Pre-order Information for My New Novel HAXAN

Thermopylae. Masada. Agincourt.

And now, Haxan, New Mexico.

We go where we’re sent. We have names and we stand against that which must be faced.

Through a sea of time and dust, in places that might never be, or can’t become until something is set right, there are people destined to travel. Forever.

I am one.

—Marshal John T. Marwood

 

Here are the sites where you can pre-order my new novel Haxan published by CZP. Haxan will be launched on June 17, 2014. Hope you like it!

 

Kindle Edition (Amazon):  http://www.amazon.com/Haxan-Kenneth-Mark-Hoover-ebook/dp/B00HCHCLUQ/?tag=westeros-20

Paperback edition:  http://www.amazon.com/Haxan-Kenneth-Mark-Hoover/dp/1771481757/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Apple iBook (iTunes): https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/haxan/id784425699?mt=11

Google (Play): http://books.google.ca/books?id=60iYAgAAQBAJ

Barnes & Noble (Nook): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/haxan-kenneth-mark-hoover/1117715955?ean=9781771481755

ChiZine Publication: http://chizinepub.com/books/haxan

 

My new novel Haxan slated for publication by CZP on June 17, 2014

Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover, published by CZP

Advertisements

Writer in Progress, HAXAN, by Kenneth Mark Hoover, hosted by Darke Conteur

Darke_Conteur

Darke Conteur

Darke Conteur has a big blog post on her website about my upcoming book Haxan, including links, blurbs, and places you can purchase the novel being published by CZP.

She did a really great job, and this series Writer in Progress is something she does regularly for lots of other really good authors.

 

Please check it out!

 

WRITER IN PROGRESS, HAXAN, by KENNETH MARK HOOVER

I’m attending the Texas Library Association for CZP Haxan promos!

Wow, this was unexpected but great news. I will be attending the Texas Library Association conference in San Antonio on April 8 and doing Haxan promos for CZP. I will be at the Diamond Book Distributors booth, probably handing out Haxan postcards or something and talking to people.

CZP is also thinking if they download Haxan from NetGalley to read and review it, we can also send them the 1st three chapters of a future novel. Something like that to give them an incentive, maybe. Details are still being worked out but count me on board for this project.

The TLA is a pretty big deal. It influences what other state libraries buy. We are also hoping since I am a local author the librarians will order lots of copies of this violent, dark fantasy western.

I’m looking forward to this trip. I’m excited about the prospect of representing CZP at this conference and I want to do a good job for them.

Just as a quick aside, there is an existing link for the Haxan Kindle edition. The Haxan paperback can be ordered here.

The novel is coming out in May, 2014.

Here are some longhorns to get you in the mood:

Longhorn cattle drive, Stockyards, Fort Worth, TX

Longhorn cattle drive, Stockyards, Fort Worth, TX

Assassin’s Gambit by Amy Raby (review)

I am not a big fan of romance. I don’t think much of most fantasy, either, because a lot of it draws too much on what has been done before and comes off as lazy. It feeds upon itself too much, especially when it comes to plot and motivation and the world the characters are supposed to inhabit.

All too often much of romance and fantasy is cardboard characters stomping through yet another two-dimensional background. Popular?15808673 Extremely popular. Do these kinds of stories bring anything new to the literary world? No, not much, or rarely, nor are they expected to. So everyone wins. I guess.

Is Amy Raby’s Assassin’s Gambit one of these kinds of stories? Nope. Not even close.

Not that it’s easy to find new plots and develop them with twists that engage and surprise the reader. As a professional writer I realize there is no such thing as a new plot. Even Assassin’s Gambit by Raby, her first fantasy romance novel, doesn’t do that, nor does it set out to prove otherwise.

In Raby’s novel a beautiful assassin named Vitala Salonius (with a tragic past) is sent to, well, assassinate an emperor and ends up falling in love with him. She’s a Caturanga champion, a game much more complex than chess and one which mirrors the social and political machinations and upheavals of the world she lives in.  As you might guess the lovers battle intrigue and powerful political forces arrayed against them. Shades of From Russia, With Love at least as far as the basic plot line goes. Serviceable and robust.

So far so good. But Raby does something extra here which I find very welcome and wish more writers would take the time to do. She builds a world. More than that, her world and its culture and its unique magic system isn’t copy/pasted from some other novel or cliched background. She did a lot of research and homework for this novel, and it shows. And, boy, does it work.

It’s not often I become so immersed in a novel I stop reading critically and just read and enjoy the novel for what it is. But this is what happened to me with Assassin’s Gambit and it was a welcome change.

I read it in one sitting. You know how often I do that? Maybe once a year. So this novel was my quota for 2013. Seeing as how good this story was, I can live with that.

Amy Raby, author of Assassin's GambitI really like Raby’s magic system and how it all hangs together. Nor does Raby ignore the cultural impact her magic has on social and political institutions or the burgeoning gunpowder tech which is being developed. What’s more, the world she presents is itself multicultural, and within those cultures there are opposing factions. She doesn’t pull any punches, either, given the set up. She shows the racism and fear and hate and distrust you would expect.

It’s a believable world. I like that. As a professional writer….I like that a lot.

But aside from all that, which is considerable, I like how Raby subverts. From the cover of this novel of a pretty lady with wind in her hair, to the blurb (In the struggle for power, nothing is safe…not even her heart) you figure, “Okay, this is a fantasy romance which is maybe kinda heavy on the romance. I’ll test the water with my toe.”

And at first when you start reading it does read like a standard romance. But then Raby pulls a fast one, and this is why I liked the novel so much because not only was it subversive, it was dangerous.

