November 29, 1852

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     The residents of Cross know there is nothing pleasant or delightful about the presence of vampires in the world.

     Men and women have always taken up arms against the undead, and the first resident of Cross to do so was Shelby Thorne.

     In 1841, at the age of 10, Shelby apprenticed to a carpenter, where he learned not only to carve the delicate feathers of an American eagle but to bring a mallet down with force and accuracy.

     In the fall of 1852, a trio of vampires settled into an abandoned house on the Cross and Pepperell border. The undead were quite content with feasting upon farm animals, but they did occasionally supplement their innocuous diet with human blood when the opportunity presented itself.

     On November 22, 1852, Shelby entered his master’s workshop to find the man bled dry, his head and heart missing. While his master’s death was declared a murder, and the town went on a rampage searching for the killer, Shelby was disturbed by the lack of blood.

     He sought out the wisdom of Duncan Blood, who – after hearing details of the crime – stated his belief that the murder was committed by at least one vampire.

     Shelby was not a man given to flights of imagination, but he was one who trusted his elders. With Duncan as his instructor, Shelby hunted down the undead. With ash stakes carved by his own hands, and with the mallet shown in his photograph, Shelby Thorne destroyed the three vampires when he came upon them on November 29, 1852.

     It is said that the descendants of Thorne hunt vampires still, and that you will know them by the tattoo over the heart: Celeritate et Diligentia.

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My Father and Writing

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     Each of us views the world through our own particular lenses, and these are crafted by our experiences.

     My father is an intelligent and difficult man. He was raised in a hard household, and he made certain not to pass on certain experiences of his own, for which I am exceptionally thankful. While I have written of my father’s experiences as a child, it was done through a filter, and with the goal of keeping some elements of the family’s history private.

     That being said, there were certain expectations placed upon me as a child and as a young man. I am the eldest of his sons, the first born, the one to carry his father’s name. It was my responsibility to not only protect my younger brother, and to shield him from the world as much as possible, but to produce children and carry on the name when it was time.

     My father was raised in a Greek home, and learned the lessons of patriarchy well. Add to this the ferocious demands upon males in American culture in my father’s generation, and you will understand some of the pressure I felt as a young man. In addition to this, there is a history of mental illness in the family.

     Expressing emotions – other than devotion and loyalty to my father and brother – was not only frowned upon, but ridiculed. Acknowledging pain and fear was taboo as well.

     My mental image of my father has always been that of a man of stone. A frightening God at the best and worst of times.

     He has, in no small way, affected my life. It is difficult to move beyond some of those experiences, to write past them, and to be an adult who has emotions and fears.

     Over the years my father has begun to change. To soften. And it is frightening.

     Imagine seeing a great stone edifice slowly crumble, with large chunks breaking off suddenly and for no understandable reason, and you will understand my sense of shock each time my father makes a statement completely out of character.

     Years ago, when I was riding shotgun in a snow-plow, during a particularly brutal nor’easter, the plow I was in passed by an accident. This wasn’t a minor fender bender, or even a car off the road. Someone had lost control of their vehicle, and slammed into a telephone pole, breaking the pole in half.

     People were beginning to stop, trying to get to the vehicle to check on the driver.

     I asked the driver of my truck to pull over, to see if we could help. Even if it was nothing more than parking our large vehicle behind the wreck and directing traffic around it.

     My driver wouldn’t. He shook his head and said other people would help. I was furious, but could do nothing as he turned the truck onto another street and left the scene.

     Later on I learned the driver of the car had been killed.

     When speaking with my father several days later, I told him about what had happened, and how I was angry that the driver of my plow didn’t stop and try to help.

     And my father surprised me.

     “He was afraid,” my father said. “Some men can’t deal with death. You have to cut them some slack, kid. They’re not made like you and me.”

     My father’s compliments are rare. His understanding of the fears of others, and his acceptance of them, was something I had never seen before.

     And like everything else my father has said and done in my presence, it has affected me, and its effect on my writing can still be seen when I craft my characters, and seek some understanding for their actions.

 

 

 

 

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November 26, 1920

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No satisfactory answer was ever given for the madness which struck Norwich Street on the night of November 25, 1920.

