Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sean A. Lusher: Where Do Your Ideas Come From?

Something really weird happened to me recently and it led to a revelation that every other author has probably had, since I'm pretty far behind the times. Or, I might be somewhat unique and this doesn't happen to most people.

There's this drain in my laundry room that my washing machine drains into. It looks disgusting, the water stagnant and black, with some unknown green mossy substance growing in it. The sight has always creeped me out. The mossy stuff, though, is recent. And I found myself muttering, “What is that?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, I had an intense burst of ideas. Almost like a vision. A scene painted itself in my head, and, just like that, I had the groundwork for a new novella. It was as if the idea was locked in a box inside my head, and I just happened to find the key that unlocked it.

And that really got me thinking. Because, while not all my ideas are born of this manner, enough are to make me realize that this has been happening to me for years. I just never questioned it before. Well, I began to question it.

See, I've noticed that a lot of bigger name authors always skirt the edge of questions pertaining to where their ideas come from. I've always found it weird, until I began to realize a lot more about the publishing industry, human nature and the world in general.

It seems obvious now that ideas are generated from inspiration. And inspiration comes from a huge variety of places, but usually from other media. Books, films, art, etc. Personally, much of my inspiration comes from video games.

I think that a lot of authors feel awkward about admitting just where exactly they get their ideas from because, well, if you're a good author then generally you read a lot of books and, in turn, the books inspire you.

But everyone seems to forget that old saying, the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. Combine that with the fact that in our age of instantaneous information transfer and it becomes nearly impossible to be truly original. All you can do is put your own spin on the idea and deliver the best piece of work you can.

Now, personally, I'm super paranoid about imitation. There are some projects, what other people have told me are great ideas, that I'm still stalling on because I think they too closely resemble other, more official, pieces. With how sue-happy America is currently, well, it just gives me that much more of a worry.

But I wonder, am I a minority or do lots of others share this fear? And, if so, how many great pieces of work are we losing out on because the author is worried about ridiculous copyright infringement laws? Since my wife assures me that I'm being crazy and overly paranoid, as I'm wont to do, I haven't scrapped those ideas and still plan on using them. Someday.

Another reason I think we're afraid of fully admitting where our ideas come from is because we feel we might lose credibility. I mean, there's already enough people out there who think that writing isn't a 'real job' and doesn't even deserve payment. Why give them more ammo by admitting your latest idea came from watching an old episode of Scooby Doo?

In his book of short stories, Smoke & Mirrors, Neil Gaiman, the best living author I've ever read, gave a short explanation of each story. In one of them, he admitted that the idea came when a fan mistakenly asked him if he had written the script for a Baywatch reboot. (Neil had actually worked on the recent release of Beowulf.) And it was a great piece, too, made greater by learning its hilarious origin story. But, even then, at the end of it, he states, “Look, I don't give you grief over where you get your ideas from.”

But I think it would be better to 'cite our sources', so to speak. It's a way to help people understand what they're getting into. For example, if you say, “Well, my latest book was inspired by Stephen King's Duma Key and the video game Alan Wake.” Right off the bat, anyone who read Duma Key and played Alan Wake will have an idea of what you're talking about and might be that much more interested in seeing what you've got to offer.

Ultimately, I think everyone needs to be more open and free with where they gather their inspiration. The writing world would be a better place.

Author Bio: Sean A. Lusher is a horror/mystery author planning on expanding into more genres. He lives in Columbia, Missouri with his wife, some roommates and a few cats.

His novella, Liberation Road, is available for sampling at Amazon. His blog is This Thing Called Writing.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Slow Zombies and Halloween

We hardcore horror fans think of Halloween as "Amateur Night," since we're 365/24/7, but there's no reason not to throw some extra monster love at the end of October.

While I prefer ghosts as my favorite supernatural entity, if you take it to the level of creatures, I have to give zombies the nod over their fang-bearing, red-eyed brethren in arms. The Night of the Living Dead ranks in my Top 10 pantheon, and last year I even participated in first zombie walk  I just love the relentless nature of the living dead, their relatively calm persistence, their focus on the prize. As you may be able to tell, I am a fan of the Slow Zombie.

