Archive for the ‘thrillers’ Category

A conversation with Douglas Clegg about ZOMBIES

July 31, 2008

While doing research for ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead I had the good fortune to have a frank discussion with bestselling author Douglass Clegg.

 

Pull up a chair and listen in….

 

JONATHAN: Doug, thanks for stopping by to share your views on pop culture and the walking dead.  Why is it about zombies that draws our attention?

 

DOUG CLEGG: We’re fascinated by the physical body and what happens after death to it. Additionally, with zombies, there’s the sense of the dumb, destructive crowd out there that’s going to somehow drive us insane or destroy us — sort of like the guy in Munch’s painting, The Scream, with the world all around him while he exists in his own nightmare.

 

Overall,  I really think it goes back to a kind of thrill about coming back from the grave. And eating brains and other organs. I suspect that would be a bit sloppier than the vampire, who drinks blood in a kind of erotic kiss. It’s interesting that both the zombie and the vampire — in terms of the horror genre — have a cannibalistic hunger for the living.   It’s not enough just to be killed, but to be eaten or drained of blood, that seems a wee bit more horrifying.

 

JONATHAN: What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen humans do in a zombie film?

 

CLEGG:  Trust each other to do the right thing.

 

JONATHAN: What’s the smartest thing you’ve seen a human do in one of those flicks?

 

CLEGG: Keep running. Or else just shoot themselves in the head when surrounded by dozens of zombies. That’s what I’d do — after all, I don’t care what anyone does with my body after I’m dead. I just don’t want to be around to watch it happen.

 

JONATHAN: Okay,, quick question: Zombies…fast or slow?

 

CLEGG: Slow. There is something so terrifying about the slow attack that is inescapable. Serial killers can be fast, jaguars can be fast, a train about to hit you on the tracks can be fast — but there is a more nightmarish quality to the shambling corpse whose only goal is to find the nearest living human to eat. There is something incredibly horrible about the idea of being taken down by a slow, dumb predator — we expect the smart ones to get us, but not those relentless brainless ones.

 

JONATHAN: What are your favorite zombies movies and books?

 

CLEGG: Night of the Living Dead (the original) really launched the sub-genre of zombie flicks, but Shaun of the Dead certainly made its mark — as did 28 Days Later. I also enjoyed The Serpent and the Rainbow, more in book form than movie form — but still, the movie was fun to watch. For camp, those Return of the Living Dead movies were fun, too.

 

JONATHAN: Have you ever written zombie fiction? 

 

CLEGG: I have an unpublished illustrated children’s book for adults called The Saddest Little Zombie, with illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne. In it, a boy named Tommy is killed by his mother as she tries to dislodge a stew-bone caught in his throat. Later, a voodoo priestess raises him from the grave. He returns to his family for supper on Christmas Eve, but can’t stop himself from eating people. There’s even a Christmas tree made of bones in it. It’s sort of a holiday book with the living dead, for adults who like scary kids’ books. I have to admit, I’m not sure a kid should read it.

 

 

Visit Doug’s website at: www.DouglasClegg.com

 

Look for ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry

Citadel Press – Fully Illustrated – $16.95

Available Everywhere August 26

Available for pre-order online at Borders, Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS FOR AUTHORS

February 6, 2008

COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS FOR AUTHORS

 

There are a lot of tools you, as a new author trying to pitch your book, can use to help you stand out from the pack.  Over the next few blogs I’ll be discussing some of those (and in earlier blogs I talked about good form in query letters).

 

One really useful tool is variously known as the ‘competitive analysis’, ‘marketplace analysis’, ‘market list’, or ‘submission list’.

 

This is a list of books that define the genre and identify the audience where your book would be accepted.  Remember, pitching a book is a sales process, so you have to help the agents and editors see the profit potential in your product.  The book has to fit onto an established shelf at a bookstore –and knowing which shelf can make or break your pitch.

 

For example, in Barnes & Noble there is no ‘horror’ shelf.  Novels that would ordinarily fit there are scattered onto different shelves.  Most of them wind up in the general ‘Fiction and Literature’ section, which is not a bad place to be, especially if you’re looking for a broad audience.  Some, however wind up in ‘Science Fiction/Fantasy’, because the fan base is more genre-based.  Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher are both in that section, and because the publishers know that the SF/comic book/fantasy crowds are the core demographic they keep those books there and they do well.  But new shelves are emerging, such as ‘Paranormal Romance’ (authors like L.A. Banks, Sherrilyn Kenyon, etc.)

 

I suggest creating a list of 6-12 authors whose works most closely resonate with your own.  This identifies those publishers who have known track records for handling your kind of work.  Most writers don’t know about these lists, but when they do and can offer them up front to an agent it shows market savvy and a willingness to partner in the sales process that many agents find very appealing.  Editors appreciate the lists because it’s something they can take to the marketing department and publisher to get approval to buy your book.

 

It’s also useful for any novelist as a way of identifying the genre/subgenre where they would ideally like their book placed. 

 

Sublists should be a mix of recent hot sellers (which establishes that the genre is making money), a few enduring classics (showing that the genre has staying power), and a few recent deals (showing that the genre is active right now).  These recent deals can be found by searching databases such as www.publishersmarketplace.com

 

For pitching, say, a supernatural thriller, the entries would likely include:

 

  1. SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King; Signet; paperback; 1976; 496 pages
  2. THEY THIRST by Robert McCammon; Kinnell; 1981; 552 pages
  3. GHOST STORY by Peter Straub; Coward, McCann & Geoghegan; 1979; 483 pages
  4. GHOST ROAD BLUES by Jonathan Maberry; Pinnacle Books; 2006; 480 pages

Etc.

 

When I query I often offer a competitive analysis.  Often this results in the editor/agent taking the next step and asking for it, along with the synopsis and sample chapters.  Some might want to have the list emailed to them before deciding whether to ask for the manuscript.  In all cases it shows that you are sharper and more business focused than most aspiring authors.  Or as Stephen King would say, “It’s one more tool in your writer’s toolbox.”

 

-Jonathan Maberry  www.jonathanmaberry.com

 

Myspace: www.myspace.com/jonathan_maberry

 

THE LIAR’S CLUB

February 1, 2008

The writing life is always interesting but it isn’t always fun.  Most writers don’t make enough cash; reviewers can be savage; with the sagging economy book sales are down; and publishers mostly don’t spend much bread on promotion. 

To want to be a professional author you really need a lot of optimism, or you need to be just on the useful side of delusional.  Often both.  One of the key elements to making this wacky profession work is ‘networking’.  Two writers together can do more than two writers alone.  Not exactly a new concept, but it’s nice to discover that it still works.

 

Yesterday I met with three friends who are also professional authors and together we created a new organization: THE LIAR’S CLUB.  (Why that name?  Well…let’s face it, we’re authors, we make stuff up for a living.)  We started the group to network with each other authors, but over the course of a long and very funny lunch at the Irish Pub in Philly, we agreed that we could also do a lot of good for the writing and reading community.  So…were cooking up plans to do joint signings, workshops, panel discussions, speaking engagements, contests, mentoring and more. 

 

The one certain thing is that we’re going to have fun.  No doubt about it.  But I got a feeling that Liar’s Club is going to make itself heard.  Count on it.

 

Here are the founding members:

  L. A. Banks (www.leslieesdailebanks.com), author of the insanely popular Vampire Huntress series of novels. 

Gregory Frost  (www.gregoryfrost.com) author of, among other things, the recent Random House release SHADOWBRIDGE.

 

Jon McGoran  (www.jmcgoran.com), who writes forensics mysteries under the pen name of D. H. Dublin.  The third in that series, FREEZER BURN will be out in June.

 And my website is www.jonathanmaberry.com 

There are some other folks who will be joining us.  I’ll catch you up on those later

 

Right now, do yourself a favor and check out my co-conspirators in the Liar’s Club!

  

FINDING AN AGENT Pt 2 – AVOIDING SCAMS

January 18, 2008

 FINDING AN AGENT Pt 2

 

After you’ve made the “Hey, I need an agent!” decision, the next step is to identify the right one for you.  And the first step in that is to make sure you don’t fall prey to some of the many, many unscrupulous agents in the business.

 

Literary agents get 15% of your gross and that fee is taken out of the checks sent from a publisher.  They also get percentages of foreign sales, film rights, etc., but the bottom line is that agents make their living off of fees based on actual sales.  And, take note, you’ll know the exact amount of your advance from the contract you sign with the publisher and you’ll get an end of year accounting from the agent that clearly shows what monies were received by the publisher, the amount of their fee-based deduction, and the monies disbursed to you.  With royalties you’ll be given a copy of the royalties breakdown, which is sent by the publisher to the agent along with the royalties check.  The agent will deduct the agency fee and send a check along with a copy of the royalties breakdown to you. 

 

Since I posted the first part of this thread the other day I’ve received a lot of email from writers who have been gouged by agents who charge all sorts of fees: submission fees, reading fees, evaluation fees, marketing fees, and even editing fees.  Even though these practices are technically legal (though prohibited by agent trade organizations), I always advise my students and friends to avoid those agents like the plague.  An agent living off of incremental pre-sale fees is in business to make those fees.  There’s no incentive for them to ever sell anything. 

