Halloween Horror Round-Up

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Boo!

Boo!

Did we scare you?

Darn. Oh well. Maybe these will.

In honor of the (very) swiftly approaching Halloween holiday, The Writer’s Bloc has compiled a list of the spooky, the creepy, the scary, the just plain uncanny*. Some are written by TWB members, some are not. All are worth a read.

So grab yourself a glass of something red, turn off the lights and enjoy the following Halloween Horror Round-Up stories.

Stories by Strangers

Afraid of the DarkKari Fay

A Soft KnockingCharles Mashburn

Sarahann’s WarningOzlem Yikici

Undead in Brown County – S. J. Wright (Novel excerpts only)

Stories by Members

A Catchy TuneMichael Lyons**

Ants in the MailboxSonia G. Medeiros (Note: this is part 2 of Postcards from Hell, below)

Caller ID – Hope Sullivan McMickle

демон – Michael Lyons

Il Masque – Michael Lyons

Postcards From Hell – Sonia G. Medeiros (Part 1, read this first)

Quinn’s Descent – Cynthia Robertson (guest blogging for Billie Jo Woods)

Starlight on the Water – Michael Lyons

The Creature Over the Bed – Michael Lyons

The Eyes of the Cat – Michael Lyons

The Venice Accord – Michael Lyons

The Windows, My Eyes – Michael Lyons

There is a Monster at my Window – Steven Glenn

(Week) Night of the Living Dead – Michael Lyons

* No X-men are involved in this Round-Up. Maybe next time, guys.

** Yes, I write a lot.

Make A Difference Day, Blog-Hop 2011

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Haley Whitehall, over on her site, recommended a blog-hop for Make A Difference day (October 22). The idea is to visit all the blogs on the Master List and follow them, then look at each of those blog’s three Recommended Blog links.

The Writer’s Bloc is all about spreading the good word, so we felt that this was a capital idea.

Here is the Master List, copied from Haley’s own site:

Mike Lyons – http://therebycandlelight.wordpress.com

The Writers Bloc – https://socalwritersbloc.wordpress.com

Jackie Buxton – http://jackiebuxton.blogspot.com

Amber West – http://wosushi.wordpress.com/

And here are our three recommendations. It was nearly impossible to limit myself to only three. If, in fact, you want more, see the Links section on the left: those are ALL worthy additions to your reading list.

Writer’s Beware – About not getting conned as a writer.

Publish Your Own E-Book – What it says on the tin.

The Rights of Writers – Legal tips and thoughts for writers.

Spotlight on: The Center for Nonverbal Studies

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Some of the hardest things to convey in writing are body language and facial expressions. And yet, these are the cues by which we, as human beings, rely on more than almost anything else to give context to spoken words. If you don’t believe me, visit the nearest forum and look at the number of flame wars that have started because Person B thought that Person A was being sarcastic (or didn’t realize Person A was being sarcastic, as the case may be) when Person A didn’t mean to be at all.

One thing we are told over and over in school about writing is, “show, don’t tell.” And yet, if, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” how do we show, rather than tell, how a character is feeling? Sure, big flashy obvious things like punching someone else tend to come with their own subtle clues (hint: if Joe is punching you, he’s probably not giddy), but for most normal conversations we have to rely on small bits of exposition to convey emotional and other nonverbal cues.

There are hundreds of other nonverbal cues that we pick up from every encounter with another person. Often, these are things that we don’t even realize are there. For example, watch an action movie sometime. Observe how, when the main character is supposed to be doing something Heroic, the camera will shoot him or her from below, making him or her appear taller. This creates the illusion of even greater physical impressiveness, making the MC seem even more heroic than their actions, taken by themselves, would convey. Imagine the same scene where the Hero does something really cool, and try to imagine if the camera were further away, and high above them. They would seem small, insignificant rather than mighty and impressive.

And okay, that was an easy one. How about this: why do most politicians wear navy blue suits? It turns out, there is a reason for that. The business suit itself is designed to create the image of a more physically imposing (and thus in the subconscious, more powerful, more dominant) person. The color navy is chosen because of the psychological effects it has on the viewer also: dark colors invoke the idea of ‘seriousness,’ but black is ‘too morbid.’ Navy is a nice compromise, and is the reason that almost every winning politician in the last 60 years has worn it.

Enter the Center for Non-Verbal Studies. The CNS is, as the name implies, a private, nonprofit center for the study of non-verbal communication. They delve into the psychology of every form of non-verbal communication, from body language and facial expressions, to fashion and architecture.

One of the sections of the site above is called the Nonverbal Dictionary, an invaluable resource for writers wishing to convey character’s inner thoughts and emotions without actually stating them in a narrative exposition. Or perhaps you want to describe a villain’s lair in terms that convey the sheer might of the badguy organization without just saying, “The place intimidated the heck out of Our Hero.”  Also, the sheer amount of information presented on the site makes for fascinating reading in its own right.

