Sunday, October 31, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Kiss of the Damned

 Because you’ve been so good this Halloween season, here’s an extra movie review for writers for your candy bag. Enjoy!

First off, Kiss of the Damned is a brilliant and beautiful arthouse vampire film. There's no denying that. It's obviously an homage to the surreal, dreamlike Eurosleaze of Jean Rollin's films. And like Rollin's work, this flick transcends the exploitive surface plot to say something deeper and at times rather profound about humanity -- through the metaphor of blood-sucking ghouls. 

Djuna is a solitary vampire who satiates her cravings with animal blood and uses her isolation to avoid her impulses to hunt. She's part of a new world order of vampires trying to create a new way of living for her kind without the fear of being hunted. Thankfully, her job as a translator allows her to maintain her solitary lifestyle.

Enter Paolo, a screenwriter who is both rocked by and rocks Djuna's world. Their attraction is instantaneous and undeniable. They are match and gasoline. And, wouldn't you just know it, he's not repulsed by the truth. Instead he welcomes her inviting him into the club. (Not a spoiler. It's literally in the first ten minutes of the movie.)

Enter Mimi, Djuna's sister. She's a bit more... let's say feral. She lives to hunt and uses sex as bait to attract her prey. And she's the monkey wrench thrown into Djuna and Paolo's little slice of vampiric heaven. 

When the film begins, Paolo is staying in town to get away and have undisturbed time to work on his new script. But he's way too much in his head. Even his agent tells him that he's too wrapped in writing something cerebral, something lifeless. Paolo treats his work as if he was above his audience in many ways. He's too smart for them. 

After he moves in with Djuna and begins their new life together as creatures of the night, his writing improves drastically. Where he once spent too much time in his own brilliant thoughts, he now writes with visceral intensity, even to the point of replacing introspection for action, something he had previously avoided because he couldn't write the adventure of living, just the analysis of it. 

When the agent visits, he is amazed by the change in Paolo's work -- for the better! This is something he can sell. This is something that is charged with emotion, with life. 

He learns this simple truth about what writers need. 

Writers must live. 

We can't hide ourselves behind a door and in front of a computer or typewriter (for the old-schoolers out there) and just make stuff up. We must have a well to draw from. We must have experiences to inspire us. We must know emotions and intensity to write emotions and intensity. 

You see, writers are a filter. Experiences are sifted through our word processors into fantasies for others to live through as well. Writers are a prism. We take in the life we live and refract it back in other shades and colors in ways that make it both fantastic and somehow more real. 

It's a truth that changes Paolo's work. And it will change mine and yours too. 

It's difficult to be a prism when you intentionally block the light source. It's nearly impossible to be a filter in a sterile environment without risk. 

But, not only that, we're also fragile. Our egos, or at least our personalities need validation that these projects we spend our time and pain and love and energy on are, well, worth reading, worth having created. 

While attending a post-performance party thrown by the head vampire, Xenia, a stage actress with a large following (and a bit of a diva), Djuna and Paolo tell her how much they enjoyed her performance. They tell her it has left them speechless, that they "have no words." 

Xenia laughs politely, then smiles and instructs them both: "Use words. Use many, many words." 

Like all artists, we writers crave recognition, even if we want to remain hidden from the public by our computer screens. It's why we push so hard to get reviews (and share so many memes about getting them). Even if we don't hear them face-to-face, we want the "many, many words."

We want to know that what we devote our attention and time to actually matters to people. 

After all, it's hard work being a filter and a prism and turning all this life into stories. It's only fair, right? 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

[Link] Darkest New England: What is the Northern Gothic Literary Tradition?

by W.S. Winslow

Darkness. Madness. Specters. Death. Add some menacing weather, a tortured anti-hero and a long-buried secret or two and you’ve got the makings of a fine old Gothic novel in the tradition of Jane Eyre or The Hunchback of Notre Dame, big, chewy tales that roll right up to the precipice of horror but stop just short, lingering instead in the realm of Europe’s Dark Romanticism. Cross the line into horror and you leave the gloom of Manderley and Wuthering Heights for the hallucinogenic terror of The Castle of Otranto, Dracula’s Transylvania or Doctor Jekyll’s lab.

American fiction has its own Gothic tradition. Best known is the southern version, set not in cathedrals, castles and moors, but amidst the decrepit plantations and enduring ruin of the Civil War. Whereas the Southern Gothic is draped in Spanish moss, surrounded by cotton fields and oppressed by summer swelter, the Northern Gothic was born of cold and Calvinism, isolation and endurance, rooted not in the horrors of slavery and a fetishized myth of southern gentility, but the sharp, hard edge of fundamentalist Protestantism and the hopelessness of predestination. It’s the Salem of Goodman Brown, Poe’s House of Usher, and Ambrose Bierce’s Owl Creek Bridge.

Despite the general decline of organized religion in recent years, cultural Puritanism persists in much of New England and is foundational to its history. Ever since the European invasion of the New World, the roots of that belief system have been snaking underfoot, pushing so deep into the ground that they nearly choked out other traditions: those of the First People, later arrivals from Catholic Europe and French-speaking Canada, and the Black and Brown descendants of the Great Migration. If you like your literature fraught with doom, New England is a good place to find it.

I ought to know. My own family is descended from the earliest settlers in the New World and has been living in Maine since the beginning of the 18th century. Most of our people were Puritans, but there were also some French Canadians and Quakers, the latter contributing a marked strain of intransigence to a bloodline already amply endowed with it. Starting in Salem Town the historical record of my family includes a litany of contrarian behavior that resulted in fines, periodic imprisonment and occasional flogging, which is why, I suppose, a couple of generations after they disembarked in Massachusetts, my forebearers started moving steadily north to un- or sparsely inhabited places in what later became Maine. And here we have stayed for ten generations.

Read the full article:

Friday, October 29, 2021

Airship 27 Productions proudly presents Mystery Men (& Women) Vol. 7

Airship 27 Production is thrilled to announce the released of Vol # 7 of their popular showcase series, “Mystery Men ( & Women ). This series was specifically created to allow New Pulp writers a stage onto which to introduce new, original characters inspired by the Gold Age pulp heroes and villains of old.

In this 7th Volume Teel James Glenn introduces his heroes of the future, The Exceptionals, fighting crime with unique skills and powers. Also premiering in this book is Harding McFadden & Eleanor Hawkins’ tough-as-nails agent known as The Ghoul.

While returning for a second appearance are Curtis Fernlund’s martial arts beauty, Kiri in another action-packed tale and Greg Hatcher’s quirky Dr. Fixit is back for another whimsical adventure as he continues to build incredible gizmo weapons for supervillains.

