Thursday, December 31, 2009

Life in the Rear View Mirror

Imagine your life as a car. You are the driver. The car is your life. The road is your destiny which will fork and split depending on your decisions. Sometimes destiny is well marked as a good map. Other times, you may take a few wrong turns but will eventually find your way once more.

Regardless of the route you take, the one constant is the past, staring back at you in the rearview mirror. Why is this significant? Because only by keeping an eye on the past can you move forward with any kind of certainty.

This past weekend, I sat down and wrote out my goals for the 2010 writing year. Am I dreaming big? Probably. Am I shooting for possibly unrealistic goals? Most likely. But where would anyone of any kind of success be if they merely dreamed in mediocrity? I’m planning 4 full length (75K or over) books for 2010. At this point, only one novella is planned. Which is not to say I won’t write more or meet those goals but I’ll try.

That’s part of the challenge and all of the fun.

2009 was my debut year as a published author. To say it was crazy is a vast understatement of how it felt to live through the chaos. Yes, book releases for 2010 are stacked up like taxing planes in Charlotte’s airport but that is because I had a mess of “banked” work. I now need to refill the bank and wait for a lull in my release schedule—in 2011.

Why was 2009 important? Name recognition. As a new author, one of the toughest jobs you have is convincing folks to buy your books over someone who’s been tried and true in the industry. Have I accomplished this? To a certain degree but not nearly as much as I would have liked. With each new day, I make a tiny bit more headway in the crowded waters.

But 2009 taught me a hard lesson. Slowing down in 2010 is a must. Yes, those in my inner circle know I just cranked out a short story in one day. It was a one off sort of thing because my muse nearly strangled me. She was a bit miffed to be on hiatus for awhile. Not she’s been appeased and has flown off for the islands. I hope her bitchy self gets a sunburn.

My point in this ramble? Set a list of goals for yourself. You may meet all of them. You may meet none of them but at least you’ll have a road map to guide you through the pitfalls that will come your way on life’s highway.

As Kasey Kasem once said “Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars.”

Power on and here’s to a successful and happy 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A little off topic

I've been away for a few weeks, and i apologize for that. As most of you know, I'm expecting my first baby in February, and having a hard time of it. What most of you didn't know is that a few weeks ago my mother in law Linda passed away from a 2 year long battle with breast cancer. She was a wonderful woman, and I couldn't have loved her more if she was my own mom. Her passing was not unexpected, but still shocking, and my family and i have been mourning privately and sometimes publicly. I say this not to garner sympathy or get an outpouring of "poor Heather's" but to let you know why I've been away.

But it's gotten me thinking.

We write mysteries. Nine times out of ten the mystery is figuring out why someone died. So how do we deal with the very real and raw emotions of the friends and family of the victim? Grief shows itself in so many different ways for each person, how do we make it real for the reader, some of which can seem almost shocking? I have no idea. Honestly, I haven't gotten to that point in my own story yet. And I think that I'm still a little too close to our own tragedy to be able to use the experience in my writing.

But it's something for each of us to think about as we write. These characters are supposed to be "real" people. Someone loved them, and someone will cry because they are gone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Love bites... Vampire tropes

Renewed interest in sparkly vamps notwithstanding, it's clear vampires have been and will always be popular subject matter in books and movies. No matter how much some editors and agents say vamps are tired, and "Can we please have something else that goes bump in the night?" the point is, our pals with fangs aren't going to crawl back into their coffins and play undead any time soon. Every few years another author dusts them off, puts them in fresh, trendy rags and trots them out again.

As a published author and editor, I'll also be the first to admit that I love vampires. If I pick up a promising book with vampires in, chances are good I'll read bump it up in my "to read" pile. When reading submissions, if I see vamps, I'll definitely take a deeper look, but really, there are some vampiric tropes I've seen way too often.

1) Romeo and Juliet: He's a vampire. She's a mortal. They fall in love despite their races' differences. Either he becomes mortal again or he turns her into a vampire. End of story. One word: boring. Sound familiar?

2) I can haz sum Louis wangst: Louis de Pointe du Lac. 'nuff said. I'm so tired of listening to vampires bemoan their terrible existence for all eternity, their thirst for blood, oh and the terrible dreariness of having to live forever. That really bites, man. If I could live forever there would be a thousand things I'd plan on achieving. Right now my lifespan is too short to suffer through one more angst-ridden vampire.

3) The beast or the "vegetarian": One of my buddies pointed out that what's just as bad are vampires existing without a middle ground. They're either slavering bloodthirsty demons that kill indiscriminately or they're über moral and only subsist off the blood of innocent animals. Close to this one is the vampire who only kills people who "deserve" it.

4) Dracula vs. Van Helsing: Bram Stoker has already done this. It was fun the first time 'round. Whereas I'm not totally against having some sort of vampire hunter as a subplot in a novel, I really, really don't want to see this as the main story arc. It needs to end with Buffy.

5) Vampire vs. Werewoof: Oi! Lycans are just another name for werewolf. The Underworld franchise has spawned enough rehashings of vampire/werewolf conflict. This was also a theme central to the very popular White Wolf roleplaying systems. If you're putting werewoofs in your novel, please, oh, please find them something different to do other than being a convenient age-old enemy. And if I see the word "Lycan" anywhere in a manuscript, I'm automatically going to assume the author has watched Underworld one too many times for her own good. Call a werewolf a werewolf or, for howling at the moon please give your wolfies a new, wonderful name that hasn't been used a hundred times before.

I'm sure this list can be added to.

So, as an aspiring author, what can you do to make me fall in love with your manuscript? Vampires offer a wonderful opportunity to play with a character who has certain sets of strengths and flaws. These can either aid or hinder them in a quest or create lovely conflict within certain situations. As an editor I want to see vampires do exciting stuff, get into trouble, find buried treasure...

We all know how fun and wonderful it is to read about vampires. Now how about finding them adventures that haven't been done to undeath?

Now excuse me while I go drool over some vampirates.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Taking a break

The gang here at Frightening Journeys is planning to take the next few weeks off to celebrate the holidays.

I know I speak for us all when I wish you and yours a safe holiday season and a prosperous 2010.

We'll be back January 4.

Until then....


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Holidays

Hello, everyone.  I just want to wish all our readers, fellow writers and friends Happy Holidays.  Whichever you celebrate, I hope you spend it happy, safe and in the company of your loved ones. When the frightening team returns, villians will be running rampant on the blog for January.  It's going to be wicked fun.  Til then...

Be blessed,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's All In You

Rain is pourin' down like the heavens are hurtin'
Seems like it's been dark since the devil knows when.
How do you go on, never knowin' for certain,
Will the sun ever shine again?

Feels like it's been years since it started to thunder.
Clouds are campin' out in the valley and glen.
How do you go on, when you can't help but wonder.
Will the sun ever shine again?

What if the rain keeps fallin'?
What if the sky stays gray?
What if the wind keeps squallin'
And never go away?

Will the Sun Ever Shine Again
—Bonnie Raitt from Home on the Range

The life of a writer (or really anyone with a dream for that matter) can go through many, many highs and lows. Because I’m the biggest Disney geek you’ll find around these paranormal parts, I’m gonna go with what I know (and just as an aside, have you ever stopped to wonder about just how many paranormal creatures the Disney company uses in its films?) No wonder I love to write in this genre. Weirdness and happy endings.

I’ve been writing for publication for a little over a year. Writing seriously for three. These days, rejections still come but not as hard and heavy as they have in the past. I’m sure when I start querying agents again, this will change. When the big R hits the email box, it stings, but not as much. Still doesn’t keep me from feeling crappy.

No, what really makes me depressed these days is the feeling that I’m a complete and utter failure at my craft. I think all writers serious about their job feel this way from time to time. Let’s face it. Most authors don’t make enough money to shout from the rooftops. I’m sure some of my colleagues will laugh and say they’re doing great. That’s wonderful. I don’t have that luck. I’m still holding out for the day my awesomeness will be recognized. Does the future hope of greatness sustain me now? Sometimes. Other times, I fall right off the fence I’m sitting on and land face down in the dirt, convinced that writing isn’t for me. That I just can’t do it anymore. That no one cares.

Thankfully, I have a great group of friends in my circle that pick me up, slap me around a bit and inject me with confidence and inspiration that keeps me going. Because, after all, we’re all on the same carousel and friends like this are worth their weight in gold.

I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty
I've got whozits and whatzits galore
You want thingamabobs?
I've got twenty!
But who cares?
No big deal
I want more

I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see, wanna see them dancin'
Walking around on those - what do you call 'em?
Oh - feet!

Flippin' your fins, you don't get too far
Legs are required for jumping, dancing
Strolling along down a - what's that word again?

Up where they walk, up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun
Wanderin' free - wish I could be
Part of that world

Part of Your World
—Little Mermaid by lyrics Howard Ashman music Alan Menken

Ah, this is where I struggle as a writer the most. The old “grass is always greener” scenario. I think “oh, if only I wrote this way, or wrote that, THEN I would succeed.” Once again, the cavalry rides to the rescue and tells me my writing is fine and to stay the course. Eventually, I’ll get there. And after all, success is how we measure ourselves. If I, as the writer, am happy and satisfied with my work, then I am a success. Period.

