On writing: “You want some?”

armydk34

How do I become a writer?

Any tips for being a good writter?

Anybody else suffer from writer’s block?

I see posts like this fairly often (including the spelling mistakes). In my experience, when I mention to people that I write they usually perk up with a little bit of interest. Let’s face it, there’s a reason so many of us want to “write the great American novel”, and I think it’s because so many of us have stories to tell. Take George Costanza’s famous “nothing pitch” to NBC executives from Seinfeld:

What did you do today?

I got up and came to work.

There’s a show! That’s a show.

costanza

We all have ideas. We have thoughts, dreams, experiences…all sorts of rich material that could resonate, entertain and/or challenge readers in the form of the written word. Now, some may have more natural talent than others just as some people may be better at painting or baseball than others. The key to writing, as I’ve found, is to do it. Start. Do it for yourself. Do it for the right reasons.

No, your writing won’t appeal to everyone. No, you won’t receive all glowing reviews. No, you won’t necessarily become a bestseller and quit your day job. If those are your goals be prepared to fall short immediately and profoundly.

Yes, you have the freedom to write about whatever you want. Yes, you will learn by trial and error. Yes, you will get better with practice. If those are your goals be prepared to learn a great deal about yourself, the craft of storytelling, and whether writing is right for you.

nrbill

I always sort of wanted to write, but wasn’t sure where to start. I wrote when I was a kid and enjoyed it. I submitted some early nonfiction work during college which usually was met with silence, but occasionally a polite “thanks, I think there is some potential here, but we’re looking for something else.” Eventually I came across an open invitation to write about haunted places and ghosts.  I wasn’t a writer, but I had an interest and good deal of knowledge on the subject, and thought it was worth it to send in a proposal. I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it. I took a chance and wrote an outline, a sample chapter, photos, and an initial marketing plan.

It worked.

A couple of months later – out of the blue – I received my new author kit including a contract, target word count, and deadline of roughly a year to bring my first book to life. That was it.

Crap.

Now what?! I had to commit to building on those early ideas. Refine the concept. Dig deeper, plan, and execute something that was literally all in my head. The thoughts and ideas ran around in my mind at all hours. I wrote ideas on scraps of paper, emailed myself links, and read voraciously. I edited. I added. I cut. I added back. I tweaked. I read the manuscript out loud to myself to adjust wording and pacing. I wondered. I doubted. I stayed up late. I got up early. I learned that I accomplished more actual writing (at least for that book) between 10am and 1pm on weekends. I annoyed my wife by sharing my ramblings over dinner, in the car, and laying awake at night.

Now, fast-forward nearly a decade. I’ve had two nonfiction books published and I’ve self-published several short fiction stories digitally. Life changed a lot during that time. My interests evolved. My free time diminished. I became a dad. My career continued along. I got older.

Let’s bring this full-circle. I didn’t go to college to become a writer. I went to become a graphic designer, then an anthropologist who ultimately landed in the world of digital marketing. The point is that my goal was to write. Period. My goal was to get ideas and stories out of my head. Some people smirk when I tell them I’ve written about ghosts and UFOs, and that’s OK. They’d really be surprised at the direction of some of my short stories! Those same people also usually think the mere fact I’ve done it is great in and of itself. It is. It’s something that I enjoy, and it’s cathartic, exciting, challenging, rewarding all-in-one.

I’ve sat at book signings where I sold-out all my copies on-hand. I’ve sat at book signings where the only person I spoke to was the store manager when I set up and again when I left. I’ve had people thank me for writing about things in a way that made them feel better about their own unusual experiences. I’ve had people tell me they weren’t interested in my book, covertly read a few chapters around the corner, then come back and buy it from me. I had a no-nonsense elderly lady tell me that she doesn’t believe in ghosts, under no circumstances, stop back by ten minutes later and tell me at length about that one time as a child she saw her dead grandfather’s ghost playing cards alone at the kitchen table in the wee hours of the morning decades ago. She’s not sure about that to this day, but she still won’t say she believes in ghosts.

I’ve received some really nice comments and reviews on some of my work. I’ve seen stories I really put a lot of effort into seemingly go unnoticed for years. I’ve read bad reviews that made me question humanity. I still write. I still do it for myself and, hopefully, others’ enjoyment.

I did it, and so can you.

you did it

 

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A peek behind the curtain

Exciting news! The latest installment of my short fiction series ‘Sky Horns Growling‘ has released,  and I’m really happy with the results. “In This Twilight” is a very different animal than either entry before it; and I wanted to take a little time to share some of the influences and thinking that went into it.

The concept for ITT started to come together while I was wrapping-up “We Are Alive Tonight” and I was plotting what was to follow about 12-16 months ago! The first chapter was also inspired by a dream, similarly to the first installment, but albeit a very strange one all on it’s own! The more I thought about where the series was going, the more I really wanted to underscore that the dream elements and strange coincidences readers had seen so far weren’t for nothing. There were very deliberate reasons for how things were described, what the characters were experiencing, and how that all would fit into the broader framework of the overall story.

CV

The first chapter being starting point, I had a blast just swinging for the fences to make it tonally completely unique in the series. That chapter alone was influenced by Castlevania, C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, The Monster Squad, a very obscure real-life UFO close encounter, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and even Transformers, among othersIt’s a rich gothic setting with crazy characters on a grand scale, and it’s a key piece to the puzzle regarding who really is the central figure of the series and where things are going. In keeping with the previous installment, this one was also inspired by music along the way. Nine Inch Nails‘ Trent Reznor and tracks from the album Year Zero, specifically “In This Twilight” and “The Great Destroyer“, really helped get my creative juices flowing. Even years later that album retains a raw, unfinished energy and soundscape that tonally fit this part of the series. The lyrics of those two songs in particular complement some of the themes you’ll find being explored.

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Candidly, that first chapter was a tough one to get just right. From there, I had very specific moments that I felt needed to fall into place next. Readers of the first two entries deserved to start getting some answers, and see characters and events come together that pays-off in a satisfying way. This, was what scared me.

I had the outlined notes for this whole installment scribbled down for months, but the thought of bringing it to life was daunting. It’s really easy to throw a lot of weird stuff at the wall, see what sticks, and then never explain it. I’ve done that intentionally in some other short stories for effect, especially for more horror-themed tales. That’s a tried-and-true approach that leaves it all up to the readers’ imaginations, but here I was going for being able to make my cake and eat it, too.

The “Sky Horns Growling” series is all about taking readers on a wild ride, with each chapter and book seemingly pivoting and challenging their expectations about what comes next while keeping them entertained in the moment. When it comes time to deliver on some of those promises, though, I knew what worked for the story but was challenged with how to execute that in a way that wasn’t just a bunch of exposition. To keep that immediacy and sense of mystery it meant that I needed the revelations that come to feel earned, and explained in a way that made sense for the characters in the moment. Of all things, The Wizard of Oz seemed to literally reach out to me in my darkest hour and inspire not only a new character, but a means to how to start pulling this huge story and growing cast together.

Oz

In the end, there are definitely plenty of unanswered questions, but hopefully also a greater sense for the scale of the story and a promise of even bigger things to come. I really hope you check it out, and I sincerely believe there’s a lot to like waiting for you.

Until next time!

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Scariest video games

The Halloween season is in full swing, and it got me thinking about some of the scariest video games I ever played. Now, scary means different things to different people; some can’t handle jump-scares and others squirm at excessive gore. This list is in no particular order, and while there are certainly other games out there that are horror-themed, these are the ones that stayed with me long after playing them.

Many have a dark, horrific setting that provide an unforgettable atmosphere. Some are infamous for their unforgiving difficulty. Several are brutally violent. Most raised my heart rate during especially intense areas. All are well-worth a play through even today.

Enjoy!

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Castlevania Season One Reactions

“Better late than never” is the expression that comes to mind when thinking about the recently released Netflix Original Series ‘Castlevania’. I’ve been a Castlevania fan since I was a kid, all the way back to when Castlevania was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986. Since then, it’s been a love/hate relationship with the franchise; I love Super Castlevania IV and I hate Konami for not giving me even more Castlevania in recent years.

I remember Warren Ellis posting about his involvement producing an animated feature aimed at the adult audience years ago and visited the production blog an obnoxious number of times until the project seemingly fell into the desolate pit of The Forgotten One. Yet, sure as Dracula rises from the grave every 100 years, the concept was awakened and here we are.

It’s a short first season, and while it wasn’t note-perfect the successful critical and fan reception already has paved the way for season two. That’s way better than we’re getting from Konami, and even though that is about a year away it’s at least something to look forward to for the die-hard CV community. Unlike, say, this:

***Mild spoilers ahead***

So what worked well? Well, for starters the world is firmly established as a horrific place. A violent, violent, violent land. We’re talking women-and-children-on-the-menu violent. It’s downtrodden, dirty, full of terrible people, awful circumstances, and unholy evil personified by Dracula. The teleportation and soul-searing visage sequences should put a smile on your face, and a brutal-yet-poignant backstory to his motivation alluded to in Symphony of the Night hit the right notes. Trevor is also well fleshed-out as a shunned and despised member of the Belmont clan touched upon in the opening scroll to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse.

While we’re on the character front; Sypha is present and accounted for, but it’s Alucard’s reveal that will have audiences sitting forward in their seats. His design and brief but really cool appearance at the end of episode four gives me hope for even more vampiric-awesomeness to come.

Now on to what didn’t work, or at least what might have been missing. The score in particular was a more serious, straightforward affair and far from the guitar-infused riffs that players may be expecting. It isn’t out of place here, but it also doesn’t really stand out. That’s a bit of a missed opportunity others have already noted, but it’s worth mentioning again because so much of the atmosphere for the series stems from the amazing music Michiru Yamane and others delighted us with all these years. Another miss for me was a lack in diversity of creatures. There’s likely to be an expansion of familiar ghoulish monsters yet to come in subsequent seasons, but for season one there seemed to be a decided lack of skeletons tossing rib bones and floating medusa heads. There are creatures to be sure, but nothing truly memorable, and one that looks as though it was plucked from Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate, strangely.

cv

All said, though, it’s great to see life breathed into this otherwise declining franchise. Sure, it isn’t in the form of a new game, but the animated series should drive new fans to discover the dozens of gems across multiple platforms as a result. I really hope that the overwhelmingly positive response so far has some long-term benefits. It would be great to see what is in store for the next season and beyond. If there’s anything fans know, it’s that the series has a plethora of timelines, characters and scenarios to mine which could lead to whole seasons devoted to some of our favorite iterations of Dracula and his crazy castle. Renewed interest could also spark a revival of the actual games, too, so here’s hoping a dev team and publisher comes along to treat and not trick fans with new installments (I’m looking at you, LOS2 & Judgment).

So, in closing, thank you to the Netflix CV team for digging-up such an amazing universe and bringing it to fresh mortal eyes! What a horrible night to have a curse, indeed!

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I assure you we’re open

clerksIt’s been a good long while since I provided an update on the things I’m kicking around, and I can assure you I’ve been staying busy! I’m a little less than halfway through my latest short story; the follow-up to We Are Alive Tonight which is the sequel to Sky Horns Growling. I’ve honestly had most of the idea for this next installment in mind since late last year, and the first chapter is truly epic in scale. That was the hard part about this latest story, the daunting first chapter. I knew I would be trying to craft a new setting that would completely divert from where we left off while setting-up the promise of the rules for what this weird world is capable of and ultimately where it may be going. The scope, tone, and setting is unlike anything I’ve ever attempted. As a result, the amount of revisions and editing to get things where I wanted has been a real labor of love.

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Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the events of SHG and WAAT were carefully laid out. The big reveal is set to drop in this latest arc and it will turn what readers think is happening completely upside down. There are scenes and characters I’ve been refining over months, years even, that could very well garner their own standalone tales. When writing these new characters and places into a short story with limited space it has been even more important to me to ensure they are each given a proper bow to elevate the stakes and hopefully set them up to flourish again down the line.

The title, first two chapters, full outline for the remaining chapters, and cover art design are ready and waiting to be wrapped-up and polished for your reading enjoyment. One spoiler alert – if you read my other short stories in order there is a bit of a treat in that certain characters and events there make significant comebacks in the Sky Horns Growling series, so be sure to catch up on those first and get a taste for even bigger, bolder, and more enjoyable stories to come! Here’s the recommended reading order:

  1. I Do Believe In Spooks
  2. Fog. Fire. Whisky. Ghost. Gun.
  3. Domataphobia
  4. Sky Horns Growling
  5. We Are Alive Tonight

That’ll do!

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A man, his dog, and a UFO

ufonr

Here’s a little sketch of a man and his dog pondering the infinite on the southern plains as a UFO passes by. I’m working on a presentation for an upcoming DFW MUFON meeting, and thanks to that I have flying saucers on the brain. After that wraps-up it’s back to work on my new short story!

Fish heads, fish heads, dooby-dooby-doop-doop!

earthcap

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Whistle while you work

When kicking around ideas for new stories music really helps get my creative juices flowing. I like instrumental and songs, as each can evoke tones and imagery that feel immediate. Ideas are sometimes very much in the early stages with only scribbled notes jotted-down hastily on whatever paper is nearby, and listening to something (especially while driving for some reason) helps my mind wander around the edges of those ideas. I’m able to refine scenarios in my head and explore really random things. While they may not ultimately make the page, it helps me with story beats and characterizations.

steamboat

For my upcoming short, the next in a continuing series following Sky Horns Growling and We Are Alive Tonight, the basic structure is there but the tone and direction will go into even more unusual, darker places than before. That said, I think it will turn out to be one of the most fun and twisting, turning, genre-blending stories I’ve dreamed-up yet. It’s hard to explain a creative process that feels so intangible at times, but I tend to “see” these stories as larger brush strokes of vivid colors. The image starts out a bit hazy at first, but over time and with subsequent research and revision the picture gets clearer. Each story runs to a unique beat, and I find that after a while it feels more like I’m describing real events happening somewhere rather than making things up as I go. Especially with this series, every paragraph is about world-building. It moves at a fast clip, and each revelation should have serious implications for both the readers and the characters.

cv

Here are a few songs haunting my playlist recently that give a sense for the flavor of things to come.  Enjoy!

Now, back to that old drawing board…

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