Sailing on the Queen Mary

Posted in Travel, Writing with tags , , on May 3, 2017 by JE Gurley

This year my wife Kim, and I attended Stoker Con 2017 on the Queen Mary. It was the second Stoker Con by the Horror Writer’s Association. We were also at Stoker Con 2016 at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. Somehow, the idea of a con on a retired passenger liner seemed like a great idea. In some ways, it was.

The Queen Mary was launched in 1936, a modern luxury liner. Her ballrooms, salons, passageways, and cabins were decorated in rich wood and brass fittings. Unfortunately, she has fallen on bad times. Rust, missing and cracked tiles, chipped and water-damaged wood panels, and rotten decking make her look older than she is. The walls are paper-thin. Every sound carried. Our shower head sprayed 360 degrees and the toilet dripped. The chairs in my cabin were horribly uncomfortable.  Surprisingly, on deck there were few places to sit and enjoy the breeze. A few chairs near the shops, a handful of old and weathered chairs and tables on the port side deck, four tables near the ubiquitous Starbucks, and a few scattered benches were the only offerings. As a museum, the Queen Mary was a piece of history, but as a hotel, she left a lot to be desired.

However, Stoker Con 2017 was a success. Kudos to the HWA officers and volunteers whose hard work made it possible. My bad knee was giving me trouble. The stairs didn’t help. I used a cane and sounded like Captain Ahab stalking the deck at night. In spite of this handicap, I attended several panels, a workshop on building an author’s platform by my old friend Jonathan Maberry, a workshop on using fewer words to say more by my new friend Patrick Frievald, and several book signings and readings. As usual, I came away with more knowledge than with which I arrived. That is one goal of a con.

I also renewed old friendships, met acquaintances, and made new friends. That is the true heart of a writer’s con. Networking is the key to success, in writing as it is in any other business, and make no mistake, writing is a business. Writing can be fun and therapeutic, but to reach an audience, every writer’s goal, one must be a salesperson. Selling ideas or completed novels is every bit as difficult as selling a used car or a timeshare in Miami. The pitch sessions are one way to seek a publisher or an agent. They are a ten or fifteen-minute golden opportunity to speak face-to-face, one-on-one, and make your case. This year I had nothing to pitch, but I have sold several novels through them. I heartily suggest a pitch session when the opportunity arises. The pre-pitch panels allow you to hone your presentation and gear it to the best representative for your work.

As usual, I came away with too many books (Well, no such thing really). All were signed copies with a special place on my limited space bookshelves. Meeting George R.R. Martin was a special treat. A reading I attended by Paul Dale Anderson and Nicole Cushing revealed the darker side of horror fiction.

The real reason for the event, the Stoker Banquet and awards, highlighted the achievements of those who stood out in the horror field in 2016. Because of my health, I did not attend, but I applaud the winners of the 2016 Bram Stoker Awards.

Novel – The Fisherman by John Langan

First Novel – Haven by Tom Deady

Young Adult Novel – Snowed by Maria Alexander

Long Fiction – The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner

Short Fiction – “The Crawlspace” by Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction Collection – The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror by Joyce Carol Oates

Anthology – Borderlands 6 by Olivia and Tom Monteleone

Non Fiction – Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

Poetry Collection – Brothel by Stephanie M. Wytovitch

Graphic Novel – Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allen Poe

Screenplay – The Witch


The Birth of a Novel

Posted in Uncategorized on July 29, 2016 by JE Gurley

My latest Young Adult/New Adult science fiction novel, The Pools of Yarah, from Montag Press, has just been released. Publishing is a long process. It’s like waiting for Christmas, starting December 26th. You have rewrites, edits, more edits, cover art, more edits, review copy edits, and final publishing. A writer has usually moved ahead during this time, working on other novels. It is difficult to go back to that time frame, that character, each time to made the edits and keep it in character with the novel. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible.

