Archive for the ‘Personalities’ Category

My apologies. The blog’s been dormant for a while. A bunch of stuff came up — primarily a new job — and I was obliged to put it on the back burner. But I’d like to start it back up. So how about I begin with a new, original novelette, presented to you for free?

Here’s the deal. I have a young, talented friend named Frank who portrays a character known as “Cuddles McSpanky” at haunted attractions. He knows I’m a writer. At a recent party, we got into a discussion about our mutual love of horror and noir. And we agreed that it might be fun if I tried writing a story featuring his character. I found myself really getting into it. To my surprise, the short story I initially intended to write somehow expanded into a novelette.

I tried including it in my short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests,” due out from Codorus Press early in 2016. But my publisher told me we’re a bit late in the process for that.

So I figured, what the heck. I wrote it mainly as a fun project anyway. And I’d like Frank to be able to share it with his friends and followers. So here it is, presented as a freebie. Enjoy. Share it, if you’re so inclined. And if you like it, keep an eye out for “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” Or check out my Pushcart-Prize-nominated debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.” You can find Cuddles McSpanky’s page here. And if you’re REALLY brave and/or crazy, you can go see him in person here.

For the record, this is a work of fiction and is not intended maliciously. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual events, groups or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

So here goes:

 

THE LEGEND OF CUDDLES MCSPANKY

By Tom Joyce

Based on a character created by Frank Paul Staff IV

 

 

Somewhere in the night-darkened pines to Kevin’s left, chainsaws buzzed like mechanical hornets. Followed by screaming.

Startled, a cluster of girls in Kevin’s group let out screams of their own, giggling at themselves immediately afterward. The Trail of Terror at the BloodShed Farms haunted attraction in Pierce Township, N.J., followed a snaking trajectory, frequently turning back on itself. Intermittent cries from the densely encroaching pines on either side signaling that the group ahead had encountered whatever as-yet-unseen horror would ambush Kevin’s group next, be it zombie, vampire or psychopath.

An unnerving effect, Kevin had to admit, jangling his already jangled nerves.

Kevin trailed behind a dozen or so teens and adults venturing through October darkness punctuated by pale lights on poles set at infrequent intervals along the paved path. Wishing that the night’s errand was already over. He yanked the brim of his baseball cap down lower on his forehead and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tighter about his face.

(more…)

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Keith StrunkI haven’t forgotten about this blog. Honest. Here’s the deal. Through a chain of circumstances I still don’t fully understand, I ended up on a judging panel for the Hugo Awards. As a lifelong science fiction fan, I’m pretty thrilled. The Hugos are among the most prestigious international awards for science fiction. They’re a bit controversial this year. Since I’m on the judging panel, I better not say anything about the controversy. Just Google it. Trust me, there’s a shitload of reading about it to be found on the Internet.

Speaking of a shitload of reading, that’s the main reason I haven’t posted in a while. I came into this kind of late in the process, and am now reading all of the Hugo nominees to catch up. Aside from my job, just about everything else in my life has gone on the back burner. My workout schedule. Basic hygiene. This blog.

More stuff will be posted soon. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful interview with Keith Strunk: actor, producer, writer, Renaissance man. It ran in the most recent issue of the quarterly newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit, and it concerns book trailers.

It’s geared toward writers. But if you’re involved in anything that could benefit from some online promotion — which describes pretty much every field of human endeavor these days — you should get something out of it. Enjoy.

 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and your involvement in the production of book trailers?

A: I’m the product of the professional training program in acting at Rutgers University. My son was born the day the thesis for my MFA was due and I found that I was an actor that had to find paying work quickly! I had a friend doing production work on commercials in New York and he got me on set as a production assistant and my parallel career in production had begun. I’ve done a great deal of work as a director, editor, and scriptwriter in the years since. My partner Laura has had a similar evolution career-wise with the addition of being a graphic artist as well. All of this combined with my own experience as a writer and author has led us to producing book trailers.

 

Q: What are book trailers meant to accomplish, and how important are they?

