Friday, September 21, 2012

My First Vlog?

Morning. Grace Bridges of Splashdown Books stayed a couple days with us earlier in the week, as part of her tour across the United States. It was great finally meeting her in person and gabbing about stories and publishing and totally geeking out. We made this little video, whereby we talk about my new release through Splashdown--Rift Jump--and the nature of the multiverse and tying together stories. It was a lot of fun putting this together. Give it a watch, and buy the book already, will ya? I've got mouths to feed over here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Flowers for Shelly"--Now Available in e-Book!

A little bit of exciting news today. I have taken my first steps into testing out these e-publishing waters. With that in mind, I'm re-releasing my short zombie love story "Flowers for Shelly" as an e-book--and it's only 99 cents!

As you may (or may not) recall, "Flowers for Shelly" originally appeared in Coach's Midnight Diner: Back From the Dead Edition, way back in 2007, or so. Upon its original release, Robert Garbacz had some fine things to say about it. Head over to this link to read his review in its entirety, but here's a snippet I'm particularly fond of:

"I’m not much into zombie stories, but Mitchell’s ability to pile on a hundred different flavors and cram them into a small space made this a fun romp through death and mayhem that I won’t soon forget."

"Flowers for Shelly" remains my most personal piece and one that I still get really emotional about when I'm reading. My wife Meghan still claims it's her favorite of all the things I've written.

When I wrote it, it was very much autobiographical (minus the zombies). I really set out to write a "What if" story--"What if zombies invaded my life, right now." I thought of my friends and how we would react; I thought of what an undead outbreak would mean for my (then) young marriage. As a writer, I deal with horror, but "Shelly" was the only story that I was actually afraid of while writing it. I was that close to the material. It still stirs up a lot of emotions in me, even though I've read the story a dozen times since the beginning.

Reading through the story, you will see that I've dedicated it to horror author Phil Nutman. Phil wrote Wet Work, a breakthrough zombie novel in the early '90s. He also wrote three Halloween comics for Chaos Comics in the early 00s. I was a huge fan of those comics and contacted him way back when. We exchanged e-mails and before I knew it, he had convinced me to fly out to Pasadena, California to attend the 25th Anniversary Halloween Convention and meet him. It was a really magical weekend and Phil gave me a crash course in selling myself as an author. I was a wide-eyed country bumpkin and he showed me the world. He also got me a spot in a zombie anthology--"Flowers for Shelly" was to be my entry. When that anthology was canceled, the story languished for another few years before it found a home in a corner booth of the Midnight Diner. So this one's for Uncle Phil, who showed a lot of faith in me and my talent in the early days.

I hope you all check out the short story. Did I mention it was only 99 cents? It's a somber love tale that, I think, touches on pretty much every emotion you can possibly imagine--and it's a perfect Halloweentime treat. Give it a look and stay tuned for some big news in the (hopefully) very near future.

"Flowers for Shelly" is available at Smashwords and Kindle. The stellar cover is done by my pal Bob Freeman!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blog Tour--Seeking Unseen

Time for another edition of the Splashdown Blog Tour where I hang out with my fellow Splashdown authors and discuss their new releases. Next up, we have the delightful Kat Heckenbach, author of the YA fantasy novel Finding Angel and its brand new sequel Seeking Unseen! Let's get right to it!

Greg Mitchell: Kat, we’ll start with your absolute favorite question first: Tell us, what is Seeking Unseen all about? :p

Kat Heckenbach: Oh, sigh.  Yes, my favorite question—not :P. I have such a hard time with the “tell me about” thing. It’s why I hated writing synopses and query letters!

Seeking Unseen is a continuation of the story from my first novel, Finding Angel, which is about a girl who finds out she’s from a hidden magical island on the other side of the globe. She returns and discovers a prophecy that she’s convinced involves her—and she becomes determined to solve the mystery that’s springing up around her.

In Seeking Unseen, all that stuff has settled down (or so she thinks) and Angel decides to finally make the wish she was given at the end of Finding Angel. While following through on that—and returning for her little foster brother, whom she believes is in danger—Angel ends up reuniting with an old friend named Melinda. And Melinda…well, let’s say she has a way of taking over things. It becomes her story, her struggle to fit in and find real magic inside herself.