Working on sequels offers the same challenges. I’m currently finishing a sequel to Oracle of Delphi, also from Montag. In the meantime, I’ve published five novels with a hundred different characters and five different plots. The Tad de Silva I knew grew up inside my head during that time, but I have to go back and regenerate the 17-year-old Tad a few weeks after Book I as if he had been asleep all that time. I know what changes he must go through, how he will develop and grow, but I can’t age him or make him wiser except in small steps. People don’t change overnight, or at least usually.

Being a writer means becoming each main character in your story, protagonists and antagonists. You must get inside their heads and make them live and Pools of Yarah cover

breathe for the reader. You must flesh them out using knowledge gleaned from your other characters; therefore, they are partly your creation and partly theirs. Placing yourself into some characters’ heads, especially really bad guys (or women), is scary. You wonder if you’re going to come out in one piece. That’s when it works for you and the reader.

Birthing a novel is like giving birth to a child, except the pain and anguish is all mental, not physical (And you don’t have to worry about them dating or wrecking the car). Once it’s in front of the public, you want to move on, but you can’t. Marketing takes a large chunk of most writers’ time. Some are good at it; some merely so-so. I admit it’s my weak point. I can sell a book face-to-face, but mass media marketing is a different animal altogether. I learn as I go. It’s probably not the best way. Kind of like learning to skydive as you go, but slightly less thrilling.

Like a young boy’s toys, at some point you have to put away your novels, trust your reading public, and move on.

Sniff. I’ll miss The Pools of Yarah. Oh, wait, I have a sequel in the works for that one too.


Diamond Days for Diamond Dogs

Posted in Music, Writing with tags on January 11, 2016 by JE Gurley

David  Bowie is dead. Even the words are difficult to write.

Born David Robert Jones on January 8, 1947, he died January 11, 2016, just 3 days after his 69th birthday. Of all the musicians who have died over the past few years, his hits me the hardest. Though a more avid fan of his earlier works, I have found a reason to keep him on my list of top musicians and performers from almost every album he released. His passing will leave a hole in the world of music. As a musician, writer, performer, singer, producer, and actor, his life touched many people and changed the shape of music many times.

When I heard first album in 1969, Space Oddity, I was hooked. His lyrics and voice touched my soul as both a musician and a music fan. When he followed that one with Hunky Dory, and then the outrageous The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spidermen From Mars, music was never the same. Her personae and appearance changed with each album, as he reinvented himself and his music.

As if being a performer was not enough, he also produced two other of my favorite groups, Mott the Hoople, and Iggy and the Stooges. In various bands over the years, I have played tunes from Bowie, Iggy, and Mott the Hoople.

As an actor, he appeared in Labyrinth, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Just a Gigolo, and The Prestige.

In 1974 I finally got the opportunity to see him live during his Diamond Dogs Tour to promote the 1973 album. I sat enthralled by his stage presence, sweet voice, and sax playing. There are bands I have seen multiple times – Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Rush, ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen – because they never got old. Bowie was on my much smaller list of groups I saw only once but wanted to see again – Queen, Yes, Bowie. I regret I’ll never have the opportunity to see him perform again.

His 1980’s albums were among my favorites – Young Americans and Let’s Dance. I found more reason to include his songs in my band’s repertoire.

In 1988 he stunned everyone by forming a new band, Tin Machine, intent on playing music without the hype. He succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. I lost track of Bowie during the 90’s until the present, not because I no longer liked him, but because life simply got in the way. As a writer and a musician, I spent less time listening to music and more time writing novels and playing in various bands, always sure to include at least one Bowie song in the list.

David Bowie has left a legacy that will be difficult for anyone to match. I am 62. In my estimation there are few bands or individuals that can keep my interest, is spite of their critical acclaim. No matter what they might do, David Bowie was there firstest with the mostest.