Many nights we've prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hopeful song
We barely understood

Now we are not afraid
Although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains long
Before we knew we could

There can be miracles, when you believe
Though hope is frail, it's hard to kill
Who knows what miracles you can achieve
When you believe, somehow you will
You will when you believe

Mariah Carey—When You Believe from the Prince of Egypt
(yes not a Disney movie)

Here’s the sticking point. Belief. As a writer, it’s crucial to believe in your work and believe in your ability to write. Because if you can’t believe you can do it, no one else will either. Focus on your dream. Never lose sight of that goal. The moment you take your eyes off the finish line, you’ll stumble. Never give up. Always believe no matter what life hands you: rejections, life crap, noise, busyness. You may have to fight and kick and claw your way to that happy ending, but if you don’t give up, you’ll get there.

Baby, I see your future
And it's tied to mine
I look in your eyes and see
You searching for a sign
But you'll never fall
Till you let go
Don't be so scared
Of what you don't know

True to you heart
You must be true
To your heart
That's when the
Heavens will part
And baby, shower you
With my love
Open your eyes
Your heart can tell
You no lies
And when you're true
To your heart
I know it's gonna lead
You straight to me

True to your Heart
—by Stevie Wonder—Mulan

When you sit down at your keyboard or writing tablet to write, make sure you’re not chasing the trends. Theoretically, by the time you finish a book, edit it, go through the submission process, edit it again and get the thing released, that trend will have already been over for a good year or so. Write what’s in your heart. Write the book that sings to you. If it’s a vampire book, fine. But if it’s also a contemporary novel told in the first person (and everyone has told you that first person is out) write the thing anyway. Don’t depress yourself just because “someone” told you “something”. 80 percent of what people tell you is wrong. I think you already know this otherwise you wouldn't be writer ;-)

Just write.

Remember. If you believe in that book, chances are, someone else will too.

And then, you will have arrived.

Monday, December 14, 2009

John Everson's world of horror

This week I'd like to thank horror author John Everson for stopping by Frightening Journeys to share some of his world. I first got to know him a few years ago, when I was still thinking about writing fiction, and he's been an inspiration to me, especially when I've had doubts about myself and my abilities.

John, tell us a little bit about your latest release.

The 13th revolves around Castle House Lodge, an old resort hotel from the early 1900s that has been abandoned for 25 years, since an occult mass murder took place there. Now, David Shale, a cyclist in training to make the Olympic team, discovers that the old hotel in the hills outside of Castle Point has re-opened... as a private asylum for pregnant women. When his new girlfriend turns up missing, not to mention several other local women, David finds himself teaming up with rookie cop Christie Sorensen to try discover what is really going on in the newly opened and historically cursed asylum. And what is behind the red X on the basement door...

What frightens you?

Crazy people. Zealots. Narrow-minded people. Violent people. Backstabbing people.

I guess really just... people!

Where is the most frightening or haunted place you've ever visited? Tell us why.

There is an old abandoned cemetery near the town where I grew up called Bachelor's Grove. It's more of a sad spot, than a frightening one, but it is reputedly one of the most haunted places in Illinois. I visited there once to write a "haunted places" article for the newspaper I worked for at the time, and the sense of loss there was palpable. There aren't a lot of gravestones though the place dates back to the 1800s—from when the original settlers came to that area. No new graves have been dug there in almost 50 years. But the stones that remain are weathered and old and many of them defaced and fallen.

Because of its lonely positioning (in the middle of a forest preserve, just out of sight of the main road), it has been the site of satanic ceremonies and drinking parties. In other words, much abuse and desecration. And the local legends are rife with descriptions of phantoms being seen on the side of the road near the cemetery. Everything from what appear to be car headlights that spontaneously appear and disappear to farmer's wagons careening into the neighboring pond to a spectral woman walking along the side of the road with a crying baby in her arms. As a boy scout, I used to hear all sorts of legends about the place and it sounded scary, but intriguing. As an adult I finally visited there a couple times, and didn't meet any ghosts. But it was a sad place... almost a place outside of time.

Are there any common themes to your main characters?

I think many of my characters are driven by personal obsessions, whether it's the pursuit of pleasure or security or career. In Covenant there are a few levels of obsession going on, not the least of which is a "deal" to maintain security at the expense of all else.

In Sacrifice, there is a sexy serial killer who has rebelled against religion to become obsessed with the "dark side". Her obsession with the pursuit of power and pleasure and revenge lead her to perform any murder or degradation imaginable to achieve her goals.

A similar obsession drives the "villains" of The 13th, while our hero, David, is obsessed with his goal—that of making the Olympic team. All of my characters are driven by something that puts their lives out of balance, whether they're the heroes or the villains. But they tend to strive singlemindedly for a goal at the expense of their lives.

How do you go about outlining your novels?

Well... I didn't for the first three books! I started with a vague idea of the beginnings and the possible ends and I just... started writing. The creation of the story from... nothing... was what I enjoyed about doing those books. I ended up "backward outlining" them once I was substantially into the narratives because I needed some kind of cheat sheet to know what had happened in the plot as I got deeper into the writing (I have a horrible memory!) But I didn't carefully plan them out ahead of time. I wanted to tell myself a story... and I spun them as I went.

Since I've sold those books, I have since written one novel, Siren, where I outlined ahead of the writing, because the publisher, Leisure Books, had to know what I planned on writing before they would contract it. That novel turned out really well and was the first book I sold ahead of the writing, which was a different way of working for me. It will be out next summer. In some ways it was a better experience, because I knew I wasn't writing 90 000 words for nothing. On the other hand, it was challenging because I had to figure out so much in advance of the writing, and then stick at least fairly close to the outline I'd submitted... I couldn't just veer off into left field if the mood struck.

Research? Love it? Hate it?

Hate it! I like to make stuff up, and research only slows you down from the fun part! It is sometimes a necessary part of the writing, but it's definitely not my favorite.

Any useful links you'd like to share?

Well, I hope people will check out my website, I've got information on all my books there, as well as my blog, free short fiction and samples of the bookcover art I've created and music I've written. I don't just work on fiction, I like working in other creative mediums too! People should also visit the micro-site for The 13th. It's got the usual information on the book, but it also has an interactive "map" which we created based on the map and character photos I used as my personal guide while writing the book. I had put together a "cheatsheet" kind of map at the start of The 13th so that I would consistently describe the places in Castle Point, as well as photos of people who looked like the characters—it was just a visual aid to help me get those details right. (I apparently still managed to screw up a character's eye color at one point in the text!)

Anyway the web map is pretty cool in that you can click on the various locations in the town and pop-ups appear with photos and bio-sketches of the book's characters. You can see that at

The perfect gift

It's early in the morning. Okay, maybe not that early, but I am in the Mountain Time Zone and it's not yet 9 a.m. here. I've spent the last half-hour or so wondering what I should blog about this morning.

I considered a brief reminder that my first novel, Ghost Mountain, would be available in just over three weeks, but decided that might be a little pushy of me. (Didn't stop me from mentioning it, though, you'll notice!)

I thought I might whine a little about the bitterly cold temperatures in the Black Hills, but that seemed depressing.

That's when I glanced around the living room (on my way to get more coffee!) and noticed the tree. There are quite a few gifts under our Christmas Tree. Some will stay at our home. Some need to be shipped to family out of state. Some will go to my daughter's friends (yes, she wrapped her gifts to them and put them under the tree until ... who knows!)

So I started thinking about gifts.

How do you find the perfect gift? Well, I guess that depends on the perfect person, doesn't it?

For the readers in your life, it would have to be a book. (Might I suggest Ghost Mountain? It was worth a try....) Or at least a gift card to a book store.

For the writers, how about a giant white board to plot stories or some lovely pens and notebooks?

But not all gifts are tangible. During this time of year, take a few minutes to tell the important people in your life how much you care about them. Let them know how special they are to you. And don't forget yourself. Relish the gifts the Universe has bestowed upon you. Your family, your health, your talents. These are the gifts we should all cherish year round.

Blessings to you and yours!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Girl talk

Every once in a while, I get the urge to sit down and just let characters talk. Non-specific people in my head arguing things out, that I need to work out, or topics other characters just don't seem able to address properly. This way I also get all of those unnecessary dialogue tags trashed. I hate dialogue tags.

