I just wanted to announce that my cosmic horror story, “Shattered,” is included, and free to read, in the 11th Anniversary issue of The Horror Zine! Check it out here!
I just wanted to announce that my cosmic horror story, “Shattered,” is included, and free to read, in the 11th Anniversary issue of The Horror Zine! Check it out here!
As an organic writer, I firmly believe in letting the characters dictate the narrative within the plot structure. To that end, I created the first three main characters.
Jack, much like his real-life counterpart, was a former bully in high school, a drug user, and a problem drinker. Turning his life around, he moves out of the fictional Wellington, Massachusetts, and gets a job in construction in the equally fictional Farmington, MA. When he hears about his old friends dying from wild animal attacks, he remembers the curse Michael Matheson put on all of them. A curse they had laughed off. He returns to Wellington to attend a funeral and to investigate the real reasons his old classmates are dying. Writers often use the name Jack for the quintessential hero, but I also had another reason. As I mentioned in part 1, I received partial inspiration from Flatliners (1988), and Kiefer Sunderland’s character in the film. The TV show 24 made me think of Sunderland as Jack Bauer. I decided Jack would be a good first name. In high school, I loved King Diamond’s horror concept albums and took Jack’s surname from the house (Amon) in the albums, Them and Conspiracy.
Michael was bullied which eventually led to him attending Gold’s Tae Kwon Do to protect himself. But Michael had a dark side, dabbling in black magic and the occult. Finding a spell in an old grimoire, he performed a ritual to awaken the Wolves of Vengeance, a corporal curse to attack his bullies. After performing the ritual, nothing happened. Michael chalked it up as a failure. Twenty-something years later the Wolves finally arrive and begin killing their marks. Michael never left Wellington and took over the school when Gold retired. Michael comes from my middle name and Matheson as an homage to Richard Matheson, the author of such works as I am Legend. Like Jack, he’s a composite character, drawn from more than one person, but he’s somewhat based on me.
Katty was an aspiring musician in high school (a guitarist to be exact) and a self-described rocker chick. She, like Jack, has a problem with alcohol. Unlike Jack, she’s a full-blown alcoholic. Her pet name derives from her high school persona (catty) and Andy LaRoche’s (King Diamond guitarist) last name. She’s based on various musicians I knew in high school and a real-life rocker chick from my high school.
I had read Tom Piccirilli’s Welcome to Hell: A Working Guide for the Beginning Writer. Pic suggested newer novelists lightly outline the first half of their novels. I took his advice. Once the outline was complete, I realized the manuscript would only reach novella length. Needing to beef up the manuscript, I asked myself this question:
What characters do I need to tell this story?
Police involvement was a given. Adding a detective made sense.
The only thing I worried about was voluminous research. What experience did I have that I could transfer to the character to make him believable? Turns out, I had more than I thought.
I had worked a decade in private security, part of the criminal justice field. First, as a patrol officer, then as a security manager, and finally as a human resources recruiter. Security work put me in regular contact with police, fire, and EMS. As a security manager, I had performed investigations and later worked for a security and investigations firm, picking up interesting information directly from private investigators.
My dad had also worked in private investigations, safety & security, special police, and fire, along with being one of the first EMTs in Massachusetts. He had been in charge of makeup and effects for emergency response training. When I was a kid he’d sometime practice the makeup effects on me. I grew up with this stuff!
I had also recently visited my local PD to renew a license and got the nickel tour. I used my hometown police station as a model for the one in the book.
The Writer’s Digest Howdunit series filled in many of the gaps.
With the research and experience in mind, I set about creating Detective Adrian Callahan. Originally, he was nothing more than a generic Irish cop. My wife would later express an idea that would help flesh out his character. More on that later.
All in all, I consider my detective a success. I had a former law enforcement officer say as much. He felt my detective was accurate and believable. You can’t get much better than that.
With the decision to include a detective, I then decided that the military in some form might also be involved. I thought about adding a grizzled military captain but not wanting to include another generic character, I cast a woman as my military captain. At that moment, Captain Amanda Rann was born.
Next time, I’ll discuss how Callahan’s changes made him a controversial character, and how Rann becomes a driving force in the novel.
Get Wolves of Vengeance here!
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.
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.
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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In part 1, I examined the inspiration that led to writing Blade of the Vagabond (you can read that here). In Part 2, we’ll continue as I turn BOTV into a novelette and send it out to the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest.
Originally, Blade of the Vagabond had a subtitle. The first 20,000-word version was called Blade of the Vagabond: Heaven, Earth, and Woman. The subtitle is a play on a Confucian concept of Heaven, Earth, and Man where, in very simplistic terms, man acts as the harmonizing force between the spiritual and material realms or perhaps between the opposites of Yin and Yang. The place in-between where truth resides. That’s close enough for a laymen’s understanding, but I’m sure I’ll get some criticism for it. If you have a more succinct explanation, feel free to post in the comments. I welcome your thoughts.