A: A book trailer should create interest that moves a viewer to action. In this case, to buy the book. It can excite, seduce, entice, enthrall, and even incite a viewer with just enough of the story to make them want more. At the end of the book trailer, your viewer should be saying, “I’ve got to know what happens in that book!”

If you look at the trailer as an integral part of the overall marketing plan for your book, it’s very important. It’s an opportunity to imprint a potential reader using images, music, sound, and words both printed and spoken. If done well, it all happens in a minute or less and reinforces the themes that drive all of your marketing materials to create a cohesive message about your book. The important thing here is that a book trailer is one component of your larger marketing strategy and not a strategy in of itself.

 

Q: What characteristics should a good book trailer have?

A: It should engage the viewer right out of the gate, compel them to watch it to the end, and leave them wanting more. In the case of book trailers, Shakespeare’s observation that “brevity is the soul of wit” couldn’t be more apt (that he chooses to have Polonius, who is the least witty and most verbose character in Hamlet say the line is grist for another discussion).

Simply put, you should work to keep a book trailer’s running time, including credits and cover quotes, to no more than one minute. Don’t succumb to the urge to stretch it to two minutes because you have to get components into the trailer that are “too important to leave out.” The exercise of staying within the one minute mark will yield a far better trailer than the more artistically indulgent three minute opus that has “all of the important stuff” in it. By working to keep the trailer at one minute, even if your trailer ends up running a bit over a minute, there’s a very good chance that it will be a tightly structured, effective video.

Never lose track that the objective of a book trailer is to sell books. It’s a marketing piece. That said, there are marketing pieces, some notable TV commercials for example, that have an artistic flair and in fact become a bit of art unto themselves. Even in these cases, the art form is subservient to the marketing objective to sell. And while it may not be art, a good trailer evokes a compelling emotional response in the viewer.

Simple components well executed are far better than poorly done attempts at more complex techniques. The exception is if you’re going for a camp or cheesy style (think Ed Wood flying saucers on strings) although, it’s actually harder to make this work than it looks. The best homework you can do before setting out to do your book trailer is to watch a lot of book trailers so you start to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work so well.

These are three examples of book trailers that use simple components to create effective book trailers. Images, movement, music, animation, text, and voice over are used in some part in these trailers. The text for Kathryn Craft and Donna Galanti’s trailers were written specifically for the trailer while Tori Eldridge chose to use the text directly from her short story. Watch each trailer with an eye towards understanding how individual components in each trailer make them effective.

“Joshua and the Lightning Road” by Donna Galanti

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzfYMNnfJWs

“Call Me Dumpling” by Tori Eldridge

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-QaiunrPDk

“The Far End of Happy” by Kathryn Craft

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7PAcQnaMb0

 

Q: How does a writer go about getting a book trailer produced, and about how much should the writer expect to pay?

A: Watch as many book trailers as you can. Note the ones that appeal to you in style and production values and find out the company that produced them. Network with other writers to find out who they recommend. You’ll find that there are a number of authors that have skills in video production or performance that have produced or contributed to the production of their own trailers. Obviously, this is a way to cut costs if you have skills in these areas.

It’s difficult to pin down the cost of producing a trailer as there are so many different factors that impact it. A simple trailer with music, images, and scrolling text will be far less expensive to produce than one that uses voice over, complex effects, or live action. Find out from the production company how the process for producing your trailer will work and what you will get for the money you spend.

It’s very important to understand what you can afford and adjust the concept of your trailer to fit your budget. Without a solid budget in place, you run the risk of adding components in the creative heat of the moment that will drive your costs up very quickly. In short, the budget drives the concept. Letting it work the other way around can be a costly mistake that will run in the thousands of dollars.

 

Q: Are there any special considerations for writers of science fiction, horror, fantasy or other genres?

A: Genres like science fiction, horror, and fantasy with otherworldly settings, characters, and situations have to be particularly aware of the parameters of a lower budget trailer and find creative ways to bring their worlds to life. Good costuming, makeup, special effects, and animation requires a great deal of skill to execute effectively in a video. That skill comes with a cost that has to be factored into your budget if your concept demands those components. If you can’t afford them, then change your concept and find other creative ways to get your message out in a trailer that is perhaps simpler in concept but well produced and effective.

