Saturday, December 21, 2013

Here comes the sun...

Winter has come and today for Winter Solstice I have so many things to reflect on and be thankful for as I go into the new year. I've never been a winter months lover (even though I'm a winter baby) and enjoy the warmer climate of spring and summer days. Yet, this year I feel particularly grounded in the mythos of this day and eagerly await the magic of this night. 

At work we prepped for the new year with an activity that required us to list things we plan to commit to personally and professional. The accountability of the commitment is not housed soley on the individual's shoulders but the collective takes part in making sure one reaches their goals. I invite you all to take some time do the same for yourself as the night is long and dark and we wait eagerly for the sun to return to is once more.

Personal commitment activity:

1 piece of blank paper
Pens, markers and any and all crafty things you enjoy 

Fold the paper in half. On one side write, "I commit to improve personally" and on the other write, "I commit to improve professionally". Write out words, thoughts  and/or actions for both. You can decorate your paper as little or as extravagantly as you want. As this will be a tool to hold yourself accountable for what you've written the rest of the year, make sure your words are legible. Once finished put it somewhere you can see it and others as well. Be honest with yourself because magic only happens when you believe!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Eight Myths About Novelists

(1) Authors Pay To Get Published

This one makes me want to hurt people. Readers pay publishers and publishers pay authors. If the author pays the publisher, nobody needs readers, so they don't get them. If some jerkwad wants you to pay to be published, go to any library or bookstore and try to find any of their books. You won't. Not even one. They can piss off.

(2) The Time You Spend On Facebook Makes You Write Better

No, you're not getting inspiration from Facebook and Twitter. You're goofing off. Acceptable and even recommended in small doses. It's a marathon not a sprint, and you need short breaks. I find Solitaire more relaxing - only one game, win or lose, then get back to work.

(3) You Too Can Be A Happy Member of the "Writing Culture"

Oh yeah, read all the books and magazines and spend hours getting drunk with your fellow authors in restaurants. That's not writing, folks. Writing is something you do alone. If that's a problem, you're not a writer, no matter how black your beret and cigarettes.

(4) Novelists Are Rich

Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.

(5) Novelists Can Sleep As Late As They Want

Not entirely mythical, but the whole "lazy undisciplined lifestyle" is mythical. If you're sleeping late, you'd better be working late. While you are free to make your own schedule, it must consist largely of parking your butt in a chair and writing. However, the full-time author with no other source of income is rarer than you think, so you've probably got to get up early anyway, to go to your paying job. Writing novels is how you stop the pressures of that paying job from making you kill yourself.

(6) Just Steal From Your Friends' Lives and Your Novels Will All But Write Themselves

Well, the truth is you can steal from anybody. If you find it interesting, steal it and rework it and make it your own. Family, friends, your inner self, strangers on the bus, movies, TV, magazines, newspapers, other novels, whatever. But that freedom to steal doesn't mean you're not doing about 95% of the work.

(7) Drugs and Alcohol Make You Write Better

They don't make you a better plumber, engineer, teacher, juggler, or bus driver. What counter-intuitive self-deception makes you think they improve your writing? You know that's not right, even if you're telling yourself it is. Listen to your gut on this one, just like you listen to your gut about what is and isn't good writing.

If I feel the need to go find some of that magic mythical magic that some call inspiration, I get it from a bike ride. Notepad and pen in pocket, always. You might find it somewhere else. But I can guarantee you it won't be from the needle, the pipe, the spoon, the bottle, or the tinny. Sorry to bear the bad tidings.

(8) You Don't Need Pants

That one's true. Yay!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real-world Magic and Holiday Idealism

I'm really not a cynic.

True, I tend to possess a certain sarcastic...something, and I will admit to seeing the practical and logistical side of life a little too much for my own good. December is traditionally a month where all the weird in the world tends to come after me with a crowbar, and I've had more loss during this month than I care to remember. Still, there are times when I do let my optimism and idealism see daylight. Case in point...