Norwich Street, which was home to nine families in small, well-built houses, was one of the newer neighborhoods of Cross. The homes were less than 30 years old, and the residents there were mild and peaceable. Between the nine families, there were 47 men, women, and children of varying ages.

On the night of November 25, a young man walking home to his room on Main Street overheard raucous laughter from each house that he passed.

By 4 AM, on the 26th, when the milk was to be delivered to the De Groots, the first house on Norwich, the bodies were discovered.

All 47 people were hung by the neck in the graceful elm trees that lined the street. Each person was dressed in their Sunday best, and later it was discovered that the length of every rope was cut exactly to 72 inches.

Fearing some sort of contagion, members of the local chapter of the Red Cross were called out with protective gear to help with the removal and disposal of the bodies.

As the police went through the homes, searching for any sort of clue that would explain what had occurred, they found a single letter at the home of Jeremy and Helen Whiting.

The note was written on the couple’s stationery, but those who knew the Whitings did not recognize the penmanship. Each letter and word was beautifully formed, and the contents were brief and to the point.

“I’ve taken them in their Sunday finest, for there is nothing quite so funny as death.”

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Experiences and Characters

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I am an angry man.

Please don’t read that as boastful, or prideful. It’s merely a statement of fact. It is, in fact, something I am not particularly proud of. I have let my past experiences interfere with my own personal growth, and that has, more than once, negatively affected my relationship with my wife and children.

I struggle on a regular basis to keep my anger under control and to examine what about a situation makes me angry. My wife’s support, the various therapists I’ve had over the years, and my writing all contribute to the small steps forward I make.

I have read that the first thousand or so pages of writing tends to be autobiographical whether you mean it to be or not. In my case, I think it was a lot more than the first thousand.

That being said, I see my anger and my past when I create my characters. Some of the men reflect the man I want to be: kind and caring, considerate and emotional.

Others reflect the man who I was for so long: furious and full of hate.

Being able to see my own faults, to understand them and to acknowledge the role they’ve played in my life, helps me as a writer. I reveal traits and memories of a character that helps the reader understand why the protagonist – or antagonist – commits a certain act.

I believe that the writing of my own experiences, albeit through a fictional character, lends a degree of believability to the characters. And, more importantly (as my wife has helped me to understand) that by broaching important issues for the character, I can give both readers and characters something substantive to consider.

My characters are not moralistic, dashing heroes.

And that’s because I am not a moralistic dashing hero.

I don’t know many of them out there, and I don’t think I would want to know them if I found them.

Would you?

Keep writing!

Nicholas

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Setting the Scene

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     The setting in a story is an essential element and can often be a character unto itself. Whether you feel the need to describe in excruciating detail the particulars of a room or are comfortable with stating only something as broad as the room’s generic name, the scene is going to play an important role for your reader.

     Everyone has a comfort level when it comes to setting the scene.

     There was a time in my early years where I felt it necessary to go almost to the thread-count of the sheets on the bed. Then, in a radical shift, I hardly described anything at all. Lines such as, “He walked into the bedroom and sat down.” were fairly common, and not entirely interesting.

     I like to think I’ve found a middle ground at this point, and that I’m adding enough to create a realistic scene.

     It’s easy enough to say, “He walked into the bedroom and sat down.”

     It’s a little more difficult to say, “Tom walked into his bedroom and sat down upon his bed, the old mattress groaning beneath his weight, and the smell of his own stale sweat fouling the air.” Now the reader knows several things about Tom: first, his mattress is old, and that for some reason he sweats. Enough so that it not only lingers, but he can smell it as well. And, as so many of us unfortunately discovered in our early teen years, just because we can’t smell ourselves doesn’t mean no one else can’t.

     With that sentence and that basic understanding about the room, we can fill out a little more about Tom. Does he have a glandular problem? Is he overweight? Is he so poor he can’t afford to wash his bedding? Or is he so ignorant that he doesn’t feel he has to?

     We, as authors, don’t need to delve too deeply into this, but it can be touched upon at any point past the bedroom, and it won’t take the reader by surprise. And, in the same breath, we don’t have to pass any more information along if we don’t want to. The reader has a feel for Tom’s room: his bed is old, and the room smells.