GM: This is the sequel to Finding Angel. How many novels do you have planned in this sequence? Is it a series that needs to be read from the beginning or can anyone jump in on any of the novels? I only ask this, because I hate this question. With my own novels, I always shout absolutely you should read them all. In order. Right now :p But some people make things a little more “standalone-y” than I do.

Finding Angel CoverKH: I have it planned as a trilogy. I know—a fantasy trilogy, how unique… Seriously, I started this all as a stand-alone, but the story from Finding Angel seemed to have another adventure in the works. And as I started working on Seeking Unseen, another adventure began to form in my mind. I don’t see it going beyond that, though. However, I have an anthology of companion stories planned as well. Many of those have actually already been published in various places, but there are a few unpublished ones (and possibly a few yet-to-be-written ones) and I’d like to have them all in one place.

As for the order—they could be read out of sequence. BUT, in the words of River Song, “Spoilers.” (OK, *word* of River Song.) The second book has enough back story presented that you could totally follow it without reading the first, but it would also totally spoil the plot of the first one.

GM: When we talked about this interview, you had said that you deal more with “contemporary” fantasy—writing about the hidden places of our own Earth, right now, right where we’re at. I make it no secret that I’m not much of a swords-and-sorcery type of guy, but your brand of fantasy sounds a lot more like my kind of thing. Was this a conscious leaning—to make it more contemporary fantasy—or is that just how it turned out?

KH: I like some sword and sorcery, but not a lot. It all starts sounding the same to me.  I tend to have certain favorites and leave the rest alone. But I devour contemporary fantasy novels. The idea of finding a secret world is one that fascinates me. Secret worlds, secret passages…secret and undiscovered. The whole thing probably started with me reading books like The Phantom Tollbooth, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and A Wrinkle in Time.

That said, you’ll find some traditional fantasy elements in my writing. Just a touch. Like Elves in a Lord of the Rings style. Well, mostly. LotR with tattoos and electric guitars…

GM: I’ve read about Finding Angel, and the thing that strikes me is that you spend some time dealing with the scientific reasons behind magic. Magic sounds almost like technology in your books. What was the inspiration behind that approach? How have people reacted to that? I know that you’re not writing to a particular “Christian” audience, but I also know that your book is being advertised in Christian circles. Have you met the anti-Harry Potter crowd in your travels?

KH: That’s just a natural tendency for me. I’m a science geek. I have a bachelor degree in biology and I love the idea of magic having some kind of base in the logical. Obviously, it can’t be entirely scientific—it’s magic after all—but I wanted it to be serious magic, believable magic.

The Harry Potter thing probably contributed to that. I am ever frustrated by the "Harry Potter is evil" mantra. I *do* respect the beliefs of people who choose not to read such books, but I felt like I could write something that showed a distinct line between the occult magic that the Bible warns against and the magic of fairy tales and story books.

So far, it hasn’t really been an issue. I have two friends who are very against the Harry Potter series but read Finding Angel because they wanted to support me. I told them that I absolutely, positively did NOT want them reading anything that made them uncomfortable. But by the end of the book, they both said they loved the story and never got at all uncomfortable. Still, at my last signing, a little girl told me her parents wouldn’t let her read Harry Potter, so I told her she probably ought to pass on Finding Angel.

GM: As I understand it, these books are a bit of a departure for you, as you deal a lot with darker horror material. How did that come about? Or do you see this as a departure from your other writings?

KH: Most of my short stories are horror, and most of the ones that aren’t horror are fairly dark. My novels do have dark threads running through them. I’ve had several readers comment in their reviews that they could see my horror writing tendencies come through. My villains are murderous and vile. My characters get put in some rather dangerous and creepy situations. I see my novels as spanning the gamut actually—with some very cool, fun, adventurous parts, and some dark and possibly disturbing parts.

GM: Going a little bit deeper: Why write “fantasy” at all? What do you think is the draw for audiences to tales of magic and fantasy? I think every speculative genre answers a need—sci-fi the exploration of the cosmic “What if”, and horror (at least for me) is the outlet for identifying nameless fears and facing them. In your opinion, what need does fantasy fulfill in our psyches?

KH: To me, it’s two things. One, the exploration of the idea that there is just more than this physical world. Magic implies something beyond ordinary physics at work. It makes us step back and go, “Can this really be all there is?”

The other is the opportunity for pure adventure. Exploring a world that is unlike anything we’ve ever known. As I said above, discovering secret places. I think no matter what age you are, what your experiences, when you enter a fantasy world you are doing so with innocent eyes.

