Four Color Bleed has launched on Kickstarter!

fcb centered cover

My novel about comic books, nostalgia, and the nature of reality is finally revealed to the world. As of right now, we’re one-third funded on Kickstarter and going for the gold. But don’t take my word for it: listen to me say it in our campaign video. A good friend nearly died in that eyeball helmet, so give it a watch.

After scaring everyone with Monsters All the Way Down, I wanted to have some fun. Four Color Bleed is everything I wanted it to be, a book about friendship, dog-eared comic books, and heroes punching villains in the face. It’s a book you’ll love, especially with illustrations by Rian Gonzales, Weshoyot Alvitre, Ben Zmith, Morgan Perry (aka Geauxta), Ben Cohen, Kevin Kelly, Adam Prosser, and Chris “Chance!” Brown.

artist-grid

But this book will only exist when the fundraising campaign succeeds. Please support this project on Kickstarter. Because, with everyone’s help, this book will really be something special.

Four Color Bleed. Now on Kickstarter.

Gifts for Someone Serious About Becoming a Magician

magic table

Several folks on Reddit and elsewhere have been asking about gift ideas for a teenager or adult who is serious about learning magic tricks. I’ve given some of this advice before, but thought it was time to do a serious write-up.

Magic is expensive if you’re buying one-off tricks. What I would suggest is getting the tried-and-true material that always gets recommended. It’s going to give you the biggest bang for your buck. If you think the person you’re shopping for would just want an easy trick, there’s plenty of that out there. With these books and props, they could learn hundreds of great tricks.

If I were to do this for someone on a budget, I would go with these three books:

If you want to spend a little more, there are DVD sets for both Modern Coin Magic and The Royal Road for Card Magic. They’re only $15 each. You can get them along with the books or on their own, and they’re made for beginners.

Coins and cards are the bread and butter of learning sleight of hand. If you know the person is interested in just cards or just coins, you could get them just the book or DVDs on that subject alone.

As for props, you want five fifty-cent pieces (assuming you’re in the US). You can get a roll of them at the bank for $20, take out five that match and deposit the rest back in. With five coins, you can do almost anything in the Bobo coin book or DVD.

Get a couple of decks of Bicycle playing cards from the store. If you want to get really fancy, Monarch playing cards are on Amazon for $8. They’re gorgeous, but totally unnecessary. If you’re practicing card tricks, you’ll wear out a few decks of cards anyway.

If the person you’re buying for decides magic is something they want to keep doing, they can always get fancy coins, special cards, and more expensive tricks later.

Amazon links:

If you want the bare minimum, just get a couple of decks of cards, the five fifty-cent coins, and Magic: The Complete Course. It has card tricks and coin tricks, so it would have plenty to get started.

One request: if you buy someone a book on magic, resist the urge to flip through it. There’s a good chance they’ll want to show you some tricks, and knowing how it’s done can ruin the fun for everybody. Plus, the Magic Police will round us all up. And I can’t go back to Magic Prison. I won’t go back.

I hope this is helpful. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments. I’m happy to help.

New Short Story in the free Siren’s Call eZine

I have a new horror story, “Prove It to Me,” in The Sirens Call #23, the Bat-Shit Crazy for You! issue. It’s a FREE online eZine, so check it out.

sirens call cover

The Sirens Call eZine, with every issue available for free.

Direct link to the PDF of issue 23. I’m on page 23.

Just a heads up, this story is a bit more explicit. Triggers include violence, making out in cars, and the 1970s.

The tale is set in the fictional Flatland, Texas, where a number of my stories end up. If you enjoy it, be sure to join my mailing list for more free short stories, along with updates, movie recommendations, and valuable links.

10 Hidden Gems from 1960s DC Comics

I recently finished reading every 1960s Marvel and DC Comic that I could get my hands on. The Silver Age was a magical time for the Big Two, and I’ve had a blast revisiting some classic stories. If you want to see where some of your favorite characters were created or revitalized, it’s an era you should check out.

Unfortunately, Marvel’s Silver Age doesn’t hold many surprises. Sure, there’s Ditko’s Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Thor, and Steranko’s Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. But many fans know about those going in. As for hidden gems, there’s Marie Severin’s art on Doctor Strange and the Hulk, which I had never noticed before. And the Human Torch solo stories in Strange Adventures were adorable.

The Marvel Universe just wasn’t that big yet in the ’60s. In 1965, Marvel only had eight or so superhero titles and a spattering of war and romance. Meanwhile, DC had months where it put out three dozen books. By 1969, Marvel had about twenty books every month, but DC still had over 30.