“Producing this series has been nothing by pure fun for us,” admits Airship 27 Production’s Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “Our New Pulp writers are inventing some truly amazing characters and it is our pleasure to bring them all to you.” Along with the writers on board, award-winning Art Director Rob Davis provides the twelve interior illustrations and the super talented Adam Shaw offers up a Dr. Fixit cover. All part of a terrific new entry in a fan-favorite series.


Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #8: Stephen Brayton

This month I'm following up the previous series (eSpec Books) with a new one -- this time the amazing writers of Mocha Memoirs Press. Meet Stephen Brayton! 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My story is about a young boy who goes to a school to learn how to be a wizard and is adept at some broom flying game… Wait, that’s not right. Let me start over.

Night Shadows. Killer shadows invade Des Moines! Homicide Detective Harry Reznik teams with FBI agent Lori Campisi to investigate a series of heinous murders. What they discover will introduce Reznik to the paranormal and the supernatural. For Campisi, she is confronted with her enigmatic past and the secrets she’s forgotten.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?

As an orphaned child, I wandered the country shoeless with only the stub of a pencil and a dog-eared notebook to my name. I figured if I was going to survive, I’d better entertain people, so I started writing stories.

Okay, seriously, I’ve been an avid reader since childhood. I read a lot of horror and mystery. At some point, I decided I could write stories like I enjoy reading. Many years passed before I learned the craft...and I’m still learning.

BTW, I’m not an orphan.

What inspires you to write?

The constant desire to keep from being bored.

Well, actually, this is difficult to answer. I’ve been a writer since childhood. As the years have passed, I think of more and more ideas. Some stall out before they get any traction, others bug me until I do something about them. I get that writer’s ‘itch’ that reminds me if I don’t write, then I’m missing out on something wonderful. While I fashion an outline for each story, I keep it fluid. I’m eager to see what creativity comes out as I’m writing. I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction with a completed project.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I’m not sure if rainbows and unicorns are what you’re looking for. (Although I know someone who is writing about unicorns.)

For the Reznik/Campisi stories, I focus on relationships and family history. Night Shadows deals a lot with Campisi’s amnesia about her childhood. The next story in the series will bring Reznik’s ancestors into play.

Another series, featuring a female private investigator, brings in stories that have her involved with children. Usually, protecting them from danger. Also, in that series, I see how low I can bring her before her inner strength rises to help her to victory.

What would be your dream project?

I don’t think I dream projects… Oh, that’s not what you’re asking. You’re thinking something along the lines of Pulitzer prize stories, rising above the fame status of Stephen King and James Patterson. Well...sure, why not?

Okay, let’s get the tongue out of the cheek and answer this. In truth, I’m writing my dream projects. I’m continuing with both the Reznik/Campisi series, the private investigator series, and looking at another series featuring Reznik and another partner.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

All of them. All right, you’re thinking I’m joking, but I’m really not. All writers help me find my style and voice. Maybe they help me by critiquing my work or by the material they bring to the table.

If you want to venture into authors I enjoy, I don’t think you have enough space for my entire list. However, I’ll give you several. Night Shadows has elements of Lovecraft. I’ve read numerous mystery authors such as Evanovitch, Paretsky, Grafton, Viets, Mayor, Chandler. Of course, the thrillers and high adventure novels are great. Golemon, Reilly, Ludlum, Flynn.

So many great authors and I pick up ideas from all of them. I try not to copy their style and technique. I hope I have developed my own.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

I have a book entitled New Year Gone that was released August 24. While I think the book is great (of course I do), I would have started earlier on getting permission to use some of the quotes I really wanted to include. Many quotes are from other books, and one came from a song. I learned too late the time needed for a response. I ended up changing out four quotes. While the substitutions are fine and work, I thought the original quotes were better.

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

Writing is a form of art. Painting, sculpting, drawing, and playing around with wet clay on a spinning table are also art forms. With each style of art, there is crap and there is quality. With every art form, one can have a ‘natural’ ability, or one can learn and improve as the years pass. I think, too, that if you’re not practicing and fine-tuning your art, you may lose something. To get it back may take extra effort.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Knowing at some point I have to stop writing, go out, and earn a real living. Lol.

Actually, while I don’t think the rewrites are difficult, they are time-consuming. Here I’ve written a complete story. Now, I have to go back and, in one sense, write it again. Add, delete, change, correct, alter. I’m a member of two critique groups and for each piece of material I read to them, I take copious notes to later consider. The difficult part keeping the big picture in mind with those notes. Some notes require referencing material earlier in the story.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not?

Does beating me with a stick count?

As I’ve mentioned, I enjoy critique groups. While I accept praise, I’m not going to have someone say, “Oh, that’s wonderful. Don’t change a thing.” Are you kidding? Tell me what doesn’t work. Point out my mistakes.

The biggest aid my writer friends provide is asking them questions about difficult scenes. How could I make this better? I’m stuck trying to figure out some action scene to put here, any suggestions? Many times, they’ll come up with something that will either work or that I can alter slightly to make work.

What does literary success look like to you?

$$$. Millions of fans giving me accolades and inviting me to lavish dinners in my honor.

What? You think I’m kidding here? Isn’t that what every successful writer wants?

Of course, the monetary aspect is important. There’s the humble answer of: Success is for readers to enjoy my work, want more, and recommend me to their friends. That’s also important.

However, I would like to be comfortable and have fun. To be able to write when I want, not worry about paying the bills, and to thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing. This includes everything from story creation, to outlining, to writing, editing, and meeting readers after the book is published.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I’m working on the blueprints for a huge office building/entertainment venue that will make the Burj Kalifa in Dubai look like a child’s Lego toy. While I’ve considered diving right in, I think I may have to put that on the back burner due to the time I’ll spend ironing out the fine details.

Oh, did you mean writing projects? I would like to get the next Reznik/Campisi story to my professional editor. I’m reading the first in a series with Reznik and his new partner. I also have started writing two stories in the private investigator series with another outlined. Oh, and I’m going through a collaborative story put together years ago by one of my critique groups. It’s a fun project, but time-consuming. At times, I think the building might be completed faster.

For more information, visit:

You can visit me personally. Just stop on by my apartment any time you like. Here’s my address… Uh, wait a minute, maybe that isn’t a good idea. I haven’t vacuumed in a while, and the dust bunnies keep reproducing and hiding from me.

Instead, why don’t you surf on over to these three websites: - for the weekly blog - for the weekly book review

Also, I have a monthly (okay, sometimes I skip a month, but never more than two) news update. Send me an email if you’d like to be part of the gang. You get up updates on my books, where I’ll be, and how I’m doing on my fitness regimen. (Yeah, that last one is serious.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show

I've been rediscovering Giallo works that I managed to miss somehow, and this is one of those beautiful films that blurs the lines between horror and Giallo. 

Horror movie director Alessio is a talented visual storyteller but not as talented when it comes to writing the story he uses the camera to tell. So his producer hooks him up with master horror writer Ubaldo Terzani, the author of many bestselling scary novels. 

