My Zombie Story “Bugging Out” is Now Available in Peter Mark May’s ALT-Zombie Anthology

HERSHAM HORROR BOOKS
PRESS RELEASE
TITLE: ALT-ZOMBIE
EDITED BY: PETER MARK MAY
ISBN: 978–1466200470
CLASSIFICATION: HORROR ANTHOLOGY
CONTACT: PETER MAY 01932 262400
OFFICAL WEBSITE: http://hershamhorrorbooks.webs.com/
21 brand new tales of horror fiction, from some of the most talented short story writers around featuring:
Stephen Bacon, Stuart Young, Gary McMahon, Dave Jeffery, Jay Eales
Mark West, Zach Black, Jan Edwards, Rachelle Bronson, Selina Lock
William Meikle, Katherine Tomlinson, Adrian Chamberlin, R. J. Gaulding,
Shaun Hamilton, Shaun Jeffrey, Stuart Hughes, David Williamson,
Richard Farren Barber, Allison Littlewood, Joe McKinney

Available on Amazon in kindle and print versions from June 2012
Includes zombie stories from a UK #1 bestseller, British Fantasy Award winners, a Bram Stoker Award winner and a writer from the original Pan Book of Horrors….
Amazon UK Link: £8.99 http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alt-Zombie-The-Alternative-Zombie-Anthology/dp/1466200472/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338371439&sr=8-1

Amazon US Link: $13.79 http://www.amazon.com/Alt-Zombie-The-Alternative-Zombie-Anthology/dp/1466200472/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338371524&sr=8-1

The Book Depository: £8.74 http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Alt-Zombie-Peter-Mark-May/9781466200470

Barnes & Noble US: $9.99 http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alt-zombie-mark-west/1111203343?ean=9781466200470

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John Joseph Adams Announces Nightmare Magazine Kickstarter

I just learned that John Joseph Adams, one of the best editors working in genre fiction today, is starting a new horror magazine called Nightmare.  That in and of itself would be wonderful news, but he’s doing it in conjunction with Creeping Hemlock Press, which is owned and operated by RJ and Julia Sevin, the husband and wife team who published my zombie novella THE CROSSING and who will be publishing my collected zombie stories, DATING IN DEAD WORLD, later this year.  For me, this is the perfect storm of editorial smarts and publishing savvy, and I’m thrilled to support them in their kickstarter campaign to get the magazine off the ground.

There are far too few professional horror magazines out there these days, and this promises to be one of the best ever.  The Nightmare Magazine kickstarter pitch is below.  Please take a look, and if you to see some quality horror fiction in the next few years, I hope you’ll help out too.

About the Kickstarter

Nightmare Magazine is a monthly magazine of horror and dark fantasy short fiction which  will be published both online and in ebook format. This Kickstarter is  intended to help fund the first issue and to get the magazine off the  ground.

Not familiar with Kickstarter? Essentially, you pledge any amount to support a project, and then choose one of the rewards in the right  column. You only get charged if the project reaches its fundraising  goal. Here’s the FAQ page.

About Nightmare

In Nightmare‘s pages, you will find all kinds of  horror fiction, from zombie stories and haunted house tales, to visceral psychological horror. No subject is  off-limits, and we will be encouraging our writers to take chances with  their  fiction and push the envelope.

Edited by bestselling anthologist John Joseph Adams, every month Nightmare will bring you a mix of originals and reprints, and featuring a variety of  authors—from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the  best new voices you haven’t heard of yet. When you read Nightmare, it is our hope that you’ll see where horror comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going.

Nightmarewill also include nonfiction, fiction  podcasts, and Q&As with our authors that go  behind-the-scenes of their stories. Our planned publication schedule  each month will include two pieces of original fiction and two fiction  reprints,  along with a feature interview and an artist gallery showcasing our  cover artist. We will publish ebook issues on the first of every month,  which will be available for sale in ePub format via our website and also available in other formats such as Kindle and Nook. We will also offer  subscriptions to our ebook edition in a variety of formats. Each issue’s contents will be serialized on our website  throughout the month, with new features publishing on the first four  Wednesdays of every month.

About Issue #1

As described above Nightmare will typically feature two original stories and two reprints in every issue. For our debut issue, however, we will be bringing you four all-new, never before published horror stories. Issue #1 will feature stories by the following authors:

Laird Barron is the author of several books, including the short story collections The Imago Sequence and Occultation, and the novel The Croning. His work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Inferno, Lovecraft Unbound, Sci Fiction, Supernatural Noir, The Book of Cthluhu, Creatures, The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, and Best Horror of the Year. He is a three-time winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, and a  three-time finalist for the Stoker Award. His work has also been  nominated for the Crawford, World Fantasy, International Horror Guild,  and Locus awards.

