Franchise Mindset 4/13/21

It’s occurred to me recently that I could probably write the Gods of the Dark Web books forever. If you’re a Richard Laymon fan or you remember my blog about his memoir A Writer’s Tale, you may know that one of his biggest pieces of advice was to find ideas that are “infinitely expandable.” This was a strategy he employed to turn his short, sharp thrillers into sprawling 600-page doorstoppers. While I don’t suspect you’ll be getting any doorstoppers from me, I do think the idea of infinitely expandable stories can be helpful even for a minimalist like me.

Written like a creepypasta for adults, the first Gods book had an intimate, small-scale narrative, but it also had hints of a larger world around it. With the writing of the second book, I wanted to show some of those bigger implications on the page. It led to what I’ll call James Herbert chapters. Herbert was a British author mainly famous for his nature-run-amok Rats books. He had a great knack for introducing characters and showing what’s interesting about them before killing them in spectacular fashion. This approach initially made me think I had a story collection instead of a new novella on my hands. Only when I figured out Dana’s story did the main narrative emerge.

At the same time I was writing book 2, I read a ton of comic books, specifically tie-in stuff. Think Aliens, Dungeons and Dragons, Robotech, Magic: The Gathering, stuff like that. While these franchises have established rules, they also have a ton of wiggle room. It’s not mandatory to reuse characters or continue storylines from previous books (though the occasional Easter egg doesn’t hurt). It’s more about exploring the established world, less about the sweeping arcs typically found in series like The Hunger Games or Outlander.

These observations over the last year have helped me develop what I call a FRANCHISE MINDSET.

So, what is the FRANCHISE MINDSET, how can you use it to build your writing career and how is it different than writing a proper series?

  1. A FRANCHISE MINDSET is a larger way of viewing your content, seeing all your stories as interconnected and how they interconnect, recognizing reoccurring themes, and remembering that because all these stories originated within you the connections are not as tenuous as you may initially suspect. A strategy that helped me was opening the corkboard feature on Scrivener and putting each of my stories (written, published, unwritten, unfinished, etc) onto a notecard. I don’t use Scrivener for writing, but I plot with it often. It helps me see big picture stuff. Having all this information laid out in front of me did something to me. I was able to see how each of my pieces could connect to each other. Admittedly, not all of them worked. Some of them were even pieces I would rather forget. Gods of the Dark Web jumped out at me as having its fingers embedded in a lot of other ideas I had. From there, it was into the Mangum-verse.
  2. How a FRANCHISE MINDSET can build your writing career is obvious. It gives your readers reasons to return. It makes your work recognizable. Because you’re not married to any plot threads from previous books, however, people can dip into your world at any given time. People like what’s familiar. If you’re a new-ish writer like me, though, you’re not a household name, so you have to build that familiarity. Finding a world or universe in which you can set stories linked only by themes and rules can be an effective way to get a good amount of somewhat related content out there, especially if you’re like me and you have reservations about writing the same type of book over and over.
  3. FRANCHISE MINDSET is different from writing a proper series because it doesn’t obligate the author to continue stories that already wrapped up in earlier books or stick with the same characters. Sure, C or D story threads can move to the forefront (as is the case with Dana who’s a minor character in Gods of the Dark Web but a major player in Darkness Digital). Characters and settings can even pop back up as a way to reward your fans. This is something Stephen King and Brian Keene do often and well. But you don’t have to finagle them into the new book’s story just because they starred in the previous book. It’s a lot looser and a lot more interesting.

Playtime

It’s Saturday morning, somewhere in Texas. My son is playing with his  Transformers. I got a couple of nice royalty payments this week, so I decided to get Game Pass for my PC. If you’ve got X-Box game recs, hit me up in the comments.

Games and comics are good for winding down. I still very much enjoy reading prose, but because doing so is necessary in order to keep my writing tools sharp, it sometimes feels more like work than play.

And I need to play.

It’s not just something kids do.

It’s something adults need.

