January 30, 2011

Promotional Video for my Collection of Horror Stories!

In this day and age of the Internet window to the world and us getting crazy with a 1001 ways to communicate, I really couldn't sit back and not do a promotional video for my soon-to-be-released collection of horror stories 'Beneath Dark Waters'. So I spent a little time with Movie Maker and here's the result.

Hope you like it. Feel free to post it around the web!

January 27, 2011

Welcome to the Circus! Juggling a home life, day job, writing career and hobbies all at once!

Good evening, Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welkom! This is the Floating Robes Circus, bringing you tonight the great juggler Mr. Admiraal himself! Watch his amazing act as he juggles a home life, writing career, a day job and his hobbies all at once!

But seriously, folks, it can be a task, sometimes, and I'm sure more of you are struggling with finding the time and energy to combine it all. So here's how I do it.

1) Prioritize! Understand that not everything is equally important. This goes without saying, doesn't it? So if you have a choice to make between several things, ask yourself: What can wait? What did you spent most of your time on recently? And then make your choice. And yep, sometimes your writing really can't wait!

2) Find the time to write. I experimented with writing in the evening and in the morning and since I'm not really a morning person, I found writing at night to be the most relaxing. Of course, this can bite heavily into your sleeping time, but that's where point nr. 3 comes in.

3) Let your subconscious work for you! In the morning I read about a page of something I've been working on and when at my day job my subconscious does the rest! Sometimes, during a slow part of the day, I think back to the story and all of a sudden it will come to me. I usually jot it down, put it in my pocket and work on it at night.

4) Be honest with yourself! Do you really enjoy that television program all that much? When you're really honest with yourself a lot of things you do during the day are really not all that necessary. So scratch them and use the time to write. Scratching a TV-program from your daily (or weekly) schedule can sometimes open up an entire evening for you to write.

5) Use the little moments! Every day we have a few lulls in which we can blog or check e-mail or re-read a page of manuscript or do some other small stuff. But we don't, because it's just fifteen minutes. What can a person do in 15 minutes? A lot! I'm writing this post between doing dinner and picking up my fiance from her weekly Dutch course. I know it won't be finished in time, but hey, I got to point 6 didn't I?

6) Show to your friends and family this really means a lot to you! Share your successes also, so they can see you're dedicated and good. If you don't do this, they will not 'get' how important writing is to you and they will feel disappointed when you tell them you have to finish this story or rewrite the first draft. If you show them what this means to you, they will understand or even encourage you.

7) Write in the bed! Or any old place that's yours and where others won't easily get to you. I keep a notebook next to my bedside. Sometimes I go up one or two hours earlier to write. I get a good solid 1000 words in before its time to go to sleep.

8) Dedicate days to writing! Say to yourself: "Today is for writing." and let it be known to others that you're not to be disturbed. This is important to you. If they love, they'll get it. Turn off your phone, disable Internet, close your laptop! It's just you and the notebook now! Let's get cracking.

9) If it ain't happening, it ain't happening! Don't sit and stare for hours at a blank page, getting slowly frustrated and down. It's helping nobody and least of all yourself! Go spent some time with your family, go for a run or a walk or do some of those chores that really needed doing. Inspiration will come and time will free up. Have some faith!

10) Understand you're only human... Although we'd like to be able to be a successful writer, a family man and have at least some degree of respect from your colleagues at work, you got to understand that being on edge constantly is not good for a person. So from time to time, take some time off, travel, see the world, enjoy the wondrous beauty of nature and just.... relax...

These are just some tips. Of course, there's loads more ways to find to balance all these things at the same time, but these are just some that have worked for me. Hope you found them helpful as well.

January 23, 2011

This is how I do it! Pulling our self-publishing resources!

Scurrying around the Internet and going over my favorite blogs, I found this call-to-arms by Mr. Feckless Goblin: "Why Writers should share their experiences and opinions." And in all honesty, he's right. Even though I shuffle my feet and stare at my hands while I admit it, but I also sometimes hold information back to my fellow authors, just to stay ahead of the game. Or at least that's what I tell myself. 

But deep down we all know the sad, hard truth and that's that we're not going to make it, if we don't stick together. We have to look out for each other, tell each other what works and what doesn't, so that every new self-publishing young buck won't fall in the same pitfalls or invents the wheel all over again.

