Monday, October 27, 2014

The Monster in the Shadows





Last night, in a rite of passage of sorts, I celebrated the Halloween season by sitting down with my son and watching a horror movie.  After carefully weeding through the possibilities to eliminate the ones with nudity and other sexual content that us parents object to, I finally settled on John Carpenter’s, The Thing.

It’s an unusual movie in that it is actually scary, yet doesn’t contain a single female character (which means none of that aforementioned nudity). There’s blood and gore, but most young buys are more than capable of dealing with that. The language is a little rough, but if you’re going to watch a horror movie with your kid you have to make some concessions at some point. This ain’t Disney, after all.
Anyway, we both enjoyed the film and had a high old time pointing things out and eating popcorn.

But while I watched the film, I also found myself comparing it to the “prequel” that had been made only a year or two ago. That one hadn’t been too bad, (actually, it was better than I expected it to be) but this one was so much better. And as I realized that, I watched the film closer and tried to work out why.

Both movies were competently acted. And I will give the prequel credit for doing things to set up what was found in Carpenter’s movie with only a couple of objectionable exceptions.  Personally, I think if you are going to go that direction then it’s the writer’s duty to go ahead and nail it without leaving ANY big things that don’t fit. It wouldn’t have been that hard. But that was a personal quibble on my part and I don’t think it’s what made the “prequel” an inferior movie.

In the end, I think it all came back to the CGI. Now (full disclosure) I’m not a fan of CGI in most horror movies in the first place, but I’m not totally sure the CGI itself was the total problem here. The only VISUAL drawback I noticed with the CGI was that in comparison with the monster in Carpenter’s movie, the one in the prequel simply wasn’t as wet and slimy. There was also that feeling of “not really there” that I sometimes get with CGI as well, even when it is seamlessly done.

But the real problem wasn’t so much the CGI as the decisions it led the movie makers into making. CGI allowed them to have the monster rampaging through hallways and stalking people through rooms…therefore that’s what they did, and I think that was their mistake.

There are two types of monsters in monster movies. There are “monsters of the shadows,” that only appear from time to time out of the darkness or from offscreen (or in this case out of a person) and then do their thing and vanish…and then there are rampaging monsters who once they appear throw mystery to wind and go howling after their victims. (like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, for instance).

So when the makers of The Thing chose to use their newfound ability to release the monster and have it storm through the station, they changed its very nature. Sure, it was still grisly and doing disgusting acts of morphology with the human body, but now it was a monster of the shadows that was out of its element. Now it was out in the open and having to keep topping its last act of being scary and disgusting, while being cast in role of a velociraptor hunting prey.

The end result were scenes that weren't a total failure because they had at least been competently done, but were nowhere near as effective as the scenes in Carpenter’s move simply because they had the monster doing something it was never really intended to do. It was acting against type.

And I think that matters, not with just movies, but with books as well. I think when we as authors write a monster book, we need to be very clear with ourselves what type of monster we are creating. That way we can be careful to use them to their best effect. Because as authors, we are faced with the same quandary that has been the downfall of many horror movies that have discovered the shiny new toy of CGI...

…just because we can do it, doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What is it All About?

   


    At the moment, I’m kinda struggling with a novel I’m working on. I have a basic idea of what’s going to happen, and I have some rather potent and memorable scenes pictured. But at the same time, I’m having to stop and rethink the whole thing because I haven’t truly figured out what the novel is about. Knowing what the book is about goes a long way toward helping me write it. And what I’m talking about isn’t the surface plot and situation.

    For instance, Spiderstalk has giant spiders, superhuman mutants, and secret societies, but what it’s really about is a man who lost nearly everything finding himself and a reason to live again. Adam has given up, and only uses his brother’s disappearance as a crutch to keep going. His fixation on rescuing Tucker is authentic, but also serves the selfish purpose of motivating him forward. It’s only when he faces the Matriarch and truly has to decide who he is, that he finally makes a defining non-selfish choice that means he can now move forward with life as a better man.

    Dead Stop has graveyard zombies surrounding a truckstop and people fighting for their lives…but what it’s really about is Deke overcoming his self-doubt and illusions of other people, Rachel overcoming her grief and finding her way back to the things that made her strong, and Marisa finding the ability to allow herself to trust and lean on somebody else.

    Even Cargill from The Ways of Khrem has a character arc, as he initially and shamelessly makes all his decisions based on his own self-interest, but as the story unfolds he begins to get in touch with the past that hardened him and uses that as motivation to act in a way to set things right. He will always be cynical, sarcastic, and opportunistic, but at the same time he is adding dimensions that allows him to act on better impulses…even if reluctantly. (This novel should be republished this fall)

    A  novel is a story of a character, and losing sight of that is the prelude to a novel in trouble. So I’m backing up and rethinking my characters. It’s a delay, and may involve going back  and rewriting from an earlier point in the novel, but that’s okay. In the end it’s about the finished product, and giving the reader a journey that’s not only exciting, but has a little substance.


    Ah well, back to work.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Getting Caught by the Inevitable



I have a neuropathy called Charcot Marie Tooth, or CMT.

I have lived with it for about ten years, as paralysis overtook my feet and lower legs. I had to learn to wear braces called AFO's which allowed me to walk on feet that had become useless. Over time, as it progressed, I first used canes to augment the braces and then graduated to a rolling walker. I usually didn't make a big deal out of it, although I often put off getting what I needed until the absolutely last moment...or probably should have had it for a while.

Unfortunately, the disease is now progressing in a way that is going to present challenges of several types as time moves forward. It has been in my hands for a while, and just like my feet, I adapted as they weakened. My wife became the jar opener of the house, and I've even had to ask my kids to help me with sticky doorknobs.

Yet, now the weakness in my hands is starting to progress into partial numbness and paralysis. The saving grace up till now has been that it takes very little strength to push the keys on a keyboard, but now my fingers are starting to completely lose their ability to move in certain directions. My index fingers will no longer move toward my thumb, making the G,H,T, and Y keys real adventures. My little fingers are losing lateral motion as well.

Needless to say, this development is going to present serious challenges to my writing career. I' probably should have looked into this sooner, but I guess it's time to start exploring options involving changing my typing style, or even looking into voice recognition software since mouseclicking is getting more difficult too. Sadly, hands are not like feet nd braces will not help them.

Right now, I hate this disease with an intensity that goes beyond words. I just remind myself that if it hadn't been for CMT, I would have never been forced to sit down and write in the first place. It offers some consolation. But now it threatens to take that career away. and if I'm going to continue I'll have to figure some things out.

I'm hoping to find a workable solution. I still have some stories to tell.


Friday, June 6, 2014

A Writer's Prayer




A Writer’s Prayer


Now I sit me down to write,
I pray thee Lord, to keep it tight.
If my wretched muse should find a clue,
Please give me focus to see it through.
For her contributions are few and sparse,
I think she’s mostly drunk off her arse.
She staggers in from nightlong bouts,
hiccups, burps, then passes out.
Then in her drunken slumber blows,
random fragments of turgid prose,
most of which offends the nose,
and came from where God only knows.
Yet I search in hope through that noxious vapor,
for something decent I might put to paper.
For without her I shall surely fall,
and she seldom remembers to come in at all.
Thus I stare at an empty screen,
while she snores and mumbles things obscene.
Then she stretches, yawns, and starts to grouch,
while hunting for loose change within the couch.
Then it’s up and off to parts unknown,
leaving me to type and groan.
I pound the keyboard with dour abuse,
wishing the wench had a little more use.
But though she is a hopeless blot,
the sad truth is, she’s all I’ve got.
So despite the fact her help is slight,
I pray thee God, she returns tonight.


D. Nathan Hilliard

Saturday, April 5, 2014

New! Ghosts, Monsters and Madmen is Out!


Ghosts, Monsters and Madmen is out!

These collection of thirteen tales spans the breadth of my writing career to date. It contains the very first short story I ever wrote (Designated Driver) and the very latest (That Last, Lone Kiss Goodbye). It is a diverse collection featuring drag racing spirits, stalkers with unearthly tenacity, a cat with an unwanted streak of responsibility, and even a story that both inspired and later evolved to become the prologue to my novel Spiderstalk.

There is also a story that I submitted and got accepted into a mystery collection, and another written for an anthology dedicated to revenge. These are two of the three stories where the evil is not supernatural, but found in the hearts of men. And there are a couple of others where Mother Nature comes up with a surprise or two and gets her licks in as well.

It's a diverse collection...with a little something for everybody. I hope everyone out there enjoys it, and I would love hearing peoples opinions on it.

Thank you very much!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What's Been Going On....




I haven't updated in a while, and the reason is I seem to be stuck in this infinite spiral of going through the last stages of getting this anthology published. I finished the paperback version and sent a .pdf off to Createspace. I got the proof back a few days later and discovered there were problems.

Bleh.

Oh well, it's not like THAT never happened before, so I prepared myself for the tortuous process of proofing, remargining, and making other fixes before sending off another .pdf to Createspace. Unfortunately, this time I suffered a random bout of frugality and didn't order the expedited shipping for the proof. I figured why not save some money and let it arrive a day or two later.

Hahahahahaaaa! As IF!!!!

I ordered the thing last week and this week is almost over. From now on, it's expedited shipping for me! Live and learn....the motto of the indie writer. But I should get it today or tomorrow (hopefully) and then I'll know whether I can hit that "publish" button or if another proof is called for. Wish me luck.

And I really want to get this book out for another reason than you might think as well. Unfortunately, due to what I call my slightly Aspergerish nature, I can't really work on one project until another is either done, or shelved. Even if it's in the state of limbo that Ghosts, Monsters and Madmen is currently in. I have to finish the entire thing and get it out before my mind will switch gears and allow me to seriously work on another story. I am the world's worst multitasker. I can't even effectively do something else while I'm  waiting on news for my current project.

I bet Stephen King never has that problem.

Speaking of whom...I've been reading some of Stephen Kings works lately. Mainly his older stuff (Christine and Salem's Lot) but I also read Dr. Sleep and an anthology of his newer stories as well (Everything is Eventual). I've got to say, I really admire him as a writer. His early stuff was awesome. He went into a bit of a tailspin after It for a while, but it really seems he's getting his mojo back.

It's odd, I don't think he was near the influence on me writing-style wise as Hemingway and Bradbury, but it was his works that showed me you could take a serious writing approach to horror. It doesn't have to be just schlock. I do a lot of things style-wise that would probably make him cringe, but there is no doubt that he was a major influence on my work content wise. Him and Crichton. (I've always liked how Crichton made sure the internal logic of his story was tight, even when at first you were wondering what was going on)

Anyway, I think I might look into buying It soon. It's been over twenty years since I read that.

Now if the mail would just arrive....

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Work Proceeds...Albeit Slowly



Work on my next anthology has been proceeding at a snail-like but steady pace. I have just about put the finishing touches on the ebook and I'm about to turn my attention to the paperback version. The formatting for kindle went surprisingly well and I didn't have to redo it a bunch this time, but the paperback version is still always a pain. Got to mess with headers, footers, page numbers, and make the papersize work before making the .pdf. Blech!

I have also been working on artwork and come up with a second cover candidate, pictured above.

While I like the old-timey look of the other cover candidate, I'm not really sure it captures the mood of a horror anthology as well as this one does. There is also the matter of this cover fitting in with the rest of my books covers better. I might need to move the background picture up a tad though. So there are decisions to be made on this front as well.

Next week is Spring Break for the kiddos, so you can imagine what that is going to do to my production. I'm lucky to string a sentence together with those two little hooligans swinging from the rafters. But I knew this was coming, and I think I'm still on schedule to have this out before the end of March. 

We shall see.