“Alternate Sherlocks” stories wanted

I will be editing an anthology of alternate Sherlock Holmes stories and am looking for submissions.

The idea is to take the iconic (and now public domain) character Sherlock Holmes and twist it in some way: Sherlock as an alien; Sherlock as a woman; Sherlock in the middle ages — let your imagination soar.sherlock_holmes1

I have an agent who is willing to shop this around. In order to interest a major publisher, we’ll need some big names. At this stage, we’re only asking for a story synopsis — that way, you don’t waste time writing a story only to find that we can’t get you a decent pay for it. If a publisher accepts, we will determine the pay and notify you and then you can decide whether to participate.

So I need proposals. Please submit a short synopsis (including the ending) of no more than 400 words, accompanied by your (short) bio and a link to a writing sample. Be sure to mention your previous publishing history.

Deadline is July 12th.

Note: If we cannot interest a major publisher, my current publisher Double Dragon will accept the anthology. With Double Dragon, the only pay will be from royalties (no advances or guaranteed payments).

Please email your submissions or questions.

My turn to be interviewed (again)

The Author Chronicles is a great blog for starting writers! You should all be checking it out, especially since they interviewed me. Read up on vampires, politics, pirates, and whether it’s a good idea to outline.

My turn to be interviewed

Author Shane Lindemoen and I had a very nice discussion on his blog today. We talked about vampires in fiction, the difference between writing and editing, and BLOODSUCKERS! Check it out and leave a comment.

Bloodsuckers: A Vampire Runs for President

“They’re all a bunch of bloodsuckers!”  I heard someone say.

“Hm,” I thought.  “Not a bad idea for a book.”button with blood

BLOODSUCKERS:  A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT is now available in paperback, ebook, kindle, and nook.  If you like reading my blog, you’ll probably enjoy this.

BLOODSUCKERS is a political thriller — with vampires.  Mostly, I loved picturing what it would be like to be a politician who could look someone in the eye and charm them to do their bidding.  Imagine the power!

Here’s what it’s about:

Norman Mark is a politician with skeletons in his closet (literally).  He’s a liberal Democrat who is constantly attacked by the tea party extremists who say he’s a socialist and an atheist and wasn’t born in America — and a vampire!  Everyone laughs at the crazies but it turns out they’re right about all of that.

Disgraced reporter Steven Edwards supports Mark completely.  When Mark is shot at a campaign rally, Steve looks to his acquaintance who drops the smoking rifle, smiles, turns into a bat, and flies away — leaving Steve as the prime suspect.  He is rescued by the vampire believers (Jon Stewart calls them “Batties”) and he goes into hiding.  The only way he can prove his innocence is by proving to the world that vampires actually do exist while  constantly on the run from the bloodsuckers and the FBI.

Steve learns that vampires have been controlling things behind the scenes for thousands of years, accumulating wealth and influence.  Many vampires don’t like the idea that one of their own is running for President and they’re trying to stop him, worried that he will expose their existence.  Others support Mark.  Many of them want Steve dead.

Some people have been surprised when I tell them that the candidate is a liberal Democrat, but that’s the dilemma Steve has.  Does he continue to support the candidate he believes will be a great President even though he’s a vampire?  A President who could charm his enemies into passing progressive legislation that will help all Americans?  A President who could meet with foreign enemies and convince them to bring peace to the world?  Do the ends justify the means?

The book is as politically accurate as possible, and features real journalists such as Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, and Stephen Colbert.  No, I didn’t get their permission.  I hope they get upset at me.  I could use the publicity.

And if you’ve read any of my other books or short stories, you know there are many twists, turns and surprises.

I have received some very nice comments from fellow authors who have read the book:bloodsuckers-510

“Ventrella’s quick, bright dialogue punctuates the adventure with dry humor even as he ratchets the tension up towards an ending that might just surprise even the jaded reader. Highly recommended!” – Ryk E. Spoor

“Funny, quick, too smart for its own good.” – Mur Lafferty

“I loved the characters, the political insight and the final revelation!” – Dennis Tafoya

“A delicious blend of mainstream thriller, oddball horror, and biting social commentary.” – Jonathan Maberry

“Action, adventure, laughs and chills.” – Jon McGoran

“Sucks you in from the start and gets its teeth into your imagination.” – Gail Z. Martin

Sometimes bloggers post a donation button so you can show your support for all their hard work.  For less than $6 you can download the kindle, nook, or ebook of BLOODSUCKERS.  You’ll be supporting my blog and you’ll have fun at the same time.

