Friday, November 30, 2007


One of the things I love best about the writing biz is the ‘author appearance’. Whether it’s a book signing, a lecture, a panel discussion, or a reading, I love either being in the crowd to meet one of my favorite authors or being the author sitting there at the table.

This weekend I’m going to get a chance to do a little of both.

Tonight my good buddy Jon McGoran will be signing books at the Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown Bookshop;; 16 S Main St; Doylestown, PA 18901; 215/230-7610 ). Jon writes terrific forensics mysteries under the pen name of D. H. Dublin. His first book, BLOOD POISON, introduced rookie forensic investigator Madison Cross and it was one of these debut books that make it clear to anyone that this guy is going to have a real career: long, varied and interesting. His second book, BODY TRACE, just confirms what the rest of knew all along. It’s just as good and maybe even a little bit better. Come on up to Doylestown and meet this guy.

Then tomorrow I’ll be doing a reading and signing at Between Books; 2703 Philadelphia Pike; Claymont, DE 19703;; 302/798-3378. This is one of the best genre bookstores in the country. I always have a good time at the store. Aside from a great place for an author to meet readers it’s always my favorite place to shop for horror and SF, though like all good independent stores it carries just about everything of all genres.

The real jazz in these events, whether I’m there as reader or author is that everyone there has a shared love of books. Books of all kinds, and nowhere is that more clearly celebrated than at independent bookstores. The staff KNOW books and the LOVE books. You can talk books all day long.

Come on out and join us!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Exploring the Larger World

Since I come from a background of magazine feature writing I have the writers’ knack of becoming obsessed with a topic –for a while. Aside from the martial arts books I’ve written, I’ve also written articles about dating, mixology, jazz, blues, film, gastropod farming (no, that’s not a typo), business, parenting, writing, technology, folklore and dozens of other topics. When I’m in research mode I want to know everything I can about a subject, and then I find that one element –the hook—that will give me something unique that I can pitch.

For books, I feel that I’ve kind of ‘been there, done that’ with martial arts. I’ve been an active jujutsu practitioner for 46 years now and I’ve written extensively about it. In 2002 I ‘moved on’ from that topic and became more fully enmeshed in folklore, which has always been a passion of mine. I suppose it’s the closest thing to an abiding ‘obsession’ with me. There’s so much to say on the subject, even within my area of specialty, which is the folklore of the occult and paranormal.

My first book on that subject was The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead, which is the only book I ever did under a pen name (that of Shane MacDougall, an alter ego I’ve since bumped off).

That book gave me a taste for the supernatural and after I landed my agent I gave her a proposal for a new book on vampire folklore, VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, which is a collection of folklore and myths about vampires and other monsters from around the world and throughout history. That was bought by Citadel Press and bfore I’d even finished writing it the deal got tweaked and expanded so that I was suddenly under contract to write three more books in the same, um…’vein’.

The second in that series, THE CRYPTOPEDIA (co-authored with David F. Kramer) just debuted on September 1 and we’ve been touring bookstores doing talks and panel discussions. That one is an occult/paranormal dictionary covering thirteen different subject areas (from divination to UFOs).

The final two in that series are tentatively titled THEY BITE! (which discussed supernatural predators) and VAMPIRE HUNTERS AND OTHER ENEMIES OF EVIL, scheduled for release in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

In 2008 I’m diverting from folklore for a pop culture monster book: ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensic Science of the Living Dead, also for Citadel, in which I ask real-world experts in forensics, law enforcement, medicine, and science how they might react and respond to zombies (of the Night of the Living Dead variety).

One of the really fun aspects to this research is that I get to pick the brains of world-class folklorists, anthropologists, scientists, historians, as well as authors, artists and filmmakers. It’s a horror-buff’s dream job!

Cool websites to check out: (for info, art and cool facts on vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in our collective night.) There’s even a page for the Yardley Yeti, our very own mysterious creature from here in Bucks County, PA. and for more on the fothcoming ZOMBIE CSU book. Not much stuff there now, but bookmark summer 2008 it will be zombie central!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hanging Out with the Ghosts in My Head

For the last few years I’ve been living in a different reality with folks that don’t really exist. And I kind of miss them. I’m getting separation anxiety.