Anyway, I changed Man to Woman in the subtitle as my main character is female.
I was introduced to the term through my martial arts practice and have been fascinated ever since. The concept became the central focus of the story.
Once I had finished the first draft, I put the story away, awaiting a viable market. As I mentioned in Part 1, the open submission period ended before I completed the first draft. Luckily, soon after, the original publisher reopened for submissions.
I edited my draft and then gave it to Patty for a proofread. After reading the initial draft, Patty dubbed this story her favorite of any I had written. After a polish edit, I felt satisfied enough to send it and await a response.
Feeling this story represented my best work, I was convinced it had a good chance of selling. I sent it to them with high hopes. What happened next would change the course of how I submitted the story.
The editorial team from the publishing house contacted me and their response surprised me. Originally, the story had a prologue. In the opening, we see one villain, a henchman to the Big Bad, not the protagonist, as he prepares for infiltration and assassination. It was a long opening filled with action and intrigue. The idea was to pull the reader into the action before we reached the first chapter and met the protagonist. I felt this high action opening increased the danger and tension, setting up the story for the final confrontation.
The editors, however, had mistaken my prologue (which was clearly labeled) with the first chapter and the villain’s henchman with my main protagonist. They felt too separated from the “protagonist” as if watching a movie and weren’t fully engaged by the writing. I found this odd since my story’s subtitle was Heaven, Earth, and Woman, how could they mistake my male antagonist for my female protagonist?
Here’s what they wrote:
I appreciated how this began in media res, watching someone on a mission , but there was a lot of action with no motivation. Movies often open this way and perhaps it works better in cinema because camera angles and music can create emotional sensations in the audience, but with prose our connection is a little more difficult to forge. I spend too much of this story following the protagonist without sharing the feelings, which hamstrings our ability to anticipate or experience true tension. This is subjective and another editorial team may feel differently, so I wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere.
Pro Tip: Editors are overworked and if they’re confused by your submission, they’ll reject you. They won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. They don’t have time.
Yet, there’s more to learn. Many wannabe writers base their stories on films and TV shows and use a cinematic technique throughout the whole book. Because of this, the cinematic technique may brand you as an amateur. It’s unfortunate but understandable.
Also, there’s an important reason I didn’t share the antagonist’s feelings: he doesn’t have any. Using a potion and mind-altering meditative techniques, the antagonist blots out his feelings.
What I thought was obvious wasn’t. Would every editor feel the same? There was no way to know. Removing the Prologue didn’t hurt the story. With a few tweaks, I annexed it. Cutting the story lowered the word count making it more marketable.
Pro Tip: Novellas and novelettes are a harder sell for newer and less established writers.
I also wondered if readers who liked the prologue would enjoy the main story and vice versa. Both sections had a different tone.
Next, I sent a modified version to a top pro magazine. The response I received was encouraging. This editor enjoyed the writing. He wrote, “some really good writing here,” personalizing the rejection letter.
Pro Tip: Getting compliments from professional editors at top magazines is a very good sign. It may mean you’re writing at a professional level or are close.
Here’s the thing: did I think a top magazine would buy a 16,000-word novella from a virtual unknown? No, but it was worth a try and gave me valuable feedback. You can’t win if you don’t play.
Encouraged by the pro editor’s response, I sent the story to L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest. The 16,000-word version didn’t win.
Then I heard about another contest at a very large and popular SF and Fantasy Independent press. The problem? Their upper word count was 8,000 words. If I wanted to send them Blade of the Vagabond, I’d have to cut the story in half. Could I trim the story to its essence, reducing it to the low end of novelette form, while keeping enough plot for the story to make sense? That was a good question. Some poignant moments and a subplot or two would need to be removed, but I believed it could be done. I set out on a mission.
I whittled it down to 9,000 words without losing the main plot, but I had to do without some poignant moments and some of what made the first two versions of the story unique.
Now to shave the manuscript to 8,000 words, I had to lose a connector scene. The story still worked well enough, but I wasn’t happy with the transition between one chapter. If I wanted to submit to the contest, I’d have to live with it.
Once sent, I returned to my novel (working title: The Tower) already in progress.
When the contest ended, and they announced winners, it was time to send Blade of the Vagabond somewhere else.
I received an email notification from the director of Writers of the Future that there was still time to submit a story for the 3rd quarter. Could I send a different version of the same story to the contest? I’d have to find out. If allowed, I figured it was worth a shot.
Next time I’ll tell you what happened, how I edited my manuscript into shape, and what I learned in the process. I’ll see you then.
