writing process

All posts tagged writing process

The Dread is in the Details

Published October 12, 2017 by admin

There are a lot of things that make horror horror: certain tropes and cliches, different archetype/stock characters, playing up emotional reactions, gore, playing up the action and danger, writing what some people might call at least dangerous or sometimes taboo…

Those are all part of it. But let’s not forget the role of environment and description, hrm?

Admittedly, I love immersive fiction. I want to lose myself in a story, whether it’s something more or less happy like Little House on the Prarie (depending on which book you read), or something more along the lines of Clive Barker. A good book is a good book, and will put you right in the world.

And if it’s horror, it will make you want to run away from that world and hope you can escape before you can remember to just close the stinkin’ book.

Not that I have any experience with that. Ahem.

I’m not sure if it puts me back into a childlike mindset where everything is big and huge and intense, or if it’s just the mark of good writing preying on my human weaknesses, but either way, I dig it. I love that Neil Gaiman really goes into overdrive describing his Midwest settings and people in American Gods. Part of what makes Hellbound Heart and other Clive Barker titles sing is that he really digs in and describes the grotesque in almost loving detail. Part of Stephen King’s genius is really making sure you know all about the town of Derry in It – it’s history, geography, mythology. Plus, he makes sure every character is a full person – to an almost painful degree. That’s the only way we can really feel terrified for them, because if he wrote something to the extent of ‘So then the clown turned into a werewolf and chased after the kids on the bike..” Yeah, no. Granted, that summarizes a good few pages, but it really doesn’t convey the intensity of that scene, or the personal stakes.

When I have the wordcount, I really try to play certain sequences in my head. If I can see them, then translate that into words, I have a much better chance of getting my readers to feel the tension I’m feeling. Mooner more or less takes place in one room, but I made myself really go through that story bit by bit. Everything effects the mood: character description, dialogue and word choice, the phyiscal description of the title character, the emotions conveyed in the motivations for the final reveal…I want my readers to feel the freezing, barren winter, to really get a sense of how dangerous that time period was. Little things really mattered and sometimes made the difference between life and death back then, and it was important to bring as much attention to that as possible, so that when things do go down, the reader gets just what all is at stake.

Although Olde School is technically a mix of genres, I really wanted the scene where Paddlelump discovers dangerous things happening in his woods to be extremely vivid. The reveals just keep coming, so I mentally walked that path with him over and over and over, paying attention to what would be around him, under him, above him, and the thoughts that were going on inside him. You have to be somewhat hyper aware of setting and character and marry those together into something cohesive that also isn’t too bogged down by detail. Every leaf, every crunching footstep, every odd, dripping substance plays into winding up for the rest of the scene, and I picked and chose what to include through how they made me feel when I married to the action of the sequence.

It’s like how the cab of a roller coaster is slowly, slowly pulled up to the top of the first hill – that’s, essentially, what really good description does in horror – it gets you ready to have the bottom dropped out from underneath you and launches you onward through all the crazy stuff. You need the slow tug and pull to prepare you for what comes next. You need that description so you’re submersed enough that the horror elements do what they’re supposed to.

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Wanna see for yourself? Check out my 1800’s-era vampire story, Mooner, to see how details build a bigger picture.

If you’re more fantasy minded (or like some dark elements with your fantasy), then definitely check out Olde School.

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On What Ifs and Horror Writing

Published October 4, 2017 by admin

Oh, October. I love you. Somehow, even when I was a scaredy cat growing up, I still wanted to live in a haunted house and played pretend that I was some sort of ghoul/ghost princess in a graveyard or ran around wanting to be a ghostbuster getting sucked into an alternate dimension…you know, normal kids stuff.

It probably had to do with the sheer amount of different things I was around to as a kid, so I can actually totally, completely, mostly blame my parents, family, friends, and the 1980s on me turning out this way. It’s a relief, let me tell you.

I think I’ve always been in awe of the what if in horror. Obviously, this is a thing in other genres, but it’s especially powerful when coupled with the fear, pessimism, anxiety, or whatever outlook you’re shaping it with in horror. What if there’s someone calling from inside the house? What if vampires are real? What if one typical day turns into your worst nightmare?

There’s something empowering about exploring it, as well as something chilling about reading it. In some ways I think I like writing horror for a sense of control, in others I think I like it because there’s still this weird viewpoint that as a gal I’m somehow not supposed to think like this or whatever (obviously those with that pov haven’t hung out with a ton of women, just sayin’).

A lot of my short horror has started from the what if concept: What if all your inanimate objects were conscious and secretly hated you? What if vampires existed in the untamed woods in the 1800s? What if on one of the happiest nights of the year, the world was ending? What if this little incident that you think is so mundane is far from innocent?