For a long, long time I did different sorts of event work, and I've moonlighted as an elf once or twice. One year, I was doing a one person show at a small venue, a kind of kid sing-along deal at a holiday extravaganza that a lot of communities throw between Thanksgiving and New Year's. We were getting okay crowds, but the night in question things were pretty light. I had taken my break to run across the venue and grab some much-needed hot chocolate (it was a cold year), and I'd tossed my parka on over my neon elf costume (long story short, I was decked out in more day-glo colors than a Christmas wreath in the eighties). I'd stopped by the petting zoo because admittedly I'm a bit of a softy at times, and heard a gasp behind me and turned to face a shocked little girl who probably was no more than seven or eight, maybe nine. I gave her a wave and a smile, plugged the next performance of the show to her group, and and went about my business, only half-paying attention when she ran up to her mother and started whispering to her.

Back at the show venue, I found the girl's little group of friends and chaperones coming in close behind me, probably following me since the signs were pretty sparse. I did a quick sound check and my tech helped cue everything up, and we began...

The show itself wasn't that structured - I routinely moved some things around if I felt things were dragging or if the crowd was getting restless. What I wasn't prepared for, though, was for the little girl to stand up in the middle of one of the ten thousand monologues I had to go through and ask "But why doesn't everyone believe in Santa Claus? Isn't he real? You're an elf, you can tell me yes or no!"

If you've never known the singular, brutal panic that comes with being asked a delicate question in front of one of the child's parents while you're supposed to stay on track and in character and there's no other actor in the show but you, well, it's a special kind of terror. Not only that, but days before I'd lost a family member that had been very dear to me and still hadn't quite come to grips with having to continue the gig through the holiday season while dealing with the loss...and now I had to somehow figure out what to tell this hopeful little girl without ticking her mother off, throwing the show completely off track, or a thousand other things.

My mind was vibrating while struggling for an answer, I was trying to intuit some sort of instruction on the mom's shocked face, and my tech was behind a Christmas tree and inaccessible. Who was I to tell this child what she should believe? Who was I to even know, in the scheme of life, what even I believed?

 It may not seem like much, believing in Santa, but I had the power in my answer to either crush dreams, keep a belief alive that may not be appreciated by all parties involved, or ignore the kid and just get on with things. From the anxious rustling of the Christmas tree and the embarrassed looks on the adult audience members' faces, the latter was what was expected. It would have been easy. It would have been somewhat permissible to play it off as having to keep with the show, despite the audience participation.

I couldn't do it.

It was almost a bizarre, out-of-body experience, but I found myself calling the kid up to the stage while I sat on the edge, bright pink tight-clad legs curled under the day-glo green skirt. Just as strangely, as I looked into her hopeful face, I found the answers I needed, myself. 

"You know, Santa's one of those funny things, like love and other things you can't see. Not everyone is going to say they believe in it because they're afraid of sounding silly, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You can't always see everything that's real with your eyes, you know. Sometimes you have to see things like that with your heart."

She processed that, nodded deep in her winter coat and piles of wrappings, and after a moment looked up at me with the kind of big, charming grin only a child can flash. "Then I'm gonna still believe in Santa Claus. You're an elf, you know what you're talking about!"

We sang some songs together and eventually I got back on track to the latter part of the show, but it didn't really matter if things went off the rails or not. In some ways, that was probably the best performance of the whole run.

Afterwards, I got many quiet compliments from a lot of adults hanging around. I found it hard to accept them, hard to express how important it was for me to speak as close to the truth as I could. The fact is, I may be an adult, and I may get how the world works, but if believing in Santa, or even the possibility of magic, the possibility of love, the possibility of goodness this time of year makes me happier....then I'm going to do it. I want to believe in goodness, in people, that things can get better. Besides, that little girl was as much of a magical elf to me as I was to her...that one evening pulled me even a little bit out of the darkness of grief I was surrounding by. By being able to make the holiday just a little better for that little girl, I was able to heal myself just a little, as well. The memory still makes me smile, and I've taken it out and examined it lovingly every year, just like I would any ornament or bauble I put up at home.

I don't always let it out in my daily life, but I like when I can let that same possibility and idealism out in my writing. Of all the pieces that I currently have published, Holly and Ivy is probably the most fanciful, the most optimistic, the most idealistic. There's some sadness, some loss, true, but winter brings those things...just as it brings us opportunities to make our own magic, just as it brings us closer to spring. 