 

Q: Any advice for ways to incorporate the book trailer into your overall marketing strategy?

A: Be sure to insert the link for your trailer everywhere your book is seen online. We are naturally drawn to videos and if presented with a link to watch a “movie,” we’ll almost always click it. And if it’s compelling and effective, we’ll share it.

Another thought is to coordinate your efforts with your publisher if you’re traditionally published. They most probably have a long list of distribution points for your trailer and if you’ve allowed them to be a part of the process of creating your trailer, they’ll be inclined to push it out there to be seen.

On the indie publishing side, I think networking with other writers to find distribution points is imperative. For example, there are three trailer linked in this interview which is a result of a conversation I had with Tom Joyce at the Liars Club Writer’s Coffeehouse.

 

Keith Strunk is an actor, author, and partner in Interlude Group LLC with Laura Swanson and a member of the Philly Liars Club.

Marie Lamba, authorMarie Lamba is the author of acclaimed young adult novels including “Drawn” and “Over My Head.” Publisher’s Weekly called her humorous YA novel “What I Meant…” “an impressive debut” and Kirkus described it as “realistic and well-paced.” She’s also author of the upcoming picture book “Green, Green,” co-authored with her husband Baldev Lamba and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez.  More than 100 of her articles have been published in regional and national magazines, including “Writer’s Digest.”

She’s also an Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City. It was in that capacity that I interviewed her for the quarterly newsletter of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The piece was intended primarily for writers. But even if you’re not an aspiring writer, I hope you find it interesting. (And if you’re NOT an aspiring writer, consider becoming one. It’s a blast. And you meet lots of cool people. Like Marie.)

Be sure to check out her very informative blog here.

 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career as an agent and a writer?

A: I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 10. I never guessed I’d be an agent, too. But my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara, saw I had the skills to be a solid agent, so she offered me the gig a few years ago, and I love repping writers and illustrators!

I bring to the table experience in publishing as an editor and a book promotion manager, I’m an award-winning public relations writer, and I know what it’s like from an author’s point of view to create a manuscript, send it out into the world, see it published, and then promote it. This all informs my actions as an agent selecting manuscripts, working with my clients, and selling manuscripts to publishers. My recent sales as an agent include picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, and adult fiction. I’m actively building my client list, and you can find my current list of clients and my submission guidelines here: https://marielamba.wordpress.com/about-marie-the-agent/

As for my writing self? I’m the author of the contemporary YA novels “What I Meant …” (Random House) and “Over My Head,” and the time-travel novel “Drawn.” I’ve had essays in anthologies, a short story in Liar Liar” and more than 100 articles in national magazines, including “Garden Design” and “Writer’s Digest.” You can also find my articles in this year’s editions of “The Writer’s Market,” “The Guide to Literary Agents” and “The Children’s Writer’s Market.” Plus my first picture book, which I co-authored with my husband Baldev Lamba, is titled “Green Green” and it’s coming out through Farrar Straus Giroux in the next year.

Q: What are the benefits of having an agent?

A: Access. So many publishers are closed to non-agented writers. As soon as you have an agent, all of those doors are open. If you have an agent with an established firm (even a new agent which such a firm), that person can pick up the phone and call any editor at any level and get their attention. I know, because I have done just that. J

Career development. An agent will be engaged in growing your career. Getting the best deal for you at the best publisher that they can. Helping you direct your writing in a productive way. Giving you realistic market-informed feedback when you need it.

Cheerleading. An agent will be your number one supporter. Speaking up for you to the world.

Creativity. With an agent taking charge of pitching your work, and managing your contracts, etc., you are more free to WRITE.

Contracts. Your agent will negotiate the terms of your contracts, and make sure everything is in order before you sign. They’ll also be there to make sure things are carried out as promised. And to go to the matt for you if needed.

Q: How should a writer go about finding an agent, and what are some things he or she should keep in mind?