Writing Through the Holidays

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2015 by JE Gurley

As a writer, I write a lot – mornings, afternoons, nights, and in between TV shows I want to watch. I try to make time for my wife and cats, but they all understand, at least the cats do. There are always the inevitable doctor or dentist appointments, trips to the grocery store for food (The cats insist), and the occasional entry into the world of real people to reacquaint myself with actual human beings and social interaction, but writing takes up most of my time (Well, playing music nibbles away a small corner).

Holidays can be tricky events for writers to maneuver, like rapids in a river. It is good to see friends and family, sit down for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and remember old times or talk about recent events. It is with such social gatherings that the very fabric of society is woven. I hear some people even venture out on Black Friday, but I write about zombies and apocalypses and have no desire to experience either personally without a weapon, and swords are frowned upon in most Best Buys, though I hear Walmart has a more user-friendly policy.

When writing is impossible, the mind can still function on levels beyond conversation and comments on the mashed potatoes. Entire character conversations can be conceived. Worlds can be created or destroyed. Can Uncle John’s nervous tic become a trait for a new character? Can Cousin Betty’s high-pitched laugh and tendency to slur her words after two glasses of wine make its way into a dinner-table dialogue in Chapter Three? Does Aunt June’s habit of tapping her foot under the table become the sound of a character’s cane along the worn cobblestones on a moonless night in Arkham?

Observing friends, family, and strangers can be an excellent method of adding more depth and realism to your characters. The flow of words during a conversation, or more importantly, the words that are omitted that still allow the listener to understand the speaker’s meaning, can change a dialogue from a boring exchange of words into a spellbinding revelation of information, nuance, and emotion.

Writing is not always sitting at the keyboard or holding pen in hand waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear or, if your muse is a bit heavy-handed, to kick you in the ass. Putting the words on the screen or on paper is important, but developing the story that the words convey is vital. This does not require marathon sessions at your desk. It is possible to create entire novels in your head while smiling and nodding politely, as your second cousin once removed Bob is describing his latest fishing or hunting trip, or the stranger next to you on the train tells you hos lousy his day has been.

Enjoy your holidays. Enjoy your friends and family. Keep writing.



Keys to Success as a Writer

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2015 by JE Gurley

Keys to Success as a Writer

Writing your first novel, or even your fifth, is only the first step in the process of becoming an established author. Sometimes, writing is the easy part. You have to ask yourself 3 big questions:

1. Is this work the best I can do? If the answer is yes, congratulations, but you’re probably wrong. Chances are you can do better. Lay it aside for a while and consider why it isn’t your best work, and then take steps to improve it. If the answer is no, lay it aside for a while think of how you can improve it. Refer back to the first sentence. The first key to success is producing a product – a novel, memoir, or technical book – that the reader can follow or enjoy without tripping over obvious typographical, technical, or continuity errors. To some readers, this is s death knell for a novel.

2. Did I say what I wanted to say? If yes, you’ve discovered one of the keys to successful writing. You’re a rarity. Treasure your ability. Few people actually wind up saying what they wanted to. They ramble, bloviate, or overwhelm the reader with fodder, writing that serves no purpose except to fill the page. Even in today’s modern print media, the writer sometimes takes three paragraphs to tell a story when three sentences would suffice. Purposeful brevity, punctuated by splashes of brilliant exposition, can hold a reader’s attention far longer than page after page of contrived metaphors, similes, or compound sentences.  If the answer is no, decide what you really wanted to say. Then decide why you want to say it and how to say it better.

