The most deluded thing a writer can tell a prospective publisher about their recently finished manuscript is that “it gets better as it goes.” That may well be true but if you’re saying that as an excuse for a lackluster opening, then you best rethink some things. And regardless of whether you have faith in your opening chapter, saying that things improve later in the book is not what a publisher wants to hear. A good first chapter — hell, a good first paragraph — is essential in getting your book sold. A publisher/editor/agent/reader wants to know your book is worth their time.
At Scriptophobic, I offer seven little pieces of advice on crafting a good first chapter to appease publishing gatekeepers and online bookstore browsers alike. CLICK THE LINK.
Richard Matheson's apocalyptic vampire tale I AM LEGEND is one of my favorite books. And though we don't think of it as one of the most oft-adapted pieces of fiction, every couple decades somebody gets the idea to try another swing at adapting the book to screen. This has resulted in The Last Man on Earth starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston, and 2007's I Am Legend starring Will Smith. At Scriptophobic, I wrote a new piece examining all the adaptations and how they differ from the source material. Check it out!
I love Steven Spielberg's Jaws. It's infinitely rewatchable and, I think, one of the best films of all time. And though I enjoy the Peter Benchley book which inspired it, I do not think of it as a personal favorite novel. Jaws, perhaps more than any adaption, is the one story that is most often cited as the example where sometimes the movie was better than the book. I wrote a piece at Scriptophobic recently hoping to examine why that is. Check it out!
Today I’m happy to announce the launch of a new website I will be writing for, Scriptophobic.ca. The aim of the site is to assist genre writers with articles, round table discussions, podcasts, and special 1-on-1 services.
We have a pretty badass writing team on board for Day 1 and are still looking to expand the team or feature guest posts. While most the rest of the gang is focused on film and TV, I’m writing two columns which are to be more focused on books. My column Telling Lies hopes to lend some advice and general observations for the genre novelist. For my first post, I’m talking about reclaiming the age-old advice ‘Write What You Know’ so that it feels less restrictive.
In my second column, Adaptations, I will be talking about the translation of source material to screen, the changes that were made (for better or worse) and how writers can learn how to alter ideas for new mediums and audiences. My first Adaptations talks about the difference in the original Tomb Raider how they went from male fantasy to female empowerment. In the coming weeks, Telling Lies will talk about first chapters and Adaptations will focus on the adaptation of Jaws, so check back on Wednesdays for my news posts.
Every Monday, author Chris Vander Kaay (co-author of The Anatomy of Fear) will have a new podcast episode of Screenification for your listening pleasure. In Screenification, Chris will examine themes in genre film. One of his first episodes talks about John Carpenter’s They Live. Chris also has a mini-feature on the weekends called Thank Horror which seeks to shine a spotlight on underappreciated genre gems.
Poet and writer Alyssa Miller is writing about mental health conditions and how they are depicted in film. Her first article talks about the patient who suffered from split personality in Session 9 and how the film could’ve handled this subplot a little better. Look for her articles every other Monday.
Writer and all around happy-go-lucky guy C.H. Newell will be writing about true crime killers depicted in movies with his column Serial Killer Celluloid. His first piece is on Ted Bundy. Look for future stuff by Newell every other Monday.
Writer and essayist Rachel Bolton will be writing Everything But Bone, which talks about visual storytelling through the use of music, imagery, and set design. Her first piece is on It Follows and will continue bi-weekly on Tuesdays after that.
Film Twitter’s friendliest horror fiend Paul Farrell is writing a bi-weekly column titled Written in Blood. In it, he will be looking at famous horror scenes and practical effects from script-to-screen. His first piece focuses on scene from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and it’s really fantastic. Paul’s column will be posted bi-weekly on Tuesdays.
Eric Eghigian of FSD Productions is writing a bi-weekly Thursday column titled Tooth & Claw. Eric will be writing about the deeper meanings of film’s monsters. His first piece is about Gollum.
On Fridays, Chris will be joined in the podcast booth with filmmaker Zack Long (our fearless leader) for Script Keeping, a series about genre storytelling and the creative process. Keep an eye out for special guests, too! I might even join in on a future episode.
In addition to all of this, we will also have the occasional round table discussion (our first talks about what got us into horror and what the genre means to us), special features, and maybe a few guest posts.
And if you’re a screenwriter in need of need editing, consulting, or whatever, head over to Services where Zack has some nicely priced options for you to consider. SO MUCH GOOD STUFF.
I’m excited about the site. It’s small now but we have a tight schedule to keep us busy and keep you reading nearly every day of the week. It’s gonna get big. I hope you check it out!
I like 'creature feature' horror more than any other sort of horror sub-genre. They’re rarely the most subtle pieces of work, but do I care? Heck no. They’re fun. And sometimes they’re beautiful and strange in a way that a ghost or a dude with a knife can’t be. Broken Shells by Michael Patrick Hicks (Revolver) is not beautiful. It’s gross. It’s grueling monster horror featuring bugs crawling out of people’s dislodged jaws. It’s gore on levels that I personally haven’t seen in creature horror since Nick Cutter’s The Troop. If this were a movie, you can imagine it’d play best in 3D with the screen throwing bits of intestines and eyeball goo at the audience every 10 minutes.