The following is from an ever growing file I have called Conversations Between Women (yes, I have others):

“Mmmm…I don’t know about you, but I love coming here every Friday. Look at all that prime man flesh.”
“Tabitha! You are a married woman!”
“Sweetheart, I may not be allowed to sample the treats, but I can certainly appreciate the beauty that is the male animal.”
“That is so not right.”
“Aw, come on! I sit and listen to you complain about that woman at work, that cow-beast thing that makes big eyes at everything with a penis but you can’t indulge me?”
“It’s not that Tabby, it just seems wrong siting here drooling over those guys.”
“Because I am married?”
“Partly, but also because it’s all based on looks.”
“Hold that thought! It’s okay for you to tear down your co-worker based on her looks, but I can’t appreciate beautiful men? What kind of half-assed logic is that?”
“All right, I should be nicer to Betsy, but I just can’t stand to be around her. She makes a good target, screwing up as much as she does.”
“Tracy if you are going to judge people on their looks, in Betsy’s case badly, then you have got to be the biggest hypocrite to turn your nose up at me. That woman doesn’t screw up, you set her up simply because she is fat, and as you said, makes an easy target. In order to judge her to be offensive you obviously have to have standards indicating otherwise.”
“Fine! She just makes me want to gag. All she does is sit in that office and eat all day. Fritos, Crunch ‘n Munch, Twizzlers – you name it. She sticky-fingers her way through the day with a saccharine smile – literally and physically. Being that big isn’t just disgusting, it’s positively unhealthy and likely unclean. Can you imagine the nightly chore of washing that much territory? Ugh.”
“I forgot that about your mom. Didn’t she die of heart disease complicated by obesity.”
“This has nothing to do with my mother!”
“If you say so.”
“I say so.”
“What do you think about that one…the one over there on the left with the long, brown shaggy hair?”
“Tabby, I just don’t get it. None of these guys you are panting over looks anything like Carl. I mean, if this is what you look for in a guy, what gives?”
“Carl loves me and I don’t even love me. This is what I look for in Fantasy Land. You do know the place. You would have to since what, its been like forever since you’ve gone out on a date. Tracy? Hello over there.”
“No, you're right, I’ve never dated, I do have fantasies. Just not over these guys.”
“Never dated? As in really never? What the hell!”
“Not a big deal. Just suppose I'm not the type guys date. Oh, sure I was good enough to play football, drink beer or fish with, sure, but dating required pretty girly-girls. Got tired of getting laughed at and punched in the arm for being a joker so I quit trying back in high school.”
“Damn! You work in construction, look at all those luscious men all day and you want me to believe that not a one has asked you out for a drink or maybe a 'working' lunch?”
“Yeah, I’ve had those sorts of offers since I was fourteen. But what guy wants to take home a nooner? Be still my beating heart! What romance, ‘yo, Trace, you wanna suck my dick then maybe get some pizza?’ Thank you, but no, Tabby.”
“I didn’t realize it was like that.”
“Tabs, I am a mason. I lay brick for a construction company. The only other woman employed by the firm tosses back jelly doughnuts like an alcoholic at nickel beer night. What do you think I get all day? I get, ‘hey there Trace, you can bed my bricks any ol' day,' or 'lay me sweet mama.’”
“You’re kidding me!”
“Hello? Remember me? I don’t have a sense of humor.”
“There is a lot to love about you Tracy Stevens, the least of which is that delightfully sarcastic sense of humor. Look at you! You are in great shape!”
“Yeah, I guess fireplug is a shape. Short and squat. My arms are more muscular than most guys, I've got a working man’s tan and stand a whopping five-feet four-inches. I look like a car door reflection, not a runway model.”
“You are so wrong, that assessment is so wrong. Oh, oh, oh! Love the buns on the blond! Okay, so these guys do nothing for you. Tell me then what is your fantasy man, Ms. International Fireplug.”
“You won’t laugh at me?”
“Out with it woman before I stab you with my fork.”
“Okay, okay, no need to go postal. I want a guy with perfect hands. They have to be strong but not clumsy or too big, long lean fingers that can hold me gently, strong enough to hold me close. Not body builder stuff, but honest strength. He has to have a deep voice, not crackling or spooky movie deep, but a nice bass tone that makes you see dark nights and silk sheets just by whispering into your ear. He has to be taller than me. Damn it, I want a man that makes me finally feel like a delicate female that needs protected. I want to feel like a lady when I am with him, not a bowling partner. I want a partner and a protector, it gets old being alone. This female power shit is for the birds, coo-coo birds to be precise.”
“Damn Trace, you’re a romantic.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Tell anyone and I’ll break your nose sissy-girl.”
“You wish, She-Ra. Hell, look at the time, I have got to run and get the kids. Stay single, you really aren’t missing all that much, only the screaming and the crying, and that’s while the kids are asleep.”
“Funny lady. Guess me and my make-believe man will just keep on going for now. Same time next week?”
“Of course! But next time, if it looks like rain, we’ll sit at the indoor café across the street. The rain makes you utterly maudlin.”

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Will I...won't I?

This month, I've been attempting to clear my calendar of work so I can take the back half of December off from writing or any writing related activities. My friends, editors, fellow writers don't seem to think I can do it because I'd probably climb the walls if I didn't write every single day.

Is that true?

Maybe so. I love writing. I can't imagine not doing it but sometimes my brain gets tired and needs a break. So, I need to finish a round of edits, finish a novella, get some promotional things done, etc.

It's a lot but we'll see if it all comes together by the 15th or so.

Writing is a professional where one works the longest hours for the shortest pay and you really have to love it to keep going.

Good thing I do.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to lose words without losing the plot

The way things are going in publishing nowadays, you're going to need to stick to wordcounts when it comes to selling your work, be it a short story, novella or novel. For each of these, publishers will have suggested wordcounts.

Speaking from personal experience, an ideal length for a novel nowadays is anywhere between 60 000 to 90 000 words. The reason for this is that print-on-demand (PoD) is turning out to be a viable option for small publishers that don't want to take unnecessary risks with regard to their printing options, and any book that has more than 90 000 words is going to cost quite a few pennies more compared to its brethren brought out by the larger publishers. This won't help you if you're relatively unknown and are suddenly competing with big names. Your first novels need to be affordable—an incentive for people to part with their clams if you pique their interest.

So, if you're a fairly new author, who's most likely going to get their first chance with a small press, you need to aim for the wordcount on a publisher's submission guidelines if you're going to have any hope in hell of selling your first novel. Sure, we occasionally do hear of the Jacqueline Careys out there who sell a 600-page whopper for their first deal, so yes... those kinds of stories do happen, but rather take some of the pain out of your life and aim for something that won't have editors and agents all saying no before you've been given a half-decent chance.

Before you start cutting scenes and mangling your work in a desperate attempt to cut a few thousand words, I have learnt a trick that will help you. Not so long ago, I was faced with the problem of reducing a 104 000-word novel to under 100 000 words. I was not happy with cutting scenes, as there weren't any I could remove without losing some of the work's impact.

Without worrying about the scene progressions, I first read through the entire novel (again) and started looking for words that were repeated. The most common culprit was "that". It's one of those invisible words that escape notice and, more often than not, authors (myself included) tend to overuse this little word. You'll find some of your own. Trust me.

Another culprit is sentences that start with "There was". Go look at that sentence carefully. Cut "there was" and rearrange your sentence so that it makes grammatical sense. Ten to one, this will be possible and you'll find you'll have lost a few more words.

Look out for repetition. Many authors I've edited will find two ways of saying the same thing. Granted, this is not always extremely obvious unless the author is absolutely abysmal (and trust me, some people truly are...), so read over a suspicious sentence then ask yourself if you're repeating yourself.

Pet phrases: everyone has them. One I've recently encountered was "All too soon" at the start of a sentence. As an author, it's easy to overlook these but all it takes is a fresh pair of eyes and you'll be sure to find them.

Empty words: "really", "virtually", "very", "literally"... You should highlight these words in bright screaming red in your brain. They have their uses, perhaps in dialogue, but because often we write the way we talk, they do creep into narrative and waste space. In many cases you can hit the delete button, thereby strengthening your sentence.

Also, watch out how many adjectives and adverbs you're putting away. In many cases you can lose a few without harming your story. Keep a special watch out for words ending with "-ly". You can lose a few here and there. Trust me.

Then the difficult bit... You've gone through your MS for the nth time and now you're only a thousand words over the required wordcount. Wow, congratulations for getting this far without cutting scenes. Now you're going to have to lose a few paragraphs here.

How to choose? Don't be precious over your words. Your editor (bless her heart) will in all likelihood be making you do horrible, terrible things to your MS. Now's not the time to be squeamish. Look at your scenes and wherever you find you've got a lull in the story, look for non-essential information you can lose. Also, keep a special look-out for exposition.

This is any information that is given for information's sake, or if you're trying to cram in back-story. If it's not immediately necessary to the narrative, lose it. Many newbie authors try to turn their first chapter into a Condensed History of Everything, which usually succeeds in sending readers to sleep. If this stuff is important, you can weave it in later, in small, digestible pieces.

As an example, in my novel Khepera Rising, I lost more than a thousand-odd from the first chapter. My beta reader, who is a talented author, was merciless, selecting chunks of text whenever she felt the story's pace flagged or my protagonist was being verbose. I took her advice and cut. I kept earlier versions of the MS, just in case, but you know what, I'm still not missing those bits and the story is much, much stronger for the excisions.

Lastly, remember that a novel will be revised quite a few times before it is released. If you are diligent before you begin the editing process with your publisher, you will make things much easier for yourself in the long run. When your editor gets back to you with any of your personal writing quirks (which you do have, don't bother denying it), pay attention then make sure you apply those changes to your future works. If need be, write them up with magic marker and stick them on your noteboard above your desk.

Monday, December 7, 2009

'Tis the season

Can you hear it? No, not the sounds of holiday music blaring through the store speakers. Not the sounds of cash registers at those same stores.

I'm talking about the sound of back and neck muscles everywhere working themselves into knots that take an army to relieve.

I know that this is supposed to be the season of peace on Earth and love for all humanity, but it's also the season for over-scheduling and trying to keep up with the Jones's. Don't think so? How many parties are you going to just because you can't say no?

