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Nathan here! My friend Melissa Grey's new novel The Girl at Midnight will be published on April 28th, and it's already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. I invited her to write a guest post on her experiences writing her debut novel. Enjoy!
Writing and then subsequently publishing a book is a long, alternately torturous and rewarding experience that teaches you things about yourself you'd never realized before. Here are a few lessons I picked up during the life-affirming, humbling process of writing my first published novel.
1. Having the power of life and death over fictional characters does not make you a god
There's something about writing that makes you feel invincible -- when it's going well, at least. The act of creation is startlingly addictive and deliciously empowering. But being the supreme overlord of a fictional world doesn't mean you don't need things like food and sleep. One cannot function on coffee and dreams alone. You have to take care of yourself, even when the muses are clamoring for your attention.
2. Your inner perfectionist might just be your worst enemy
Imagine the sounds of nails scraping along a chalkboard. Sometimes writing a first draft feels a lot like that. You look at the drivel you've plopped on the page and your teeth hurt because it's so bad. That's okay. It’s allowed to be bad. I had to learn to give myself permission to be downright awful no matter how badly I wanted to get things right on the first try. Revision is your friend. Revision will save you. But it can't if you never finish the first draft.
3. The shower is an incubator for good ideas
Foiled by writer’s block? Hop in the shower.
Hit a plot snag? Hop in the shower.
Words won't come out right? Hop in the shower.
Starting to smell because you've done nothing but write and eat Cheetos for 4 days? Hop in the shower.
4. Sometimes the best thing you can do is not write
When I was struggling with a pivotal scene in The Girl at Midnight that takes place in the Fifth Avenue branch of the New York Public Library, I put down my pen and went to the actual building I was writing about. I didn't write. I had my emergency notebook just in case but I spent my time really experiencing the building's beautiful architecture and watching the wild assortment of people who visit it. And then I went home and started that tricky scene anew and it clicked into place. Sometimes, you just need a break to jump start your mind.
5. Accepting criticism doesn't mean applying every bit you receive to your work
While writing TGaM I had two critique partners. One of them hated my prologue. The other loved it. One of them adored the first chapter in which we see Ivy’s POV narration (she's the best friend of Echo, the book’s chief protagonist). The other detested it. One of them approves of Caius’ hair style (a little shaggy but still sexy). The other insisted he needed a haircut. You will never please everyone. There will be times when criticisms you receive from trusted sources are in direct opposition to one another. And that's okay. Learning to accept these opposing points of view gracefully while still trusting your gut is a vital skill to develop.
There are other things I leaned during the writing process (lactose-free milk is a touch too sweet for blueberry tea, eating a burrito while crying over your manuscript at 4 o'clock in the morning is a decision you'll later regret, you can't listen to the evil Smurf that lives inside your heard that insists you'll be a failure because that Smurf is wrong and can go to hell), but these are the lessons I know I'll hold closest to my heart as I wrap up this trilogy (it's a trilogy!) and go forth into the wild blue yonder. Order a signed copy of
The Girl at Midnight from Books of Wonder, or check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indiebound, or Powell's.Melissa Grey was born and raised in New York City. She wrote her first short story at the age of twelve and hasn't stopped writing since. After earning a degree in fine arts at Yale University, she traveled the world, then returned to New York City where she currently works as a freelance journalist. To learn more about Melissa, visit melissa-grey.com and follow @meligrey on Twitter.
Here’s a story theory of mine worth checking out:
…published today on the Write to Done website.
I mean it when I say, “Check it out.” The next film you see or novel or read, examine it for the escape story it most probably is.
And if you’re writing a story, see if your protagonist isn’t escaping from some kind of prison. Of the different kind of escapes possible, one of them is the key to writing fiction that gives readers their money’s worth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts once you’ve read the post. You can comment here below, or on the Write to Done site.
I’m living in both locations for a few days.
By: Nathan Bransford,
Blog: Nathan Bransford
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Nathan here! I'm very pleased to have a guest post today by David Zelster, whose debut novel LUG is going on sale today!
Better yet, we're giving away three signed copies of
LUG! All you have to do is leave a comment asking to be entered (non-anonymously please!), and we'll choose three random winners.
Here's David's post:
At every stage of your writing life—from newbie egg, to agented caterpillar, to published butterfly—you will be asked to revise your work. In this guest post, I’d like to share a few of the edits I’ve taken, and not taken, and my golden rule for revising.The Newbie Egg Stage
When you’re first starting out, your friends and family will dutifully read whatever your hand them. Then they’ll come back to you with stiff little smiles and say things like “it’s good,” “nice work,” and “great job!” The temptation is to believe these oh-so-sweet big fat lies.
In fact, at this point, your job is to try to pry the truth from their stiff little grinning lips. It may take some convincing but, ultimately, they will reveal all.
And then, when they let loose, it’s your turn to grin and bear it.
Here’s a lesson I learned the hard way. Let’s call it: The Newbie Egg’s Golden Rule of RevisingAlmost all readers’ suggestions have something of value. The key is not so much to take them verbatim as to find the underlying problems that inspired the suggestions--problems that the readers are often not even consciously aware of. If you can detect those issues, you can choose the best way to revise.
Once you’ve dived in and taken a pass at fixing the deeper problems, show a few other people your respect. Put your manuscript away for a while. Keep repeating until you’re happy and your readers are no longer just politely grinning. Then, I hope you’ll find yourself in. . .The Agented Caterpillar Stage
If your agent is worth her salt, she too will have revisions. My agent is Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. With her permission, I’d like to share a few key excerpts from her LUG edit letter to me:
The Environmental message
I think that the coming of the Ice Age and the parallels with our current environmental crisis are a strong selling point for this book. Lug’s talent is that he is extremely observant and the subtle way you handle this at the moment is perfect. I do however think that you could use some more funny observations from Lug and evidence his frustration that no one else around him seems to notice what is happening to the world. Kids have an uncanny way of zoning in on what’s really important and feel powerful when they can see something that adults can’t.
I do think that the relationship between Lug and his father is important and could use development especially in the context of choosing the next big man and banishment from the tribe. I want to see more interaction between Lug and his family at the beginning of the book, especially Big Lug. If we see, clearly, what Lug has—we understand better what he is forced to leave.
In terms of the language I think that I would tone down the ‘cave man’ talk. It is always risky to use dialect as it can fall very flat and draw attention to the author. Lug is speaking in perfectly formed English so I’d consider having the others do so as well – even if it is in very clipped, short bursts.
