We had an awesome time at the SW Florida Writers Showcase yesterday! Authors Christopher Cobb, Michael Warriner, and Antonio Simon Jr. were in top form, greeting fans and having fun! There we met friends old and new, such as fellow author Charles Cornell and a mystery jester lady who was kind enough to pose for photos! Thanks to everyone who came out to see us, and a big thank-you to the organizers of this fantastic event!
Tomorrow I'll be at the first annual SWFL Steampunk & Fantasy Expo! My friends and fellow authors Christopher Cobb and Michael Warriner will be at the expo with their latest books for autographs, photos, and to chat with fans!
"Alternate Realities" Writers Showcase: Ft. Myers
When: Sat. October 14, 2017, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Where: Crowne Plaza Hotel (Belltower Shops)
Address: 13051 Bell Tower Drive, Fort Myers, FL 33907
Admission: $5 for guests 12 and up!
I'm excited to announce that I've been interviewed for a story going into The Island Reporter, a Florida monthly print periodical with a circulation of 30,000 that serves St. Petersburg and all of south Pinellas County. Don't miss it—I'll be discussing the Gullwing sequel along with my inspiration for The Gullwing Odyssey, along with some other interesting things you may not have known about me.
Trite as it sounds, books really are judged by their covers, but a fancy image is not the end-all, be-all. I know I'm oversimplifying this, but a good title goes a long way toward the success of a writing project, regardless of whether you're writing a book or a news article.
Here's an example of a bad title I read in a finance journal: "Stock Markets Increase Modestly As Anticipated." Talk about insipid journalism. Couldn't they have come up with something more exciting? Their headline boils down to: "We Made A Little Bit Of Money This Year, As We Thought We Would."
Here's another I saw in a newspaper: "Panda In Zoo Does Not Give Birth For Third Straight Day." Whoever wrote that one should be fired. The author of that article is reporting a non-issue (something that didn't happen, and because of its not happening, is irrelevant or unimportant). It's like standing in the desert and saying, "Nope, no rain today either." Well of course there won't be any rain, silly, it's the desert. Business as usual is not newsworthy.
Worse still, we don't even know if the panda is pregnant, so should we even be holding our breath?
That said, under no circumstances should you do the opposite: draft a brilliant title for a piece of writing that goes nowhere. Titles like these stink of click-bait, like: "See How Candidate Smith Can Still Win The Presidency With This Weird Trick!" The exclamation point in the title alone is a mortal sin that will land the author squarely in the third circle of literary hell (the hell of impossible deadlines and persnickety editors). But the greater sin here is writing a title that promises big while the article delivers nothing. It's the literary equivalent of promising a steak dinner and handing over a rice cake — insipid, calorie-free writing that makes you feel emptier after having consumed it.
Don't follow Stephen King's example.
Sure, he's a fine writer whose stories have terrified generations of fans. And sure, he's served as the inspiration for countless writers after him. But if he's done writers a disservice, it would be that he's spoiled authors into thinking they can use any song lyrics in their writing projects, so long they cite the songwriter.
Think back to your time in school when you used to write term papers. Your teacher might have insisted on a minimum number of research citations to back up your point of view, all of them cited in perfect MLA style with a "works cited" page at the end. Now crack open just about any of Mr. King's books, and chances are you'll find song lyrics. Inserting lyrics into his works appears to be something he loves doing, and for good reason, because lyrics can really help a story along when used properly.
Putting two and two together, you might reason that you can use anybody's lyrics so long as you provide attribution, especially since, well, if Mr. King can do it, why can't you? Nope, sorry. The reason why you can't do that is: copyright infringement. Need another reason? Try this one on for size: expensive lawsuits with you as the defendant.
Now, I'm not insinuating Mr. King has done anything untoward. Not at all — in fact, I'd wager he properly secured the legal rights to use the lyrics that appear in his books. In legalese, getting permission to do something is called "licensing." Thus, for those song lyrics to appear in Mr. King's books, he would have had to have licensed them first.
"But wait!" I hear you shouting from across the interwebs. "I only used five words from that song. That's so miniscule that I should be safe." No, sorry. There isn't any such "safety net" threshold.
"But what about fair use?" you protest. Without getting too far along this tangent, the concept of fair use is a defense to infringement. Which is to say, you'll still get sued, except now you might have some chance at defeating the lawsuit. Merely shouting "Fair use!" in court won't work. You'll have to convince the judge your use of the lyrics is "fair" by meeting certain narrow legal criteria. Weighing your options, it's far better to avoid getting sued in the first place.
