Wednesday, May 3, 2017
This past weekend at StokerCon (in Long Beach California), I met with my agent who did what she is supposed to do... She told me a harsh truth. The markets for horror are flooded. My work, she says, is good, but people just aren't buying it at this time. Horror's not dead, but it is in a state of overexposure. There are seasoned pros out there who haven't sold a book in a long time (me being one of those) because, well, people just aren't buying. I didn't want to admit it, but it's true. And so the time has come.
See, for the longest time, a horror writer was all I was and all I wanted to be. I've only been good at a few things, and scaring the shit out of people is one of them, so I embraced it and ran with it. Hell, my website URL was AmericanHorrorWriter (both .com and .net because reasons). But back in the day, I had an inkling this might happen. So I registered a new domain name: http://www.creepylittlebastard.com. It still sounds like horror, but there's now wiggle room as to what I actually write. Which brings me to the point of this blog: What do I write?
Horror is still my first love, and I'm never stepping away from it. That's a fact. I will write horror until the day I'm dead, and probably even after that because that would be really creepy and awesome. But now, I'm branching out into four categories. The first two should surprise no one: Science Fiction and Dark Urban Fantasy. The Stanley Cooper Chronicles, as you may know, is not straight horror. I've always billed it as "Dark Urban Noir Fantasy," so that's no real big stretch. Science Fiction has long time been a love of mine ever since I picked up the works of Phillip K Dick and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when I was a kid. So those really aren't the ones that are scaring the hell out of me right now.
See, I'm of the belief that we should always do things that frighten us. We grow that we, gain new skills and confidence, and we experience new and amazing things. So I'm doing just that. I'm going to be writing a novel in a genre that scares the ever-loving hell out of me under a pen-name.
You read that correctly. Young Adult. I will be writing a YA-horror-dark-urban-fantasy very soon under the name William Strange. Go ahead. Get your giggles out now, but I'm going to do it.
"But wait," I hear you saying. "You said four genres. That's only three. What's the fourth?"
You really want to know? Okay.
Poetry. I'm coming for you, Wytovich.
I'll keep you informed of the latest.
Until next time...
Monday, April 10, 2017
Conventional wisdom says to do exactly what I'm pretty sure you're thinking right now: Start the next novel. But then you sit down at your keyboard and nothing comes. The pressure mounts as the damned cursor blinks at you from the screen, and every idea you have seems trite, seems stupid, seems worse than the book you just finished. It's frustrating. It's maddening. And you start to have those same negative creeping thoughts that burrow into your skull.
"What if I'm out of ideas?" "What if this is it?" "What if I'll never have another novel to write?" "The world is meaningless!" "I'm a hack!" "I may as well just gorge myself on Oreos and pizza and turn into a swollen toad and die!"
|"Fuckoff... I'm stuffed...."|
First off, calm down.
Second, there's something you can do. Instead of screaming and crying and throwing yourself on the couch in a fit of self-loathing, go on a side mission.
But Scott, I hear you say, what the hell are you talking about? So glad you asked.
Your imagination, according to the late, great, Ray Bradbury, is like any other muscle. You either use it or it atrophies and dies. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The less, the weaker. So you, as a writer, need that particular muscle to ply your trade. Think of it in terms of a professional athlete. A pro fighter goes into a training camp for each fight. It's an intensive workout designed to make him the best he can be. But what does he do after that fight's over? Does he stop working out? Does he quit fighting completely? Not bloody likely. No, they do light workouts. They do maintenance workouts. They keep the muscle memory fresh, keep the joints moving, keep the timing up. Why? Because they want to be ready when the next contract comes in.
|Massive power poop in 3...2...1...|
Once the big fight (your novel) is over, you want to keep that momentum going, but you don't necessarily want to climb back into he ring for the next fight (you're new novel). So you go on side missions.
A side mission is a short project. Maybe it's a short story. Maybe it's just a few paragraphs a day to keep the creative juices flowing. Maybe it's fodder for your idea folder. Side missions can be things you never see again, or things that unexpectedly blossom into full-fledged novels. The point is, they're things that keep you sharp, but don't necessarily have the emotional attachment of a full-fledged novel. They're things that are fun, because, let's face it, if you're not having fun, you're doing this thing called writing wrong. And if you never pick them up again, so what? You had fun writing them. And if they develop into something more, cool, but no pressure, right?
|Lookit this friggin' guy... enjoying his day...|
|BOOM! BOOM! FIREPOWER!!!|
So yeah. Side missions. Get on it.
