Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Chirstmas Party with Horror Writers

This is all new to me. I finished writing my first novel just five months ago. It’s been a long time coming. There’s been so much to do since I finished the first draft, more than I ever imagined. I new I’d have to edit it, but I never guessed how much work that would be, because I’d only written short stories before. I found out I needed to have a website, start a blog, as well as get active on facebook and twitter. Last and not least, I needed to network. As far as networking goes, the best thing I have done to date was join the New England Horror Writers.

The NEHW seemed like a good, solid group, right away. I immediately got involved in the facebook discussions and tried to help by contributing to the website. I had a chance to meet some of the members at Rock and Shock, and then about a month later at Anthocon. Those two events were great places to start and meet a few people, but the best chance to really get to know some people was going to be the Christmas party at John McIlveen’s.

Driving there was a bit of an adventure for me. I had trouble following the mapquest directions, and found myself wishing I had taken the GPS from my wife’s car. Overall, Haverhill is not that far from my home city of Peabody (pronounced Peebuddy, Jason), but once I got past Georgetown, I was in unfamiliar territory. It probably took me about a half hour longer to get there than it should have, because I turned around and backtracked so many times. In the end, I made it though.

Now, I’ve been an introvert all my life, so meeting new people isn’t really my specialty. I’m sure a lot of you other writer types out there can relate to this. I walked into the conference room where the party was being held and all those old anxieties came to the surface. All the seats at the table were taken, which didn’t make it any easier to blend in. Luckily, Dan Keohane got up from the food table and asked in anyone wanted to play pool. A few of us teamed up and we played some pool. This gave me a chance to mingle with just a couple people to start and break the ice. As an added bonus, our host John McIlveen brought down enough alcohol to supply a frat party. I’ve been in enough social situations to know the lubricating powers of alcohol, so I grabbed a beer and tried to relax.

People came and went, but I had the chance to talk to Paul McMahon, Scott Goudsward, John McIlveen and Tracy Carbone during the day. Eventually, Stacy Longo and Jason Harris showed up, the two people who I’ve had the most contact up until now. I’m not so good at mingling that I had the chance to meet everybody, but hopefully I’ll get there eventually. I’m learning more all the time. Everybody had their own experiences and their own advice to share. The NEHW is a very friendly, supportive community, and I’m glad I can be a part of it. As day turned to night, the partygoers dwindled to a level I was more naturally comfortable with.

At eight o’clock, those of us who had stuck it out that long, gathered around the television so we could check out Tracy Carbone’s appearance on Animal Planet. This was the best time for me. We all got a kick out of Tracy’s appearance on some show that had to do with exotic pets. It lightened the mood up for a fun conversation. At that point, Scott Woolridge and Gardner Goldsmith were telling stories about convention experiences, other writers they have met, and the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf, a show I had never seen before. Gardner really had some great stories to share about Red Dwarf and what the show meant to him. Gardner and a friend of his even flew over to England one year, just to watch the show on tv.

As Gardner was telling us this story, he described his big, burly friend who went with him. He looked around the room, reached over and tapped me on the shoulder, “Kind of like this guy,” he said. I have to chuckle about this. I have been part of a few different social circles over my life, such as hockey players, construction workers, Boy Scout fathers and now writers. Everything being relative, I seem to be some sort of hybrid. When I am around the athletes and construction workers, I am generally one of the smaller guys, but when I hang out with Boy Scout dads and other writers, it goes the other way.

Anyway, it was a fun day filled with interesting people. I’ve never completely fit in with the athletes and construction workers. Nothing against them, mind you, I’ve been part of that crowd for over twenty-five years. Still, it’s nice to finally find a group of people who can sit around all day talking about H. P. Lovecraft, Star Wars, the next Stephen King mini-series and the zombie apocalypse. I hope I get the chance to get to know more of this group over the coming year. Maybe by the 2012 Christmas party I’ll even know the names of the others that I didn’t get a chance to meet. I guess I’ll wrap this up now. I think I’ll watch one more episode of Red Dwarf on Netflix before bed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ode to Channel 56

