Friday, October 21, 2011

A Sense of Wonder

My favorite TV show is Dark Shadows. Not the 1990s remake, but the original supernatural soap opera I used to run home from school every afternoon to watch. School let out at 3p.m. and only a large field separated the schoolyard gate from my house across the street. If I was able to avoid detention and outrun the after-school bullies, I made it home in time to watch. There was no videotape back then; if you missed it, it was gone forever.

We tried hard to preserve the ephemeral experience and make it tangible. Posters, trading cards, comic books, paperback novels, and even records (vinyl, for you kids reading this); anything with an image from the show that we could hold in our hands became a treasured keepsake.

Dark Shadows was unique. There were only three networks, and all ran soap operas during the day, but while the other soaps concerned themselves with doctors and lawyers, trysts and affairs, and drama and infidelity, Dark Shadows revolved around vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, and alternate universes – which rocketed it to the Number One spot for the teen demographic. It was also the first soap opera to switch from black & white to color (not that I noticed; we didn’t own a color TV).

It was escapism fantasy and for many years I thought I was alone in my love and appreciation for the show. Turns out there were other fans who were still passionate about the series decades after it went off the air. Like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, who are filming a new Dark Shadows movie right now; and like an intrepid coterie of fans who brave the New England winter each year to gather for a weekend at the mansion seen in the series.

Last year, I was supposed to do a reading of my story, “The Vampire on Elm Street”, at a Halloween gathering at the mansion, but developed laryngitis from the 40-degree weather. This year, circumstances prevented me from attending, but I made sure that story and others would be available to the attendees by producing a limited edition book of my supernatural tales to help in the ongoing effort to raise funds to restore the mansion.

I wrote an introduction entitled “A Sense of Wonder” that has never (and most likely will never) appear anywhere else, so I thought it might make a good blog entry. So here it is:

A Sense of Wonder

I thought the next story, “The Vampire on Elm Street”, would be perfect for Dark Shadows fans, but I almost changed my mind about presenting it.

I had written a Valentines Day story (also in this book) about a boy who falls in love with the ghost of a colonial girl. It had a cemetery and a hill with a big cliff overlooking the lapping waves in Newport, Rhode Island… sound familiar? My colleague shared it with her 14-year-old and reported her daughter loved it. I mean, she raved about it. “You should make it into a book,” she said. Sensing I had a new fan in the making, I gave my friend the story you’re about to read to share with her daughter. A week later, I asked what her daughter thought of it.

“She hated it.” Ouch! “She said it was too childish.”

That surprised me, because most of my stories aren’t suitable for children, and I considered “The Vampire on Elm Street” to be my Young Adult, all-ages, G-rated short story. A negative reaction from my target audience gave me pause.

Then it dawned on me. The story’s target audience isn’t 14-year-olds. Like most teenage girls, she heard the word vampire and was expecting “Twilight”— brooding, self-obsessed teen vampires in love with adolescent girls like herself. She was disappointed because there were no teenagers in the tale for her to relate to; instead, it centered on a group of eight-year-old kids and, in her mind, that made it “childish”, because when you’re trying to prove you’re growing up, the last thing you want to be associated with is little kids.

But when you’re our age, it’s just the opposite. We yearn nostalgically for our “second childhood”. The “good old days”… do you know when the Golden Age was? The Golden Age is 10. When you were 10-years-old and filled with a sense of wonder. When the wall between reality and imagination was gossamer thin and anything was possible. Unlike Fox Muldar, you didn’t need to “want to believe”… you simply did.

Today, we pop in a Dark Shadows DVD and sit outside the story, laughing at the quivering sets and distracted by the actors’ botched lines. It’s still a great show, but the viewing experience is completely different from the first time we saw it: on black-and-white TV sets, when we raced home from school to be transported into the story; we didn’t notice the shaky sets and blown dialogue because, at 10, or eight years old, we were filled with an abundance of innocence, boundless imagination, and a sense of wonder. We believed in vampires and witches. Barnabas and company became a part of our young lives because we believed.

A Vampire on Elm Street” isn’t about vampires. It’s a nostalgic trip back to the Golden Age, when we still had an abundance of innocence, boundless imagination, and a sense of wonder. It’s about what is was like to be one of those kids who raced home to watch Dark Shadows. And that’s why my friend’s teenager didn’t get it. Nostalgia is appreciated not by those fleeing childhood, but by those in search of the elusive path back.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Angel or Devil?

Is your baby a sweet angel or a mischievous tyke? Maybe a little of both? Then, the new Halos & Horns baby bib is just what you need! It's the latest addition to our line of Amber Ware available through our affiliation with the good folks at Cafe Press. You can see the entire line of Amber Ware (and we'll be adding to it regularly) at the Amber CafePress store or by clicking the Amber Ware tab at the top of my blog.

(Now you know what baby Alaric was wearing in Halos & Horns, Book 2: And A Child Shall Lead Them!)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Forget Zombies! Beware the Google Panda!

“You’ve been Panda-slapped,” my SEO guru explained to me. Understand, this was the man who, when Facebook was a distant rival to MySpace, had “poked” me and, failing to get my attention, “thrown a cow” at me. So, being Panda-slapped sounded like a fun new app; it wasn’t.

I was reviewing the Web traffic on several of my sites and had consulted him when I had noticed a disturbing coincidence. From January to June, traffic was relatively stable on all the sites; then, it dropped off about 30% in July – on all the sites. Still, it was summer; maybe people decided to visit the beach instead. But, in August, traffic fell another 60% and remained down 90% in September from previous levels. Not just on one site, but on all my Websites!

My first thought was it might be a server issue, but my SEO guru diagnosed the situation immediately. It was a Panda attack. Ironic that something so devastating would be named after the adorable bears from China. Almost as ironic as a company with the motto “Do No Evil” engaging in an evil, capricious assault on millions of small business owners trying to survive the Great Recession. Google claims an honorable intent: eliminating spammers and so-called “content farms” from its search results. It launched Panda, a series of monthly examinations of Google’s ranking of Websites. If Panda determines a site is “low quality”, the site loses its ranking in search results, falling to the bottom of the rankings or even being deleted from the results.

The laudable idea was to eliminate spam sites by designating them as “low quality”. The problem is, Google lacks the proper criteria to tell a spam site from a legitimate site, so it relies on certain factors that have resulted in “collateral damage” – legitimate Web sites being lumped in with the content farms. E-commerce sites are particularly at risk of being miscategorized. Estimates are more than 40% of all Websites have been affected, so far. Some businesses have lost so much traffic, they fear bankruptcy.

SEO blogger Mark Munroe writes: “Panda is, by far, the most significant change in the algorithm I have seen in the 8 years I have been optimizing for search! New sites that get off to the wrong start can have their domain poisoned from and they will never know.  Businesses that have been on the web for years can be destroyed overnight.” He adds, “this went far beyond the (content farms). Most Q&A sites, almost all the shopping comparison engines, travel, automotive, local, ecommerce, UGC dominated sites, large dynamic sites as well as small sites with a collection of completely unique content” are affected.

For example, Panda penalizes a site if it lacks repeat visitors. One of my books has its own Website. People come to that site for information about the book, click the link, and buy it. They have no reason to return after they’ve purchased the book. The site acts as it should and the purchaser is happy; but since the purchaser never returns (remember, it’s the only item for sale on the site), Panda penalizes it as a “low quality” site.

Blogger Adam Audette, of SearchEngineWatch writes, “Panda is a profound change to Google’s algorithm, and it's no surprise that there are sites out there being hurt that may not deserve it. Panda has left sites starved and depleted of traffic, crushed in its wake.  There is too much bloodshed out there. I don't remember a Google algorithm that has done so much damage – so much collateral damage.”

Collateral damage. Do no evil. Did I mention Google Panda reportedly shows a marked preference for brands (Big Companies, like Amazon) and paid advertisers? It’s only the small business owners who need fear Panda; you know, those folks trying to stay afloat in the worst economy since the Great Depression. The ones who work from small storefronts or even their kitchen tables.

“Businesses that have been on the web for years can be destroyed overnight.”

Collateral damage.

Do no evil.

    Next: Part 2

Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't Sweat It!

Winter is coming; are you prepared? There's still time to order your Halos & Horns sweatshirt! It's the latest addition to our line of Amber Ware available through our affiliation with the good folks at Cafe Press. You can see the entire line of Amber Ware (and we'll be adding to it regularly) at the Amber CafePress store or by clicking the Amber Ware tab at the top of my blog.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Take Gabriel and Lucifer on the Road with You!

How cool is this? The Halos & Horns logo on a Ceramic Travel Mug! It's the latest addition to our line of Amber Ware available through our affiliation with the good folks at Cafe Press. You can see the entire line of Amber Ware (and we'll be adding to it regularly) at the Amber CafePress store or by clicking the Amber Ware tab at the top of my blog.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It Worked For Wile E. Coyote

You may have noticed I haven't written lately on my blog. That doesn't mean I haven't been writing; the opposite is true. I believe authors should focus on writing books and blog in their spare time, rather than place their emphasis on blogging. After all, my books are far more interesting than my blog. I mean, just say the word ... "blawg" ... doesn't that sound, well... you know? So if you don't see me posting here, it means I'm slaving away over a new novel or more short stories.

I've just completed the third book in the Halos & Horns series, To Hell In A Handbasket. It's almost 80,000 words (which would fill quite a few blogs) and picks up moments after the startling conclusion of Book 2: And A Child Shall Lead Them. I don't want to spoil the ending of Book 2 for those who haven't read it (and if you haven't, why not?), but suffice it to say I received a lot of email asking how I was going to plot my way out of the corner I had painted myself into. It reminded me of the dilemma they faced on "Dallas" when the producers decided to bring the dead and buried Bobby Ewing back onto the show. At the time, I wondered how the writers would pull off that trick. Unfortunately, they punted and devised that horrible "the whole season of episodes  was all a dream" excuse. Hopefully, I've done a better job.

A much better example of "how do I write myself out of this mess" was the sequel to the movie "Beneath the Planet of the Apes." I remember watching that in the theater and seeing them blow up the Earth. That definitely ruled out more sequels, I thought. But the clever writers allowed Cornelius and Zira to escape back in time, giving us "Escape From the Planet of the Apes", two more sequels, and a TV series.

Of course, we all know from growing up with Road Runner cartoons that when you paint yourself into a corner, you simply paint a door on the wall and open it. It worked for Wile E. Coyote.