Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

(True, this wonderful book isn't really a mystery story, but this book is mysterious. If you haven't read it, you still have a few days to catch it before the mood changes on 1 November.)

Halloween is a day to remember what we have forgotten. What have we let slip from our collective human consciousness? Fear. Being scared of things we can’t explain, things that go bump in the night. Isn’t that why we dress up as scary monsters, to help laugh at the things that used to scare the dickens out of us even if we don’t know why? I think so, and the same is true for the heroes of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

Eight boys dress up for Halloween in various costumes: an ape-man, a mummy, a druid with a scythe, a ghost, a witch, a beggar, a gargoyle, and a skeleton. They are beside themselves with excitement. It’s Halloween! The best day of the year, including Christmas. But their cadre is not complete. They need Pipkin, the ninth boy of their group. “Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived.” As the eight gather on Pipkin’s doorstep, awaiting their friend to bolt out of the house and lead them, Pipkin meekly walks out. Without a costume. He tells them he’s okay but that he’ll meet them at the house on the outskirts of town. Bewildered, they go.

Once there, they see it: the Halloween Tree. “There must have been a thousand pumpkins on this tree, hung high and on every branch. A thousand smiles. A thousand grimaces. And twice-times-a-thousand glares and winks and blinks and leerings of fresh-cut eyes.” Suddenly, some thing shows up: Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a tall, skeletal man. He asks them why they are wearing those particular costumes and then chastises them for not even knowing what those costumes represent. The boys implore Moundshroud to tell them about the history of Halloween. At that instant, however, from a distance, the soft voice of Pipkin wafts to their ears. He’s trapped. He needs saving. They run to him but Pipkin disappears into the darkness and only the mysterious Moundshroud can help. With swirling fantastic magic, he whisks the boys away on a giant kite. They need to hunt for Pipkin in the history of Halloween. First stop: Egypt.

The bulk of the book is given to the eight boys’ flight through time and space, learning the history and folklore of the celebration we now call Halloween. It’s a phantasmagorical history lesson, really. At each stop—Egypt, pre-history, Greece, Rome, England, Europe, Mexico, etc.—the boys experience the traditions of the various regions and how each place celebrated—dreaded?—the coming winter darkness. And at each stop, Pipkin is there. But he’s not. He’s enshrouded as a mummy in Egypt, he’s a gargoyle atop Notre Dame in France, or trapped in catacombs in Mexico. He’s always just out of reach, always requiring another jump through time.

The manner in which the boys travel from one place and time to another is fascinating. Hanging onto each other’s heels, they act as the tail of a giant kite created from old circus flyers. The catch: all the animals on these flyers are alive and growl and roar. At one time, they are whisked away by leaves. Leaving Mexico, they are commanded to break a piñata and little figures fall from the piñata, each corresponding to one of their own costumes. Thus freed, the little figures lift each boy up and fly him back to Illinois.

If there’s one thing that stands out in The Halloween Tree, it’s Bradbury prose. It’s had a singsong quality to it, a brazen joyfulness in just being alive. It’s like the prose itself were a twelve-year-old boy dressed up on Halloween and running through the town. It picks you up and sweeps you back to a time and place you may never have known but, somehow, know. It’s a part of the human DNA. Take these wonderful Dickensian opening lines:
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…Boys.
And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
And all the houses shut against a cool wind.
And the town full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone.
The day dying, the sunlight being “murdered” as Moundshroud puts it, is an important theme in this book. Halloween, throughout history, is the celebration of the ending of the season of light. The passing of October 31 equates to past generations of humans, far and wide, the beginning of the long, dark winter. As Moundshroud asks the boys, once the sun sets, what assurance do we have that it’ll rise again the next day? What if it never does? It was a real fear for our ancestors, something the boys and our modern culture have forgotten.

Not too long ago, the darkness in our world was quite a bit closer than it is now, at least in the modern western world. We have science to tell us the true nature of things. We can rely on it to cast away the superstitions and fears our ancestors had. Our children say “trick or treat” but don’t really know why.

Halloween, however, is the celebration, the remembrance, of our past. It’s a cumulative organism now, an amalgamation of traditions and beliefs passed down. It’s a celebration of death as marked by the living. Toward the end of the book, Moundshroud forces the boys to make a choice to save Pipkin or not. The price they have to pay is a year of life, taken at the end of each of their respective lives. He warns them that here, when they are twelve, life seems so long. Later, however, when they’re going to want one more year, it won’t be theirs. Here, Bradbury, through Moundshroud, gives these modern boys a taste of the past, a past they know nothing about but, by learning about history and what makes life special, they make their choice.

At the end, one boy, Tom, the default leader of the eight, asks a question of Moundshroud: “…will we ever stop being afraid of nights and death?” Moundshroud has an answer. You may have another. But, on Halloween, for one day a year, we get to revel in the fear that our ancestors lived with daily. We get to remember. And, on November 1st, we get to put it all away and forget about it all over again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Back In Time

By Jay Stringer

As I work away on the final book in the Eoin Miller trilogy, there is a part of my brain dedicated to working out what comes next. I have a few ideas. Some books that are almost ready to sit and write, some that are only just starting to come together as basic ideas.

And that's before I factor in realities of things like contracts and necessity, and of which stories I'm most likely to get to first. The running order changes daily.

This month an interesting thing happened. I was invited to contribute a short story to an anthology (I've bee invited to a few all at once actually, but more on them when it's polite to say.)  For this particular anthology, I had no idea what my story would be. Usually I've got something sat at the back of my brain waiting to be turned into a short if I get the time, but on this occasion, nope.

So I started to read around again. I was doing research for a story I want to tell at some point, and that lead me to reading about an event in 1985, and pop I had a story. But I didn't have a character. I started to scratch around looking for one, but couldn't find an angle.

Then, about two weeks ago, I worked on a round of copy-edits for Runaway Town (Miller 2, due in March-ish) and the editor asked a questions about backstory. And once again, pop.

I knew exactly who the main character for the short needed to be. More over, I began to realise he had a full novel in him, and the fight was then how to pick a tiny part of his story and focus in on that for the short.

So there we go. Happy accidents. I don't expect it to be my next novel, or even the one after that, but I now have a book I didn't have a month ago - a crime novel set in the Black Country in the 1980's and featuring the father of a certain half-Romani gangland detective.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No. Self-Pubbed Authors Are Not Killing the Publishing Industry

By Steve Weddle

Melissa Foster wrote a piece asking whether self-published authors are "killing the publishing industry."

I thought we were beyond this argument. I guess not. So let's take care of this one today.

Here's how she starts:

Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed. Let us list the ways: 99-cent price point for ebooks.  Free ebooks via KDP Select program.  Unedited work. Kindle giveaways to get attention and bulk up sales.  And lastly, nasty reviews from other authors with the sole purpose of driving down customer ratings.

Imagine the genius it took for a self-published author two years ago to be the first author ever to give away a book for free. Amazing. Why didn't we hear about this on the news? A free book? Holy shit snacks. For reals? Yes. I don't know who that self-published author was, but give that kid a cookie and a Pulitzer. (Oh, I forgot. They don't give Pulitzers for fiction these days. Well, a cookie. At least that has value.)

Oh, but what about those self-published authors giving nasty reviews to others in order to drive down their "competition's" ratings? Wait, those weren't all self-published authors? The most recent and biggest doer of that thing is an author with a real publishing contract with a real publisher? Oh, well then.

So self-published authors are ruining the wonderful world of publishing?

Again, from the original post:

Although many do try, and not just by giving away books for less than a buck. Many indie authors are now relying on gimmicks to gain sales. They’re giving away Kindles and iPads in exchange for reviews and as raffles during sales promotions. Traditionally published authors aren’t stooping to these tactics. Why are indies? The short answer is that with over 1 million ebooks published each year, it’s difficult to make a mark.
The lesson may be that if indie authors don’t value their work, chances are no one else will either. Readers want, and deserve, quality books, and they’re used to paying for them. Think about it: pennies for pages didn’t exist before ebooks and self-publishing were viable.
Does this mean that self-published authors are killing the publishing industry? Yes, in a sense it does.  What can be done about this devaluing of the written word? How can self-published authors change this scenario and help make self-publishing, as a whole, shine and earn as respectable of a reputation as traditional publishing?

Is it so terrible that people can pay $9.99 for a good self-pubbed novel rather than a $25.99 hardback of Snooki's latest Big Six publication?

There are great Big Six books and there are lousy ones. There are great self-pubbed and indie-pubbed books and there are lousy ones.

Your question is whether self-published authors are killing publishing, but I think what you mean is whether bargain pricing is killing publishers' ability to charge $25.99 for a Snooki hardback.

Many Big Six publishers will offer discount books, especially when a new book in a series comes out. For example, when a Big Six company is trying to get $25.99 for the new Inspector Fakename book (#19 in a series) they might offer a few books in the series for free or for 99c. I guess you'd call this a "gimmick." Sounds like good marketing to me. Unless, of course, a self-published or small press author does the same thing. Then that particular author has engaged in "this devaluing of the written word," as you say.

Big Six publishers fought as long as they could against what was good for readers -- ebooks. Now they're having to catch up. I think if you were to talk to any executive at a Big Six company, she or he would admit to a number of mistakes made over the past couple years.

Let me flip this around in another example. I've lived in small towns where small mom-and-pop stores survived for years by having the following hours of operation: "TU-FRI 10 am-3pm & By Chance." I am not making that up. Their hours included the phrase "& By Chance." How quaint and lovely, right? Well, when WalMart or Generic Food Store located nearby and offered serious hours of operation and reasonable prices, business went poop for the small shops. Of course, the small shops complained that Generic Food Store was putting them out of business.

Big Six companies will adapt, as have those small town businesses that have survived. So many Big Six folks are so ahead of the curve on this, but the industry itself, which is legion, will appear slower to adapt, I suppose. People "in the industry" are clever and know exactly what they want to do. Many are doing it. There are so very many great people doing great things in the Big Six world of publishing. Just as there are many people in the indie-pub world doing great stuff.

Small publishers and indie-authors and whatever names you want to assign the DIY writing crowd have found that they can distribute their books directly to the readers (via pdf download from an author's page, Amazon, Smashwords, etc) and do an end-run around the mammoth corporations that have to sustain Manhattan real estate and expense account limos.

Authors who are handling their own books are now able to make more money for themselves. This doesn't mean that they "devalue" the written word. They're no longer fighting for $5,000 advances spread over three years and two dollars per hardback after the book "earns out." They're not giving up control of covers. They're tracking down artists themselves. They're making their own decisions based on fonts and art and distribution. Sure, they have to hire their own publicists. So do Big Six authors. Sure they have to schedule their own readings. So do Big Six authors.

These authors aren't "devaluing" the writing -- they're valuing it more than most big corporations ever have.

Creating a Book Trailer

By Anonymous-9

Book trailers sell books. To some people. I've never bought a book based on a trailer, but certainly I've been made aware of authors because the trailer brought their name and book title to life in front of my eyes.  As publication date neared for HARD BITE, (Oct. 25th) it was a given that I'd produce a trailer.

First, I had to write a script—one of those two-column things with video on one side and audio on the other. A few miserable drafts in, I chucked the cheesy voiceover in the trash and decided to go with just titles, images and music.  For a few months I floundered around trying to find an editor. My budget precluded hiring a production company, but I could squeak through writing and producing it myself, and paying an editor to cut the sound and visuals. I struck gold when I found Mark Oguschewitz of Los Angeles, a seasoned film/video editor.

Mark steered me in the right direction for pre-shot footage and still photographs that would suit my trailer script. The idea of a trailer is just to give a taste of the story, the feel of it. I soon abandoned trying to get anything complicated across. Shutterstock, iStock and Getty Images provided everything I needed. By far Getty had the best selection. It was also the most expensive (ouch). Shutterstock was the best priced.

Weeks of eyeball-busting viewing ensued, dropping samples in a "lightbox" (provided as soon as you register for free with the site), and then came the process of matching assorted visuals with the script. Mark advised that he could keep the price down by using "standard" quality footage instead of HD. I found a terrific horror soundtrack for $12. at

JT Lindroos, the cover artist, broke down the elements of the e-book cover and sent them  via an online dropbox. (This was all technologically new to me.) Mark then manipulated the elements to create moving images behind the "titles" which is what they call any printed text onscreen in the film world. In my case, the titles are quotes from T. Jefferson Parker, Brian Lindenmuth and Rebecca Forster about HARD BITE .

After working back and forth by email and phone, sharing ideas and images, I went to Mark's home studio and watched while he made a rough cut. I was amazed at Mark's sense of timing and knowledge of sound effects (acronym: SFX) , and how they added to the overall mood and ambiance. Mark linked the trailer from his website so Kyle MacRae and Allan Guthrie at Blasted Heath could view it. As my publishers, if they didn't like it, they weren't likely to use it, so it was important that they were onboard.

Kyle got back to me right away but Al was travelling in Italy and the computer he had access to just couldn't "read" the video. There was nothing to do but wait a few days until he got back to Edinburgh. Soon, I had feedback from far and wide. Each suggestion and concern was put before Mark and finally we were ready to go to final cut. My job was to go back to all those image websites and purchase licensing for the footage to allow Mark download access. We were on the home stretch.


As soon as I starting purchasing the still images a warning came up on one saying "For Editorial Use Only." That means it was forbidden for use in a commercial or for promotion.

The urge to bang head, pull hair, was avoided by a tiny margin.
Back to the drawing board.

With the launch date yawning at me like the black hole of doom, I resumed a search for images and sent free comps to Mark. (The image sellers allow you to download unlimited pics at no cost because they have "watermarks" on them. When you make a final purchase, then you download the watermark-free versions.)

Mark cut the new images in and sent me a link. Clunk. Thumbs down. The new images seemed lame to me and took too much time. Mark cut another version taking out the forbidden image. Not only did the sequence move faster, it worked fine. Mark also advised that we could make do with Standard Definition quality footage instead of HD. That saved even more. In terms of SFX, Mark had stuff at his fingertips like sirens and crowd noises to throw on the soundtrack as needed.

With the digital ARCs all ready to go out Sunday night, Edinburgh time, the guys at Blasted Heath were waiting for a final cut. Mark and I met Saturday morning and worked smoothly for a few hours. By the time it took me to drive from the Valley back to Long Beach, Mark promised he would have the final rendered and a link to send out.

I get home. No link. Call Mark. While watching one final time, eagle-eyed Mark had spotted that one of the titles was missing quotation marks. It had completely escaped my 100 rounds of proofing! (It's very hard to proof moving text onscreen. Note to self: Always freeze-frame from now on.)  So Mark quickly tore the trailer apart (again), made the correction and rebuilt. Saved!

By the time I got up for my first cup of coffee Sunday morning, Kyle and Al had new links up, the trailer downloaded, and the ARC blast email assembled and ready to go out to members of the press.

Now let's see if it sells any books...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Talk to Me

Okay, I'm going to cheap out here, but hopefully it'll pay-off later.  I'm always curious about what people who read blogs want to read about.

Each night I sit here and check Twitter and Facebook and my own writing looking for a topic or two to write about here.  This week, the debate was the big topic--and as I've blogged about recently--my writing has slowed... because, well, you know... life.

So, talk to me.  I need some topics to pick up over the next few weeks.

What would you like to read about here every Tuesday?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Brother Brother Brother: Breaking Kayfabe on Recent Wrestling Fiction

Over the last year and a couple of months there has been a rise in wrestling related fiction. I suppose the obvious reason would be that those who were fans during the then WWF's huge run in the 80's are now writers.  But really, who cares what the reason is because hey, it's wrestling fiction.  I think that there is a huge amount of story potential in wrestling that is only now starting to get explored. 

So, because I'm running late with today's post, here's a quick run down.

One of the earliest examples of recent wrestling fiction is the short story "The Last Kayfabe" by Ray Banks. In a short space Banks just nails the voice of an over the hill wrestler who still has it in his blood.

Last year Jason Ridler brought us Deathmatch: A Spar Battersea Wrestling Thriller. Ridler, like Banks, nails the essence of wrestling. Not just the facet that is exposed to the public but all of the backstage action too. 

Earlier this year Stephen Graham Jones' Zombie Bake-Off which plops a group of wrestlers right into a zombie uprising.  And it's brilliant. Throughout the course of the novel Jones sets up some scenarios and by the end delivers on them.  Really, it's one of my favorite novels of the year.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green by Paul O'Brien probably best captures the wrestling business and life style.  It also has the broadest scope, spanning many years, with a large cast of characters.  O'Brien even managed to get Mick Foley to blurb his book. 

Recently, the anthology Lucha Gore: Scares From the Squared Circle was released.  Lucha Gore mixes the world of wrestling with horror. I only just bought this recently so I haven't really had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Plus, it has a great cover.

So what do you think. Is wrestling fiction a thing? Did I miss anything? Have you read any of these?

Currently Reading: The Devil Doesn't Want Me by Eric Beetner (16%); Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick (30%)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Backseat boogie

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Today at DSD, I require audience participation.  So keep reading to the end and play the game with me.  You might win something cool.

Writers have different processes.  Some listen to music.  (Not me!)  Some require absolute quiet.  Others have to write in a specific place.  Everyone does things at different speeds or in different ways.  The one constant for writers is the moment in which we say, “Why would someone do that?”  “What if that happened when…”  What if the dunk tank was a murder weapon?  What if someone drown in a toilet?  What would happen if the penalty for failing a test was death?

You never know what is going to spark that brainstorming moment.  It could be dinner conversation, a moment on Sesame Street (can you tell I can a small person in my house?) or an article from the newspaper. 

Today, I read an interesting article.  It seems that thieves have taken to breaking into cars in order to steal the backseats from them.  Really!  Here’s the article.   Apparently, skilled thieves can break into a car, steal the backseat and be ready to hightail it out of there in under a minute.  Impressive, right?

My question is – why?  Why would someone steal the backseat of a car?  Sure, they can take it to a chop shop and sell it, but then I am forced to ask – what does the person buying these seats do with them? 

This is where you come in.  I challenge you to brainstorm with me.  Write one line of motivation, the blurb for a story or even a scene and post it here by Nov. 1st.  Silly ideas, series ideas and everything in between are welcome.  The winner will get a cool prize.  It might be a book or two, or three.  It could be an ARC.  You have to play to learn what you’ll win!