Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How To Defy Classification: A Review of Jeff Strand's Novel: Blister

Since I started reading this sometime this morning and couldn't put the thing down until I was finished, I figured I'd do a quick review of Jeff Strand's latest novel, Blister.

Jeff Strand has a tendency to be a strange sort of author. Trying to put his books into one category is an exercise in futility, since he has a knack for blurring the lines between the genres he writes in. Blister is no exception. At parts horror, crime thriller, sarcastic humor, and sweet love story, it's hard to tell precisely where this one falls on the spectrum.

Ultimately, however, none of that matters, because the story is wonderful, and that's all that really matters.

Jason is a cartoonist who gets sent to his agent's cabin in rural Georgia after doing something foolhardy to retaliate against neighborhood kids being mean to his dog. While there, he hears about the local legend: a girl they call Blister, horribly disfigured five years ago, who lives in a shed behind her father's house. Jason's really a nice guy at heart, though, and he gradually makes friends with Blister, whose real name is Rachel. As he gets to know her, he also discovers that this little town has secrets, and they are terribly bad at keeping them.

I won't get into much detail, since I don't want to spoil the story for anyone else, but when even the characters occasionally think they're living in a farce, you know things are getting interesting.

On full display is Strand's trademark humor, which like my own tends toward the sarcastic and ironic, which meant I laughed out loud more than once, occasionally at times where I wasn't really sure laughter was called for. The story was well-crafted, revealing a lot of the needed backstory without getting bogged down or losing its pace. These are characters you can't help but care about, and at times I found myself wanting to hang out with them and have a beer or something. There's enough twists and turns as the third act kicks into high gear to keep you wondering what's going to happen next, and when the ending finally came around I was both satisfied and sad, wishing I could spend a little more time with these folks.

If you've read Strand's work before, you'll definitely want to take a look at this one, and if you haven't this is a great place to start. Highly recommended!

Monday, June 20, 2016

One Year Later: My Life in Writing So Far...

On July 5 of last year, I sat down and wrote the opening lines to what would eventually become Consequences. This wasn't the first time I'd tried to write something, nor was it the first time I did so with an eye toward publishing. It was the first time I'd done so with the mindset that if I wanted to make a go of this, I had to treat it seriously, not as some idle pastime to give outlet to the creative juices roiling in my mind. It would be my second job, and that meant I had to dedicate a substantial portion of my time to it. I had no idea whether or not it would be worth it, but the decision was made: I had just turned forty at the start of the year, this was what I wanted to do with my life, and I'd put it off long enough.

Over the course of that next month, I felt my mind opening in ways I'd never imagined. Treating writing as work (albeit fun work) gave me a discipline that I'd been lacking in my previous attempts. I refused to take a day off, sitting down at midnight most nights and writing until the chapter I was working on was finished. There were days where I was nearly exhausted at the day job, but to me, that was a small price to pay.

When the end of July came around, I looked up and discovered that I'd not only maintained that discipline, I'd slam-dunked it. I typed "The End" right at a month after I started, and was amazed that I'd finished an 85,000 word first draft in such a short period of time. More shocking, I had an idea for another one. I didn't take a break, didn't give myself time to breathe, I just went right into that second book. At the same time, I started revising Consequences, using a red pen to mark up that manuscript, then taking one of my days off at the day job to actually enter the edits, write the new scenes, or revise the ones that weren't working.

August crept to a close, and I'd not only managed to do two full passes on the Consequences revisions, I'd also finished the second book. This was the point where I sat back and started seriously considering what I wanted to accomplish, since it was becoming obvious even to me that after so many false starts, I might actually be able to pull it off.

I had no extra money for publishing, but I knew that was the end game. While the industry had made leaps toward allowing someone to independently publish a book for little to nothing up front, I still wanted to do it right. If that didn't pan out, well, I could always do it myself later.

So I set some goals. First was that Consequences would see the light of day, if not that year (2015), then definitely the next. There were others, some of which I've yet to hit, some of which I've exceeded beyond my wildest imagination. But there was one that I was positive I would end up missing: that considering the pace I was going at, I would finish twelve first drafts of different novels in the next year.

I rethought that one as it became clear that trying to do edits and still spend time with my family and continue holding a full time day job would eventually make me slow down. So I backed it off, and set the goal at ten. It was still a stretch, but at least it gave me the chance to breathe a little. Still, I wasn't sure it would happen. Especially when things started rolling with independently releasing Consequences, and the submission and eventual acceptance of The Journal of Jeremy Todd (which, if you're curious, was book four in this mad dash). As the year turned, and I ran into the "books that wouldn't freaking end", I was sure that was a goal I would miss.