Sarah Langan is the author of the novels The Keeper and The Missing, and her most recent novel, Audrey’s Door, won the 2009 Stoker for best  novel. Her short fiction has appeared in the magazines Cemetery Dance,  Phantom, and Chiaroscuro, and in the anthologies Brave New Worlds, Darkness on the Edge, and Unspeakable Horror. She is currently working on a post-apocalyptic  young adult series called Kids and two adult novels: Empty Houses, which was inspired by The Twilight Zone, and My Father’s Ghost, which was  inspired by Hamlet. Her work has been translated into ten languages and  optioned by the Weinstein Company for film. It has also garnered three  Bram Stoker Awards, an American Library Association Award, two Dark  Scribe Awards, a New York Times Book Review editor’s pick, and a Publishers Weekly favorite book of the year selection.

Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer.  He’s the author of many novels including Assassin’s Code, Flesh & Bone Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot& Ruin; and the editor of V-Wars: A Chronicle of the Vampire Wars.  His nonfiction books on topics ranging from martial arts to zombie pop-culture. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, and textbooks. Jonathan continues to teach the celebrated Experimental Writing for Teens class, which he created. He founded the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founded The Liars Club; and is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries, as well as a keynote speaker and guest of honor at major writers and genre conferences.

Genevieve Valentine is the author of the novel, Mechanique: a Tale of the Circus Tresaulti. Her short fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from magazines such as Lightspeed, Fantasy Magazine, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod, and in many anthologies, including Armored, Under the Moons of Mars, Running with the Pack, The Living Dead 2, The Way of the Wizard, Federations, Teeth, and The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, among others. Her writing has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula Award, and the Shirley Jackson Award.

A Commitment to Diversity

We believe that the horror/fantasy community’s diversity is its greatest strength, and we wish that  viewpoint to be reflected in our story content and our submission  queues. Accordingly, we will welcome and encourage submissions from writers both experienced and new, as well as from writers of every race, religion, nationality, gender, and  sexual orientation.

A Note to Writers

If the Kickstarter  is funded, we will open to submissions shortly afterward. Please do not  submit or query before the Kickstarter concludes.

About the Publishers

Nightmare will be a joint venture between John Joseph Adams (who is also editing the magazine) and Creeping Hemlock Press.

About John Joseph Adams: John Joseph Adams—called “the reigning king of the anthology world” by  Barnes & Noble—is the bestselling editor of many anthologies,  such as Armored, Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom, Brave New  Worlds, Wastelands, The Living Dead, The Living Dead 2, By Blood We  Live, Federations, The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and The Way of the Wizard. Forthcoming work includes Other Worlds Than These (July 2012), Epic (November 2012), The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination (January 2013), and Robot Uprisings (2013). He is a four-time finalist for the Hugo Award and a  three-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He is also the editor  and publisher of Lightspeed Magazine, and is the co-host of Wired’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. Learn more at www.johnjosephadams.com.

About Creeping Hemlock Press: Creeping Hemlock Press was founded in Gretna, Louisiana by the  husband-and-wife creative duo R.J. and Julia Sevin (seh-VAN). As  sometime writers, oftentime readers, they found themselves frustrated  with the scarcity of generous-paying, atmospheric and bizarre short  story anthologies. They took matters into their own hands in late 2004  when they began to accept submissions for their own anthology. Many  months, one baby, two hurricanes, and one soggy home later, Corpse Blossoms was born to critical success and a nomination for the Horror Writers  Association’s Bram Stoker award. As their post-Katrina wanderings  carried them to Texas and back, the Sevins published many fine editions  from such authors at Tom Piccirilli, Adam-Troy Castro, Tim Lebbon, and  Lawrence Block. In 2011, they unveiled Print Is Dead, an imprint devoted to zombie fiction and endorsed by none other than George A. Romero.  After nearly a decade in the business, they’re just getting started.  Learn more at www.creepinghemlock.com.

About the Funding

All of the money raised by this project will go into issue #1 and otherwise launching Nightmare Magazine. This includes webhosting, web design, paying authors professional rates for their work (at least 5 cents per word), and promotion. Anything raised above and beyond our stated goal will go toward the production of future issues of Nightmare.

About the Reward Tiers

We’ve priced our reward tiers so that if you contribute to our Kickstarter,  you’re basically placing a pre-order. When we launch, individual issues  will cost $3, and a one-year subscription will cost $25, and so on. Assuming the Kickstarter is funded, we will launch the magazine on October 1, 2012, and rewards will be delivered at that time.