Marvel might have the space to give Janet van Dyne a few (disappointing) backup stories, but Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen got a whole series, full of bizarre transformations, transvestism, and evil hippies. There are just more nooks and crannies for something special to hide in over at the Distinguished Competition, and I wanted to count down my ten favorites with you.

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One Easy Trick to Improve Your Print-On-Demand Book: How to Get Better-Looking Text

Print-on-demand gives self-publishers enormous freedom to create and distribute books. But the process can be tricky, and the physical book can come out looking different than it did on your monitor.

This forum post shows some of the ways your letters can turn out. It’s easy for text to become blurry or pixelated. My problem was the Garamond font came out looking emaciated.

Here is the process that helped me to get the interior of my book looking great. All credit goes to Daniel Flavin, who posted his method in the Adobe forums. I’ve taken his process and created this step-by-step illustrated guide.
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Top 10 Nostalgic Episodes of The Twilight Zone

You fine folks enjoyed my countdown of the Top 13 Scariest Episodes of The Twilight Zone, so here are my picks of the best nostalgic episodes.

These trips to The Twilight Zone ruminate on the allure of the past. Escaping into memories of a simpler time might lead to dreams coming true, but just as often reveal that the good ol’ days hid nightmares of their own.

Nine of these episodes are available on Netflix, and all ten are available for free on Hulu.

I’ll try to avoid spoilers. But when most episodes feature a twist, just knowing the tone of a story can give away the ending. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s experience, but that’s all the warning you get.

10. Of Late I Think of Cliffordville (Season 4, Episode 14)

Twilight Zone - Of Late I Think of Cliffordville

Julie Newmar, the real reason this episode made the list.

William Feathersmith, an aging millionaire, decides the getting is better than the having. So he makes a deal with the demonic Miss Devlin to live his life over again.

This episode runs through most of my favorite Twilight Zone plots: nostalgia, time travel, and a Faustian bargain. It doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but it explores one of my favorite questions: if you could go back in time and relive your life, but with the knowledge you have now, could you live it better? Continue reading

Summer Reading with my Five-Year-Old

This summer I decided to read chapter books to my five-year-old son at bedtime. I’m not saying I’ll never read him Caps for Sale again, but I wanted to show him some of the longer children’s books I’ve loved.

Honestly, I never expected it to work. At the most, I hoped to lay the groundwork and circle back around later. I should have had more faith, because now I have a nightly reading time we both enjoy.

It takes about the same amount of time as our old bedtime routine, only instead of reading two or three picture books, I read one chapter from a big book. I still do voices, we still look at the pictures, and we still have a good time. If you want to try this, I recommend patience. If your child doesn’t respond, just wait and try it again another time. This ain’t a race. And even if they’re enjoying themselves, you’ll still have to remind them to stop kicking the walls and screaming gibberish. Or maybe that’s just us.

It’s nice to start a reading session with a review. Ask your child, “What’s happened in the book so far?” or “Where’d the heroes end up last night?” After we finish reading, I try to ask a few comprehension questions like, “Why do you think so-and-so did such-and-such?” or “What do you think will happen next?”

Here are the first four books we read together and how it went. Consider checking the books out from your local library. If you read a chapter a night, you can probably finish them before you have to renew. Continue reading

How I got great reviews for my self-published book

I’ve had some people asking how I got so many quality reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for my first self-published novel, Monsters All the Way Down. It took a long time, so I’m not sure my approach was the most effective. But I’m happy to share, and I’d love to hear your own advice and comments.

I got reviews from three primary sources:

  • Word of mouth
  • Book bloggers
  • Amazon reviewers

Word of Mouth

If you’ve ever written anything, you know how flattering it is when people tell you they enjoyed it. Whether it’s in person, on Facebook, or on Twitter, it makes my day every time. I try to follow up my heartfelt thank-you by asking them to review the book on Amazon and Goodreads.

Don’t be a jerk about it; no one wants to be annoyed into reading your book, and that goes double for posting a review. Even if they loved your book, there are countless reasons they might not feel comfortable reviewing it. In the event they take time out of their lives to review your work, it’s time for another of those heartfelt thank-yous.

I also had a few folks contact me directly about reviewing the book. If an active reviewer is already excited about reviewing you, go for it. Since I was new to the game, I didn’t have anyone doing this to scam a free copy, but I guess it’s always possible.

Book Bloggers: The Unsung Heroes of Indie Publishing

Book blogging is a tough gig, especially if you’re willing to accept indie reviews. I’d imagine they can quickly become overwhelmed with requests from writers who aren’t ready to publish. I’m not surprised many close their gates or start charging for reviews.