It’s almost like Raby was laughing behind her hand a little and saying, “Do I have your attention? Good. Let’s get to what this story is really about.”

She pulls it off with aplomb. In essence, the novel stops being a traditional romance in an exotic setting and turns into a hard hitting fantasy tale that examines how (and more importantly why) two broken people are able to love and trust one another…while in the meantime killing some bad guys who really need killing.

Is the novel without fault? No. There are too many adverbs, too many exclamation marks (one per novel, please and thank you) and I personally would have liked it to be darker. But then again I wasn’t writing it so what do I know. I also thought Vitala made a crucial decision in a bean field that wasn’t true to her original motivation. (Although I do understand and sympathize with Raby’s limitations regarding Vitala’s decision.)

Finally, the novel actually ends on the penultimate chapter, and quite strongly, too. But, once more, Raby is playing with us a little here and it’s as if she says, “Okie doke, this is supposed to be a romance, so here ya go, one last chapter.”

I liked this novel a lot. It was damn good. Yes, it is a romance. A very good one. The characters are memorable and I found myself lost in the world. You can’t ask for more than that.

Give it a peek.

Chicon7 Update: getting tired but still going

Last night I attended the Chizine party and had a really good time. Talked writing with Janet Harriet and made new friends. Also did some preliminary convention planning with Sandra Kasturi and Brett Savory, the owners of Chizine.

Sandra Kasturi introduced me as a new Chizine author and mentioned the Haxan novel. I talked to other people about it later as the party wore on. I hope the interest continues on their part when the book finally comes out.

I didn’t get to attend as many panels as I wished yesterday because I was busy with other things. But that’s all right because networking, in the long run, is much more important than listening to panels. Even for an introvert like myself. I’ve seen lots of editors and publishers I have dealt with the in the past, I just wish I had time to hang out with them and talk. But they are busy, too. This convention is known for networking since it’s so large and so many people attend.

On a personal note one thing that irks me about Chicago is how difficult it is to find a restaurant to eat at. I mean, it seems there are a dearth of restaurants around the business section where I am staying. Which stupefies me since you would think there would be more restaurants to take care of the influx of weekend tourists who descend upon the city. It’s troublesome because while I have had some very good food here, I’ve also had bad. That kind of experience colors my perception of what is otherwise a fun experience.

Another thing I have trouble getting used to is the noise. It’s SO DAMN LOUD here. Sirens, car honks, people yelling…it never stops. I’m more used to the quietude of the country, I guess, or smaller cities. I guess I would get used to it eventually. I am not sure I want to ever get used to it, is what I am saying.

Well, that’s about it for now. I will head over to the convention tonight and watch some anime, but other than that I don’t have much else planned. I’m kind of tired even though I’ve been pacing myself well. Aside from the restaurant issue I am having a good time. I’m just getting ready to head on home, though, but that’s for tomorrow.

I’m going to write now for the rest of the afternoon. I haven’t been able to get any done since I’ve arrived and I need to get my hand in a little.

Guest Blogger: Jenn Nixon’s new novel Lucky’s Charm

Today I am happy to welcome Jenn Nixon as a guest blogger. She will talk about her new novel Lucky’s Charm. Enjoy! –KMH

  Jenn Nixon says:
I started writing at a very young age but didn’t realize I actually wanted to make a living as a writer until I finished my first Star Wars Fan Fiction. It was one of the first projects I started and finished. It was a cohesive story that, to me, was really awesome at the time! Actually, it’s not a bad story, and I’ve gotten a lot of miles out of the set up, the character names, and the plot for other small projects I did afterward.
Lucky’s story came to me one day while chatting with my best friend. I’ve always loved women who can kick ass and take names. Lucky is no exception. The original plot transformed over the course of the books as I introduced more characters who took on lives of their own. Eventually, I was telling their story instead of making up my own story for them!

Lucky’s Charm

To protect her family and find a killer, Felicia “Lucky” Fascino assumed her adoptive father’s identity and joined the network, an organization of moral assassins to finish the job he began. Eliminating the man responsible for murdering her mother has consumed her for the last five years. While keeping her Uncle Stephen and cousin Elizabeth at arm’s length, Lucky begins to feel the weight of her career choice and reclusive lifestyle. Then a chance encounter with an enigmatic hit man, during one of her jobs, turns into a provocative and dangerous affair. Distracted by the secret trysts with Kenji Zinn and mounting tension within her family, Lucky makes reckless mistakes that threaten her livelihood and almost claim her life.

Excerpt:

Lucky watching her next target…

The average person wouldn’t know how to spot someone following them. More often than not, the marks Lucky tailed looked like every other citizen making his way through a herd of bodies on the sidewalks. In a major city like Montreal, it was easy to become lost in the crowd.

Lucky never drew attention to herself, especially while working. The sweater she wore—thanks to Bet—was perfect for the chilly fall weather. It went down to her mid-thigh and covered most of what she wanted to conceal. The self-tinting glasses lightened some when the clouds played hide-and-seek with the sun. Colored contacts and a dark chestnut wig hid the rest of her unusual features.

To the world, Lucky was just another pedestrian, walking down the street.

During her second day in town, she had followed Newton into his office to do some recon. She’d timed the elevators and checked for security cameras in the building and surrounding areas. The fourth day, she memorized the traffic around his office and house, and decided it was less risky in town than his home.

Day six of watching Newton progressed smoothly. He was more difficult than most, constantly searching his surroundings like a Cold War spy. Since he had things to hide, including a thriving illegal pharmaceutical business and murder, she considered it a challenge to go up against him. Lucky liked when a mark tested her abilities because it made her more vigilant.