After nearly thirty years as a writer of nonfiction articles and books I broke into fiction with my 2006 novel GHOST ROAD BLUES, the first of a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in the fictional town of Pine Deep, Pennsylvania. (And yes, for those of you who have asked...Pine Deep is based on New Hope, PA). The trilogy continued with DEAD MAN’S SONG (released from Pinnacle Books in July) and will conclude with BAD MOON RISING in May 2008.

The thing is...all three books are written, the story is told and I’ve moved on. I’m now writing bio-terrorism thrillers for St. Martin’s Press. And though I’m loving the new book and the new cast of characters I miss that group of people I got to know in Pine Deep. You see, to me the characters are the most important part of any story. If I don’t bond with the characters (whether good or vile) I don’t become invested in the book. That’s as true for me as a writer as it is as a reader, and I felt that Malcolm Crow, Val Guthrie, Mike Sweeney, Terry Wolfe, Willard Fowler Newton, Jonatha Corbiel, Frank Ferro, Vince LaMastra and Dr. Saul Weinstock were real people. I cared about them...even the ones I eventually kill off as the series unfolds.

Recently Michaela Hamilton, my editor at Pinnacle, sent me the copy edit manuscript of Bad Moon Rising to review and make some changes. It was the first time I’d read the book since I’d wrapped it up many moons ago, and revisiting the creepy ol’ town of Pine Deep and spending time with the characters again was strangely moving. It was fun, and sad (‘cause I really do kill a bunch of them off and then have to leave all of them again.

Who knows, maybe like a guest who doesn’t want to leave a party I’ll pretend I’ve forgotten my car keys and use it as an excuse to revisit Pine Deep. One of these days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zombies Ate My Brains

After a break of nearly 18 years I’ve recently drifted back into the world of short story writing and this week my first short story ever to appear in an anthology has hit the stands in HISTORY IS DEAD, edited by Kim Paffenroth for Permuted Press (ISBN-10: 0978970799).

The anthology is made up of zombie stories that take place prior to the 20th century, and my contribution is “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World”, which deals with bootleggers, gangsters, zombies, a cow, and the Chicago Fire.

The whole anthology is a hoot, with wildly weird stories by authors ranging from established horror writers to talented newbies.

I mention all of this (aside from plugging the book for the nice folks at Permuted Press) because it speaks to a side of the writing mentality that a lot of folks don’t know about. We writers are, by nature, schizophrenic. We have multiple personalities speaking in our heads all the time. For Joe Ordinary this would be a cry for help and a reason to keep a loaded syringe of Thorazine handy; but for writers it’s just another day on the job.

Not only do we hear voices (and no, it isn’t God speaking through a dog telling us to shoot people), those voices carry on conversations. They don’t so much speak to us as to each other. Scenes suddenly start playing in our heads and we listen in and then write them down. It’s like a DVD player suddenly starting on its own. I get some of my best stuff when I’m in the shower. Apparently shampooing my hair does something to stimulate my inner cast of characters to start talking.

Ray Bradbury once told me: “Writing is 99% thinking and the rest is typing.” It took me a while but I get that now. The voices in my head have always understood this.

This relates to zombies as follows: The fiction I’ve been writing has been moody, threatening, and very serious. Some humor, sure, but it’s end of the world stuff because that’s what the interior voices are saying to me. When I sit down to write short stories, however, it’s an entirely different set of interior voices talking to me. And those voices are, apparently, a bunch of smart-asses. “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World” is a smartass comedy story. Not at all doom and gloom; and it came from some part of my head that I hadn’t know existed.

I can’t wait to hear what the voices have to tell me next. I think I’ll go take a shower and listen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Don't Be's Just Horror

I’m gonna rant a little here.

