Happy Halloween! My first Halloween here on the site since my big redesign, and since I started actively blogging again. And my reading is tonight! I’m excited.
If you’ve read the introduction to “Counting From Ten” (or its online counterpart, my “Why Horror?” article), then you already know all the prosaic, ordinary reasons why I was interested in horror and the unexplained from a very early age. The reasons I’ll tell anyone.
But there are other reasons, ones I don’t always talk about. In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d talk about them today.
The house I grew up in was haunted. I’m perfectly serious. I don’t have any really Hollywood-spectacular stories to tell you — it’s not like there was blood dripping from the walls — and we never found out that the previous owners were murdered or anything nice and neat and dramatic like that.
All we had, for the most part, was the sound footsteps in an empty hallway in the middle of the night. Nothing that couldn’t be written off as dreams or imagination. We used to joke about it, in a half-serious way.
But the one thing that happened that we couldn’t explain, or attribute to imagination or coincidence, happened one evening when we’d all sat down to dinner. The tea-kettle suddenly flew off the stove, knocked by something unseen about six feet sideways through the air.
That was when we knew we weren’t alone in that house. I don’t remember any of us ever being afraid — despite that one sudden outburst, we never got the sense that it was angry or upset. And that was the only time it ever did anything that really got our attention. I honestly think that maybe it just wanted to let us know it was really there.
We never saw anything else we couldn’t explain. Well — not inside the house, anyway.
We did see, my mother and I, lights in the sky, late one night. Three of them, two hanging motionless and one moving down and to the left. Too big to be stars — about the apparent size of a nickel held at arm’s length — and surrounded by a blazing corona. The one in motion left a flaming trail behind it as it descended.
My father had already gone to bed, and we both ran to wake him, but they were gone by the time we returned. I will always wish that, even in our panic and excitement, we’d thought to leave one of us at the window to watch.
I don’t know if they were, you know — visitors from another world. I don’t know if they were fairy lights. I just know people have been seeing them for centuries and I know they were certainly UFOs because they were objects and they were flying and they sure as hell were unidentified. (My astronomy teacher, at the time, tried to tell me we’d just seen the planet Venus. Oh, of course, because Venus totally looks like three separate flaming balls of light.)
All I know for sure is, growing up in that house with its footsteps and its lights in the sky taught me that there are things that happen in this world that we can’t explain, that we’ll maybe never explain. It taught me to accept that. No, more than just accept it — to be delighted by it, to live in a world of brighter lights and deeper shadows beyond our safe and comfortable explanations and expectations.
I can never go back to the old house. It was torn down years ago. I can’t even find the street I used to live on — the streets in that area now are black and recent, and don’t seem to follow the same grid pattern as the streets I used to walk.
But in a way, I go back to that old house every time I sit down to write. Thanks for coming with me.
I just wrapped up my book giveaway for “Slices” on Goodreads — it ran from October 12th to October 26th. I had five copies of my book up for grabs, and as soon as I found out who won, I dropped them in the mail that very same day in the hopes they’ll get there in time for Halloween. A few people have asked me how the giveaway went, so I thought I should post about it.
In just two weeks, 1,264 entered for a chance to win, which was way more than I expected. According to this interview with Patrick Brown of Goodreads, the average giveaway gets about 750 entries. So I’m pretty excited about the response.
Why did it do so well? I think there were a few factors at work here. First, I think giving away a horror book at Halloween is probably about as easy as giving away snow cones at the beach in August. Secondly, I think the work I put into having an interesting book description and a professional-looking cover must have paid off.
Thirdly, I have a ton of friends on Goodreads right now — over 700. (Did you know you can import a list of your Twitter followers into Goodreads, and it’ll find which of your followers have Goodreads accounts and send them friend requests automatically? I sure didn’t, but I’m glad I figured it out.) Now, I have no way of knowing how many of those people found out about the giveaway by checking my profile, but it can’t have hurt.
Anyway, even more exciting to me than how many people entered the contest is how many people added the book to their “to-read” list — 179 people. So I can definitely say that running this giveaway has been good for increasing the visibility of my book, which is awesome.
If you’re not on Goodreads — or if you are on Goodreads, and you’ve been wondering what you can do there to support the authors you love – Deb’s Answers has a good, simple quick guide to how you can do just that:
Add their books to your shelves. Rate and review the books that you’ve read. Like quotes from their books. Enter new quotes from their books. Answer trivia questions or quizzes about their books or enter trivia questions or quizzes. Add them as friends, if they are goodreads authors. Add yourself as their fan. You don’t have to choose, you can friend authors and be their fan too. Read their blogs and reviews, make comments or like the reviews and blog posts [ . . . . ]
Once you’ve become the fan of some authors, go to your profile page and scroll down until you see your favorite authors on the right of the screen below your friends. Click on edit and you can re-order your favorite authors and change your options to follow updates and get email notices about new blog posts.
