Publishing Update & The 5-Sentence Pitch

The publication process is underway! After two years of writing and revision, my debut novel has entered the final stages before publication! My copy editor starts work on STOLEN CLIMATES next week and my cover artist has picked out a location to get reference images to use in sketching out some initial drafts. My goal is to release STOLEN CLIMATES in the first quarter of 2012. I have not firmed up prices or outlets yet, but I’m working on those details and will let you know as soon as I do.

Part of publishing is coming up with back cover matter and a pitch. I was stymied by this for a long time, and finally asked for advice from a fellow indie author who has been very successful. I wrote a pitch and put it out for the world to read, including my father, who has also read a draft of STOLEN CLIMATES. My father is a brilliant writer. I grew up hearing the quote, “If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” When he read my pitch, my father suggested that I be a bit more pithy and capture the essence of STOLEN CLIMATES in five sentences. I agreed with his reasoning, and then panicked.

Have you ever tried to sum up an entire novel in five sentences? It is much more difficult than it sounds. I think there is a special challenge to summing up a horror novel, as the basic premise of most horror stories is a bit… silly.  My opinion is that just because the premise is absurd, doesn’t mean that there can’t be value and deeper meaning to a work. Yet, summing up my novel in five sentences left even me, the dedicated author, feeling like my book was… silly, even though I know that the story is not at all silly or trite or lacking in depth.  I kept working at it, and came up with five versions of the 5-Sentence Pitch. I’d love it if you’d tell me which one you feel is most effective!

5-Sentence Pitch

Option 1 (As Summer Solstice Nears…) : 

As Summer Solstice nears, a small Texas town prepares for a ritual that will give human form to Mother Nature. They will spill a mother’s blood, invoke a father’s lament, and ensure the continuation of ancient ways. Until then, carnivorous vines are growing out of control, the sacred orchard is dying of blight, and it isn’t safe after dark.  Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor. She has a name – and a face!

Option 2 (Genny thought her hallucinations…) : 

Genny thought her hallucinations were from lack of sleep. Then her daughter started hearing the trees talking, too. Now they are being hunted by a cult who wants to use them in a deadly ritual. As carnivorous vegetation encroaches on the house where Genny and her daughter are trapped, their only hope of escape is a single ax and an acquaintance with his own set of debilitating issues. Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor!

Option 3 (Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor…) :

Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.  She has a name and a face. Every generation, the town of Breaker sacrifices a mother and offers her daughter to be the vessel for the powers of Nature. They need a new vessel, but there are no children. Then the Mercer’s arrive with their three year old daughter and not even the people of Breaker are safe from the bloodshed.

Option 4 (Genny and Malcolm Mercer are moving…) :

Genny and Malcolm Mercer are moving to Breaker, Texas. They hope living in a small town will alleviate Genny’s insomnia and the dangerous hallucinations it causes. As they look for a house to buy, the Mercers check into Breaker’s only hotel, eat at the only café, and discover there is only one little girl in the whole town: their daughter, Laney.  The town has noticed Laney, too, because they need a child to use in an ancient ritual to  incarnate the powers of other Nature. As Summer Solstice nears and  carnivorous vines grow out of control,  the Mercers learn that Mother Nature isn’t just a metaphor.

Option 5 (After losing his job…) :

After losing his job and his girlfriend, Prentice decides go West. He ends up in a Texas town where ancient  rituals are carried out to incarnate the powers of Nature.  When he overhears plans to abduct the child of the only other guests in the town motel, Prentice has to choose between the safety of a largely imaginary life he’s dreamed for himself or a dangerous reality. Will Prentice be able to rescue an innocent family? Or will he be subdued by a lack of confidence and a swarm of carnivorous vines?


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Halloween Hop!

Welcome!  Thanks for including me in your rounds this All Hallows weekend!  Here are my favorite ways to spend the spookiest time of year:

Movies : Pumpkinhead, The Shining, The Grudge, Trick ‘r Treat

TV Show : Millennium : The Curse of Frank Black

Books : The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The House with the Clock in Its Walls, The Well, The Haunting of Hill House

Experience :  Living in a 300 year old haunted house in rural Belgium

Costume :  Horror writer living a double-life as a software developer

Carving Pumpkins : Yes!!!

Displaying Odd Shaped Gourds on Almost Every Shelf in the House : Yes

 Extra candy for the kid who knows what Pumpkinhead and Millennium have in common! Where by ‘extra candy’ I mean you get to look at the picture posted below. Now, I’ve tagged a photo of a leering Jack before, but check out the creepy pumpkin in this picture!

pumpkinhead's intentions less than honorable?

Image by k hurst via Flickr


Here’s to your Hallowe’en Jollity!


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A Hop, Series and a Jump


I’m going to participate in a Halloween blog hop hosted by suspense author Jeremy Bates!

I am new to blogging. I have been a casual reader of a few blogs over the years, and a dedicated reader of one particular blog, but it turns out this was not sufficient to prepare me for the pitfalls of being a new blogger. In particular, I was not clear on the correct way to run a blog series. I made novice mistakes with the first two posts in my How to Complete a Novel series. The first is that I used the same title for both posts. I mistakenly thought that indicating the ‘Part’ in the main blog post would make it clear what I was doing. The second is that I did not give a particular tag to mark the posts. I am have fixed both mistakes. The series tag is “How to Complete a Novel.” Thanks for you patience!

If you want to check out an excellent series of Halloween, fear-inspired posts, visit Nova and her guests by jumping over to Distraction99.


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Zen, Agile and Positive Psychology

Part Two

How to Complete a Novel

Zen is a religion. Agile is a software development methodology. Positive Psychology is an area of clinical study. For the purposes of this series, I am treating each of them as a practical philosophy with applications beyond any individual niche.  Zen, Agile and Positive Psychology illuminate guiding principles that I have found helpful in accomplishing my goals, including completing a novel.

Writing is meditation.

Image by Maggie Osterberg via Flickr

The practice of Zen emphasizes meditation. The meditation can be done while sitting, while walking, or while contemplating a koan. In fact, meditation can be done during any activity by being mindful of what is happening, both in the external world and within your own mind. Deep meditation sharpens the focus of the mind to one single, bright point that paradoxically expands outwards to enclose the totality of existence. This single focus+enclosed totality is my admittedly clumsy and inadequate way of defining enlightenment, which is one goal of a Zen practitioners. Zen and many other Buddhist varieties also focus on the idea of the Bodhisattva, or one who has reached enlightenment but remains in this physical plane to help other beings attain enlightenment. For me, writing is a form of meditation. My mind becomes calm and I tap into resources beyond my small circle of experience. When I finish, if I have done my job honestly and with mindfulness, I will have something of that experience to bring back and share with others. Zen not only helps me define the terms of what occurs during the process of creation, but also gives me a way to understand that the purpose of creation. What is a written work without readers, and what is a true story if not the enhancement of our humanity and a step towards enlightenment?

The leap from Zen to Agile sounds a little like mixing patterns with stripes, but we can do that because we’re moving beyond appearances to essential truths. Agile is a process designed to ensure a manufacturing process produces only what is needed when it is needed. For example, if the customer requires a website that allows Paypal payments, but would also like another specialized widget, start by building a website that has PayPal. If you have time in the development cycle to add in the “Customers Who Bought This Also Bought …” widget, build that, too. The important point is to concentrate on what is required and, when that is delivered, add what is nice to have. You take the pulse of the project as you go, judging what can and cannot be accomplished by constant communication between customer, project management, and the development team. When properly managed, the Agile workflow ensures  that at any given point, there is a shippable product that can be delivered.  Writing can be viewed as an Agile process. When you write a novel, you need to be careful to include what readers need to be transported, and be careful not to include details that will only confuse. Write what is needed, and you will tell a complete story. As you revise your work, you are participating in communication with the essential nature of the story, the people who have given feedback, and your own judgment as the author.

In the first post of this series, I suggest that the starting point for any large project should be to visualize what you want to achieve. I lifted this idea right out of Positive Psychology. The goal of Positive Psychology is to help people live hopeful, optimistic, and productive day-to-day lives. While traditional psychology focuses on identification and treatment of negative mental states, Positive Psychology attempts to identify and cultivate positive mental states. I have found that altering my viewpoint away from pessimism and nihilism and towards optimism and vivacity has helped me at work, at home, and in my writing. As antithetical as it seems, you can be a happy person and write horror.  In fact, I contend you can be a happy writer, regardless of genre!

Without further ado, here  is the second suggestion in the series:

Let Others Know What You Want

Share your dream and intention to write a novel. Let people experience your excitement. Not only will you receive a psychical transfusion of energy, you will also have people who will, wittingly or not, hold you accountable to your dream.

Check back soon for more posts in the ‘How to Complete a Novel’ series!


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Overcome Beginner’s Anxiety

Part One

How to Complete a Novel

There is something you want to do. It is a big something. The sort of something that will imbue your daily life with new meaning, vigor and purpose… if you could get started!

Perhaps you want to write a novel, landscape your yard, or learn to read Sanskrit. Any one of those things is daunting. In fact, accomplishing such a goal will probably be more work than you expect, even in your worst case scenario. The good news is you won’t be able to quantify that until you are looking back in well-earned retrospect. The bad news is that the amorphous and seemingly inexhaustible amount of work you can see clearly from the outset is enough to induce panic, or at least drive you to put off starting until that magical, perfect time when everything is in alignment. Do you know what is universally true about magical, perfect times?  They don’t exist! Stop waiting for “until” or “after” or “when” to arrive, and start your project now. If your goal is a novel, there’s no better month to ramp up than November, the National Novel Writing Month. Even though I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, I love the energy it generates in the writing community. Energy, drive, passion: if you have these, you have what it takes to get started on that life-changing something!

If you’re inspired, yet uncertain where to start, I have eleven suggestions that have helped me complete (and survive!) large-scale projects. Since I am a writer, the examples associated with each tip will focus on completing a novel. However, the same suggestions can be applied to any sort of project. I’ve used this approach in my writing, in developing software, in figuring out my work-life-write balance, and most recently in beginning a big landscaping project in my yard.

Here is the first of eleven suggestions:

Know What You Want

To strengthen your commitment to writing a novel, visualize the outcome you would like to achieve. Picture typing ‘THE END’ on the first draft of your manuscript. Imagine how it will feel to have someone you respect read your novel. Think of going to Amazon and seeing your book on the virtual shelf.  Add as much detail as you can, especially regarding the positive mental state your accomplishment will induce in you. You will return to this picture often in the weeks and months to come. The more vivid and convincing your visualization, the more inspiration you will be able to draw from it.

Now is all we have – so use it!

Check back soon for more ‘How to Complete a Novel’ posts!

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Pitch Perfect?

Genny and Malcolm Mercer are moving to Breaker, Texas. They hope living in a small town will alleviate Genny’s insomnia and the dangerous hallucinations it causes. As they look for a house to buy, the Mercers check into Breaker’s only hotel, eat at the only café, and discover there is only one little girl in the whole town: their daughter.

Prentice Feyerbach has a good imagination and lots of time to spend dreaming up a life he doesn’t have. He arrives in Breaker with a gift for his imaginary fiancée, a suitcase full of new clothes, and a debilitating illness he wants to hide. Prentice is forced to choose between the safety of his pretend life or a deadly reality when he overhears plans to abduct the Mercers’ daughter.

Helena Makepeace is more than just a strange girl with a maimed face. She is also the human incarnation of the Goddess La Zalia. This gives Helena the power to heal, but not without a price to pay for using the Goddess powers for her own purposes.

As Summer Solstice nears, Breaker prepares for the ritual Treeletting ceremony to offer a new human vessel to La Zalia. The ritual will spill a mother’s blood, invoke a father’s lament, and ensure the continuation of ancient ways. Until then, carnivorous vines are growing out of control, the sacred orchard is dying of blight, and it isn’t safe after dark.


Mother Nature is Real

If you have a moment, please take the poll!

I want to thank Ania Ahlborn for her suggestions on how to get past my mental block on writing this blurb.  She suggested that I read the product descriptions for books I like on Amazon and use those as a guide.  If you’re not familiar with Ania, check out her blog and read her debut novel SEED.

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Pitch Imperfect


This past weekend, you watched a movie that presented a fresh take on the story of  beautiful people besieged by evil. You have a friend you know will enjoy the movie, even though he isn’t typically a horror fan. When you meet for your weekly Monday martinis, you try to describe the  movie to him. You flounder. You sound increasingly uncertain of yourself as you explain the movie’s  premise of Nazi zombies attacking a group of camping med students. You wish your glass wasn’t empty so you would have an excuse to stop talking. Your conclusion is a mumbled, “It’s much better than I make it sound!”

Magnify the feeling you got reading that scenario by a factor of ten and you’ve just experienced what it feels like to bungle your book pitch.

Light Painting #10: Violin

Image by whertha via Flickr

As an indie writer, I stopped thinking about my book pitch when I stopped thinking about writing agent query letters. For some reason, I conflated the idea of representation with the idea that I will need to represent my book. Just because I do not need to officially Pitch My Book, I still need to entice potential readers.

I’m uncomfortable talking about my writing. Sure, I can talk for hours about the craft or about my creative process. Yet, ask me to discuss the content of my work and I clam up. It’s frustrating to know every detail of a story, but to be unable to verbalize it in a way that doesn’t sound confused, stock, or lame. I get panicky, thinking that I better hurry up and say something (anything!) because I’m the author. Not being able to respond adequately makes me flustered. It makes me feel like a fake. Worst of all, it makes my story sound uninteresting. It’s bad alchemy that turns a good story into an embarrassment.

This past weekend, prior to actually watching that movie about Nazi zombies,* I had an hair appointment at my usual salon. My regular stylist is out on maternity leave and my appointment was handled by someone new to the salon and to me. She moved to Austin two months ago to pursue her musical career. She told me that not only is hair more interesting in Austin than it is in Dallas, but also that her neighbors are part of a mariachi band, and she is often awakened by them practicing out on the patio. I told her about the bagpipe player in my neighborhood that practices every Sunday afternoon and we both agreed that her mariachi band trumped my bagpipe player. Then there was a lull before she said, “What do you do?”  I said I’m a software developer, which is how I pay my bills, but I knew that was a cheat.  After all, she had shared both her vocation (stylist) and her avocation (singer).  That’s when I told her that I write.

“Really? That’s neat! What do you write?”


“Have you published anything?”

“I’m in the process of getting my first novel ready.”

“A novel! “


“What’s it about?”

After a pause, I started to tell her. I’m not going to repeat what I said because I would like you to want to read my novel. It is far better than I made it sound.

Publishing is new to me. I’m wearing my novice boots and beginner’s hat. I’m finding sharp edges, hidden passages, and sidewalks that end nowhere even Google Earth can see. I am making mistakes. More importantly, I’m working on my pitch!

*The movie is DEAD SNOW.


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