Lately, I’ve been playing  Magic, the Gathering: Arena . It’s a lot of fun. I didn’t play  Magic as a kid, but always wanted to. There’s a lot to learn, but again, in the context of play, it doesn’t feel like work.

Reading comics and playing games has strengthened my writing, strangely enough. While I want Spider God (Gods of the Dark Web, Book 2)  to have the quick pace of its predecessor, I want it to be more epic in scope. I want to deepen the world and give the characters more complications as they move toward their ultimate destinies.

Comics and games are great for this. Not only are the worlds rich, they enhance and keep the pace fast by having each obstacle tied to a different setting. Interaction with the world has a very specific role in the plot mechanics. I think that’s something prose writers can really learn from. I know I certainly have.

I’m about 11-12,000 words into Spider God. I’m shooting for 60,000, but I’d be happy with 50,000 and thrilled with 70,000. We’ll see where I land.

Yesterday, the audiobook for my Splatterpunk Award-nominated novella Saint Sadist was released. Today, it’s placed #88 in Gothic Horror audiobooks, so that’s pretty dope. You can help me reach #1 by ordering your copy here. It’s free with an Audible membership, or you can cop it for the price of a venti mocha. I know a lot of you have read it on paperback or e-book, but believe me when I say the audio, performed by Melody Muzljakovich, is the way this story was meant to be experienced. She brings the narrative and its characters to chilling life.

That’s it for now. Stay safe out there and remember: take time to play.

Midnight Ramblings

SPIDERGOD

As the world hides behind closed doors, I’ve returned to the world of one of my bleaker works. GODS OF THE DARK WEB now has a sequel in progress. It’s called SPIDERGOD.

It is not directly about our current pandemic.

It’s not about the political shitshow in which we’ve found ourselves in the past decade.

It’s not about incels or mass shootings or shifting identities.

Yet, it’s about all of these things.

I don’t fancy myself a genius or a prophet, but I do think a lot and I listen.

God is always speaking. Sometimes, she whispers. Other times, she screams.

I believe right now, she is doing both.

Here is what she’s saying:

We’re all trapped inside ourselves.

Life has turned into a metaphor for itself.

We’re scared and we’re not alone.


Currently reading: DEAD INSIDE by Chandler Morrison & LAKEHOUSE INFERNAL by Christine Morgan. Both books are excellent efforts from two authors I’m proud to call contemporaries.

Currently watching: THE SECT (dir. Michele Soavi)

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Audiobooks from Hell

Last night, I appeared alongside voice actress Melody Muzljakovich on the excellent podcast, Audiobooks from Hell, hosted by narrator Sean Duregger. We discussed his narration of the GODS OF THE DARK WEB audiobook, which you can get now on Audible from the fine folks at Crossroad Press. It’s worth mentioning this new edition is the version I prefer and not just because of Sean’s excellent performance. It cracked the top 20 in Horror Fiction last week and remains Crossroad’s bestselling title on Audible at the moment. Super-cool!

Anyway, the podcast was a lot of fun to record. Melody has an audio version of SAINT SADIST in production as we speak. It was cool to hear about her process and how she interpreted the material.

Give the show a listen wherever you get your podcasts.

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Austin Comic Con

This weekend I tabled at Wizard World’s Austin Comic Con with my friends Max Booth III and John Wayne Comunale. Between meeting readers, we talked all the joys and frustrations of this writing life. We also debated Midsommar and the new Creepshow series, caught up on small-press gossip, and talked shop in general.

We met a ton of new people, some of them aspiring writers themselves and others just excited about books. I thought about giving shout outs, in case some of these wonderful folks drop by my blog but I’m bound to forget someone and don’t want anyone to feel left out.

It’s been a tumultuous eighteen months for me. Talking to my buddies reminded me I’m not the only one who’s struggled. Due to lots of ongoings in our scene and my own mental health issues, I’ve reevaluated who my friends are and who I intend to keep as mere acquaintances. When I first got into this writing scene, I wanted to be everybody’s close friend. As I’ve continued doing my thing, I’ve been reminded of how unrealistic such a goal is.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to decide whose flaws are worth tolerating and whose aren’t.

But the ones who you really gel with and don’t prove themselves toxic are goddamn priceless. I never expected to get rich doing this writing stuff but I did expect to make some of the best friends I’ve ever had. That expectation has been exceeded over and over.

I’m happy to see John Wayne doing well for himself. He’s one of the hardest working writers I know and it’s nice to see it pay off. The two secrets to his success, I think, are his positivity and his nearly militaristic organizational skills. I work hard and I’m positive. Organized? Not so much. That’s something I intend to work on once National Novel Writing Month is in the rearview.

Speaking of. That’s going well. I’ve got 21,000 words on a new manuscript and had a major breakthrough that allows me to combine two narratives I really enjoy into one book. I won’t say much except it’s a coming of age cosmic horror novel. I think there’s a lot to explore by marrying those subgenres. Lots of cool opportunities to play with opposing themes.

I grabbed and already read the first issues of Chaotic Flux, Kinetic, and Lady Frankenstein and the Mummy’s Brain, plus an old issue of Marvel’s Chamber of Chills and the first trade of a series called Cover of Darkness. I don’t read comics often but when I do, I tend to enjoy them. Indie stuff seems to be where it’s at these days, as in literature as well.

I’ve been able to write the books I want to write thanks to the small press. I hope eventually I’ll get to do this for a living but that’s still a ways off. And honestly, things are pretty good. The reviews for Saint Sadist reflect exactly what I wanted the book to do. I’ve got a decently paying screenplay gig in the works. I’ve got two releases slated for next year.

Also, this anthology just went up for preorder: The Big Book of Blasphemy, edited by David G. Barnet and Regina Garza-Mitchell, it features stories by Brian Keene, Ryan Harding, Wrath James White, Monica O’Rourke, myself, and many, many more. My story, “Sister Scar,” is basically a Hemingway-esque WWI story but nunsploitation. You preorder The Big Book of Blasphemy right here.

Last but not least, Blood and Brimstone, the sequel to Flesh and Fire has come to an end. It’s serialized on my Patreon the last few months. You can read it in its entirety here.

That’s it for now, gang. Take some time this week to appreciate the people in your life. You’ll be glad you did.

Friday, Mid-October, Mumps

It’s Friday morning on October 18th. This past Tuesday, my dentist told me the discomfort I feel on the right side of my mouth is a minor case of mumps. Despite getting an MMR vaccine as a child, I still managed to contract the virus. How weird is that? I wonder how it happened. I also wonder why my dentist didn’t find this alarming. She said I just had to take ibuprofen for the pain and get lots of rest until the virus ran its course.

Also, I have to watch my little one for symptoms. That’s a little more alarming. But she said mumps aren’t fatal so long as the symptoms are treated.

I also learned that my state has the highest rate of mumps diagnoses in the U.S. The more you know!

Anyway, in better news, I’m pleased to announce my cyberpunk cosmic horror crossover Gods of the Dark Web will get the audio book treatment by the ultra-talented Sean Duregger. You can expect this release sometime next year. I heard his audition for the book and got excited immediately. I’m glad my publisher at Crossroad Press felt the same way. There’s something powerful about hearing a gifted performer read your stuff. I hope all my writer friends get to experience it one day.

A couple crazy things happened related to Saint Sadist over the last few weeks. First, someone on Goodreads shelved it as Young Adult Fiction. Whatever you say. Wish it was making that YA money. The other thing that happened was less amusing. Someone on Reddit posted the opening chapter and went on to accuse me of child pornography. Others called me a misogynist, which is unfortunate.

While that latter development was just the work of some jerks on the internet, this sort of thing can really impact sales. I’m not a big Hollywood conglomerate. Your think-piece can do real damage to my livelihood. In fact it has. Sales have been in the toilet since, so thanks for that.

