Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tips for Writing Scary, Horror, and Suspense

Happy Halloween my friends!

What better way to spend it than talking about horror...writing it that is. I don't try to hide the depressing fact that I tend to think more like a Disney character than a savvy, twisted writer like Dean Koontz or Stephen King. I'm pretty honest with myself: I'm not scary. I don't do scary that well. But I want to!

So I invited The Literary Dark Emperor to grace our presence with his absurdly creepy writing prowess. Nathan Squiers is the author of The Crimson Shadow novels, as well as a whole host of skin prickling short stories and poems that would scare your geek glasses off. And guess what? He's going to teach us how! Nathan has charitably taken the time to actually walk you through a scary short story (one he just, you know, made up on the spot because he's that awesome.) He doesn't just give you pointers--he shows you how they're done!

So enjoy his guest post, and please do drop by his Facebook page to see what he's got. If you look to the right of your screen, you should see a Rafflecopter giveaway. You can enter to win one of any four of his chilling tales. Whichever one strikes your fancy! And I listed the links to each of them at the bottom of this post so you can figure out which one appeals to you most. The giveaway will end on Saturday.

Horror, by and large, is defined as a genre that is tailored or has the potential to strike terror and fear into the hearts of the audience. Subsequently, fear is widely recognized as an emotional state of being in which an impending sense of doom or danger is felt.

But what does it truly mean to write horror, and how does one elicit a fearful response using only words?

For starters, it’s important to remember that the amount of fear you’ll be able to spark in your readers will directly weigh on how attached they become to the story and its characters (after all, you can’t put them in any real danger, so the element of foreboding danger must be felt FOR those who are).

And so, as is usually the case for ANY writing project, we must consider our character(s) and, just as importantly but often overlooked, our audience. Every writer should remain mindful of WHO they’re writing for—age groups, genders, races, sexual orientation, and any other such elements—because this can determine a great deal of how to appropriately approach any project (and, for this first step, what sort of character[s] will be most empathized in the course of their journey).

For the sake of this tutorial, we’ll set the target audience at male and female young adults (this will also allow us to weed away the need for excessive gore and vulgarity; elements that are often utilized as crutches in this genre—true horror should never rely SOLELY on such tactics, because it will often indicate that a story is already lacking enough depth to do the job on its own merit).

But who do teenagers want to read about?

Like any demographic, the best approach is to cater to who they are and what they know (adults primarily read about other adults, children like to read about other children, and teens—naturally—prefer to read about other teens). So already we know that we should create a teenage character to carry us through our story. Furthermore, because we’re hoping to get our audience to fear for the wellbeing of our main character (otherwise known as the protagonist), then it helps to understand how gender can play a role in the emotions of our audience. Male readers (by and large) tend to feel a more emotional attachment to female characters (both because of potential attraction as well as a natural instinct to want to protect and oversee the wellbeing of what could be construed as a younger sibling), but heterosexual female readers (though the attraction element still remains for male characters) prefer to see male characters who aren’t frail or easily dominated. While the sexual preference of one’s audience CAN influence these decisions further, the element of a female protagonist in horror still generates the same sense of attraction/drive to protect.

Now we have the nature of our protagonist: a teenage female. So let’s flesh her out:

The techniques for choosing names and appearance are as broad and varied as the writers that utilize them, so for the sake of simplicity we’ll name her Megan Parker (the name of my fiancĂ© & fellow author) and give her the same overall features: blue eyes and light-brown hair with slightly tanned skin.

Finally we have a character that our audience can feel akin to and follow through our terrifying tale with a sense of empathy and awe. Furthermore, now that we have the nature of the character established, we can begin to work outward from that and create a setting and environment based on how others like our character live. While it’s possible to incorporate elements that distinguish and deepen our character as an individual, it’s important to remember that anything that can potentially distinguish our character can just as easily make it that much harder for our target audience to relate to them (definitely something to consider before making them a one-armed, 400lbs, adopted space alien with telekinetic powers).

Now on to the horror!!

While I typically enjoy opening a story with a more abrupt hook—something that will INSTANTLY draw the reader in—the realm of horror is less forgiving about not first establishing a sense of peace. Generally, it works FOR a writer in the long run to establish a sense of calm and normalcy so that when the horrific force comes into play there is a greater sense of comparison and what’s been lost.

So let’s begin by setting some tone and setting to Megan’s night:

The sun hung low in the late-evening sky, bathing the quiet neighborhood’s skyline in a curtain of orange and purple. Blinking against the stunning rays, Megan adjusted the strap of her backpack on her throbbing shoulder—grimacing against what she knew would be an impressive bruise in the morning and cursing Rachel’s cheap shot on her during lacrosse practice—and hurried across the street, barely getting out of the way of Miss O’Riley’s oncoming station wagon. The old woman croaked an angry warning in her thick, Irish accent as she sped by, and Megan rolled her eyes at the old crone and started down the sidewalk towards her house.
Stepping through the front door, Megan was welcomed with a wave of warmth and the smell of her mother’s cooking. Though she still wore the aches and pains from practice, she was unable to hold back a smile as the promise of a hot meal and a hotter shower shone in her near future.

Right off the bat we have an opening that is neither overly saturated in unbelievable pleasantries nor clogged with blatantly dark or depressing elements. The reader has an almost instant sense of who we’re presenting them with without resorting to sloppy means (mention of a sore shoulder from practice tells them she’s athletic and explains why she’s walking home late and the book bag lets them know she’s a student). The time of day is clear without any clunky details, and relatable inserts like the cranky neighbor create a sense of “I’ve been there before” to most readers. Finally, offering what amounts to the “glimmer of hope” by making mention of the warm house and the hope for a hot shower and relaxing dinner create a calming atmosphere that we can soon use against the reader.

Let’s move on:

“I’m home,” she announced, setting her gear by the coat rack and slipping off her shoes. From the hall she could hear the sound of activity in the kitchen, and she shuffled across the hardwood floor on her socked feet towards it. “I couldn’t get any lime juice, Mom,” she called out as she stepped through the doorway and onto the linoleum of the kitchen “The corner market was out and I—”
She paused as she took in the scene. Sitting at the table to her right, her little sister hummed and poked away at the family’s iPad and ignoring their mother’s sobs as she leaned against the counter over her cooking.
Megan shifted her focus between the two before finally turning towards her mother.
“Mom?” She frowned when she saw her shoulders tense at the sound her voice, “Something wrong?”
“N-no,” her mother’s voice was shaky and forced, “I… I’m j-just… cooking supper.” She turned then, her face red and tear-stained, “It’ll be r-ready s-s-soo…” she trailed off with another sob and turned back to her cutting board.
Frowning, Megan turned away and approached her sister, keeping her voice down as she did. “Marie, what’s wrong? Did something happen?”
Marie giggled as she moved her finger across the iPad’s screen—launching a chirping bird into a tower occupied by grinning green pigs—before finally looking up at her. Megan frowned, caught off guard by the bright, joy-filled blue eyes of the little girl—eyes that everyone said the two of them shared but, at that moment, she wanted absolutely nothing to do with—and crossed her arms over her chest, eager for an answer.
“Well?” She demanded. Marie giggled again; her eyes, unwavering and unblinking, never shifting from her own gaze. As the unnerving weight of the child’s stare grew too eerie to stand, Megan uncrossed her arms and moved to tug on one of her sister’s pigtails in the hopes of earning a response. “Answer me! Did something happen to Mom?”
Marie’s head cocked to one side as the pressure on her hair pulled at her scalp, but her leering grin and wide, unmoving eyes stayed locked on her. Finally, her small, pink tongue took a slow across her lips before they parted.
“She was cutting onions,” Marie offered with another giggle, “Onions.”
Though Megan was certain that her sister would have returned to her game, she didn’t move. Her face—her leering grin and wide, joy-filled blue eyes—didn’t shift; didn’t offer any hint of change. She simply stared back up at her, head still cocked to one side and her dangling pigtail swaying and brushing her shoulder with each pass.
“Whatever, freaker. Don’t drain the battery on Dad’s iPad. You know he hates that.” Megan cleared her throat and rolled her eyes, taking a step back before turning away and hurrying out of the kitchen and starting up the stairs.

PAUSE! Things are getting a little weird, huh? I mean—sure!—onions are a pain to cut, but something doesn’t seem quite right there. And what’s with Megan’s sister? Granted, kids have their weird moments, many of which come off a little creepy…

But still, this just seems off…

The element of surprise is an obvious tool in creating horror. True masters of the genre have earned their titles by creating a horrific scenario that their protagonists unknowingly step into. Because of this, horror writers begin to operate on a very similar process as mystery writers, where they’re fully aware of beginning, middle, and end of not only the protagonist’s journey through their story, but ALSO the beginning, middle, and end of what’s shaped the environment they’re falling victim to.

A prime example of this is Stephen King’s “The Shining”, where a man who takes his family to a closed inn in the mountains to maintain the property during the winter season comes to find that it carries a dark (and haunted) history. While the story’s focus is on the family and their encounter, there is an undeniable amount of back-story that created the horrific environment that they stepped into.

The same can be said of Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds”. Though neither the characters nor the audience are ever offered any explanation as to WHY the murderous flocks of birds are behaving in such a way, it becomes evident that the winged creatures have developed some new and terrifying habits that make for a truly horrific experience for all involved.

So, while explanations are nice, they’re never required. Let’s see if Megan gets any explanation for her sister’s strange behavior:

Megan was nearly all the way upstairs when she caught her ankle against the edge of the step and fell; banging her knee against the last step and hissing through clenched teeth at the pain. As she pulled herself up with the railing, she heard Marie giggle again from the kitchen. Still gritting against the pain, Megan fought against the urge to let any more pained grunts be heard and limped to her bedroom. Closing and locking the door, Megan finally allowed herself to exhale and dropped down onto her bed.

Ouch! We’ve all been there before, huh? Stairs: the silent killer (and, in this case, another tool to allow the reader to feel connected to our protagonist). And once again we feel a shiver thanks to the increasingly creepy sister. But why is that? What is it about Marie’s innocent antics that are making Megan (and us) feel so uncomfortable? The truth, in fact, IS the implied innocence. The human mind seems innately prepared for that which is blatantly dangerous to be dangerous; if we see a big, angry-looking biker we take a nice, long step around them in the off chance that they might attack. But what about a single child? What about a single child standing in the middle of the street? What about a single child standing in the middle of the street in the middle of the night? Now what if this child seems not only unafraid in this place, but downright COMFORTABLE?

What happens when you take an inherently innocent icon and twist it into something blatantly malicious?

The answer: you remove the audience from their comfort zone.

You create a monster.

The reader can tell that Megan is now seeing that her sister—somebody that the reader must assume she has known for Marie’s entire lifetime—is not behaving in a way she has before. We have begun to introduce a foreign element to our protagonist, and the fear and confusion she is now feeling becomes the readers’ own.

So what’s in store for Megan (and our audience)? Let’s find out:

Though a hot shower sounded like nothing short of Heaven, the soft warmth of Megan’s bed made pulling herself away from it unthinkable. Instead, she lay—promising herself that she’d get up soon enough—and embraced the comfort. Between her tolling lacrosse practice and her still-pounding heart from Marie’s horrifying stare Megan wasn’t surprised that the moment of peace was as glorious as it was, but the memory of her sister’s strange behavior.
Groaning, Megan flipped over on her back, promising herself that she’d get up in ten seconds. Finally working up the resolve, she dragged herself into a sitting position and let out another sigh. The image of her sister’s cold-yet-joyful eyes shone in her mind once more and she shivered, wanting a hot shower more than ever.
“Jeez! Creepy little—”
Her head turned at a meek whimper and she eyed her closet door—decorated and adorned in magazine cutouts and pages from CD jackets—and frowned. Had her mother gone snooping in her room and locked the cat in the closet again? Hearing the scared whimper again, she sighed and pulled herself up and moved across the room to free the cat.

Nice little moment to catch your breath there, huh? This momentary interlude in the rising terror represents the proverbial calm before the storm. In all things horror—books, movies, comics, etc—there is almost always a moment between the first established sign that something may be wrong and the inevitable plummet into terror. Though to many this pause/hold might seem unnecessary, it’s important to remember that a story operates on a system of rise-and-fall; the degree to which a reader can feel the outcome of the conflict is to proportionate to how much they feel has been lost. Much like a roller coaster, you can’t expect to drop any further than you’ve first been lifted, and if it takes one step to move the audience into the chaos then they’ve only had a chance to put one step’s worth of investment into whatever you’re preparing them for. It is in this way that horror separates itself from many other genres, which can succeed—and often outright flourish—from being dropped into the action from the get-go. Where a reader can be given a sense of romance from page one with a passionate scene and then led into the story thus far with some tactical flashbacks afterwards, a horror story that starts out with all the potential scare-elements revealed from the get-go will rob you of much of the leverage that enables you to strike fear in the first place.

Does this mean that it’s impossible? Not at all; I actually advocate to all my literary apprentices that ANYTHING can be achieved in writing, it’s simply a matter of understanding the HOW and, most importantly, the WHY. If the decision to open a story with the grand reveal right in the beginning is made, one must be prepared to know HOW they’ll still offer the reader a climactic plot as well as understanding WHY they chose to make that decision (is there an unknown detail that, on its own, is more shocking than the overall outcome—are you setting us up for the next “Luke, I AM your father” moment?—or is it simply a dry gimmick that will ultimately force you to scrap the piece and restart from scratch?)

In many cases, horror is like cutting onions: cut through the layers and pray you can see through the tears to know how it ends:

Marie let out a shriek as Megan opened the closet, and as the stunned teenager fell back at the sight of her terrified little sister the sound of their mother’s shriek carried up the stairs.
Megan fought to catch her breath, looking over her shoulder towards her bedroom door and considering checking on her mom, but finally decided to calm her sister down first.
“Dammit, Marie,” she scolded, starting towards the closet and helping her to her feet, “You scared me half-to-death! What are you doing in there! What’s with you toda—” she stopped herself, narrowing her eyes. “Wait… how did you get up here from the kitch—”
“IT WASN’T ME!” Marie sobbed, burying her face in Megan’s shirt, “IT WASN’T!”
Megan frowned, “What are you talking about? What wasn’t—”
“It… it said it would kill me!” Marie’s wide, terrified eyes locked onto her own.
Her eyes…
Her eyes!
Nothing like they’d been downstairs…
“It wasn’t me…” she whimpered again, “That… that thing downstairs.”
There was a brief scuttle against the bedroom door, and both sisters cried out as they turned to face it as the knob rattled in the frame and twisted sharply; breaking free and falling to the floor as the door swung inward and knocked it against the wall.
The familiar leering grin and wide, joy-filled blue eyes of not-Marie filled the doorway as she stepped inside. Megan gasped and fell back as Marie whimpered and backed against the wall, searching blindly with her hand for the opening of the closet.
“Onions!” Not-Marie croaked as her grin grew wider and wider. “Oooooooonions…” a low, throaty sound echoed from her gullet; her throat convulsing and distending as every step she took towards them was met with a sharp twist of her joints. Her shoulders sagged as her forearms snapped and bent, forming another set of elbows that allowed her elongated, blood-soaked fingers to drag across the floor. Her legs popped and shifted, allowing her to cross the rest of the distance in one long, bobbing lurch.
Miss O’Riley groaned at her own good deed as the detective started over with his questions. Only an hour earlier, she’d overheard the sound of the Parker family’s girls screaming and phoned in a noise complaint. Had she known that their cries of bloody murder had been literal she might have rethought the call and waited until morning.
“No good deed…” She muttered to herself.
The detective looked up, “Ma’am?”
Miss O’Riley shrugged off the officer’s curiosity and shook her head. “Look, I don’t know anything about anything. I was just settling in for a round of Jeopardy and those damned kids started howling,” she groaned again. “I figured they were having themselves a good, ol’ fashioned sister-spat—y’know, kids bein’ kids and whatnot—and thought having the cops show up at their door would scare some decency into them.”
“So… you didn’t know that they were being attacked?” The detective tapped his pen on his notepad.
“Oh heavens no,” The old woman insisted, “This is a peaceful neighborhood. Nothing like”—she stared over the detective’s shoulder at the kaleidoscope of flashing red-and-blue lights on the side of her neighbors’ home—“Well, nothing like this ever happens. I mean, I haven’t locked my doors in…” she blushed, seeing the detective’s eyebrow shift, “Well, in a long time. If I’d have known they were in danger I wouldn’t have dozed off like I did after I called you.”
“You fell asleep, ma’am?” The detective frowned, “With the kids screaming?”
“Boy, when you get to be my age you learn to fall asleep in a hurricane. Mighty fine sleep, too; probably woulda slept through all that banging at my door if it hadn’t been for the smell.”
The detective’s hectic scribbling in his notepad paused then and he looked up, “The smell, ma’am?”
Miss O’Riley nodded and wet her dried lips, “Oh yes. Damndest thing! Right before you fellas came to my door I thought I smelled freshly-cut onions.”

Good ol’ Miss O’Riley! Who knew she’d come back around to make an appearance, huh? For this wrap-up I decided to offer a bit of a few different techniques that I’ve found work best in the genre:

For starters, the “Oh sh**” moment. The readers had enough information to readily know that there was no way that Marie could’ve made it up the stairs and past Megan without her seeing, so the realization that she was in the closet had a chance to click in their minds moments before Megan’s panic-stricken mind was able to grasp that what had been staring her down in the kitchen had not been her sister, which allowed for the dawning of possibilities to plague the mind. In many ways, ending a story on the “Oh sh**” moment offers a reader’s imagination to run rampant with untold possibilities (but doing that would have been less fun for me as a writer and, let’s be honest, slightly unfulfilling for the reader).

Then we had the “Sh** hit the fan” moment. Between Mommy’s screams downstairs and the chaos at the door—enough to rip the handle free, huh? Somebody wanted to get inside in the worst kinda way!—the reader is forced to understand that whatever we were dealing with from the “Oh sh**” moment was not only dangerous, it wasn’t finished. Again, we easily could’ve ended there—let the doorknob hit the floor, door fly open, and the creepy face of not-Marie occupy the readers’ sleepless night—but, again, we wanted to have a little extra fun.

So then we had the “Sh** just got (un)real” moment. As though establishing that the girl downstairs wasn’t Marie wasn’t enough, we had to go the extra mile and establish that she wasn’t even human. When dealing with inhuman visuals, the best advice is to work with what scares you. Personally, the idea of seeing an already-creepy little girl giggling and croaking as her body pops and distorts into something else is the sort of thing that’d keep me awake for a few straight weeks as I rocked about my padded cell in a straitjacket, so I figured I’d share in that lovely visual (still like onions, though). And, again, we could’ve just as easily ended there, but… well, you know.

Finally comes the aftermath (what I like to call the “What was that sh**” moment; anybody who’s read my short horror prequel “Forbidden Paints on a Wicked Canvas” would recognize this technique). Basically, this allows the writer to summarize and create a sense of closure to an event that wouldn’t have been as clean if “watched” while it had been happening. Furthermore, because a great deal of horror forces the audience to step outside the perimeters of reality, offering a taste of the “real world” getting a glimpse at the aftermath—creating a scene of “Oh, I’ve seen something like that” in their minds—instills a sense of potential (and, in a genre when personal fear is the end-goal, getting a reader to believe that—just maybe—what they’d read could happen allows that extra lingering moment of dread keep hold of their hearts).

On one final note, it’s been said that no true horror story has a happy ending. The market to scare people isn’t built on wrapping things up in pretty, clean packages; it contradicts everything that you create from start-to-finish. This isn’t to say that a horror story isn’t a horror story if everybody in the world isn’t gutted and maimed by the end, but if you’re going to scare people with horrific element then it’s always more fun if they can close the book feeling like it’s still out there.

Just keep that in mind the next time you smell onions ;-)

Nathan Squiers

Short Stories

Monday, October 28, 2013

Geeky Monday Moment...With Zombies!

Halloween is almost here! As always, it is necessary to geek up my holidays. And since Halloween is one of my very favorite holidays, I wanted to pay tribute to it in the best way a geek can:

Watching creepy shows and finding memes about them.

The first on my list is Supernatural. Now, I'm still making my way through the one million seasons of this on Netflix, but I have to say that I am seriously enjoying every second of it. And Dean? *fans face* Yes please! I found this on Pinterest, and I thought it would be stupid and fun to take up like 30 seconds of your day.

Grace Apocalypse here, people. I can dig it. (Share yours in the comments!)

Now, I know I should add Grimm, but guess what? The whiny girlfriend who forgot the main character got on my nerves so much I stopped watching. Also they were progressing the storyline too slowly, and I got bored. Sorry.

But I WILL add something from my new favorite spooky show: Sleepy Hollow. This show, guys. Seriously, it's just awesome. I think its everything Grimm should have been. If you've seen the show, then you'll get this little joke:

And so we're not here all day swooning over favorite TV shows, I'll add just one more. My favorite. The Walking Dead. FOR REAL I AM OBSESSED. I don't know why I like this show so much, but there's something about it that I'm loving. However, if they kill Daryl, I might go Hulk on somebody.

Do you have any favorite spooky shows I didn't add here?

Also, check back on Wednesday because I'm having a really talented guest on the Auchward blog! Horror writer Nathan Squiers will be doing a walk-through of how to write scary. I know I've always wanted some solid tips on how to do this, and he is the Prince of Darkness. He knows what he's about, trust me.

So have a good week, and thanks for stopping by the blog!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Geeky Monday Moment 10/21

Halloween is almost here! This is my husband's favorite holiday, and my second favorite (I'm like a deranged, eggnog sodden elf of Christmas ecstasy around the green and red holiday. Watch out.) I just love dressing up and having an excuse to be a fictional character without looking like a complete wacko. Also there's candy. You gotta love the sweets.

This year my little family is going dressed as The Avengers. I'll be sure to share pictures, but in the meantime, I'll keep with the Halloween geeky theme I've got going on. Since I plan to be Black Widow, and I'm always in awe of some of the cosplay costumes I see, I give you this:

This is how I feel my costumes usually end up! Oooh. So close.

How about it. What are your plans for All Hallows Eve?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time Management

Unless your day job is actually writing (and if it is, I've got my jealous face on), you probably have a hard time finding hours to devote to the craft of literary creation. Most of us have a lot going on--a job, school maybe, kids, and general life interruptions. There's a lot on our plates, so how do we add an extra helping of "author time" on there?