Immediately, Alessio picks up a full run of Ubaldo's work, and finds himself thoroughly engrossed in them. When he first meets the master, his first question is the obvious one:

Alessio: How do you write books with such realistic horror? I mean your stories are creepy. They have a concreteness that you do not find in the pages of any other writer of this genre.

Ubaldo: Maybe because the others are amateur. (Ubaldo laughs)

Alessio: Come on, seriously.

Ubaldo: Look. I know horror because I go deep into it to look. I make pacts with my ghosts. I speak to them daily. It's as if I am my right eye and they are my left eye.

Alessio: That's a vague explanation. 

Ubaldo: Then try to be more precise. What else do you want to know?

Alessio: I don't know. Perhaps there is something that inspires you. For example, perhaps your crude scenes were assisted by observing autopsies.

Ubaldo: Autopsies. No, they are the easy way out that I willingly leave to the mediocre writers like Clive Barker (Ubaldo laughs). There's no need for the help of observing autopsies to know horror. The horror is inside of you. It is deep down inside of you where you have to look to pull it out and then work with fantasy. To achieve excellence, we have to destroy the common belief that in order to write certain stories we have to give them directly. there is nothing more false.

It's clearly the more spiritual, more magical, more "art" side of writing rather than the practical, the day-in-day-out, the "craft" side of writing. I know and love authors from both sides of this. I have writer friends who define what they do as some kind of intrinsic, born-with-it art with a capital A. I have writer friends who believe that it's nothing more than a learned and practiced skill set that comes with diligent work. And I have lots of writer friends who believe in a combination of the two extremes. 

But the question of research is another one entirely, in this case, on display as "autopsies." There are simply things that you can't know as a writer without research. There are things that if you fake them in your writing, you will be called out by readers as a fraud. When it comes to science and history and geographic details (along with many other things), research matters, regardless of whether you practice ART or CRAFT. 

Then there's the discussion on whether we writers follow our own rules and advice or not, but we'll cover that in a moment. 

Back to the story, though, where our dear Ubaldo is practically the devil at the crossroads. He's clearly playing with Alessio. This is illustrated magnificently in a scene in which Alessio insists his character Martina would not be so easily seduced by an old man, after which Ubaldo describes the scene and sets it so vividly with details that even Alessio (suddenly finding himself in the Martina role) all but is seduced by the old master of words himself. It's a beautiful way of capturing how it's not the words and characters themselves but the delivery and portrayal of them by the writer that ultimately makes them real, no matter how imaginary they may be. 

 Ubaldo convinces Alessio to invite his girlfriend to the mansion, and during that time he hears the words we all long to as writers (upon learning that Sara has read all the books in her boyfriend's time with Ubaldo). "It was like a drug," she tells him. "I couldn't stop. I read them all."

The remainder of the film sets up a pretty cool contrast between a "live by the sword, die by the sword" moral and the truth that we writers often say one thing but live another. 

You see, we writers tend not to live by our own rules. It is one thing to tell our trade secrets in interviews, but it's another to actually live by all those things we purport to. 

"I always do this," we may say on a podcast, but the truth is often that we did it once or twice and found it worked well for us, but we quickly forgot about it until the interview question triggered the memory.

To say more at this point would be to spoil this bloody, artsy, beautifully deranged movie. Suffice it to say, it's one thing to be the writer you are in interviews, but another to be the writer you are in reality. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Gothic Traditions and the Contemporary Genre Writer

Hey, writers! Let's talk about the Gothic traditions. Big, old houses. Creepy relatives. Family secrets that still affect the present... If the success of shows like The Haunting of Bly House and Midnight Mass show us anything, they show us that these tropes are still with us and aren't just limited to old-timey stories. 

What's your history with Gothic stories? Are you a fan, or did you come to them by seeing the stories they influenced in novels and on TV? 

Marian Allen: A friend introduced me to Gothic romances in college: The kind with a heroine in a long dress or a nightgown running in the light of a full moon from a mansion, looking over her shoulder in apprehension. The cover didn't always match the book's contents; they were (the ones my friend passed to me) much more interesting than that. Then there was Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, parts of Frankenstein, parts of Vanity Fair, and other classics influenced by the Gothic tradition. Oh --Rebecca

John L. Taylor: I grew up both reading books like The House of Seven Gables and watching old horror films from Universal and Hammer. These are heavily Gothic in their visuals. Also, German expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gave me a solid visual influence rooted in Gothic, if distorted imagery. 

Cynthia Ward: I enjoy Gothic fiction in its various iterations, and I've written a gothic horror story (whether or not it's supernatural is left to the reader).

Shannon Murphy: I love old Gothic horror stories! The chilling atmosphere, the spooky plot twists.

Ef Deal: I live in a Gothic house. We were haunted for a few years, and we have had a few things visit us. I grew up with ghosts in my bedroom. Naturally, I gravitated toward Gothic stories. 

Sean Taylor: My first exposure in novels was Dickensian rather than pure Gothic, but from Charles' dusty old mansions it was an easy leap to the worlds of dark romances like Wuthering Heights and The House of the Seven Gables and creepy settings of early horror like Dracula and Frankenstein. My movie and TV habits at the time only reinforced the visuals of a Gothic style and the storytelling motifs of family secrets and isolation from the surrounding villages and towns, thanks to Dark Shadows, Hammer's horror movies, and, of course, Elvira introducing me to lots of Gothic revival B-movies I had been too young to see when they originally hit theaters.  

In what ways have the tropes of Gothic fiction influenced your work? 

Lucy Blue: My latest book, The Devil Makes Three, is a Southern Gothic horror novel -- NOT a romance, though as with most gothic stories, there is a relationship at the center of it. It takes place at Briarwood Plantation, which was deserted in 1837 when the English fiancee of the owner's daughter axe-murdered the entire family. When my book begins in the present day, Briarwood has just been purchased by a bestselling horror novelist, Jacob McGinnas. He's been suffering from writer's block, like you do, and he intends to open it back up to write his masterpiece about the murders and the hauntings they have allegedly inspired. A widowed local librarian, Serena Decatur, is helping him with his research, and together they find out the grisly murders are just the tip of a very nasty iceburg. Briarwood, both the house and grounds (a wilderness that hasn't been touched in almost 200 years), and Saxonville, the small town nearby, are pretty well soaked through with evil that's both human and supernatural. So we've got a grand but ruined haunted house and a whole bunch of creepy family secrets--Serena, a Black woman, discovers she has connections to Briarwood far beyond academic interest. And every horror in the present is rooted somehow in the past. Pretty much everything I've ever written has had some kind of gothic element. I mean, my medieval romances have stuff like vampires and haunted oubliettes, and my westerns have zombies. But The Devil Makes Three is me going full-on Gothic horror.

