Thursday, August 30, 2012


     (This post is also a reprint, first appearing on Jaime-Kristal Lott's blog a few months ago, at:  )

      Rejection.  The bane of our profession.  Those slips of paper which discourage writers, and make them question why they bother, and may even cause them to abandon their dreams.  Some don’t even get this far.  Sometimes people are so reluctant to risk rejection that they don’t send their stories out, or even allow another person to read them.
     When I’m interested in something, it very often turns into obsession.  Also, I tend to dwell on the facts, the actual statistics.  Therefore, when I decided to discuss rejections, it got me to thinking:  What was the highest number of rejections a particular unpublished story received, or an eventually published book, or the most by one author for multiple submissions?
     Obviously, determining the number of rejections isn’t as objective as something like a major league player’s home runs, or an element’s atomic weight, or how many number one hit records a musician had.  Presumably an author could save every rejection letter, and produce them if necessary, but basically I’m relying on their honesty (and the honesty of the websites that reported most of these.)  Also, I didn’t spend months researching this, so it’s entirely possible that I may have missed some.  In addition, some authors, especially under or unpublished ones, might not broadcast their totals out of embarrassment, so there’s that, too.  Without further qualification, here’s what I came up with.  Clearly, with a few exceptions, these were all fantastically successful books/authors.  Some totals include agents’ rejection along with publishers.

                      Most rejections, one manuscript/book:

1)      245  Gilbert Young, for “World Government Crusade.”  The English Mr. Young wrote this political treatise in 1958, and endured this staggering total over the next 30 years.  So many that he claimed to have run out of publishers to try.  The eventual fate of this book is a bit murky—he made the Guinness Book in the 1970’s (with the 106 rejections he’d gotten at that point), and several articles in 1988 claimed the 245 number.  However, Amazon listed this title as being published in 1988, but it was currently unavailable.  The publisher was listed as “G.Young” so I’m assuming it was self-published.
2)      217 Bill Gordon, for “How Many Books Do You Sell in Ohio?” copywrite 1986.  After achieving this total, he started his own publishing company and put this book out.  Which makes one wonder if he would have overtaken Mr. Young if he hadn’t.  Plus, is self-publishing “cheating” in this case?
3)      123 (133?)  Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, for the first “Chicken Soup for the Soul” published in 1993.  Huge bestseller, and spawned a huge series, over 200 books!  Both these men are listed as owning the publishing company that put this out, so maybe this could be considered self-published, too.
4)       121  Robert Pirsig, for “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” published in 1974.
5)       112+  Darcie Chan, for “The Mill River Recluse” published 2011.
6)       111  James Lee Burke, for “The Lost Get-Back Boogie” published in 1986.
7)       60+  Vince Flynn, for “Term Limits” self-published initially, in 1997.
8)       60 Kathryn Stockett, for “The Help” published in 2009.
9)       38  Margaret Mitchell, for “Gone With The Wind” published 1936.
10)    26 (29?) Madelaine L’ Engle, for “A Wrinkle in Time” published in 1962.

     Feeling better yet?  To defend the publishers/editors a little, we don’t know the follow-up.  Presumably, they realized later how wrong they’d been, and you’d like to think they admitted this, and apologized to the author, maybe even publicly.  Also, of course, there is the nature of creative endeavors—their subjectivity.  Some books, no matter how successful, how classic they’re considered by millions of readers, simply don’t appeal to some individuals.  Which makes the publishers wrong about how well they’d sell or be appreciated by others, but not incorrect about their personal opinion.  I’m sure we can all think of examples of best selling books which we think are actually terrible.  But most of us aren’t publishers, or magazine editors.  Anyway, here’s a few editors’ quotes to various famous and successful authors, which came back to bite them on the ass.
Rudyard Kipling:  “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”  From a San Francisco Examiner editor.

Mary Higgins Clark:  “We find the heroine as boring as her husband did.”  Editor discussing “Journey Back to Love.”

H.G. Wells:  “An endless nightmare… Oh don’t read that horrible book.”  About “War of the Worlds.”

George Orwell:  “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”  About “Animal Farm.”  I’m no literature expert, but I kind of think that this book just might be a political allegory, and not a children’s book.

     Now back to numbers again.  But before I do that, as a personal aside, I wonder, which is worse—an impersonal, “doesn’t suit our current needs” form rejection letter, or an agonizingly detailed personalized one, that goes point by point about why the editor didn’t like your story? The form one in some ways is easier on the ego—it’s not insulting, and you can comfort yourself that maybe it’s sincere, maybe they liked your story but it just didn’t fit.  But, on the other hand, it is impersonal—it doesn’t give you any constructive criticism, or answer why they rejected it.  In fact, you don’t even know if anyone actually read your story in depth.  Whereas with the personalized reject, sometimes they do give good advice, that might help you change your story, and maybe get it published elsewhere.  Plus, you know someone actually did read it carefully, gave it a chance.  But it can still hurt way more than the form rejection, especially on the rare occasions when the editor is blunt, or even nasty.  When all is said and done, I prefer the personalized ones, but the explanation sometimes comes at a stiffer price.  But here are the most rejections for a single author before their first sale, for multiple submissions.