Newton’s secretary had inadvertently confirmed a meeting for today when she called earlier. Lucky waited all morning to catch a glimpse of him. He appeared close to noon, heading to the corner store. When he vanished into the parking garage to find his car, Lucky backtracked to hers. She didn’t need to follow him. Newton was a workaholic; he never left his office before seven. Meeting or not, he’d be back.

Though she had the time to go to the hotel, she opted to move into the parking garage and wait. The interior had no obvious security, but she wanted to be certain no one watched the lot. Lucky settled in and pulled out the USA Today she’d bought before getting on the plane. She spread the outdated paper over the steering wheel and kept her eyes just above the edge. If there were any kind of hidden security system in the garage, she’d have to change locations. For now, she left the car running in case she had to move fast.

Bio: Jenn’s love of writing started the year she received her first diary and Nancy Drew novel. Throughout her teenage years, she kept a diary of her personal thoughts and feelings but graduated from Nancy Drew to other mystery suspense novels.

Jenn often adds a thriller and suspense element to anything she writes be it Romance, Science Fiction, or Fantasy. When not writing, she spends her time reading, observing pop culture, playing with her two dogs, and working on various charitable projects in her home state of New Jersey.

www.jennnixon.com

www.facebook.com/JennNixonAuthor

Twitter: @jennnixon

Island of Lost Souls (1933) – Censored Horror with Sex and Atmospheric Bestiality

The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of my favorite novels by H.G. Wells. Published in 1896 it has deep philosophical elements whichThe garish movie poster for Island of Lost Souls Wells faces head on. It is arguably one of his least known, but best written, scientific romances.

In 1933 the novel was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures. It starred Charles Laughton as Moreau and he brings that character alive in a creepy and memorable way with his soft spoken voice and oily manner. Bela Lugosi has a small but pivotal role as one of the Beastmen called The Sayer of the Law:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

The film has many layers to it. It’s not a simple and straightforward story. Moreau sets himself up as God. He claims he knows what it feels like to be God. There are implied Gnostic principles at work here as well because Moreau dresses in white but he has the countenance of the Devil. I don’t know if that’s intentional, but I suspect it was. It’s too obvious to have been a mistake.

Laughton is unforgettable as the evil Dr. MoreauThe Sayer of the Law stands for man caught between Heaven and Hell. Purgatory if you will. The House of Pain, where Moreau engages in his horrific experiments to transform beasts into men using plastic surgery, ray baths, and blood transfusions, is an obvious stand-in for Hell.

The stage is set. Enter a shipwrecked man, Edward Parker, played by Richard Arlen. Moreau, in the role of God, has not only made men from beasts, he has made a woman from a panther by the name of Lota. Kathleen Burke plays Lota and she does a phenomenal job. Moreau throws Parker and Lota together because he wants to know if she is a real woman or not. As Moreau explains, Lota is too afraid of him to accurately judge her sexuality so Parker is perfect in this role. He can awaken Lota’s sexuality if it exists. (Parker has a girlfriend back on the mainland who later comes looking for him.)

But you get the main  idea. Moreau is God. He has made a woman for an unblemished “Adam” who accidentally stumbled into his horrific Garden of Eden.

He wants them to mate. Be fruitful and multiply.

There are many unsettling undercurrents to this film which got it banned three times in Great Britain and has made it one of the best pre-code films that exist today. There is obvious bestiality (the romance between Lota and Parker) and cruel vivisection and lots of irreverent talk how God must stand aside (or be shoved aside) for the coming dominance of Man. Throw in some steamy pre-code half-dressed jungle sexuality and innuendo, along with intense torture and mindless brutality — and this film becomes more powerful today than when it was released.

I love pre-code films for exactly this reason. They were willing to take dangerous subjects and leave no stone unturned. But Another iconic image from the film in which we see the juxtaposition between Man and Beast. Is Man at his basic level only a beast? That's what Wells argues. for all this it is Lota, the Panther Woman, that make this film endure today. She is the  character all the other players revolve around. The look she brings to the screen is iconic and there are subtle touches of the Flapper about her as created by Coco Chanel: she is thin and boyish, her breasts are bound tightly to her body, yet her sexuality is raw and powerful and she wants to experiment and flout the rigid laws which restrain her. That’s straight out of Flapper philosophy, btw.

Wells did not like this film. He felt it glossed over the philosophies he talked about in the book. I don’t disagree. But when I watch this film I watch it as a film. When I read the novel I read it as a novel. They are apples and oranges. That’s not to say films made from novels don’t get it wrong. They often do. But in this case the film pays homage to the philosophies Wells put forth while challenging basic human sexuality which Wells did not.

I guess what I’m saying is in this case, both book and movie complement each other. That doesn’t always happen, but in this case it does.

The final five minutes of this film are unforgettable. It is very, very intense. You cannot look away. Especially during the demise of Moreau when the Men he has created decide Hey, let’s do it, let’s murder God.

I am not going to spoil it for you more than that. You will have to watch it for yourself if you think you can stand it.

If you like atmospheric horror with underpinnings of raw sexuality then you are going to like Island of Lost Souls a lot. The use of light and shadow is wonderful in this movie. The makeup is as good as anything you see today. These don’t look like people in cheap masks. They look like real Beastmen. The sets are lush and gorgeous and reek with dripping evil. It’s a great horror film and a superb example why pre-code films are so powerful even today. Give it a peek. You should watch this film if you like horror and science fiction.

Kathleen Burke plays Lota the Panther Woman who experiments with her new sexuality.