I kind of blame this on the ’80s, too. Growing up in the time of stranger danger, just say no, razorbladed halloween candy, people trying to get you in a van, combined with just how bizarre Saturday morning television was, well, I mean we really didn’t have a chance. Something was always on our minds, even on the playground. Seriously, don’t kid yourself. Kids are way savvier than you think, they pick up on stuff, but they also misstranslate it and get it all turned around. To this day I still remember odd convos in the cafeteria about like what a friend of mine thought communism was and how we’d all die at any minute, along with urban-legend type stuff, like a spot on the ceiling of a dining room that grew as a family ate and took them straight to hell.

I think I was seven or eight for those, by the way, so yeah, talk to your children, because they’re probably walking around with some amazing irrational fears.

Combine THAT with things on the news like the Challenger, the economy fluctuating, and THAT with episodes of Punky Brewster showing the kids getting eaten by a demon and Care Bears going borderline possession in a Dark Heart storyline, Ponyland getting eaten by ooze, and characters getting their souls sucked out every other week, Freddy Krueger might come get you, spiders could take over a whole town, and who knows what else – and put all of that in a blender…in a world full of what if’s, Halloween felt like a relief, a constant: you always cut jack-o-lanterns, you always dress up, you always go out and come home with candy. Heck, you alwsays come home, as long as you’re careful and wear reflectors and obey the rules. These days, I realize how naive that sounds, but back then it was comforting. Witches and monsters and vampires can’t really hurt you, the masks in the store are always going to smell weird, the same houses are always going to give big candy bars. Those constants gave way to fun what ifs – what if a house could really be haunted, what you actually went to one of those haunted houses no one has ever gone all the way through, what if…whatever.

It was almost a balance as a kid – accepting some things with belief while still being rational enough to be wary. I suppose writing horror as an adult is a little like that, too. It takes some suspension of belief to write some of the concepts I do and have them be effective. It takes a balance of fear and technique, of keeping one foot out and one foot in.

It was fun to just drop everything and embrace what I considered scary. It’s fun these days to drop everything and embrace things that lurk at the edges of my thoughts and freak me out. And if those what if’s freak out other people, hey, so much the better.

So what’s a what if that gets under your skin…what are the things that get to you?

***

If you want to explore some creepy what ifs (and some that aren’t so creepy), feel free to check out my books!

Or, if you just want a taste, there are a lot of quick flash horror fics in the free read section!

Practical Issues: Research

Published August 16, 2017 by admin

Every so often (but not so that it’s high and mighty or obnoxious) I want to do a practical issues post on writing stuff. The thing is, I fully get that I’m not Stephen King (boy would that be the weirdest Freaky Friday ever) or a huge bestseller or whatevs. However, I find that I end up contributing to the same conversations about writing on social media a lot, and in panels I find that there area always similar basic issues. And sometimes I’m just going to cover stuff that annoys me (not today, though, we’ll start out gentle).

As The Maternal One says, It’s not that I know everything, it’s that I’ve just fallen in more ditches.

So today I’d like to talk a little bit about…research. Partly because I’m neck deep in it, partly because it seems to intimidate a lot of people. People seem to either assume they know what they need to know or they go hog wild and intimidate themselves out of starting a project in the first place. So first up is to find a happy medium. You should also get some sort of an idea about what you need to know to make your story or book at least seem realisitic. Sometimes it helps to know the rules to break the rules (or in this case know the area/time period/whatever to play around in them or to cheat a little bit). I was on a panel once about using real places as settings and while it may not always be in your best interest to call out a place of business or a city down to its flatware patterns, if you’re writing about Chicago it should feel like Chicago. If you’re writing about a small town and have never experienced one, it’s better to find a way to get some knowledge in ya or risk being called out. To make things easier, it does help to have a rough outline in your head about what to research, or else you’ll be overwhelmed pretty quick.

Example: My horror e-book Mooner doesn’t overtly give a year and a time period, though I had it in my head that it was somewhere around the 1870’s and probably Wisonsin or Michigan. Although I had some disappointed Canadians call me out for that once, so it can be wherever people want it to be  where there are lumberjacks.

Speaking of lumberjacks, I knew that I was going to have to explore their world – but I chose to do it in a really limited environment. The historical fiction of other authors had inspired me, so I latched onto this idea of a saloon. At first I had just a very loose encounter in my head, but with some quick interneting of historical sites, I was able to get an idea of the dress, the lifestyle, the habits, the pure danger of choosing that type of life, and the speech. Which led me to online dictionaries because boy howdy, do lumberjacks have their own language and I do tend to get heart palpitations with interesting dialects.

That basic info, though, really gave me permission to play with the characters – to the point of adding in an extra bit at the end that hadn’t even occurred to me until I was fleshing things out.