Ef Deal: Then I read Rebecca and thought WOW, THIS is what real Gothic is. I want to do this! Scary, romantic, a buried secret, a grisly murder, a mystery... And I have tried include them all.

John L. Taylor: It influences my work mainly in the form of descriptions and imagery, but also in the form of having female leads who are often confronted by the supernatural. Also, motifs like family secrets in far-flung locations, old mansions, etc. are a theme I'm toying with in an upcoming short story, though mixed with more cosmic horror tropes. 

Marian Allen: My period (1968) suspense, A Dead Guy at the Summerhouse is basically the opposite of those romances I read in college: The protagonist is a young man, and he tries his damnedest to NOT find out anything about the creepy relatives and their haunting past. Nope, just wants a paycheck, thanks.

Cynthia Ward: If anyone's interested, my story, "The Midwife," is available to read for free at

Sean Taylor: As a pulp, horror, and mystery writer, the idea of family secrets and the past influencing the present negatively are strong elements in my work, even though I rarely set any of my stories in a Gothic mansion. For my superhero fiction back during the days of Cyber Age Adventures, not so much influence at all though. 

How do you see them changing in light of a far more digital world, and do you believe these historically important parts of stories will continue to stick around for new and upcoming writers?

John L. Taylor: I can see these tropes being continued in the digital publishing era, The Gothic story just resonates so well with audiences it is unlikely to fade away yet. Things like gender roles or locations may change, but that visual style will always be reinvented in some form. For a few years now, the Gothic aesthetic has been reduced to a caricature, a cartoon trope. But I believe it's set for a resurgence like the one it had in the early 1990s under Burton and Sonnenfeld's influence.

Sean Taylor: I think the setting that originally defined Gothic traditions will become less and less used,  particularly in contemporary mainstream fiction, but never truly go away. Building on what John said, movies tend to re-visit that at least once during each new generation of filmmakers. I do think that the concepts and themes of Gothic works will continue to inspire stories for years and years to come. We see bits of it in nearly all the works of Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and even in non-horror works such as Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres and even several works by Joyce Carol Oates Horror will always have a place for it, and dark romance as well. But I also feel sure that literary writers too will continue to look for ways to either subvert the tropes or play off them for new effect or to use them as a sort of storytelling shorthand when needed. 

Shannon Murphy: I wrote a Gothic story about a werewolf. I let my Beta reader read it, and he said I should scrap it, that such stories are "out of date." It made me sad, but I think he might be right

Marian Allen: I see no reason for the old tropes to vanish, no matter how the stories are told. There are still foreboding houses of whatever age or size, still family secrets, still creepy relatives. Anything that works will always be with us.

Cynthia Ward: What they might be like in the future, I don't know. Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth is a recent (and excellent) SF novel that very imaginatively shifts the tropes you mention into space and mixes in necromancers, lesbian swordswomen, and a locked-room mystery.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Because you've been so good this Halloween season, here's an extra movie review for writers for your candy bag. Enjoy!

I've been wanting to watch this one for a while because I remember reading the books when my kids were smaller and enjoying them. They were the perfect blend of "child-safe" and "creepy as hell" that gave them and me an awesome connecting point. What I wasn't expecting, though, was how much this movie actually talked about telling stories. 

Consider it a pleasant surprise on my part. 

The basics: Stella joins her friend Augie and Chuck to get a little Halloween prank revenge on a school bully and end up in a haunted house. Intrigued by the stories of Sara Bellows telling tales through the wall to kids, most of whom ended up missing, Stella takes the book of stories from the house and faster than you can say "I told you not you," brand new stories start to appear and Stella's friends begin to disappear while living out those tales. 

Not all lessons about telling stories and writing from this film are equal, however. For starters, when Ramon discovers Stella's journal of her own fiction, he asks her about it, then quickly adds that "If you're serious about being a writer, it's not going to happen here. You have to go to the city."

Sadly, this lie still permeates the publishing community, this idea that it takes an urban setting to be a writer, that you have to live close to the publishers themselves. That may or may not be true in the screenplay business (I don't know) but it certainly isn't for the prose fiction world anymore. 

The digital revolution has all but negated the pro/con discussions between urban/rural locations for writers. Email and teleconferencing have alleviated the need for proximity to publishers. 

Not only that, thanks to the wonder of self-publishing or a scattering of indie and mid-list presses all over the place, a grandmother in the middle of Kansas has the same access to getting a book published as a stereotype living in poverty in a loft in New York. 

But let's move on to the lessons this creepy movie gets right. 

First, stories are very, very powerful. And they are powerful in many ways. 

At the beginning of the movie, Stella narrates a line that becomes a sort of mantra and theme during the film.

"Stories hurt. Stories heal."

We see this proven true in not only the literal monsters in the stories told by the ghost of Sara Bellows (experienced in real-time by Stella's friends), but also in the stories told all over town that leads to Sara's plight. Ghost Sara's stories actually hurt and destroy the kids in town, but the lies told passed around about Sara are equally capable of destroying her life. 

And sometimes a new story is the only thing to replace or end a previous story. We see this in all the new stories being told by people who rarely had a voice in years past. Tales from black, brown, and indigenous voices, tales from LGBTQIA voices, tales from women that help to set right the misrepresentation of years gone by are more important than ever. We see so much more representation in the characters and authors of top-selling fiction nowadays, and it is needed to right the wrongs of the past. 

It's also a lesson Stella learns, as she promises to tell Sara's story, her real, true story to rebut the lies and legends that remain prevalent. 

As the credits begin to roll, we hear Stella's narration again, only this time with some additional information. 

"Stories hurt. Stories heal. If we repeat them often enough they become real. They have that power. Stories can teach us to care."

At this point, we see the redemptive nature of stories. Stella (and we by extension) have moved from hurt to heal. And they can continue to work toward healing, because, as her narration continues, we learn that stories never truly end. (Spoiler warning for this bit. Consider yourself warned.)

"Chuck and Augie are still gone, but I know there is a way to bring them back and that the secret is in the book, and we won't stop until we find them."

The best stories, whether prose, movies, comics, you name it, live on long after the book is closed and the last credit rolls. The best stories still have important nuances to share, important wisdom to say, important ideas to teach -- and yes, even when they might primarily serve as "mere" escapism: 

"The secret is in the book, and we won't stop until we find them."

Saturday, October 23, 2021

[Link] Animals have dwindled in novels since 1835. Is fiction undergoing its own extinction event?

by Piers Torday

A new study argues that a disconnect with nature has led to fewer creatures appearing in fiction. But is that really the case?

A recent study in People and Nature claims that animals are being written out of novels at a similar rate to their extinction in the real world. The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research searched the entire online Project Gutenberg archive of 60,000 texts, written between 1705 and 1969. They found that since 1835, animal usage in fiction – other than domesticated beasts such as horses and dogs or “threat” animals such as bears or lions – has dwindled to a fraction of its former propensity. Professor Christian Wirth, the study’s senior author, argues that this has implications for our response to the climate crisis: “We can only halt the loss of biodiversity by a radical change in awareness.”

