Telling Spook Stories Around the Campfire

I got my start as a storyteller in the dark, around campfires, up at Camp Fife in Washington State, about eighteen years ago, now.  In a real way, the Jed Horn series is simply a continuation of that old tradition.

There are two kinds of campfire story; the traditional ones that are passed down from fire to fire, for years, only changing in small details of the telling, flexible things that are simply the flavor the teller adds as he goes.  The other kind are the ones I mostly told; the improvised scary stories.

My first was pretty simple.  A wisp in the woods, a curious Scout, and a game of cat-and-mouse underground with a monster that could change shape at will.  It wasn’t the best spook story ever told, but I had already learned a few things from it.  Between that one and a couple of the later ones, I developed a few rules. Continue reading “Telling Spook Stories Around the Campfire”

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The (Literary) Problem of Evil

From a piece by John C. Wright, from a few years ago:

In none of the stories I just mentioned, even stories where the image of Our Lord in His suffering nailed to a cross is what drives back vampires, is any mentioned made of the Christ. Is is always an Old Testament sort of God ruling Heaven, or no one at all is in charge.

So why in Heaven’s name is Heaven always so bland, unappealing, or evil in these spooky stories?

I can see the logic of the artistic decisions behind these choices, honestly, I can. If I were writing these series, I would have (had only I been gifted enough to do it) done the same and for the same reason.

It is the same question that George Orwell criticized in his review of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH by CS Lewis. In the Manchester Evening News, 16 August 1945, Orwell writes that the evil scientists in the NICE [the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments, who are the Black Hats of the yarn] are actually evil magicians of a modern, materialist bent, in communion with ‘evil spirits.’ Orwell comments:

Mr. Lewis appears to believe in the existence of such spirits, and of benevolent ones as well. He is entitled to his beliefs, but they weaken his story, not only because they offend the average reader’s sense of probability but because in effect they decide the issue in advance. [emphasis mine] When one is told that God and the Devil are in conflict one always knows which side is going to win. The whole drama of the struggle against evil lies in the fact that one does not have supernatural aid.

I myself happen to think Mr. Orwell’s criticism is utter rubbish.

Is Milton’s PARADISE LOST lacking in drama because one know which side is going to win? What about the story of the Passion of the Christ in any of its versions, including the child’s fairytale version as told in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE? Or what about any and every version of Dracula? While there may be modern versions where vampires are driven away by leather-clad vampiresses in shiny coats shooting explosive bullets while doing wire-fu backflips, in the older versions of the tale, it was the crucifix that drove off the evil spirits. Merely having God Almighty on your side does not remove the element of doubt nor the element of drama.

This is something that I’ve had to deal with with the Jed Horn series.  Steve Tompkins said in his introduction to Kull: Exile of Atlantis, “a writer who avails himself of the name ‘Atlantis’ gives away his ending.”  Similarly, the ending is already established by the mere presence of the Crucifix.  THE sacrifice has been made, the war is already won.  How can you tell a scary story with that backdrop?

The war is won, but battles may still be lost.  And that is where the tension in the Jed Horn series ultimately lies, not only in the fear of being physically squished, tormented, or eaten by the monsters, but by the possibility that the characters might just fall, that this battle might be lost, regardless of the ultimate victory having already been won.  The Battle of New Orleans was fought after the War of 1812 was officially over.  Our own battles with the darkness are no different.

I tried to establish this in A Silver Cross and a Winchester, way back in 2013.  The demons won’t succeed in bringing about the actual end of the world until God says otherwise.  But they can still cause a great deal of harm in the meantime, which is why they must be opposed.

Go read the rest of John’s essay; as usual, he is rather more eloquent than I.

Jed Horn #4, Older and Fouler Things, is three weeks away.  Go pre-order it.

The ARC Conundrum

ARCs.  Advance Reader Copies/Advance Review Copies.  How to work this?

According to what I’ve learned lately, in order to really put the Writer Master Plan into effect, I need more reviews in the first week.  The way to do this seems to be ARC readers.  The question at hand is, “How to handle the ARC readers?”  Can’t just put the book up here.  This is a business, after all.  So, I’ve got three options, that I can think of.

Option A: A subscription service, like Nick Cole and Jason Anspach have put together on galacticoutlaws.com.  For a small fee, subscribers get the content in intervals as it’s produced.

Option B: Put eARCs, PDF files of early copies of the book, up for sale right here (or on americanpraetorians.com, more precisely).  They would cost more than the final release Kindle copy.  This is something Baen has been doing for years now.

Option C: Set up a volunteer mailing list, limited to 25-30 people, who will get the early version of the story as I write it.  The caveat being, to stay on the list means emailing a link to the Amazon review within a week of release.

So, good readers, what do you think?

I’d like to get this figured out soon, since production is about to go into full swing on Brannigan’s Bastards.

The Writer Master Plan

Back in June, Nick Cole and Jason Anspach released a military SF novel entitled Galaxy’s Edge: Legionnaire.  I’d been peripherally aware of Mr. Cole for a while, ever since Harper Voyager kicked him to the curb for political reasons.  But what he and Anspach pulled off made me sit up and take notice.

Because Legionnaire, a brand-new, independently-published mil-SF novel, shot to the top 100 on Kindle, and #1 in its categories, and proceeded to stay there.  For weeks.  And they made no secret that they wanted to share how they did it with other authors.  I talked to Mr. Cole myself for a bit, and got the gears turning, even before they released their After Action Report podcast.

Cole pointed me toward the non-fiction work of Chris Fox, who has been studying what works in independent publishing, specifically Amazon, for some time.  I started doing some more reading. Continue reading “The Writer Master Plan”

Another Article, and Another Review

My latest is up on Breach-Bang-Clear, concerning weapons being, in the words of Sam in Ronin, “A toolbox.”  Knowing your tools means that firearms aren’t like the latest iPhone.  (Of course, the Facebook comments on B-B-C’s page have already gone off the rails…never read the FB comments!)

The NRA recently decided to disallow revolvers and 1911s from their “Carry Guard” classes. They have since reversed that decision, probably after millions of gun owners took to the internet to tell them it was stupid). This decision seems to have once again highlighted the differing opinions in the firearms community about what is and is not an “obsolete” firearm.

I almost said, “reignited the debate,” but who are we kidding? It’s never stopped.

Read the rest on Breach-Bang-Clear.

Also, a fellow denizen of the “Men’s Adventure Paperbacks of the ’70s and ’80s” Group on Facebook, Greg Hatcher, has read and reviewed Lex Talionis.  It is an excellent review.

“I’m not much of a joiner, usually, but I do belong to an online community that is devoted to reading and collecting the men’s adventure paperbacks that dominated drugstore spinner racks in the sixties and seventies.

It happens that many of us write the stuff as well, and one of our number, Peter Nealen, asked if any of us would be interested in reviewing his latest. Of course I lunged at it, despite the appalling size of my to-read pile.”

Read the rest here.  (You will have to scroll down a bit, Greg’s post is a bit of a grab-bag.  Not unlike this one.)

New Ideas

So, after scrapping the first 400 words of the next chapter of Lex Talionis (getting close to finished, but not there yet), I had an interesting idea for a new series.

This wouldn’t be taking the place of any other projects, but would be woven into the years’ schedule along with others.  The idea was spawned by thinking of the old action series, such as Executioner, Phoenix Force, Able Team, Soldiers of Barrabas, or Stony Man.

What if I came up with an episodic (old-school episodic, with continuing characters but not necessarily any long-spanning arc) action series, roughly 40k-60k words per story (roughly the length of A Silver Cross and a Winchester or Nightmares)?  It would be somewhat less “THE WORLD IS ON FIRE!” than the Praetorian series, mainly focusing on going after various bad actors in various real and fictional parts of the globe.  Short, pulpy, hard-hitting action pieces, not terribly geopolitical or intrigue-heavy, but with long-running characters and fast pacing.  With a set, fairly low, word count, I could concievably knock one out in about a month, month-and-a-half, and get the ebook out for around $3.

What do you think, readers?  Interested?

Lovecraftian?

Yes, I’m pretty deep into the shooter genre mode right now, having just passed 75,000 words on the first draft of Lex Talionis, but I’m going to digress for a little, to explore a thought I had while sitting in the “Death Is The Least Of Your Worries: Writing Lovecraftian Fiction” panel at LTUE.

The panelists agreed (and so would I) that the nature of Lovecraft’s horror lay in the confrontation of unfathomable powers which barely noticed human beings.  You might get squished along the way, but it was hit or miss as to whether the monster actually noticed you in the process.  A vital part of the Cthulhu Mythos is mankind’s insignificance, and helplessness, in the face of the chaotic forces that rule the cosmos.  You can try to fight Cthulhu, but it won’t end well for you.

Granted, this is not entirely a hard and fast rule even within the (admittedly broad) confines of the Mythos itself.  Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow bests a few eldritch abominations, and no less towering a figure than Conan the Cimmerian (Howard was a regular correspondent with Lovecraft) banished a few to whatever weird dimension they’d come from with a powerful stroke of axe or sword. Continue reading “Lovecraftian?”