And so, here goes, my experiences in self-publishing, my 'best practice', if you will:

1) Write. First of all, you need a product to sell. Easy enough, eh?

2) Publish. Short stories, opinion pieces, rants, raves, articles, novels, everything, as long as you get your name out there. Publish them everywhere you can. Don't shy away from working for free, as long as it gets you some hits on your blog or site. Everybody started that way, believe me. People need to know you're good before they start paying you.

3) In that spirit, offer free stories on your site. Really people, don't start shuffling in your seats, now. It needs to be done. Not all of them, keep some under lock and key for the book, but it's a great service to provide, easily done and people get a good taste of what you're capable of. Coca Cola provides free samples, don't they?

4) Get on the social network train. Not just for your friends, but also to gather followers. Twitter is the most useful tool for me together with blogging. I have a proper site as well (www.floatingrobes.com), but it doesn't bring in nearly as much visitors and readers as my blog does. Somehow Google seems to favor Blogger (I wonder why...) over normal domains. For me, I feel more relaxed on my blog than on my site, which I feel is more for official announcements than for a what-the-f-blogpost.

5) Facebook is for friends. And they have friends that I don't know about and that might like horror. I have a steady stream of hits coming from my Facebook page with every post I publish. Connecting Blogger, Facebook and Twitter is Q.E.D. so you won't have to rewrite every post three times.

6) Issuu. I cannot begin to describe the impact this has had on the number of readers of my stories. Issuu is a free online publishing service, voted Best of the Web at some point. It seems to focus mostly on magazine publishers, but it has a big community of writers as well, with groups you can join and everything. Also, you can take the Embed-code and use it to publish your work all over the web (much like Youtube videos).

7) Contests. Just type in 'writing contests' in Google and you're all set. They come in all forms, shapes and sizes. They come with or without entry fees, just for fun or with big money prizes (the Bridport Prize offers 5000 GBP for the winner). Once again, this is mostly to get your name out there. It's also fun to see how you measure up to other writers. Be sure to read up on what they're actually looking for or you submit your best 5000-word horror story to a contest looking for general fiction.

8) Publish your credentials. If you won something, don't be shy about it! People love a winner. So once again, Tweet it, put it on Facebook, e-mail it to your friends and family. You never know who might be listening. In that spirit, I'm quite happy to announce that I got an honourable mention in the Lucid Hills Spring Contest recently.

9) Don't just write about your own stuff! It's fun to do, but boring to read! Retweet somebody who has a good idea, tweet about their blog posts, leave a comment here and there. Remember, it's a community. You're not alone out there.

10) Authors Den. This is, I guess, a relatively obscure community of writers and readers, but they are really interested in new work by upcoming authors. You can have your own page, book shop, etc. You'll be sure to get some hits on your FREE stories and a good deal of exposure on your book. Have I sold something through Authors Den yet? Honestly, no. But then again, there is a crisis on at the moment.

11) Offline marketing. A very old school approach, but it worked for me. I used Lulu to print my book, ordered a bunch of them and went round various bookshops, asking if they would carry my book. The big chain book stores won't, but the independent ones all did. I got a fair amount of sales out of them, so far, and I'm thinking of expending beyond my locale and into the bigger cities.

12) Think about the appearance of your book. Forget about artsy-fartsy B&W covers and stick a big skull on the front, possibly with some bright red blood on it. It gets people's attention. Believe me, I speak from experience.

A few things that didn't work for me.

1) Digg. Anyone figured this one out, yet? I do not understand what they expect me to do.

2) Forums. A lot of time invested, trying to get my name out there. A lot of discussions started, but none ended very satisfactory a.k.a. I'm still not seen as an 'authority in my field', or so the book on internet marketing had me belief. And forget about anyone clicking that link in your signature.

3) Link exchanges. Asking for a link exchange never worked for me. And really, really, REALLY forget about those reciprocal-link schemes. They're basically just a scam. When my blog posts were a little more interesting, people started to link to me of their own accord. 

These are just a handful of things I tried and keep busy with on a daily basis. Of course, there's loads more ways to get your book out there and if you have any, please do not hesitate to tell me. We can all use some help and I'm no exception.
In the meantime, check out Mr. Feckless Goblin's blog. He was the inspiration for this post.

