News Flash—‘Dark’ Is Not ‘Stranger Things’

Dark Poster
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Recently, I finished watching the new Netflix series, ‘Dark.’ Prior to its availability, though, I was reading headlines like these: Dark Review: Netflix’s German Answer To Stranger Things Is Appropriately Titled, And Far More Grim and Netflix’s Dark: Stranger Things meets The Killing in this supernatural Nordic noir, and to be honest, it kind of pissed me off. To be fair, the articles in question did a pretty good job of distinguishing between the two shows, but why compare them at all? Frankly, they have little to do with each other. Sure, both feature a forbidding forest and missing children. But where ‘Stranger Things’ is a mashup of ‘ET,’ ‘Stand By Me,’ and ‘Super-8,’ ‘Dark’ is a brooding meditation on Chernobyl, fate, and time travel.

So, what happens when you go with these kinds of attention-grabbing headlines? In my opinion, you create wrong expectations in the viewer’s mind. You know about expectations, right? Like when you sit down with your kids to watch the new Pixar movie, ‘Coco,’ at the local cinema and are greeted with a nearly thirty-minute short about some stupid buck-tooth snowman named Olaf. Yeah. Well, the press was bad. I think I heard there were riots in Mexico.

If by now you’re thinking of giving the show a try, let me offer a piece of advice. Switch the dialogue to German and add the English subtitles. I know, I know. Most people hate subtitles. But you will be in for a treat. Hearing the actors’ real voices as they navigate through this hell-on-earth is worth it and adds wonderfully to the tension. Trust me on this. Also, pay attention to the music. It’s spot-on.

I’ve found over the years that European storytelling is different from that of America. Europeans like to take their time letting things unfold. They’re more philosophical. They don’t shout, but rather speak in low, measured tones that convey an intensity that acts as a window into a person’s darkest secrets. And they like to minimalize the backstory, so you end up having to work hard to get to the bottom of a character rather than listening to some rube monologuing about what made them the way they are. Or worse, smarmy narration that attempts to put a bow on it all.

I will admit ‘Dark’ is not for everyone. But if you want to explore something different, give it a try. Why, you may even be tempted to get a taste of Nordic Noir a la ‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ And don’t get me wrong. I loved ‘Stranger Things’—well, the first season, anyway. All I’m saying is, ‘Dark’ truly stands on its own. It doesn’t need help from some other successful American series.

How to Train Your Inner Critic

Ray Liotta
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

I used to ride horses. I know, right? Let me just say that these creatures are beautiful. And when the horse and rider are one, the experience can be magical. But horses are also dumb—and incredibly powerful. Not a great combination, if you ask me. If a horse doesn’t want you on its back, it will throw you. And there is nothing you can do about it. Ask a rodeo cowboy. We’re talking half a ton of raw animal power, people. Oh, and they bite, too. But—and I can only vouch for English riding—show a horse a thirty-inch riding crop, and things can change for the better. You don’t even have to use it—just let them see it out of the corner of their eye.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts by other writers moaning about their inner critics. You know what I’m talking about. The inner critic is that nagging little macher who’s always in your face whenever you try putting pen to paper (not to be confused with one’s Muse). And, as far as I know, it doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are. Mine is a guy, is shorter than me, and resembles Ray Liotta, for some reason. Though he smells like hand sanitizer, I gotta give it to him—he dresses well. Now, I have never met Ray Liotta, so rather than besmirch his good name, I’ll call the bane of my existence “Stan.”

The Prick Who Came to Dinner
Stan is not the kind of person who values relationships, so obviously, he’s single. He’s been known to vanish for most of the day—I have no idea where he goes. Maybe he’s torturing some other poor schmuck. Which makes me wonder. Does he talk about me? Never mind. Stan has an uncanny ear, and as soon as he hears me typing on my laptop, he’s in the room, standing directly behind me. Breathing through his nose. Watching every letter that appears on the screen. Well, that’s how things used to be, anyway. Sound familiar?

