How It Feels to Finish a Draft

Yesterday morning, after a session lasting a few hours, I completed a second draft of a horror novel I’m writing.

Now, given the long and turbulent history of this blog (much of which has been removed from the public), me saying I completed a draft of anything probably doesn’t mean much. I must have proclaimed proudly that my previous book book was finished no less than six times from the years between 2014 and 2018.

A lot has changed since then. After a nice education, years of frustration and failure, and writing professionally for the last three years, I’ve learned a lot about the craft. I’ve even learned a lot since the completion of my previous draft, to the point that the stack of pages I finished last year is vastly different, and inferior, to the stack I have now.

The story I’m currently working on has been in my heart for a long time. Since at least my high school days. Back then, I wasn’t a terribly good writer, and often stumbled with a story shortly after the idea was formed. It combines a lot of my favorite things, including horror, urban gothic, dark fantasy, police procedural, all with a pinch of werewolves to give it an extra spice.

Is the book done? Not yet. There is still a little work to do in order to polish it, from better character development and dialogue to making sure the prose is effective without being pretentious. And given this current block of pages is some 134,000 words long, there will need to be a lot of cuts before an agent takes it seriously.

I’ll have to lose a lot of what I love in the story, but doing so will ensure that only the best remains behind. The editing process on this is one I look forward to, even though I have a lot of darlings to kill.

In the meantime, the manuscript and me have earned a short rest. I have no less than six other projects demanding my attention, one of which is already nearing completion itself. I think I’ll get that one finished before heading back to this story. After that, there will be plenty more to do.

I do feel very different about finishing this one as opposed to my previous misfires. Back then, I felt a swelling of almost delusional pride in the work. Now, I look at the stack of pages before me, and can’t help but feel exhausted, and full of a grateful humility. Hopefully that’s a good sign that my evolution as a wordsmith has taken me in the right direction.

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Back To Film Journalism

For most of 2017, I was working my first paid writing gig, a small job writing editorials for an online film magazine known as MoviePilot. I may not have earned much, but sharing my opinions to be read by so many people was a pleasure. In that time, my work was even noticed by actors Tom Noonan and Lance Henriksen, who shared my articles on their pages and earned me more recognition.

MoviePilot unexpectedly closed its doors in October. While it didn’t put any financial stress on me, it was still sad to see this creative venue go.

But all wasn’t lost. Many of us got together and decided to start over, so we pooled our resources and started a magazine of our own, a little place called ScreenHub. Today I am pleased to announce that our first article has been completed, this one on the much anticipated sequel to Halloween from Blumhouse. It was written by yours truly.

It feels good to be back in the saddle with a nice little corner of the internet to call our own. Who knows? Maybe this little venture will lead to something.

Give this article a read and be sure to visit our page. All the best.

via Why Blumhouse’s Halloween Could Be The Best Sequel Yet

I Could Be A Paid Writer By This Weekend

Well, after the long and oft interrupted task of writing chapter six of my novel, I decided today would be the day I completed the 10th and final training article for MoviePilot. That article is now done, which means I’m now eligible to  apply for Verified Creator Status, meaning I’ll be seeing my first ever paychecks related to writing.

I’m going to Scrooge McDuck this joint up.

It has been a learning journey, some articles being favorites of mine not doing terribly well, while others becoming unexpected hits. My Alien: Covenant article for example, which I thought was half assed, ended up being my biggest hit so far, probably because the movie was currently trending.

Tonight I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and write a little number on slasher films. Many consider these films sexist, but if you watch some of the better examples of the genre, you can actually find some very positive messages for young women out there looking to make their ways in the world. That’s what always attracted me to the genre more than anything else. I hope you’ll all agree.

Maidens vs. Maniacs: Why Slasher Movies Are Actually Pro Women

Tomorrow it will be back to business as usual as I plow through chapter seven of my novel. I expect this chapter to whiz on by as it will largely be a port from the previous draft with some edits here and there to flesh it out. The book is coming along. The end is on the horizon.

Hope you all like my article, and I’ll let you know when the next one comes up.