Personally, I'm scheduled for four. And neither my husband nor I work for a company that has parties, so that relieves us of the burden of two more.

As a writer, it's difficult to find the time to get words on paper (or computer screen) this time of year. Between decorating and making fudge and cookies and attending those parties and work and . . . . You get the idea.

But it must be done. The story ideas in my head don't stop just because I'm busy. In fact, I think they multiply when they aren't properly contained. Does that mean I'll actually get any of those words written (or typed)? Probably not. The ideas will fester until January, when they will have to burst forth like a broken dam.

I hope that's not the case. I hope I'm able to carve out time to write daily. Past experience, however, tells me that may not happen.

Either way, my massage appointment will help. Trust me!


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mixin' genres- (Sorry about this. Blogger didn't auto post it)

Most of you know I write paranormal romance, which is a mix of genres, but I like to add romantic suspense to the mix.  Then you have your light and dark paranormals with.  When it comes down to it, I guess my books are "mutts", but that's okay with me. 

Melissa mentioned growing up with pure breds, well I don't believe we every had a pure bred anything (unless you count the parakeets).  Growing up my mom let me drag home every stray dog and cat that came my way.  Most were in need of medical care or starving, so we fed them, loved them and found them homes or kept them until they died or ran off.  I still remember the first dog we had "Nasty".  Mom found him in a mud puddle when he was only a few weeks old.  It was very cold and she always guessed the mother had died or left him behind.  She fed him with a baby doll bottle until he could eat regular food.  As he grew, he began to look like a cross between a wolf and a golden retriever.  Of course we don't know what kind of dog he was, but he was loyal and fierce.  Keeping my one year old self constant company ( and out of trouble. I was a little demon spawn at that age *wink*)  Mutts are great.  I think that extends to books too.  So you want to mix 'em up?  Go for it.  What ever the result, its bound to be interesting.

On another note, I'll be guest blogging about Christmastime at "Dishin' it Out" Sunday with Ginger .   I'm also celebrating the December 7th release of Earth Enchanted with a contest.  For more info go to and check out the "contests" tab. 

Be blessed,


Friday, December 4, 2009


Growing up, my dad always insisted on buying purebred dogs for pets. The few times I snuck a cat home, it disappeared. Once, I convinced my mom to adopt a pair of dogs from the local animal shelter (the SPCA brought 'pound puppies' to school and guilt-tripped us kids, but good), but the dogs chewed on something of my dad's then piddled on the floor - displaying their 'lack of purity' and out they went.

It left a mark.

Inside I was terribly conflicted. As a person, I'm this mish-mash Heinz 57 of cultures, but I was raised to expect a purity of design from my pets in breeding. Some of my dogs are AKC with papers, others are mutts, my cats are ... well, cats. The one is so dumb we named him Flat, as in his brain should have flat-lined.

In a way this conflict has carried over into my writing. I can almost never write "just a romance." Just like I can never write "just a horror." Face it, life isn't just one "pure" thing, why should a story limit itself?

Take, for example, one of my favorite horror duets, Frights&Delights. The two tales complement each other by being opposites. The first, Echoes of Yesterday, is a gentle ghost story set in the Appalachian mines with a little boy, his parents and his small terrier. The second, Rave On, is a dystopian zombie scream, slam-dancing in a lesbian freak-out fetish bar in Texas. In Echoes you feel the story ooze right up at you from the very beginning, but with Rave, the feeling is different, the sense of impending violence and horror comes from the actions of the characters and the setting, which is misleading. Passive/aggressive, victim versus aggressor... A lullaby and a seduction.

Echoes of Yesterday
Jackie sat on the shady side of the barn and peeked around the corner at his dad, he was back working under the old rusty car. Tiptoeing past the garage, he and his puppy Fearless Fred, or just Fred as his momma called him, made their way back to the hole.
His daddy didn’t understand! He and Fred had to patrol. They had to keep the chickens from wandering into that hole. He was being just like his Uncle Travis, the kick-butt state trooper, keeping things safe.
“Hello!” he yelled into the hole. Nothing replied back this time. “I’m back!” still nothing. “Be that way then! My daddy said you was nothing more than an echo anyways!”Jackie listened long and hard but he didn’t hear any voices, but he did hear the ting of a mattock hitting stone and the distant sound of laughter.
“C’mon Fred, we got to patrol. Maybe the echo will talk to us again later.”

Rave On

The night was young, the sun just dipping below the haze of air pollution tinting the sky a putrid whorl of cerulean, saffron and puce when I paid the bouncer at the gate. The place was painted black with a blood red floor and silver stools. Even the drink-slingers walked through the glaring Goth-Rock and vampiresque gloom looking bored and skewered.
The blue haired woman who took my order had her lips outlined with a twin row of pierced silver ornaments that resembled barbed fishhooks. But it didn’t stop her from snapping chewing gum as I ordered the evening special, an Impaler. When she returned, I opened my baggie and tossed back all the pills as well as the drink. It burned its way down like a combination of lava and glass shards. Roughly, I asked for another and the girl gave me a long considering glance from behind chrome-tinted contact lenses.
Pushing a spot on my shoulder, she prompted me to look at a willow thin girl with long pink-streaked hair, gracefully pirouetting like a broken stringed puppet in the center of the empty dance floor.
“Way you’re feeling tonight, sug, I think she’s your answer.”

* * * *
The first combines old fashioned storytelling, borrowing liberally from the tommyknockers and like stories I grew up with as a child, and adding a different sort of ending. The second was inspired by the annual Zombie Apocalypse Day. I figured anyone could be the victim of a zombie, how many could actually be the zombie - and really enjoy it?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'm on my way...

...writing the last chapter of a novella. Really, I feel like I've written it twice now. The first time around it was a nice, sweet, historical love story but had no oomph and wasn't dark enough for an open call.

So after wracking my brain, I finally asked my hubby for some insight and he came up with a great, original idea. I spent a week revising/rewriting paranormal elements into the book and I'll be darned if it's not awesomeness in a little package.

I will finish today then the re-reading/polishing begins.

What can I say? I love this time but I'm also anxious to work on my next project LOL

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A grumpy editor’s advice to beginner writers

If there’s one question I dread, when people hear that I’m a) an author or b) a fiction editor, it’s “Can you read my/my sister’s/my cousin’s novel?” This is happening with greater regularity, the longer I’m in the industry. And, more often than not, it’s very difficult for me to be diplomatic when faced with utter dreck. Because, believe me, the majority of the people whose manuscripts I see are nowhere near ready for publication. Sometimes it’s very difficult to control a fit of sporking.

So, you’ve watched Twilight and now you’re going to write a killer vampire novel. You’ve never hefted a pen or tapped at a keyboard since high school or college but you’ve got this story. You’ve just got to write it. You’re going to be the next (insert name of she whose name we will not mention) and you’re going to score a six-digit deal with a big publisher.


Wrong. (Insert sound of editor’s head smacking her desk.)

Most writers whose novels land on my “please will you read this” pile happen when said individual, carried away by their own enthusiasm, whacks out those words with little thought about plot or characterisation. The resultant mess would achieve instant rejection from any slush reader, editor or agent who’d be offered the manuscript. And people wonder why they can’t get published. Then they usually run off to or waste money on some sort of self-publishing deal. This is one of the reasons why that sector of the industry gets such a bad reputation when it comes to the quality of some of the titles unleashed upon unsuspecting readers.

Before you utterly ruin all chances for your novel making it to print or ebook format with a realy publisher, here are a few tips to help you get started.

Mary Sues or Marty Stus: Do yourself a favour. Google is your friend. Go find out exactly what a Mary Sue is. Then make sure your main character isn’t one. Only George RR Martin can get away with platinum hair and violet eyes. Previously unpublished writers get snickered at behind their backs by editors who’ve Seen Everything (capitalisation intended). When you create your character, do not make them all-powerful. Give them flaws. Don’t let them succeed the first time. Keep them real.

Where are you going with this? Some authors do, and some don’t know where the story is headed, but I generally advise writers to plot their novel before they start putting down the words. I’ve found the Snowflake Method to be very useful. You needn’t follow it slavishly, but it will be a good start. In fact, if you type “how to plot a novel” into Google’s search field, you’ll come up with dozens of good references online.

I’ll say it again: Google is your friend.

Another good friend is the forums page. I suggest spending at least a month participating there before you even begin plotting your novel. Talk to other writers. Learn from other people’s mistakes, but remember that every published author’s story will differ from another’s. Then, I’d also suggest joining an online critique group. The one that I’ve found to be the most useful is The Critters Workshop ( The only way you’re going to learn about the dos and don’ts of writing is if you see what sort of mistakes other writers make.

Another rule I keep yelling is: show don’t tell. Make your readers see, taste, touch, feel and hear your world. Don’t just tell them there’s a house on the hill. Show us that the house needs a coat of paint, its roof has caved in and the ivy is choking the windows. That’s already saying a lot more about that house than: “The broken-down house stood on the hill”.

Writing a good novel is not something you can learn to do at university. A good tertiary education in English literature is no guarantee that you’ll be able to sell your first novel, although you will (it can be hoped) walk away with better grammar skills than your average Joe. Learning to write a good novel requires years of practising your craft. You’ll also need a thick skin, because you’re going to need constructive criticism in order to improve your stories.