Once you and your agent are happy with your chrysalis...ur...manuscript, my hope is that you’ll emerge into . . .The Published Butterfly Stage
Once you have an editor at a publishing house, you book is in the final revision phase! Although I was excited to steal almost all of my editor’s suggestions for LUG, I thought it might be useful to share a rare example when I chose not to take one. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to my editor on that topic:
In a few places you've asked for the removal of certain words or concepts because they seemed too sophisticated for the Stone Age. I had thought about doing this quite a bit in my first drafts of LUG, and ultimately decided against it. Basically, I concluded that I would not write this story as hard (or even soft) science fiction, but rather as satirical comic fantasy.
She quickly took the point, helping me to fine tune the intentionally anachronistic words and concepts I used to satirize our society’s inaction on climate change. I’m grateful to all my editors/readers for their enormous help. I also want to say a big thanks to Nathan Bransford for the opportunity to guest post on a blog I’ve found very useful in my own writing life.
Watch the LUG book trailer and learn more about all the books here
While mucking around Africa in my last post, I ran into Dr. David Livingstone. He was dying as he lived, by the motto:
“I’ll go anywhere as long as it is forward.”
The mail poured in. Readers often tell me what they think of me—by email as much as through the Comments function on this blog.
One such e-essay came from Douglas Mu McGregor, whom I know as an artist, songwriter, and above all an incorrigible truth-seeker. With McGregor’s permission, here’s what David Livingstone’s deathbed scene stirred up for him:
Back in 1982 I arrived in Vancouver by Greyhound bus after a harrowing adventure in Mexico. I had just ended a relationship, I was sick, broke, and miserable. As I got off the bus I saw a large sign on a brick wall on the other side of the road:
“You Can Never Go Back!”
This made me highly exhilarated and incredibly sad at the same time. Going back was my comfort food, my Kraft dinner, my go-to for relief from the pressure of the now. My exhilaration came from knowing I had a blank canvas in front of me—I could do anything!
But why would the Now have pressure? Is it because the Now requires my unwavering presence, and is therefore a lot of work?
Most of us have the same idea about past-present-future. But if you are a forward-moving entity, you have to throw the conventional model in the garbage. If you are in the Now, you aren’t in the past. You are certainly not in the future. But being in the Now is moving forward.
When a contemporary artist faces a large blank canvas, it is intimidating. He makes his first stroke—he adds to that stroke—and soon he has a painting that has never existed before. Einstein said that if he wanted to create something new, he would start from a place he had never been before. This is exciting stuff because it is all newness.
I know a woman who is about 65 years old, who, 40 years previously had belonged to a cutting edge community involved in advanced psychology and meditation. She says the years spent there were the most exciting time of her life. With a far off misty look in her eyes (an indication that one is not present) she would show me photographs and explain how much she loved this time and how happy and alive she was. This was infers that she no longer is.
This is not forward-moving-ness.
My mom died last year. I celebrated her life and I loved her dearly, but if I were to continue poring sentimentally over old photographs and reminiscing about my poor old mom, I can hear her whispering loudly in my ear, “Get a life!”
Enter David Livingstone, who was quoted as saying, “Sympathy is no substitute for action”.
Forward movers are too busy to hang out in the twilight zone of what could have been, would have been, or should have been.
In the end, Livingstone was too busy meeting his maker to contemplate what could have been. Deeply religious, he was on his knees in direct communication with his God. He was in the action of the Now… or was he?
There is little sentiment in a forward mover. I like to say that forward moving is “progressive insurance for the now,” by which I mean that “forward!” is insurance against the morbidity of returning to sentiment and self-sympathy.
People in wartime often express forward-thinking. It’s hard to live in the past with bombs dropping on your head. You are too busy surviving the now to think about anything else. Interestingly, these same people will be forever reminiscing about their wartime experiences as the most alive time of their lives.
The key to being a forward-mover is to be busy as hell, to follow my passion and take no prisoners. And when I die and I meet my maker, with a straight face I can say: “God, I presume?”
That may sound like a good conclusion, but I’m not finished!
The question remains for me—was David Livingstone moving forward on his death bed? Alas, I suspect he was firmly tethered to his God. As for me, I confess to sitting out here in space tethered (umbilical-like) to the mother ship of my thoughts, feelings and emotions.
For me, an appropriate forward movement would be action arising in the black hole within me, from which no thought could escape. From the black hole, only the unthinkable is born…
A pair of scissors! Floating towards me through space!
I invite all readers of this blog to weigh in on my explorations and (often apocryphal) assertions. By email, or preferably in the COMMENTS section below.
Hey there, Internet peeps! Today I'm thrilled to kick off the blog tour for two amazing debut authors and their equally amazing books!
To start it off even sweeter, there is a giveaway! Win both books, signed!
Enter below through Rafflecopter!
Meet Sara Kocek, author of PROMISE ME SOMETHING (Albert Whitman & Co., 2013)Sara Kocek
is the author of Promise Me Something
(Albert Whitman Teen, 2013). She received her BA in English from Yale University and her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, where she taught fiction and poetry to undergraduates. A freelance editor and college essay coach, Sara has served as the Program Director at the Writers’ League of Texas, a literary nonprofit. She is also the founder of Yellow Bird Editors, a team of freelance editors and writing coaches based in Austin, Texas. Meet Sara Polsky, author of THIS IS HOW I FIND HER (Albert Whitman & Co., 2013)Sara Polsky
’s debut YA novel, This is How I Find Her
, will be published by Albert Whitman in fall 2013. Her fiction has appeared in Fictitious Force and Behind the Wainscot. She is represented by Suzie Townsend. Sara is a writer and editor at Curbed NY, and her articles and essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Forward, Poets & Writers, and other publications. She lives in New York City.And now for the guest post...
Happy Monday, everyone! We are Sara Kocek and Sara Polsky, two contemporary YA authors with debut novels that release this September 1st (Promise Me Something
and This is How I Find Her
, Albert Whitman & Co.) Today we kick off our blog tour by interviewing each other about...each other! Turns out we have a lot in common, and so do our books. Thanks, PJ Hoover, for hosting us!
SP: Hi, Sara—
SK: Hi, Sara—
SK: Very funny.
SP: Just had to get that out of the way.
SK: Understandably. It’s not everyday you kick off a blog tour with your author twin.
SP: Author twin?
SK: Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed.
SP: You mean the fact that our names are the same or that we are both from New York?
SK: Not to mention all the uncanny parallels in our books. Did you know that in Chapter 3 of Promise Me Something
, Olive and Reyna throw candy at each other to diffuse a tense situation, and in Chapter 11 of This is How I Find Her
, Sophie and Leila throw cookie dough to do the same? They all wind up laughing. It’s an important turning point in both books.
SP: That’s kind of awesome. Speaking of things we have in common, let’s talk about writing contemporary, “issue-driven” YA novels. Promise Me Something
deals with bullying, homophobia, and teen suicide. What made you want to tackle such weighty subjects in your novel?
SK: I actually didn’t set out to write about these topics. Buzz words like “homophobia” and “bullying” were nowhere in my head. What was in my head was a girl named Olive. She was tough and sarcastic and brutally honest, and I knew I wanted to tell her story. The fact that she gets bullied grew out of the behaviors and personalities of the other characters in the book, not out of my desire to “tackle” the subject. And I also think it’s important to recognize that these issues are never black and white. Olive may get bullied for being an outcast, but in a way, she also bullies Reyna into being her friend.
How about you—what made you decide to write a book that deals with the issue of Bipolar disorder?
SP: Like you with Olive, for me This Is How I Find Her
started with the characters -- particularly Sophie, the main character, and her cousin Leila. Their relationship came to me first, and I started thinking about how they grew up in the same family, in the same town, but somehow became such different people. From there I started thinking about their parents, and it made sense to me that Sophie might be the way she was, and their relationship might have evolved the way it did, if Sophie’s mom had bipolar disorder.
Speaking of characters, which of the characters in Promise Me Something
do you relate most to? Which characters were the hardest to write?
SK: I wish I were more like Olive, who always stands up for what is right even when it means putting herself out there to be made fun of. In reality, I am probably a little more like Reyna, who tries to blend in socially and not draw attention to herself. The hardest character for me to write was Gretchen Palmer, since she’s just so cruel. Every time I wrote her dialogue, I felt like getting up to wash my hands.
Both our books deal with the subtleties and complexities of friendship. In This is How I Find Her
, I love how complicated Sophie’s feelings are toward her cousin Leila. Do you think friendships with family members are different than other friendships?
SP: I love this question! Yes, I think they are -- or they can be. I think we’re often different versions of ourselves with our families than we are with our friends because our families know us in a different way, and have known us for our whole lives. Leila and Sophie were so close as children, and some of that closeness and knowledge of each other remains even though they’ve barely spoken in years.
If you could meet one of your characters in real life, who would it be?
SK: That’s easy! Levi—he’s cute AND he writes awesome song lyrics.
How about you?
SP: I’d love to meet Sophie. She feels so real to me that I’d just love to sit down and have an actual conversation. Thanks for following along on our blog tour, and thanks for reading!
Thanks to Sara and Sara for being here! And I'd love to invite you all to follow along on the blog tour tomorrow by checking out DEAR TEEN ME
!Now for the giveaway! Enter by filling out the Rafflecoptor form below!
*Giveaway is US only
*Giveaway ends Wednesday, September 4th, 2013, at 11:59 pma Rafflecopter giveaway
Hey Everyone! Hope the week is off to a fantastic start!
Just a quick note that I am blogging over on the League of Extraordinary Writers
all week! You can check out my first couple posts here:
And check back over there
tomorrow and Thursday for the rest of the posts in the series!
Blog: Kid Lit Reviews
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Kid Lit Reviews welcomes Angela Shelton, author of The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton Book 1: Crash-landing on Ooleeoo. Kid Lit Reviews generally does not delve into articles for authors unless there is something of interest to the young reader. Today will be an exception. Ms. Shelton is writing on the importance of the teacher-writer [...]
This is a guest post by Jon Gibbs, which was promoted from the Forums. More info on Forum promotion here.
1: ‘What a terrible tragedy in the news today. I had a similar situation take place in the book what I wrote. Here’s a link to the purchase page, in case anyone's interested.’
You don't see this one often, but when you do, it leaves a particularly bad taste.
2: ‘Buy my book and help save an orphaned kitten!’
I'm not talking about donating stories for charity anthologies, donating books; time; merchandise for auction, or any number of generous things writers do to help a worthy cause. Those are simply good deeds and not marketing techniques at all.
I'm talking specifically about when an author announces a special offer eg: 'For every book he/she sells this week, the author pledges to donate some money to [INSERT: name of worthy charity here*]. If you're doing it as part of a larger community effort, or to help out a local church, school etc. or if your personal story (or the one in your book) is somehow related to the cause in question, no reasonable person could have a problem.
However - and this is where I think writers need to take care - there's an invisible line between using your work to help a good cause, and using a good cause to sell more books. If you cross that line, or give the impression you crossed it, folks will notice, and not in a good way.
3: ‘Don’t mind me. You just carry on with your presentation while I give out my promotional info and/or pass this copy of my book around to folks in the audience.’
I know, I was surprised too, but I’ve see this happen five times this year alone.
4: ‘Welcome to this writing presentation/panel/workshop, during which I’ll plug my books at every opportunity while ostensibly talking on the writing-related subject referred to in the title of this talk.’
It doesn’t happen often, but some presenters feel obliged to continually quote from, refer to, or otherwise promote their work during a writerly talk or panel. As an audience member, this never fails to disappoint (unless the presentation is called ‘All About Me and My Work’ or something similar, in which case, I withdraw my objection).5: ‘In case you missed the other twelve I posted this morning, here’s another [insert relevant social media post] telling you where to buy my book.’
I imagine most folks have differing ideas about how much is too much, but some folks cross everyone's line. 6: ‘What a delightful writing group. I thoroughly enjoyed my first meeting. Why yes, I did leave those promo postcards on every chair before we started.’
If the only reason you attend a writing group is to promote your own work, do everyone there a favor, and stay home.7: ‘I’m trying to get myself better known, so I thought I’d add you to this Facebook group without bothering to ask you if you’d be interested. Oh, and you can also buy my book if you like.’
This one works, in the sense that it will get you better known, but not in the positive way you thought – at least insofar as the people who don’t like to be taken for granted are concerned.8: ‘Dear friend (who isn’t worth the effort of preparing a separate, personalized, email so I’ve included you on this hidden mailing list of every address I’ve ever heard of, plus a few I’ve scavenged from other people’s lists), let me tell you about my new book.’
If you want to tell someone you know about your book in an email, make it a personal one (hiding the address list doesn’t count).9: ‘Just thought I’d send this automated reply to thank you for following me back on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or whatever it was. Now buy my book.’
Whether or not it’s the intention, I’m always left with the feeling that the only reason the person ‘friended’ me was so he/she could get a (not too subtle) plug in for his/her book.10: ____________________________________
I left #10 blank. What would you add to the list?Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he’s ‘Author in Residence’ at Lakehurst Elementary School. A member of several writing groups, including SCBWI, he’s the founder of the New Jersey Authors Network and www.FindAWritingGroup.com. His blog, An Englishman in New Jersey, is read in over thirty countries.
Jon’s debut novel, Fur-Face (Echelon Press) a middle grade fantasy about a shy teenager who meets a talking cat only he can hear, was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. Watch out for the sequel, Barnum’s Revenge, coming in February, 2013.
When he’s not chasing around after his children, Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.
Art: Advertisement card for Philip Conway, Jr., Practical Shirt Maker by G.M. Hayes
“If you’re interested in deepening your creative practice…then I suggest you sometimes forget about learning more. Let go of the learning. Unremember and unlearn. It’s not easy, but it’s worthwhile approaching your story with the eyes and ears of a child…”
To read more, click here.
This week, I’m sending you over to the website of Ramon Kubicek, a writer who’s been teaching Creative Writing for decades. He’s saying, ‘Forget everything I’ve ever said!”
In the run-up to the launch of my eBook, “Story Structure to Die for”, I can’t think of better advice. Whether you’re deep into a novel or journaling your way through winter…take a break! Reclaim your “beginner’s mind”.
Kubicek is paid to familiarize students with the fictional fact of life, but he realizes that a writer also needs freedom from the tyranny of knowledge.
To “finally say and write what you really want.”
Read Kubicek here.
By: Peggy T,
Today's post is being hosted at Cynsations. Peggy Thomas on Baring All - Anatomy of Nonfiction and Book Giveaway.
Now that I see the title, I have some major regrets (the low-cut blouse is one), but I'm also afraid I will be blocked from every school computer and banned from setting foot in a school again. But if you read the article you'll understand what I mean -- it's about turning the lens on yourself, analyzing what you do, and having the guts to share the good and the bad with others.
Post a comment on the guest blog at Cynsations for a chance to win a copy of Anatomy of Nonfiction and a free critique by me of a nonfiction picture book manuscript or 3 chapters of a larger nonfiction work.
If you're looking for something to read today, Valerie is the guest post on agent Nathan Bransford's blog today!
Check out her post on the All Important First Chapter!
By: T.H. Mafi
there you are, just staring at your computer or eating your carnival corndog or spacing out in the middle of a conversation when it hits you. A SHINY NEW IDEA. it’s beautiful and original and nothing like the rest of them and for a perfect moment you can already see your future together. you know you have to have it before someone else does and your next move is going to be critical. luckily, enough people commented on your blog today that you’re feeling confident. extra-attractive. you decide to make it yours.
everything is surreal. you can’t stop thinking about it no matter how hard you try and let’s be honest – you don’t really want to. you’re convinced that this time everything is going to be different. this is The One. the one that’s going to make agents cry over you, editors throw money at you, bestseller lists around the world make room for you at the top. maybe you have a title already? maybe you’ve even written a really excellent first paragraph? you don’t care. none of that matters. the only thing that really matters is Oprah is going off the air. she has no idea how much you were looking forward to that interview.
things are still pretty good. you’ve told Facebook and Twitter and the only five friends you know in the real world that you’re writing a new book and people seem moderately interested which is already better than last time. you haven’t really started writing yet, but you will. in fact, you’ve already got the first chapter written! and the more you read it, the more you’re convinced you’ve never written anything quite as incredible. you can’t wait to dive into the story! SERIOUSLY. you can just feeeeeel how amazing this is going to be. maybe you should buy a new outfit to celebrate.
well! you've written a few chapters! but GOSH you are just so BUSY these days and the kids are so CRAZY and work is just HECTIC and you've discovered all these really awesome websites recently and it's now become a "thing" of yours to refresh your email and update your Twitter and "Like" at least five things on Facebook before you open up that Word Document. but it's not like you're avoiding it or anything! it's just -- you're having a bit of a rough patch! but you'll work through it! you'll figure out this plot twist! well, first you'll figure out a plot but then! then things will work out! you just need to find a way to communicate your needs! relationships are ALL ABOUT DIALOGUE!
WELL MAYBE IF YOU WEREN’T SO DAMN NEEDY I WOULD PAY MORE ATTENTION TO YOU! DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT? DID YOU EVER THINK THAT MAYBE I HAVE TO PAY THE BILLS AROUND HERE AND MAYBE I CAN’T SPEND EVERY FREE MOMENT OF MY LIFE STROKING YOUR FREAKING EGO AND MAYBE YOU SHOULD JUST WRITE YOURSELF ALREADY I’M SO SICK AND TIRED OF THIS CRAP I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE ANYMORE WITH YOUR UGLY ADVERBS AND THOSE STUPID DANGLING PARTICIPLES YOU THINK MAKE YOU SOUND LIKE SHAKESPEARE GOD YOU'VE CHANGED INTO SOMETHING I CAN'T EVEN RECOGNIZE MAYBE WE SHOULD REALLY STOP FOOLING OURSELVES ABOUT THIS WHEN CLEARLY I'M THE ONLY ONE TRYING TO MAKE THIS WORK I HATE YOU SOOOO MUCHHHHHHHHH
you didn't even see it coming! I MEAN GOSH THINGS WERE GOING SO WELL! but there it was. sitting on the outskirts of your imagination the whole time, teasing you with promises of what could be. ANOTHER SHINY IDEA! it was wearing a flippy skirt and red lipstick and it sounded so intelligent you couldn't help but fall for its false proclamations. but you were too dazzled to realize that this new SNI was only a distraction. it was fleeting. unfulfilling. a concept with no tangible form. a cheap thrill with no literary value. you feel cheated. you feel dirty. YOU'RE SO ASHAMED.
you messed up. you never meant t
By: Livia Blackburne
You could say that fiction is about pain. When you boil them down, stories describe characters taking hits and trying to emerge as unscathed as possible. Neighborhood under attack by zombies? Run hard and hope you have some painkillers on hand if they catch you. Or what if it’s actually a friendly, attractive zombie who loves you? In that case, it’s all good -- until you realize that mortals and undead can never be together. Oh the agonies of unfulfilled love!
So stories and torment come hand in hand. As a reader, you’re with the characters, empathizing with their struggles and hoping for a happy ending. How does this work? What is it in our brains that lets us understand other people’s pain? Well I'm glad you asked, because neuroscientists have made some progress on this question.
How do you study empathy and pain? One current technique involves electric shocks and people who love each other.