Not that research is limited to historical stuff, mind. In the Red involved a lot of researching medical conditions (and some one-on-one conversations when I could get them), and as many rock urban legends and touring rock musician anecdotes that I could find (the latter is also a weird hobby of mine, so that wasn’t too much of a stretch). You would think that Olde School would just involve me making up stuff, but there was again a ton of research into fairy tales, politics, emminent domain, and dialects. If anything, making up your own world takes way more work than filling in the blanks in the real one. Currently I’m binging on a lot of history and pop culture from the mid/late 50’s through not quite today, because I’m a glutton for punishment who never learns her lessons. And a lot of rocker/groupie culture because apparently I have to entertain myself while inflicting self-torture.

So where do you do all this research, I hear you ask. Might I suggest…

  1. The Internet – the obvious choice. Google and Wikipedia do wonders. However, some stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt. Historical and school project sites are great for basic rundowns of time periods or issues.

2. The Library – it still exists, I swear, and there are handy librarians who can help you out (I’ve yet to totally freak out a librarian with an odd request, and that’s saying something). Not only do you have books, but they probably have resources on local events and history and things you might not have considered. Also, stealthy trick I’ve learned – never underestimate a kid or teen biography or nonfiction book. It’ll give you all the basics and get to the point much faster than trying to flip through a stack of big books. This is especially good if you need general information or have a basic idea of what you want to do but need filler or a guiding hand.

3. People – I know it can be weird and uncomfortable, but never underestimate good first-hand experience. It’s pretty common for me to ask if anyone knows about certain stuff on my media. You can also try calling places (be respectful), and make sure to be up front with people about what you need and what you’re using it for. I find that people generally are cool with being helpful, but don’t waste their time, either. Come prepared and be upfront. It also helps to have friends with varying experiences or who are willing to shove their other friends at you. I’ve got people I regularly text for local government type advice, I have a poli sci person, I’ve harrassed probably every musician and performer I’ve worked with, and even the stuff I’m generally pretty sure on I’ll check with people. If you need to know law for your lawyer pirate adventure story, see who you know first, then put out feelers for people who might be willing to talk to you. Usually there’s someone curious enough to give you a few minutes.

4. Documentaries, nonfiction shows – Plunk yourself down in front of some PBS. See what Netflix has to say about certain subjects. Of course,there may be some bias depending on the docu, but you are going to find different angles on subjects that you might not have expected.

5. Pay attention – No, seriously, all the time. It’s the same thing for the whole ‘where do you get your ideas’ question. If you don’t pay attention, really dig deep and become aware of your surroundings, your emotions, and those around you, you’re missing a huge resource. This kind of plays into the sense memory thing, but your perceptions and experiences are important, as well.

6. Go places and do stuff – I don’t expect you to fly across the world every time you have an exotic setting, but if you need a small town environment and haven’t been in one for a while, go road trip. Really get yourself in that environment (but do it safely. With all of this, safety first, please). Same if you haven’t been in, say, a DMV for a long time but want to set a scene in one. Go hang out, see what there is to see. This is also the cheap excuse I use for taking random classes or going out and about and doing different things – I need it for research.

Two final thoughts:

  • As important as research is, you’re not going to nail everything. You’re just not. You want the details to work with your plot, so at times you may have to fudge things a little bit. You may get called out for it, you may not. The real art of it is making everything seem real instead of just a fill in the blank exercise to show that you learned stuff.
  • Keep an open mind when you research. Know what you need it for, but don’t be absolutely married to your outline. I’ve found details that made me change course because they gave me ideas that were just too good to not use. Always keep an open mind.

Now, there is also the whole genre writing caveat, I suppose. How do you write what you know when you can’t know them? How do you write stuff you can’t research whole sale?

Lucky you, I did a guest post for mythic scribes about just that.

What are your favorite methods for research? Do you find one thing works better over others for you? Does research push you out of your comfort zone or do you love it?

 

 

The Medical Mystery Tour (writing from sense memory)

Published August 11, 2017 by admin

One of the things that I really want to do here on out is to explore not just where I get my ideas, but how I incorporate them into writing. In a lot of ways, I think all my acting classes have really helped me here, especially with getting under the skin of a character.

For those who haven’t heard the term sense memory, the short version is in acting, basically you’re using one of your senses to recall an emotional memory from a specific time to help flesh out the character you’re playing. For instance, I once played Anna in The King and I. During the letter scene where she learns the king is dying, I focused on the memory on the last letter that I’d received from my grandmother before she died from cancer – that I accidentally threw away, thinking it was a different letter. That feeling of loss, as well as focusing on the color and feel of the stationary, the memory of her writing, really helped with the mindset the director wanted from the scene. While they may not call it this, a lot of writers use this trick, as well. Granted, I would add the caveat that you want to make it work for you – you don’t have to go full blown method to make your writing believable, and anything that’s putting you through the wringer isn’t necessarily something that you should pursue just to say you’re adding to your craft. For me, personally, though (especially since it means I’m putting my degree to use), recalling specific bits of memories has helped me when I might be facing writer’s block on a particular situation or character. So off and on I’ll

So off and on I’ll proably touch on some of my own personal experiences and how I’ve used them. For instance, this thing right here. It’s a beaut that will leave you traumatized, but shows just how much mileage you can get from even awful times.