Until next time --
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
I prefer a different maxim: Know what you write.
Let's say, for example, you're writing about hard science that is based in reality. Internet, nano probes, genetic engineering, prosthesis, bionics, etc. Every one of them are favorites of writers because they evoke the sense of wonder in the reader. They are rife with potential because no one really knows how far the technology can go, and your guess is just as good as the next person's as to what the next stage of technological evolution will be.
|I, for one, welcome our robot overlords...|
|Says the voice of God...|
Here's where things get weird: You owe your readers. Seriously, you do. You owe them the best possible reading experience that you can muster. Why? They're buying your work. If you betray that trust, well, they won't be buying your work anymore, will they?
So, instead of relying on your own limited experience to write something and hoping it's in any way accurate, how about doing a little research? If you're reading this, you have access to the sum total of all human knowledge. It's called "Google." You can seriously ask anything about anything and the answers will appear. Then you can read about it and appear to know what you're doing. But it doesn't stop there. You can actually contact real, live people who know about stuff. For some of these people, the things you write about are, in fact, their jobs. Like, policemen, fire-fighters, doctors, lawyers... And people really like to talk about themselves and what they do. So call them up and ask them questions. It can't do anything but help.
But wait, there's more.
|Tell 'em all about it, Billy!|
How about this... You want to write a scene of your POV character getting kidnapped and thrown into the trunk of a car. What do you do? First off, you call your best buddy, someone you trust, who you hope doesn't have a sick sense of humor. Then you climb into the trunk of his car and have him drive around the parking lot. You think I'm kidding, but I've done this. And now I know what it feels like to be jostled around in the trunk of a car.
|Seriously, I've done this.|
Until next time...
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Welcome to my life.
Actually, it's the life of every writer, agented or not. People who don't do this make assumptions that you can send your manuscript out and, like any other piece of email you send, you'll get a reply back within twenty four hours. But that's not how it works. Don't believe me? Here... Look at this:
Blow that up and what you'll see is a listing from Ralan.com, which a site dedicated to folks like us who write and want to make a living at it. Specifically, they update submission requirements every day. See those highlighted areas? Those are listed as "RT." That means "response time." Notice anything? Yep. Some of them are more than six months for a reply. Six. Months. Why? Because these people are professionals. They are in the business of making money and publishing the very best manuscripts that they can find, which means, of course, that everyone wants their manuscript published by them. One (conservative) estimate is that editors receive about 600 queries per week. That, if my math is correct (and I'm using a calculator... Math isn't my strong suit) is more than 31,000 queries per year. Now, if each query is, let's say, a 400 page novel, that's more than 12 MILLION pages that these people have to get through. See where I'm going with this?
Sure, your book may be the greatest thing written since the invention of the QWERTY Keyboard, but the agent/editor has to get to it before she offers you gobs of money, and that means wading through all the rest. Fair or not, it's how it works. And, by the way, agents have the same type of wait, just like unagented people do. They just get to nag when they feel it's appropriate.
|Move it, monkey.|
|This is your life now.|
Until next time...
Monday, August 8, 2016
Oh... It should be obvious that beyond this point lay spoilers a-plenty.
|You've been warned...|
|My high-school reunion photo...|
In the opening scene, Amanda Waller (played byViola Davis) gives us a rundown of almost every character in the show. It takes a good chunk out of the movie and is a reminder that not all of us in the theater are comic book geeks. See, we already know the characters. Non CBGs don't, so the film spoon-feeds the non CBGs the characters. As if you couldn't already tell they were bad guys.
Jai Courtney's Captain Boomerang came off as woefully underutilized, and, worse, as a one-note joke. In fact, he came off as completely unnecessary, so another superfluous character.
It then goes into details of how Batman captured most of them, with gratuitous cameos by Ben Affleck and his stunt double. Not that it's a bad thing... it works in this context. Thrown into the whole mix is Jared Leto's Joker, who really has very little to do with the movie. Which brings us mistake numbers two and three: Telegraphing and Superfluous Characters.
