Behind the Scenes: What is a Void Creature?

When I first started writing The Slaughter Chronicles back in 2017 I wanted to make a clear distinction between vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures. For the longest time, I used the generic term “demon” to cover everything that wasn’t a vampire or a werewolf and for a while, it flowed pretty well, especially with Sanctum, my hyper-religious monster-hunting order.

But then, as I put more flesh and definition into my imaginary world, I realized that the secular monster hunters (namely HADES) wouldn’t necessarily use terminology with superstitious or religious connotations. So I had to figure something else out.

This was a problem that stalled my worldbuilding for at least 6 months because I didn’t come up with the character of Theodore Thane or HADES’s Void hunting division until late 2019.

So, I spent 2017-summer 2019 wobbling back and forth between words that were okay but just didn’t feel right and wearing holes in my thesaurus.

Why was Thane (aka Hyperion) so helpful in solving this problem?

Theodore Thane is a “demon” hunter. But he hates organized religion. He’s also extremely analytical and narcissistic. A very thorough researcher, with a heavy science background, Thane has also been around for a few decades longer than most of the other characters so he’s gained a lot of experience and seen a lot of things.

After I built up Thane’s backstory it was very easy to adopt how this one character classified all these other monsters and use his perceptions to categorize the monsters. Using his terminology also works well because Regina, my protagonist, learned pretty much everything about my paranormal world from Thane.

Members of Sanctum still use the word “demon” to talk about every supernatural creature, no matter where they came from.

End Credits and Purchase Links

Pulling Teeth and Other Stories is available for pre-order right now. It will go live on November 24. That’s Tuesday after next!

For 1.99 USD you get two Regina Slaughter backstory novellas, three Slaughter Chronicles short stories and extra worldbuilding content.

Amazon
Apple iBooks
Kobo
Smashwords

Barnes and Noble and Google Play purchase links are on the way.

If you haven’t already, give a thought to signing up for my monthly newsletter. As a Thank You from me you will receive one of the short stories in Pulling Teeth for free. The next one goes out to subscribers on November 30th.

Writing Short Fiction

Or: The Impact of Short Fiction on Longer Novels

Or: Why Writing Short Fiction is Good…

*Disclaimer: this can be read as a “writing advice” blog post but please don’t take it seriously or personally. What worked for me might not work for you, everyone’s writing process is different and art is, as always, very subjective. So if you resonate with anything here, great. If not, also great. Thanks for reading.

I strongly believe that if you’re going to be a successful writer you have to know how to write short forms. If you write fiction, you have to be able to write and finish a short story/flash fiction/micro fiction. If you write poetry or more lyrical forms of prose, you need to have some experience with shorter forms of poetry.

(And I’m not just saying that because I wrote a short fiction collection and it’s now available for pre-order.)

Some of you out there might be reading this and thinking:

  1. I’ve written full-length novels but never short stories and I’m successful so what gives?
  2. That’s exactly what my awful creative wiring teacher said and those “old school” ideas about how to be a writer are way more harmful than helpful.
  3. I don’t like writing short fiction/short fiction isn’t my goal so I don’t see the point in this.

All of those thoughts are valid. I know writers who only write long fiction and they are happily existing not writing short stories. I know writers who think that the only way to be successful in the traditional publishing world is to sell short stories to well-known magazines first and then get picked up by a larger publishing house (Ray Bradbury and I think Stephen King did this as well).

And as for that third question; I’m a poet. I don’t like writing sonnets. I know how to write a fucking sonnet. Not because I was pressured into following some gatekeeper’s rules or had an awful teacher in the past, but because it was part of the craft I wanted to master (not that I’ve mastered poetry in any way, shape, or form). So I learned how to do it.

If you want to get good at playing the piano you do scales. If you want to get good at writing, you practice writing.

Short stories force you to make up an end.

They force you to be specific and concise with your narrative.

(Back to poetry)

When I first started sending out my work to get published I was met with a flurry of rejections. But I’d revised and polished and revised again. I couldn’t figure out why editors were rejecting me.