If he gets the chance, Stan will tell me what I am writing is crap and should be burned. He wonders aloud how I’ve managed to have any success at all as a writer and suggests I look into selling insurance. He enjoys laughing at my analogies, similes, and metaphors, and bawls comically whenever I attempt to craft a tender scene. In short, he’s merciless. Now at this point, I’ll bet you think I hate Stan, right? Well, I don’t. Because as annoying as he is, he’s smart—really smart. Okay, he’ll never invent time travel. But he knows a lousy sentence when he reads one.

Stan, ladies and gentlemen, is my inner critic, and I need him. There, I said it. But here’s the thing: I need him on my terms, not his. If it were up to him, I would never write another word. “The world will thank you,” he told me one time, leaving a trail of pistachio nut shells on the shag carpet. But I’m not listening. A long time ago, I decided to train him. Just like a horse. And although he doesn’t always behave, things have gotten way better.

Now, there are writers out there far more qualified than me to explain the phases of writing in a way that makes sense. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.

Writing Process

Dreams and Nightmares
An idea comes to me, and I jot it down in my Big Book of Ideas. This can happen when I overhear a piece of a conversation or in the middle of the night when I’m trying to fall asleep. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it. Most of the time, the idea just sits in that book, collecting dust like a lonely little toy no one wants to play with. Sometimes, I incorporate it into something else. And on rare occasions, it becomes a short story or even a novel. I do not control this process—it just happens. And as I record it, Stan is nowhere in sight.

The Dreaded First Draft
This is where I sit down to the blank page. Or, in my case, the blank screen. By the way, this stage applies to short or long fiction. I’m a pantser, so I have only the vaguest notion of how to write this thing. I have a protagonist and, if I’m lucky, an antagonist. But other characters come into the picture as I go. The minute I start writing, Stan waltzes into the room, ready to tear me a new one. But before he can take his place behind my chair, I show him the riding crop. His eyes get huge, and he slinks away, muttering something like “Just for that, I’m eating all the Häagen-Dazs.” But don’t be fooled. He’ll continue trying to get back into the room, usually pretending to be the cable guy. My job is to keep him out until I finish the day’s writing. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting.

The Baby Edit
This happens the next day. I read what I’ve written and invite Stan to join me. That’s right. This pomaded idiot is like a kid in a candy store as he goes to work, pointing out lame construction and tired clichés. After allowing him to eviscerate me, I kick him out and proceed with the next day’s writing.

Keep in mind these last two phases continue until I finish the book or story. Sometimes, I get stuck and work on a different project. Currently, I have at least three unfinished novels kicking around. I’m pretty sure I will finish them. But even if I don’t, others will take their place.

The Mother of All Edits
This is where I edit the entire manuscript, with Stan at my side. I leave the crop on the desk so he can see it, in case he gets any ideas. Usually, he keeps his snarky comments to himself and provides useful suggestions on how to improve what I’ve written. This process takes days, and when I am finished, I set the work aside. I may go through this stage half a dozen times over the course of months. When I am absolutely sure the thing is perfect (nothing is perfect, but you know what I mean), I send the book off to my editor.

Wrapping Up
So, there you have it. Every writer approaches the process differently. No matter how you write, though, there is one thing I would advise. Never mix writing and editing. That’s like inviting Stan to sit down. And you don’t want that, trust me. For one thing, he’s never had an original idea in his life. Also, writing is miserable enough without saddling yourself with a banshee screaming in your ear over every ill-chosen bon mot. Not to mention those pesky adverbs. Anyway, enough. I’d love to hear how you deal with your inner critic. Why not post a comment? In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote.

You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished. ― Will Self

Book Review—Trouble In Glamour Town

Trouble In Glamour Town CoverAfter reading S. R. Mallery’s new novel, I am under the impression that nothing much has changed in Hollywood since the 1920s. Of course, movies are in color now. And people actually talk. But corrupt cops, substance abuse, and mistreatment of women are pretty much what you can get now. Which reminds me. How, with prohibition, is there so much freaking alcohol? Wow, I guess the politicians didn’t really think that one through.

One thing I love about this author’s work is her attention to period detail. For example, who knew that actors had to wear blue makeup and yellow lipstick in front of the camera? Fascinating! And she didn’t neglect details like having to crank your stupid car to get it to start—even when you were trying to catch a bad guy. I love that kind of world building.

This is an unusual Hollywood story. Sure, you’ve got the wannabe starlet through whose eyes we see the story evolve. And the hard-boiled detective, the earnest boyfriend, and a cast of crazy characters literally out of the movies—Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford! But you also have a sweet story about Rosie, who just wants to be happy. And despite the filth and corruption she seems to encounter at every turn, this girl just might have a shot.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Hollywood, 1926. Where actors’ and actresses’ dreams can come true. But do they? While silent screen movie stars reign supreme, a film producer is gunned down in cold blood. Enter Rosie, a pretty bit-player, Eddie, her current beau, and Beatrice, her bitter stage-mother. As real celebrities of the time, such as Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino float in and out, a chase to find the killer exposes the true underbelly of Los Angeles––with all its corruption.

Where to Buy
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Book Review—Sorrow’s Lie

[Sorrow’s Lie Cover]Well, it seems Jimmy is hitting his stride at last. He’s gotten himself together enough to actually be in a place where he can contemplate married life with his sweetheart, Tabby. The ghosts in his charge are more or less intact (wait, can ghosts be intact?). And he might actually be just a little…happy.

But of course, with Danielle DeVor, you know this rainbow is doomed to turn gray—even black. There’s always some new evil lurking just around the corner that demands Jimmy’s attention. And this time, it’s baaaaaad. So much for honeymooning in the Poconos.

I am a huge fan of this series, and so far, this is my favorite. The characters are well developed and familiar, and the terror is worse than ever. If you like dark fiction with this author’s trademark humor, then I suggest you pick up Sorrow’s Lie. Just make sure the doors and windows are locked and warded.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
Only an Exorcist Can Confront His Demons

Jimmy Holiday, exorcist extraordinaire, is about to embark on his most unusual case yet—a baby that may be possessed by the demonic…or worse, a true demon spawn. The Order wants him to make sure it is a true case and not some hoax…or so they say.

Once Jimmy arrives, the situation changes into a living nightmare. The Order is not what he thought at all. And now, they demand he commit an unspeakable act. But Jimmy has enough scars of his own.

When the full truth of the corruption within the Order comes to light, Jimmy must act. With a voudou woman who lives down the lane as an ally, Jimmy must fight for the life of this supernatural child, but at what cost?

Where to Buy
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Vote for a Chance at a Free Book!

[Kindle Scout Ad]

VOTE TODAY!

I need your help. Earlier this week, I submitted my new horror comedy novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon, to Kindle Scout, an Amazon program that lets readers help decide if a book gets published by Kindle Press. Of course, I’d assumed that with the holidays, I wouldn’t hear back for several weeks. But on Wednesday, I learned Amazon had approved my book for a campaign. Cue the Japanese drummers! And this is where YOU come in.

Basically, I have thirty days to convince readers to vote for my book. And I am asking you to help. If Amazon selects Chainsaw Honeymoon for publication, every person who voted for it gets a free copy (subject to Amazon’s rules). So, please. Visit my Kindle Scout Campaign today and VOTE. Thank you!

VOTE TODAY!

[Chainsaw Honeymoon Cover]

Book Description
One year ago, Alan and Stacey Navarro underwent a painful separation, leaving their daughter, Ruby, to live with her mom and an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. A bright, funny fourteen-year-old who loves shoes and horror movies, Ruby is on an insane mission to get her parents back together. But she can’t do it alone. She needs her two best friends, her dog, an arrogant filmmaker, a bizarre collection of actors, and a chainsaw-wielding movie killer. What could possibly go wrong?

Book Categories
Literature & Fiction › Humor & Satire › Dark Comedy
Literature & Fiction › Horror › Comedy
Romance › Romantic Comedy
Teen & Young Adult › Literature & Fiction › Humorous › Dark Humor

Don’t miss out. This campaign ends of December 24th. Visit my Kindle Scout Campaign and VOTE.