I think he’s right, but not because animals have been written out of novels. They’ve just been written in the wrong way.

Like all such headline-making research papers, context is everything. I am not sure that public-domain books only, written in English only, from a western canon only, are fully representative of the rich and increasingly human-diverse fictional world today. But the decline in actual biodiversity is terrifyingly real. According to the latest reports from the UN and WWF, we have not only lost 60% of animal populations since 1970, but one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction if we do not act now.

Has that profound sense of loss in fact made animals more attractive to fiction writers? There is certainly no shortage of animals in the world of children’s literature. My latest book, The Wild Before – about tackling biodiversity decline – has a hare as a main character, and an animal cast, following in the tradition of books such as Watership Down. This past year alone has seen critically acclaimed children’s books starring a stranded polar bear, a haunting Greenland shark and a magical talking stray cat.

Read the full article:

Friday, October 22, 2021

New from Falstaff Books!

Magical Cursed Pirates!

From the author of the fantasy thriller Thief of Destiny and the bone-crunching sword and sorcery novella WAR PIGS sails a breakneck tale of adventure on the high seas and the devils waiting beneath it!

Already a legend among the corsairs of the Silver Coast, Captain Ngala of The Gamka and his cutthroats ply the Mirror Sea for glittering spoil, threading between the vengeance of the unforgiving ocean and the justice of the western empires always at their back. On the run after a night raid, success is in reach when his ship is moored in the mysterious Shallow Bay.

The crew’s terror multiplies as the dreaded song of a deadly brine-singer echoes across the waves, summoning a terrifying monster from the depths. Against the murderous onslaught of the horrific beast and the mystery of the enchanted singer, Ngala must stem a rising mutiny as desperation and bloodshed spawns fear and betrayal. Every secret, no matter how deep, must be unearthed to end the curse of Shallow Bay. With his ship, crew, and very family at stake, how far will Ngala go to rescue everyone and everything he loves?

For fans of Pirates of the Caribbean and Conan the Barbarian, voyage deep into the epic unknown in The Curse of Shallow Bay.

Available Now!


Have you seen my body parts?

Hilarious Urban Fantasy from the Author of the Monster Hunter Mom!

Captain Perkins once again drags Waylon Jenkins, zombie and cosmetologist to the biggest Hollywood stars into a murder case. Eyeless, and missing hands, the bodies tingle the experienced officer’s ‘woo-woo’ sense and the captain demands that Jenkins help find the killer.

Unfortunately, one of the victims is linked to Waylon’s favorite client, and Hollywood “It’ girl, Mitzi (one name only). Meanwhile, Jenkins’ new luxury cosmetic line struggles with several federal agencies, especially since “dehydrated zombie skin cells,” aren’t an FDA-approved ingredient.

A new mystery man takes over as CEO of The Industries, “Miss Mango,” Amalia tricks him into building a treehouse for a charity playground, and his executive assistant, Mrs. Betsy Ross, floats through the house in a fit of ghostly depression.

And if that isn’t enough, Waylon desperately needs a body to loan him an ear.

Get it today!


I never trusted that Edison fella...

Meet Kate Warne - Pinkerton, Savior of Presidents, Investigator Extraordinaire, Ghost.

Magical children, American legends, and the nation’s first lady detective come together in this thrilling fantasy for fans of The Wild, Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Kate Warne shattered the glass ceiling and helped save a President as the first female Pinkerton detective. Now she’s learning a new role in life – ghost detective. Coming back from beyond the Veil to continue her work, Kate and her partner Shadow are tasked with finding a missing girl somehow linked to the famous Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison.

But all is not as it seems with the strange inventor, and Kate begins to suspect that his strange assistant may be much more than he appears to be. What she learns is that Edison, the girl, and all her strange siblings are involved in something much deeper and far darker than she ever imagined.

Now Kate and Shadow must join forces with a traveling snake-oil salesman, a semi-retired combat airship pilot, Edison’s most famous rival, and a legendary riverboat captain and itinerant scribbler of tales to keep Edison and his mysterious cohort from calling forth an ancient power and possibly the end of life as we know it.

Pre-Order Now!


In the darkness, hate festers...

A town's darkest secrets will be exposed. Will she be strong enough to survive the truth?

A successful novelist who wants to do more than just write scary stories.

A young widow who thinks there is no escape from a life she never imagined.

A plantation house with dark secrets that infect every corner of a small South Carolina town.

Will Jacob McGinnas’ dream house become a nightmare for him and everyone he cares about?

In 1837, Briarwood Plantation was abandoned when Ezra Woodbine slaughtered his fianceé’s entire family. Now, after nearly two centuries, life returns to Briarwood. But for how long?

Serena Decatur is a thirty-year-old Black woman trapped in a life she never asked for. Widowed, underemployed, drowning in debt, she is living with her in-laws in the small town where she grew up.

Bestselling horror author Jacob McGinnas wants to dig into the secrets of Briarwood and write a new book, perhaps the literary masterwork that will etch his name in the lists of great authors.

But as he enlists Serena’s help in bringing Briarwood back to life, they uncover a gruesome history of hatred and evil in Saxon County that extends far beyond the gates of the plantation and through time all the way to the present. Serena learns horrible truths about the town, her family, and their connection to Briarwood. Jacob’s writer’s block is shattered and he feels a bond with Briarwood and those who lived there. But is that bond imagined, or is it something real, something much darker?

For there is a power long dormant on the grounds of Briarwood, and it seems to be stirring. When it wakes, will anything of the town survive?

The Devil Makes Three contains scenes of racial violence that may be disturbing to some readers. 

Pre-Order Now!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #7: Sumiko Saulson

This month I'm following up the previous series (eSpec Books) with a new one -- this time the amazing writers of Mocha Memoirs Press. Meet Sumiko Saulson!

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

I am really happy to announce that Mocha Memoirs Press has picked up my horror / paranormal romance series. The series revolves around a series of Greek deities known as Oneiros who are aspects of dreams, personified. This in particular revolves around the subset of erotic nightmares. The books combine horror, dark fantasy, romance, and kinky erotica. There are four books at this time: Happiness and Other Diseases, Somnalia, Insatiable, and Akmani. And I am already getting started on the outline for a fifth book, Phobetor. 

The series starts with Happiness and Other Diseases. The central protagonist, Flynn Keahi, is being haunted by disturbing nightmares where a succubus-like creature calling itself Mercy is latching herself onto his repressed sadomasochistic sexual desires. Initially, he finds himself exhausted, depleted of energy. Overtime, things worsen and he wakes up with unexplained injuries on his body. The creature is becoming increasingly able to affect him in the waking world. Mercy and her siblings are trying to break out of the dream world and into the mortal realm.