1)      7000(!)  William Saroyan.  Evidently a stack of rejections 30 inches high (I suppose this could be tested, Myth Busters-style).  Even allowing for exaggeration, that’s some damn dedication!
2)       22 years.  Gertrude Stein.  (No number of rejections given.)
3)       10 years.  Pat Barker.
4)        6 years, 85 rejections.  Steve Berry.
5)        A bad too heavy for her to carry.  Meg Cabot.  She told how she saved every rejection in a bag, her thought being when she was successful and giving public speeches, she’d use it as a visual aid.  But then she found she couldn’t lift it.  So a vague total, but surely a lot, unless Ms. Cabot is pathologically weak.
6)       Enough to tear down a nail.  Stephen King.  Mr. King stated he hung up his rejects using a nail, but eventually there were too many.  So he replaced the nail with a spike, and kept at it.
7)       Enough to wallpaper all four walls of his room.  Lee Pennington.  He doesn’t give the room’s dimensions, but still, probably quite a high total.  Kind of depressing décor, though.
8)       500 rejects, of five novels over 12 years.  Anonymous writer, told in Andre Bernard’s “Rotten Rejections” published in 1990.

As another personal aside, back when I was still snail mailing manuscripts (and I did so a good five to ten years after most writers had moved to their computers, due to my Ludditism, and paranoia about Skynet), I fairly stalked the mailman on weekends or during my usual seasonal layoffs from work.  I would check the mailbox frequently, especially if I thought I heard a noise near the front door (sometimes it was a breeze against the mailbox lid, sometimes phantoms in my mind).  Occasionally I’d even walk outside and look to see if his mail truck was on our street, or if I was driving through the neighborhood, I’d check to see if he or his truck was at least a street or two away.  Then, paradoxically, when it arrived, and there was a manuscript reply, I’d sometimes hesitate before opening, afraid of yet another rejection.  I learned to be depressed if the envelope was heavy, indicating a returned manuscript instead of a one page acceptance letter.  Of course, sometimes they did accept it, but send the manuscript back for minor edits, so that wasn’t absolute.  Now that I submit almost exclusively online, that’s changed, and I have to act semi-crazy in different ways.

                              Two entertaining anecdotes
1)      A. Wilber Stevens, later an English professor at UNLV (and a respected poet), received a particularly harsh rejection.  The editor torched his submission, and mailed back the ashes!  Now that’s cold.
2)      After E.E. Cummings’s (or e e cummings) novel “The Enormous Room” was finally published in 1922, he dedicated it, “With no thanks to:” and then listed the fifteen publishers who rejected it.  That’s a deliciously bitter “screw you” to the editors.

     Now to my personal totals.  I tallied up my numbers, and kind of depressed myself.  My total is 722 rejections, 20 acceptances, for a tidy .027 average.  Ouch!  It took me five years to get my first sale, and about 300 rejections (I didn’t figure that out exactly).  My first attempt at a novel sadly could make the first list, as it’s been rejected 63 times (publishers and agents).  But hey, I’m on the board, and I’m sure some writers have worse percentages, or even no acceptances.
     So I hope prospective, or established writers can take heart from this.  Even the most successful writers usually get their share of rejections, and pretty much every best seller was rejected at least a time or two.  Keep plugging away.  I’ll end this on a great quote by Kathryn Stockett.
     “The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed.  But I can tell you how not to:  Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript—or painting, song, voice, dance moves (insert passion here)—in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it off for good.  I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Various Australian Animals

     Several months ago, in my post about vegemite, I referenced my 2004 trip to Australia/New Zealand.  Today I’ll return to it with the topic of this post—the meat of various Australian animals.
     This trip came about due to the actions of my close friend Dan, who I’ve been friends with since 6th grade.  Dan moved to Brisbane, Australia, and lived there from 2003 to 2006.  I figured, when else would I have a free place to stay in Australia?  That and the usual winter layoff from work sealed the deal.  The plane ride was just as long (and expensive) as advertised—five hours to L.A., twelve hours to Auckland, N.Z., and three more to Brisbane.  Since I can’t sleep well on planes (I got maybe one hour of fitful napping), the flight was hellishly long.  However, to illustrate how bored I was by the movie, even in my desperate, entertainment-starved state, I still can’t remember how the third Matrix film ended.
     But eventually I made it, and disembarked in Brisbane.  It was an adjustment seasonally and temperature-wise, too, as I went from a Mid-Atlantic winter to the middle of an Australian summer.  Given my keen scientific curiosity (okay, full disclosure, I’d heard rumors and seen the funny “Bart vs. Australia” episode of “The Simpsons”), I was very excited about viewing the coriolis effect.  (This is the observation that water spins counterclockwise down a drain in the Northern Hemisphere, and clockwise in the Southern (and apparently straight down in bathtubs situated exactly over the equator.))  So literally as soon as I walked inside Dan’s apartment, I went into his bathroom and observed his toilet flushing (the results were disappointingly inconclusive).  Sadly, I was wasting my time, as this effect is only visible under carefully controlled laboratory conditions.
     Fortunately, Australia has interesting sights in addition to my friend’s commode.  Brisbane was fun, as was Sydney.  The late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin’s zoo was neat too—very hands on.  Visitors got to handle tame kangaroos and wallabies, feed the elephants, and even pet koala bears (who we learned, just like your pet dog, can have distinct “tickle spots” which cause their legs to move about in a comical fashion).
     Also, there was Alice Springs, smack dab in the middle of the Outback, the nearest town of any size to Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), which you’ve seen on countless postcards and documentaries on The Land Down Under.  (FYI, Uluru is definitely worth seeing, but if you’re foolish enough to go in the summer like I was, bring some netting for your head.  The bugs are absurdly annoying, and the local shops (understandably) kind of gouge you for the netting there.)
     We stayed in Alice Springs for a couple of days, and while browsing through The Lonely Planet guidebook I saw a local restaurant, The Overlanders Steakhouse, served various unusual local fauna.  Dan was a good sport, so we checked the restaurant out, and ordered their signature platter, “The Drover’s Blowout.”  Camel, crocodile, emu, and kangaroo.  Starting worst to best, the camel meat was tough and unappetizing.  The crocodile was decent but surprisingly not very similar to the alligator I’ve had.  The emu was good, too, and reminiscent of its giant flightless bird cousin, the ostrich.  The pick of the litter, though, was the kangaroo.  Very, very good—extremely tasty, with a unique flavor and nice texture.  I had the chance to try kangaroo in another restaurant as well, and it was top notch there, too.
     I really loved my time in Australia (and on the same trip, New Zealand, too), and my one week in each obviously only scratched the surface—I hope to return some day, and for longer stretches.  To summarize my dining experiences, if you like to sample new and unusual meats, aside from camel you can’t go wrong.  And hopefully visitors from far away will have a better choice of in flight movies than I did. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012