Good Writing is Often a Question of Character

On the argument of Character vs. Plot I tend to side with the former.  I think a story with a strong character connects faster with readers than a plot-driven story. Then again the strongest story is one in which both character and plot are very strong and work together.Books with characterization and plot tend to be my favorite. Fleming was good at both.

There are always counter-examples where this may not be true, of course. Such is writing. And readers. Some readers honestly prefer plot-driven stories. How else can you explain Tom Clancy’s success? I read two or three of his novels back in the day and couldn’t go any further. His characters were pure cardboard, but the plots were great. Same for two of the biggest SF writers: Clarke and Asimov. They were superb on plot and sometimes lacking on characterization. On the flip side Heinlein was a very good character-driven writer. Lazarus Long, Mike the Computer, Podkayne, these are a few of the examples in his fiction of long-standing iconic characters. Same for Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creation of Tarzan. I love the Tarzan novels. The plots are forgettable. It’s Tarzan we remember.

Novels that do double duty, however, tend to be my favorite. Moby-Dick is a good example of outstanding characterization and a memorable plot. Dune, by Frank Herbert, is another. Dr. No by Ian Fleming does double duty in this regard, I think. Bond is definitely a memorable character and the plot of the book is a superb framework.

There are tons of other examples, and lots and lots of examples that don’t agree with my supposition. But speaking for myself I tend to gravitate toward character driven stories. Finding a story that has both characterization and plot is a special gem.

Which story is easiest to write? Well, I don’t think any story is easy to write. But I suppose if all you are doing is laying down a plot and stuffing it with interchangeable cardboard heroes…well, that should give you some clue.

Fortunately, there are lots of different writers who write lots of different stories for lots of different readers. There is no one format or guideline to writing and I hope during the existence of this blog I have shown that.

But some readers do prefer certain styles, as do some writers. That’s the world. Knowing the difference, and being able to make a judgment as to which makes the story stronger, character, plot, or both, is a necessary tool for any successful writer.

What I learned from Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and why it scared me.

I remember the very first time I came face to face with how much creativity would be needed if I was going to be a writer. I was in a high school English class and we had finished reading The Old Man and the Sea. In one passage the fisherman comes back to his hut and collapses on his bunk, arms thrown out and feet crossed in an attitude of the crucifixion. We were talking about that passage in class and finally my brain started working and I realized my teacher, Mrs. Gohlke, was saying Hemingway did that on purpose. I even asked her that same question. I raised my hand and asked, “Did Heminway write that on purpose?”I remember the day I learned there was more to writing than telling a story....

Yes. Yes, he did.

I was flabbergasted. I had thought it was a happy literary coincidence.  But on purpose? He did that on purpose? I sat there at my desk, stunned. That meant Hemingway thought about his story while he was writing it. That meant he was doing something more than telling a story about a man who lost a big fish. He was using the story to elevate and reveal something deeper about the character and about fiction itself.

And here I was, seventeen years old, dreaming my stupid dreams to be a writer. I knew then there was a lot of work ahead and it intimidated me. Before this point I thought all I had to do was tell a good story. Oh, I don’t mean to say I believed then (or now) that every story must have a message. I don’t mean that at all. But for the first time I came face to face with what a writer must do if he wants to be successful. Here was something about writing I hadn’t considered. This made it concrete for me, I guess you could say.

I thought about that incident the whole day. I went around in sort of a daze. Much more than usual. Hemingway had done that on purpose. Writing was harder than I imagined. Maybe I didn’t have the skills to do this. I was scared. I wanted to be a writer. Now I faced what being a writer was about. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough. Maybe I would never be good enough.

Finally I got hold of myself a little bit. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to work harder and read more. I was going to have to be voracious. I didn’t know if I would be able to elevate my fiction using those tools or think of things like that. He was Hemingway…I was just a dumb kid in South Texas who dreamed of being a writer.

I have never forgotten that lesson. I think back on it often. On that day I realized writing was harder than I possibly imagined. I still feel that way. I believe the best writers are always learning, always adapting, always seeking.

Speaking for myself, I try to keep that in mind. I never want to think I can throw something out there and consider it good enough. I will never settle for good enough. Not when it comes to my writing.

I learned that lesson long ago in high school. I have never forgotten it and it has stood me in good stead.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. But stories are forever.

I remember when I began to get serious about writing. I was in my early twenties. One of the things that really worried me is would I have enough ideas for stories? It worried me. At the time it only seemed I had one or two ideas worth developing. It didn’t look good for the long term prospect, haha.

But I will tell you a little secret only writers know. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Taking those ideas, and shaping them into a story, however, is the harder part.

Ideas are just that. Ideas. They have no story, no characters, no theme, nothing,. You can’t sell an idea as a story to an editor. No editor in his right mind will buy an idea from a writer. They want stories. Here’s an example of a classic idea:

1. Boy meets girl.

2. Boy loses girl.

3. Boy gets girl back.

That is a classic story. It’s been around forever and it will be around forever. It has deep atavistic qualities which gives it staying power, I suspect. But it’s only an idea. It’s not a story. You have to flesh everything out. Do all that, change a few elements here and there, and you come up with:

Old Yeller.

That’s right. Old Yeller is a “boy meets” girl story changed into a “boy meets dog” story. And the real strength of the story? It’s a “boy meets something” story that is a lead-in to an even stronger story theme: A boy grows up to be a man.

That’s the true theme of Old Yeller, how a boy grows up to be a man. But it started with the simple idea of “boy meets girl” changed to “boy meets dog, boy loses dog, boy gets dog back.”

