An injection of meaning...

The idea of meaning has been on my mind.  If I am to be completely honest, it is always on my mind.  When I read a book, a story, or even watch a movie, I am working to flesh out the meaning of a story, hidden or otherwise.  But this becomes a tricky point, and a sticky subject when I start to analyze much of what comprises our popular culture and literary fiction these days.  Anymore, genres of fiction seem to identify the book, more than categorize it.  Within the last ten years or so, the new sub-category of YA, or young adult has sprung onto the market and quite quickly become the fastest growing, and most sought after species of books on the market.  In many circles, YA has become synonymous with romance (we can probably thank novels such as Twilight fame for this).  One person argued with me that young adult and romance go hand in hand.  That every coming of age story should include romance, if it is not primarily about it.  My argument in response was, as always, why?  What makes romance any more important to this puberty afflicted, transitional, hormone ravaged age group?  Are there not other literary elements and plot points that can be just as engaging, without being so narrow focused and assuming.  When you consider the other major genres, ie: horror, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, comedy, and drama, YA sounds incredibly vague.  Does it describe a genre of fiction, or does it categorize the book shoppers as select and quantifiable units within a sound marketing strategy?  I'd have to lean towards the latter more than the former.  Young Adult, like New Adult, Middle Grade, Adult, and Children's books seeks to categorize books more by the demographics of their potential customers than the content of their novels.  So what then is the meaning associated with any one particular sub-genre in Young Adult?  At count, Amazon has 13 different sub genres listed under the Young Adult/teen parent.

By its nature, does Y.A. simply try and emulate, and therefore aid, a group of people struggling with the natural pitfalls of their specific developmental situation? After all, so many protagonists in Y.A. books are questing for something, usually an item or a skill to overcome a particular scenario or hurdle. Is this to help young adults relate and provide context as they struggle to fit in, or perhaps, overcome a challenge and slide into the next, slightly more mature role? That's cool, and I would say that if that was the case, then Y.A. could serve a very valuable purpose for young adults. But back to the romance. While shopping through Amazon's increasingly complex sub-genres, I stumbled upon #instalove. Evidently, simply using the plot element wasn't enough, now we have analytics out there so people shopping for books can pinpoint and identify books that feature characters that "fall in love at first sight", or as the newer generation calls it, instalove. I'm not going to lie, evidently I am too old for this. Yes, I rolled my eyes. When I write stories, I strive to make them as believable as possible (okay, within reason - after all, magic, swords, and laser blasters notwithstanding). But...I try and make my characters interact in a believable and organic manner. No one falls in love at first sight, let's call it what it is, lust, attraction, pheromones. So where does this idea of #instalove come from? Is this wishful thinking by Y.A. writers and readers? Do you see it in adult genres as well? If you stretch the idea of meaning to encompass instalove, I am led to some interesting conclusions. Does instalove constitute a younger generation's quest for sexual viability? Or, more likely, is instalove just an offshoot of these young generation's need for instant gratification. Has it spilled over from streaming music, movies, and t.v, expedited shipping, and on and on. Weigh in...

The Autopsy of Jane Doe - A movie review

MV5BMjA2MTEzMzkzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjM2MTM5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_.jpg

Released December, 23 2016. Directed by Andre Ovredal and stars Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, and Ophelia Lovibond.

Andre Ovredal is not a well known name stateside, except for those people who watched Trollhunter (2010), a surprisingly good found footage film. I enjoyed Trollhunter, although struggled through a bit of it, due in part to some of the natural downfalls of the genre, most specifically excessive shaky cam, limited depth of story, and etc.

I watched the trailer for The Autopsy of Jane Doe late last year, right before the movie was scheduled for its theatrical release. I'll be honest, I was guarded. I love horror, but there is so much schlock to navigate around in the genre that I spend the vast majority of the time ignoring it altogether. But then I started to read some reviews. Not only did it have a positive rating on Metacritic, but it sported a very positive 85% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And so, I was interested.

The movie opens up as the local Sheriff is investigating a rather gruesome scene of a multiple homicide. Everyone in the house is dead. And...there is the partially buried body of a young woman in the basement. I loved this sequence, and Ovredal didn't spoil it with any voice over, scrolling text, or unnecessary exposition. The atmosphere and tone starts here, and are carried well throughout the film. Next we are introduced to Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, a father-son duo that runs a mortuary/morgue. Their introductory scene does a nice job establishing their relationship, as well as credibility in their field. I have seen both actors in movies before (more Brian Cox), but have to say that I really liked the interplay and chemistry between them. Their relationship felt natural, and their wasn't any of that "forced tension" between them that is gratuitously used in horror movies. In fact, it is the strong bond between these characters that makes them more likable, but also ratchets up the tension as the plot builds, as we genuinely care for both of them.

There is a fair does of very realistic gore as the two go about the unenviable task of investigating the dead, cataloging their results, and in the end, breaking through to the truth of people's deaths. As gruesome as it appeared, I found the autopsy moments tasteful and interesting - and for the plot, necessary.

As the movie continues and the conflict tightens, Ovredal mercifully avoids most of the oft-used tropes of horror movies. I won't list them off, but just know that you are safe from cheesy and gimmicky jump scares, stupid characters running in the wrong direction, and on and on. The mystery of Jane Doe remains the central and compulsory element at play, and although the father and son duo come to some conclusions, they all feel natural and well earned - as confusing as they are. You don't have those "they find something, or come to a realization moment because the plot needs them to" moments which serve only to move the plot along for the viewer. Each turn and twist in this movie feels organic, and thus, helps add to the steady, creeping sense of dread that gradually builds from beginning, and culminates in the end.