I decided to go with bloggers who didn’t charge. I spent several days at my desk looking at lists of reviewers who accept indie books. Here are two example lists, and you’ll find more reviewers if you google a bit. Most of the people on the lists have their own blog, but some only do reviews.

I made a spreadsheet and went through the lists, recording all the ones currently open to submissions in the right genre. My spreadsheet listed the blog site (if applicable), the name of the reviewer, the contact information, and the submission requirements. I also had columns for whether I had sent them a request yet, if they had accepted my request, if I had sent them a copy, and if a review had been posted.

I finished compiling my spreadsheet before I sent out submissions. I would recommend just sending them as you go, because many of the reviewers were closed to submissions by the time I got back to them.

Submitting review requests felt like querying agents or publishers. Every blogger had a slightly different process. Some had weird things like mentioning the word “boomerang” in the email so they knew you read their requirements. It was a lot like that story about Van Halen having a contract that said they got a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown M&Ms removed. That way they knew people actually read the contract.

candy

So I had a form email which I plugged reviewers’ names into, but I would also have to change it up based on their requirements. Like I said, they probably get an avalanche of requests, so be understanding that they need a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Some reviewers ask upfront if you’re willing to do an interview or giveaway. I always said I would be up for either one, as long as it was an eBook giveaway. I love doing interviews, since it’s a chance to talk about all the things I’ve been thinking about while writing the book. The occasional interview saves me from talking the ears right off of my loved ones.

Keep in mind, some reviewers only accept physical copies of a book. That’s fine, but the cost can add up for a self-publisher, and not every physical copy you send turns into a review. Just prioritize physical review copies, and pay attention to where reviewers are located. Sometimes it’s easier to send copies through Amazon, especially if they’re international.

Amazon Reviewers

I repeated the spreadsheet process with the top Amazon reviewers. These are folks probably get even more requests than the bloggers. Not just about books, either. From reading their profiles, they get asked to review way too many weight loss supplements. After I went through the top reviewers, I contacted a few folks who posted positive reviews in books similar to mine.

Here’s a link to Amazon’s top reviewers. Only contact the ones who say they review self-published books in your genre. I don’t remember how far down the list I went, but I had a decent return.

Paid services I haven’t tried that worked for others

I’ve heard good things about Net Galley, a service for sharing advance reader copies. It’s not cheap, but apparently returns on the investment.

There are plenty of book bloggers who offer paid services, including reviews and blog tours. Let me say up-front, I have nothing against these folks. As long as the reviews are honest and the reviewers make it clear they were compensated, more power to them. Just remember, it’s against Amazon’s TOS to pay for reviews.

Bottom Line: It Takes Time

I won’t lie to you. I was glued to my desk for a couple of weeks to send out over 450 requests. About 5% of those turned into reviews. This probably had as much to do with Monsters All the Way Down being my first published novel as it had to do with there being fewer reviewers willing to read horror. Your mileage definitely may vary.

It was tough work, but remember we’re on the same playing field as publishers who send out thousands of review copies to professional reviewers. You’re going to need to invest some serious elbow grease to get noticed.

Be sure to follow up with a thank you to anyone who posts a review, and retweet/share/plus the positive ones. Helping publicize each other is a big deal, especially for folks working with indie authors.

Hopefully this is helpful for some of you out there. And for you reviewers: thanks for all your hard work. Indie authors are lucky to have you.

Top 13 Scariest Episodes of The Twilight Zone

Following up on my “What I Learned About Storytelling From the Original Twilight Zone,” this is the first in a series of Twilight Zone lists I’ll be posting. I know I’m crazy, but since I’m making the lists anyway, I might as well share ’em with you fine folks.

The Twilight Zone is known for its twist endings and giving generations of folks the heebie-jeebies. I hate spoilers, so I won’t be posting a list of the Top 10 Twist Endings. But these are the episodes I feel are the heebie-jeebiest. I’ll do my best not to spoil the endings for you. Sure, I’ll describe the premise and why it’s great, but I won’t reveal anything that happens after the last commercial break.

13. The Arrival (Season 3, Episode 2)

Twilight Zone - The Arrival

Observe the fasten seat-belt signs and say goodbye to your sanity.

Flight 107 lands safely, but there’s no sign of the passengers or crew. The FAA sends Mr. Sheckly to investigate.

One of my greatest fears is “What if reality doesn’t line up with my perception?” It’s a theme I keep coming back to in my own writing, and this episode pulls it off.