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Happy to be included in La Dance Diabolique: A Red Hot Boogie Woogie. I’m all dressed up in hot pink! You can’t miss me. Hahaha! I also got in a plug for Wicked Tales.
“Joining us today are six hot rising stars to discuss the relationship between writers and their audience.”
The momentum continues… I guess this is turning into a newsletter of my life. I hope it’s inspiring you to keep a list of your challenges and accomplishments throughout the year. I promise you that goal setting will change your life.
I researched using MailChimp for a mailing list. I read that mailing lists are the most underutilized marketing tool in a writer’s tool chest. I learned that to meet federal law I need to list my address in the signature of any emails I send out. This would mean getting a P.O box or mail drop if I want to ensure my privacy. I’m going to wait at this point, but I’ll keep it on the radar.
Fitness & Health
The terrible roads and potholes caused a sidewall bubble in one of Patty’s tires. Fortunately and unfortunately she only had the tires for six month. On the fortunately side, the tires were new enough that we only had to buy one new tire.
We had purchased MONEY Master the Game by Anthony Robbins in ebook and I also had a chance to sample the audio from the first chapter. I belive that’s the only chapter that AR reads. I also found a great summary of the key points that was left in an Amazon review. Here’s the key points that I put in my notes.
Naturally, I keep my finances close to my vest and don’t share much online. That doesn’t mean I’m not working on this category, though.
Whisky Tasting and Mixology
I revisited the Anthony Robbins Time of Your Life/RPM audio program.
Began reading The Winning Mind Set by Jim Brault and Kevin Seaman. Kevin Seaman was gracious enough to sign and inscribe a copy for me. My first impression is that it’s a very nice personal development workbook. Much of its contents are grounded in NLP and cognitive behavioral psychology. Great stuff! I think it will make a great refresher. And since both of the writers are also martial artists, I think I’ll enjoy many of their illustrative examples. I plan to work through each section and see where it takes me.
Non-Stop *** Better than I expected. Implausible ending.
We came home to a small (what we believe to be a) screech owl perched on the light by our garage. The owl’s eyes were but slits in the daylight, but he still watched us as we made our way inside. Once we closed the door, he puffed his body out for warmth and went to sleep. As soon as the sun set he took flight to destinations unknown. I take the owl’s visit as a good omen of positive change to come. Here’s a photo of our unlikely visitor.
That’s about it for March. See you in April…hopefully sooner.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward…That’s how winning is done!”–Rocky Balboa
Each year I create a list of goals for every area in my life. Throughout the year I work on these goals, track my progress and my challenges. Then, to keep myself honest, I commit to posting a list of some of my top accomplishments and challenges and some of my smaller ones as well.
This was a challenging year. My sister died and her death pretty much shut me down for half the year. The sensation was not unlike getting knocked for a loop in a boxing match and then running on instinct for the rest of the round, doing everything you can to keep your wobbly legs underneath you. Then, with the weather better, we held the memorial and relived it all over again. And never mind the holidays. My sister was born on Thanksgiving and that didn’t make the end of the year any easier
Then, an all around great guy and master martial artist, John Frigon died after a long illness. He seemed so healthy and full of life the last time I saw him, but the illness took him hard and quick.
I had some health issues as well this year. But I made it through with the help of family and friends and trying to keep my mind on my work. I learned a lot this year and think I was able to accomplish quite a bit considering the circumstances.
Writing Career (The Pen)
Wolves of Vengeance: I wrote character arc outlines and rewrote each character arc, adding scenes and deleting scenes where necessary. Patty went through and proofread the manuscript. I would have liked to have WOV completed by year-end, but I’m happy with the progress.
Year of the Demon: I began a reimagining of this novel, a martial arts thriller that I began in 2006 but eventually abandoned. I finally understood what I needed to do to make the story work. I completed the first draft of this novel.
I submitted 10 short stories to magazine and anthology markets.
I wrote 5 short stories this year.
I sold 3 short stories this year. That’s a personal best!
The Extinct Anthology earned out its advance, and I began receiving royalty checks. A big thank you to everyone who either bought a copy or helped us move up in Amazon’s rankings by grabbing a free copy. Extinct cracked the top 100 free books in contemporary fiction. We’re also sporting a new cover.
The Epitaphs Anthology became a Bram Stoker Award finalist.
My short story “The Mesomorphic Woman” was accepted into the Daughter’s of Icarus anthology to be published by Pink Narcissus Press in 2013. I signed the contract and cashed the check. Now, I’m just waiting for a publication date.
My short story “The Hours of Sleep” was accepted into You Can’t Kill Me, I’m Already Dead: A Vampire Anthology published by Zombie Works Publications. I signed the contract. This anthology is available now as a trade paperback. I’ve been told that an ebook is in the works.
