Posted in Writing

Baking & Writing

I’ve mentioned that baking has become my newest hobby, and I recently decided to venture from cupcakes and cookies to full-on cakes thanks to a Pinterest recipe. (It’s this cake for those wondering.) The experience was… an experience. Full of I’m just going to wing it and well shit, that didn’t work.

Turning out a freaking tasty lemon cake and too sweet frosting gave me surprising insight into another process: my writing process.

It sounds like a leap—I know, I know—but let me unpack it.

The cake on Pinterest is called a Raspberry Lemon Cake. Mine was a Strawberry Lemon Cake because the grocery store didn’t have fresh raspberries. The recipe is supposed to produce enough batter for three 6-inch cakes. I barely fit all my batter in a single 9 ½ inch cakepan. The cake should’ve had a meringue frosting. I said f-it because it was 8pm and there was no way I was going to make f-ing meringue at that time of the night, so I bought a tub of frosting from Food Lion.

Whenever I start a new piece of writing, I always have a plan in my head. It may not be complete or very detailed, but I have a rough outline. A has to happen before B happens and B has to happen before C happens.

But stories and characters like to go awry. Maybe A needs to be cut entirely and E should really happen between B and C rather than after D. Or maybe a certain character decides that he or she would rather go chasing a story on zombies than finding their best friend at the hospital. (No… I’m not talking from personal experience here. What would give you that idea?)

Baking and writing require flexibility. The ability to say well that’s not going to happen and then finding a way to make the bigger picture still work. Odds are that it’s not going to look exactly how I expected or planned. It may be better. Or it may need some tweaking in the next go-around.

I’m okay with either outcome. Especially when it means I get to eat cake.

Posted in 5 Things, Making It Up As I Go, Writing

Five Things I Learned Writing “Scales”

I issued myself a challenge at the beginning of May: turn out a polished final draft of a short story by June 1st for an anthology call for submissions. And because I’m an overachiever when it comes to making things difficult for myself, I decided to write a cozy-type story, meaning limited blood and violence. So no car chases, no shootouts, and no zombies. (Note to self, figure out how to write a cozy mystery with zombies.)

The challenge taught me a lot about writing, and I wanted to share the five biggest lessons that I learned from trying to write and submit a short story in a month.

1. Find Conflict Outside Your (Writing) Comfort Zone

Because I decided early on that I didn’t want to write my typical A-team/Jack Reacher-type story where lives are on the line. I wanted something with a different kind of drama, the kind that could be happening next door and you’d be none the wiser until news crews show up on the front lawn. That isn’t the kind of drama I’m used to manufacturing for my characters and weaving into the plot.

I had to take a step back and ask myself what kind of conflict would compel the main character to act? She’s an expert in reptiles. What if she found and had to protect a reptile that’d been thought extinct for centuries? It took a bit longer to figure out how to make the tension and conflict something that would keep me on the edge of my seat. But I did it. And honestly, I liked how it turned out.

2. Pinterest is Worse than Quicksand, and You’re Better off Avoiding It while Writing

Hi there. I’m S.E., and I’m mildly addicted to Pinterest. It’s my go-to for recipes that may or may not work, the place where I can see hundreds of cute puppy pictures, and a knitting resource if I’m looking for a how-to or a knitting pattern. Occasionally, I’ll use it to give myself a visual reference for whatever character or place I’m creating.

I’ve yet to break myself of the habit of popping onto Pinterest while I’m working, and I usually justify the trip over to the website by telling myself that I need to know what something looks like. That’s exactly what happened when I was working on “Scales.” I was working on the scene where the formerly-extinct reptile shows up and decided that I need a visual. Simple enough, right? Well, I ended up knee-deep in knitting patterns for cryptozoological creatures like the Loch Ness Monster and dragons for a couple hours. It was time that should’ve been spent writing.

3. Worldbuilding is Tough; Stopping is Tougher

Most of my stories take place in the present day or in a world that’s pretty darn close to it. That’s because worldbuilding is not my strong suite. It’s a process that requires knowing things like how magic works, how the culture looks, and the general history of the civilization. You know. little things.

