In conjunction with Alan R. Warren and The House of Mystery Radio Show, I have a new page for movie reviews. I’ll give you the skinny on the best and worst movies to stream. Now that theaters are opening back up, I’ll also cover theatrical releases whenever possible. I hope you’ll bookmark the page and come back again and again.
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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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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eric J. Guignard
Rebecca L. Brown
Joseph A. Pinto
Norman A. Rubin
T. Fox Dunham
Denny E. Marshall
Joseph J. Patchen
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.
Here’s what she wrote about the story:
I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire.
I had a fantastic time at the convention.
After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom.
Here’s some information on the anthology:
The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre.
Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows:
Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala
To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill
The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon
A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton
Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward
Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich
The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White
Make a Choice – John McIlveen
The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd
Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge
The Sequel – David Bernard
Malfeasance – David North-Martino
Private Beach – Stacey Longo
All Aboard – Christopher Golden
Holiday House – LL Soares
Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow
A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood
Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith
Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent
Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda
Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)
Windblown Shutter – John Grover
Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato
The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts
Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar
Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project.
Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog. Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog.
Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.
Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.
Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door.
If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here.
I wanted badly to be in the inaugural New England Horror Writers (NEHW) anthology. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure. Then I turned it around.
In 2011 my senior year at University was ending, and I was immersed in finals. I had sold The Language of Ice and was spending a good amount of time promoting the anthology. Then I found out about the debut anthology from the NEHW, a group I had been a member of for a few years. They had floated the idea for an anthology around for a long time, and finally, the project had received a green light. They’d decided on an editor and were opening up for submissions. Wow! I really wanted to be in that anthology. To represent NEHW in their inaugural publication would be an honor. The problem: I didn’t have the time to write something new. At least, that’s what I thought…
Fortunately, I had already written a ghost story, Phantom Chasers, that I was beginning to shop around. Prepping the story for submission, I sent it out and hoped for the best. There was nothing left to do but return to my studies.
Shortly thereafter, the editor let everyone know that the first round of rejections had gone out along with notifications for those placed on the shortlist. They would accept no story until they had read all the manuscripts, giving everyone a fair shot. The only problem? I didn’t hear either way.
Sending a polite email, I awaited a response.
The editor contacted me. My story was indeed shortlisted, certainly publishable, but probably not strong enough to make the final cut. Bestselling writers were slated to send in tales, and everyone had to bring their A-game. Although, the editor encouraged me to send another story.
Clarifying what she wanted, she told me to send in something that was timeless, like Ray Bradbury’s The Dwarf, or something that had more of a gut punch at the end, like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Thinking about all the stories I had available, I realized why some of them hadn’t sold. They were missing key ingredients.
Later, based on what I learned writing Malfeasance, I would revamp Phantom Chasers and sell it, but that’s a story for another time.
I felt encouraged, but it seemed like a daunting challenge to write something that would make the cut. Could I write a story that was both timeless and visceral? Despite the time crunch, I was up for the challenge.
I had an idea to use the “ticking time bomb scenario” thought experiment as the basis for the story. Basically, an ethics debate on torture, I worried that my story might be too controversial for the current climate. Never one to back down on sensitive subjects, I went ahead with the story anyway.
A mother and daughter would be the main characters in the story, culminating in a parent’s worst nightmare. If I could affect the editor, I might have a chance of getting into the anthology.
Spending the full month crafting Malfeasance, I sent in the story at the 11th hour. I opted to change the ending, in hopes to give more twists and turns to the story, but my wife suggested I go with the first version as she felt it was more powerful.
Sending it off, I hoped for the best.
Next time, I’ll tell you what happened.