     (This is reprint of an article that was posted on fellow Musa author Alyson Burdette's blog on June 11, 2012.  Alyson's blog address is: , and her book is "Nightfire.")


     Whether you’re old at heart like me, and go into the reference section of the library every year to check the latest edition of “The Writer’s Market,” or whether you’re a normal person and find sources online, an important part of the writing process is figuring out appropriate places to submit your work.  Which means you have to look at a magazine’s or publisher’s submission guidelines.  I’d say at least 90% of the time the guidelines are detailed enough and fine; everybody wins.  You don’t end up submitting your Satanic erotica to “Highlights For Children,” or your vegan recipes to “Soldier of Fortune.”
     Occasionally though, over the many years I’ve been checking guidelines, I’ve found a few that stood out, because they were, I thought, too limiting, weird, not helpful, or simple funny.  Therefore, I’d like to list some of these, and then (gently) mock them.  Bear in mind that I write mostly horror/dark fantasy/suspense/erotica, so most of the magazines/publishers printed these types of material.


1)      “No discrimination against race, age, or gender.”  From a magazine that publishes horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.  I get that some magazine’s readership include children.  Also, there’s several kinds of horror, from 19th century-set ghost stories, to H.P. Lovecraft style, barely seen, mostly suggested terrors, to late 20th century splatterpunk and torture porn, and all things in between.  And I can see that the magazine doesn’t want, say, Aryan skinhead manifestos, or the like.  But seriously, no discrimination against race, gender and age?!  So your vampire can kill people, but she can’t deny a person employment because they’re over 60?
2)       Along the same lines, the general guidelines of horror magazines/publishers, sometimes listed as being “edgy,” and “terrifying,” horror, that say no to any graphic language, violence, sex, or gore.  Kind of like the previous one, I understand that not every story has to be “R” rated, or even “PG,” but come on!  No gratuitous profanity, sex, violence, etc., seems like a reasonable request, but having absolutely none of these elements ever must leave some awfully watered-down, tame horror stories.
3)       A magazine which published largely erotica said, “No ‘cute’ or ‘sweet,’ or crude, or sex fantasies.”  So a writer had to hit that narrow medium every time, I guess.
4)       Regional limitations.  I can acknowledge that certain publications want to cater to their area, and maybe even solely feature authors from that area.  If it’s say, Canada, okay, but I saw one magazine that only accepted authors from one California city.  So why even advertise in nationally seen books like “The Writer’s Market?”  Kind of a tease.
5)       “Synopsis of not more than 25 words.”  For novellas, novels, etc.  Asking this as an exercise might have merit, if it’s combined with a normal length synopsis, but just this alone?  Can they really tell much about the book from this?
6)      A magazine with “Mormon” in its subtitle, put out by a Mormon literary society, said it was “Mormon-based, but not religious.”  This seems a little disingenuous, since they can’t stop mentioning their religion.

1)      “Not looking for stories with emphasis on drugs, murder, rape, and body piercing.”  Seems like one of these words is not like the others—can you tell which one?
2)      “No religion, anti-religion, or evolutionary,” for a horror and suspense publication.  Seems oddly precise—talk about not wanting to discuss a sometimes inflammatory political issue.
3)       Like many erotica publications, this one said while they welcomed graphic sexuality, they drew the line (as most do) at “rape, pedophilia, and necrophilia.”  Reasonable so far, but then, “No knives in vaginas.”(!)  The fact that the publication put this in their guidelines is kind of disturbing, and weirdly specific.  Apparently they’ve received many stories with this occurrence.
4)       Another erotica publication specifies, “No excessive profanity, golden showers, scat, ….and felching.”  If you don’t know what the last one is, don’t google it at work, or while you’re eating.
5)       A sci-fi and horror magazine says “no porn or advert gore.”  Advert?  Did they mean “overt”?  “Advertising” gore?  Maybe it’s a typo, or if not it’s an expression I’m not familiar with.
6)       “Things that are shocking, dark, lewd, comic, or even insane are okay as long as the fiction is controlled and purposeful.”  So fiction by a crazy person is fine, as long as their stories are spelled and punctuated correctly, are grammatically correct, have a beginning, middle, and end, and the main character has an arc, etc.
7)      “Audience is anyone concerned with the moral fiber of our country,” and the magazine will publish anything of “Relevance to the growing psychic problem in America today.  Be honest and urgent.”  I submitted to these folks, and they were actually cool to deal with, but to this day I have no idea what those quoted guidelines mean.
8)      “Taboos include rape, except in prison, where it’s a reality.”  Rape isn’t realistic anywhere else?