Now, I wasn’t writing long poems but they were directionless. They were pretty word pictures with either very vague or no purpose.

How did I realize this? I discovered micro poetry on Twitter. And then I tried writing micro poetry and I found I was shit at it. I learned that if you can’t make a small version of the thing, you really can’t make a big version of the thing.

So I worked on it and got intentional and specific with my language. I wrote lots and lots of micro poems. And then my longer pieces started getting published.

The point of all this is you can use short stories to

  1. practice writing
  2. develop your voice
  3. make your writing better

And it’s also pretty damn satisfying when you can write THE END on something. Even if it’s a piece of flash fiction. You completed a project! Good job!

I’m writing a nine to ten book grimdark paranormal fantasy series. I’m constantly scanning the big picture and a lot of the time I get stressed out because I can’t see the trees for all the forest.

I know where the story is going but I don’t know how to get there. I get hung up on the minutiae and everything stalls.

I’ve re-written Book One four times since 2018 and I’m about to start on the fifth and final re-write. How do I know this is the final one? How do I know I’m not just going to repeat the cycle of incompletion over and over again and never get my book done?

Spite. Sheer spite.

And writing short fiction. When I get stuck I jump to something else, a different character or a different part in the series. Sometimes I make a short story out of it. And that short story helps me fill those plot holes and move on.

Short stories help you practice how to end things, remember.

Not all the short stories in Pulling Teeth came about that way. I seriously love it when a writer adds companion and/or prequel pieces to their series. I will eat that shit up.

So, if you’re a writer and you’re stuck on something, try writing an unrelated short story. See what happens. Let me know 🙂

End Credits and Purchase Links

As I mentioned before, Pulling Teeth and Other Stories is now available for pre-order. If you’re interested but you’re not sure you’ll like my work you can sign up for my monthly newsletter and get a copy of one of the stories for free (Harbinger of Havoc).

If you don’t like it, all you have to do is unsubscribe.

Pre-Order your copy of Pulling Teeth on:
Amazon (US)
Kobo
Smashwords
iBooks
Barnes and Noble link pending

Thanks for reading and keep on keeping on!

*Note: The Slaughter Chronicles is only available in ebook format.

*Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

Behind the Scenes: Genre and Audience

for The Slaughter Chronicles

I have strong opinions about correct labeling. As a former research assistant and library technician, finding things in the right place/where they are supposed to be (and putting them back in their proper place) is extremely important to me.

My personal preference is organization over clutter.

But I love reading stories that sprawl across many genres, stories that don’t fit into the conventional boxes.

I also love writing stories that emulate more than one tone or trope, however, this makes publishing and marketing more difficult than it has to be. I don’t have one go-to label I can put on my work. I wish I did.

But I’m not going to change what I write so I have to learn how to navigate the treacherous waters of identifying my genre and my audience.

Identifying my audience is easy.

I write books for adult and new adult audiences. My books are full of mature content–mostly violence, nothing sexy yet (it’s on its way, I promise). Even though my main protagonist in Pulling Teeth and Other Stories is a child, these stories are not written for children.

Working with an editor and writing coach has helped me identify what genres are and how to accurately label my work.

Accurate identification is key, especially in the indie publishing world because readers have pre-set expectations when they pick up a book. For example, they expect romance novels to have happily-ever-after endings (most of the time).

My book series, The Slaughter Chronicles, will contain elements of romance but I would not put it in the Romance genre. Lots of people would get really, really mad at me. Because there is no happily-ever-after for my MC…at least not right now. Not for a while…I’m going to stop talking before I give away any spoilers.

How I found my genre(s)

bestfantasybooks.com: There are lists. And I like this resource because the creators there break down each sub-genre with concise explanations.

I’ve also found a brief How To guide for the fantasy genre at The Creative Penn.

Shadowminds.net has a nifty, concise piece on the breakdown of Contemporary Fantasy as a sub-genre of fantasy.

And, of course, there’s always wikipedia. Quality of this list is as expected.