Remember up there where I said almost all the characters got an introduction? Well, the first one who didn't was "Slipknot," played by Adam Beach. Everyone else gets a detailed introduction complete with snappy dialogue and capture footage. Slipknot, however, steps out of a van and all we get is "This is Slipknot... He can climb anything." Right at that point, I knew "This character is unimportant, so he's going to die." And he does. In fact, he serves only to prove that the explosive charges in our heroes' (villains'?) necks could, in fact, take a head off. The poor guy gets maybe 45 seconds of screen time before BOOM... No more head. This is called telegraphing. This is where you create a thing so obvious that even someone who is only half paying attention can see it coming. It's lazy writing, and it doesn't work well. Which brings me to...
Superfluous characters. Despite all the hoopla around Leto playing the Joker, the whole movie could've played without him. Which made his presence in the film seem forced. Sure, he rescued Harley Quinn, but then she turned around and went right back to the group after they shot her helicopter down. Now, had they saved her rescue for the end and only showed The Joker at that point, it would've been better. In fact, it would've been a great moment. But as it stood, The Joker didn't need to be there, and his scenes made the movie feel even more disjointed.
Let's move on to the actors and their performances. We'll forget Slipknot since we really only got to see him look pissed off and then die.
I know you can't tell, but that's Will Smith under that weird-looking mask. Immediate impressions were that Will Smith didn't work in this role. Not that he didn't give it his all, not that he didn't do well with what he was given, but Smith was miscast in this role. Say what you will, but I just didn't buy him as an unrepentant killer. Look, there's a line in this where he says "Every time I put on this suit, someone dies. I like putting it on." And Smith couldn't pull that line off. He seemed full of regret, hesitant to kill, and even angst-ridden over it. Even when attacked by monsters, he still looked less "cold-blooded assassin" and more "dammit, more people I have to kill." Also, the mask was stupid and pointless. The point of the mask in the comics is that it holds his targeting eyepiece. But Smith wore that without the mask. So what was the point? None. Moving on.
Katana, played by Karen Fukuhara, had the opportunity to be a wonderful character, driven by revenge and pain. We, however, were only given a one-dimensional view of her. Moreover, we were told her sword stole the souls of whoever it kills, but we were given no evidence of that.
Whew... That was a lot, wasn't it?
|Movie made me tired...|
So what can we learn from Suicide Squad? Well, for starters, if a character's only purpose is to die, your'e being a lazy writer. Figure out another way to make the point. Second, too many characters can muddy up the plot. Third, and possibly most importantly, you need to make choices in your plot that make sense. Even if those choices only make sense to the other characters, they still need to make sense. Why would you send a psycho with a baseball bat with a group of super-powered individuals? She'd be worse than useless... She'd be a hinderance. So it makes no sense to put her on the team at all. It's also not a coincidence that the two most likable characters (Harley Quinn and Diablo) were also the ones with the most depth of character. I'm pretty sure Deadshot would've made that list, but Will Smith just couldn't pull off "bad guy." See, at the end of the story, your characters shouldn't be the same as when the story started. They need to grow and evolve as the story goes. That's what makes them interesting.
So how would I have made the story better? First, cut Captain Boomerang, Slipknot, and Katana. Their parts could've been absorbed by others pretty easily. Second, cut Incubus as the bad guy and just left Enchantress as the big bad. Third, Different Deadshot. Fourth, give Amanda Waller more range than "I'm pissed off and cold-hearted." And finally, give Harley Quinn a reason to be there, or cut her out entirely (even though I loved Margot Robbie).
So that's my take. I give this movie three stars. Not the greatest thing I've ever seen, but also better than a sharp stick in the eye.
Until Next time
Friday, July 22, 2016
|Pictured: Your dreams...|
- Denial - No, they couldn't possibly have rejected this! It must've been mistaken for someone else's piece!
- Anger - Obviously, it was just too intelligent for those bastards at the publishing company! How dare they reject me? When it gets published, I'll buy this publisher and fire him!
- Bargaining - Okay... But how could I change it to make it better and make you love it?
- Depression - Maybe I'm just not good enough. What if I've been fooling myself all this time and I'm actually that guy that all my writer-friends make fun for deluding himself?
- Acceptance - Yeah... they rejected it. That's their right. It wasn't right for that house, so maybe I'll try sending it to another house.
Again, lather, rinse repeat.
Guess what... You're not alone. So far, I've had thirteen books published. That sounds like a lot, but really, it's been mostly through micro presses and smaller presses. But before that, i got my share of rejections. And I saved them all.
|Pictured: rejection pile|
So how do I deal with it, Uncle Scott?