                                                               Not Helpful

1)      “Well plotted, memorable characters.”  I know that all publications are looking for these things, but is this going to benefit anyone?  Doesn’t pretty much everyone think that stories are well plotted with interesting characters?
2)       “No boredom.”  Similar to the last one, or worse.  Maybe some will acknowledge that their plotting, say, is weak, but does any writer think that their story is boring?  Will this discourage anyone?
3)       “Send your best.”  In theory, again, I see why they say this, but how many authors can overcome their biases toward their own stories?
4)       “No stories that are not well written.”  Same as above.


1)      Stories with “Profound terror and sexual delirium.”  I find this strangely poetic.
2)      Stories which “hurt you, and hurt you to read.”  Again, I like the way this sounds.
3)      From a defunct (?) magazine, “Graffiti Off the Asylum Walls” (great name).  “Send us stuff you’re afraid to show your mother, priest, and shrink.”
4)      “Keep the blood and slime to a minimum.”  So in your stories featuring snails or “Slimer” from “Ghostbusters,” put these characters more in the background.
5)      The magazine wants stories with, “blood, sex and tentacles.”  Perfect for all your S&M octopus orgy tales!  Actually, this referred to the “Cthulhu” character that Lovecraft created, as the magazine was named, “Cthulhu Sex Magazine” (sadly closed now).  You didn’t have to have all three elements in every submission, though—the story of mine that they published just had necrophilia (between humans, not squid) as its main theme.

     To defend these publishers a little, I recognize that I have no experience putting out a magazine or book, and that they have to slog through thousands of submissions, of varying quality, with authors that are often rude, unprofessional, and possibly sociopathic.  I’m just saying that maybe in some cases they might have wanted to edit their guidelines a tad.  I’m sure any writer who read this can think of other examples of these types of things—I’d be interested in hearing them.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Chocolate with Chili

     I was wandering around a Publix supermarket for the first time recently, and came up with a new topic for an exotic/disgusting food.  (FYI, Publix is a very good market, based largely in the SE U.S.  Another place to get spotted dick, for example.  Wait, let me rephrase that—they have a good variety of food and drink items, including English foods with names begging to be double entendred.)  Anyway, in the candy aisle I beheld, next to the usual bars, chocolate chili—“dark chocolate infused with spicy red chili.”  I couldn’t resist this odd mix and bought it straight away.
     While doing my usual half-assed research on the particular food item I’m going to post about, I discovered this combination isn’t as weird as it may have initially looked.  Because the original developers of chocolate, the people of South and Central America, were used to a much different sort of chocolate than most modern folks are.  Throughout most of chocolate’s history (at lease 3,000 years), it was a bitter drink.  The Aztecs refined this further by adding spices, including chili pepper.  It was the Europeans who added sugar and milk to sweeten it, and later developed a way to form it into solid bars, like the candy most of us are familiar with.  So, the good people at Lindt & Sprungli were actually kicking it old school, so to speak, but offering up their chocolate chili combo.
     I gave it a taste, and was very favorably impressed.  I’m normally more of proponent of light, or milk chocolate rather than dark chocolate, but this was very good—the slight bitterness was not unpleasant at all.  And, just like the package said, the chili spice comes in at the end, giving it a cool but not overpowering “bite.”  So chalk up another victory for opposites complimenting and completing each other in a new, different way.  And normally I might be inclined to mock anyone who calls themselves a “Master Chocolatier,” but the quality of these Swiss folks’ product shut me right the hell up.  Rumor has it that this company (or another gourmet chocolate company) makes a chocolate-bacon baby, and I’m hoping to get a hold of that one, too.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Blog Schedule For Week of August 19th-25th.

     Since this is my release week ("Kaishaku" will be published on Friday, August 24th), I'll be doing more blog posts than usual, some on other folk's blogs.  Here is the schedule:
     Monday, August 20th:  Author interview at Jaime-Kristal Lott's Blog:
    Thursday, August 23rd: Character interview on Musa's blog:
   Friday, August 24th: Horror Author/Movie trivia on Clarissa Johal's blog:
   Saturday, August 25th: "Kaishaku" blurb/excerpt on Musa's blog again.  (same address as above.)

    In addition I'll be putting up another "Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum" post here on Monday or Tuesday, and a post on writer's guidelines on Thursday or Friday.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pig's Feet

     Given what hot dogs, sausage, scrapple, head cheese etc. are made from (i.e. pork and beef scraps/organs), it shouldn’t surprise anyone that people also eat pig’s feet.  In fact, of the exotic/disgusting foods I’ve written about, pig’s feet are by far the easiest to get—practically every supermarket I’ve been to stocks them, usually from the folks at Hormel.  So, sure, the idea may sound a little nasty, but enough people must be buying them to result in their near-universal availability.  The internet sites I looked at claimed they were more a staple in soul food, traditional U.S. Southern, and Korean cooking, but clearly pig’s feet have found enough fans across the country.  Also, since the recent financial crisis, they’ve evidently enjoyed a popularity boom in the U.K. as well.
     Pig’s feet can be prepared in several ways, but the way I had them was pickled in vinegar, prepackaged in a glass jar.  I won’t sugarcoat it—they looked pretty repulsive, bobbing about in their briny liquid.  Their preparation resulted in them being extremely tender—the meat fell apart easily from the bones.  The taste was okay.  Obviously it was vinegary, but basically it was similar to other pork cuts.  It wasn’t my favorite way to eat pork products, and I don’t think I’ll buy them regularly, but I would be willing to have them again.
     I must say, though, that the bones gave me a bit of a pause.  From my work as an archaeologist I’ve exhumed many graves, and I was shocked at how similar the toes of a pig are to the toes of a human.  Really, the resemblance was uncanny.  But I was able to push past this pseudo-cannibalistic tone and finish the pig’s feet.
     Also, as a marketing tip, I would advise sellers of this product to stay away from the alternative name, which is “trotters.”  At least in the NE U.S. (maybe the entire U.S.?  Other places too?), this is unfortunately close to the “trots,” which is a euphemism for a bout of diarrhea.  Granted, “pig’s feet” isn’t such an appetizing term either, but in comparison it’s much better.
     One final tidbit.  For those who love this type of pork, I would recommend the Hakata Tonton restaurant in NYC.  Of the 39 dishes they offer, 33 of them contain pig’s feet.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blog Hop Contest Results

     I'd like to announce the winner of the free copy of "Dead Reckoning"--it's Sharon Ledwith.  Congrats Sharon--I'll be in touch and we can transfer that copy over to you.  I'd also like to stay thanks to everyone who stopped by and participated in the "I Love Horror/Paranormal Novellas Blog Hop", both here and at the many other authors' blogs.  I know I found this blog hop to be very informative and entertaining, and I'm looking forward to the next one.  And thanks once more to Jolie Du Pre at Precious Monsters for organizing and hosting this blog hop.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Novellas and Blurb/Excerpt of "Dead Reckoning"

     Up until a couple of years ago, I hated novellas.  Not to read—I’ve enjoyed many that way, from most of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, to King’s The Mist and all four novellas in Different Seasons*, to John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There?, to Well’s The Time Machine, to Orwell’s Animal Farm, to name a few.  No, I hated them as an author.
     Whenever I passed the 6,000 word mark for a story, I mentally checked off a bunch of magazines whose maximum was that total, and when I passed 8,000 I removed still more, and when I went over 10,000 it was very distressing, since only a handful of magazines published things over this length.  If I kept going, say to 75,000, or 80,000 words or so I then relaxed again, as I was back in a happy zone.  Because then I could submit the story to book publishers as a novel.
     But what about those that were between 10,000 and about 75,000 (again, an average--some consider 50,000 or 60,000 a novel, others 80,000 or even 90,000)?  The ones that couldn’t be edited down to get below that short story maximum, but also couldn’t be padded to gain the novel minimum?  These were the nightmarish stories, existing in the unhappy medium—I would finish them, all the while cursing, knowing I was writing something of an unpublishable word count.
     Because yes, some publishers did (and still do) put out short story/novella collections, so theoretically a novella could be printed along with some other novella or short story “friends” in a single volume, but these were on the rare side.  Especially if you were like me, and didn’t have any book length works out—publishers did print short story collections on occasion, but very rarely from first time authors.  So a few of my stories went unpublished, or even looked at by any editors much.  All due to their inconvenient, awkward length (all together now, “That’s what she said!” or a similar dick length joke).
     But recently a wonderful thing happened—ebook publishing started, took hold, and began to flourish.  (You may be saying, “Hey, Old Timer, it’s been more than a couple of years—where have you been?”  To which I’d reply, “Shut up, punks!  It’s not nice to point out my lack of computer knowledge,” and then I’d fall asleep, Grandpa Simpson-style.)  Suddenly novellas were okay, viable sizes for publication.  Since it was digital, everything was cool.  The price could be lowered so people would buy shorter works, but the publishers could still turn a profit—good for everyone.
     Lo and behold, one of my novellas actually became my first book publication.  Now I can just write out a story as long as it will go, and not worry about how many words it is.  It’s very refreshing.
     Incidentally, some may have noticed that I referenced stories over 10,000 words, but, while estimates are vague, a common cut off minimum for a novella is about 17,500 words.  So what are the 10,000-17,500 word works considered?  (Like my second ebook, Kaishaku.)  Longish Short Stories?  Novellettes?  Just what we need—more ill-defined, kind-of-eye-of-the-beholder literary categories!  Actually, it doesn’t matter.  Ebook doesn’t care.  Ebook just knocks another $1 off the price, and everything is golden again.
     But in all seriousness, the current system is so much better.  Readers can enjoy medium sized stories for a reasonable price, and in a more convenient format, too.  Authors have more markets for prose of all lengths.  I have my Luddite tendencies, but even I have to admit that the Old Days (and I exaggerate—I’m in my early 40’s, so the Slightly Older Days) were definitely much worse.