Until last night.

Because that's when I typed "The End" on the tenth first draft in a year.

When that happened, I started thinking back to those goals I set a year ago, and what all I'd accomplished since then. Consequences  was submitted, rejected, and then independently published. Against the stereotype, it has received generally favorable reviews from people whose opinions I respect. Did it hit the sales figures I'd hoped? No, but does any book ever really do that? Considering how little it turns out I knew about the process, I feel fortunate to have the sales I do have, and even more thrilled to have the reception it got. Besides, as any real writer will tell you, while we do enjoy the paycheck, that's not why we do this.

I signed a contract with one of the best small presses in the horror genre for what may have been the hardest to write of all the things I've ever done. You'll see it sometime around the middle of next year, from the awesome guys at Sinister Grin.

I found a publicist who has been exceptionally patient with me, and has taught me so much about what happens once I hit the "publish" button. Thanks to her, I doubt I'll make the same mistakes the next time that I did with Consequences. You can learn a lot reading things online, but to find someone who is friendly enough to actually walk you through the process, even before you've officially hired them, is a rare thing indeed. Erin's one of the most incredible and open people I've ever met, and I'm thrilled that we've started our burgeoning friendship and what I hope will be a long professional relationship as well.

And one of the biggest things, something I never anticipated? I've discovered a horror community that didn't just tolerate me, but actually welcomed me with open arms. Some of the most incredible men and women I've ever met who are right there in the trenches alongside me, plugging away at their craft with a passion and dedication I've never seen anywhere else. Folks who are always there to celebrate your successes and help pick you up after life knocks you down. People who don't just support each other as colleagues, but as family. Are they household names? Not really, but that doesn't matter. They (I suppose I should say we) are the ones who aren't doing it because of a six-figure book deal. We're the ones who are doing it because it's what we love, and because we'd go insane if we didn't (though there are a few who's sanity might be questionable anyway, but in a good way). Some of these people have been influences on my own writing, and I can't understate the honor I feel to be counted among them, much less how humbling it is to be sharing a publisher with some of them next year.

That, if nothing else, has made all those nights with almost no sleep worth it.

One year down, and what a year it's been. I'm not crazy enough to try and set the same writing goal for the next year. Seeing the stack of revisions I need to work on is starting to terrify me, truth be told. But I've still got goals, and I have no plans on stopping any time soon. If this first year's been this incredible, I cannot wait to see what the future holds!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Summer of Consequences: Review by Michael Hicks

The first review is posted for the Summer of Consequences publicity tour!

Thanks to Michael Hicks for kicking things off, and be sure to check out the review at his site here.

Keep checking back for more stops on the tour!

Follow along on Facebook and Twitter with #Consequences, presented by Hook of a Book.

Things to Come: An Update

The reason I haven't posted much on here as of late has less to do with not having things to discuss and more to do with finding time. There's a lot in the works, so let me try to catch you up on them.

I'm almost done with The Harlequin Legacy. In fact, I expect to finish it within the next few days. While my pace has slowed from when I started, this still will mark the tenth novel I've finished since getting serious about this last July. I do have a post I'll be making reflecting on that once it's done, but for now, I've still got the last couple of scenes left to write.

From the looks of things, The Journal of Jeremy Todd will be coming out around June of 2017. Things can change, of course, but that's the date Sinister Grin has set, at least tentatively. The only thing I know for certain is that I have to have the final manuscript in their hands by December 1 of this year, so I'll let you know how things work out.

Consequences is about to start a summer publicity tour online, so stay tuned for developments with that. I'll be posting things here, of course, as well as on Facebook and Twitter, and you can also check out Erin Al-Mehairi's page over at Hook of a Book for details, since that's who's running it. If you'd like to be involved somehow, just let her know (contact info's on her site and the Hook of a Book FB page) and she'll coordinate all that with you!

I've begun to think about the next project up after THL, and I think I'm going to pull Justicar back out and finish it up. I've done ten horror novels in the last year, so I think maybe I should go for something different. Not that dark fantasy is so far removed from horror, but since that world doesn't exist, it will still be a nice change of pace for me.

Demon at the Window has just started the submissions phase of its existence, so stay tuned for how that plays out. I wouldn't look for it to see the light of day until after Jeremy Todd, though, so don't get your hopes up too far.

And that's pretty much everything! I will try and keep this page updated as I can, but as you can see I'm busier than ever with a lot of irons in the fire.

See you on the tour!