Lamar Giles
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Draculas (yes, plural): a review

There’s something you need to know right now: I don’t like my vampires sparkly.

Neither do Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, or Wilson…the authors responsible for DRACULAS, a new horror novel collaboration available exclusively through eReader devices like the Amazon Kindle. Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about story medium (particularly surrounding Kilborn AKA JA Konrath), the digital revolution, and the future of publishing. This tag-team match of high octane thriller-horror writers may very well stir that pot once again, but I’m not here to talk about that.

I want to talk about sweet red candy. Blood. Particularly the RIVERS of it running through this tale.

The premise is simple enough. Terminally-ill billionaire Mortimer Moorecock purchases what tabloids call a “Dracula skull”, supposedly the fossilized skull of the Count himself (or one of his cousins). The goal: immortality. Upon pressing this skull’s crocodile-like fangs into his own neck, Moorecock succumbs to vicious seizures. His caretakers rush him to the hospital where things go horribly wrong. The infection changing Moorecock into a blood-crazed predator spreads quickly and what should’ve been a quick trip to the ER turns into a battle for every single person in the hospital to survive the night.

And what a battle it is.

I haven’t read a book like this in…well, ever. The mix of comedy, gore, and horror combine for cycles of laughter, wincing, and heartbreak. When you consider that four different authors put the words together, it seems like a miracle that the story is even coherent. They pull it off though, with seamless transitions between characters and voice. As an added bonus, this book comes with DVD-like extras that pull the curtain back on the process that birthed this beautifully bloody gorefest.

Some may call DRACULAS a throw-back to blood-soaked vampires who didn’t shop at Banana Republic and romance brooding teenage girls. On well level, I agree, but I would simply add this type of vampire probably should’ve been the standard all along.

If you feel the same, then this is a must-read.

Sidenote: Did Sam Raimi ever make a vampire movie? One of his old-school, guerilla style horror films that’s gained cult status but has somehow escaped my memory? If not, and if I ever have an audience with the man, I would beg him to adapt this. There’d be very little for him to do. Hire great actors. Hand out Kindles. Let the cameras roll. I may start a petition. And if you read DRACULAS, I think you’d be happy to sign it.

Writer confession: sometimes the discipline just isn’t there…

Real talk. Writers (myself included) often go on about setting a routine, sticking to it, not spending too much time on one project, yada, yada, yada.

Here’s the part you’ll rarely hear. Sometimes, I (and I suspect other writers of this as well) just can’t do it. It’s NOT writer’s block, but pure frustration that has nothing to do with writing. And it breaks the rhythm.

Example: I need to replace the windows in my condo because it’s getting cold and sometimes I swear my current windows don’t even have glass in them. The guy came to give me the estimate. Based on his company’s commericals (“$165 Installed” x 3 Windows) I expected a price of approximately 500 bucks. Ha!! Apparently, “installed” means just that. Doesn’t count disposal fees, aluminum wrapping, window guy’s kid’s private school tuition, Google stock, and whatever the hell else is covered in the additional fees. Basically, the price doubled my ignorant estimate.

Then, two hours later, my dryer decides it’s no longer happy generating heat at my command. Now my wet, clean laundry simply swirls, like a laundry smoothie. I don’t think the dryer will end its heat strike without a mediator (i.e. repair man, who I’m not even sure exists…do people still fix dryers? Aren’t there some Maytag ads about this very subject?).

My point (aside from using my personal public forum to express my monetary woes) is to tell you that I did not complete my usual three page minimum today.

But Lamar, didn’t you just say in your last post that you have to have a routine and stick to it?

Yes, I did. I also said that I rarely skimp on my routine. This is one of those rare moments. I’m not afraid to tell you this because I want you to know that I still want The Job. And I still consider myself dedicated. But, sometimes dedication/determination/discipline isn’t enough.

I sat in the seat. I put some words on the page, but my mind kept wandering to my wallet*, visions of repair bills dancing through my head.