That’s what we do as writers. Ideas are easy. But when you get your idea how are you going to develop it into a memorable story that says something about human character? Ideas are easy. The writing that comes afterward…that takes a little more doing.

Old Yeller is a story drawn from a classic idea of "boy meets girl."

“Why, the character just took over the story! I had no control at all!”

See: Title of post.Are you really trying to tell me that as a writer you have NO control over your story and you're just a puppet on a string....?

Ha. I must admit I get a little chuckle when I see or hear a writer say this. As if.

I know what they are feeling. I guess I understand what they are trying to express. But they are writers. At our core we are challenged to write about the human condition. I can’t help but wonder if sometimes they don’t get confused with what is happening on the page.

Characters don’t “take over” anything. They certainly are not alive or “have a mind of their own” which is another phrase I often hear.

Have I read stories and novels where it seemed as if the characters were alive? You bet I have. Lots of ’em. Those are the most memorable stories I have ever read. But I maintain when the writer was writing the story the character in no way “came alive” or “took control” or anything of the sort.

Okay, maybe you are saying I am being too pedantic with all this. But I”m not the one who says this, they are. And they say it like they believe it. Which I find curious.

When I am writing I am always in control. Even when the story takes an unexpected turn or a character does something I had not originally intended him to do. I like when that happens. Heck, I love when that happens. But it’s all me and nothing but me.

I don’t know. It’s almost like they are trying to impart some mystical quality to writing that doesn’t exist, at least not by any quantifiable nature. I have said on this blog I view writing as an organic endeavor. That doesn’t mean I think the story is organic by strict definition of the word. It means I view the process as one of organic creation controlled by the writer. It’s not the character. It’s you and it’s me. Those actions are coming from us as we write. Which, as far as I am concerned, is one more example why we should trust our instincts when it comes to writing.

I just wish they would stop saying it because it’s such a fallacious argument. They are trying to impart some supernatural element to the story that lies outside their control. They are the writer, they are not a puppet on a string. That is just ridiculous.

Yay! Free Argo Navis Bookmarks!

Argo Navis Publishing will be adding new content over the coming months and years. Please bookmark them and follow them on Twitter @ArgoNavisMedia for  the latest updates.

In the meantime here are bookmarks for you to share and link with. Thanks!


Little Big Man: A Classic Novel of Lies and Counter-Lies in the Old West

My review of the novel Little Big Man by Thomas Berger has been published by The Western Online. Here’s the link, and I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say about this classic work. I tried to approach the review from the orientation of both an armchair historian and a writer working in the western genre. Thanks, guys! 🙂

 

Little Big Man: A Classic Novel of Lies
and Counter-Lies in the Old West

Les Miserables: “Hunger comes with love.”

I finished reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for the second time some years back.  The first time I read it was in high school.  I liked it then, I love it now, even after all this time.

I guess everyone knows about Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread and being pursued by Javert.  But, my God, does this book ever deserve its title. Everyone is wretched, in one way or another. How can we ever forget the grinding poverty and dehumanization of Fantine?  And how Cosette, her little girl, must live as a slave under the monstrous Thenardier family?

There are enduring images which have survived over the centuries.  Fantine selling her front teeth so Cosette has enough to eat,  the fight on the barricade, the flight through the sewers.  This is a huge book in more ways than one.  The writing is fantastic and there are little “Hugoisms” sprinkled throughout that make you put the book down and marvel either at the turn of phrase or the beauty of the writing itself.  Like these:

“Gravediggers die.  By dint of digging graves for others, they open their own.”

“There is a moment when girls bloom out in a twinkling and become roses all at once.  Yesterday we left them children, to-day we find them dangerous.”

“Hunger comes with love.”

“Humanity is identity.  All men are the same clay.”

“Women play with their beauty as children do with their knives.  They wound themselves with it.”

“When we are at the end of life, to die means to go away; when we are at the beginning, to go away means to die.”

“Then he heard his soul, again ba truly stunning and magnificent workecome terrible, give a sullen roar in the darkness.”

“Certain flames can only come from certain souls; the eye, that window of the thought, blazes with it; spectacles hide nothing; you might as well put a glass over hell.”

“Robber, assassin….these words fell upon him like  a shower of ice.”

One of the main ingredients of this novel is the depth of human emotion.  It’s never overdone, which is an easy thing for a writer to do.  We are often moved, such as the scene when Cosette marries and Jean Valjean must disappear from her life to protect her from his past.  He goes home, takes out the little dress she used to wear as a child, and pressing it against his face sobs uncontrollably.  And I challenge anyone to read Valjean’s monologue at the end of the novel and not get a little weepy.  Strong stuff.  Memorable.

This is a great book.  I’m glad I reread it and as I think about it more maybe I will read it a third time.  It might be one of those books I read again every twenty years or so.  But even if I do not I’m a better person for reading it in the first place, that’s for sure.

If you haven’t read this novel, you should.  If you have, do so again.  It’s great.

White Zombie (1932) – Old Fashioned Love and Death Sprinkled with Haitian Magic

White Zombie (1932) is a classic Pre-Code film starring Bela Lugosi. Though it was roundly panned at its release it has, over the Definitely Pre-Code clothing here!intervening decades, become a seminal horror film as regards subject matter, direction, and artistic photography.

To be sure the acting is a heavy handed and creaky, not to mention the squeaky musical soundtrack. But you don’t watch this film for the acting or the soundtrack. You watch it because 1.) it’s Pre-Code which means there’s a lot of sex and dangerous subject matter, and, 2.) it’s a story about zombies when zombies were cool.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) notwithstanding, I have never been a huge fan of flesh eating zombies. I view many of those stories as one-dimensional. It’s as if the same Knock-Knock joke is being told over and over again. Under those circumstances we all want to chomp on brains if only to escape the endless repetition of rotting corpses chasing ambulatory shish-ka-bobs around a shattered city .