– How can I support authors on Goodreads?
Oh, and don’t forget, I’m still running my own giveaway here as part of the Coffin Hop Blog Tour, so if you’d like another chance to get a copy with considerably better odds than one-in-1,264, you can enter that between now and midnight on Halloween.
Well, that was kind of irritating.
I have an ad campaign running right now on Facebook for my horror reading. I know, I know, you hate Facebook, all the cool kids hate Facebook these days — I don’t like it any more than you do, but they still have the best, most targeted advertising platform I’ve ever seen. The ad I’m running right now is only shown to people who live within 25 miles of Seattle, who are 21 and older who like “horror fiction, books, halloween, horror, reading, readings, short stories or stories,” and who haven’t already RSVP’ed to the reading. That’s pretty cool, and I think it’s the best bang for the buck.
But yesterday morning, I woke up to an email from them saying that my ad had been “un-approved” because the image I was using was against their advertising guidelines. Wha — ? Then how did it get approved in the first place, and why were they suddenly changing their minds about it?
So I went and read their advertising image guidelines and all I can figure is that the problem was this part: “Images may not use shock or scare tactics.”
Here, for your reference, is a screen-capture of the ad as I originally had it:
Wait, what? Seriously? I can’t have anything scary — for Halloween? Now, if it had, like, dripping blood or gore I could see it as being maybe offensive, but, come on. What should I have instead — Casper, the Friendly Ghost?
I was momentarily stumped, but ended up changing it to a Jack-o-Lantern face — glowy orange features on a black background. Slightly lame, but still hopefully eye-catching.
Okay, good to go? Apparently not, because it took them thirteen hours to finally approve the new image and get the ad running again. Four days until Halloween and I lose an entire day’s worth of advertising. Terrific.
I know, I know, First World problems. Heh. Thanks for listening to me rant. And if you live within 25 miles of Seattle, are 21 and older and like “horror fiction, books, halloween, horror, reading, readings, short stories or stories,” I hope I see you Monday night at 8:00 at The Reading Room.
All right, kids, grab a cup of coffee and settle in — I feel a rant coming on.
This post isn’t addressed to any one person in particular . . . . I have a few different friends and acquaintances I’ve got in the back of my mind as I’m writing this, though, so if you think I might be talking to you when I say this — I probably am.
I know, I know, that self-promotion doesn’t come easy. It goes against everything we’re taught, really. We’re taught to be modest, not to be boastful, not to be prideful — hell, Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, if you believe in sin. (I know I certainly believe in sin, especially on weekends.)
But, we all know that, like it or not, we have to promote ourselves if we’ve got some cool new book or album or art project out there and we want people to find out about it. You may not want to toot your own horn, but nobody else is gonna toot the damn thing for you, right?
Right. So. What I see way too many people doing is their very best to have it both ways, and so when they do promote themselves, they do it in the most half-assed, stumbling-and-mumbling, self-effacing way possible.
You know what I’m talking about, you’ve seen people do this:
“Hey, everyone! I’m sorry to keep spamming you like this, but when you get a chance, could you check out my new (story/song/blog post) and let me know if it’s any good? LOL! Sorry! Thanks!”
Is this you? Do you do this? If so, come here and lean in a little so I can scream this into your ear. No, closer. Liiiittle bit closer.
. . . . Knock. That. Shit. Off.
I want you to do this for me, a little thought experiment — I want you to think of someone in your field whose work you really admire. Someone who you want to be like someday.
Now I want you to imagine the next time they release a new book, etc., that their message to the world about it has that same sorry-to-bother-you, hope-I’m-not-stepping-on-any-toes-here tone to it.
You can’t picture it, can you? It’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it?
You want to be like them someday? Awesome — starting acting like them today. I don’t mean you have to act like you’re already a famous superstar — but stop acting like asking people to come check out your work is placing some tremendous, horrible burden on them, like you know it’s horribly rude to ask them to waste their time on your worthless crap.
Because that’s what it sounds like when you do that. And I know when I encounter that kind of message, I tend to think, “Man, maybe their stuff really isn’t that good,” and I ignore it.
It comes down to this — either your work is ready to have other people see it, or it’s not. If it’s not, that’s nothing to be ashamed of — quietly pass it around to your friends, your beta readers, whomever, get some feedback, work on it until you honestly do believe it’s good enough for people to spend their time and maybe even their money on.