The horror industry –especially where books are concerned—have gotten a bum rap. You tell most folks that you write horror and they look at you like you just said that you eat puppies.

People think that all horror is torture porn, slasher stuff, and buckets o’gore. Admittedly those elements may play into some horror, but that doesn’t define the genre. In fact, defining the genre is difficult to do when you consider that The Turn of the Screw (Henry James), The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson), The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty), and Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin) are no less ‘horror’ novels than Off Season (Jack Ketchum), ‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King), Headstone City (Tom Piccirilli), Monster Island (David Wellington) or The Rising (Brian Keene).

It’s often been discussed that ‘horror’ as a genre label doesn’t quite cover it. Not all horror fiction is horrifying (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold won the 2002 First Novel Bram Stoker Award). Not all horror fiction involves the supernatural (Silence of the Lambs won the 1989 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel).

It’s been suggested a few times that ‘suspense’ would be a better word, or perhaps ‘thriller’; though those labels are mainly used by sub-genres of the mystery/crime fiction or action fiction markets.

I see ‘horror’ as suspenseful storytelling that may (or may not) include elements of mystery, suspense, supernatural, gore, violence, humor, passion, romance, science fiction or fantasy. And about fifty other genre elements. Horror can be edgy and raw and it can be elegant and sophisticated. Horror can be visceral or it can be entirely psychological. Horror can be shocking or it can be a slow burn. Horror can be grim or it can be funny. Horror can be niche market and it can be mainstream.

What defines horror most is good storytelling. If you haven’t read horror before, or haven’t given it a chance, be fair (and treat yourself). Start with one of the anthologies, like Stephen Jones’ Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vol. 18 or The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection (Year's Best Fantasy and Horror) edited by Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Ellen Datlow. Start with the short fiction –which will allow you to sample the writing of a lot of different horror writers (and some of the name’s may be surprisingly familiar to you!).

Then, when you find a short story that grabs you, that speaks to you...go out and find one of their novels. Take a chance. Horror may not be what you think...but once you experience will be what you think about.

And check out this link:

See you tomorrow.

Friday, November 23, 2007


A writer has to believe in himself and in the quality of his work. From my students and clients I often hear people start off by telling me, “It’s not good, but...”.

I threaten to throw things at them if they say that. (I might even be serious about that, too. Never can tell with guys like me.)

The truth is that we writers have to believe that what we write is good. Very good. Good enough to be bought, to be read, and to be appreciated. If we don’t value our work, no one else will.

It’s also smart in terms of business to place a high value on our writing. You don’t see car companies advertising their new models by saying: “It’s a junker that’ll break down every six blocks.” No, they are proud of their new cars and they make damn sure everyone hears about it.

This doesn’t mean that we can slam out something filled with errors and needing revision and say: “I wrote it, accept it as is.” It’s important for us to value ourselves enough to have the patience and clarity of vision needed to refine the product until it is market-ready. But even a knobbly, awkward first draft has real value --if it’s a COMPLETE first draft. That is a real accomplishment. From them on it’s revision and polish. No matter how crappy the first draft (and every first draft reeks a bit) there’s nothing in it that can’t be fixed, repaired, expanded, trimmed, retooled or otherwise improved.

The thing to remember is that there is a difference between ‘storytelling’ and ‘good writing’. Storytelling is all gut and imagination and intuition. You’re born with that or you’re not. Good writing on the other hand is the acquired understanding of the craft of languaging; grammar, style, structure, and all of the other techniques of writing. One is art, the other is craft. Smart writers seldom try to do both at the same time; they get the story out fast and dirty, and then they go in and let a different part of their brain pretty it up.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Networking Mojo for Writers

I run a writers center called The Writers Corner USA (, is located in a set of tiny offices in Doylestown, PA. Once a month we have this free event called The Coffeehouse, which is a no rules, no agenda networking session for writers of any kind and of any level of success (from absolute I-just-picked-up-a-pen-for-the-first-time newbies to seasoned pros with multiple books on the market.)