I can forgive myself for the lapse, though. I’m giving you permission to forgive yourself, too.

I’m going to write three pages tomorrow (probably very early in the morning, so early even coffee is still groggy). If you ever feel some personal frustration, take time off and come back the next day. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Every job necessitates a personal day from time to time. Even writing.

*How do you like the picture for this post? It made me think of writing another sequel for the Wall Street franchise. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps Because It’s Too Busy Running From Lamar”.*

*Alternate image: Picture a whole family of little animated dollar bills, kind of like the Smurfs. Instead of living in mushroom houses, their homes would be little change purses like your grandma carries. Then, I’d be like Gargamel, always trying to find them to make stew. Or something. I don’t know.

Werewovles, writer’s block, and other myths

I just thought about werewovles. Don’t know why. A lot of writers are doing werewovles these days (and much better than I probably could) so it’s not a topic I really want to write about. Then I thought about writer’s block, which is another topic that a lot of writers seem taken with, particularly whether it’s real (like werewolves) and what to do about it (unfortunately, for those who claim to suffer from it, a silver bullet probably isn’t that effective). So…DING!…blog topic there you are.


Whether or not writer’s block is a myth is a point of contention. Many writers take the position that writer’s block doesn’t exist, that it’s just fear/laziness/lack of skill that prevent a writer from putting words on the page. To a certain level I agree (mostly with the fear part), but I think it’s just a matter of semantics over what you call it.

To hear someone say they have writer’s block, then repsond with ‘that’s not real’, is a bit condescending. You wouldn’t say that to a person who claims to be a werewolf (mostly because you’re probably questioning their sanity and your safety). While you might not fear an insane backlash from telling a person they don’t have writer’s block, you should consider that the writer before you may just see things differently, and playing high-brow doesn’t help anyone.

Mythbusters are only fun on TV.

Warding off the evil beast (writer’s block, I mean)

If you or a friend should face the mythical beast, there are a couple of ways to beat it back. Examine your manuscript and do one of the following:

During a full moon

Keep writing. Unless you hear howling/growling behind you. Then, I would suggest running*.

If you make it ’til morning, let’s have another talk about reality vs. myth. ‘Kay?

Later, gang

*ignore this advice if the werewolf is wearing a horribly outdated high school basketball uniform and/or seems obsessed with kegs of beer.

First Draft Blues…

It’s been a relatively good writing year for me. Scored a top-notch agent, my novel is currently out on submission with major publishers, and I’m deep into a new novel.

Well, that last part isn’t that good. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

If you’ve got romantic notions about being a writer, you oughta know that there’s nothing romantic about an 80K word novel when you’re less than halfway done. I don’t know a writer who doesn’t hit the mid-point of a long project and start to question their ability to pull it off. That’s where I am now. I like to call this emotional trek the “First Draft Blues”.

My new project seems so ridiculously big that I’m tempted to scrap it every day.

When I’m at my desk.

Still writing.

That’s the point. It’s always the point. KEEP WRITING.

Through the doubts, or the boredom, or whatever. Here’s how…

Have a routine

You’ve heard this before, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re just hardheaded (as my mom would say).

If you commit to a set time each day, then all you have to do is sit down and put some words on the paper. Doesn’t matter if they suck. Just know that if you sit down enough times, eventually a book is born.

Set small goals

Word count. Page count. Chapters. Whatever works for you, set a small goal. Something you can accomplish in a single sitting every time.

Me, I shoot for at least 3 pages a day. If I can do more, great. But, I rarely do less. Do the math with me. 3 pages x 10 days = 30 pages. That’s 90 pages a month. Or a novel in 4 months give or take a few days.

If you’ve been struggling for years to write a single novel, maybe you should try adjusting your goals into smaller manageable chunks.