Now, to be fair, Romero didn’Madge Bellamy was a big silent film star before she made White Zombie. She will always be known for this film.t always do this, even in films where he always did this. Then again he was an authentic genius and a phenomenal filmmaker. But much of zombie filmdom after him is derivative — and it reads and looks that way. It’s weak because it is dependent upon itself and has no need of a good background story and characterization. The storylines for these stories all start off with the same premise: there was an Apocalypse, and zombies eat brains.

You can phone that in while waiting in line at a coffee shop. And much of it reads and looks that way. Look, flesh eating zombies jumped the shark with the publication of  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith in 2009. I mean, seriously, it doesn’t even work as parody anymore. And, no, I don’t care that there’s a zombie series on TV that is popular right now. So what. This is America. Mediocrity always plays big here. My point is you’ve seen it all before. There’s nothing new there at all. Not one damn thing.

Okay, so I’m a zombie snob. You found me out. Sue me.

Bela Lugosi made White Zombie after his success as Dracula. Here he is as the sugar cane mill owner, Murder Legendre.But zombies didn’t always dig into skulls after brains. They have an ancient origin, ostensibly tracing religious roots all the way back to ancient Egypt. But the dark supernatural Vodoun magic that was the strongest foundation of zombie lore comes directly from Haiti via Africa. It is this lore that White Zombie explores.

As I said at the top this is not a perfect film. Hell, as a film it’s not very good. I’d be the first to concede that point. But the directors Victor and Edward Halperin made a visually stunning feast. I cannot get over the incredible graveyards built into the sides of hills, the silhouettes moving along the horizon, the mystic shots, the play of light and shadow on stone and faces, the oblique camera angles. There’s a lot of experimentation here, it seems, and it works rather well because it lends atmosphere and layers that not only make the film memorable, it has made the film endure for over 80 years.

I don’t want to spoil the film by giving away too much of the plot. Suffice to say a young couple plans to get married in Haiti, there’s a man who wants the woman for himself, and he approached a mad sugarcane mill owner (Bela Lugosi) who has the name of Murder Legendre. That name alone turns this into a classic.This film was shot in eleven days. Even so some of the camera angles are absolutely stunning.

Lugosi tells the heartbroken young man he can have the love of his life if he makes her a zombie. (That right there, with all its sexual implications, would never make this film see the light of day during the Hays Code era.)  The lovestruck young man agrees, the bride “dies” during her wedding service…and off we go.

Hoo boy, and what a ride it is. I cannot get over how well-crafted some of these shots are. Many of the backgrounds were reused from other horror films like Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Frankenstein.

If you have never seen this film I urge you to do so as soon as possible. Especially if you like horror. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how well the film holds up. It may even spur you on to write a different type of zombie horror story other than what we see so often nowadays.

One last cool aspect about this film? The heavy metal band White Zombie took its name from this movie. Rob Zombie, who founded the band, has always had a deep love and respect for classic horror. As a bona-fide zombie snob myself, I always found it rather awesome that Mr. Zombie would elevate the original film to a height it deserved.

I do want you to see this film. I think you will like it.  🙂

A Conversation with Story: Advancement of Plot through Conflict

Story: What’s up?

Me: I’m writing a love scene.

Story: I see that. Where’s the conflict?

Me: What conflict? It’s a love scene. They’re in love.

Story: You delight in making my life difficult, don’t you?

Me: Of course not…oh, I see what you did there. You advanced our dialog through conflict.

Story: Exactly. All scenes must have conflict of some kind. All stories must have conflict. That conflict can take many shapes and many forms, but it has to be there. It can be outward conflict, an inward psychological struggle, conflict through dialog, even conflict through the way the story itself is written. But it has to be there and it has to operate on some level, even if it’s below the radar.

Me: I understand what you are saying, but this is a love scene. These characters have been through toil and fire to reach each other.

Story: Okay, go ahead and finish your love scene.

Me: There. Done.

Story: Good job. Now delete it from the manuscript.

Me: What? No. I worked hard on this. It’s a love scene. It stays.

Story: I agree it’s a love scene, but does it advance the story in any way through conflict?

Me: The hero has trouble unbuttoning his shirt.

Story: Besides that.

Me: Well, no, not really. There isn’t any conflict here that relates to the plot or character development.

Story: Then the scene isn’t needed. All good stories have conflict. All good stories are made up of scenes that incorporate conflict within. Yes, even love scenes like that one. All scenes. If the scene doesn’t have the element of conflict then it’s nothing but an aside…and an aside is not necessary, or needed in anyway, to advance your story. A scene without conflict is a stone around a story’s neck.

Me: Okay, I’ll get rid of the scene. Hey, what do you know, the story reads faster without it.

Story: Of course it does. That’s what conflict does both for the story and the reader. It advances the plot and gives structure. It serves double duty.

Me: Story, I think I love you.

Story: Muah.

Conflict gives structure to the story and advances the plot.

Pride and Prejudice: If People Were Ants We Wouldn’t Need Stories

About three years ago I read the first 100 pages of Pride and Prejudice and then I bailed.

I was taking some very heavy damage from several hardened missile silos down below me. I had lost all aileron control and the self-sealing fuel tanks, well, were no longer self-sealing. I had to eject fast or I would auger in from 10,000 feet. I fought my way out of the pilot seat against the compiling G-forces and scrambled with a sob in my throat through the open hatchway.