My short story “Phantom Chasers” was accepted into the From Beyond the Grave Anthology to be published by Grinning Skull Press. I’m looking forward to publication sometime in 2013.
Paid HWA dues.
I attended a New England Horror Writers (NEHW) meeting held at Ritual in Worcester. Fun was had by all!
An author asked me to blurb her book and I was happy to oblige.
Paying it Forward:
I had a couple of young writers reach out to me looking for advice. I’m still in the beginning of my career, but I tried to give them some advice and point them in the right direction.
Martial Arts (The Sword)
Took the opportunity to train in Jung Ki Kwan Hapkido with Master Phil and Master John.
Took the opportunity to train at Britt’s Tae Kwon Do.
Trained with martial arts friends.
Expanded my library of martial arts books and videos.
Added Bas Rutten’s MMA style interval training to my repertoire.
Celebrated 25 years of training in the martial arts.
Earned my next black belt ranking in Tang Soo Do from Master Rhee.
I was internationally recognized as an advanced Japanese Jujutsu black belt
Promoted my first black belt student.
Promoted another private student to brown belt.
Tragedy: Sadly Jung Ki Master John Frigon passed away after a long illness. He will be missed.
My sister Danielle Shoshanna Martino died in January. She will be forever remembered and missed.
I helped my parents clean out my sister’s apartment along with my Brother and sister-in-law.
Went through a mourning period.
Said kaddish and lit a candle in memory of my sister for 7 days.
Gave charity in memory of my sister.
Increased visits and phone calls to my Mom & Dad during the first half of the year.
Attended my Sister’s memorial in NH and visited with my Dad’s side of the family.
Celebrated Patty’s birthday.
Celebrated my birthday.
Visited and went out to eat with Mom, Dad and Godmother for Mother’s Day.
Attended my nephew’s H.S. Graduation Party.
Attended Father’s Day BBQ at In-laws.
Celebrated my Mother’s birthday at Foxwoods.
Summer BBQ at In-laws.
Visited my nephew Michael’s new apartment and helped move in some furniture.
Thanksgiving with my Family at Foxwoods.
Christmas with in-laws..
Challenges and setbacks:
Between martial arts and other exercise training I reinjured my shoulder, injured my hand, wrist and forearm, strained my back and neck, and twisted my knee. I also lacerated my thumb, and had to get a tetanus shot. I had a cist on the back of my neck that caused some pain but ultimately didn’t have to be removed (my brother had the same thing so it must run in the family). To top it all off I had a small cavity that needed to be filled and I came down with the flu.
My eye doctor put me on a glaucoma preventive eye drop. Glaucoma runs in my family and this should keep me from getting the disease.
Lost 5 pounds of fat, reduced 3 inches on my waist, and gained muscle.
Bought a pair of prescription sun glasses.
Yearly physical went perfectly except that I needed to lose some weight.
Began using Bas Rutten MMA CD’s for interval training.
Began a P90X program to get myself back in peak condition and heal injuries.
Completed all regular maintenance.
Paid off Patty’s car in the beginning of the year and received title.
Paid off my car at the end of the year and received title.
Challenge: My car was hit at Foxwoods. It took me half the day to deal with the accident and then many hours to get it repaired. In the end my car was fixed and my insurance covered everything.
Had a new AC system installed.
Charity and Community Service.
United Way Lantern Society Member.
Gave to assorted Charities.
Voted in all elections.
Donated cans to RI food bank through Boy Scouts of America.
Joined The Gun Owner’s Action League (GOAL).
Exercised my Second Amendment rights.
Began using Opus Domini for daily and weekly planning in conjunction with Anthony Robbins RPM.
Mohegan Sun, CT: Big Bubbas’s BBQ, Connecticut Sun Basketball Game.
East Hartford, CT.
NYC Trip: Traveled by bus. China Town, Little Italy, Times Square.
Boston: stayed at the Hilton river view room and worked on novel, Cheesecake Factory, PF Changs, Prudential Tower, Harvard Bridge.
IMAX: Avengers, Promethus, The Dark Knight Rising.
Cinema De Lux Director’s Hall: The Expendables 2.
Rented Solomon Kane On Demand before it came to the theater.
Memorial Day Parade and Fireworks.
Attended Patty’s 25th Anniversary for her company. As usual I made a spectacle of myself with my trademark dancing.
Went to see my friend Jim play drums in his band The Jazz Hawks.
I began praying again at night and saying affirmations in the morning.
Performed kaddish for the dead and lit candles for my sister.
I had a spiritual awakening and returned to my spiritual roots.
Had a series of experiences along with stories of others that proved to me beyond shadow of a doubt that some part of us survives death.
That’s about all I can remember for 2012. It’s been a challenging and productive year. I have some major goals I’d like to complete in 2013. Here’s hoping that next year will be better in every way imaginable.