*  A little personal trivia here, of interest probably only to my family (and maybe even that’s a stretch), but King’s Different Seasons story, The Breathing Method was the only story I ever read with a character sharing my last name—Sandra Stansfield,  one of the main characters.  The only other same-named character I know of was Gary Oldman’s evil DEA agent in the movie The Professional (French title is Leon: The Professional).

One final bit of self-promotion—the blurb and excerpt to my horror/suspense novella Dead Reckoning are below.  This is the ebook being offered as the prize to my contest for the blog hop.


      Kurt Minnifield is a fledging actor playing a zombie in a low budget horror movie.  The director and crew decide to move their shooting to lovely and isolated Watkins State Park… only they don’t get proper permission.
     Victor Newsome is a thirteen year old trying to both shed his nerdy image and learn outdoor skills at a special survival camp.  After teaching the boys how to make shelter and kill their own food, the counselors decide to take a day trip to the neighboring state park—Watkins.
     A series of ethical lapses, poor decisions, and bad luck lead to a colossal misunderstanding.  Violence erupts as both sides fight desperately against a dangerous set of foes.  Who will be more savage—the literal “monsters,” or the boys equipped with deadly weapons, and the knowledge of how to use them?


     Kurt struggled to catch up as the unknown actor continued to track the other zombies.  Now he saw that the other actors must have seen or heard the guy—they’d turned around and were advancing on him.  The guy wasn’t Chris, or Rickey, or Gene, either, this was definitely some new actor.  So what happens now?  No one had any special effects things on that he could see, so unless this man ran away the unscripted, natural shooting was over.
     The actor wasn’t fleeing.  He raised his gun and aimed it at the zombie in front, Will.  His hand shook for a second, and then he fired.
     The crack of the shot was loud, and Kurt nearly fell over in shock.  That was no blank!  That sounded real!  What the fuck?  And then he turned his head to look at Will.  Blood was running from a hole in his chest.  Kurt gasped.  Will had been the last zombie to be made up before Kurt—he was positive that T.J. hadn’t put any squibs on him.
     Will had stopped, and his zombie claws went to the wound, and he stared at the hole wonderingly.  The zombies nearest him—Tabby, Henry, and Ed, all dropped their arms down and were staring at Will too, and then back at the mystery man with astonished expressions on their faces.
     The guy hesitated, and then raised his gun a little, and fired again.  There was a second boom, and then Will’s eye broke up, followed almost immediately by the back of his head.  Blood, and pieces of whitish skull and grayish brains splattered out, onto the forest floor, and even slightly on Tabby’s arm.  Will fell on his side with a strange gurgling sound.
     Holy Shit! thought Kurt.  That was no squib either.  This was real!  This guy is psycho!  He watched as Tabby took off, into the bushes to the side of the clearing.  Henry and Ed crouched by Will’s body, and struggled to communicate with the alien assassin.  They waved their arms wildly, trying to signal “Stop” with their palms held up.  Their grunting was noticeably louder, but still inarticulate.  Kurt started to walk across the clearing to join the group.
     The armed man paused a moment more, and then aimed once again.  The two zombies tried to duck behind Will’s slumped corpse.  Two shots whined past, and then a third hit Henry in the shoulder.  Just then he whirled in Kurt’s direction and fired again, just as Kurt threw up his hands.  As soon as the gunman turned, Ed and Henry were in the bushes right behind Tabby.
     Fire rushed through Kurt’s left hand, just above the wrist.  He groaned as he saw blood, and tendons, and even bone through the hole in his mangled hand.  He dove to the ground, just as another bullet hit a tree right where his head had been.  And then he was gone, tearing through the bushes and trees almost without looking.
     The man trotted up to Will’s body, and kicked at it curiously.  He looked briefly at the spot where the hand-shot zombie had disappeared, and then he turned back and went after the first three zombies.
     It hadn’t been thirty seconds when the first fly landed on Will’s destroyed head, took off, and then landed again.  Soon a large crowd of them was jockeying for a prime position.

      (Precious Monsters I Love Horror/Paranormal Novella Blog Hop Code is below)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Underrated Horror Gems--"The Sentinel"

