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Fresh Dirt Archives: July-Sept 2008

Sept. 29
Here's a look at "The Digger," the narrator for the forthcoming comic series "Grave Conditions." Any resemblance between the character and me is not coincidental--although I won't be this old and creepy for at least three years and seventeen days. Artist Kewber Alves Arruda has finished half the first issue and we hope to release it early next year. In the meantime, I'm developing a comics section for the Web site to include this and other comics projects, and Post Mortem Comic Studios will soon have links for subscriptions. You can already buy T-shorts, buttons, and other items for the company, so before long you'll get your Digger fix on posters, etc.

Other projects are continuing to unfold and I'll announce them "as soon as things are signed"--the old standby in a business where nothing is done until its done and nothing is ever "set set." Mostly I'm having fun dipping my brush in a thousand different colors, which is why these blog updates are few and far between. My article "The Seven Bad Habits of Highly Unsuccessful Writers" is appearing in a future edition of Writer's Journal.

Registration is still open for Green Park Paranormal Conference, so come one and come all, and come visit me and Post Mortem at Monstercon in Cocord NC on Oct. 4.

Sept. 15
Had a great time at the Morganton Comic Con and got to learn a lot about the industry from writer Christof Gage, Raymond of the indie book "Fierce," David Lyle and Shane Hai. It was interesting to find work of my friends in the dealer's dollar boxes--I guess even in the comics industry, everything eventually ends up in the "cheesy trunk of terror."

Working with John Parker, publisher at Post Mortem Comic Studios, I'll be releasing my first comic series, Grave Conditions. It will be bi-monthly, with black-and-white interior art, collecting adaptations of my short stories. Art will be supplied by Kewber Alves Arruda, who lives in Brazil. He's very talented and I like the look of his work. I'll be posting art here as the project moves along toward its release early next year.

I'll also be developing a special Comics section here at the site. We hope to recruit a roster of newer artists (shorthand for those being able to work fast and cheap) who can revolve on these projects and bring others into line. In the meantime, check out Post Mortem's other titles. The first ones should be coming out in December.

My Thursday-night appearance on Shadows in the Dark blogtalk is archived here. I'll have other appearances coming soon, especially as the Green Park Paranormal Conference draws nearer. In other news, I'm starting a new novel, just in case you thought I was quitting! For those interested in the New River Writing Retreat in October, I've swung a sponsorship deal so I can now drop the price to $195--three days of Blue Ridge serenity, with meals and writing--heck, it's a great deal even if you don't write! Register by Oct. 15 for the special price.

All the political noise has spawned a new theory in which reality has jumped the shark and we are all now stars of our own reality shows. Seriously. It's now a certifiable psychological condition. I'm still trying to pinpoint exactly when we entered our own very special episode of Fantasy island. I think it was maybe around the time Bush donned a flight suit and pronounced "Mission Accomplished," or when Hillary Clinton's bathing-suit cellulite was pictured on National Enquirer, or perhaps when McCain said Palin knew more about energy than anyone else in the country--and no one challenged him. Since I'm a Libertarian, and whichever person sits in the Oval Reality Bubble will prove disappointing, then at least let's hope the ratings will be high. If you need a healthy dose of escapism from our shared delusion of Escapism, then, hey, give books or comics a try...

Sept. 5
If you're in the mood for Scott-babble, there's a new interview up at Macabre Cadaver. I'm also going to be a guest at Morganton (NC) ComicCon on Sept. 13 and MonsterCon in Concord (NC) on Oct. 4. I'm getting much more interested in comics and I'm writing an article for Sketch Magazine on adapting novels to comic scripts. I'll also be contributing a story to Post Mortem Comic Studio's "Shovel" series (a sort of full-length version of the old Tales from the Crypt idea, with revolving stories, artists and writers). There's a special excitement in seeing an artist bring a project to life, and it also inspires a new type of storytelling approach. Since I'm weird enough to shift around between different media, it suits me just fine. I just wish I could draw worth a darn. I am developing a "Comics" section here at the Haunted Computer where I will post art samples and possibly full stories soon.

If you're in the NC Piedmont, there are two upcoming free writing workshops featuring my friend Chris Roerdon: Wed. Sept. 10, 7-8:30 pm, Cary Library, 310 S. Academy St., Cary NC: "Don't Sabotage Your Submission: Create suspense, develop your voice, and discover the key to getting published."


Sat. Oct. 18, 9:30 am-5:30 pm, Greensboro Central Library, 219 N. Church St., Greensboro
NC. Skill Building for Writers" panel.