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What I Learned About Storytelling From the Original Twilight Zone

There are television shows that changed the way my brain worked. The Prisoner. Twin Peaks. The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

One that wiggled into my brain early was The Twilight Zone, the original series that aired from 1959 to 1964. I would have seen it on tape and in syndication much later. In my teen years, they started running marathons on the Sci-Fi Channel. I would live in the Zone for days at a time, my life narrated by Rod Sterling.

It’s an anthology series, and each episode is a standalone story with different creators. Episodes are usually creepy, but many are heartwarming or nostalgic. The omniscient narrator, Rod Sterling, sets the stage with his trademark dry style, and he wraps it up at the end with a moral or one last attempt to give you the heebie-jeebies. Most trips through the Twilight Zone have a twist ending that sticks with you.

Sure, some episodes are duds, but The Twilight Zone has some of the best directing, acting, and writing in the history of TV. I recently watched through the entire series, and here’s what it taught me about storytelling.

It’s all about the lighting

The Twilight Zone has a distinctive look. Directors often utilize a technique called chiaroscuro lighting, which uses shadows to create shapes and tell the eye where to focus. The high contrast between light and dark looks amazing in black and white. But more importantly, it sets the tone.

Bonus dutch angle! The Howling Man, 1960

Bonus dutch angle! “The Howling Man,” 1960

Lighting wasn’t the only tool in their tool box. They throw in tilted dutch angles, claustrophobic close-ups, and blaring musical cues. And all of it is used to set the tone of the scene. You might be in the dark about what’s really going on in the story, but there’s never any doubt about how you’re meant to feel.

I’m a writer, so I have my own set of tricks to move the spotlight and control the tone of a scene. Metaphor, word choice, sentence and paragraph length–there are countless ways to encourage the reader to experience the intended emotions.

Whatever your storytelling medium, don’t skimp on the lighting.

Don’t waste the budget on rubber monsters

I was flipping through channels once with my dad, and we settled on something with a flying saucer and a big rubber alien. My dad wondered if it was The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. I’d never seen that one before, but I said it had to be The Outer Limits. When it turned out I was right, my dad, understandably impressed at my useless talent, asked how I knew. I said, “The Twilight Zone doesn’t have rubber monsters.”

Rod Sterling had plenty of fights with the network about budget. They hired talented actors, built lavish sets, and bought great scripts. But they didn’t waste money on monsters. Rubber aliens showed up on occasion, but almost always for comedic effect. Because rubber monsters look silly.

twilight zone mr dingle the strong

Fortunately, we don’t see too much of this. “Mr. Dingle, The Strong,” 1961.

H.P. Lovecraft, the most ripped-off horror writer of the 20th century, said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” His stuff was so scary because he didn’t over-describe his beasties. He told the reader just enough so the reader could scare themselves.

One of the best examples of rubber monsters done right is Ridley Scott’s Alien. That alien is terrifying because they keep it in the shadows. There’s a deleted scene where alien is brightly lit and onscreen for way too long. Suddenly it isn’t a nightmarish killing machine. It’s a guy in a rubber suit crabwalking around.

So let the audience fill in the blanks. This doesn’t just apply to creepy crawlies or murders, either. I think the reader can think of a steamier <ahem> romantic interlude than I can write. So I set the stage and let their imagination run wild. A peek is better than an anatomy lesson. I wouldn’t do this if I were writing bodice rippers, of course, unless I wanted to give out refunds.

Wrap it all up in 22 minutes

There are five seasons of The Twilight Zone. Seasons 1,2,3, and 5 have half-hour episodes, so they’re 22 minutes without commercials. Season 4 had a one-hour time slot, so episodes were over twice as long at about 50 minutes.

One of the reasons the show is still popular is the usual short length. Rod Sterling and the other writers were able to develop an entire world of original characters between commercial breaks. This forced them to trim the fat and make every second count.

Season 4 was different. The doubled length meant padding and needless repetition. Worst of all, it gave the audience time to catch up. I can’t imagine someone getting to the end of these episodes without knowing the twist. “Oh, he was dead all along? I called that ten minutes in!”

Twilight Zone Printer's Devil

It could have been a classic episode, but no one wants to sit through it. “Printer’s Devil,” 1963.

It’s tempting to make a story longer than it needs to be. I’m the worst about this, and I’m lucky to have a critique group to reign me in.

Cut out scenes that don’t set the tone, move the plot along, or develop characters. Combine characters when possible. Delete superfluous words. It’s hard, but sometimes you should just let a novella be a novella.

Hopefully you can benefit from my binge watching and overthinking about a fifty-year-old TV show. The whole series is available on Hulu, and everything except season 4 is on Netflix. Just stay on your guard, because not everyone makes it out of The Twilight Zone.

Buh buh buh buuuuuh!