     This post is about both the novel and the movie based on it, both called The Sentinel.  The book was written by Jeffrey Konvitz, and published in 1974.  The movie was made in 1977 and directed by Michael Winner, but the screenplay was written by Konvitz again.  Probably because of this, the movie is one of the more faithful adaptations of a novel.  As in my earlier Underrated Horror Gems post (Sole Survivor), I’ll clearly mark the paragraph with spoilers in it at its beginning.
     To give a basic synopsis of The Sentinel, it concerns a young model named Alison Parker (played by Cristina Raines), who has a promising career, and a successful attorney boyfriend Michael (played by Chris Sarandon).  She decides to move, and finds an place which seems too good to be true—a huge apartment in a NYC brownstone for an absurdly low rental price.  Things quickly get weird and ominous—the building’s fellow tenants are strange, the owners of the apartment are not what they seem, and the police are hounding Michael, who they believe may have killed his late wife.  Alison also suffers physically—odd fainting spells, and weird events which she may or may not be imagining.  It all climaxes in a bizarre twist ending.
     Konvitz’s writing style is rather sparse, but it really works for this story.  No time is wasted as he lays out the story, and its steadily building menace.  Despite the weirdness of the plot and its characters, it all seems reasonable and believable.  There are plenty of good scares, along with the overall feeling of paranoia.
     The movie is also very well done.  The cast is unusually high caliber—with lots of recognizable names for a small horror movie, with Sarandon, Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Jerry Orbach, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Beverly D’Angelo, and John Carradine.  I guess some of these stars were in it because they were older, and weren’t getting many offers by that point, and some of the younger names were clearly starting their careers, and only became famous later.  Really, the main character’s portrayer, Christina Raines, was about the only younger actor who didn’t go on to a big successful career.
     (SPOILER ALERT—DON’T READ FURTHER UNLESS YOU WANT PLOT POINTS RUINED)  I’m a sucker for Devil/evil themed horror, so this book and movie were right up my alley.  The story is surprisingly nasty, too—Alison’s “good” boyfriend turns out to be exactly the killer he’s accused of; her father cheats on her mother with skanky women and then attacks Alison when she catches him; the church is using Alison as its puppet, forcing her to abandon her life and serve a role she doesn’t want; the Devil and associated damned souls try to manipulate Alison (who’s attempted suicide twice before) to finally succeed at killing herself.  The movie makers took some heat with their choice of some of their actors—the final scenes with the damned souls evidently were filmed using some actual deformed people, in the vein of Tod Browning’s infamous 1930’s movie Freaks.  I also particularly liked the scene where Alison forces the real estate agent (Gardner) to tour the building with her after she’s lived there for a while, and she sees nothing but empty, dusty rooms in apartments which housed bizarre folks the day before, kind of a Fight Club style it’s-all-in-her-head moment.  In the movie, Burgess Meredith, who I was used to as a good guy from roles like Rocky’s gruff but lovable manager, or as a friendly landlord in Foul Play, is very effective as an initially boring and lonely-seeming old man named Charles Chazen, who turns out to be The Prince of Darkness.
     (END OF SPOILERS—SAFE FOR EVERYONE)  Jeffrey Konvitz has had an odd career.  He went from writing horror novels in the 1970’s and early 80’s (including a disappointing sequel to The Sentinel and a novel about the Loch Ness Monster), to mainly producing movies after that, up into the 21st century.  I haven’t seen any of his movies aside from The Sentinel, but the critical consensus is not very promising.  They range from action sequels like Cyborg 2 (1993) and Bloodsport 2 (1996) to cheap Airplane-style spoof movies like Spy Hard (1996) and 2001: A Space Travesty (2000).
     I’m not sure why The Sentinel never got its due.  Both the book and movie came out at a time when horror was doing big business.  It may not be The Exorcist or The Omen, but it’s still very good.  As I said, to be fair to Mr. Konvitz I would have to read his other books, and see his other movies before I could be confident of this opinion, but it sure seems like he was a literary and cinematic one-hit wonder.  But that one hit was something exceptional.

     And now for the gratuitous self-promotion—my second ebook, Kaishaku is due out shortly, on August 24th, 2012, also from Musa Publishing.  A blurb and excerpt are below.


     After receiving a DUI, Dustin Dempster is working off some community service hours at a hospital.  While there he’s asked to do some amateur counseling of sometimes difficult patients.  He thinks this a waste of time, but he reluctantly agrees.
     One of these difficult patients is Levon Howard, a man paralyzed from the neck down because of a car accident.  He’s initially uncooperative, but after being charmed by Dustin’s brutal honesty and willingness to break some small hospital rules, he agrees to participate.  Soon he’s revealing his biggest secrets to Dustin…
     For Levon is an obsessed and unrepentant killer of the worst sort, only with a personal quirk.  Despite his revulsion, Dustin finds himself intrigued by Levon’s story.  Soon he finds himself doing what was once unthinkable, and realizes that he’s being affected by what he’s learned.  Will Howard’s madness claim yet another victim, or even another perpetuator?


     Dustin pulled up his chair, and listened intently.
     “For starters, my name is Levon, so call me that.  Not big on ‘Mr. Howard.’  Fort is right in a way—I do want to talk.  Just not to someone like him, or his flunkies, or a nurse.  What I’m going to tell you I’ve never told anyone—but I figure, why not?  My life—my real life—is over.
     “You never told anyone?  Why not?”
     “Shut up and listen!  You’ll see.  But anyway, the most important thing in my life is that I’m obsessed with killing.  With a catch—I’m not a murderer.  I’ve never been arrested, never went to jail, and never even broke the law.”
     Levon paused to catch his breath, and Dustin just stared at him, and resisted the urge to laugh.  Come on!  This guy’s gotta be fucking with me!  Or was he?  He looked pretty sincere—could he be serious?  Maybe he would have been better off not talking to him.  But, on the other hand, Levon could hardly attack him even if he wanted to, and besides, Dustin was a little curious.  So he waited for the paralyzed man to resume.

