Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Power of a Good Title

I have a confession to make. I love book titles. Sure, cover art is cool, but that often changes with new editions, etc. Titles, though, are there to stay. They have a secret sort of power. When I wander through a bookstore with no specific book in mind, I'm drawn to titles more often than cover art. I can think of several I picked up and subsequently bought because of the title alone, including one of my favorite books, I Who Have Never Known Men by J. Harpman.

Most of the time, my stories name themselves somewhere during the writing of said stories. I have had a few that refused to give up a name even after the edits were done, and so I sat pecking away at the keyboard, coming up with titles (some perfectly serviceable, others completely ridiculous) until the real one emerged. I blame my muse; I think she likes to mess with me sometimes.

Now there is always a chance that if (And yes, I say if, not when. I'm a realist, okay?) Ink sells, a publisher may decide to change the name and you know what? I'm okay with that. The titles just come out, but I'm not married to them. If someone said it's a nice enough title, but this title is better, more marketable, or what have you, unless the suggested title was something like A Dreary Book of Dreadful Words*, I'd be perfectly fine with the change.

Don't get me wrong. I like the title Ink. It's simplistic, but has a double meaning within the context of the tale. The book did have another title for a brief period of time, though. The story named itself, then I thought it might be too simple so I changed it to something else, but went back to Ink because the muse said the other title wasn't the right one.

Anyway, enough about my story. Some other books I've picked up from the shelves because of their titles are Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, About a Boy by Nick Hornby, The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, and The Alienist by Caleb Carr. No one had recommended the books to me, and I read PM and AAB long before their respective movies were released. Now in all honesty, I might have bought them with different titles anyway because once I opened to the first few pages, the stories pulled me in, but the titles drew me in initially. Like I said before, they have a unique sort of power. At least for me.

Thank goodness Stephen King didn't name the Saint Bernard Big Dog or Fluffy Butt. Then again, being attacked by a rabid dog with the name of Fluffy Butt is kind of funny, but I'm not sure if it would have made an effective title or not. ;)

*On second thought, that title is kind of cool. I might have to tuck it away for later use.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Friends and Good News

In the past few weeks, two writer friends have been offered representation by literary agents. This is so exciting. I love, love, love when good things happen to good people. Please go and visit Mercedes Murdock Yardley's blog and congratulate her. Go on now. I'll be here when you're done.

Ah, you're back? Okay. The other friend has not made the formal announcement yet, so you can't congratulate her publicly right now, but I had the privilege of doing a quick and dirty post-revision beta read of her book and it is wicked cool.

And I have a little bit of personal good news, too. My story, Like Origami in Water, took first place in Shock Totem's July Flash Fiction Contest. I was both shocked and thrilled to win; the competition was fierce, and after reading the entries, I didn't think my story had a chance. I'm happy I was wrong.

Since my story won, I can't post it here, sorry. I have a soft spot in my heart for this tale, which feels strange to say, to be honest, but I do like some of my stories better than others. Please don't tell them, okay? I don't want to hurt their feelings.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Night Owls and Morning People

I've always been a night owl. Even when I had a full-time day job, it was a struggle for me to get to bed before midnight and waking up when the alarm clock started buzzing? Ugh...don't get me started. Pure torture.

Now I don't have to wake up early, so I don't. I typically sleep until anywhere between 10:30 a.m. and noon. But, before you say wow, you self-indulgent, lazy, sleep-addicted whatever, keep in mind that I don't go to bed until around 4:00 a.m. And I work my non-writing job on the weekend, at night.

I do my best, and fastest, writing between the hours of midnight and whenever I go to bed. If I'm on a roll, bedtime usually happens after 5:00 a.m., and there have been quite a few occasions where 6:00 a.m. rolled around and I was still furiously typing away.

No matter when I wake up, I'm not properly awake until my third cup of coffee. My husband knows its best to wait until I'm fully caffeinated to try and engage me in conversation because I'm just not sociable until then. Really. I'm not. (But we'll save my coffee addiction for another post, okay?)

I've never understood people who are happy and chipper in the morning. The sun is up, where's the joy in that? ;) Give me the moonlight and darkness any day. I mean, night.

