Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama: My Personal Soundtrack by Erik Smetana

My buddy, Erik Smetana has something on his mind. I think it is coincidental that the most recent installment of Theater of Nightmare has one of the characters thinking along the same lines.

Catch Erik's Blog here:

The Horror Library Blog-O-Rama: My Personal Soundtrack by Erik Smetana

Friday, April 25, 2008

It's In All Of Us

Clyde watched as Chamberlain died, his last breath squeezing through parched lips and bloodied nostrils.

This is actually the introduction to a story I’ve recently started. It probably won’t stay that way, getting tweaked a couple of times before I am finally happy with it. As it stands, one would think that Chamberlain is the one breathing his last breath, but others may think that it is Clyde doing this by the way the sentence is worded. For now, I will leave the sentence the way it is to make a point.

What’s the point?

Don’t you all love it when I asks questions, hoping someone will guess before I speak . . . err . . . type the answers?

Blank stares from the masses. Nice. Okay, on with the point.

By the time this story is finished it will probably be longer than I intended for it to be, simply because I have a desire to let stories play themselves out. Also, Clyde and Chamberlain, my two main characters should have developed some qualities about them. A plot should unfold and a reason given to why Chamberlain is the one that died and not Clyde.

Maybe—just maybe—someone will have grown to like Clyde or Chamberlain or both of them. Maybe someone will get mad because I killed one of them off and left the other one standing.

Ahh . . . but who is to say that Clyde will actually live through the end of the story? Remember, that sentence above is the opening to my tale, not the ending. Maybe Chamberlain gets some sort of supernatural revenge on Clyde. Okay, no that will not happen, so why BS you folks? But, I think you get the idea—the sentence is only beginning for Clyde and Chamberlain, even though one of them dies right off the bat.

This opening sentence is a product of someone mentioning serial killers to me this past week. Though I haven’t had much time to read or write in the last ten or so days, the thought has been in the back of my mind ever since the topic was mentioned.

So, do you think that Clyde is a serial killer now? What about Chamberlain? Is he/she a victim in this story, or maybe the killer?

No, neither in this case.

Yes, Clyde watches Chamberlain die, the latter breathing his last breath and winking out before him. But, Clyde is not the killer in this story. No, the killer is . . .


Huh? What? Huh?

Okay, think for a minute. I am a writer, right? I write horror stories, right? Hmmm . . . Still don’t get it?

Okay, simplified deductions here (more for me than for you). I create characters and scenarios and scenes and what have you. I give my characters life by penning their actions and having them move from place to place, interact with each other, get put in bad situations to either get out of or get killed. Many of my stories have the main character getting offed in the end or close to it. In some stories a LOT of folks end up with closed eyes and a lack of breath.

Now, do you see it? There goes that light bulb.

A lot of folks say that writing horror isn’t all that hard. They could be right. But, then to quote Billy Joel, “I may be crazy. But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” I honestly think it takes special people to be horror writers. We delve into the depths of humanity; into the taboo areas of witchcraft, demonology and religious figures gone bad; into the minds of killers; into the eyes of monsters. Not a lot of people are willing to do that—to dive into the dark recesses of the soul and squeeze a character’s head until their eyeballs pop out and their skull shatters.

For each story a horror author writes, he or she puts themselves into a situation where they have to think of a way to either kill off a person or a way for them to get away, though by the skin of their teeth. Most of us choose to off the character and move onto the next scene or story. We put ourselves in the shoes of the killer. We become the killers and we don’t just do it for one or two stories.

Stephen King does it through entire books. Have you read Regulators or Desperation or IT? Lots of dead folks in those stories. I’m not saying King puts himself into a killer’s mindset, but he had to think of ways of killing so many people off in so many different ways. The same with Clive Barker. Or, really any horror writer of note. Anne Rice? Yup—she killed lots of folks.

So, at the end of the story, after Chamberlain has died and Clyde has watched it, I will have killed off one or both of my main characters. And, not for the first time, either. I will have watched as the letters appear on the computer screen, the events unfolding with each word. I will have written the scene and then moved onto the next one.

For horror writers, it’s in all of us. That innate vision to watch a character we create die; to kill them mercilessly. Yes, it takes a special person to write horror. It’s not as easy as you may think it is.

For now, I am AJ and Clyde is calling.

Monday, April 21, 2008

You Went Where?

So, I took this trip at the end of last week. My wife and I drove 503 miles from South Carolina to Louisville, Kentucky. Though the drive there took us about nine hours, it really didn’t feel like that long—four hours was more like it.

We talked, we laughed, I said stupid stuff, which is not too uncommon. My wife drove most of the way there (to her surprise—most of the time I drive) and I drove the final two and a half hours. As my wife drove I was able to have a little fun sight seeing.

Some things I saw on the way to Louisville:

A newer looking school bus pulling a Jeep behind it. There were no kids on it but I got the feeling that there probably was at some point during the day.