A: There are SO many does and don’ts out there. The first thing you MUST do is finish your manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you simply must do your homework. There are a ton of articles with query submission tips and other insider’s advice posts over at my site http://www.marielamba.com. I do an Agent Monday post nearly every week, so if you subscribe to the site, you won’t miss any. And you must Google the agents you are querying to find their guidelines. Follow those guidelines, or you will most likely be deleted without ever being read. There are great resources out there to help you, including pred-ed.com, querytracker.com, and agentquery.com, plus the annual market books put out by “Writer’s Digest,” etc. And if you are really serious, subscribe to publishersmarketplace.com, even if only for a month, to research agents, who represents who, and what deals are being done in your genre. Great up-to-the-moment info you won’t find anywhere else.

Q: What are some things that would encourage you to represent a particular writer?

A: Professionalism. Someone who has a strong voice. Originality. Someone who is in the business for more than just this one book, and ideally is working on a number of other projects.

Q: What would lead you to reject a writer?

A: Something I’ve seen before. Sloppy or boring writing. Not following guidelines. Obnoxious in the cover letter. Unprofessional online presence — like dissing agents and editors online. Not understanding their readership. Preachy tone.

Q: Are there any current industry trends that you think would be valuable for writers to know about?

A: Career-wise, I think the opportunities for writers are growing the farther away we are getting from the not-so-great-recession. This is a very important thing for writers to keep in mind as they move ahead. Are you creating scaled-back future goals based on the crap the recession years handed you? That is probably a mistake. Expect more and dream big.

As for fiction trends? I’m sure your readers know that Horror is no longer a “dirty word” in the industry, and you’ll see more agents and editors including the word “horror” in their guidelines. In general, novels with speculative elements that also appeal to mainstream audiences are being sought more widely.

I personally don’t represent straight genre fiction, and so I’m speaking from the point of view of an agent who deals with the top commercial presses. (Niche presses that specialize in speculative fiction are a different bag of apples.) In general, for the top commercial publishers, dystopian fiction is a hard sell these days, as are zombies and vampires. Agents have seen a LOT of it, and so have editors. I’ve also seen a ton of fae and mermaid and werewolf stories. That doesn’t mean these are completely dead (they never really die, right?), but it DOES mean that you need to be completely unique if you are approaching this market. If you are writing a dystopian, say, and your book features a fractured society with a wall and a wasteland beyond that wall, well, it is going to feel VERY familiar. Strong characterization is key, as is a unique setting and a fresh voice.

In the YA market, thrillers are still hot, and speculative elements (again, with very strong characterization and a unique take), when blended with an authentic YA voice, are doing well. Middle grade novels are always a strong market for fantasy elements, especially when they are rooted in the real world, and for mysteries and the creepy crawly elements of horror done with a lighter touch.

Strong realistic contemporary novels are longed for across all age groups. It’s almost like a palate cleanser after all the complicated and drama-filled stories — ah, to have a simple story told in an elegant and page-turning way… Diversity is huge! Representing the underrepresented voices in fiction in an authentic way is especially sought after right now. But PLEASE don’t force your manuscript into the diverse category by suddenly giving a character an accent, or a disability. I’ve seen a lot of these, and they ring false.

Thanks for having me here! I wish everyone much writing success.

AddisonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fifth part of the piece, along with my original introduction.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Linda Addison is the award-winning author of four collections of poetry and prose and the first African-American recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award®. She has published over 290 poems, stories and articles and is a member of Circles in the Hair, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Science Fiction Poetry Association. See her site: www.lindaaddisonpoet.com, for more information.

My first publication was in 1994. At that time I considered changing my name to L.D. Addison so it wasn’t obvious that I was a woman. I decided not to use an alias. Today there are more women writing speculative fiction than twenty years ago.
I’ve always seen myself as an author first, then any other labels are acceptable: woman writer, African-American writer, African-American woman writer. Through my eyes I see myself writing the stories and poems that come to me. It just so happens my imagination always went outside the realm of reality-based writing. I’m blessed to represent women writing weird stuff, always will be.

samatarphotoNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fourth part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novel “A Stranger in Olondria,” the Hugo and Nebula nominated short story “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” and other works. She is the winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, and the British Fantasy Award. Sofia is a co-editor for “Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts,” and teaches literature and writing at California State University Channel Islands.

