In the thick of it…judging horror.

I’m about 10 shorts into judging for the Bleedingham Horror Film Festival. There are 30 entries for me to review. Several of the entries are student entries, which are really fun. Overall, the films are technically adequate to pretty decent. The acting is generally poor to, again, pretty decent. Story is where most entries fall short. I know it’s hard to develop story with a short, but it can be done.

Additionally, a little originality goes a long way. I see too many filmmakers who just want to make a film and don’t start with a decent story, or even a premise. With that in mind, I’m gonna make some observations. Every year there are recurring set-ups, situations and elements. I’m able to group some of them for you. Here goes:

The masked killer who is going around murdering people (usually women) for no reason.

The bedroom short–I’m in bed minding my own business, and there’s something in the shadowy closet!

The “he killed my cat!” revenge short.

The couple driving into the woods, setting up camp and getting killed (usually by the guy in #1 above) short.

The “Oops, I ran over someone and left. Now I’m going to get revenge killed by a ghost who hates hit-n-runners.”

The found footage flick where they should never have looked at the film.

The brilliantly art/horror film whose intellectual title has nothing to do with the indecipherable story.

Films with “night” in a title that adds nothing to the piece. Midnight, The Long Night, Dead of Night, Beware of Night, Hey, It’ Night!

One-word titles that just sound creepy, but…add nothing to the piece. Hunger, Lurking, Insatiable, Vitals, Death.

The “This is actually a music video, but it’s creepy speed metal so that counts as a horror short, right?” submission.

The overly explained legend that then, shockingly, happens to the person to whom it was explained.

This is a partial list of minor creative crimes and things I see too much. They’re not terrible things or offensive to my sense of filmmaking, but they’re things beginners can work to avoid and make their films better.

Happy filmmaking,


Judging the Bleedingham Horror Film Festival

Link to festival:

I will be a judge for the Bleedingham Horror Short Film Festival again this year, and it’s pretty great! I watch dozens of films that range from one minute to fifteen minutes long. The films are submitted by filmmakers from beginners to seasoned indie pros. Procedurally, I judge on a 1-10 scale in multiple categories based upon technical aspects (sound, editing, cinematography), story (my specialty) and the all-important “scary factor.”

It’s a joy to work with Michelle, Gary and Langley, who put on a great event at the beloved Pickford Theater here in Bellingham right around Halloween.

So what sort of stuff have I seen, being a judge? Well, I’ve seen funny animation where people get eaten. I’ve seen one-room ghost tales with a someone in a sheet…that actually worked. I saw a bowling alley horror film that incorporated a local legend. Stop-motion, which is always fun. Lots of serial killers, which gets old and, frankly, is often cliche and derivative…but hey, these filmmakers are learning. My advice is usually “learn to tell a good story and try not to start filming until you have one.” That’s what’s most often missing in the pieces I see. But I know how hard it is to make a movie, and so I give a lot of slack when I’m judging works that aren’t perfect. It’s all meant to be fun and encouraging. And it is.

Sooo, I have 21 films to watch already, and I’m off to do that!

The Enchantments

I recently went on a hike. Five miles up a mountain and then up a one-mile boulder field on a 30+ degree slope where we met mountain goats that were exhausted from the climb–at least they were resting and looked exhausted to me. And then we hiked another 15 miles. This would have been hard when I was young and spry, and I am no longer young.

Why am I blogging this on a writing site? Because these mountains are called The Enchantments (in Washington State – google them), and they looked every bit the part of a medieval story of the variety that I write. The Mapper series. Blade of the Forest. The Glorious Six. All of them could be set in these mountains, where an exhausted author slogged past crystalline lakes in which you could see the reflection of the peaks and freeze your feet in glacial runoff–though it felt great after crawling up a boulder field.

So this is the sort of place that inspires me when I write. I’m certain these images will pop up in future stories. For now I’m thinking foot massage, but in the coming year expect me to set some scenes on rock-strewn slopes with evil mutant goats watching from the cliffs, waiting for hikers to break a leg and lay helpless while they scamper up over the boulders and look down with hungry grins…

Anyway, it was awesome. And hard. And google it.

You’re welcome,


Indie Movie from Seattle Hits Netflix

I recently saw the indie movie Paper Tigers at the local Pickford Cinema.

Paper Tigers Trailer on Netflix

This is a delightful little indie movie, and some people I know in the film biz were involved in its production, so…bonus! If you like an indie feel and/or martial arts comedy, this is a movie for you. Aging ex-martial arts dudes must reunite to investigate the death of their mentor. It’s funny. Just imagine dads with sore backs trying to avenge someone. Matthew Page is a riot. And I love that it was made locally in the Northwest (and because Seattle is where I set my new novel, Monster Lawyer). Paper Tigers is definitely worth a look.


Everybody was kung fu fighting.

Those kicks were age-defying…

Werewolves Anyone?

I recently pulled the covers up and settled into bed with a spooky movie. And what’s the spookiest of the traditional big three monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman)? It’s werewolves. Claws down. Because they eat you. And there is no fear more primal to us animals than that of being eaten by another animal. It’s why Jaws is horrifying. But you can stay out of the water, and you can’t stay away from people who might become monsters at any moment.

Soooo, I pulled up the new release, Werewolves Within. Looked funny. Could be spooky. It’s night in my dark room. Plus the guy has a throwing axe in his hand. So I’m optimistic.

And I watched it.

Where to begin…(minor spoilers coming)

Opening scene is promising. I like scary. ’nuff said. Then Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub take over the movie, and they are fun. You might know Milana from AT&T commercials. She’s quite humorous and does a great job playing her character as plucky and attractive. Sam is super too. Funny and naturally friendly and cheerful. You gotta wonder if he is nice in real life or just darn good at playing nice. So these two carry the movie for about an hour, buoying the story for as long as they can among a cadre of characters who are so over the top they go past funny and into cliche (not so good).

The whodunnit…or whoisit…plot survives for a while, but the movie ultimately collapses under the weight of its unbelievability–both the overdone supporting characters and the decisions people make. Even in a supernatural setting, characters need to behave in a way that the audience will recognize as human nature. It’s how we connect with them. There is little connection here, and I was soon saying “no way…she wouldn’t do that…I don’t get it…say what?” Sam and Milana soldier on, but they can’t save it in the end. I’m all about story. I need a good story. And we don’t quite there here.

The movie is harmless fun (barring a couple bad stereotypes), so if you want a funny werewolf movie that has one scary scene and doesn’t require you to take it too seriously, go ahead and make some popcorn. Otherwise, I’m going to recommend rewatching American Werewolf in London.

Click link above for the AWL trailer.

Good job Sam and Milana, though. Keep scoring those roles.

My thoughts,


Mapping Monster Lawyer

I have been informed by the authorities that Monster Lawyer will have a very cool map of Seattle! The above picture is a fun example of a map of Seattle, but it is not THE map of Seattle you will see in Monster Lawyer, which will highlight dark and dangerous locations in the city that the common folk do not suspect are supernatural. I am excited to see what Blanvalet’s cadre of fantasy artists come up with. I will share when my evil overlords (or my editor) give me permission. 

Stay spooky,


I am currently reading…

I am currently reading (and enjoying) Ben Aaronovitch’s novel Rivers of London. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for urban fantasies, where the monsters walk among us!

Rivers of London is good stuff, with lots of supernatural fun and, of course, London. What a super setting. The tone is not quite as zany as Christopher Moore’s Dirty Job (set in San Francisco), but it is amusing in its own right. I love these books that explore famous cities well enough that the city essentially becomes a character in the story. They are eerily like my upcoming novel (summer ’22), which is an urban fantasy that explores the mysterious dark-n-rainy city of Seattle–the U.S. title is MONSTER LAWYER (because, yeah, I’m also a lawyer), and the German title is to be determined. Stay tuned, because I intend to take you on a monster-guided tour through the dark places in Seattle.

But back to Rivers of London. Great book. Check it out if you like urban fantasy.

Click “Home” above to go to Ben Aaronovitch’s page!

My best,


When Santa Met a Dragon (video)

Back when my kids were little (and before I was published) we created stories together. I just came across this short video gem–a heartwarming Christmas tale about my character Little Billy Bragon and his Dragon Wagon.

At the time, I was working as an attorney in the criminal division of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and writing fantasy stories at night trying to get published. Now our boys are 16 and 20, and I’ve published 13 novels, the next one due out next year with Random House in Germany.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

View Video –> Little Billy Bragon and his Dragon Wagon Meet Santa


Day in the Life…

Went from being a judge and MC for Bleedingham, Bellingham’s horror film fest, this weekend to holding really early office hours this morning with Wellsville Middle School in Kansas via Skype for their Career Chat series. Thankfully, the students were more alert than my blue buddy, Nikolai, who appears to be taking a nap. 😂

Authors: Want Sales Traction? Get Out Your Wallet.

Guest Blog by: Cara Landi Buckingham

Authors everywhere please take note. If you want to make writing a career, you might need to pay for it, and not just in blood, sweat and tears. My friends, you are going to need to set aside some cold hard cash to support your book sales, because while it is an honor to be published, it’s even better to be read.

My amazing author-husband (or husband-author), Royce, and I have come to this conclusion after 12 years of watching his books win awards, become bestsellers, get movie deals…or not. We also recently read an informative article about Author James Patterson’s brand-building method.

Writing books is a business, and part of running a business includes effective marketing and promotional efforts–hopefully with backing from the publisher. Reality check: the vast majority of the time (unless written by a celebrity or an author who is already a top seller) publishers don’t put a lot of money or effort into book promos. Support depends on the publisher. It might include a minimal amount of PR and, if you’re lucky, some point-of-sale items for book stores to use. If your book is lucky enough to be a lead title of a new imprint, you will definitely get more support.

I can say this with confidence, because some of Royce’s work has received fantastic support and–surprise, surprise–hit best seller lists, while others were released with little fanfare, resulting in fewer sales. Because of this reality, in one case we hired a PR firm to do a print/radio media and blog campaign to support his book, The Dead Boys. It was effective. Stay tuned for a blog entry with the clearly positive results of that self-funded campaign.

There are all sorts of articles advising authors on marketing strategies and tactics, with a range of costs associated with them. Understandably, in most cases authors take a DIY approach and opt for low to no-cost options. Here are some of the most popular suggestions:

  • Get reviews
  • Do a book store reading/signing
  • Send press releases to local media
  • Create a website
  • Send newsletters
  • Get on social media – you must devote all your waking hours Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, etc. etc….
  • Do school visits
  • Attend writing conferences
  • Present at writing conferences

These are all great, but the ROI on them individually is small. And collectively…don’t get me started. They take a TON of time to do and do well. How are you supposed to get any writing done? Let alone raise kids, have a day job, golf, garden, shower, etc. Additionally, some of them require networking and connections to which authors just don’t have access. Let’s face it, you are an author because you want to tell stories, not take random pot-shots at promotional efforts that might or might not move the needle on sales. And sales is what anyone in the industry cares about when you start pitching your second, third, and fourth books for a deal…if you get to book two.

So here is what Royce and I wish we had done years ago and have committed to as we move forward. We are creating a marketing fund with advances and royalties to consistently build audience and sales. This is essentially a dividend reinvestment model. Our efforts will be targeted and involve partnerships with industry professionals to create effective and coordinated campaigns that get his stories the exposure they need to sell.

Have you had a marketing revelation for your books? We’d love to hear them. Otherwise, stay tuned for the next blog exploring the possibilities of partering with your publisher.


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