Some years back I was recovering from the flu and noticed that even months after, I still felt draggy. Not bad, just overly tired. I still did what I had to do, because that’s just how I live my life. At any rate, I had started back at seasonal main dayjob I had at the time, just gotten a promotion, and was dealing with some big transitions and a lot of work due to a lack of crew. I was preparing to see friends at Famous Monsters at the end of July, I think, and suddenly out of nowhere I started getting intense headaches. No prob, go to the doctor, sinus infection, get antibiotics, go on my way, just as I had times before because my allergies and sinuses like to work together to remind me who’s in charge from time to time.

Except this time, I didn’t go on my merry way. I reacted to the antibiotic, got a different one, okay, great, life goes on…except it didn’t. The pain pulsed out from the side of my nose and face to the back of my neck and down my back and sometimes the top of my head. It was like all my muscles were tightening and kept being tightened by some Inquisition-level torture device. While I was still exhausted and sinusy. I have no idea how I survived that convention other than one of my best friends kept an eye on me to keep me alive, except for the time I left a film screening early and nearly collapsed in a hall, which I never did tell her or others when asked how I was feeling, so people are just going to love me for this. Seriously, learn from my idiocy. At any rate, by time I got back from that adventure, I was subjected to lots of tests and lots of raised eyebrows. As in: Are you sure it’s not in your imagination? Have you thought about a neurologist? It may just be phantom pains, see if it goes away.

It took everything in me not to reply with how I was pretty sure I was in agony and couldn’t I just wait and see if they went away, instead? (Did I mention I’m not the biggest fan of doctors?)

By the time they decided it could be allergies and put me through that test and an attempt at weekly drops so hilarious it bordered on the sitcomy, I was also buzzing under my skin and it felt like an ice pick had been driven into the side of my nose all the time.  Diet changes, life changes, an extremely understanding boss, some fairly understanding side gigs, ten different doctors, loads of different prescriptions and otc meds, an offhanded comment that I should prepare that it could be cancer (right before Christmas and a month before I went to a new ENT), and finally maternal intervention so I didn’t lose my mind, took up my time. I’ve never been so wound up, so at the mercy of my body and everything I was putting into it in my life. I get why people lose hope because of a medical condition, because I was going nowhere fast, and in agony. My gp finally put me on the correct dose to kill the infection, and the ENT finally adjusted my allergy meds to reduce inflammation. And that’s when we found out what was really going on.

I’ll warn you, I won’t get detailed gory but you may want to scroll by the next paragraph if you’re squeamish.

So, I’d had jaw surgery when I was 16 or 17, and I’d even done a presentation on it in college, complete with illustrations of a line of screws that had been put in to hold my bones together until they healed. Apparently, though, that wasn’t quite right because I had some big honking brackets under my face, and by the way, they were coming lose and cutting through my nasal cavities. We won’t discuss how we found that out for certain, other than to say that if you’ve never felt anything rattle under your face, you’re missing out. So, that was fun. Add in a lot of phone calls to find a doctor who could deal with this, and like nearly a year after the initial exhaustion, I was getting de-borg-ed. It was a long, extended foray into pain, exhaustion, paranoia, the health care system, amazingly sensitive and insensitive reactions of others, and feeling utterly helpless. I still tense up every time I have a cold simply because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

However, the experience dropped a huge amount of sense memory in my lap (not to mention a great name for the experience, the better to keep myself from crying at those memories). Not just the obvious physical feelings, either, but the exhaustion and long-term helplessness, of just wanting things to go right for a change, was directly funneled into Paddlelump in Olde School. Poor guy goes through one thing after another after another without relief, while facing the subtle and unsubtle judgment of others. That was definitely something I could relate to.

The physical feeling of different meds interacting added with not sleeping very much at one point contributed a lot to Jermiah in In the Red. While I haven’t lived the rock star lifestyle, I definitely know the feeling of not feeling in your own skin, of being there but not being in your body or in control, of everything running away with you, or opening your mouth and some other thing coming out that just isn’t you. And you’d be amazed the feelings of worthlessness you feel when you’re seeing yet another professional and can’t get across what’s going on because you just don’t know and you’re at the end of the rope, and they ask if you’re sure that’s what you’re actually feeling. So it definitely fit for a guy who sees demonic hallucinations and feels the effect of magical memorabilia at one point.