Of course, I have a day job, so you know, whatever. I will say one more thing though: pornography is written specifically with titillation in mind. I certainly wasn’t titillated while writing the scene in question. If you found it titillating, that may say more about you than it does me. Just a thought.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting year as far as “problematic” art goes. I’ve lots of thoughts, though I think my buddy Scout Tafoya summed it up nicely when he said (to paraphrase), if you can’t pan a work without turning into Tipper Gore, maybe you have no business being a critic.

I think there’s something to that. I also have complicated feelings on the matter. Like, do I really need to defend Quentin Tarantino from a think-piece he probably didn’t even read? Pretty sure he was a millionaire before some armchair activist took him to task for his portrayal of Bruce Lee. Pretty sure he’s still a millionaire now, some months after the fact. It’s when such outrage targets the working-class folk that I get irritated.

Saint Sadist did, however, get a wonderful review from Lisa over at Bibliophiliatemplum, which I genuinely appreciate. She’s been a hell of a supporter these last fourteen months. I’m glad to have her in my corner.

The last bit of information I’d like to relay is I’ve begun the process of revamping my Patreon page. For just a buck a month, you can expect new serial novels and stories exclusive to the platform, film and book analyses, and writing advice essays. Less fanciness, more focus. I’ll still post chapters of Blood and Brimstone here until it’s finished, but any other fiction I post to that page will not be published anywhere else for at least another year.

I know asking for money is taboo, even when you need it–indeed, I had a friend take shots at me on Twitter over this–but there it is. I will continue to post here, though you should expect these entries to be more informal and personal. For fiction and criticism, I’ve got to charge a little. The goal is to do two posts daily, one here and one there, but I’m sure it will more realistically become a weekly affair. We’ll see.

Anyway, sorry if some of this came out as a rant. I’ve been holding a lot in lately.

Hope the rest of you out there are okay. Keep on keeping on.

Night in the Lonesome October

I’ve been reflective lately.

Yeah, you say, what else is new?

Hear me out.

Ten months ago, I grudgingly returned to social media. I’m not proud. I definitely did it to sell books, but something else happened. I made some new friends. That was pretty cool. And yeah, I did sell some books, which was also pretty cool.

But I still saw a lot of the ugly things that drove me away in the first place. Hypocrisy, petty arguments, dismissive comments, and manufactured outrage.

Then I got tired, frustrated and depressed.

Back in June, I restarted The Mangum Show podcast. Recorded a ton of content. Paid for a logo. The works.

Unfortunately, I ran into some technology roadblocks. Skype recordings are inconsistent in terms of quality. I can’t seem to figure out editing in Audacity. Then my MP3 converter just decided to stop working.

I got tired, frustrated and depressed.

Marketing yourself, man. I’ve done a lot of it this year. Even paid for some ads, which produced mixed results.

Through these last ten months, I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned videos get the most attention on this site. As a result, you should expect more videos.

I’ve learned social media is STILL toxic for me. I won’t be deleting my accounts again, but I do plan on cutting back my time on there significantly.

I’m working full-time again, so time is more precious than ever. I want to spend it on things that are worthwhile.

Videos that bring more visitors to this site. Patreon-exclusive content. The Mangum Show will continue, too, albeit in a different format. Plus, writing, writing and more writing.

This is probably not a particularly organized blog entry, so much as it’s me thinking aloud. If you’re still here, thanks for indulging me.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: this October, I’m reading lots of Richard Laymon and Bryan Smith instead of watching the same movies over and over again.

Extinction Peak-A Novel of Dinosaur Horror

I’m about to make what will likely be one of my final passes on Extinction Peak, my dinosaur horror novel. Some of my work comes from my subconscious and flows rather easily. This book was not one of them. I wrote the first draft almost five years ago. The version that exists today has only the title in common with that old draft.

Weirdly, this book will likely be more fun to read than some of my other titles. It relies heavily on world-building and action, not symbology and style. That’s not to say it lacks depth. If you’re looking for it, my thesis will present itself. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

Jeff Burk made it official the Monday after Killer Con, so I’ll announce it here: Extinction Peak is set for publication in 2020 by his new press Section 31 Productions.