Antoine DeWitt is a guy who’s down on his luck. Desperately needing a good break, he takes a chance on a junk mail flyer claiming that he’s won $5,000 at a car dealership in the middle of nowhere. Antoine shows up and, much to his surprise, the shady car salesman says that, yes, you are a winner. Would you please step this way to collect your winnings? Maybe Antoine's luck has finally turned. Then next thing Antoine knows he’s been stabbed with a needle and pushed down a flight of stairs.
Antoine wakes up in the caverns beneath the car dealership. He’s encased in a biological shell. After some struggle, he breaks free of the shell, but his fight is only just beginning. Big bug bastards rule these tunnels. Human sacrifices line the walls, each locked in their own shells, each missing pieces thanks to the hungry creatures that keep them there. Now Antoine must fight as he forces his way through the monster insect hordes as he looks for a way back to the surface.
Broken Shells is a nasty little book. It’s like a long lost Tales from the Crypt episode in the way that it starts as one thing, becomes something else, and only gets darker as it goes. Hicks fits in a bit of political commentary into the book as well. Antoine is a poor African American man in Trump’s America and deals with open hostility long before the bugs bite off his ear. There are moments that call to mind Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a horror movie ahead of its time with politics on its mind that also featured a black man as a hero.
But what Broken Shells will be remembered for is its gross monster horror brutality. Hicks does not shy away from the slimy details. If anything, the unflinching look at the gory details seems to be one of the author’s primary intentions in writing this story. The author’s style—blunt but squishy—makes for very readable prose. Antoine is a likable, flawed hero fighting against the odds and even the villainous car salesman is written with unexpected depth.
The book is grim. Maybe too grim for some folks. But for those in the mood for hardcore monster horror, look no further. I’m gonna remember it for a while, especially for one bug birthing scene that I think would make Ridley Scott proud. And I’m gonna think twice before following the car salesman to his office to make a deal.
Broken Shells: A Subterranean Horror Novella is available on Kindle and paperback today.
I read Don Winslow’s The Cartel a couple years back based on the recommendations of some trusted friends, even though crime fiction isn’t my #1 jam. Holy hell that was an amazing book. I still think about it often. And since then, I’ve been meaning to read some of the author’s back catalogue. But as chance would have it, Winslow’s newest book visited my desk first, and so The Force became my second Winslow novel. And though more rooted in familiar genre territory than The Cartel, it’s still just as incredible.
Denny Malone only ever wanted to be a good cop. And he started out that way; helping people, making himself useful, standing up for people who others stood atop of. A white cop in a predominantly black district of New York is not often seen as a hero but Malone made it his mission to appeal himself to the people. But then, like a single match that starts a wildfire, one little misstep of corruption sets Malone on a path to becoming one of the dirtiest cops in the city. Now he’s a King of his streets and has allowed himself to be convinced that he is untouchable. But then he gets himself in a squeeze. The Feds have proof that he’s dirty, they want him to make a deal. And on the other side of the law, he’s dealing with drug lords who want his head after he stole their heroin in an effort to make a big payday.
There have been dirty cop stories and snitch thrillers before. They’re common trends to revisit partly because they’re based on some truth and partly because they can be tense or thrilling in some way. The Force has notes of familiarity to it, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic. This is a cop epic on the order of Serpico, The Departed, Cop Land, and Prince of the City. If you enjoyed any of those then you should find a new favorite in Winslow’s The Force.
The Force feels so very much in the moment. It is a cop epic for a time when cops are viewed more cynically by more people than perhaps ever before. Police brutality and videos of cops killing unarmed black men are major subplots that make up a background (and eventually the foreground) of American justice on the edge of a knife. It is an angry piece of work, one that points an accusatory finger at police but also takes time to see the world from their point of view. It also points out the corruption and the hypocritical attitude found in the courts and D.A. offices. No one gets out looking super clean in The Force and the story is all the better for it.
I’m coming to learn that there are few real heroes in the works of Don Winslow and many bastards. Denny Malone is a complex antihero, a man who is hated, loved, feared, and honored. It’s impossible to approve of everything the man does, but one can’t help but end up rooting for him as the world closes in around him. Supporting characters on both sides of the law, of which there are many, are also well drawn. And the action is written in a blunt force manner which I really enjoyed.
The Force is a brilliant crime epic and I give it my strongest recommendation.
The book is now available in paperback with new interviews and insights from the author.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks was one of the wildest, most out there media tie-in novels I have ever read. Compiling notes, conspiracy theories, and mythology relating (on some level or another) to the show, it sought to tell the story of Twin Peaks between the mysterious travels of Lewis & Clark in the region all the way up to the death of Laura Palmer. Some of the book is redacted, some of it is written as if it’s newly discovered notes from 100+ years ago, and a sizable portion of the book links Twin Peaks to UFO sightings (something that’s not exactly at the forefront of the show’s focus). Hell, Dick Nixon shows up. It’s amazing. And it’s bewildering. Like the best of the show which inspired it, The Secret History offers half-answers while posing brand new questions.
