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.