Building the universe in Scales was rough, and it still challenges me when I dive back into the story. The world itself is based upon a modern-day United States but with the addition of magic and cryptids. That didn’t strike me as being too difficult when I first started. Make the gargoyle doorknocker an enchanted sentry? Cute and great show of what’s normal. Have the roommate be a psychic? Hello opportunity for foreshadowing. But the problem arose with another question: where do I stop? Or better yet, how much magic is too much magic? Maybe there are Pegasuses and people carry umbrellas to avoid droppings. Or maybe witches and wizards run supermarkets and there’s been a rash of scandals involving magicked fruit. My head still spins thinking about the possibilities.

4. You May Fail (and that’s Okay)

Deadlines are my best friends as a writer. They compel me to sit down and write until the thing is done. Otherwise I’m likely to write a hundred words here and there, stretching what should be a month-long first draft process into three months (for short stories). Like I said before, I knew that turning out a finished story in a month was a tall order. But I felt confident.

A series of unexpected–but not unwelcome–circumstances meant that I’d finished the first draft and had gotten about 25% of the way through the first revision by the time June 1st rolled around. A small part of me was disappointed. But a far larger part understood that life has a habit of happening, and writing sometimes has to take a backseat. Like when I have to put in extra time at work because I’m taking time off for a convention. And when I meet and start dating my now significant other. I failed, yes. But sometimes such is life.

5. At the End of the Day, Keep Plugging

I’ve hit a point with Scales where I’m spinning my tires, not getting any traction with revisions. The biggest reason is that I don’t know what the story needs. Does it need to start somewhere different? Do I need to weave in a subplot that’ll ratchet up the tension? Or do I need to find a way to amplify the tension in the existing story arc?

I’m not sending Scales to the folder on my desktop that I’ve named “Graveyard.” There’s something about it and its main character that keep me circling back to it. The story just isn’t ready to be told yet. So I’m going to be patient and let the kinks work themselves out in the back of my mind until everything falls into place.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

On Refilling the Creative Well

Life is a hectic right now. Not absurdly hectic where I don’t have time for breakfast or get home well past my bedtime. But it’s hit the criteria for a little hectic: going to class and doing associated homework; working full-time; navigating relationship with a significant other; keeping my garden alive; and writing. There’s also the routine things like cooking meals and grocery shopping and doing laundry that need to get done.

All of that combined was enough to short-circuit the creative part of my brain. It showed signs of sluggishness for a couple weeks. It balked when I tried to revise a short story, and it dug in its heels when I started a new blog post even though I have an idea ready to go. Then it finally decided that it’d had enough.

I’ve been through this situation before. Short-circuiting. Burning out.

The solution? Picking up a book.

For me as a writer, I work best when I strike a balance between the number of stories and books that I read and the number of ones that I right. A perfect situation mean spending an hour or so reading during the morning and then writing for a few hours between 9PM and midnight. However that routine doesn’t jive right now with the need to pay rent and buy food.

I need to achieve a semblance of balance between refilling the creative well and drawing from it. That means leaning more heavily on one than the other for a while. Forgoing reading for a few weeks while I use my spare time to write. Or letting my stories sit dormant while I spend three or four days plowing through a book. (My well is far easier to fill than deplete.)

So I picked up a book: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I barreled through it in and around the rest of my life over the course of four days. Now–not only am I itching to write a serial killer story–I can feel the creative part of my brain coming back online. It’s still in a fickle stage, more than happy to slip back into short-circuit mode if I push it too hard or work on projects that I’m not excited about.

But I’m back at it for now. Slowly working forward with the intention of pouring a book into my brain once a week to stave off burnout. It may happen, or it may not. Either way, I’m glad to be back in the saddle.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Writing

I Bought a Koala, or ConCarolinas 2018 Recap

So. ConCarolinas happened.

I took the Friday and Saturday of the convention off of work (I’m off on Sundays anyway) to take full advantage of the programming on all three days. I also stole a half hour here and there to wander about the dealers’ room and author’s alley. Here’s a brief-ish recap.

Dealer’s Room

The dealer’s room isn’t necessarily where I blow my budget thanks to the iota of self-control that I’ve developed over the past couple years. (Note: this self-control DOES NOT apply to books.) I wasn’t planning on spending much–if anything–in the dealer’s room in the days leading up to ConCarolinas.