This is good stuff to know. So swing by the CNS and dive right in. You’ll be impressed with what you didn’t know, or that you knew but couldn’t put words to, about the ways we communicate without words.

Spotlight on: Writers Beware

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Let’s face it, getting published is hard, especially for first-timers. Publishers that will take unsolicited manuscripts are relatively difficult to find if you don’t have an agent, and (good) agents are hard to find if you aren’t published. This can lead to a large amount of frustration and re-reading of Joseph Heller novels.

The desire to be published is so strong, there is an entire industry that preys upon this desire.

You have probably seen it Advertisements for ‘contests’ where the winner and runners-up will be published in an anthology. The trick is, -everyone- is a ‘runner up’, and the quality control on those anthologies is basically non-existent. As a result, while there may be the occasional gem in the book (which usually -is- actually published eventually, but see below), you’ll have to wade through hundreds of pages of Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy Slash fiction and Why-Edward-(Or-The-Other-Guy-)Should-Be-With-Me Mary-Suefic to find it.

And then, when the book is finally published, you discover that for the most part, it’s not being sold in stores. It is a coffee-table book, and you don’t get a free copy. Instead, they offer you ‘discounted’ copies, and suggest that you buy them for yourself, your family, your friends, random people on the street…

In other words, after getting you to submit your story to the ‘contest’, they then try to get YOU to buy the book. A publisher who primarily sells to the author is not the sort of publisher you really want to deal with.  If a publisher’s deal looks ‘too good to be true,’ the chances are that not only is it too good to be true, but you will actually end up giving -them- money as a ‘reward’ for ‘winning’ their ‘contest.’

Thank goodness for Writers Beware, then.

Writers Beware is a watchdog group, sponsored by the SFWA (Sci-fi and Fantasy Writers of America) to make people aware of the above, and other, scams, swindles and assorted bad practices out there.

Don’t let the name of the sponsor company fool you: this is a resource valuable for ALL writers, not just those who write Sci-fi or Fantasy genre fiction.

So go to Writers Beware today, and educate yourself. You owe it to yourself, and your craft.

Spotlight on: Formatting for Submission

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A long time ago, when dinosaurs rules the world, authors used a device known as the ‘typewriter,’ a sort of primitive computer with no video games and a broken backspace key. In those halcyon days, if you wanted something to look a certain way, you pretty much had to type it out that way yourself. You couldn’t just select the body of your work and click a button to change it. Editors had certain ways they liked to see submissions, and everyone in the industry pretty much knew what they were.

Then along came the computer, and then the internet, and things began to change. The ready availability of the average person to type whatever they wanted on their computers and post that up online began to shift the way people thought about what ‘looks right.’

For example, take this blog. It is probably typical of most blogs you are familiar with, and indeed much of online writing (I speak of actual legible writing. 1337-speak and SMS msgs 4 u are outside of the scope of this discussion). The paragraphs are marked by a space between then, and there are no indentations. There are a number of reasons for this particular format, mostly having to do with the W3C standards on the behavior of the ‘Tab’ key in web pages. However, it does mean that we are only a hair’s breadth away from the dreaded Wall-O-Text.

Giant wall of text

If you have spent any time at all reading fiction online, you have almost certainly seen the Wall-O-Text: that massive block of text with no spacing between sentences or paragraphs, and sometimes even less punctuation than your average SMS conversation between 11 year olds. It is nearly impossible, and certainly  unpleasant, to read.

Most people, however, do know to put spaces between their paragraphs. So you go online and you write on your blog and you create a brilliant piece of fiction. Now you want to sell it to Asimov or the Saturday Evening Post or whatever periodical you prefer. So you edit your post, copy/paste the entire thing into a word program, hit ‘save’ and send it out.

And are surprised when not only is your work rejected, but chances are pretty good they never even bothered to read it. Why is that?

It is because editors still have preferred formatting styles for manuscript submissions, and those styles are not the same as online, blogging styles. They  have reasons for why they want things the way they are (mostly involving the ability to write notes in margins and other things involving the use of pens with red ink), and they tend to be sticklers about this formatting thing.

Thankfully, there are only a few ‘standard’ versions. Also thankfully, William Shunn has provided a nice, visual example of the most common preferred formatting style for submissions on his blog.

Please note, as William himself comments, that you should read the submission guidelines of whatever venue you are trying to sell your work to. They may have slightly different opinions about this, and their own in-house rules should be followed.

So go ahead, copy/paste your brilliant story into a word processor program… and then spend a few minutes formatting it correctly for your target editor. And don’t worry that it doesn’t look pretty, that’s the layout technician’s job, not yours. Your job is just to create, and then make sure that the submissions editor will actually read your work enough to notice that it is a brilliant gem, rather than being annoyed that you didn’t follow instructions.