Of course, you could always license the song lyrics you want, but this takes time, money, and effort. You may not want to put your writing in hold while negotiating the rights to reprint those lyrics. Also, the rights-holders can refuse to license you that song for any reason, and they'd be within their rights to do so.
There are alternatives to using copyrighted song lyrics in your writing. The first is simply: don't use them. Rarely will a particular song be so crucial to your story that it will fall apart unless those lyrics are used. Another alternative is to reference the song or artist without using any lyrics, for instance: "He strode up to the dockside bar as Jimmy Buffet blasted through the worn-out speakers." No lyrics there, and using the artist or band names will not normally draw the ire of music publishers. A third alternative is to simply make up a new song that suits your purposes. As an original creation, no one will hold the rights to it but you.
All things considered, this primer is by no means an comprehensive guide to music licensing, and it might not even apply to the copyright scheme in the country where you live. Also, all kidding aside, Mr. King is a great writer and a pretty decent human being, so I'm told.
Now get back to writing. May the words come easy and your coffee pot never be empty.
It's five minutes after the end of the apocalypse. The zombies (or atom bombs, or monster storms, take your pick) have done all the damage they'll ever do. Now it's up to society to rebuild. Among the things that need to be revived is cultural identity, the sense that each individual belongs to a larger group with shared values, history, or experiences. But without books, TV, radio, Internet or all the stuff we take for granted, that's a tall order. How to do it? With storytellers.
People have been telling stories around campfires since before the time campfires existed. Before the development of writing systems, oral tradition was the only means of carrying a group's culture forward. Whenever somebody felt a story was sufficiently important that it ought to be retold to a new generation, someone memorized the tale to share it with posterity. But therein lay a major problem: generally speaking, humans have short, unreliable memories. What's more, the contents of a person's head are lost upon his death.
Writing revolutionized this, because with it a story could be reproduced in a medium and conveyed accurately no matter how many times it was accessed. The change in media occasioned a change in storytellers from people who would recite the story aloud to those who wrote them down for others to read.
Okay, this absurdly elaborate mental framework aside, we need writers because the words they put to paper make up the soul of their society. The bestselling novels, the obscure haikus, the starchy financial reports, the trashy romance paperbacks — these are the stories society is putting into their heads, which in turn shape their mindsets, moods, and futures. Your contribution, no matter how big or small, makes an impact on the soul of society.
Think about that the next time you feel discouraged when writing. You've got a story to tell, and the only one who can tell it is you. You owe it to yourself and everyone else to get it done.
If you like sci-fi, you're in for a treat. Today I'm hosting my friend and fellow Florida author Christopher F. Cobb. Hailing from Jupiter (the city in Florida, not the planet), Mr. Cobb is Darkwater Syndicate's premier science fiction author. He signed a two-book deal in late 2016 to produce The Slant Six, about space hot rods on a deadly mission, and A Moon Called Sun, a tale of interstellar war and time-travel.
Loman squeezed the control stick, his knuckles turning white. The Slant Six blasted from the tunnel directly into traffic, crisscrossing the expanse of Island Earth Grand Central Station. The little channelship was a mere speck of dust inside a giant tumbling drum of organized chaos.
“Twelve o’clock!” Portia pointed to a great lumbering whale of a black Bentley that sailed across their trajectory, blithely unaware that both ships were on the verge of becoming unrecognizable husks of burning scrap.
Loman jerked the stick to the left and pushed it downward. With an abrupt drop they angled sharply underneath the leviathan. As she lifted off the seat, Portia felt her stomach clench into a knot. She clapped her hands to her mouth to keep from vomiting and kept them there until the feeling passed.
The Slant Six shuddered as its roof scraped the Bentley’s hull; the shrill noise curled her toes. No sooner had they cleared the Bentley than another vessel, with the image of a blazing comet stenciled on its side, cut into their flight path.
“Comet!” Loman snapped the stick back and to the right. They shot upward with a starboard roll, just missing the Comet as it barreled past.
Loman leveled them out in time to avoid a row of cruising channelships awaiting their turn to launch. The Slant Six weaved in and out of the slow moving ships so quickly that the line appeared to be standing still. Loman continued to navigate the quickly eroding pattern of traffic inside the station.
