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Coming Full Circle

Recently, my short vampire story “It’s in Your Blood” appeared in Bites – Ten Tales of Vampires.

Years before, I’d written an anthology called Tales of Terror. Basically, it consisted of three horror stories written on notebook paper and stapled together. There were three “issues”.

Keep in mind, I was in the sixth grade and just starting out. I was influenced by Ida Chittum’s collection of ghost stories, also called Tales of Terror (one of my favorite childhood books), Alfred Hitchcock’s anthologies, and shows like Night Gallery and Twilight Zone.

I moved on to writing poetry while in high school but did write the occasional short story. For several years, my English teacher used one of these stories as an example of descriptive writing.

It wasn’t until college when I pursued short story writing again, this time focusing on the literary genre. I still wrote poetry and a friend was trying to convince me to write screenplays, something I wouldn’t do until a few years later.

Despite my creative writing endeavors, I wanted to be a journalist for an alternative press newspaper. After college, I spent a couple of years writing freelance magazine articles for local magazines, only to return to my fiction writing roots.

Which brings me to the present. I’m back to writing those dark genre stories I enjoyed as a preteen. Right now I have two awaiting publisher responses, am working on one, and am thinking of ideas for more. All this while I work on my short novels.

Why do I like writing short stories? I tend to be someone who likes to get to the point, which is a reason I can’t write novels. (I know. I’ve tried. Trust me.) Short stories provide a way for me to get material out without spending the time it would take for a longer piece. (Not that writing short stories is easy and there are authors who prefer not to write them.)

However, if writers like Charles Beaumont, Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury and others were able to elevate the short story to another level, I can only hope I might do the same one day.

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Putting the “Fan” in Fandom Fest

     (Cross-posted from Write Club.)
     This past weekend, two types of fans descended on the sci-fi/fantasy/horror con known as Fandom Fest. The first consisted of authors, readers, editors and publishers devoted to speculative fiction. The other kind blew air on perspiring con attendees. Yes, folks, when other bloggers mention the unbearable heat, they speak the truth.
     Nevertheless, this con is particularly special because not only did I participate in an Author Reading, I also sat on my first panel: “Urban Fantasy – Can You Define It?” Other authors on the panel included Michael Williams, Denise Verrico, Missa Dixon, and Julie Kagawa. Yes, folks, I sat next to a RITA winner. For those of you who don’t know, Julie Kagawa won the 2011 RITA for best young adult romance with her novel, The Iron King.
     The problem with panels, of course, is not being able to attend them all. Fandom Fest offered a diverse selection, ranging from “Academic Credibility for Speculative Fiction” to “Cover Art – A Book is Judged By Its Cover” to “The Paranormal in Fiction.” And no, I can’t tell you my favorite panel. I enjoyed them all.
     Also enjoyed hanging out with three other members of Savvy Authors: Amy McCorkle, Marian Allen and Fiona Young-Brown. Except for Amy, I hadn’t met Marian or Fiona in person until then, even though they live in the region.
     Of course, cons are for networking. Not only did I collect a number of business cards and bookmarks, I also chatted with authors and publishers, some who I’ve met before at previous cons. Gwen Mayo, a Kentucky mystery writer, gave me some good advice about noting information on the back of someone’s business card for future reference. And Missa Dixon gave me tips on how to prepare for a panel. I’m happy to say my first time went pretty well. Not perfect but better than I expected.
     Credit also goes to Gwen and Sarah Glenn of the local chapter of Sisters in Crime for telling me about Fandom Fest and encouraging me to contact Stephen Zimmer, the literary track director. And thanks to Stephen for letting me play in his sandbox.

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Road Trip Adventures: Kentucky Writers Conference

(Cross-posted from Write Club)

Each spring, authors and bibliophiles descend on Bowling Green , Kentucky for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. The two day event hosts regional writers like Silas House, David Domine, and Lynwood Montell and best-selling authors, including  Nicholas Sparks, Jean Auel, and Teresa Medeiros.

This year, the Book Fest took place on Friday April 15 and Saturday April 16. Friday was the Kentucky Writers Conference, an all-day event with four sessions of three workshops each. Panels included “Everything You Need to Know About Agents,” “Writing in Another Voice,” and  “Writing for Children and Teens”.

After picking up Amy, a fellow writer and friend, we headed down I-65 South. The drive was uneventful, if one ignored the construction which, at one point, necessitated navigating one lane. There’s a joke that Kentucky has two seasons: winter and construction. (Feel free to substitute your state.)

Ninety minutes later, we arrived at the Carroll Knicely Conference Center, home of the book festival for the past two years. Unfortunately the delays caused me to arrive too late to attend the first session.

