Got milk?

August 21st, 2011

Flowers On The Wall by The Statler Brothers

Been a long time coming…

…But I’m proud to announce that I’ve rereleased The Milkman in a special, “author’s cut” edition. Here’s the blurb and the cover for your enjoyment!

When Liza, an intrepid reporter, stakes her career on an interview with a milkman named Blake, things go from weird to worse when they are abducted by aliens. After finding out the real reason aliens anally probe their abductees, the two heroes have no choice but to recruit a makeshift army of genius bikers to take the fight to the aliens and save the world!

Originally released as a print-on-demand book in 2005, The Milkman returns in the revised and expanded SuperSekrit Extra Cheesy Edition, chock full of goofy fun never included in the original edition.

Includes lots of bonus features such as:

-Author’s commentary track
-Soundtrack listing
-Sneak peek at The Milkman 2: Evil Garden Gnome
-Previews of future books from Ian Thomas Healy
-Gag Reel (and aren’t you curious how I managed to pull that off?)

Get it on Smashwords now, and other ebook retailers very, very soon for only $2.99

12: Gratuitous Explosions and Other Action Downfalls

June 11th, 2011

Writing action scenes can be a tremendous amount of fun. Your characters can do all those stunts you’ve seen in movies, and you can invent entirely new predicaments for them. You have to be careful not to get too carried away with that fun, because it can result in some pitfalls that can ruin even the best-planned action scene.
Quick Cuts. This is a common problem when writers are trying to pull back and write from a “global” perspective. It’s easy to do because you, the writer, can see everything that’s going on in an action scene, and it’s tempting to write every bit of it, because that’s what writers do. Jumping around in a scene quickly, sometimes with as little as a single sentence devoted to one character followed by a sentence for another and so on, is the literary equivalent of the jump cut in cinema. Some directors have no sense of flow when it comes to an action scene, and they figure the frenetic camera cuts with shots lasting less than a second are a suitable equivalent.
Hint: they’re not.
Jumping around in your scene from character to character, like you’re trying to make sure everybody gets equal coverage, will make your scene choppy and have no flow to it. This in turn eliminates the possibility of one of the most useful aspects of action scenes: character development. As described in Part 1, an action scene can be an excellent vehicle for readers to learn more about the characters. If the scene has no flow to it because of quick cuts, this is an impossibility.
Headhopping. This is generally a no-no in all types of fiction. Headhopping is when the narrative has been focusing on a single character’s thoughts, words, and deeds, and suddenly in the middle of the scene the narrative switches to someone else’s focus without any obvious scene break. The equivalent might be if you’re playing a first-person-shooter video game and all of a sudden you’re a different character. Does that sound a bit jarring? Because in fiction it’s just as jarring, and in an action scene it effectively interrupts the flow as the reader has to figure out what just happened.
Purple Prose. We’re all writers, and we love words. It can be tempting to reach into one’s thesaurus to come up with beautiful and unusual words to perfectly capture the essence of our intent. Unfortunately, there’s no place for this in an action scene. Overwriting drags the pace of a scene down to a crawl as the reader has to try to follow the flow of action through a muddle of rich language. Along the same lines is the problem of the odd word choice. You may love the word conflagration, but a typical reader may not know it also means fire. I’m not saying don’t use rich language at all, but if a reader doesn’t know a word, it’s like hitting a roadblock as they look at it, go “Huh?” and have to deduce its meaning from the language around it.
Action Without Reaction or Consequence. In reality, if you get shot (and I hope you never do!), you’ll probably scream, piss yourself, vomit, go into shock, faint, or all of the above. On the other hand, heroes always seem to shrug off “minor flesh wounds,” tear off a strip of their shirt to bind them, and keep on going. This is what makes our heroes exciting: the ability to battle through pain that would reduce the rest of us to quivering piles of jelly on the floor. If your hero can be shot a dozen times and be fine later in the book, then what’s the point of her having been shot at all? Don’t forget the lasting consequences of wounds or injuries just because the action scene is finished.
Along the same lines, don’t forget that those chase scenes may leave dozens of innocent bystanders injured or killed, and cause thousands of dollars’ worth of property damage. Stray bullets from a gunfight can travel a long distance. If there’s no risk of consequence to the heroes, there’s no need for them to act like heroes. They can blow stuff up willy-nilly, which may be cool for the first five minutes, but will get boring and unrealistic quickly.
No Resolution. Finally, it’s important to remember that any Engagement or Sequence that fails to resolve even a minor plot point is completely gratuitous. A Sequence ought to resolve something major. If you have an idea for a car chase involving dump trucks and a drawbridge doesn’t mean you should put it in your book just because it looks cool. If nothing has changed for the plot between the moment the heroes climb into that dump truck and the moment the truck crashes to relative safety on the other side of the open drawbridge, you’re guilty of a Gratuitous Explosion. It doesn’t matter if it’s not an explosion. You know what I mean.

Critique #15

May 7th, 2011

The largest dog howled a war cry and the others lunged forward. Cecily screamed. She turned, took two steps and tripped over sagebrush. An arrow whizzed over her head, then another and another and another. All four dogs stumbled and fell.

Uncle North! Thank the winter brothers for Uncle North! [Formatting point: Later on you italicize thoughts. Make sure you’re consistent.]

Cecily pushed herself up and ran. She jumped over sagebrush and dodged juniper trees. She heard the dogs stagger to their feet, heard their howls, heard their paws thumping the ground. [Your repeated “heards” are slowing down the pacing of this moment.]

Then there were howls in front of her and Cecily realized where the four missing dogs were. [I thought the dogs had been shot from your opening sentences. You should clarify that they were not. Dogs are generally sure-footed animals, and for all four to stumble and fall together sounds contrived.]

She stumbled to a stop and stared at the dogs. She was surrounded. [Are these wild dogs or trained? I realize that’s probably covered outside this excerpt, but if they’re trained and have been ordered to hunt her down, I think they’d probably attack right away.]

I am going to die, I am going to die.

For some reason that realization gave her a sliver of courage and she remembered her hunting knife. [This has an emotional disconnect for me. How does her realization that she’s going to die suddenly make her courageous?] Her gloved hands fumbled for it and somehow managed to remove the blade from its sheath. She adjusted her grip on the knife and watched as the dogs circled her. Why didn’t they attack? [I’m glad to see that the character is asking herself the same question I am.]

Uncle North shot another arrow and it lodged in a dog’s back. The dog staggered and turned to look at Uncle North who was perched on the ridge. [This doesn’t work for me. A dog isn’t going to immediately look at the source of an arrow. In the dog’s mind, he’s find, and then he’s hurt. He’s going to whimper and try to snap at the thing stuck in his back. He doesn’t know it’s an arrow, or that it was shot at him from a distance. It’s just there.] The dog shook its head and turned back to Cecily. [And again, this is not a natural doggie response to an injury. If these are unnatural creatures, these might be adequate actions, but otherwise they don’t work.] Uncle North shot the dog again and hit its leg. The beast’s eyes flashed. [Like a flashbulb going off or is this a metaphor? I’m unsure these are dogs instead of demonic beasts (or something). You might clarify it a little more.] It snarled and turned and raced towards the ridge. [I know I keep bringing this up, but the dog has cornered prey right in front of it. Why is it turning to go after the distant man? Dogs don’t understand cause and effect.]

Instinctively Cecily bolted towards the hole it left. A dog on her left lunged to cut her off and she slashed at it. If she reached the mountain, she could climb to safety. [Is the dog going to hamstring her? How large are these beasts? A small dog would try to bite through her ankle, to hobble her and make her easier to knock down. A large dog would just try to bear her down and tear out her throat, intestines, or other soft tissues.

Also, unless this mountain is a sheer cliff face, dogs can climb it.]