After losing her job and her boyfriend, Holly returns to her parents’ farm. Embarrassed and hopeless, she doesn’t expect to bump into a forgotten childhood friend that wasn’t supposed to exist. Ivy is not only a dryad, but she lives in the pine trees Holly’s family grows to sell at Christmas. As the old friends reconnect,Ivy not only shares her strong opinions, but gives Holly a charm that will change both their lives. As days melt into weeks and the seasons change, Holly’s life magically turns around. Christmas not only brings surprises, but a choice for the human woman. What’s more important: stability, success, and love, or keeping a promise to an old friend?

Plus, remember, when you buy Holly and Ivy (or Under the Mistletoe by Siobhan Kinkade) during the month of December, you can get a FREE copy of the e-book co-written by SH Roddey and I - Lost in the Shadows!

All you have to do to claim your book is email us ( after you buy it and tell us (a) which book you purchased, and (b) the next to last word of the story. Once you're confirmed, we'll send you your very own copy of Lost, free of charge, in either ePub or Mobi format, your choice. Sound like a deal?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holiday Giving - Free eBook style!

This month we're going to do something a little different. It's December, so that means it's the season for Holidays, good food, and giving. And because we love our readers, Selah and I have teamed up to do something nice for all of you.

For the remainder of December, anyone who purchases one of the two books below has the opportunity to get a free book. That's right - totally free! By purchasing one of our Mocha Memoirs holiday titles (they're both cheap! $2.99 or less!) you become eligible for a free copy of our little self-published project. It's a little book (at something like 300 pages!) Selah and I co-authored, and we call it Lost in the Shadows. It's a collection of over 40 short stories that span the speculative fiction spectrum, from fantasy to urban fantasy to horror and back.


STEP 1. Purchase at least one of these two books:

After losing her job and her boyfriend, Holly returns to her parents’ farm. Embarrassed and hopeless, she doesn’t expect to bump into a forgotten childhood friend that wasn’t supposed to exist. Ivy is not only a dryad, but she lives in the pine trees Holly’s family grows to sell at Christmas. As the old friends reconnect, Ivy not only shares her strong opinions, but gives Holly a charm that will change both their lives. As days melt into weeks and the seasons change, Holly’s life magically turns around. Christmas not only brings surprises, but a choice for the human woman. What’s more important: stability, success, and love, or keeping a promise to an old friend?


Military widow Rhea Blackmon is forced by her late husband’s best friend Sebastian to attend Fort Mitchell’s Christmas party, much against her will. All she wants is to go home and be alone but Sebastian has other plans. He has a present for her; one that she will not soon forget.

STEP 2: Email me!

Once you purchase your book, send me an email [SusanHRoddey (at) gmail (dot) com] and let me know two things: (a) which book your purchased, and (b) the next to last word of said story. Obviously the "the" in "The End" doesn't count.

Once I verify your purchase, I will reply with your very own e-copy of Lost in the Shadows. Epub and Mobi formats are available, so be sure to let me know which you prefer.

Oh, while we're at it, here's the info for Lost:


Welcome to the Shadows:

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.


As always, honest reviews of all of our work are welcomed and encouraged. Reviews keep us going and help us get the word out about our books. While you're out and about, be sure to stop by the Mocha Memoirs Press e-store and check out all of the other fabulous titles on sale!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ten Books That Stayed With Me

E. A. Black writes horror, dark fiction, and fantasy. She writes erotica and erotic romance under the pen name Elizabeth Black. Ms. Black lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband and four cats. You may find her on Facebook or on her web site.


There's a meme going around Facebook - Ten books that stayed with you. I love writing horror above all else so it's only natural that horror books have stayed with me since childhood, but some of the books I classify as horror may surprise you. Here's my list, in no particular order.

1. "The Screaming Skulls and Other Ghosts" by Elliott O'Donnell. Obvious choice. This book is chock full of ghost legends from the U. K. that scared the piss out of me when I was a child. I still have it and read it on occasion and it continues to spook me.

2. The Bible - Total horror, without a doubt. I actually read the thing, too, which is one reason I am not religious at all today.