Pledge $3 or more

You receive a ebook copy of the first issue of NIGHTMARE in ePub or  Mobi format, compatible with all major eBook readers (Kindle, iBooks,  Sony, Nook).

Pledge $25 or more

You receive a one-year ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or Mobi format.

Pledge $50 or more

You receive a two-year ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or Mobi format.

Pledge $75 or more

You receive a three-year ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or Mobi format.

Pledge $100 or more

You receive a one-year ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or  Mobi format. You also receive a special, limited edition print version  of  issue #1, which will be printed only once as a reward for  Kickstarter backers. Note: If you reside outside the United States,  please pledge an additional $15 for this reward to cover added shipping  costs.

Pledge $500 or more

You receive a two-year ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or  Mobi format. You also receive a special, limited edition print version  of issue #1, which will be printed only once as a reward for Kickstarter backers, SIGNED by all of the contributors. Note: If you reside outside the United States, please pledge an additional $15 for this reward to  cover added shipping costs.

Pledge $500 or more

You receive a LIFETIME ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or  Mobi format (i.e., the subscription will last as long as either you or  NIGHTMARE does!).

Pledge $500 or more

You receive a two-year ebook subscription to NIGHTMARE in ePub or  Mobi format. You also receive a LIFETIME subscription to Creeping  Hemlock/Print is Dead trade paperbacks (i.e., you will receive a copy of every new book Creeping Hemlock/Print is Dead releases in trade  paperback), and a copy of every in-print title from Creeping Hemlock  Press. (For a list of in-print titles: http://www.creepinghemlock.com/toptier.html.)

Pledge $1,000 or more

You receive a LIFETIME subscription NIGHTMARE in ePub or Mobi format, plus a LIFETIME subscription to Creeping Hemlock/Print is Dead trade  paperbacks (i.e., you will receive a copy of every new book Creeping  Hemlock/Print is Dead releases in trade paperback), and a copy of every  in-print title from Creeping Hemlock Press. (For a list of in-print  titles: http://www.creepinghemlock.com/toptier.html.)

Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology

Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology

Late last year I got a call from Boyd E. Harris at Cutting Block Press, asking if I’d be willing to contribute a story for an upcoming charitable anthology they were doing.  Now Boyd is a good friend of mine, and Cutting Block Press is one of the finest Indie publishers out there, so he pretty much had me at hello.  “Sounds great,” I said.  “What’s the charity?”

He explained that all revenues, less direct costs for production, marketing and distribution will be donated to amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.

I was intrigued.  Won over is actually a better way to describe my reaction.  An anthology put together by one of my favorite publishers to benefit a great cause (you can learn more about amfAR here), it’s a win-win.

I agreed and sent him my story “Sky of Brass, Land of Iron.”  South Texas, where I make my home, is crowded with old Spanish ruins from the 1700s and early 1800s, theAlamobeing the most famous example.  I’ve always had a deep fascination with these ruins, and they’ve figured prominently in several of my stories.  But I’ve always suspected that there are ruins out there in the empty landscape ofSouth Texasthat haven’t been discovered.

Texas, with its vast, and sometimes inhospitable territory, was colonized slowly with lots of dead ends and false starts.  My story imagines one such dead end, and picks up the thread when two good friends fromSan Antoniouncover some old ruins on the land they are trying to develop.  What they find beneath the ruins of an abandoned church represents one of my rare forays into Lovecraftian horror.

Boyd then introduced me to three outstanding folks: Mark Scioneaux, Robert Shane Wilson and R.J. Cavender.  These gentlemen were the editors and visionaries behind the anthology, and unbeknownst to me, had managed to assemble an amazing list of contributors.  When I finally saw the table of contents, I was simply bowled over.  Check out this list of talent:

A Message from the HWA President ~ Rocky Wood 
The Journey of Horror For Good ~ Mark C. Scioneaux
Autumn as Metaphor ~ G.N. Braun
On a Dark October ~ Joe R. Lansdale
Mouth ~ Nate Southard 
Blood for the American People Reception ~ Ray Garton 
The Long Hunt ~ Ian Harding 
The Apocalypse Ain’t so Bad ~ Jeff Strand
The Gift ~ Monica O’Rourke
The Silent Ones ~ Taylor Grant 
Sky of Brass, Land of Iron ~ Joe McKinney
Consanguinity ~ Lorne Dixon 
Dead Letters ~ Ramsey Campbell 
The Monster in the Drawer ~ Wrath James White
Baptism ~ Tracie McBride 
Atlantis Purging ~ Boyd E. Harris
Returns ~ Jack Ketchum 
The Other Patrick ~ Brad C. Hodson 
A Question of Morality ~ Shaun Hutson
The Meat Man ~ Jonathan Templar
A Man in Shape Alone ~ Lee Thomas
Solution ~ Benjamin Kane Ethridge 
To and Fro ~ Richard Salter 
Please Don’t Hurt Me ~ F. Paul Wilson 
The Depravity of Inanimate Things ~ John F.D. Taff 
The Lift ~ G.R. Yeates 
The Eyes Have It ~ Rena Mason 
Road Flowers ~ Gary McMahon 
The Widows Laveau ~ Steven W. Booth & Norman L. Rubenstein 
This Thing That Clawed Itself Inside Me ~ John Mantooth 
Somewhere on Sebastian Street ~ Stephen Bacon 
June Decay ~ Danica Green 
Shiva, Open Your Eye ~ Laird Barron

 

I am incredibly excited about this project.  Pick up a copy of this book, please.  Not only is it a great collection of stories, but it’s for a good cause, a just cause, a necessary cause.

You can purchase the print edition here, and the Kindle version here

Hope you enjoy it!

Five Reasons Great Horror Stories Work

 

Five Reasons Great Horror Stories Work

There is a fine art to scaring people, and like all art, it is the product of raw talent honed by craft and technique.  No one can teach raw talent, of course.  You either have it or you don’t.  But craft and technique can be taught, and in the following few sections I’m going to walk you through five basic characteristics that all great horror stories share.  Learn to incorporate these into your stories, and you’ll find your stories make more sense and, hopefully, sell better.

Creating Insularity

First, let’s talk about your story’s setting.

The key to good, memorable horror is much the same as it is in the business world – location, location, location.  Many beginning writers come up with potentially great settings, be it an abandoned town, or a graveyard, or a mill, or a big scary house, and then fail to carry through on its potential.  As a result, their great setting never rises above the tired old mainstays of B grade horror.

Think about all the great works of horror you’ve ever read.  My guess is that, in every single one, you can point to the setting and say, “That right there sealed the deal for me.  When the mother and child were trapped in that Pinto in Cujo, I was scared.  When the priests entered Regan’s room in The Exorcist, I felt her bedroom door close behind me.  When Pennywise the Clown spoke to the children ofDerry,Maine through the drains in their bathrooms, I wanted to escape.”

But why does Stephen King’s story about a creepy old hotel in the middle of nowhere get the scares, and Joe Schmoe’s story set in a similar creepy old hotel fail to deliver?  Well, think of some of the words I used in the previous paragraph.  “Trapped.”  “The door close behind me…”  “Escape.”  In every sense, the effect created is one of insularity.  Through the characters in the story, we get a sense that we are closed off from the rest of the world, that we are no longer free or able to run away, that we are shut in with something very bad.

This explains why old graveyards, or cabins deep in the woods, or small towns, are such common destinations for the horror story.  But it doesn’t explain why they work.  The challenge, you see, is to show, through your characters, the setting going through a change.  The way your characters perceive the setting is key.  Think about the movie Jaws for a second.  Remember when Brodie, Quint and Hooper are headed out to sea, and they get drunk and trade sea stories?  They’re laughing and having a great time.  Some might say they’re simply whispering in the dark, but the result is effective nonetheless.  The sea seems a peaceful, welcoming place.  But the next day, as they engage the shark, and it starts to wreck their boat, they begin to feel small and helpless, fighting for their lives in a hostile, brutal environment.  The sea has not changed, obviously.  It’s the same sea that seemed so comforting for them the night before.  What’s changed is their perception of the sea.  The characters in all great horror stories show this changing reaction to the settings in which they find themselves.

To achieve this in your own writing, you need to make readers feel that what was once familiar and comforting has suddenly become oppressive and menacing.  In other words, you need to change your characters’ attitude toward the setting, and you do this by showing the setting before and after the horror takes the stage.  If you’re sending your protagonist into a small town, you might start off by making that small town feel comforting, friendly, perhaps even nostalgic.  Once you’ve established this, you’re free to turn the thumbscrews.

There’s no set rule on how long you have to take to create this feeling of comfort, of normalcy, but you do need to create it.  Horror is, after all, the intrusion of the extraordinary into the ordinary, and if you’re going to make that work you have to first create normalcy.  A comfortable, familiar setting that suddenly becomes hostile and claustrophobic is the best way to do this.

Characters Who Act Scared

Remember the opening to the movie Jeepers Creepers, where the brother and sister are driving their old car across an endless plain of corn fields?  Their banter is light, their mood is easy.  The countryside seems peaceful and inviting.  Within seconds of the opening credits, we feel like we understand this situation.  But then the big black truck comes roaring into view and begins chasing them.  The kids manage to get away from it.  But then, a short distance later, they spot the driver dumping body bags into a sewage pipe, and everything changes.  The setting that once seemed so serene now seems vast and empty, and they are stranded and alone, as though at sea.

Jeepers Creepers is a perfect example of how the setting needs to change to create a sense of horror.  But there’s another side to that equation.  Your setting alone can’t create the horror.  We, the readers, need someone to show us why that change is scary.  In other words, we need viewpoint characters who get scared so that we get scared vicariously through them.  The characters are our surrogates, in other words.

That may seem obvious, but it really is a fundamental component of the horror story.  Look at The Wizard of Oz, for example.  Dorothy encounters a talking lion, a talking scarecrow, a big giant robot-looking thing with an axe, and…well, you get the idea.  The point is, any one of those things should be scary.  Personally, scarecrows creep me out.  But not Dorothy.  She starts signing, links arms with them, and goes skipping down the yellow brick road.  Her reaction informs us as to how to take all this.  If she had run away shrieking in terror, we too, would be horrified.  But she doesn’t.  She starts signing.  And we sing right along with her.

So the trick here is to have your characters tell us how the setting is changing, and why that change is terrifying.  Think about Jack Torrence’s slow slide into insanity at the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining.  Gradually we realize that the hotel is possessing him, changing him.  We get some of this from Jack himself, but most of it through his wife and young son, Danny.  They witness the change, and because they are afraid of it, our sense of empathy places us right there with them, scared out of our minds.  

A Reason to Stay

While we’re on the subject of characters, let’s talk about why they don’t just up and leave the moment things start getting weird.

Here again, we need to frame our discussion in terms of the setting.

Why is your small town there, out in the middle of nowhere?  Same with your blasted ancestral manor, or your haunted motel, or your big spooky mill outside of town.  Why are they there?  I mean economically.  What is the economic reason for being for your setting?

Give that a lot of thought before you start writing your horror story.

This isn’t just one of those silly writing exercises, either.  Knowing your setting’s economic reason for being is essential to good characterization, especially when the horror gets turned up later in the story.

Consider AmityIslandin Jaws.  The little community exists primarily as a summer tourist destination for the mainlanders.  This little detail develops into a major plot point when Sheriff Brodie tries to convince the town council to shut down the beaches.  We know the shark is out there, killing, and when the council refuses to listen – because, of course, to do so would be to go contrary to their economic interests – we feel our stomachs turn with mounting dread.  We know the town council’s shortsighted greed is about to paint the beaches red with blood.

Think of the house in The Amityville Horror.  Or the house in Poltergeist.  In both cases, the family has a vested economic incentive – no, scratch that; an imperative – to stay.  They are economically tied to the setting.  They have dumped a lot of money into the house, right?  I mean, could you just walk away from your house if you were mortgaged up to your eyeballs?  Remember that Eddie Murphy stand up skit where he makes fun of The Amityville Horror.  He says, “You know, you put a black family in that situation, and the house says, ‘Get out!’ they out the motherfucking door.”  This is what he’s alluding to.  A surprising amount of good horror is built from economic necessity.  There’s a reason why the protagonists can’t, or won’t, just get up and leave.

Now, if you’re setting is a hotel room in a major city – like “1408” – or a little girl’s room – like in The Exorcist – you’re going to have an easy time of this.  Clearly, the hotel room exists for temporary habitation.  The girl’s room, well, that’s her room.

But don’t think that your job stops there.  A key element to effective settings in horror is the feeling of being cut off.  It’s that insularity I was speaking of earlier.

Try to apply that here.

Consider Regan in The Exorcist.  In the early stages of her possession, when Pazuzu is fighting for a way in, she is effectively trapped by her circumstances.  She can’t go to her mom and say, “Look, we need to move because I’m getting possessed.”  She’s powerless.  She’s a kid.  She’s cut off from escape.

The same thing applies to the little kids of Derry, Mainein Stephen King’s IT.  They know they are on Pennywise’s menu, but they can’t do a thing about it because they are economically tied to the town through their parents.

Part of rounding out your characters (that is, making them believable and giving them problems we care about) comes from identifying this economic bind that holds them to the horror.