Click here to read the first few chapters.

The First Page

Grab them with that opening sentence! Astound them with that first page! Don’t let them get away!

New writers hear this advice constantly. It’s a vulture perched on our computer screen, daring us to fail. It sucks up endless hours while we write and rewrite to snatch a reader’s attention.

But how important is it, really?

As with everything, the answer is “it depends.”

As a starting writer, the need to grab a reader earlier is greater than that of an established author. I don’t have to be swept away on the first page by Neil Gaiman or Stephen King, because I know that they will captivate me before long. “But who is this Michael A. Ventrella fellow?” people will ask. If I don’t hook them early on, they won’t continue.

Writing skill in and of itself is not enough. As an editor, I have seen stories that were very well written but nothing happened until page ten. There was character development and background information provided that could have waited until later, when I cared about the character’s situation and it mattered.

So yes. Grab them early. And let us know what we’re in for.

The opening page should ideally establish who the main character is and a setting — Knowing when and where a story takes place helps us get into the story easier. Most importantly, it should contain a question that makes the reader want to turn the page.

As an editor, I am always looking for that grab in the stories I buy. Here, check this opening paragraph from a story by Mike Strauss from the second Fortannis collection, A BARD IN THE HAND:

The heavy wooden door of the only permanent structure in the outskirt town of Padrin’s Hold burst inward without warning and a powerfully built woman dressed in fur skinned from a rare howl bear collapsed onto the hard wooden floor. The frequency with which this occurred was so high that the blood running freely from a large gash in the woman’s leg spilled onto a stain made by many similar injuries across the years. The single resident of the building, a middle-aged elf woman named Endrith, was not only unsurprised, but actually made a few more notations in the thick ledger she was writing in before looking at her guest.bardinhand-510

Makes you want to read more, doesn’t it?

Here’s the first page of Mark Mensch’s story “A Matter of Death and Life” from the upcoming Fortannis collection A BARD DAY’S KNIGHT:

“I thought zombies only came out at night,” Nigel said to the milling mass of corpses.

Every story he heard about the undead had always been that they come out of graves at night and roam the darkness looking for the living to feed upon; or at least wait until there was a thick fog to hide within. So he was quite unprepared, when walking through the woods one afternoon, to run into a group of three of the lumbering creatures.

Once the initial shock of seeing them wore off, he figured he wouldn’t have any difficulty with them. After all, they were “lumbering.” What turned out to be difficult for him though was the forest. He was quite adept at moving through a city. Throw drunks, cut purses, fenced off areas and dead-end alleys at him and he could navigate it like a sailor with a magical sextant. But apparently trees, roots, loose dirt and other woodland debris was not the same thing. He found himself stumbling as he ran, cursing at the brambles snagging his clothes and quickly losing his sense of direction.

In addition, the dead had brought friends. Before he knew it, over a dozen of the rotting corpses had him surrounded and his only choice was to climb up a very large tree. Luckily, hand-eye coordination and balance are not in a zombie’s repertoire. Nigel was treed, but safe.

That was three days ago.

Here, one more, by Bernie Mojzes, also from the upcoming A BARD DAY’S NIGHT:

Normally, finding a dead cat is a bad thing, especially when it’s nailed to your front door. But there are worse things.

Being poor, uemployable, and shunned by society, for one.

Being suddenly but discretely wealthy, but still unemployable and shunned by society, for another.

If you’re reading this now, then you probably already know some of my earlier adventures: you’ve either read my own (true, and almost unbiased) accounts, or were at least subjected to the lurid revisionism of the local bards and broadsheets. If you can’t be bothered to do basic research, well, don’t look to me fill you in. I’ve done my part. Suffice to say, my last job earned me enough money that I never needed to work again. Which I suppose is good, if dull, because it’s not like clients were lining up at my door.

Except for the cat. And that didn’t really count as “lining up.” More like just hanging around.

Which is exactly what my own life consisted of at that point. Hanging around and waiting for something to happen to break through the daily monotony of dining (alone) in Ashbury’s finest restaurants and then drinking myself stupid until it was late enough to go to sleep.

Can there be anything worse than boredom?

I examined the cat. It wasn’t terribly large, but showed no signs of being feral; its coat was glossy and well-groomed, a calico, and it wore a worked leather collar with a bell. A large spike had been driven through its chest and into my oak door. Blood stained and matted the fur beneath the wound, and discolored the wood below.

Very curious, and I decided I’d begin my investigation immediately upon recovering from my hangover the following afternoon. In the meantime, it wouldn’t do to have a cat hanging from my door. What would my neighbors say? They already hated and feared me. I would, I decided, put it in a canvas sack and store it in the basement until the morning. I reached for the cat.

And learned exactly what is worse than boredom.

As I carefully tugged the dead cat off the nail, it hissed and spat, and raked a sharp claw across my cheek. I dropped it and jumped back, gracefully catching my heel on a cobblestone, and sprawled on my back.

The last I saw of the dead cat, it was racing into an alley.

There was no way I’d be able to catch it, so I went inside, poured myself a glass of wine, and collapsed on the bed. And I don’t remember much else.

Your goal is to establish a setting and make us want to continue reading. Give us a question that can only be answered by turning the page and continuing on.

And, once more, the final caveat that is always given: There are no rules. It is possible to ignore this advice completely and still have a great opening. If it works, it works.

Interview with author John Patrick Kavanagh

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: John Patrick Kavanagh is a writer, designer and fellow attorney. His current novel CAMDEN’S KNIFE is a rewrite of his previously published SIXERS that was a hardcover best seller (praised by Scott Turow as “Terrific”) and optioned for film by 20th Century Fox. unnamed

John, tell us about CAMDEN’S KNIFE!

JOHN PATRICK KAVANAGH: It’s a major renovation of my first novel, SIXERS, that my now-publisher, then-agent Lori Perkins, suggested I undertake. The story is set against the accidental unleashing of a pandemic affliction, Camden-Young’s Disease, which strikes 74% of Caucasians while the other 26% are somehow immune. The massive conglomerate Southern United Enterprises manufactures treatments for CYD which are also used recreationally by the sixers. Dr. Arthur Camden believes there might be a cure formula in a pair of notebooks confiscated from him upon his dismissal from SUE while Trisha Lane, the powerful overseer of the corporation’s Pharmaceutical and Media Divisions, thinks Camden purloined four ounces of a distillate she needs for the creation of an incredibly potent smart pill. Her new admin assistant, our protagonist David Stonetree, gets drafted to be the go-between for a possible swap and faces some difficult decisions.

One of my favorite aspects of the project was the creation of a pair of peripheral web sites that might be portrayed as bonus features. Pinkiefinger.com is a mockup of the home page of a dominant social media site while thecombatartzone.com is an extensive exploration of the assets of the estate of another conquest in Trisha’s trophy case. I can’t tell you how curious I am to see if readers will actually check for the existence of these domains after they’ve seen the names.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily or just jump right in?

KAVANAGH: I always start with an outline. I think that has something to do with my legal background, as in never ask a question that you don’t already know – or think you know – the answer to. For the book I’m currently working on, the blueprint is eighteen hundred words covering the Prologue, Epilogue and seventeen chapters in between. Two or three additional pages of notes devoted to each of those nineteen segments. A time-of-day flow chart. Numerous sketches of everything from a bird’s-eye view of the exterior of the megaresort down to floor plans of various guest suites to give me a better sense of where characters are situated and how they move. Same for the theater where the Concert is held and especially its stage to help keep track of the performers’ actions. A list of how A relates to B and then to C. Another of details I want to include and potential spots to tuck them in. Single page bios. Lots of cross-referencing.

VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first? What gets your story idea going?

KAVANAGH: Plot, setting then characters. Especially the antagonist. For me, that’s the compass which points to everything else.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best way to make the antagonist a believable character?

KAVANAGH: Load them up with avarice and the skills necessary to achieve their desired outcomes. Pick any great villain and you’ll most always find greed and cunning heavily in the mix.

VENTRELLA: Writers are told to “write what you know.” What does this mean to you?

KAVANAGH: That sense is certainly important, but it has to include the enjoyment of writing about it … as long as that doesn’t get out of hand.

VENTRELLA: How do you mean?

KAVANAGH: In the sequel to CK I’m currently working on, WEEKEND AT PRISM, there’s an entire chapter devoted to “the biggest rock concert ever held in the history of the Universe,” along with some cutaways to break up the action. It’s already clocking in at close to 24,000 words but it’s so much fun to work on that I keep returning to add more embellishments.

VENTRELLA: What was the most difficult part of the book to write?

KAVANAGH: Assuring that all of the near-future pop culture references are both plausible and believable. Layout 1 For instance, I have Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Stefani Germanotta all releasing their third greatest hits albums on the same day. That meets the test, I’d say. But a PGA golfer winning tournaments by reclining on greens and using the handle of his putter like a pool cue? Plausible but bordering on unbelievable, so I struggled with that inclusion until I checked the physics involved which indicated it’d probably pass muster if the shot was less than forty feet.