Inside the lobby, Amy and I commandeered a couch. She settled in to do some work on her laptop. I’d brought my computer but decided to return it to the car. (Less to carry.) Now it hadn’t been raining too badly when we arrived. But my luck never holds out. I got caught in a deluge with pouring rain and blustery winds. Yay for unpredictable April showers. Not.

Back in the conference center, and managing not to look too much like the proverbial drowned rat, I headed for my first workshop: Chuck Sambuchino’s “Everything You Need to Know about Agents”. Because the conference committee assumed this would be a popular panel, they scheduled it twice. I silently thanked them for their foresight.

Chuck’s presentation was insightful yet overshadowed with mystery. Who had purloined the first page of his notes? (I blame the garden gnomes.) During a question and answer session, he gave excellent advice on finding a literary agent. I’m only sorry I missed his presentation on Saturday.

The second workshop (third session) was “How to Write a Winning Query Letter” by Cavanaugh Lee, attorney-cum-author. Her enthusiasm and effervescent personality  invigorated the room. Good thing, too. Query letter rejections are a necessary evil in the writer’s world so a positive attitude is more likely to get you farther than a negative one.

In the session “What Everyone Can Learn from Mysteries”, presenter Leah Stewart explored the application of mystery writing to genre and literary writing. Different types of mysteries were examined, from the police procedural and hard-boiled crime novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to the present-day detective. Citing examples by Margaret Atwood, Leah encouraged writers to look at how much mystery is needed and whether or not it balances with the payoff.

The conference finished, Amy and I headed to Barnes and Noble to write in the café before heading back to Louisville. There’s a reason I plot my stories. Sitting there, I had no idea what to write about, except it involved Bela Lugosi, vampires, and Tod Browning. Still, I managed to squeeze out a paltry 250 words. (Don’t ask.)

By the way, if you didn’t know, Tod Browning was a Louisville native and the director of the iconic Dracula. But that’s another blog post.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Book Fest: http://www.sokybookfest.org

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Should You Write a Screenplay?

(Cross-posted from Write Club)

Years ago, a writer friend attempted to convince me to write screenplays rather than novels. One of his arguments was screenplay writers had a better chance to make money. (A screenplay can either be sold or optioned repeatedly. A novelist isn’t paid unless the book is published.)

I never completely took him up on the idea. My friend now lives in California and has sold and optioned several scripts. I’ve written three full-length screenplays, none of which have been sold or optioned, simply because I never submitted them. A short screenplay, “Cemetery,” placed second in The Writers Place Short/Teleplay screenplay competition in 2004.

While I enjoy screenplay writing, I’ll admit my actual output is relegated to this time of year, also known as Script Frenzy.

Does this mean I’ve eschewed writing novels? Not at all. But screenplay writing is an entirely different process, more restrictive even. And it’s those limitations that actually make it more freeing.

What does this mean? Only write action, dialogue, and description on the page. The saying goes, “If it isn’t on the screen, it isn’t in the script.” No internal thoughts. No camera directions.

Be aware if you read a script, either bought/downloaded from the Internet or purchased in a bookstore, these are usually shooting scripts. You aren’t writing this kind of screenplay. Instead you would be writing what’s called a spec script. This is a screenplay that isn’t commissioned.

How do you write a script? Read both scripts and books about screenplay writing. You can download scripts for free from Drew’s Script O’Rama. Learn the rules for formatting. If you become serious about being a screenplay writer, you might want to invest in formatting software like Final Draft or Movie Magic. (Both have free demos.)

Study books related to screenplay writing, such as Blake Snyder (Save the Cat!), Syd Field (Screenplay), or Robert McKee (Story). Other resources include Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Chris Vogler’s The Writers’ Journey (based on Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey) as well as Script magazine and Creative Screenwriting.

By the way, these books can also help you write a better story, whether a screenplay or novel.

Okay, I have 25 days to write a 100 page screenplay. I’d better get busy. Meantime, if you want to try screenplay writing, I say give it a go. If nothing else, it’ll give you a new perspective on your writing.

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The Doors Are Open…

(Cross-posted from Write Club)

For Angry Robot submissions that is.

I’m halfway through the first round of revisions for Forgotten Angel, the manuscript I want to submit this month. At least that’s the working title. Otherwise, I call it the Zaphkiel Project. Usually I don’t have a problem with titles but this time I’m, as Grimm would say, “Flummoxed.”

Forgotten Angel is my longest work so far. I used to joke I would never write a story over 50k. The original draft of this one came to 102k and has since been whittled down to 94k or thereabouts. Yeah, when I say I slice and dice my work, I wasn’t kidding.