The Slaughter Chronicles falls into Fantasy because there are werewolves and magic. From there, we have the sub-categories.

There are so many sub-categories.

Contemporary and paranormal are pretty obvious choices (again, because of the werewolves) but they are also very broad labels. One of the goals of indie publishing is to stand out. If you throw your book into an overly saturated market you go unnoticed. So it’s really important to be as specific as you can with genre while still being truthful to your story.

The resources I link to above introduced me to a few sub-genres of fantasy that I was conceptually aware of but didn’t really realize they could be applied to my stories until I researched their definitions.

Portal Fantasy-Not like the video game, Portal. Bestfantasybooks.com explains this sub-genre as anything that transports you into another world. In The Slaughter Chronicles, you have our world (pre-covid) and you have the Void. The Void is a primordial, alternate dimension where skyscraper sized cosmic horrors live.

Alternate World Fantasy-Like Portal Fantasy, this sub-genre involves an alternate world. See: skyscraper cosmic horrors.

Arcanepunk Fantasy-This was a new term for me. I always thought of the word “arcane” as more Steampunk than modern-day but, according to my Mirriam-Webster, arcane means “known or knowable only to a few people.” Also secret. Also everything Theodore Thane is.

Grimdark Fantasy-Or just GRIMDARK*. To me, Grimdark is all about Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, far-future sci-fi and high fantasy. Ever since I read the Darkblade books by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee I wanted to write something with that sadistic, gritty tone but in modern times. Most of the Grimdark/Dark Fantasy that I’ve read has only been Epic or High Fantasy. With Pulling Teeth especially, I put a more contemporary twist on this sub-genre.

Funny cat meme. “If it fits I sits.”

My mom helped me make a flow chart. Because a 71-year-old woman can use Microsoft office better than I can.

Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, Alternate World Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Arcanepunk Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy.

Here’s what not to do:

Pick an obscure genre that does not fit your book just to make the bestseller list. People actually do this and I think it’s sleazy as fuck. I once saw a short story collection as the #1 bestseller in a non-fiction, young adult category. The category was death and self-help related.

The library technician in me had a fit.

This particular situation made me mad because any young adult with questions about death was going to find this short story collection unrelated to the topic they were looking for more information about.

Death is a big theme in my stories but I would never put anything from The Slaughter Chronicles into a non-fiction category or a self-help category. Some of my characters are extremely dysfunctional and I wouldn’t want anyone looking to them as role models or thinking they can get guidance from them**.

If you like any of the sub-genres of fantasy listed above, please give my fiction a try.

I have three stand-alone short stories here on my blog and if you sign up for my newsletter you get a free copy of Harbinger of Havoc, one of the pieces from my upcoming short fiction collection Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of the Slaughter Chronicles.

*Note: I want to talk more about Grimdark later. If I go off on a tangent you’ll be reading another 5,000 words of genre vomit and you don’t need that.

**Another note: I grew up without many friends or a lot of parental guidance and I did look to fictional character for how to behave in society. This yielded mixed results and I plan on exploring the subject more in depth later.

*

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

Behind the Scenes: Turning an RPG Campaign into a Book Series

I may or may not have mentioned this before, but The Slaughter Chronicles is inspired by a World of Darkness (White Wolf) campaign that Mr. J and I played back in 2015. Well…I started back in 2015, the story of the campaign was something Mr. J had been working on since he was in high school.

For role-playing games like Vampire the Masquerade, Dungeons and Dragons, and World of Darkness to be successful, the players need a really good story to interact with. Otherwise, you’re just rolling the dice and killing imaginary monsters. (Which can be fun on its own…but I play for the story.)

Telling a story for an RPG and writing a story as a novel or a series of books are two very different things. They involve different kinds of storytelling techniques. Things that work on the tabletop do not work in “fiction” and vice versa.

In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the challenges I faced and still face as I write my grimdark paranormal fantasy series, The Slaughter Chronicles.

Before I get into my writing experience I want to say that the books that I write and the books that you will get to read (eventually) are maybe 5% like the original campaign story version and the remaining 95% is vastly different. The game and those first character designs were extremely bare-bones rough drafts that formed the structure of what my story is today.