Neuroscientist Tania Singer came up with a clever experiment. She recruited women with their significant others. Singer put the woman inside an fMRI brain scanner while the significant other sat outside. Both participants were connected to electrodes capable of administering a painful shock. (Now before my fellow neuroscientists accuse me of ruining our reputations, I should emphasize that these participants were paid handsomely and had the option to stop the experiment at any time.)
Throughout the experiment both the woman and her partner received shocks, and a computer screen indicated who was getting the painful treatment. Singer found that a certain network of brain regions in the woman’s brain activated when she was in pain. But what happened when the significant other was shocked instead? The same network lit up when the woman knew that her partner was getting shocked. It turns out that we process other people's pain with the same brain regions that we use to process our own.
This kind of makes sense. Think about the last time you read a passage about a painful experience. Depending on how engaging the writer was, you might have felt like you were suffering alongside the character. But that's not the whole story. Many people suffer in stories, but we’re not always upset about it. What happens if the person in pain is someone we don't like?
Singer and colleagues did another study asking that question. This time, they had participants play a game before the brain scan. Unbeknownst to the participants, some players in the game were actually actors working with the scientists. One actor's job was to play the game fairly, while the other actor’s job was to play in an obviously unfair way. You can guess which actor was more popular.
Then it was off to the scanner again. The real participant went inside the scanner, while the two actors sat outside. Again, shocks were delivered, and the computer screen indicated who was receiving the shock.
This time, the results depended on whether the participant was a man or a woman. Both genders had empathy-related brain activation when the fair player was in pain. However, the men had less empathy- related activation when the unfair player was shocked. What’s more, they had increased activation in reward-related brain areas when the unfair player got shocked. The men actually enjoyed it when the unfair player was in pain (“Bastard had it coming!”). After the experiment, Singer asked the men to rate their desire for revenge toward the unfair player. It turns out that amount of reward-related brain activation in men correlated with their desire for revenge. In guys at least, it seems that the response to someone else's pain depends on whether or not that person deserved it.
Now as with all studies, we should remember that this is only one data set and it needs to be replicated. Also, note this study does not distingui
Is there life after a query that strikes out with agents? My awesome client Jim Duncan, whose debut novel DEADWORLD will be published by Kensington next April, shares his experience. Make sure to catch the exciting contest on Jim's blog at the end of the post.
By: Jim Duncan
As you might guess from the title, I am not what one would call a good query writer. Mediocre at best. My wife (romance author Tracy Madison) whole-heartedly agrees with this assessment.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I will admit to not being a very good editor. It's very difficult for me to assess my own writing, and thus, I don't like doing it. Second, when it comes to certain aspects of the publishing process, I have little patience. When my book was done, I wanted to send out queries that moment.
Back in the old days of 2007, when I completed my novel for the first time, I had queries going out the next day. I made about half a dozen attempts, picked the one I liked the best and sent it out. I had done my research, making sure the agents wanted my genre, whether they took email or snail mail, getting their name correct, etc. I followed agent blogs like Nathan's, Miss Snark, Kristin Nelson, and others (there are a lot of good blogs for writers out there), to glean as much knowledge as I could about the process and how to make that query stand out. I failed. I received one of Nathan's polite form rejections.
What feedback I received (off of a roughly 90% rejection rate) did not like the multiple first person p.o.v.'s I used. Was I deterred? Of course not! I decided to rewrite the book in third person, because I felt very strongly about this story. Whether it was written well enough was another matter.
So, I wrote a new query, several versions in fact, and though I was not happy with any of them, I picked what I thought was the best of the lot and sent it out. There's that whole patience thing again. The results were marginally better, but still no real interest.
Knowing I can't write queries for shit, I figured that might be my biggest problem, so I wrote yet another and tried again a few months later. I sent it out to a couple of publishers who are open to submissions, and like all good writers should do, I began to work on my next book (can't stress this enough: keep writing!)
In the meantime, I had become a regular responder on Nathan's blog. I'd sent a couple of emails to him, suggestions for topics and such. Then, one fine day, I came up with a contest suggestion that became my 15 seconds of blog fame. Those of you who were around a year and a half ago may remember the Agent for a Day contest. At the time it generated the most hits ever on Nathan's blog (about 70k, and 15k comments). Through my willingness to participate and make suggestions, good or otherwise, I had cemented my name in Nathan's mind. We didn't become BFF's. It was some fortunate networking that happened out of interest as opposed to direct effort.
Then, I got the call. Kensington Publishing offered me a three book deal for my novel, Deadworld. Super excited? You bet. What struck me though, was the fact that they were buying my story as an urban fantasy. This entire time, I had been submitting it as a suspense/thriller. Head smack! What would have happened had I realized what genre my story was best suited for? Another good point learned well after the fact. Understand the market for your story!
With offer in hand, I really wanted to find an agent. I had no desire to do this on my own. I picked about a dozen agents that I had queried before and asked them if they would be interested in a second look because of the offer I had on the table. In hindsight, I didn't give them enough time, which was five days. I probably lost some potential agents with that. In the end, it came down to two.
Nathan, whom I'd already
By: Hannah Moskowitz
This post has nothing to do with writing and absolutely everything to do with being a writer.
The stereotype of a writer--the middle-aged man pounding feverishly at a typewriter, cigarette in his mouth, sending hard-copy manuscripts to his agent and protesting the change of every word--has yet to catch up with the reality of what being a writer entails today.
We are not locked in our attics alone. We are not even the romantic writers of the '20s, drinking coffee and discussing literature. We are a legion of overworked, underwashed normals, pounding away at our laptops and shooing the kids to the next room.
And more importantly, we are not alone.
If you are reading this blog, you have obviously already met at least one other writer (hello there.) Chances are, I'm not the only one. Agent, editor, and writer blogs, facebook, forums like Verla Kay and Absolute Write, and God, above all Twitter, mean that, at the very least, most writers are at least a friend of a friend of yours. The term 'networking' is so appropriate here, because, in actuality, we--writers, publishing professionals, book bloggers--are a net. A web of interconnected people.
We know the same people. The truth is, this world feels very big sometimes, and God knows everyone is talking about writing a novel, but when it comes down to it--the people who are really out there, querying, editing, submitting, representing, accepting, rejecting, publishing, copyediting, waiting...well, the truth is, there aren't that many of us after all.
Which is why the act of being a professional writer has come to mean much more than it used to. Fifty years ago, all most writers had to do was avoid getting arrested and not respond to bad reviews.
You have a much bigger job to undertake. And it's stressful, and it's scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of this job. Somedays, my writing is absolutely shitty, and the house is a mess, and I'm crying because I can't find my socks, but I have 557 blog followers and I said something funny on Twitter today, so at least this day isn't totally for the birds.
You may think that I am the worst possible person ever to talk about how to be a professional. I'm loud and I'm obnoxious and I had to edit about ten cuss words out of this post so I didn't offend Nathan's sensibilities.
Yep. That's me.
But I'm hoping all that will make me easier to listen to, because when people think 'professional,' they a lot of the time think boring, sanitized, safe. And that's not who you have to
be. I'm living proof over here. And I knew from the start that I was taking a big risk, but I hoped that people would find me interesting and remember me.
It's worked pretty well so far. And that, kittens, is the real reason you want to get out there and put on your professional face. So that people will remember you.
Now that I'm done babbling, here are some guidelines. How to be a successful professional writer, by yours truly. And these are not big, life-changing rules. These are just tricks. Tricky little tricks.
--GET ON TWITTER. I don't care what your objections are. I objected too. But it is hands-down the best way to connect with people you would never have the balls to approach any other way. You can follow someone, which causes them no pain or trouble whatsoever, and you can talk to them in a completely neutral, undemanding way.
--READ ABOUT BOOKS. What do Hunger Games, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, The Da Vinci Code, and a hell of a lot of other books have in common? Answer: I haven't read them.
I'm not proud. But I know I don't have nearly enough time to read as much as I should, so I make a point of reading *about* books I wish I had time to read. Know enough about popular books to be able to fake your way through a conversation. I can discuss Twilight with the best of 'em.
Having written five books, I have naturally developed a vast catalog of practices that work for me. Perhaps sharing a few I can help shorten someone’s path to publication. Someday I even hope to have one of mine published.
Number one: organize your material. I keep mine in plastic garbage bags. Then my research, drafts, and yes, even manuscript are set to file (curbside) when the project is done. Almost as critical is the skill of outlining. I call it outlaying. In the early stages of a book, I’ll spend many hours outlaying in the sun. Sometimes I combine this with another proven technique, mind-napping.
With fiction, pre-develop your characters. I write the names of mine on the back of my hand. That way I think of them wherever I go. Sometimes I draw little eyes on my hand and ink lips around my thumb and forefinger. Then I ask them questions and get them to speak: “s’alright?” “S’alright!”
Free your characters. Encourage them to have lives of their own. Meet them at parties, then follow them, pen in hand, on adventures you could have never dreamed of. The hero of my last novel left me, wrote his own book. A bestseller. Oprah called him. Not me. Him. I answered the phone: “Hi, Oprah! Sorry, Dirk Blowhard is indisposed. I just drowned him in the tub.”
Choose subject matter carefully. My first book idea, about the Wright Brothers’ earliest plane, didn’t fly.
Then I wrote about sexual bondage. The editor liked my submission, but couldn’t get the chain stores to stock me.
Know your subject and market. I wrote a book about car engines and then couldn’t find a distributor.
Be controversial, but not overly. While living in England, I wrote an expose on the House of Windsor. Three agents in black suits appeared at my door. They weren't literary agents. They told me I wouldn't be getting any royalties.
Stick with it. My first novel, ‘SNOWMAN IN SPRING’ ended up in a slush pile.
I wrote a guidebook, “How to get Married”. The editor rejected my proposal. I must have misinterpreted her advances, (which, it turns out, were for another writer). It was all starting to have a familiar ring.
Sure enough, when I proposed a book on antique firearms, she shot me down.
In the publishing biz, rejection happens. Take it in stride. It’s not personal, though it can feel pretty personal, right? I sent an article to a horticultural magazine, on farmstead flowers and fowl. The editor called it poppycock. Said the section on composting was pure crap.
For a barbering journal I penned, “The Race Against Hair Loss.” The editor called it balderdash. Even the part about selecting a toupee. Said the whole thing was a ‘bad piece’.
To get serious, establishing a routine that works is really the most important aspect of writing. People often ask me what specific techniques I use. Actually I would like them to.
I stand on my head for twenty minutes before writing. Blood rushing to my head sets off a neuron frenzy, prompting right brain left brain intercourse and an overall spiking of metabolic function. Then prone I utter a secret Jedi incantation that ends with "best seller come to da, Dah!" From there I go straight to the kitchen, cram a quick snack, rich in iron—raisin bran, maybe a donut. Then I might get lured by the tube for a few minutes, some old sitcoms… But soon, neural activity positively peaking (or more often starting into a post-sugar-high nose dive) I leap to my keyboard, and write!
Words flow from thoughts pent up in my mind as ideas crystallize, as in perfect mid air simpatico my fingers fly. Then, after a bit, usually I remember to turn on the computer.
A few tips worth sticky-noting to your forehead:
Index cards can be useful for outlining your plot. If your plot is in a cemetery that is windy, use rocks to weigh the cards down.
If you are subject to excessive distrac
By: Rachel Bertsche
Can you smell the sharpened pencils in the air? It's the delicious scent of another school year underway. Kids are cracking open new books and diving into the likes of Great Expectations or The Things They Carried or Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Though my school days are behind me, as the leaves start to fall (at least here in Chicago) I get the itch for new reading lists. A fresh literary start.
On my fall syllabus? The Hunger Games, of course (I'm so behind) and Freedom (I like to know what all the fuss is about) and whatever my book club demands of me. Currently that's The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf. I could go on, but thinking too much about all the to-be-read books on my shelves makes me anxious that I should stop blogging and start curling up in my book nook, pronto.
So to usher in the new school year, something light, bookish and BFFish (my personal blog, MWF Seeking BFF chronicles my search for a new, local best friend... preferably of the Babysitter's Club variety).
I present to you the literary characters (aside from the members of the BSC) with whom I would most like to be best friends:
1) Boy, The Giving Tree. Some say he’s selfish and greedy, I say he’s lonely. He loves his tree. He could use a BFF.
2) Jo March, Little Women. Or maybe Beth. For one of my college applications, I had to name which fictional character I most identified with. I chose Jo. But I wonder if we could really be best friends? We might be too similar. As much as I love her, I could see us bumping heads. I might benefit more from Beth’s warm heart… You know, before her gutwrenching end.
3) Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter series. She’s awesome. Half badass, half girly. Not as goody-two-shoes as Hermione, but just as brave. I can totally picture us whispering together in the corner.
4) Alice Cullen, Twilight. Whimsical, fiercely loyal, and loves to play dress up. That she can see into the future doesn’t hurt.
5) Harriet the Spy/Nancy Drew. I really wanted to be a child detective back in the day. Sadly, there were very few (read: zero) mysteries that needed solving in my hometown. But I would still very much like to be the sleuthy sidekick.
6) Lisbeth Salander, Millenium Trilogy. I would not want to be on her bad side. But she is crazy protective of her friends, could dig up dirt on anyone at anytime, and would be one of those never-a-dull-moment BFFs.
7) Skeeter Phelan, The Help. She’s passionate, determined, sneaky when she has to be. I think we could be good writing buddies. Read each other’s work, give honest critiques, take breaks to discuss Hilly’s horribleness.
8 ) Oskar Schell, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I'm aware that most people think Jonathan Safran Foer’s first book, Everything is Illuminated, is his best. But I fell in love with Oskar, and this novel, early on. He’s eager
By: Kay Elam
When I was writing my first novel, I knew it was a mystery, but I wasn’t sure of its sub-genre. At a writing conference I was telling someone about my book and they said, “Oh, it’s a cozy.” I simply agreed instead of admitting I’d never heard of such a thing. Since that conference I’ve found many people (including writers) aren’t aware of this popular sub-genre even if they’ve been reading cozies for years.
A cozy is fun. It’s a fast-paced, feel-good read that, when you put it down, you can hardly wait to get back to it. Clues (as well as a few wild-goose chases) are given so the reader will want to solve the mystery along with the sleuth. The victim is not someone with whom the reader has a real emotional attachment—he’s the villain after all—so the reader isn’t dismayed by his/her death. There are twists and turns as well as surprising revelations but, in the end, justice always prevails and the sleuth is the heroine (or hero).
The cozy’s heroine is usually an amateur sleuth (think Jessica Fletcher). This is a role she’s just fallen into because she’s intelligent, intuitive, and inquisitive. She’s usually connected to the crime by someone she knows or because she was nearby when it happened. Often she solves the crime to protect someone important to her. The sleuth is likable, though flawed in a way that is not going to offend the reader. (She eats in bed, is always late, smokes, gossips, smacks chewing gum, or has some other character defect that shows she's less than perfect—just like the reader.)
The sleuth has strong relationships, though not necessarily romantic. She has lots of friends, family, acquaintances who feed her missing links to solve the mystery. These characters are often eccentric, annoying, or amusing—just like people we all know. Frequently the protagonist has a friend or spouse who know facts about the crime that aren’t yet public. This could be a member of the police force (or the sheriff), the medical examiner, the district attorney, a nosy neighbor—you get the idea.
The cozy’s sleuth usually has another job—solving crimes is just something she does because somebody has to do it. She might be a business owner (florist, bookstore, hotel, caterer, etc.), doctor, lawyer, chef, librarian, journalist, tour guide, pet sitter, and so on—or she might be retired with extra time on her hands. Instead of or in addition to a profession, a cozy might center on hobbies such as crafts, puzzles, sewing, needlework/knitting, quilting, golf, tennis, gardening, and genealogy, among others. Some cozies have a theme like the holidays, animals (cats, dogs, horses, birds, etc.), or even religion.
There is often a romantic subplot, but no explicit sex scenes, and there is little, if any, profanity.
The murder in a cozy isn’t described with a lot of details. It usually happens before the book begins or at the very beginning. Sometimes there are multiple murders, but even they are usually off the page. They’re described in general terms—no blood and gore.
A cozy is often geographically specific, usually in a small town or village, but may also be in a “closed” setting like an office, hotel, train, etc. My novel is set in a well-known medium-sized city, but is limited to a specific section of town.
Of course there has to be law enforcement—but they are often short-staffed, kidnapped, out of town, or otherwise unavailable which is why a small town setting works so well. Procedural accuracy is often overlooked in this genre and the police seldom take the protagonist seriously. A lot of cozies are written as a part of a series becau
By: Shellie Neumeier,
Join me over at the Barn Door, where we’ll see if we can figure that out. . .
In the meantime, what do you think they have in common?
By: Shellie Neumeier,
Come visit me at http://thebarndoor.net where I’m guest blogger of the day. See you there.
When thinking of book marketing, there are a number of rungs on the marketing ladder. The first involves creating a quality product, in this case a book. You want a book that you’ll be proud to offer for sale, and a book that customers will want to buy.
Once you have a finished product/book, you need to move onto the promotion basics. This rung on the ladder involves establishing a presence - you’ll need to create visibility and a platform. To do this, the first step is to get a website or blog. Next, you will need to join writing groups in your genre, groups in your target market, and other social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook.
After you’ve established a presence, the next step is to create an informational funnel leading back to your website. The purpose of this funnel is to bring traffic and inbound links, to your site.
The more traffic to your site the greater your visibility in the search engines. More traffic also means a greater chance of visitors purchasing what you’re offering.
When it comes to an informational funnel, content rules. Here are three strategies to increase traffic to your site.1. Add Content to Your Blog
Make your presence known by offering information in the form of content on your blog. Content is what will make you an expert in your niche, genre, or area. But, just posting the content to your site will not create the traffic you need. Each time you publish content to your site, you need to let your social networks know about it.
Tweet it and post about it to Facebook and your other social networks. Be sure to always include a clickable url link that goes directly to the article. This is a part of inbound marketing – it leads visitors back to your site through an information funnel.
In addition, using effective keywords in your posts and the post titles, related to your site’s platform, will help the search engines index your content.2. Article Marketing
Once you feel comfortable with adding content to your blog, you can now venture out into the article marketing arena to capture a larger audience. While most article directories have guidelines, they are fairly lenient. Follow the guidelines and post an article to one, ten, or a hundred different directories. Most of them don’t require original articles, so you can use articles you’ve posted on your blog.
Usually you will be allowed to include a brief bio in the form of a resource box. Make it short and sweet. Be sure it links back to your website or blog, whichever you want the traffic to go to (if you have more than one site).
Those who click on the link will be creating inbound links to your site which is a feature Google and the other search engines like. In fact, quality inbound links are an important aspect of search engine optimization (SEO).3. Offer to be a Guest on Other Quality Sites
Another avenue of inbound marketing is offering your articles to other quality blogs or sites; you become a featured writer on the site by providing a guest article. It might be viewed as visiting another neighborhood. The particular site you are featured on has its own set of visitors, thereby broadening your visibility.
Do your research though, before you approach bloggers. Make sure the fit is right by checking prior posts on the site. In addition, when you approach the blog owner to ask about a guest post, let him know that you are familiar with his site.
And, be sure to always make it a win-win situation. Let the
By: Shellie Neumeier,
Join me over at the Barn Door for a guest blogging post. See you there…
I’ve long been a fan of “found art”, more recently “found poems”, and now “found blog posts”. This one I’ve lifted (with permission) from my “Meuse”.
Meuse and I go way back, all the way to Africa. We used to sit around funky hotel lobbies drinking Lion Lager and writing poetry. But that’s another story.
Today’s story is “found” because it was written as a disposable scrap of chit-chat. I think it deserves some circulation before being chucked. And furthermore, I can’t write this kind of cultural commentary. Music, rap, Lady Gaga—they’re not my forte. But calling psychopathic behaviour to account — yes, I’m all for that.
Here’s Meuse (basically thinking out loud):
I was out walking in the cold May Nova Scotia morning rain when blood suddenly reached my brain, and I could think for the first time since last August.
(Note: Meuse is often droll and self-deprecating.)
Inexplicably, it jogged into mind an old notion of popular art and culture being a reflection of current times. Or is it a prediction of times to come?
This notion must have come out of my recent exposure to rap music, which I managed to avoid for 20 years. I thought it would be a good idea for a brief study.
I crawled back home, in from the cold and rain, and checked out the original “Telephone” rap video by Lady Gaga. (The little Brit Gypsy rapper, Cher Lloyd, sang it in amateur competition.)
I thought that Lady Gaga’s video would be as interesting and benign as P!NK’s “Family Portrait” video. What I found wasn’t exactly disturbing, but I did wonder what impression it leaves in the minds of the young teenage audience.
There seems to be a lot of violence and psychopathology on display in the most popular rap videos. Of course there is as much or more in newscasts and films. But I don’t recall pop musical culture in the ’50s and ’60s being as deeply violent or overtly psychopathological. Of course there was the madness of war, and the insanity of tribes like that of Charlie Manson.
Maybe young people are already far beyond what looks like excess in rap videos, and they see it entirely for the fantasy it is.
Even without rap videos there are going to be kids who bring guns to school to kill other kids. It may only be a function of news media penetration, but it appears to me that there has been an explosion of infanticide and parricide (Note: murder of parents by young children). I think it’s real.
So, does rap culture and its music cause adults and children to take up arms against each other? Or is it a reflection of a direction society is moving in? I think the latter. Rap isn’t showing the way. It’s showing where society already is. This has been an aspect of popular culture and art for 150 years or longer.
Is a shift happening now that has yet to be revealed?
I’m locked into a view of art and culture as I experienced it when I was young. Perhaps this narrow vision prevents me from seeing the social dynamic as it actually is today! Perhaps there is even more to understand
Some Answers to 20 Imaginary Questions About “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens”
1. Basically a sequel to “Pride and Prejudice” with added aliens.
2. Why not?
3. No. Not zombies. Aliens. We do not mention the zombie book. I had the idea long before the zombie book came out. Although I’m sure it’s a very nice book. It is, however, a bit of a sensitive area, as I’m sure you’ll understand.
4. I said no.
5. Oh, you like zombies? In that case, loads.
6. The usual stuff: tentacles, probes, ghosts. And Colin the pigeon.
7. Lord Byron. He’s filthy.
8. “The truth is out there, though it is not yet universally acknowledged.”
9. Pemberley, Whitechapel, Rosings, Bath and Glastonbury.
10. Ek – ek – ek – ek – kk’Ekk!
11. Mars. Although the chances of anything coming from there…
12. Sous-pellisse and Wellington’s Fancy. But don’t ask for “a Prussian”, as you’ll probably get slapped.
13. Look, will you stop going on about zombies?
14. I serialized it for a year online and then it was picked up by Proxima Books just before the end.
15. I was very excited, I can tell you.
16. All the usual online places, and if you’re lucky enough to live in the UK, at all branches of WHSmith, where it’s on promotion and currently at number 54 in their chart.
17. If there’s demand, definitely. I deliberately left a bit of a cliffhanger at the end.
18. Only if I can get David Bamber back to play Mr Collins. Or if he’s unavailable, his hair.
19. www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com. And there’s a Wickhampedia at www.mrsdarcyvsthealiens.com/wiki which tells you everything you need to know, as well as a whole load you really didn’t. Oh, oh, and a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/realmrsdarcy.
20. Well, thank you for having me. It’s been fun.
You'll find Jonathan Pinnock's blog at www.jonathanpinnock.com and you'll find Mrs Darcy at Amazon
and other reputable bookstores (including bricks and mortar stores in the UK).
What I Keep in My Whisper Jar by Carole Lanham
Through the garden gate was the hump of an old cat grave and Penny told us to tap our foot on it three times for luck so that’s exactly what we did, tap tap tap, until all the luck was gathered up - luck, in this case, revolving entirely around the hope that we might find the dead body of our elderly neighbor still lying on the floor, or maybe catch a glimpse of a real living ghost. “Don’t open that thing yet,” Penny said, as we tromped over the paint-peeled hatch of a cyclone cellar on our way to the creepy house. “Let’s save it for last.”
Penny was the girl who lived down the street and while I can’t recall whose idea it was to go inside the scary house, I was all for seeing it – every cobweb, every shadow, every bone. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned scare! Whenever someone asks what a nice girl like me is doing writing horror stories, I laugh like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth, wipe my hands on my apron, and offer them a homemade cookie. I have a strong tendency to deny all association with the dark figures who turn up in my work. I want to pretend I don’t know those crazy characters in the least. Then I remember about the haunted house in the neighborhood where I lived when I was a little girl. Truth is, I went through that garden gate once and tapped my foot on the old cat grave, hoping with all my heart to find something scary and grim. I was four years old at the time and I brought my two year old sister along with me. Even though I had yet to begin kindergarten, I already understood that someone must always be along for the ride.
I can’t remember the names of all the kids who were with me that day but bits and pieces of our adventure have followed me down the road of life in the form of clothes-less hangers jangling in empty closets and bare nails poking from scuffed walls. There were ghosts in that house to be sure, though they were not see-through spirits of the usual moaning variety. Rather, they were dents from coffee table legs engraved in the carpet, and cabinet doors that opened on shelf-paper stained with the rings of vanished Comet cans. A dead body would have been one thing, but I had probably never seen a room without furniture before and all that abandoned space was somehow more frightening than the thought of my body keeling over dead. What happened to the old guy’s shoes, I longed to know? Where was the refrigerator where he kept his milk? And where was his milk? He’d been scrubbed and swept and dusted away so thoroughly that there was nothing left to see.
I have no idea what the other kids were feeling but I’m guessing it must have spooked them too. We ran from room to room expectantly only to stop and turn in slow circles, looking.
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