Wednesday, July 19, 2017

ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT trailer: "Haunted Roads"

OUR HOUSE: about the novel

Thanatos Postponed: a short tale of terror

Eleven Miles of Night: Chapter 10 Excerpt: "Eyes at Honeysuckle Pond"

The total area of the pond would have perhaps equaled a football field, though its shape was irregular, roughly that of a lemon wedge. At various points along the bank there were little fork-shaped wooden stands where customers could place their cane poles and graphite and carbon fiber rods. 

Jason guessed that the pond had closed at dusk. This would mean that people had been fishing here less than two hours ago. In the darkness, however, the pond seemed lonelier than that, as if no humans had walked along these banks for a long, long time. 

Jason added these sentiments to his narration. "Any place on Shaman's Highway is a lonely place after dark," he noted. "Even a public fishing pond." In the nearest corner of the pond, he could see lily pads and tangled mats of algae that were encroaching on the water, along with some clumps of cattails. The pond gave off its own odor: a green, gamey smell that suggested this would be an active breeding site for mosquitoes and aquatic gnats. As he walked closer to the water's edge, he heard the plunk! of a bullfrog taking a dive into the water.  

He scanned the near bank of the pond with the camcorder, taking in the shoreline's green and black night-vision-enhanced shapes and adding a few more bits of narration. He pushed the camcorder's pause button and lowered it. What more could you say or record about Honeysuckle Pond after dark? 

A moving flash of white caught his attention in the glow of the moonlight. Then another, and another. His heart accelerated momentarily, until he realized that it was a small gaggle of geese. There were four birds in total. These specimens were not the black-necked Canadian geese. These were the white-feathered variety; and their snow-colored plumage seemed to be made for a moonlit night. Jason marveled that he had not noticed them sooner. 

The geese were swimming around in the middle of the pond, in the spot that would be the farthest from any of the surrounding banks. The birds were moving in a tight, disciplined circle (as disciplined as geese could be, anyway). From the shoreline, Jason could hear the sounds of them gently paddling through the still water.

He raised the camcorder and began recording again. The birds were green and far less impressive in the night vision. 

"It seems like I'm not alone here," Jason said. He made an effort to make his voice sound eerie and suggestive, as Simon Rose and his ghost-hunting underlings sometimes did when narrating footage. But what was scary about geese?

Nothing scary, but strange: To the best of Jason's knowledge, waterfowl weren't nocturnal. Wouldn't the geese ordinarily be nesting on the bank during the night? 

Unless they were afraid of something on the bank.

The idea came to him unbidden; and he immediately dismissed it as his imagination on overdrive yet once again. But then he reconsidered: There were plenty of perfectly mundane and natural creatures that could spook geese. It didn't have to be something supernatural. The geese might have been made restless by a raccoon or a stray dog. There might even be lynx or coyotes in these woods. Both of the latter were indigenous to Ohio, Jason believed.

Jason looked away from the geese, abruptly lowering the camcorder. In the woods behind the pond, something had moved in the amorphous mass of trees. And whatever this was, it was not likely one of the tiny animals that he had heard earlier. Nor had the sounds been made by a raccoon or a bobcat. This was something big. Beyond the initial tree line, the woods melted into pockets of impenetrable darkness.

About seven feet off the ground, Jason saw--or thought he saw--a pair of red eyes flash briefly among the trees. The eyes disappeared. Then they flashed again.
 
He felt his legs turn to jelly. 

Jason felt the impulse to run. But no--he would not allow himself to be scared away again.

You're here to do a job, dammit. Get control of yourself. 

The graveyard had been nothing more than an old cemetery made spooky by its isolation and the moonlight. This was something else entirely:  Since setting out along the Shaman's Highway, this was his first sighting of something that might be fairly called a phenomenon. The eyes in the trees were not his imagination; and there was no natural explanation for them. 

He held the camcorder up to his shoulder and aimed it in the direction of the forest. Through the camcorder's eyepiece, there was not much that he could make out: little more than an indistinguishable mass of trees and blank darkness.