And if you do believe that, then act like it. Give your work the respect that it deserves, and instead of talking about it with your tail between your legs, be happy about it! Be enthusiastic, excited! Make other people excited, let them know, hey, guess what, I made this really cool thing, and remember that you’re doing them a favor by letting them know about it. You’re letting them in on something exclusive, something just for them. That’s how you feel when you hear from your idols about their next project, isn’t it?
They never would have gotten anywhere if they’d promoted themselves like they didn’t mean it. And you never would have gotten to find out how awesome they are.
Act like you’re worth people’s time, or stop insulting them by asking them to waste their time. That simple.
That is all. You may go about your business now. Enjoy the rest of your day.
(P.S. I would be terribly remiss, not to mention a tremendous hypocrite, if I didn’t take a moment while I’ve got you here to remind you: right now, you can enter for a chance to win one of my books right here at BLOODLETTERS as part of the Coffin Hop Blog Tour, and if you’re in the Seattle area, you should come to my Halloween reading on Monday, October 31st, 8:00pm, at The Reading Room! Hope to see you soon!)
Well, actually, let me rephrase that — when I say “Visit indie horror authors,” all I mean is that you should go visit their websites, not that you should suddenly show up on their doorsteps. You’re not likely to win anything that way, except possibly a free ride in the back of a police car and a restraining order.
But anyway! Yes! It’s almost Halloween, and that means it’s time for the Coffin Hop!
That’s great, you may be saying, but what the hell is it? I’m glad you asked. (Okay, so you didn’t actually say that. It’s a rhetorical device. Come on, just work with me here for a minute.)
The Coffin Hop Horror Web Tour (October 24-31, 2011) is your chance to win great horror fiction and fun Halloween prizes! Nearly a hundred horror writers have signed up for this, and it should be a lot of fun.
All you need to do is go to www.coffinhop.blogspot.com and you will find links to participating sites. Every one of them will be running a contest — visit as many of them as you like, hell, visit all of them, see what they’ve got on offer.
As for me, you might have heard that I’ve already got a book giveaway over at Goodreads, where you can enter to win a copy of my horror anthology, “Slices.” And you might notice that over 800 people have entered that contest, and as much as I might encourage you to be one of them, I gotta say, your odds don’t look very damn encouraging, do they?
Ahhh, but what those 800 people don’t realize is, I’ve got another copy sitting right here that’s got your name on it. We’re going to make those odds a little better for you by having our own little drawing right here. All you need to do to enter is subscribe to my newsletter — you can use the form at the top of this page — and then leave a comment on this post. That’s it! Also, you could try sacrificing a live goat. I’m not promising that it will help your chances, but it couldn’t hurt.
I’m not going to be spamming the hell out of you or anything — I only send out my newsletter once a month at most, and you’ll like it, I promise. The sneakier among you are thinking, hey, what’s to keep me from unsubscribing as soon as the contest is over? Well, nothing, if you wanna be like that. I see how you are.
If you’re here because of the Coffin Hop, and this is your first time here at BLOODLETTERS — welcome! I know you’ve got a lot of other blogs to visit, but you should take a moment to check things out here. A few posts of mine that I especially think you might like include “Don’t Tell Me Your Aspirations,” this three-sentence story, and “Think Readers Care About Fancy Prose? Actually, Yes.”
Okay, that’s not strictly true … I do write at home, on occasion. But the vast majority of the writing I get done happens elsewhere.
Partly it’s because at home, I have too many distractions. Well, mainly one big distraction:
I think primarily it’s because when I’m at home, I want to relax. I want to try to keep a balance between my work and the rest of my life, and drawing a physical line between the two helps. There was a period of my life when I was telecommuting for my day job as a web developer, and at first I thought that sounded great, until I realized I’d grown to feel that I could never leave work.
Aside from the emotional balance between work and leisure, there’s also just kind of a ritual aspect to it — when I head out to a coffee shop or a library with my laptop, I know I am going to work, and creating a mental space for it, a time in which I have to get something done. It helps me focus.
Lately, since my present day job provides me with an actual office of my own and since I have both an understanding boss and keys to the building, I’ve tended to use that as my “writing office” as well. I’ll reach the end of my actual work day, run out and grab something for dinner, and come back to my desk and get some writing in.
That means it’s not uncommon for me to have a twelve-hour work day, counting both web development and writing. It’s also not unusual for me to head back into the office on a weekend. I’m sure my friends think it’s a little insane. But I’m getting things done.