A Logical Connection

A few years ago a young horror writer asked me to blurb a book he had just written.  I said, “Sure, I’ll take a look.”  It was this story about a guy who goes after a demon who has abducted his girlfriend.  It was well written, full of great action sequences and lots of creepy scenes in this abandoned hospital.  But there was a gaping hole in the narrative.  The hole was so big, in fact, that I couldn’t, in good conscience, blurb the book.

You see, nowhere in those 300 pages had he made a connection between the main character – or his girlfriend, for that matter – and the demon.  Basically, you just had a big ugly demon that swoops out of the blue one day and grabs this girl.  The boyfriend then marches into the ruins of the hospital and starts fighting for his beloved.

Do you see the problem?

There’s no connection between the good guy and the bad guy.  There’s no reason for this bad guy to be involved with that good guy.  Why did the demon want the girlfriend?  Where’s the fully developed connection between them?  What’s the reason for all of this?  Yeah, I realize that bad things sometimes happen seemingly without reason, but that is because we lack the appropriate perspective.  It may seem totally random for a serial killer to scoop children off the street, but that is because we are on the outside of the killer’s pathology.  Notice that the best horror stories give us a glimpse into this pathology.  And it is precisely because the young writer I told you about failed to give us that glimpse that the story felt unfocused.  It failed to resonate.  And as a result, the scares just weren’t there.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this relationship.  There has to be a connection between the protagonist and the antagonist.  If they don’t belong together, your story simply won’t make sense.  And if it doesn’t makes sense, it won’t scare anybody.

A Monster with Depth

A convincing and truly frightening villain, be he a person or a demonic force such as a ghost or a monster, is one of the most important components of a horror story because the bad guy generates most of the conflict.

Now I’m saying villain, but really the word is just a convenient catchall.  This is horror we’re writing, after all, so we could be dealing with a human bad guy, or a monster such as a werewolf, vampire, serial killer, or whatever.  Maybe your bad guy is the demonic, long dead presence that haunts your dark old hell house as a ghostly presence.  Or maybe it’s the elements, such as in Algernon Blackwood’s story “The Willows,” or maybe you’re writing about giant rats, whatever.  It doesn’t really matter, at least on the surface, who or what the actual bad guy is because what counts – what makes him, or it, scary – is the human element.  The more human, the scarier.

The best stories are those that bring the villain – the conflict, if you will – into the clearest focus.  This is especially true in horror, but it applies to all the other genres too.  If your story is going to work, your villain must be genuine.  Your monster must have depth.

But what does that mean?  Well, as I’ve already mentioned, your good guy and bad guy, protagonist and antagonist, have to fit together.  There has to be a reason they are going to lock horns.  Randomness isn’t going to scare anyone.

Secondly, your bad guy ought to have some degree of moral authority.  Even if his or her conduct is reprehensible, even unforgivable, there needs to be some logic to why they are doing the evil that they do.  Look at the creature in Frankenstein.  Victor has essentially created life from death, and in the process usurped the role of God.  He has become the creature’s God.  Now imagine yourself as the creature.  Your God stands over you and says, “You are so vile, so wretched, that I refuse to acknowledge your existence.  I turn my back on you.”  Imagine the shock at being denied by God.  The creature, in his rage, strikes out at Victor.  He begins to systematically murder Victor’s family.  He is a smart organism, fluent in seven languages, well-versed in the morality of the Bible, but he deliberately turns his back on that and engages in conduct he knows to be evil because at least that way his God will be forced to acknowledge him.  That is moral authority.  And that is why Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the cornerstone of horror fiction.

Not every monster will lend itself so easily to human moral standards, of course, but everything can be imbued with a motive, a purpose.  As a horror writer, your goal is to give your monster that purpose.

A Quick Note on Police Procedure for Writers

Last night, I was reading a novel by a highly respected horror author and I noticed a basic mistake that I see over and over again.  In this novel, which is a sequel to another very good book, a small town has been decimated by vampires.  Of the original 430 residents of this small town, only a dozen are left alive at the beginning of the sequel.  The town’s sheriff was killed in the first book, and the second book starts off with a replacement sheriff coming into the community to take over as the top law enforcement officer.  This new sheriff is of course curious about what happened to all the people, and sets out to solve the mystery.  But unfortunately for the new sheriff, the town’s vampire problem is far from over.

That sounds good, right?

I thought so.  It’s an excellent set up for a sequel.

However, for me at least, the effectiveness of the story was compromised by the glaring mistakes in police procedure.  And I’m not talking about the minutae of investigations and paperwork, either.  I’m talking about the broad brush strokes, the big picture.  And it’s all the more frustrating for me as I know this author.  I’ve had dinner with him.  We’ve talked police procedure before.  This mistake would have been easy to correct.