     We have given the reader enough, so they understand what’s in front of them, and they can make of it what they will.

     The scene doesn’t have to be everything, but it certainly must be more than nothing.

     As always, keep writing!

Nicholas

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November 22, 1946

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     During the summer of 1939, it was decided by the board of the Cross Branch of Miskatonic University to expand the school’s Antiquities Department by constructing a second building that would be dedicated solely to that field of study. Issues with various permits, ownership rights, and other legalities prevented the work from beginning immediately.

     Groundbreaking on the project didn’t begin until late October 1941, and less than six weeks later, the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. With America on a war footing, the addition for the school was put on hold, and it was not resumed until 1946.

     On the morning of November 22, 1946, the construction crew excavating the cellar for the new building, struck a wall beneath the surface.

     The wall was carved from stone not native to New England, and it had been buried twelve feet below ground level. The lead engineer on the project, with the assistance of some of the faculty and staff of the school, determined there was a chamber beyond the wall.

     With hastily gathered archaeological equipment, the ad hoc team gained access to the chamber and was shocked to discover the mummified remains of an Orthodox Christian priest. Later analysis of his clothes and other items in the room showed he had been interned sometime in the late 1800s, and when his name was sent to the head of the Orthodox faith, it was learned that the priest had been a Syrian bishop.

     The Church requested the body be returned to them, but the school declined to do so.

     The Syrian Bishop remains beneath the Antiquities Building, a department’s silent protector.

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Dialogue is a Killer

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      Dialogue is a killer.

     Stress the vernacular and local dialect too much, and you can leave a reader struggling to understand what the hell they just said.

     Make it too formal, and the reader will know they’re reading as they think, What? No one talks like that.

     Dialogue is a fine line, and while you can step over it here and there, you simply cannot walk all over it. There has to be a way to put your point across, and to keep your characters intact.

     I’m a New Englander. I know how we sound (hell, I know how I sound, and it’s a train-wreck). Some others out there in the whole wide world might know as well. We have our own curious statements, such as, “Down east,” and “ayuh.” We’re quite fond of sayings such as, “Passing strange,” and “you can’t get there from here,” or, “best to go back the way you come.” I can see Leominster, and know that it’s pronounced, “Lemon-stir.” And while it’s annoying to hear Harvard pronounced as “Hahvahd,” I know what someone means when they say it.

     Not everyone does.

     In fact, when you get down to the southern edge of Connecticut, you’ll hear more of a New York accent than you will a Boston. Out in the middle of the country, people talk slower than is polite (for a New Englander). Southerners and those from the West Coast are so relaxed, that when I first met some guys from those parts of the country, I thought they were all high they were so relaxed.

     The point of this long, and rambling little diatribe is this: we all know what we’re supposed to sound like, but more importantly, we all think we know what the rest of the country is supposed to sound like as well.

     If I say my character is from New Hampshire, and he or she speaks, a reader is going to imagine the nasally, clipped words of a New Englander who can’t seem to slow down enough for their own funeral. New Englanders, on the other hand, are going to imagine someone speaking exactly the way they should.

     If you have a character from Boston, you don’t need to write a line such as, “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd.”

     “Park the car in Harvard yard,” will work just fine. Everyone knows what folks from Boston like. Writing the dialogue in dialect or phonetically will break that suspension of disbelief that is so crucial to entertainment, and with the reader’s attention distracted, it will difficult to bring them back in.

     So, fight that urge to make the character believable by writing in dialect. Sure, you can drop a ‘g’ here or there. Adjust an apostrophe if you like. Just don’t mangle the English language. It gets abused enough as it is.

Keep writing!

     Nicholas

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Why Horror?

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     Regardless of what genre you write in – historical fiction, romance, literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, horror – you inevitably have someone ask you, ‘Why?’

     I get that a lot. Especially with horror.

    ‘Why horror? The world’s bad enough as it is.’