The mouth of the main tunnel came into view, with open space beyond it.
“There she blows!” he said. “Our egress to free space.”
Portia gave a weak nod. Whatever flaws the man had as a human being, she was thankful he more than made up for these with his piloting skills.
Island Earth Grand Central was utter bedlam as the other pilots reacted to the rogue channelship. Several ships spun in directionless circles while others bumped each other like a flock of feeble-minded geese in flight. Sirens from the station patrol blared, but it was already far too late for anyone to catch the Slant Six sprinting toward the exit.
The colossal dexelized head of the Abacus materialized to block their departure from the interchange. You’d think her gently drooping face would look a hundred times sweeter on such a titanic scale, but nothing could be further from the truth. At fifty meters across, those normally soft wrinkles became deep, dark chasms; her rubicund cheeks expanded into twin reproductions of the planet Mars—acrid and inhospitable.
“Now hold on there, sugah,” the trembling speech of the Abacus boomed throughout the station, filling it full of saccharine and horse sense. “If you don’t change direction, you may end up where you’re heading. Slow down and land at the nearest pulpit. What do you say, sweetie?”
“How does she know it’s me?” Portia asked aloud without having meant to. She leveled an angry glare at Loman. “You idiot, why didn’t you cloud our i-dents?”
“Don’t sweat it, Little Miss Moonbeam,” Loman chuckled. “It’s a canned warning. She doesn’t know us from Adam.”
Loman rocketed the Slant Six up the left nostril of the monstrous Abacus. He’d gotten them safely into the tunnel, and so all they had to do now was survive these last couple kilometers of intermittent darkness as they blasted down the flashing passageway.
Punishing vibrations shook the Slant Six, rattling her from stem to stern. Sitting on her hands, Portia gripped the bench seat even tighter. The shaking grew worse by the millisecond, threatening to tear them apart.
“Damn,” Loman growled through the noise. “Not again.”
“What is it?”
“Ah, the vibration damper ring tends to slip when using emergency propulsion for too long… it happens.”
“It happens?” Portia was aghast. “That’s all you can say? It happens?”
“Don’t worry, she can take it.”
A sizeable chunk of outer skin plating tore off the nose of the channelship. The twisted section of hull slammed into the forward transom and proceeded to bounce along the length of the Slant Six, banging and clanging as it went flying off into the blackness. Portia and Loman looked at each other, she with worry and he with what had to be feigned confidence.
“Not an essential piece, not really.” He smiled weakly. “Nothing I can’t handle.” Loman begin furiously adjusting his rheostats. “All it takes is some extra pressure to compensate for the weakened hull segment and bingo! We’re good to go.”
The Slant Six was still shuddering as she shot out of the open crater beyond the domes of Island Earth. Portia felt the g’s push against her chest as they broke from the weak gravity of the moon. At last, they catapulted into the cosmos, free from the constraints of artificial atmosphere and away from confined spaces.
Loman wasn’t smiling as he made a few more corrections on a console glowing cool blue from the hot ice beneath its surface.
The vibrations instantly stopped and the roar of the ship’s emergency thrusters was silenced. All went quiet as sanity finally returned to their encapsulated world. The absence of sound was pure manna for Portia’s ears.
“We’re using her magneto-static drive now,” said Phin as he let go of the control stick. It retracted back into the floor panel.
The Slant Six settled in and drifted silently into the expanse of stars.
“That’s better.” Portia smoothed down her hair and flattened out the wrinkles on her disheveled gown. “You will intersect with the channel and head to the Kuiper Pass near Triton. You’ll get more instruction once we’re there.”
“Whatever you say… whoever you are,” he muttered.
Welcome back to my guest author segment. Today,I have the privilege of introducing you to my friend and collaborator, Ramiro Perez de Pereda. He is the Head Acquisitions Editor for Darkwater Syndicate. In addition, he serves as the editor of the award-winning Shadows And Teeth horror series.
If there's anything I like as much as writing it's helping other writers. Today's guest author is Simon Petersen, all the way from New Zealand. He's a travel blogger, beer connoisseur, and horror movie fanatic, the latter evidenced by his outstanding horror debut, Slasher Sam.
A snap of a twig, a rustle of leaves, her head spins around in fright.
“Who’s there?” she says. “Randy, is that you?”