3. Do I know my market? Key # 3 is often the most difficult to grasp. You have to know who your writing for and how to reach them. Internet search engines allow readers to search for books on any topic or combination of topics they desire. If they are interested in Late 18th century Catholic priests who hunt vampires using alien werewolf acolytes and technology stolen from the future by Vatican time travelers, they can find it. A writer must find his/her niche. The niche can be as narrowly defined or as broad as you wish. The smaller the niche, the smaller the audience, but the easier to reach them.I write horror and science fiction. Horror is a broad-based genre, unless you focus on slasher thrillers, gothic, paranormal, paranormal romance, gay/lesbian, or steam punk. My biggest sellers are apocalyptic, zombie, and Kaiju, or giant monster novels. I have a ready-made audience and use social media, like my website, Facebook groups, my two blogs, Goodreads groups, Twitter, and guest blogs to reach them. I recently participated in a #SummerofZombie 2015 Blog Tour with 37 other zombie authors. Guest blogs, giveaways, contests, t-shirts – it was a full-tilt effort. Each author got multiple opportunities for exposure with each author tweeting, blogging, and share posts around the world. I was able to ride the coattails of more well-known zombie authors like Jake Bible, Joe McKinney, and Jonathan Maberry to reach a wider audience.I also participate in an Authors Supporting Our Troops event each year, where writers donate books to be boxed and shipped overseas to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other foreign base. I received mentions by my local hometown National Guard, VFW, and American Legion, as well as a write-up in the local newspaper, all well worth the cost of a few books. 

These are the First 3 Keys to success. There are more.

  1. Know your craft. Keep a thesaurus, a Strunk and White, or an Oxford book on punctuation usage handy. You can break the rules, but you need to know what the rules are first. I continuously refer to mine. There’s been a big 1 space or 2 after a sentence on Facebook. I fall into the 1 space follower. It saves pages in a book, reducing cost.
  2.  Use words the reader can understand. It’s okay to send them to the dictionary every now and then, but can easily bog a reader down. Avoid repetition. Don’t use the same word or phrase too often, especially not in the same sentence. If something is the color red, call it red, rust, blood-colored, crimson, fuscia, ruddy, copper, garnet, rubicund, maroon. Don’t use red every time.
  3. Do your Research. Whatever you write about, some reader will know more about the subject than you do. Make sure your technical data. I write about the military and weaponry. If I have a .45 caliber pistol using 200 grain ACP rounds, I need to know that a .45 caliber rifle using 400 grains of gunpowder aren’t the same ammunition and aren’t interchangeable. I write fiction, so I make stuff up, but unless I have sound technical and historical accuracy to base it on, it becomes fantasy and more difficult for the reader to submerge themselves into the story.
  4. Keep a flow chart. You can use a written flow chart, a mental one, or a bunch of Post-It notes, but you need some way to keep track of timelines, characters, and events. I’ve read too many stories with poorly defined flashbacks, scene changes, or POV changes. If flashbacks are necessary to your story, make certain you place them where needed and that they contain the correct verb forms. Otherwise, an unwary reader can get lost. Define scene changes or point of view changes. Too many writers skip in and of character’s minds wily nily when a single point of view would be better. A second or third POV can be espoused for the scene later in a more clearly defined POV change. Rule # 1 – Don’t confuse the reader.

Your novel is completed, edited, and ready to go. You send it to the publisher, and they like it. Now, you sit back and relax or start work on your next novel.

Wrong. Even with a small press publisher, you will have one or more edits to deal with, and possibly a decision on the cover. You’ll need a blurb for the back and maybe a couple of review excerpts from other authors. With Big press publishers, it becomes even more complicated. If you self-publish, it’s all on you – cover art, formatting, editing.

Marketing. This is the point where most writers fail miserably, not from poor writing or an uninteresting subject matter. This is the one place where the Money should flow to the writer, not from him rule falls apart. Marketing can be as simple as word of mouth, a blog post, a posting on Facebook or a Tweet, or can cost thousands of dollars. Unless you believe you novel is heads and shoulders better than anything else out there, I would avoid spending large sums of cash in hopes of a greater return. There are thousands of authors writing thousands of books each year and most readers stick with writers they now.

Don’t sell your novel, sell yourself. Create an author’s platform. Put yourself out there wherever possible. Create an interest in you as a person and your book without hawking it like a sideshow barker – Buy my book!