Was I happy with the ending? Yes, to a degree. It doesn't spell everything out for you, but just like the rest of the movie, keeps your imagination engaged and forces you to draw most of your own conclusions. I think the movie could have been a bit longer, building on the underlying themes in play, but that is a nit pick on my part. After all, there is only so much you can reasonably do with the story, especially considering the very claustrophobic aspects of the set.

In the end, Ovredal has crafted a very good horror movie - one that will leave you pondering what it all meant, what it will mean, and exactly where the story moves forward, off camera of course. If you're like me, you will undoubtedly be considering these things long after the credits roll. That, my friends, is what makes great movies. I will take The Autopsy of Jane Doe as a good sign - that there is good, smart, and intellectual horror/thrillers on the horizon. I welcome a second coming of directors like Hitchcock, whom respected the intellectual capacity of his viewers, sought to challenge them, and respected the power of the twist.

Overall - two thumbs up!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3289956/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Guest post - Jarod Meyer

One of the questions people ask me the most often is: "what sorts of books or authors inspired me when I was a kid".

  While I can remember the books, I generally never paid much attention to who wrote them. This is just kind of my personality. I can’t even remember who sings my favorite songs most of the time, but I can sing all the words.

The Animorphs series comes to mind right off the bat. I loved those books, as I’ve always been drawn to Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I remember my dad and I would read Goosebumps before bed in the evenings. We would take turns reading outloud. And I would get so frustrated when we couldn’t read the next chapter because I had to go to bed.

I think that I was drawn to books because my kindergarten teacher told my parents that I would struggle with reading and writing. Not sure how she was able to determine that at such a young age. Anyway, HA! How do you like me now? I believe that it is our mentors telling us we can’t do something that really drives us to achieve what we never thought possible.

I fear for kids these days. They do so much reading and writing on their mobile devices, but can’t pick up a book and read it. I hope that more parents will read with their kids. I know that if I have kids they will be playing the piano and reading!

I.O.W.A - a successful first offering. Warning, I ramble.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one (Terri Leblanc and Dana Beatty), but I'm a bit tired. When Jed Quinn and I first started talking specifics for this event (on our drive back from the North Iowa Book Bash, April 30th), we envisioned this would all be happening circa 2017. But then Dana chimed in, put on his spurs, and the rest is now legend. You helped us change the literary landscape in Cedar Rapids moving forward.

This is what I have to say about the event, now that it is behind us. Firstly, everyone involved Saturday is truly amazing. Organizers, authors, and helpers. I genuinely enjoyed meeting and chatting with every one of you, and only wish that I would have had more time to spend socializing. You all came together like family, pitched in, supported one another, and proved once again that bookies really are some of the best people out there. I saw authors recommending other attending writer's work, book swapping (my favorite), and social and professional networks enlarging. This crowd of Iowa and Midwest writers really is a special group of people.

Selling books at an event is never an easy gig, sitting at a table, trying to snag complete stranger's interest to pitch books. Stack on top of that that we were in a mall, surrounded with glittering, shiny objects, a Coke machine (bent on corrupting our minds), and the task gets even harder. Terri, Dana, Jed, and I took notes, and will work on making I.O.W.A a bigger and grander experience next year. Cedar Rapids and the surrounding communities really is a great, untapped market for this kind of event, and with the right poking and prodding, I believe we can make this a banner event.

With that said, planning for next year's event will start in earnest.  Keep your eye turned to the I.O.W.A Facebook page, and please, don't be shy. If you have ideas about how we can improve and grow moving forward, or other authors you believe would like to contribute, bend our ears. 

 

Before the Crow Launch - Update

Before the Crow launched April 9th, and although I was at the Ankeny Author Fair that day, the official release signing was the following Friday, at the Cedar Rapids Barnes and Noble Booksellers. Both events were fantastic. There was a nice little crowd that showed up in Ankeny that I recognized from last year and they were eager to get their hands on the continuation in my Overthrown Series! I don't think they will be disappointed. The official launch signing at Barnes and Noble was amazing. Special thanks go out to Amanda Zhorne, and the other fantastic folks at B&N for arranging, setting up, but mostly for taking a chance on me. There was a fantastic turn out. I even got a chance to chat with some passer-byes. If memory serves, they all stayed and chatted about fantasy and science fiction, and walked away with copies of both Within and Before the Crow. I hope they enjoy both books! All in all, it was an amazing day.

A few days later I found out that Before the Crow didn't just sell well it's first week in release, but it made the local Bestsellers list. Wow! This is humbling. Truly. I ran out and grabbed several copies of the Sunday Cedar Rapids Gazette and realized that it didn't just make the list, it is #1. I beat out Nora Roberts, Rick Riordan and a host of other fabulously talented and successful authors. I know it's just one local market, but I'll take every small victory I can get!

 

I'll be there May 13th-15th!

I'll be there May 13th-15th!

The Before the Crow release tour continues this upcoming weekend, as I gear up to attend the North Iowa Book Bash (#NIBB2016) in Clear Lake, Iowa, Saturday April 30th. Although this event is only in its 2nd year, it has quickly grown to the largest and most successful non-Convention author event in the state. Kudos to the BFBookies Micki Fredericks, Rachel Smith, and Lori Rattay for organizing such a killer event. After the NIBB I will be headed to Wizard World - Comicon in Des Moines. I will be participating in three panels, as well as manning a table all weekend, selling books. It is going to be a great time, so if you can, see if you can work it into your schedule. I will update this post with photos from the release signing at Barnes and Noble and others, so check back!

 

Within Free Promo Update

  The Within free promo ended last night and I can honestly say that it surpassed my wildest expectations! 1040 copies were downloaded over the five days, bumping overall book rankings to top 400 total free book sales, #1 in one category, and top 10 in epic and dark fantasy categories.
  I would like to thank all of the people who helped out by sharing my promotional messages. Without you, this promo wouldn't have been nearly as successful. If you were one of the people that downloaded a free copy, thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it. And if you do, please write a review!
  In further news, we are now just a week away from the Before the Crow book release. If you prefer to read on a Kindle, it is available for pre-order. I'll have hardcover copies with me in Ankeny April 9th, and Clear Lake April 30th. The release signing is at the Cedar Rapids Barnes and Noble April 15th. I look forward to seeing everyone come out.
  Have an awesome weekend!

To use, or not to use - the Oxford comma

Let me start out by saying this, I am an advocate of the Oxford comma. Yet, not everyone is. Some, in fact, adamantly refuse to use them (varies by style guide ultimately). They argue that it is stylistic, and in most situations, superfluous. I agree with them that it is stylistic punctuation, but I have also learned that it is stylistic punctuation that can often differentiate between good writing and mediocre. How do I figure that? Good writing is crisp and concise, except in those moments where the author wants to us oblique or vague language to add intrigue or doubt for the reader. But those are intentional moment. Ones that are considered, and not just the result of poor writing. 

Before I get into it, a little history.

Named for the standards guide utilized by the Oxford University Press, the Oxford comma, also known as the Serial, or Harvard comma, is that seemingly isolated punctuation mark used before the conjugation and the last item in a lists, or series. 

Take the following:

"Walter invited the beggars, Father Emilio and Chuck the Butcher", as an example. Without the Oxford comma in this sentence, the reader infers that Walter invited two beggars, and their names were Father Emilio and Chuck the Butcher. This is hardly concise writing, and it raises doubt and confusion in the reader. They question who is invited, and who the beggars are. Now take the same sentence, and use proper grammar: "Walter invited the beggars, Father Emilio, and Chuck the Butcher". Now we understand that Walter invited beggars, the priest, and the butcher. Three separate entities. Ambiguity clarified.

But there is more. "Bring me saltpeter, brown paper and turpentine." There is nothing structurally wrong with the way this sentence is written, but you should consider how the reader will interpret it as it pertains to your story. Without the Oxford comma, the reader may infer that there is some special connection that the second and third items on the list share that they do not with the first. Granted, you will never be able to remove all ambiguity, as much of it is determined by a host of factors, most of which are associated with the reader and out of your control. Yet, with that said, there are instances where Oxford commas may actually confuse the subject, or object of your sentence. It is these situations where it should not be used.

Take this example from the 1934 style book of the New York Herald Tribune: "Those at the ceremony were the commodore, the fleet captain, the donor of the cup, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Jones." (Okrent) Now it may not look strange at first, but when you consider what the writer is trying to say, you begin to see how the Oxford comma between Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones skews the meaning. In this case, Mr. Smith is in fact not the donor of the cup. So this comma actually leads the reader to a false conclusion. Removing the serial comma would clarify it a bit, while rewriting would definitely clear up any further confusion.

In the end, the Oxford comma is a valuable bit of stylistic punctuation, one which can help to reduce ambiguity in writing. But like everything else, its use should be considered carefully. I don't agree with the crowd that outright refuses to use them. But I also don't believe that it should always be used, regardless of application. The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in between. Find that happy balance, or equilibrium, and your writing will surely benefit. Happy scribbling!

Cited works

Okrent, Arika. "The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars". Mental Floss.com. Language. 

 

On the environment

Something has been bothering me for some time. Specifically, it is the climate debate. Before you label me, or click away, just hear me out. I pride myself on being a level headed person, so when something bothers me, it's usually for a good reason. With that said, here it goes.

It should be clear to most people how hard we are on this planet. After all, you don't have to go far to see litter, land fills, run off slews, oil spills, clear cutting, excessive land development, toxic waste dumping, and on and on. Just look at Hong Kong's harbor. Large quantities of sewage is pumped into the water, raising the bacteria level. Algae blooms move in, growing and spreading until the food source is exhausted. Then the algae sinks to the bottom and dies, depriving the water of large quantities of oxygen. This creates dead zones, where everything dies. It's disgusting how we treat our home, but what I find more disgusting is how we argue about it. The global warming turned climate change debate has picked up steam over the last few years, but it is hampered by the fact that it is rooted in politics. And history has shown that causes born in the political arena see more lip service than decisive action. In a word, rhetoric spewing professional bureaucrats are arguing over who is right and who is wrong, instead of focusing on those tangible things that could make a real difference.  It is like Erma Bombeck said, "Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere". Politicians like to point the finger, so naturally they will narrow their focus onto one thing (usually a big one). Right now that thing is carbon dioxide. Namely the carbon based fuel sources that expel large quantities of it. Yes too much carbon dioxide is bad. Strip mining is horrible. Fracking is worse. Coal is an antiquated energy source, but as mankind has shown, we don't change directions quickly, or easily. So while we are fighting that battle, why can't we work to enact smaller, meaningful changes that will benefit our home right now?

I started thinking about this when i stopped by the mailbox to pick up the mail. Our post office box is filled everyday, and it isn't because of birthday cards or well-wishers. It is junk mail. That nasty little secret that lives out in the open. Everyone hates it, but little is done about it. Consider this. Six out of every seven days, my mailbox is at least half-full, and conservatively speaking, 80% of that is junk mail.

The other day we had mailers from Citibank and Chase offering us their best new credit card. There was one addressed to me, one to my wife, and one addressed to "household". Really? How long before these financial giants are mailing one to us, plus our children (regardless of age), plus the household? You can see their logic. More mailers means more potential customers, just as more hooks in the water might catch more fish. But their practices aren't just predatory, they're downright destructive. Think of all the ways we use paper. Then think of all the ways we shouldn't. Did you know that 100 million trees are cut down annually to be used to make junk mailers? This should sicken most people. I know it does me. And if the volume isn't bad enough, consider this. According to donotmail.org, "The paper is often sourced from destructive logging operations in some of the world's most ecologically important forest regions, including Canada's Boreal Forest, The U.S. Southeast and Indonesia's Tropical Rainforests". That is one tree for every three Americans. Now consider the global implications.

100 million trees = a year's supply of credit card offers, insurance specials, and political flyers. That is 100 million living organisms we destroyed to make a product that "44%" of people simply throw away unopened. And what is worse, only "22%" of junk mail is recycled. (NYU) In the past 20 years of industrial evolution we have integrated new techniques for paper recycling, yet 22% is all we can account for. Sad doesn't describe it. Embarrassing is more like it. If it was 100 million trees cut down annually to make live saving devices or products which could immediately improve someone's life it might be different. Individually we are intelligent, but what this tells me is that as a whole we are moths dangerously circling the flame. We have convinced ourselves that this is okay. That it is an acceptable practice and behavior, simply because it is how things are done. But it gets swept under the rug, because all we hear are the politically-spun narratives they want us focused on. Us versus coal. Us versus oil. Us versus carbon dioxide. They want you to focus on the big picture issues here, but in reality it is those smaller issues plaguing, no crippling society and our ecology that can enact measurable change now. Should we move away from fossil fuels, or limit their use? Heck yes. Can we enact that kind of change overnight and afford a meaningful reprieve from the damage already done? Unfortunately, no. They say we are pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in damaging quantities, while at the same time removing the very organic mechanism meant to keep atmospheric components in check. Simple science. Trees inhale co2, and exhale o2. Every school age child learns this early on. So instead of raising the crusader's sword against big oil or big coal, why can't we as a people simply demand that destructive behaviors like junk mail be brought to the forefront. Perhaps our elected officials could take their legislative powers and enact some good for a change. Instead of arguing over who is right, and who is wrong. Or, legislating what services and products we must buy.

Before I step off of my soapbox, I must touch on packaging materials. Beyond junk mail, I cannot think of another example of needless waste. You purchase something small, especially electronic. Chances are that it is wrapped in a plastic bag, supported by a plastic insert and stuffed inside a cardboard box (more paper use). According to the DNR, the U.S. alone produced more than 11.9 million tons of plastic waste from packaging in 2003. That is the equivalent of 22 million Arabian horses.

Image credit: www.funmozar.com

Image credit: www.funmozar.com

And that doesn't include paper components for paper packaging. If the number wasn't staggering enough, 90% of that 11.9 million tons bypassed the recycling industry and went straight to the landfill. Cultivate, produce, ship, buy, and bury it in the ground. Yep, sounds like a destructive cycle to me. Calling us the "consumer" is right on multiple levels.

Yep, we are working so hard at sustainability. Alright, soapbox is going away now. As always, thanks for reading. Chime in below!

A little about me

So I have had blogs in various iterations for the past few years. And although I have talked a lot about my writing, and what specifically inspires me to write, I realized that I have never really stopped to introduce myself. So, hi, my name is Aaron Bunce. It is officially nice to meet you! I was born and raised in eastern Iowa, where I now live with my wife, Rebecca, two daughters: Joselyn and Aleena, two dogs: Isabelle and Matilda, and two cats: Guenhwyver and Catti. I am 35 years old, but am considerably younger at heart. I enjoy a good joke, love to laugh, and like to look for the best in people.

I work in the security department of a nuclear power plant and spend much of my time writing. I am fairly moderate-conservative on most things (in all likelihood due to being the middle of three children), but hold firm to those things that I believe in. I love to read (pretty much all genres) but find that I am drawn to fantasy, science fiction, horror, and good thrillers. I love a good movie and can openly admit that a large portion of my life was stolen from me when Skyrim was released back in 2011. It was time freely given. I love to bike (the kind you pedal), hike, run, shoot my bow (re-curve), spend time with my daughters. If the weather is nice you will likely find us ripping around on the water in our Baja Islander.

I graduated from Kirkwood Community College way back in 2004 with a minor in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement, but realized that police work wasn't for me. I enrolled at Southern New Hampshire University last march in their English-Creative Writing program because I wanted to become a better writer. The experience has been invaluable to say the least. I am currently in my last full term before I graduate, and can't wait to get back to writing full time. The re-edited, 2nd edition of my first book Within is coming out late September/early October and I am pushing to get the sequel Before the Crow out sometime next year. One of the things I like best about writing is the connection I can make with readers. 

That is me in a nut shell! Thanks for stopping in and feel free to open dialogue. I love connecting with people.

Aaron

Turning fear into inspiration

After Within's release people asked me what inspired some of the new creatures I created for the book. Simply put, I craved something new. I also figured that if I had grown weary of the same old monsters, ie: dragons, orcs, etc, that others had as well. One creature was particularly inspired however, as it drew on some of my own personal fears. When I first wrote Dombrangr into Within, it was a much different story, with a different title. I created a character that represented something personal, but possessed very little in unique, or well defined qualities. He was rather ambiguous, little more than a literary smudge yet to take proper shape. Much like the book as a whole actually. At one point, I forced myself to stop writing. I gave what I had written to a friend, and asked for an honest critique. His valuable feedback helped to narrow my focus, while broadening my vision of the story at the same time. At that point I sat down and wrote what would eventually become the first 5 chapters of the book. If you have read the book already, you know that it follows 3 siblings, Eisa, Luca, and Hunter as they venture into the wilds. The monster that I introduce in this segment of the story, or Dombrangr, as he is referred in the old tongue, is a more personalized vision of my own childhood nightmare.

