Sunday, June 30, 2013

Why would you want to write for a living: Part 3

When you are little, you have all those amazing dreams about what you want to be when you grow up. I grew up when some of the most common dreams were astronaut, the president, and Billy Jack. (If you don't remember Billy Jack...ask your parents or older siblings. Best Billy Jack line: "I'm gonna put my left foot on the left side of your face." How cool was it that he took his shoes off and that was the signal that he was about to kick butt!?!) But I digress...

As you grow older, life has a way of using a sniper rifle to pick off those dreams one at a time. Pretty soon, many of us settle. After all, chasing a dream is very difficult. So few can actually catch theirs. And you have to surround yourself with people who will help you overcome obstacles and face hardships. Oh yes...catching a dream can come at a steep price.

Just as my dream was about to come to fruition...I ended up in prison. This column is not about that. I have had that information on the May December Publications website since the company formed. (Of which I am NOT the registered owner, Denise is, I am merely a writer and editor.) I won't get into a debate about it or engage those who wish to try and provoke me. It started in 1989 and culminated in 1998. No matter what, I am not the man now that I was then. After three divorces, you have to start thinking "Maybe it's me." I spent my incarceration becoming a better person. I obtained my degree (only an Associates, but I did pull a 3.96 GPS...damn B in Calculus!) through Blue Mountain Community College and LSU. I took years worth of cognitive behavior courses to try and figure out why I was so full of hate and anger. I learned how to play guitar. I got a job helping inmates obtain their GED (some of my most rewarding work), and I became a hospice volunteer where I learned that no matter how bad I thought I had it...I wasn't going to die in prison. Not everybody I knew could say the same.

During that long period of my life, I had two choices: give up and become what is expected of me...or become the man I knew I could become if I was willing to work. I chose the latter. I set a goal of having three full-length books ready to go upon my release. I didn't count Dakota (which I received a letter from an actual New York agency who wanted to represent me while I was sitting in jail. I told them it wasn't a good time and I would have to pass.) It was during my pursuit of my degree that one of the teachers told me after I'd written a short zombie piece for a creative writing course, "You need to be writing all the time. You have a gift." That evening, during a phone call home to my wife, I mentioned writing a blog. Only, it would be fictional. It would be the story of a guy who lives through the zombie apocalypse. Denise said that if I wrote it and sent it to her, she would post it on an actual blog that she would create for me. Like I said earlier...if you chase your dreams, you need somebody who is willing to have your back and be there to support you.  The dream was about to become tangible...

Tune in on Wednesday, July 3rd for part 4...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why would you want to write for a living: Part 2

I love the ability to get all of these done and pre-scheduled for my vacation. The down side is that I can't share it at all my usual, feel free to share this and point it out to others for me while I sit beside a beautiful creek and hear the sounds of....nothing! And now...back to the answer to the big question....

My love of stories goes back to when I was little. My grandfather taught me to read at an early age. I already had the basics down by the time I started school. In fact, my grandmother told me that I came home from my first day of kindergarten very disappointed. "All they taught was numbers to 10 and started on the ABC's. Who doesn't know that?" Was apparently my first words off the bus. I did, however, happen to walk out of the library--despite the librarian's insistence that I choose a book with more pictures--with my first "big boy book. Savage Sam: Son of Old Yeller. (For the record, I had no idea who 'Old Yeller' was...yet.)

As I settled down enough to start getting serious, I was plunging headlong into marriage number 2. There were a lot of bad things about that marriage, but I will stick to the ones that are relevant to my writing. I started laying down the groundwork for an idea inspired by my time in Charleston, South Carolina. My ship, FF-1079, the USS Bowen, was doing circles waiting for a fog to lift. Looking at the city in the fog, it was like being back in time. The city has fought to preserve its "Old South" heritage. The downtown area is almost a shrine to history. That gave birth to Dakota--my first novel.

I started spending a little time each morning with my notepad and my coffee. When I felt ready, I moved to my computer. (A Commodore 128D!) The words started flashing across the screen and I was underway. However, about five or six weeks into it, my wife (and eventually ex-wife number 2) told me "You are wasting your time with that! Nobody is gonna read it. You should be spending that time with me!" So, I put it in a box and shoved in to the back of the closet where it would stay until I moved out one Memorial Day weekend.

Once again, my dreams of writing were put where most dreams go...away. After all, isn't that why they call them dreams? Once I freed myself of that matrimonial bond, I drifted around with no purpose. I had jobs ranging from club DJ to home automation technical support. (Yep...I yawned just typing that last part.)