Send arcs or review copies to reviewers that enjoy your subject matter. Do not bombard every reviewer you can find on the internet. A reviewer of vampire romance or children’s novels isn’t going to gain you an audience unless that’s what you’re writing. Be as specific as possible to whom you send review copies. Be aware some reviewers may take months to get to your novel, if they do at all. To them, it’s a numbers game. To you, it’s your future. There are many small review bloggers out there who would love to review your novel. It’s how they get their reading material for free. Use a link to their blog review of your novel on Facebook, Goodreads, your blog, your website. Make copies to hand out at book signing events.

Contact your local newspaper book reviewers. Local coverage is the best advertising. Build a base close to home and then expand to state, regional, and national levels.

Advertise. Postcards, bookmarks, business cards, and flyers can be an inexpensive way to get word put about your book. Vistaprint, Printrunner, or someone like them can produce posters or anything else for $30-40. Leave them at bookstores, conventions, or libraries. Logo items, such as ink pens are good giveaways. Larger items – coffee mugs, thermos cups, etc. are more costly but make great prizes.

If you aren’t on Facebook, don’t have an Amazon author’s page, Twitter, Goodreads, a blog or a website, do so. It can be free to inexpensive or as elaborate as you want. You can add buy links in your blogs or website to your books.

Keys to Success as a Writer

Zombie Defense Through the Ages

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2015 by JE Gurley

Zombie Defense Through the Ages

As we all know, zombies have been around for a long, long time. To survive a zombie apocalypse, or even a small local undead uprising, knowing your weaponry is essential. The tool must fit the task. In killing zombies, one had two options – long distance or close up. Long distance is safer but sometimes impractical. What effective weapons have zombie killers through the ages employed?

If you were in China during the Qin Dynasty, you had many options, all of which required skill and strength. If you were a poor, malnourished peasant, your chances of survival were low. You would probably become one of the walking dead. The most effective weapon for long-distance zombie slaying was the Gung or bow. An arrow through the head usually did the job. For closer quarters and multiple zombies, the Nu, a semi-automatic crossbow firing 10 bolts in 15 seconds made you a very popular defender of village maidens. Swords were excellent for removing heads. The Jian, a double-edged straight sword, the Dao, a curved, single-edged weapon, the liuyedao, a moderately curved sword, and the piandao, curved like a scimitar or shamshir, and the much heavier niuweidao, a two-edged broadsword.

The Chinese also employed axes, such as the fu, curved double-edged axe, and the yue, a single-edged heavy ax, very effective at lopping off heads or cleaving limbs. Spears (Qiang), and heavy long pole weapons such as the Ji with a sharp metal tip at its base and a curved blade on the other end. The guan dao, pu dao, and tang dao had long, weighted, curved blades whose long poles allowed its user to deliver a powerful blow capable of cleaving both horse and rider, if a zombie happened to be mounted.

Much later, during medieval times, swords, weighted weapons, lances, bows and later, guns kept zombies at bay. The longbow; crossbow, which could fire wooden bolts or spherical metal balls; the arbalest, a heavier crossbow with a 900-yard range; and the hand-held pistol crossbow allowed some distance between zombie and defender. They were especially useful as zombies gathered at moats or closed draw bridges. Knight code of honor required a more intimate approach to zombie slaying. Clubs, maces, war hammers, flails, and morningstars, were all battering weapons designed to crush armor or zombie skulls.  Lances, spears, pikes and javelins were hurled or used for stabbing. Pole arms – glaives, halberds, bariches, correques, and fauchards were similar in scope and use to Chines Dao weapons. The guisame had a hook at the tip to dismount riders. It could be used to bring zombies within sword reach. Halberds had an axe blade on one end, backed by a hook on the other side and a spike in its tip.

Falchons were one-handed, single-edged swords, while long swords were two-handed, doubled-edged swords. Daggers, such as the anelace, the poignard, the stiletto (An Italian favorite), and the rondel made hand-to-hand killing of undead foes close up and personal. The bardiche, the pollaxe, and the throwing axe required less training but were quite effective.