Keep your mind on the Big Picture

Writing is hard. Sitting around talking about writing doesn’t make it any easier. If you follow this blog regularly, then you know I often refer to writing as The Job. That’s what it is. Work. And here’s what I mean about Big Picture…

Why would a major publisher waste time and energy on a writer who can’t produce through depression/boredom/heartache/grief/distractions or anything else that contributes to the First Draft Blues?

If you make it through the FDBs, guess what? Second Draft Blues. Third Draft Blues. Fourth Draft Blues. Poor Sales Blues. Bad Review Blues. Lackluster Contract Blues. Cancelled Contract Blues.

If you ever get The Job, you’ll face some or all of the above Blues. Might as well get used to working through them now.

My Netiquette Rules

Totally random. You’ve been warned.

At this time last year I took a graduate course on writing in digital environments. My incredibly fun professor asked us to develop our own internet etiquette rules. I happened to glance at the assignment and thought they’d be a fun re-post.

1. Don’t forward random urban legends

In the early days of email, we were all excited to get messages in our inbox. It made us feel important.  And, because we felt important, we had the mistaken impression that all of those messages were important. And credible. So, when we got that email about Bill Gates beta testing something that would net us a cool $50,000 is we forwarded the message to everyone in our address book, it had to be true. When guys were putting syringes filled with Ebola in movie theater seats, we started going to Blockbuster more. I understood those reactions in 1995. However, the time of being bamboozled has passed.  I no longer want to know the obscure story about some unidentified woman being lured to a rapist’s den by some lost-child-as-bait ploy. Could it really happen? Sure, anything is possible. But if it doesn’t come from a source that gives actual names and locations, DON’T SEND IT.

2. Don’t friend me in an effort to recruit me to your network marketing business

Social networking has provided incredible opportunities to connect with people we may never have spoken to again in life. I’m talking old classmates, former colleagues, even exes.  For that, it is a marvel of modern civilization. However, if we haven’t spoken in years, my excitement at reconnecting fades quickly when you start a sales pitch. Would I like to make some extra money? Sure. Do I want to do it selling $50 bottles of fruit juice or Man Girdles? No. It doesn’t matter how small the initial investment is. Your friend status will be rescinded.

3. Don’t be creepy

Okay, we’re Facebook friends even though we never said two words to each other in high school. That’s cool. I often wish I’d gotten to know more people outside of my immediate circle. However, it’s not cool when you confess your secret crush then email  the photo realistic sketches you drew of me during our junior year Spanish class.

4. Don’t use weird color combinations/fonts

Fonts are neat. I like the one that kind of looks like the metal stamping they used to put on old refrigerators. That doesn’t mean I should send you an outline of my dissertation in 16 pt Magneto. Furthermore, red letters on a green background aren’t festive. It makes your email look like Freddy Krueger’s sweater and will likely cause someone to have a seizure.

5. Dont Snd Emails da SAMe way U sen Txts

Proper grammar and accurate spelling are not outdated. That is all.

6. Don’t send me a Facebook friend request if you’re my mom

I’m serious, Mom.

7. Don’t include me on the results to your “What Sexual Position Are You?” quiz

I’m serious, Dad.

8. Don’t extort compliments with pictures of your children

I saw the 1,004th picture of your Little Snookums that you posted in my News Feed. Please don’t write me to ASK if I saw it, because we both know you’re not really seeking verification. You want me to tell you how cute s/he is. And, I’ve obliged for the last time. Here’s a News Feed for you…your kid looks like all the other kids that were born this year. S/he giggles, likes bouncy balls, and has little to no teeth. Truthfully, your kid looks like an alien.

9. Don’t start Tweet Beefs

Someone Tweeted a particular political/religious/pop culture point that rubs you the wrong way. So what? Haven’t you seen how quickly people update those things? The thing they said that you don’t like, will be gone in 9 seconds.”Going In” on someone does not prove you’re the hardest 140 character thug on the web. It’s pointless. Take a kickboxing class or something.