Tumbling in free fall. Feeling of helplessness. Cold air rushing past my ears. I pulled the rip cord and felt the hard snap I once tried to read Pride and Prejudice. I almost didn't make it out alive.as my parachute opened and the last I ever saw of Pride and Prejudice was the book dwindling against the bright stars overhead, lost to me forever.

I’m telling you I barely made it out of that book alive.

Lots of readers have experiences like this one. We have comfort zones of genres we like and understand and want to wallow in. This is normal, and I would argue healthy. But as for writers, what do we say when we come across readers who say, “Oh, I don’t read that crap” when you tell them what genre you work in?

As a western writer I totally understand and have experienced this genre myopia myself. Sometimes I might explain how some of the Haxan stories actually have dark fantasy elements or romance or mystery or what have you. It never works. The missile silos are too hardened. All they hear is “western” and their immediate reaction is “Oh, I don’t read that crap.”

So what do I do? I have the stories inside me and I have to write them. That’s out of my control. I can’t stop writing even if I tried, and trust me I have tried. Scientists have yet to develop a super-methadone that will allow me to get that monkey off my back.

Do I abandon everything I’ve learned during my years as a professional and start writing for what’s popular on the markets right now? I can’t do that, either. My personal philosophy about writing won’t allow me to jump on bandwagons with their colorful balloons and bright ribbons. Or maybe I can try and fool myself into believing the western genre, even blended western genres, aren’t that bad right now, that they are more popular than I think. But the evidence shows the genre is, at best, on life support and someone is standing next to the sick bed with a loaded gun against the patient’s temple.

Westerns are not in a healthy and popular place right now. They might be again someday, but that day has not yet arrived.

Here’s the rub. You arPeople and writers are not ants. We have different genres for a reason.e never going to be able to write something that satisfies everyone. Everyone is different. We all bring different experiences and backgrounds and expectations and loves to the table when we open a new book. I may not like one genre but that doesn’t mean it has no worth for a majority of other people. I know this from experience because a majority of people sure as hell don’t read westerns.

But I keep writing them anyway because there are some who do and I have what I hope are good stories to tell them.

Read what makes you happy. Forget what anyone else says. But most of all, write what makes you happy. Your readers, and your inner peace, will thank you for it.

My Challenge of Writing a New Haxan Novel

I was struggling with how to begin the new Haxan novel and got through that hurdle this morning. I see the opening now and I think I know how it should start. It’s not going to be easy to write, though, but I have to be truthful to the story and at least give it the opening it demands. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, and I will have to think of a new way to begin the book.

I told my writing buddy about the main outline for the story and she liked it. She also said I sounded excited about this project. Another friend said the same thing when I told her the idea. I guess that is true. I am looking forward to writing this book because it’s going to be such a challenge. I guess that’s what has me excited the most: the challenge.

It will not be an easy book to write. It’s certainly not like anything I have done to date. So it’s that challenge which has me excited, I think. I want to see if I will measure up, if I have what it takes to write this novel. I think I do or I would not attempt it.

I still have research and stuff to do, but I am now thinking I can do that as I start writing and working on the thing. I never write by schedule. I know that works for some writers but it doesn’t work for me. I write when I am ready to write.

I think I am ready to start work on this book very soon, perhaps within a day or two. All the rest of the story and plot lines are falling into place now. I’m about ready to pull the trigger on this thing.

Yes, I’m excited about this project. I haven’t been excited about a story in a long, long time. It will be interesting to see how long this feeling lasts. But I think if I do a good job this might be a very good story indeed.

I guess we will have to wait and see what the final product looks like and how it all shakes out. Which is about all you can say for any story you start to write, really.

I guess if I have any deep misgivings it’s that I don’t have a title yet. I’m notoriously lousy at titles anyway. Maybe one will come to me later. Hope so.

Endings Are Hard, Except When They’re Easy

Writing is hard enough. Everything about is is hard. Except thinking up new ideas. That’s actually easy.

People who don’t write sometimes think the idea phase is difficult. Nope. That’s easy. I have way more ideas than I will ever write. The trick is choosing the best idea among them and elaborating on it. Part of that ability comes from confidence, some from experience. But, trust me, if you are balking about getting into writing because you are afraid you won’t have enough ideas…well, you’d be wrong about that, haha. It was a fear of mine, too, in the beginning. I promise you it is unjustified.

Starting stories are tough, too. You have to hook the reader hard and keep him interested. He’s got a million other things impinging upon his time. You are trying to shoehorn yourself into that and keep him interested and entertained long enough to finish your story. So, yeah, beginnings are hard. So are titles, and pacing, and tone, and…well, you get the idea. There are a lot of crystal goblets you have got to keep in the air when writing a story.

But that’s a post for another time.

Endings are really tough, though. I see more good stories collapse from bad endings than anything else. I’m not talking about the lazy “and they woke up” kinds of endings. That’s hackery and that’s not what I’m talking about.

Many times when we start talking about endings we get caught up in the “My genre is better than your genre” argument. I don’t want to get into that thicket, either. This post is about endings. Let’s stick with them.

I’m talking about endings that fail to deliver on the basic contract you make with the reader when she picks up your story. Above everything else the reader wants to be entertained.

What’s that, you say? You only write stories with depressing endings? Fine. Write them with sad endings, thoughtful endings, explosive endings, happy endings…write whatever you want. But no matter what emotional level the story ends on, it has to be entertaining.

Obviously this doesn’t mean “Yay! Let’s have a party!” entertainment. Romeo and Juliet has an ending that’s a bit of a downer. It’s still an entertaining story.  Gone with the Wind is an historical romance and the guy and girl don’t end up together on the last page. It remains  entertaining. Ulysses is damn near impenetrable. It’s entertaining.