3. Everything by Edgar Allan Poe. More horror. I grew up in Baltimore so Poe was very special to me. I visited his grave and his home. I even dated the curator of the Poe museum for awhile there. I was surprised that Poe had such a wicked sense of humor. My favorite story of his is not a horror story. It's "Never Bet The Devil Your Head", a dark comedy.

4. "Claudia" by Barbara Brooks Wallace. Horror in the sense that it's about a child who doesn't fit in with her classmates. That was me in elementary school. This book taught me how to cope with being a nerdy, clutzy reject.

5. My first Home Owner's Association manual. Most people posted fiction books but I had to include a few non-fiction. This manual was pure horror. I lived in one of the first planned communities in the United States. They're as surreal as you've heard. That "X Files" episode "Arcadia" got it right. No window air conditioners. No visible children's toys on front lawns. Doors and trim could be painted only in HOA-approved colors. No trash cans visible from the street. Lawns and gardens must meet HOA specifications down to the length of the grass. Neighbors tattling to the HOA board if they think you violated any codes.

6. "The Art Of War" by Sun Tzu. This book has been invaluable to me. It taught me not only the proper way to pick my battles, but also how to inspire my enemies to bring themselves down with little effort from myself.

7. "The Complete Works Of Calvin and Hobbes". This book was my baby raising manual, along with the Coen brothers movie "Raising Arizona". The main child-rearing lesson I learned from that movie - do not sit the car seat with child inside on top of the car before driving away.

8. "The Catcher In The Rye" by J. D. Salinger. Another book about a misfit kid. I could relate.

9. Ikea instructional manual on how to put together my bed. Pure, unadulterated horror. No further explanation necessary. Ikea instructional manuals are probably responsible for the rising tide of insanity in America.

10. "Mothers On Trial" by Dr. Phyllis Chesler. True-life horror. It's about all the grief mothers go through in divorce and custody cases to protect themselves and their children. At the time I read it I was going through a very ugly divorce, and it kept me sane.

So there's my list with explanations. What about you? What are your ten books that stayed with you?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's Christmas Time!

So here’s the thing. Not only is Christmas one of my favorite times of year… I love the stories that come with it. Give me family drama, sweet kisses under the mistletoe, a feast, a Christmas miracle or two and I am one happy girl. I'll even read them in the dead of summer, just to recapture the magic.

Thankfully, Mocha Memoirs Press has holiday stories to feed my e-reader. Yay! I started with Under the Christmas Tree by Drea Riley and Nikki Winter, but I will be downloading the others soon. You can bet your jingle bells on that.

Under the Christmas Tree was a great read. Everything I love about the holiday romance genre. Sexy and fun, I laughed out loud in several places. The food descriptions… oh lordy, I am jealous. I can barely cook a TV Dinner, let alone that sort of banquet. Some girls have all the luck. SIGH.

The others that I’m going to try, and I encourage you to do so as well, are:

Go forth and feed your reader~ you know you're going to need something good to read after the craziness of the holiday season.

Merry Christmas to you & yours!

Wynelda Deaver

Friday, December 6, 2013

Shriek of the Skin Walker...

I just got my copy of Eden Royce's horror anthology "In the Bloodstream."  My contribution is the short story "Blood of the Chosen," which I hope will bring an enjoyable chill to someone's evening.

I've only had time to read the first story in the collection so far:  Kierce Sevren's deliciously spooky short "The Skin Thief."  Without giving away too much, it's the story of a single mom and her two kids on a dark night in a typical suburban home.  There may or may not be someone or something lurking in the front yard.  The little girl may or may not be imagining things when she thinks she sees a face at the window.  Good, suspenseful moments in the dark, with which we can all identify.  It reminded me a lot of the "Paranormal" movie series.  The best kind of horror is the kind that starts in a familiar setting with ominous calm and builds.  What's hiding in the familiar darkness of your quiet house at night?  (You're home; no place to retreat to.  It's coming for you as you sleep.)

The monster Kierce uses is one that's becoming increasingly visible and popular in horror tales and monster lore:  the skin-walker.  In native American (particularly Navaho) folklore, skin-walkers were powerful and evil witches who had the power to take animal forms.  Most cultures have their own version of the concept.  Werewolves, shape-shifters.     Based on what little research I've done on the subject, skin-walkers are supposed to have started out as the most powerful and holy of witches, like high priests, or whatever the correct term is.  But, they turn to the evil path by killing, eating human flesh or doing something equally horrible.  Basically, they're people who want to do evil.

All similar human-like mythological monsters, skin-walkers, shifters, ghouls, vampires, etc. are, I guess, just splinters of the same primal fear:  Fear of the evil within all of us.  A hunger to do evil, or at least an animal hunger for something more natural, absent any barrier of empathy or civilization to hold it in check.  People in every culture, from the aboriginal camp 'round the fire to medieval Christendom sheltering behind its slightly safer castle walls, through the centuries have feared that hungry howl in the night by the chill light of the moon.  Even we, who (God knows) have plenty to fear from tangible enemies both foreign and domestic, continue to feel the nagging fear of the unseen thing lurking in that dark, cluttered closet or in the cellar, or on the lower floor, or rustling in the trees at the edge of the yard.  The ancient fears show no sign of abating.  Quite the opposite.  Maybe that's why our entertainment-- books, movies and TV-- seems to turn increasingly to stories of witches, monsters and demons.

Maybe because deep down, we know we can't lock out all the evil.  Some of it is always there, inside us.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's RESEARCH...Yeah, that's the ticket...

Do you ever find yourself not writing when you should be? Happens to me all the time. Sometimes, it is because I am too lazy, or have been submitting for days and need a break, or I am getting a beta review...but sometimes, it is just because I am reading, watching, or listening to something in my genre to try and improve or to scope out the competition.

This is a vital part of the process of being a writer. Never stop researching--and seeking out inspirational media, reading in your genre, and learning more about some aspect of your world are all research. Pay attention to everything, because you never know what will become important later on. Some examples: there was a train explosion and derailment in an episode of Hell on Wheels. Since a great deal of the travel in my Steampunk world is by steam train, now I know where to go if I want to see how it is done and use some of that detail. I recently took my first train ride. If I had taken it before I wrote the book, I would have been able to add more verisimilitude. It isn't easy to walk on a train...

Reading what other people are writing in your genre can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you get a feel for what is out there...on the other, you can feel way out of your league. I am reading two books I highly recommend: A Midsummer Night's Steampunk by Scott Tarbet, and Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, an anthology set in the world of Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. These books have both shown me how much I have to learn about Steampunk while at the same time, giving me fresh inspiration.

Anything can turn out to be inspirational or research. Keep your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the world around you. A bit of overheard cell conversation the other day became the basis for my latest short story. Carry your notebook everywhere. Jot down anything that tweaks your imagination.

And if anyone chides you for wasting time you could be working...tell them it's research. ;)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

How Not To Edit A Manuscript

I'm going to start by quoting some Mark Twain, regarding the author of The Last Mohican:

A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick.

Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.
Some people edit that way. Read a book, learn three tricks, and beat you over the head with them over and over and over again.

Their stage tricks include “never write a prologue,” “never say ‘thought to himself’ because there’s nobody else to think to,” and “no head hopping.”

The prologue as a way to make you swallow lame back story now for the vain hope of a reward later is an overworked device and a symptom of starting a manuscript way before when the story really gets started. Skip to the good stuff, son. If your book makes sense without the prologue, kill that bad boy, just as you would an epilogue or those lame chapters in the middle. But that doesn’t make all prologues verboten.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world. True, there is nobody else to think to unless you’ve got telepaths, but not worth a verboten. Sometimes it’s cool to think to yourself. Just not all the time.

Head hopping. In the hands of an amateur, it’s horrible. I’m looking at the world through this character’s eyes, then I go over there and switch to that person’s thoughts, then I move over to the other place and look at the world through somebody’s else’s eyes, then... The poor reader’s getting whiplash.

Plus, there’s no story without character, since everything that happens must happen to somebody, so why make it impossible for the reader to identify with your somebodies?

One point of view per chapter is fine. More than one per chapter, but no more than one per scene, is fine. Just be sure that every transition tells the reader right away that you’ve shifted perspectives. But you always want the reader to care about your new POV character, and certainly to be aware there is one. Confusion is bad. Enjoyment is good.

And, of all the rules to possibly harp on, why those three? Or two, or seven, or whatever? Why those and not these?

Breaking rules out of ignorance is inexcusable. Breaking rules because you have a reason is fine. Breaking rules in such a way as to lose, confuse, or abuse a reader is not a good thing to do. Breaking rules because it makes your story better is probably mandatory. Pretending that rules must never be broken makes a so-called editor a hack and a butcher.

I tell you what’s verboten. Boring me. And this post is starting to do that, so buh-bye.

No, wait, something else is verboten. For me to edit something that you wrote so that it looks like I wrote it. That’s not my job. Editors are not meant to strip their manuscripts of all individuality. We’re just supposed to make the author’s voice come out clearly. Not my voice, not James Patterson’s voice. The author’s voice. And we’re supposed to make the reader’s life as easy as possible. Remember the reader? He’s our friend. You’ll edit, and write, much better if you walk a mile in his moccasins.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Lazarus Effect, reviewed by Todd Stone

The Lazarus Effect sees the return of Gary Drake, detective we first met a decade earlier in Vigilante Justice. Ten years haven’t been good to Drake–he’s in prison, his family is dead, he is HIV-positive, and when other inmates discover he’s a cop, they beat him to death.

But like the book’s Biblical namesake, Gary Drake returns. “After his death, Gary Drake’s life became more interesting.”

A cynical prison doc makes a last-ditch effort to save Drake’s life by administering an unauthorized injection of a secret, experimental drug code named “Lazarus.” After the injection, Drake’s fatal wounds mysteriously and rapidly heal and his AIDS goes into remission. Drake then awakens from his beating-induced coma with with no memory of the beating or last ten years behind bars.

Taking up Drake’s cause, the prison doc contacts Drake’s old friend and almost love interest, police Captain Marjorie Brooks. Brooks, it seems, has found out about the Lazarus drug the hard way. A cop killer she has in custody should be dead from the bullets her police squad put into him, but instead is fit as a fiddle.

Now Drake and Brooks have to find the source of the Lazarus drug and get and keep it out of the wrong hands. Their quest leads them into the shadowy and very dangerous world of undercover operatives, and Drake once again finds his life on the line, but this time even a wonder drug may not save him.

There’s real excitement and action in The Lazarus Effect, as well as fine writing. The Lazarus Effect moves, and LaRocca’s “take” on the classic police mystery means The Lazarus Effect is one part mystery, one part thriller, and the rest pure engagement. Moreover, LaRocca doesn’t let either Drake or the reader off the hook with a simplistic ending. LaRocca’s work puts some tough questions in front of the reader: is defacto immortality really a good thing when evil doers can live forever as well? What if ten years’ worth of guilt could be lifted from you, but only at the cost of shattering your dreams about someone you loved? Who deserves a second chance, or maybe a third?

The Lazarus Effect is an interesting tale from an interesting author. Let’s hope we see more Gary Drake stories from Michael LaRocca soon.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On the downswing.

I'm working really hard to sustain the high I felt at the close of October and the start of November. Plots were a thickening and words were a flowing. I had so many ideas trapped in my (fairly) large head, I didn't think I'd ever stop. As often happens with my high standard of optimism life came in and said, "Go sit yourself down". It is the unfortunate consequence of being a part-time writer with aspirations of full time productivity. In the past I'd feel a bit discouraged, languish in my pile of forgotten WIPs until the example of my "failure" was too much I wouldn't open a word document for ages. This time things are different. It is possibly because I'm too tired to feel discouraged or (as my ever present optimism perks up) I may have finally reached a place where down time is good time because I'm not a factory churning out story after story.

Whatever it is, I'm going to coast this feeling for a bit. Give myself a breather, because when it passes I'm coming out strong and ready to DO!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lessons in Plotting

Do you think that a plotted novel is an abomination? So do I. I'm into character insights, and themes that rock your world. What happens is secondary. Who it happens to, and why, is what matters. Stuff that happens is just stuff that happens. I need more than that. I want a book to change the reader.

But that doesn't mean you can ignore your plot completely, the way I do descriptions of scenery. Plotwise, something has to happen. It doesn't have to be a whole lot, but it does have to be something.