At one point there was also an incredible feeling of release and submission, if that’s the right word for it (I’d been doing a lot of meditating to try to not lose my mind and really got into Wayne Dyer around that time), a sensation of being on my knees and having to trust that things could work out, which also feeds into Jeremiah’s resolution, and in a lot of ways, to Paddlelump’s as well. Both characters have to be broken before they can move on. That feeling of being out of control feeds into a lot of the kind of thing I write, so I’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of the experience. It’s even fueled my short fiction, because I really didn’t have a choice but to keep moving forward and to go through it, and many of my characters have that journey to take, specifically those like Hunter Mann in The Ruins of St. Louis, an anthology story I did years ago.

I don’t feel the need to focus myself and try to bring everything into uber clear focus, because it still causes a pretty big knee jerk, but it definitely has given me a lot to work with.

And one of these days it will definitely provide a direct horror story inspired by the subject matter, but I may need a paper bag to breathe into to do it.

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In the Red isn’t in print at the moment (actually working on that, tbh), but you can get more information and some fun tidbits about Olde School here

 

 

Author Interview: Dan Jolley and Gray Widow’s Walk

Published July 21, 2016 by admin

I’m really excited for today’s interview. It’s always fun to talk to someone whose work you’re already familiar with, and Dan is just an awesome, talented guy. I always enjoy what I read by him, and I always walk away from a conversation with him feeling positive. He’s one of those artists who knows how to listen and relate to people, which is golden, people. I cannot stress that enough. Be articulate like Dan.  Plus he’s one of the few people I can talk to about visiting Poland who gets half of what’s coming out of my mouth, so there’s that, too.

But today we are talking about his new book!

As an aside, just picture how many times I have to remind myself that it’s spelled gray because apparently somewhere I have a recessive British spelling gene. It’s killing me over here.

Gray Widow_s WalkCOVERFINAL

Amazon    Kindle  B&N  Nook

SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?

DJ: In the whole plotter-vs-pantser debate, I come down as far on the side of the plotters as you can get. This is not just personal preference; when you’re doing any sort of writing for hire, as I’ve done my whole career, you have no choice but to be a plotter. No publisher is going to pay you to come up with stuff as you go. You have to submit an outline, or a summary, or both, and once that gets approved, you generally have to stick to it. That’s one of the things I learned very early on — never tell an editor, “And you’re going to love the ending!” No. No, they won’t. Or at least, they won’t take the chance that they will. That approach has carried over into everything I work on, whether it’s on spec or not.

Also, there are writers who, like Dean Koontz, go into their office every day and write for hours and hours and hours, draft after draft, until they’re satisfied. Then there are the writers who spend days or weeks or months thinking about a story, and when they’ve thought enough, they write it all down in a whirlwind. I’m in that second camp. I do most of my “writing” driving around listening to loud, aggressive music, or working around the house, or showering, or brushing my teeth. I get the whole story worked out beforehand, and then write it all down in bursts. I have a reputation in some circles for being a very, very fast writer, but most of the time, all the heavy lifting has been done before fingers touch keyboard.

SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?

DJ: I have a couple of writing habits, but they’re kind of boring. If I’m working on a comic book, I draw the outlines of all the pages of the comic on one page of a sketchbook, and do a very basic form of storyboarding; by the time I’m done drawing twenty-two little rectangles representing the twenty-two pages of a standard comic, my brain is fully in comic-writing gear. When I’m doing prose, I have a walking desk set up, and by the time my blood gets moving (around five minutes at two miles per hour), I’m totally in the prose-writing groove.

I used to write in a zero-gravity recliner, and my cat, The Minkus, would get in my lap, so I’d rest the laptop directly on him and work away while he slept. That had to stop, though, for two reasons. First, he doesn’t like my new laptop. I think it’s too heavy. Second, I had to take the old one in to the shop several times to get all the cat hair vacuumed out of it.

SJ:   Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?

DJ: I am a very meticulous planner, as I mentioned earlier. If I had a muse, her name would be “Deadlinika,” and she would whisper things in my ear such as, “Your mortgage payment is due in two weeks,” or “You really need to get that transmission looked at,” or “The editor is expecting your first draft Monday morning,” and I’d shout, “I’M WRITING! I’M WRITING!”

As far as where ideas come from…they come from everywhere. Stories I read in the news, snippets of conversation I overhear in line at the grocery store, anecdotes my 13-year-old niece tells me…it never stops. Sometimes (not as often as I’d like), a fully-formed idea will just drop into my head out of nowhere. I wish I knew how to make that happen on a regular basis.

SJ: bonus question – If your muse had a physical manifestation, what would he or she look like and how would she or he act? Is it a sexy superhero version of Callisto? A sharp-tongued rogue? A reptilian alien? Do they have a catch phrase?

