Friday, August 26, 2011

Happenings this Summer

First off, I have a few projects in the works that I hope to have available for sale before year's end.

The Hollow  - novel (for e-readers)

No Escape - print version (through Createspace)

An unnamed short story I'm working on.  Will probably offer it for free.

A crime novella that I'm doing under a pen name.

Plus I have ideas cooking for two more novels. Both are thrillers. One is more horror-oriented. The other will be a crime novel with a recurring central character.

It's been a busy summer. Here's a recap of some of the best parts:

Taste of Buffalo - One big old food festival on Delaware Avenue. Highlights were the spinach pocket from Bylbos and Nick Charlap's Ice Cream. Eighty-five degree weather and amazing food. Can't go wrong. If you're in Buffalo in early July, that's the place to be.

My lovely wife and I renewed our wedding vows in June. She's the best thing that ever happened to me. We got each other new wedding rings inscribed in Gaelic. There were those that said we shouldn't get married. Guess what? We're still going strong. The best part of my summer.

Seeing Flogging Molly live at Buffalo Rocks the Harbor. This is a great venue. Large enough so you can walk around, take in the waterfront, and enjoy kick-ass music. Plus there's beer. Best quote from the evening: "You're wearing sunglasses after dark. You know who does that? Blind people and assholes." - Flogging Molly's singer, Dave King, to a concert-goer.

Hitting America's Fair, the Buffalo Naval Park, and going on picnics with the wife and kids. My three favorite people in the world.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Create Memorable Villains

About fifteen years ago, my wife and I rented an apartment in South Buffalo. It's a blue collar neighborhood with a strong Irish heritage. Our apartment was across the street from an American Legion. There was a group home for developmentally disabled adults on the corner. It was generally a quiet neighborhood, and we enjoyed living there.

Until George moved in downstairs. The first day I met our new neighbor, he filled me with a sense of unease.  Not long after moving in, he stole some items off of our storage shelf in the hallway. He also told me he was arrested for waving a gun at a former neighbor, but not to worry because it was only a BB gun. That didn't really ease my mind.  George started getting creepier. He often spent the night in his car, which was parked in the back yard of the house. One night he managed to start the car on fire. Not long after that, he began watching my wife as she came home from work. Then we found out he was walking around naked and leering at the next-door neighbor's daughters through the window. I thought about buying a gun, just in case.  We wound up telling our landlords that they needed to evict him. And they did.

George would've made a good fictional villain. Unfortunately, he was real. He made me uneasy. How does this apply to fiction? To me, the best villains make the reader nervous. They are unpredictable. In one scene they might do horrible things to a victim. In the next, they might let a victim narrowly escape.

What can you do to create a great villain?

  • Make them violent, explosive. Like a bomb waiting to go off.  Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds is charming and suave. But this facade disappears in an instant when he brutally chokes a suspected spy to death.
  • Give them perversions. Make them deviant.  Jame Gumb in Silence of the Lambs is making a dress from his victim's skin. Hannibal Lector enjoys snacking on people's livers. 
  • Great villains are intelligent, cunning. They must be a worthy opponent for your hero. They shouldn't be easily defeated. 
  • Give them a physical deformity or make them ugly, unattractive. Or make them attractive and charming. That can be just as frightening.
  • Create a villain that is physically imposing, or has skill with weapons. Make them someone you wouldn't want to mess with.
  • Mix in some qualities that elicit sympathy. Dean Koontz, in Watchers, does this with the murderous creature known as the Outsider. The Outsider is a genetically-engineered killing machine, but Koontz creates sympathy by showing us its den, where it keeps a Mickey Mouse doll. 
  • Have them be unpredictable. Anton Chigurh, in No Country for Old Men, is a remorseless killer. But in one scene, he allows a storekeeper to live based on a coin toss. This creates suspense. Will he let the next person he comes across live?
In my work-in-progress, The Hollow, I've tried to incorporate these qualities into my villains. They are cold-blooded killers that prey on the innocent. No one who gets in their way is safe, and my goal is to make the reader uneasy every time they appear on the page.

Keep these tips in mind and you'll create a character that is not only a worthy adversary, but will give your readers the creeps. And as a writer of horror or thrillers, that's worth going for every time. 

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Road Up The Mountain

"The road to truth is long and lined the entire way with annoying bastards."  - Alexander Jablokov, novelist

If you're an indie author, you no doubt strive to have sales numbers like Joe Konrath or Amanda Hocking. What we all must realize is that this whole indie book publishing thing is a marathon, not a sprint.  A long road, for sure.  The annoying bastard part? Rejection, poor sales, bad reviews.

We all want instant success, but building a fanbase and getting your name out there takes time. My father-in-law worked a number of jobs over a period of 30 years. Sometimes two or three at once just to pay the bills. He was in his mid-fifties by the time he left his job delivering linens.  After that job, he started working as an estimator for a commercial bathtub installer. And he absolutely loves it.  Says it's not even like working. And he does well at it. What's the point? At fiftysomething, he found the ideal job.   It's never too late for success, and if you have the talent and don't give up, I think success will come in some form.

So what are us indie authors to do?

1.  Write. Write. And oh yeah, write. Marketing and social media are important, but if you want sales to grow, you must have product. If a publisher only had one or two books to offer for sale, do you think they would make much money?  A thousand words per day (which should take about an hour or so) equals an average-sized novel in three months.

2.  Stop comparing yourself to other writers. Instead of constantly reading blogs or killing time on Facebook, work on your own stuff.  Quit worrying about who has more sales or who's a better writer. Improve your stories. Write more.

3. Give and take. Don't incessantly promote. Offer blog posts that have value. Give advice. Re-tweet other writers' good news. Pay it forward.

As Bon Scott said, "It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock n'roll."  Success as an author is no different. Try and enjoy the journey.  What are some ways you're trying to improve as a writer?

Saw A Quiet Place II This Weekend

Jenn and I went for lunch yesterday, then saw A Quiet Place II at the Aurora Theater. The Aurora is a great little theater. One screen, and...