VENTRELLA: What criticism of your work do you disagree with the most?

KAVANAGH: That my protagonists aren’t strong enough. But I understand they sometimes come off that way because I surround them with characters who are more skilled, more successful and have much higher ball drives.

VENTRELLA: Ball drives?

KAVANAGH: When security people are auditioning pups for possible future employment in contraband discovery, one of the first tests they run is to find out how much the dogs want the ball and how intent they are on keeping it.

VENTRELLA: Who are your favorite authors?

KAVANAGH: Tops is David Wingrove. I’ve read his massive Chung Kuo series two and a half times and just finished the first installment of his Roads To Moscow trilogy, THE EMPIRE OF TIME. Not only another masterpiece, but narrated in … for me, anyway … the extremely difficult first person present tense voice. I read Bill Bryson’s IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY at least once a year, easily his best despite the anachronisms it’s now saddled with. I also love Jason Gay’s sports coverage in The Wall Street Journal. His mix of humor, insight and commentary is beyond compare.

VENTRELLA: What projects are you working on now? What can we expect next from you?

KAVANAGH: WEEKEND AT PRISM still needs its final five chapters and an Epilogue … I really have to get past that Concert stuff … which should provide the set-up for a third novel set two years later in which many of my characters – especially the High Ball Drivers – join forces, intent on combining their incredible wealth and appurtenant influence to … they’ve got really big plans.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

KAVANAGH: Great question. Seeing the most famous dinner party in history was attended by thirteen guests, I’ll go with that number of seats. I’m thinking a breezy late afternoon on the deck of The Pier House in Key West, catering provided by Geno’s East of Chicago. My wife Susan is a tremendous hostess so I’d bring her along with my best friend Dave Lersch in the event a good cop – bad cop intervention is necessary. That’d leave ten and my dream pairings would be Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns, Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, Bill Shakespeare and Paddy Chayefsky. Perhaps Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison? And finally, Wolfgang Mozart and Keith Richards. (laughs) I can hear Richards’ Cockney voice asking, “Wolfie? That middle bit in your Piano Concerto Number Twenty in D Minor? Me and my mate Mick cribbed that for our song Wild Horses.” To which the maestro responds, “No problem, man. I jacked that hook from one of Johnny Bach’s outtakes.”

My Ravencon 2014 schedule

On the weekend of April 25th, I’ll be a guest at Ravencon, a small but fun convention in Richmond, Virginia. RavenConBannerThe Guest of Honor this year is Elizabeth Bear. There’s also a costume competition and my artist wife Heidi Hooper is a judge. It’s always a lot of fun to visit my hometown, even if I hardly get to see any of it since I’m in a hotel all weekend.

Anyway, here are the panels where you can find me (and more may be added):

Anthology Don’ts (Friday 4 pm): There are always rules for submitting in anthologies … length, subject matter, etc. Our panelists discuss the common errors they see (or have been guilty of) in anthology submissions. With John Betancourt, Jim Stratton, and Tera Fulbright.

Opening Ceremonies (Friday 7 pm): Guests are introduced to the audience!

Reading (Friday 9 pm): I’ll be reading excerpts from my books and short stories and talking with readers.

The Eye of Argon (Friday midnight): The worst science fiction story ever written gets a reading by our brave panel as they compete to go the longest without tripping over a misspelled word or laughing uncontrollably. Audience members are also encouraged to take a chance. Can you keep a straight face, especially when the panel begins acting out the story? With Philippa Ballantine, Gail Martin, and KT Pinto.

New Releases from Perseid Press (Saturday 11 am): Perseid Press publishes, among other things, the “Heroes in Hell” series. Come and visit Perseid authors and find out about their latest release “Dreamers in Hell.” With Rich Groller.

Young Adult Literature (Saturday 3 pm): What makes a Young Adult novel these days? Is it just the age of the protagonist or is there something else? What books should be considered Young Adult that are not, and which are that shouldn’t be? With Bill Blume, Betty Cross, and Lana Krumwiede.

Allen Wold’s Writing Workshop (Saturday 8 pm): Participants do a small writing exercise, which is then evaluated by the panel, discussing where they have done well and where they can improve. With KT Pinto, Allen Wold, and Darcy Wold.

The Greatest Animated Films of All Time (Saturday 11 pm): The panelists will debate what the greatest animated films are of all time in an attempt to come up with a Top Ten List. Weapons must be checked at the door. With Chris Impink and Patrick Vanner

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