Mythos Tweaking: Do’s and Don’t’s

Tweaking an established mythos is something of an inevitability when it comes to writing fiction, in particular works of fantasy and horror. As time wears on, so do sentiments and prejudices change, often manifesting themselves in fiction. But there are a few things we should be cautious of lest we go so far off the beaten path that the thing we write about is barely recognizable.

Vampires are one of literature’s most endearing legends, and they’ve gone through many iterations. A favorite of mine is the 1987 film Near Dark, about a clan of bloodsuckers in the modern day west. The word ‘vampire’ is interestingly never uttered once in the film, they don’t sprout fangs, change into bats, or carry themselves in the typical victorian era style. They simply drink blood, die by sunlight, and don’t age. The creators of Near Dark took an interesting approach and stripped away at the mythos, filling in their own ideas and making something uniquely there’s.

This approach has worked many times. In An American Werewolf In London, the vulnerability to silver bullets is discarded and even joked about by the characters. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the villains don’t arrive by spaceships, instead drifting across the universe on their own. Sometimes less is more, and shaving away at a mythos can help you make it yours required you still keep its core elements.

In case you haven’t figured out by now, I’m not the biggest fan of the Twilight series, and it’s not because of friendly vampires and werewolves. As we become a more global civilization, we see that reflected in art where things we once feared, like vampires and werewolves, are seen as unique characters to be embraced rather than rebuked. If anything, this is one of the series’ more favorable traits.

Among my many issues with Twilight is its lack of focus when it came to portraying vampirism. By the final entry, the vampires are shown to have ‘special gifts’ ranging from telling the future, creating force fields, even controlling elements such as water and earth, things the series never elaborates in in enough detail to make it credible, in my view at least. It seems like Meyer caught an episode of Avatar The Last Airbender midway through the series and just decided to put it in.

By this point, the characters are barely recognizable as vampires, their most noteworthy attributes long since forgotten. Whereas Near Dark stripped the mythos down, Twilight built it too high until it collapsed under its own weight. In my view, Meyer went too far off the beaten path. Though her success should be celebrated, Meyer’s writing is not high on my favorites list.

Dragonheart-1997-poster

Sometimes changing a mythos can be as simple as changing a personality. The story that turned me onto the fantasy genre was DragonHeart, the tale of a dragonslayer partnering up with the very creature he’s hunting in hopes of overthrowing an evil king. I was fascinated at how dragons were portrayed in the film, not as greedy beasts collecting gold and feasting on young women, but as wise misunderstood recluses seeking their place in the world like so many of us do. They still fly, they still breath fire, and still fight knights with tooth and claw. Beneath it all however, they’re shown to be not unlike us.

Changing personality can do a lot. You can have stories of frightened werewolves on the run from poachers, evil oppressive elves and discriminated against orcs, alien explorers hiding on an unfriendly alien planet called Earth, but everything else abut them can remain the same. This type of mythos tweaking begins with recognition, and then allows you to know your myth on a more personal level.

Oh Johnny Depp, what happened to you since Nightmare on Elm Street? Adapting an existing source material from page to screen inevitably causes certain parts of its plot to be altered, but generally as long as the world remains consistent, IE in the Harry Potter films, the audience will accept the changes. If you change the mythos too much, you will leave your audience lost, much like the 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Its box office success notwithstanding, this film gets almost everything wrong. Alice isn’t a little girl but a grown woman, this is not her first time in Wonderland, and the world isn’t even called Wonderland, but Underland.

In the case of this film, the mythos has been changed so much that the source material is all but lost. Though Kubrick’s The Shining deviated heavily from the book, the Overlook Hotel was still called the Overlook Hotel. Draco from DragonHeart may be a wise arbiter instead of a fire breathing villain, but he’s still a dragon. The world in Alice in Wonderland is not Wonderland, by spirit or name. In spite of Alice in Wonderland’s box office intake, it is not a very well loved film, partially due to it deviating too far from the mythos its title promises.

Tweaking a mythos to make it your own is a thin tight rope to walk. The thing about an established mythos is they belong to all of us, so if you take it all away, there’s always going to be a sense of loss. The key is figuring out just how much to change for yourself, and how much you need to keep sharing. There’s never an answer that will satisfy everyone, but satisfying as many people as possible, the artist included, is the goal of us all.

The Strengths of Child Protagonists in Horror

Stranger Things was the surprise hit of Netflix’ most recent run of original series. For those who have yet to see it, it follows a group of pre-teen boys named Mike, Lucas and Dustin as they try to uncover the fate of a friend who mysteriously went missing, aided in their quest only by a mysterious girl with telekinesis with the number 11 tattooed on her arm. The film features great scares, superb writing, and a wonderful atmosphere that recalls classic horror films and TV series from the late 70s and early 80s.

One of the stranger things about Stranger Things (teehee) is its main characters, all of whom are well rounded and multi dimensional. There is not a single wasted character or line. More interesting are the fact that the story at the center of it all is one about and starring children. Having children as the main characters in horror is a big risk, since horror is often geared towards adults with images of violence and occasional sexual content as well. However, having children as the main characters in horror films and television may be something that should be done more often for a number of reasons.

My first Stanley Kubrick film was The Shining. I watched it while on a Stephen King binge. I didn’t know who Kubrick was, was not as well versed in film as I am now, and had little interest in the movie other than checking another film off the list of the King library. An impressionable 11 year old, I was completely blown away by the film’s artistry and finesse. I’d never seen a scary movie like it before.

One of the things that carried me through the film was the protagonist, young Danny. Though Jack Torrance is the main character, he’s still the villain. The hero of the film is Danny. As a kid, I enjoyed watching him outwit his demented father, and slowly unravel the mysteries of the overlook hotel. He gave the young me someone to relate to, and more importantly, Danny made the movie far scarier, as did the children in Stranger Things.

That a child is immediately threatened in Stranger Things makes the series far more unsettling than simply throwing in the usual horror trope of dumb scientists or teens in a parked car. Nobody cares about those people because they are cardboard cutouts who are there for the sole purpose of dying. Everyone cares about a kid, in particular a fleshed out character like Will Byers in Stranger Things.

Unlike the cheap exploitive use of dead children in Alien vs. Predator Requiem (my opinion of which is no secret to any of you) Will is immediately set up to be a likable character, so once the creature snatches him, viewers are immediately drawn in and want to see how the story will end, however horrible it may be. This is especially true of children who may have tuned in, and you have a guaranteed pool of repeat viewers.

The themes of horror deal with themes of death and loss of innocence, things that kids need to know they will face sooner or later. After a certain point, shielding children from these themes becomes unfair, and leaves them ill prepared for life’s challenges. Sometimes these themes are snuck into children’s films. Most Disney films feature the death of a parent that will serve to traumatize its young audience for years to come, but it should be no surprise that it doesn’t reach the same extent as horror.

Sad fact about life is there are no guaranteed happy endings. One of the primary purposes of horror is to help people deal with life’s woes by scaring the pants off them with the things we all fear, death, loss of loved ones, life irrevocably changed and being ill suited for the challenges that face us all. Learning this is best done when we’re all still young, so there is better time to adjust. The characters of Stranger Things come from all walks of life, from a sheriff recovering from the death of his daughter to to high school kids in a love triangle. In other words, they’re dealing with the things that Mike, Lucas and Dustin will eventually have to face, things which are a good deal scarier than any monster.

I’ve always felt the intentions of horror are noble. Far from being a cheap genre based on shock, horror done right is about the ills of life, putting them out in the open to make them easier to swallow. It’s children who need to learn that most of all, and horror may help communicate the ideas better than we can say them. Having children face these issues on the screen will do a lot more help than watching teenagers face them.

But the most important thing of all is what does horror deal with? It deals with things like monsters, ghosts, aliens, things that children absolutely love. We’ve all seen kids play with toys and tell stories of ghosts, aliens and monsters, and many of us did that ourselves at one time or another. Adults (at least the boring ones) tend to lose interest in such things over time. Kids are the ones who love these things, so why not give them the real thing instead of the horror decaf that most children are exposed to? And what better way to do it than with characters they can relate to, other kids? In a horror story, a child can help a young viewer through the macabre. Horror really appeals the most to children, so filling the genre with its biggest fans seems like a no brainer.

And then there are those of us who first became interested in horror as children, who were taken to that dark place of cinema and television and found there was much to love in the shadows. Watching children go on that journey as we did can be a very poignant thing, because it was like watching ourselves grow up all over again. That’s why I came back day after day to finish Stranger Things.

My First Script Review

Today I got an unexpected treat in the world of writing, and an opportunity to test one of my long held beliefs when it comes to criticism.

Some weeks ago, I submitted one of my scripts, the horror tale Abyssus to a screenwriting festival dealing in the horror genre. I don’t know what I was expecting back, though I certainly wasn’t expecting a rave.

Abyssus is a script that, in its current form, I’m very happy with. A tale of oil rig workers pitted against a malevolent sea monster, it’s a love letter to some of my favorite films in the horror genre, most notably both versions of The Thing and the 1979 classic, Alien.

Today I got a review back. The review said the script was okay.

For most, that would be a slap in the face, but not to me. This was the first time I ever submitted a script and I was expecting much harsher treatment to be honest. I read the review carefully, finding myself agreeing with the valid points my critic put forward. The good news is the critic felt the horror elements worked splendidly. The script was complimented on the pace at which the story moved, and the creative and unexpected scares.

The criticism was more towards the characters, which my critic felt were too underdeveloped. They listed specific examples where this could be strengthened, and offered many wonderful and informative thoughts on how to improve it.

I also learned, once again, that I’m terrible at self editing. Typos abound, my friends. This is the last time I’ll be making that mistake.

The ending consensus was the script was an overall good read, but these few elements stopped it from being a great one. That is a much better review than most get on a first outing, and I couldn’t be happier.

I take it as a challenge. Abyssus, even in its current form, I’m most happy with and list it among my favorite achievements. The idea of it getting even better makes me most enthusiastic, and that is my challenge. It will be better, so next time I submit it, it will do better.

On this blog, I’ve spoken many times about how you shouldn’t shy away from the critics as bullies tearing apart your dreams. Instead, take their words as a challenge to take something you made and that you love, and make it even better so you can love it even more. It is these words and thoughts that can take an okay story and make it into a great one.

For all interested parties, you can read the first act of the current, though flawed incarnation of Abyssus at this link. Expect to see an updates version later this year once work on Never Heroes cools down again.

SCRIPT – Abyssus Act 1

Thank you for reading and I’ll get back to you soon.

Happy Alien Day

Sixteen years ago, I saw my first R Rated film. That experience began my love affair with horror and science fiction, and it remains one of my absolute favorite film series of all, surpassing Star Wars, Star Trek, and James Bond.

That film was Aliens. Both this film and the original 1979 thriller Alien remain two of my favorite movies, standing the test of time as among the most perfectly conceived horror and science fiction films ever made.

Which is why today is a special day. It is the first Alien Day.

Like Star Wars Day (May the 4th), Alien has been given its own day as well, named after the planet on which much of the first two films are based, LV 426. Today is April 26, or 4/26 on the calendar.

When I was young, I didn’t like horror. I could barely get through the original 50s versions of Creature From the Black Lagoon or The Thing, and was most nervous about seeing these at the tender age of 11. Unbelievably though, more than fear, I was excited, thrilled, and engaged in the story from start to finish. This series taught me that sometimes going after that thing that creeps in the dark can be the most fun you’ll ever have.

Please join me in wishing everyone a Happy Alien Day. This series remains a benchmark in science fiction horror, and hopefully its future will be just as bright and bloody.

Alien Day Chestburster

Horror is a Noble Genre

A few days ago I was at one of my favorite hangouts when a friend of mine received a gift, a mural of actor Crispin Glover. The recipient was understandably thrilled. As we talked about this mural, I mentioned one of my favorite films with Glover, a little scary movie named Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. My friend recoiled at the mention of the film, in spite of having never seen it.

“I am not really in to horror stories.” she said.

It is something I hear far too often, and I was never sure why. I hear many of the same arguments. Why not spread some positive feelings? The real world is scary enough, so why should our stories be scary too? Isn’t it almost sadistic to do something just to scare someone? Isn’t that delighting and profiting off of someone else’s suffering? I disagree. Horror may well be the most noble genre of all.

Funny thing for me to say since horror isn’t even my favorite genre. That honor would go to stories of swords and sorcery. Still, just because that is my favorite genre though doesn’t make it my best. As much as I love a good fantasy, the story of Zhyx the dragon and his cohorts is the only one I have, and probably the only one I ever will.

Horror on the other hand has always been close to me. Those were the first stories my demented six year old little mind concocted whilst bored silly finding out what 12 X 32 was. I had a collection of drawings of movies I wanted to do growing up, and pretty much all of them were horror stories. It Came from the Bog, Thunder Eyes, Slasher, Shark Flood, Under the Sahara, titles and concepts that were as ridiculous as they were creative. Since I have an attachment to this genre that is more than little sentimental, I would like to take this time and make the case for horror.

One of the reasons horror is great is because it takes us into another world, like all great stories do. I remember growing up and being a big fan of the Land Before Time series. Whenever the movies ended I was always so sad the characters I loved were going away yet again. Even sadder when it dawned on me I would never meet them. I am sure all of you have read or watched or played the stories you would like nothing more than to live. We all wanted to go to Hogwarts, trek Middle Earth, ride in the Millennium Falcon, explore the stars in the Enterprise, be a Pokemon trainer or fight alongside the Avengers. Horror has one key difference.

Nobody wanted to be Sally running through the Texas underbrush with Leatherface at her heels. The difference with horror is it isn’t a world you would like to stay in. We all have had those days where we wish we could go to another world and escape our troubles, but what horror does is it shows you another, more cruel and frightening place, so the life you are currently in doesn’t seem so bad anymore. You get up at 5, go to your 6 to 3 job in retail, then come home exhausted with no idea how to spend the rest of your day, but then you think ‘At least a phantom pedophile burn victim isn’t trying to kill me in my dreams.’

At least we all hope.

Horror makes you appreciate what you have by reminding you things could be a whole lot worse.

Horror is also one of the most imaginative and creative of genres. I can name plots from some horror stories that will make your head spin, stories like Videodrome, Call of Cthulhu, Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror is ripe with creativity and inspiration. It would have to be, as you need to get very creative to scare someone proper.

Some of you may disagree and point to those so called ‘Screamer’ videos and a slew of modern horror movies where the baddie makes you jump out of your skin with little more than a shriek and a loud noise. That isn’t horror. That is startling the audience. You can do that with pretty much anything from a blow horn to throwing a kitten in someone’s face. Once you are startled, it is over and you feel an immediate sense of relief. What successful horror does is stick with you even after the turning of the final page or the fade to black at the end of the movie.

Horror boasts some marvelously inventive ways to make your skin crawl, and a lot of them help us deal with some of our most intimate fears. Alien for example deals with the fear of sex and molestation. Halloween deals with losing your sense of security in a familiar place. The Shining deals with our fear of our relatives and ourselves.Fears of the body, of the unknown, of mutilation and molestation. Horror teaches us about these things, personifies them in the form of a villain, and helps us better deal with them since it now has a face we can stare down.

Most importantly, horror deals with the ultimate fear of that inevitable thing that will eventually happen to us all. Stephen King said it best when he said horror was a “rehearsal for death.”

It is more certain than the sun rising the next day. Death is something that will happen to all of us. Sure, some of us believe that a spirit of some sorts survives bodily death, and that may be true. Unlike death however, that is uncertain. Right now, what lies beyond the veil of death is the ultimate unknown. Does consciousness just end? If so, for how long? Does it start back up somewhere along the line? Will we experience an altered state of being after death? If there is life after death, will we still persist as individuals or will we become unrecognizable from our former selves?

These are questions all of us ask about death. It is the unknown thing that lies in the dark, awaiting the day it makes a fateful visit to us. We are all going to die. Our bodies are going to get old and decay, or we will die from some kind of illness, or God forbid we will all die in some violent accident or crime. Horror takes all of these things, brings them out into the light and says “This is what will happen to you. I know you are scared, so let it out.”

Horror helps us deal with that fear by giving us a release valve, so when our time comes, maybe it won’t be so bad. Once all is said and done, you always just kind of feel better. I have heard horror called many things. One person said horror was the story equivalent of a sadist, taking glee in watching its audience suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, horror is like that friend who takes you out on a camping trip and tells you a scary story over the fire. It may give you a scare, but it is always out of love.