GM: So you’re a writer. Why not be a plumber? What made you pick up the pen and subject yourself to a life of self-pity and public ridicule?

KH: Well, I figured it’d be an easy way to become a millionaire. Write a best-selling book, and spend my life living off the royalties.

What? That’s not how it works?

Just kidding! Really, I’m not sure where it came from. I was feeling…unsettled. And when I talked to my husband about it, he said, “If you want to write a book I’ll be supportive.” I had no idea that’s what I was saying! But things started to make sense—the pit in my stomach when I’d look at the names of authors on my favorite book covers, for one. I decided I simply *had* to try. I had no idea if it was in me, no idea if I had any writing talent at all. But the words came. And I decided if I was going to play this out, I’d take it to the wall. In short, I’m stubborn.

GM: How did your relationship with Splashdown Books come about?

KH: Oddly, through a drawing of a key. Grace, the owner of Splashdown Books, posted on a writers loop (The Lost Genre Guild) asking for an artist to do a rendering of a key for a book cover (The Duke’s Handmaid, by Caprice Hokstad). I answered the call-out, and she did use my drawing. During all our communications, we ended up discussing my writing and Grace asked to see the manuscript for Finding Angel. She loved it, but was wary since she’d never published YA fiction before. But I believe she saw my dedication and felt I was worth taking a chance on. And we also knew from working together on the artwork that we worked very well together. I’m happy to say we still work great together!

GM: Alright, enough with deep writery stuff. What’s your favorite scary movie? Why? Or, if you wanna get down to the nitty gritty—what’s your favorite scary SCENE from a movie?

KH: Well, first I’m not at all into slasher type movies—I like the psychological kind of scary movies. And I read a lot more horror than I watch. So, I’d probably have to say, off-hand, that The Number 23 is my top. The whole idea of becoming obsessed like that, feeling like someone’s mucking around in your head. It’s very intense. But if you want pure edge-of-your-seat-don’t-open-the-door….maybe Alien? That movie was classic.  (At one time I’d have said Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but I saw the movie before reading the book, and after reading the book I can’t watch the movie—the book is soooooooooooo much better.)

Favorite scene…favorite scene…um…This is going to sound awful and I know it’s not what you’re asking, but it is the first thing that popped into my head. As a family, we were watching The Village. My son was maybe ten years old, and he was sitting on the edge of the coffee table. The scene where the guys are in the watchtower and you see a snatch of red whip by through the trap door…my son shot about two feet straight up in the air. I think I may have pulled a muscle laughing :). Before anyone shakes their finger and calls me a rotten mom, he laughed too, and still laughs about it today.

GM: Thank you so much for hanging with us today! Any parting words?

KH: Just thanks for having me here, and for the cool questions! I had fun answering them!

That's all we have for this time. Be sure to follow along with the tour!

Grace Bridges
R. L. Copple
Ryan Grabow
Diane M. Graham
Travis Perry
Paul Baines
Caprice Hokstad
Keven Newsome
Greg Mitchell
Robynn Tolbert
Frank Creed
Fred Warren

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Available Now--A Cat of Nine Tales!

Today I am very excited to announce that my latest chiller story--and the debut of my own occult detective, Vinnie Caponi: Urban Mythologist--"Metamorphosis" is now available in Rookhaven's Publishing A Cat of Nine Tales.

You want Guns, Ghouls, and Grimoires? Well, look no further. Collected here are nine supernatural thrillers — from Algernon Blackwood, Aleister Crowley, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, William Meikle, Greg Mitchell, Christine Morgan, Joshua M. Reynolds, and Steven L. Shrewsbury — guaranteed to satisfy your thirst for mystery, suspense, and esoteric adventure.

Occult Detective Stories, Volume One — A Cat of Nine Tales — Edited by Tracy DeVore & Thaddeus Sexton, with illustrations by Bob Freeman.

It is such a huge honor to be included in this anthology and a dream come true to be included in a book with Lovecraft himself. Click the link to order your copy RIGHT NOW. It's the perfect thing to prepare you for the Halloween season. And for a neat sneak peek into what you will find in this anthology, head over to my pal Bob Freeman's site and read the first paragraphs of all the stories!