Here’s a little bit of backstory for you:

The Slaughter Chronicles happened when Mr. J and I were wrapping up the campaign and we came to a place where Regina was separated from her love interest. I got the idea to have Regina write down her feelings in a journal so that she would have a record for said love interest if she died.

At that time, I didn’t think I could write fiction. I thought I could only write poetry–little fragments of thoughts, incomplete narratives–the broad strokes of sweeping fiction were way beyond me. But I could write Regina’s diary because that version of her had very disjointed thoughts. I wrote six pages of Regina babbling to herself about how much she loved and missed [NAME REDACTED] and how bad she felt about all the things that happened (in life, not just their relationship).

I showed this writing to Mr. J, feeling very embarrassed about presenting him with word vomit, and to my surprise he liked it. (I was seriously expecting him to laugh at me and tell me how stupid it was. Confidence, y’all.) That inspired me to try writing more. So I wrote the story of the campaign, exactly how Mr. J started it and all of Regina’s decisions and how they shaped the world.

And it was terrible because there was no magical game master on stand by in my brain to make Regina’s life easier or worse depending on the situation. I had to abide by fictional laws of realism, I had to come up with my own supernatural biology and magic system to make the world plausibly function.

Here’s some of how I did that:

1. Copyright and Popular Culture Character References

The first and probably the most important things I had to consider (and still rears its ugly head every so often) were copyright infringement and piracy of intellectual property. Unless I wanted to write fan fiction, I had to change a lot of conceptual elements of Mr. J’s story to make it an original work of fiction. My werewolves are very different from the World of Darkness werewolves.

For me, this issue has only caused problems with my character names. Mr. J relies heavily on video games for inspiration and I’ve had to change many, many supporting characters’ names to something not blatantly recognizable as coming from Dark Souls or World of Warcraft.

There were also some events in the game that were Mr. J’s versions of certain boss fights. An underling of the main villain would look suspiciously like a video game villain. Now, I know next to nothing about video games. I don’t play them, sometimes I watch other people play them but I don’t pay attention.

So there would be a boss fight in our RPG and afterward, I’d say something like, “That was super cool!” and Mr. J would reply, “It’s from [insert game name here].” and I’d go, “Dammit!” because I knew I had to then research said boss and make the necessary changes to not write that character into my books.

Coming up with how werewolves and vampires are created and making up other aspects of the supernatural community was a very fun and rewarding worldbuilding experience.

2. The Storytelling/Story Structure

I wasn’t the DM. Or GM if you prefer. Some of the characters were mine but the story wasn’t. So, I had to add, subtract, and reinvent parts of the world and the storyline to create the narrative.

There were some world building elements that I didn’t need to know for the game (because not knowing didn’t hurt my character) that I really needed to understand for parts of the novel to function.

In RPGs there’s usually a main story arc and then there’s what they call “side quests.” Side quests are either the best adventures ever or they’re the DM’s way of punishing you for some imaginary, baseless slight. There are NPCs (non-playable characters) that you, the player, think are important but they aren’t and, three hours into the game, you realize that you’ve been chasing shadows and have in no way, shape, or form achieved any of your objectives.

I had to decide what I wanted to include and what needed to be thrown in the trash.

Side quests make great inspiration for sub-plots but only in moderation.

3. Inside Jokes/Game References

I had to take out and revise a lot of my supporting characters because when we played with them in the game, they were only there for comedy. Or as Easter eggs or inside jokes we could build personality and story line off of. For example, in one of Mr. J’s D&D campaigns, he has a Goblin Shaman character he modeled off of Doctor Rockso from Metalocalypse. Because everyone loves Metalocalypse. Was that reference relevant to the story of the game? Maybe not, but everyone playing altered their behavior and choices to interact with that NPC more.

(Note: An unexpected plus side of adapting things like this was the opportunity to create more involved backstory for characters that I had before considered cardboard cut-outs.)