Alarmed by this, her great-grandmother, Nyx, a Titan, becomes involved. If Mercy and company disturb the natural order, it may create conflict with her old nemesis, Zeus. She is ready to destroy Mercy and her entire line, when her son, Somnus, the personification of sleep, intervenes on their behalf. Nyx tells him that if Flynn survives, his grandchildren, the Somnali (grandchildren of Somnus) will also survive. But if he dies, all of them will die and be forced to reincarnate as mortals with no memory of their divine origin. Somnus is allowed to assign a champion to protect Flynn. He assigns half-human Charlotte. She tries to protect Flynn, but her lust and romantic attraction towards him create even more danger for the mere mortal Flynn. 

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?

I started writing when I was very young. I dreamed of being an author from the time I was in kindergarten, and I was on my high school newspaper. I was a published poet by the age of 19, but I didn’t achieve my dream of being a novelist until I was 42. What prompted me to write my first novel was finding out that both of my parents had cancer. My mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer in the same family as leukemia and lymphoma, which affects African Americans at a rate twice as high as the general population, in August 2009. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer a year and a half later, in 2011. I decided that I should write a novel while they were living, so they could read what I wrote, and generally be a part of my achieving my dreams, while they were still living. I became very focused, and I wrote three novels between 2011 and when my father died in January 2013. My mother was a survivor. Against all odds, she fought multiple myeloma for 9 ½ years, despite it having been so advanced by the time it was diagnosed that she was only expected to live 1 1/12 years. She passed away in January 2019.

What inspires you to write?

I have a compulsion to write, which I think is due to my bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder – and very likely, to my basic personality other than my mental health issues and trauma. But writing horror is definitely something that helps me to process the traumas that are behind my PTSD diagnosis. I also often write very topical sociopolitical horror based on issues in the headlines that I find inspire me.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I wanted to have children and wasn’t able to, and I find that fertility issues and difficulties in procreation have resurfaced in various ways in many of my works. Mental illness also shows up in a lot of them. Flynn Keahi has bipolar disorder, and the title of Happiness and Other Diseases is a reference to how, whenever he is truly happy, his doctors accuse him of having a manic episode. He has trouble getting people to take his problems seriously because he’s mentally ill. He isn’t the only mentally ill character I have written, but he is the first central protagonist who is. I wrote a lot of other characters of one sort or another who had mental health issues before and after Flynn.

What would be your dream project?

Honestly, this is my dream project. I have a deep love for this series. Anne Rice said that people should write the book they want to read, and that’s what I did. I wrote a series of books that told a story that I wanted to read. And about two-thirds of the way through the first book, the stories just started writing themselves. The characters lived for me, and they told their own tale, and I had a deep and still abiding love affair with this world and these characters. Of course, if they made a movie out of them that would be even better.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Like anyone, I am influenced by what I read a lot of. That would be Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, LA Banks, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Robin Cook, Peter Straub, Frank Herbert, Susan Cook, C.S. Lewis. Also mythology, I was a huge fan of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology as a kid. 

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

Again, I am actually getting a do-over. The fourth book in the series Akmani has never been released before, but the first three are out of print now. I think Happiness and Other Diseases is a really great book that can be even better. I know that Mocha Memoirs Press will give it a brilliant edit and a beautiful cover, and that it will get all of the love and care it truly deserves. I put a lot of work into it as a self-pub, but honestly, it deserved better than what I could do on my own. 

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

For me, it is an art. The only science I know is computer science, and although I put some planning into my books, the notebooks full of character notes and world-building are pretty chaotic. There is something frenetic and organic about the process. Which is not to say that writing isn’t a science for someone, nor is it to say that there is nothing mechanical in it for me. I use the three-act structure, so that is a method I find useful. But most of it is like intentional daydreaming for me.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Definitely editing my own work, as there are always a lot of things you miss when you look at the page. Reading aloud helps – missing words or phrases are more noticeable when reading aloud. When you read what you wrote on a page, your brain inserts what you think you meant to say. So that makes it harder to catch. My English teacher also taught us that it helps to read backward from the last page to the first, a page at a time. It stops your brain from focusing on the story and forces you to look at the words themselves. Working with an editor can also be difficult – although, I tend to just approve 95 to 100 percent of the editing suggestions. They usually know what they are talking about. But sometimes they have rewrites. I can love rewrites, but they can also be frustrating.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not?

Writing requires self-promotion, and it is really hard to see yourself as a brand or a product. It feels self-aggrandizing or egocentric. Working with other authors on the promotion trail helps me feel like it is okay to promote my book. I love doing book signings and readings with other authors. It’s more fun, more relaxing, and makes me feel like a part of a team. The same goes for anthologies. It’s a lot easier to promote a book full of stories by your friends that you love than it is to just constantly talk about yourself. 

Being in writer’s groups and critiquing one another’s work has also helped me as a writer. Other writers are able to give specific, constructive critiques that are useful and can be acted upon.

What does literary success look like to you?

Every time something new and exciting happens, I feel like I have succeeded – so I take it one day at a time, just like any other job. When I reach a new level, it is like getting a raise at a 9 to 5 job, or a promotion. So I try to appreciate each new plateau and I still feel very excited about it. I know I am going to get to go to DC and present in person at WorldCon in December, and I am thrilled. Not only will it be my first in-person convention appearance since March 2020, but it is the furthest I will have traveled for an appearance. Writing is a humble career for most of us – most of us will never exceed a middle-class standard of living as an author, and honestly, many of us will never make that. For me being able to support myself as an author looks like literary success. Having an audience looks like success.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I have a poem, “Darkest Night of Faerie Bright,” in the upcoming Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase 8, and one called “With December Comes Elune” in a poetry anthology called Infectious Hope.

For more information, visit:

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Hush

Hush reminds me a lot of the Audrey Hepburn thriller Wait Until Dark from 1967. It's a super creepy pseudo-horror flick that teaches the bad guys not to assume the upper hand when trying to terrorize someone with a disability. Whereas in Hepburn's flick, she was blind, in Hush, Kate Seigel is deaf and mute. But far from helpless. 

And she's also a writer, hence her inclusion here. 

Maddie, played with great skill by Seigel, has moved from the city to the middle of nowhere (as far as we know from the context within the film, only one neighbor) to focus on her writing after city life was becoming non-conducive to her process. It's while there that she is attacked by a serial killer who has already targeted her neighbor. 

Simple plot, great plotting, and some awesome character stuff while Maddie and her attacker take their roles as cat and mouse. 

Like most movies about writers, this one begins with Maddie experiencing writer's block. Hopefully, her new setting in the woods will help her overcome it. 

The trouble with that idea that ties a writer's ability to write to a location or single process is that none of it changes the writer's inside (what my Papa used to call) gumption. There's a saying that, "wherever you go, there you are." Basically, it says that you're still the same you, regardless of where you are. The same problems you are facing and finding insurmountable will follow you. 

