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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Lest We Forget

I cannot let 9/11 go by unremarked.  It is the single event that defined my adult life.  While I knew no one who died that day, much of my life after was dedicated to the pursuit of those 19 hijackers’ fellow fanatics, and I have buried friends in the course of that war.

It is a war that began long before any of us were born, and will likely continue.  It is unpopular to say that there is a war between Islam and the West.  Islam, truly devoted Islam, has been at war with all and sundry for 1300 years.  Are many Muslims not at war?  Of course.  Far more Muslims have died to crush ISIS than Americans.  But the historical record remains.  Even when we are at peace, sooner or later, that peace will end.

The hijackers did not choose September the 11th at random.  It was not a date that simply came up in the course of planning and logistics.  Like all fanatics, they sought to make a deeper statement in their act of mass murder.

September 11 was the day before the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna.  In 1683, the Ottoman Empire, then the Muslim Caliphate on the face of the planet, laid siege to the city of Vienna.  On September 12, the combined forces of the Habsburg Monarchy, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth broke the siege, and in so doing, broke the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, beginning a decline in Ottoman (and therefore Muslim) power and influence that would culminate in the utter destruction of the Ottoman Empire in 1918.

Jan Sobieski’s charge, with his Polish Winged Hussars, was one of the largest cavalry charges in history, with eighteen thousand horsemen descending from the hills onto the Ottoman forces.

The war is older than any of us.

Never forget.

Looking for Volunteers

So, the earlier poll (coupled with a mirror version on The Action Thriller Renaissance on Facebook) was pretty definitive.  The votes are for the volunteer Advance Review Copy Reader List.  So, since the first draft of #1 is past half-finished, as of now, I am putting out the call for volunteers who would like to receive ARCs of the Brannigan’s Bastards series.

The signup comes with a caveat: continued receipt of ARCs is contingent on an Amazon review during the first week of release.  A link to said review can be sent to the Contact form here on the blog, or by PM on Facebook.  I’ve got to put that in there just to be sure that there is a purpose to this list, and I’m not just giving stuff away for free.

Also, the list will only include the first 25-30 people who sign up.  I’ve got to cut it off there.  It’s possible that you might still sign up before I yank the form (since I can’t just sit here and watch it), but if you’re number 31 or higher, my apologies.

Sign up here.

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.

Steve Diamond’s “Residue”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I often do some reading in the target genre prior to and during working on a book.  Now, I don’t really read a lot in the horror genre, with the exception of some Lovecraft, and Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, while involving monsters, aren’t really horror per se (though they are similar enough to what I write; there probably wouldn’t be a Jed Horn series without MHI).

But in the workup for Older and Fouler Things, I finally picked up a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Residue, by Steve Diamond.

Short version: it is phenomenal. Continue reading “Steve Diamond’s “Residue””

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 Barrabas Run

Part of my “creative process” (damn, I hate that term) often involves reading in the genre I’m going to be working in.  Call it “setting the tone.”  I’ve had a few standbys for the shooter genre, ranging from Larry Correia’s and Mike Kupari’s Dead Six series, to Jack Murphy’s Deckard series, to Jack Silkstone’s PRIMAL series, among others.  Brad Taylor’s Pike Logan series has been pretty good (though I’m way behind on that one), along with Dalton Fury’s Kolt Raynor series.  I’ve also gone with some of the older books, such as Forsyth’s The Dogs of War, which I reviewed last week.

Part of the inspiration for the upcoming Brannigan’s Bastards has been the old Pinnacle/Gold Eagle Action-Adventure series, such as The Executioner, Phoenix Force, Able Team, and Stony Man.  But a larger part, among those old pulp shoot-em-ups, has been the Soldiers of Barrabas, or SOBs. Continue reading “The Barrabas Run”