I don’t know whether things are worse for women in speculative fiction than they are for women in mainstream or literary fiction. What I do know is what everybody knows, if they pay attention: that the publishing industry, in both of these genres, is male dominated. It is also white dominated, and privileges heterosexist and ableist narratives. These inequalities create the atmosphere in which we work. To speak as a woman in speculative fiction specifically, the inequality creates a situation in which you know certain things in advance. Even if you’ve never been harassed at a con, you know it happens, and that knowledge shapes your interactions with other professionals. You know that you’re statistically less likely to rise to prominence than a male writer, to draw attention, to make people listen.

All of this explains why the past year stands out. This was the year Ann Leckie swept everything — award after award, it was amazing! All the Nebula award winners were women. This is also the year the folks at “Lightspeed Magazine” made ten times their goal amount with the “Women Destroy Science Fiction” Kickstarter, enabling them to do “Women Destroy Fantasy” and “Women Destroy Horror” as well. Now, that whole series started in response to the sexist notion, which some people actually hold, that women are destroying these genres. But the immense interest in the series, and the energy around it, shows that there’s a significant number of people who believe the opposite.

It might just be a coincidence. This could be the year we all look back at like “Hey, remember that year a bunch of women got attention?” But I really don’t think so. I think that transformation comes in waves, each one bigger than the last, and that this is a particularly big one. It will probably recede, but things won’t go back to the way they were. Every woman writing science fiction now is looking at Ann Leckie. Each change makes the next change possible. That’s why, all things considered, this is a pretty great time to be a woman in speculative fiction.

Rena MasonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the third part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award® winning author of “The Evolutionist” and “East End Girls.” A former O.R. nurse, an avid SCUBA diver, world traveler, and longtime fan of horror, sci-fi, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she writes to mash up those genres with her experiences in stories that revolve around everyday life. For more information on this author visit her website: renamasonwrites.com

As Robert Heinlein didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a sci-fi author, not all female speculative fiction authors are also writing some form of romance, paranormal or otherwise. With more organizations and companies promoting women, such as Women in Horror Month highlighting women in all aspects of horror, Nightmare Magazine’s “Women Destroy Horror” issue, Eli Roth’s The Crypt app highlighting women in horror, and the Horror Writers Association offering scholarships for women horror writers, along with more women stepping up to support one another in representing the genre rather than using a more popular or more accepted label for their works, women’s roles in the genre can only improve.

Note: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the second part of the piece, along with my original introduction. I’ll be running contributions from the other writers who participated in the days ahead.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.
I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

ELLEN DATLOW

Ellen Datlow hard at work in front of her booksEllen Datlow has been editing sf/f/h short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for Tor.com. She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual “The Best Horror of the Year,” “Lovecraft’s Monsters,” “Fearful Symmetries,” “Nightmare Carnival,” “The Cutting Room,” and “Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells” (the latter two with Terri Windling).
Forthcoming are “The Doll Collection” and “The Monstrous.”
She’s won multiple World Fantasy Awards, Locus Awards, Hugo Awards, Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, Shirley Jackson Awards, and the 2012 Il Posto Nero Black Spot Award for Excellence as Best Foreign Editor. Datlow was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

 

I’ve been editing short science fiction, fantasy, and horror since 1980. When I was promoted from Associate Fiction Editor to Fiction Editor of OMNI Magazine, there was some blowback against me for not emerging from fandom (which was overwhelmingly male and from which most of the sf editors up to that point came). There was some silly talk by a few male writers who criticized the entry of female sf editors into positions of power. These women — again, most of whom did not come out of fandom — were assumed to have had no experience in the genre, although we were all longtime readers of sf/f and we all worked our way up from the bottom.
I’ve been involved more with fantasy and horror than science fiction for a number of years so I’m not as familiar with who is writing what in science fiction these days. But my perception is that fewer writers are writing science fiction at all. Saying that, there are certainly many excellent female writers of science fiction and if a male editor chooses an entire sf anthology with stories only by men it means they just aren’t looking beyond their old boys network comfort zone.