While it would be nice if AR sent me a contract (fingers crossed), I’ll also compile a list of other publishers to submit to. Meantime, it’s back to these edits.

That’s if I don’t get sidetracked by this shiny new story idea that keeps demanding my attention…

 

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Coming Full Circle (Confessions of a Former Literary Snob)

(Cross-posted from Write Club)

Confession time.

Yes, I’ll admit it. I was one of those literary snobs who turned up my nose at genre (or commercial) fiction.

It didn’t start out that way. During my middle school years, I devoured mysteries, fantasies, horror, and thrillers. When I first starting writing (again, in middle school), I wrote a horror anthology called “Tales of Terror.” There were three issues, composed of short horror stories penned on notebook paper and stapled together. On the back page of every “anthology” was a place for feedback. During that time I also wrote three YA mystery/thriller novellas.

High school found me writing stories about 1920s gangsters and poetry. Encouraged by my English teachers, I enrolled in college with the intention of graduating with a degree in English.

Around that time I also had the lofty (if delusional) idea of writing literary fiction. But not just any literary fiction. Pulitzer Prize quality literary fiction. (Yeah, told you it was a delusional idea.)

I continued writing poetry and a few short stories. A writer friend tried to persuade me screenplays were the new American novel but I wasn’t as yet convinced. I think I tried my hand at writing some awful plays. I also served as editor of the literary magazine (one issue) and the college newspaper. (It’s not as impressive as it sounds.)

Now journalism occupied my time, particularly the alternative press. Another friend loaned me copies of In These Times and Sojourners. Instead of the current pop favorites, my musical tastes ran to political bands like Midnight Oil, Johnny Clegg and Savuka, Billy Bragg, XTC, Peter Gabriel, etc.

My goal was to now write Pulitzer Prize winning articles. I even planned to go to graduate school for journalism, Columbia being my first choice.

I graduated from college with a B.A. in English and a minor in creative writing. I never pursued my Masters. Nearly 13 years would pass before I started to write again. Why? Because every time I started a project, my inner critic silenced me. Not only was I not writing literary quality work, I wasn’t writing creatively at all. (I was, however, working as a freelance writer for a couple of local magazines.)

In 2003, I decided to write a novel. The catch? I didn’t allow myself to edit until the first draft was complete. And I did finish it, a 50k YA horror. The following year I participated in my first NaNoWriMo.

Since then, I’ve written one novel, three short novels and one novella. I also have three short novels in progress and several ideas for future books. Guess what? They’re all genre fiction: horror, mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy, etc. Well, you get the idea. The point is I’ve written more since I returned to my writing roots.

Maybe I should’ve stuck with genre writing and not been a literary snob.

Lesson learned.

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You Can’t Do That!

(Cross posted from Write Club blog.)

Imagination. Writers are required to utilize it, to bring a unique spin on familiar themes. But what happens when readers, who heretofore demanded originality, cry, “You can’t do that!”?

I’m not referring to obvious situations where an action results in a specific reaction. For example, if an ordinary person is shot, he or she will bleed. Now if the person has preternatural abilities then the game plan can change.

What I’m talking about are certain characters, particularly supernatural ones, whose actions have become defined by a set of unwritten rules.

Take the vampire for example. He or she is repelled by garlic, shuns holy water and crosses, turns into dust in sunlight, and is generally evil. A simple basic formula every writer crafting a vampire story should adhere to, right?

Um, yeah. Whatever. If that’s true, then how does Miyu, the titular vampire from Narumi Kakinouchi’s manga and anime Vampire Princess Miyu, move through the human world with ease? Holy water and crosses have no effect on her. She walks in daylight without fear.

Hellsing’s Alucard uses bullets made from the silver of a melted cross. Unlike Miyu, however, he prefers the night. But his agenda is different from hers. He hunts other vampires. Miyu targets Shinma, god-demons who escaped when the gate between their world and the human one was opened.

Angels also seem to be forced into certain roles. Here the rules imply holy angels must always be good. Demons and fallen angels must always be evil.

Why? What purpose does it serve to pigeonhole these characters? If your vampire wants to work on the side of justice (Angel, Nick Knight) then let him or her. If your demon desires to fight evil, why say no? If he has free will then it would seem an individual choice. For that matter, why can’t a holy angel become corrupted with power?

When we restrict our characters, we essentially shut off that part of ourselves which probably inspired us to write in the first place. We lose that ability to wonder “What if?”

Remember, you’re the writer. These are your stories. Just because someone says your character can’t do something, doesn’t mean they’re right. Challenge their preconceived notions. Give them something different.

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