In home news, I canned 11 pints of tomatoes and six pints of corn, and I now own two goats--sort of big pygmies. Or pig bigmes or something. Helping Girl with her homework, which is incredibly tough for third grade. Signing the world's largest pair of panties (thanks, Robin). Feeding the chickens, which may taste good on Thanksgiving. Gathering wood for winter. Planning the next novel and loathing the last. Looking at the sky. Dreaming.

Aug. 21
Some of you know me as a self-described Taoist, but the reality is that's just another label. Tao defies labels and my clinging to the label is proof that I'm separated from Tao. In other words, it's a little like, "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him." So when I try not to identify too closely with the "horror" label, it's not because I don't love horror. It's just that any brand name is ultimately limiting and unsatisfactory, especially since I'm popping out of as many holes as possible, and repetitive experience is boring. For instance, some people who think I'm dark and violent because of what happens to fictional characters in my books may never see my funny stuff. And in an industry driven by branding and the mind-numbing duplication of protagonists and plots, you shoot yourself in the foot if you switch direction with every book. But artists should be switching, growing, reinventing, spiraling, spitting off the edge. Maybe that's the difference between art and craft--art is the vision and craft is the mechanism. Dream and the flawed communication of that dream. And all we have is words.

Time to present a plethora of product, or a rash of reads--Here's a prelim sketch of the cover for The Skull Ring, from artist Alan Clark. I met Alan at the World Horror Convention in 1998 or '99 and even at the time I was thinking, "Boy, I hope one day I have a book that he does the cover for." Lo and behold a decade later, it happens. Proof that overnight success (of whatever form) takes a few thousand nights. The Full Moon Press has just rolled out its first release, Ricka Hautala's The Wildman, and I expect The Skull Ring to come rumbling down the tracks soon. The "lifetime subscriptions" are running out, and Paul Little has an ambitious roster, so it may be the last chance to jump on board, because he's publishing authors who are fresh on the limited-edition market and with plenty of room for "upward mobility," "return on investment," and "market upside," if you're the kind who stores books for collectible reasons. I hope there will be a paperback edition somewhere down the road, but it would take a year or two at least, and maybe more, before another edition comes out. I spent a month revising this over the summer and I really like the edge of it.

Just released is the limited edition anthology of Brimstone Turnpike, edited by Kealan Patrick Burke, containing novellettes by Tom Monteleone, Harry Shannon, Tim Waggoner, Mike Oliveri and my contribution "Burial To Follow," which is probably one of my five best works ever. It's been a few years of waiting in the wings for this one, and centers around a character Burke created and then allowed the authors to riff freely around. Apparently these are selling quickly and got good reviews from Library Journal and Booklist. Michael Lohr interviewed me for Withersin, in an issue that also contains a story by rising star Charles Colyott, one of my students at the Pen to Press Writing Retreat. The audiofile for my interview on The Odd Mind is archived on Blog Talk Radio. Okay, I'm officially tired of talking about myself at the moment, so go read some free comic books.

Aug. 12
I'd talked about this project a little earlier, and now it's been released: The WrongWorld DVD book. My story "The Christening" is in the "Healthscares" collection, with work by John Kuhn and Ralph Gamelli. There are some visual/graphic elements, and then you click the pages to read the story on your TV (by remote control button) or in the computer. It's an interesting project and hybrid medium that I suspect will evolve over time and move closer to a graphic novel. The DVD version of the new "I Am Legend" has some graphic-novel segments as bonus material, and the effect is very interesting: less complex and easier to produce than animation but successful in telling a story, using music and audio to enhance the still pictures. I'd say more authors need to pay attention to these new forms, because the book market is really tough right now, and the economy is only partly to blame.

That's part of the reason I'm developing a series of shorter comic projects, seeking ways to make them affordable enough that people are willing to try something new but with enough profit that I can pay the creative collaborators. I'm always looking to add artists, letterers, and inkers to the stable, and maybe eventually more writers. I'm not quite sure how this new medium will play out but it will be exciting to explore new formats and break the traditional chain of writer-to-agent-to-publisher-to-printer-to-distributor-to-store, in which only a tiny fraction makes its way back to the writer (paperback royalties are usually between 4 to 8 percent of the cover price). There are digital outlets like Wowio for direct sales to the public, and Horror Mall and other independent places, so I predict a slight swell in self-managed literature that mirrors what musicians have been able to do by producing and marketing their own CDs.