All good writers know this. If you are beginning to write, you should keep it in mind, too. There are thousands of other examples. I expect you can pick half a dozen without thinking about it.

So let’s forget the “Oh, by entertaining you mean happy” meme that often confuses writers. No, I mean entertaining in the sense that, when the reader puts down your story he will stop for at least eight seconds and think about how he feels and how the story made him feel. If you accomplish that much the editor might buy your story, or the reader might buy another of your stories.

If you hack ’em off in some way, make ’em mad, don’t deliver the goods, they might turn away and not give you a second look.

The beginning of the story only hooks the reader. That’s important, but it doesn’t sell the story. The ending sells the story.

So. How do we do it.  How do we know when we have an ending that works?

Here’s the good news. That’s the easy part! It’s so easy you probably already know the answer without me telling you, but it’s my blog so I’m going to tell you anway.

Here’s all you have to do:

Make the story as long as it needs to be.

That’s it. What. You thought there were magic beans or something you had to plant by the light of the full moon? No. I told you it was easy.

Make the story as long as it has to be, and then stop. Just like in Monopoly. Don’t pass Go and collect two hundred dollars. You stop when the story is as long as it needs to be. Then you sell it and then you collect two hundred dollars.

That’s the easy part. Doing it well is the hard part. Lots of stories go on and on until we zone out in a red haze of forgetfulness. Remember the movie Avatar? Of course you do. Perfect example. That damn movie goes on forever.

Some stories end too suddenly. He woke up! is the classic example. It’s classic because it cheats the reader. Thee are lots of other endings that cheat the reader. More often than not it’s when you go against character.  Again, I’m sure you have lots of other examples you’ve come across.

Writing is difficult. You have to keep the reader engaged from start to finish. But you still have the reader for that final eight seconds after he finishes your story. How do you want him to feel? Happy? Sad? Thoughtful? Go for it. Just make sure you deliver the goods so he’ll buy the next story you write.

So keep that in mind when you are finishing your story. Make sure it’s only as long as it needs to be, and when you reach the end, don’t write another

The Visceral Power of Horror: Why it’s so hard to write

Horror is always either on the edge of a horrendous implosion or on the cusp of a golden renaissance.  Horror is visceral.

I think that’s about right, given its cyclic nature.  Horror literature itself is a fairly shallow field.  Widespread, but shallow.  It makes half-hearted attempts every ten years or so to break out and become mainstream, but the impetus behind these efforts dies out and the genre, at least as far as fiction goes, lapses into senescence for another decade.

Right now it’s doing fairly well as a genre which is good for me and many other writers. But it wasn’t that long ago when I remember you couldn’t get much of anything in the horror field published. No one wanted to see it or touch it.

That’s in fiction. Horror still has cyclic phases is goes through in film, but unless I am mistaken the peaks and valleys are less prominent. Oh, sure, there are trends in Hollywood where horror is hot, or fantasy, or science fiction or another biker movie. After all, it was Easy Rider that damn near bankrupted Hollywood according to Leonard Maltin. Everyone and their brother, including every studio you can name, jumped on that bandwagon and wanted to dip their biscuits in that hot gravy. That’s how Hollywood operates. It has always been a boom or bust town.

However, I suppose because horror is so visceral, that’s why it works so well in film.  To be sure there are classic horror novels that not only helped shape modern science fiction but, I would further argue, modern fantasy as well, if not many other genres. One of the scariest science fiction stories I’ve ever read that is full-blown horror is “Sandkings” by George R. R. Martin. I used to read his SF a lot and enjoyed it until he sGood horror is always hard to write, but a gem to read.tarted turning out fantasy tomes big enough to serve as blacksmith anvils.

Horror is visceral. It is also by far the oldest form of storytelling. I don’t know this for a fact. I’m just guessing. But the first storyteller, I’m willing to bet, didn’t tell a story about happy people and golden love around that Neanderthalic camp fire.  It was a story of woe, fear, darkness, angst.  You know, horror.

I’ve talked to other writers and many agree horror, good horror, is very difficult to write. Okay, let’s be fair about this. Good SF, good romance, good mystery, good anything is hard to write. But if you doubt me go to the horror section of your local bookstore, or browse online, pick up a book at random, and read the first page or some of the sample pages. Nine out of ten times it’ll be less than stellar.

Which brings me to H.P. Lovecraft. Like it or not he is still the high watermark in the genre. I came to Lovecraft late in life, but I was immediately captured by the overpowering claustrophobia of his stories,I'm willing to bet the first story ever told was a horror story.... and the depth and power of the ancient evil he wrote about. Pretty good stuff. I’ve seen horror based on H.P. Lovecraft’s stories since. It is even more difficult to write,  as you may imagine. No one writes like Lovecraft except Lovecraft, and despite many attempts since his death, no one ever has come close.

I don’t read much horror anymore. Those horror stories I do read tend to come from writers whose work I like to read anyway. People like Richard Parks, Gemma Files, and Michael Merriam. But I am always on the lookout for good horror so if you know any pass the word along.

I like horror a lot. I believe it is possibly the most difficult genre to understand and master because there are so many layers to it. Oh, I’m not talking about simplistic ideas of splatterpunk and zombie apocalypse and chopping up teens on their birthday. That crap is simplistic for the most part and too cartoonish for my attention.

I’m talking about horror. Deep, mysterious, complex. That stuff is hard to write and a gem to read — when you can find it.

%d bloggers like this: