Welcome back, my fellow creatives! October is here, and with it the joy of reading tales deliciously eerie on chilly autumn evenings.
Let us break for a wee spell from the lovely indie fiction to venture down paths dark and mysterious. I’ve got some fun frights recommended to me by other neato book reviewers as well as some spooky stories by authors I’ve not had a chance to taste before. Let us continue with Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.
What does a reader experience in those opening pages, and what lessons can a writer take away in studying but a few paragraphs? Let’s find out!
Hello hello, my wonderful fellow creatives! We find ourselves caught in the whirlwind that often billows about in the middle of summer. After a few good swimming lessons, the kids are determined to prove themselves ready for their own Olympic-style marathons in the water. So long as they don’t participate in another round of “Toss the dead fish” as some other kids did at the beach, they’ll be fine. 🙂
While they splash and holler at one another in the lake, allow me to introduce another lovely fantasy author whose debut novel hits bookstores this month. My friends, meet Ian Green!
Niceties first! Tell us a bit about yourself, please.
Hello! I’m Ian, I’m a writer from Northern Scotland. I have a background in scientific research (working on cancer epigenetics!) and I’m currently based out of Algiers. Whenever I can I spend my time hiking in the woods or clambering around ruins. My first novel, The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath, is out this summer. It is an epic fantasy- book one of a new trilogy!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My dad had an old paperback of The Lord of the Rings- all three volumes in one huge thick book, with an amazing John Howe painting of Gandalf on the front cover looking utterly mysterious and serious. I remember reading that when I was too young to understand most of it, but the cadence of the language and the weight of the words, the way Tolkien’s writing could summon images in my mind astonished me- the imagery of the shire felt true to me in a way I didn’t think fiction could be. That, and perhaps reading Goosebumps in the school library and managing to scare myself- how can a word elicit such strong emotion? I was hooked.
Hey, there are plenty of Goosebumps books that scared me as a kid by their insides–and outsides! I had to stay away from any volume with that ventriloquist doll the cover. (Shivers.) What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I struggled with Cixin Liu for a long time- I found the start of The Three-body Problem impassably dense, and the characters didn’t resonate with me throughout. I think I was coming from a long run of character driven SFF and this was such sweeping, concept driven SF that I just couldn’t seem to find a purchase. I’m so glad I stuck with it- the second book in that series, The Dark Forest, is one of my favourite SF books.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Malagash by Joey Comeau– I’ve been a huge fan of his work for a long time, and this novel is so tender and sad and brutal and sweet. It delivers perfectly, a dark humour running throughout even as it prises open your heart. Utterly incredible. I want to give a copy to everyone I know.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
The book that made me think differently about fiction was The Bridge by Iain Banks. My mum gave me a copy when I was probably too young to understand a lot of it- but I understood the sheer audacity and fun it was having. It was having so much fun with structure and there was such a joy to it. For me fiction can serve so many purposes, from light entertainment and escapism to far heavier explorations. The Bridge to me was a book that did all of those without a thought to convention, and did it all with a smile.
Ah, that sounds like a marvelous story! Any book that not only is run to read but to experience sounds like a perfect find in my, well, my book. 🙂 Speaking of books,Congratulations on your debut fantasy novel The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath! I love hearing about fellow fantasy writers’ worldbuilding process. Did you base Gauntlet’s world on your Scottish homeland, or was other research involved in creating the story’s setting?
Certainly, Scotland was a huge source of inspiration. When I wrote this book I knew I wanted to set myself a few challenges regarding the culture I created and the story I was telling, but with the world I wanted to take some of the rugged and harsh beauty of Scotland- to make sure that the physicality of the world had an impact on the society and the world that grew around it. So in terms of geography I took a lot of inspiration from Scotland. Historically I think the Pictish stones scattered around Scotland gave me my first ideas of how the magic of the world might work- the old ideas of celtic animism that have been so long lost were a big inspiration. I wanted to create a world where monotheism had never become a dominant force, and to take some of the ideas of animism and craft them into a new and novel magic system and world. In terms of the history and cultures represented, I tried hard to make sure I wasn’t echoing any specific histories- I drew inspiration from a lot of history and myth from around the world, and I didn’t want to create a world that was simply a fantasy version of Scotland- I wanted to create something wholly its own, with its own myth and legend and history and forces pushing and pulling at its people.
Building such a rich, complex world is no small undertaking. Do you think it wise that aspiring writers take on such a project, or is it better they try a different method to sharpen their skills?
I think it can be tempting to start hugely ambitious projects (creating an entire world! A ten book series covering the fall of an empire!) but I found more successful to work on shorter pieces while I was honing my craft and voice. This also let me try out lost of different styles and concepts to see what I wanted to do more with.
Ah yes, your short fiction. We’ll get to that in a bit. 🙂 All this world-building must surely take a lot of time in your writing process. Have you ever experienced a blockage during that research, or have ever become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all?
I sometimes need reminding to clarify some points of a world’s lore- when you are so deep into research and worldbuilding it can be easy to forget that someone coming to the material fresh is coming from a totally different context and set of background knowledge! Luckily this is something that can be fixed without too much stress normally.
That’s good to hear! The research involved in building a world can easily intimidate any writer, but writing outside of one’s own experience can REALLY put the pressure on a writer these days. The protagonist of your book, General Floré, is a parent determined to fight through any hell to rescue her child. This is a character many of us readers can root for! What challenges did you face as a writer in writing characters from the opposite sex, and do you have any advice for other writers who want to write outside their living experience?
I don’t think for me writing a character of one sex or another held any more challenge than any other sex. In the world of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath sex, gender, and sexuality are of far less consequence than they are in our own world, and so I really just focused on character and motivation. In terms of writing outside of my lived experience, in a lot of ways fantasy as a genre frees me up to not worry so much about accuracy except within the confines of what I’ve created. I’m writing from the perspective of seven foot tall lizard people who live in intricate coral reef cities, and people who live under the weight of an eternal arcane storm- nobody has lived those experiences! There are of course more normal experiences where this might come to bear, but all I can do is rely on research and imagination and beta-readers with different experiences to myself to hopefully make sure I am not straying too far from the mark.
Gauntlet is your debut novel, but as your website shows, you’ve published loads of short fiction as well. When you write short fiction, do you know it’ll be short fiction going in, or do some novel ideas transform into short stories in their creation (or vice versa)?
This is a great question- so when I’m writing short fiction I often know that is what I want to do, I will have simple concepts or plots or ideas that I want to play with. For longer work, before committing to writing a whole novel what I normally do is flesh out a few potential ideas and then try and write a short story in each- I can pretty quickly tell which idea I’m excited about and want to keep going with! I always keep those other fragments though- just because I’m not excited about it right now doesn’t mean it might not be a strong contender to flesh out either as a short story or a longer piece later on.
One of my biggest struggles with writing short fiction comes with the worldbuilding. I wanted to say sooooo much in my story “The Hungry Mother,” but there just wasn’t the space. How do you overcome the restraints on worldbuilding when writing short fiction?
I love the challenge of this- it is so difficult to present world-building that feels deep and real in that shorter setting. I try and pare it back so I’m not presenting details that are unnecessary (are all the window frames in this world black for an obscure historical reason? Does this impact the plot? If not, forget about it!). So anything that impacts the plot or the physicality of the character’s situation I try and expand on a little, but unless it is vital I don’t bother expanding on explanations- the reader’s imagination can do a lot of the heavy lifting!
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
As I was looking for an agent and publisher for The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath I came across plenty of agents who would charge reading fees, editors claiming they could increase your chance of publication with their proofreading, and services promising to push your book to the right people. I’m not sure I know what the most unethical practice in the publishing industry is, but in general I think there are plenty of bad actors willing to take advantage of people are trying to break into the more mainstream spaces- caution is often a good thing!
Oh, I agree with you there. I’m sure we could all share a story or two of the bad actors who beguile us as writers. That’s why so many of us just choose to “go it alone,” as it were. This means we’re handling all the steps of publishing as well as marketing, and I’ve got to admit it is HARD. Have you worked out any useful way to market your books?
This is my first novel so I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask! I’ve tried to make myself as available as possible for any opportunity- I’m not famous, I’m not particularly well-connected, and historically my social media profiles have mainly been links to music I like and pictures of mountains, food, dogs, and cats. So switching all of that to focusing more on marketing my work has been a strange idea! There are so many communities where you could potentially interact and grow your audience, but I think it is important to try and partition off specific time for this or else you could spend all of your time marketing rather than actually writing.
I also saw on your site that you co-wrote a story inspired by game play! I’ve heard so many friends tell me how Dungeons and Dragons inspires fun fantasy storytelling for them. Would you ever write another story based on gameplay as you did The Cursed Tomb?
The Cursed Tomb is a very fun wee book that is essentially a transcript of a game me and some friends were playing- certainly not something I would expect other people to buy and spend time on, we actually published it more as a memento for the four of us. I do think it is a lot of fun, and very silly- those gameplay stories benefit from the chaos of multiple creators, each of whom can bring their own ideas and background to play. I’d definitely do so again, but unless it was a lot more organised I think it would end up being another artefact for me and my friends, rather than a book I wanted to send out into the world!
Ah, ’tis that most wonderful time of the year…when Linus camps out in the pumpkin patch, when Bo shares classic monster movies with the kiddos, when I stroll with a cup of coffee, kicking up the fallen leaves as I go.
It’s that time when Blondie creates ghost stories for every old house we pass on the way home from school, when Bash draws a collection of Frankenstein monster pumpkins for the wall, and Biff curls up beneath his Star Trek comforter with books on all things weird but true.
Today I’d like to add to that list with a story fit for any Midnight Society’s campfire, one a parent can spookily read with his/her child…or perhaps a brave older kid would enjoy reading with a flashlight under the covers.
After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price.
Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. …On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” … Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN.
From Cover Blurb
I don’t want to give away the whole story (unlike the back cover, gah!). Rather, today I wanted to share a wee epiphany I had while reading this book.
Let’s start when Ollie’s class first arrives at the farm. It’s a large farm, and isolated–no town’s anywhere nearby. This already creates a sense of being cut off from all that’s familiar to Ollie and her classmates.
A group of three scarecrows stood on the edge of the parking lot, smiling stitched-on smiles. Their garden-rake hands were raised to wave. The tips of the rakes gleamed in the sun. Ollie kept turning. More scarecrows. Scarecrows everywhere. Someone had set up scarecrows between buildings, in the vegetable garden, on stakes in the cornfield. Their hands were trowels or garden rakes. Their smiles had been sewn or painted on.
Readers feel Ollie tense up at the sight of all these scarecrows. Can we blame her? It’s one thing to have a few scarecrows up for decoration, but “scarecrows everywhere” is unsettling. Then you add the fact that none of them have proper hands, but rather trowels or rakes–no gloves, no straw just sticking out. Nope. Just sharp, pointed things.
The moment reminded me a lot of John Carpenter’s Halloween, actually. I know slashers aren’t for everyone, but I promise you this clip is blood-free. (My apologies for the opening 5 seconds of cussing Freddy Krueger. I just really wanted to use this clip!)
This scene is one of a few depicting Michael Meyers stalking Laurie. He does nothing but stand and stare at her for a few seconds before walking out of sight.
What is he doing out of sight?
We can’t answer that. Laurie can’t, either. You can see the concern and fear fill her face as her friend approaches the hedge. She knows something is off about this faceless Shape, but she can’t yet define it. She didn’t need to see any blood on the Shape of Michael, or a weapon in his hand. There’s no blood-curdling screams from the house, frantic gunshots, etc. The stillness of Michael’s Shape is enough to unsettle Laurie and put her on her guard.
The Unsettling Of The Protagonist during the first act of a story builds an incredible amount of tension. This tension grips the audience and holds them in place because they need to see what could possibly happen. Now comes the real trick for this treat: paying off that expectation.
Well we know Carpenter’s Halloween does this, or it wouldn’t be considered the masterpiece it is today. The stalking escalates to the murder of Laurie’s friends which then escalates to the cat-and-mouse fight for survival between Laurie and Michael in the third act. This escalation fits well with the genre and needs of the audience, to be sure. Sooooo how do we swing a similar escalation into payoff for kids?
Hide the horror’s action off-page.
As the blurb says, Ollie and two of her classmates run from the broken school bus into the dark forest. There they find
WE SEE YOU was written on a tree overhead in ragged, dripping white letters. Below them another scarecrow leaned against the tree. There was paint on his coveralls; he was grinning ear to ear. He had no hands at all, just two flopping paintbrushes where hands should be.
Did Ollie and two of her classmates see the scarecrow paint the letters? No. Yet the evidence before them says that it did. Do they see their classmates on the bus? No. And yet:
A scream tore through the twilight. Then a whole chorus of screaming. … Ollie and Coco hurried up the sloping path. The first of the scarecrows stood right on the edge of the fenced-in dead garden, head a little flopped to one side. Brian was standing in front of it, his hand over his mouth. “What is it?” said Coco. “That scarecrow,” Ollie said, panting a little. “Is–does it look familiar?” “Yes,” Brian whispered. “Because it’s wearing Phil’s clothes. Because that’s Phil’s hat and Phil’s hair and kind of Phil’s face–if it were sewn on. That’s Phil.”
Chapter 13, 18
We do not see the school kids transformed into scarecrows. We only know the Before, and the After. It is up to the reader’s imagination to fill in the space between. And a reader’s imagination can be a very, very powerful thing.
When we describe precisely what happened, we, well, we limit the reader’s power. We define with clear guidelines just what took place and how. We walk readers around all the edges and features, showing off precisely what makes that Scary Something strong as well as weak. Of course, this method can be very useful–a reveal of method beneath the madness, if you will.
The very reason readers come to stories like this in the first place.
Do you have any favorite ghost stories to share? Let me know in the comments below. In the meantime, I’m going to wait for my copy of Dead Voices, the sequel to Small Spaces. Isn’t that cover creepily gorgeous?It’ll be perfect for a Novembery read, when Wisconsin’s lost in the transition from autumn to winter.
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
I’m excited to share all sorts of creative goings-on with Biff, Bash, and Blondie! I’m hoping to talk a bit about NaNoWriMo, too. Plus there’s a peculiar bit of Wisconsin many presume to be haunted, buuuuut we shall see.
My name is Christopher Lee and I am the author of Westward, a Channillo exclusive serial release occult fantasy that blends X-Files and the Magnificent Seven.
What made you choose publishing your work as a serial as opposed to a collection/novel?
DAN: I have collections with my publisher GenZ, Lapping Water, Humbled Wise Men Christmas Haikus, and Home other places I’ve yet to see. Channillo has been a good place for projects of mine that I view as smaller endeavors.
CHRIS: For one I love to write as if my story were being presented as a TV show, each chapter I write feels like an episode of a show to me, so it made sense to present it this way. The format of serial publication allows me to work on my story at the same time as I get feedback from readers on previous chapters, etc which in turn helps make the story better down the road.
What benefits have arisen with plot, character development, and/or voice as you write a serial?
DAN: It’s fun to write these poem-letters in “Weathergirl.” I call it soap opera poetry.
CHRIS: It takes a huge load off of the authorś shoulder to know that they don’t have to crank out a huge manuscript in order for readers to access their work. There is a flexibility that I mentioned before that allows the writer to breath, take a step back, and then return to the keyboard recharged and excited to write the next chapter of the story, not to mention it keeps the readers hungry for more.
I concur about that load being shirked off! However, I know one problem I have when posting my own Young Adult Fantasy MIDDLER’S PRIDE is publishing on time.
What challenges have you faced writing serials?
CHRIS: Honestly, I have not faced any, save that classic HIT THE DEADLINE. When I began to write Westward, I had a fully developed story arc with complete show/chapter ideas. This allows me to simply sit down and write the next installment, whereas had I not done so I might have run into an issue of keeping the story straight, so to speak. Ultimately it is all about consistency when running a serial. You need to market it consistently and produce the content on time so that your readers know they can count on you. After all, there is nothing worse than investing time as a reader in a story that dead ends.
DAN: Letters to the Weathergirl is about a man writing to a news anchor and the reader doesn’t know if he is a deranged fan, or a fan, or her actual lover and I haven’t had any problems developing that. I’m very fortunate.
Now while I myself have never published any poetry, I find it a pleasure to read! It seems to fit well with the serial form. Because I’ve written Middler with the serial publishing platform in mind, I find myself constantly looking for little arcs or episodes to write within the larger novel-arc. How do you feel your writing and/or genre’s been affected by publishing it in a serialized form?
DAN: Letters to the Weathergirl is weekly so when holidays turn up I like writing themed segments. The arrows on the clock are pointing at me was like a fun dumping ground for unpublished poems and I hope to maybe start another series like that. Venus Fly Trap kept my haiku skills sharp and Little Silver Microphone explores recordings both home and live.
CHRIS: I primarily write in the fantasy genre, which I believe is aided by the format. Fantasy in some ways suffers from the drudgery of 600+ page novels that remain inaccessible to the general public at large. Many consumers of media want smaller bites that they can digest while they ride the bus, an Uber, or just before bed, etc. Just look at Netflix and the advent of binge watching or in this case binge reading.
What do you think draws readers to read serial (non)fiction?
CHRIS: Accessibility and consistent content creation are the two major things for me. One that readers can have an a la carte or buffet experience with different genres, authors, and styles. Two is that there isn’t a huge delay between content dumps from the authors, its the exact opposite of the George R.R. Martin effect, for example waiting for years for a conclusion to the story you as the reader have invested time in.
Do you receive any reader feedback on your writing as it’s posted? What do you do with those reader comments? DAN: Yes, I do. I’ve gotten great feedback that has meant a lot to me. Sometimes I post quotes about my series on the work’s homepage.
CHRIS: If I am being honest, I have not received much in the way of comments via the Channillo platform, but I have been contacted via Twitter, Facebook, and email from readers who have given me some of the most constructive feedback I have gotten to date. It is a really cool experience to have that level of connection with the reader. Usually what I do with said commentary is to implement whatever makes the most sense to the story, all while keeping the core message of the reader close to heart.
What advice do you have for fellow writers who want to give serialization a go?
CHRIS: First and foremost you need to have a fully developed story before you kick the thing off. If you don’t have that, then you run the risk of hitting a dead end that could cause you massive problems. Ultimately a plan will save your booty if you get in a pinch.
DAN: Make sure you do your installments on time with interesting material to help build an audience.
I found this quote published inThe Washington Postback in 2015, and I’d like you to comment on it:
Critics will undoubtedly moan that serialization would favor literature that’s heavy on cliffhangers and light on subtlety — and that it would corrupt more “serious” works. … Yet it requires the same characteristic any worthy novelist already seeks: momentum — a value that needn’t come at the expense of integrity. –Hillary Kelly, “Bring Back the Serialized Novel”
CHRIS: Kelly makes a great point, though the critics of serialization see it as low art or cheap in quality, I find the process to be far more rigorous. You can simply slap crap together and throw it at the wall and hope that it sticks. In fact, you have to take even more time to craft a tight narrative, then you would in the case of a novel. To run a successful serial you have to keep your readers hooked. In the traditional method, example a fully fledged novel, once they buy your book, the transaction is largely done, you have the readers money, whether or not they come back for subsequent books is altogether another animal. With a serial, you have the flexibility that you don´t have in the traditional sense, and that is the true strength of serialization.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, guys, and good luck building those Channillo stories! You’re reminding me I need to update what’s going on with Meredydd…
In the meantime, check out these authors and other amazing folks at Channillo. You can scope out their amazing store of stories FREE for thirty days. Who knows? Maybe you’d like to write for them, too!
My previous music post connected with quite a few genres of storytelling: mystery, horror, and adventure. I’d like to spend a touch more time on mystery, as I’m currently writing the third novel of the Fallen Princebornomnibus, whose plot is riddled with mysteries both solved and begun.
Finding the right atmosphere for mysteries is not always simple. Is this a murder mystery with a steady body count, death threats and chases galore? Or is this mystery more slow-burn style, a hunt for the conspiracy with little blood seen but destined to be found if the mystery isn’t solved?
I love both kinds, so of course my book’s a mix of both. While scores like Mad Max: Fury Road, Batman Begins, Bourne Supremacy, and others of heavy percussion help with action-heavy moments, it’s important to find the music to counter-balance that. Mychael Danna’s Breachhas some lovely tension-filled moments, but I’d like to highlight another score of beautiful, unsettling ambiance: Alexandre Desplat’s The Imitation Game.
Once again, Desplat’s use of the piano is superb. Those first few seconds of solo piano and a low running bass note immediately establish a sense of problem, of not-rightness. The repetitive run of four notes throughout the entire track also gives that feeling of mechanization, of clockwork not in our control. The strings that swell in around the 40-second mark bring a bittersweet air to them, harmonizing with the piano, but more often in a minor key than a traditional major one. Woodwinds are held off until the last minute of the track, and here, the oboe gets a chance to shine. I’m usually not a fan of the oboe (I blame one of my elementary school classmates in band who had one and NEVER learned to play it correctly. Honestly, nothing sounds worse than an awful oboe except maybe an awful violin played by me, ahem.), but when done right the oboe provides a strong yet light tragic air to a melody before it subtly fades into the quiet.
Even Desplat’s percussion is kept relatively light.
With another arpeggio, this time in a lower key, and a few percussion instruments like rhythm sticks, Desplat creates a menacing air fitting for the wartime conflict. This story is, after all, not one of the front lines and bomb raids, but the one fought out of sight, where coded words are as deadly as any missile strike. Even xylophones and chimes are put to use, but unlike Danna’s score for Breach, though here patterned melodies provide that feel of mechanization…but not the circuitry of some computer. Here it is time to follow the journeys of logic to decode nature and language.
Whether you are a reader or writer of mysteries, I heartily recommend Desplat’s The Imitation Game to create that air of hidden conflicts and pursuits for truth. Give characters the unspoken need to embrace the mystery.
I connected with P.J. Lazos online as a fellow indie writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her discussions on environmental issues, writing, human virtue, and family are so compelling that I just had to introduce her to all of you.
First, let’s talk about you. Your biography reflects many passions: a passion for truth as a journalist, a passion to fight for what can’t as an environmental lawyer, and a passion for words as a writer. Which of these passions shown itself in you first, and how did it influence your other passions?
I think my strong sense of justice started in childhood. My mother had a baby who died at three months old. I was three years old at the time and remember thinking how unfair it was for our family, but especially for my mother who was devastated by the loss. I think I tried so hard to make it right for her, but of course, what could I do. Maybe the words grew out of that experience — definitely the emotion. I remember journaling when I was a kid although then it was called “keeping a diary” an no where near as in vogue as it is now so clearly the name change helped. As for my bit with the environment, well, my mom used to wrap me in a blanket and tuck me under the big oak tree in the backyard and I would lie there and have a conversation with the tree, or at least that’s what it looked like in the video, so I think that started then, too.
Your Six Sisters series delves into the nuances of family life and all its beautiful imperfections. Now I’m not going to strictly ask if this is autobiographical, but were any characters inspired by family or friends in your life? What drew you to share their stories?
That’s funny. My brother-in-law from my first marriage — I still maintain a solid relationship with my ex-husband and former in-laws — asked me the same question about List of 55. The answer is complicated. No, in that the over-the-top behaviors of the characters in that story were definitely not us, but yes in that the underlying emotion behind a break-up was definitely there. You don’t have to have a specific experience to write about it convincingly as long as you can access the emotion behind it. For example, I remarried and my now husband’s first wife died when their two kids were very young. Hearing that story from his POV allowed me to access his unbearable loss and I created a character — David Hartos in Oil and Water — loosely based on my husband who was also a commercial diver. He provided me with insight into how a heart completely busted open by grief struggled to raise two kids as well as how the world of commercial diving worked. I think that as writers, a piece of you lands in every story you ever write, but some are just more autobiographical than others. The part of List of 55 where the central character has a miscarriage — that precise situation did not happen to me, but I did have a miscarriage in a bathroom stall at 30th St. Station in Philadelphia and I think it may have been the saddest, most horrific moment of my life. I tried to write about it before, but it never came out with the gravity I wanted to convey so I put all that angst into Belinda’s character and that’s what I got. Sometimes it’s easier to process your own pain through a made up character. Isn’t that a staple of psychological counseling for kids, and aren’t we all just kids walking around in adult bodies, still harboring all the crap and still relishing all the joys we experienced in childhood?
Now, your most recent novel, Oil and Water,is an environmental thriller. Considering your legal expertise, I imagine you didn’t have to do a ton of research for this novel…or is that being presumptuous?
Yeah, I wish it worked that way for me, but it doesn’t. I started with doing some initial research about converting trash into oil and about the Marsh Arabs and the wetlands in the Fertile Crescent (which you would remember from studying Egypt or Mesopotamia), but a lot of the rest, like you, I googled as I went. I have enough information in my head to get me started, but my memory isn’t always a straight arrow so I need to fact check. My favorite kind of fiction is where you learn something so I wanted to be sure I was passing on real time information.
As the premise of Oil and Water brings readers to difficult questions about our dependence on fossil fuels, your website Green Life Blue Wateralso informs readers of some amazing environmental initiatives that are doing their communities some good. Are there any current programs you’d like to highlight right now?