10. Don’t take this list too seriously

Just semi-seriously. The Inter Web is a vast place. And it wouldn’t be much fun if everyone did things the way we like them. I’m a pretty mellow guy and none of the above points bother me too much (except for the creepy spanish class sketches). Moderation and respect are the keys to everything. Don’t forget The Golden Rule.

TV won’t rot your brain (I hope)…

I love television.

How much?

When I was a kid I had a TV Guide subscription. While other kids memorized baseball lineups, I anxiously anticipated Fall premiers. I could recite the prime time schedules for every major network better than my classmates could recite their ABCs. I was a boob tube junkie, and heard more than once that my brain would rot from all the hours I logged in front of that screen.

It didn’t though. In fact, I learned some valuable writing lessons from the so-called ‘idiot box’. Don’t misunderstand, watching television is no substitute for reading, as I mentioned in my last post. But, television shows have to be written before they can be filmed, and I learned a lot once I took time to understand the correlation between visual and written mediums.

Pay attention. You might learn something, too.

Commercial breaks = Chapter breaks

An hour-long television drama isn’t really an hour. It averages 45 minutes to make room for commercials. In the days before TiVo you had a couple of choices when the screen faded and the Charmin ad started. 1) Get up for a bathroom/snack break then hurry back 2)Sit there and amuse yourself with all the catchy jingles (remember jingles?) 3)Change the channel.

To keep you from choosing Option 3, the greatest tool that the television writer employs is the cliffhanger. The final scene before the commercial break gives you some juicy unexpected piece of info, puts the hero in danger, or otherwise shocks you into needing to know what happens next.

The compelling writer will do the same with their section/chapter breaks, enticing the reader to keep going and find the next hook that pushes them forward. Changing the channel isn’t a threat for a novelist, having the reader put down the book is. And that’s much, much worse.

‘Show Don’t Tell’ is pretty easy when you’re using a camera

Good writing should help the reader visualize what’s happening. Television writers have the benefit of actual visuals, so it’s a little less arduous for them, but there’s still a lesson to be learned.

The words you use, the phrases you choose, should be a vivid as Hi-Def Television.

The images some cinematographer or special effects wiz puts on the screen shouldn’t be able to touch the pictures you can conjure in a reader’s head. Whether you like it or not, you’re competing against visual and interactive mediums.

Yet, despite the amazing things you can see through your television (and there’s some great stuff on TV these days), how many of them can’t hold a candle to your favorite book? My favorite novel ever is Nightworld by F. Paul Wilson and I don’t think there’s enough money in Hollywood to do Wilson’s apocalyptic vision justice.

And that’s how good you have to be.

Shut off that homework and do your TV

“Being a writer is like having homework everyday for the rest of your life” ~ I don’t know how said this…but I guess it’s true.

If it is, I say take a break. Watch a little TV. Try to understand how you can apply techniques from popular shows to your own writing. There’s definitely a benefit to learning how to hook your audience, and really, that lesson is more important for you than the scribes writing those weekly episodes out in Hollywood.


Books don’t have reruns.

Are you reading? You should be.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot…reading is the creative center of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing

When I was a kid, I would go shopping with my mother and I always wanted her to buy me stuff. Cereal with cartoon monsters on the box if we were in a grocery store. A dog if we passed a pet store. Lord help her if a toy store was nearby (for the record, I was seriously hooked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). No matter where we went, I wanted something.

In retrospect, I understand my mother’s frustration (and she did get frustrated). My wants had no financial grounding. What child understands the value of a dollar?

My lofty requests were often denied, which led to disappointment/anger (emotions I didn’t dare express in any quantifiable way…Mom’s patience only went so far). I was no dummy, and I soon picked up on a pattern. Mom would most likely deny wasteful requests (toys become boring after awhile and disappear into the closet; 3/4 of the Count Chocula box gets tossed because it doesn’t taste as good as it looks). But she never, not once, denied me a book.

There I was, a kid who ALWAYS wanted something, discovering an endless well to sate my desires…provided those desires where printed, bound, and paperback (hardcovers were pricey back then, too).

Maybe I didn’t get a Feudal Japan Michaelango with Swinging Nunchuck action, but I got something a lot better that lasted much longer. My calling…

Writers Read. Period.

I’ve met a number of people who say they want to write, or have started, a novel. When I ask them what they like to read, too many respond, “I don’t have time.”

I could go on at length about this, but Stephen King’s quote from above says it best. I will say this, however. Every profession requires some sort of reading (particularly if you want to be proficient in modern techniques). Doctor’s read medical texts. Carpenters probably read some sort of carpentry journal.

Why on earth do people think they can skip the all important task of reading and still be trusted to string together words others want to read?

When my Mom fed me a steady diet of words, I thought it was because books were cheaper than toys or Nintendo games. In reality, they weren’t, not the way I flew through them. But, I think she had innate understanding of the point I’m trying to make.

Reading can prepare you, if only minimally, for anything.

For my desired profession, the minimal is not enough. I’m a writer, I read all the time.

What about you?

Last Book Completed: The Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

Thoroughly enjoyed this. Had the pleasure to meet Brian several years ago at a conference when he was achieving Rock Star status with his debut zombie novel THE RISING. This was a nice re-introduction to his work. Will definitely pick up more from this author.

Next on the Reading List: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

It’s starting a little slow, but I’m determined to stick with it. With all the buzz this series has gotten, it’s almost a mandatory read.

What are you reading?

Taking advice vs. snatching the pebble

“When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.”

Master Kan, Kung Fu

If you’re not familiar with this little pop culture gem, then pretend I made this up. Really, it’s okay. I’m that clever so it’s believable.

A young Kwai Chang Caine is a pupil of Master Kan at the Shaolin Temple. He is told that when he snatches the pebble from the Master’s hand, then he has learned all he can in the temple. To continue his lessons, he must set out on his own and let the world be his teacher.

I could bore you with musings about Master Kan’s wisdom, and Caine’s youthful bravado, but the bottom line is Kan’s a bad mother[bleep] and Caine isn’t good enough to take the pebble. Yet.

Again, if you’re familiar with this, you know what eventually happened. If you’re not, continue thinking that I came up with this great metaphor about writing advice on my own.

Caine trains, becomes wise in the ways of Kung Fu, and eventually snatches the pebble from Kan’s hand.

It’s time to step out on his own.

If you’re serious about your writing career, eventually, you’ll have to as well.

Your teacher can only take you so far…

I’ve had the opportunity to be mentored by some great writers, some of them are my personal heroes. They’ve been gracious enough to answer my informed questions about the business…

[We interrupt this blog for an important message]

Notice the emphasis the previous sentence. Informed. That means before I ever approached any professional writers for advice or to simply converse about the publishing industry, I did my homework. There are so many sources of information available to get a newbie writer started. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something, but you can’t be lazy about getting information that is available to everyone.

Am I not making sense? Let me clarify. Real working writers don’t have time to answer the following questions:

-How do I get my book published?

-How do I get an agent?

-Can you read my story and tell me what you think?

If you’re asking a pro questions of this nature–questions that can be answered with a simple Google search–you’re not ready to snatch any pebbles. You may not be able to find a pebble. In a rock garden.

[We now return to our regularly scheduled blog ]

As I was saying, I’ve gotten great advice from great writers over the years. I couldn’t have gotten as far as I have without their help. But, there comes a point where there are no more questions for them to answer, at least not at the level you’re currently at.

You have to snatch the pebble, get a moving truck, and get your futon out of the Shaolin Temple. So to speak.

Young Grasshopper no more…

As a writer with pro aspirations, you have to recognize the point where your skills have surpassed what the internet can teach you.

And what your mentors can teach you.

And what this blog can teach you.

However, there should never come a time when you’re beyond taking good advice or accepting constructive criticism.

