Dallas Mayr – Thanks

A little late I know but let me explain.

I have taken a rather righteous stance on social media. By that I mean I actively don’t use it. I am in such a state of defiance with it, that if the only way to call an ambulance was to use Facebook or Twitter, I’d rather drag myself to the hospital on broken bones. This lets me feel good about myself not getting pulled into the rather stagnant pool of peoples opinions pasted onto what I see as an advertising platform. But the downside is I miss important news about things which don’t make the national papers. The sad passing of Dallas Mayr, who wrote books under pseudonym¬†Jack Ketchum, being one of them.

He passed away on 24th January this year and I found out thanks to an email from the guys at ‘This Is Horror’ telling me their new podcast was available when I was ready. When I eventually opened it and read it I found out about Dallas Mayr loosing his battle with cancer.

This was a sad day for me.

There is more than one Dallas Mayr book on my bookshelf heavily highlighted with notes scrawled where there is space on the page.

I loved his work and have read all of it. Each piece I found instantly approachable and readable. The ability for him to create fully formed characters with a single page that helped me, the reader, feel empathy or hate. A true skill. And for me Dallas preferred to write mainly in the horror genre and gave all of us sick puppies the dose of violence and sex we craved.

I live in Worcestershire in the United Kingdom and didn’t really know much about the horror genre as a teenager other than King and Koontz. Brian Keene got a mention here and there, and me shelves in certain book shops had Richard Laymon titles. So plodding I was plodding along using these guys as example of good writing. Then one day I read a best horror books of the year list on Amazon and came across a Jack Ketchum title Off Season.

If you read ‘Off Season’ on thanksgiving, you probably wont sleep until Christmas.

This was the credit on the front of the book written by none other than Stephen King. So I accepted the challenge and ordered the book. Man oh man did that book blow my tiny little mind. Sex and violence mixed together with such class and simplicity. This was a glimpse into the dark realities of the real world. This was the debased underside of humanity laid bare for us all to see.

I then went through all of the book of his I could find. Scouring eBay and Amazon, libraries and books shops. ‘Ladies Night’, ‘She Wakes’, ‘Red’, ‘Off Spring’, ‘The Lost’, ‘Stranglehold’ and one of the best books I have ever read ‘The Girl Next Door’. This also led to other authors that have had a profound effect on my reading and writing. Edward Lee and John Everson are good examples of authors in the same rich vein or creative talent.

I started writing in part, because of the books he was publishing. I can remember thinking wow if he can do that, if this is what literature can be accepted as, then I should try it. No longer does horror have to be suggestive and atmospheric. It can now be as true and as gritty as real life.

There was also a lesson to be learnt from the way Dallas was inspired by real life events. Everything that happened in ‘The Girl Next Door’ actually happened in real life. True also of the events in ‘Weird Species’. This taught me to pay closer attention to the real world. I’ve been keeping a scrap book on interesting stories and ideas since reading ‘The Girl Next Door’. Dipping in and out when I need too.

But for all of the lesson I have learnt from his words. It is the stories that have made a lasting impression on me.

Simply put, his work left me in awe.

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Book vs eBook

I read a blog post recently that suggested that eBook sales were falling and physical books sales were rising. I looked into it and this is indeed the case. Factors such as screen fatigue and a general drop in fiction sales seem to be the major contributors. But when diving a little deeper into this, I found that this is based on a comparison of all book sales. Non-fiction and biographies don’t tend to do as well on eBook platforms, and these were big sellers.

I breathe a sigh of relief after reading that as I love my Kobo. I never leave the house without it and considering I sometimes leave the house without my wallet or phone you can see it’s importance to me.

I still like physical copies of books. But I have been reading more and more in eBook platform lately than physical. Without sounding like an advert for Kobo, I’m going to list the reasons why I prefer them to real books.

  1. Accessibility: I am based in the Worcestershire, England. Unless I want to read the literary shit that James Petterson produces I used to be stuck. Amazon and eBay have made it better to discover authors I like, eBook makes it a breeze. Try going into a Waterstones and finding a novel by John Everson or Ania Ahlborn.
  2. Backlit: I am a pretty well rounded Kobo reader. I have gone through the models from the cheapest to now one of the most expensive. The reason for going for this model is the backlit screen. No more lying in bed with a lamp on disturbing my wife. I can lie in bed a read for as long as I want now. Just close the cover when done and drift off.
  3. Size: I am currently reading Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons which is a huge book. Carrying that tomb around with me would be a pain in the ass. It wouldn’t fit in a pocket, so would be taken out and read less if it was physical.
  4. Dictionary: I’d like to think of myself as a master of the English language, but the simple truth is that I am nowhere near. I find every book I read I need to look up at least one word. With a physical book, I would make a mental note to look a word up later and never do it. Now at a simple touch, I get word definitions there and then. With the dictionaries constantly being updated on Kobo I never miss a word.
  5. Annotations: Being interested in writing as I am, it is great to be able to highlight certain passages or add some notes for me to refer back too. Not something I would do with a real book. Probably because I love books I would want my scribble in them. These annotations are then indexed and searchable.
  6. Space: There is something comforting in having all of my library in my pocket. Knowing that I could flick to a short story collection in seconds, or bring up that opening paragraph of my favourite novel with ease.

I would probably pay double what I did for those features. To someone as completely in love with literature the way I am, eBooks lead the way. For a writer, something I pretend to be sometimes, it is invaluable. I have extended my vocabulary with every book I read and have all of the best writing and my notes at my fingertip.

I sincerely hope that eBooks grow in popularity and remain, side by side, with physical books for the foreseeable future.

Self-publishing; or the world’s public slush pile.

This more of a question than an actual declaration of opinion. Although I must admit if pressed for an opinion, I would probably come down on the side against self-publishing.

Should there be stronger criteria for self-publishing?

I am a writer. Not because I am trying to make money. I write because I love the English language and because I think I have stories to tell. AS it says on my about page. If for some undefinable reason everyone on earth as to die. Leaving no one to read anything I wrote from that point onwards. I still think I’d be writing. After clearing away the corpses and finding a source of food and water of course.

I have submitted some of my latest short stories to online magazines, so I hope to eventually see a publishing credit land in my inbox one day. But I want to do so on the merit of my work.

I have had two rejection slips to date. They use different language to deliver the same message:

Not this time. Get better. Submit again.

That is the process doing its job. Professional editors that need good stories to sell their magazines. Without it, they will not make money. That makes sense to me. Without defeat, you can’t appreciate victory. It will make that first acceptance a treasured moment.

If you take a look on any e-book store, you will see thousands of books that have been written in what appears to be a lunch hour. A basic story with no character development that appears to be in its first draft. Trash that should be in a slush pile and not available to anyone. Probably some of the things that I have come across shouldn’t even be in an editors slush pile.

I know there are exceptions to this rule. JK Rowling for one. Logic dictates that 10% of any slush pile is any good. Maybe not marketable, but decent writing. I’d say that we have less than 5% in the self-publishing world.

I don’t want to go panning for gold. Sifting through reviews, or reading the books myself. I think Amazon and others have a lot to answer for. There should be some kind of acceptance criteria for a novel before allowing them to be self-published.

Some kind of process which ensures that the manuscript has gone through a first, second and, in my case, a final draft. That the outline is submitted. That the work has had a vigorous spell and grammar checks and is formatted correctly. That a few beta readers have read the manuscript and given it a thumbs up. Perhaps even a privately employed editor has looked at the work.

Without this, I am afraid that eBook stores are going to become the worlds public slush pile.