Writing a New Urban Legend … Words With Fiends is a Contender

It’s a theme that occurs over and over in writing, and especially in horror. From “I Know What You Did Last Summer” to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and beyond, the resonance of guilt made manifest is a theme that is near and dear to our hearts. Matt Schiariti’s Words With Fiends takes a familiar theme and makes it not just high-tech, but makes it pop-culturally significant by incorporating it into a game to which we all, at one time or another, have been addicted.  The story itself is not over-long—something around 10,000 words—but those words pack a punch and offers the reader a glimpse into a soul tortured by guilt. Morgan has done a bad thing, but it doesn’t, necessarily, make him a bad guy. There’s a lot of grey in the story and that’s great, because there are many situations in life that are equally grey. We all start out slightly shadowed, and it is a testament of what we choose to become as to whether we turn from light or turn toward it.

I don’t want to spoil the story. While it quickly becomes clear just what evil this not-so-bad-guy has perpetrated, it’s in Morgan’s reaction to it that we see the essence of who he is. After the events, his Words With Friends app begins to play a game with him—an unknown player reaching into his psyche and stirring the pot of his guilt. Morgan becomes a man haunted—no one will find out. How could anyone find out? Only, well, the story quickly devolves into Morgan’s self-induced madness and frantic efforts to keep hidden what should be kept hidden. But, you know how this story goes….The moment he begins meddling, all is revealed. His panic is palpable—you can feel his heartbeat, the way his breathing changes, his hands clenched around the steering wheel…. But, refreshingly, it does not exactly end like you think it might, and using a wonderful play on the words, the ending twists and turns in all the best ways of horror.

But, I mentioned “Urban Legend” in the title. Yes. Can’t you just hear it? “You’re playing what? Oh, man, I knew this guy who knew this guy who had this cousin who had a friend who got some weird, screwed up thing happen with that app—ghosts, dude…voices of the damned…” While we would all like something we’ve written to worm its way into society’s collective consciousness in such a way, Schiariti’s story is written with such an air of authority and depth as to lead the reader to believe in it wholeheartedly. Yeah, I’ve heard of that guy… That guy who had that happen. Yeah. You haven’t heard the story? Unholy hell, let me tell you—

Or … maybe I’ll just let THIS guy tell you. I’d like to welcome author Matt Schiariti to A Diamond in the Dark. Matt has graciously agreed to an interview AND, he’ll be giving away two copies of his book to lucky comment makers, so please leave a comment for a chance to win! Win what? Well, let’s start out with an excerpt from Matt’s book to get you in the mood …

From: Words With Fiends: A Short Story
The liquid changed color from amber to a russet brown as it spread across the polished wooden surface, magnifying the intricate grains.  It flowed, seeking its own level with gravity’s help, and meandered closer to the edge of the bar, enveloping the pale white coaster as if it was hungry.  Or like it was trying to smother it.

“Shit.”

Morgan reached out with a trembling hand and righted the highball glass which lay on its side.  He snatched his smartphone up and away, saving it from certain electronic death by alcohol poisoning.

“Don’t worry about it, Morg.  It’s just a spill.  Watch your phone.”  The bartender produced a towel as if by magic and began cleaning the displaced three fingers of Johnny Walker Black before it could mar any more surface area of his gleaming bar top.

“I got it,” Morgan said, pocketing his Droid.  “I guess I’ll be having another after all.”

“Coming right up.”  The bartender and owner, Walter — a 40-something black man with short, graying hair and deep laugh lines—filled a fresh glass with three fingers of Scotch.  “On the house.”

“Thanks, Walt.  You’re the man.”  Morgan balled his hand into a fist and, when he was sure the quaking had subsided, pulled the glass to his lips and sipped.

“Everything alright, Morg?  You look a little out of sorts tonight.”

Walt, like most bartenders, had a preternatural gift for empathy.  The stereotype almost made Morgan smile.  Almost.

“Yeah, I’m ok, Walt,” Morgan said and sat the glass down on the now pristine mahogany bar.  “Just been a rough couple days.  You know how life can be.”

Walter noticed a young kid, probably a college senior, Morgan thought, raise his ale glass from the end of the thirty foot bar.  The bartender nodded and held up a finger.  “You let me know if you need anything, ok?”

“Roger that.”

With the friendly barman off serving other customers, Morgan was left with nothing but the muffled sounds of traffic navigating the slushy winter roads outside and his own thoughts for company.  He peered out the large window, noticing the sun was already setting, casting the bloated snow-clouds in brilliant shades of purple and orange.  He also noticed the neon yellow MISSING sign being stapled to the telephone pole just outside the establishment.  Morgan didn’t even need to see the picture clearly to know who the homemade sign featured.  He knew the face by heart.  He’d seen so many of the signs that the image was seared into his retinas.  He’d tried to avoid them.  Tried…and failed.

Finishing the Scotch and ordering up another seemed like the next logical step to Morgan when the man posting the MISSING sign turned and met his eyes. Morgan turned quickly away, afraid that the young, thin man with the shoulder length blond hair would decipher his every thought, decode his very soul, and find them both severely lacking .

The glass reached his lips and Morgan closed his eyes, letting the curative effects of the Scotch coat his throat and settle in his stomach, wrapping him in its warm, smoky grip.

He closed his eyelids hard enough to see stars.

     Snow.

     A night like tonight.

    His cell phone vibrating.

     Losing control.

A wave of dizziness overcame him and he opened his eyes, his vision wobbly.  He took a Menthol Light from the pack in his trench coat pocket and made to light it.

“Yo, Morg.  You know you can’t smoke in here, man.”  Walter was hovering over him with a deep frown on his face.

     When the hell did sneak up on me? 

“Huh?”

“Man, where you been the last six years.  No smoking in bars in Jersey.  You know that.”

“Right. I’m…I’m sorry.  I dunno what I was thinking.”  Morgan’s voice was beginning to slur.  The Scotch was taking quicker effect than he’d realized.

“You’re sure you’re ok?”  Walter said, his scowl replaced with a look of concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine.  Really.  This Scotch is kicking the shit out of me tonight for some reason.  Sneaking up on me like a son of a bitch.”  Morgan forced a fake smile, hoping that it was convincing.  It felt anything but.

“Maybe you should head on home.  Get some sleep.”

“I’m not an alcoholic, Walter.”  He shocked himself with the testiness that seeped into his voice.

“Never said you were, man.  But I think you’ve had enough for one night.”  As if to put a period on the end of the conversation, Walter collected the empty glass of Johnny Walker and the coaster.

“You’re right.  I’m sorry for snapping at you.”  Morgan filled the vacated space with a fifty dollar bill and stood up.  He wobbled and put a hand on the smooth wood to steady himself.  “Guess I have had a bit too much.”  He shrugged into his trench coat and then checked his cellphone.  An icon consisting of a black W stamped in the middle of a lemon yellow tile, shone like a beacon on the screen.

     Words With Friends

He clicked on it.

     Your Move With Diane!

He smiled in spite of himself, mostly due to his self-acknowledged addiction to the mobile scrabble game.

She’d played ZOOS for over 100 points.

“Ah, damn.”

“What’s the matter?  Something happen?” Walter said.

“No.  Words with Friends.”  He held up the cellphone.  “My girlfriend kicks my ass all the time but I can’t help myself.  I’m a total addict.”

Walter smiled.  “You and everybody else these days, it seems.  Remember that fiasco with Alec Baldwin?”

“Have a good one, Walt.”  Morgan made for the doorway, the cold winter’s night, and his warm townhome.

“Hey, you’re not thinking of driving are you?” Walter yelled after him.  “I can call you a cab.  Just leave your car here overnight.  It’s safe.”

“Thanks but I’m good.  I’ll walk.  Do my head some good.  Car’s in the shop anyway.”

“Yeah? What happened?”

Morgan stopped with one foot out the door.  After a pause, he said over his shoulder:  “Hit a deer.”

~~~

See what I mean? You can see the characters, the situation, and it’s like you know this guy who knows this guy who knows this guy’s COUSIN … But, while you let that marinade in your mind, let’s welcome Matt Schiariti to A Diamond In The Dark!
Amy: Welcome, Matt! It’s great to have you here. Now, I need to ask—what sparked the idea for this story?

Matt: I was actually playing some Words With Friends right before dinner and a thought popped into my head: ‘what if you were playing this and it started to get all screwy and dark?’ Then the title popped into my head.  I love titles that play on words.  It seemed like I was on to something when the idea wouldn’t leave my mind.

Amy:  So in the whole which came first, the story or the characters, idea?

Matt: The story for sure.  I had the idea for getting the word game involved, then I knew how I wanted things to resolve themselves.  The characters and their back stories came as I started typing it up.

Amy: Let’s talk influences. Who are your favorite writers?

Matt: Ohhhh, so many.  Ken Follett, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Karina Halle, Kim Harrison, Travis Thrasher, Brian Freeman, Arianna Franklin, Deb Crombie, Peter F. Hamilton…I’m sure by the time this is posted I’ll have thought of even more favorites and kick myself for not having mentioned them!

Amy: Oh, brilliant! My friend Sarah turned me on to Arianna Franklin. She’s awesome. That’s a great list. What does your family think of your writing?

Matt: They’ve been pretty supportive!  They know I’m a big reader and I’d always kicked around the idea of writing something.  It wasn’t until last year (almost a year to the day in fact) that I actually started to write my own original stories.  I’d actually gotten a short story published as part of anthology last fall.  The story is Hollow and it’s part of the Apocalypse 13 anthology from Padwolf publishing.  I opted to get paperback copies instead of monetary payment for it and I gave them to my immediate family as Christmas gifts! LOL.  Everyone was pretty happy about it.

Amy: This is a question I seem to ask a lot, so I’m going to ask it of you, too. What about music? Do you have favorites or a playlist that you listen to while writing?

Matt: I actually don’t list to music when writing…believe it or not.

Amy: What about past influences growing up in southern New Jersey? Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?

Matt: Hmmm.  That’s an interesting question.  I will say that nothing in Words With Fiends has actually happened to me!  But I guess on a deep level, they must have.  We’re just a summation of our experiences, right?  This may have nothing to do with the question, but I really don’t even read much straight up horror.  I do read some, but it’s only a fraction of what I’ve read, although I have been reading more of it lately.  So I don’t know where all the darker stuff comes from.  I’m sure Freud would have a field day analyzing all of that 😉

Amy: What about your reading history? I mean, Jeremy on Top Gear always asks his guests about their “car history,” so I feel like I should be asking authors about their “reading crush history.” So, who were your faves when you were growing up?

Matt: I used to love The Box Car Kids and Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid.  Those and comic books!  Batman, Avengers, etc.  I didn’t read all that many books until I hit high school.  The Hunt For Red October came out in the theater and I was on a Tom Clancy kick for a good long while after that.

Amy: Words With Fiends was so much fun to read, I can tell it was fun to write, too. That’s the nice thing about reading stories that are well-told. So, I’m thinking this won’t be the last we hear from you. What future projects do you have planned?

Matt: The ‘biggest’ one would be an upcoming Urban Fantasy novel I’d written in the spring of last year.  It’s been to several beta readers and I’ll be starting final edits on it soon.  I’m excited and nervous about it.  Keeping people’s attention with a short story is one thing, but to do the same through 340 or so pages?  That’s another thing entirely =) Anyway, if all goes well that should be landing on e readers in 4 to 6 weeks.  My blog will be the information hub for that once I get a cover image.  I’m thinking some contest for ARCS, etc, etc. The entire prologue is actually up on my blog as I type this.  I’m still continuing to write short horror/dark fiction stories and I would like to put out my own collection of them one day.  I have two ‘in the can’ so far and ideas for quite a few more.  I’ll get on those after I’m done editing my UF novel.  I’ve also written another short story for Padwolf publishing that will be in an upcoming anthology of theirs as well as one that I have YET to write for another one of their anthologies.  Then there’s ANOTHER book that I’d written last year that’s in the hands of one of my beta readers.  That’s more of a life story/contemporary romance of sorts with a bit of a supernatural twist.  Of course, I have ideas for a bunch of other books but they’re just that at this point: ideas!  But you’re a writer so I don’t have to tell you it’s better to have too many ideas than not enough 😉  In any event, I hope to assault e readers with more of my work in 2013!

Awesome! And if your interest is piqued and you want to give Matt’s story a read (which you really should), you can find it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Words-With-Fiends-Short-ebook/dp/B00AU54042/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361043194&sr=8-1&keywords=words+with+fiends
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/271202
http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Words-With-Fiends/book-2sq9LLq9ZE-ZpPoJQb5UsA/page1.html?s=z5Z71vNtrkmOW4IxE3uMhA&r=1
