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Writer’s Blog Tour

My friend Meghan Arcuri invited me along on a writer’s blog tour. Her leg on this journey can be viewed at www.meghanarcuri.com
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I met Meghan at Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp a few years ago. We made fast friends and bunk together at various Cons. She has written some great short stories and is currently working on a novel.

She’s also very helpful with my work, filling holes and eliminating noise. One of the greatest lessons we learned at Bootcamp was how to edit.

You know–kill your darlings. Meghan helps me bury the bodies.

Meghan had been invited by a fellow camper, Sean Davis, whose novel Clean Freak I’ll be reading this summer.clean freak

Meghan also invited Marianne Halbert who has a creepy Shirley Jacksonesque style. She has a fine collection of short stories in Wake up and Smell the Creepy wake up

We met Marianne at Anthocon last year and shared a lot of laughs!

Every writer has a Work in Progress. Even if nothing gets written down, a story is always mulling somewhere in the cranial nether world. The Writer’s Blog Tour is a peek into what’s at work with various authors you’ll meet along the way.

Kind of like interviewing yourself, then asking other writers to do the same.

So here goes:

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?

Tom Monteleone from Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp recommended I write short stories. I’d always thought I’d be a novelist, but he said short stories give a sense of completion. Like setting short term attainable goals.

He was right. The first two short stories I’d written have been published in two anthologies:

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I thought maybe this summer I’d go back to one of the novels I started years ago, but I’m having fun writing short stories. Especially when I get an acceptance letter!

So–

My new title is “Swimming With Angels,” a Southern Gothic tale about a twelve year old girl who feels responsible for her mother’s death. What Asa doesn’t know is that her mother was dying anyway and had taken her daughter fishing for what she knew to be the last time. Her mother wanted her to go to college instead of getting pregnant and trapped in rural Virginia like her teenage sister did. Asa thinks her mother is being unfair and wishes her dead. This coming of age story has Asa’s imagination take her on a mystical journey through her budding sexuality while confronting the truth about her mother’s death.

HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE GENRE?

I wouldn’t say I’m a horror writer in the traditional sense, but most of what I do write is very dark. I take real situations and create a story around them. For instance, I wrote a story about a Christian missionary who does bad things in the Amazon while on a mission to convert the “savages.” I got the idea from reading an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about an archaeologist who wanted to be the one who finds the last of the Uncontacted Tribes. I was so mad when she said, “How can we save them if we can’t find them?” There was a photo of her plane swooping through the trees where they had located a longhouse, the natives forced to flee further into the jungle. If anything, they need saving from her! So I turned her into a bad man who gets it in the end. Ha!

In real life I tell funny stories and feel blessed with a kind heart. But we all have to face our shadow selves eventually. We all have a dark side. I’ve had some dark moments in my life. My stories are filled with dopplegangers and mirrors and small horrors that haunt people all the time. The world is not a nice place.

WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I don’t think I have a choice. I get an idea for a story and that’s that. I use to write children’s stories when I was young, but life ain’t so rosy I’ve come to find out. I like to make my characters squirm. I like when plots twist and leave the reader thinking about the story for a long time. I like to write about uncomfortable subjects, things people don’t want to think about.

HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I have to write with a pen. I’m not good at typing. It takes too long to get my ideas down so I lose a good train of thought. I buy cheap spiral notebooks and scribble away. Then I type it, edit it, print it. That’s when the red pen bleeds all over the page. As far as any discipline goes, I have none. I know it’s good practice to write a certain number of words a day. I do keep a diary about daily events, but I can’t just wake up at the same time every morning and pick up a pen. I usually have the idea rolling around in my head for a while, walking through scenarios and putting it all together. Once I’ve seen the story from start to finish, I sit down to write it. And it changes of course, but for the most part I know the story before it goes on paper. I’ll write until it’s done.

That’s when the dog hates me and my husband can’t understand why I’m so mean.
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My leg of the tour is coming to the end. But please follow along next week when I will be “interviewing” Elizabeth Massie.
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She posts sweet nighty-nights on Facebook. Some of them are inspiring while others sing like a perfect lullabye. Beth will be on my blog because her site is being worked on. And read anything you can find by her! She’s wonderfully talented and knits beautiful scarves!

I’ve also invited Kristi Petersen Schoonover. We had a great time at Anthocon last year. I loved Bad Applebad apple!

Another great writer is T.G. Arsenault. DSC_0255I just ordered Forgotten Souls for my summer reading.

That does it for this time. Check next Monday night to see what Beth, Kristi and Mr. Arsenault are up to.

