on the passenger side as Kenzi sheared off paint. I hoped we were really being followed and this wasn’t just some sort of paranoia on Kenzi’s part. 

We slowed to a stop. 

Kenzi shut off the vehicle allowing the silence along with the darkness within the manmade cavern to blanked us. My own breathing sounded too loud in my head. Kenzi’s breathing was no more than a whisper. In the background somewhere in the dark water dripped, most likely the result of condensation. 

“Why don’t they just have a GPS point marked off on the system?” I asked, in frustration.  I kept myself from cursing, but I wanted to say every swear in the book. Professionalism won out. 

Yet you had to admit It seemed crazy that to find this place you had to either be a psychic or be jacked up on ethylene gas. 

“It’s harder to hack a human brain than it is a computer system,” Kenzi said.  “I only know the general whereabouts of the masked entrances. 

“I’ll have Cyber hack the traffic cameras in the area and find who was following us. That will take some time. In the meantime, we have some locations to assess.”

Kenzi set a text. 

Kenzi showed me her phone, its bluish-white glow the only light in the cavern. Cyber had sent over a complete list of abandoned buildings in the waterfront area. 

“Let’s hope we’ve lost our tail,” Kenzi said. “Time to take another hit of the gas. I need your eyes on each building. Look for anomalies.” 

“We haven’t even been to the first one yet!” I said.

“That’s right,” Kenzi said. “We better get cracking.” 

The BMW purred to life, lighting up what now really looked like a cave. Kenzi put her foot down on the accelerator performed a reverse 180 (J-Turn) and then rocketed us out of the hiding place and back into the busy street, my heart beating out of me. 

 To be continued…

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. 

dreams_of_decadence__15

 

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!

abc_gma_johnson_121207_wg

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!

die_hard_prequel-2048x1152

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. 

gh2

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!