The Final Dossier, by comparison, is more interested in the answers.
This new novel, published after the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return’s revival season (oh I hope we get more episodes eventually), takes a look at what happened between seasons 2 and 3. The book is written in the voice of season 3’s Tammy Preston as a direct report to Gordon Cole. As some fans noted (and occasionally complained), the revival season didn’t give us a whole lot in the way of details about what our favorite Peaks residents have been up to in the two decade gap between seasons. The Final Dossier addresses all of that, from bastard Leo Johnson’s predicament at the end of season 2 to hey, where did Donna go? It also dives into some of the less explored elements of the new season, like the penthouse apartment with the box doorway to another world (?).
Perhaps most interesting to fans are the moments that take place after the season 3 finale – an ending that left many viewers, myself included, scratching their heads a bit. I won’t go into spoilers about the finale for those who haven't seen it or the book’s assessment of that finale, but you will get some answers here. (One hint: David Bowie is the key to understanding everything.)
Maybe we get too many answers? The Final Dossier reads as though it is trying to make sense of the Twin Peaks universe. And, to be fair, even as I love the mystery of the show, I do want to know some of the answers eventually. But too much of the book feels like it’s holding my hand, explaining what the hell was up with that one part of that one episode. Like, did we really need a deeper look at the infamous Episode 8 of the new season? I liked it more as this bizarre standalone horror story where I could make my own connections. But now I know more and that’s… I’m not sure how I feel about it, to be honest. Some of the wonder is diluted.
I enjoyed The Final Dossier however I took nothing from it but knowledge and understanding. That’s fine, I guess, but it didn’t deepen the mystery for me any. I'll say this, though: it may be worth reading for the Log Lady's chapter alone, which features beautiful, inspiring prose in the voice of one of television's most lovable weirdos.
You can buy Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier and The Secret History of Twin Peaks on hardcover. I must advise against the ebook versions, as I doubt they duplicate some of the beautiful touches that you get on the printed page. Twin Peaks: The Return is now available on Blu-ray.
My filmmaker friend Zack Long and I are working on the early stages of a new website that aims to assist writers/creatives interested in genre storytelling. We're on the lookout for a few good writers that have some creative lessons they're willing to share.
Our primary interests are in horror, science fiction, and fantasy, but we will also occasionally cover other genres like romance, westerns, and hardboiled noir. We're especially interested in adding women, POC, and members of the LGBT community to the team.
If you're interested, please contact me.
It's time for a brief update on where I’m at and what’s coming soon… err, soonish.
In the Shadow of Extinction
I'm gonna let you in on something I have learned: it’s easy to write an epic. No, really, it is. You put down one word after the other and keep doing that for about twice as long as you normally would. Easy, as long as you have passion for the project (I do) and stamina to see it through (I did). So yeah, it’s easy to write a big book. But it is HELL to edit one. Once upon a time I wanted to see this thing available for readers in 2015 but um, that didn’t happen. Here’s the good news: I’m working on the absolutely-final-I-mean-it-this-time draft of the novel and it’s coming along well. My aim is to get it to you sometime in Q1 2018. May? I don't know. Soon. So, I’m sorry about the delays, but it’s absolutely on its way. More updates when I have 'em.
The End of the World and Some Other Things Book 3: Behold Star Wormwood
I am always thinking about my dark fantasy world which started with Death’s Good Intentions. Decarr and April are never far from my thoughts. I want to see a third book, presently titled Behold Star Wormwood, become a reality. But after the disappointing sales of Book 2, The Greater Evil, the third novel is in limbo. I want to write it – hell, I’m already 200 pages into the WIP manuscript – but sales do not seem to dictate a demand for it. Should this change, it would be the first book I jump on to see to completion. Until then, sorry to say but it’s on the backburner.
Other Works in Progress
(These are in various stages of development. Some have finished drafts, others are still pups.)
Novels and novellas:
So yeah, that’s where I’m at. ALL OVER THE PLACE. But there’s some stuff I’m pretty psyched about here. In the Shadow of Extinction is my primary focus today and should be coming out soon. After than, who knows what’s next? If there is one project that strikes your fancy more than any other, give me a word! I’d love to hear what the readers want and would definitely consider focusing more on one project than another if you know what it is you want.
Until next time.
Writer of horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy. Lover of books and film. Lifelong Godzilla fan. Reluctant blogger.
Blog notice: mostly this blog is for sharing my thoughts and talking about my books. From time to time I will also comment on books, films, music, sports, and/or videogames. During these times I may use images of the creative works under discussion. I'm posting the images under the "fair use" allowance, for purposes such as criticism, comments, reporting, teaching, and research. If you have any issue with images used on this blog, please contact me and the images will be removed.
I am not paid for my reviews and I do not take book review requests at this time.