Silly girl. She’s just signed her own death warrant—as if she hadn’t already when I caught her and her boyfriend smoking weed a few moments ago. I’ve been stalking these two for about half an hour, and now he’s gone off somewhere and she’s about to be offed in the opening scene.
To be fair, she’s exactly the sort of girl you hate to see get killed off so early in a slasher movie. Long blonde hair pours out of a red beanie, framing a face so pretty it could sell moisturiser. A tight white puffer jacket hugs her fantastic figure.
I think I’m in love. But rules are rules. I don’t make them; I just enforce them, and she’s going to die tonight.
“It’s not funny anymore, Randy. I mean it. Quit clowning around and get back here right now. I’m really scared.”
I fight the urge to call back, “You should be.” Instead, the rustle of the bush is her only answer as I move out from my hiding place behind a large evergreen and walk back to the well-worn hiking trail where she’s standing, flaring her flashlight in all directions for any sign of her loser boyfriend.
When she sees me, her eyes grow so wide that it’s comical. Rendered immobile by fright, we both just stand and look at each other for a moment or two—her on the verge of a nervous breakdown, me on the verge of killing her. The tension between us is so thick that you could cut it with my machete. I try. What I cut instead is her head open.
It’s like one of Thomas Savini’s finest special effects, but, oddly, less messy. Blood and brain matter abound, of course, but it’s really more like piercing a coconut than splitting an overripe melon. Either way, the blade makes a satisfyingly heavy thunk sound as it punctures the cerebrum, ensuring that she’ll never get to learn French, read another book, or do anything ever again.
When I pull the machete out of her skull, she plummets like the quality of the Friday the 13th film franchise after Part VII: The New Blood. But I don’t have time to dwell on the disappointing Jason Takes Manhattan or the frankly unwatchable Jason Goes to Hell right now; I shouldn’t have even brought them up, because I’ve got a boyfriend to kill. He’s not my boyfriend, asshole. I mean the boyfriend of the girl I just killed. He’ll be back here at any moment.
Propping the girl up against a nearby tree, I pull the hood of her coat up over her bloody beanie and the gaping wound in her head. Even in death, she’s lovely. Now it looks like she’s just having a wee rest. Well, if you’re stoned or stupid anyway.
Fortunately, the boyfriend is a potent mixture of both. I hear him tearing through the jungle and spouting inane babble and sexual innuendo long before I see him from my hiding place in the black forest, opposite the sleeping dead girl.
Wait, didn’t she call this guy Randy a minute ago? That’s a bit on the nose, don’t you think? It’s like a guy called Bob who can’t swim well, a dick called Richard, or if the parents of that blowhard politician who wants to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out and likes wearing a bad toupee had christened him ‘Racist A**hole’.
When I finally get a visual on this walking-talking meat puppet, he’s strutting up the track like a man relieved. Dressed in a black puffer jacket and a trucker cap—in spite of the fact that it’s the middle of the Goddamn night—he proudly wears a shit-eating grin through a stubbly beard like he won it in a contest. I just can’t wait to end him.
“You sleeping babe?” he says, bending over the resting corpse of his dead girlfriend. “Come on, rise and shine sleepyhead. I’m horny.” When she doesn’t reply, he shakes her. “Come on babe, I’m not kidding around. You need to wake up right now.”
Frustrated, he gives her a short, sharp shove and she flops over.
Impatience vanishes and terror takes control now. Whimpering like a sad puppy whose owners have abandoned it next to a busy highway, he slowly peels back her hood to see exactly the sort of damage that a sharp machete will render to a person’s forehead. He lets out a prodigious scream that’ll continue to ring in my ears a number of hours later, and then flurries around in fright when he feels a soft tap on his shoulder.
It’s me, lumbering behind him in my very best Jason Voorhees impression.
Shock, horror and frank disbelief are plastered all over Randy’s terrified face; for all intents and purposes he is face to face right now with the hockey mask-wearing psycho from the Friday the 13th series. What do you do in that situation? What do you even say?
“What the actual f—”
But I guess we’ll never know his final words, because I cut him off mid-sentence with a swing of my machete and punt his head away like a soccer ball.
Joining us today on my guest authors segment is Abbie Krupnick of Summit, New Jersey. Today she'll discuss her debut novel, Holy, which is a contemporary dark fantasy with a healthy dollop of psychological horror.