Book Review—The Last Victim

[The Last Victim Cover]So, I’m swearing off Alaskan king crab and Baked Alaska now. In fact, I will most likely never take that Alaskan summer cruise I was planning. Why? Because I read The Last Victim. More specifically, I allowed Jordan Dane’s mad tale to get under my skin and into my nightmares. Yeah, really.

This is some seriously good writing. The author has presented a well-researched, imaginative story about an FBI profiler with a big problem—he can connect with the dead. Oh, great. I’ll bet he’s fun at parties. I mean, this guy’s got more baggage than a luggage cart at the Ritz Carlton. The book is well crafted and haunting in its ability to pull you into the mind of a serial killer and the hunter who is in pursuit. And, believe it or not, there’s still room for a little humor—gallows humor, maybe. But hey.

If you’re drawn to the gruesome while still demanding good plotting, believable characters, and plot twists coming at you at a breathtaking pace, then I suggest you pick up this novel. You won’t be sorry. But, like me, you might be hesitant to visit our forty-ninth state anytime soon.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description
When a young hunting guide from a remote island in Alaska is found brutally murdered, his naked body is discovered in the Cascade Mountains outside Seattle—the shocking pinnacle to a grisly Totem of body parts. Nathan Applewhite is the fourteenth victim of a cunning serial killer who targets and stalks young men.

With the body count escalating, FBI profiler Ryker Townsend and his specialized team investigate the gruesome crime scene. They find no reason for Nate to have mysteriously vanished from his isolated home in Alaska before he ended up in the hands of a sadist, who has been taunting Ryker and his team in a sinister game of ‘catch me if you can.’

But Townsend has a secret he won’t share with anyone—not even his own team—that sets him on the trail of a ruthless psychopath, alone. The intuitive FBI profiler is plagued by recurring nightmares—seen through Nate’s dead eyes—that slowly chips away at his mental stability. Is he burning out and losing his mind—becoming unfit for duty—or is the last victim reaching out to him from the grave?

Townsend sees horrific flashes of memory, imprinted on the retinas of a dead man, the last image Applewhite saw when he died. Ryker must piece together the fragments. Each nightmarish clue brings him closer to a killer who knows how to hide in plain sight and will see him coming, but when the dead man has the skills of a hunting guide, he has the perfect ally to track down a killer—the last victim.

Where to Buy
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What Writers Can Learn from “Pork and Beans”

[Pork and Beans]
Photo courtesy of Eli Duke

Talk about fortunate! My friend Jordan Dane,  who recently did a guest post on this blog, gave me a slot over at The Kill Zone, where only the coolest authors hang out. Happy reading…

I first heard Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” when my younger daughter was teaching herself the bass. She would blast it every day, following along on her instrument. Eventually, I found myself listening to the lyrics. I came to love that song and now have it on my phone. Yeah, I know. Talk about late to the party. Well, in my defense, I mostly listen to straight-ahead jazz, so. But enough about Weezer…

Trying Not to Be a Pompous Ass
As a writer, I can really identify with those lyrics. I won’t quote them here, but you can use this link if you want to refresh your memory. The point is, the books I choose to write are a product of my, shall we call it, pork-and-beans attitude. I really don’t give a crap about researching popular genres and writing the kinds of books I think people might like. I notice a lot of “experts” like to give that kind of advice to non-fiction authors. To me, that’s right up there with “write what you know.” Spare me. Now, on the surface, I might sound a little pompous. But stick with me for a sec. I am simply trying to stay true to myself. You know, like Lady Gaga.

I watched a lot of movies and television as a kid. My favorites were horror, sci-fi, and comedy. As I grew older, I came to appreciate thrillers. And in the last few years, I fell in love with Westerns. I guess I can thank Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood for that. I also love foreign films—especially those from Japan and Korea. As you can see, my tastes tend to run the gamut. I do lean toward horror, though. In fact, my first four books revolve around zombies and demons.

To read the rest of this article, please visit The Kill Zone.