(Precious Monster’s I Love Horror/Paranormal Novella Blog Hop Code is posted below)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Two Terrifying Shots

     Today I thought I’d break things up a bit by posting about drinks, specifically a couple with horror-related aspects.  Right off the bat I thought of the Bloody Brain.  This is a shooter which looks awesomely disgusting AND actually still tastes good.  When done right it’s pretty amazing—it really does look like someone, say, decapitated a small animal like a squirrel, ripped out its brain, and dumped it into a glass.
     I’ve only had a Bloody Brain in bars, prepared by professional bartenders, so I had to look up how to make it.  And here was an issue—there’s no clear consensus on its ingredients and then how to make it.  Therefore, I’ll pass along what I discovered, and I encourage interested parties to experiment and see which one works best.
     Ingredients: 1) Three-quarters to one and a half ounces of a sweet liquor, either
                              strawberry vodka, strawberry schnapps, or peach schnapps.
                         2) One half to three quarters of an ounce of Bailey’s Irish Cream.
                         3)  A “splash” to a tablespoon of grenadine.
                         4) (In one version) One eighth of an ounce of Rose’s Lime Juice.
     Directions: 1) Put vodka/schnapps and lime juice in shaker, and shake thoroughly,
                             and pour into a glass.  Very slowly drip drops of Bailey’s into glass
                             using a straw, until curdled “brain” forms.  Add grenadine to glass to
                             form “blood.”
                         2) Shake schapps and grenadine in shaker with ice, and pour into a glass. 
                             Add Bailey’s slowly, over a spoon, in middle of glass until “brain”
     Sorry I couldn’t be more specific, but when it’s done competently the result is pleasing to both the morbid eye and the palate.  Also, you could always be lazy and just order it in a bar, like I did.

     My second drink, the Cement Mixer, is horrifying because it’s a cruel prank.  I doubt anyone really likes this—it’s a trick to play on novice drinkers.  Whether you take this information to avoid an unpleasant experience, or use it to mess with naïve friends and acquaintances is up to you.
     Ingredients:  1) One part Bailey’s Irish Cream
                          2) One part lime or lemon juice.
     Directions:  Have victim, er, drinker, take shot of Bailey’s but have them keep it in
                         their mouth.  Next have them add the lime or lemon juice, and then shake
                         their head vigorously from side to side, “mixing the cement.”  The citrus
                         juice will cause the Bailey’s to curdle into a disgusting, solid paste, which
                         will stick to the person’s teeth, and is difficult to swallow.  Be warned,
                         depending on the sensitivity of the drinker, the results will range from
                         simple revulsion to an upset stomach to vomiting to diarrhea.

Finally, in doing the “scholarly research” for this post, I realized that drink-wise I’ve led a fairly sheltered life.  A site called BarMeister listed hundreds of unfamiliar adult/disturbing/funny named drink types, some verging on the truly tasteless and prejudiced.  A few which caught my eye and/or amused me were “Sex With a Coma Patient,” “Anal Rape,” and (my favorite) “Blue Eyed Canadian Whore With a Touch of Gold.”  Requesting that last one must be a little difficult when you’ve had a few.
     So there you have it—enjoy.  Or in the case of the Cement Mixer, don’t.
(Precious Monster’s  I LoveHorror/Paranormal Novella Blog Hop Code posted below)                              

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Horror Movie and Book Trivia

1)      H.P. Lovecraft was a voluminous correspondent, churning out 87,500 letters to friends, according to one estimate.  He also was in the habit of predating them by 200 years.  Additionally, he and author protégé Robert Bloch “killed” each other in stories.  Bloch offed a thinly veiled version of Lovecraft in his 1935 story “Shambler From the Stars” (with H.P.’s written permission).  Lovecraft returned the favor by slaughtering “Robert Blake” in his 1936 story “The Haunter of the Dark.”
2)      It’s not uncommon for authors to have pen names, but Dean Koontz took this practice to an extreme.  He used at least 11 pen names—David Axton, Leonard Chris, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, K.R. Dwyer, John Hill, Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, and Aaron Wolfe.  Many of these books were eventually republished under his real name.
3)      In the original screenplay for George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead, Peter (Ken Foree) actually does shoot himself at the end, and Frannie (Gaylen Ross) also commits suicide by sticking her head in the whirling helicopter blades.  A dummy head for Frannie was prepared, but apparently the scenes were never shot.
4)      The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z author Max Brooks is actually the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft.
5)      The theme song to the army of rats movie Ben (sequel to Willard) was performed within the film by Lee Montgomery and over the end credits by Michael Jackson.  Jackson’s version was a #1 pop hit single, and won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, and was nominated for an Oscar (it lost to a song from The Poseidon Adventure).
6)      In the early days of Hollywood, it was common for studios to shoot separate foreign language version of movies at the same time, reusing the same costumes, sets, etc.  The Spanish version of 1931’s Dracula is one of the few to survive.  Many critics contend that it was arguably better than Tod Browning’s English version.  The Spanish version crew had the advantage of shooting after the English version, at night, and after viewing the English version’s dailies.  As such they were able to correct mistakes and use better camera angles, lighting, etc.  The Spanish version was directed by George Melford, and starred Carlos Villiarias.
7)      Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been filmed 123 times to date.
8)      The narrator for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was John Larroquette, of TV’s  “Night Court" and “The John Larroquette Show” fame.
9)      An American Werewolf in London is one of the very few movies to use a real     telephone number (516-472-3402) and not a “555” one when David (David Naughton) calls his parents in Long Island, NY.
10)  Stephen King revealed in his nonfiction book On Writing that due to his heavy drinking at the time, he basically doesn’t remember writing 1981’s Cujo.

(Precious Monsters I Love Horror/Paranormal Novella Blog Hop Code posted below)