Message from the Final Hours

I managed to end the last workday of the workyear on a positive note! Late in the afternoon, my team uncovered the source of an insidious bug that was making customers unhappy. We fixed it and ran some tests that all passed. After almost two weeks of pointless flailing and lamentations of the developers, we made progress. Potentially big progress, customer-happiness-making progress. We won’t know until next week, but at least we will be entering the New Year with hope. Score one for the happy horror writer!*

Today, I plan to work my way through what remains of the proofing. If you are indie and looking for friendly, efficient, and quality editing, either for copy edit or proofing, I can recommend Everything Indie. They’re affordable, too, which is a huge win for authors that have mortgages, dogs, hungry bellies, and bodies that must be clothed.**

Tomorrow I will start my next novel. I might join the #WIP500 group Cara Michaels is forming. The community aspect of the group would be nice; I wrote my last novel entirely in a writer’s vacuum. Are any of you joining? Have you had luck with groups like this in the past? Am I a chicken casting about for excuses?

Definitely chicken… I’m a happy horror writing chicken?

My self-imposed deadline for the first draft of the next novel is very ambitious. For an 83000 word novel, I’ll need to write 692 words a day, 30 days a month, if I want to finish in four months. STOLEN CLIMATES is 73,000 words, down from 130,000 in the first (hideously bloated) draft. STOLEN CLIMATES took me a year and a half to get to a workable ‘first’ draft; that odyssey involved a complete rewrite of the original story that cut out characters, melded characters, cut scenes, and added a supernatural element. If you ever read STOLEN CLIMATES, you’re going to wonder what was happening when the supernatural was absent. The answer is: a lot of boring dialog about the ethics of vegetarianism. No, none of that made it into the final version.

I should get to work. The dogs are going bonkers because they want their walk. My stomach is growling for breakfast. A load of laundry needs to be moved to the dryer. And STOLEN CLIMATES needs to be a wrap, because tomorrow I start my second novel!

Happy New Year!!

2012: Year of the Dragon

*Points should also be awarded to my mom, who fielded a less-than-happy lunch time call from her frazzled daughter.
**Unless the author lives at Hippy Hollow, then clothing is optional.

 

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Last Friday of 2011

Today I will go to work. If this past month has been indicative, some truly absurd events will transpire. It takes effort to remain positive, but over time I’ve heard it’ll prevent that whole stress-induced-death-syndrome that afflicts many of my ilk.

There is something to be said for reminding yourself that the people around you are humans with feelings: no one is just an accountant or just a boss or just a developer. Snapping doesn’t help. A calm demeanor and smile does.

If it is true that how we end one year is how we will live the next one, I want to be sincere and happy today. I want to be the best version of myself, not the one that flips people off in the parking garage and growls at someone who is just trying to do her (albeit annoying to me) job. I want to be the girl at the office who makes you smile, even when the whole project has gone red and the klaxons are blaring.

I’ll report back on my progress. If you’re a writer with a day job, do you have any special plans on how to approach this, the last Friday of 2011? If you’re a day-jobber who wants to be a writer, wouldn’t today be a good day to start that story?

 

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What do you want to be when you grow up?

My nephew wants to be an ice road trucker. Even knowing his opinion on what he wants to do when he grows up will probably change tens if not hundreds of times between now and his first paycheck, I envy his surety. I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

the path

I have a vocation; I’ve been in the technical side of software for over a decade. I meant to stay just long enough to help pad whatever grad school stipend I could get, hoping the extra cash would help me avoid scurvy from living off of ramen. A decade later and I’m rather entrenched, less concerned with scurvy, and more certain than ever that I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

I have an avocation. I am a writer. Most writers say they’ve known forever that’s what they want to be. They regale with their early memories of writing and their invariable, precocious ability to read at the tender age of three. I don’t remember wanting to be a writer at all. No, I wanted to be a veterinarian, a nutritionist, an etymologist, a historic preservationist, a violinist, or Sherlock Holmes. I spent my time reading and playing make believe, not penning verse. I can’t go so far as to deny the extant examples of my juvenilia that are full of talking horses in tragic situations, nor the journals filled with illegible, elementary school scrawl, but writing wasn’t my raison d’être. I really wasn’t an early reader, either. I was six. The triumph and sheer drunken joy of that experience has yet to be replicated.

I’ve witnessed others bridge the gap between vocation and avocation. To be honest, I’m not sure what my life would ‘look like’ if I were able to sustain myself with full time writing. As much as I grumble about work, there is value in the human interaction and macrabe humor in the outright bizarre things that happen in the workplace. I like my team, even the ones that drive me a little nuts. And just that quickly, we’re back to the fact I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

What I do know is that I have an impending book launch. I have a variety of ideas for marketing online, but would also love to host an author meet and greet at my favorite cupcake shop (happy horror writer and cupcakes, what could be more perfect?). I have a book cover to reveal, a trailer to share, and a draft covered in proof marks I need to update and get to my formatter.

What I do know is that I have another novel that wants to be written. It has been in my mind, restless, for almost a year. I want to finish the first draft in four months, because I want to try produce a book a year.

What I do know is that I have some tough and exciting work ahead of me. I will need to be my own strict taskmaster. I will need to balance marketing, writing, working, maintaining healthy relationships with both humans and dogs, reading books because there’s no life without literature, exercising, sleeping, and possibly even occasionally stopping to just enjoy the wonder of being alive. I will need to be clear in my intent and honest with myself about who it is I want to be. Because although I don’t know what I want to do, I know who I want to be.

 

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Review: The Well, by Peter Labrow

The Well was my introduction to indie published horror and assuaged any fears I had that excellent horror could be independently produced. I’ve since discovered that in addition to authoring an amazing novel,  Peter Labrow is friendly, approachable – and patient! It was weeks, if not a month or more ago, that I first mentioned to him my intent to write a review. Peter, please consider this my Winter Solstice gift to you! I’d like to remind everyone that it is possible to give e-books as gifts via Amazon!

Note: There are some mild spoilers scattered throughout.

On the outskirts of Bankside, the old Whitaker estate stands in ruins. The well has been capped with a metal grating, but the grating is in nearly as much disrepair as the “overgrown, crumbling” wall surrounding the estate. Not that it matters, since it is the legends that keep people away, not the wall. Although the place gives Becca the creeps, she goes there to be “properly alone” with Matt, who is both her stepbrother and her boyfriend. A flirtatious kiss on the well plunges the two of them into the dank water.

The Well, by Peter Labrow, could have been entirely focused on Becca’s experience of being injured and trapped in an abandoned well. The descriptions of her hunger, the lurid detail of how she manages her bodily functions, the horror of sitting with a corpse, and the torment of a vengeful spirit provides more than enough material for a satisfying ‘hit’ of dark fiction. Had Labrow chosen to keep his focus narrow, The Well would have been very, very good. Instead, Labrow seamlessly combines a cornucopia of horror that takes a broader, more frightening look at the evils of our world. The Well isn’t very, very good: it’s better than that. Labrow’s novel is a close call with a dark fiction overdose. The Well is a horror aficionado’s wicked good time.

Claustrophobia, pedophilia, supernatural malevolence, and relationships strained by extraordinary circumstances: The Well has uses all of these themes to examine the effect lies have on people. Becca and Matt would not have been in their predicament if Becca had not lied to her mother and her friend Hannah about her whereabouts. It’s unlikely they would have been together at the well if Matt had not lied about being a virgin, especially if Becca knew “the one girl he’d had sex with… didn’t exactly qualify as willing.” The supernatural cycle of the novel also is based in lies. Ages ago, when the Whitaker estate was still occupied, the Bankside apothecary’s wife lied to her husband as to the nature of how she knew the Whitaker witch was murdering children. In the modern day, the descendant of the apothecary’s wife lies to her young daughter when a vivid dream presages the reoccurrence of the Whitaker curse upon their lineage.

Granted, how is a mother supposed to tell her eight-year old daughter that it is their place to allow the sacrifice of an innocent? It is also true that if the apothecary’s wife hadn’t lied, she would have been branded a witch and slaughtered along with the Whitakers. Few condone date rape, and many wouldn’t condone premarital sex with stepsiblings, but almost everyone can understand how two hormonal sixteen year olds would lie to get a chance to make out. Therein lies a large part of the horror you feel upon reading The Well:  you understand the reasoning behind the lies, you get it. Then Labrow shows you the nasty consequences of the darkness unleashed by ‘understandable’ lies.

The characters in The Well are mostly well-crafted.  If you were to meet one of them in the grocery store, he or she would be indistinguishable from the ‘real’ shoppers.  When Labrow characters lie, love, or feel the entire spectrum of fear, they do it convincingly – except for one character. That character is Matt’s father, Jim.  Jim is presented as  “decent” albeit “slightly dull,” the type of man who, even “under pressure…[is] able to think straight.” When driving to see if their kids are in danger, Jim “drove as quickly as he could but – being Jim – not irresponsibly.” Instead of just showing us Jim being Jim, the narrative resorts to telling us facts about Jim. The scenes with Jim break the flow of the story, making me conscious of the fact that I am, after all, reading. This is a minor quibble; the other characters, especially the pedophile crossing-guard, are almost uncomfortably human.

What interests me about Jim is that he seems to be the only male character in The Well who is not a womanizing bully, cheater, drunk, or aspiring rapist. Instead, Jim is the poster-boy for calm and supportive love; he makes a conscious effort to touch his wife and offer her comfort despite his own fears. Although this review is not the place for an in depth analysis of any one facet of the novel, I think a book club would find a veritable treasure trove of discussion solely around the topic of gender and sexuality presented in The Well.

If The Well is about the consequences of lying, it is in equal measure a book about the dynamics of relationships.  Labrow presents several types of relationships, all at varying stages of intimacy, and each with their own set of problems. However, he doesn’t limit the narrative to examining only personal relationships. As with the choice to expand the work beyond just the events that take place within the well, Labrow expands the type of relationships he examines beyond everyday romance and friendship.  Labrow orchestrates situations to examine a variety of interactions including  the relationship of the accursed to the innocent; the relationship of a trusting community to a predatory school employee; and the relationship of police to possible suspects. The question of individual responsibility to a group or community is an understated yet dynamic theme in the novel. What is truly notable is that at no point does the weightiness of the questions posed drag down the story or interrupt the immediacy of the characters’ panic and fear.

The Well is a multifaceted, thematically rich horror novel you don’t want to miss!

After the holidays, you’ll want to curl up with a good book.  Why not make it THE WELL?  Purchase THE WELL from Amazon as an e-book or paperback!

 

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Basketball in the Afterlife

Part Seven

How to Complete a Novel

Life wanted me to meet Aaron. When our first opportunity slipped by without us even realizing, life finagled us a second chance.  Aaron had a message for me and now I’m sharing it with you.

I grew up an Army brat. I moved every few years and had the good fortune to travel more of Europe and North America before I was old enough to buy my own booze than many people get in a lifetime. One of our homes was Fort Meade, Maryland. In fact, we were stationed there twice: once when I was a toddler and again when I was in middle school. Since 9-11 and the lockdown of all the bases, I can no longer visit Fort Meade and see the tree my mother and I planted during that first tour. If I could, I would point to that tree as proof that the circumstances of life can fold back upon themselves to present us with second chances.

Aaron was also an Army brat. In 1990, Aaron was in the 7th grade and I was in the 8th. That year, we attended the same Fort Meade middle school, but we didn’t meet. The next year, I went to the high school and the year after that my family was stationed in Belgium.

In 2007, my husband and I moved to Austin, where Aaron and I both worked for the same company. The odds of us both ending up in Austin at the same time is probably pretty small, but the odds of us ending up at the same nine-employee shop has to be infinitesimal. Even with so few people, it took months before Aaron and I discovered our Fort Meade connection. At home that night, I dug out my 8th grade yearbook. Aaron was a skinny kid wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt and a big smile; I had long hair and really huge glasses. A decade and a half later, and neither of us had changed too much. Aaron still cheered the Fighting Irish and I never did make the switch to contacts or lasic.

Aaron loved to play basketball and video games, lift weights, and watch sports. His speech was peppered with wonderfully unique phrasing. When complaining about bad reception on his TV, he said it was “52 inches of hot garbage.” When he talked about his new Ikea mattress he said, “it’s like sleeping on angels.” When he wanted to tell you to take a U-turn, he said, “hook a bitch.” Aaron was quick to smile, always ready to laugh, and once told me to come get him if anyone gave me any trouble and he’d take care of it for me. Aaron was my friend.

He was also suffering.

A degenerative disease stole his vitality.  Some days, his joints would swell so painfully he couldn’t walk. During the advanced stages of his illness, the bones in his hands fused together in a painful process. Over the course of a few months, Aaron’s hands went from being those of a normal thirty-two year old to those of someone eighty.

Aaron’s job involved keyboard input, burning CDs, and packaging shipments for customers. Trivial things when you have two working hands, torturous otherwise. He was in constant pain, but would not take medication because he wanted to have a clear head as long as he could.

Did he have every right to complain, to whine, to pry pity from friends, coworkers, strangers? I’d say so. He was dealt a shit hand he didn’t deserve.

Did he ever complain, whine, or resort to self pitying? No. Not once. Aaron did his job. He made a point of stopping by my cube to talk to me. When he got too weak to work in the office, he’d send me daily Yahoo! messages at 3PM. He made my charity football pool picks for me because he didn’t want to see me place last. He began to share many of his memories with me and I began to understand how bad things were for him. The last time I saw Aaron, we were in a coworker’s office, watching some disgusting video of men making a car out of meat. I remember how perfect the afternoon light was, how disgusting that meat car was, how good it felt to be with my friends in that light laughing at our queasy disgust together.

At the end of June, Aaron took a medical leave from work.

He died one week later.

At his funeral, I met Aaron’s mother. I was there with a couple of co-workers from our original nine person crew, and she made time to come and talk to us. She told us that it had been extremely painful for Aaron to complete his end of month shipments in June. It took him a long time and he had to rest often, but he finished on time.  Aaron didn’t want to leave his boss with a ton of work. Aaron didn’t want to leave his tasks unfinished, and he didn’t. Aaron had a sense of honor that his illness couldn’t tarnish.

What was the message Aaron had for me? It was that even in adversity, life can be approached with a clear mind and humor. No matter how bad things are, we still have something when we have our honor, our work, and each other.

My seventh suggestion for how to complete a novel is inspired by Aaron:

Work Joyfully

No matter how much you love a project, there will be days where the work will be harder. The words won’t flow or your characters will make you so sad your courage will falter. Some days, you swim as hard as you can, but the tide keeps sweeping you farther from shore. When a ‘retrograde day’ strikes, return to your image of what it will be like to finish. Instead of thinking of what must be done now in the negative, think of what must be done as something you want to do because you want to complete your project. Don’t think, “I have to format my book for Kindle and formatting is a tedious pain.” Instead think, “I get to format my novel for Kindle and when I am done, I will be closer to seeing the book – my book! – on Amazon!”  It may seem like mere semantic sugar, but try it. I think you’ll find that a positive viewpoint makes boring or unpleasant tasks less onerous.

Check back soon for another post in my ‘How to Complete A Novel’ series!

 

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Review: The Imaginings, by Paul Dail

I met Paul Dail during the Halloween Hop. I visited nearly a hundred blogs over the course of that blog hop, but it was Paul’s site that resonated with me. He’s a kindred horror writing indie, but more than that, he is a genuinely engaged human being. If you comment on his blog, you’ll get a response from him; if you post something of value on your blog, he’ll be sure to share it with his readers; if you send him an email to ask about something as banal as Twitter, he’ll write back with sincere suggestions. He’s a good guy, who’s written a really good book, THE IMAGININGS. Here are my thoughts on this, his debut novel.

Note: there is a very slight spoiler in the second to last paragraph.

Paul Dail’s novel, The Imaginings, opens with a suicide. The deceased’s brother, David, comes to clean up the apartment and finds a note tucked in amongst turned food in the refrigerator. It is a short letter, cryptic: “never disregard your imaginings.”

The  note is David’s first indication that something out of the ordinary drove his brother to suicide. Unlike the reader, David has no idea that he is targeted by the same demon that tormented his brother. Dail quickly dispels David’s ignorance. Prior to the cataclysmic fire that launches the primary action, the demon taunts David by speaking through an unplugged television. Rather than whimpering in fear or running, David asks, “Why us? What did we do that was so wrong?” The demon Mashart answers, “That’s just it, boy… You haven’t really done anything.” Since David hasn’t done anything, there is no way he can undo or repent for an offense. David is, essentially, trapped.

David isn’t the only character who is trapped. Dail revisits this theme in many guises. One character is kept in something of a modern day orphanage, locked in after dark. Other characters work underground in a series of tunnels closed off by more than one door. With a hat tip to Poe, Dail even literally walls one character into a confined space. Through Mashart, we visit Hell. There the damned- and, it seems, some innocents unjustly stolen by Mashart – are tortured for what “…amounted to at least a century before …[they] dissolve into the frozen flesh of the Dark Lord for eternity.” The unrelenting claustrophobia experienced by another character crystallizes the horror of horror of being imprisoned and, and Dail hits his stride in the scenes involving that character.

Dail combines psychological anxiety and good, old-fashioned scary. There are plenty of dark, creepy moments. Even better, there is the chance that no one is who they seem to be because Dail has redefined the way demonic possession ‘works’. Mashart doesn’t settle into just one character Exorcist-style; no, he flows from character to character. Mashart has compelling reasons to return to David, but the demon isn’t picky: he’ll hop a ride in a handy real estate agent if it serves his purposes.

Like all good horror, The Imaginings lends itself to serious discussion about human nature. For example, the battle between David and Mashart for control of David’s ravaged body is a chilling reminder that our flesh can host evil. In Rosemary’s Baby, evil gestates, but in The Imaginings, evil is fully formed. Mashart is out ‘there’ but it can also be in ‘here’, within you, noticeable only when it wants you to know it is there. Mashart uses David’s body as an implement of torture and death, allowing Dail to imply some pretty weighty questions:  Is morality tied to the flesh, or to the soul? Can our bodies do evil, and our souls remain innocent? Are good and evil quantifiable and, if so, can the balance between the two be upset?

My primary gripe is with the ending. The description of Mashart leaving David’s body is exceptionally well-executed, and the spiritual climax is both surprising and fitting. However, the satisfying sense of completion it should have effected is diluted by sheer excess. A pivotal scene is repeated from different perspectives, and the repetition slowed the action. Dail can count himself in good company, though; I have the same gripe about Dostoyevsky’s epilog to Crime and Punishment.

Spiritualists, horror aficionados, and inquirers into human nature will all find something in Dail’s book to delight  – and ignite – their imaginings!

Treat yourself to a new voice in horror! Purchase THE IMAGININGS on Amazon or Barnes and Noble

 

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Review: SEED, by Ania Ahlborn

I found Ania Ahlborn’s blog when I was first considering indie publishing my novel. I found her writing style to be engaging and straight-forward and found her ‘How to Publish Your e-Book’ series to be informative. In addition, she’s also super helpful if you contact her directly. I was at a loss to find an editor, and wrote Ania. She responded with encouragement and a recommendation for Nick Ambrose of Everything Indie. It doesn’t hurt that Ania is a cutie-patootie and able to bake up a veritable storm of seasonal goodies. All things considered, I couldn’t wait to read her debut novel, SEED. I was not disappointed. In fact, I came away with an even higher opinion of Ania and a sincere excitement to read more of what she’s going to write!