When I was young, I watched the Ridley Scott masterpiece, Alien. Now when I say that I was young, I was perhaps a bit too young, but that fact alone didn't hold me back. The xenomorph in Alien terrified me, and for good reason. It is a chest-bursting, acid blooded, skull-piercing proboscis wielding nasty with a hunter/super-predator mentality. It was single minded, brutal, and horribly efficient at what it did. It inspired Ash, the crew's synthetic to label it the "perfect organism." To me, the alien represented terror, and by terror, I mean that thing that resides somewhere between our waking consciousness and the foggy realm of our dreams. Something both believable, and unbelievable, that regardless of our age or maturity, still frightens us. Objects of terror grow with us. It may be an irrational, emotional response, but it is one that we do not always have control over, no matter how hard we try and best it. So the alien became a thing of both fascination and fear.

For me, the alien represented a departure from the idea of mindless beasts, and instead depicted a creature that was both savage, and calculating. I had nightmares of the creature from Alien for many years, because it represented something that I couldn't simply hide from. Its nature played on my fear of helplessness, no, worse, of being hunted. It became the primary inspiration for the first monster I created. Dombrang may not resemble the hive - worker, horror as HR Giger's science fiction mainstay was, but instead was created with that blend of cunning and brutality which made the alien so terrifying. I wanted to create a monster that readers could visualize stalking, hunting, and plotting in the nooks and crannies we are only too willing, or desperate to avoid. One which would consider, instead of just react, making it less animal and more individual. But also a creature which is driven by purpose, and in its own way, reason. Talk about adding depth to a monster. This is a beast that forces us to consider the intelligence, and sometimes complicated motivations in play behind the savagery. Although I can't speak for everyone, but when something possessing the tools to kill efficiently is also equipped to comprehend and problem solve, that makes for a pretty frightening combination. With all of the above in mind, I thought I would share how I originally pitched Dombrangr.

Imagine coming face to face with a four armed creature roughly the shape and dimensions of a 600 lb silverback gorilla. It has the elongated head of a reptile, with the toothy maw of a crocodile. It is staring at you, or at least you think it is, because it has no discernible pupils. Its flesh changes in the dark, camouflaging it with the shadows. And its eyes glow. It doesn’t kill you, but revels in the opportunity to showcase its lethal nature. You curse its savagery, and it mocks you, parroting back your words. You suddenly feel very small. Like a mouse, trapped by a very bored cat.
He is slightly more cute and cuddly, and somewhat less "insect" than the xenomorph in Alien. But he is still not something that I would want stalking me through a dark building!

He is slightly more cute and cuddly, and somewhat less "insect" than the xenomorph in Alien. But he is still not something that I would want stalking me through a dark building!

I had nothing to go on but my mental sketchbook, but when concept artist Suzanne Helmigh sent back the preliminary artwork, I felt like a parent holding a child for the first time (in a macabre kind of way). With that said, I won't be hanging any Dombrangr posters above my bed anytime soon.

And there you have it. My original moment of inspiration, my pitch, the artists realization, and the final product. It really is amazing how the creative process works. Now you know what inspired my  monster, well at least one of them, I haven't written the post about the bardaqs, gnarls, or death fishers yet. Those are still to come!

What monster of fiction or film frightens you most, and why?  Also, if you have, or would like to write your own fantasy or science fiction story, where would you look for inspiration when creating your own monster?  

Thanks for reading.

Cliche - Tired Mechanisms

Have you ever read a book before, and said to yourself, "I feel like I have read this somewhere before."  In that moment you can't quite decide if you had already read that particular book, and simply forgot it, or, if there was just something familiar about the story or characters.  This has become increasingly common for me over the past ten years, especially as genres have evolved and splintered off.  Enter fan-fiction, the copy cats, and the world of cliche.

Cliche: (noun) a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
— Google.com

What are some of the causes?  In short, you could say that it is the copycatting of literary mechanisms.  People read books, they watch movies, or T.V shows they like and are bombarded with different narratives, and it doesn't take long to start and decipher the formulas at play.  Just as archetypes were defined in early literature, new variations have bubbled to the surface and become more prominent.  My least favorite of these, is the love triangle.  The love triangle is commonly associated with young adult, or new adult, and centralizes on a female protagonist torn by the decision of two loves.  So often you see a young female, often in their teens poised between the new guy (usually a bad boy) and the "best-friend" who she never realized was in love with her.  I am not saying that love triangles are bad, but what I am saying is that their use in the past few years has been exceptionally bad.  As with any literary mechanism, its use should at least feel unique.  Try and approach something in a slightly different way than others of the time, or those that have preceded you.  For example: avoid the love triangle as formulated in so many young adult books of recent years, ie: Twilight.  Instead, consider how Diana Gabaldon used the same technique in her Outlander series.  Ultimately, it is the same principal, just with a unique, and quite intriguing spin.

Next, the mysterious father.  I am talking about the young hero, often raised in seclusion, before he/she is called to take up arms to save the world.  And when he/she faces the antagonist, they discover that he/she/it is really their father and blah blah blah.  Yes this was a shocker, when Darth Vader told Luke "I am your father," the shock was real...in 1977.  So many books are compelling because of their twists, so think hard about how you want to twist the plot, and the reader.