Writing inside jokes that either only specific readers will understand or only you, the writer, will understand is a big NO-NO in my rulebook. It alienates the reader and if I feel like I don’t understand something I’m going to stop reading.

This does not mean I don’t approve of homages or Easter eggs. Or that I don’t have my characters make connections and references to things that other characters don’t understand. Those are fine if they’re done right.

RPGs and gaming culture have a lot of fandom elements that, unless a reader follows said fandom, readers won’t pick up on right away.

Going back to the Doctor Rockso example, some of Mr. J’s players got the TV show reference right away and had fun with it, but others did not and, while they didn’t have any problems playing, they didn’t get the same level of humor.

I want to write more about this topic because RPG-Lit is its own genre and some of my favorite books are based on tabletop games. I could go on and on about the mechanics and philosophy of game storyline vs. novel storyline but I’m tired now and I need to stop.

If you have questions or want to bring up a point I haven’t mentioned, please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

The most important thing I’ve learned from this creation and translation process is that it’s very easy to suspend belief in-game but not so easy in a novel. I can believe five random people wake up in a room together and have no idea how they got there for a game but if I’m reading that in a book and I’m either not expecting it or don’t get the how and why right away, I’m going to be confused. While you want your reader to have questions, you don’t want to throw them out of the story.

You don’t need to know how World of Darkness works to read and enjoy my books. You don’t need to like games to read my books. Liking werewolves might help but…*shrug*…it’s not a requirement.

*

Photo by Samantha Lam on Unsplash

Pre-Pandemic Research Road Trip: Rock Town Distillery

My werewolves make moonshine.

Okay this wasn’t really a “road trip” because Rock Town Distillery is in my home town. But it was a research trip, I swear. Not about sampling amazing whiskey.

But seriously, the whiskey is amazing.

A Little Writing Backstory

The Slaughter Chronicles contains a universe very much like our own but also very different. There is a parallel/alternate reality where all the scary things live. Sometimes those scary things make their way over into our world. But no one talks about it. It’s a secret.

Werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures that like to interact with humans generally don’t broadcast what they are.

Humans who do not live in blissful ignorance are either in league with the monsters or they hunt the monsters.

When I was world-building my fictional werewolf pack, the Gluttons, before I figured out they were all former monster hunters, I had no idea how they made money.

My very first draft had my werewolves living in a big city (I was going for more of an urban fantasy vibe) and regular 9 to 5 jobs in the human world. They would come together whenever the Alpha needed something but, as my characters’ personalities developed, I realized my setting needed to change. My werewolf pack needed to be somewhere far enough away from human civilization where they could live without fear of discovery and still be able to buy groceries.

Then came the problem: what can they do to make money in a rural area? My very first draft had (and this is really bad) them living in an abandoned electrical plant. I know… WTF? And they were basically in a forest with nothing around them. That’s almost as bad as writing your characters in a blank room.

It was also really boring; there was no tension, no risk of losing control and killing innocent bystanders. No conflict.

One of the difficulties (I’ll make a post about this topic soon) of turning a story from an RPG (role-playing game) into a novel is that there are a lot of supporting details, like how your characters feed themselves or even where they live, that you don’t have to worry about while you’re playing the game. But when you try to write a novel, those missing details appear as plot holes.

So, I had to find a balance between my wolves working within the setting realistically. The series isn’t about hiding from humans but the underlying tension is always there.

Enter Silver Wolf Stills, my fictional bar and distillery. Loosely based on Rock Town Distillery.

It’s got alcohol. It’s got inspectors. It’s got customers. My werewolves use it as camouflage. They keep things up to code and don’t eat the guests. They also supply local restaurants and stores with their stock. Now, what if one day the werewolf hunters nuked the pack? There’d be no more distillery. No more bar. People would ask questions.

And even if the monster hunters knew about my wolves, it would be very hard to exterminate them without drawing attention to the fact that supernatural creatures do really exist. And that is something the hunters don’t want.

I hope you enjoyed that little behind-the-scenes trip through The Slaughter Chronicles Universe. Thanks for reading!