And yes, I realize the irony of this post considering it's 9:30 a.m.. But I have a valid reason for being awake right now. Just don't ask me what it is. I'm only on my second cup of coffee.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Words That Always Look Wrong

Everyone has them - words that just don't look right after you type (or write) them, even though you know they are spelled correctly. Here are some of my right-wrong words:


I put a shout-out on Twitter and here are some words that stymie other writers (Special thanks to Stacey I. Graham, Corinne Duyvis, and Grace Wen for tossing these words my way):


Tell me, what words give you pause, even when you know they're right? And yes, I know this is sort of a silly post, but it is what it is.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Zombie Flash Fiction

I wrote this story for Midnight Corey's Zombie Flash Fiction contest. Alas, it didn't win. Despite writing about the dark and creepy, this was my first foray into zombie territory. Is it any good? I don't know, but it was fun to write.

Guts and Then Some
By Damien Walters Grintalis

Tom lifted his rifle and took out the skinny one with the straggly beard first. Boom. Splat. The head exploded into a rainbow of pink and grey and white and red. The others didn’t flinch, didn’t move away, just kept stumbling around with their shuffling steps. The skinny one staggered forward two steps before he collapsed, legs still twitching. Tom shot a fat guy missing an arm next and grinned as the body tumbled to the ground.

Even from his position, high up in the trees, Tom couldn’t escape the stink of rotting flesh--the ripe roadkill smell creeping out from their skin. Creeping into everything. The bandana tied over his mouth couldn’t hold it out. The taste stuck in the back of his throat, a thick, slimy mouthful of blood and bone and offal.

An old woman wearing a bloodstained nightgown stepped into Tom’s line of sight and boom. Gone, baby, gone.

The last he’d heard, the government was still spouting off about containment camps for the walking dead. A bunch of useless political whitewashing. The situation had spiraled out of control. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that a bullet to the head remained the only solution. Why the hell the armed forces weren’t out doing the same thing, Tom didn’t know.

A car raced down the street, all stinking exhaust and shrieking tires. It spun around, knocking a bunch of the dead around like bowling pins. Then the gas tank gave up its last bit of fuel, and the engine sputtered out. The dead got back up, of course, (mangled limbs didn’t stop them one bit) and shuffled closer to the car. Tom took them out one by one. He shook his head when the car doors opened and two men hit the ground running, their legs moving in a crazy burst of panic.

It didn’t take long for the dead to take them down and shred their guts to ribbons. Tom couldn’t get to them all in time. Screams ripped through the air while the dead gibbered and moaned, flinging ropes of intestines around like streamers in a macabre parade. Tom aimed and fired over and over again, his ears ringing from the shots.

Brains? Bullshit. The dead liked the soft parts best.

Until the government pulled its head out of its ass and took real action, Tom would stay in the trees and take out as many of the walking dead as he could. When he ran out of ammo for the rifle, or when they finally figured out his position, he had one bullet tucked away for himself in his Glock. He hoped it wouldn’t come to that point, but he wouldn’t let them eat him to death. No fucking way.

Two of the dead fought over a leg ripped from its socket, the bone a shocking shade of white underneath the blood. Tom lifted his rifle, aimed, and fired.

Another one down. A million or so to go.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Paper Villains

There is nothing quite like a good villain. Hmmm...strike the word good. How about memorable? Yes, that will do quite nicely. Some of the most memorable characters in literature are villains. Sure, we all want the hero to triumph in the end, good over evil, etc., but...

Anyway, in no particular order at all, here are some of my favorite, memorable paper villains:

Coleman Collins from Peter Straub's Shadowland - When Del and Tom step off the train and Coleman Collins says, "So the birds have come home," you just know that things are going to spiral down from there.

Hannibal Lecter
from Thomas Harris' Silence of the Lambs - When he asks Clarice Starling how Will Graham's face looks, I get chills. (Of course, if you haven't read Red Dragon, you might not understand the reference.)

Francis Dolarhyde
from Thomas Harris' Red Dragon - The scene with the reporter, Freddy Lounds, in Dolarhyde's house is chilling. The last line of that chapter punches you in the stomach.

Greg Stillson from Stephen King's The Dead Zone - When we first meet Mr. Stillson, he's selling bibles door to door, but it doesn't take long to realize this man is not right. In fact, he is very, very wrong. (P.S. The dog isn't real, okay? Remember that.)

Quentin P----- from Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie - Technically he's the main character, but he's also the bad guy. Quentin's rationale gets me every time I read the book. He is so matter of fact that I find myself accepting his reasoning without question, then I take a step back and think to myself, "What the hell are you thinking?".

I could go on, but I'll leave this list on the short side. Tell me, who are your favorites?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Writing in the Dark: One Woman's Perspective

Thanks to a friend on Facebook, I came across this article in the NY Times Shelley's Daughters. You'll need to sign up to read the article, but it doesn't cost anything. This article has me thinking, though. Is it really a big deal that women write horror, too?

And yes, I am a woman and a writer of the dark and creepy, but shouldn't my words be what matter and not my gender? Does my gender somehow make my words more interesting? Or somehow less? I can tell you that being a woman does not make me any less likely to do terrible things to my characters or to really ramp up the creepy atmosphere. Nor does it make me shy away from gore when it's needful.

Wearing heels and makeup as opposed to tank tops and yoga pants doesn't make me any more or less of a woman, so why should my gender make me any different than any other writer of dark fiction?

I've read a lot of dark fiction, novels and short stories, from both male and female writers (from outright gore-fests to sleek literary tales) and honestly, I don't see a difference in storytelling that could be pinned to gender. Every writer has their own voice and style.

I am happy that the writers in the article are receiving recognition, and I do believe the true intention of said article is to point out several female writers in what has been a male-dominated arena for quite some time. I agree that all the works mentioned in the article are wonderful, but they are wonderful stories told by gifted writers, not wonderful because the authors are women.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Dash of Random

Breaking out of the mold today to post some random stuff. Why? Because I can.

First, I'm bringing you this article: Lymphoma Vaccine in Stage III Clinical Trials. Wow. This is seriously awesome. (Oh yes, awesome enough for me to use an adverb.) But the article does leave me in a moral quandary. I am against animal testing. But I've seen what cancer and its treatment can do, my husband is a cancer survivor, so I'm not going to use this post to debate animal testing. I just thought I'd offer up the article for anyone who is interested.

Next up, you should check out this link and see who my agent has been hanging out with. So very cool!Gwyneth Paltrow in the Hamptons. You hear all the time about celebrities and their colorful personalities, but Mark said Gwyneth Paltrow was very nice.

And because pit bulls don't get enough good press, here: Pit Bull Saves Family From Fire. It's funny, whenever we have our pit bull out and about, older folks always stop and say hello and pat him on the head. They remember when pit bulls were America's favorite dog (If you don't believe me, do a Google search. Hellen Keller had pits. So did a few American Presidents.). Younger people are leary or even afraid, but really, people, it's not the dogs who are bad, but the owners. And that goes for any breed.

So there you have it. My random offerings for the day.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Non-Creepy Movie Music

And now for some of my favorite non-creepy movie music. I bought the soundtracks to all of these movies because I loved the music so much, and honestly, I can't imagine the movies without these pieces.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Creepy Movie Music

Once upon a time, my kids were watching a scary movie. I can't remember which one it was, but it was something fairly silly. They were freaking out while they watched one scene in particular, and I told them the music made it scarier. They didn't believe me. I hit the mute button and lo and behold, they peeked out from behind their pillows and started laughing. Ah, the power of music.

There are some pieces of music that are so inherently creepy, I can't help but get goosebumps when I hear them. Here are my absolute favorite scary movie songs. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for my favorite non-creepy movie music. Coming soon!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reading the Ending First?

I saw something on Facebook a few weeks ago and then again on Twitter about people reading the ending of a book first. This leaves me with one question: For the love of 'insert your deity here', why?

Don't get me wrong. I've heard that tiny little voice whispering, "Go on, just check the last page. You know you want to." But I tell the voice to mind its own business and eventually it goes away.

For me, the real joy of a book is becoming so engrossed in the story that I want to reach the end just as much as I never want it to end. It's that delicious wondering how it will all turn out. Reading the ending first is kind of like the difference between an airplane ride and a road trip. Sure, you'll reach the destination faster in an airplane, but all the cool sights are buried underneath the clouds. Take a road trip and you have a chance to see all the tiny things that make the journey worth making.

Okay, maybe that's a silly analogy, but if you read the ending first, um, what's the point of reading the rest? If I'd listened to the little voice and flipped to the last few pages, I wonder how many books I would not have finished. I don't need a happy ending. The MC dying in some spectacular or not so spectacular way wouldn't piss me off, but knowing how the story ends taints the reading.

If I know character X is going to die, I'll make sure not to like him too much so when the pre-read end comes, I can shrug my shoulder and say whatever. Nope. That's not what I want. I want to be left in tears and shock. I want to curse the writer, even though I know it was the right ending. I want to feel the other characters' emotions. I want to care.

But I don't want to know how the story ends before it's even begun.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Excellent Article About H.P. Lovecraft

This is a fantastic article in Publishers Weekly. Go, read it now. Terror Eternal: The Enduring Popularity of H.P. Lovecraft

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unhappy Endings

I just finished writing a short story with an ending that broke my heart. I didn't have a choice, really. It was the right ending. Sure I could gloss it up and make it happy or hopeful, but that would be a contradiction to the story itself and would make the whole thing a load of dung.

The writer's responsibility is to be true to the story, and in my opinion, all stories have a logical ending. It might not be the nicest, most comfortable ending, it might make people angry or sad (I doubt Stephen King was happy the little boy died in Cujo, but the death was logical.), but forcing the wrong ending on a story would be even worse. It would come across as a cop-out.

If a character is supposed to drive off into the sunset, happy and whole, by all means, hand them the keys. But if a character is supposed to die, let them die. If they're supposed to go insane and run in circles screaming nonsense and tearing out their hair, let them do that, too. If they're meant to stumble away, carrying a weight of tragedy on their shoulders and a shadow in their smile, don't pretty it up because it's uncomfortable to write.

In the real world, sometimes the good guys get hurt and sometimes they die, and I'd rather read a sad ending that fits than a happy one that doesn't. Even if it makes me cry.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Reading

The hot, lazy days of summer are perfect for cuddling up to a book. (Well, anytime is a perfect time for that, in my opinion.) So I thought I'd share some great books with you. These are a few I've read lately:

The Passage by Justin Cronin
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
Poe's Children: The New Horror An Anthology edited by Peter Straub
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

All of these books have something different to offer, all were written by talented authors, and every one was worth reading. So tell me, what are you reading right now?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Would You Like to Read a Story?

By Damien Walters Grintalis

The boy was reluctant.

He was perhaps ten or eleven and stood on the pavement outside the shop, shuffling his feet. A gust of wind blew past, and the hanging sign over the door creaked as it swung from side to side. The boy clutched his burden with two hands and watched the swaying sign with wide eyes.

Jasper grinned around the stem of his pipe, revealing teeth yellowed with age. Smoke curled up in a hazy cloud around his head, and candlelight flickered on the walls and ceiling. He crossed his arms over his chest and puffed away at his pipe. Eventually the boy would come in.

They always did.

Want to read the rest? If so, you can purchase the April 2010 issue of Bards & Sages Quarterly here. Yes, I know it's July and yes, the link has been in my published short fiction section for some time now, but I thought I'd post a snippet of the story and perhaps lure you in offer up a bit of reading entertainment.

I wrote this story over a year ago and looking at it now, there are things I'd change, even in this snippet. Not to the story itself, but in the writing. Ah well, I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm never 100% happy with my words. I do, however, like this story. Dear Jasper is quite a character and has a role in another tale, but that is a story for another time.

Come now, you don't want me to give away all my secrets, do you?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Misplaced Anger

I've noticed quite a few angry comments lately in response to posts on various blogs with respects to agents and the publishing industry. I think most of them are due to misplaced anger and frustration, and I want to grab those people by the shoulders and give them a good shake.

Maybe your manuscript has gotten a dozen or hundreds of rejections, but that doesn't mean that agents are all blood sucking bastards out to screw every writer over. It just might mean your story or your writing needs more work. And if you post ugliness and anger and an agent does find your manuscript interesting, don't you think they'll Google you? And don't you think they might see your posts and maybe decide you're not the kind of author they want to work with?

The net may give you the freedom to say what you like, when you like, but it's not some anonymous mosh pit where no one will figure out that it was your elbow in their face. Think before you post. If you're angry and bitter, maybe step away from the net for a while. Don't shoot yourself in the foot.

This is not a new flavor of wisdom. The same thing has been said many times before by many people. Maybe I'm just beating the proverbial dead horse by posting it, but I'm saying it anyway. Be a grown-up and don't let anger or frustration cloud your judgment.

And if you need to vent, by all means, do so, but do it in private. Please.