Little changed until modern weaponry came along during the Civil War. Swords were still used, but bayonets attached to the barrels of rifles saw more use. Pistols included the Moore’s Belt revolver, which fired 7-.32 caliber bullets, the Smith and Wesson, the Colt, the Remington, the Lemat, which had an over-and-under barrel capable of firing 9-.42 caliber rounds from the top and a 16-gauge shotgun shell in the lower. Two very useful weapons for zombie defense were the Walsh revolver with its 12 shot capacity and the Elgin pistol with its large, curved blade on the barrel. Only two hundred of the Walshes  were made, so finding one was matter of luck.

Rifles included the Hawken Rifle, the Springfield and its Confederate copies, the Mississippi, the Fayetteville, and the Richmond, the Sharps, and the two lever-action rifles, the Henry and the Spenser. The earlier muzzle loaders fired heavy lead Minnie balls of .88 caliber or .69 caliber. Later bullets resembled todays ammunition. What sets this era apart from earlier eras is the introduction of mass killing weapons, the machine gun. The Gatling gun and the Agar gun, each capable of firing hundreds of rounds per minute, would have been very useful in a full-tilt zombie frontal assault.

WWI saw the advent of killing on a massive scale. The ingenuity of the entire civilized world went into the design of new, more destructive weaponry. Rifles improved in accuracy and ease of use. The British Enfield, the American Springfield, and the German Mauser would allow the killing of zombies at long distance, safer and more confusing to zombies. For mowing down groups of undead attackers, the Maxim gun, the German Maschinengewehr, the Lewis gun, the Gatling gun, the French Hotchkiss gun could deliver 800-100 rounds per minute to their targets.

Today, the weapons are much the same as in WWI and WWII. They are more accurate but no more effective. Faced with a horde of deadly zombies, I would prefer a sword, a guan dao, or a crossbow. They are more silent and just as deadly. In a pinch, a tire iron, a baseball bat, or a chainsaw will do the trick.

Killing zombies is not a sport. It is a means of survival. Choose your weapon carefully. Always take into account your skill level, strength, and squeamishness about busted or decapitated heads.

Aim HighShoot Straight

Reign of Evil: A Seal Team 666 Novel

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 by JE Gurley

I’ve always been a big fan of military fiction and a bigger fan of military science fiction and horror. I’m also a friend and a fan of fellow Arizonan Weston Ochse. I loved Seal team 666 and thought, “How can he one-up that?” Well, he did.

I just finished Reign of Evil. I don’t know how Weston managed to weave American Special Forces, British Special Forces, Irish Special Forces, Celtic history, ultra-conservative British politicians, demon dogs, witches, and King Author (Yeah, that King Author) into one riveting tale, but damn if he didn’t do it. Reign of Evil  was non-stop action all the way through – pedal to the metal, balls to the walls, take no prisoners action. Weston’s personal military background allows him to inject realism and grunt minds into his military characters, and his slightly demented mind and penchant for meticulous research fleshes out his storyline until you BELIEVE.

Unlike a normal military unit, Weston’s Seal Team 666 takes on supernatural foes throughout the world. The body count is high, and he’s not afraid to kill a few good characters. In war,good people die, and the premise of his world is that we are at war with evil and the people who propagate it. It takes a hard man to do a hard job. Not that Weston isn’t afraid to utilize a few hard women along the way. Reign of Evil just shows the scope of which Weston is capable. He’s done zombies in the Salton Sea, ghosts in Deadwood, and survivors of a world holocaust living on a floating island of rusting ships. He really shines in his military fiction. Snafu, Seal Team 666, and Reign of Evil need to be on everyone’s bookshelf or Kindle.

If you haven’t picked up your copy of Reign of Evil, do it now before he sends the Hunt after you.