Necon Newbie – A Picture Book

I never thought horror writers could be so funny. But they are. And creative. Very creative. I recently returned from a weekend in Bristol, Rhode Island from The Northeastern Writer’s Conference, affectionately known as Camp Necon.
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When I think of summer camp, I think of the movie Meatballs. This is better. The same, but better. Some of the best horror writers in the country attend every year.

I’m a newbie. A Necon Virgin.

Since I first attended Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp I wasn’t able to attend because Necon takes place in July, the height of my busy season at the restaurant. This year I’ve decided to feed my passion for writing and let the restaurant run without me.

I’m tired of cleaning toilets. I’m tired of peeling shrimp. I’m tired of talking jambalaya. The restaurant business is way too glamorous for me. Not that I’ll quit that world, but I need another one.

F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, and Doug Winter came in for dinner Thursday night before Necon.  Mary Wilson wagged her finger.

“You take care of her. I don’t want her coming back changed.”

The three authors told stories with such fondness I was envious of the camaraderie. I wanted to be a part of the childish shenanigans and have years of story to tell.

Paul told his wife that I’d most likely be looking after them.

“What goes on at this thing, anyway?” she asked. I too wanted to know.

“Well, there’s bowling.”

“There’s a talent show.”

“There’s a Roast.”

DSC_0379“Ah, the Roast,”  they said in unison.

Will I be hazed? I wondered. Is there some sinister initiation process to this grand fraternal order?

Surely, Meghan Arcuri-Moran, my Necon roommate would have told me? She was there last year.

She’s a horror writer, maybe not.

It took me nine hours to make a five hour drive.

I spent the entire length of Connecticut stop-go stop-go. I calculated an average 20 mph. My left thigh still burns from the clutch.

I sent a text message to F. Paul (no I wasn’t driving):

“Holy traffic, Batman.”

To which he replied, “Where are you?”

I hadn’t hit New Haven yet.

“We’re in Bristol already.” And that was that. They were mixing drinks and I was all alone in the parking lot they call I-95.

I probably would have turned around if it weren’t bumper to bumper in the southbound lane.

I pulled up to the curb. Doug Winter was there. I gave him a hug. He said, “Well you’re here now. Good.” And introduced me to Dallas Mayr who Stephen King claims to be the scariest man in America.
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I walked through the lobby dragging my cooler. My roommate was at the counter asking if there was another ice machine in the building, the one on the first floor was empty.

Nope, only one in the entire conference center with so many writers, so many cocktails.

I missed dinner but Megan looked at my cooler and said, “You have ice in there.”

“I bought two extra bags.”

“Perfect,” she said and helped me carry it up the stairs to our room (no elevator).

We made drinks and went to the opening ceremony with Rio Youers hosting. It was scandalously naughty and I knew I was in the right place.
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Gardner Goldsmith was there. I haven’t seen Gard since Bootcamp 2010. I shared my drink with him. I was happy to see him especially since he was the brunt of many of Rio’s jokes.

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I love Gard. What a sport.

We drank in a courtyard and when 3 am rolled around it was time for bed. For me and Meghan anyway.

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I learned so much from the panels. Authors giving advice on how it is in the publishing world, editors giving their side of the story.

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Even though I didn’t know many people when I arrived, I know them now. Tony Tremblay took me by the hand and introduced me around.  I felt welcome, even though I haven’t had a story published.

The people at Necon don’t care about stuff like that. They want you to have fun. They want you to get it. They want to share the loving support they carry with them for their colleagues.

I appreciate all the great stories and advice from everyone. Heather Graham and Dallas both took time to talk to me and I could tell they loved the craft. The big old boot in the butt I need to finish my novel.

To be part of something so special is what Necon is all about. When I get together with my cousins, it’s the same way. We pick up where we left off. The same stories rehashed year after year and we never tire of them. They only get better.

I can’t wait for next year. I can’t wait to see who will be the next Roastee and hear the heckling from the crowd.

“Too kind! This is a Roast!”

I look at a picture with me, Gardner Goldsmith and Meghan Arcuri. Meghan and I are peeved with Michael Bailey and RB Payne who said they were coming this year. I think of all my fellow grunts from Borderlands and I wonder:
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Are we going to be like them? Are we going to share the beginnings of our writing careers together and one-day host the Game show?” Will we guide and support each other throughout our budding careers the way these guys all did?

I hope so.

The night goes on. Megan tells me I must have a saugie, which I hadn’t  heard of until Necon. She said they’re like a hot dog or some sort of sausage. The way everyone lined up I thought of the movie Soylent Green. These are all horror writers. Who’d they kill? Who are we about to eat?
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Megan handed me what looked like a hot dog. When I bit into it, the skin was crispy and it really was tasty even if it was old whatshisname.

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“When in Necon . . .” they all said.

Whenever I take someone to a restaurant I love or recommend I want to know if they liked it, worried they might not  appreciate something I love.

I got the same feeling from the Necon campers. They love their family reunion. All the joking aside, they all love one another. It was great hearing the stories. Watching everyone interact. Each assuming a role  chosen years ago.

As Doug, Paul and Tom get ready to depart (Meghan calls them the three amigos), Tom asked me:

“Did you have fun?”

“I learned man ballet.”
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“I learned how to shave a guy’s head.”

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“What did you think?” said Paul.

“I need to finish my novel.”

“That is correct. Will you be back?”

“I can’t wait til next year.”

“Good.”

Next year I can’t wait to see a newbie sitting in the cafeteria  so I can sit down with my tacos and welcome her with my own stories. I want her to feel as comfortable as I did. I want to be the one who asks, “Are you ready for a good time?”

Have I changed? Yes, but not because I had to sit in a baby pool full of ice or walk around with a dead fish around my neck singing dirty limericks.

Am I coming back next year?

You betcha!
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Not Bad For A First Draft

I didn’t want to use this blog to critique works of authors, but I felt the need to review a book I recently read by Alexandra Skoloff, “The Unseen.” The reason I’m posting my review here is because I feel the need to show new authors the dangers they might face if they choose to publish their wares independently. It might seem pricey to hire an editor when your best friend who majored in English can do it for the price of a bottle of wine. But she knows you and will hear your voice despite the grammar problems, your protests and justifications.

Or you might want to ask a coworker because she reads a lot and knows what’s “out there.”

Hiring a good editor will decrease your chances of receiving a scathing review. I don’t mind constructive criticism with anything I do, but some people can get downright hateful.

A good editor might help create a reader base for when you no longer have to promote your stories on Kindle for nothing. If the free story you read is poorly written, chances are you won’t read anything from that author again. I don’t want to waste my time when there are so many great authors waiting to entertain and move me.

Same if you write something that makes you look like an amateur, it might be hard to convince a publisher you’ll ever make the Bestseller List.

So here is my review of Alexandra Skoloff’s “Unseen.” I’m not saying I hated it. And maybe my experience at Writer’s Bootcamp changed the way I read (which I was warned the first day as a grunt). I want to be a good writer. I want to read good books. When I read one that has a good story going but there’s more action going on between my temples than with the characters, I’m going to change my policy of finishing what I’ve started and start throwing these books away.

NOT BAD FOR A FIRST DRAFT
I can’t believe this novel was published in Hardcover. I downloaded it for free on my Kindle based on a recommendation for this author.

I would have been upset if I paid money for it.

I read the reviews of Alexandra Sokoloff’s “The Unseen.” I’m amazed that no reviewer mentions how poorly written this book was. Some say the characters were flat, another said the novel was a disappointment. Most reviewers loved it. As I read it, I thought Ms. Sokoloff should have invested in a good editor. Or gone to a workshop. I thought she published this book independently and prematurely.

There wasn’t an editor at St. Martin’s Press who knew there was work to be done?

It’s not that the story was bad, it has great potential. If the rule in writing a novel is “show, don’t tell,” Sokoloff is a rogue. The entire story was “told” by the author. I saw nothing. Not from any character’s point of view, which could have been interesting with scientists recording a psychic phenomenon, a poltergeist waiting to be seen.

Maybe that’s why the title is “The Unseen?”

Laurel spends too much time “finding herself turning and looking, glancing around the room when suddenly a dark man appeared.” Yikes! Nobody ‘finds’ themselves turning and looking at anything at any time. A dark man suddenly appearing doesn’t give me “tingling behind” my ears as our psychic-sensitive heroine felt every time the reader was suppose to realize something dramatic was about to happen. Even the quick paced ending left me with nothing. Something rapped twice and some light bulbs broke. A few people sitting around a table and “suddenly” the mayhem was over.

I wish her editor had told her to run a word search. How many times can I read the word “was” before I reach for the bottle of aspirin? Or throw away the book? I counted the word “suddenly” ten times on one page, “was” ten times in one paragraph. If Laurel isn’t going to react to anything why should I? Not only is the use of “suddenly” non effective and a writing no-no, it’s a sign of lazy writing all together. In a story about a poltergeist, there are any number of ways to get the reader’s attention. Poltergeists are noisy and destructive. Certainly Ms. Sokoloff could have supplied a few rattling verbs to get the point across. Slam the door, let the ringing telephone crash against the wall, pinch her, something. I felt I was watching a dress rehearsal for a bad play through a security monitor.

The use of adverbs is also a sign of poor writing. I’ve been taught to find a better verb, period.

I recently wrote a blog about passive voice and point of view in my own writing. “The Unseen” would make a perfect example on why passive voice is, well, so passive. This book sludged along like a drunken walk home in the middle of the night. There was no reason to feel terror when I was told by the author that Laurel felt terror. There was nothing Laurel or any other character did or said that made me sit on the edge of the bed at 3:00 in the morning to see what came out of the puddle of water. Nothing ever did.

“The Unseen” would make a good exercise on how point of view and passive voice are important factors in story telling.

Take this passage: “She turned on the path and glanced toward the circle of oaks where she often saw him with his study groups, but on this chilly day the lawn was empty, dotted with tiny white daisies.” Did his study group “suddenly” turn into flowers?

“She was not aware that she herself sighed as she turned away from the tree.”

What? If she’s not aware of sighing, how can I be?

Reading this novel was like being in a bad dream that never ended. Why didn’t I put it down? It’s my policy to finish what I’ve started. And to be fair, if I’m going to have an opinion on something, I should at least see it to the end.

I could have done without the sex dream as it was never addressed in the end. Who did she have sex with? That scene should be cut as it has no bearing on the story itself.

Who is Brandon Cody? I thought the guy’s name was Ian Brady. I’m confused by some reviews wondering if they read the same book I did.

She might have done a better job if Walter Kornbluth and Dr. Anton were the same person. Without giving anything away, this would have made more sense.

I shouldn’t be as critical of Ms. Sokoloff as I should her publisher. She wrote a book and sold it. If St. Martin’s Press thought this was well written, that gives me reason to question their understanding of good writing. Where was her editor? What Ms. Sokoloff needs to do is rewrite this book. Take away the “was-es” the “had been’s, had seem’s” and “suddenly,” she might “find herself” with a good story.

When we all receive our rejection notices day after day, know this: sometimes the publisher isn’t as scary as we might imagine. What’s scary, is that we might allow a publisher to print something that might make us look less than we see ourselves. That said, I’m going to make sure I write to the best of my ability, buy a bottle of wine, invite the coworker to dinner, AND hire a good editor!

Write and Rewrite, my friends!

Bootcamp Nightmare

Dream: According to the Merriam Webster Dictionarybootcamp nightmare
1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep
2: an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream
: a state of mind marked by abstraction or release from reality.
Nightmare: something (as an experience, situation, or object) having the monstrous character of a nightmare or producing a feeling of anxiety or terror.

I know a lot of people who don’t remember their dreams. Many of mine are so vivid, I wonder if I’m living a dual life. My biggest question is why do certain dreams stay etched in my mind after I wake and others are forgotten as soon as I open my eyes?

I think the answer is…that subconsciously our dreams help us cope with ourselves in ways that we are unwilling to explore in the waking state.

I have a recurring dream where I am about to go on stage. Either I’m naked or I never read the script. In some dreams, I’ve never even heard of the play.

Or I’m naked and don’t know my lines. I ask another player if I could see her copy of the script and she’ll say, “You’ll be fine.” Most of these times I’m late because I just woke up from a nap.

Hmmmm.

I’m the lead. I never panic but I’m not happy about it. The play goes on without me whether or not I utter a single word. Usually, as I walk out onto the stage, I wake up confused and anxious about my day.

Funny though, I always walk out onto the stage knowing I’ll get through it somehow. I’ve never walked away.

The show must go on.

I have no idea what this says about my character, but I always do manage to get by no matter what the circumstances. The restaurant business demands I make it work no matter what happens.

I started having these dreams when I was a child. I’d end up at school in my underwear.

Though I never cried in my dreams, I don’t try to go home. I’d stay at school as if nothing was wrong.

I thought at one point it was my subconscious teaching me that because I was the only kid at school who had divorced parents (early 70’s) and my apathetic mother didn’t care what we wore to school or even went to school, I would still succeed and stand out despite my handicaps.

My report cards always read A for academics, 3 (the worst) for effort, and F for conduct. I got by because academically I was at the top of the scale.

Throughout my life, teachers and coaches would say:

“Orsi, if you’d just apply yourself you’d be a star.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I won track meets. I scored goals in soccer. And basketball. I was in plays. I got into college, what more do I need?

An amazing thing, the mind, what we convince ourselves is reality.

Dreams are more of an enigma. I wonder who I am in my dreams. Some mornings I wake feeling unfamiliar with my surroundings having left my “real” world behind.

I opened Ragin’ Cajun after having a dream I drowned when I dove off a bridge to save a drunk girl who had fallen in the lake.

Don’t ask, I have no idea. I remember that dream vividly to this day as if I lived it yesterday.

When I was young, I thought maybe my real life was another place altogether and that I had fallen asleep under a tree somewhere for a nap and came here, Tracie Orsi, to live the life I’m in now. When I die in this world, I will wake up under that tree look around me and say, “Wow, I had a dream I died.”

Perhaps there are parallel universes and perhaps I am living multiple lives, but it seems that in this one where I write this, I am most tangible, earthbound (or am I?) where in my other worlds I can fly and do amazing things like fall through the floor when someone attacks me emerging in another realm altogether.

I can surf really big waves and be in two places at once.

Not that I’m a super hero because I’m far from it. I know more in my dreams and am able to make decisions easily without doubting myself.

I have dream people who are with me on several different occasions. I recognize them and places I’ve never been to in this life.

This is why I have to wear pajamas to bed. So the dream people won’t see me naked. Ha!

And then sometimes I dream of people from this world (a confusing crossover) and when I wake, I feel as though I’ve disappointed someone and that when I see that person our relationship will be strained in some way. Call it insecurity, but I wouldn’t say that I have trouble with self-esteem.

Last night (or early morning, it seems) I dreamed of being at Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp. It was different from the last two years I attended. Not the hotel and conference rooms in Towson, Maryland.

I felt like we were in Martha’s Vineyard or Nova Scotia on a cliff over-looking the sea. I was talking to three little girls about what they wanted to be when they grew up. They were all quite precocious, especially the one with her hair cropped like a boy and a face full of freckles. She was entertaining and very clear on what she wanted to do with her life though what she told me escapes me.

I knew that whatever she did, she would be successful.

Then I was talking to Meghan Arcuri. She kept handing me cigarettes and breaking them off in a Dixie cup. She said she was trying to quit.

I don’t think Meghan smokes.

I looked around for Richard Payne. He was hunched over with a cane. For some reason I thought I had caused this disability in some way but have no idea what happened. Some people were serving themselves from a buffet and I tried a bit of salmon which I don’t like in real life.

In the dream, it was incredibly salty.

I walked up to Richard who didn’t want me near him. He turned his back to me and went to sit with Edith Clarkson and Michael Bailey. Gardner Goldsmith was there talking to Malcolm Salls and Sheldon Higdon, all Bootcamp graduates. Tom Carson was there chatting up a group of ladies. A ceremony was about to begin and everyone had their backs to me as though I wasn’t part of the “seminar.” I tried to get someone’s attention and knew I was being snubbed. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. This made me uneasy.

The three little girls stood under a tree and were laughing at me.

I asked someone if I should run up the street to buy a bottle of wine. Richard turned and said I was too late; that by the time I returned it would all be over.

I was sad. Richard made a comment about me being too good to show up in time and spending all my time talking to other people.

They all raised their glasses to a speaker I couldn’t see and I was ignored.

I looked up the street. There was a liquor store. I said I was going to get a bottle of wine. Meghan and Edith laughed drinking whiskey from cut crystal glasses.

“It’s too late,” said Richard.

“You should’ve been here on time,” Michael said. He raised his glass.

“I was just talking to the little girls,” I pleaded. I glanced over to the tree. They were gone.

I blew it.

Damage done.

I looked around. There was no seat for me at the table.

I knew that when I got back from the store, everyone would be gone.

When I woke up, I thought it bizarre to have such a dream and wondered what it all meant. I wasn’t naked but I felt extremely unprepared, like everyone else was privy to a joke I’d never hear.

I looked back at all the manuscripts and my notes. Was I too critical? Was I too harsh? I went through 3 red pens and felt guilty. I convinced myself the reason we all go to Bootcamp is to learn what mistakes we make and that critiquing other people makes us stronger writers.

I thought about my own submission and winced. It’s boring. There’s no action. They’ll all hate it. Blah, blah, blah.

If we were all good writers we’d have no reason to be at a workshop, right?

I’ve read all the manuscripts and am now typing out my notes.

I’ll be sure to leave early Friday morning in case there’s traffic. And I’m going to pick up the wine beforehand.

And to be sure to pack my wine opener. I don’t want to miss this weekend.

I’ll Show You Yours If You Show Me Mine

Red PenAnyone can be a writer. A 10 year old who keeps a diary is a writer.

Anyone who can tell a story can be a writer, engaging an audience to the very end, to the punch line, is a good story teller. To put it down on paper would make that person a writer.

A written story is nothing but a set of symbols that when read together have meaning. How the story teller conveys the meaning is what makes for good writing. To be a good writer takes a lot of hard work, practice and dedication.

And a little help from our friends.

By friends, I don’t mean your BFF who is not going to tell you the story stinks. Or might get peeved you made her look fat.