Forty years ago, I'd read 100 pages waiting to get to "the good part." But people just don't do that anymore. I sure don't. There's a reason that Elmore Leonard told us to leave out the parts people skip.

So plotting, the good kind as opposed to the bad kind, means you can get to the good part before your reader quits reading.

Here's an example.

SANDLOT is, on its surface, a light easy read. It's the result of my lovely darling saying "you should write a football novel."

SANDLOT begins with a dead body. After twelve years in China, the not-quite-me main character returns to North Carolina because the not-quite-Daddy dies.

Why China? The answer to that question involves plotting, and thus the point of this rambling diatribe.

In real life, I spent six years in China, five years in Thailand, and one year in Hanoi. But in the novel, this is all back story, so I wanted to make it as brief and simple as possible. In real life, it was not. So let's prevent the truth from getting in the way of a good story.

Of the three countries, I'd much rather write about China. Plus, China does in fact have American-rules flag football. I never played it, but it exists. Part of the novel's plot is that the main character played football and honed all his coaching and quarterbacking skills "over there."

My story is about finding meaning in one's life, wondering why we're here, being 48 years old and still not knowing what you want to be when you grow up. This guy's answer, obviously, involved playing football.

So with just a wee bit of good plotting, I was able to write two pages of back story that set the dead father plot in motion, the football plot in motion, and the overseas plot in motion, while establishing the guy's character and rather quickly moving on to getting his nuts busted in a football game behind the barn in Burgaw. And thus begins the good stuff.

I usually spend more time creating my characters and my conflict, and writing the first chapter, than I do writing the rest of the first draft. If I've done the first part right, my characters tell me what they're going to do after I get the thing started.

So plotting is never the first tool you bring out of your writing toolbox. But do keep it in there. It's an option. And once in a great while, it can get you out of a rough spot.

If you're getting frustrated and/or bored, odds are you're going to write something that your reader would just as soon skip. With a bit of plotting, you can skip it too, and move on to what you really wanted to write all along.

(Oh, and if you read VIGILANTE JUSTICE and knew it was impossible for me to write a sequel, that was my intent, but wouldn't you know it? Ten years later, THE LAZARUS EFFECT, published by the fine folks here at Mocha Memoirs Press. I didn't "plot" it, but I did write the first draft in a single evening, so it's by far my "tightest" manuscript. Enjoy.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Preparing For A Reading - The Nightmare Scenario

This past weekend I went to Anthocon, a horror convention in New Hampshire. I was scheduled for a reading at 1:30 pm on Sunday for half an hour. I haven't done very many readings so here is how I prepared for it.

1. Had nightmares the week of the reading that I stood in front of everyone naked.

2. Had nightmares the week of the reading that I went to read from my Kindle when it was out of power.

3. Had nightmares the week of the reading that I left my printed copies at home so I had nothing to read.

So, I was off to a great start.

To alleviate these feelings of sheer terror, I stood in front of a mirror and read the first page of one of my stories. I was fine as long as I didn't trip over my tongue. I also made sure I had a glass of water handy for the inevitable dry mouth. Note to self: bring bottled water to the reading for when I inevitably became parched.

Another lesson: I read the first page of another story and enunciated as I read. The exercise gave me one hell of a mouth cramp but it worked.

Still another lesson: S L O W   D O W N! When nervous, I read at machine gun speed. If I put my mind to it, I can sound like a carnival barker or an auctioneer, which may be entertaining but isn't conducive to people enjoying what I'm reading.

Yet another lesson: BREATHE! I noticed I could go for several sentences without taking a single breath. By the time I needed to breathe, I felt like I was suffocating. My chest tightened and I felt as if someone rubbed the insides of my lungs with a scouring pad. So after each comma and period, I made a point of remembering to breathe.

By the time I mastered reading, I had slowed my pace, breathed at regular intervals, and became familiar enough with my stories to look up as if making eye contact with my audience. My speech was clear and easy to understand.

By the time Friday rolled around I was ready for my precious half hour. I even hoped to sell a few books. The best part was those awful nightmares stopped. A little confidence goes a long way.

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