Trust me. No author is so good and perfect that they can do without a good editor.

Nope. Not even Stephen King.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Keep it pure!

This week’s topic is another tough one for me since I’m a bit of a purest. I like my mysteries to be more mystery than romance and my romance to be character driven then action oriented.

I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. I’m not big on romance. Not in my reading, or my movies, or my real life. Don’t get me wrong! I would love my husband to surprise me with a trip or a night out, but I’m more for the adventure than the romance. I like the new experience, not the romantic feelings involved. Sorry, but feelings come and go based on the person and the experience.

So I enjoy my entertainment more character oriented. Is cross-genre a good thing? Yes, I think so. Because people aren’t just romantic or mysterious. They aren’t just good or evil. Even the villain is the hero of his or her own story, right?

Even though my mysteries don’t have much to do with romance (heck, I can’t write a scene with Cerri kissing her husband, Matt, without thinking it sounds dumb!), I don’t not read something because it crosses a genre line. I like all types of books and movies.

It all boils down to one simple fact. People are multi-facetted.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Topic of the Week

Cross-genre blending. Is it a good idea?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I just love weres of all kinds, but the werewolf has to be my favorite.  Completely feral uncontrolled and powerful but still human.  I like to think they are the worst and best of the human race magnified to unimaginable levels.  And since wolfies are my favorite, I took my girls to watch New Moon Thanksgiving night.

About the only thing in Haleyville that didn't roll up the sidewalks was the Dixie Theatre.  After spending the day cooking and eating tons of good food, everyone scattered, my husband to the woods to deer hunt, my son to a Christmas auction.  This left a rare girls night out for my daughters and I.  One loves Edward, the other Jacob and so a "team" war ensued on the drive there.  Personally, I'm on team Jacob and not just for the werewolf in him. lol.  He's a nice guy, devoted and loving to Bella in a non obsessive way.  The more I read the series, the more I wish Bella's story had ended differently.  Anyway, the movie was well presented, even if I hate the way the series ended.  We had a great time, just me and my girls.  Hope you're holiday was a good one!
Be blessed,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ware Oh Ware Are You Tonight...

I'm going to admit, when I read the topic of this week, I totally didn't think it said "shifter". Had to do a little double take on that one.

I'm a Ware Wolf girl. There is no shifter better, stronger, and yes... sexier than the good ole ware wolf. And I'm betting there is a corner of your gnarled little soul that thinks the same thing. The ware wolf breaks all taboos. He's all about instinct and primal desires. There is nothing that the ware wolf can't do. There is nothing that he WON'T do. And there is a little part of everyone that is envious.

As a society we have to follow the rules. They are there for a reason after all. The rules keep us and those around us safe. They are a system of control that lets everyone function with the maximum amount of freedom. But the ware wolf is all about no control. he allows all primal instincts to take over.

And it's result is madness.

Imagine for an instant, just an instant, that you can let loose. Allow all control and rigid societal rules to fly out the window. Imagine the freedom. The sweet, sweet freedom. But then... imagine how frightening it would be, to have no control. To allow your instincts to take over, allowing you to do something that you know is wrong. Even the ultimate wrong... murder. It's a horrible trade off.

I suppose that if you lived long enough, you could create a balance. Maximum freedom, minimum madness. I just don't think ware wolves would live long enough to strike that balance.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Moxyland: The world of Lauren Beukes

I've know Lauren Beukes for a while now. I first encountered her short fiction in Something Wicked magazine and often read her articles. She has recently had great success with a speculative fiction tale—Moxyland—in a South African setting, painting a rather grim, distopian view of Cape Town a few years from now. She has kindly spared me some time from her busy schedule to chat about her writing.

Where did the idea for Moxyland spring from?

The original short story which became the novel was inspired by the hush-hush underground Lucky Strike parties and how brands were finding more devious ways to connect to consumers and creating a generation of sponsor babies.

But when I started writing the novel, it veered into neo-apartheid, cool advances in bio-tech, graffiti culture, AIDS, the art scene, virtual lives, alternate-reality gaming, soccer, the schism of poverty, corporate interference in government, apartheid’s insidious Special Branch police unit and their double-agent askaris, Wouter Basson’s dodgy medical experiments and issues of identity. Basically, I took everything I’m interested in and squeezed it in wherever I could.

Was it difficult finding a publisher for such obvious speculative fiction in South Africa?

I was very lucky, although it had a rocky start. A maverick young publisher Michelle Matthews wanted to start a new cult contemporary lit imprint for Struik and had already laid claim to Moxyland when the imprint fell through.

So, I took the manuscript to Jacana, who publish the most interesting books in South Africa: smart, playful, experimental fiction and hard-hitting non-fiction. The publishing director, Maggie Davey read the manuscript on the plane on the way to the Frankfurt Book Fair and by the time she landed, I had a book deal!

Tell us more about this deal with Angry Robot.

My agent was shopping the book around to literary imprints (we had some awesome rejection letters) when my friend and author Sarah Lotz got wind of HarperCollins’ new SF/F and WTF imprint about to launch. We contacted Angry Robot and they got back to us in record time and Moxyland became one of their launch titles. They’re an amazing, passionate bunch. Great to work with and excellent drinking companions.

How was the Moxyland ebook with its soundtrack received?

It was the first time anyone had released an ebook with an embedded soundtrack (and player) so there was a lot of great publicity. I’m hugely indebted to Electric Bookworks who figured out how to do it and to African Dope for helping me put together an official future-sound-of-Cape-Town soundtrack with their exceptionally talented artists.

Who was your favourite character in Moxyland, and why?

I had the most fun with Toby. He’s such a charismatic, amoral dodgy bastard, like the spirit of Long Street personified.

What is it about a South African setting that appeals to you and what do you think will appeal to foreign readers?

That old adage, write what you know? I know Cape Town, maybe better than a lot of people because journalism has given me an all-access pass from six-star guest houses frequented by topshelf politicos through to the the most desperate poverty and violence-stricken areas in the townships.

South Africa is a remarkable place, especially considering all we’ve come through. We like to live like our history never happened, but those roots are deep and treacherous and they’re still gonna trip us up for years to come. It’s an inspiring (and often devastating) place to live, with the mash of culture and identity.

We’re a country in the process of becoming. Becoming quite what, I don’t know, but I hope to hell it’s not Moxyland. I think foreign readers will find the strangeness appeals, the uncomfortable mix of first world and third world. It’s a place we haven’t seen represented that often in science fiction (District 9 aside).

Do you think local publishers will be more receptive to genre fiction any time soon?

I really don’t know. There’s a proven dedicated market for genre fiction, so I’d like to hope there will be. It depends on how open-minded publishers are and if it makes good business sense. But considering the top sellers of the moment are all high fantasy (Twilight, Harry Potter, Dan Brown), there’s certainly the possibility.

Useful links:
twitter: @laurenbeukes

Monday, November 23, 2009

My favorite shifters are ...


Let me explain. I don't really read shifters. In fact, I can't think of a book or story I've read that features them. Well, I do like the story about the woman who was turned to a hawk by night and her lover who was a dog by day. They were able to be together only for a few moments during sunset and sunrise.

Anyway, if we aren't counting the shift of my sweet daughter into an angst-filled teenager, then my favorite is a yet-unpublished work that a woman in my local writer's group is working on. Her mythical race is immortal and manages to have thoughts and opinions on the various times they find themselves. Maybe it's because I know the author, or maybe it's my love of history, but those are the shifters I find myself enjoying the most.

I hope she gets them published. I wish her all the luck in that respect!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Topic of the Week

What's your favorite kind of shifter?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kickin' the muse into high gear...

I apologize to everyone for the lateness of this post and the abscence of it last Saturday.  I've been sick with some sort of crud that has me knocked out.  Doc has me taking antibiotics, but they aren't helping much. 

My muse is definitely a fickle female terror to this writer.  Her mood is directly tied to my emotions.  If I have all the time in the world to write, she has nothing to say.  No time?  I can't keep her quiet, especially at work.  Like now, for instance, I just finally worked out the next scene in To Take Up the Sword, its in a cheesy motel room and the bad guys are about to bust in on the hero & heroine. (platonic scene at this point)
And... I'm at work. Can't write it out, and I'm afraid I'll lose it.  Any ideas on how to kick her into high gear, because (drum roll please) I just signed a contract for the remaining books in my Elemental Magic Series with Lyrical Press. 
Be blessed,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dynamiting the Muse

Sure, we all have days when things just don't go according to plan. take for instance today, I had every intention of working on my female/female paranormal romance The Relation Chip but Monique and Honor just did NOT want to cooperate. In fact in one scene, a planned love scene they started bickering. So I had my revenge.

How? I pictured them as teenagers then opened my trusty dictionary at random and plucked five words from various pages: immune, questioning, sewer, kick, and medieval. Now, onto the challenge! Use all five of those words - and my characters as teenagers - in a social setting where they'd meet for the first time, and one would leave an imprint on the other. That spark of 'true love' we've all yearned for as angst ridden teens, while leaving the other seemingly clueless, you know, the stereotypical 'guy' response.