And that is exactly what happens to Maddie. Not even her new location can get her past her story hurdle. She has a story almost done that she loves, but she's stumped on the ending. There are just too many options. She's not just stymied by the choices, she's up against the proverbial wall and just can't move on. Her backspace key is really getting a workout as she grows more and more frustrated with any of her choices. She's facing a sort of analysis paralysis in terms of how to end her book. 

It then that we the audience enter the land of metaphor (while sadly, Maddie is stuck in her reality). We get to experience how her fight for her life echoes her plight at figuring an ending for her novel. We get to put the various pieces of the puzzle together while she struggles to survive. 

It's a fascinating dichotomy for a thriller about a writer, and it's one of the choices that makes this home invasion story so compelling and amazing.  

"I have a voice in my head," she tells her neighbor early in the movie. "My mom calls it writer brain."

We all do, don't we? We have that part of our psyche that really groks stories, that really runs a 24/7 network of our greatest hits and most annoying letdowns as writers. It's a constant stream of story bits and bobs that either tease us mercilessly or eventually get figured out and captured on paper. 

When writer brain works, it's super helpful. 

When writer brain doesn't work, it's pretty damn irritating. 

In an inspired bit of storytelling by the director, we are invited into Maddie's writer brain to see how she plays out possibilities in her head (reminds me a bit of Scare Me, reviewed her earlier, in that sense). As she looks through her glass door to see the killer smiling at her, she tells herself there are too many endings, the same thing she said earlier when discussing her book. 

She tries every option from bargaining to hiding to escape, but none of it works. At one point she even writes on the sliding glass door that she never saw the masked killer's face, so he could safely leave without her identifying him. His response is perfect for the stumped author -- he removes his mask and smiles at her as if to say, "Not an option." 

It's one of the creepiest "I want you to know that I'm going to kill you" scenes in modern cinema. 

Then we see her follow each possible ending through to its logical conclusion until she is certain she has only one real choice if she wants to survive -- and of course it's the one she likes the least, as it means hiding or getting outside help isn't an option. 

Ironically, or perfectly fitting for the movie's plot, it is precisely her experience with the attacker that gives her what she needs to really focus on the ending of her ordeal (and we assume, apply that same focus to her fiction).

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Tried and True Methods To Create and Maintain... Suspense!

For our next writer roundtable, let's talk suspense. What are your tried and true methods for creating and maintain suspense in your work? Feel free to quote examples you've written.

Bobby Nash: If my POV character is the one experiencing it, I use short, choppy sentences, disjointed or incomplete thoughts, distractions that move from one to the other. It feels frantic in that character's thoughts. I try to have the reader feel the character's anxiety.

Corrina Lawson: Ticking clock.

John L. Taylor: I use descriptive cues in their environment. One I used in a yet unpublished manuscript was to have a seemingly unmenacing character began talking to the POV character while Greig's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is being played on a piano in the background. His tale gets more and more morbid with the music until the POV character realizes she's talking to the Angel of Death who's threatening to kill her entire city at the crescendo. It doesn't have to be that blunt, but even like a mounting noise like scratching, or a smell the protagonist is gagging on. Mix these with their rising suspicion or internal monologue and I find it builds effective tension. Also, have an event that the reader is waiting to happen, then tease it coming. In the same horror story, we read in the prologue that the POV character has snow-white hair. In chapter one, I describe her hair as naturally raven black. The reader knows something supernatural and extremely traumatic is going to happen, something that changes the protagonist's entire core nature. So I drop hints every four chapters or so until the event happens in the climax. Remember though, the more tense wind up, the bigger the payoff must be. So don't overdo it. Sometimes the moment you're building to isn't a climactic event, just a part of the journey. Place tension appropriately within the POV character's arc.

John Linwood Grant: I quite like to reflect the ‘feel’ of what is coming, to build suspense, by including aspects not immediately relevant to the expected action. So the time by the clock, in the first example below, is symbolic of something coming, as is the restlessness of a dead fox in the second. It’s about planting the idea that things are about to change, without saying it openly.

“The moon is near its first quarter, a bright crescent barely clouded now. The silver wound of it illuminates Commercial Street and the ways beyond. Almshouses and chapels, slum tenements and public houses, some showing a faint light. Mile End in the distance; breweries and rookeries around. The hands of the Christ Church clock, not so far away, stand at almost four in the morning…” (Assassin’s Coin)

“A dead fox stirs, unable to rest, its white bones gleaming in the tough grass. The owls do not call.” (Horse Road)

Bill Craig: Create a sense of urgency, as if the hero is racing against a clock.

Brian K Morris: In my writing, I like to establish that the character is moving towards something mysterious, unknowable. It's even better when I remove their support systems and any reasons to retreat from the danger.

Marian Allen: I put my characters out of their element or out of their depth and make sure the readers know it. In my mystery/comedy Bar Sinister, the "detective" is a naive busybody poking around a murder as if it's a fun puzzle. In my historical (1968) mystery A Dead Guy at the Summer House, the main character is trying desperately NOT to be told what happened before he was hired as a handyman, and doesn't even know a murder has been committed -- but other people think he knows ALL about it. I like for my characters to be -- with the readers' knowledge -- to approach danger unawares, so the reader can sit on a bus and shout aloud, "Don't go in there!" Good times.

Ian Totten: Stillness in the air coupled with distant sounds (cars on a highway, a dog barking) and an overall sense of quiet where the scene is taking place. If I can’t sense the dread and suspense in my head, it needs to be reworked until I do.

Krystal Rollins: Broderic Martin sat behind his desk, in his luxury office that overlooked a beautiful waterfall fountain. His office window would open about a quarter of the way up, just enough to hear the water splash back into the concrete pool below. He loved to listen to the water drop in sequence, people everywhere were in a cheery mood and police sirens whaled in the distance. After the sun went down was his favorite time to sit back and relax in his leather chair; the light bulbs in the pool lit up in color. It was mesmerizing, almost like a woman in a colorful silk nighty walking up to him. Anything that he wanted, she would do. The night secretary would quietly lock up his office but didn’t dare disturb his peaceful thoughts before she left for the night. He used the classic excuse to his wife that a couple of his friends from different states flew in for an all-night poker game. But instead, he used the time alone, the time to clear his mind, time to meditate, time he needed just to wind down. To see the colors of the rainbow under the water come to life, sometimes he broke down and cried. A cleansing. It was a life that most would love to have; a casino hotel that made him millions per year. A beautiful wife that looked at him all day through an eight by ten glass who wanted him home more with her and the children. He had employees by his side that would do anything he asked them to and top-notch security when he needed it. Broderic controlled a part of Las Vegas, taken over from his dad who did everything by the book. It was a different time, a dog-eat-dog world. His father made lots of friends, all Broderic did was make enemies and that’s why in his mind, everybody wanted to be around him. Ever since college, he always wanted to have fun all the time; dinner parties, expensive cars, children in private school and all the women his could desire.