Well, I can’t do anything for him now, but I can help any future authors out there looking to stick a sheriff into their story.  What follows is a quick and dirty guide to sheriffs, police chiefs, and state police, and when to use them.  I hope it helps you.

I have written before on the critical role police procedure plays in horror stories, but it’s a point that profits from repeating.  Many horror stories are plotted as tales of discovery.  We generally start off with one person (or sometimes a small group) crossing from the comfort of normal existence into a strange and ominous new setting.  This can involve the protagonist traveling to a new place, such as going into the woods or breaking down in a small, weird little town, or by having their familiar world made sinister and claustrophobic by the introduction of some evil force that comes to them, such as having a bloodthirsty vampire coming to town or by having a killer stalking the babysitter.  Once the evil is introduced, a period of discovery ensues.  Here, the character, or characters, begin to realize what they’re up against.  Perhaps they learn the secret that will help them fight the monster, or perhaps they will learn how truly screwed they really are.  Either way, this is the part of the story where the protagonist starts to feel alienated.  The police are a great way to accentuate this isolation.  Consider how easily a horror story would fall apart if the protagonist could simply go to the local cops and say, “There’s a giant gelatinous blob eating the town!” and be believed.  Our protagonist could then step back and let the police do all the work.  But we know from years of reading and watching creature feature flicks that this never happens.  The police either can’t or won’t believe the protagonists, which drives the characters further into isolation and ramps up the scares.  The only thing left for our protagonists to do is resolve the matter on their own, each according to their wits.

The police generally fall into a sort of negative role in horror fiction…or, put another way, have a tendency to become lesser antagonists.  As the authority figure that refuses to provide the needed assistance, they become part of the evil, or another brick in the wall the protagonist must overcome, to borrow a Pink Floydism.  They can even be their own worst enemy, as in the novel that prompted this post.  For example, everything a cop does is a matter of public record.  As the strong arm of the law, a free and just society has every reasonable expectation to know the things the police do in their name.  Furthermore, because a police report to some degree validates an event (i.e. the murder or burglary or car crash or whatever really did happen because it’s contained in a police report), the police fall into the role of fact makers.  But what happens when the very character responsible for reporting the facts confronts something that simply can’t be?  If our protagonist is a police officer, he not only becomes alienated from authority, but from the very authority of which he is a part.  It makes for great drama.

But how do you know what type of cop to use?  Well, hopefully, the following matrix will help answer that question.  And, as always, feel free to write me in the comments section with specific questions.  I’ll try to get you the right answer.

Title How they get their job The extent of their authority Specific duties
Sheriff Elected Top law enforcement officer in the county; jurisdiction throughout their county Manages the jail; in charge of constables; manages court bailiffs and security; conducts criminal investigations; in some counties acts as head of the local militia
Police Chief Appointed by elected municipal-level officials Top law enforcement officer in the town or city where they work; jurisdiction in their municipality Enforces city, county and state laws through criminal investigations
State Police Appointed by elected state-level officials State-wide jurisdiction to include the state capital and ports Manages state crime labs; highway patrol; license and weight regulations for commercial carriers; conducts independent criminal investigations and supports local and county investigations when requested; manages licensing of drivers
Game Wardens Depends on the state, but generally appointed by elected state-level officials State-wide, though usually they are divided into regions within a state; the only law enforcement officer with the legal authority to conduct searches without a search warrant Responsible for enforcing fish and game laws; may also have full police powers of arrest, to include traffic law, depending on the state
Constables Elected Usually limited to a particular precinct or region of a county; generally affiliated with the county sheriff The only law enforcement officer with the power to enforce civil process, such as evictions; conducts independent criminal investigations

Good News About Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology

Earlier this year Michelle McCrary and I edited a charity zombie anthology for 23 House Publishing called Dead Set. It was my first ever stint as editor and I greatly enjoyed the process. And now, with the end of the year upon us and award season kicking up, all that hard work has started to get some positive critical attention. Dead Set, and several of the contributors to the anthology, have been nominated and/or recommeded for some major awards, something for which I am very excited.