"Oh God, please just let someone kick my puddly ass into the sewer," Monique Monet hiccuped a fresh round of tears into her sleeve. "Isn't it enough, Lord, to make me fat, but to set that hag-witch, Lanette on me today, too?"

"Well, well, if it isn't Mo-Mo the Homo. So this is where you hid yourself," Lanette's tart voice stung the very air. "I didn't know such a big, fat-ass could hide behind such small, widdle bushes." Not only was the Barbie-thin girl immune to the suffering of others, she seemed to feed off of it like some kind of sick insect, her and her posse of hussies. "Did you know that girls?" Her question was answered with a chorus of noes, whistles, and lip-smacking sounds that made Monique try to curl up into a tighter ball.

"What the hell is going on back here?" Monique nearly moaned. If Lanette realized who this was, her humiliation would be complete. Honor Fidelis was the person she crushed over every single year, she was the reason Monique hustled all year selling candy bars and junk raising the money for the annual City to Woods Summer Camp. And it was all in her journal -- the same journal Lanette took and started reading aloud when everyone was supposed to be getting ready for bed.

"Oh, now, Mo-Mo you may be a lesbo, but at least you went butch with some taste." Monique risked a look up, Lanette was clearly enjoying this. Her plush lips were pursed as if considering the trim athletic build of the older Honor. "Baby girl, I can see the attraction, really I can. Maybe you dream of eating her up, like a chicken leg." For once, Monique was glad of her dark chocolate complexion, hopefully it hid the tear stains, blotches, red nose and embarrassed flush, then too it was getting dark.

"Monique? What are you doing out here?" Honor completely ignored Lanette and the hussy posse, score one point for humanity.

"You want to know what your little chocolate love bunny is doin' out here?" Lanette's tone was anything but questioning as she pulled the tattered journal from Jessica's hands, opened it to a marked page and began to read, "today I watched -- Hey!"

Honor reached out and plucked it from Lanette's hands. "This isn't yours."

"Spoils of war," she sneered signaling for the posse to surround Honor.

"You really don't want to do this." Steady blue-grey eyes tracked the sniggering teens as they spread out, flanking her.

"I'm not gonna do nothin', rank has its privileges an all that, but I will have it back." As Lanette paced backwards towards the showers the others closed ranks almost on cue. Even though she'd watched her train for the last two summers, Monique had never seen anything like the speed and violence Honor unleashed. When Jessica reached for the wrist-thick braid of blue-black hair, it was suddenly gone as Honor ducked, spun and kicked out tripping her and Daniele, tangling them together. Eyes wide, Monique barely had time to see the wicked teeth of the metal comb in Cherise's hand before Honor's swept in with a numbing chop and a vicious thrust that made the other girl's shoulder give a wet sounding pop.

In shock, Monique sat on the mossy ground and considered the still hunched form of her heroine, as she watched the squealing, squalling shapes trip and race off into the growing dark. "You totally went medieval on their asses," she blurted out. In reply, Honor simply turned and gave her a questioning look.

"I'm about to get in a lot of trouble, you want your diary back?" Oh shit! What to do with it? If she took it back to the tent, Lanette would just take it away, either in the middle of the night or on the long bus ride back to Baltimore. But letting Honor keep it would be beyond mortifying, she felt heat creep up the back of her neck. Those clear eyes studied her quizzically. "Why are you ashamed? Because they read your words?" Well, there was that and a whole lot more. Hoping to keep it simple, Monique nodded miserably. "I can mail it to your home."

"You know where I live?" Pathetically, her heart turned over at the thought of Honor maybe being a little interested in her too.

"No," she smiled, "I work security this year, I have access to camper files. If I can get to them before the director comes looking to kill me." Suddenly she winced, looking in askance for a sound only Honor could hear.

"Makes no never mind," Monique babbled, "my address is inside the front cover, I trust you." Standing so fast her legs nearly gave way, she staggered and was caught smoothly by Honor. She wanted to blame the tingles in her body on the traitorous thing having fallen asleep while on the ground, but couldn't, not the way her heart galloped being held so close to the lithe form before her. Strong hands slid from her arms to supporting her waist, it was a snug embrace, one that robbed her of words. Gaping like a fish she simply stared up at Honor.

"Monique, you are not fat. Not fat at all. I'd say you're just right." Before her brain could conjure up something stupid to say, Honor's lips covered hers in a kiss that promised to go on forever but ended in a matter of heartbeats.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Release of Exiles from Christmas

I know, it doesn't fit with the topic this week, but I'm excited that this book released from Lyrical Press on Monday and I wanted to share :-) And at 2.50, why not pick it up for a little holiday cheer?

The inspiration behind this book was a fascination with Santa. It’s not what you think. It amazes me that the Santa myth still holds strong today and I find it amusing that sentiments are so strong regarding the issue: does he or does he not exist?

So, I decided to turn the jolly old man on his ear and Exiles from Christmas is the result. It’s my take, or explanation on the Santa scene. What’s more, I didn’t just stop with the jolly elf. I’ve taken a lot of the myths and childhood stories and created a sort of “what if” scenario in my Holiday Magic Series.

Here’s a blurb and excerpt for Exiles for Christmas:

Blurb: Santa’s nephews have come to Crystal Falls to run a cookie business. If they fail, they’ll have to go back to the North Pole and fill their uncle’s black boots when he retires. But sick of toys, elves, and the North Pole’s influence, that’s the last thing Landon and Aaron want. They’re looking for love.

Jayne isn’t much for sentimental family holidays and she certainly doesn’t believe in magic. Working in the Crystal Falls post office, she is mystified when she handles mail bearing a North Pole postal mark.

When Landon and Jayne meet, their attraction for each other is undeniable, but will the truth about Landon’s life make Jayne a believer, or will it be his love that finally melts her heart?

Excerpt #4:

Landon was glad when Peg finally walked away. “Tell me why you hate Christmas.” Pleasure snaked through his gut when Jayne’s cheeks infused with a rosy stain. He had the insane desire to see her smile. He wondered if the back of her wrist was ticklish. “Or is it just the commercialism of the holiday that turns you into Scrooge?”

Her lips twitched but she didn’t follow through with a full grin. “Why don’t you tell me why I should like this holiday?” She dipped a triangle of her golden sandwich into her orange-red soup then took a delicate bite.

“Everyone likes Christmas.” He floundered for words. “It’s... It’s...magical.” He broke open the flaky crust of his chicken pot pie to let the steam escape.

“What’s so magical about the whole population of the world succumbing to avarice and greed?” She pointed her spoon at him. “And don’t get me started about that jolly old fat man in the red suit.”

“How do you know Santa is old or fat? Have you seen him?” Her abhorrence to Christmas fascinated him, but the information he was about to tell her would make or break the new friendship.

“Have you?”

It was now or never. For some reason, he trusted her. “Actually, yes. In fact, I know him pretty well.” He kept his gaze glued to her face, alert for any outward signs of derision or ridicule. Prior relationships usually broke down at this point. Some had even ended with drinks to his face or upended dinners in his lap. When Jayne did nothing more dramatic than blink, he released his held breath. Maybe it’d be different this time.

“How can you possibly know him? He’s a make-believe character from story books.” She narrowed her eyes. “Unless he’s an invisible friend of yours.”

Very witty, Jayne. Funny and sexy. A great combination. He fought a smile. “He’s definitely not invisible.” No longer hungry, Landon pushed his mostly untouched plate away. “You never believed in Santa when you were a kid?” He watched as hope briefly flitted across her face but that moment of vulnerability vanished as quickly as it had come.


“Why?” He wasn’t about to give up. He felt a tiny seed of belief buried beneath her protests and he wanted to draw it out. He needed to draw it out, if only to justify his own determination to remove himself from his own issues.

Jayne busied herself by crumbling little bits of her sandwich into her soup bowl. “Santa has always been a disappointment to me.” She captured her bottom lip between her teeth. “When I was eleven, I desperately wanted a microscope. I loved science and thought it would be fun to look inside living things.”

“And you didn’t get it, I assume?” He wrenched his gaze from her invitingly wet lips to focus on her face.

“Of course not.” Bitterness crept into the confirmation. “Not only that, a few months after that, I found all the letters I’d written to Santa in my mom’s underwear drawer. She never mailed them. I understood why later—there was nowhere to mail them to. Santa’s a fake.” She shrugged. “I found all but one letter. She must have lost it.”

“I’m sorry you had a bad childhood. What about now? You’re older and wiser. Do you believe in Santa now?”

“Are you kidding me?” She gaped at him as if he were a car wreck. “Why should I believe now? What’s the point?”

“Because.” Landon cleared his throat. “Santa Claus is my uncle.”

Book video:

Promo video for Crystal Falls:

Buy link:
Or visit my website for more information:

Keep your eyes open for more books in this series.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ah, geez.... what happens next???

First let me apologize for this post being late. It's been crazy around here!

Now for the topic of the week: writer's block.

I'm not sure such a thing exists. Let me tell you why. As a reporter, the excuse didn't fly. I know. I tried it! I've never met an editor who said "You don't know what to write about that community function? No problem." Space had to be filled, and reporters fill it. Period. End of discussion.

Now as I dwell in the realm of fiction, I find an entirely new problem. No longer am I reporting what someone did or said, I'm coming up with the day-to-day activities of a fictional set of people. I can't ask them to give me a quote to fill up a few more lines of copy. It's a little (okay, a LOT) more difficult.

But not impossible.

So what do I do when I'm not sure what's going to happen next? I skip it.

Seriously. I skip that part and move on to the next thing I know is going to happen. For example, in my current work in progress Cerri and her spirit guide have just visited the Black Hills National Cemetery. Cerri goes home and... I have no idea!

But she needs to get some more information about the murder victim. She needs to find a direction to head. As a freelance journalist, maybe Cerri will get the chance to do a story on Bear Butte, where the murder took place. Maybe she'll get a call from her mother, a "wise woman" of the old tradition. Maybe she'll receive an e-mail from her sister, who also embraces the traditions of their mother.

So I'll write those scenes and worry about connecting the dots later. Either way, I'm actively working on the manuscript.

And writing is much like bodybuilding. If you don't exercise the muscles (or the brain, or the fingers on the keyboard), you won't make any progress! Don't you agree?


Meet Sheryl Nantus

Through my work as a copy editor at Lyrical Press, Inc. I've had the pleasure of working with author Sheryl Nantus, whose novel, What God and Cats Know is releasing early next year. It would appear that her star is on the up and up, because she's also been offered a contract with Samhain Publishing for another novel.

What sparked the idea for What God and Cats Know?

I've always loved to read about shapeshifters and cat people, but wondered about problems within the family unit. What if you fell in love with a human? What would your children have to deal with? How would other "cat people" deal with a half-human, half-cat person? And what if you had to leave the family unit for some reason—how do you fit in a world that isn't yours?

Did the novel take a long time to write and did you face any obstacles?

To be honest, What God and Cats Know originated as a NaNoWriMo novel—2007 to be specific. I ploughed through the first 50 000 words in the month allowed then finished it up and let it sit for a few weeks until going back to edit, edit, edit! The toughest thing I had to do was walk away from the novel and let it age for a time before going back with a clear head and able to look at it with a relatively unbiased eye. It's hard to hurt your babies, but it's a necessary evil if you want to produce good work.

Tell us about the cats in your life.

Ah, now... I have known many wonderful fuzzaloids and loved them all dearly. The one in the book, Jazz, was a real cat who was given to me by my sister, who found the kitten pressed against her basement window in the middle of a roaring rainstorm. She moved in with me and lived a long, and I hope, happy life. She passed on three years ago and I still get weepy thinking about her. A white puffball, she had a lot of attitude and loved to snuggle.

Razzmatazz was around at the same time as Jazz and was a tortoiseshell street cat who ripped the screen door open the first night she stayed in my apartment and went out. Came back the next morning with the usual demands for food and we reached an agreement. The two of them were a very interesting pair, with their "cat fu", which consisted of lying on the ground facing each other, swatting with their paws. Lazy, yes.

Right now I'm living with Mitchell, a shelter cat who has to be the biggest cat I've ever seen. Well over twenty pounds, he's a tabby who won't shut up and merps for everything, and is the biggest baby and coward in the world. But he's a sweetie and always demands lap time, especially when I'm working on a book. Go figure.

Describe What God and Cats Know in three words.

Cat. People. Sex.

Who are some of your favourite authors, and why?

First, I have to give a shout out to Rudyard Kipling—yes, he's an oldie, but I still love to curl up with a copy of The Jungle Book and enjoy the stories. There's so much in Rikki Tikki Tavi and The White Seal that I keep finding on each reading.

Present-day, I love Patricia Briggs and her Mercy Thompson series. I like the way she puts a different spin on the werewolf myth and really creates a world you can see happening. And the woman can write!

Julia Spencer-Fleming's one of my favorite authors with her Miller's Kill series, involving a priest and a policeman who are in love, but can't act on it—at least not for the first few books. It's a really good series if you love mysteries and well-developed characters who tug at your heart.

Care to tell us about some of your existing and/or forthcoming projects?

Right now I'm launching into the production of Blaze of Glory, coming out from Samhain Publishing in April, 2010!

Here's the story!

Saving the world is easy for a superhero—unless you’re a fraud.

Jo Tanis is a superhero, fighting evil on the city streets, using her ability to feed off electromagnetic energy and fire off charges—and it’s all just a show. The Agency captures her and others like her when their powers begin to manifest, pitting them against each other in staged, gladiatorial fights. An explosive implant on the back of her neck assures she’ll keep right on smiling for the camera and beating up the bad guys.

When Earth comes under attack, suddenly the show becomes deadly real. Unable to deal with a real alien, the “supers” are falling in droves. Millions of innocent civilians are going to die…unless Jo can cobble together a team from among the fake heroes and villains the Agency enslaved. Including Hunter, who not only promises to show her how to deactivate the implants, but seems to know more than he should about how the mysterious Agency operates.

Forcing a rag-tag bunch of former enemies to work together is the least of Jo’s problems. The trick is determining if Hunter is friend or foe—and becoming the hero everyone thought she was before the world is destroyed for real.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Do not be a snob about different genres, get out there and read a mystery, a romance, a fantasy book, nonfiction books, read everything. You'll learn so much by varying your reading than if you keep to the same old, same old.

Any useful links?

The Absolute Write Forums—here you'll find agents, publishers and authors giving tips and advice about the industry. You can check on possible frauds and get good information. Don't leave home without it!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Topic of the Week

"Help! I'm stuck!" --- and how I fix it

Friday, November 13, 2009

Taming the shrew

If we've learned anything from the immortal bard, it's that everyone loves the hated character. We all come to love the prickly, irascible shrew. In the end, we all hope for redemption, growth and a happy ending for the most unusual characters, were that not the case, then Dickens's Christmas Carol would never have reached such towering acclaim. Nor would America's favorite bigot, Archie Bunker, the man everyone loved to hate.

With all of this in mind, I try to flaw my characters either physically, emotionally or psychologically. There needs to be room to grow and improve, room for the reader to take a liking but also fall in love as well as the hero, too. All a part of "keepin' it real" because what could be more real than having flaws?

It's harder to embrace a cranky heroine notably when you are in a good mood - even more difficult, it's harder to put yourself in the mind of one who is truly alien, a chimera in every aspect, if you will, such as the character Havoc, in my science fiction trilogy. Havoc is the end result of hundreds of years of careful select breeding with few added layers of genetic manipulation resulting in "dogs". Why are they called dogs? The lead scientist had a warped sense of humor and an utter disdain for religion. Just as man was made in God's image, these new human were made in "dog's". Only once the military application of their training kicked in, did one older, sadly poetic man quietly recited, "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war, that this foul deed shall smell above the earth with carrion men, groaning for burial." as the dogs were unleashed on the warring factions of an Earth gone mad... But that event is in the past, many years before Havoc's birth. Her penultimate ancestress was hard enough to identify with, being only just human, it was very much like dealing with Saka Ishkuzi from Festival of Lights, but Havoc, she's so alien it gives me shivers to walk in her skin for an afternoon.

Hopefully, in the end, it will be all the more worth it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Who the heck are you?

Do I like my heroine in my current WIP?

Hmm, that's a loaded question. She's a space pirate. Strong. Stubborn. Doesn't show alot of emotion and doesn't take a whole lot of crap from anyone.

So far, this book is different from anything I've ever written and it's a bit hard to write in places. But, I will tell you I'm very excited about this book and now that it's 2/3's done and the excitement level is still there, I consider it a good sign.

How does my hero feel about this gal? Well, he's intrigued and a bit intimidated by her and he might be a glutton for punishment. Trouble is, he'll have to really bring it to get them out of a tight situation.

Long story short? Yes, I like my heroine--mostly LOL Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Meet Liz Strange

Liz was born in Kingston, Ontario where she still resides with her four children and a menagerie of pets. She enjoys scary movies, reading, spicy food, rainy days and is a huge Star Trek fan. She has long had a fascination with Easter Island and ancient Greece, and hopes to visit both. Though she writes about all manner of dark subjects, vampires are always nearest and dearest to her heart.

Liz's novel, My Love Eternal, will be released by Lyrical Press, Inc. next year, and I've so far had the pleasure of editing this work of fiction.

Thank you Liz, for your time, and for joining us on Frightening Journeys today.

What scares you?

I am good with any scary movies involving monsters, ghosts, demons, serial killers and all that kind of stuff. But anything with clowns or aliens and I’m outta there. The movies that have scared me the most are Fire in the Sky, Communion and IT. I also have a phobia of water – things in the water, drowning and more, and of being buried alive.

What got you writing in the first place?

I was creating stories as a very young child, before I could even physically write. I would dictate stories to my mom, who would write them down and then I would illustrate. She has a whole series about this bird family that I created at about age three. After that, there was no stopping me. I always excelled in English and creative writing all through school, and would read just about anything.

Who are some of your favourite authors and why?

I enjoy horror, dark fiction, fantasy and crime/forensic stories. I read Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Karin Slaughter, Sue Grafton, Anne Rice, Stephen King, PN Elrod and Tanya Huff. Oh, there’s so many., and I love books about vampires, whether the stories are fun or very dark. One of my very favourite authors is Michael Slade, and I enjoy his books because they involve the Canadian legal system, and are brilliantly written.

Care to share any strange/paranormal encounters?

As a child I grew up in a very old farm house. It even had a name – Horizon House. I swear it was haunted. There were lots of strange sounds, and cold spots and things never seemed to be in the same placed that I left them in my bedroom. Very spooky. My friends and I liked to play the Ouija board there and scare ourselves silly.

Tell us about your upcoming LPI release in one sentence.

My Love Eternal is a vampire love story with all the good stuff – scares, blood, sex and an unexpected twist.

Why vampires? What do you like about them?

Vampires are like the ultimate bad boys or girls. They’re dangerous and can seduce you like nobody’s business. I have been fascinated (some might say obsessed) with them since childhood, when I first read Salem’s Lot. I love the idea of being powerful, immortal and forever young.

You can connect with Liz at her website: or on

Monday, November 9, 2009

I like her, I like her not

We've heard it said before, an author puts some of himself/herself into each character. I can't imagine that is more true then with the main character.

I like my main character, Cerri. She's a little sarcastic and highly independent. She enjoys her family and tries to make sense of the things going on around her. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, but doesn't care to be told what to do.

To those who know me, those characteristics may sound fairly familiar.

In Cerri, however, they are helpful and positive traits. In me, they can be annoying and sometimes negative. Or at least that's how I see them.

There's a lot of me in my main character. I hope she's a nicer, more understand, less stressed individual than I am, but she's there. Or I'm there. Something like that.

Does she get on my nerves? A little. When Cerri is being snippy, I know where she gets it. I think, at least in my case, my main character takes the best of me and tries to make it better.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Topic of the Week

Do you LIKE your main character? Why or Why not?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Just like to go Back in Time

Sorry to say, but this will be brief. I've only one time travel tale in the works, and it hasn't been released yet. The only quandaries I had with it was keeping the time-line bland and nondescript so s not to have any anachronisms. Being a nitpicker, I didn't want to give my fellow pluckers any plums, just good reading material - and Song of the Nighthawk is that, especially if you like tranquil tales with the ability to reach out and scare the crap out of you.

On the other hand, I'd love to go back in time, unorder the wonderful medical test I had on Monday (one that landed me back in doctor-land all day Friday), which is why I wasn't able to post on my proper day.

But to get back to the original topic, I do look forward to tackling time travel gain - this time with more concrete events beyond harvest fairs, slaves, and abuses of slaves. Maybe something around the Peloponnese War...

"Where am I?" or "When am I?"...

I apologize for the delay of the post.  I've been in and out of the doctor's office all week for a bad shoulder, bronchitis and a nasty gash on my arm from working on the house.  Such is the general day to day in my world.

Time travel has always fascinated me.  Regardless of the nature of the traveling.  Isn't there something you've always regretted and would like to do differently?  No?  Well consider yourself fortunate.  I for one can think of several things I would change if I could, so the idea of creating a story around the abilty to travel through time is captivating to me.  Back in high school, I wrote my very first (very very rough draft) book ever.  I can remember being so proud that I'd actually finished an entire story.  I didn't know how rough it was, or how many mistakes I'd have to correct when I laid eyes on Cassidy's Emerald seventeen years later.  All I knew was it was my very first time travel story and I loved it.  Now that I'm going back and typing in the words on the computer, altering pov switches, rambling sentences and outright catastrophes, I'm amazed at the growth between that writer and this one.  I still love Nick and Katherine's story.

Story-wise time travel happens many different ways, by machine, ancient portals to where ever, and sorcery, so I had the idea to do something outside the box.  I gave my hero Nick Cassidy, a family fortune, a professor's degree in etymology- Not sure if that's right, but he studied ancient Eygpt.- and an old house with a ghostly portrait of a beautiful woman named Katherine.  He becomes obsessed with reaching her time to the point he is willing to try anything.  He has in his possesion a large emerald discovered while in Eygpt in a merchant bazaar.  Legend has it, an Egyptian princess and her guard were trapped in the stone because they refused to let rules tear apart their love.  Now being who he is, he researches and buys up old money, clothes etc.  For the purpose of this story, how accurate do I have to be with the Ancient Egyptian culture?  Good question.  I'm still working that out.

Have a blessed week, all!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not enough time

Since Saturday, I've been stuck in the clutches of a cold, flu, whatever it is and haven't gotten much done. Time travel? Right about now it sounds good. I'd launch myself forward about a week.

I've always wanted to write a time travel book. My problem is trying to figure out what exactly will catapult the character back and if it is indeed back, how to get them to return to their life--if at all.

It boggles my brain and I'll let it simmer in the back burner of my mind for awhile yet until the time comes that I can understand.

Meantime, everyone who does write in that genre, you have my respect.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm running out of time

Time travel is tricky business. There are so many ways to do it, how do you choose? You want it to be fantastical but convincing. 'Out there', but believable. And honestly, I just don't think it can be done. H.G. Wells not withstanding, I think it's just too difficult to crate a reliable time travel scenario. They all seem "fakey" to me. Kind of like the Dr. Who time tunnel.

Though personally if I were to write on time travel, I'd make it like the warp drive on Space Balls.... I'd go to plaid.


Monday, November 2, 2009

SA-based horror team stab out with another scare

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to see the organic process in which indie horror movies are made, taking storytelling from a purely verbal medium to something that is so much more. This is something many authors dream of seeing as a reality for their fiction. From conception to execution, it’s a time-consuming, expensive yet artistically rewarding experience that is very organic. Here's a peek into the lives of two very talented artists and filmmakers who’re definitely onto a good thing in Cape Town, South Africa.

Meet Ronnie Belcher and Thomas Dorman

So far, both your film collaborations have been horror-orientated. Why horror? What do you love about the genre?

Ronnie: I grew up with horror movies, so it’s a genre that has been a part of me for many years. I love all the elements that make a good horror film, from the gore and guts, to the suspense and fear, to the hidden message. It is an extreme art form.

Thomas: I consider horror as an extremely underrated genre of movie. It normally deals with aspects of humanity most people refuse to face, often with a strong moral message. Almost anything can happen in a horror movie... Unlike other genres, you don’t have to have a happy ending or hold back on intense emotional content. Besides that, I’ve been watching horror since I was very young. I’ve found that horror movies have taught me a lot, morally and emotionally. I find the the genre covers a large ground of possibilities ... From early 1920s European movies, 1970s shockers... To beautiful Japanese ghost stories.

What were the influences of your soon-to-be-released short horror film, Emma-Õ?

Ronnie: The dominant influence was Asian horror, from film to theatre—which are some of the oldest in the world. We put a lot of research into this project, from Japanese to Chinese superstition, ghosts and mythology. The culture and superstition is fascinating.

Thomas: Japanese and Chinese ghost stories, movies and Japanese kabuki. Our tale is based both on a Chinese type of ghost called a Nǚ Guǐ and the Japanese Onryō, which are very similar and are both linked to water and tend to be women in white with long black hair and blueish faces (Indigo paint is used to depict her using Kumadori for Kabuki, as well as in Chinese theatre).

Japanese Onryō movies are a big inspiration. The 1960s Kwadian and its modern counterparts such as The Ring are all based on these stories. We have looked back to the original stories and also the modern adaptations for inspiration. Our story is a tradition tale. Like the traditional vampire story, it’s not totally original but we have put a South Africa spin on it.

Why did you decide to go with a predominantly Asian theme when the film is based in South Africa?

Ronnie: It suits our character back story completely: Asian husband and wife move to Cape Town, South Africa… We also wanted to juxtapose the two elements, which is always a good thing to do when writing horror.

Thomas: We have a massive, fast-growing Asian population and their myths are being imported with them at an extremely fast rate. Both Ronnie and myself have a growing interest in Eastern culture and, with it, eastern religion, myths and ghost stories. American filmmakers are adapting Eastern horror movies every year... And the style is growing in popularity.

What was the most challenging part of putting this film together?

Ronnie: The limited time we had. From “Action!” on day one to the final product render was only three weeks. No one believed we could shoot and post-produce a film in such a short space of time, but we managed to pull it off, thanks to everyone involved.

Thomas: Working within budget and the time restraints.

Are there any amusing anecdotes from the film you'd like to share?

Ronnie: Erin Wu (our main actress) informed us that we had to perform a ceremony before filming had to start. We had to ask for the permission and guidance of the ghosts in the other dimension prior to filming. We all stood around a table filled with fruit and incense (their offering) and I (as director) had to communicate with them and ask for their blessing. By the time the incense was burnt out, we could film.

Thomas: Well, where do I start? So much happened. I guess I could tell you about the fact that we filmed it during this years Chinese Hungry Ghost festival time period, without planning it. The movie is named after the statue in the movie. It is based on the Chinese Buddhist god of the underworld, Yan Wang. The God is known as Emma-ō in Japan. In typical horror movie fashion, we do have a little “extra” after the credits... So keep watching.

What is your advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Ronnie: Write a good script. The story is everything. Get good people to help you.

Thomas: It’s early days for me and this is just a short, so I really have no advice.

Useful links

Thomas Dorman
SA Horrofest:

Ronnie Belcher
Skype: ronnie.belcher

Emma-O Facebook group:

Black Milk Productions Facebook group: