Friday, October 29, 2010

Introduction to Horror: A Tribute to Halloween

In honor of Halloween I thought I'd give a little background on the often misunderstood genre of horror. Many look down on it as low-brow torture porn full of nothing but oversexed teens and gratuitous mutilation. A look at many of the greats--Stephen King, Mary Shelley, and others--will show you that crafting a truly frightening piece of prose is an art form and one that transcends genres.

So what is horror? As Mort Castle so eloquently stated, horror is “anything that scares you.” Broad to say the least, Castle hits on a very important point—horror can be anything. Think about it. What frightens you? What keeps you up at night? Is it chainsaw wielding serial killers, or something more realistic like losing a loved one? I know that I have the occasional zombie nightmares, but the ones that really frighten me are the dreams where my family is in danger whether it be from zombies or tornadoes.

With that in mind it is easy to see that there is an element of horror in almost every genre. Nonetheless, some identifiable subcategories of horror have emerged as literature has evolved and no doubt the list will continue to grow. Here is a brief introduction into the many types of horror that can be found on the bookshelves.

Gothic: There is some debate within the genre as to what is truly “gothic.” Often times there are strong elements of both horror and romance woven with other themes such as the paranormal. Often, characters are placed in an oppressive setting where old dogmas reign and reason and logic are seen as threatening. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole is often credited as the first work of fiction in this genre. Other notable authors are Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Lovecraftian: Named after H.P. Lovecraft, it is often psychological work that is based on the premise that the world was once ruled by a dark and supernatural race that is waiting for the opportunity to reclaim power.  Misanthropy, a fragile sense of reality, and an antiquated use of terminology is often associated with the style. Many writers have developed works within this genre including Stephen King and Caitlin R. Kiernan.

Paranormal: Anything outside of the typical, physical world fall under this category including ghosts, werewolves, zombies, vampires, etc. Many sub categories have emerged under this group and it often overlaps with several other categories of horror and other genres. Dracula and Arabian Nights are often cited works in this category.

Dark Fantasy: Combines both horror and fantasy elements. It is often used to describe works that can also be labeled as paranormal since they both deal with forces or creatures that lie outside of humanity’s understanding of reality. Most comic books fall in this category such as Batman and The Crow, as do works from Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, and other fantasy writers.

Splatterpunk: Here is where the blatant gore and gruesome elements of horror come to play. There is nothing suggestive or hidden in this genre. Authors in this field take the “don’t look away” approach and reveal every horrific element to the reader in often sickening detail. Clive Barker and Jack Ketchum are famous for this type of writing.

Weird Fiction: Also known as “bizarro” fiction, it is a broad category that includes works with unusual structure and other weird elements. Essentially, it is any strange and outlandish fiction that seeks to provoke and challenge the reader and often contains a significant amount of humor. Noted authors include Jeremy C. Shipp and Eckhard Gerdes.

Psychological: Here the horror element is not so much a person or thing, but often the slow decay of reality or some other psychological bent. The antagonist in this genre is often the protagonist (man versus self) as he or she slowly succumbs to their own fears or other irrational beliefs. Lovecraft and Kiernan are again cited in this genre.

I hope you've enjoyed this basic introduction to horror. When you trick or treat this weekend be mindful of the many ghouls and goblins running the streets and be safe!

Happy Samhain!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Taking the Plunge into Kindle Land

My short story collection is doing better than I thought it would on Smashwords, but I keeping hearing and reading about the superiority of Amazon. Sales there are said to far surpass ebook sales anywhere else, even though the Kindle application is very limited.

I admit, there's just something about Amazon. I needed a cable last week and went first to Radio Shack, who doesn't carry that cable. I then went to the company who sold the product years ago, but they longer carry the cable. So, I went to Amazon, the WalMart of the cyber world. Yep, there it was, cheap. For less than $10 including postage, I had my cable within a few days.

Therefore, today I saved my Word file as an HTML file using Open Office, opened a DTP account (Digital Text Platform), and uploaded my cover and text. It will take 48 hours for my book to appear for sale on Amazon, but that won't stop me from checking every couple of hours, I'm sure.

I asked a couple of people why they uploaded to Amazon separately when it would migrate there eventually from Smashwords. I never got a good answer--well, I never got any answers, maybe because they didn't quite know--so I just decided to follow the herd. Knowing Amazon, I'm sure they like it much better if you jump through their--I mean go through their channels.