DJ: I’m afraid Deadlinika would look like a really stern, matronly grammar school teacher. She’d just stand there and stare at me, arms crossed, a ruler in one hand, tapping her foot.

SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?

DJ: In comics, my creator-owned series Bloodhound is closest to me. In video games, my work on Transformers: War For Cybertron came out really really well, though I’m also proud of the work I did on Dying Light. In novels, my answer used to be Alex Unlimited, the trio of YA sci-fi/espionage books I wrote for Tokyopop. But right now, the answer to the whole question is definitely Gray Widow’s Walk, the book that just debuted from Seventh Star Press. It’s what you might call “superhero noir,” and it’s the first time in my entire career that I’ve been able to take the gloves off and write anything and everything I wanted to. I am intensely proud of it. Everything I’ve ever written contains at least some of me, but Gray Widow’s Walk in general, and the characters of Janey Sinclair and Tim Kapoor in particular, are very very much me. Janey is even more me than Tim — which isn’t all that surprising, I guess, since I’ve been told more than once that my inner child is actually a 14-year-old girl. (My wife tends to agree with that assessment.)

SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?

DJ: I’d have to go with science-fiction. I love the genre, I grew up on it, my whole life changed the day I saw Star Wars in 1977. (I was six.) But the reason I’d choose it is that it’s so freaking broad. You can write almost anything in science-fiction. Space opera? Sure. Dystopian future, zombie apocalypse, rogue A.I.? No problem. Time travel? Of course. Superheroes? Almost all of them qualify. Even the epic fantasy saga I’m working on behind the scenes is, technically, science-fiction, in the way The Dragonriders of Pern is. I used to consider myself a horror writer, but I think I’ve really been a science-fiction writer all along.

SJ:  What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?

DJ: The downside to being a freelance writer, which I’ve been for years and years, is the unpredictable nature of the business. I’ve actually been noticing a lot of similarities between what I do and what my sister-in-law and her husband do: they own and operate their own machine shop. We’re all self-employed, we’re all entrepreneurs, and when you’re self-employed, it’s always feast or famine. You’re either covered up with work (the good times) or you’re scrambling to get work (the shitty times). Sometimes I wish I had learned to do something useful, that would pay well, for the stretches when little or no work was coming in, like welding. Something I could just go do for a week or two or three until the next contract showed up. But then I think, if I hadn’t taken the whole throw-your-hat-over-the-fence, burn-your-ships approach, I wouldn’t be as far along with things as I am now. And I do love where I am now.

SJ:If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?

DJ:I’d probably choose to be in Gray Widow’s Walk, because it’s set in modern-day Atlanta, and you could live your whole life in that book and not realize people were being targeted by unknown parties and having their DNA forcibly rearranged. Of course, if you did get pulled into that process, it would get a lot less pleasant in a very short amount of time, but 99.9% of the people in the city don’t realize what’s going on. Of any of my books, Gray Widow’s Walk would probably be the (relatively) safest, so that’s where I’d put a loved one, too.

I’d stick an enemy in Harran, the Middle-Eastern city overrun by zombies in the video game Dying Light. No one stays happy there.

SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?

DJ: I think some people have tapped into the (forgive me for using this word) zeitgeist in a way that lets them create success after success. Stephen King. Neil Gaiman. For that matter, Aaron Spelling. And y’know what? If I could do that, I TOTALLY would. Because that would mean I would have the freedom to write anything I wanted to. Collect the millions and millions of dollars from my super-popular creation(s), and then just retire to a villa in the south of France or something and write whatever I wanted to write, with no pressure. It’d be like winning the lottery.

SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?

DJ: Marry someone with a steady job that provides good insurance. I wish I were joking about that.

SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.

DJ: I’ll make a case for every genre, and it goes back to a tried-and-true bit of wisdom: it’s not the story, it’s how you tell it. Good writing is good writing, no matter what genre it’s in, and it’s that fact that has led to a few of my projects (if I may toot my own horn for a moment) getting reviews that proclaim, “This is way better than it has any right to be.” I especially enjoyed those reviews when I got hired to reboot Voltron in comic book form, back around 2002. A lot of writers would have sneered and turned up their noses at that kind of job, but I dove into it head-first, and turned it into an action-packed space opera with intense character relationships and overtones of interplanetary politics.

The same concept holds true for anything, really: witness the rise of My Little Pony, built on the series’ outstanding writing. Or, from several years ago, the TV show Girlfriends. I happened to catch an episode one day, flipping channels, and while I didn’t think I would have all that much interest in a show about four young African-American women in Los Angeles, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The writing on that show was razor-sharp, and I loved it.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing magical-girl manga, or gritty military science-fiction, or a story about a bitter rivalry between two old men in a retirement home. Good writing will elevate any genre, just as much as bad writing will damage it. Is every genre for everyone? No, of course not. But no genre is inherently “inferior.” That’s elitist bullshit.

SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?

DJ: Hmmm…that’s a tough one. But I guess it goes back to when I was working for DC Comics, and was doing a signing at the DC pavilion at the San Diego ComiCon. I ran into one of their big-time, heavyweight writers, a guy who’d done multiple blockbuster books for DC and racked up walls full of awards. I hadn’t ever met him before, but he shook my hand and said, “Y’know, I always pick up your books, because I know when I see your name on the cover it’ll be top-quality.” (I eventually pried the stupid grin off my face.) Now, that was just one guy, of course, and he could’ve been blowing sunshine up my ass. But ideally? I’d love to instill that kind of confidence in all my readers. I’d love for people to see my name and, whatever medium it’s on, in whatever genre, for them to think, “Okay, I know this is going to be good.” Like virtually every creative type, I’m rife with insecurities, and I’m not saying I am that good. But it’s something to strive for.

SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!

DJ: Well, I’ve already said a few things about Gray Widow’s Walk, so I’ll just put the blurb right here on the page:

Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.

But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.

Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…

Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…

And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell — if she’ll let him.

But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities — hers and all the others like her — begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…

Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.

That’s from the back of the book, which debuted May 13 at StokerCon in Las Vegas. The following two books will come out one per year, unless I get them done sooner than that, which is entirely possible.

I’ve been trying to decide on the perfect way to sum the book up, and I’ve got a couple of possibilities. You could say that it’s like the Netflix version of Daredevil meets Red Sonja. You could say that it’s a sci-fi/action/horror story, since the principal antagonist, Simon Grove has been responsible for more than one reader’s nightmares. But really, it’s what happens when I get to tell a story entirely my way. No word count restrictions, no age-related language restrictions, no limits on the subject matter. Gray Widow’s Walk is the purest story I’ve ever told, and I’m beyond thrilled finally to have the chance to show it to people.

DanBeachHiRes

A Georgia native, Dan Jolley is an American author who writes novels, video games, and comic books, collects unmotivated felines, and should really go to the gym more. His first original novel trilogy, the YA sci-fi/espionage “Alex Unlimited,” was published in 2007. In 2016 he launched two new series, the superhero noir “Gray Widow Trilogy” and the Middle Grade urban fantasy series “Five Elements.” His comics work includes DC Comics’ Firestorm, Eisner Award nominated JSA: The Unholy Three, and TokyoPop’s The Lost Warrior, an extension of the Warriors novel series by Erin Hunter; his video games include Transformers: War For Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, Dying Light, and Chronos. Dan and his wife, Tracy, live somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills.

Website: www.danjolley.com
Twitter: @_DanJolley
Facebook: www.facebook.com/dan.jolley1

On Markets and Getting Started

Published April 13, 2016 by admin

One of the things I get asked about as a writer is where to submit when you’re ready. My first response is to write out a pile of stuff before you start submitting, because it’s way easier to get a rhythm going that way and rejection doesn’t suck as bad when you’ve got a lot of other things to think about.

The thing is, you have options. I get the worry about wanting to pick the right place and wanting to pick a legit place. Any place that requires you to pay, no. You also need to really review any sort of contract your given in terms of what rights you’re giving – be wary of perpetual rights because you will never get those suckers back. Be leery of giving up any sort of tax info until it’s obviously needed.

In terms of for the love/exposure markets – everyone has a different view of them and you have to decide if that’s for you. I’ve done a few to get a few credits to my name, I’m not really into that sort of thing anymore. The problem is these days not a whole lot of people want to reprint things unless you’re a big name, so you have to decide what a non-pay market is worth to you.

So, where do you even look to submit to stuff?

Writer’s Market is the basic thing that everyone turns to. They put out a new book every year and they do a site with a fee, as well. I’ve used them, I’ve had a little luck with them but not a huge amount. If you write very specific genre work, this can be a frustrating lead unless you’re looking for an agent. It’s not good or bad, but it also depends on who’s listing with them that year.

Ralan – This is one of the best websites I’ve ever found for genre-specific submissions. It breaks things down in terms of pro, semi-pro, pay, for the love, anthology, and book markets. It does a fairly good job of keeping things up to date and has links to all listings. Also free to use.

Duotrope – A site that charges a small fee, it’s also pretty good for genre-specific work. I used it before it went pay with mixed results, but it’s a great way to keep an eye on all the markets out there. I also like how they do their listings, as well.