The high-pitched scream of a predatory bird echoed from the direction of the Valley. The eagle was approaching at break-neck speed, a maroon streak under the stars. Then it braked and circled lazily overhead a few times before alighting opposite Gus, talons gripping the edge. Gus heard the volcano groan, its anger filling him. The mountain shuddered, its sides growing warm. He slipped out of his cocoon of heat, felt naked without it in front of the bird.
“Hello,” the Magician said, examining him with green eyes. “Why don’t you come down and we’ll talk about things in the grove.”
Gus wondered how much he had overheard.
The mountain was heating up by the second. In a few minutes the smooth stone would scald his feet. A pale orange glow flashed briefly at the bottom of the vent, then colored to yellows and reds too fast, too soon.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Language whispered.
“Don’t listen to him, Gus,” the Magician said. So the Magician could hear, too. What an unsurprising comfort that was.
“Boy, in a few moments, I’m going to flood the whole World with molten rock. Make your choice quickly, because this is the only chance you’ll get.”
“Gus Stevens, you get down from the volcano this instant!” the Magician ordered sternly. Gus couldn’t help snickering at that.
“What are you going to choose, a lifetime of pain here, pretending you’re happy when you can’t even talk about your sham of happiness?”
“I’ll give you a nice, relaxed ride down to the grove. Your Mothers will make your favorite foods. I’ll even make Spear Mother take off her helmet for you.” The last offer disgusted him.
“Gus, he’s a monster.”
“This renegade spirit is crazy.”
“He’s whoring out Spear Mother.”
“I would do no such thing. I’m simply explaining to my son—”
“Boy, friend, vessel, host, house, my stronghold, listen to me: Which do you want? The misery this poor excuse for a Person offers you or freedom?”
I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know! I don’t know!
“Easy, Gus, easy,” the Magician murmured. Gus shot him a poisonous look, took several deep breaths while staring at the rising column of magma. A despairing question anchored him.
I’m going to suffer whether or not I’m free, right? he asked the rock illuminated like a burning mineshaft. The magma rose higher. The Dream World will go under and I’ll be the same?
The magma’s rise halted as Language stopped to think.
“Well,” it replied. “You’ll have me.”
What difference will that make?
“Do you promise not to be angry if I tell you?”
“The truth is, I don’t know,” it said, and the magma resumed its journey upwards. It had to be less than seventy feet away. Sixty-five. Sixty. It stopped again. “I don’t know what the Waking World is like except through what I’ve overheard you say.”
So how do you know you’re important there? You don’t even know if it exists.
“I don’t. But I trust Mathis. You do, too, don’t you?”
Dumbstruck, Gus replied, I guess.
“And he told you the mountain would explain everything?”
Yes. He didn’t tell me that the mountain was possessed by a crazy spirit calling itself Language incarnate.
“Exactly, Gus! Well done!” the Magician wheedled, “Don’t trust it. Trust ME. I’ll give you all the knowledge you’ve ever wanted from me if you return to the grove.”
The magma hadn’t started to rise again but its heat was baking his face.
Please, Language begged, now inside his head. Please.
You don’t care what happens to me. So what if I kill myself, right? You lose your chains. I’m still screwed.
I’ll be trapped in your soul again, but YOU will be free to use me. Which is how it should be.
Then you’re exchanging one prison for another.
If you were in my place, you’d be right, but the rules are different for me. Please, Gus. Let me go.
He had nothing to say to it.
Please, Gus. Please. PLEASE.
It was hysterical, its voice rising higher and higher with the magma. His ears were ringing again.
PLEASE. PLEASE. Let me go. Let me go. Let me go. LET ME GO.
Its hysteria was getting to him. He couldn’t stop his own tears from leaking.
Please, Gus. Please let me out. LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!
It was screaming bloody murder. He covered his ears as though this would muffle the sound inside his head. He was ready to smash the sound out of his skull on the vent but Language stopped him with a whimpering, Please.
“Please please please please please!” the Magician mocked, voice muffled. He kept chanting “please please please” as he cleaned his feathers. Gus tuned him out, waited until the bird had finished so he could see the hate on Gus’s face. Long-hidden vows to repay the suffering his mentor had caused him boiled to the surface. He chewed them all into a simple order to Language.
Meet The Author
Antonio Simon, Jr. is a lawyer and author. When he’s not in court or writing, he's driving fast in moments in between.