January 22, 2011

15 Random Horror Quotes

Throughout the years a lot of people asked me why I like horror so much. And sometimes I wonder this myself. Certainly it has something to do with a perverse nature or a tendency towards the sadistic or masochistic (depending whether you like to scare or to be scared). For myself I cannot say, but below you will find some thoughts and quotes from other horror writers.

I hope you'll find them stimulating and helpful in forming your own thoughts on this particularly nasty nook of literature.

1) 'When there is no imagination, there is no horror' - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

2) 'The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.' - H. P. Lovecraft.

3) 'Horror is the removal of masks' - Robert Bloch.

4) 'Horror is not a genre, it is an emotion' - Douglas E. Winter.

5) 'Civilization is hideously fragile [and] there's not much between us and the horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish.' - C.P. Snow.

6) 'Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror.' - Carlos Fuentes.

7) 'One might say that the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses and oppresses.' - Robin Wood.

8) 'That truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.' - Stephen King.

9) 'The world is a wonderful place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.' - Robert Bloch.

10) '...A belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.' - Joseph Conrad.

11) 'You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' - Eleanor Roosevelt.

12) 'Horror is the natural reaction to the last 5,000 years of history.' - Robert Anton Wilson.

13) 'The charm of horror only tempts the strong' - Jean Lorrain.
14) 'There's nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.' - Lon Chaney.

15) 'Some people say that I must be a horrible person, but that's not true. I have the heart of a young boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.' - Robert Bloch.


January 20, 2011

The Making of 'Beneath Dark Waters'

'Beneath Dark Waters', my very own collection of horror stories, is soon to be published in a revamped state and I thought I'd take the occasion to tell something about its inception.

Title - Although the title 'Beneath Dark Waters' could rever to many things that have to do with horror, like slimy creatures from some Lovecraft-ian universe lurking under the surface, that's just all very opportune. What it actually revers to is a Dutch proverb which translates as something like 'Calm Waters Run Deep'. It means to say that things which seem calm on the surface might actually have hidden meanings and depths.

I took the title Beneath Calm Waters for a short story collection I once wrote on the Dutch country side. This collection was, unfortunately, a still-born. It was general fiction and the stories were actually very terse, trying for the reader and in places just plain boring. It got rejected by many publishers and was a source of frustration for me for a long time.

When I started writing the horror collection, many of the old characters floated back to the surface, of you will, and are now featured in the ten stories of this collection. Since it was a horror collection, I only found it fitting to change the Calm to Dark. Especially since it incorporates so nicely said Lovecraft-ian monsters.

Setting - All of the ten stories are set in the countryside of North-Western Holland. This is one of the areas of Holland which were reclaimed from the sea in the 16th and 17th century. Before that it was just a conglomeration of islands connected by dikes and marshes and swamps which were practically constantly flooded. It's reclamation from the sea heralded a great time of prosperity for the local people which had now very new and fertile land to farm. It is also the countryside I grew up in. All my young life I lamented the lack of proper ghost and horror culture in my area. Now I've made my own.

It's a vast and ghostly countryside, both beautiful in summer and horribly trying in winter. Because if it's infamous flatness the wind pretty much whips everything that sticks out above the ground, sometimes accompanied with driving rains, hail, sleet and snow. It's certainly an acquired taste. Many of the city folk that come to settle down, leave again within 5 years.

Characters - Beneath Dark Waters is a very character-driven collection, which is to say that it offers the reader an insight in the psyche of the local people. I've tried my best to recreate some of the most telling characters of this area of Holland. Since nature is very cruel, water is an ever-present threat, the people are very stern and serious, preoccupied with work and family and the day-to-day activities. This brings with it a very down-to-earth and pragmatic view of life and the world in general.

Some characters I tried to downplay, like the farmer Moses in 'On a night filled with evil' and the priest in 'Rumours', while others are larger-than-life and overdone, like the farmer in 'Lost to the Raging Storm' and Sebastian in 'What Hides in the High Grass'. Others are just right on the money, like Max in 'New Life'.