Earl Carlson: Hideous and horrid, she stands over me, savoring her triumph, threatening me with finger wiggles, and salivating at the prospect of gluttonizing on my unsullied flesh. The blood of her last meal, still fresh and flowing, drips from her jowls, and her fangs gleam a ghastly white amidst the gore. I cannot help myself. I close my eyes in a vain attempt to shut her out – to make her go away. Please, Devla, make her go away. And I scream. All my terror, all my hopelessness, all my anguish coalesces as a flaming liquid in my belly, and emanates from my every orifice, my every pore, in one final, one last-ever, forever scream.

Gordon Dymowski: Bring your audience to attention, give them a clue as to what may happen....and leave them there.

Suspense is all about letting the audience come to their own conclusion before you add something that makes them want to know more. Only resolve the tension when there's no other alternative.

Hiraeth Publish: The best way is to create and develop a character who connects with the reader, and put that person in credible, yet outre jeopardy.

Jason Bullock: I like to take the reader through the scene at the beginning with a volley of description in and around all the senses a character could experience it in. The following paragraphs lead up to the climax of the scene like a roller coaster edging to the crescendo waiting for the moment of conflict to strike the Bailey so to speak.

Sean Taylor: There are several techniques I like to go to as my stand-by methods. The first is to vary the sentence length. Short sentences increase reading speed, which can also increase tension. Then hit 'em with a long, compound sentence for a sort of full stop, like hitting the pavement from a great height. 

Another is to use a repetitive phrase that draws readers back to the central idea they're supposed to be in suspense about. Nothing cheesy, but subtle enough to keep that ticking clock or pending appointment they just can't miss fresh in their minds. 

The sounds of letters and words themselves also contribute to suspense. Easy to skip letters like "s" and "z" and "m" give a reader a sense of peacefulness, all is well, you can just skip over this quickly and go with the flow. Hard sounds like "k" and "p" and "d" mess up a reader's pattern, almost guttural stops, potholes in the reading that keep a reader wanting to move faster in the text than they're able usually. 

But the best way, I've found is to keep asking myself as a writer, "What's the worst thing that could happen at this moment?" and then having the guts to put my characters in those awful situations until the story needs to start digging its way out of the hole.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: The Darkness

Because you've been so good this Halloween season, here's an extra movie review for writers for your candy bag. Enjoy!

Have you figured out yet that I'm a sucker for indie thrillers and indie horror? Well, this is another that I'm so glad I discovered. It's a low-budget, but well directed and acted, moody movie with a sort of invisible shout-out to the work of Hammer's House of Horror.

Lisa and David have booked a working vacation in Ireland so he can work on a business plan and she can begin work on her next book. He is easily distracted by the constant ringing of his cell phone calling him away from her, and she is plagued by the fear that she is an imposter as a writer. 

Lisa: I don't want to be a one-book wonder.

David: Babe,  you're book was great. You sold 200,000 copies. That's no joke for a first time writer. Just listen to your publicist. Keep writing. Something will come. 

Lisa: Yeah, but rom con wasn't exactly what I had in mind, and I donw know, I feel like I have this urge to write something and it is burning, but I have no idea where to start. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, I'm not making any sense, am I?

David: Sometimes you just need to be practical. Write for the right market. Write for yourself. Can't you do both?

Lisa: I just need some inspiration. that house is beautiful. That house is inspiration. I just need to put on my big girl pants and get out my typewriter and start typing. It'll be legendary. Because I'm legendary.

Does any of this discussion sound familiar? There's so much to unpack in it. 

1. Who doesn't suffer from the fear they'll never recapture the lightning in a bottle of a previous work?

2. The work is in the writing. So keep writing. 

3. Ever feel typecast as a writer of a certain genre and feel you can't break out? I do. I feel like my entire writing life (wouldn't call it a career) has been to move from one genre to another for a few stories at a time, at least until my recent foray into new pulp stories, where I feel I've been hanging out for longer than normal. 

4. Put on your big girl pants and write. Screw inspiration. It'll come when you show it you mean business with or without. 

5. Write for the market or write for yourself. There's no real wrong answer here, as long as you enjoy what you're writing. When you don't, that's a sign to change gears, even if just temporarily. And yes, you can do both? (This is not to be wrapped up in "chasing the markets" though, because that's trend-chasing, and you'll almost always be behind it.)

The one I really want to zero in on though is this one: I have an urge to write something and it's burning, but I don't know where to start. 

This can plague us all. It's usually a sure-fire sign that you're onto something awesome that will change the way you write. The trouble is that until you've done it, you're not that writer yet. You're a work in progress, and that "in progress" can be the kind of thing that either drives you on or locks you down. 

Luckily, for Lisa, that "burning urge" is something awesome, as she discovers a journal written by a woman who used to live on the land. It tells the story of Niav, an orphan who was married and happy, at least until... (okay, no spoilers). 

There are lots of movies that use the story within a story mechanic, but few that use a story about a writer within a story about a writer, and that makes this movie so much fun. Niav wanted to write her own journey to happiness, thus she started the journal, and Lisa finds her story so compelling she decides to make it the basis for ner next novel -- her own twist on the rom-com rut she's feels pigeonholed into. 

As Lisa begins to read and then write Niav's story, she learns a few things about the ways stories work in terms of building relationships and even community. 

The first lesson is that stories create bonds between people. Or in her case, between people and ghosts. But the truth is still the truth -- stories create bonds. 

I've seen it over and over again, from a love of Pride and Prejudice to a love of Edgar Rice Burroughs to a love of Zora Neale Hurston. The stories are the glue that gets folks talking and sharing and holds and creates relationships. 

Those bonds last. Those bonds defy and cross everything from racial to socio-economic to political divisions. Those bonds, that love of particular stories and authors, they tie people together in all the ways that even ideals and religions can't. 

And never discount this -- your stories can and will do the same thing. 

The second lesson is that stories are reminders, in this case even for ghosts. 

In Lisa's case, the best way to protect herself was to remind Niav of the story she told via the journal, to allow her to be herself again and not just vengeance in spirit form.

In my life, I learned this first hand with one of my sons. He has rapid shift bipolar, and the one constant is the story he has in his head of who he wants to be. So when all else failed, when the most obvious response was another argument or confrontation, I learned that by retelling that story and appealing to his desire to that person was the way to build common ground and remind him of the kind of hero he wanted to be in his story. 

The beauty of this lesson is that it doesn't just apply to readers but to the creators of stories too. Each time I re-read (or listen to the audiobook version of) one of my stories, I remember a lot of things that work-a-day stress and annoyances try to make me forget. I remember why I love to write. I remember how much my characters have meant to me as I told their stories. And I remember who I am through re-experiencing the stories.