Yet he had seen something--something that had briefly shown itself, either intentionally or unintentionally. And now that something had withdrawn--but perhaps not completely. And Jason faced a question:

Will you pursue it into those woods--whatever is attached to that pair of red eyes? 









Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What fiction writers can learn from television and movies

From my YouTube channel: A viewer asks me to discuss the useful storytelling techniques that writers can glean from watching television and movies. 

In television and film, screenwriters have to move a story along within a set time period and they have to do so visually. 

This is the gist of the video. But there is more--including the connection between shorter attention spans and the push to shorten baseball games from nine innings to six innings. 


12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #66

From my YouTube channel: Reading #66 of my coming-of-age supernatural thriller set in 1980, 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN:






Some of the houses that we passed by were totally dark. This might have meant that they were submerged beneath the spell that had given rise to so many horrors this night. On the other hand, it might have meant that the owners of the houses were simply gone for the evening, or had turned off the lights in an effort to discourage trick-or-treaters.
Speaking of trick-or-treaters—we saw no more of them at this stage. I half suspected that we might have stayed out past the allotted time for trick-or-treat; but I knew better. We hadn’t been out that long. There should still have been some late stragglers, at any rate. 
Other houses had lights in the windows. Theoretically, we could have stopped at any one of them; but we had no way of knowing who and what would be behind any given door.
And besides, that wasn't the point. This was a journey that we had to finish. Taking refuge in someone’s house would only delay the inevitable. 
I had a crude game plan for getting us home, too: We were about halfway through our normal Halloween route, maybe a little more. 
I was daring to trust that this would all work out. We had made it this far; and we would make it the rest of the way home, if only we could evade these things out here for a little longer. While these forces were formidable, they were clearly not all-powerful.
I was walking evenly with Leah and Bobby now. As inconspicuously as possible, I raised the ax in my hand, appreciating its heft. (I did not want to appear to be showing off or grandstanding.) When I got home, where the world would hopefully be normal again, I would stow the ax somewhere—probably in my father’s woodpile. Then I would find a way to return it. Yes, that would be a good thing: to have the time and the space to worry about a mundane problem like the return of a pilfered ax.
“Oh, man,” Bobby said suddenly. “Get a look at that, will you?”
We all saw the forest green ’74 Chevrolet Nova—or rather, what was left of it. 
Jimmy Wilson had loved that car, and it had been the object of much envy around the neighborhood. No one, however, would ever drive this car again. 
The damage was so vast, it was difficult to take it all in at once. 
The windshield had been smashed into a thousand tiny fragments. Shards of glass still clung to the frame, of course, but most of the windshield was scattered all about the pavement. All four tires had been slashed. There were dents all around the body: not shallow dents, but the deep sort of dents that could only be made with a sledgehammer or another heavy bludgeoning tool. The hood was a mess of scratches, and, I saw, some deep punctures that went clear through the metal. 
Obscenities were spray-painted on the hood as well, along with a crude drawing of both male and female genitalia. Ronald, Jerry, and Larry would be in middle age if they had been alive today; they had been dead for twenty years. But they were still teenage hoodlums. For some reason, that made them all the more terrifying. Supernatural versions of Matt Stefano, I thought. 
The front driver’s side door had been left open, and looked to be askew on its hinges. The upholstery of the front seat had been torn as with a boxcutter or butcher knife. 
“That car might possibly be drivable,” Bobby said, appraising the destruction. “But it’s totaled for all intents and purposes. Jimmy Wilson’s pride and joy is good for nothing but the scrap heap now.”
Leah wasn't as interested in the car as she was in the perpetrators of the damage. She wrapped her arms around herself and said, “Are they still around, do you think—the boys who did this damage?”
They aren’t boys, I thought. If they ever were boys, they aren’t boys anymore.
“It doesn't look like it,” Bobby offered. “If they were around, I think that they would have shown themselves by now. They don’t exactly seem like a shy bunch, do they?
“They’re gone, I think,” I said. I involuntarily raised the ax again. If the long-dead vandals were to show up, would the ax be of any use against them? I had no idea. “We should just keep moving. It isn’t safe for us to stay here, and there’s nothing for us to do here, anyway. Jimmy Wilson deserted us, after all. The car is his problem.”
“Damn right,” Bobby said, nodding.
“Okay,” Leah said. “But I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I have a bad feeling about the entire night,” I agreed. “But we can’t stop moving. Let’s go.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Scammers, Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon

Over at his self-publishing blog, David Gaughran highlights the problem of scammers in the Amazon Kindle store:
On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts. 
The Kindle Store is officially broken. 
This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action. 
Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

As Gaughran goes on to explain, most of the scamming involves fake borrows through the Kindle Unlimited program.

To be sure, there were various forms of scamming before Kindle Unlimited. Fake reviews have been sold on the Internet for at least a decade. But the borrowing system in Kindle Unlimited particularly incentivizes scamming, because scam activity is directly linked to payment. If you buy 50 fake reviews, you might or might not make money on subsequent sales. If you buy 50 fake borrows, you're guaranteed to earn KENP page read commissions. 

This system works two ways: In the first instance, unscrupulous authors and publishers pay the click farms for borrows of legitimate, but underperforming, books. In the second instance, the scammers themselves publish fake books that they subsequently borrow through other accounts. (Since a Kindle Unlimited membership only costs $9.99 per month, it doesn't take long for an organized click farm to turn a profit this way.)


*         *           *

The Kindle Unlimited system has long been controversial. To begin with, it forces authors to compete with each other for a limited amount of money that Amazon determines. It also changes the nature of the competition

A large portion of the KU inventory consists of the Asian carp of the publishing world: the romance genre. There are romance authors who crank out short, formulaic titles every two weeks. You simply can't write an epic fantasy, a military thriller, or a police procedural as quickly as a hackneyed boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl romance title. 

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a factor for writers in other genres. Crime and thriller writers aren't competing with romance writers for the same readers, after all. Therefore, it doesn't matter to the police procedural writer if a romance author wants to publish a Taken by the Roguish Alpha Male title once every fortnight. 

But under the KU system, all writers compete for the same KU money even though they aren't competing for the same readers. 

This makes me groan when I see romance titles popping up like dandelions at Amazon. And I have to wonder: Is KU really a good deal for me? (I write thrillers and suspense fiction.) 

And now with the scammer problems mentioned in David Gaughran's post, I have to wonder: How well is Kindle Unlimited really working for Amazon? 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"You can't be a team of common men."

Tonight I splurged and spent $5.99 for the movie Miracle (2004), the Kurt Russell film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that defeated the Soviets. 

The DVD will arrive Monday. I saw this movie when it was first released, but I'm ready for another viewing. (And it hasn't appeared on TMC yet.)

Watch this movie for the inspiration it provides. ("You cannot be a team of common men, because common men get nowhere.")

Miracle also perfectly captures the mood of the country in 1980. 

This was a good time for me personally, but a rather depressing time for the U.S. as a whole. There was stagflation, Soviet aggression abroad, and high unemployment. 

The U.S. need a win, which is what the U.S. hockey team provided in that long-ago year.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN: Reading #65


Reading #65 of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN. In this episode, Jeff acquires a new weapon: an ax. But he wonders what kind of power the ax really signifies.

Bobby, meanwhile, is forced to acknowledge the change in their relative statuses.

Leah resents being left out of the conversation.

As Halloween night continues, Jeff, Leah, and Bobby walk on, toward the next round of horrors.

Remember: You can listen to all the available readings of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN on my YouTube channel. 

If you prefer to simply read the book (and it’s dirt cheap!) you can get it on Amazon.com.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

YouTube update: 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Reading #64

In reading #64 of 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, Jeff, Leah, and Bobby are deserted by an older boy whom they had briefly seen as their protector. 

Jeff picks up an ax, which he may find use for later...

And that hellish night of Halloween, 1980 drags on.


*       *        *

You're welcome to listen to the videos on my YouTube channel. If you'd like to read 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN, you can get it instantly on Amazon.com.

And it's dirt-cheap, too!