Style - I tried to downplay the sensational in Beneath Dark Waters. Although I loved to bring up a horde of flying vampires in 'Rumours', I tried not to go overboard with it. I felt I needed to do justice to the place and the people that inspired me to write the collection and not slaughter them left, right and center. Many of the stories could be termed as sombre and dark, but certainly not without a sense of humour. Since I will always have a love-hate relationship with the countryside I grew up in, I guess 'sarcastic' is the best description. 

I just hope the overall effect will be that of a disturbing black-and-white photograph.

I hope this gives a small idea of what I tried to achieve with the collection (and wetted your appetite for it).

Keep an eye out for more updates as it comes out!


January 12, 2011

Review: Little Hands Clapping!

Little Hands Clapping - Dan Rhodes - Another Fnac-book I picked up on my trip to Portugal and again picked solely on the strength of the title and the cover. For all those self-publishing authors out there, never underestimate the power of the title and the cover! It's the calling card for your book, both online and offline.

What is it about?

Little Hands Clapping is as weird and funny as the title makes you suspect. We meet the Old Man who lives above a bizarre German museum, showing the various ways in which people commit suicide. He eats crackers in the morning and spiders in his sleep. He becomes strangely acquainted with the village doctor who has a terrible hobby all his own and needs the help of the Old Man in fulfilling this.
Parallel to this storyline is the story of two young lovers (from Portugal, oh the coincidence!) who loose each other when moving out into the real world. The young girl is sent into a whirlpool of depression and suicidal thoughts and finally ends up in the museum of the Old Man. The final outcome of both story lines is written with such wit I re-read it instantly.

So, is it any good?

Rhodes combines sad romance and melancholy with horror and comedy and does so with fervor. Never the writing wavers, it stands like a brick house, solid as a rock. Many of the jokes will send you hiccuping for the toilet and more than once I had to stop myself from laughing out loud. The larger-than-life characters all seem to have a wonderful air of innocence around them, even the Old Man, which somehow makes them real again, despite the obvious comical basis of the book. Although the story feels more like a short story than a novel, it still counts over 300 pages, so that says something for the pace of the story which is fast. Not a word too many.

Dan Rhodes Blog

Other Reviews - Floating Robes' Read and Reading!

January 9, 2011

Newsflash: Doing what you want? Not always easy...

'Do what you love, no matter what anybody says.' This is common knowledge and any friend will give this advice after a few beers. But it is quite another thing to put it into practice.

WHEN I was about 20 years old and had just enrolled in the writing college in Amsterdam, I felt myself so fortunate to be surrounded by my intellectual peers! I reveled in their attention and took everything they said at face value. They were published writers, career writers and script writers with, in Holland at least, some very impressive work on their CV. 

FOUR years later, right around the time of my graduation, I hated them.

I DIDN'T hate them personally of course, but I loathed everything they stood for. I hated their preconceived notions of literature, of what was 'good writing' and what was 'bad writing', their little get-togethers at Wednesdays in the 'right' cafes, their red wines and their drunken evenings with their jokes that were really not very funny.

WHAT got me most of all, was their complete lack of creativity and their endless devotion to writers who so obviously lacked any creativity themselves, but had good marketeers. Maybe it's my countryside upbringing, maybe I'm just ranting about something everybody already knows, but since then, I have viewed literature and art in general with a certain level of suspicion.

AFTER my graduation I tried to be a Serious Writer. I spent some years writing up stories about everyday country living, invariably featuring characters that toiled hard for little reward. The stories were done in very terse and strict prose. If they were in photographs, they would be in black-and-white. When it was finished, I sent it out to various publishers. Of course, it was rejected every time. Countryside prose is not very hot in Holland.

AFTER three years of working hard, I had nothing to show for it except a handful of rejections and a serious lack of sunlight. I was tired and, admittedly, somewhat bitter.

I TOOK a vacation to Scotland and found an reignited an old love I had: horror. As soon as I got home, I set myself down and took one of the characters of my book and killed him by a tree possessed with the ghost of an evil old man. I sent it off to a magazine and it got published right away. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the e-mail saying they would accept it. 

BUT, what was more important then my first publication, was that I had FUN writing it. For four years I had been drilled to read these literary stories that basically told the reader that the whole world was a bunch of crap, love did not exist and friendship is an illusion (this is actually the name of a famous Dutch song) and I was made to believe that truly creative genres like horror and fantasy were not the playground of Serious Writers. Writing a horror story felt somehow 'naughty'. I had a wonderful time writing it. And apparently people enjoyed reading it as well.