First off is Dark Scribe Magazine’s Annual Black Quill Award. Dead Set has made the short list in the Best Dark Genre Fiction Collection category, which is a huge honor. Here’s the complete ballot:

And the Nominees Are…
DARK GENRE NOVEL OF THE YEAR:

Novel-length work of horror, suspense, or thriller from a mainstream publisher; awarded to the author

A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (Doubleday)
Kraken by China Miéville (Del Rey)
Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon (Leisure / Bad Moon Books)
The Caretaker of Lorne Field by David Zeltserman (Overlook Hardcover)
The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)
Under the Dome by Stephen King (Scribner)

BEST SMALL PRESS CHILL:

Novel or novella published by small press publisher; awarded to the author

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)
Dreams in Black and White by John R. Little (Morning Star)
Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss (Cemetery Dance)
The Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (Gray Friar Press)
The Wolf at the Door by Jameson Currier (Chelsea Street Editions)

BEST DARK GENRE FICTION COLLECTION:

Single author collection, any publisher; awarded to the author

Blood and Gristle by Michael Louis Calvillo (Bad Moon Books)
In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay (ChiZine Publications)
Little Things by John R. Little (Bad Moon Books)
Occultation by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse by Otsuichi (VIZ Media LLC)

BEST DARK GENRE ANTHOLOGY:

Multi-author collection, any publisher; awarded to the editor

Dark Faith Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Apex Publications
Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology Edited by Michelle McCrary and Joe McKinney (23 House)
Haunted Legends Edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (Tor)
Horror Library IV Edited by RJ Cavender and Boyd E. Harris (Cutting Block Press)
When The Night Comes Down Edited by Bill Breedlove (Dark Arts Books)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK OF NON-FICTION:

Any dark genre non-fiction subject, any publisher; awarded to the author[s] or editor[s]

Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators by Rocky Wood (McFarland)
I Am Providence: The Life and Times of HP Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press)
Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever by Joe Kane (Citadel)
The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti (Hippocampus Press)
Thrillers: 100 Must Reads Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (Oceanview Publishing)

BEST DARK SCRIBBLE:

Single work, non-anthology short fiction appearing in a print or virtual magazine; awarded to the author

“Bully” by Jack Ketchum (Postscripts 22/23)
“Goblin Boy” by Rick Hautula (Cemetery Dance #63)
“Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente (Weird Tales, Summer 2010)
“The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)
“We” by Bentley Little (Cemetery Dance #64)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK TRAILER:

Book video promoting any work of fiction or non-fiction; awarded to the video producer or publisher

Neverland / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Douglas Clegg)

Radiant Shadows / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Melissa Marr)

Specters in Coal Dust / Produced by Michael Knost & Black Water Films (for the anthology edited by Michael Knost)

Under the Dome / Produced by Scribner Marketing (for the book by Stephen King)

Unhappy Endings / Produced by Delirium Books (for the book by Brian Keene)

The following is taken directly from the Dark Scribe Magazine website and tells you a little about how the short list is established and how the voting process works. I encourage everybody to stop by and vote, even if it’s for something other than Dead Set.

Nominations for the Black Quills are editorial-based, with both the editors and active contributing writers submitting nominations in each of the (7) categories. Once nominations are announced, the readers of DSM have an opportunity to cast their votes for their picks in each category. In a unique spin intended to celebrate both critical and popular success, two winners are announced in each category – Reader’s Choice and Editor’s Choice.

All dark genre works published between November 1st, 2009 and October 31st, 2010 are eligible. DSM does not solicit nominations, nor are there any fees associated with the Black Quills.

Please note that only one ballot per email/IP address will be accepted. Multiple ballots received from the same email/IP address will be discarded.

Reader voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, January 21st, 2011.

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011.

On behalf of myself, Michelle McCrary, Dead Set’s contributors, and everyone at 23 House Publishing, I’d just like to say that it is a huge honor to be recognized in this way by Dark Scribe Magazine.

My second piece of great news comes from the Horror Writers Association, where Dead Set has done quite well in the Bram Stoker Awards recommendations phase. The Stokers work quite differently from the Black Quill Awards. Dark Scribe’s staff and contributors nominate the shortlist for the Black Quill Awards, but in the HWA, the membership at large has an entire year to recommend various works. Each recommendation gets tallied together, and at the end of the year, the top recommended works in each category get forwarded to the Preliminary Ballot. After that, the Active Members of HWA vote on the Preliminary Ballot and the five or six works receiving the top votes go on to the Final Ballot. Right now, we are still in the recommendation phase, so Dead Set hasn’t earned the right to carry any sort of Stoker Award tags, but I thought it important to mention the attention that several of the work’s contributors have been getting.

Judy Comeau’s story “Seminar Z,” Lee Thomas’ “Inside Where It’s Warm,” and Nate Southard’s “In the Middle of Poplar Street” have all received several mentions, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity to publish their work. In addition, the book itself has received several recommendations in the anthology category, which is a reflection on the hard work of each of the contributors.

My best to everyone involved in this fantastic book. Here’s hoping 2011 brings you all great success and joy.

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