The short answers are "The best you can" and "With grace." It's easier to talk about what not to do than what to do. For starters, you don't quit. If you quit, you won't get the acceptance that you're after. You keep writing, keep improving, and keep trying to write that novel that will put your name on the shelves of bookstores. Second, you don't log onto social media and pitch a wall-eyed screaming crying fit. Oh sure, you can pitch a fit, but not where anyone can see you. It's okay to be hurt or angry, but what isn't okay is taking it out on anyone. If you go throwing a fit, believe me, someone's going to catch wind of it, and it will get back to your agent and/or the publisher.
But here's the thing... Read the rejections and see if you can get something out them. Take, for example, the latest rejection I got for my new manuscript, Ungeheur:
Thanks for sending UNGEHEUR by Scott A. Johnson. I’ve had a chance to read it, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. I thought the writing was sharp, and I liked the mounting suspense, but I felt the plot was too standard, and I didn’t think it did anything different with the genre. I also would have liked more backstory on the creatures to elevate them beyond simple monsters.This, sent by my agent. So what can we glean from this? First, this editor thinks my writing is sharp. That's a positive. The editor also liked the mounting suspense. Another positive! Okay, so there were a few negatives, but this is constructive criticism, and it'll do nothing but make me better if I follow the advice and try to get something published with the same editor, but if I focus on the positives, I actually feel pretty damned good about this rejection.
But Uncle Scott, what does rejection mean to my career?
Honestly? Not a damned thing. I mean, it means you're trying, but other than that, nothing. Want to feel good about your writing? Take a look at this list of folks who were rejected numerous times:
- Agatha Christie
- J.K. Rowling
- Louis L'Amour
- Dr. Seuss
- Zane Grey
- C.S. Lewis
- Judy Blume
- Vladimir Nabokov
- Beatrix Potter
- Peter Benchley
- L. Frank Baum
- Madeleine L'Engle
- H.G. Wells
- Herman Melville
- Stephen King
- Frank Herbert
- John Grisham
- Norman Mailer
- Mary Higgins Clark
- Jack Kerouac
- George Orwell
- Sylvia Plath
- Mario Puzo
- Ursula K. LeGuin
- William Faulkner
- Jack London
- Isaac Asimov
The list goes on and on. You've been rejected? You're in good company. Look, writers number in the millions. And there just aren't that many open slots for a new book at any given time. So the absolute best thing you can do is look at the rejection for what it is, and just get over it. Move on. Send that manuscript back out, get back on your horse, and start writing the next book.
|Get back to it, monkey!|
Monday, July 18, 2016
|Donald Trump's America...|
- Sound doesn't travel in space... So why does the Enterprise (and other ships) whoosh along? How do we hear the phasers fire?
- Why do other alien species, with whom the Federation has had no previous contact, refer to their planets as Planet-name-NUMBER? How would they know what we call it? If they've never been off planet or their world is primitive, how would they know how many others of their planet be? It makes no sense to call this world "Earth 6" because if we did, we'd have to worry about what happened to Earth's 1-5.
- Ever notice how in almost every episode, someone has to make some sort of non-standard modifications to the warp-coils/engine/computer/dish array or one of a thousand other little issues on the ship? Is any of it standard configured anymore? It's a miracle the Enterprise still flies with all the psychopathic rigging that Geordi LaForge has done on her.
- Okay, I'll go with the Holodeck and the Replicators, but why not, y'know, actually use them to their full potential? Whenever someone says "if only we had..." on this show, I roll my eyes. Why don't you just describe it to the all-powerful Computer (Long may Majel Baret reign, first lady of nerds) and make one?
- And, for that matter, with all the insanity that has come from having a Holodeck onboard, wouldn't a competent captain taken the damned thing offline by now?
- In space, everything moves in three dimensions, and there's no gravity... So why are all the other ships we see right-side-up? How does all the tech manage to match up? Why have we not yet met up with another "Federation of Planets"-style group?
- What are the odds that EVERY species that the Enterprise comes in contact with are bipedal with two eyes up front and compatible anatomy (I'm looking at you, RIKER)?
|Pictured: Kirk's Girlfriend|
So how does this apply to your writing? World-building, simply put, means you must first ask why. Why is her skin green? Why is the Holodeck left online? Why is the planet called Melos 4 BY ITS OWN INHABITANTS? And if you can't answer the question of "why," you've got some more thinking to do.
Crew of the Enterprise, evidence has been presented... How do you plead?
Until next time...