What makes a science fiction fan? It’s a good question, right? The short answer is a simple one. It’s all about the imagination. While I believe everyone is born with one, some people’s imaginations seem to atrophy from lack of use. It helps to have parents who encourage its use, because not all do. Fans of speculative fiction, that all-encompassing term that includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, have over-active imaginations. We’re dreamers. Do we daydream a lot? Sure. Do we let our minds wander on to things that many people would not consider important? You bet we do. It’s who we are, and where would the world be without the dreamers? Still stuck in the Stone Age, that’s where.
Okay, so it all has to start somewhere. Someone or something has to have nurtured that imagination at an early age. I am going to give a good chunk of that nurturing credit to an independent Boston television station, WLVI, channel fifty-six. Funny, how you can’t appreciate some things until long after they are gone. I grew up in the seventies, and was raised on broadcast television. We didn’t even get cable until nineteen-eighty or so. Channel fifty-six was a UHF station, that ran a lot of syndicated series and old movies. So what did they air? Only some of the most amazing programs a young mind could soak in. My favorite was the original Star Trek series. My mother was a fan too, so this was something we could enjoy together. The original Star Trek was not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it remains one of my all-time favorite shows. If I happen to be flipping channels and see Kirk, Spock, Bones, or Scotty, I will always stop and watch the rest of the episode. How many shows or movies can you say that about?
Growing up in the seventies was exciting for someone who dreamed about life “out there” and reaching for the stars. Star Trek was so inspirational for me at the time. It hadn’t even been ten years since we first landed on the moon. NASA was actively exploring our moon with the Apollo program and our solar system with the Pioneer, Voyager, and Viking programs. Star Trek seemed like just a taste of what we might out amongst the stars. Who knew, right? I wanted to be an astronaut right up until I entered college. I wanted to find what was out there. Kirk and the crew of the enterprise were responsible for those dreams just as much as our own space program was.
There was another series, however, that gave us some different ideas about what the future could hold for humanity. This series also aired on channel fifty-six. It was called The Outer Limits. The Outer Limits gave warnings about the future, about contact with alien races, and about man’s ever improving technology. It was scary. Like The Twilight Zone, there was usually a moral associated with each story; a moral that said something about humanity. It was a much darker message and not as hopeful as Star Trek, but I took it all in, just the same. As a matter of fact, I even told myself, one day, I’ll be a scientist, but I won’t make those kinds of mistakes. I’ll be one of the good ones.
On Saturday afternoons, The Outer Limits led into one of the greatest programs that channel fifty-six had to offer. This was the show they labeled “Creature Double Feature.” As you might have guessed, Creature Double Feature aired giant monster, horror, and sci-fi movies. All those Japanese monster movies were great, especially Godzilla. That big, mutant dinosaur was nature unleashed. Godzilla was like the earth saying to the people of earth, “You know what? I don’t like your cities and pollution. I’m gonna stomp ‘em. Your military power? Pathetic. I’m gonna swat it away.” Godzilla was large and in charge. How could you not love that?
Another major sci-fi influence I can remember from channel fifty-six was Lost in Space. I know, I know, it was a very campy show after the first season. Still, I really loved that robot. There was just something about the robot that made the whole show for me. The robot was heroic, selfless, funny and often displayed more emotion than Mr. Spock. The best moments of the series were often between the once-evil but now-bumbling Doctor Smith and the robot. He remains my all time favorite robot. “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!” Classic stuff right there. I like it when robots show us how good humanity should be. B 9 from Lost in Space, The Iron Giant, and Data from Star Trek, The Next Generation are the kinds of robots that have always appealed to me. If mankind could create something noble like that, it might just say something good about us, and our future.
Speaking of Data, Star Trek TNG is the last sci-fi show that channel fifty-six broadcast that I will discuss. I was a little older when this show came out. I was out of high school and was reading mostly horror at the time. TNG didn’t really grab me right away. I kind of half-heartedly watched season one. I didn’t even start watching season two right away. It wasn’t until a friend of mine brought it up and said season two was much better, that I even bothered with the second season. Once I did, though, I got hooked. The Original Star Trek was about what strange, alien, and sometimes familiar life forms we might find once we travelled to the stars. TNG was different, though, because it was more about what humanity’s place in the universe could be. Even in the face of a fearsome threat like the Borg, Picard and his crew used the human spirit to be a force for good and a defense against the darkness, when necessary.
These are the shows and movies that WLVI, channel fifty-six in Boston, brought to me. Everything I have ever read or seen has influenced me, as a dreamer and a writer, in some way. I will remember the part of my childhood that channel fifty-six influenced very fondly. I have even heard that fans still contact the station asking them to bring back Creature Double Feature. I can understand that. If the Syfy channel broadcast stuff that was half as good as channel fifty-six used to on a Saturday afternoon, I’d have more respect for them. I can’t imagine that the disaster movie knock-offs they show constantly are making any of today’s kids look towards the stars. At least I can consider myself lucky enough to have been exposed to shows that made me think and dream. Thank you channel fifty-six.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Scariest movies ever, Part 1

In honor of October and Halloween, I will be blogging about things that scare me this month, all right? Okay, so let's start off with the mvp of the Halloween season, scary movies.

I grew up on scary movies. I've always loved them. I was watching Creature Double Feature on Channel 56 as far back as I can remember. Some of you may or may not know that I spent much of my childhood in and out of the hospital, with stomach problems. One of my earliest memories is watching some old version of "The Mummy" with some of the older kids in the hospital ward, late at night. Absolutely freaking terrifying. At least it was when I was six or seven years old.

Let's start off with the only movie that truly scarred me for life and gave me an honest-to-goodness phobia. I think this was sort of the perfect storm. I've always had an over-active imagination. This is a good thing for an aspiring writer, but maybe it wasn't so great for a scared little kid. I tried to google a name for this phobia. There are some phobias that are close, but not quite right, like for instance, aquaphobia (fear of water and swimming), thalassophobia (fear of the sea) and galeophobia (fear of sharks). None of these exactly describe what I felt, so I came up with my own name for it. Let's call it "scary-things-live-under-the-water-and-want-to-eat-me-phobia." The movie is, of course, Jaws.

I saw Jaws in the movie theater when I was eight years old. Now, don't be too hard on my parents. It was only rated PG, remember, and I was the kind of kid who watched scary movies on tv every Saturday afternoon. Can you believe they got away with giving Jaws a PG rating? I heard they invented the PG-13 rating because Spielberg kept pushing the limits with movies like Jaws, Gremlins, and Poltergeist. Okay, so I don't want to go into too much detail that would mirror much of a story/article I wrote called "Shark Bait," but let's say swimming anywhere that I could not see what was under me became a nightmare.

I'm not sure I even knew the movie was about a big man-eating shark when I went to see it. Remember that first scene, where the skinny-dipping girl get's attacked and bounced off the buoy? What a way to start a movie! It was so much worse because you didn't see what was happening below the water. You could only see the girl's terror above the surface as she got pulled back and forth by some unseen force. John William's musical score from Jaws is probably the most fitting and recognizable soundtrack ever. It does such a great job of building tension throughout the film. There are so many tense scenes in the movie, like the boys on the sailboat or when Richard Dreyfuss dives the wrecked ship and the head pops out at him.

Jaws is, for me, one of the scariest movies of all time. Oh sure, there are others that do an even better job of keeping you on edge for most of the film, and I'll get to them too, but Jaws made me afraid to swim for a long time. How many movies can claim their scares last for a decade or two?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Building a team

This one is going to be tough for a lot of you aspiring to be writers out there. Many of us writer types are introverted and private by nature. I think that comes with the territory. Still, from my experience so far, this has made a huge difference for me. Maybe I'm lucky, but maybe not too. Maybe this just has to do with having the right attitude.

After I finished writing the book, came the question, "what next?" Well, first of all I knew I needed to edit the book, but even more importantly, I needed opinions. Was it any good? I thought so, but since I wrote it, I'm biased. I needed some slightly more unbiased opinions. Naturally I reached out to friends and family, but obviously there will still be some bias there, because they want to be supportive. So I took a chance offering it out to some gaming friends on facebook. These were people I didn't know at all. I also made it available to some people who were in the same yahoo group as me. I've had mixed results with that experiment but let me offer this advice. Don't send anyone the PDF to anyone unless they have an e-reader like a Kindle or Nook. It became obvious to me that well-meaning people who thought they would sit down in front of their laptop and read it, really couldn't find the time.

My best friend and web designer, Mark Buckley, offered to help me with the book as sort of a side project. His wife Janet graciously agreed to do the editing. Reviews came back and, while there have been some minor criticisms, the response has been positive and encouraging. The side project has evolved into a team since we started working on it. This team consists of me and my wife, my brother Denny and his wife, Berny, and the aforementioned Mark and Janet. We all have very different personalities and I think that has been crucial to the dynamic of the team. We put together a business plan and started working towards weekly or bi-weekly goals. Everybody gets homework to take home.

Now, it helps to have a detail-oriented, spreadsheet-loving business manager like my friend Mark. Seriously though, if he could bottle up what he has and sell it to other aspiring authors, I would recommend it highly. You have to work on all those little goals, though. Being able to check off all the small accomplishments helps you get closer and closer to your ultimate goal, which is getting published. If I had tried to do this all myself, well, let's just say it would have been messy. If at all possible, build that team of people who believe in you and your book. I don't recommend trying to go it alone, and you know that is what most of you are doing. Good luck.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Writing a book

So Dave, "How did you manage to write a book?" you might ask. Well let me tell you, it's really hard! And I mean that sincerely. Not that I wouldn't do it again, because I definitely would. In fact, I plan to do it at least six more times for this series, and a bunch more after that as well. I've wanted to be a professional writer for twenty-five years. But if you want to write a book, make sure you aren't biting off more than you can chew. Think it's hard to find the time to write? It is. Imagine that you'll have writer's block? You will. If you find you can stick with it though, you may just be able to unleash your proudest creation on the world.

Finding the time to write. For me, this was probably the most difficult thing to do. I have a full-time job and so does my wife, Pauline. We have two kids and have to split household duties. To top it all off, Pauline, usually works nights so feeding the kids and helping with homework falls to me. It was hard finding time to write. And even if some free time dropped in my lap, it's not always easy to just start typing away. How "On Demand" is your creative flow? If you have all the free time you need, more power to you. If that's the case and you want to write a book, my guess is you will succeed. But we're all busy, right? We all have these hectic, non-stop lives that keep getting in the way of our dreams. So to pull this off, to write your very first book, writing needs to become very, very important to you. "Oh, but I just like to unwind with a couple facebook games after a busy day." Or maybe it's "I can't miss my shows. Jersey Shore is the best!" Whatever it is, I've been there, believe me. Well, except for Jersey Shore, I don't watch that one, but you know what I mean.

If you want to write a book, short story, play or whatever, you have to find the time to do it. You need to think about it, plan for it and take advantage when free time comes your way. When I started writing the book, I put in a lot of late nights, after the family had gone to bed. I'd say more than half, maybe two thirds or so of the book was written that way. Some people wake up really early to write, but I've never been a morning person, I'm more of a night owl. Every summer I get a week at my mother's cottage in New Hampshire, and I usually got some writing done there also. Last winter, when I was really focused on finishing the book, I just kind of told my family they had to give me a day on the weekend to write. I let them choose which one, but I needed a day to myself. Once you get on a roll, you'll give up your facebook games or whatever it is you do to distract yourself and put more into the book. You'll want to, because you can see how it is developing. This book is yours, you created it. Art is probably the closest a man can get to understanding what giving birth is like. Now, I'm not saying it's the same ladies, so don't take it the wrong way. But do you know what I mean? When you finish a piece of art, whether it's a book, a painting, a song or whatever, well, that came from you. Building's cool too, like construction, but it's not the same and I know, because I've done both.

I think I might be losing my focus a little so let me wrap this up. If you want to write a book, make sure you understand the commitment that will be required of you. Dedicate yourself and you won't be sorry. Stop making excuses, or excuses will be all that you have. I could come up with dozens of excuses why I didn't have the time to write. It wasn't until I made up excuses so that I could write, that I finished the book. Writing has to be more important to you than unwinding after a busy day, watching tv, relaxing, etc... THAT is the time you have to write, you just don't see it. Work hard, throw yourself into it, and I bet you will love what results you achieve.

So why are you still reading this blog? Go write your book already.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Apep, the Tricksters, and the Great Old Ones

Apep is the big villain in my story. He is based on the Egyptian god of the same name, and is also known as Apophis by the Greeks. Apep's claim to fame was that he was always trying to kill Ra, the Egyptian god that represents the sun. In Lightbringer, Apep is a very old Watcher, which is a race of god-like alien beings. Let me explain how old. The Watchers were present at the time the dinosaurs went extinct. My explanation of the extinction event is a little different than the commonly accepted asteroid hitting the earth story. This is where I pull the mythology of H.P. Lovecraft into my world.

The dinosaurs were wiped out by the Great Old Ones, a horrifyingly destructive extraterrestrial race, led by their Great Priest, Cthulhu. At the time, the Divine Council, the governing body of the Watchers, are monitoring the earth, as well as many other living planets. For those of you out there who are Lovecraft-inclined, the Watchers would be the Elder gods. Unfortunately for the dinosaurs, the Watchers had a strict policy of non-interference. At a meeting of the Divine Council, Apep, then young and idealistic, spoke out against this policy as the Great Old Ones decimated life on planet earth. Apep wanted the Divine Council to stop the Great Old Ones and save the dinosaurs. In a heated meeting of the Divine Council, with many dissenting opinions, the non-interference policy is enforced.

Many of the Watchers look on in horror as the vicious race of Great Old Ones perform planetary extermination. A group of Watchers, calling themselves the Tricksters and led by Apep, decide to act against the will of the Divine Council. The Tricksters build an enormous and terrible city in the middle of the ocean. This is a city of terror and insanity, the perfect tribute to the Great Old Ones. This is the city of R'lyeh. Cthulhu, the mightiest of the Great Old Ones, discovers what the Tricksters have created and assumes it was built to honor him. At the center of this city is a labyrinth of madness. Cthulhu believes a great treasure must lie at the heart of the labyrinth, for the Watchers to have gone to such great length to hide it.

The Tricksters have indeed hidden a great treasure at the heart of the labyrinth. They have taken a massive crystal of tremendous power from the Orion Nebula and placed it at center of the maze. Cthulhu solves the maze and finds the crystal. When he touches the crystal, it releases a burst of energy strong enough to kill the leader of the Great Old Ones. The Tricksters understand that death is not permanent for the Great Old Ones and that they must act quickly. The tricksters spring into action and "Quickly they set to binding the nasty old beast to the Nebula Crystal with chains of cosmic ether." That's how I put it in the book anyway. Then they sink the city down to the bottom of the ocean, trapping Cthulhu forever, or at least until "the stars are right" for him to awaken again.

With Cthulhu out of the way, the Tricksters hunt down the rest of the Great Old Ones, trapping and killing them. Remember of course, that death is not permanent for the race of the Great Old Ones. Apep assumes a reptilian appearance in honor of the fallen dinosaurs.

Those were the good old days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Wife Made Me Do It

So my best friend, webmaster, and all around business manager, Mark Buckley, thinks I've harped too much on my wife Pauline's influence in regards to writing the book. I should present myself as more self-motivated, he says. I guess I should clarify a bit.

I've wanted to be a writer since freshman year in college when my composition teacher convinced me to become an English major. I wrote a handful of horror short stories in the 90s, sent them out to a few magazines and got back all rejections. A lot of things happened then. We bought a house, had our first child and the construction boom happened. As a hardwood floor installer and sander, I could work as much as I pleased. We could work every day of the week, nights, weekends, whatever. So I did. What guy with a new fixer-upper home and new baby doesn't need more money, right?