Teeth sank into Cecily’s pant leg. She stumbled head first and flipped over. Her accidental summersault pulled her leather trousers from the beast’s mouth and somehow she was on her feet again [Don’t “somehow” it, show what happened.], racing blindly ahead. She almost ran into a massive boulder barring her path. No time to go around. She dropped her knife, found hand holds, and climbed the rock. It was fifteen feet high and much wider. She crawled to the middle, gasping for breath. Ten feet of rock on all sides, fifteen feet in the air. [This rock would have to have sheer sides for a dog not to be able to get onto it. Is it a natural rock or a carved piece of stone?]

She was safe.

A mangled scream, a human scream, sliced the air. Cecily lifted her head, saw Uncle North on the mountain ledge, clutching his leg. The dog with an arrow in its back slid down the mountain face. It hit the ground, crouched then sprang. It pushed off the vertical mountain halfway up and propelled itself just high enough to clamp down on Uncle North’s foot before it fell to the ground, pulling Uncle North with it.

Cecily’s arms buckled. That ledge was twenty-five feet in the air.

Cecily screamed as a dog jumped onto her rock. And then another. And another. They advanced. [These three 2- and 3-word sentences slow your pacing down significantly. In this case, the three brief sentences add nothing positive to your narration. I think if you were to expand them just a little, you would improve the narration without hurting the feel. Are the dogs panting? Drooling? How do their claws sound on the rock? Are they advancing to kill her?] She crawled away from them. Her hand slipped off the edge of the rock and she almost fell. She looked down. The others were waiting for her below. There was nowhere to go.

[You’ve got a basic structure of an action scene here, and what it’s really crying out for is some better pacing and stronger description. Every time you end a sentence, a reader will pause briefly (they won’t really notice, but read it aloud and you’ll see what I mean). Every time you end a paragraph, the reader pauses even longer. You have a lot of short sentences and single-sentence paragraphs in this excerpt, and that’s serving to bring your pacing to a crawl when the scene should really have a lot faster pacing.

You can add richer language and description to an action scene without harming the pacing. You have both dogs and Cecily stumbling. She crawls a couple times. I have no picture of these dogs or the setting from your excerpt. Again, this may be earlier in the narrative before this excerpt, but you could stand to give a little more information about it here.

Since you’re narrating in close POV, you could stand to add a little more emotional content as well. Cecily is terrified. Anybody would be – who wants to be torn apart by dogs? We’re in her head. Let us feel what she’s feeling.

Thanks for participating!] 

From the Department of Ian’s Fiction #3

April 27th, 2011

Pariah’s Moon now available!

Branded on his face and exiled following his forbidden affair with the Princess of Aelfland, Elven soldier Giele seeks redemption on the frontier across the ocean, but even fleeing half a world away isn’t far enough to escape the troubles that follow a marked man. He finds sporadic acceptance, even some measure of friendship, from a holy man, a drunken mage, and even a shopkeeper, but when he inadvertently crosses paths with a local gangster, the frontier is no longer safe. Giele accepts a surveying job for the railroad, but once in the wilderness, the gangster and his thugs ambush Giele and leave him staked out, wounded and dying.

Giele is rescued from certain death by an old native medicine woman and soon he finds himself immersed in the culture of the primitive but peaceful Horks. He begins to let go of the scars of his past, but the past hasn’t yet let go of him. When the gangster takes his hatred of Giele out on the Hork tribe, Giele realizes that his redemption has come at a terrible price, and a showdown is inevitable.

Available on Smashwords now and other ebook retailers soon!

Hey, look, another review!

April 24th, 2011

Blood on the Ice gets a whopping 5 stars from Ren! Read the full review here.

Why haven’t I posted anything new here? I’m getting ready for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference next weekend, and have a lot of ducks to get in a row before then. Also, nobody’s submitted any scenes for me to review, so I’m a little short on both time and new material. I’m hopeful to get a surge of new submissions in after the Conference, so if you’re thinking about it, send it now so you’ll be at the top of the queue.

From the Department of Ian’s Fiction #2

March 27th, 2011

Here’s another review for Blood on the Ice, posted by Jenn Zuko on Nerds in Babeland!

Some choice quotes:
“Healy’s snickering, boyish humor is a highlight of this novel—from the characters’ postmodern comments on vampiric pop culture to the hockey teammates’ constant good-natured trash talking to the wry snarkiness of the “narrator” (a lovely twist as to the identity of the narrator I won’t spoil for you, but wait for the delightful punchline) pull us through this story with tight action and a keen series of cliffhanger chapter endings.”

“Overall, this is a thrilling, funny read, and I highly recommend it.”

Get Blood on the Ice for only $2.99 at Smashwords, Sony, Diesel, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the Apple iBook Store (requires app)

My Insane Free Ebooks Deal

March 24th, 2011

Ok, here’s how it works. You go to www.ianthealy.com, click on the Ebook Store tab, and pick any story or novel from that list. Then you click on the Contact link and tell me 3 things: (a) What piece you want, (b) What ebook format you want-I have them all, and (c) Roughly how long it will take you to read. Then I will email your free ebook to you, with the following caveat: I ask you to post a review (it can be the same review) of that piece on four websites: Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads. When your reviews are posted, let me know, and you can claim any other of my ebooks for free by way of thanks. If you review that one, the cycle repeats. If not, I’m still grateful for the first review.

What do you think? It’s a easy way to get a whole library of free stuff, which would currently cost you $13 to otherwise acquire (and I’m adding new material all the time). For me, the reviews are a far more valuable currency at the moment than the royalties.

11. Types of Action Scenes: The Battle

March 5th, 2011

The Battle
or, “War is Hell!”

The Battle is, in my opinion, the hardest type of action scene to write well.  When you have to manage huge groups of people, of which your characters are a part, it’s a tricky process to keep them from getting lost amid all the action.

Dealing with large-scale combat requires a lot of planning on an author’s part.  Most authors want their hero or heroes to be instrumental parts of the battle.  That means they must be involved in whatever group is performing the penultimate act.  For example:  your heroes may be a unit of soldiers in World War II who have to destroy a German machine gun nest so the emergency supplies can advance.  There may be several units involved in the combat, but the author needs to focus on what the heroes are doing.

When planning your battle sequence, after you’ve divided up your armies into groups and missions, determine what the important plot points in the battle are.  If you need certain events to happen at certain times, plug them into your battle timeline and write from point to point, keeping the flow of action centered on your heroes.

Do not try to describe every single Stunt in a full-scale battle.  By creating a battle, you’ve already established there is a tremendous amount of action going on all around the characters, and the readers don’t need to be told what Soldier #38 is doing when he’s a thousand feet away from the heroes.  If what he’s doing is vitally important to the plot, you should have one of your heroes do it instead.

It’s easy to get caught up in the grand, sweeping events of combat and lose your characters.  Think of it as the difference between a wide-angle panoramic camera shot and a closeup in film.  The panoramic shot shows everything happening, but details get lost.  You may see great blasts of magic razing down troops, siege engines moving along the ground, buildings shattering.  But where are your characters?  Which of those tiny figures running around are the ones you’ve been writing about?  Remember, your story is still about people, not events, and if you succumb to the temptation to show off the scale of your epic battles without tempering them with closeup shots, you will lose your reader’s interest.  On the other hand, if you stick solely with closeup camera angles, keeping the narrative focused only on the heroes, you may lose the sense of scale.  Try to strike a good balance between them, say panoramic shots used early to establish the scene, and then lots of closeups on the heroes afterward.

Things happen in a battle which are independent of the heroes’ actions.  Some of these things may be the result of their actions, and some may change their actions.  In the example above of the World War II unit, their destruction of the machine gun nest will allow supply units to start crossing a bridge, but now they’ll be expected to provide covering fire.  On the other hand, German tanks may roll in at that moment and the machine gun nest isn’t the strategic point  that it had been.  Make sure your heroes adapt to the changing circumstances in a battle.  Remember that the things which happen elsewhere in a battle may have important or disastrous effects on your heroes, even if they don’t directly witness them.