I remember watching Fulci's Zombie on back-to-back nights in a theater in Chapel Hill, NC when I was in college. It's the only movie I've ever seen twice in a theater, and I have no idea what I was thinking. I even went alone to that second showing, so I must have been seeking some private connection with the horrors that unfolded (or maybe I just dug the groovy synth soundtrack). I enjoyed 28 Days Later but I find most modern zombie movies are too jokey and self-referential and attention-deficit-disordered, as if zombies have now jumped the shark (cue that really cool scene in Zombie where...well, just watch it).

I guess it's hard to keep fresh, and NotLD definitely borrowed from the The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price. Even the old-school, Haitian zombie movies like I Walked With a Zombie captured an atmosphere of dread., instead of the shock-horror that modern audiences expect. I hate to sound like a grumpy old geezer ("Quit playing on my lawn, you kids!") but I would love to see a revival of the slow zombie, where the experience was less that of a shoot-em-up video game and more like, "It doesn't matter what you do, we're gonna get ya."

But, heck, I guess I'd still take a bad zombie movie over a good romantic comedy any day. Got any suggestions for good Slow Zombie movies?

(Zombie Bits, my Z collection with bonus material from Jonathan Maberry, Joe McKinney, and Jack Konrath, is available at Amazon, BN, Apple, and Kobo. The Murdermouth comic is still in development as I seek ways to raise funds for it.)

Thanks for sharing your list!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sean Platt: Yesterday's Gone serial ebook project

Sean and I have crossed paths here and there over the years, and when I found out about his serial ebook project, I had to know more. So here is Sean, in the digital flesh.

Hi Scott! Thanks for having me, it's great to be here.

1) Why a serialized fiction project?

Serialized fiction is something my writing partner David Wright and I have been interested in for a long time. In fact, we started our first serialized project more than two years ago at our website, Collective Inkwell. It was a horror novel called Available Darkness.

We published a new entry each Friday and developed a decent sized audience in a reasonably short time, but life nudged its way to the front and we both got busy with the immediate needs of life which forced us to pause the project. We resurrected it earlier this year and published it on Kindle and print this summer.

But our new project, Yesterday’s Gone, was an entirely different beast from day one!

By mid-summer, our small imprint had published five titles. Unfortunately, those five titles were in four different markets. We knew we really needed to fix this. It's difficult to hit critical mass on Kindle without multiple titles. But just because someone loves your book about vampires, doesn't mean they’re going to love your book about how to build an online writing business.

Yesterday's Gone was designed from day one to capitalize on the all-too-easy to click Kindle consumer phenomenon. This serial was a way for us to get six high quality titles to market that would keep readers at the edge of their seat, leave them wanting for more, and hopefully telling their friends about all the fun they had reading.

2) Did you choose a post-apocalyptic story because of the nature of the project, or was that always in the plans?
That's a great question!
Full credit for the premise goes to Dave. We were already discussing doing a serial, but to his way of thinking, it would be easier to get our first season to market if it was set in a world where we wouldn't end up drowning in research. With a post-apocalyptic setting, we essentially built ourselves a giant sandbox where we made all the rules.

Of course, there were still a ton of things to research and we had to make sure our dates and times all lined up, and that locations in our story matched locations on the map. This was especially difficult while doing some of the larger scenes in New York and Times Square, but was still significantly less work than it would have been if we were writing something set in the real world.

3) How does the collaboration work? Back and forth for each chapter, or write and rewrite?
Dave and I have been writing together for three years now. We met during what was the first few weeks for each of us online. Our collaboration is natural, organic, and wonderfully fluid. A project of this scope would've been impossible without it.

As far as Yesterdays Gone specifically, we started by writing the “pilot.” We decided there would be six characters and that each of us would handle the POV for three of them. Once finished, I sent my work to Dave and he pieced them all together.

For episodes 2-6, we each stuck with the characters we started with, following the same process, where I would write my three POV’s then send them to Dave for arrangement. I polished his copy and sent it back. Dave excels at structure, and I'm slightly better voice so that rhythm works really well for us.

4) How many episodes will you do, and what happens after they are finished?
There are six episodes in the first season, and right now we have at least three seasons planned, though if the audience is asking, we’ll definitely deliver more. We’re not sure six episodes is the perfect number for a season. Seems like there’s a lot to experiment with there. The next serial we have planned will have a different number of episodes and a slightly different page count for each one, almost for sure.

Dave's been getting the episodes to Kindle one at a time, but we’ve been fast-tracking the entire project since there isn't the big built-in audience that there will be for Season II. Once we’re in the second season, we’ll launch each episodes anywhere from a week to a month apart, depending on audience feedback.

5) Do you see other possibilities for invention and experimentation with form in the digital era?
Absolutely! I am thoroughly in love with where self-publishing is right now, and I think experimentation is everything. We have many, many plans, in multiple genres. And we can't wait to explore them all.

We hope you enjoy this trailer, and will share it on Facebook, Twitter and email. You can start with the pilot of Yesterday's Gone for just $.99 or get the entire season for $4.99, which is a super great deal!

If you’re a reader who likes the extra goodies (like exclusive chapters and sneak peeks), or an author who wants a behind-the-scenes look at the writing and marketing process for this project, sign up to be a “goner,” here.

Thanks for having me at the Haunted Computer, Scott. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Griffin Hayes: Malice and dreams

Where do writer’s come up with their ideas? I’m often asked this question and almost exclusively by non-writers. They ask it as though I were an acrobat from the Cirque du Soleil and they wanted to know how I managed to balance thirty teapots on my head without dropping a single one. The rather mundane answer I normally give has the tendency of wiping that look of incredulous awe right off their faces. For me, story ideas rarely come nicely prepackaged with a tiny pink bow on top. It’s a sloppy, Darwinian process where crappy ideas (hopefully) get munched on by stronger, more elegant ideas. More often than not, a single novel is really a series of ideas, all meshed into one. 

Predominately, the source of my inspiration comes from dreaming. These are snippets mostly. Tiny fragments which don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense on their own, but when connected to two or three other fragments, begin to take on the distinct shape of a story. 

Another place I mine for novel ideas - because mining is exactly what we do - are what I call my ‘what ifs.’ It’s something I do everyday and some of the coolest books and movies out there were born from this process. What if you were the last man on earth in a world filled with vampires? (I am Legend). What if the devil opened a shop in a small town? (Needful things). The list could go on and on.

I’ve seen this play out in my own work countless times. My novel Malice is a revenge story about a witch, condemned and executed hundreds of years ago, who has returned to even the score. The dream part of the equation came to me one night when I dreamt that an old hag was crawling along the floor, trying to get me. I could see her dirty fingernails tearing at the carpet and in her wake was a long trail of gore and revolting slime. I woke up from that one thankful it was only a dream.
The ‘what if’ part of Malice came when the following question popped into my head one day: what if someone was being hunted for a crime from another life they had no memory of committing? 

Now apart, those two pieces didn’t mean a whole hell of a lot. But together, that’s when something sinister began to take shape. 

So in a way the process is about swinging an imaginary pick-axe, scooping up the loose chunks that gather at your feet and squeezing them together to see how they fit. 99.9% of the story ideas I’ve had are terrible and rightfully end up in a sort of mental dustbin, just where they belong. It’s that .01% that I keep my eye out for and when you find those rare gems, you just hope you’re wise enough to rub away at the edges and recognize that beneath that rough surface lies something worthwhile.
View Malice at Amazon for Kindle:
Link to Griffin's blog:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Christopher Nolan and the Rewind Factor

I hated the movie Memento. I had to watch it, of course, because it was intelligentsia du jour back in those days. A movie should only require one viewing in order to "get it." To do otherwise is to cheat the viewer and is a sign of self-indulgent storytelling.

I merely disliked Inception, but of course couldn't confess it in a public forum because everybody either loves it or pretends to love it, because who wants to be that one dummy who doesn't "get it"? My take was, "Well, if it's a dream within a dream within a dream, why should I bother keeping track of which layer of dream we're in, because dreams aren't real?" It had cool visuals, but on a story level, I thought it was a real mess. For a mind-twisting story where reality itself was in doubt, I thought Shutter Island was far superior (Incidentally, Leonardo diCaprio is becoming one of my favorite actors, something I never dreamed I'd admit.)

When my Amazon editor contacted me about getting the rights to Liquid Fear, he said the plot had "a Christopher Nolan feel." I was horrified! In the novel, I had deliberately planted deception and unreliable narrators, and I knew it was risky. I knew I would immediately lose a certain slice of the book audience. But I wanted to do something challenging and reward those who like risks. DiCaprio is taking risks with his career, taking roles as an unpleasant and unlikable character (The Departed!) when he could have stayed the cuddly Titanic heartthrob--that's why I like him now. I would rather have taken risks than dole out disposable entertainment and sell lots of books.

I saw Nolan's first full-length film Following, a more stripped-down version of his twisting storytelling style, with a little of his signature nihilism. It's probably my favorite, although we watched The Dark Knight last night, and it only had a few "Huh, what's happening and/or whose side are they on?" moments.

The guy gives me a headache. But I keep coming back for more. And he's influencing a lot of storytellers. (I started Liquid Fear in 2006 so I am pretty sure Christopher Nolan didn't influence me. Yet.) I suppose there are worse things to be than the Christopher Nolan of psychological thrillers.

Time for me to revisit Memento and see if I'm any smarter these days.


Friday, October 7, 2011

14 Rules for Pretending To Be a Dad

My 11-year-old daughter is hosting a couple of friends for the Ghost Train theme park, and I get to play chauffeur and chaperone. But I was also handed a list of rules on how to "pretend to be normal" so that I don't embarrass her, including not chauffeuring in my rusty Subaru or rustier truck.

1. Do not say howdy.
2. Do not wear sweatpants.
3. Drive Lexie's car.
4. Carry a cell phone at all times.
5. Do not say stupid stuff.
6. Act like a banker.
7. Do not make alien noises.
8. Do not fall asleep.
9. Do not wander around aimlessly.
10. Do not talk to my friends except saying stuff like "Did you have fun" or other 'normal' things to say.
11. Do not wear strange things from dumpsters.
12. Make small talk.
13. 'Organic' and 'natural' things are banned.
14. Only drive where we tell you to drive.

I can hardly wait!

P.S. She also gave me a script of what to say to the moms of the girls who called asking about the invitation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Bad Blood: A vampire thriller by Scott Nicholson, J.R. Rain, and H.T. Night

My first literary menage a trois is now out: BAD BLOOD, a collaboration with bestselling authors J.R. Rain and H.T. Night.We alternated chapters on this vampire thriller, editing each other's work, and I am pleased with the blend of darkness, humor, romance, and action. I also got to research Mystical Mount Shasta, California, the land of the Lemurians. We're planning to continue the Spider series next year, if you like it well enough! Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and coming soon to other markets.

I've also released The Vampire Shortstop as a standalone short story, which won the international Writers of the Future award waaaay back in 1999. It's free at Smashwords, BN.Com , and other markets, and I hope Amazon matches it, too. It's currently 99 cents at Amazon, so please help by clicking the link on the book's page that says "Tell us about a lower price." It's probably my best story, so I not only want people to read it and try my other books, I just want them to share the feeling. It's the only one of my stories that I like to re-read, and it makes me misty-eyed every time.

I'm considering releasing a few standalone short stories this month. It feels like 99 cents is too much for one story, since many of my story collections are 99 cents, but other writers accept it as a standard. I am putting out some other content, too, continuing the age of experimentation. How do you feel about 99 cent short stories? Too expensive, or a fair price?

I hope your Halloween season is off to great start! Let monsters and mayhem rule! And candy...don't forget the candy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Bitter End: Mark Chisnell

The End. It’s a hell of a way to start anything – but the end is only secondary in importance to the beginning of a story. If the opening ‘hook’ is the thing that draws you in, and keeps you reading those early pages, then the end is the part that most readers are likely to remember.
Sometimes the story even starts with the end; Henning Mankell once commented that he’s occasionally begun with a final scene and then written towards it. If it’s good enough for the creator of Wallander, then it’s good enough for me. I began my first novel with the climax.

The rest of the process of writing The Defector - all eight drafts of it - was figuring out who those people were and how they got there. But the question I’m really interested in here is not whether anyone should start writing a book from the final scene, rather; it’s what do we, the reader, want from the end? The normal answer is that a good ending should make sense of all that went before, and in the words of the screenwriting guru William Froug; ‘It is that which nothing need follow.’

Endings tend to come in two parts, starting with the climax that any good book has been working towards. In the thriller or mystery genre that I work in, this is almost invariably some sort of action scene; the classic version being one where the hero battles the villain and wins (happy ending) or loses (sad ending).

The climax is followed by the denouement, where the plot is resolved and the loose ends are tied up – this is the bit where sense is made of all that went before. In a mystery novel we obviously need to know who did it, but many people will also want to know how they did it, and why they did it. And maybe we need to know why the girlfriend helped or betrayed them, or why the best friend or mother protected or abandoned them...

It’s a slippery slope and the classic storyteller’s error is too much denouement, particularly when it comes via ‘Basil Exposition’. This is the over-familiar scene where the police detective or private dick explains to a room (conveniently filled with everyone involved) all the various plot strands.

The upside of this sort of ending is that all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed. There’s no frustration, no looking for more explanation where there is none. Unfortunately, there’s no surer way to kill the emotional impact of a good climax than too much denouement, particularly if it comes with too much exposition. So for me the tricky part of Froug’s ‘that which nothing need follow’ is figuring out precisely where that point lies.

I’m of a minimalist tendency – I like to be left with a few things to ponder. If I’m still thinking about a book a couple of days after finishing it, then to me that’s the clearest indication that it was a good one. And that’s unlikely if everything has been tidied up into a neat pile, and then wrapped in silver paper with bows on it.

In both of my own thrillers I set the main character a moral dilemma, presenting them with a decision, one that threatens the people that they most love. The hero spends much of my first two books trying to dodge or wriggle out of making the critical choices, but ultimately (and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anyone here) there’s no escape.

And once that final decision was made, then as far as I was concerned you could stick a fork in it - the book was done. The denouements in both books are short and to the point. I felt that there was little more to say – the central character’s climactic choice said it all. Everything else flowed from there - but that’s just me and it’s not to everyone’s taste, including my original editor at Random House. Oh, the battles we fought over the end of The Defector...

So, cryptic, explicative or somewhere in between, how do you like your books to end?


The Defector:

The Wrecking Crew

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kindle Fire and Netflix: A Match Made In Electroheaven?

As news of the Kindle Fire kicks around the Internet. I don't think I will be an early adopter, since I am not a touchscreen fan, but I am really interested in the Prime subscription, especially since Netflix has hit the skids. One of the rumors floating around is that Amazon will buy Netflix, at least the livestream half, which supposedly is one reason Netflix split into two divisions and separated its mail-order DVD service.

Here are a few Kindle books and news sites I've discovered recently:
Kindle 3
Kindle Dark on Facebook
Kindle Surprise on Twitter

I am going to experiment with putting out a few individual short stories for Kindle. I've put out entire collections for 99 cents, and even novels for 99 cents, but many authors believe 99 cents is a good price for one story. I like giving people a lot for their money, but a dollar is a dollar. I am also going to be raising my novel prices in line with what Amazon decides to price the Liquid Fear books at for Dec. 20 release. So if you like bargain prices, you better grab me now while I am "el cheapo."

There is debate about whether 99 cent products lead to a sense of entitlement among consumers, or that they expect a low-priced product to be crap. I have noticed my cheaper books and freebies tend to attract more one-star reviews, which kind of blows my mind. While the work should be judged on its merits, I would never dream of slamming something I got for free--I would just quietly move it to the side and forget all about it.

Others believe higher prices make the reader value the product more, because they feel good about it and assign more worth and quality to it. There may be a psychological impulse at work, but I don't understand it, because I value a book I check out from the library just as much as I do one I paid $25 for in hardcover. At any rate, the customer is always right, and you are my customer, so I trust you to tell when my prices are too high--hopefully BEFORE you stop buying them!

Anyway, Amazon and Netflix--here's the second leap on that rumor. If Amazon is moving to a subscription model for books (which I would bet a house on) and are becoming a publisher, what's to stop them from developing their own movie production company? Nothing.