How about you — where do you need to be to write?
Quick plug first — if you haven’t already heard via my newsletter or through one of the social networks I’m on, I’m doing a Halloween reading on Monday, October 31st, at The Reading Room! As I said in my newsletter:
The Reading Room is below the Globe Building in Pioneer Square, one of the oldest buildings in Seattle, and the former home of the Elliott Bay Book Company. It’s a part of historic underground Seattle, the original ground level of the city before the Great Fire in 1889. This gorgeous space was a saloon both before and after Prohibition, and for years was the Elliott Bay Book Company’s reading space, hosting readings from authors all over the world.
I always wanted to have a reading there, but somehow I’d always figured there would still be, you know, a bookstore upstairs when that happened …. But instead, the space has recently reopened as an entirely lovely bar, with great drinks and ridiculously tasty small plates. It’s way fancier than anywhere I’ve ever done a reading before, and I think this is going to be a hell of a lotof fun. I hope you’ll be there.
I’ve been doing readings for well over a decade now, and people are pretty enthusiastic about them.
Last time we talked, I promised I’d talk about how you can get started doing readings of your own.
First off, though, I have to tell you: if you’re wondering how you can do a reading in a book store, I’m … not sure? I’ve never done it — since I’ve never managed to get my books into bookstores, I’ve never looked into getting me into bookstores, either, if you follow me.
But the trick is, look beyond the bookstores. If you happen to be a genre author — in other words, you write science fiction, fantasy or horror — you can try getting in touch with local science fiction conventions. If you live in a big city, there’s got to be one in your area somewhere, and Google can tell you where. Get in touch with their Programming department and ask them how you can do a reading.
If they say their schedule is full, or if don’t ever get back to — and that happens, conventions are run by busy volunteers and sometimes things just get dropped — you can always do what I’ve done at various cons in the past and have yourself a “guerilla” reading. Rent a room at the con hotel, and print up flyers to post up around the convention. Print up some bookmarks with the time of your reading and your room number, and don’t be shy about telling people, “Hi, I’m doing a reading … ” and handing them a bookmark, especially if you overhear them having a conversation that relates to the subject you write about, or if they’re wearing a relevant costume. People at conventions are pretty friendly, they don’t bite — well, most of them, anyway — and they’re there to interact with people and be entertained, so don’t be afraid to approach them.
You might not get a huge turnout, especially in an area where you’re not already well known. That’s all right, you have to start somewhere. One of my favorite “guerilla readings” was at a World Horror Con, where literally one person showed up — so I just read to her. It was great. She ended up buying a book, and in the world of marketing, we call that a 100% conversion rate.
Conventions totally not your scene? That’s not a problem, I understand. Try asking your local libraries if you can come in to do a reading — I hear this is definitely a good idea if you write for children, because children’s programs at libraries are always looking for speakers and events.
Lastly, I’m going to suggest my favorite — coffee shops. Coffee and literature have a long shared relationship stretching way back. Now, admittedly, if you’re not living in Seattle, you may not have quite as many coffeshops as we do (Google says we have over niiiiine thousaaaaand, and that number seems like they’re low-balling the estimate to me), but you should have a few in most urban areas.
Check them out on Google, or even better, drop by — especially keeping an eye out for quirky little indie coffee shops. See if they have an event calendar. If they do, and there are already some readings listed, you’re golden — ask them who you need to talk to about doing one. If there aren’t any readings on their calendar, ask them if they’d be interested in starting to have readings.
The trick for any of these approaches is ask, ask, ask — you never know what you can get until you ask for it. Libraries, coffee shops — all of these places would love to get more people in the door, especially with free entertainment. They’ll love to have you — get over your shyness and ask.
Ahhh, you’re saying, but — how do I get more people in the door? No matter where I end up scheduling a reading — how can I make sure people show up?
It’s a good question. And it’s one we’ll talk about next time.
(Hey, one last plug while you’re here — don’t forget to enter to win a free copy of my horror anthology, “Slices!” You’ll like it, I promise.)
I love doing readings and signings. I’m lining up my annual Halloween reading at the moment — I will let you know as soon as I have more details, but I can tell you that it will be on the night itself, October 31st, so if you’re in Seattle, I hope to see you there.
Until then, let’s have a look at this advice from Corrie Garrett, who attended a John Scalzi reading and came away with some observations about what makes a signing great:
1. Audience participation
Get involved. Scalzi was chatting with all the early arrivals when I got there, funny stories about his travel or whatever. When he started the “real” bit, he asked us a lot of questions. Did we hear about this from his blog? Did we want to hear him read from his new novel, or his next, unpublished one? He let the audience vote on it, and he then he had us all swear secrecy for the excerpt from his new book [....]