The reason self-publishing hasn't worked for most authors is they are not only locked out of the distribution process because stores can't return unsold books for credit, but many lack oversight and professional editing. I get review copies all the time that are double-spaced, have horrid grammar mistakes, and basically shoot themselves down in the first couple of paragraphs. One example was a book featuring the first woman president, an important historic character for sure, but the author couldn't be bothered to keep her name right on the first page. I'm not saying all self-published books are bad, and I believe we'll see more good work breaking in from outside the mainstream due to the rigid market conditions, but the best way is still to try and crack through the wall. And don't use "I'm too EXTREME for New York" or "I'm so brilliant they don't understand me" as an excuse for having your sloppy work rejected.

Aug. 7
My grandfather, a man of some little mystery, was a veteran of World War II, and since I've been writing articles on service members, I'm interested in tracking down some of his military records, of which the family has precious little. He was a Marine in the Pacific Theater, and fought in the Battle of Peliliu, in which over half the American soldiers were killed or wounded (though I'd guess the Japanese casualty rate was closer to 90 percent). It was one of the toughest battles for Allies, who faced fortified caves and holes, with the Japanese defenders ensconced in a honeycombed network of tunnels. Must have been hell for all involved.

I knew my grandfather mostly as a stern drunk who was best avoided. He would drink his tall-boy Budweisers and stare into the fire, usually with the radio set to a white Southern Gospel station. During his drunks, he would often go off into insane bouts of temper. Once when we drove up late at night, he came outside with his rifle and we fled to hide behind the barn and then crept up into the woods. He fired several times, though I can't say for sure whether he was aiming at us or not. He evenutally killed himself, accidentally or otherwise, by blowing a hole in his chest with a shotgun. Since he liked to drink and carry loaded firearms, it was suicide no matter the actual intent at the time. I sometimes wonder if the war helped trigger that behavior, though the Nicholsons have a definite alcoholism gene. I can't feel any sense of pride for the man, though I believe that war was more necessary than any the United States has fought since. I just hope, wherever he is, he's found a little peace and that the screams and sounds of gunfire have faded.

My friend Jonathan Mayberry has a book coming out Aug. 26--I contributed a little bit to it and it looks really cool:

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July 23
This is some cool multimedia stuff-- Wrong World has put up a preview of my forthcoming story/AV file "The Christening," and I'm excited about the potential of this new medium (and the fact that they pay 10 cents a word, better than most fiction markets). Wrong World delivers with a sort of Rod Serling feel, and of course Rod was not only the host of Twilight Zone but a gifted writer in his own right. The site also has an ad for They Hunger. I'm still not clear on how the content is delivered, but it appears to be a print version on DVD or PDF, with an illustrated narrative intro. I can see this medium expanding to become more like a graphic novel/movie using art stills (a hybrid of sorts that eliminates the cost of editing and animation).

I'm especially interested because I'm developing some short comic scripts (6-8 pages each) that are adaptations of my short stories and I want to expand the means in which they are delivered. While I plan to market them in a regular comic-book format (like the old EC horror comics), the print distribution system and paper costs, along with the limited market and postage costs, make it a fairly risky investment of time. Electronic delivery opens up the door to a huge audience. Of course, you still have to find the audience and convince it to give you money, but there are so many gatekeepers in the world of mass media that it's interesting to watch them get torn down, tunneled under, or bypassed completely.

Obviously a creator is better off having an agent, manager, editor, publisher, PR staff, distributor, producer, etc.--money people who make money for you so you can concentrate on "doing your thang." But they also dip an incredible amount of money from the stream, along with traditional production costs. That's why a mass-market writer is making between four percent and eight percent on a paperback's cover price. And I've heard horror stories of two percent, or, if you're writing for a licensed property, you're most likely making no royalties and hold no ownership at all once your check is spent. So a project in which a writer can make nearly 100 percent (such as Stephen King's "Riding The Bullet" and "The Plant" e-book project), then it does open up new avenues, much the way musicians have found they can release their own CDs, tour a little, and make a middle-class living without a label deal. It's still a tougher road than having someone throw a lot of money at you (because you have to sell to hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of people instead of just one), and of course few people have shown interest in reading books on the Internet, despite the Kindle hype.

I think that will change because books themselves will change. Sure, there will still be printed books, but increasingly people will have to offer broader content with sound and pictures. Look at the Web sites you visit--static, unchanging, text-heavy Web sites are not ones you visit very often, and in some ways Haunted Computer is a bit of a dinosaur. That's why I'm adding multimedia--I already have some original song files, though I haven't promoted them heavily, and an audio clip, and I'm working on some video and graphic-story content. I have tons of available Web space, I just need to get the material developed and posted, but I assure you I am changing with the times as fast as I can, despite my reclusive hillbilly desire to be 10 years out of fashion at all times. Stay tuned for more!

July 16
Time for a shout-out on some great works. I'm amazed by Sharyn McCrumb's "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter," a powerful book about modern people in the Appalachian Mountains, without the hillbilly stereotypes. I'm also enjoying Deborah Leblanc's "Morbid Curiosity" and her Louisiana stylings. Congratulations to International Thriller Award winners Robert Harris, Joe Hill, and Tom Piccirilli.

My interview on Haunted Southern Nights is archived at www.blogtalkradio.com/NAPS. In preparation for a hype-inspiring blitz, I'm sending out a number of copies of "They Hunger" to movie producers at the same time. It's as much a social experiment as it is a marketing gimmick. Maybe the ploy will generate some heat, and if nothing else, a bunch of copies of my books will be circulating around Hollywood. I'm also submitting "The Skull Ring" for paperback rights.

I've signed a contract to publish "The Red Church" in Spain next summer. The title translates as "La Iglesia Roja." The publisher La Factoria de Ideas also has writers like Brian Lumley, Clive Barker, Brian Keene, Piccirilli, and Stewart O'Nan, in addition to a number of science fiction and fantasy authors. It's my first novel to appear in a foreign langauge and there's the opportunity to publish more there if the book sells well. I promise some new writing articles soon--I've been busy finishing up some projects and revising others, pushing forward on multiple fronts, but I've been neglecting my growth in sharing what I've learned. More soon!

July 9
I appreciate those who felt that I was "down" in my post about mid-career changes. While I expressed some regrets about things I could have managed better, the truth is that I have already changed course and things are clicking into place. I never doubted the writing part and the lifetime commitment to craft. It's the business part I had not fully grasped, and that's easily fixed with a little attention. Most importantly, I understand where "cash validation" fits into my worldview and it is not a keystone of my happiness.

The current novel (well, one of them) is almooost done; hopefully by this weekend I will have it in decent enough shape to set aside for its requisite pre-revision fermentation. I also polished up a couple of children's books for submission and realized they take a great amount of skill. I was talking to a picture-book author and she said she'd published one a few years ago and was "halfway done with the next." And I was thinking, "It's only a couple of hundred words. How can you be halfway? What are you doing the rest of the time?" But it is challenging simply because you can't fool children, or dumb down to them, like you can for adults. For example, I used the word "trepidation" in a book for 5-to-8 year-olds, a word I have never used in my adult fiction because it's "too smart." But it sounds groovy and it sounds like what it means and is defined in context. Children will simply love it, and I think parents will enjoy saying it aloud. Trepidation. I like it.

In my attempt to Go Hollywood, I occasionally browse the what's-happening hype in case I ever need to speak the lingua franca. Personally, I suspect almost everyone in LA is insane and I am not sure I want to go somewhere and be crazy. One industry analyst said the lukewarm performance of the latest Hulk film was actually warmer than it looked because it was expected to be cool in the first place. Or, as he put it, "The new one overdelivered relative to its underpromise." Now I need to write a script that is a low-budget, big-concept, tentpole A-lister that butters its own popcorn.

I'll be announcing some book news soon, and as usual it will first go to Inner Circle subscribers. Mark your calendars for Tues, July 15 at 9 pm EST and tune in to Haunted Southern Nights blogtalk radio and join the fun with calls and emails. Also, details for the first New River Writing Retreat are set--if you're into the mountain setting without having to pack a lunch, bring your laptop and come along.

June 29
What does Scott sound like when he's channeling a zombie-slash-circus freak? Download my audio file Carnival Knowledge and find out.

Right now I'm listening to Larry McMurtry's "Leaving Cheyenne"--he has such an ear for dialogue, up there with Elmore Leonard. Stephen King is no slouch, either, and I am more and more amazed by "'salem's Lot" and the artful mix of literary interludes broken by dramatic conflict.

I'm rounding into the final phase of the new novel and it should be wrapped up by next weekend. I already have the next novel, graphic novel, and movie script percolating, and of course there's some revision along the way on some older projects. The words going on the page feel really good, taking their fluid route along the conduit as if they've already been written somewhere and I'm just taking dictation. The work is fresh and joyful, and the clouds are parting a little for the next steps. The fellowship of other writers, artists, and creators remind me of the real purpose of this business of art, which is to fight the good fight and put it all out there.

My friend Harry Shannon's movie "Dead and Gone" has a trailer out. This week, I'll have a short video piece up on the Green Park Inn as part of the "Haunted Trails" map I'm compiling for Watauga County, NC, and my paranormal conference.

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