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/words-with-fiends-matt-schiariti/1114302816?ean=2940044233669
https://ebookstore.sony.com/ebook/matt-schiariti/words-with-fiends/_/R-400000000000000937924
Also available in the itunes store

And, if you want to get to know Matt Schiariti and hang out with him (which you really should), you can find him all over the place here:

http://www.amazon.com/Matt-Schiariti/e/B00AX9Y6GW
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6873499.Matt_Schiariti
@Matt_Schiariti
mattschiariti.blogspot.com

 

Welcome Author Michelle Muto With Her New Release THE HAUNTING SEASON

It’s my pleasure to welcome author Michelle Muto to A Diamond in the Dark! Michelle is the author of three books: Don’t Fear the Reaper, The Book of Lost Souls, and her newest release The Haunting Season. While she was born in Chicago, she’s found herself and her voice in the southeastern part of the United States; she currently resides in NE Georgia, and it is her newest book, set in Savannah, Georgia and Asheville, North Carolina that positively shows her affinity for her surroundings. The Haunting Season oozes the charm of Savannah, and by “ooze” I don’t mean in a charming way. I mean there’s history in that city, and all the houses have eyes, but Siler House not only has eyes, but ears and a pulse and it’s watching you. YOU! Yes, YOU! Right there — so don’t leave the book open too long … You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. There’s something so richly disturbing and palpable in the story that you’ll find yourself re-reading it. I did.

The book compelled me (yes, you read that correctly) to leave the following review on Amazon, where I purchased the book for my Kindle App on my phone. Yes. I read the book on my ‘Droid. Talk about a page-turner, I couldn’t flip through it fast enough!

Michelle Muto has crafted a riveting page-turner that will engage YAs and older fans of YA Lit. Her characters are real, breathing individuals with unique voices. The dialog is never muddled. The reader always knows which character is speaking–even without the use of dialog tags. That’s an art–because dialog is more than he said, she said. It is mannerism and inflection, it’s how a character reacts and the choice of words. Four young adults in a creepy situation–a house with eyes and ears that gets beneath the skin and wants …. needs … everything… There were times in the reading that I felt physically uncomfortable (that’s a good thing!), and swore I saw things out of the corner of my eye. At the outset, I’ll admit to thinking, “oh, please, how scary can this be?” Well, I gave up reading it at night. The stark light of day made it a little bit easier. I could NOT read it before going to sleep. It got just that disturbing. But it’s all good, because that’s what you WANT in a story like this. The settings were lush–the book invoked Savannah beautifully, eerily. The reader is drawn to the house, just as the characters are drawn. It’s a difficult book to put down. If you’re brave enough, try it on a dark and stormy night. If you’re like me and not quite that brave, go for it in the light of day in your favorite coffee shop surrounded by people. But, no matter HOW you take this wonderful dose of horror, make sure you take it. You don’t want to miss out

Buy it on Amazon here:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Haunting-Season-ebook/dp/B00ARYB5I0/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

But, wait. Before you do, get to know the imaginative mind that brought Siler House and all within it to life. Michelle Muto has graciously agreed to join me today on the blog. I’m positively THRILLED to have her here, and even more thrilled to share some interview time with her!

Amy: Oh! So great to have you here! I have to ask, because it’s been in the forefront of my mind lately, what sparked the idea for this book?

Michelle: A trip to Savannah, Georgia. I went on a ghost tour through Savannah’s real most notorious haunted house – the Sorrel-Weed House.

Amy: Oh … my heck. Such a place EXISTS?? How do you hope the story affects your readers–I mean, how do you hope they react?

Michelle: I hope it gives them the creeps, LOL! I want them to think, however irrationally,that there could be something in the mirrors, under the bed, or in the walls of their house.

Amy: From my side, I can say you succeeded. Um … thanks for that. When did you start writing? Not the books lately, but when can you remember starting?

Michelle: When I was about six, I think. I wrote stories for my mom – of dragons and castles, and of course, princesses.

Amy: Did your childhood influence what you write now?

Michelle: My brother made me watch scary movies whenever he had to babysit. He wanted to scare me, and it did. But it also had an effect I don’t think he ever counted on – that’d I’d also love those movies. hat, and my mother used to read to me when I was very young. When I was older, we’d go to the library on weekends. Those are still some of my favorite memories growing up.

Amy: It’s so cool your mom read to you. There’s nothing better than having a mom who reads to you, I think. What are your favorite books? Do you have any favorite writers?

Michelle: I love all kinds of books, from humor to horror, fiction and even some non-fiction. Some of my favorites are Harry Potter, The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, The Stand, and The Stephanie Plum series. My favorite authors include: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, J.K. Rowling, Janet Evanovich, Shirley Jackson, Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, David Sedaris, and probably a few dozen more.

Amy: You have three books out now. Do you hear from readers? What do they say?

Michelle: I do! And honestly, I’m honored they took the time to contact me. They usually tell me how much they loved a particular book or character, and ask when the next book is coming out. It’s a humbling experience. I have to look around the room to see what other writer is there with me, because they HAVE to be talking about them – not me.

Amy: Wow! That’s wonderful and well deserved, too. I have to ask, too, because you’re here … Dish, please! What are you working on now? What new projects are you contemplating, and what are we going to see from you in the near future?

Michelle: I have another adult/new adult book due this spring. It’s dark fantasy, maybe a little horror. I love this book. I think it’s my favorite over anything I’ve ever written. Then, there are the sequels to The Book of Lost Souls and Don’t Fear the Reaper.

Amy: This spring? Oh, I’m going to have to have you back then! Thank you so much for being here!

And … Michelle has one other surprise for us! A Giveaway of The Haunting Season! Comment on this post for your chance to win ONE of THREE COPIES that she is giving away today!

Thanks for stopping by the blog today! I hope you enjoyed meeting Michelle Muto and finding out more about her new book The Haunting Season. Don’t forget to leave a comment below fror a chance to win a copy, and go check her out in the land of many links:

Michelle’s Author Page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Michelle-Muto/e/B004RWAZCK/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Michelle’s Page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1114431976407.2018403.1095154206&type=3#!/pages/Michelle-Muto-Author-Page/154882381238003?fref=ts

Follow Michelle on Twitter: @MichWritesBooks

Michelle on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4712387.Michelle_Muto

 

 

 

 

♫ The Cover Is The Hardest Part ♫

As it turns out, that’s completely and totally true. I should start out by apologizing for any and all redundancies and bursts of enthusiasm in this post. I’m fresh from a NaNoWriMo win, made sweeter by the fact that I didn’t actually start writing until November 15th. Also made sweeter by the fact that I started the process of finding a cover for The Fishing Widow. So, here’s my story, and I’m sticking with it ….

It took three years to write The Fishing Widow. I’m counting from the moment Colin Claybaugh snuck up behind me while I was doing dishes (and I turned and took a swing with a frying pan at this unknown, disembodied voice…it’s a good thing he ducked) saying, “I hear you’re good at writing down stories.” through to the final edit. I’m pretty sure there were no fewer than fifteen edits of the book; along with endings, and alternate endings, and fist-fights about the ending, and, at last, THE ENDing. If you write, you’re nodding sagely at that last statement. Yes. It’s a struggle. It’s a struggle even when you’re dealing with forthcoming characters who want to tell you everything. Not that that’s any good, either, because then you’re staring at a reams-long tome wondering what in the world to cut out. No one needs that much detail….

See? I’ll blame NaNoWriMo because I’m slightly rambling, but only to make a point. Three years of my life and more than two-thirds of my sanity have gone into The Fishing Widow. I’m ready to put it out there. And then, there’s the whole putting it out there. As writers, let’s face it–it doesn’t matter how long we’ve delved into something, it doesn’t matter if we have cracklingly real characters, believable dialog, compelling stories, horror, triumph, a catastrophic bettering of the human condition, and that attainment of catharsis that our high school English teachers told us we had to attain in our writing or Dante would be waiting for us in the bowels of somewhere down there in the hot spot, without a decent, eye-catching, soul-gripping, I-need-to-read-this-lest-I-die cover, your book is not going to stand out on the shelf amid the others vying for attention. To that end, I’ll add this: I know graphic design and I am no graphic designer. So, while trolling Facebook, I came across a publisher (Permuted Press) who was looking for feedback for a book cover design contest at this website called 99 Designs. Really? Book cover contest? I just had to look….

Then, I was hooked. While this isn’t an advertising blitz for 99 Designs, I’ll just say that I put up a contest, 55 designers submitted 180 possible covers based on a detailed design brief that I submitted and I worked with a number of them through a feedback process to whittle it down to 6 designers. Now, there are eight possible designs on the block–each one a bit different, each one with a different feel, but all of them by designers who are wildly talented and even better, responsive to feedback. Huh. I guess this is a bit of an advert for 99 Designs ….

But, back to the contest. There’s this poll. It lives here: https://99designs.com/book-cover-design/vote-h7sika And, I’m using this as a forum to solicit feedback from YOU. When I wrote the original design brief, I asked for a cover that would make people yank the book from the shelf and open it. So, I now ask you, looking at these designs, if you were standing in a bookstore surrounded by more compelling graphic design than one person could bear, which one would stand out? If you were strolling the Lido Deck (they all have “Lido Decks,” right?) of a cruise ship and noticed a book in someone’s hand, what cover would catch your eye and make you think, “Wow, I should so totally read that.” ?? I know, asking a lot, but if it’s not compelling enough to pick up, if it doesn’t draw your eye, you’ll never open it to read the flap (which reminds me, I’ve got to write that bit, too), or thumb through the pages.

And then you’d never meet Ethan.

Or Colin.

Or Brett.

Or St. John.

Or Elizabeth.

And that would make me sad, ’cause trust me. You’d love ’em…..