Rain gardens and aquaponics! I’m a member of the Junior League of Lancaster, a group that’s been operating in Lancaster since 1923. This is my 8th year in the League and I love being part of a volunteer women’s organization. We are doing some really cutting edge stuff like building rain gardens which are basically bowl-like depressions planted with hydrophytic plants that hold stormwater and rain water in high flow times as a way to divert it out of combined sewer system.
This year we’re adding aquaponics to the mix which is basically a fish tank with food growing on top — veggies, herbs, whatever you want (well, maybe not pumpkins). The fish poop fertilizes the plants so it’s a self-contained system. We’re doing a pilot project at an elementary school here in Lancaster, installing four tanks in four second grade classrooms and putting together some curriculum to go with it. We want to make a “pizza garden” with basil, oregano, cherries tomatoes, and a few other things so when the kids harvest the food in the tank we can throw them a pizza party. So lots happening: how ecosystems interact, close up look tan water and nutrients, nutrition, and more, I’m sure. Hands on learning is really the best way to get those kind of lessons across. I just learned that the Aztecs were the first to do aquaponics. The called it Chinampas. So you see, I’m learning something, too.
You are also a member of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, correct? Can you tell us a little about this program and how writers can join?
I actually don’t do that anymore. It was quite fun, but a friend of mine asked me what I had to be insecure about since she loved my writing. That started me thinking about The Law of Attraction and how what you think about all day long is what manifests in your life so I stopped participating in IWSG and started participating in WATWB, We Are the World Blogfest, which had just started. WATWB happens on the last Friday of every month and it showcases positive news stories as a way to counteract all the negativity in the world, an “accentuate the positive” approach to news and life. I also found this group to be more “my people”, writers all, but focused on social justice, environmental issues, a better life for all people. Plus you get a real lift from reading the stories people post.
Lastly, what advice would you like to share with those who are unsure how to explore their family or other passions with writing?
Journaling is always a great way to get started. I always kept a kind-of notebook, but when my daughter was born, a friend gave me a beautiful black sketch book with lovely, creamy paper. I had four months off from work, plus another four on a very part-time basis, I wrote a journal in earnest, a love letter to my kid that I intend to give her one of these days when she’s ready to read it. Her dad and I split before she was born and I wanted to get everything I was feeling down on paper. We joke now that she came out screaming because I was so angry when I was pregnant. Unless I’m reading her wrong, today, like me, she laughs readily and sees both the irony and the gifts in most situations. I don’t write in a journal as much as I used to, but I have a blog and much of what I would write in the journal goes in the blog. One thing I would suggest and that I myself need to get back to is morning pages, something Julia Cameron suggested in “the Artist’s way.” A brain dump every morning to get the gook out and start fresh — something that both reaps and sows benefits. Your mind is clearer, and you’re not as much of a jerk to the the person behind the counter who gets your order wrong or the one who cuts you off in traffic. It helps you to be more chill, in addition to generating ideas, and we all could use more of that.
My deepest thanks to P.J. for taking time to time to talk to us! You can find her Amazon page here and her Twitter page here.
Would you like to be interviewed on Jean Lee’s World, or plug your creative work in my newsletter? Contact meand let me know!
Oh, and I just gotta say how cool it is that four of my Tales of the River Vineare STILL in the Top 10 Free YA Fantasy Monster Fiction.
That’s two months now, and going strong! Thank you thank you THANK YOU!
I do hope you’ll leave a review on my novel letting me know which characters you dig–and which you want to see more of! I’m brainstorming up some more Tales. xxxxxx
Ah, January 2019, you give me so much hope for the coming year! We must begin with stories, for of course we must. Whether you love to read or to write, you are here to experience a story.
Have I got the stories for you!
Not just my own fiction–I’ll get to that. No, I’d like to introduce you to some wonderful indie writers who have been publishing on Channillo, a subscription-based publishing platform stocked with hundreds of stories written by talented writers from around the world. A few Channillo writers have stopped by to share their stories as well as why they feel serialized fiction is awesome for readers and writers alike.
Let’s start with some basics. Your name and title(s) on Channillo, please!
Nick and Amy have been married for seventeen years which is a big deal because marriage is hard and messy and a fifty percent divorce rate and all. Nick and Amy live with their three kids in the middle of the United States, in a place like Iowa or Ohio or some other smallish, flat state with too many vowels, growing corn and soybeans, making it basically indistinguishable from any of the other states around it and uninteresting to anyone that didn’t grow up there. Nick is a procrastinator by nature which drives Amy crazy and Amy is spicy when she gets annoyed, which Nick adores. Together they are every marriage still trying to keep it real after almost two decades together while dealing with the not-so-fun parts of everyday life.
Leda, a young woman who moved to Japan to escape her abusive family, is slowly adjusting to her new life. She’s learning Japanese, making friends, and enjoying the summer festivals. On the day of the famous Tanabata festival, she finds a small shrine – but when she steps out of the shrine, she steps into Edo Era Japan.
Trapped 400 years in Japan’s past, what follows is half fantasy, half historical fiction. Is her coming here an accident? Or does it have something to do with the sudden appearance of European ships off the coast? Leda must discover how she ended up in this situation, and how she can get back home – or if she even wants to go back.
What made you choose publishing your work as a serial as opposed to a collection/novel?
Seitz: I do write novels in the traditional way, but writing Nick & Amy as a short story serial on Channillo gave me the opportunity to put something out every other week and get immediate feedback, which is not how writing a novel works. It’s quite refreshing to show the world what I’ve been working on for a week, get a laugh or two, and then do it all over again, while working simultaneously on a novel project that no one will see for months.
Oga: I choose to publish my work as a serial because I don’t have a complete manuscript. It gives me to the opportunity to share the parts I have written and see how interested people are in the work. Also, the pressure to publish the next installment in the series is a good motivation to write. Writers love deadlines.
Lee: I wanted to write a serialization. I guess I was inspired by things like manga, which have contained stories within an overall larger arc – and can go on indefinitely. I was also romanticizing the turn of the century, where authors like Charles Dickens would publish their novels as serials, sometimes not even knowing the ending or how long it would be.
I like how flexible serialization is.
I found this quote published in The Washington Post back in 2015, and I’d like you to comment on it:
Critics will undoubtedly moan that serialization would favor literature that’s heavy on cliffhangers and light on subtlety — and that it would corrupt more “serious” works. … Yet it requires the same characteristic any worthy novelist already seeks: momentum — a value that needn’t come at the expense of integrity. -Hillary Kelly, “Bring Back the Serialized Novel”
Seitz: There is truth that serial literature requires a reason for the reader to keep coming back for more, and maybe it works best as a cliff hanger for many serial stories. But at the heart of any story, a hard cover NYT Best Seller or an online serial, isn’t that exactly what every author is striving for? Spinning a story so thrilling or hilarious or mind-blowing that their reader can’t stop turning the pages though it’s hours past their bedtime.
Lee: You can’t tell me that modern novels don’t rely on cliffhangers. Have you ever read a YA novel? Look, cliffhangers aren’t bad, tension is not bad, motivating your readers to read the next instalment by getting them emotionally invested in a character is not bad.
A novel is like a movie, it comes out all at once. A serial is like a TV shows, building anticipation for the next chapter every week.
What benefits have arisen with plot, character development, and/or voice as you write a serial?
Seitz: I wanted to write Nick & Amy as a series of realistic fiction vignettes, every day funny stories about a regular married couple that don’t necessarily build on each other, but add another layer to the relationship with each new installment. As a serial, it’s been a fun way to play with building strong character development little by little in Nick and Amy, exposing deeper aspects of their marriage, relationships, and personalities through whatever daily adventure I’m putting them through.
Lee: I can experiment a lot more. I can have story arcs that focus on one particular character, or do a fun story that really has nothing to do with the overall arc, but adds to the atmosphere and the tension in the story. I feel like I just have so much more liberty telling this story.
What do you think draws readers to read serial (non)fiction?
Oga: Brevity. Our attention span is getting shorter as there are more and more things vying for it. People are drawn to serial works because the instalments are succinct. Serial successfully heighten pace and suspense. It enlightens and entertains long enough to hold the reader’s attention. It gives readers breaks between instalments to get them interested again. Each instalment starts strong, finishes strong, and creates suspense to intensify anticipation for the next.
People also like the participation in following a serial. Without the ability to read ahead, people are on the same page in terms of discussions of the work. Everyone tries to keep up with the reading in order to keep up with the conversations.
Lee: I think people like the anticipation. They like being rewarded every week with a new instalment. They like to wonder between instalments about what’s going to happen next. It’s a kind of interactive way to read a novel.
What advice do you have for fellow writers who want to give serialization a go?
As with anything artistic: just do it. If you don’t like it, or it fails, you have nothing to lose. It’s all experience that will help you with your next project.
Do you receive any reader feedback on your writing as it’s posted? What do you do with those reader comments?
Oga: Comments are important. Good or bad, they reveal how readers perceive my work. I cherish comments a lot because they help me better understand my expression of thought and plots. Comments help answer a lot of questions for me. Did my work inspired the emotions I hoped to raise? Did it enlighten the reader as I’d hoped? What is the reader expecting in the next installments? Is my work gripping enough?
I use comments to write better.
What advice do you have for fellow writers who want to give serialization a go?
Seitz: Give it a try! Serial fiction certainly wasn’t in my wheelhouse, but it’s helped me grow as an author, forcing me to work harder at making a story tight, concise, and well done in less time and in less words. It’s sharpened my skills as a writer and it’s been a fun learning curve. It certainly helps to do some planning beforehand to decide what you want the series to look like, but beyond that the freedom it gives you makes the writing rewarding. It helps to find it a good home for your serial, like Channillo, where the diversity of material, styles and authors is celebrated and embraced.
Many thanks to my fellow Channillo writers for their time! It’s important for us to challenge our writerly selves, just as it’s vital to expand our reading horizons. Channillo gives the opportunity for both. I do hope you’ll check them out…and perhaps my own book, too, nudge nudge. 😉
As 2018’s National Novel Writing Month draws to a close, I thought I’d offer a little music to help those entangled in face-offs and final battles. We all could use a little muscle to pull us out and onward.
I know: you’re not here to start an adventure. You’re here because it’s time for you–and the characters of your story–to kick some villainous butt.
So let’s join up with the best of the best, the men of muscle who fly across the border and walk into a guerrilla nest without flinching. Men who chew cigars, sweat through camo paint, and say lines like “I ain’t got time to bleed” and sound tooootally bad-ass.
Predator isn’t a scifi-action classic purely because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance, or only because of Stan Winston’s monster creation. Silvestri’s score plays a HUGE role in this story’s atmosphere, too.
Arnie’s military group is sent on what they think is a rescue mission deep in central America–until they find men of a previous “rescue mission” skinned and hanging from a tree. We see no evil, but we see its horror. Silvestri gives only a single, drum-like percussion, far off. An alien’s heartbeat, an echo of another nature. It’s never completely gone; rather, it hides in the rest of the orchestra’s bursts of harmony in the brass, strings, and percussion. The music sweeps up, sweeps down, all stealth and caution….until the two minute mark. The low brass of epiphany emphasizes the characters’ realization the situation is not what they presupposed.
Silvestri nails suspense with a moment when Arnold’s crew sets a trap for whatever’s killing them. The strings remain high, tight. No aggression in these first few moments, only fear–though no one wants to admit it. The combination of high strings and oppressive jungle makes characters and audience alike ready to snap under the pressure to wait. This moment often helps me add extra setting details to make the characters look hard for the villain as they wait for the trap to be sprung. And you’ll know when the villain comes, all brass and drums.
Silvestri and violins, man…he just knows how to set them running up and down in arpeggios to quicken the heartbeat. With opening in a dissonance, we put our survival instincts into a panic. We run with the strings, and the moment they stop we skid to a halt. The brass and piano takes up the chase, hunting us, hunting the characters, both.
And climax? Ye GODS, Silvestri knows his pacing. The first minute is almost sweetly mysterious with the strings as we think we’ve won against the fantastic thing, this hunter. We can stand over it victorious as its strange insides are exposed to us…until the brass and piano begin. They begin a steady build, add the percussion, build. Then the strings start to run and you know you’ve got to get the hell out of there before evil steals your victory in death.
We all want our heroes to win the day, but we don’t want it to be easy for them–there’s no story without conflict. We gotta make our heroes scared. It takes some serious fear to make the final victory all the sweeter for characters and readers alike.
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Last-minute call for shout-outs to go in my newsletter! I’d love to share what you’re up to with my readers. Click hereto subscribe my newsletter, too!
Do you have a favorite character from Tales or Fallen Princeborn: Stolen that you feel needs some extra page time? Please let me know in the comments below–maybe they’ll be featured in future Tales of the River Vine!
Pretty sure I’m not going to be breathing much today.
Today, from sunrise to sundown this Halloween, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen is yours.
What’s particularly awesome about this release of freeness (new word!) is that this edition includes an excerpt from the second novel, Chosen.
Not sure you want to snatch it up? Check out what these amazing writers and readers have to say about it:
The rich sensory images and tight POV kept me so tangled in the story that I had to keep reading to see what would happen next. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Charlotte and her sister, Anna- the love and pain and frustration that can only come from family. Charlotte’s determination to protect Anna, whatever the personal cost, endeared her to me. The dark world beyond the Wall is fascinating, the shadowy characters an intriguing blend between Light and Dark. While the story arc had a satisfying wrap-up, it also left me eagerly awaiting the next installment! –Amazon Reader
“This gripping YA fantasy about Charlotte’s encounter with the fae comes complete with a prince… but he’s no Prince Charming, while they’re definitely nothing like Tinkerbell.” —S.J. Higbee, Sunblinded trilogy
I love that this novel takes place in a fantasy realm quite different than most out there, which makes it harder to guess what’s going to happen next. Charlotte is an interesting heroine to root for, and the book is an overall good mix of adventure, humor, and romance. I got caught up in the story and read this in just a day or two, and now I can’t wait to read the next one! –Amazon Reader
“Part psycho hitchhiker movie, part road trip to Rylyeh, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen drags the reader deep into Faerie, burns it down, and caramelizes expectations.” —Moss Whelan, Gray Hawk of Terrapin
Lee writes from a third-person, present-tense point of view, but the tale is still told very much from Charlotte’s perspective, spurning exposition in favor of snippets of teenage angst. Charlotte emerges as a believable survivor—strong, determined, and devoted to her sister, but also vulnerable, with a deeply buried sense of hope…. Anna is similarly convincing as the resentful younger sister, while the fairy folk walk the line between being straightforward villains and antiheroes. The fairy realm itself is more grim than enchanting (think the Upside Down from the Netflix TV series Stranger Things), and the fact that Charlotte is trapped there—an echo of her family situation—lends an uneasy edge to the would-be romance. –Kirkus Reviews
So, whatcha waitin’ for, folks? Halloween comes but once a year. When Halloween ends, so does this offer for a free adventure into a world of magic and mayhem, family and feeling. Don’t miss out!
Be sure to leave your thoughts on Amazonand Goodreads, too, because seriously, every review means the world to writers.
A collection of book reviews by Patricia Skalka — A Chicago native, life-long reader and author of "Death Stalks Door County," "Death at Gills Rock," "Death in Cold Water," and "Death on a Ferry," the first four volumes in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series.