Eventually I went back to my old stand-bye of being a waiter and a bartender at some of Seattle's nicer establishments. That is where I met wife number 3. For as terrible as I was as her husband (every bit of the fault in that divorce is truly mine...I was awful...not violent, but words can be far more damaging if used {im}properly) I actually owe a big part of where I am now to her. She found "the box." When she asked me who wrote all the stuff she had been reading that day while I was at work slinging drinks to the business elite...I shrugged and admitted to the deed. I don't know what I expected, but it was not the response she gave me.  Her words to me that day were simple. "You have to write. I may not know much...but I know what I see here is good. I also know that you will always wonder about what might have been." So...I got a Brother word processor (that would eventually be replaced by my P133, 2GB hard drive desktop computer) and I went to work. This time it would be different. However...things would not go exactly as planned...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why would you ever want to write for a living (part 1)

With the 4th of July weekend coming, I am gearing up for a trip to the woods where I will be camping with friends and family. So, that means I will not be here. So, join me for a trip down memory lane. And on Monday, Dan O'Brien will be a special guest...don't miss it. Now...why would anybody want to write for a living?

I've heard that question a few times in my life. (Including from ex-wives.) To me, the simple fact that you would have to ask means that you won't be happy (or perhaps even understand) my answer. I am going to share my own personal reasons here. Some of them will seem silly, a few will definitely sound selfish. Still, they are mine and I am not ashamed of them.

First off, if you know me personally, it comes as no surprise that I am a bit of an attention whore. Simply put, I like being in the spotlight. I've been the lead singer and a guitarist for a few bands. Nothing major...but an absolute blast. I've played in front of a few hundred people. Even on the tiniest stage, I always treated it like it was a packed arena full of thousands. I put my heart into it every time I stepped up to the mic. When I strapped on my guitar, I felt like Ace Frehley or Stevie Ray Vaughn...even though I played

I have a hefty amount of stage credits to my name; having been in shows like Pippin, Oliver, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The World According to Snoopy. I discovered my knack for the stage in high school and decided to pursue it into adulthood. I feel fortunate. I never auditioned for a show that I wasn't cast in during those years. I have a ton of great memories from that era in my life.

Still, I always had that yearning to write. It has been part of me since I was a kid telling bedtime stories to my  teddy bear. I have just loved the idea of sharing a story. I was the kid on the camp outs who had a million ghost stories. When I got to high school, I took every writing class I could get in to. When the teacher in my Creative Writing class would ask if anybody wanted to share their work, I always raised my hand. The payoff would come after class when the other kids would give their feedback. My favorite comment came from the pretty girl who didn't ever remember my name. "You should write for a living." I'd like to say that she finally remembered my name I was still invisible to her. Still, she did smile and occasionally say hello in passing. (Wasn't high school great?!) The biggest thing that I kept hearing was that I had a knack for creating something on paper. 

The problem I faced when I was young is nothing that hasn't plagued most teenagers: focus. I was in the Navy...seeing the world. I enlisted as a submarine sonar technician right out of high school. It was the 80s. The US and the (still in existence) USSR did not get along. My job was to find and classify Soviet contacts of interest. Very Hunt for Red October. I would write in fits and starts for several years.

In 1989, when I left the US Navy, I would seriously consider what I wanted to do with my life. It always came back to writing. Whether I was writing comedy bits for the morning show at the radio station, or ad copy (the least glamorous writing job EVER!)...writing was my love. Next time I will dish up dirt on a relationship that almost put me out of action forever...and the one that restarted me on this path.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 Short Attention Span Theater--a double header!

So, I am cruising through "No Regrets" and learning a lot about the early music scene of the late 60s/early 70s. Frehley is one of those guys who you just keep wanting to say he is full of BS, but you keep reading and see that his story is so consistent that you have to believe him. All I can say is that, if you tried half the stuff he did back then, you would end up in jail. He really just sort of does his own thing...and that leads to setting up the drum kit for Jimi Hendrix's drummer and stringing the guitar for Steppenwolf guitarist, John Kay.

You are beginning to see a theme in Frehley's life: he just sort of wanders through it and let's whatever happens sort of...happen. While certainly not a prescribed life plan, it seemed to work for him. And now...I finally get to the ad that started him down the road to KISS stardom.

Next, I have The Zombie Outbreak--Book 1: Surviving the Zombie Nightmare by Daniel White. I will be starting it for next week, so get your copy now or just hang out and see what I have to say about it!

Meanwhile, the menu making and preparations for a week in the woods is underway as I get ready for some camping. No groomed campgrounds for us...this is going out to the beautiful forests of the Pacific Northwest and living (almost) like a zombie apocalypse survivor.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The price of a story...

So, I am thrilled to announce that the 5th book in the Zomblog series is out today. Zomblog: Snoe's War is available for the masses! A few things cropped up during this book that made me really think. The biggest was that the story ended and I looked at my word count (just barely 50,000) and I was puzzled. It seemed that there had been more story than that as far as word count. Now, I do not expect the Zomblog books to match the DEAD books in the word count department, yet this book BARELY qualified for a novel length. (50,000 words is the minimum standard.) I knew for a fact that I was not going to go back and jam in some useless filler in the story just to get a few more pages. I decided to tack on the That Ghoul Ava short stories that you can find if you purchase That Ghoul Ava: Her First Adventures. I included them at the end of the 6th DEAD book, but I know that it is a bit silly to think that everybody who has read one will necessarily read the other. I know I have a lot of crossover, but it is not likely to be 100%. That will hopefully introduce a few new people to my Ava books (which I have HUGE plans for) and justify the $2.99 price tag. Of course, if you have already read the Ava story...well, I do think that you will still find this Zomblog tale very rewarding.

So, once I gave it some thought, I decided that I needed to reflect the book size in the price. To quote Dennis Miller, "I don't want to go off on a rant here, but..."

Pricing is a real issue (and I may just go on a nasty tirade on the subject in the near future...stay tuned). There is a supposed "sweet spot" in the ebook world when it comes to price. Depending on who you are talking to, it is anywhere between $2.99-$5.99. Here is the thing, there are a lot of people who believe that low priced means cheap, yet the majority--at least as far as I have found--simply think that paying $7 or more is absolutely ridiculous for an ebook. Personally, I think that if you are charging $5 for just over 100 are ripping people off. But that is JUST MY OPINION. 

I can't jump on that train. So, despite it being a new release, despite the fact that I could no doubt tack on an extra buck, I just can not bring myself to let the new Zomblog book be priced higher than $2.99. Is it indicative of lesser quality? I do not believe so. I just put myself in the place of the consumer. If I am looking at a book like the new DEAD that comes in over 115,000 words at a very reasonable (IMOA) price of $4.99, then the new Zomblog is worth $2.99. Could both be priced higher by a buck or so? Sure. But if one more person can scoop up my book at that price, it is worth it. 

Yes, this is what I do for a living. Yes, I am trying to support my family on those sales. However, I am also in this because I am more than just a little egotistical. I love the attention and I love having readers. I check for new reviews every single morning as I get situated and ready to start my day. I actually get a little giddy when an email comes from a stranger that found my books or (even more exciting) heard about them from a friend. I dig hearing from groovy folks like SelinaLynn who gushed over being named in the new Zomblog: Snoe's War dedication.And then there are the honest-to-goodness friendships that I have made like Vix Kirkpatrick and Catie Rhodes (did you get your juicer?). Those are things that can't be given a price. That sounds kinda cliché, but it is absolutely true.

So, now I sit back and wait for the feedback...good or bad.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Award winning author Joe McKinney is one of the names I read early on. He has what I consider a "campfire story" quality about his work. It is presented to you in such a way that you almost feel like Joe is sitting there beside you reading the book...and you just know he is gonna make you jump at least once. He is one of the good guys, and today he steps off of the Summer of Zombie 2013 tour bus for a visit.

Describe your first zombie “experience”?

I think it was the summer of 1983.  I was fourteen, hanging out alone in the house, when Night of the Living Dead came on the TV.  Very few horror movies have ever truly scared me, but that one did.  I was blown away and terrified at the same time.  For months afterward I went to bed cradling a baseball bat in my arms.

Favorite Dawn of the Dead (original) moment? Remake?

From the original it has to be the ending, with all those zombies pouring into the mall.  You get such a sense of the tide of battle turning at that moment, a feeling that all is truly lost.  I loved that part.

What is the last zombie book you read?

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies by Matt Mogk.  You know that feeling you get when you meet an author in person before you read any of their work and you really like them, and then you pick up their book and you pray it doesn’t suck?  Well, the good news is that Matt Mogk writes a hell of a good book.

What makes your story stand out from the masses?

My upcoming release is called The Savage Dead.  It’s part political thriller, part military special ops thriller, part zombie gorefest.  I’d say it differs from your run of the mill zombie story because of the emphasis I place on border relations between the U.S. and Mexico.  I try, and I hope the public thinks I succeeded, in tackling that complex topic from a number of different angles.

What will you tackle next? (If you are writing a series, what will you write after the series is over?)

My next nine novels are under spec.  I have two zombie novels, a new series I’m calling The Deadlands, due for Kensington, and seven non-zombie novels for JournalStone.  The next thing I’m going to be working on is horror novella for JournalStone’s Limbus series.  My story will be sort of like Jacob’s Ladder meets Joseph Wambaugh.

Worst reaction you have received about your writing?

My favorite worst reaction was a one star review I got on Amazon for my novel Inheritance.  It read:  “Too much horror.  Not what I warned signed up error need new book to read less bizarre desired next time will try again.”  I just love negative reviews like that.

And on the flip side, what is the best…the one that almost embarrassed you it was so effusive?

From the great, and to my great sadness, late Rick Hautala, for the same book:  “When I started reading Inheritance, my first reaction was one word—WOW! I kept reading, and I was blown away. Police procedural? Yeah. Horror novel? That, too. But most importantly—one helluva novel. Joe tells a roaring good tale, and when you finish it, you’ll have a lot to say, but WOW will be the first word out of your mouth.”

If any of your work was to be made into a film, which piece, and who is THE big star you would love to see in the leading role?

Well, my first novel, Dead City, is in pre-production right now.  They have tentative agreements for Jared Padalecki to play the lead role of Eddie Hudson and Danny Glover to play Tiresias Maple.  I’ve got my fingers crossed.

What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?

You’ll get a different answer every time you ask me this question.  Right now, I’d have to say Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  It’s less scary these days, because I’ve hardened a bit, but when I was teenager that movie scared the ever-loving crap out of me.

What is something about you that would surprise your fans?

I am a damned fine cook.  I consider myself something of an adventurer in the kitchen, and if Alton Brown decided to start a cult I think I’d join it.  I have written articles on the history of chilli, I’ve even won a few chilli cook-offs, and I am contemplating writing two different cookbooks: one on cooking locally grown Texas foods and the other on the dinner and horror movie theme.

What is in your “to be read” pile right now?

John Updike’s More Matter; Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne; Craig DiLouie’s Suffer the Children; Ramsey Campbell’s Nazareth Hill; and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which I reread each year because it is my favorite fucking book of all time, the one and the only American epic in the truest sense of the word.

Joe McKinney’s Bio

Joe McKinney has been a patrol officer for the San Antonio Police Department, a homicide detective, a disaster mitigation specialist, a patrol commander, and a successful novelist. His books include the four part Dead World series, Quarantined, Inheritance, Lost Girl of the Lake, Crooked House and Dodging Bullets. His short fiction has been collected in The Red Empire and Other Stories and Dating in Dead World. In 2011, McKinney received the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel. For more information go to


My website is:

On Twitter:


On Facebook:

Just look me up by name.  I’m the writer, not the Irish actor.

Friday, June 21, 2013

World War Z...the Brutally Honest Review.

Okay, have you read the book? Fine. Now, forget all about that and just go in to the movie with the mindset that it is its own separate entity. Many of you mark the Max Brooks novel as the beginning of the "zombie craze" in the book world. If you are like me, you read it a LONG time ago and can only remember specific parts that might have struck a chord. Since then, hundreds--if not thousands--of zombie titles have come and gone. You can recall hearing that Brad Pitt (Seriously? Brad! That will totally add credibility to the zombie genre!) snagged the movie rights. The eager anticipation built and built as you waited anxiously for the film to hit the big screen.

All of that would have been fine except for one little thing.

Kirkman's television series already landed, swept the beach, and pushed inland. The Walking Dead is a bona fide hit. So, World War Z has a lot of ground to make up if it is going to be a smash with the masses. I went in with the idea that I was in no way going to hold this up beside the book and wait for it to sync. Trust me when I tell you...that is the way to see this film.

The movie is very well done. The action is intense (I even jumped once) and I believe that most people will enjoy it. As with The Walking Dead, it will introduce more people to the monster that many of us know and love. It is what you expect from a summer blockbuster. Good, mindless fun for all. I will say that I saw the HD XD is not necessary. This movie is fine in good old 2D.

There are a few holes, and a moment or two where you really have to remember that Brad Pitt is the star and he is supposed to survive zombie hordes, horrific accidents (planes, cars, etc.) so just let it be. The zombies are actually fun. Love the teeth clacking thing!

So, is this the next "be ever" zombie movie? No. Is it fun, entertaining and pretty well done? Yes. Just don't go in expecting an honest adaptation of the book and take it as its own piece.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Let's all meet Kirk Allmond!

Before I get to today's guest, I am tossing out a question to all my writer friends:

How many returns do you see average per title from Amazon? Just curious. I ask because this month the number just seems high. I have a few with a single return, but they have not sold more than 50 units. However, a few of my better selling titles, I have as many as 6, including 2 for the newest book in the DEAD series.

One of my favorite things when it comes to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour is the chance to meet somebody new that I have not read before. James Cook was one, and now I get to add Kirk Allmond. So, since I already have a current 30 minute reader book selected, I have decided to add both Kirk and James to my list and feature them both as I dive into their books headfirst. I do hope you will join me. 

Anyways, join me and let's all meet Kirk!

Describe your first zombie “experience”?
Watching Night of the Living Dead at a friend’s house when I was about 12 years old.  We stayed up all night afraid they were coming.

Favorite Dawn of the Dead (original) moment? Remake?
Remake:  Tell him to get Rosie O’Donnel!  “Nah, too easy.  Give him something hard.”

What is the last zombie book you read?
I just re-read the first Zombie Fallout, by Mark Tufo.  One of my favorites.

What makes your story stand out from the masses?
Super Zombies and immune humans!  Zombies in What Zombies Fear are caused by a parasite, in zombies with an overdose of parasites, they activate parts of our brain we don’t currently use, areas that control extra muscle function, extra-sensory perception, and healing. A small percentage of humans have a mutation in the gene that controls spinal fluid that makes it poisonous to the parasite.  If those immune humans survive the initial infection, the parasitic corpses act as a bridge to those areas of the brain.

What will you tackle next? (If you are writing a series, what will you write after the series is over?)
The next book is called “The Colcoa Tailings”.  It’s still post-apocalyptic, although not zombie related.  Aliens come to earth and mine all of the valuable materials, soil, water, metal, everything of value.

Worst reaction you have received about your writing?
An actual Amazon review:  “I didn’t read this book, but these aren’t zombies, zombies can’t run!”

And on the flip side, what is the best…the one that almost embarrassed you it was so effusive?
Someone once took a picture of my truck, posted it to Facebook, tagged me in the photo and rambled about how she went through the store looking for me, and was going to run up and hug me because my zombie books changed her life.

If any of your work was to be made into a film, which piece, and who is THE big star you would love to see in the leading role?
Sean Bean as Victor Tookes.

What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?
Scariest is a broad term.  Nightmare on Elm Street, and Seven.  Both movies are very scary, but for completely different reasons.

What is something about you that would surprise your fans?
I spend every Friday night gathered around a table playing Role Playing Games until about 3am.

What is in your “to be read” pile right now?
A New World: Takedown by John O’Brien.  I’ve started it, but I really need to dedicate a couple of hours to it, I love that series!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Short Attention Span Theater gets KISSed.

It is no secret that I am a huge KISS fan. Also, Frehley has always been my favorite. So, I know this is my little forum for promoting my fellow indie writers, but I do read other things and it would just not be me if I didn't share this title. So, in my first session, I am being introduced to the bad kid that was the youngest of three trying to figure out his way. There is a picture that forms here if the old black & white era of television. He had a hard working dad and a mom who doted on her family. It was not a broken home and his plunge into the rock world was not an escape from a tortured youth. Paul "Ace" Frehley grew up in pretty good surroundings. His life was a series of choices.

Since I have heard and read plenty from Gene's story, I am interested in how things are seen through Ace's eyes once we get to the part about KISS. There are always two sides to an argument or dispute, and having watched plenty of "Family Jewels" with Gene and his family, I saw a good indication of the ego behind Simmons. Do I believe that Frehley's substance abuse contributed to his downfall? Sure. But I also think there is a side to the story that I have not heard, and I look forward to hearing the view from the eyes of my guitar hero.

I don't expect too many of you to go out and grab this baby to join me as I read, and I will probably add a second title so that SAST (Short Attention Span Theater) is a double bill starting next week; but for now, I am just enjoying some insight to one of my all time favorites.

In other news, I am not sure how many of you are Xbox gamers (geeks) but I took the plunge and added "State of Decay" to my game world. It is the perfect marriage of an open world like "Grand Theft Auto" and zombies. Your actions have consequences, and having already restarted the game because of not faring well the first time,(plus a few bugs they fixed that really did make a difference), I can say that it is a very different experience. And when somebody dies...they are dead...period. Oh, and don't think you can hit the reset button and try again. The game is smarter than that. You come back to one less person in your little fortress.

And the game has a few sweet tips of the hat to the genre. There is a cricket bat (Shaun of the Dead) and the  Savini house that becomes one of your bases. The good part is that this game really lets you feel like you are in the zombie apocalypse. The bad part is that I have to monitor my game time. it can suck you in and chew up a few hours if you are not careful.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bryan Smith stops in and I try not to be starstruck

Today, I am stoked to have Bryan Smith stop in for his Summer of Zombie Blog Tour appearance. I have to make an admission here...Bryan is probably one of the first writers that I read when I started seeking more zombie lit after reading Wellington and Keene. I am actually a little starstruck having him on as a guest.

So, I am out of the way...make room for who you really came to see.

Describe your first zombie “experience”?  
Seeing the original Dawn of the Dead at a midnight show.

Favorite Dawn of the Dead (original) moment? Remake?  
Original:  Either the helicopter blade taking off the top of that zombie’s head or the scene where another zombie takes a machete to the head.  Remake:  probably the entire opening sequence up through the Johnny Cash singing “When The Man Comes Around” over the opening credits.

What is the last zombie book you read?  
I can’t recall for certain, but it may have been Brian Keene’s Dead Sea, which is very good.

What makes your story stand out from the masses?  
My novel The Late Night Horror Show, released by Samhain Publishing in March, involves three parallel plotlines set in alternate realities where movie worlds are real.  One of the plotlines is set in the immediate aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.  The other plotlines involve vampires and backwoods maniacs.

What will you tackle next? (If you are writing a series, what will you write after the series is over?)  
I’m currently writing a crime novel called 68 Kill.  After that, I will probably write Grimm Temptation, a sequel to Grimm Awakening.

Worst reaction you have received about your writing?  
Probably after my first novel came out, but I long ago learned not to concern myself with any of that stuff.

And on the flip side, what is the best…the one that almost embarrassed you it was so effusive?  
I don’t know that any reaction has embarrassed me, but I was pleased to have my novels The Killing Kind and Depraved wind up on Brian Keene’s Top 10 Books of the Year for their respective release years.  Up there with that was when Ronald Kelly called Depraved one of his favourite horror novels of all time.

 If any of your work was to be made into a film, which piece, and who is THE big star you would love to see in the leading role?
 The Killing Kind.  Maybe Megan Fox or Amber Heard if she dyed her hair black.

What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?
 I don’t know.  I’ve been a horror fan for so long that movies don’t scare me much, though I do think Kubrick’s The Shining has some of the most genuinely eerie moments ever captured on film.

What is something about you that would surprise your fans?  
I honestly have no idea.

What is in your “to be read” pile right now?  
Double Feature by Owen King, Point and Shoot by Duane Swiercynski, Joyland by Stephen King, Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Meet James Cook...Libra

One of the cool things about this Summer of Zombie Blog Tour is meeting new people that I might have missed out on otherwise. James Cook has been off my radar, but, in a show of support and solidarity for the tour, you can bet he just landed on my TBR list. It helps that he is former Navy...and as a former sonarman, I got a lot of love for a fire controlman.

Describe your first zombie “experience”?

Back in 1999, while I was going through school to be a fire controlman for the Navy, my roommate fired up an old VCR (yeah, we still had those back then) and popped in the original George Romero Dawn of the Dead.
From that moment on, I was hooked.
In the years that followed, I always thought it would be fun to write a novel about a zombie apocalypse. There weren’t many out there back then, and I thought that zombie fans were an underserved audience. In March of 2011, I finally got off my ass and started writing. No Easy Hope, my first novel, was the result. People liked it, asked for more, and I’ve been at it ever since.

Favorite Dawn of the Dead (original) moment? Remake?

For the original, my favorite part was near the beginning. The newsroom is going ape-shit. There’s yelling, confusion, the two pundits on the broadcast are arguing vehemently. The people in the newsroom are trying to get an accurate listing of rescue stations, but they keep going dark. The mood grows increasingly desperate until the newsroom employees begin to leave. Their boss gets flustered and tries to order them all back into their desks. From the cops stationed in the corners of the set, you get the idea that the cops are keeping them there against their will to maintain the emergency broadcasts. Finally, as the newsroom is being abandoned, the boss cries out to a cop stationed in a hallway to stop his people from leaving. The cop gives him a desultory glance, grabs his jacket, and leaves. That moment, that crescendo of SHTF fear that culminates in that little snippet of film, encompasses what has always fascinated me about post-apocalyptic storytelling. I think the cop abandoning his post was symbolic. In times of crisis, we look to the authorities to tell us what to do. To lead us, to protect us, to get the situation under control and restore order. But in that scene, when that cop gave the news director a look that said fuck you, buddy, then grabbed his shit and bolted, that was when you knew things were really bad. I’ve always wondered if something like that happened in real life, when I reached that moment where all hope was gone, what would I do? I think that is, in essence, what people love the most about zombie stories.

As for the remake, my favourite part was the end. When they reach the island and get bum-rushed by about a million zombies. It’s the director’s way of throwing a sword into the audience, a la Russell Crowe in Gladiator, and saying, I know you care about these people after all this. But you know what? Fuck you. Fuck every last one of you. This is a horror film bitches, and in horror, the good guys die screaming. Did you get what you came for? Are you not entertained?

What is the last zombie book you read?

I was lucky enough to get a beta copy of Victim Zero by Joshua Guess. It’s not available yet, but it will be soon. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think it is one of the best zombie novels I have ever read. I think it’s going to do big things. Lots of action, believable characters, a fast-paced plot that keeps you turning pages. What more could you ask for?

Victim Zero. Josh Guess. Put it on your to-read list. It’s fantastic.

What makes your story stand out from the masses?
The characters.
Surviving the Dead is not your typical zombie series. Rather than just being endless pages of zombie smashing, the story focuses on the two main characters as they struggle to maintain their humanity in an inhumane world, and to find a place where they can carve out peaceful lives for themselves. Along the way they make friends, and enemies, they laugh, they love, they fight, they kill, and they take damage. Mental, physical, and emotional. They watch people they care about get hurt and killed. They do things that give them nightmares and make them doubt the justice of their actions. They are not perfect, and they make mistakes. I think that’s what has driven the popularity of the series, and what keeps people interested in the story.

What will you tackle next? (If you are writing a series, what will you write after the series is over?)
My immediate plans are for an urban fantasy series titled, Jeremiah Cain: Vampire Hunter, and a traditional fantasy series titled, Gladiator of Corsryn.
Jeremiah Cain is, in large part, a response to my general dissatisfaction with the urban fantasy genre. I’m tired of reading about people falling in love with vampires, and snuggling with werewolves. Since when are these monsters sympathetic characters? Screw that. You’re not going to see Cain getting mixed up in that nonsense. As far as he is concerned, the only good vampire is a dead one. And that same philosophy applies to anything else that goes bump in the night.
Gladiator of Corsryn is, as stated above, a more traditional fantasy series. However, don’t expect elves, and dwarves, and fairies and whatnot. The series was inspired by my love of the old Robert E. Howard Conan novels. Expect lots of fighting, killing, crushing of enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women.
After that, I may dip my toes into the military or paranormal thriller waters. Time will tell.

Worst reaction you have received about your writing?

Oh God, just go on Amazon and read any one of my bad reviews. According to some people, my work is complete shit and I have zero talent as an author. I think there are about sixty thousand or so people out there who would disagree with them, but it’s not my place to argue. I will say this, however: Just because someone doesn’t like my work, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing. People can leave all the bad reviews they want. I’m going to keep doing what I do. There will always be haters, but for every one of them, there are literally a thousand people who read my work and liked it. Those are the people I focus on.

And on the flip side, what is the best…the one that almost embarrassed you it was so effusive?

My best review was when I gave an advance copy of No Easy Hope, my first novel, to my father to beta read. Now, what you need to understand about my old man is that he doesn’t mince words, or spare feelings. If you ask for his honest, unbiased opinion, even if you are his offspring, this is exactly what you are going to get. If he thinks something is complete shit, he will tell you that it is complete shit. In those words.

Thankfully, he didn’t think it was complete shit. He thought it was pretty good, and told me that I’m a damn good writer. He sounded surprised. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

Nevertheless, it was that praise, more than any other, that has spurred me to continue writing. And I’m glad that I did.

As for embarrassingly effusive? No such thing, friend. Doesn’t exist. I’m a Libra. Heap me with praise, I need it.

If any of your work was to be made into a film, which piece, and who is THE big star you would love to see in the leading role?

I would love to see the whole Surviving the Dead series adapted into an HBO series, and I would cast Chris Hemsworth in the role of Eric Riordan, and Joe Manganiello as Gabriel Garrett.

What is the scariest movie you have ever seen?

Event Horizon. It’s a 1997 sci-fi/horror film written by Philip Eisner. It’s about a spaceship that enters a black hole (or something), goes to hell (like, actual hell), and comes back. A team of scientists is sent to retrieve it, but when they get there, they find that the ship has brought a piece of hell back with it. What ensues is a ridiculously terrifying psychological gore-fest that fucked me up for months. I still have nightmares about that shit. Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

What is something about you that would surprise your fans?

I don’t read a lot of zombie fiction. When you write the stuff for a living, you get kind of burned out on it after a while.

What is in your “to be read” pile right now?

The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie; A Serpent’s Tooth, by Craig Johnson; and Abandon, by Blake Crouch.


Friday, June 14, 2013

My new (first) tattoo!

Don't care what anybody says...all time greatest!
So, I have gone 47 years without a tattoo. Yep. That includes my six years in the Navy and having done time...yet, not a single dot of ink has ever marred my (hairy) flesh. I recently revealed that I was getting my first. The issue that I had was in knowing that this was FOREVER

So, me being me, I did my research on the local shops. That leads me to this little side note: as an indie writer (and proud of it!), I am very big about supporting the local business. Sure, I can save a few cents at a box store, but I have learned that the local proprietors often make up in price with service and "little extras" that you NEVER find in a chain store.

Armed with my information, I hit the three parlors that are within 3 miles of my home. I had already numbered them by my liklihood of selecting them, but chose to visit them third choice first, first choice second, and second choice third.

The third choice had a lot of reviews complaining about punctuality. I arrived 30 minutes after they opened...and found the place empty. (As in nobody had shown up to open yet!) Okay...scratch them. Then I went to my first choice. Star Tattoo in Milwaukie, Oregon. The store is owned and operated by one guy: Draygon. The first person we met was his mom...who rocks a lot of her son's work. (She is getting a full back piece done currently.)

I told him what I wanted and he said he would be happy to draw up a piece and then we could go from there once I was happy with the artwork. He told me ahead of time that this would not be a hasty process since he is the only artist and employee of his shop. He made that point again as he got to know me better and figured out how anxious I was about having this done.

After two hours of talking with this man, I was sold. However, he actually insisted that I finish my search. I did, but the final stop reminded me of what a tattoo parlor would be like if they started becoming mall franchises. The mood just did not work for me. So...Star Tattoo it would be!

The Shawn Conn it!
Since I have been a KISS fan forever, I knew that my all-time favorite guitarist had to be part of the tattoo. Also, there is this whole "zombie" thing that I still have not outgrown. Our cover artist, +Shawn Conn created an amazing logo that will always be the logo for my DEAD series (see above).

Denise got a ladybug symbolizing Ronni
I gave the art to Draygon and waited. It took a couple of weeks (remember that early warning?), but at last he was ready to show me something. I was hooked the second that I saw it. So, we scheduled the date. Denise went in first for a ladybug tattoo. Draygon drew her one with the ladybug in flight which she loved. So he did hers first while I watched and they joked about my first time "under the needle".

The best one was that I would get the first dot, scream and flee the building sporting a single dot that I could boast was "picture of earth from very far away". Finally, it was my turn. So, he put down the tracing of the drawing. That didn't hurt a bit. Then I laid down on the table and  the real work began.

The work began and after making sure that I was going to be fine, Denise went home. As he worked, Draygon checked on me over and over, making sure that I was okay. There were actually a couple of times that he found a ticklish spot. (He said that was a new one in his 13+ years.) As the work progressed, we talked about all kinds of stuff...zombies, survivalism (he is big on this topic and it was fun to listen to his ideas). Eventually, it was time to stop.

Day one outline
Day one shading
Both Draygon and the missus commented on how blown away they were by the amount of time I submitted myself to on my first session ever. I have always had a high pain threshold, I guess it is higher than I realized. I was in thew chair for around 4 hours. 

Draygon was great about wrapping up my arm and giving me all the instructions for care. He also told me about how the colors would "come in" after it healed. I was ready to schedule the next session. He repeated the part about needing to wait until it healed. But I was just so dang excited. I went home and followed all of his directions. I then discovered that I heal quickly. I went back a week later and the peeling was almost done already. He was stoked and scheduled the next session.

I went in on a Tuesday and he went to work. Once again, this guy is a blast to just talk with while he works. A few times, customers came and he was actually apologetic about having to stop so he could deal with them. Also, his mom stopped in and we visited for a few moments while he took care of scheduling some future appointments. At last, after another 3+ hours or so, he was finished. He noted a few times that this piece would be a three or four sitting event for most. I won't lie, it does start to burn and tingle at times...but it was not nearly as bad as I had been led to believe.

Right off the table
Again, he gave me instructions for proper care and told me that I should come in once it heals so he can get some pics for his book (I am his first zombie AND his first KISS piece!) and check for any touch ups that may be needed. Also, once again he reminded me about how the color would come in after it healed. 

Two days later

Now, I will say that I am adamant that this is the only person I will ever let work on me. He has a customer for life. He is simply amazing, very personable, and also will not hustle the customer. I saw him explain very clearly to one person that walked in with a quote from another shop for a piece that they should take that offer because he could absolutely not match it. 

I have my next four already planned and will probably go back this fall for number two. The next will again feature +Ace Frehley, but this time it will be a rendition of a concert shot with the word "Surrender" on the guitar neck. (That is a personal reference between me and the wife.) Also, Dyagon has said that if I am ever fortunate enough to meet Ace and get his autograph on my arm, he wil make it permanent.