Here's the first paragraph of my contribution "Metamorphosis"--Josh Banks turned his key and entered the country shack. The place seemed colder these days without her there. On the wall, where portraits of her pretty face once smiled back at him, there was only bare wood paneling. Vinnie had already removed all the painful reminders of her beauty, her warmth. Dirty clothes lay draped over furniture and empty bottles of Bourbon were scattered on the carpet, but what bothered Josh most were the stacks of strange books. Vinnie’s new obsession.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Must "Scary Movies" Be Scary?

I'd like to have a discussion with you, if you'd participate.

As a horror fan and writer, I'm constantly dissecting the genre in my own mind, trying to find what works, what doesn't work and why it does/does not work. As soon as I mention that I'm a monster fan, I immediately get responses like "Oh! Have you seen [insert scary movie]? I loved that movie! It was soooooo scary." Or, "Oh, have you seen [insert other scary movie]? I didn't like it. It wasn't scary enough."

So I'm struck with this question: In order for a scary movie (or book) to be considered "good" in your opinion, does it have to actually scare you? I mean like scare you--a visceral reaction of actual terror.

I ask this because...well...most scary movies don't scare me. Case in point: Fright Night.

People, I LOVE this movie. Love the heck out of it and I watch it all the time, studying the beats, savoring the camera-work, thrilling at Roddy McDowell and William Ragsdale's bromance. But at no time in my life--or in my childhood--did this movie ever give me nightmares. It's just not a "scary" movie.

But I think it's a masterpiece of the horror genre. Is that odd?

I think Comedy is, perhaps, the only other genre that people deem "good" or "bad" based on its knee jerk reaction. You walk into a comedy expecting to laugh. If you don't, you generally leave saying it sucked. Not so much with fantasy. I rarely hear someone say, "You know, I went to see this fantasy movie, but I didn't see enough unicorns for my taste. I didn't like it." We seem to judge drama, sci-fi, thrillers, etc, based on a myriad of qualities: story, characters, pacing, writing, acting, etc. But with comedy--or, for our purposes, horror--I see so many people judging it based solely on its ability or inability to physically SCARE you.

I think, though, that there is an inherent flaw in that line of thinking. And I think it's why we have so much garbage in the horror genre. Because studios hurl one straight-to-DVD flick after another at us, all in an effort to scare us. So what do they do? They load their movies down with a veritable "greatest hits" of scary scenes from cinema history. We've seen a thousand shower murder scenes, but there is only one Psycho. How many thousands of movies begin with "group of good-looking kids go out into the woods..." Filmmakers pile gore upon gore in order to shock us, to repulse us. But those things aren't "scary". They're just gross. But, because we have a visceral reaction to that grossness, I think we sometimes mistake that for "being scared". We're like addicts, looking for a new fix--but we're not addressing why we like scary movies.

All of my favorite "scary movies" do not actually scare me. What brought it home for me was that, the other day, me, my wife, and our kids were over at my parents' house eating lunch. Dad's got this fancy new doo-dad on his TV whereby he can stream instant video off of Netflix. Naturally, my first inclination is to pop in Creature From the Black Lagoon. A brilliant movie and totally ahead of its time. I sat down with my oldest daughter (she's six), and we cuddled up in the recliner and watched the whole thing.

My mom passes through at one point and says "Oh, I remember watching this when I was a kid. Even then I didn't think it was scary. It's so hokey." She even snickered as the Creature made his triumphant entrance!! Sacrilege, I say! :p I proceeded to tell her that the Creature's appeal has nothing to do with his capacity to illicit fear. But, like most people (not a horror fan, by the way), my mom echoed the sentiment that, if a labeled "scary" movie didn't bring about a fearful reaction, it didn't do its job and, therefore, was a failure.

Should the point of all horror be to make you squirm in your seat? Can horror be about more than simply "Shock! Gasp!"? I'd like to think so.

I think scary movies are only as effective as their quiet moments. I love Jaws. And when I think of Jaws, the very first things I think about are Roy Scheider sitting at the dinner table with his little boy. Or the crew of the Orca singing and telling stories in the cabin of the boat. Those beats in the film that have nothing to do with the monster or things jumping out at you from closets or blood and death. Those moments when the characters are talking about inconsequential things. If THOSE things aren't working--if they don't hold up as genuinely GOOD scenes, long after whatever knee-jerk fear you may have felt at the sight of the monster has faded--then the scares are empty and no matter how much blood you sling across the camera, it's not going to resonate.

So help me out here. Give me your thoughts. Does a horror movie have to be "scary" to work?