I DID away with my collection of Serious Stories and never looked back.

THE MORALE of this story is probably to do what you love, no matter what anybody says. And although everybody knows this in theory, it is quite another thing to put it into practice. Peer-pressure, the promise of golden mountains, fame, recognition or whatever it is you're after, these are all things that can make you loose sight of why you were writing in the first place. Beware of this!

Hope it helps!

January 4, 2011

10 tips for the Successful Integration of Zombies in Human Society!

Ehm, hello? ... Is this things on...? Yes? Okay, there we go?

My fellow zombies, in the past year we clawed our way out of our earthy graves. We've stumbled across this world, looking for food, and our numbers have grown exponentially. And we can be proud of that. 

They may say we're mindless and, honestly, sometimes I look at us, and I think they're right. Our torn clothes and vacant stares certainly seemed to suggest that. And sometimes we aren't always as eloquent as we'd like to be. So for a successful coexistence of humans and zombies, we need to clean up our act. This is tantamount to our integration in normal society, people. So here are some tips:

1) Wear clean clothes. Don't stumble around this world in the same clothes you died in or even the same ones you wore yesterday! The bloodstains are horrible to look at and brains are really hard to get out in the wash. Besides, they smell. A new set of clothes might also help you cover up that nasty gun-shot wound in your belly.

2) Wash yourselves. Even if it's a little dip in the brook or even standing out in the rain. A little water never killed anyone. And while you're at it, take pride in your appearance. Use a comb every now and again, wipe that blood from your chin, use some make-up to hide those skin ruptures and pick the pieces of brain from your teeth. Honestly, it's disgusting sometimes. 

3) Help a fellow zombie. A society is judged by the way they take care of those less fortunate. If his legs are cut off with a chainsaw or he has a big hole in his chest from a shotgun, don't leave him there in the streets. Help him back on his feet, if he still has them. If he doesn't, ask him where he wants to go and carry them there. But always remember, one day it could be you laying there.

4) When conversing with humans, speak their language. Or at least try to. I've always found that people are more willing to speak to you if you speak at least a couple of words in their language. You will not get what you want by hollering 'brains, brains, brains!' all the time.

5) Be gentle, sometimes. Our appearance is off-putting as it is, even without throwing rudeness in the mix. So when you see an old lady trying to cross the street, don't crack her head open like a ripe melon and eat her brains. Help her. And maybe next time, they won't come after you with a hunting rifle. A little friendliness goes a long way.

6) Don't loiter out in the streets. We're not vagabonds, for crying out loud! Especially after dark. Find a house to relax in. There's enough empty ones out there since we came out. So why not try it for a change? Sit in a chair, kick your feet up, try the TV-thing, they seem to like it.

7) Clean up your mess, people, I can't stress this enough. People don't like to see their next of kin laying dead in the streets for weeks on end, all chewed up and spat out. They might be just food to you, but humans have feelings too. So be a little considerate and get them out of sight. As a functioning part of society, it's our job as well to keep the streets clean.

8) Find the evil ones. This'll take some time, but I really want you to try and put the effort in. Humans come in all shapes and sizes and some of them are more evil than a pack of starving vampires! Find those, hunt them down and eat their brains. People will thank you for it afterwards. And their brains are more juicier too.

9) Don't smudge the windows. Clawing and scratching won't help you get into a house and it might give off the wrong signal. Instead, wait patiently. If they are ready to come out, they will. People put a lot of pride in their house and smudging the windows or banging the doors constantly, might get them upset.

10) Try to have a decent conversation with each other. Reach out and touch a fellow zombie. This is two-fold. First of all, people seemed to be put off by guttural sounds or vacant, silent stares. Second, you might learn something useful. Humans have survived for thousands of years and have found countless ways to communicate with each other. Why not start with a simple 'How do you do?'

For the rest, we all hope you have a prosperous 2011. I hope you will apply some of these tips, if not all of them, in your day to day exploits. From all of us here at Zombie HQ, we wish you a happy new year and remember to stay away from the guy with the sniper rifle!
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