With anything, read each listing. Read each site on the listing. If they offer a free or reduced sample copy or online examples of what they’re for, look at it. Look them up on writer’s beware or preditors and editors. Follow your gut if it doesn’t seem to be for you. Ask those around you if they’ve heard of them, submitted with them, etc. What people seem to forget is authors talk to each other, online and in person. I have healthy relationships with truck-loads of people and I definitely have asked their opinions on different places and vice versa. If you go to conventions, definitely pitch to publishers there (or at least talk to them), but also talk to any authors there with them and any authors there not with them. Talk to people. Talk some more. Don’t be afraid to get the skivvy.

This is also where writing groups are nice. If you have a group, a mentor, or are in writing groups on social media, ask around about places. I think sometimes we get so desperate to submit our stuff to places, we forget that we also have to keep some sort of control. You don’t want your dogs to destroy other people’s lawns, but you also don’t want other people stealing them when you think they’re just going out to do their business, either.

Or something.

There are also a lot of market listing groups on Facebook, and I’m sure there are other places on various social media sites, as well. Twitter is becoming known for agent submissions, and there’s always something new out there.

There are always places to submit your fiction to, so no worries.

It is, however, up to you to decide if every place is worth your time and will be good to you as an author, be it a magazine, e-zine, publisher, agent, whatever. This is why you read about contracts, rights, typical processes, and all the rest, and then decide what your threshold is. Take a deep breath and do your homework. I know, there’s unfun stuff in the creative world too, believe me I know, but you’ll be better off knowing what you’re looking for.

Other than that, pay attention to what submission guidelines are, whether it’s the format they want things submitted in or the type of story they’re looking for. And, as always…

Just keep writing.

 

 

 

Persephone & Me by Corinne Desjardins

Published January 21, 2016 by admin

Persephone and Me Banner

It’s time to take a look at another new release! Come on, those who know my Jung kick, love of mythological archetypes, and such should know that I’d be all over this book. I also have a special love for Persephone, poetry, and creative nonfiction in general, so as soon as I saw the title, I was all in.

We’re talking to author Corinne Desjardins today, but first, let’s take a look at her book Persephone & Me.

Persephone and Me

Title:  Persephone & Me

Author:   Corinne Desjardins

Published:  December 10th, 2013

Genre:  Women’s Poetry

Recommended Age:  16+

Synopsis:

A poetry collection following my youthful fascination with Persephone and how she came to haunt me. I saw her constellation of characters within my own family and my own life. Ultimately, describing what I learned from the goddess.

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Grace

SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?

CD: I write poetry as a means of reflecting and processing, so I happened to have a bunch of poems that just seemed to fall naturally into the structure.  I have outlined two other projects, started them both, and then deviated from said outlines.

SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?

CD: I wish I had a cape!  That would be so cool.  Mine would be a warm red, like Little Red Riding Hood!

I did stop watching an entertaining TV series a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?

CD: I am not a planner at heart, I’ve only learnt to do some amount of planning for basic time management.  I often get random ideas from some quirk of television or some other thing. I suppose I do have some shady deal with my personal Hades, since I tasted the pomegranate seeds of marriage.  But I have come to understand Hades as not evil, just misunderstood (and socially challenged due to his lack of interaction with people of life.)

SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?

CD: ChickLit, because ultimately I don’t want to be depressed.  And ChickLit is always funny.  It’s important to celebrate the humor in life.

SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?

CD: Time. There just doesn’t ever seem to be enough time, or the writing/editing process just takes so much longer than anticipated.  Writing a novel in 30 days, a compellingly good novel, just isn’t feasible.  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud NaNoWriMo, but I have never actually completed a novel during November, because, Life Happens.  I have had much more success with Camp NaNoWriMo in other months, choosing my own genre and word count goal.

SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?

CD: I am already kind of stuck in this book, being that it’s the creative non-fiction version of my life!  I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the Black section, however, that would be depressing. I might put an enemy in there, though.  It does kind of feel like a dungeon.  Maybe they can learn from their time there.

SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?

CD: I think the best stories are ones with a character arc of personal development and growth. There are different ways of highlighting this arc: hero’s journey, literary alchemy, the Pyramid, it’s all good.

SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?

CD: It’s not easy.  Mostly I write because I have to.  I’m not doing it for the money.  And I do hope that my story resonates with other women, and maybe they may become inspired to write their own stories, too.

SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.

CD: Creative Non-Fiction allows for therapeutic reflection and invites a new perspective or framework of understanding.  It’s healing. Poetry evokes the soul, of both the writer and the reader. It’s a mystical connection which we all crave.

SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?

CD: “That’s the book that made me consider my own life story, and made me realize that I could write my own book!”

SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!

CD:  I’m working on a novel called The Persephone Connection- it will be indirectly related to Persephone & Me in that the archetypes interact.  It is the second in this non-linear trilogy. This is taking a long time, it may be out sometime next year.

Perceiving Red

About the Author:

I am a writer. I love stories. I love to read. I love to write. Also love coffee, chocolate, and Merlot.

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