 

Some agents will offer to sell additional services, such as website design, PR kits, catalog placement for book events and fairs, print and Internet ads, book cover designs (publishers always use their own designs, so these would be a pointless waste of cash), business cards, writing class enrollments, etc.  These are all money-gouging scams.

 

There are exceptions, sure.  Some good agents do charge fees for copying and postage.  Of all the fees discussed those are the ones a writer might agree to.  Making copies of a hefty manuscript and mailing copies around is expensive.  Okay, that one’s a maybe.  But if they ask for submission or reading fees then look elsewhere.

 

I know a lot of agents, and every legitimate agent I know holds most kinds of fee-charging agents in contempt.  Yes, I understand it’s a way for a start-up agency to get operating capital.  Sorry, I have no sympathy for that.  Take out a business loan or mortgage your house –don’t fleece the author.

 

Agents that charge to edit your book are also suspicious.  More often a good agent who likes your book but believes it to need work will suggest that you go out and find a book editor (not a book doctor –a topic for another time) and then come back with the revised version.  They will seldom if ever even suggest an editor.   It’s an ethical point, a conflict of interest.

 

Freelance editors abound (but check them out, too).  Get references if you can and follow up with those references.  A rare few agents may work with you to edit your book, but this is less common and it chews up an agent’s time.

 

I’ve heard of a few agents who routinely steer their clients toward self-publishing, POD (print on demand), vanity press, e-publishing, or other services where the author has to pay some or all of the expense of having their book published, distributed, or placed.  Don’t go there.  Legitimate agents SELL your book, they don’t pimp it for vanity press ‘publishers’.

 

There’s a great resource for writers who want to check to see if an agent has a shady track record.  http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm is great.  It’s not complete, of course, but it’s pretty damn far-reaching.

 

Also, there’s a pretty scathing expose of these fee-based agents, TEN PERCENT OF NOTHING: The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell by former FBI agent Jim Fisher (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004; hardback).  And check out THE STREET SMART WRITER: Self Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven (Nomad Press, 2006; trade paperback). 

 

In my next blog we’ll talking about how to build a target list of reputable agents who are positioned to sell your kind of book and have the track-record and connections to do so.

 

Please feel free to use this blog thread to share your experiences (good and bad) with finding agents.  The more everyone knows, the better everyone’s chances are in getting sold without getting fleeced.

 

If you have a question you don’t want to post on the blog thread, drop me an email at jonathan_maberry@yahoo.com

 

Tune in tomorrow and until then…write like you mean it!

 

Jonathan Maberry                  www.jonathanmaberry.com

   

FINDING AN AGENT –Part 1

January 16, 2008

For the first twenty-five years of my writing career I didn’t have a literary agent.  Most of my early sales were magazine features and columns for which you don’t use an agent; and then a few textbook sales which tend to yield money so small an agent would like set himself on fire rather than bother with making that kind of deal.

  

When I decided to try and break into fiction  –something totally new for me—I figured I needed an agent.  Now I needed to find one.  Any writer who hits that moment realizes how daunting it is.  Unsigned writers fear agents because they know that to a very great degree there’s no way to get sold without one.

  

First thing I did was to ask everyone I know who had an agent for suggestions on how to go about finding one.  They all said the same thing, and the advice they gave SOUNDED right at first, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it.  What they said was: “Find a low-level or mid-level agent, someone who is just getting in the business, and sign with them.  They’re the only ones looking to take on new clients and you can rise with them.”

  

Sounds good, right?  Sounds reasonable.  Think again.

  

Business is all about messaging.  There’s always a subtext to anything said in business.   That said, think of the message that you send out if you only try for agents who are either bottom-rung or brand new to the business.  It says: “My work isn’t good enough to be represented by a top agent.” Sadly that message comes across loud and clear.

  

That didn’t work for me.  I have more faith in my writing than that (as subjective as that might be) and I wanted a really good agent.

  

So I sat back and thought about who and what an agent is and made some reasonable deductions: 

  Agents are human.  Not Olympian gods.  I’d met some at writers conferences.  None of them had horns, none of them threw lightning bolts. 

Agents are working stiffs, too.  There have to be good and bad agents.  There have to be lucky or unlucky agents.  There have to be rising stars and has-beens.  There have to well-connected agents and those to whom most doors are still closed.  That’s the way every business is, no matter what business we’re talking about.

  

Some of today’s top writers are still repped by the agents that handled their first works.  The biggest deals are made by agents on the inside track of the business.  Read the market news, this bears out most of the time.  If so, then big agents must be taking on new clients (who then go on to make big money).

  

One of the common pieces of good advice for writers trying to find an agent is to look in the dedication and acknowledgments pages of books by writers of the same genre.  Writers often thank their agents (and editors) and that’s a great way of beginning to build a target list.

 

Other resources include using www.publishersmarketplace.com (which costs $20/month) and http://www.agentquery.com/search.aspx (free) to search for agents whose recent track record shows that they have the chops and connections to make decent deals for authors.  It’s worth checking those resources to see who is representing debut authors as well.

  

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the next steps to take. 

  Keep Writing!Jonathan  Jonathan Maberry (my author website)www.jonathanmaberry.com Career Doctor for Writers  (my consulting business)www.careerdoctorforwriters.com Writers Corner USA (the writers center I co-founded)www.writerscornerusa.com 

MySpace:  www.myspace.com/jonathan_maberry

January 14, 2008

BAD MOON RISING

 

Only four months and counting…

 

BAD MOON RISING, the final book of the Pine Deep Trilogy (which began with 2006’s GHOST ROAD BLUES and continued with 2007’s DEAD MAN’S SONG) will be released everywhere on May 8. 

 

I’m getting pretty excited about the release of BAD MOON RISING, and for a number of reasons.  First, the book has one hell of a lot of action in it.  The growing threat discussed in the first two books explodes in the third and the second half of that book is basically one big, rolling battle between the dwindling forces of good and the swelling forces of evil.  The dead rise to attack the world of the living with a Red Wave of murder.  I had sooooo much fun writing that book.

 

The book also has a fun twist in that I’ve written a lot of real-world people into the book.  I tapped a number of good folks in the horror industry and asked if I could write them into the story.  Since the book deals with a massive Halloween celebration (during which very bad things happen) I wanted to have some fun with blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.  So… I contacted a bunch of friends in the horror biz and asked if I could write them into the book.  They all agreed, so in BAD MOON RISING you can expect to meet TOM SAVINI (make-effects wizard), STEPHEN SUSCO (screenwriter for the Grudge flicks), JAMES GUNN (screenwriter of the new Dawn of the Dead), BRINKE STEVENS (scream queen), DEBBIE ROCHON (scream queen), KEN FOREE (star of the original Dawn of the Dead), JIM O’REAR (stuntman and haunted attraction consultant), and JOE BOB BRIGGS (drive-in movie critic and actor).  Also making a brief appearance is MEM SHANNON (one of my all-time favorite Bluesmen!).

 

And these folks aren’t just doing walk-ons.  They actually get into the action.  Question is…will they make it out of Pine Deep alive?

 

This is going to be fun!

 

Jonathan Maberry

www.jonathanmaberry.com

 

THE QUERY LETTER

January 3, 2008

THE QUERY LETTER

 

Nothing scares new writers more than the prospect of having to write a query letter.  Most of the writers I know would rather be gnawed on by rats rather than draft a query and (even worse) send the damn thing out to editors.

 

I remember the very first one I wrote, way back in my second year of college (1978!).  Though my journalism courses hadn’t yet covered how to write a query letter I was eager to jump into magazine feature writing.  So I wrote one that I thought would be effective and fired it off. 

 

It came back with ‘Are you serious?’ written in red ink across the page.

 

If there are, say, 25 things you should NEVER do in a query, I managed to do them all, and I invented a few new ones.  The editor thought the query was a joke sent in by one of his editor buddies –a kind of absolute worst-case query.

 

Soooo…I broke another old rule about queries and I called the editor on the phone.  This was waaay before the cell phone era.  When I explained that I was a college student and was genuinely trying to pitch an article to him (and after he stopped laughing) he took a few minutes to explain to me how and what queries are. 

 

Based on that discussion I was able to build a model query and have used it, in one form or another, to sell over 1100 articles and 20-odd books.  That’s not to say that I never got any more queries (I could wallpaper Nebraska with the queries I’ve gotten over 30 years in the biz) but my sell ratio jumped and I’ve sold virtually everything I’ve pitched.  Not necessarily to the first market or editor to whom it was sent, but I generally will sell what I pitch. 

 

The moral here is that industry is not looking for writers to reinvent the wheel.  There are certain things they need to see in a query and they need to be able to make a decision about the pitch in a few quick seconds.  Anything that interferes with that process wastes the editor’s time and also sends a clear message that “I’m not a professional”.

 

On the other hand, it helps to understand why rejection letters happen (maybe I’ll cover that tomorrow).