I mean fellow writers, that strange group of people we meet with on the QT like some secret society because we’re all a bunch of weird nerd-like creatures who like to spend a lot of time on the computer when there are a whole lot of people in the other room watching a football game.

People who are just as scared as you are putting thoughts etched in stone revealing your inner most self for the whole world to see. You want to unlock that diary but afraid of what others will know goes on in that pretty little head of yours.

When we write, we open ourselves up for criticism. In fact, anything done on a creative level is subject to critics because everyone has an opinion.

And some people can be downright brutal.

So maybe my lasagna was a little burnt around the edges. Maybe I sang off key. Maybe my story is filled with dangling participles.

The key is to remember not to stomp your feet and pout and point fingers. “Yeah, well, whadjou do?” Sniff, sniff.

Accepting solid criticism is an art in itself. I could write a story that gives me Goosebumps; I’m jumping up and down “this is it! This is it!” but I get one rejection letter after another.

My bestie says, “I didn’t get it.”

That’s okay. I ask her why.

She runs down each point. I take notes thinking how much I hate her.

Eventually, the story becomes clearer. I’m excited and buy her dinner.

I’m going to Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp for the third year in a row. I can’t wait to see my peeps from last year. Does it help with my writing? I think so. Does it kick my hiney into writing? Absolutely. I have to submit 35 pages of me. I have to present it to 20 people for a spanking (17 fellow campers and three accomplished authors).

I’m terrified.

I’m excited.

I get to spank them as well. When I critique the stories of my fellow “grunts” I cry. I grimace. I squeeze my eyes tight into my head because they give me a headache. Last year I told a guy I wanted to punch him in the head after reading his story.

He was horrified!

“Why?” he whimpered. I told him why (I didn’t punch him, I was only saying that to sound tough).

If we were all great writers we wouldn’t be at Bootcamp. Everyone needs a good critiquing no matter how good we are at something. I can come up with a recipe I want to add to the menu at the restaurant and my bus kids laugh in my face.

The point of being critiqued is to learn from not only our own mistakes, but those of others.

So here are some of the horrors I found while reading the works of my colleagues:

• Participle phrases or better known as the “ing” words.
Riding his bike, he glanced at the girl. Grinning, he waved to her as he passed by. Yelling, she ran to him as he hit the telephone pole. Shouting, the people came running. Boy meets girl.

It wasn’t that bad, but yeah, it was. Every sentence began with an ing word.

• Conjunction junction, what’s your function. The ultimate hook-up.

• The Thesaurus can be your worst enemy!

• Use language that moves the characters along, sets the pace. Zoom! My brain screeches to a halt. Right into the telephone pole.

Onomonopeia was my favorite word in fifth grade. Look it up. When you’re 10, it sounds like a big bad word you’re allowed to say in class. Giggle.

When a guy passes under a fog shrouded lamp post, I know he’s shady and something bad is going to happen.

• The same with dialogue. The conversation has to sound real. Nobody speaks in complete sentences. Let dialogue bring in the back-story. “You’re just like your drunk father.” Okay, so the main character likes whiskey and his wife is unhappy with him.

• Point of view. Whose story is it? Period.

• Brainstorming is excellent for first draft. Sometimes it can take your story to a place you hadn’t thought of. Your characters might lead the way if you let them!

• Parallel universes have to be complete with parallel structure. I like eating, drinking, and to take [taking] naps.

I did my homework for Bootcamp. I read all 18 stories, mine included. I saved mine for last because I was afraid of what I had submitted to my fellow grunts. I wanted to see what they had to offer before I reread my own.

I squeeze my eyes shut as I reach for the bottle of aspirin. And I wait.

I’ve seen yours. Now what do you think of mine?

The Next Big Thing: Authors Tagging Authors

“The Next Big Thing”

is a viral sensation where one author answers ten questions about his or her current work. That author then tags 3 to 5 other authors, who answer the questions and, in turn, tag 3 to 5 more, thus spreading the word exponentially.

I was tagged by Meghan Arcuri. You can read her answers at http://www.meghanarcuri.wordpress.com. Meghan and I were at Borderlandspress Writer’s Bootcamp last year with authors Michael Bailey (http://www.nettirw.com ) and Richard Payne http://www.rbpayne.com . It was an intense weekend which encouraged me to continue writing. Incredible to spend the weekend with like minds!

Our work is critiqued by fellow “grunts” while authors F. Paul Wilson (http://www.repairmanjack.com), Tom Monteleone (http://www.borderlandspress.com), and Doug Winters guide us in such a way that not only do we learn to critique the works of others, but help us see our own writing from another point of view. I’ve written short stories because of my time at Bootcamp which is something I didn’t think I ever would have attempted. Short stories are harder to write than a novel. Not as forgiving and every word is crucial to the story itself.

This year Meghan and I will be roommates at Bootcamp. I’ve read her latest short story and am amazed at how much her writing has improved from last year. I enjoyed her story “Worse Ways” and believe that if she keeps this up, she’ll go beyond “The Next Big Thing.”

Now for my questions (sort of like interviewing myself):

1. What is the working title of your book?

I’m almost finished with a book titled “Song of the Cicadas.” I’ve put it on hold for a while because I had an idea for another book I submitted to the Borderlandspress Writer’s Bootcamp, “The Family Tree.”

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

“Song of the Cicadas” was a manuscript I found in a box I had in storage. I started it when I was 19 years old and apparently put it away for a time in my life where I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent. I don’t remember writing it. I found it at an appropriate time and thought it was a great story. The funny thing is, it’s about a woman who comes home to bury her mother she hasn’t seen in 17 years and the mysteries leading to their separation. I couldn’t figure out why I would write such a story when I was young, but when I found the manuscript it had been 18 years since I’d seen my own mother. How could a 19 year old know what it’s like to be estranged from her mother for so long? I know now.

“The Family Tree” came to me when I read some of the stuff my aunt dug up about our family. She’s been researching our genealogy and there are some great characters in my ancestry. I put a few of them together and gave them a sinister plot. I told a friend about the story I outlined and she told me about the fairy rings around the oak tree in her parents’ back yard and I thought what an awesome way to keep the curse going ( my family is actually blessed but I couldn’t let that get in the way of a good story). The premise of “The Family Tree” is jealousy is a curse and bad deeds carry throughout family history acting as a curse not doled out by an evil spirit but by the wickedness of family members.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
“Song of the Cicadas” would be considered Southern Gothic. It takes place in the mountains of Virginia and defies the Southern Belle traditions. It has all the elements found in Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. Not that I think this book will be as great as those written by these authors but one can only try. Racism and misogyny are prevalent and there is a hint of supernatural. The mysteries of southern superstitions drive the characters.

“The Family Tree” also contains elements of the supernatural. The Walsh house has an energy that seems to speak its history. The wicked deeds of the past carry forth to the future claiming yet another “victim” even though the “cursed” tree has been uprooted. Genre? I don’t know. Maybe horror in the sense that “Wuthering Heights” was horror, or “Rebecca” with her “ghost” lurking about.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

“Song of the Cicadas” cast? I can see Beyonce playing Rachel, Charlize Theron as Kitty, Queen Latifah or Angela Basset as Sadie Johnson. I think Donald Glover would make a good Whitey Johnson. Since the movie would be more of a woman empowerment film, I wouldn’t have any A-list male actors but someone who could steal the show and become a hero because of this movie. Mysterious and handsome, paternal with a dark side for Michael Rivers.

“The Family Tree” I would cast Elle Fanning as Sophie, Dakota Fanning as Hannah, and Kathy Bates as Aunt Margaret. I like Jake Gillenhaal as Richard Walsh since I can see him playing a Heathcliffe type character.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Song of the Cicadas” is about a young woman who returns home to bury her mother only to dredge up a mysterious past that led to their estrangement for seventeen years, her mother’s murder and possibly her own in a killer’s need to keep their past buried forever.

“The Family Tree” is about a young architect who falls in love with a house she yearns to restore only to find hidden secrets buried in the attic which brings her close not only to discovering a family curse, but her own link to the family’s past and her part in continuing the legacy.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will seek representation.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Like I said earlier, I started “Song of the Cicadas” when I was nineteen. I found it in a box about five years ago and have been working on it since. I work-shopped it at The Borderlandspress Bootcamp two years in a row. I’m almost finished but put it aside to write short stories and “The Family Tree” which came to me one morning after reading about my family history. I was able to outline it during Hurricane Sandy which left me out of work and in the dark for three weeks. I wrote by candlelight which made me feel like a true scribe. I was amazed at how easy it all came to me since I had no other distractions and was able to focus solely on the story. If I didn’t have to go back to work, I think it would be done by now.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

“Song of the Cicadas” is like no other book I’ve read, but has elements found in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“The Family Tree” seems a little like “Wuthering Heights” meets “Rebecca” but I might be a bit too ambitious in thinking I could pull off such a great novel. A contemporary novel that might be comparable is “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton in that it flips back and forth from past to present with different characters’ point of view.

9. Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Ragin’ Cajun (my restaurant) was shut down by the fire marshal when the town used eminent domain to redevelop the downtown area. While I was trying to get reopened I read a lot and went to the gym every day to work off the negative energy. I read a book by Rita Mae Brown who lives in Afton, Va. where I grew up. I bought the book for 75 cents at a paperback exchange store. While riding the bike at the gym, it took me 45 minutes to read the book.

I can do this, I thought. My story is much better than a dog and a cat solving a murder. I could write a book about what was happening in my community, to me and other business owners because of eminent domain. I decided not to complete my workout but go to Barnes and Noble to buy all books on writing in the Mystery genre (my sense of mystery works were limited to Charles Dickens and Willkie Collins, I never bought books at the grocery store). Here was a chance to tell my story and maybe start a new career. Wouldn’t it be great if the town closes my restaurant and in my revenge I sell a novel about that same story? My second thought was I would call F. Paul Wilson (www.repairmanjack.com) and see if he would help me because I’d never written a novel.

As soon as I got off the bike to head to the locker room, Paul was standing in front of me and my heart raced. I told him what I wanted to do. He was pleased and told me to get the restaurant open because he missed coming on Sundays. I started writing “Imminent Domain” and from there found “Song of the Cicadas.” Paul convinced me to go to Boot camp and that’s how all this got started.

I believe that once you get the creative juices flowing, there’s no stopping it.
The restaurant reopened and is doing better than it ever has. I have three novels that are almost complete. “The Family Tree” was inspired by my own family history and I wanted to write it as a fabulist fairy tale. Because of the storm that left me in the dark, I was able to outline it in a way I never did the other two and so this will be the novel I’ll complete first. Wouldn’t it be great if I can tell my publisher I have two more novels to immediately follow?

When bad things happen, it’s best not to think of it as the end of the world so much as the beginning of something potentially greater than you’ve known. Every time “bad” things happen, I put pen to paper. Now all I have to do is follow up.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

“The Family Tree” has a little history of Bradley Beach. Anyone who grew up on the Jersey Shore will appreciate some of the references to landmark spots and things like eating Jersey tomatoes and going to Vic’s Pizza.

“Song of the Cicadas” addresses racism and misogyny. Overall, it’s a story that empowers women and whose characters are strong. This book will make a great movie because that’s how I see it in my head, like a movie.

I’d like to tag a woman I met not too long ago. Patricia Florio is author of “My Two Mothers” published August 2011 by Phyllis Scott Publishing. Patricia is a travel writer for http://www.stripedpot.com and lives in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. She contacted me for The Literary Adventure Author’s Reading Series where I was able to talk about my cookbook “Sittin’ Bayou Makes Me Hot!” (http://www.ragincajunnj.net). It was a great afternoon and I met some awesome people. Patricia is active in the Jersey Shore Arts Council and has invited me to join their writers group. Read Patricia’s blog http://www.patriciaflorio.blog.com.

I also met Rosemary Calabretta who told me to call her Sugie. She helped me set up the food and made me feel comfortable at The Literary Adventure Author’s Reading Series. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Sugie wrote a children’s book for her two granddaughters “Bella the Bright-eyed Reindeer.” She also collaborated on a book with two other authors V.G. Wells and Rosaleen Mooney Myers “Three Brown-Eyed Girls.” I haven’t read it yet but look forward to it since I enjoyed Rosemary’s company and can’t wait to see her again.

I can’t wait to get back to Bootcamp (http://www.borderlandspress.com) in January. My first year was amazing and you should be on the lookout for Kyle Steele, Angie Deptula and Thomas Carson. We all sat up well into the wee hours writing our Sunday assignments. Kyle and I then drank screwdrivers out of coffee mugs and talked about what we wanted to do about our writing and other matters of life. Angie and I stayed an extra night (her flight was Monday and I decided to stay and keep her company in that creepy hotel). We sat up all night eating Chinese and freaking each other out. It was a spooky night with strange happenings. Definitely haunted and Angie ended up writing a short story about a woman who kills her roommate because she dreamed she was a sea hag. Thanks a lot Angie for allowing me to inspire you. It was a great weekend and we all keep in touch. Angie is moving to Paris to write for a year and Kyle is almost finished with his novel. Thomas Carson is a character himself. He lives in Maryland and pops in to bootcamp to say hello. He’s currently working on a book about his grandfather Ray Ewry who won 8 Olympic gold medals at the turn of the twentieth century. His novel “Unsung” is due for publication soon and I can’t wait having read the beginning and loving the main character who is someone you might find in a Carl Hiaasen novel.

A shout out to Gardner Goldsmith http://www.gardnergoldsmith.com and Sheldon Higdon http://www.sheldonhigdon.com for all the work their doing on their “Next Big Thing!”