     And that’s why I write horror, because of the way the world is. When you turn on the news, which has connected us to the farthest reaches of the globe, you learn of the misery of others. This isn’t new, of course, we all know that there is suffering in the world. Television and the internet have merely joined forces to put an extremely human face on the plight of others.

     Horror lets you escape that by showing you something horrific that is identifiable, and controllable.

     Is the story too terrible to read? Put the book down. You know it’s fiction.

     That’s why I write horror. Especially supernatural horror. There is an element of control to the process of dealing with horror as a writer. I take the world as I see it (which is not pleasant) and I deal with it in my own way.

     I have a short story about racism, assault, and vengeance, three subjects which are difficult to handle when experienced in the real world. In my story, these are still difficult, but there is a supernatural element that enables one of the offended parties to exact revenge.

     Writing horror is a catharsis for me. Reading it can be as well. The popularity of horror as a genre waxes and wanes, as does anything, but Stephen King points out how we can measure the level of fear and stress in our society by the horror we produce.

     Look at the monster films of the 50s and 60s. We have radioactive beasts assaulting America and Japan. One of those countries dropped the bomb, and one of them had the bomb dropped on them. Is it any wonder that both the US and Japan would fear the A-Bomb? That they would fear the effects of it?

     So, when someone asks you why you write horror, tell them why. And if you like, tell them you write horror because it’s less frightening than reading the news.

Keep writing!

     Nicholas

 

 

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A Lesson from Ghostwriting

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     Years ago, I was in a bar in Groton, Connecticut, shooting pool with a friend of mine. I told him I finally got an acceptance letter for a story, and he asked me what I would do if they wanted me to edit some of the material. Would I say ‘No,’ and keep true to the art of the piece?

     My answer was, ‘What do you want cut?’

     This was said partially in jest, but three years ago I began working with a small publishing house as a ghostwriter, and that answer is what I say on an almost daily basis.

     When you’re a ghostwriter, you check your ego at the door. Sure, you can bring along your emotional baggage because that’s what helps you as a writer. But your personal hang-ups, what you will and will not write/edit, those you leave behind. If you can’t do that, then you should find another writing job.

     When I began my ghostwriting work, it was with complete freedom. But as the books were published, readers came back with what they liked and didn’t like, and the publisher requested the necessary adjustments. For instance, I can’t put curses or swears in. No vulgarity it all. This was the first challenge for me.

     It wasn’t a challenge in a writing sense, but an ego sense. I know how certain people speak, and how liberally they use the ‘F’ bomb. But that wasn’t what the readers wanted, and the publisher is creating a marketable product for the broadest audience possible.

     So, what do you do when presented with a new rule that requires you to remove vulgarity?

     If you want to keep your job, you remove the vulgarity.

     Removing it wasn’t difficult, and the benefits have been tremendous.

     Since I can no longer rely upon certain words to represent a character’s frustration, I have to think of other ways to convey that sense and emotion. This has allowed me to grow as a writer and to increase my skillset.

     Stay tuned, everyone, I’ll have more on writing soon.

Keep writing!

     Nicholas

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On Writing

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     Writing is often an extremely personal act, a way of exposing some part of yourself to the world. Most often, your readers don’t know what part of a story is yours, but you do. This is why so many writers fear the act of submitting a piece for review.

     What is difficult to learn – and accept – is the fact that a rejection of your writing is not a rejection of you.

     Contrary to popular belief among writers, editors are not sitting at their desks, rubbing their hands together and considering the many wonderful (and truly terrible) ways in which they might tear apart your work.

     Editors are professionals. They deal with you, the writer, in the same manner they want to be dealt with. Professionally.

     They look at your piece to see if you’ve followed the formatting guidelines set out by their publication. They look at spelling, storyline, style, all of it. And if it doesn’t fit, it is not a personal attack.

     J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to scores of publishers. Charles Bukowski had reams of rejected poetry. Robert Frost first became well-known in Europe. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was panned at the time of its printing.

     The point is, taking rejection personally, is like taking an act of nature personally. There’s no reason to. Sure, it’s disappointing – and often a blow to our ego – but you keep writing. You keep submitting.

     Writing, like anything else, requires practice. The more you work at it, the better you get.

     Keep writing, everyone!

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