Without further ado, here are my thoughts on SEED:

“The Saturn’s engine rattled like a penny in an old tin can.”

That is the opening line of Ania Ahlborn’s novel, Seed, a story about demonic possession.  It is no coincidence that the plot starts with a description of a car; escape, or lack thereof, is a central theme for Jack, the protagonist. How do you escape what you are? In Ahlborn’s Seed, the answer is simple. You don’t.

Jack makes a living “patching up flat-bottomed swamp boats.” He’s a member of Lamb, a small town band that “never missed a gig.” He is father of two daughters and husband to  a woman from a different – and higher – socioeconomic strata.  Jack seems like just about every guy you’ve ever met who’s happily married, but still holding onto the freedom of his artistic pursuits.  Jack’s different, though. He’s hiding a series of secrets, any one of which could destroy his family.

With Jack Winter, Ahlborn has done something brave. She has written a character that is hard, if not impossible, to like. Jack repeatedly avoids doing anything to help his daughter, Charlie. His first responses to the escalating situation are dismissive: “She’s got the flu or something” and, after the doctor finds nothing wrong, “isn’t it better she isn’t sick?”  This from a man who knows exactly what is wrong with his daughter. He intentionally misleads his wife about the situation, making it “his mission to find the shoddiest psychiatrist” so that his wife could “believe that Charlie was a schizophrenic.” Jack is more concerned about concealing his own past than helping his child – or so it seems.

Ahlborn alludes that there could be a more complex answer. For example, at one point Jack is “terrified by his bitter epiphany” that “[h]e was going to lose his daughter and he couldn’t do anything to stop it.” Jack isn’t sure there is a God, and posits that, “[f]or all he knew, wickedness was strong enough to exist in a world without good.” If Jack is possessed or seriously damaged by the demon Charlie dubs ‘Mr. Scratch’, then Ahlborn bravely penned a character who is true to his situation, namely, a person infested with evil and, by implication, hard to feel empathetic towards. Jack reminds me of Cass Neary in Elizabeth Hand’s  novel Generation Loss. Neither Cass nor Jack is someone I would want on my side in the apocalypse. Are both Cass and Jack excellent examples of non-standard and intriguing characters you can’t wait to see what they do next? Absolutely.

SEED is not strictly linear. There are significant portions of the story that take place during Jack’s childhood. While this could have been clunky or disruptive in the hands of a lesser writer, Ahlborn handles the transitions between the different timelines with aplomb. There is tremendous emotional payoff for the reader when past and present collide and Jack is able to finally piece together the full story of his past and how it relates to what is happening to his family.

My only real complaint about SEED is that the characters of Jack’s wife and oldest daughter are less participants in the action than they are stage props for Charlie and Jack to manipulate. The wife shows glimmers of individuality, and some of the scariest scenes happen in her presence, but she never gets a chance to take any risks or grow as a character. The older daughter has even less of a pivotal role, and except for the shock value and eerie symmetry with the Jack’s childhood cat incident, this character seems nearly extraneous.

It is likely you won’t notice that particular weakness as you are reading, though. Ahlborn does a fantastic job on delivering the scary. The poltergeist/popcorn scene and the thing moving under the covers scene are both well executed and creepy. The incident with the dog is horrifying. Ahlborn does not flinch when it comes to the emotional gore that is horror at its best.

Ahlborn’s storytelling demonstrates an understanding that horror should not be explained away fully, and that to over analyze would kill the mood, ruin the nightmarish effect, and diminish the purpose of writing something scary. For example, it is never revealed who the large bearded man at the gas station is, nor the nature of his relationship to the demon. Likewise, Ahlborn never reveals how the demon chose Jack or the mechanism by which the possession transfers to Charlie.  The one question I hope there will be a resounding and affirmative answer to is: Will there be a sequel?

Have you supported indie horror today? No? Pick up SEED on Amazon!

 

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