2. Elite status
Make the audience feel privileged. Signing books is only part of it. By coming to your book signing, they’ve formed a tenuous relationship with you, and inside information is a great way to cement the feeling of that relationship [....]
3. Question control
[...] Some questions will be off the wall—only glancingly related to you or your book, or even inappropriate. A short answer is good, but don’t let them hijack the session with questions of no interest to anyone else. The rest of your audience will appreciate it.
Do funny. Okay, so a lot of us don’t have great comedic timing or fantastic impersonations or anything like that. But you don’t have to. [Most] of us authors have some pretty hysterical rough drafts and drawer manuscripts. Dig one out (an old one that doesn’t grieve you anymore), and find a section to give your audience [....]
Getting people to your book signing is fantastic, making them tell all their friends about it is even better. Have fun!
– Four Elements of a Great Book Signing
It’s good advice, and the article gives specific examples. You should check it out.
I keep hearing a lot lately about how book signings are going to go extinct along with bookstores, and I just can’t quite believe it. The naysayers also will tell you that they’re just not a good way to sell books, but I think they really are more about building community and forging a personal connection with readers, and there’s only so much of that you can do from behind the comfort and safety of our keyboards. Sometimes, as weird as this may sound in our brave new socially-networked world, you sometimes just have to actually meet your readers. I know! It’s crazy!
Right now you might be thinking, well, that’s great, Montoure, but — how do I get started doing readings, anyway? I’m glad you asked. We’ll talk about that next time.
Man, I hope you had a good weekend, because I had a blast on Saturday night. EMP here in Seattle has a new exhibit called Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film, which is entirely awesome. Here, look:
Horror films scare us, so why do we like them? Vampires, monsters, and murderers have fascinated audiences for centuries. Today the movies that feature them dominate the box office, reinforcing the historical significance and cultural relevance of the horror genre. Organized by EMP, Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film examines the pivotal role that horror plays in the human experience. Three iconic horror directors–Roger Corman, John Landis, and Eli Roth–have curated a selection of their favorite films, providing a solid foundation on which audiences can safely explore the spectrum of cinematic horror, from its inception at the turn of the 20th century to the present day.
Visitors will get a chance to view iconic artifacts, including the script from Night of the Living Dead, the alien creature suit fromAlien,the scavenger demon from Constantine, Jack Torrance’s axe from The Shining, the original “Gill Man” mask used in Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bram Stoker’s Dracula manuscript, and other horror film memorabilia.
(Corman, Landis, and Roth? That’s, umm, kind of an interesting choice of directors. But anyway . . . . )
I knew I was going to have to go this exhibit as soon as it opened, but as it turned out, I got to go the night before it really opened, thanks to a dear friend of mine who got me a ticket to an event called Fashionably Undead Bash: A Totally Killer Dance Party, held at EMP’s Sky Church. There were performances by Head Like a Kite and a zombie Talking Heads cover band, Talking Deads. Unfortunately, we managed to miss both of these. Not sure if we showed up too late, or spent too much time in the exhibit — which was really the main thing we were there for anyway.
The exhibit was divided into sections by these really neat dark forest cut-out panels. Made me want to redecorate my house. There were also insanely great spider and snake sculptures hanging from the ceiling, composed entirely of dozens (hundreds?) of Hannibal Lecter-type clinical bite restraint muzzles. Really clever.
There were lots of little video displays, a great shadow-wall that turned your shadow into a constantly-shifting monster (which was ridiculously fun to play with), and many iconic props. I think my favorite display was the hands from Edward Scissorhands in the same case as Freddy Krueger’s glove. I took pictures of some of the props to share with you all, but not nearly enough, dammit. Sorry!
One thing I tried to get a picture of, but it turned out too blurry to post, was a plaque with this great quote:
“I love monsters. If I go to a church, I’m more interested in the gargoyles than the saints. They represent a side of us we should actually embrace and celebrate.” — Guillermo del Toro
I also really liked the Timeline that showed the evolution of our idea of monsters, and laid out their 100 top movies in chronological order. If I remember my count right, I’ve seen sixty-two of them.
We made it back upstairs into the Sky Church in time for the costume contest, and a DJ set that included the entire “Thriller” video on a huge screen plus a dance re-enactment! My face genuinely hurt from smiling too much before the evening was over.
If you’re anywhere near Seattle, you should definitely check this out while it’s running. Totally worth it.