A phone booth in the middle of an open field in Tennessee. I’m still trying to figure that one out. I know there is a Twilight Zone story in there somewhere.

Animals. Lots of animals. It didn’t matter what they were. Cows. Horses. Sheep. Goats. I yelled out the window at each of them: Eat More Chicken. My wife rolled her eyes, like she does when I hit stupid mode. But, it does get better. We got behind a semi loaded down with cows. My guess is they were off to be slaughtered. As we passed them I rolled down the window and yelled out: You should have eaten more chicken. Again, another roll of the eyes. But, this time she laughed.

A place called Stinking Creek Road. Umm . . . no thanks.

Signs in the mountains that read Falling Rock Zone. Hey thanks for letting me know, but what good is it going to do me if I am driving and can’t look to see if the rocks are falling on my head?

There was a Ferris wheel jutting out of one mountainside and right down the road from it was this HUGE cross. There was no church anywhere, just a beautiful cross towering into the sky, easily seen from down the interstate.

There is more—much more—but for now I will stop with the sights and get to why we went to Kentucky in the first place. My wife and I went to Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Yes, that place—the haunted sanatorium where 63,000 people died of tuberculosis. Most of the people I mentioned it to said we were nuts, but then, I guess they don’t know us that well.

And for all of you people thinking that I dragged my wife along with me against her will, well think again: she set the whole thing up. The hotel room, getting the tickets to Waverly, getting all the maps together and finding someone to keep the kids for the four day trip. So, don’t feel sorry for her—it was her idea.

On the way there I got a LOT of story ideas, which I jotted down, in my little notebook. I also managed to do short outlines for four chapters of a novel.

We had a saving grace before we even got started on the trip. You see, I hate maps and don’t read them very well. My sister, Anna, just so happened to have a GPS and asked us if we wanted to borrow it. Ummm . . . yes. The GPS was used religiously and we never got lost. We drove around Kentucky as if we were still in South Carolina, thanks to Mandy. Who? Mandy. That is the name that was assigned to the voice of my sister’s GPS. At some points, when Mandy was especially quiet, I found myself wanting to break into Total Eclipse of the Heart.

I am off on another tangent, aren’t I?

At any rate, we made a trip to the Louisville Zoo and took a lot of pictures. We even took several pictures with my wife’s favorite stuffed animal. His name is Santa Dog and I gave him to Catherine on our first Christmas together. She has kept him with her everywhere since then, including trips, two birthings and one surgery. The folks in Kentucky thought us a little odd. But who cares? We’ll never see most of them again anyway.

We caught a picture of three fruit bats that looked like they were See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.

There was also the Cave Hill Cemetery where Harland Sanders is buried—you know the guy who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. The neatest thing about this cemetery that had a map to it and lots of roads to travel on was the small cave near a “lake” within the cemetery. Though you couldn’t go inside, it was still creepy looking and gave me a wicked idea for a story.

I met my friend, Chris Perridas. He’s a really cool dude and very intelligent. We talked about writing for a while and ghosts for another while.

Finally, midnight Friday night came and we were in Waverly, walking the halls of one really creepy place. We went into the morgue and they still had a few of the body trays in there. Climbing into it wasn’t as spooky as I thought it would be, but sitting in the dark, even after my eyes had adjusted and all I could see was blackness around me—yeah that was eerie.

We had a few “personal experiences” and I hope I caught the shadows on the video I took. There is more to Waverly than just the ghosts. The history is amazing. The sheer size of the building is daunting and the many rooms where people died or where experimental surgeries took place or electroshock therapy could send chills up and down your spine just thinking about it.

At any rate, the morning came and the tour was over. We had seen the entire building and the body chute and it didn’t feel like four in the morning. Needless to say, we didn’t want to leave.

We’ve been going through the photos and it is a painstakingly slow process, but hopefully we have caught a few things.

There will be more on being inside of Waverly later this week, but all-in-all, I would say the trip was a great one and even with just three hours sleep from early Friday morning until late Saturday evening.

More on the trip and Waverly later, for now, I’m exhausted and the kids just went to bed. I think there is a hockey game on and I would like to veg out for a little while.

For now, I’m AJ and I’m out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why Not This One?
AJ Brown

Over the last few days I have done something I have never done before. What you ask? Base jump? Parachute? Sky diving? Nah. None of those. I have sat down at the computer and tried to write a story for an anthology I would like to get in. What’s that you say? Haven’t I written for a specific anthology before?

Well, yes, but not for this one. It’s one that I never really had the confidence in my ability to write for. Yes, I have submitted to this place in the past (and no, I am not telling where it is) and I have been rejected, but it’s not like I actually sat down and wrote a story for this publication. The stories I had submitted in the past had been previously written, so I didn’t write them with the publication specifically in mind.