But then I was scrolling through Twitter and happened upon Seanan McGuire’s life-tweeting of her adventures with fellow authors Ursula Vernon and K.B. Spangler. It involved finding turtles, salamanders, and K.B. Spangler getting hit in the face by a hawk named Monty.

So when I saw that K.B. Spangler was going to be in the dealer’s room selling maniacal-looking stuffed koalas among other things, I knew that I had to find her table. And that I did on the Saturday of the Con. She was amazingly energetic for being halfway through the Con and was thrilled when I said that I wanted to buy a koala and a copy of her book. Then she showed me the video on her phone of Monty the hawk flying into her face and said that she’d never seen a hawk embarrassed.

I walked away with a book from an author that I hadn’t heard of before the convention and a creepy koala named Speedy. It was without a doubt, a great buy.

Author’s Alley

I managed to come in below my budget in Author’s Alley. How? That’s a very good question that I don’t have the answer to. I picked up two books at the Falstaff Books table: Tooth & Nail by Michael G. Williams and Lawless Lands. Williams’s book is the second book in The Winthrow Chronicles; I picked up the first one, Perishables, at the Con last year. Lawless Lands is an anthology of speculative fiction/western short stories. I grabbed it primarily because of the buzz surrounding a contest to win a copy before the Con. Though honestly, the stories look like they’re right up my alley.

Panels

The biggest reason I bought tickets at last year’s ConCarolina’s for this year’s convention was due to the Guest of Honor: Seanan McGuire. She wrote my favorite zombie book to date (Feed) under the pen-name Mira Grant, and I’ve been following her on Twitter for the better part of six months. She’s exactly my kind of weird, so I was looking forward to seeing her in-person on a panel.

She didn’t disappoint. And while I could go on and on about how she made me laugh my ass off and how she scared the shit out of me in her alter-ego, Mira Grant, she made a point that another author and panelist brought up on Twitter the other day. It was something that’s stuck with me in the weeks since.

During a panel on deep work (something which sounded to me like tuning out EVERYTHING and focusing only on the creative project in front of you), Seanan stated writers and other creatives don’t necessarily need long stretches of time in order to perform deep work by comparing them to pearl divers.

Pearl divers go underwater for five minutes at a time before coming up for air. During those five minutes, they’re 100% focused on their task. And then when that time is up and they come up for air, their mind can wander to other things. Then the process repeats until the diver is done collecting pearls for the day.

For a writer, that means diving deep into their work. Maybe for five minutes or ten or fifteen. And then taking a break, whether voluntarily or because life interrupts. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, guaranteed routine that’ll work for every writer. But it’s an option to try and see if it works. I’m certainly going to try it.

There were other panels that left me itching to write. I wrote down a couple of the points from the ones that really resonated with me.

  • The territory of the “West” has always existed and was comprised of more than cowboys.
    The West that Never Was
  • Writers make the mistake of focusing on changes to big historical events rather than the character’s stories.
    Playing with History
  • Writing novellas makes it easier to be more prolific and to keep up with reader demand.
    The Novella Strikes Back
  • Regular posting is required when writing a web serial, and you should have a significant buffer of chapters lined up to be posted.
    Serials–They’re Not Just Captain Crunch Anymore

ConCarolinas was pretty successful for me: panel-wise, in the dealer’s room, and in the author’s alley. It has left me wanting to post on here more regularly and itching to write. I’ve already picked up tickets for next year’s Con.

Posted in Making It Up As I Go, Updates, Writing

2017: A Wrap Up

Three-hundred-and-sixty-five days is a long time, despite the fact that it often feels like a single day passes me by in the blink of an eye. And a lot happen for me in 2017. Both when it came to writing and to life in general. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a rough spell, I forget how much I’ve accomplished. So this kind of post is a good way to remember the successes of the past year.

Here are the big things that I did in 2017:

The Map (March)
In 2016, I participated in the Collaborative Writing Challenge’s mystery project, The Map. The project wrapped up for the writers in September 2016, and the book was published in March of 2017. The eBook copy arrived in my email shortly afterwards. Over the summer, I ordered a paperback copy from Amazon for my “brag shelf.”

Attended ConCarolinas (June)
I talked myself into buying weekend passes to ConCarolinas in March as an investment in my writing career. I didn’t know where I was going to be job-wise and didn’t know if my introvert-slash-hermit tendencies would allow me to go. But it worked out, and I had an amazing time. Not only did I learn a ton during the panels, I credit my experience as giving me the confidence to submit a short story to an anthology.

“The Monsters of Bear Mountain” Accepted into Down with the Fallen (August)
A ConCarolinas panel on short stories inspired me to find anthology calls for submission, and I stumbled upon Franklin/Kerr Press’s call for post-apocalyptic horror. I wrote and revised “The Monsters of Bear Mountain” over the course of two months before submitting it. About three weeks later, I received an email saying that they had accepted my story. I couldn’t stop smiling for a whole hour after reading it.

Enrolled in College Again (August)
After serious soul searching about what I want to be when I grow up, I decided to enroll in classes at my local community college. I wholly believed I was overestimating myself when I signed up for five classes in addition to working full time. But I not only managed to keep up with my classes, I ended the semester with a 4.0 GPA.

Down with the Fallen Published (November)
Franklin/Kerr Press’s Down with the Fallen anthology–which included my short story–was published on November 7th. But what I’ll remember even more than release day was when I received my author copies in the mail. It was a couple days before the release, and I must have flipped through the book a dozen times. Seeing my name and my story was so surreal and amazing.

Finished Knitting a Poncho (December)
I started my first big knitting project in November: a poncho. I’d only worked on scarves before because they were so simple, but I wanted to accomplish something bigger. Something usable. While it’s not perfect by any measure, it’s complete and is something that I’m insanely proud of. I crafted it with my own hands. There are few things cooler than that.

Posted in Publishing, Writing

It’s Here: Down with the Fallen!

It’s official! “The Monsters of Bear Mountain” has been released alongside other short stories in the Down with the Fallen anthology.

I’ve been trying to write a release post for a few weeks but didn’t come up with anything that I liked. Then I got an email about a promo opportunity on a fellow writer’s blog (check it out here!) Unfortunately, I didn’t get my post edited before the deadline. But that did give me the basis for a post.

So here it is: a look at the story behind the story, or what inspired me to write this particular short story.

Every so often, the setting comes to me before the characters or the theme or even the plot itself. That’s what happened with this short story.

I saw a two-story ski chalet huddled into the woods on the side of a mountain. The air was colored the dirty gray of smog, and wind smashed snow the flat surfaces it could find. Within the forest, human-shaped figures shuffle through hip-deep snow.

The chalet itself is dark, but there are two people inside. A man and a woman.

I didn’t know who these people were, what these figures outside were, or how all of this fit into life in a post-apocalyptic world. I knew that I wanted to find out, and I did.

It’s available in paperback and as an eBook here. Grab a copy today! 

 

Posted in Writing

My Medium-Sized Secret: The Monsters of Bear Mountain

I’ve been keeping a secret for about a month now. It’s not a universe-changing secret, like SURPRISE, I came home with a Great Dane puppy or SURPRISE, I ran off to Las Vegas last week and got married.

No, it’s a slightly smaller than that. Maybe more of a medium. That’s what it is: a medium-sized secret.

So what exactly is this medium-sized secret? I sold a short story.

“The Monsters of Bear Mountain” is being published in Franklin/Kerr Press’s post-apocalyptic horror anthology, Down with the Fallen. It’s going to be available as an eBook and as a paperback on November 7th. Pre-orders are now up on Amazon for the eBook, and it’ll eventually be available through Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million as well in eBook and paperback form.

I’m beyond excited. This is an awesome, creepy story that plays on some of my fears for life after the apocalypse.

Just a quick trigger warning: this story contains domestic abuse.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing

Gift Ideas for Writers

The holiday season is upon us. Christmas carols play on just about every radio station and buffet shoppers at stores in malls and shopping plazas. Lots of shoppers are missing out on the songs all together as they pop online for a bit of shopping there. Or all of it.

No matter where you shop, writers can be hard friends or family members to buy gifts for. So here are a few suggestions that might help find something for the writer in your life.

Gift Cards
I’m partial to Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, but any gift card will do. One to a coffee shop will get them a drink and an excuse to claim one of the tables for a couple hours. Or a gift card to an office supply store since printer ink can be pretty expensive. Even a gift card for archery lessons or a dance classes can help fuel their muse.

Signed Books
Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to find an autographed book. Small bookstores–like the Poisoned Pen and FoxTale Book–typically carry them after authors visit for signings and offer them for sale online. Barnes & Noble also carries autographed copies for Black Friday, and Target has begun carrying them intermittently. Some authors even offer signed copies on their websites.

Convention Admission
Writing is typically a solitary endeavor. But when conventions come to town, it’s a  networking opportunity for writers in their own backyard. Plus writers get the  opportunity to listen to experts on panels and ask questions of industry professionals.

Time to Write
Everybody needs more time. Writers are no different and struggle to carve even thirty minutes out of their schedule to sit at the keyboard and write. So cook dinner on Thursdays or take the dog out for his nightly walk or entertain the kids at an arcade on Saturday morning. Anything that takes an item off the writer’s to-do list and frees up time for writing.

Posted in Writing Life

On Stumbling Upon Inspiration

You never know when you’re going to stumble upon inspiration, whether its for a story, a character, or even a setting. My most recent  stumble was in a place that I’ve visited half a dozen times over the years: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Gettysburg is known for the famous Battle of Gettysburg, a three-day battle during the American Civil War that arguably turned the tide of the war. But it wasn’t the battlefields that caught my eye after I finished my breakfast at Friendly’s Restaurant. It was the partially torn-down motel behind it.

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The first thought that popped into my mind was survivors during the zombie virus outbreak could hole up on the second floor. They’d be well out of the zombies’ reach and other survivors might think twice about entering the crumbling building.

Then I spotted the literal writing on the wall. Sale prices for desks and tables and chairs scribbled in black, and they made me think of an auction. A curious young woman might be attending that auction and discovers a mysterious object in the wall that happens to be the key to the underworld.

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Will any of these ideas blossom into a story? Or will this motel show up as a setting in my fiction? I have no idea. Maybe. But I know for sure that I’ll be keeping my eyes pealed for other inspiration to stumble upon.

Have you been inspired by a location you’ve seen while traveling? Let me now in the comments below.

Posted in Publishing

James Patterson’s BookShots and the Future of Novellas

There’s a commercial that’s been showing up occasionally when I watch television. It’s for James Patterson’s BookShots. Patterson is really the only author whose work I’ve regularly seen marketed through TV commercials, so it didn’t surprise me to see his books advertised during regularly scheduled broadcasting. But this wasn’t a new middle school title or a high-octane thriller. It was for BookShots.

What’s BookShots? According to The New York Times, it’s “a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting.” Each BookShot will be less than 150 pages.

They sound a bit like novellas, don’t they? That’s because they are. But the big difference is that Patterson’s BookShots are novellas with a big name author and publisher behind them.  It’s also worth noting that both the print and eBook versions will sell for less than $5. That’s the first time that I’ve seen similar prices for eBooks and their paperback counterparts.

Consider Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series for comparison. The eBook version of those novellas cost around $2.99, but the paperback versions are in the neighborhood of $12. Whereas Patterson’s and Andrew Holmes’s Hunted BookShot is available to pre-order for $4.99 as a paperback and $3.99 as an eBook.

When I first realized that BookShots were just novellas with a new, catchy name, it frustrated me. Did the publishing industry really think they need to rebrand novellas to sell them? Novellas have been selling like hotcakes as eBooks for years. They’re a staple of self-publishing, in every genre. Tor Publishing has started putting out a line of novellas, and romance publishers have been selling novellas for years.

But then I read The New York Times article about BookShots. It outlined goals like selling them in places that don’t traditionally sell books–such as supermarkets and drugs stores–and to break into a new population of readers who don’t typically read but will pick up a short, 150 page book.

Attaching James Patterson’s name to this novella line adds a level of recognition. People know who Patterson is, and they’re more likely to pick up a book with his name on the cover than one with an unknown (to them) author.

There’s a lot riding on these books. Because if they do well, then more big publishers will start seriously look at novellas. Not just as eBooks or ancillary content for existing series, but as stand alones or as their own series. That’s exciting. It could open a huge (new) market for writers.

I’m crossing my fingers that BookShots take off. Not just for Patterson, but for me and other writers. It has huge potential to bring novellas into the mainstream. And it could be wonderful for publishing and readers.