 

Nowadays I teach workshops on query writing and the art of the book pitch and my students are going on to nail sale after sale.  That totally jazzes me.  There’s nothing more exciting for a writing teacher than to have his students become successful.

 

More on this tomorrow.

 

JONATHAN MABERRY

www.jonathanmaberry.com

 

My editing/consulting business:

www.careerdoctorforwriters.com

  

Happy New Year

December 31, 2007

This is the last blog of 2007…so I’ll be brief and just wish all of my many and varied creative friends (authors, artists, models, actors, freelancers, agents, editors, filmmakers, comic creators, producers, and publishers).

 

May 2008 bring astounding success to us all!

 

Jonathan Maberry

www.jonathanmaberry.com

www.careerdoctorforwriters.com

 

3-Act Structure for Novels

December 21, 2007

 THE THREE-ACT STRUCTURE FOR NOVELS

All storytelling is built on three acts: the set-up; the main exposition & action; the resolution.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a novel, short story, screenplay, or stand-up comic’s joke –they all have the three acts.  Even plays broken down into four or five acts still use the three-act structure to tell the story.

When I plot a novel –and especially when I rewrite after finishing a first draft—the first thing I do is craft an outline that identifies the three acts.

Here’s how I view the elements that make up the three acts:

 ACT ONE (aka Part One)

  • We meet the protagonist and most of the central characters.
  • The major plotline is introduced–either overtly or through foreshadowing.  This is the main “problem” or “issue” around which the novel revolves.
  • Subplots are introduced to give complexity and variety to the events.
  • Often Act One begins with a dramatic moment, or teaser, as a way of hooking the reader’s interest, and then we settle down to introduce our characters and establish the “world” in which they live.
  • Good novels start at some interesting point.  Have a reason for page one to open the story.
  • Begin the process of establishing the reader’s emotional & intellectual reactions to the characters.
    • Who is the protagonist?
    • Do we like this person?
    • Do we care about what is happening?
    • Do we care about the relationships that being established?
    • What does the protagonist have to solve in order for the book to ultimate conclude?
    • Is the problem compelling enough to draw us through several hundred pages?
  • The villain is introduced no later than the end of Act One.

ACT TWO

  • In novels the middle act is generally the longest and involves the deepening & exploration of the central plot themes.
  • Character relationships are fleshed out and explored. 
  • Complications are introduced that will change the direction of the story and begin steering it in unexpected directions.
  • Backstory is provided.
  • This is the most important act in the drama because you have the two most important structural moves in the story.
  • By the end of Act Two things should look pretty grim for the protagonist.  It has to seem that what he is trying to do mail fail.
  • Act Two ends with a dramatic turn of events.

ACT THREE

  • This is where all of the plot threads are woven together and drawn tight.
  • By the end of act three every major character will have gone through some process of change, for good or bad.
  • The world we introduced our readers to at the beginning of Act One is now different.
  • Most of Act Three is a race to resolve the story.
  • You must resolve the story.
  • The good guys don’t always win (though they seldom lose in bestsellers).

A CULT FLICK IN THE MAKING

December 21, 2007

I was at the end of the Baby Boom (born in ’58) but my wife was born ten years earlier, so she was a bona-fide hippie living in the Village during the 1960s, wearing love beads…doing the whole peace and love groove.

One of the things we both love is the music of the Beatles. 

A couple of months ago Julie Taymor, director of FRIDA, released a stunning movie based on and built around Beatles music: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.  We absolutely loved this flick.  We saw it three times, dragging other ex-hippie friends along with us.  We’ve just about worn out the CD soundtrack.

The movie stars Evan Rachel Wood (currently Marilyn Manson’s main squeeze and an enormously talented singer!), a brilliant Jim Sturges, and a supporting case of superb relative unknowns: Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, and T.V. Carpio; plus cool guest stars: Joe Cocker, Bono, Eddie Izzard and Salma Hayek.

Here’s the weird part: the critics savaged it and the audience stayed away in droves.

This is the best movie musical I’ve seen in years.  Thoroughly watchable and, unlike other Beatles-themed films (and the piss-poor SGT PEPPER comes to mind) this one actually makes the lyrics and the story work together.  The performances and song interpretations are amazing; and with T-Bone Burnett (O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?) doing the music and arranging it’s no wonder.

I want this to become a cult classic.  It SHOULD become a classic (and the reviewers can go jump in a lake).  If you haven’t seen it…it’ll be on DVD in February and on-demand in January.  If you dig the Beatles and if you have an understanding of what the 60’s were all about, then do yourself a favor and watch this flick.

-Jonathan Maberry

www.jonathanmaberry.com