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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:

we are dustyellow wallpaper

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.

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!

Fuzzy Wuzzy Was A Bear. Was He?

the thinkerIt’s been a month since my weekend at Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp. I’ve just now had the time to look at the critiques from my fellow grunts. Sixteen of us submitted 35 pages of a manuscript to be ripped apart by our peers and three instructors.

Every critique had the same message scrawled in the margins:

Passive voice. Point of View. Passive voice.

I used “was” 385 times in 35 pages.

I should give up on this writing thing.

I was a writer until. . .

You know about the “Be” verbs?

They ARE boring!

They sit idle with nothing going on. You know them:

am, are, is, was, were, been, being, and be.

I am therefore I am.

You are what?

I am a bear. I am fuzzy.

Dear God!

To Be or Not to Be? Unless you’re Shakespeare, don’t bother.

The story sludges. It takes too long to get anywhere.

Yawn.

The reader moves on to something more rousing.

Michael Bailey is a counter of words. He informed us of the frequency we used a single word in our submissions.

“I recognize patterns,” he told us.

I pray my pattern is not passive. But there it was. In plain view.

In the right hand corner of Microsoft Word on the Home tool bar, you’ll see a set of binoculars next to the word “Find.”

I typed in “was” and hit the “Highlight All” button.

All writers want to paint a picture with words, but a florescent pink highlight mosaic on the page is not what I had in mind.

Here is a paragraph I submitted from my working novel “The Family Tree.”

There are 10 “wassies” in one small blurb!

I climbed the stairs into the attic. It was filled with steamer trunks, a sofa and a small bed. It was musty and I found it hard to breathe. I opened a window and looked for the door to the widow’s walk.

The bathroom was small with a claw foot tub, a toilet and a sink.

Underneath the ladder to the widow’s walk there was a tiny door. I tried to open it. The door was jammed and I looked around to find something to pry it open.

I listened to Margaret shuffling around down stairs.

A piece of flooring was busted and I lifted the board.

Something caught my eye. It was a tin box covered with dust. I turned it over in my hands. I had one of these when I was little. The book was there as I expected it would be.

Not to mention the other weak verbs for which I’m embarrassed to reprint. It’s terrible.

Boring. Tedious. Wearisome. Dull.

Like cobwebs that sit in the corner.

So I reworked it hoping to eliminate all the was-es.

This is what I came up with. From 10 to 0 in one fall swoop of a bat’s wing (to get you in the mood).

Hannah climbed the attic stairs. A door, with locks and double bolts on both sides, hung across the threshold, wrenched from its hinges.

Steamer trunks lined the walls. A small bed sat isolated beneath the rafters casting an eerie silhouette across the floor.

A claw foot tub, a toilet and a sink hid behind a moth-worn curtain in the corner.

The heaviness of the air and the reek of decay tightened Hannah’s chest.

She pried open the lone window.

The floor creaked, the attic moaned with relief, able to breathe again.

Hannah found a tiny door underneath a ladder and jiggled the handle. The door wouldn’t budge, the wood swollen with years of stifling humidity. Dust motes swarmed in a beam of sunlight.

What ghosts lurk beneath these rafters? Who slept in this bed? Old houses have secrets to reveal. What dark mysteries hide within its haunted mind?

As if the attic heard her questions, a glint of light shone through a niche in the wall by the window seat. She shook a panel from the wall and pulled out a tin box. She turned it over in her hands, brushed off the dust and released the latch. The cracked leather proved its antiquity, its tiny lock broken.

Hannah glanced at the door. She thought she heard Margaret shuffling around on the floor below.

She drew in a deep breath, and with hammering guilt, opened the book.

I also changed from the first person to third because if the narrator is telling the story about something that happened to her, the reader knows it couldn’t have been that bad because she lived to tell her story. Not much tension there. Not as creepy.

What if we don’t know what’s going to happen to Hannah in that attic; what secrets she might unearth; whose diary did she find and what will it reveal about its author?

It’s still not perfect, but certainly better than it was!

Which paragraph would entice you to turn the page?

Writing Fears Nothing

Jumping-Off-Cliff
To do anything truly worth doing, I must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in with gusto and scramble through as well as I can.
Og Mandino

I’m on my way to Borderlands Press Writer’s Bootcamp. This will be my third year attending. The first year I went, I was unsure of myself.

The worst thing about writing is having to show it to someone.

What if they don’t like it? What if their nose squinches up and they put on that smile and tell you it’s great?

What if they down right say it stinks?

Who would you remain friends with, the honest one or smiley face?

What’s worse than that, is I paid good money to get beat up by 16 fellow “grunts” and three accomplished authors.

Are all writers sado-masochists? We love the punishment and love to punish?

I met some great people that year. And the year afterward. We keep in touch and encourage one another in our writing, praise one another for our accomplishments.

I learned from Writer’s Bootcamp why Marines are so tight.

We did our share of mental push-ups, I assure you that!

On my way home from Towson, Maryland, I couldn’t contain myself. I had more creative energy than I’ve ever felt in my life.

To be in the constant company of like minds!

In the real world, few of my friends read books. Many of them don’t retain anything.

I had a friend tell me she read a book she took out of the library. She said she read it before but didn’t remember until she got to the end. I opened the back jacket.

She had checked that same book three times!

I want my books to be remembered. I want people to talk about them. I want my stories to change lives!

I want my characters to live!

We learn a lot in Bootcamp. We actually learn, that in reality, we shouldn’t use words like “actually” and “in reality.”

No body “thinks to themselves.”

I was just thinking hungrily to myself that maybe I’ll just get up and actually walk gingerly to the kitchen and then make myself a sandwich. In reality, I’m desperately aware that I haven’t been grocery shopping in weeks.

Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Doug Winter would hate that.

So do I. But I wrote it. Just now.

We all do it. We read over our first drafts and look for knitting needles to put in our eyes.

At Bootcamp we learn about Point of View. One year, a grunt asked what that was. We all laughed and then listened intently as our drill sergeants grew red in the face and explained. Gimme a hundred, soldier!

What’s a participle?

Another twenty, you sorry maggot!

We learn about plot and pacing and strong character voice.

What’s more important, Plot or Character? Hmmmm.

We learn comaraderie and that writing, though a competitive field, is also an intimate environment.

We have to cheer each other on because we’re not sure anyone else will.

I came home from Maryland and turned my 35 page submission into  195 pages.

I was so pumped up, I wanted to sell the restaurant and buy a bottle of scotch.

Just kidding. But I was pumped. I decided that no matter what I do in life, I will pursue this dream. I still have to be responsible to my life, but as long as I’m writing, I can’t hurt anyone right?

It doesn’t matter if I ever get published, though it would be nice. I mean really nice. And I really shouldn’t care if nobody likes what I write. There’s nothing to fear.

I can always call my smiley face friends and my mother.

As long as I keep writing, I’m doing what I love and that’s what makes life worth living.

It helps to have people critique your work. It makes you a better writer. Like anything in life, you can’t learn unless you make mistakes.

My bags are packed and I have 16 manuscripts with red ink all over them.

Hahahaha she sneered with a sinister laugh.

I too can play that game!