Caine was not a master when he left the temple, but an advanced beginner (don’t misunderstand, to re-use a phrase from earlier, he was still a bad mother[bleep]). Being that, he was able to apply the lessons he learned with sound judgment while still adding to his skills and wisdom in the face of new challenges.

You have to have the confidence to go into the world on your own and take your lumps. That means no more obsessing about perfection. Finish your drafts in a reasonable amount of time. Learn about the industry while you hone your craft.

Snatch the pebble, then go kick some publishing ass…

Your query doesn’t work because…

I got serious about my publishing career when I was 20.

I’m 30 now, and just yesterday my agent–who I signed with 2 months ago–submitted my Young Adult mystery novel to several major publishers. So, your math is right…it took me 10 years to get the right query into the right person’s hands. And, that’s just to score representation, there’s still no guarantee of a sale.

My point?

For a decade my query package (letter, sample pages, and finally, the entire manuscript) didn’t garner the results I wanted. In the beginning, I accepted the rejections I received as Badges of Honor, something every writer goes through. At some point badges became bitterness. Gone were the lofty ideas of Rites of Passage.

It became the agent or the editor’s fault. They weren’t recognizing good writing.

Their assistants weren’t trained well enough to distinguish superb from slush.

The submission guidelines were too generic so I couldn’t stand out among the other 100+ queries that arrived the same day as mine.

It was all a giant conspiracy to keep my book off the shelf…

All of that was bulls***. The truth nibbled at the back of my mind, a truth I didn’t want to admit for a long time.

My query didn’t work for two reasons: 1)I just wasn’t good enough yet. 2) Even if I was a good enough writer, I wasn’t producing salable material.

Quality writing is a must, but it must also be writing that can GENERATE MONEY.

That’s the part the New/Frustrated/Stubborn Writer never wants to think about. A publishing career is not built solely on the ability to craft beautiful prose. Agents and Editors have bills to pay, so every hour they spend with a client/acquisition must have some benefit to their bottom line. That’s not to say they don’t love words as much as you do, or that they aren’t sensitive, friendly people who love cats, and ice cream, and taking their kids to the park. But publishing is their BUSINESS.

Yours, too.

In a successful publishing career the New Writer will wise up (some, like me, more slowly than others), and begin to tailor their writing and queries towards salable. They may still be the Frustrated Writer for awhile, but will break through eventually.

The Stubborn Writer may never wise up, and will continue to write what they want (sometimes referred to as ‘write what you know’) instead of writing something that can make money.

And they’ll have more Badges of Honor than anyone…

Querying: learn from the mistakes of others…

The saying goes, “A smart man learns from his mistakes, a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

If you plan to query anytime soon, you need to LIVE THIS MOTTO.

As great as it is to see a good sample query letter (like you’ll find in Writer’s Market or at any number of sites that feature sample queries), it’s even better to see bad (horrible…terrifying) queries.

Two blogs stand out, and if you’re not reading them, you should be:

Query Shark

In my opinion, Query Shark is the most helpful query critique site on the web. Agent Janet Reid brutalizes willing submitters, breaking down the (oft-common) flaws in their query, even calling out the exact moment when she’d stop reading the letter. Sound harsh? Good.

Here’s the thing, those who end up as The Shark’s chew toy have the option to revise and resubmit for another chomping. While each subsequent feeding is just as brutal as the first, many submitters eventually get it right, earning a full manuscript request from The Shark herself.

If you’re serious about doing queries the right way, swim here.

Slushpile Hell

Though posts in Slushpile Hell rarely exceed two sentences, the lessons are invaluable.

Anonymous agents submit a single line from a single, sad query and offer a sarcastic/snarky/mean humorous response. It can be enjoyed for pure comedy, or it can be studied. Dissected. Branded into your mind.

Never do what these writers do.

The Formula

The query letter formula is all over the web, but for easy reference I like The Nelson Agency’s break down. Study the right way and the wrong way.

Next time, I’ll talk about what to do when you’ve followed the formula and it isn’t working…