After having already spent a little over two hours formatting my document for Smashwords, it took about an hour to completely fill out the DTP information and load my files up. And that's because I first loaded a file that claimed the publisher is Smashwords, so I took that out and loaded up a better one. Luckily, I noticed this in the preview option before I pushed the final button. I'll bet it would have been harder to take it down and start over than to just do another upload before I finalized and published.

I'll report back in to let the readers of this blog know if sales are good at Amazon. That would be nice!

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to Get the Most Out of Nanowrimo (and Not Go Insane!)

Nanowrimo starts November 1st--at midnight for those of you industrious enough and with enough caffeine to stay up that late—and so begins thirty days of intense typing as thousands of writers strive to meet the goal of 50,000 words. Yikes!

At the onset it seems easy enough. You’re fueled by a new idea, inspiration courses through your veins, and the whole book unfolds in your mind with crystal clear precision.

Week Two: You’re brain-dead. The characters are flat. The plot is all wrong. You’ve hit a brick wall and don’t know what to do!

You want to know a little trick to avoid the second week of nanowrimo freak out? Plan ahead!

Nanowrimo is too intense and too fruitful of an opportunity to dive in willy nilly. You need to arrive at Nano with your plot outlined, your characters’ biographies sketched, and with as much pertinent research done as you possibly can. This way you really can spend all of that time writing and not thinking, researching, or screaming into oblivion.

To truly make the most of Nanowrimo, use the rest of October to do the following:
1.     Forewarn all family and friends that you will be mimicking a hermit/crazy person for the next 30 days. If this is your normal state of being, you can skip this step.
2.     Outline key plot points. These will be your guideposts and generally consist of items such as introduction to conflict, plot twist, false climax, climax, etc. This way you have freedom to “live in the moment” and take a scene where it leads you and still stay on course.
3.     Create a character sheet for each character. On this sheet you will include physical descriptions, important background information, motivations/goals, relation to plot and main character, and other relevant information. These are especially helpful once you get really deep into your story (you know, so you can avoid the changing eye/hair color syndrome).
4.     Research places, weapons, history, topics, customs or anything else relevant to your book. The internet and libraries are great for researching, but black holes in terms of time. Focus November on just writing. You can always go back later and do more research and add details while you’re editing.
5.     Form a support group of other completely, utterly insane and dedicated writers willing to suspend their lives for a collective sense of productivity. Hold each other accountable, cheer each other on, help each other locate viable meeting places that serve loads of coffee and have plenty of electrical outlets, and revel in the camaraderie!

Also, during Nanowrimo do not edit! This is writing time. Edit in December when the weather keeps you stuck inside anyway. Better yet, wait until January so that the gelatinous goo your brain has become has time to solidify and resume normal function.

Happy Writing!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Who Am I?

This weekend, at the Texas Book Festival, I mentioned to an acquaintance that Kaye George isn't actually my real name. She asked which name I prefer to be called. I said I answer to either.

"Isn't that confusing?" she asked.

You know, sometimes it is. But only in the sense that I sometimes don't know which identity is more real. I feel that I AM Kaye George. I've worked for years to establish myself with that name and I was first published under that name in 2005, five times. That was my birth as a published fiction writer.

My daughter said to me last month that I should not spend so much time in cyber space and should get back to the real world.

But which world is real?

The places I create are very real to me. Sometimes I imagine myself entering my worlds, like Alice entering the Looking Glass, or Flynn entering Tron. It's easy to see where those writers got their ideas. Sometimes a writer WANTS to be in the world she has created.

Am I crazy? Do other writers sometimes feel like this?

If I don't get any supporting comments, I'll see if I can crawl into the computer. I don't feel like getting therapy for this.

Image used under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Smashing Success

After being gone for a month, I'm dropping in with a quick note. I know, I know. And it's BSP, too. But maybe some readers can benefit from my experience.

I've just put out my own short story collection on Smashwords and they immediately started selling. If you follow the direction exactly, you end up with lots of different convenient formats. I even did a table of contents, which works in most of the versions. I'll warn that the rtf versions don't hold the formatting and I left those out when I redid my book the next day.

I'd advise publishing it, downloading all the formats you can, proofing, then re-doing. I found that I had left one story out of my table of contents, and my cover said there were 8 when there were really 9! It's simple to reload everything. When the book is as perfect as you can make it, then is the time to start publicizing.

You can peek at the first two and a half stories in my collection at
A Patchwork of Stories on Smashwords. The book will make it to Amazon in a couple of weeks.

If anyone is thinking of self-publishing for any reason, I'd highly recommend this site!