I tried for two days to come up with a story worthy enough to be considered. My mind shut down. I couldn’t come up with anything. For me that is unheard of. Mr. Fountain of Creativity had nothing.

I was worried at first.

Then I sat down yesterday morning for a short while and pounded out the first line to the story. I pondered it, played with it in my head, looked at it, turned the words around. Then it happened. The story took shape and I wrote. Words came together; sentences formed; a plot and ending became a little clearer.

When I finished the piece this afternoon I asked six or so of my friends to read it. I also asked questions about the story. I have gotten replies back from most of them but one of them said something that made me think. And, really the words weren’t all that profound, but they held a deeper meaning for me.

My opinions, hope they are okay.

This made me sit back and think. Thus my reply is as follows:

Thanks (name withheld to protect the guilty)--the readers’ opinions are the ones that mean the most to me. Editors are paid to tear your stuff apart. Readers are who I want to impress with this one.

With this one? With this one?

Hello, AJ, did you catch what you wrote?

With this one?

Why only this one? Why not EVERY story I write?

Here is what I am getting at folks: As writers most of us want to get published. Often times we write stories that we think the editors or publishers would like. But, what about the readers? What if a reader likes a story that an editor wouldn’t? What if a reader thinks something is awesome and a publisher doesn’t? Does that make the story any less good in the reader’s eye?

I don’t think so.

This is the thing I had forgotten through all of this learning how to write and trying to pen stories that I think an editor may like and want to publish. I, like so many of us, have forgotten about the reader.

Sure, we say if you write a compelling story and you do it well, then someone will pick it up and pay you for it. But, why only write to please an editor, one who may be fickle on what he/she likes?

We must focus on who we are trying to impress and that, in my opinion, should be the reader.

My good friend, Petra, told me something last year that I have kept in mind every time I read someone else’s work. She said, “We are readers before we are writers.”

So, why forget the readers that we are trying to reach? Why not write for them; write with them in mind?

I think to an extent we all write with a little bit of the reader in mind, but how much do we do that? How often do you sit back and say ‘I wonder if Joe Blow down the street would like this story.’

Just a thought and a rambling.

For now, I’m AJ and I’m out.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The McDonald's Mentality

Patience. Not a word many folks like, myself included. No, patience is not a popular word, even though it is a virtue.

In our push button, fast food world we have become a society of got have it now and you’re holding up my progress. If we don’t get it now, we go somewhere else where we can. I like to call it the McDonald’s Mentality. Or, maybe it’s a Burger King Mentality—your way, right away at Burger King NOW.

If you walk too slowly, people push by you. If you drive to slow, they get over, buzz by you and give you a dirty look or the finger in the process. If you don’t answer a question fast enough it will be asked again and again until you answer it.

Hurry up. Come on. You’re moving too slow. Get the lead out. You’re slower than molasses. How about a quickie?

Doesn’t anybody make long lasting slow love anymore?

So, what is my point to all of this? Let me see. Oh, yeah, as writers we tend to want that instant success. Where is mine? Why can’t I get published right away? I’m just as good as that guy, how come he gets all the notoriety? What about me?

Patience, grasshopper. Patience.

Do you see what I am getting to here or are you growing bored already?

What it boils down to is that so often we want things now and we are not willing to wait for them or work at it. Writing is tough; writing is work. That’s the easy part, folks. It’s the getting published that is so hard. It’s getting published that we have to be patient with.

We write, we edit, we rewrite, we edit some more, then we make out our cover letter, send the stories out and then. . . wait. For what? A lot of times a rejection, and most of those are form rejects. Then we say something like, “I just wasted the last three months waiting for a . . . REJECTION?”

Folks, it’s part of the business. Writing takes time. Writing takes work. Writing takes patience. I’m like anyone else: I want to get published. But, you know, I believe it will come in time. If I don’t get published tomorrow or the next day or next year, I know that it will come in time. I have to be patient and continue to work at it, get better at writing.

I’m one of those people that believe when everything is handed to you, you don’t appreciate what you have. But, if you work for it, then when rewards come, you appreciate it all the more because you accomplished something worthwhile. You were patient and let it come.

Don’t be in such a hurry to get recognized. Don’t be in such a hurry to get your work out there—a lot of times it may get out there but it may not be all that great and then what are you stuck with? Something out there with your name on it; something that you may not be proud of a year or two from now; something you will wish you waited on.

Nothing in life has ever come easy for me. Nothing. I have had to work for everything and every accomplishment. I can’t say that I am the most patient person in the world but I can say I appreciate the things I have because of the effort put into them.

I don’t like the McDonald’s Mentality. I don’t care much for the quickie attitude of our society.

I leave you with this: though the hare was faster, quicker on his feet, the turtle won the race. Slow and steady . . . and a lot of patience pay off in the long run.

I’m AJ and I’m out.