Lots of writers have their own systems, but if you are anything like me, I'm pretty sure you struggle with finding the balance that's necessary to live a normal life but also write, edit, publish, market...even the dreaded query letters. And lots of successful authors have shared their tips, so what qualifies me to add my voice?

Nothing really. Except that I'm busy and I successfully write at the same time. But to appease your need for adequate ethos, here's what I've got going on: I am a mother to three toddlers, ages 4, 2, and 1. I homeschool them three days a week, and take care of the house they destroy. I'm a full-time student, graduating this semester with my Bachelors from Brigham Young University-Idaho. I'm a blogger (obviously), and I've written two novels while in school and with children. My first was accepted and published by Malachite Quills Publishing, I have a third novel half-written with a co-author, and I'm self-publishing my second.

Okay, you get the idea. I'm busy. And to be perfectly honest with you, I'm stressed a lot. I have freak-outs
on a regular basis, and can often be seen rage quitting and having a Netflix marathon instead of doing...anything. But I still manage to get it all done, and I figured I'd share how to see if it helps you at all.

Also I like lists, so that's the format I chose for my tips:

1.) Make lists. No, seriously, you gotta write down things that jump to your brain. Trying to cement a thought in your brain to get to later never works for me. If I don't write it down somewhere, it usually dies the death of a lost sock--gone until you realize too late that you need it.

2.) Speaking of writing it down, use a planner. It can be a physical planner, it can be on your smartphone..tablet...thing...but get one. I use a regular planner because I'm cheap and refuse to pay for a smartphone.

3.) Be specific with your plans. For example, when I'm juggling schoolwork with other things, I make a detailed chart. In red, I write when something is due (day and time). In black, I write when I plan to actually do it. What this allows you to do is break up all the work you know you'll have to do that week, and then see what time is left over. If you're finding that even after meticulously breaking everything down and sticking to it, you're without hours to write, see what can go. Can't get the laundry done one day? It's fine! Which leads me to...

4.) Sacrifice some things. Usually my first sacrifice is housework. My house isn't a dump, but sometimes we have to dig through the clean laundry baskets for our clothes. Sometimes the kids' toys aren't organized. As long as its habitable and more or less organized, I can let things go. The one thing I never sacrifice is family time. Ever. Family comes first, so I work around that. But you'll have to see what you can let go. Maybe TV at night, or you stay at your desk and write during your lunch break instead of going out. I sacrifice sleep...a lot. Six hours of sleep is my norm.

5.) Be dedicated to writing when you can. Sometimes I plan for a "writing block," but more often than not it
will sneak up on me. One day the kids will all zonk out at the same time for naps, and instead of eating snacks and catching up on my Hulu shows, I give myself a pep talk and write. When we writers are crunched for time, sometimes we don't have the luxury of "feeling it." I'm a big proponent of writing first, editing later. Just get it out--whatever scene you're feeling the most--and go back to revise later if you need to. Something is better than nothing (most of the need a good crap-o-meter to write the way I do. Sometimes mine is broken, but thankfully I'm blissfully unaware.)

6.) Motivate yourself. I hate to admit this, but maybe you will relate: My best motivation is jealousy. It's so petty, I know, but when I see another writer doing really well because they worked hard, guess what it makes me want to do? Yup! Sometimes I'll read a YA novel, and it gives me that "I can do this!!!" feeling. That doesn't work for everyone, so whatever motivates you, find it, and then use it. Songs and poems and meditation don't do it for me. I need a kick in the butt, personally.

The bottom line is you have to be dedicated to doing it. If you don't plan out your tasks for the week so they are evenly spaced out, you end up with crazy days where you can barely find time to eat, and then you feel burned out and on the days you do have free time, the last thing you want to get into are obligations.

Another honest moment here: I'm not writing right now. I've got too much going on with the release of my book, marketing, school, and my kids, that I just can't focus. I spend my free time sewing Halloween costumes and watching Netflix. And that's okay sometimes! You don't have to write every day--if you need a break, take it. But if you decide to write, then commit and do it, I say. Lunula was written in 7 weeks during the only break I got between my three semester school year. Inito was written over a longer period of time because I had to put it away one semester and pick it up the next break. But I was editing and marketing Lunula even then.

So for what it's worth, I hope that gave you something helpful to use. I haven't figured out anything magical or revolutionary. Usually when people ask me, "How do you do it all?" my default response is, "I don't sleep!" That's not exactly a solution I can write a best-selling how-to book on, but it is the truth, and it does work for me.

So how about you? Do you have any time management tips?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Inito Cover Reveal

It's here!!

Thanks so much for joining me on my blog for the cover reveal of Inito. Bonus, it has the back cover blurb on there for you, too. I thought about releasing that separately, but you know what? I'm too awesome for that.

It doesn't really need much an introduction. It speaks for itself, I think:

  You can click on it to view it in a larger format for the full effect. It's almost time to release this bad boy! Mark your calendars for November 25th.

What do you think? Give me your first impressions!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Geeky Monday Moment 10/14

Another glorious Monday!

I know you can't sense sarcasm is writing, but it's there.

Today's Geeky Monday Moment is brought to you by a stressed author, blogger, mother, wife...person. That's me...I meant me. And it's brought to you with all the dread of facing another week as a student mom with a book coming out and a house falling apart at the seams.

And what do I find myself doing? Reading. Not even reading anything substantial (like my textbooks as I should be doing). No, no, it's mindless romance novels I have fallen into. I'm a serial romance novel reader. Like I get started and I read two thick ones in a day, ignoring everything. It's bad for my health. Probably.

So although I have a lot to do this week (Cover reveal, people!!), I'm feeling kind of...what's the word...?

I'll just let Winnie spell it out for you:

 This is my favorite Halloween movie of all time. Don't even bring up the cute Charlie Brown dude, because he falls short of the hilarity the Sanderson Sisters offer.

And today I agree with Winnie.

So how's your week going? Having a good one or a bad one?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Why My Protagonist is Skinny

Figures. As writers, it has to come to our minds, doesn't it? One of the first things we develop is how the main characters look. And in particular, it seems that weight is a hot topic.

I wanted to briefly touch on a stereotype in fiction, especially romantic fiction that deals with a woman’s body type. The average woman’s weight in America, according to the CDC FastFacts page, is about 166 pounds. But I’d estimate the average heroine’s weight to be more like 110...if that, even. There have been lots of articles on this particular topic, but I would like to add my voice as a Fantasy writer who enjoys a good Regency Romance when not actually writing something.

I think we all know the stereotype I’m thinking about. Tall or short, the woman generally has a well-endowed bosom, trim waist, and narrow hips. There are variations, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the majority of heroines are not overweight, and certainly not “plus-size.” There are plenty of advocates out there calling for some sort of fiction revolution to better represent the average woman’s size, but that’s not actually my focus.

I wanted to tell you why I went with the norm.

My first character, Wynn, is petite. She’s short and slim, and I wanted to give her a soft, almost fragile feel. This is a quintessential example of the dainty damsel, and it’s not new. So if I and many other authors are fully aware of this, then why do we keep making our girls look like models?

Before I get to my answer, I remember reading an FAQ for a popular romance writer (I honestly can’t remember her name as it was years ago), and one of the questions has really stuck with me. The question was the same one I asked above: “Why are all your heroines skinny and gorgeous?” Her answer was that the heroes just saw the women that way, and she wasn’t necessarily describing their weight so much as the fact that the hero saw her as a living vision of Aphrodite.

Well that’s…nice, but I remember calling bullcrap, in my head. Maybe she meant it, but it felt like a cop out to me. And that’s why I’m going to be honest when I answer this question.

I did it because I don’t have the kahunas to do otherwise.

That, first and foremost, is why my main character is easily imagined as a model. In my experience, a pretty woman who fits “Hollywood image” is what readers really want. And I want readers to pick up my books. So I chose a standard slim woman so it would be easy for you, the reader, to imagine her in your mind.

There are other more practical reasons that Wynn is thin: She’s an orphan constantly on the run, her life is quite physically taxing, and she doesn’t get many home cooked, substantial meals. So it did make sense to have her be thinner, but I freely admit that I conformed to manikin character size because I assumed that’s what everyone would want.

As I have thought more about this topic, I do find myself wanting to give my next character some real curves. Whether or not I actually do it will depend entirely on the book and the character. As much as I’d love to stand up for real women (like myself), I don’t want to take readers out of the story with it, either. I like to write action/adventure books, and generally my main characters have to have some modicum of physical fitness or they’d never be able to save the day. I just imagine myself running up a mountain to escape the talons of a vicious, man-eating harpee, my baby belly jiggling, until I fall in an exhausted heap and eat Reese's Pieces until the harpee catches up with me. Not very attractive. Or heroic. And I'm an average woman's size more or less...but I'm no action heroine!

Still, it’s a thought to ponder. I want our society to appreciate the softer, pronounced curves of a real woman, of a confident woman who, like me, is kind of in love with chocolate. But as a writer I also want to please my readers.

 So what do you think? Would you like to see more curvy women in novels? Or do you prefer the smaller image? I’d love to hear of books you’ve read that “break the mold,” or your opinions on the subject!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Geeky Monday Moment

It's everybody's favorite day again! I love starting my week off with a Geeky Monday Moment. Today's moment comes from an experience I had last week. My first negative review. Two stars, several pages worth of ranting, and a feminist-fueled rant against my dainty main character contributed to the storm that was my first scathing review. I admit, it did take my breath away for a moment. WHOOSH *cough, wheeze, splutter*

But then I remembered that not everyone is going to like my work. Especially people who prefer she-woman warriors as their protagonist. Which I don't like at all.

The hardest part about getting a negative review is not retaliating. I wanted to go through every piece of her criticism and retort, explain, and elaborate on my ideas. But I have to remember that everyone is different, and some people just aren't going to be very nice about their opinions. As much as I want to retort, I'm going to just keep it cool and keep on rollin.

So with that, I give you the Geeky Monday Moment, brought to  you by...


Haters gonna hate, and no one flies in the face of mockery better than Deadpool.

Have an awesome Monday, and stay geeky, my friends!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Publisher Contract

Happy Friday my Auchward friends!

I thought I would elaborate on a subject I only touched on in my last video: The publisher contract. In the video I just walk you through some sections you might expect to find, and what you should keep an eye out for when signing your book over.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writing with Google Docs

I cannot tell you how many times I've lost work because of computer malfunctions. It feels like I finally got to the fires of Mordor, only to drop the ring down a crevice with no hope of ever getting it back. It's just gone, and all that beautiful writing I created is gone forever. I can try to replicate it, but really, we all know that when you hit it, you hit it, and recreating a moment of flow and perfect prose is nearly impossible. Two chapters in Intio were rewritten because of some sort of saving error, and I can't tell you--cannot express!--the fury that boiled within my desolate, black writer's heart. I had to leave the house and just pace the apartment complex for a good hour before I could return to my husband's sympathetic assurances. And those two chapters? Not as good as they were. CONFLABBIT!

Okay, so what's the solution here? Back up, right? Because every time you write something genius (and let's face it, that's pretty much every five minutes right?) you should "save as" to your thumb drive (which I lose), or email it to yourself, or upload it somewhere safe. To which I say:

So my real solution is actually not to write on my hard drive at all. Nope, I've discovered Google Docs, and I'm in love.

This is kind of post one of two about writing with a co-author, because I really discovered the miracle of Google Docs half-way through writing Inito and when I joined my mother and co-author in writing a paranormal YA novel. See, the amazing thing about Google Docs is that you can let other people in there with you. Usually writers don't need this function, so I'll go over three big advantages that might apply to you: Sharing, Editing, Saving.

First, sharing. If you ever plan to write a book with someone else (more on that later!) I highly recommend doing it with Google Docs! It's absurdly easy to share your document with someone else, and once you have done that, the two of you can write in there at the same time. Now, admittedly, I got a bit of a nervous tick writing while my mom was in there with me...watching...But seriously, it's not a big deal. I got over it, and when there were scenes where our characters overlapped and we weren't sure how to write the other person's character just write, we could do it together. And we live 2000 miles apart. It has a chat function so you can talk while you write, and leaving comments is a great way to suggest changes:


(Speaking of being okay with people seeing your unedited work, there you go! Chapter two of our paranormal book!)

The second reason Google Docs could save your couch-warmed, writer's toosh is because it makes it very easy to edit the piece. The first time I had my husband's Nana edit my work (laugh if you will, but Mrs. W took writing classes with and learned from Madeline L'engle, and her writing is flawless), we emailed copies back and forth. I ended up with ten or more copies of Lunula floating around my hard drive, and it's a miracle I got the correctly edited one to the publisher. This time around we tried Google Docs, and it was so nice! She would go through and make comments about what I needed to change, and I could come to them at my leisure. We could go back over an edit more than once, too. For example, if she made a comment that I used "you're" in the dialogue when maybe I should use "you are," I could either edit it per her suggestion, OR I could comment back and she would get a notification that I did that. And we could talk about that little edit without being tedious. Cool, right?

And finally, saving. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, saving is a pain in the elbow. With Google Docs, it doesn't matter if your computer breaks. Unless the internet breaks, your work is going to be safe. And it autosaves every couple of seconds. You can manually save anytime you want, but just in case you don't, and the power goes out mid-sentence, guess who already saved it for you? Good 'ol Google Docs! If you need to work on your piece offline, you can always dowload it, but I usually just write and then copy and paste. If you want to be really safe, you could download the work after certain milestones to make sure its on your hard drive and online.

Downsides? Well Google Docs isn't as fancy as Word, that's for sure. I wouldn't create any presentations for your CEO on it. But as a writing tool? If you ask me, it's perfect.

So how about it? Have you used Google Docs? Good or bad experiences?