What we do is brew a pot of alarmingly strong coffee, dig into some doughnuts (gotta have fried and sugared carbs) and just chat about the writing life. Sometimes the mix has more beginners and then those of us who have publishing history field questions and share advice, leads, etc. Sometimes its a more even mix of newbies and pros and in those sessions everyone’s talking about some news, gossip, insight, accomplishment or opinion related to the writing life.

This whole thing came about when a bunch of my writer friends and I were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about writing. I said that it would be cool if there was a regular event called Writers Sitting Around Talking About Writing...With Coffee. That title kind of morphed into “The Writers Coffeehouse”.

Cool thing is...people have been getting real career boosts from this little java shindig. As a result of networking we’ve seen book deals, people signing with agents, collaborations forming, and a lot of traction and forward career momentum for the folks who trek to Doylestown to join us.

Won’t cost you a dime. The parking’s even free. So, if you’re in the area on the last Sunday of every month, from 12 to 2:30, then drop on by and share in the networking mojo. Oh, and if you don’t my coffee, there’s a Starbucks one short block away.

If you can’t make it...a comment for the crew (or a question) and I’ll read them at this month’s Coffeehouse.

See you there!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Legend Behind I AM LEGEND

In 7th grade (1973) I was moved out of the regular English class and essentially given to the school librarian. It wasn’t a punishment...I was just a book nut at thirteen and I was in a school where most of the other kids (and a lot of the teachers, as far as I could tell) thought books and reading were about as much fun as being nibbled on by rats. Or maybe the librarian needed an Igor. Hard to say.

She turned out to be the secretary for a couple of groups of professional writers, and once I got permission from my parents to accompany her, she dragged me along to their monthly get-togethers. They definitely needed an Igor, and so once a month for the next few years I made coffee, fetched beers, and hustled chips and dip for guys like Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter, John Jakes, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and a bunch of others.

And though all of those writers were (and in some cases still are) literary powerhouses, two of them took some time to sit me down and tell me about how stories are created and crafted. And each of them gave me signed copies of their books. I’m delighted that both of them are still alive and well today: Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. I was incredibly fortunate in that as a young teenager I got to meet them, and both of these great writers took some time to talk with me about writing, about imagination, and about thinking outside the box. I’m not joking when I say that it was life-changing.

Bradbury gave me a signed copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes. The one he gave me is put away, but I read a copy of that book every year on Halloween.

Matheson rocked my world when he gave me a copy of I Am Legend when I was fourteen. He told me to read that one and The Shrinking Man. These books were my introduction to allegory, social commentary, and the subtle underpinnings that make genre fiction so much more than most people give it credit for. I Am Legend, though a very short novel, opened my mind up and truly showed me what thinking outside the box meant.

I wonder if the new Will Smith film interpretation will do it justice?

To catch the I Am Legend trailer, click here:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Inspiration and where to find it

In a recent interview I was asked: Where do you find your inspirations to write?

There are two ways to answer that. Like most writers I have more ideas in my head than I’ll ever have time to write. It’s funny, but one of the most common questions writers are asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas? and another is ‘Aren’t you afraid you’ll ever run out of ideas?’. A writer would never even think to ask those questions because there is always a process of creation going on in the writers’ mind. never stops. My characters begin conversations in my head. Scenes take place. For most people this would be a psychological cry for help and Thorazine might be called-for; but to a writer this is another happy day on the job.

On the other hand, specific bursts of inspiration generally come from observing life as one passes through it. Writers observe all the time, and we think about what we observe –sometimes consciously and deliberately, and sometimes subconsciously. We listen in on conversations –not to be rude, but to hear how people speak, how they relate to one another, and how they edit themselves depending on whom they’re talking with. More than once folks have seen me just standing and being quiet at a party and have mistaken that for shyness or ‘being lost in my thoughts’, but in reality I’m very present and am trying to absorb as much of what’s going on as possible. Life, when closely observed, teaches us nearly everything we need to know about making good stories and real characters.

You can read the full interview here:

Swing by to say hello: and on MySpace: