Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Funding a horror movie project is not for the faint of heart!

I want to pick up where I left off on this SKINWALKERS movie thing. There have been a lot of changes since the last update, one of them being a name change to THEY WHO WALK AMONG US.

In case you forgot, here's the logline for the story: A young music star is forced to use her clairvoyant gifts to save her teenage sister from an ancient supernatural force that is terrorizing their North Carolina home town.
The reason for this name change is that the SKINWALKERS name had already been used by several movies and TV shows. The new name is based on the same Navajo mythology—He who walks among us on all fours—is basically the English translation of "yee naaldooshii," or Skinwalker. We just tweaked it a little to fit the story.
With the last post, I talked about filming here in my hometown, where the true events took place. Unfortunately, that's no longer feasible, for a host of reasons, not the least of which are the loss of the tax incentives for movie makers in North Carolina. Hopefully we will get those back in the future.
When I first wrote the screenplay, I had figured on a budget of no more than $500,000, which is still a hell of a lot of money, but is considered a low budget for a film. With all of the entities now involved in this project, that budget has ballooned all the way up to $4 million, and deflated all the way down to $300,000. Now it is pretty solidly settled somewhere in the middle.
Getting there, however, has been quite the roller coaster ride. Back in Feb. 2017, I had just hooked up with Billy Lewis of Orange Street Films and we were deep into the process of making the script as good as it could possibly be.

Enter producer Jonathan Landau (no, not the guy who produced Titanic!) who had helped Billy produce his latest film, THE TERRIBLE TWO. Once I had incorporated the changes that Billy asked for in the screenplay, Jon jumped on board and helped hone it even more. We worked on it for a solid six months, got coverage from a couple of Hollywood producers and eventually said, "Okay, it's done!" At least for now.
This being my second screenplay, I have learned that nothing is ever really 100% done. Other producers will request changes, actors will have input, even distributors will want to add or remove things from the script.
First we had to incorporate, which meant getting a lawyer, filling out lots of papers, and agreeing on who would do what.
Once that was done, we all three made phone calls to various people, Jon and Billy to their business connections, and me to...well, anyone who would listen. We eventually teamed up with another producer named Reid Doyle, who played one of the leads in THE TERRIBLE TWO, and a couple of production companies based in Raleigh, who really loved the screenplay.

Then, it was time to find the money.
We have managed to get a great actor on board, Jesse C. Boyd, who stars in the hit TV Series "Day 5," and an amazing special effects make-up guy named Damian Fisher, who has worked on movies like "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Suicide Squad," "Captain America: Civil War," "Ant Man," "Jurassic World" and more.
One of the first ways we raised money was through a Go Fund Me campaign. We ended up raising over $5,000 through that, plus another $5,000 from a private investor, which really helped get the ball rolling.
We have basically spent the last year making phone calls, taking people to dinner, doing fundraisers, sending emails - anything we can to help fund this movie. Jon, Billy and Reid even drove down to Elizabeth City from Wilmington to do a private showing of their new film, THE TERRIBLE TWO, where we met up with one of our executive producers/investors, my band-mate and friend, Barret Kidd. We had a great time!
So now, here we are a year later, on the verge of finalizing our budget and beginning pre-production, which I will be blogging about in the coming weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why I'm making a movie in Elizabeth City

A lot of people have been asking me this: Why am I putting myself through the hell of trying to get my own movie funded?  Well, the answer is simple: I want to give back to my community. They have supported my books and my music endeavors over the last 20 years, so I figured, hey, let's do something that will benefit them as well as me.

I have been trying to sell screenplays for the last couple of years. My first one required a budget that was much too big for any Hollywood types to get behind, and going indie was out of the question because it couldn't be made well on an indie budget.

So I changed my tactics and wrote a screenplay that could be made on a smaller budget. Hence, my latest story, a supernatural mystery/thriller called SKINWALKER, based on an actual event that happened right here in my town over 100 years ago.

As of this moment I have a wonderful director, Billy Lewis, and a production company, Orange St. Films, on board, as well as the local arts council and several business owners. 


Many people have offered their businesses and homes as locations for the film, and this town is ripe with people who love the performing arts - there are three different theatre groups in Elizabeth City alone, and even more in nearby towns. Elizabeth City is a beautiful waterfront community, perfect for filming a movie.

I have the screenplay, the production company, the arts council, local businesses - everyone is on board. But we still need the money!

I just ask that you go take a look at our Indiegogo page and check out the perks available to contributors at all levels - even just $5 gets your name mentioned in the film credits!

Please, help out your fellow thespians, your fellow citizens and help put Elizabeth City on the map by supporting its first full-length feature film! Click below for details!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

My leap into the film industry!

I wrote a screenplay. Then I re-wrote the screenplay. Then I re-wrote the re-write. When I finally got it where I wanted it, I began to send it off to film industry managers, agents and producers. I got a few bites. A lot of reads. But no offers. I even split it in half and made it into a pilot TV episode and a second episode. Any takers?


You would think that after eight successfully published books, someone would be interested in my screenplay, which was based on my most successful book.

Nope again.

Two years and over a hundred emails later, I said the heck with it. I'll write another screenplay, this one with a lower budget in mind, and get it made myself.

Fast forward to SKINWALKER, my latest movie project. 

SKINWALKER is based on the true story of a young woman who was murdered here in Elizabeth City back in 1901. Although her boyfriend was tried and convicted of the crime, it was on circumstantial evidence, and the case has been considered unsolved ever since. It has been said that her ghost haunts the house where she last lived. My screenplay is based on those two plot points - how did Nell really die, and is her ghost still in that house, unable to move on because of unanswered questions?

The answer I give in my screenplay is quite terrifying and based upon an actual legend. Which I think is totally awesome! But of course I would think that, because it's my screenplay.

So here I was with a screenplay and...well, what now? Since I was going the indie route, that meant I would have to do everything myself. 


Well, I managed to get all my books published, so I figured what the heck, maybe I can find a production company that would be willing to take this baby on.

That was when I discovered Billy Lewis and Orange St. Films. Billy is an amazing dude - screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, director - he does it all. He already has two movies in the can, the first one with actor C. Thomas Howell (THE JAILHOUSE) and the second one (THE TERRIBLE TWO) in the process of getting distribution.

So far, the process has been an amazing learning experience. Getting people interested in helping out is easy. Getting people to give up their hard-earned money to help fund the movie? Not so much.

If you would like to help make this dream a reality, support indie filmmaking and also get some great perks like  DVD with behind the scenes documentary, a signed copy of the screenplay, or even a part in the movie, please support our Indiegogo page!


Monday, May 9, 2016

Kindle Scout vs. traditional publishing

I am a traditionally published author taking my first dive into Amazon's Kindle Scout pond, and even though the water was cold at first, I'm slowly acclimating.

For those of you not familiar with Kindle Scout, here's a little blurb about the program from Amazon.com: "Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It’s a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing."


Just for added incentive, anyone who votes for a book that is selected gets a free copy upon publication. Pretty sweet!

So it's pretty cut and dried. The contract is simple enough that even a non-business-minded lunkhead like me can understand it. It was suggested to me by an author friend of mine who also took the plunge, and it paid off for him in a big way. I'm hoping some of that success is still floating around in the water like an amoeba  waiting to attach itself to my brain stem. 

The authors that I have met on Kindle Boards who are treading water with me have been pretty amazing in supporting me and each other so we all don't drown like a bunch of...uh...drowning people. From what I can gather, the majority are previously self-published. I tried that once, with bad results. I felt like a fish flopping around on a hot sidewalk. I decided not to do that again. So every book I have in my back-catalogue is traditionally published by small to medium-sized presses. I'm not a best-seller by any stretch, but I could definitely be considered a mid-lister. 

So, with my latest book, RED RABBIT, I changed direction slightly. Most of my books are sci-fi/horror/military thrillers usually with some type of supernatural overtones. Think James Rollins meets Dean Koontz. RED RABBIT has been labeled an occult detective thriller, more along the lines of James Patterson meets Dean Koontz. So see, Koontz is still there, but Rollins has been replaced by Patterson. Get it? It's still thrilling and it still has horror, but the sci-fi aspect is pretty much non-existent. 


So that led to a lot of head-scratching on the part of publishers. "Um, yeah, the writing is great and everything but...well...huh?"

I actually did land a publisher for it, but the book was too much for them to handle and they decided to go out of business. (Okay, it wasn't because of my book, but it felt like it.) So it was back to sending the manuscript to publishers. Then, my agent decided my book was too much for her, and she decided to change professions altogether. (Okay, it wasn't because of my book, but...well, you get it.)

So here I was with no agent, no publisher, and a brand new book with no home. So my friend says, "Hey, Toby, why not submit to Kindle Scout and become fabulously wealthy and famous like me?" So I said, "I never heard of Kindle Scout." 

I looked it up and liked what I saw. It seemed like a boon for unknown authors and people like me who are traditionally published but who have a book that hasn't found a home.

Of course, there are ground rules for submitting which, if you don't follow, pretty much dooms your chances from the beginning.  You have to provide your own cover, which should be professional-grade. Nobody is going to pick up a book with a crappy cover. They ask that it be professionally edited, which means I was already ahead of the game since I went through extensive edits with my first agent. Once all that is done, you submit your book and wait for approval, which in my case took only a few hours. 

Once your book and the related info is posted on their site, the waiting begins. The campaign lasts for 30 days, during which it's up to the author to get as much traffic to the site as possible and rack up nominations. If you're lucky enough to hit the "Hot and Trending" list, which I did the first two days, then you will hopefully get noticed by the people at Kindle Press.

My friend suggested making a few posts on Facebook and leaving it at that. Well, I believe in the old saying, "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing," so I bought a Facebook ad and ran a HeadTalker campaign. The page is getting pretty steady views and my other books have even started selling again. I'm getting a ton of hits on Facebook, too, so it's all working for the best. Even if I don't get picked for publication, I'll have all those new fans from the campaign. It's a win-win in my view.

So, if the book doesn't get picked, I may either shelve it or let my agency try to sell it again. I'm already working on the sequel, plus another book in another series, so I've got some things lined up. I will keep you posted on how it all turns out.

The campaign runs until May 21, so if you feel so inclined, you can vote here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/9Z4U8ZESJ4LH.

If you want to be part of my Headtalker campaign, just sign up here: https://headtalker.com/campaigns/red-rabbit/

Remember, if you vote and my book gets chosen for publication, you get a free copy! What could better than that? Okay, free money might be better. But then you would just use it to buy my book, right? Right!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Interview with Associate Literary Agent Tara Carberry of Trident Media Group

Update 4/1/16: Tara has taken a non-agent job and will be leaving TMG. I'm sorry to see her go - she did a great job for me! And no, this is not an April Fool's joke!  

I've only worked with Tara a short time (my former agent, MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, left to start her own agency), and I feel very fortunate. She's a real go-getter and a pleasure to work with. Also, being a newer agent, Tara is currently building her client list, so this is a great time to query!

Q: What led you to become an agent at Trident Media Group?

A: I earned a Masters degree in English at Columbia University, and then completed internships at Norton and Perseus Books Group before landing at Trident as a literary assistant. Having the internship experience at two very different publishers has proven incredibly valuable, but I quickly realized that being on the agency side ignited more passion and excitement for me. I was promoted to Associate Agent last year and am now enjoying the constant challenges, rewards, and surprises of growing my own client list.

Q: What are some of your favorite things about being an agent?

A: My favorite thing about being an agent is the thrill of discovering new talent. The moment when I’m reading a submission and realize, “Okay, this person can really write,” is one that makes everything worthwhile. As a new agent, I’m working with many new authors, and the shared excitement of pursing new opportunities and reaching new goals or milestones for my clients is very rewarding for me. 

Q: Is it all about the writing, or do you feel that agents and writers should connect personally, as well?

A: I think it is mostly about the writing, but I wouldn’t totally discount a personal connection. As anyone with an agent can tell you, it is a very close working relationship. I’m typically in contact with my clients on a weekly if not daily basis, so at the very least it’s good to have compatible communication and general working styles.

Q: What do you like to see in a query letter? What do you not like to see?

A: Likes: A strong hook; clear, concise writing; understanding of where the book will fit in the marketplace and who the reader is; demonstrated commitment to overcoming hurdles and building a presence as an author (for example, you might be part of a writing group, have won writing awards, have an active social media account dedicated to your writing, or all of the above).

Dislikes: Queries that are too long; overconfidence (ie “This will be a #1 bestseller and a blockbuster film and you’d be a fool not to give this book a chance.”); leading with personal information and not the story synopsis; books that have already been self-published – unfortunately, unless you have massive sales numbers, the odds of a traditional publisher picking up a self-published book these days are very, very slim. 


Q: How do you get most of your clients—slush pile, referrals or writers conferences?

A: All of the above plus I will sometimes approach writers myself if they are unagented or, in the case of non-fiction, seem like they have a great story to tell. 

Q: Describe some of the more outrageous things authors have done to get your attention. 

A: This happened when I was still an assistant, so it was for my boss at the time and not me, but we once had someone FedEx a hand-drawn map of their fictional world to accompany their query. It was complete with burned edges and artful rips and crinkling to make it look aged. A for effort!

Q: Are you open for submissions?

A: Absolutely!

Q: Is one time of year better than another for sending queries? 

A: No. There are times when my inbox is overflowing and it may take me longer than usual to get to each query (sorry queriers!) but I do read each one and I am grateful to receive them at all times of the year.

Q: What genres are you currently seeking?

A: I am looking for women’s fiction, thrillers, romance, horror, literary fiction and lifestyle nonfiction.

Q: Why do you feel it’s important for an author to have an agent? 

A: The publishing world requires a lot of authors today: they not only must write great books but they must understand how to connect with their audiences. It is a challenging and evolving business and, in my opinion, it is more important than ever for an author to have a knowledgeable, trustworthy agent in his or her corner. A dedicated agent allows them to not only focus on what is most important (ie, writing and growing an author platform) but also provides strategy for developing an author brand that can sustain a long career. Agents often wear many hats and, I believe, have a lot to offer authors at all stages of their careers.
Q: Where should writers send queries?

A: Submissions should go through the Trident website: http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/contact-us

Thanks Toby!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Putting Ordinary Characters into Extraordinary Circumstances

Let’s face it—everyone knows that wizards and superheroes have an advantage when fighting the forces of evil—the advantage of supernatural powers. But what about us mere mortals? What chance do we have? Admittedly, not a very good one. But isn’t that a great way to ramp up a story’s excitement factor?

Take F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series. As a college student, Jack’s mother is murdered by a vandal and Jack commits his first act of vigilantism by giving the vandal his “just desserts.” He begins to do various “fix-its” for people who have problems the police can’t seem to solve. This often leads to confrontations with supernatural creatures which he faces using nothing more than his human wits.

Jonathan Maberry's Joe Ledger series is another great example of a mortal caught up in a bizarre, chaotic world—a world of zombies created through bio-terrorism. As a former police detective and U.S. Army Ranger, Ledger has skills, but no magic bullets or supercharged reflexes. He’s just a dude with human strengths and weaknesses. And that’s what makes it interesting.

There are other examples of the normal vs. the paranormal in shows I grew up with as a kid, The Night Stalker being one—Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchek, a rumpled mess of a news reporter who always seemed to end up fighting supernatural creatures, including vampires and werewolves. Somehow, Carl always came out on top, albeit a little worse for the wear.

As a reader, I have an easier time identifying with characters like that than I do with, say, Thor or Captain America. Nothing against those guys—I’m a huge fan of Marvel—but I love to see normal people kicking paranormal ass. I guess that’s what led me to write a book like THE CAIN PROPHECY (yeah, you saw that coming, didn’t you).

 CIA operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln and her partner, Gordon Powers, must find and destroy a ruthless, superhuman assassin known only as Cain. Although Gabe is intelligent and lethal, she is no match for Cain, who belongs to a race of beings that populated the earth long before humans came along. Let me just give an example of how brutal Cain is—in one part of the story, he kills a Saudi special ops guy by ripping out his spine. Not someone you want to screw with.


Gabe and Gordon, along with a team of former special ops soldiers, are forced into a showdown with Cain amidst a sea of sand dunes, beneath a blinding sun in the blast furnace known as the United Arab Emirates. Human against superhuman, natural versus supernatural. Even with all their technology, Gabe and Gordon and their team are barely a match for Cain. Who will be the victor? Buy my book and find out! Available Nov. 10 wherever books are sold! (Got another plug in there! Woohoo!)

I’ll probably always use characters like Gabe and Gordon. I like writing stories that show the strength of the human spirit and our ability to persevere against seemingly insurmountable odds. Like a quasar in a black hole, we are at our brightest when the pressure is at its most intense.

For more info on me and my writing, check out my website at www.tobytatestories.com or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  THE CAIN PROPHECY is endorsed by Bestselling Authors Jonathan Maberry, Steve Berry and A.J. Tata. Look for it on Nov. 10!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Thrillerfest X and What I Learned from Clive Cussler, Lee Child and Nelson DeMille – Keep the Love Alive!!

One of the first authors I saw last weekend while in Manhattan for Thrillerfest X was Clive Cussler. He looked older and frailer than I had imagined, but his spirit and wit was that of 30-year-old. He regaled the audience with his many stories and had me laughing until I cried. It was awesome. But one thing I noticed right away was the fire in his eyes, the look of a man who thoroughly enjoys his work.

Although I was only at the festival for one day, it was an experience of a lifetime. To be in the same building (the Grand Hyatt on 42nd) let alone the same room with authors of Mr. Cussler’s caliber was beyond amazing. I listened with rapt attention as he told of book signings gone wrong, writing and selling his very first novel, and working as a marine archeologist. It was a serious fanboy moment.

Nelson DeMille’s interview in the ballroom, which could easily seat three hundred people, was standing-room only. Listening to his stories about serving in Viet Nam and later becoming a novelist and creating the cynical hero John Corey, was a blast. I have read every John Corey book and thoroughly enjoy every word.

Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher series, was quite the suave and well-spoken Brit, yet very down to earth and personable. I always laugh when I think of books like THE KILLING FLOOR or ONE SHOT and consider the differences between Mr. Child’s personality and Jack Reacher’s. It’s like James Bond vs. Rambo.

But that’s the thing—authors don’t always put themselves in their books. We’re like actors. We write about characters we would like to be, or aspects of our personality that would never see daylight except in the world of fiction. We breath life into the characters and send them out into the world, entities unto themselves. Or so we hope.

There were many other authors—Jeffrey Deaver, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Scott Turow, R.L. Stine, David Morrell, Patrick Lee—just to name a few, all in one building. Unbelievable. There were several workshops, after parties and things I was unable to attend, but in the short time I was there, I learned so much. But something I noticed was this: With every author that spoke, there was one recurring theme—a love for storytelling.

I think that was the main thing I took away from the conference—true writers always have a love for the craft. Marketing, networking, understanding the business, all of that is important. But having a love for what you do translates to the writing itself and gives life to our stories and our characters. Without that, we're just wannabes and hacks.

Part of what drives that love is curiosity—curiosity about the world and about what goes on around us. About what makes people tick, why we do the things we do. Curiosity is part of what keeps us young and keeps things interesting. It may kill cats, but for a writer it means life.

I believe that for those at the top or those who would like to be there, that is the key to success—truly loving what you do, stirring the pot, maintaining that curiosity, and keeping that love alive. If you can manage that first, then everything else will follow.