The Horror Beneath Pale Mountain – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

As we penetrated deeper into the mountain’s interior the following day, the air grew warmer and more humid. The fungus on the cavern walls grew into larger shapes of ears, tubes and stools. The illumination from the fungus was as bright as twilight now and our eyes were so well adjusted we had no need for torches any longer save for reading.

We stopped for lunch in a level, open area of the cavern. I took the opportunity to study the fungus while the meal was being prepared and pulled three large fungal ears from the rocky wall. They came cleanly away and I discovered an outcropping of finger-sized gray crystals behind them. I called DePinto over to identify them as Professor Russell was receiving treatment from Dr. Baker for his blistered feet. DePinto approached me carrying an unlit lantern. Finding myself alone with him, I could not resist the opportunity to ask him a question that had been on my mind since first we’d met.

“So DePinto, I must know. How did you come by that wonderful nose of yours?” I asked.

“I was born with it.” He said, thumbing it with a wink. He handed me the lantern then fished in his pocket for a box of matches.

“Of course,” I said. “But it is so exquisitely crooked; surely that’s not solely the work of God.”

“You are very observant, my friend. In my youth, I met a man who endeavored to improve on God’s own design for my comely face using only his knowledge of pugilism and two very large fists.” He pulled a match from the box. “He did not invoke the name of the almighty at the time.” He struck the match and I lifted the lamp’s glass chimney. “But he was rather concerned with the honor of his beautiful fiancé, or rumored lack thereof.” He lit the lamp and took it from me.

“Rumored?” I asked.

“If I remember correctly, that rumor turned out to be true.” He said with another wink. The dancing nearly white light from the oil lamp revealed the true color of crystals I uncovered. They were not gray, as they appeared under the bluish-green fungal luminescence, but deep green. It was DePinto’s opinion they were emeralds and he removed a pencil-sized specimen with a hammer and hurried it over to Russell for confirmation. A moment later, Russell hobbled over in great haste on his bare, bandaged feet. DePinto and Drs. Keith and Baker followed him.

Russell let out a whistle when he saw the outcropping of crystals and he lingered a moment simply beaming at them. He confirmed they were emeralds and told us they were some of the largest naturally occurring precious gems he had ever seen. Dr. Keith let out a holler and slapped his thigh then took DePinto’s sample and hurried it over to Mr. Norman. Keith and Norman returned along with Norman’s granddaughter a moment later. Keith clapped his hand on my back and informed Norman that I had discovered the gems. Norman appeared delighted with the find and had DePinto remove another larger emerald which he immediately gave to his granddaughter. She smiled examining the gem in the lamp light, but it was a queer, closed-lip smile, almost a smirk. I looked at Baker and saw that he too had noticed her odd expression. The other men were distracted by the gemstone and paid her little mind. On reflection, I don’t know if her expression betrayed a foreknowledge of the events that were to unfold over the next few days, and the significance emerald was to have on both her and my future, or if she was simply a spoiled girl, beautiful and entitled to the world’s riches.

Norman pulled another small ear of fungus free from the crystals and looked it. He asked me if I had any specific information on what it was and whether or not it was poisonous or, efficacious. I explained it was an heretofore unknown variety and that I would need to examine it in a laboratory before I could draw any conclusions. Normally toxicity was determined by feeding samples to rats or other small mammals over a period of time but, as we had no animals along with us such a determination would have to wait.

We heard a general commotion in the camp behind us as speculation arose regarding my discovery. Keith sent DePinto to spread the word that all was well and he would be announcing good news over lunch. Indeed, his announcement did much to buoy the group’s morale as he declared our expedition a success and that each man would receive a substantial bonus once commercial mining commenced on his claim.

After lunch our descent was slowed as the path grew steeper and more treacherous. In many places, Tanner had to set up safety lines before we could proceed downward and by the time we made camp around 7:00 PM, everyone was exhausted from the increased physical exertion, and ready for supper save for two of the natives who appeared to be full of energy. This was particularly odd as both men were porters and had been carrying very heavy loads on their backs all day.

I noticed the two men speaking at length with Norman and his granddaughter as the others were setting up camp and going about the business of preparing the meal. After some time the pair approached me. I recognized the taller man as one of our interpreters and he asked me if I would be so kind as to point him toward more of the fungus that I had discovered earlier that day growing on the emeralds. I asked him what interest he had in it and he explained that he and the other man had eaten the ear that Norman had collected and that they believed it was the reason for their increased vigor and stamina.

I was shocked at the revelation and asked him why they had eaten a potentially deadly mushroom in the first place. The interpreter explained that they had used it to flavor their lunch and found it to be quite delicious. I told him such behavior with unknown fungus often proves to be fatal and that they were lucky their experiment had not killed them. He asked again if I would help them and I declined telling them I was busy with my work and that they should not, under any circumstance, be eating anything we find in the cave. The interpreter started to argue with me and I dismissed him, instructing him to take his friend and make himself useful with setting up the camp. Instead, they returned to Norman and soon Norman was approaching me.

“Why the devil don’t you point out that mushroom for them?” he asked me with a scowl.

“It’s dangerous. There’s no telling what effect the fungus will have on them long-term.”

“Clearly its beneficial,” said Norman. “Look how energetic they are!”

“How did they come by it in the first place Mr. Norman? Did you tell them to eat it?”

“Certainly not,” he said running his finger over his mustache. “I left it on a table without a thought before lunch and was unaware the two had taken any interest in it until The English speaker approached me moments ago. He told me he and the other man made a lunch of the thing and that they now wanted more. I suggested they speak to you about it.”

“They are not lab animals, Mr. Keith, they are human beings.”

“Of course I know that,” said Keith raising his voice. “But they’ve already eaten it once with no harm done, why not let them continue? There are treasures more precious than emeralds beneath this mountain and you yourself will share in the rewards.” He was smiling at me but I didn’t like the look of it.

“It’s too dangerous. Besides, months or years of laboratory work will be required before our discoveries can be proven safe and brought to market, Surely it’s not worth risking the lives of these men just to get an early glimpse into the future.”

“They’re just mushrooms!” he said, and then he turned and walked back to his tent.

The following morning it was clear my warnings had fallen on deaf ears as I witnessed the two porters harvesting large glowing mushroom ears from the cavern walls and giving them to the other natives. I hurried over to Dr. Keith and urged him to forbid the men from eating the fungus as they were under his employ. He shrugged and told me it was too late. The natives had been up before us and had already been feeding on the queer mushrooms for half an hour.

A shot rang out from across the camp followed by a shrill screeching and bleating sound. A man yelled and Dr. Keith and I drew our revolvers and rushed toward the sound. More shots followed and a chorus of screeching echoed throughout the cavern. As we closed the distance I was struck by an horrific, rancid fishy odor and upon approaching the commotion, saw a man on the ground squirming in a pool of inky-black liquid. Bowers stood near him, firing a Winchester repeating rifle into a mass of undulating tentacles that was ascending the cavern wall. Another repugnant creature lay dying a few yards away clacking its beak-like mouth. It aimed what looked like its face in our direction and let loose a stream of its fishy smelling ink which landed harmlessly to our left. I put a bullet through its eye and it fell still.

Doctor Baker arrived and I noticed the man in the black liquid had ceased moving. “Help him!” I shouted, and then I took aim at the creature climbing the wall and emptied my pistol into it. It clung to the wall a moment and then fell and landed with a wet crunching sound. Its loathsome tentacles writhed for a few moments then it was still.

“There were more of them. They crawled in there,” said Bowers pointing his rifle at a crevice in the cavern wall about fifty feet above us. “At least three more. What in God’s name are they?”

Baker dragged the wounded man out of the black pool and was doing his best to wipe the ink from his face. “Water,” he yelled toward the camp. A porter loped over with a jug which Baker took and uncorked. He hefted it and poured its contents over the wounded man’s head and face. I could see it was DePinto by his unmistakably crooked nose. “Help me get his shirt off” said Baker.

“Keep on the lookout,” I said to Bowers as I knelt down. I put a hand on the back of DePinto’s neck to hold him upright and Baker ripped the ink-soaked shirt open and pulled it off of him. His upper body was completely black with the stuff.

“It’s poison…” said Baker, “…a paralytic.” He doused DePinto’s torso with water again and wiped away as much of the ink as he could with his bare hands, then he sat back, holding his hands up. They were completely limp. I saw his eyes roll back in his head and then he toppled over, unconscious.

I lay De Pinto down then rolled Baker over onto his back and loosened his collar.  My own hands were going numb where they had touched the ink and I washed them off, then poured water over Baker’s hands and called for another jug. I heard screams coming from the other side of the camp. I tried to stand up but instead, I toppled over next to Baker.

I closed my eyes and soon was completely paralyzed, lying face down on the cold rock. I heard more gunfire, screaming and shouting. The sounds slipped farther and farther away as I fought to maintain consciousness then there was nothing.

To be continued…

Thou Shalt Not Plan

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

“Success is what happens in other peoples’ lives while you’re busy making plans.” – L. Britt Ervin

When you listen to successful people talk about how they made it, they usually talk about hard work and overcoming obstacles, making the right connections, trying, failing, trying again, and equal parts luck and labor. What you almost never hear them talk about is finally figuring things out, planning everything, and then succeeding. Usually, they succeeded, and then, if they think about it, they can see how it all fell into place.

Many of us stall out at the planning stage. We feel like if we just had a little more information, if we could just figure out the tricks, and the secrets and the game plan, then we could take a really good crack at being successful, but its hogwash. It’s the success killer. Unless you are embarking on a military invasion or launching a multi-million dollar mass-market product, success comes from doing not from planning.

When I was in college I wanted to be in a band. Starting a band is one of the easiest things in the world to do, especially if you’re at college. I knew hundreds of musicians who all wanted to be in a band but weren’t. Why not? They never said “I’m starting a band. Do you want to be in it?” I said it the first day I moved into the dorm and we had a band up and running before classes started. I didn’t wait to figure it out because it didn’t matter. Starting a band is about deciding and doing not about figuring and planning.

A couple years ago I knew a guy who was making all these plans for how his band would be successful. He was working on the website. He was planning to play at the Palyboy Mansion and have a live webcast that would make them famous, and his band would break big because of all of his plans. At that time his band was just him.

“How many songs do you have written?” I asked.

“Ummm…”

“If Rick Rubin called you today and said he wants you in the studio next week to cut your record, how many songs could you record?”

“Ummmm, none.”

The problem is you can’t make a hit out of a song that doesn’t exist no matter how much you plan ahead of time. You can’t figure out a way to make something happen with art without first making the art.

Music was EASY for me. I didn’t have to plan. Punk Rock and New Wave had been around for years so I had no fear that I had to be as good as Rush or Van Halen. I just had to write cool songs and not give a fuck. So I did. Here’s the secret knowledge you need to be in a successful college band in Indiana circa 1988 in case you want to make your own plans:

A)     Start a band

B)     Write three songs and record a demo

C)     Take the demo to every bar in town and book a show

D)     Play a dorm dance or two and be different

Not much of a plan, is it? When other people were putting together their plans of how they were going to have a band, we just put our band together and started. When everyone else wanted to sound like R.E.M. our only rule was to never sound like R.E.M. We were all strangers, four very different people who just jumped in and did it and within a few weeks we had gigs. Within a year we were packing local clubs about once a month and ended up playing in front of thousands of people. My band was a hit and we did not plan it. Neither did the other popular bands in town.

But like I said, music was easy and I felt no shame in just going for it before I got good. I knew doing it was how you got good.  I did not, however, remember this lesson when I moved into different mediums. Then, I was sure I had to plan it all out. There was something I needed to know and if only I could figure it out, then I could be successful. So I learned and I planned and I figured and I created at a snail’s pace. I wrote and rewrote a screenplay and short stories and I even shot and directed a pretty good pilot for a web series that I ended up not putting on the web for folks to see because I hadn’t figured it all out yet so I waited, of course.

I had to figure out how to get my film financed, I had to figure out how to make everything perfect before getting it out in front of anyone who could say “yes” or “no.” I had to make plans and solve the mystery of it all. But the only mystery was what the hell happened to me and why wasn’t I treating my writing and directing like I treated my band?

It’s simple really. It’s because now, it mattered. I cared how people would react to my stories and my screenplay and web series. I felt like my work wasn’t good enough yet, but someday, with more time and planning, then, I’d be ready and – it was all in my head. Self sabotage. I went from being the guy whose scrappy bar band would not feel intimidated opening for the Stones, to being the guy so worried about failing that he never got his work in front of anyone who could do anything with it.

Earlier this week I posted part one of my series “The Horror Beneath Pale Mountain.” I was planning to wait until the story was done, then I was going to edit and rewrite and polish it. I woke up one morning and said “fuck it, get it out there.” If people like it, I can polish and rewrite it later, or not. If they don’t, then it’ll be a good thing that I didn’t waste any more time on it. I threw out the plan and put my art out there. People showed up, many liked it enough to follow my blog.

Planning to finish your work is very important. Figuring out a time when you can work on it every day is very important. Beyond that, planning and figuring is just waiting for the stars to align and they probably never will.  Plan on finishing and releasing a project every two-three weeks, or months even and your likelihood of making a hit will go way, way up. The more chances you give people to say yes to your work, the more likely you are to get that yes.

Thou shalt not plan. Thou shalt do.

So go and do and let me know what you did.

All the best,

Lad

How and Why to Fail at Kickstarter

In December, 2012, I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a product based on an intellectual property (IP) I am creating. The project was called Bunny and the Missing Monster and it did not meet its funding goal of $25K. It was to be an interactive story-book application for PC, Mac, and mobile devices. You can find out more about it here if you like.I believe that there are many reasons why my project did not meet its funding goal. I was aware of most of them prior to launching it, and I decided to move forward with it anyway for numerous reasons. Here are what I think were the four biggest obstacles to its success:

Why my Kickstarter campaign failed to fund

First, and perhaps worst for a creative project on Kickstater, I’m not already an internet celebrity or famous person, and my project had not already been successful elsewhere. There is no built in audience just waiting to snap up the new addition to my IP’s family, or my next big thing.  An internet cartoonist named Ryan North, who has a large fan following, recently launched his “choose your own adventure” type book project called To Be Or Not To Be:That Is The Adventure, and raised over $580K (It was a book based on Hamlet which also qualifies him for a spot under the next listing). Bunny is not famous and neither am I. I could find no workable, legal way to get either of us to be famous before launch, so I just went ahead anyway.

Second, my story is not a retelling of a cherished (in the public domain) classic tale, nor was I ripping off someone else’s intellectual property to make a “fan-fiction” book, parody,  or web series. One is far less likely to achieve financial success by launching a new IP than they are by working with an existing, successful IP. This is why all the big movies we get today are sequels and franchises. Hollywood is not out of new ideas, audiences just don’t support new ideas enough for studios and producers to invest in them very often. New ideas are bad business – in the short run. A recently concluded Kickstarter campaign raised over $64K for a woman to do a graphic novel based on Peter Pan. Another campaign that is ongoing and has surpassed its goal  with almost $25K pledged at the time of this writing, is for an “unauthorized” web series about Batman’s sidekick Robin.  I chose to work on and promote my own IP – It’s a much tougher, longer road to success.

Third, my project was for a format that is new and not widely understood. I’m creating an interactive story. “Huh? Is it a video game?” No. “Is it a graphic novel?” Nope. “Well it’s for the iPad, it must be a game!” No, seriously it is exactly what I said it is in the presentation: ‘an interactive story that lets you pick your own path – just like a choose your own adventure book but with nice animations, sound effects and music!’  “Nah… you lost me. I think I’ll go pledge to that Peter Pan graphic novel, I KNOW what a graphic novel is.” Yep, it’s a hard sell when you’re selling something folks don’t understand.

Fourth, the funding goal of $25K might have been perceived as being too high by visitors to the project page. After all, the median household income in the US in 2006 was just over $50K per year. But, if I was creating this project for a client, the fee would exceed $200K, so I felt my $25K goal was not excessive. Also, a similar project funded for over $44k last June. I work in the software biz. It is not cheap to make this kind of stuff. This is way more work than putting together a graphic novel or a web series (most web series, anyway). But nobody pledging cares how much work goes into something (nor should they), they only care about its perceived value. That perceived value goes up if you are already internet famous, or if you’re using an established IP, as I stated above.  Costs is costs however, and committing to doing this project for under $18K, which is about what I would have received had the project met its goal, after paying for all the fees, taxes and rewards, would have been foolish. I set the funding goal where I did because it was the bare minimum amount I needed to finish the project. Win or lose, you go cheap, you regret it later.

There’s other recipe for failure topics I could go into, but those were the biggies. But WHY then, WHY did I post the project knowing the odds were very much against it ever getting funded? Simple, there were a number of good reasons, both personal, and for the IP and each of them was a success:

Why my failed Kickstarter campaign was a great success

First, more people have seen my Kickstarter campaign than ever knew about my other projects that didn’t made it to market. I am endeavoring to make a name for myself as a creator not just a creative business professional. I’ve had a successful career in production and marketing, mostly because I’m very creative. Still, I’m thought of only as a “marketing guy” or a “production guy” by many of the folks I’ve worked with, not as a “creator guy.” In order to be thought of as a “creator guy,” I need to have a number of things I’ve personally made out  in the world where people can find them. Launching Bunny on Kickstarter got the project out there. I previously spent four years producing and co-writing a movie that almost got made (thanks 2008 financial crash!). I’ve spent years on other projects that have yet to surface. Nobody cares about screenplays that haven’t been produced or games that haven’t made it to market. During my Kickstarter campaign for Bunny, I was contacted by a representative from MAXON, the makers of the professional 3D modeling and animation software I used to create much of the project. They saw the promo and wanted to talk to me about my work and helping me to promote it. Now I look forward to developing a long-term professional relationship with them. If I hadn’t launched the project, they would not know anything about me. By the way, Cinema 4D is a fantastic product and the folks who work there, and their user community are second to none, thanks guys!

Second, I’d rather fail on Kickstarter with a project I put together in six weeks than fail in an App store with a project I worked on for six months. If it don’t have legs on Kickstarter, it’s probably not going to set the world on fire in general release. The project, as-is,  just didn’t capture the hearts and minds of the general public. A very low percentage of the people who viewed the promo video decided to pledge. That’s a clear message. I need to do more. It’s not ready for prime time. I need to build the IP and the brand then reach out when people understand what it’s about.

Third, how do you get noticed under a crushing tsunami of content? – Go somewhere else. Figuring out the chicken and egg of establishing a new IP in a hyper-saturated environment is a daunting task. How do you get the word out without a large marketing and PR budget? There’s simply less clutter on Kickstarter than on any other major launch platform that I’m aware of. According to YouTube, over 103,000 hours of video are uploaded to their site every day. You think you’ll get noticed?  You may hit the lottery too. Hundreds of new apps make it to the iOS and Android app stores every day. Both stores claim they now have over 700,000 apps available. Wow – just TRY to get noticed there all by yourself. No thanks. Also, most apps never earn more than $8.5K per year for their publishers, which means most apps lose a lot of money. So, launching on mobile, you face more work and bigger loses. Been there, done that. Trust me, for the vast majority of software developers, failing at a Kickstarter campaign would be getting off easy compared to making an app for a mobile device.

What else? Bunny was chosen as an official Kickstarter Staff Pick. Now that is something I can use. It is a credential that I covet. Less than 8% off all the projects on Kickstarter are chosen to be a staff pick (such was the case when Bunny was live). This is something I can use when pitching the screenplay or other projects for Bunny to investors. That, to me is great validation and it is gold.

While the project’s funding was not successful, creating and launching the project still achieved many of my goals, and I feel it was well worth the effort. Bunny and I also received enormous support from many individuals throughout the campaign, and for that I will be eternally grateful to them. This will not be the end of Bunny, I’m currently 80% of the way through a first draft of a live-action screenplay for a Bunny feature film and I plan on developing the IP further. I have no regrets, I did a bunch, learned a bunch and had a great time doing it. Would that everything in my life went as well as my “failed” Kickstater campaign.

What do you think? Am I delusional or do I make some good points? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your own projects, Kickstater and otherwise.

All the Best,

LBE

New Shorts

A few weeks ago, I finished up and posted a project on Kickstarter and after months of working on very big, extremely time consuming projects, I was ready for something new. I decided to spend at least six weeks writing short stories with the intent of either posting them on my blog or submitting them to publishers (magazines or websites) in the appropriate market. The first story was done in under a week and after an unprecedented amount of positive feedback from my trusted circle of friends and fellow writers, I followed the suggestion of three dear friends and submitted my work to the Writers of the Future contest. Submissions go to the judges with just the title on the manuscript and not the author’s name because they want the contest to be as unbiased as possible. Because of this, I won’t list the story’s title, or what it’s about until after the contest is over. I submitted on December 31st and promptly received an email confirmation from the contest director which included an expected timetable for judging, selection and announcements, all happening around April-May, 2013. I intend to post my results, when appropriate, regardless of the outcome.
The first story was a multi-layered sci-fi gem with deep social connotations, a thought-provoking commentary on life, society, and what it truly means to be alive. My next story has none of that balderdash and is a straightforward horror pulp adventure. It’s called The Horror Beneath Pale Mountain, and I intend to publish it here first, dear reader, in serial form, as a loving gift to you. I’m currently 5000 words into it, and it’s shaping up to be the length of a novelette, or perhaps even a novella.

Many thanks and all the best,

Ladd