Another example is that of the chosen one.  There are easier ways of creating drama within a narrative, but it is not always easy to link your character to the action, at least not in a fresh, believable way.  But please, stay away from prophetic (chosen one) mechanisms.  Unless, you are going to do the groundwork necessary to raise your story above all of the rest.  For starters, what higher power is/was responsible for elevating/choosing/christening this character, and to what end?  Oftentimes a prophecy is injected into a story to avoid having to do all of that pesky back-story stuff.  You know, that stuff that gives a story history, weight, and supports your story arcs and your setting.  Consider this.  Instead of making a character special because some unseen power has deemed them to be, make your character special because they desire to, or need to be.  Make their elevation, or ascension to status of hero part of their story arc, but also make it a key part of their development as a character.  If there is something about this character that makes them special, explore it, but also take the time to create a unique connection to that power/ability's source.  One which will take readers off guard.  After all, we all love a little surprise as we read a book.

Stay away from portals, or gateways to other worlds.  I know, they're handy, but oh so overused!  How many times can we take ordinary housewives, kids, or teens from the ordinary, mundane world, and throw them into some magical/alternate world, where they ultimately amass skill and prestige and save the world.  Then they return home and carry on in their lives, all the while wishing they could transport back.  This is become oh so cliche.  Remember Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of Tarzan, he used this literary mechanism in his book The Princess of Mars.  In that story, John Carter, a civil war veteran is transported to the planet Mars, where he engages in a series of adventures.  And that was first published in, oh, 1917, so move on.

Finally, and oh so cliche, is the retired hero who is called back into service, one...more...time.  Because, heh, he is the only one who can save the world.  There is really nothing I need say on this one, because quite frankly, I am surprised that it has been used as often as it has.

When writing your narrative, you need to keep these cliche mechanisms in mind.  Consider that your average book consumer is very well-read, and has undoubtedly compiled a sizable library.  Chances are, if you utilize these tired, overused mechanisms while writing your story, you will turn away not only potential readers, but may inspire some people to just put it down, unfinished.  As an avid reader myself, I crave books that feel original, and if not, at least a fresh take on a popular idea.  I want a book to tell me something in a new way, or take me down roads I haven't considered before.  We all want twists, and turns that we cannot anticipate, or endings that catch us off guard.  It is books like that that we lend to our friends and families.  It is those books that we scorn sleep on a work night to finish, simply because we only have 60 pages left to read and are incapable of putting it down.  It is books like that that we remember long after we finish them.

Writing your manuscript - part three, constructing your narrative

There is very little that anyone should tell you about what you should write about.  I have seen messages in discussion boards that bothered me.  One was from a prospective author, asking a published writer where he thought his story should go.  He said something like, "I have a really cool start to a story (his concept) but I don't know how to fill it out.  What do you think I should make the story be about?"  This is an interesting question, and I firmly believe that if you cannot answer this question yourself, you shouldn't be writing a book.  The narrative of your story is the sum of all of the individual components.  Your overall plot is made up of many moving pieces, or story arcs.  These components should be compelling, should encourage your reader to read on, but most importantly, should be from you, not what someone thinks you should write about.

A great way to approach any narrative is to break it down visually.  Before you dedicate too much time to story line, create three segments.  The first segment, or act, is your introduction.  The second act is your body, and the third is your conclusion.  Write down some ideas about how you want to introduce your characters, illustrate your setting, or set up your antagonist or the inciting incident that will compel or motivate your protagonist.

The second act, or the body of your narrative is going to contain the majority of the confrontation.  This is where your protagonists travel, learn, or fight against what ever element(s) works against them.  The body can be the easier, or the hardest part of the narrative to write, depending on how many different story arcs you are maintaining.  A: Writing different arcs for characters separated by distance (requiring their own chapters or segments) can help break up the action and provide some fresh perspective and intuition.  B: Breaking apart your narrative like this will also take more initiative on your part to keep it all straight.  At times this can feel like braiding two separate series of strings together, and can be difficult to keep them from accidentally weaving into each other.  In the end, I recommend breaking perspective, and providing your reader a chance to float around between characters.  Not only does this build a deeper setting throughout the narrative, but it also helps keep the story from getting stale.  You probably have at some point in your life, read a book which refuses to stray from its single point of focus, I do not recommend this single-track method unless writing from the 1st-person.

The third act is the resolution, and should bring about some sense of completion or resolution for the characters and the story.  Endings can be tricky to write, especially if you are writing a series.  Stand alone books can be easier, as you may have a finite, and specific termination point in mind.  Series however, present you with a considerably less focused ending, especially if you haven't figured out the particulars of the next book in the series.  The resolution should provide answers, but don't be afraid to hold something back.  Your average reader is intelligent, and if they have made it this far in your book, committed to your project.  Inspire questions, and make them question the events that have already transpired.  When writing the ending, you will also be presented with some key opportunities to inject some foreshadowing or more creative segues into earlier portions of the story.  With that in mind, stay away from convenient mechanisms, or "easy" answer endings like, "the answer to our problem was in front of us the whole time!"  These are tired and have been overused.  Plus, someone didn't pay to read your book, just to reach the end and find a cop out.

Once you have all of those elements written down about the three acts of your narrative you can chose to go in one of two different directions. First, you can start writing, and let your imagination take the wheel.  They call this style "pantser writing" because in a sense, you are writing by the seat of your pants.  Or second, you can take the information written down on your three segments and start a detailed story-line, including all of the details you outlined in your three act breakdown, meanwhile adding a whole lot more specificity and depth.  You aren't right or wrong to go in either direction, they are just two different techniques.  Personally, I prefer to use a very loose story line and allow my imagination to run wild.  It is exciting how many directions and possibilities spring into the mix that way.  Now with that in mind, go forth, and write your story!

Writing your manuscript - part two, characters.

If you start writing a manuscript, there is a fairly good chance that you already have your protagonist in mind, maybe even several of them.  If not, this really isn't a big deal, it just means that you have the start of a plot-driven narrative, and the character is only slightly less important than your story (caveat) so far.

the_faceless_man.jpg

The who, what, and where of your protagonist is more important than their physical characteristics.  Take this into mind: Each reader is going to identify with your characters differently, and there is a very strong chance that they are going to picture them differently in their mind than you do.  Their interpretation of your character is based on a 50/50% mix of your physical description and a host of other factors that are entirely out of your control.  With this in mind, sketch out a rough idea of who you want your character to be, with a general idea of how they look (usually as it pertains to the role they fill, or their stature as it relates to other characters around them).  Think of balance.  If you overemphasize how they look, scrutinizing them down to every freckle, wrinkle, eye lash, and bulging muscle, but fail to flesh out exactly who they are underneath, your readers are going to be left with a very shallow, and unrelatable character that they can picture very vividly in their mind, but have no emotional connection to.  So instead, try and articulate how your character talks, and what makes them tick.  This is important, and will help you develop them during dialogue and important dramatic moments.  What about their history has made them the way that they are?  Just as in your concept, back story is a wonderful, and sometimes underutilized tool.  Are they mysterious, or just misunderstood?  Do they have a scar?  What fated meeting in their past left them with such a blemish?  As you start out, it is not a bad Idea to focus more on who you want your character to be, than what they look like to your reader.  Another important thing to remember about your characters is this:  Each and every one of them is representative of something, and it is up to you to identify what that is.  Writing is a very personal, and emotional experience for a writer.  You will feel connected to your characters (yes even the bad ones).  You will know what drives them, angers them, and makes them happy.  At one point, they will feel like they have become a part of you, and if you achieve that, you know that you have succeeded.  With that said, put a little of yourself into each of your characters.  The stuff you like, the stuff you don't, and the stuff that you wish you saw more often in others.  Look at the people around you, those people that love and nurture you, support and challenge you.  What is it about those people that intrigues you, but moreover, what about them could you translate into quality protagonists/antagonists, or supporting characters.  It is important to craft your characters so they are believable, so don't give them skills, powers, or abilities that seem unnatural or excessive (Yeah, Swiss Army Knives are cool, but remember, they're just pocket knives).  People who read books are looking for characters that they share some common thread with, relationship problems, money, an ailment, or a speech impediment are a few examples, so it is important that you keep them human, and in many cases,  humble.  I recently read a book where the main character was completely unrelatable.  They were cocky, brash, and completely unpredictable in a world where they could ill afford to be.  These were all faults with the character that affected the story, and the characters around them more than the antagonist(s) did, and from my perspective, was quite frustrating.  I found it incredibly hard to like this character, and what was worse, as the story continued, they did nothing to change my impression.  I put down the book and instantly disregarded the rest of the series, based entirely off of the fact that I could not connect to the protagonist, and worse, that I had zero investment in their continued survival, or exploits.  I do not say that lightly, as the author had an intriguing concept, and was a very talented, and polished author.  So, in a nutshell, that is why it is crucial that you put ample time and consideration into your character(s).  You want your reader to draw that character in, to develop an emotional connection.  You want your reader concerned for your character's well-being, not write them off.  Next up, in Part Three-Constructing your Narrative, I will talk about the body of your story.

Writing your manuscript - part one, the concept.

Writing tips, part One-Getting Started.

No matter where you look, you will always find people willing to talk their trade.  To pass along the expertise, wisdom, and insights from their personal journeys.  Writers may be in the forefront of this trend, as so many writers and novelists started writing on a smaller scale, such as blogging, columns, or short stories.  This three part blog-series is no different, as I will attempt to provide some useful insights into how to best prepare yourself for writing your first full, completed, successful manuscript.  Without further prologue, I give you, part One, or as I call it, getting started.


Here’s a tip. While starting to craft your idea, invest in a notebook or journal. Write down as many pertinent facts as you can about your idea or concept. As you begin to write, continue to add important details. This way, you have a reference guide, and save yourself the trouble of having to scour through potentially hundreds of pages of manuscript to maintain continuity.
Craft the “seed” of your story, plant it, and watch it grow!

In the beginning you need to have an idea, a concept, scene, conflict, or a character that you wish to start building your story around.  For lack of a better term, i will call this your seed.  In order for this concept to be adequate for your story, you need to flesh it out a little.  Dedicate a small amount of time to write down particulars.  If it is a character, give them a name, a face, the world they live in, and something that makes them unique, or otherwise stand out.  If it is a scene, write it down.  Use vague terms and description, but give yourself a basic idea of what is happening, and more importantly, why.  If your seed is even less specific than a character, or a scene, then try to write down a number of items that makes your world unique, and worth writing/reading about.  Is it fantasy, science fiction, historical, or steam punk?  What sets you land apart from all of the other lands of fiction out there?  Remind yourself that there are a lot of them to chose from, so what will make your's stick with readers.  Also remember, backstory fills out a narrative.  It also adds intrigue for the reader, and can make a story more fulfilling, but most importantly, sometimes it can be something written exclusively for you, the writer.  Spend time writing down key moments in your world's past.  Moments that shaped not only the land itself, but also the people, and the relationships that you will draw upon to craft your story.  You will be amazed at how this will aid you in your writing endeavors going forward, especially if you decide to scorn the stand-alone novel and go with a series.  In summation, write your back story, and once you start writing, you can decide how much, or how little, you want to use.  You may also find that some of these details lead you to other story ideas, side plots, prequels, or more intriguing plot points to add down the road.  To conclude Part One-craft your idea, no matter how small.  Fill in around your idea, the more details the better.  Once you have crafted this nest egg, move on to Part Two-Creating your Characters.

The Comfort Zone

I started thinking about this after I finished proofreading Within. It struck me again when I picked up Wizard's First Rule, by Terry Goodkind. I got thinking about the "comfort zone" authors get into, and in some instances are unwilling to, or unable to break from

Now when I say comfort zone, I am referring to words or phrases that we fall back on, perhaps a little too often. Me personally, my comfort words are now, and then. It's funny when I put them together, now and then, but it's true. I would find myself beginning and ending sentences far too often with either. When we write, we have tendencies, and as those grow it becomes our "voice".

As we write longer and develop our voice, it becomes even more important to not only expand our vocabulary, but utilize it as well. I started reading Wizard's First Rule recently, and I quickly realized that the word "came" was used frequently. He "came" awake...she "came" to him, are a couple examples of the early uses. Its not a bad thing, after all much of the English language assigns multiple meanings and uses for almost any word, but how much should we use a single word before it becomes a crutch? When a single verb or adjective is used in many different sentences, in many different ways it can frustrate certain readers.

This is where a broader variety of verb may be utilized to color up the narrative, and thus pull the reader deeper into the story. I didn't realize my own over use of certain words because quite frankly the early writing process is far more stream of consciousness than anything else. But after I finished the creative functions and broke into the more critical steps I realized how badly I abused certain words. Even writing this post, I struggle to not start or finish sentences with "now" or "then", at this moment I am getting the shakes as my finger hovers over the keyboard.

I pose the following questions to you book loves, writers, and bloggers: when you are writing, how much thought do you put into substance vs story? How difficult is it for you to identify over used words, and/or change or find alternatives? And do you think that this should only be a consideration during the proofing and editing phases of a written work? And if you banish these considerations from the creature steps of a story, how much time afterwards do you dedicate to rewrites? Throw some knowledge at me, and as always, thanks for reading.

The Power of Music

Its one of the most commonly asked questions, whether between readers, writers and bloggers or wanna-be novelists, like me. What inspired you?

That is a multi-part question isn't it? After all, taking an idea, putting it to paper and then having the imagination and the fortitude to see it through to completion requires inspiration all on its own. But so does the story that you are trying to create and grow.

Science Fiction and Fantasy have been near and dear to my heart since childhood. My earliest brushes with fantasy literature were with J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis. The Lord of the Rings and Narnia were some of the first books I remember reading with my parents, so when I set out to write my own story it only felt natural to start there.

The time had come to put my money where my mouth was, so to speak. It was time to write the story I wanted to read, and hope and pray that other people might want to read it too. After all, what better way to get what you want out of a book then take direct control of the project yourself right? Easier said than done.

Simply deciding to write a book is not enough. Something has to move you to want to write, otherwise the words will fall as flat as that "500 words or less essay" you hacked out for humanities senior year of High School. I had tried to write a book before. The story I wanted to tell inspired me. The setting I wanted to tell it in captivated me, but I was at a point of transition in my life and focus, not to mention free time were commodities in short supply.

Fast forward to present day, a couple years ago I mean. Life had settled out, the new phase was in full swing...the stage was set. Just like any other night I was checking in on new trailers for up and coming movies. Then it hit me. It wasn't so much the content of the movie trailer, because at this point I can't even remember what movie the trailer was for. It was the song. Even in its chopped, spliced and horrifically shortened and disfigured state the music grabbed me. I started to search. Back then we didn't have Sound Hound, or Shazam as back up. I had to do it the old fashioned way, I had to actually look...ugh.

Thanks to our friends at Google my search was much easier than it could have been. Thanks also go to the legion of people out there that will research, post, link and document anything and everything...you people reach around and pat yourselves on the back! The song was called Protectors of the Earth. It was two minutes and forty nine seconds of pure epicness, composed by Thomas Bergersen for the then little known Two Steps from Hell studios. Thanks to YouTube I was finally able to listen to the song in its entirety, and let me say, it did something.

I have never experienced anything like it. It was raw and spontaneous, the kind of inspiration that can drive you crazy, or drive you to write. So I wrote, and in just a few short, fevered hours I had written the first chapter of my book. The story felt like a wire frame however, so I kept on writing. Desperate to get it down, and also to see where my imagination would take me. One chapter turned into two, and then two into four and before I knew it I was sitting on fifty thousand words and hadn't really gone anywhere.

In six months I finished the first draft. That version of just over one hundred thousand words was a benchmark for me, I thought I had finished my task. But the story had changed so much over the course of writing I found that the first chapter I wrote, the seed of my inspiration was no longer a part of my book. So I went back to the very beginning and started a rewrite. The story needed filling in. There were side characters that had earned larger rolls and something called "continuity" that I guess I needed to worry about.

It took me the better part of a year to complete the next phase of writing, but what had started as a 100,000 word first draft had grown into a 245,000 word monster. The story had taken on a life of its own, and I would not be the one to hold it back. In the time since I have edited, revised and polished. I still have the first chapter I wrote, that darling seed planted by Bergersen's epic track. It no longer fit into the folds of my finished book, but that fact alone makes it no less important.

While you consider what might inspire you, give a listen to the song that started it all for me.