Writing took a back seat. Life happens, you know? It was always in the back of my mind, but I didn't have the time or energy. Floor sanding is back-breaking work and I was always exhausted and sore when I got home. We had our second child in 2000. I went five or six years without writing a thing. So I can't say exactly what got me thinking about writing again. I'd guess I was a little older, work had slowed down some and I was retired from sports. I finally had more free time. I met a customer once who was a writer. I showed him my short stories and he said he loved them and would show them to his agent. The feedback I got from the agency was, the stories were good, but they don't deal with short stories, so get back to them when I have a novel. If I was going to try writing again, it had to be a novel this time.

Stephen King has always been my favorite writer, so I was naturally going to write a horror novel. This is where Pauline came in. Maybe it was the lack of success at getting the short stories published or whatever. I don't know exactly why, but she steered me in the direction of writing a fantasy book. She thought I could use D & D as an inspiration and write some sword and sorcery type of tales. I know she never expected me to go in the direction I went with this, which involved creating a mythic world full strange and unusual denizens. I even sort of came up with my own mythology. It's a mythology that connects all mythologies. Read the book if you want to understand that.

So, that's the impact Pauline had on my first novel. She is the reason I wrote Lightbringer instead of Vampire Cop or something like that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lightbringer - the World

Okay, so you might want to know where I got the idea for Lightbringer and the series of books to follow. You might not want to know either, since no one is reading this blog, but someday, someone is going to read this blog, and they might want to know. So bear with me, all right?

Blame my wife, Pauline, she was always nagging me, "David, why don't you write a fantasy book already, ya lazy bum!" You should use Alice Kramden's nag voice (from The Honeymooners) when you try to imagine that. That's the truth, really. Well, okay, except maybe for the nagging part. She probably said it much nicer than that. "Dave, I really think you should write a fantasy novel. It would be brilliant," said in the voice of Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch. Yeah, that's a little closer to the truth. I wanted this to be different from the other types of fantasy books out there, since many of them had a similar feel to me. I grew up loving Greek, Norse, Celtic, and many other world mythologies and imagining myself in those stories. Yes, I wanted to create a myth. So I did what George Lucas is reported to have done; I read Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces," and I got to work.

It was around 2003 that I started hashing out this whole idea. The biggest problem I had to address, was the world. The fantasy world is crucial to every fantasy writer's story. I played Dungeons & Dragons growing up and that was the initial inspiration for wanting to write a book of this type. Problem there, is that they have all this trademarked, copyrighted D & D world stuff and they already have their own authors writing books based in that world. I didn't want to go there and I didn't really know how. Frankly, creating a brand new world from my imagination terrified me. I thought of all my favorite fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, and Piers Anthony, and the worlds they had created. I did not think my imagination was up to the task.

So I decided to set it on earth, sometime in a distant, post-cataclysmic future, where technology has ceased to exist. This allowed me to change the landscape a little, when I felt the need. That was the answer then; earth, long after the Apocalypse. Who doesn't love some good, post-apocalyptic, references? I know I do. I figured I'd even throw in the occasional Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand. Irradiated mutants, walking corpses, and talking apes seemed cliche', so I needed to come up with some other kinds of monsters to populate my world. This is where mythology came back into the picture. I was creating my own myth, so I would use the creatures of myth, legend, and folklore. Now, it's not that this sort of thing hasn't been done in other stories, like the Percy Jackson series, for instance. The trick to was to dig deeper and and use the less familiar creatures of folklore. So while you might find ghosts and witches in my story, you will also find exotic creatures you probably have not heard of, like the Scottish Nuckelavee and the Icelandic troll, Gryla. I decided to have my hero go on an epic journey around this not-what-you'd-expect type of futuristic world so that he could encounter some of the strange beings in it. At the beginning of Family Guy's Star Wars parody "Blue Harvest," they say "a long time ago, but somehow in the future..." If you just flip that around, you get what I did to create my world "sometime in the distant future, even though it feels like ancient history..."